Karola Wright

A Stitch in Time

On a beautiful, sunny March morning, a woman carrying a huge, black knitting bag yells cheerfully across the Starbuck's parking lot at Pineland Station on Hilton Head Island, "I'm here!" I am about to meet the fifth fastest knitter in the world. 

Karola Wright has warm eyes and a laughing smile. I offer her the second venti latte  the barista made by mistake. "Oh this is exactly what I like! How perfect is this. Hi. I'm Karola and you have to be Diane. Really, this is great. Does it have sugar?" She may be the fifth fastest knitter, but I have just met the world's fastest talker.

When we sit, Karola's knitting bag is beside her. She pulls out two beautiful shawls and a plastic, see-through bag that contains the pair of socks she is currently knitting on her magic loop. "I always have my knitting. I knit everywhere. I knit in the dark at the movies. I can knit standing up on the subway. My great grandmother taught me to knit when I was four. I might forget my keys or my wallet, but I always have my knitting."

She settles in with needles clicking. She has pretty hands, with petal pink nail polish. She is wearing funky eyeglasses that have "headlights" (her term) which she flips on. For the next two hours Karola takes me on a rollicking, honest tour of her life: from Mannheim, Germany - where she says she was made - to the US where she was born to a German mother and Irish Catholic American father. She has lived in New York City, Hilton Head Island, Phoenix and back to Hilton Head. Her stories are funny; and there are periods of despair and difficulty. Karola is one of those special people whose inner light remains undimmed by darkness.

Through it all, knitting is at the center. But let's get to the BIG question. How do you know you're the world's fifth fastest knitter? In the fall of 2000 Karola was living in New York City, working as a legal secretary. The Guinness Book of World Records held a knitting contest in Union Square Park. "I'm sitting with hundreds of other people in the park with my yarn and a set of needles. The timer is set for three minutes and I knit 287 stitches, finishing fifth (Continental style). For the next year, I practiced every lunch hour with my friends timing me and pushing me. I was determined to win the fall, 2001 contest. Then 9/11 happened."

Her needles stop. Quiet. "My close friend - the mother of my daughter's best friend - was downstairs buying flowers that morning. Just by chance. She worked on the 56th floor of the second building that got hit. But she was downstairs buying flowers and she lived. I used to work in the Twin Towers. My cousin was the last civilian to get out alive". Her look is far away. "Everything changed after that. They called off the contest."

Karola thinks 9/11 is a big reason for the billion-dollar boom in the US knitting industry. "People felt empty and didn't know what to do with themselves. It de-stresses people. The knitting club I started in New York grew to more than 300 people after 9/11.  We met on Wednesdays at the first Starbucks that opened in the city -  men, women, doctors, lawyers, college professors. I left in 2006, but the club still meets."

Karola went to Phoenix as a legal secretary. It was a difficult time. She talks openly about her struggles with ADD and OCD and anxiety. "The knitting is a security blanket that helps me focus. It's like white noise that shuts out all the distractions racing around my brain so I can concentrate - in a meeting, in a conversation. I wish they would teach kids diagnosed with ADD how to knit.  It's the best therapy in the world. But I also need medication and I couldn't afford it. The Arizona medical system said I made too much money for assistance. Things got really bad."  The hardest decision of her life was to send her daughter Kori to live with her aunt and uncle in Atlanta. "She's everything to me and I couldn't provide what she needed." Again, the needles stop. 

Last fall, Karola decided to return to Hilton Head where she lived from 1993 to 1999 and where her daughter was born in 1995. She arrived on October 19th.  On Saturday, October 23rd she decided to see what was new on the island.  She calls it Kismet. "I walked into Needlepoint Junction [shop located in Wexford Village] just to look, but of course I had my knitting bag, and you know I love to talk, so I started showing some of my stuff and a couple of hours later I got hired. It's so fantastic!" Life is moving forward here.

It's time for Karola to pick up her friend's son from school. She's still talking and I'm still laughing. We hug. This effervescent woman, whose heart and spirit are wide open, carries a whole lot of wisdom in that big, black knitting bag.

Up Close:

Family Patterns:
Her mother designed knitting patterns for McCall's, Family Circle and Women's World in the 80s.
Pertinent Quote: "I take my knitting everywhere to take the edge off moments that would otherwise drive me stark raving mad." Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Original Design: Pedicure socks with individual open toes.
Hidden Talent: She's bi-lingual - English and German