AIKEN --- Heads tilt back in laughter and then come right back for the count of stitches on knitting and needlepoint projects.
Barbara Sue Brodie's Needleworks shop on Hayne Avenue in Aiken transforms into a mini-party on Tuesday evenings when 10 to 20 women gather for social time while working on their projects. But they usually leave the complicated stitches at home for this session.
"We'll save the more intricate patterns for home because you'll look down and be off count," Patti Pittman said about the art of talking and stitching.
The diverse group, which calls itself "Stitch and Bitch," creates a welcoming environment, something akin to sitting down with best girlfriends over a glass of wine. Sometimes it's just one conversation. Other times five conversations are punctuated with roars of laughter erupting from pockets of the circle.
The women joke that as close as they've become they wouldn't recognize one another in the store because they look down as they talk each week -- but they know one another's voices.
No topic is off limits. They share their lives, chat about children and travel, complain about local politicians -- all with amazing storytelling skills that make it difficult to not be sucked into their world and crave for more interaction.
"We disagree on a whole lot of things, but contrary to popular belief, we don't talk a lot of national politics and we don't really talk about men either," Sandra Terry said.
"They're just not that interesting, frankly," chimed in Barbara Strack.
Some of the women are experts at their craft, extremely focused even in the middle of a discussion. Others are newcomers who might spend a whole season creating a scarf.
Awkward silences are few -- if any at all, they say. Paying attention to the work in hand is a nice way to bow out of a discussion that might ruffle feathers. They know that when everyone gets quiet they've all hit a point where they need to count, but no one worries about filling the silence. They pick the conversation up once they're back on track.
Some weeks the crowd is small. Other nights every chair gets filled and Ms. Brodie hangs back near the counter to do her work.
Women usually sign up a month in advance for their spots, but once you're in, you get first dibs.
Some knitters are seasonal and only show up in the winter. Others are moms who work around soccer schedules and homework.
But like silences in the conversation those who have been out for a few weeks can pick up the conversation where it left off.
"It's really about being here with a wonderful group of women who I wouldn't otherwise meet," Kristen Clark said. "You can come and go, but for me I just feel like I need it as an outlet every week."
Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
STITCH AND BITCH
WHERE: Barbara Sue Brodie Needleworks, Hayne Avenue, Aiken
WHEN: 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays
COST: $5 week, must sign up for a month at the time
WHAT: Knit and needlepoint while chatting with women
CALL: Barbara Sue Brodie at (803) 644-0990