Sylvia Mercado had never seen knitting until she found herself on a train in Germany in 2000.
No one knitted in Puerto Rico, where she grew up. It’s always hot there, she said, and the warmth of knitted clothing was rarely sought.
Mercado was visiting her brother, who was in the Army and stationed in Germany. She rode the train, playing the tourist and visiting as much of the country as she could.
She said she was fascinated as she watched another passenger knit and talk and never miss a beat.
“Who knew I was going to learn, and who knew I was going to teach,” she said.
But she did – and she does.
On the first Wednesday of every month, she directs a free knitting class at the Kroc Center.
Mercado moved to South Carolina in 2007 when her husband got a job at a prison in Edgefield, S.C.
She never forgot the woman knitting on the train in Germany, and vowed to learn the skill. She joined a knitting group in Columbia. She found patterns she liked and took them with her.
“I think it’s important to know that things can be hand-made,” she said. “You can go to the store and get a hat for $5 and that’s cheap. But when you sit down and you know every stitch and you can choose the yarn for someone, it’s a nice purpose,” she said.
She still has the first scarf she made. The stitches were tight and one end is wider than the other. Gradually she got much better.
A couple of years ago, Mercado joined the Kroc Center. She began taking spin classes, and her 5-year-old son attended the Child Watch program.
As a thank-you to the Child Watch staff for taking care of her son, she brought them scarves she had knitted.
“I wanted to tell them that I was thankful for the one or two hours they provided for me,” she said.
Allison Campbell, who was then director of Child Watch, remembered Mercado when she became program director for the Kroc Center, Mercado said.
“We had several members and nonmembers ask for a place that could teach them knitting. I found an instructor,” Campbell said.
Mercado said she was thrilled and wishes she could teach the class at least twice a month.
On the first Wednesday of every month, from five to 10 people meet to work on various projects.
It’s very informal. Class members work on whatever they like, and Mercado is there to offer instruction and help.
The free classes are among many offered by the Kroc Center, ranging from chess to music to art classes. A few, like the knitting class, are free, but most are offered for a moderate fee.
“The classes that we charge for we like to keep at a low cost so that it’s affordable to everyone,” Campbell said.
Mercado said she loves teaching and watching as her students learn something new.
“They are marveled that one string can do so many things,” she said.