Sailors and Marines are knitting up a storm on the USS Bataan
By KATHERINE HAFNER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: April 28, 2020
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NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Deployed in the Persian Gulf, the crew of the USS Bataan is stuck on board while the coronavirus pandemic rages. It’s easy for stress to mount.
But some sailors and Marines on the amphibious assault ship are using yarn as a coping mechanism — whipping up hats, socks, baby blankets and more as they carry out their mission.
"Yarn Club is a brief respite from daily shipboard duties for the sailors and Marines who attend,” Lt. Cmdr. Grace Reilly said in a recent email. “We still wear uniforms and use proper military courtesy, but the goal is to provide personnel of all ranks a quiet, comfortable space where they can relax, learn a new skill or create something beautiful.”
The weekly Bataan Yarn Club stemmed from a chance encounter late last year at The Yarn Club in Virginia Beach. Reilly bumped into the ship’s chaplain while he was Christmas shopping for his wife.
“We started talking about getting a club started onboard Bataan,” Reilly said.
The ship left Norfolk in mid-December with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. By January, the knitting club was underway in partnership with the Virginia Beach store.
The club meets every Monday and is open to people of all skill and interest levels, she said. There are usually about 20 who come out, with the core group evenly split between men and women.
Some of the most enthusiastic participants are young Marines interested in learning how to knit or crochet gifts for their newborn children, she added.
Andrea Riddle, who owns The Yarn Club on Virginia Beach Boulevard, said she has a lot of customers who are in the Navy — including several aboard the Bataan.
She thought such a club would be “a great thing to entertain the troops," and has been sending the ship boxes of knitting supplies about once a month to keep it going.
“I love it,” Riddle said. “I run around the store and pick out my brightest colors to send to them.”
Pink and orange have been in high demand, she said, especially with doom and gloom in the news.
“Anything bright and happy.”
Though the club started right before the coronavirus scare, it’s grown because of it, Riddle said.
“They say because they can’t get off the ship now because of current events, they’re knitting a lot,” she said. “It has absolutely saved them.”
Riddle said several of her vendors, including knitting tool company ChiaoGoo and Uruguay-based yarn supplier Malabrigo, have donated hundreds of dollars worth of materials for the club.
The most recent package she sent to the Persian Gulf was about 20 pounds, complete with some other goodies like candy and cookies.
“We love doing it, we love the camaraderie and we love that we can support our troops in this fashion,” she said.
Reilly said she learned to knit shortly before deployment.
“So I’m definitely a beginner, but I can’t get enough,” she said.
She’s made three hats, a few scarves and is working on fingerless gloves for a roommate who works in a cold office. She hopes to also make koozies to give to friends as souvenirs.
“Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone wearing or using something that I made.”
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