Victoria Mansuri has always known knitting is therapeutic, ever since she began working the needles as a young child. But during a pandemic, she’s found it’s crucial.
By Our Hands is Mansouri’s business, but her handwork classes she considers healing education.
Both a student of Waldorf education (1st through 12th grade) and a Waldorf teacher for 25 years in her native Virginia, it was part of her own schooling to learn to knit. When her Waldorf class shut down last year because there weren’t enough students enrolled, Mansuri began looking for a college faculty position nationwide. At the same time, she had the idea to open her own craft studio.
“I wanted it to be a creative community space, open for book clubs, Girl Scout groups, wedding showers,” she said. “I wanted there to be music jams because I had a piano in my space.”
Mansuri had a business plan, but when it came time to finding a location, she found rental space too expensive. She also was thinking about Brattleboro, which she’d visited with a friend who moved there to take a job and help her find a place to live.
“It was summertime, and I was walking down Main Street,” Mansuri said. “I noticed people walking down the street looked like I do. I thought, ‘Why don’t I live here?’”
She moved to Brattleboro in the fall of 2019 and began teaching afternoon enrichment classes at the local Montessori school, as well as workshops at a local store, Beadniks; she has also offered classes from her in-home studio on Butterfly Lane, and was in discussions about renting some storefront space in town.
Then the pandemic hit.
A friend encouraged her to move her classes online. She had an in-person class in session consisting of some of her Montessori students, some of whom signed up to finish the class with her via Zoom.
“It worked,” she said of moving to virtual teaching. “I was blown away.”
One of the students, an 8-year-old, learned to knit completely online and also taught her mother to knit.
Mansuri continued teaching children online all summer, about 15 to 20 students a week. She figures the classes were so popular because summer camps had been cancelled due to the pandemic.
“I couldn’t see anybody, so these classes were my saving grace,” she said. “I lived alone. I got close with these kids — they’re my community now.”
Because Mansuri had publicized her Zoom classes on social media, she also had young students from outside the area signing up. One class consisted of 1st-grade Waldorf students from the Washington, D.C. area who already knew how to knit. Mansuri also had two sisters in Germany as students in another class — she and their mother had been colleagues at the Waldorf school where she taught in Virginia.
Mansuri received her master’s at Antioch University New England in transdisciplinary studies in healing education, which she said has helped in her work with By Our Hands and also at Inner Fire, a residential community for people with soul health issues.
“I bring knitting on a therapeutic level to adults,” she said.
In her classes for children, she goes far beyond the mechanics of handwork (knitting, crocheting, felting). She uses integrated movement exercises, stories, songs and dances, and expresses interest in the child’s home life help enliven and bring warmth to the online experience.
Children recite (along with Mansuri) opening and closing verses at the start and end of class, do finger exercises to build dexterity and engage in fun activities such as her “row done dance” or when she asks the group to place the needle above their upper lip and scrunch to make a “mustache.”
In addition to working on different handwork projects, Mansuri works with students on other creative tasks, from making their own knitting needles out of dowels to dying yarn and fabric with flower petals and vegetables.
Because she believes in the deep importance of her mission, during COVID-19 quarantine, Mansuri offers group Zoom classes on a pay-what-you-can basis plus the cost of materials, which can be shipped. She will also advise students who would like to acquire materials on their own. She encourages those who are able to give a little more to help defray the cost for others who cannot pay at this time, and she has been very thankful that some have done so.
“No one will be turned away,” she said. “This is too important that if children want access, they have it.”
Her other class offerings include knitting for the entire family, knitting for mothers-to-be and new moms, classes for siblings and a “sip and knit” class for working on current projects together under her advisement.
While she is so grateful she’s been able to offer her expertise and work with students virtually, Mansuri is most looking forward to people visiting her studio again.
“Someday I will open my doors again,” she said. “I want people to come and sit on my couches and work with yarn and talk.”
For more information, visit byourhandscreate.com.