Knitters Florence Rose, left, and Yvonne Sheppard stand next to a new statue commemorating 100 years of NONIA at Government House in St. John’s. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

A new statue in St. John’s celebrates the tradition of knitting in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 100 years of the group that helped turn yarn into income for outport women.

The bronze statue on the grounds of Government House marks the centenary of the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association, which has had knitting at its core since its start in 1920.

NONIA was created to raise money for public health nurses in outport communities, selling knitted goods from knitters across the province. As time went on, and health care fell under government’s purview, knitting for NONIA became a way for women to earn extra income to support their families.

That continues to this day, with some of the about 130 people who currently knit for NONIA on hand for the statue’s unveiling Tuesday.

Florence Rose has been with the group for over 35 years, continuing a tradition of NONIA knitting passed on from her mother in Salmon Cove. She said it was a great experience to see the statue and share her love of knitting with others.

“It’s really something you’ll always remember,” she said. “It’s beautiful, really something.”

The statue includes a real ball of yarn and piece of knitting that were cast in bronze. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Yvonne Sheppard of Bristol’s Hope started knitting as a young girl working on clothes for her dolls. She’s been a NONIA knitter for 32 years.

“I saw a little article that NONIA was looking for knitters. [I sent] a little piece of knitting into them, and it came back with a big box of wool. And I’ve been knitting for them ever since,” she said, laughing.

The ‘magic’ of knitted goods

The statue was a chance to reflect on NONIA’s roots, and its continued impact.

“Now NONIA is more about the knitting heritage and the skills. And NONIA in itself, it seems to me, has become a valued Newfoundland asset. It’s something that people from away … are very interested in,” Keelin O’Leary, NONIA’s manager, told CBC Radio’s Weekend AM.

“We kind of take these things for granted now because we’ve grown up with them, and we’re so used to having them around us. But people who are not familiar with hand-knitted goods think it’s magic.”

The statue of a grandmother teaching her granddaughter knitting techniques perfectly captures the group and the heritage of passing knitting on to the next generation, said O’Leary.

Florence Rose, left, and Yvonne Sheppard have been knitting for NONIA for decades. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

The statue was created by artist Morgan MacDonald, known for his many other bronze sculptures across Newfoundland and Labrador.

MacDonald said the inspiration for the statue came from childhood visits to his great-grandmother’s home in Eastport.

“I’ve always had that vision of her in a rocking chair … knitting socks or a sweater by an old wood stove,” he said.

“We really wanted to capture the sprit of learning about knitting and passing on the traditions … how those traditions are passed along.”

MacDonald said even creating the statue involved a family effort, casting a real ball of yarn and a pattern made by his mother-in-law in bronze for the project.

The statue was supposed to be unveiled in May but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

LISTEN: Knitters Yvonne Sheppard and Florence Rose speak with the CBC’s Heather Barrett, along with other Weekend AM highlights:

Weekend AM33:46NL Fried Rice, a knitting statue, and a scholarship winner

We combine two favourite food cravings: Jiggs’ Dinner and Chinese Fried Rice, a new sculpture commemorates the knitters of NONIA, and we meet Lewisporte Flight 15 Scholarship recipient Dr. Raie Lene Kirby. 33:46

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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