MOUNT DESERT — Being a first responder can be overwhelming on a good day. Add a pandemic and stress levels are sure to rise. To cope, Margaret Houghton, a paramedic with the Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service, knits.
Houghton remembers playing with knitting needles and yarn as a child, but it wasn’t until she moved to Islesford aged 19 that she started knitting.
After many years of living in Islesford, Houghton traveled to Freeport and bought a wool store. “I moved it to my grandparents’ farm,” Houghton said. “I had a big mail order business from there, then after a while I moved back to the island.”
After returning to Mount Desert Island, Houghton continued to knit and eventually began selling her designs.
“I am a paramedic in the ambulance service, and during all my courses and my training, I have always knitted. It helped me focus so I could listen and pay more attention in class,” Houghton said.
Although she currently primarily knits sweaters, Houghton also knits hats and booties to keep people warm during Maine’s freezing winter months.
“I usually like to do sweaters because I like bigger projects,” she said.
Houghton occasionally knits colorful sweaters in various shapes for her four grandchildren, but she mainly sells Aran-style Irish fisherman sweaters in neutral colors. Houghton loves the challenge of Irish Aran knitting patterns. “Hundreds of years ago, the Irish had family sweater patterns, so when they got lost at sea, they could [be identified],” she said.
Houghton first chooses a pattern she finds online or in a book. Sometimes the pattern calls for a certain yarn weight which she tries to find locally. “I’m familiar with 100% quality, naturally dyed wool, and now I love knitting with alpaca fiber,” she said.
During the winter, Houghton’s jerseys are available for purchase on the Bar Harbor Barter & Swap Facebook page. In the summer, her handmade products can be found at Winter’s Work, a gift shop on the quayside in Islesford.
“I just like having something that relaxes me, that makes me happy, and if I can get some money out of it, great,” she said.