GILLETTE — Willy Rosier never kept the secret, but that didn’t make it any more credible.
It would be a strange thing to lie, but it just doesn’t fit the picture most people see in their minds. They think of brittle-handed retirees in rocking chairs, not burly, bearded veterans.
Even his wife, Sara, tried to call him about it when they first met. That hand-sewn hat he was wearing and the others he had shown her like that – he just didn’t seem the type to have made each of those winter hats himself.
Luckily, he has plenty of evidence to back up his claims.
Now Sara too. Like the bunch of unique knit socks he made for her, each unique and without a matching sock to complete the pair. The Rosiers have been together for eight years and have kids with baby photos in knitted hats and baby booties, all thanks to Willy’s hands.
“A lot of people don’t believe me,” he said. “I’m 300 pounds, 6 feet with a beard. They don’t believe I knit.
But nonetheless, Willy shares his passion for yarn and stitch with the community and stands out as perhaps Gillette’s most humble knitting instructor.
Willy started giving free knitting lessons at the Campbell County Public Library in October. After a second course held in November, the next gathering is scheduled for January and should continue monthly from there.
So far, the composition of the class has been quite different from Willy’s.
“A lot of them wanted to learn to knit. Plain and simple,” he said. “I had all age groups in my class. Surprisingly, there were no other guys.
During his first two classes, he said attendance was strong. Mothers and daughters, groups of friends and others curious to learn what it takes to make their own hats and scarves filled the library’s George Amos Reading Room, necessitating a larger room for library for future lessons.
Those who came had their own reasons for learning a new skill. Some remembered their grandmothers knitting and wanted to learn on their own. Others wanted to handcraft holiday gifts for a parent or significant other. Their reasons varied but the desire was shared by all.
“It was so beautiful to see how many people want to learn to knit,” he said.
Rosier’s talent for creating with yarn and thread began in childhood. But it wasn’t until he left the military that his interest in knitting really took off.
When he was young, his grandmother, Elise Rosier, taught him and his cousins the same age how to crochet. Willy sat next to his cousins, boys and girls, while Grandma taught them how to crochet.
He still has a granny square blanket made all those years ago with his grandma and her cousins.
But knitting and crocheting are different.
Crocheting involves crocheting and creates tighter textiles with less flexibility. Many Afghan blankets are crocheted. With knitting, there is more flexibility in the material, which gives the person holding the two knitting needles more freedom to create. Knitted materials have an advantage that makes them more ideal for garments, such as cardigans or winter hats.
Right out of high school, Willy entered the US Marine Corps, where he ended up serving for four years, including two tours in Iraq.
“I had some slight issues, I wouldn’t say it was PTSD, but it could be and I ended up starting to knit,” he said. “It occupied my mind and it really helped me. As they say, “idle hands are the devil’s playground”. It really helped me through the tough times.
He compares knitting to fly fishing. Tying flies and knitting both have a similar soothing effect. They give a feeling of calm. A fisherman himself, Willy used to tie flies all winter and fish all summer. These two hobbies gave his mind the comfort it needed during those early post-military years.
After his service, Willy returned to Gillette, where he was born and raised. Back in his hometown, he returns to a familiar pastime to occupy his body and mind.
With a basic skill set in crochet, he sought information on how to turn that talent into learning to knit. It’s fitting that he now teaches at the library, because that’s where he picked up books that trained him in knitting.
Any number of hats, scarves, socks, gloves and more can be made with the basic knit stitch and purl stitch, which he teaches in his class. He said his stepmother, Gail Lasham, had been his rock for the first two classes.
When he is in the classroom and unable to be in several places at once, she goes through groups of knitters and helps out as needed. There was a left-handed person in one of the classes, which requires completely opposite knitting instructions. But luckily, Lasham served as an extension of his instruction and was able to help him.
Through two classes, Willy was the only male in his knitting classes. He knows that men are rare in the world of knitting, but he never considered it a strictly female hobby. In a sense, for anyone knitting these days is a rarity.
“It’s a dying art,” Willy said. “Not many people knit or crochet anymore. It’s like playing the banjo or the steel guitar, it’s one of those things that’s a dying art.
That’s why he encourages anyone of any age or gender to come to his next class. Men, women, children, veterans, whatever.
Learning to knit goes far beyond the stereotypes of grandma figures. Getting lost in the hypnotic dance between needle and thread has helped Willy through his own difficult times, but it could also help many other people in many other ways.
How exactly could this help you?
You’ll have to visit his next class to find out.