Handmade: Knitter is guided by Braille and technology

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
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Learning to double-knit can be a real challenge, and even more so if you’re blind, like Marcie Brink-Chaney. But, as with so many other aspects of her life, being visually impaired was not about to stand in her way.

Wearing the seed-stitch sweater she knitted, Marcie Brink-Chaney works on her double-knit project at ...have you any Wool? in Berkley.

The Royal Oak resident wanted to take the double-knitting workshop offered recently at ...have you any Wool? in Berkley, but the pattern would need to be in Braille. After a bit of coordinating on the part of yarn shop owner Bridget Dean with Brink-Chaney and knitting instructor Cassondra Rizzardi of Rizzaknits (featured here last week), the determined knitter got her wish with the help of an email, a Braille transmitter and a one-on-one tutorial.

“Marcie’s abilities as a knitter are not hindered by her lack of sight,” writes Dean. “Her concentration and focus have made her an accomplished knitter. Her desire to be challenged by the complexity of the patterns she knits, is to be envied. I’m in awe of her!”

Brink-Chaney, 64, was born after only a 5 1/2 month pregnancy, weighing just 2 pounds, 10 ounces, with “something called retinopathy.” However, she said, “I have light perception in one eye.”

Having learned to knit in sixth grade, she said, “I was in Girl Scouts and the Scout leaders, who were teachers at the Michigan School for the Blind, taught us partially how to knit and purl. I learned to cast-off from a house parent at the school. I was a dorm student there. It was a residential school, and I lived there for 11 years.”

After graduation, Brink-Chaney went to Western Michigan University where she earned two master’s degrees — one in vision rehabilitation therapy and the other in vocational rehabilitation patient counseling with an emphasis on blindness. She works full-time at Visually Impaired Services at the University Health Center of Detroit Receiving Hospital as a certified vision rehabilitation therapist and a certified assistive technology instructional specialist.

Brink-Chaney shows off her skills for knitting cables and other intricate stitch patterns with these sweaters, a cardigan and pullover, she made her husband.

While pursuing her career, she spent much of her leisure time knitting, and today, modern technology has enabled her to be even more creative.

“Right now,” she said, “I’m working on a baby afghan. It’s a pattern from a knitting book I bought a long time ago that’s in Braille. They did it all in one color. It’s called ‘Feather and Fan.’ I do four rows in one color and four rows in another. I had somebody tell me what colors they wanted and I went online to buy the yarn. All my devices — tablets, computers (etc.) — that I use have accessibility features on them so that they’ll read the screen to me. I’ve had computers since the ’90s. They have screen-reading software which changes from year to year to keep up-to-date.”

Her “only concept” of color is that “dark colors take in light, and light colors reflect it.” She selects yarn in stores with the help of salespeople, and when using multiple colors, she identifies them by, for example, leaving one in the wrapper, winding one into a ball, and putting one in a zip plastic bag. She also relies on an app called “Be My Eyes.” She said, “You just have to say you’re visually impaired. It’s (available) 24 hours a day.” Volunteers see you on the other end, and “they tell you what you need to know.”

Once a member of the Royal Oak Knitters Guild, Brink-Chaney doesn’t always follow patterns. That would be far too easy for someone with her will and determination. She sometimes designs knitwear, like the seed-stitch sweater she made for herself. She’s even knitted clothes for Goodfellows dolls. “I measured the dolls and made dresses for them that I designed.”

Marcie Brink-Chaney works on one of her current knitting projects at the ...Have You Any Wool store in Berkley

And did I mention she crochets? “I had about four people try to teach me the first stitch — the slip stitch,” she said. “My sister finally got me to understand what that was. Once I started, I just used directions in the book for stitches. I probably started in my 30s. The first thing I made was kind of dumb. I made a mouse puppet, but I never felt real comfortable with crocheting. I think it’s what you learn first. I prefer knitting, probably because I’ve done it all my life.” She does, however, use crocheting for edgings.

When she’s not knitting, Brink-Chaney enjoys cooking, playing the piano and singing in the choir at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, where she and her husband, Terry Chaney, are members.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Marcie Brink-Chaney at chaneyma@ameritech.net.

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