Handmade: Local volunteer surprised by his new hobby

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Rich Samartino, a graduate of Penn State where he majored in computer technology, says he never thought he’d be knitting, but in 2011, while working at Camphill Village in Kimberton, Penn., the now 26-year-old began learning the basics of the age-old craft.

“I was volunteering for a community program in Pennsylvania for people with developmental disabilities, and they have five art workshops where they spin yarn and knit. Both the volunteers and the people with disabilities knit,” he says. “I never knew anyone who knitted — then I was in a situation where everyone around me knitted.”

In 2014, he took a job at Detroit Mercy Volunteer Corp, part of a national faith-based program that’s “transforming lives, perspectives, the world.” He says, “I was looking for a job related to social justice and the program had an opening in Detroit. I live with three others in the same program, so my housemates all crochet and one knits. We do that a lot in our house, and I’ve invited people over from (another faith program in) Detroit to our house to knit, crochet or learn either one.”

Samartino wrote a blog post for Detroit Mercy Volunteer Corps’ website that reads in part: “’Yarning’ is an inclusive phrase coined by us here in the Detroit Mercy House that encompasses both knitting and crocheting. It’s a simple concept that mainly involves repeating one simple stitch over and over again, and gradually creating a finished product. However, it is the simplicity of the ‘yarning’ motion, the gratification of creating something with your own hands, and the communal nature of the activity that makes ‘yarning’ a potentially revolutionary activity.

“...The point is, that we as a people simply need to get together to make this world a better place. ‘Yarning’ has been one method of achieving this lofty goal. I feel that if we set our minds to living our lives so as to include as many people as possible, the whole world will one day be woven into one big community.”

Being around other needlearts enthusiasts continues to inspire Samartino to further expand his knitting skills. “Just this year,” he says, “I started learning to knit in the round, and I’m working on mittens now with a cable knit pattern. I always like to try something new with each project. That’s how I stay interested.” He’s also made a pair of socks, scarves, and stuffed animals, including a pig and gnomes. He’s given away most of the items he’s knitted, with the stuffed animals going to the gift shop at Camphill to help benefit the nonprofit.

Samartino, who works a full-time job as a patient navigator, shops for yarn at Michael’s, but says, “A lot of yarn is donated to us.” His favorite fiber to knit with is wool. “I think it helps keep you warmer — the fact that it’s natural,” he remarks, “and I think it’s supposed to keep you warm even when it gets wet.”

Samartino is quite comfortable with being a male knitter, and says he’s found the people he knows in Detroit to be “kind of alternative” and “more receptive” to a guy who knits.

Detroit News Staff Writer Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit Crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or

Contact Rich Samartino at