I am a “Compassionate Knitter” Newbie
Throughout my adult life I have heard stories about “Compassionate Knitting,” otherwise known as “Charity Knitting.” I’ve been touched by people’s kindness and their willingness to use their time to benefit others, but until recently I have never wanted to participate.
My own knitting has been primarily “me” focused. There are a number of reasons why.
1. My knitting time is very precious to me; there never is enough.
2. There are so many beautiful things I want to knit for myself; my eyes are bigger than my stomach.
3. The tactile experience of fine yarn is therapeutic to me. Compassionate knitting usually requires acrylic yarn that can stand a lot of abuse.
4. I knit several sweaters for my mother until I discovered she had no idea how much expense and work went into them. Although I’m sure she was grateful, her negative comments regarding sleeve length and fit in general are what I remember.
5. The several projects I already have in progress compete with each other. They whisper, “Finish me,” “No finish me,” Me first, you spent so much money on me.”
6. I simply have not taken the time to deeply think about other’s suffering, and how my talent could ease their burden.
7. To be perfectly honest, I do think about suffering a lot. As a clinical social worker my life is immersed in suffering. Knitting is the counter balance, my creative renewal that I hold sacred.
Having said that, inspired by my friend Warren last Spring, I have become an initiate in the community of compassionate knitters.
Really quick…the back-story…
A couple of months ago Warren approached me while at our Friday morning knitting group, and asked if I could find a home for several hats he had knit in an attempt to use up his stash. At the time I was in the middle of organizing a diaper drive for our local refugee population. I said sure and it was agreed that we would meet at our local gym where he would give them to me. The following Monday morning we met at 6:55am and I was given two grocery bags stuffed full of warm hand knit hats. They weren’t just physically warm; they were emotionally warm. When I got home and looked at them spread out on my kitchen table I felt the physical manifestation of kindness and charity.
Acts of Kindness are Contagious Warren’s goodness made me want to be a better person. I immediately thought about 2 hats that have been on the needles for over 2 years. It wouldn’t take long to finish them and then I could make his pile even larger. My next thought was of my own stash and the fact that rather than sitting in a drawer it could be sitting on someone’s head keeping them warm. I finished knitting the two hats in a couple of days, which brings me to Lesson #2
Compassionate Knitting isn’t as Time Consuming as I Thought it Would be. After completing the two hats, and feeling pretty good about “finishing something” I thought about other kinds of hats. My daughter’s cousin through marriage had sadly just lost a premature baby. Preemie Hats! After hearing all about the tragedy in this family, I had a desire to offer love and support for those going through such difficult times. I found a wonderful free pattern, went to the store and bought very soft baby yarn. Knitting preemie hats is like eating potato chips. They are so cute and fun to knit that I couldn’t just stop at one. They only take about half a day to knit. How do you spell immediate gratification?
Because they are so easy they are the perfect project to take with you when you are anticipating a wait. I love that I am doing something worthwhile during the time that I used to think was being wasted.
Using up Stash is Good, but a Worthy Excuse to Buy Yarn is Better
Buying yarn brings me joy 🙂 Walking into rooms filled with fiber and color is like Shangri-La. The only problem is that I have enough yarn to keep me busy until I die. However, if I have a nobel purpose, I can justify additional purchases. I love chatting with shop owners and their staff about the perfect yarn choice for my compassionate projects and I feel really good about supporting our local yarn purveyors.
Small Compassionate Knitting Projects Provide Opportunities to Learn New Techniques and Stitches
Interested in trying a new technique or stitch? A hat can double as a swatch. I learned how to cast off and then pick up purlwise to create a beautiful effect.
Small projects are great opportunities to practice designing which can later be applied to larger projects.
Compassionate Knitting Attracts People who Feel Empowered to Make a Difference
There is some controversy about whether compassionate knitting is truly helpful. Where do all of the hats, scarfs, mittens, blankets, socks, and dog sweaters go? While organizing POP’s Operation Love Bundles, I was specifically told not to contribute hand knit scarfs. Homeless youth prefer fleece. I have heard stories about the countless hats, scarves, and fleece blankets being warehoused at our local charitable distribution centers. Are compassionate knitters naive? Could their time and resources be put to more effective ways of relieving suffering? Or are they choosing to make their voice and their hearts heard through the clicking of their needles? I don’t have an answer.
What I do know is that I am currently participating in compassionate knitting because I like being connected to people who spend a portion of their time using their talent to make a difference in someone’s life. That’s an attribute I admire. It reinforces my belief that there is more good than bad.
If You Ask, Some will Come and Some will Run
For close to 4 years now, I have been asking others to join me in charitable causes. Nothing is harder than asking people to give of their time and resources. It’s a boundary issue. Most will decline, but there are those who are looking for opportunities to make a difference. It is wonderful to see those individuals and groups rise to the surface and contribute. Even though I may not know them well, it feels like a joyous reunion with kindred spirits. Combine that feeling with knitting and it becomes intoxicating.
Compassion and Gratitude go Hand in Hand
Warren told me he knits the cuff of his hats to match twice the length of his ears. Doing this provides a double cuff which maximizes the warmth the hat can provide. He wasn’t just using up his stash. Warren knows what it feels like to be outside in the cold all day. It was his job. He told me he used to knit hats for the men on his crew so they could better brave the winter.
When I knit preemie hats I wanted them to be soft and adorable. I imagine their mothers faces when they see their babies in the isolate wearing a strawberry on their head or a big beautiful flower.
Currently I’m knitting women’s summer chemo hats. I actually went to Sally’s Beauty Supply and bought a wig head so that I could block the hats as well as see how attractive they would be on a bald head.
I did some research and learned that hats with holes are not a good idea for the summer. Soft cottons and cotton acrylic blends are preferable. I gave each skein of yarn the neck and under the chin test for softness. I thought about cloches vs beanies, and brims to keep the sun off the face and the neck. I thought about hats to sleep in, learning that even summer nights could be chilly for a bald head on chemo drugs. Above all I wanted the hats I knitted to be beautiful because if I were sick that’s what I would want.
And that’s my point. “Compassionate knitting” has ignited my compassion. I took the time to put myself in someone else’s shoes. Of course I can’t know what a person with cancer is feeling, but I’m a little closer and if nothing else, in my own way I’m saying you’re not alone.
As I touch the suffering in the world in this small way I am reminded of what I have to be grateful for and savor those things a little bit more and therein lies the magic. I see the suffering and can say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” For this round I’m safe, but I know it’s coming as it has and always will, and I hope I won’t be alone.
Diversity Applies to Giving Also
There are as many ways to give as there are stars in the sky and they are all beautiful.
Who is the Giver and Who is the Receiver? That is the Question
The answer: It is one continuous round. At it’s best, the lines are very hard to define and that’s what I’ve gotten caught up in. Right now, my love for knitting and giving have become a Venn diagram; the middle circle, where the two overlap is creating an energy that’s just feels really good. I am definitely on the “receiving end.”
In the next couple of days I will share with you yarn choices and patterns for summer women’s chemo hats If you are interested in contributing, I will be taking the completed projects to Huntsman Cancer Center the 1st of August.
Drop-off locations are:
Me-You know where to find me
Blazing Needles, 1365 South 1100 East SLC, Ut 84105
Unraveled Sheep, 9316 South 700 East Sandy, Ut 84070
Knitting Pretty, 1393 West 9000 South West Jordan, Ut 84088
Sending love your way,