Knitting For Peace

A piece of knitting is, with few exceptions, one long strand of yarn, looped back on itself. Every part of it is connected, and if one pulls the loose end, one can unravel the entire piece of fabric. That’s the philosophical aspect of knitting.Knitting creates communities. I learned to knit as a child. My mother taught me, as her mother had taught her. This is a lineage of love, of people, mostly women, sitting together and passing on stories as well as stitches. Later I learned to hold the yarn in my left hand from a college friend who had learned it from her German host family when she was an exchange student.

My collection of needles is a potpourri of stories. A few I have bought new, including the beautiful set of rosewood double-pointed needles on which I knit a pair of bamboo-silk socks for my sister to comfort her feet after surgery. Some have come to me from my mother, so lovingly used over the years that the printed sizes have worn off. Others appeared in the boxes of yarn from my first mother-in-law, most likely from the senior center she frequented, so I will never know the women–or possibly men–who began projects on these needles, only to leave them half-finished. I love these untold stories, even as I add my own and pass them on.

Over the years, I knitted many sweaters, scarves, hats, even an afghan or two, mostly for family and friends. Then I came across Betty Christiansen’s Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place, One Stitch at a Time. I read about the history of wartime knitting, the Revolutionary Knitting Circle, Peace Fleece, and programs that teach knitting to prisoners.

My projects shifted to a different focus: I knit a prayer shawl for a dying friend and a lap robe for my second mother-in-law during her final illness. With each stitch, I held in my mind wishes for peace, for love, for understanding.

Soon I was venturing further afield. Friends scoured thrift shops for balls of yarn for me. Armed with scraps of acrylic yarn and a simple pattern, I concocted dozens of teddy bears for the Mother Bear Project. These go to orphans in Africa and other emerging areas, most of whom have lost their parents to AIDS or are themselves infected with HIV. Mother Bear was started by one woman, Amy Berman, after reading a magazine article on the plight of South African children. To date, over 49,000 bears have brightened the lives of those who have so little.

As part of the livelongnmarry fundraiser to defeat Prop. 8, I organized and assembled 2 “rainbow afghans” (one wool, one synthetic). Knitters and crocheters from across the US and Canada sent beautiful, colorful squares. One buyer wrote:  “The afghan is a birthday present to my grandmother, who was the first person outside of my immediate family to know I was gay and who has been supportive and wonderful to me the whole time. She accepts my gf as another granddaughter, she’s amazing. I wanted her to have something warm to curl up under in her armchair at night and think of me.”

When I get my hands on wool yarn, I make children’s clothing and baby blankets for afghans for Afghans. The winters are so bitterly cold that synthetic yarns don’t provide enough warmth. I make a lot of mittens, since they don’t take a lot of yarn and are small enough to be easily portable. Last year, I made 12 pairs of them, plus various socks and vests and the odd hat, baby blanket, and sweater. Now I’m knitting with delicious wool/mohair yarn from Peace Fleece, which supports wool producers in Russia, Israel/Palestine and Romania, as well as Maine. The proceeds from the sale of their beautiful “Baghdad Blue” yarn are donated to the Palestinian/Israeli village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam. A thread of friendship now stretches From Israel to Afghanistan, via my own living room in California.

The way I see it, I can’t wave a magic wand and cure AIDS. I can’t solve Afghanistan’s problems or those of the Middle East. I can’t bring peace anywhere except my own heart. But I can bring a smile to one child’s face and send another child a warm sweater or pair of mittens. I can send a blanket to wrap a newborn baby in when she goes home. There is something direct and personal about a hand-knitted garment; it says there is a real person who cared enough to create this for you. Perhaps all this does is make me feel less powerless. But perhaps that child, that family, will remember. Perhaps, one stitch at a time, it will make a difference.

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Knitting For Peace — 8 Comments

  1. I knit baby items for my church. Mainly we ship them to an AIDS hospice in Uganda, but some of the items also go to family-counseling groups in my area. Every baby needs a handmade item!
    Other people knit for animals — there’s an entire group, Hugs for Homeless Animals, that works on small acrylic throws for pet-shelter dogs and cats.
    The fact is that if you’re a really good knitter (and you sound like one) you rapidly work through all possible recipients in your personal circle. However, the world is wide!

  2. How wonderful, Brenda! Yes, I think my family overflowed with sweaters quite some time ago. I find knitting very meditative, whether I’m chatting with friends or listening to music or an audio book at the time. In fact, it’s a great technique to help my back brain work through plot knots!

  3. I finally, after two years, finished a baby blanket for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop’s annual “Babyshower for the Homeless” project. At the rate I knit, the next one won’t be ready for another two years–but I’m glad to do it.

  4. I find it difficult to sit still without -doing- something with my hands. a keyboard, an apple. But knitting is best for places (like lecture halls) where food or keyboards are not good. And I can knit like the wind, really fast.

  5. Kids’ mittens are portable–you can stick them in any reasonable sized purse–and whip up quickly. Afghans for Afghans even has a 2-needle pattern for those who aren’t up to double-pointeds. I used that one for a dozen pairs or so, then thought, what the heck, it’s time I made my peace with these–what DO you do with them? Once someone showed me, it was, duh, of course.

  6. These are great suggestions of places for folks to send knitting once they’ve supplied their families with all the warm things they could possible need. (Especially here in Southern California, where you wear a sweater once a year.)

  7. I’ve taken up the Easy Throw pattern from the er, whatever the second book in the Friday Night Knitting Club series is titled, and made two so far. I prefer variegated yarn because one solid color is boring (ok, still warm when it’s done, but boring). Besides, it makes a great excuse to watch “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” or other Guilty Pleasure TV. I’m still buying the cheaper yarn, but will probably hear the siren song of wool pretty soon now. (I’ve already taken the byway into knitted lace; I knew the Diamond in a Diamond pattern so well that I could read with a book that stayed open by itself while doing that one. Ok, I didn’t really need to make six feet long…).

    And every once in a while I break out in slippers, from a pattern taught me by my great-aunt Lillie (who gave me her class ring when I graduated high school, because she graduated from the same school…only in 1914).

    Now I have to find a group or organize one. And when I run out of people in town to give stuff away too, I like the idea of helping others who don’t have insane knitting people in their family.

  8. A good compromise between wool and acrylic is Woolease, a Lion Brand yarn that is about 15 percent wool. It has a great wooly feel and knits up like a dream. It’s cheap — you can find it at Michaels and JoAnns and the other big-box craft stores. And it comes in huge balls, very economical.