Thursday, June 14, 2012

One Stitch At A Time: Knitting For Peace

Teddy Bears for African kids
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, and every knitter has stories of personal connections. 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 the 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 about 4 years ago, 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.

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.

Wool/Mohair socks for Afghan kids


  1. My favourite crochet hook has a spot that is worn through the enamel right down to the steel underneath.

    I think it's extraordinary what we can achieve with bits of coloured wool and pointy sticks.

  2. It is extraordinary, isn't it? And I love those stories. Instead of getting new/shiny things that wear out, we can treasure well-made tools that come with years (or generations) of love.