Showing posts with label helping others through knitting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label helping others through knitting. Show all posts

Monday, 14 July 2014

Darn Good Yarn

A few months ago someone from the yarn company Darn Good Yarn contacted me and asked if I would like a free yarn sample. I gave the question of whether I would like to receive free yarn the 0.00001 seconds of serious thought it took for me to conclude that OH YES PLEASE I WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE SOME FREE YARN, and the skein of Roving Silk Yarn pictured above was duly sent to me. Which in turn led to me checking out Darn Good Yarn projects on Ravelry to see what other knitters were doing with Darn Good Yarn's yarns, and from there to the Darn Good Yarn website itself.

Darn Good Yarn, founded in 2008, offers a range of yarn that is handmade by hundreds of women in India and Nepal. These women, many of whom live in areas where there are few viable jobs for women, are selected for their skill and can earn a livable wage in their own homes. Not only does Darn Good Yarn give all these women the means to support themselves, they also help reduce waste as the much of the fibres used to make the yarns for a Darn Good Yarn are recycled and reclaimed, such as those used in their silk yarns, which are made from recycled silk saris.

Darn Good Yarn offers quite a full range of yarns, from hand-dyed silk, llama, yak, and banana fibre yarns that could be used for general purpose knitting and crocheting, to ribbon yarns, art yarns, and yarn made from jute, linen, newspaper, and hemp that would be better suited to home decor items, art, or strictly utilitarian projects than to anything wearable. They also offer some fabric, and spinning and felting supplies. The crocheted basket photo above is one of Darn Good Yarn's product shots and is available as a kit containing the instructions and enough ribbon yarn to make three nesting baskets.

This plant holder is another of Darn Good Yarn's suggested projects: it's a bread crumb container covered in newspaper yarn. The instructions are available for free on Darn Good Yarn's website. To be honest, many of the free project patterns on the Darn Good Yarn website leave something to be desired, but then that's often true of the designs offered by yarn companies; their forte is supplying yarn rather than coming up with creative things for a knitter to do with it. So let's have a look at what the users of Ravelry are doing with their Darn Good Yarn.

Ravelry user HaliBea knitted this hip scarf to wear in a student recital at the dance studio she attends. She used Darn Good Yarn's Recycled Resolution Sari Silk Yarn for the project. The play of colour is fabulous, and I'd love to see this idea expanded into a standard-sized shawl.

Ravelry user purple4885 knitted this Malawi Cichlid Skinny Scarf with less than a skein of Darn Good Yarn's Silk Cloud.

Ravelry user BettyBee made this Plush Boxy Bee scarf with some of Darn Good Yarn's Plush yarn and some black yarn from Lamb's Pride. This scarf is woven, not knitted, but it would be quite possible to knit something similar. This piece makes good use of a solid dark colour to tone down a bright, multi-coloured yarn.

Ravelry user babjoysong knitted and sewed this vest using Recycled Sari Silk Yarn Rope Cording and some coordinating striped fabric. She reported that "the yarn is tough, coarse, wiry, and challenging to work with".

This little witch doll isn't knitted or even crocheted, but she is just too wonderful and deliciously creepy not to include. Ravelry user magyarreeddog made twelve-inch Violet the Witch's hat, overskirt, and embellishments from Darn Good Yarn's dyed silk roving, silk gauze and ribbons.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Knitting for Penguins: A Cautionary Tale

Over the past several months a number of my friends and readers have flipped me links to stories about a call for hand-knitted sweaters for penguins who'd come into contact with a recent oil spill. The story also began cropping up in the Facebook newsfeed for this blog's Facebook page. I meant to look into the story further and then write about the matter, but never got around to it.

It turns out that my procrastination paid off (as procrastination sometimes does), because as it happens wildlife rescue workers don't use sweaters on oil-soaked penguins. Sweaters, even the cutest of them, would press the oil against the bird's skin, impair the evaporation of the aromatics emitted by the oil, and needlessly distress the wild animal. Rescue efforts instead rely on warm baths and heat lamps to clean, dry, and warm the birds. The pictures of the penguins in sweaters you've seen are posed photo ops. Oh, and there hasn't been a recent large oil spill.

The penguin sweaters sent by helpful knitters from around the world are actually being used as outfits for the toy stuffed penguins sold by the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation's gift shop, with the proceeds being used to fund their wildlife aid operations. The whole "penguins in sweaters" knitting drive story actually dates back to 2000 and has been through a few incarnations. Blogger Mike Dickison has the whole story on his site, Great Flightless Birds, and he winds up his article by offering tips on how organizers should manage a call for knitwear donations and make sure it doesn't wind up getting wildly out of hand as the "sweaters for penguins" drive has each of the three times it has arisen.

I am very relieved not to have played a part in disseminating false information about the penguin sweater matter either here or on Facebook. The first I posted about it was last Friday, when I shared Mike Dickison's post and an informative cartoon about the story on this blog's Facebook page. And I hope that if I had written about the penguin sweater story I would have researched it properly and found out the actual facts of the matter. The whole fiasco has led me to think about knitting for charity in general, and I'd like to set out some advice on how knitters can do so effectively.

First of all, I'd encourage any knitter who wishes to knit for charity to give the items he or she makes to local organizations. Unless you live somewhere extremely remote such as, say, Antarctica, there are sure to be a number of charities in your own community that will welcome your knitwear donations. Depending on what causes appeal to you, and what kind of items you want to make, you can knit for:

- Neonatal Intensive Care Units or Special Care Nurseries in your local hospital. Preemies require very tiny items that aren't all that easily found in stores.
- Christmas toy drives.
- Organizations created to help children in need. Toys, clothes, and blankies will all be welcome.
- First responders such as fire fighters, police and EMTs sometimes accept donations of small knitted dolls and toys to give to children to comfort and distract them from the stress and pain they are experiencing.
- Cancer treatment centres often take donations of knitted caps, which are given to patients undergoing chemo who have lost their hair.
- Knitting circles that make prosthetics for breast cancer survivors. Women who have had mastectomies sometimes much prefer a custom-knitted prosthetic rather than a very expensive, heavy, and ugly commercially made prosthetic.
- Homeless shelters. They usually have an endless need for hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, and socks in winter.
- Women's shelters. They can use a variety of knitwear to help outfit the women and children who seek refuge with them.
- Group efforts to collect knitted squares to be assembled into blankets which are then sent to hospices, shelters, or anywhere there is need.
- Animal shelters and rescue operations are often happy to receive bird nests, blankets, toys, and other items for the animals in their care.

When you find an organization in your area that you wish to knit for, check their website or contact them to find out what their needs actually are. Some organizations may not be willing to take the knitted items at all, some may have more than enough such items coming in at present, and some may have specific requirements for any knitted items they receive, and you want to make sure you have reliable, up-to-date information about their needs and requirements before you donate. Learn from the mistake made by the members of a Women's Institute in Devonshire, who spent a year crafting a knitted village for sick children, only to find out that no children's hospital or hospice would take it because it couldn't be sterilized. The miniature village was eventually sent to a South African orphanage, but still... ooops.

You may wish to join an existing charitable knitting circle in your area that will give you information about what to knit and be responsible for passing the items along to the organization that will use them. Lion Brand actually has a special interface on their site that interested U.S. knitters and crocheters can use to search for an existing knitting charity in their location or even register their own new knitting charity if they wish.

If you wish to donate to an international organization, or even an organization that is farther away than you can conveniently get to, I'd urge you to do due diligence on the organization to make sure it's legitimate — and then to send a cheque. I know there's much more emotional satisfaction and a feeling of connection to be derived from hand knitting items to be given as is to those far away, but if you really want to help others, keep in mind that in most cases aid organizations can do far more good with whatever amount it cost you to ship your knitted item hundreds or thousands of miles than they can with the knitted item itself. Shipping handmade donations internationally isn't a cost-efficient way to help others. If you were a foreign aid worker, what would you rather receive in the mail: a hat and mittens to help keep a child warm, or the monetary equivalent that could be spent on medical supplies which could save three children's lives?

The one exception I can think of to this "knit locally, send money globally" rule is the D.O.V.E. Fund Bandage Brigade, which collects knitted leprosy bandages to take to countries where leprosy is still a problem. In that particular case, there is a specific need for the handmade bandages because they breathe better than commercially made bandages, and can be sterilized for re-use as commercially made bandages cannot be. So yes, in that particular instance, go ahead and knit the bandages and ship them.

If you feel you must answer some far off call for specific knitted items, do exercise some caution. The organization you are knitting for should have a web site of its own where they can manage the donations coming in. There should be contact information on this web site, and details about what items are needed, and where to send them. There should be updates on how many items they've had come in, on how they're using them, and how many items they still need. The Knitting for Nutrition project, that took place in February 2012 in Burkina Faso, Africa, did exactly this, got the 1076 pairs of baby booties they wanted for their project, and then announced that they weren't accepting any more booties for the time being. If an organization hasn't set up a simple, free blog to manage the knitwear donations they are receiving, it probably isn't sufficiently organized to receive the donations, and the whole call for knitwear may be a hoax, a misunderstanding, or outdated. The workers of this organization may in fact be buried under bales of knitted items that have been shipped to them from knitters all over the world, that are way in excess of what they can ever possibly use, and that they perhaps never even asked for.

In general, before you knit for others, do take the time to make sure your work is needed and welcome before you so generously and kindly donate the items you worked so hard on. Hand knitted items are a terrible thing to waste, especially when there is sure to be someone out there who is very much in need of them.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Yarn Alive

In this video, Wall Street Journal's Yumiko Ono reports from Shichigahama that, a year after the 2011 tsunami destroyed their homes and community, a group of elderly Japanese women who live in cramped, prefabricated homes hastily constructed by the government have found some solace and relief from their worries and privations in a knitting and crocheting group called Yarn Alive.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Knitting for Nutrition

There is a great deal of pediatric malnutrition in Burkina Faso, Africa because recently weaned babies and toddlers are fed a diet of complex carbohydrates (usually a popular Burkinabe dish called To, which is a boiled, gelatinous flour) that they are not yet able to digest. A Peace Corp worker named Hilary, who is a village health development worker, devised a program to teach Burkinabe mothers how to prepare food for their babies. To entice local mothers into coming to the nutrition seminars, Hilary and her helpers gave a free pair of hand-knitted baby booties to each mother who attended the class. To get the booties to give away, Hilary set up a Knitting for Nutrition website, to put out a call for donated handmade booties. A total of 1076 knitted and crocheted booties was received, and in February 2012, Knitting for Nutrition taught women from 10 villages how to feed their children and distributed over 400 booties in one week. The mission is ongoing, although Knitting for Nutrition is not accepting any more donated booties at this time.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Row on Row of Poppies

Last year on Remembrance Day I wrote a post about knitting your own poppy. But some knitters don't stop at just making a poppy for themselves, or even a dozen or so for family and friends, but simply keep going like a one-person production line. The poppies they make are used in Remembrance Day events, or sold, with the monies raised subsequently donated to an organization that will use it to benefit military veterans. Sometimes a few people will decide to organize a poppy knitting effort and put out a call for donated poppies.

The largest scale of these efforts is possibly the 5000 Poppies Project, organized by Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight as one of a number of events that are being planned to commemorate the centenary of the 1915 Anzac Gallipoli landing in Melbourne, Australia. In 2015, the 5000 Poppies project volunteers will be “planting” a field of more than 5000 poppies in Fed Square, Melbourne, and are asking for donations of handmade poppies, and my guess is that they will overshoot their goal of 5000 poppies.

This year's Remembrance Day ceremonies in Louth, England, were decorated with hundreds of poppies created and donated not only by local knitters, but knitters as far away as Brazil and the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, all organized through a group Facebook page.

Individual efforts can be quite astounding too, though. Linda Evans, from Bilston, England, has knitted 2000 poppies (she admits that "a few" were knitted by a friend), which she sells for £1 each. Last year she raised £2,827 for the Royal British Legion

Anita Wreford, of Marshfield, South Wales, has knitted 400 poppies, which she sells for £2 to raise money for the British Legion.

It would seem that poppy knitting can be just as addictive as some other poppy-related activities, but then they are small and quickly made and it must be very satisfying to know that each little poppy will be worn and serve a greater purpose.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Just Another Knit in the Wall

A group called Knitting for Change launched a project in summer 2013 that saw a wall covered with knitting graffiti. The wall stands by Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, John’s Place, Bohemia Road, Hastings, England. The wall was created during a series of workshops attended by members of the public, and it was embroidered with slogans including: “I Love Hastings”, “Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me”, and “Be Somebody”. The workshops and the effort to cover the wall also proved a good way to introduce children to knitting, with the children in attendance learning to knit with needles or to finger knit for the first time. For more about this project, check out the video about the project on The Hastings Observer website, and see this Hastings Online article, which was written by one of the two women who launched the project.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Knitting and Nesting Instincts

I'm not as a rule a proponent of knitting for pets, largely because a lot of knitwear for pets is horrific, and it doesn't seem to me to be a very good use of resources to make something that's not only completely useless but that'll make you look like a crazy person. Very often your pet will loathe being outfitted in knitting anyway — a lot of domesticated animals know very well when they're an object of ridicule, and they don't like it. But as with every rule, there are exceptions, the most notable "knitting for animals" exception being that a lot of animal shelters and rescue operations have a real need for knitted and crochet items for the animals they are trying to save. If you're an animal lover who wants to knit things for charity, you might consider knitting various things for your local animal shelter instead of for your pet.

One item that animal shelters and wild animal rescue organizations often need are nests for baby animals. They need a lot of them because the nests need to be changed frequently for hygienic purposes. (Fortunately the knitted or crocheted nests can be washed, and lining the nest's bottom with a paper towel helps keep the nest cleaner.) Shelters need nests in different sizes to accommodate different species (from the size of a half-soda can, up to a size of a preemie hat), and because baby animals need a snug nest to keep them from flailing about too much before their limbs are strong enough, which can cause them to develop crooked limbs.

Some other specifications for baby nests:

- the nest must hold a bowl shape on its own (an actual preemie hat won't work);
- yarn should not be too fuzzy as the babies can get their tiny feet or claws stuck in the fuzz;
- bowls should be knitted double- or triple-stranded;
- stitches should be very tight and dense so that little legs don't slip through them and get stuck, which can cause injuries.

Nests make good projects for beginning or not particularly skilled knitters as it doesn't matter if they are crooked or have mistakes in them. They're small and quick to knit. They're also a good stash busting project, as colour doesn't matter, and tough, washable acrylic yarns are perfect for these projects. You can find crochet and knitting nest patterns on the Virginia Beach SPCA website, and the knitting pattern has its own Ravelry page.

If you'd like other options for animal rescue knitting, All Natural Pet Care has a lengthy list of ideas and accompanying links to free patterns for other items to make for shelter animals, such as blankets, beds, and toys that can accompany the animal into its eventual adoptive home, making the transition easier, or things like sweaters that can be used to keep a partly bald animal warm (dogs and cats are often shaved because of fur matting or medical procedures, and birds sometimes lose their feathers from illness or stress), or booties to protect injured paws.

Because my readers are international, rather than search out a number of pet shelters and outline their needs, I am recommending that if you are interested in knitting for rescue animals that you contact your local shelter or animal rescue organization and ask them what their needs and specifications are. They'll be glad of your efforts, the animals in crisis that receive your work will be a little more comfortable because of you, and your own pet will be all the happier for not having to wear, say, a little knitted blond Marilyn Monroe wig and white halter dress.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Some Yakety Yakking about Yak Yarn

If you like yak yarn, or wish to try working with some, you might consider buying it from The Rocking Yak. About a decade ago Bret Colledge, the founder of The Rocking Yak, was backpacking through the mountain villages in southwest China and was struck by the poverty and desperation of the Tibetan people there. He decided he had to help them by giving them a way to support themselves and their families, and so formed The Rocking Yak company, which employs Tibetan women who use their traditional spinning and knitting skills to produce high-quality hand-produced yak fibres, yarn, and garments.

Spinners can buy The Rocking Yal's fibres and spin and dye them into their own yarn. Knitters can purchase The Rocking Yak yarn, which comes in its natural brown, a dyeable cream, and a few hand-dyed colours, and is available in light, medium, and bulky weights. The Rocking Yak also offers a few very basic knitting patterns for free. If you are a non-knitter or don't care to add yet another item to your already endless list of projects, The Rocking Yak sells some hand-knitted items.

Some stores in U.S., Canada, and China sell Rocking Yak yarn; for those of us who don't live near one of the stores on the list, Rocking Yak's products are available online, and they offer free shipping on U.S. orders over $30. I've had no dealings with The Rocking Yak or with yak yarn myself, but I've looked at the all the projects made with The Rocking Yak yarn on Ravelry, and I see a lot of beautiful items and no complaints whatsoever.

Here's a slide show of the Tibetan knitters and spinners and other The Rocking Yak employees at work, with bonus shots of some unsuspecting yaks, who have no idea how their down (which is gathered after they've shed it, not shorn) is helping the people they live among.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The D.O.V.E. Fund Bandage Brigade

The photo on the right above is from the Quick Tricks, Book 188, published by Coats and Clark's in 1968. And no, that pattern is not intended to be used in the way you might have thought it was. Even the most bored of houswives wouldn't have thought clogging up her plumbing was a good use of her time, unless she had an incredibly hot plumber or something. No, those are not rolls of knitted toilet paper, but leper bandages. And I was all set to start making jokes about this pattern, had in fact written some of them, until I did a little research and found out that, bizarre as it was to include such a pattern in a booklet with all the frivolous and hideous items shown on the cover, a knitted leper bandage pattern isn't just some useless artifact. I deleted the jokes that suddenly didn't seem the least bit funny and decided to tell you about the actual need for handmade leper bandages in today's world.

Though leprosy can now be prevented, treated, and cured, and though approximately 95% of the world's population is immune to leprosy, there is still leprosy and leper colonies in some third-world countries where lack of proper food and bedding and contaminated water contribute to the spread of the bacteria that causes leprosy. Handmade leprosy bandages are needed for wrapping the stumps of leprosy patients because the handmade bandages breathe better than mass-manufactured gauze or bandages, and can be sterilized for reuse. The D.O.V.E. Fund Bandage Brigade, an offshoot of the non-profit D.O.V.E. (or Development of Vietnam Endeavors) Fund, is one organization that collects and transports handmade leper bandages to remote leper villages in Vietnam. Since they first organized in 2008, they've transported more than 15,000 bandages, usually in the luggage of D.O.V.E. mission volunteers en route to Vietnam. If you'd like to contribute to their efforts, they have instructions for either knitting or crocheting bandages on their website. If you've been looking for a charity that needs your knitting or crochet skills, making those bandages will be as easy as charity handiwork gets, and you could hardly make anything more useful.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Knitting for Sandy Hook

If you are wondering how you might help the surviving victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, some group knitting projects have been organized. There's a Ravelry group making stuffed toy monsters for every child who attends the Sandy Hook elementary school.

A teacher named Jeanne Malgioglio is asking people to knit or crochet green and white scarves (green and white being the Sandy Hook school colours) for the Sandy hook students, faculty and first responders.

A web site called Snappy Tots is asking knitters and crocheters to make green and white hats to be give to the children of Sandy Hook school.

I have a few thoughts about these charitable efforts that I'd like to express, but doing so has cost me not a few minutes spent staring blankly at a blank computer screen, trying to frame what I want to say in a way that will not in any way denigrate the group efforts I've listed above.

In a time of tragedy like this one, people who weren't directly affected by the events try to process their horror and grief and often end by wondering what on earth they can do to help those who were hard hit. They are often willing to give considerable amounts of time, effort and money in order to help. This being the case, it seems a shame that, so often, these wonderful, generous, loving outpourings of time, effort, and money can get misdirected into activities that don't actually help anyone, that are the equivalent of baking an American flag cake.

I think of accounts I read after 9/11 that related how the Red Cross had so much money in their 9/11 relief fund that they wound up simply handing out money to those who just happened to live near the World Trade Center — who had not suffered the loss of any loved ones, any injury, or any destruction of their property in the terrorist attack. I think of how, in WWI and WWII, women were encouraged to help in the war effort by knitting socks and other items, though a factory could turn out more socks in a day than quite a large group of women could knit in a year. This is not to say that the hand-knitted socks were useless, as I am sure they were put to good use and were much appreciated by the soldiers who got them. One must look at the larger picture, at the fact that the war work of those on the homefront was very varied and could hardly have been greater, and that the knitting they did was probably only a way to put their little leisure time to good use. However, let it be said that the soldiers who didn't get hand-knitted socks didn't go barefoot, and that the main benefit of wartime knitting seems to have been that it made the women who did it feel useful, that it gave them a way to cope with their anxiety over the fact that the men they loved might never come back from the war. And some war-time knitting and needlework was indeed completely useless and self-indulgent. And so I consider that these efforts were at least partially misdirected, because at least in the case of the tragically pointless WWI, asking hard questions about why such a war needed to take place and lobbying for withdrawal from it would have done the soldiers who fought it far more good than any amount of hand-knitted socks.

Please don't take all this as a criticism of the charities I have mentioned. It's important that the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre receive support. There have been two deaths in my family in the past thirteen months, and I know just how much it means to people who are grieving to receive these gestures of sympathy and support. These scarves and hats and toys won't in any way make up for what those who receive them have lost and won't by itself help them recover from their traumatizing experiences, but it will demonstrate to them that there are many people out there who sympathize and care about them. When the children who attend Sandy Hook receive their cuddly knitted monsters, they'll learn that though there was one mentally ill stranger out there who wanted to kill them, there are thousands of strangers who care so much about them and what they've been through that they're willing to spend time and money making a toy especially for them.

What I would like, though, is for people to try to see the bigger picture, and to be mindful and far-seeing about the ways in which they try to work through and respond this tragedy. I'd like people to think about how they can help address some of the root causes of these horrific mass shootings: the lax gun control laws; the substandard treatment of the mentally ill; the lack of support for families trying to raise a child with mental health issues; and some of the issues with media coverage. I'd like people to really think about what they can do to change our society for the better, about becoming more politically active, or about volunteering, or organizing a group effort of their own if they've got a great idea for one.

Many who will knit for these causes are already volunteering or contributing to social or political causes, and they, or others who are already overwhelmed with their own responsibilities, may decide that all they want to do or can do is knit an item during their public transit commute or TV-watching time in evening. But there are those of us who could spare the time to work for change, and I'd like us all to think carefully before we pick up the needles. Knitting is a wonderful past-time, and it's not non-productive, but sometimes it is better to leave the needles lying in our work baskets, because there are other, more important things that we could be doing.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

How Knitted are Thy Branches

Yes, that's a knitted Christmas tree, made by the members of Poulton-le-Flyde Methodist Church as well as other members of the same community in Lancashire, England.

The plan is to take the tree down after Christmas, and stitch the leaves into blankets, which can then be donated to charity.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Knitting Behind Bars

I'm so upset tonight by what I've been reading about today's shooting at a public school in Newtown, Connecticut, by the horror of all those deaths, by my own dully resigned sense that even something horrific as this will not get the States to change the way it treats the mentally ill, regulates gun ownership, or reports on and addresses problems in the media, that I decided I wanted to do a "good news" post about how violence can be addressed. And since this is a knitting blog, of course this meant I had to find material on how knitting could be used to decrease violence. You may be surprised to read that I didn't have to look far. I googled "knitting violence", and the topic for this post popped right up.

Two retired women, Lyn Zwerling and Sheila Rovelstad, have initiated and implemented a program called Knitting Behind Bars at a prison in Maryland. They approached every prison in the area with their idea for a knitting class, and all the prisons refused except the last one, where the prison authorities skeptically agreed to let them try it.

And the program has been a success. As the Baltimore Sun wrote in a November 2011 article,

Men literally beg to get in. There's a waiting list.... They want it so much, in fact, that they're willing to be good in order to do it. [Prison warden Margaret] Chippendale has noticed lower rates of violence among the men who knit. "It's a privilege to be in that program," Chippendale says. "It's something that matters and they don't want to do anything to be removed from it."

One prisoner, who was serving time for stabbing someone and who was busily knitting a hat, told a reporter, "My mind is on something soft and gentle. My mind is nowhere near inside these walls."

Zwerling talks about why she thinks knitting classes are beneficial in an NPR interview described here. She believes that knitting teaches patience, discipline, anger management, and goal orientation, all important life skills that many criminals may be lacking. And some lessons in basic social skills can be shoehorned in at the same time. Zwerling and Rovelstad insist on good behaviour from the men in their knitting classes: no swearing or rough housing, and given names are to be used rather than prison nicknames.

The men in these knitting classes have made little dolls that first responders in Maryland now carry to give to children at scenes of accidents, fires and other tragedies. They've made hats and scarves for their own children, for their mothers or grandmothers, for themselves. And at least some of them have said they are continuing to knit upon their release from prison, or intend to.

Are knitting classes some magical solution for violence in prisons and the heartbreakingly high recidivism rates among released prisoners? Of course not. Real change, especially change at the extent and scale of change that is needed in the prison system and among convicted criminals, is gradual and requires a holistic approach. It will take more than Thursday-night knitting classes to rehabilitate those who have been unable or unwilling to earn a living without resorting to crime, or to help those who can't relate to others without violence. But it's an idea that has been tried and is showing a demonstrable level of success. These knitting classes have given some of the criminals in one prison useful skills, some peace of mind and innocent enjoyment, a sense of pride and competence, and a way to give to others.

Knitting Behind Bars has its own blog where you can read about the program and, since Zwerling and Rovelstad supply all the yarn, needles, and other tools and supplies needed for their classes, you can make a monetary donation to their program if you wish. Unfortunately, because of lack of storage and other logistical issues, Zwerling and Rovelstad are unable to accept donations of yarn, so if you were hoping to unload your stash, you'll have to find another charity to ship it to.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A Knitting Project That Deserves Full Support

Yes, those are exactly what you think they are.

Breast cancer survivors who knit can knit their own prosthetic breasts instead of buying silicone prosthetics. Those who have done so say the knitted breasts are lighter (or can be weighted to exactly the weight wanted), more comfortable, and cooler. Knitted boobs can be custom made to whatever shapes and sizes are wanted. They can be made to resemble a woman's skin tone, or in colours to match her lingerie or outfit, or embroidered with her initials or "tattoos". A woman can even swim with them (gel prosthetics float, which as you can imagine would make a front crawl challenging). An experienced knitter could probably make a pair of breasts in less time than it would take her to travel to a medical supply store, have a silicone prosthetic fitting, and go home again. And at the cost of ball of yarn and some stuffing (which most knitters have lying around anyway), compared to $300 to $500 for one prosthetic silicone breast, they're by far the most affordable choice.

Beryl Tsang, a cancer survivor and knitter, tells us about her search for a prosthetic breast and moment of knitting inspiration (and shares her boob pattern) on Knitty Tsang has also launched a web site for breast cancer patients and survivors. Not all woman who need prosthetic breasts can knit, of course, so knitting groups have formed to knit boobs to donate to women in need of them. A group called Bosom Buddies in Moline, Illinois, has made knitted breasts for women in 18 states. Another breast cancer survivor and knitter formed the Knitted Knockers program in 2007, and is urging knitters to form their own local chapters.

For my part, I'm imagining the patterns Vogue Knitting might come up with for knitted prosthetic breasts if they ever decide to go there. And yes, I'm also imagining reviewing them.