Susan is a familiar face in our store and our weekly drop-in sessions, and she is a graduate of our Expert Knitters Program. You could say she’s an all-around WEBS girl! We have seen her progress on a long-term charity knitting project and have finally gotten some much needed details of this enormous undertaking! Be inspired!! What is your New Year’s resolution?
Here’s what she has to say….
Appalachian Sweater Project
Question: What happens when you combine a large yarn stash with a career retirement and an insightful story about Appalachian children?
Answer: A most unexpected project that took me on a two-year journey.
In 2009, Diane Sawyer of ABC News presented a special entitled A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains. I found this special to be an extraordinary story of Appalachian children and the challenges they face each day. The stories of these children lingered with me for a long time as their poverty is something I cannot imagine. I wondered what I could do to help.
Months before, I retired from a near thirty-year career with a health services organization. The retirement came earlier than planned due to long-term medical conditions and admittedly, I was a bit lost going from a ten-to-twelve hour workday to a non-structured day. My focus was to do what was needed to improve my health, but there was still something missing — I kept thinking about the children of Appalachia and what I could do to help them.
Late one Saturday night, I had an idea. What if I used the large yarn stash I had built to help those children? What if I were to knit sweaters for these children to help keep them warm? I searched the internet for an organization in Appalachia and found many. I focused on an organization that services 30,000 in Appalachia and was established since 1952. I wrote them a note on their website asking if they would accept and distribute 100 hand-knit children’s sweaters. My goal was to send the sweaters in groups of twenty-five over the course of two years. I received a response from Sister Robbie who was excited and grateful for the offer. Thus, a project was born.
I began knitting, accumulating patterns, and was excited to see my yarn stash slowly decrease. The first group of 25 sweaters were sent to Appalachia early in 2010 with another batch in late 2010. June of 2011 rolled around and group three was sent and as of December, 2011, the last group of sweaters is making its way to Kentucky.
What I Learned
This project began as something to help me to look forward to when not feeling well (most of the time) and to assist with the transition into retirement. It ended up being so much more. Here’s a bit of what I learned:
- Children’s sweaters are a great way to learn new techniques or use new yarn you’ve been meaning to try.
- Blocking a sweater is when the ‘magic’ begins. Each and every time I was amazed to see a heap of knitted pieces transform into a beautiful sweater.
- The buttons are critical and make-or-break the look of the sweater. It is important to select and purchase the best possible buttons that you can to finish the garment.
- Call me crazy if you wish, but the biggest discovery is that I LOVE FINISHING WORK! Yes, it’s one of my most favorite parts of knitting. What a surprise.
- I began the project with gathering patterns from various sources. Somewhere around sweater #70, an interesting thing occurred. I began designing the sweaters myself! That was not the plan, but an outcome of the process itself.
- 44 cardigans, 1 bolero, 9 vests, 1 ballerina wrap, 4 dresses, 19 pullovers, 11 jackets, 10 hoodies, and 1 coat
- Sizes: 3 months to 12 years
- 472 skeins/balls of yarn
- 65 different yarns
- 61,567 yards of yarn which equals 34.98 miles of yarn
- 331 buttons
- 100 patterns
- Favorite Yarn: Mission Falls 1824 Cotton and Cotton Whirl, Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, and Valley Yarns Deerfield
- Favorite Patterns Books: Debbie Bliss 9 to 5 and Vintage Knits for Modern Babies by Hadley Fierlinger. Here’s two books that are a must for your knitting library if you have children from ages 5 to 9 or are knitting for babies.
- Favorite Record Keeping Tool: Nancy’s Knit Knacks Project Kards
A Few Thanks
Thanks to all the folks who not only cheered me on to complete the project, but also those who donated their extra yarn from previous projects. Such a thoughtful gesture is much appreciated.
Some of my fellow Thursday morning drop-in friends donated knitted items for the project. Each time, I was surprised with these lovely items (sweaters, a snuggle sak, and two dolls) and more than happy to include them in the boxes being sent. Thank you.
Thanks to Webs for having an outstanding button selection, an unbeatable yarn selection, and allowing me to share my story.
Charity knitting has been an amazing experience for me at a challenging time in my life. If you have bits of yarn leftover from other projects, combine them to knit up a small sweater and give it to the charity of your choice. You’ll be making someone warm and in return you may have some delightful discoveries of your own.
Susan, The Sweater Lady
(1) Charcoal Grey Cable and Seed Stitch vest made with Cascade 220 Superwash
(2) Light Blue Angora Bolero from page 39 of Vintage Knits for Modern Babies using Valley
(3) V-Neck Cardigan using Crofter Fair Isle Baby DK and steel blue Charming Raglan Pullover from page 69 of Vintage Knits for Modern Babies made with Encore DK