My Volunteer Journal: Episode 32 – Does My Addiction Age Me? How I Became Obsessed with Knitting and Stitches from the Heart

img_0254Reading through my local paper one weekend I came across an ad requesting volunteers for Stitchesfromtheheart.org. I looked the group up online and discovered that they knitted blankets and clothing items for premature babies. Wonderful! I had no idea how to knit. Had never even held knitting needles, but this was a must do. Right away I started fanaticizing about the lovely pieces I would make with all organic cotton and fair-trade-humanely-harvested-vegetable-dyed-alpaca-wool-from-the-farthest-nether-regions-of-the-Andes. My family members would beg me for scarves, but I would tell them to wait for the holidays. I was knitting for tiny babies. People would stop me on the street and ask to buy my scarf off me for exorbitant sums and I would politely pass it over for a nominal fee telling them how it was made of fair trade alpaca etc. Before parting I would hand them a picture of the tiny woman who wove the yarn on her wood loom under peaceful-non-sweat-shop conditions. This was going to be awesome. I was going to be like Gandhi and be able to make my own clothes and clothes for the needy.

The first thing I did was call my friends and tell them that I was a knitter now. My friend Nora replied in kind, “Do premature babies really need wash cloths and scarves?” I told her I intended to make a hat. She laughed and said the babies would look cute in my scarves.

After telling everyone I was knitting I had to get supplies. I chose a yarn store in the high rent area of Santa Monica known for their large selection of organic, recycled, and natural yarns. Inside, the store looked like a kaleidoscope, which fed my growing addiction. It was like Woodstock, but clean. I perused their supplies for 20 minutes then approached the desk, “Hi. I’m trying to learn to knit for this group called Stitches from the Heart. I want to make a baby hat, so I was wondering if you could help me pick out the correct supplies for this pattern?” I held up my wrinkled computer print out of the baby bonnet pattern I had gotten from Stitches website.

The girl behind the desk, who wore a hand knitted beret, stared at me for at least 30 seconds before she spoke. “Yeah. [deep breath in and out] You need to take a class. Then you will know how to pick stuff out yourself.”

She pulled out a copied class schedule and started highlighting. “These are the classes and they will have supplies for your first class assignments.”

I peeked at what she was highlighting. $110 for a class! I can’t recommend expensive volunteer activities. This was not going to work.

“Thanks, but isn’t there a way I can teach myself?”

“Not likely.” She scoffed and handed me the print out.

Bummed that I had wasted the drive I tucked tail and went home. Yarn snobbery. Elitist knitters. Who knew such things existed? I couldn’t take the class so damn it I was going to teach myself. I went to a large chain craft store and bought organic cotton yarn and some large bamboo needles. When I got home I reserved every knitting book at my local library – over ten – it wasn’t pretty. Then I searched the Internet for helpful websites. Knittinghelp.com was my greatest discovery because it has step-by-step videos. Anyone trying to teach themselves to knit or those who want to learn a new skill should check it out.

For the next few days I tied lots of knots, saw many scary sweater patterns, and drove my cats crazy by not letting them play with dangling yarn. Finally, on the fourth day I had the basic knitting technique down, but none of the patterns for hats were basic. I needed help.

I set out for yet another yarn store, Stitching is an Art, fearing further embarrassment at the hands of a crocheting click. Besides being a knitting and crocheting supply store Stitching is the headquarters for Stitchesfromtheheart.org. However philanthropically connected they may be I almost turned around and ran the minute I walked through the door. A group of ladies sat knitting briskly at a large table surrounded by rainbow colored yarns stacked floor to ceiling. More knitting snobs? I quickly nodded a hello and then raced for the wall to look at supplies.

It wasn’t long till Sandy, the purveyor of Stitching, approached me, “Can I help you find something?”  I stared at the yarn in front of me as I spoke, “I want to knit a baby hat for Stitches from the Heart, but I don’t know how to knit… but I want to learn… and I’ve got the basics down.” I looked up at her and she smiled. Sandy walked me around the store showing me all the supplies and what I would most likely need. She then pulled a chair up for me at the table and sat me next to Nancy who is the fastest draw in the west as far as knitting goes. Together they convinced me to start with a baby blanket for the preemies. It would be a bigger project, but easier. Also after I was done with it I would have the basic knit stitch down, and could move to more complicated patterns. Nancy started the project with me and watched me on the first few rows until I could do the pattern myself. I sat at the table knitting for 30 minutes and then went home to finish the project myself.

How much did the Stitching lesson cost? The cost of supplies. How much time did it take Nancy to show me the ropes? Probably 15 minutes.

So now I’m obsessed with knitting. Perhaps it’s my God complex – I love making things from scratch and then screaming, “Look what I have created for you!” It took me two weeks to finish the blanket (pictured). The longest volunteer project so far, but a skill I will have for the rest of my life. The ladies of Stitching gave me a tiny tag to tie to my blanket so that my name is on the project when it arrives at the hospital.

Stitches from the Heart ships baby knits to 1200 hospitals to help people at a very vulnerable time in their lives. The Stitching is an Art knitting group also knits for other non-profits like Operation Gratitude and One Voice. One knitter is legendary for knitting 1000 caps in a year for charity.

I highly recommend knitting whether for yourself or for charity. I keep picking up my knitting while I’m writing this blog. I’m making a scarf for myself right now, but next I’m going to learn to make a baby cap.