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Charity knitters stitch up the world

In providing warm clothing to soldiers, third-world infants, and the needy, they comfort themselves as well.

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Another effort, a nationwide grass-roots program called Warm Up America!, has, over the years, distributed more than 250,000 afghan blankets to people in need, says Mary Colucci, executive director. Some donors contribute knitted and crocheted squares, each seven by nine inches. Volunteers then sew 49 squares together to make each afghan.

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On Nov. 12, Michael's craft stores across the country will host "joining parties" for volunteers to assemble afghans. Warm Up America! will give the finished afghans to charities.

In another effort, called Caps to the Capital, Warm Up America! is collecting knitted caps for newborns in developing nations. These often are credited with saving infants' lives, according to "State of the World's Mothers 2006," issued by Save the Children. The caps will be distributed through Save the Children programs.

"We felt we could, through our network of volunteers and our long association of guilds nationally, all work together to help them," Ms. Colucci says. She adds, "I'm amazed at the generosity of knitters and crocheters. You see it in the way they share their talents."

That generosity is evident on a rainy autumn Saturday at North Hill as Payson and 15 other women gather around a long table. Their projects range from a white cable-knit sweater for a child to a red cap, a turquoise scarf, and a blue-and-white cap. As they knit and purl, hands and needles move in quiet, rhythmic arcs. In a corner of the room, the fruits of their labors fill boxes and shopping bags with a rainbow of goods for area shelters and social-service programs.

"This group has turned into a factory," coordinator Donna Kent says with a laugh. She notes that a local shop, Black Sheep Knitting, donates 90 percent of the yarn. The rest comes from individuals.

Donated supplies are common – and often essential – to these groups. Some knitters contribute leftover skeins, Christiansen says. "Or someone's grandmother will die and leave behind her stash. It often ends up with charity knitting groups."

Some charity knitting takes place in unlikely settings – prisons. At Redgranite Correctional Institution in Redgranite, Wis., about 20 men crochet hats, mittens, scarves, and blankets. They meet daily and also stitch in their cells.

"A lot of the guys like the program because it lets them give back to the community," says Mark Hess, recreation leader. Most items go to local schools, charity events, and state-sanctioned auctions that donate money to charities.

Even pets become beneficiaries of knitters' generosity, says Rae French, founder of Hugs for Homeless Animals in Franklin, Wis. As part of an international program called Snuggles, people knit, crochet, or sew blankets for animal shelters.

"The 'snuggle' gives the animal psychological and physical comfort," she says. "When they come into the shelter, they're pretty frightened. As soon as they have something tactile, it calms them down." Blankets also make the cages homier and more attractive. Pets are more likely to be adopted if there is a blanket in the cage.

The stories that warm Christiansen's heart the most involve nursing-home residents. "They've got no one left to knit for, but they keep on knitting for others. Sometimes it's the thing that keeps them going."

She suggests that those wishing to get involved in charity knitting check with local shelters, transitional housing groups, and nursing homes to see if they accept knitted items. Yarn shops and local branches of the Salvation Army, YMCA, or Red Cross can suggest places to donate. Churches and schools are also aware of those in need in the community.

Summing up the benefits of charity knitting, Christiansen says, "The things that tend to divide our country so much don't matter when you're knitting for others. You're all working for a common cause. In a world where there's so much division, knitting for others is pulling people together in a way that transcends their differences."