Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ellen runs a tight ship

A work project has me spending much of the weekend at a printing plant outside Boston. So while waiting for pages of text to proofread, I'm knitting. It's been awhile since I've sent anything to Ellen Harpin for The Ships Project, but I'm glad for the chance to be knitting today.

Ellen is an indefatigable woman in Florida who has galvanized knitters all over the country to make slippers, hats and other useful items for men and women serving in the military. She has points of contact not only with troops serving on shipboard, but with ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past four years, Ellen has sent nearly 200,000 volunteer-made items to soldiers -- not just knitted items, but wonderful "cool ties" filled with expandable polymer beads that, when soaked in water, create a tiny personal cooling system that works surprisingly well.

Ellen is extremely well-organized and has specific instructions for her volunteers. For example, she stresses that hats and slippers should be knit in "guy" colors - no pinks and lavenders, even though some women will end up with her shipments. She discourages hats crocheted with two strands -- too thick to fit comfortably under a helmet -- although thinner crocheted styles are OK. And she's specific about hat sizes. Seems lots of folks forget and send items that couldn't possibly fit an adult. In a recent note to her Yahoo mailing list, she said she had received a hat that was about 10 inches in circumference and 12 inches tall...could fit a one-liter water bottle, but not a real person!

I appreciate Ellen's specificity because it indicates she's serious about what she's doing. Some groups just aren't that way, and it's too bad. Vague invitations to contribute "whatever you want" might be well-meant, but unfortunately may end up with people generating a lot of junk in inappropriate colors and useless styles. Ellen will have none of that. So when she gets things that won't be useful, she's quick to remind people to think before they knit. And she gets fabulous results.

Another thing I really like about Ellen's operation is that it is amazingly free of politics. Her volunteers represent a wide variety of people and opinions, but the one thing that unites them is a desire to express support to the individuals who are putting themselves in harm's way because that's what our country has asked them to do. Views on military policy, either way, just don't matter here. But the people do.

Sometime I'll figure out how to imbed links nicely in this text, but for today I'll just type it in and encourage you to learn more about The Ships Project at

Because slippers for this project need to have cuffs (safety issue, apparently), I decided to slightly modify Joan Hamer's famous Wool-Ease Socks pattern for men. I'm using two strands of Caron Simply Soft in gray, and it's knitting up nicely on size 8 double-pointed bamboo needles. I'm just making the slipper-socks ribbing only a couple of inches deep, instead of the 8 inches of ribbing you'd knit if you were making sock-socks. The pattern is just so easy to follow, and the heel flap is knit in a beautiful Shaker stitch that is so thick and cushy. I'll post some pictures once I'm done - didn't bring my camera with me on this trip.

Oh, and if you've never seen the sock pattern, here it is... It's a great way to become acquainted with sock-knitting and techniques like short rows.

Now, back to knitting...oh, and waiting for those pages to proofread.

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