Saturday, July 29, 2006

Helen's cap: It's tried and true!

I got an e-mail from the volunteer director at the hospital on Thursday afternoon. The cancer treatment center was in need of more caps for chemotherapy patients -- did I have time to make some?

As any volunteer crafter knows, it's easy to snap into action when you get a request like this!

So Thursday after work, I poked around in my stash for some appropriate fabrics and found some long-forgotten half-yard lengths of cotton "blender fabrics" that I'd purchased a couple of years ago. For some reason they never seemed to lend themselves to any of my quilting projects, but they were absolutely perfect for chemotherapy caps - soft tone-on-tone motifs in pretty, flattering pastel shades. I had numerous other half-yards also suitable for caps, so I was good to go.

Friday night I cut out a dozen caps using Helen Littrell's wonderful pattern ...and here are the results of just a few hours at the machine this afternoon:

These caps don't look like much just piled up like this - I think I need to get a mannequin head to photograph them more appropriately. But Helen's Cover Cap design is the hands-down favorite among patients here. And, as I've written before, it goes together quickly and easily.

Tomorrow's agenda includes painting woodwork in the upstairs hallway and stairwell -- with a mid-afternoon break to drop the bag of caps off at the hospital.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A most enjoyable stitch

I usually rely on the good ol' seed stitch when it comes to knitting winter scarves -- sometimes adding a section of ribbing in the middle so it molds nicely around the neck. Nothing wrong with it, but I felt (gasp!!!!!) a bit of rut coming on.

Then last week, I was visiting a new yarn shop. I saw a great scarf on display with handwritten instructions for the very simple stitch pattern pinned to it. As the friendly clerk was ringing up my yarn purchases, I asked if I could copy down the pattern, and she cheerfully encouraged me to do just that.

It's been too hot to work with the handspun wool I bought that day, so I tried out the new stitch on some of the Caron Simply Soft I seem to have in abundance. I started fiddling around and changing the pattern a little -- and came up with something that instantly pulled me out of my seed-stitch rut. It's good-looking, reversible, and knits up in a flash! I've only done a few inches so far, but I think it'll be perfect for next January's Red Scarf project.

I'm sure there's a name for this stitch somewhere - surely Barbara Walker has long since documented this one - but I couldn't find the official name for it, so I will simply refer to it as the Enjoyable Rib stitch:


Enjoyable-Rib Scarf

Cast on 38 stitches on size 8 needles (or any multiple of four, plus 2 for edge stitches, using any size needle that suits your yarn.)

Slip first stitch; *K1, K2tog, YO, P1* till one stitch remains - K last stitch.

That's it. Repeat that same row, over and over, always being careful to slip the first stitch of each row. Keep going for 60 inches or so, and bind off in pattern.


My photo doesn't do the stitch justice - in a yarn with a little bit of sheen, the rib columns stand out beautifully and no one will ever believe it's so wildly simple to do. Have fun with this -- I promise you'll find it very enjoyable, too!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Feeling warm and fuzzy on July 23

This is a special day in my family. My sisters and brother and I exchanged e-mails about it first thing this morning. We always do. We share a few sweet memories, expressions of thankfulness. One of my sisters observes the day each year by making a peach pie. Me, I buy flannel.

July 23 is our mother's birthday, and this year she would have been 89. Today marks the fifth July 23 we've observed without her.

Within a year or so after her death, my siblings and I found ourselves observing Mother's birthday in our own special little ways. Simple little things that had been synonymous with our mother - playing bridge, or lovingly baking a pie in a well-worn tin -- became an appropriate way to quietly observe the special day.

So while going to the fabric store is hardly an uncommon event for me, it's always different -- and very wonderful -- every July 23. This day is when I buy flannel for receiving blankets - the same kind my mother used to make -- that will go to babies who need them. I posted the instructions on how to make them here a few months ago.

It may be weeks or months before I actually get these simple little blankets sewn up and taken to the hospital, but for some reason it's been important to me to buy the flannel on my mother's birthday. So, once again - that's exactly what I did today. I took my time, picking out sweet prints and soft textures that I knew Mother would have loved. Then I came home and put it all through the washer and dryer so it'll be ready when the mood strikes.

So that's why I'm feeling warm and fuzzy this July 23. Not a day goes by that my sisters and brother and I don't miss both of our parents. But we're grateful that small things keep us close, that our parents' example is living on in new generations of the family, and that the memories make us smile.

And what would Mother say if she knew I were writing about her on a web log? She'd smile, hold her hands up in that "don't-even-bother-trying-to-explain-technology to me" gesture, and say, "Oh, you kids and that Internet!"

If there's a special birthday or anniversary in your own family, I hope you have a precious way to observe it, too.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Seeing red (but in a good way!)

There's a lot I'd like to accomplish over the next six months. Paint the living room. Design some wonderful perennial beds for the back yard. Exceed all my objectives for the year at work. Lose 20 pounds. Read some classic literature.

And I know if I'm going to complete any of these things, I've got to make progress in small steps along the way. None of these goals are suited to last-minute rushes at the end of the year!

Same goes for another goal I'd like to meet come January: Contributing to a wonderful project to encourage young adults attending college with little or no family support. It's called the Red Scarf Project.

When I first read about this program a couple of months ago, I couldn't get it out of my mind. It's a little involved, but here's the background.

As many as 13,000 young people who have come out of foster care are attending college each year. And according to the Orphan Foundation of America, these kids are remarkable success stories. They represent only 10 percent of former foster kids who make it past high school - and they do so through their own talents, determination, and a lot of scholarship support from organizations like the OFA.

This sort of grit and focus on success -- even when nobody expects you to -- is awe-inspiring. But the OFA knows that while these kids need financial support, they can benefit from a little moral support, too.

Now...Remember getting care packages in college? Those wonderful, unexpected parcels filled with chocolate chip cookies, funky socks, quarters for the laundry, and notes from home? They usually arrived magically, just when the pressure of classwork seemed overwhelming - and they never failed to provide just the necessary encouragement to hang in there. But if you have no family at home - if you're truly on your own -who's going to send you a care package? Who's going to give you that little boost of confidence from knowing that somebody really cares about you?

Twice a year, the Washington D.C.-based OFA does its best to fill that need for thousands of former foster kids who've gone on to college. In the fall, they organize members of Congress and other government staff to pack care packages for kids all over the U.S. And for Valentine's Day, they send another boost in the form of a warm, handmade red scarf.

Want to get involved? Just make a scarf and in January, mail it to the OFA. All the information you need is right here. And if you're near an Einstein Brothers Bagel shop, you can drop off your scarves there -- again, only in January.

The OFA will take care of mailing your scarf with a message of encouragement to a college student in time for Valentine's Day.

The OFA Web site gives a few guidelines for the scarves - about 60 inches long, soft, and preferably red, but any unisex color or style will do. Here are some good pattern ideas, too. (I'd stay away from the FunFur types - think warmth, not fashion.)

So why not dig through your stash, find your red yarn, and take advantage of some relaxing summer evenings by knitting a scarf? I'm keeping mine in a basket in the TV room and pick it up for a few minutes here and there....and it'll be done in nothing flat, with plenty of time to start a few more before January's mailing (and still paint the living room and plan next spring's flower beds.)

Oh, if only it were so easy to lose 20 pounds by year-end, too!!!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A tiny bit of comfort, part two

I was so touched by all the comments on last week's post -- both those left here and those in private e-mails. Thanks so much to all for sharing your thoughts and experiences about neonatal bereavement items. I thought I would post a follow-up and answer a couple of questions.

Regarding sizes - Newborns in Need has a good chart to show approximate preemie measurements at various weeks of gestation. This can help give you a sense of how tiny some of these little ones are, and help you judge sizes for gowns and wraps.

And if you'd like to use a pattern, some of the best I've found are on the Bridging People and Places site. Here are some I finished this weekend:

These gowns are all less than nine inches long, made from the small-size infant pattern on the link above. I used the option that allows for a little gathering at the neck. It's important to leave the back of the gown completely open - just add some ribbons so it can be tied closed. These fragile little babies can only tolerate the most gentle of handing, and an open-backed gown allows them to be carefully dressed without damage.

Several people asked about sizes for bereavement blankets. They can be as small as 9 or 10 inches square, or up to about 24 inches square. Here's a quilt I just finished that I'll take to the hospital with the rest of these things tomorrow. If you'd like to make a blanket but aren't sure where to start, try knitting or crocheting one in any pattern using soft, pure white baby yarn -- maybe adding a small satin bow in pink or blue in one corner.

On the pattern link above, you'll also find some instructions for tiny pouches. The hospitals use these for very early losses, since these babies are often too small and fragile to be dressed at all. On this one, I put an extra layer of batting at the top to form a tiny pillow. The plaid lining makes for a sweet look. This one is made out of cotton quilt fabric, but I always think a flannel lining is an especially nice touch, too.

I hope these couple of posts have helped inspire some ideas for you as you consider crafting projects that really fill a need. Your local hospital volunteer department will be able to give you some more specific ideas, too. I've found that, while many hospitals have lots of volunteers to make baby hats and other happy items, there aren't many who make bereavement items. Please consider filling this need in your area. And thanks again for all your comments.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A tiny bit of comfort

Last weekend's road trip brought some wonderful, long stretches of time to reflect, talk with my husband about everything under the sun, and of course, to knit for miles and miles. Unfortunately I forgot to bring a crochet hook like I'd planned, but I had a couple of sets of size five needles and some lightweight yarn to make a few baby things.

After finishing a couple hats and a pair or two of booties, I wanted something a little bigger to focus on, so I cast on as many stitches as my needle would hold - in this case, 60 -- and started the old standby basketweave pattern. It's simple: a few rows of garter stitch base border, and then a K 5 (for side border), followed by P5, K5 until the last five stitches. It doesn't matter if you end with a P5 or a K5; just K the last five stitches to establish the other side of the garter stitch border. Do this for five rows, purling in the Ps and knitting in the Ks...then switch, and knit in the Ps and purl in the Ks, repeating this for another five rows. You get the idea. It works with any set of stitches in multiples of 5.

So this was what I did along I-86 in western New York, using a white Wool-Ease with royal blue flecks in it. And by the time we passed Jamestown it was pretty evident that the piece of knitting emerging from my needles would be too small for even most preemie babies - so it would become a bereavement blanket. Which brings me to the point of this post.

We all know that most babies are born healthy and happy -- but some, for any number of reasons, don't make it. About five years ago, when I first got involved in service projects, I realized that many hospitals do have a need for tiny gowns, wraps and blankets for little ones whose parents can only hold them briefly before saying goodbye to them. I learned that in the absence of a size-appropriate wrap, the only thing the hospitals can give these grieving parents is a receiving blanket sized for a full-term newborn...and the irony of wrapping their tiny, fragile baby in a blanket that's far too large only sharpens their sense of loss.

I learned that there were many, many volunteers out there who trade patterns and ideas for these items. And I 've since learned that, when a nurse or a hospital social worker can bring an appropriately-sized blanket or gown to a grieving parent, they feel a tiny bit of comfort in the midst of their heartbreak. That comfort may only last a moment, but it's there.

There are many names for these small items - burial gowns, blessing garments, angel wraps, etc. etc. Hospitals tend to refer to them as "bereavement" items. Call them whatever you like...but if you can make them, please consider doing so.

Some volunteer crafters, perhaps because they've been through a painful loss themselves, can't bring themselves to make these tiny items, and that's OK. But if this is something you can do, I think you'll find it to be a very special experience. I started making them years ago out of a sense of thanks for all the big, healthy babies that my family has been blessed with. Rather than being a sad chore, it brings -- at least for me -- a grateful reminder of these blessings, and a sense of quiet responsibility to those who may be going through a loss.

As with all special-needs projects, contact your local hospital for guidelines and items they may need before you make them. If the words don't come easily to you, just ask the volunteer office about their need for neonatal bereavement items, and they'll know what you mean. In general, though, think soft and small-scale -- a heavy yarn can make a tiny baby seem even more fragile.

There are some good links out there for other items to knit, sew and crochet. I invite you to let me know of your own experiences with this very special service work.