Making gifts for needy leaves stitchers with a warm feeling

October 07, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Sandi Schneider can really spin yarns.

Her expertise isn't in telling tales, it's in crocheting, a craft she learned from her grandmother.

"My grandmother raised me, and when she crocheted with her friends, she took me along," said the 46-year-old Westminster resident. "I watched my grandmother and her friends crochet, and over time I learned to crochet, too."

Giving the handmade items as gifts wasn't enough to fulfill her desire to help the needy, she said. She started teaching a crocheting class and later formed Hugs and Stitches, a group of women of all ages who crochet and knit items that are donated to charitable organizations.

"For years I made what I could and donated the items to charities and needy people," said Schneider, who works as an administrative assistant. "But I wanted to do more. ... Hugs and Stitches was the answer."

Members of Hugs and Stitches meet on Tuesdays at a local senior community center to crochet or knit, she said. The two-hour meetings begin with show and tell.

"One by one, we show the items that we made during the week," Schneider said. "And we all ooh and aah. It's one of my favorite things that we do."

Although each member has her own reasons for joining the group, the women share a desire to help others, Schneider said.

For Schneider, the reasons are knitted throughout her life. Shortly after her mother died of cancer in early December 1969, she remembers, she woke up Christmas morning to a hallway filled with Christmas presents.

"At the time, I didn't think much of it, but I was only 8 years old," she said. "As I got older, it hit me that someone who didn't even know us did that just to help us. I wanted to do nice things to help people, too."

Alice Kushner started crocheting about four years ago, and she had an affinity for the craft, she said.

"I love to put the colors together," she said. "I find it relaxing and enjoyable."

She recently created an afghan using red, purple and black yarn.

"I mixed colors that would not normally be put together," said Kushner, 75, of Westminster. "And it ended up looking so beautiful ... like a stained-glass window."

Schneider's first attempts at crocheting resulted in a series of hats similar to those worn by Ali McGraw in the movie Love Story, she said. She added blankets and scarves to her repertoire over time.

But she said she wanted to do more. And to do more, she had to learn to read patterns, a skill she perfected in a class she took.

In 2000, after the instructor left, Schneider began teaching the course offered through the Department of Recreation and Parks, she said.

Then in 2005, with a handful of acquaintances, Schneider formed Hugs and Stitches. Now with 22 members, the group recently completed about 900 scarves, 350 hats and 150 pair of mittens that will be donated to The Shepherd's Staff for the charitable organization's coat drive starting later this month.

Rosalie Duncan crocheted about 10 scarves a month for the project, she said. For the past 15 years, she has spent at least a half-hour a day crocheting. After joining the group, she picked up the pace, and created items specifically for the charity's recipients.

"I make the scarves extra long," said the 55-year-old Taneytown resident. "Because many of them are donated to homeless people. When they are long, they can wrap them around their heads or whatever to keep warm during the winter."

Although all of the items are donated, the members of the group sometimes grow attached to some of their finished products for sentimental reasons, Schneider said.

A few months ago, Annetta Spreen of Westminster made an afghan and brought it to Schneider's house. The next week, Spreen's husband called to tell the members that his wife, who suffered from a rare blood disorder, had died.

Schneider asked him if he would like to keep the afghan as a memento, and he told Schneider that his wife had been working on the afghan in her hospital bed.

"Her blanket is special," Schneider said. "I want to call Johns Hopkins and talk to the ward where she was hospitalized and ask them to contact me when a child is admitted. I think she would like that."

Although she often receives thank you notes from adults, the letters from children tug the most at her heartstrings.

"Every once in a while, I receive a letter from a child who writes that they love their blanket, and that it made them feel safe in the hospital," she said.

"That's what keeps me going. Someone helped me like that when my mother died, and I love the idea of doing it for others."

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