Stitched with Love

“It never dawned on me how much it would hurt,” Pamela Haschke of Arlington Heights says of losing her hair during her battle with a virulent form of breast cancer. She says it felt like pin pricks all over her head as the hair separated from the follicles.

Her greatest comfort during that time was soft, knitted caps made for her by concerned friends and family, which felt like a lasting embrace. The experience inspired Haschke to start Halos of Hope, a charity that provides chemo caps to hospitals around the country, including several locations on the North Shore.

Halos is just one of several organizations that connect hundreds of passionate North Shore stitchers—knitters, crocheters and quilters alike—to sick people in hospitals, especially children, who are in dire need of thoughtful, handmade comfort. Thousands of handmade items have been donated as a result.

Blanket blessings
The North & Central Chicagoland chapter of Project Linus, a national organization named after the Peanuts character who always carried his blue security blanket, has donated more than 58,000 blankets for sick children to 14 hospitals throughout Chicagoland.

The group is headquartered in Northbrook, where Linda Neuman and Judi Goldman have been organizing blanket bees attended by 60 to 80 stitchers (this month’s bee is on Jan. 16) every other month since 1996. Their newsletter goes out to more than 700 people, encompassing many other stitching groups that meet throughout the area as well as individuals that donate blankets they made in their spare time.

For some people, especially older people, “this is a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Neuman says. She herself was caring for sick parents in 1996 when she saw an ad in the newspaper and decided to get involved with Project Linus as an administrator.

And the work has been incredibly meaningful. “It’s like looking at a room full of angels,” she says of the crowds of master knitters, crocheters and quilters who offer their time and skills for a cause. And each one has a story: Some have lost children or other family members or have friends, family or children of friends in the hospital, she says.

Knit 1, Pray 2
Meanwhile, in other corners of the North Shore, small, intimate stitching groups meet in people’s living rooms or around kitchen tables and pass around prayer shawls, with each person taking a turn stitching. Barbara Mahany of Wilmette attended a prayer shawl group to support a mother of a sick child. Mahany wrote about the experience on her blog, www.pullupachair.org:

The equation was simple, and ancient: women gathered, as they’ve done since there were threads to be pulled through cloth, strands to be woven into squares, crocheted into circles … She would be wrapped, this girl too young for what had taken hostage her [body], in soft looped stitches. Some too tight, some too loose. Some missing altogether. But each one noosed and pulled with prayer.

Prayer shawls are a tradition shared by numerous faiths, and on the North Shore prayer shawl stitching groups meet at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Wilmette and Kenilworth Union Church (where Virginia Blankenbaker, mother of Make It Better founder Susan Noyes, donates her knitted hats), to name just a few places.

But prayer shawls don’t necessarily need to be religious, Mahany says. “It’s just a meditative act, to be click-click-clicking the needles and intentionally thinking about [the person] it’s being knitted for.”

As a former pediatric oncology nurse, Mahany knows “the hard, cold tables you have to lay on, the hospital beds, waiting rooms, the chair you have to sit in for chemo.” Keeping those things in mind, she says, “takes that knitting up a notch—it’s not just knitting.”

Comforting caps
Haschke’s organization, Halos of Hope, has donated more than 500 chemo caps, knitted by 250 people across the country, to hospitals in 20 states, and even India. In 2008, the group presented its Halo Award to the more than 20 volunteer knitters and crocheters of the Glenview Senior Center, who have donated more than 700 caps to the cause.

While Haschke doesn’t often get to see the faces of those who receive the caps, she is constantly moved by the testimonials she receives, which she publishes on the group’s Web site.

“What we hear from the nurses is that the patients come in fearful, and when they are presented with these hats, their eyes light up, and they say, ‘Someone knitted this for me, and they don’t know me? That’s amazing,'” Haschke says. From then on, they’ve got a few pearls of hope.

Knitting Shops
All these stores offer classes as well as supplies.

* A collection location for Project Linus.
** A collection location for Project Linus and Halos of Hope.

Village Knit Whiz
948 N. Harlem Ave., Glenview
847-998-9772
knitwhiz.com

Three Bags Full*
1927 Cherry La., Northbrook
847-291-9933
www.threebagsfullknittingstudio.com

Montoya Fiber Studio**
2566 Prairie Ave., Evanston
847-869-1089
www.montoyafiberstudio.com

Close Knit
622 Grove St., Evanston
847-328-6760
evanstonillinois.net/closeknitinc.html

Quilting Shops
All these stores offer classes.

Quilter’s Heaven*
1239 Shermer Rd., Northbrook
847-272-7245
www.quiltersheaveninc.com

Quilter’s Destination*
945 E. Rand Rd., Arlington Heights
847-506-6410
www.quiltersdestination.com

Quiltology*
2625 N. Halsted St., Chicago
773-880-5994
www.quiltology.com or www.shopquiltology.com

Charitable Stitching Groups
Halos of Hope
www.halosofhope.org

Illinois Quilters
www.illinoisquiltersinc.org

Prairie Knitters
fiberarts.org/directories/guilds/The_Prairie_Knitters

Project Linus
National: www.projectlinus.org
Local: www.orgsites.com/il/projectlinuschicago