I live in Johannesburg, not far from the Knit-a-Square office, and thought it would be nice to write about the experience of visiting the blanket room for the benefit of overseas knitters and crocheters. I know how lovely it is to get insight into the personal side of the charity one supports and i couldn't wait to experience the sorting, packing and stacking process firsthand when I read about it on the website.
At the outset, let me say that I am a really new member of KAS. I only came across the organisation in January 2017 when I did an online search to find a knitting circle I might join. Reading about Ronda and how she started the project inspired me enormously. Then, coming to the forum and immersing myself in some of the discussions, I knew that this was exactly the kind of community I wanted to belong to. Clearly, the members love knitting for good and are super-generous when it comes to helping children in need.
I should also explain that I am severely sight-impaired and rely on a driver to get to where I want to go. My driver's name is Bongi, so she came along as a volunteer too. We found the KAS office in a nicely-secured office park with good parking outside a large garage door, which provided pleasing light and ventilation for the large, open blanket room beyond. Bongi's first words were, "My, there are a lot of busy people in there!" My first impression, without the benefit of vision, was of a serene interior with gentle, uplifting music playing from a sound system at the far end of the room, and of cool air blowing from a large fan to keep the space feeling dry and fresh. Incidentally, there was no trace of a musty smell after February's flood, and the sunlight coming through the windows on the north side made everything feel bright and cheerful.
Ronda greeted us warmly and offered us tea and somewhere to sit while she oversaw the volunteers who were driving the van out to deliver squares to two of the sewing groups. We were shown how the squares are unpacked from their soft packaging and the details of the senders recorded. A couple of volunteers were grouping squares into matching sizes and assembling bundles of 35 coordinating squares. I learnt how to butterfly the loose threads on a square by feeling how it was done, as it had been impossible to follow the pictorial directions on the website. I also got to finger some of the beautiful hats, hand warmers and soft toys that had been sent in, and marvelled at the amazing colour choices some of the knitters had chosen. I'm a knitter myself but have tended to be very conservative in my selection of yarns. That, i can tell, is going to change!
Finally for today's entry, I want to rave about some of the blankets I saw. Again, I had not been able to see them in photographs displayed on the website, so was eager to get up close and touch some of the finished items. They are, in a word, stunning! Laid out on the floor in a pile like stacked pancakes, they reminded me of exotic tile designs comprising rich mosaics and beautifully textured pieces. Some were set in a grid, while others nestled in cosy companionship with each other, the entire effect being one of eye-catching elegance. But not just eye-catching. I couldn't help but run my fingers over the interesting textures. There is nothing quite like knitted or crocheted fabric. It's squishy and huggable, intricate in its stitchery yet strong and comforting in its expanse. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to be in the midst of so much lovingly-crafted handwork and committed teamwork. I shall be reporting back regularly on my visits to Knit-a-Square and I hope I can impart to you how much Ronda and the team in SA value and appreciate your participation.
Until next time, let the warm fuzzy feeling be yours as you stitch away!
A huge thank you, Leanne, for taking the time to give us a virtual tour of Opening Day at the KAS barn.
Thank you Leanne for sharing this perspective with us. As we say in the US, 'I feel ya'!
Oh, yes, Leanne, thank you, thank you, thank you for this wonderful report. Like so many others, I got a tear in my eye reading about the wonderful, happy team working amongst the squares, blankets and toys.
But I had to laugh when you describe the amazing color choices, and how you had been conservative in your selection of yarns. That was me several years ago. Now I have yarn in (almost) every color, links to web pages designed to help you mix and match colors, and other links to pages that will generate various stripe combinations.
I hope you and Bongi have many happy return trips, colorful yarns in hand.
hugs to all.
Leanne thank you for this wonderful report. It brought the place and atmosphere to life. I did get the warm fuzzies reading it !
Thank you Leanne for that emotional and sensitive description of your visit.
This is such a beautifully written letter, it was so nice to hear your description of different items from your perspective
of having limited vision. I do hope that you will write some more letters in the near future.
Jan W. Australia
Thank you for your lovely story Leanne. :) Very nice to know there are lovely volunteers helping out there. :)
Thank you so much for this beautiful report. It is truly heart-warming and I was transported right to the KASBarn. I love the way that you have recreated the atmosphere; it is a fantastic experience for those of us unable to be there in person. I hope to be able to read your future reports.
Hi Leanne, it is lovely to hear about the office, the volunteers and the various various activities - we look forward to reading more of your blogs from South Africa. The regular blog will help share some of the reporting load that falls heavily on Ronda's shoulders !
Autumn was definitely in the air as Bongi and I drove to the Knit-a-Square office for another exciting opening day today. The morning started chilly, and wind-blown dry leaves were scudding across the parking lot when we arrived. However, by mid-morning it had warmed up significantly and everyone was sporting their bright dresses and T-shirts. It felt good to be recognised and greeted by the other volunteers already working at the long sorting table and we quickly got swept up into the bustle of activity.
Sitting with my knitting, listening to the buzz of conversation around me, I began to appreciate what a busy organisation this is. All sorts of people came and went. There was a woman from a local church collecting bundles of squares to be sewn up by members of the congregation, a writer from an online magazine wanting to cover the work of Knit-a-Square for the purposes of building her writing portfolio, a couple of volunteers who brought in heaps of blankets assembled at home, another pair who specialise in combining irregularly-shaped or odd-sized squares in attractive ways, and a friend of Ronda’s from overseas who had never before been to the blanket room and was naturally awestruck by the sheer loveliness of the finished blankets. It was a regular hive of activity and, with Ronda setting the tone with her warmth and exuberance, everyone was in a good mood.
The pile of finished blankets had grown substantially since my visit two weeks ago. I marvelled at the hip-high pile laid out beside Ronda’s desk! Running my hands over several of the top pieces, I turned them back like Persian rugs in a carpet store to admire their breathtaking hues. I Learnt that many knitters actually design their blankets at the outset and send in batches of already-matched squares. Others send in individual patterned squares, while still others, like me, send in “Plain Janes” which come in useful for combining with patterned squares and offsetting their intricate stitchery. Today’s new arrivals included several colourful crocheted blankets which I found thoroughly captivating, and promised myself that I absolutely must dive into the treble stitch/alternating colour technique they sported!
Meanwhile, Bongi was working away at opening packages. She reported to me at the end of the morning that they had originated from Czechoslovakia and the United States. I overheard another volunteer mentioning packages from Yugoslavia and the United Kingdom. Some of the squares, hats, hand warmers and soft toys come in squishy packages while others come in big boxes, sometimes containing a collection of smaller packages. It is astonishing to reflect how many people from all over the world contribute to the work.
Sometimes, the messages that accompany the packages are very moving. For example, I heard today about a woman from Australia who sent in a pack of squares that she had finished off for her daughter who had recently died. The gift represented a tribute and a recognition of what the daughter had cared about. Those precious squares have since been incorporated into blankets which will soon be distributed to young children in need of comfort, and so the love will be passed on.
I feel so privileged to be part of this amazing ministry, especially because I know the joy of knitting for the needy. As someone who has been relatively housebound due to visual impairment, I am familiar with the frustration of not knowing how to get my knitted objects to those who could use them. Knit-a-Square solves this problem by having in place a pipeline consisting of knitters, stitchers, networkers and distributers—not to mention the donors who pay for its day-to-day running costs. Now, if my eyesight makes it impossible for me to assemble blankets and weave in ends, at least I know there are others who can do those things for me. And surprisingly, some even find it calming!
Well, as I said at the start, the season is slowly changing, and soon the nights on the highveld around Johannesburg will become long and bitterly cold. Thank you for the difference you make in the lives of our vulnerable children at this time. You are, honestly, each so generous and kind. May you be thoroughly blessed for what you do.