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!
Leanne, thank you so much for this lovely account of your morning! You are truly a gifted writer and I appreciate the way you carry us right into the KASbarn and bring alive all the sights and sounds around you! It is very moving to read of the love that is present on opening days ... the love of those who send items and the love of those who receive them for distribution.
Your beautifully written blog is bringing something to our forum that everyone ... members or non ... can enjoy and appreciate. Thank you! xo
Thank you again, Leanne, for this wonderful account of your day at KAS - you really have a gift for bringing alive the whole atmosphere and activity of opening day, as well as some of the stories of those involved. I have promised myself for a while that one day I will somehow manage to visit KAS - now it's definitely on my bucket list!!
And thank you Leanne for your wonderful accounts of your time spent at KAS.
Like you I wonder at this organisation that brings so many people together from all over the world. We need to work hard at the moment to get a maximum of blankets ready before your winter sets in.
Bless you and Bongi and keep you well.
Thank you for another beautiful and very touching report, Leanne. As I was reading, it was like watching a memory in my mind, rather than just imagining! Your writing really brings everything about KAS to life. Thank you so much.
Have you ever wondered what happens to squares that don’t match the specified requirements of Knit-a-Square? I have, and today on my visit to the KAS office, I made it my business to find out.
It was my third visit on a Tuesday, which is when the volunteers gather to open parcels. Getting there a bit late because Bongi and I had to take my daughter’s car in for a service, I found the group hard at work with piles of squares, soft toys and garments laid out all over the long table. Ronda was discussing a recent distribution to creches far beyond the outskirts of the city, while an employee of a multinational corporation worked on updating the KAS data base as part of that company’s social action programme. Evidently, a lot of logistical organisation and admin goes into running Knit-a-Square. The more I see, the more in awe I am of the whole operation.
Anyway, with everyone being so busy, I took the opportunity to chat to one of the volunteers sitting at the long table. Vivienne is a well-spoken woman from Soweto who came to know Knit-a-Square in 2012. At the time, she was working at a care centre, and the pensioners who attended were approached by KAS volunteers to sew up blankets. When her job there came to an end, she stayed in touch with the KAS volunteers, and, finding that her new employer didn’t need her on Tuesdays, decided to join the team on opening days.
I found Vivienne to be poised and eager to share her enjoyment of the work with me. She explained how she unpacks the squares and stacks them in piles according to size, then groups squares of matching sizes into 35-square bundles. These she ties up with yarn and places in a bag for delivery to the “gogo’s” or “grannies” to sew together.
“What happens if the squares you receive are too small?” I asked her.
She was quick to reassure me. Small squares are still used, but they are combined into 48-piece blankets.
“What about squares that are more rectangular in shape?”
Again, there is no problem, she said. The nice thing about knitted and crocheted fabric is that it can be stretched and eased to fit in with other squares. The women who sew up the blankets are very experienced. They cope with all sorts of inconsistencies.
“But what happens,” I asked, “if a square comes in that is really far too big or has a very strange shape?” I had heard of such pieces arriving in the mail, and am aware that Ronda feels strongly about not letting anything go to waste. All donations are sent with love, she reminds us, and we must do our best to work with what we have.
Vivienne smiled. She said, “Sometimes squares really can’t be fitted into a blanket, but we can still use the wool. I collect all the green scraps and am busy crocheting them into stripes. The blanket is a metre wide and I’ll keep going until it’s the right length. Then I’ll crochet a border to finish it off nicely and add it to the pile of blankets that the gogo’s have made.”
Of course, sorting the squares that arrive isn’t always complicated. In fact, some parcels come in containing already-matched bundles of 35 regular-sized squares. But it is interesting to think about all the different people who have contributed to each mixed-square blanket. Besides, I’m sure the volunteers enjoy expressing their creativity too.
Here is a photo taken today of Vivienne. Thanks to Ronda for the shot and for emailing it to me so I could include it here!
Thank you Leanne. Your reports are a treat. More strength to Vivienne for the work she does.
Thank you so much for another wonderful share of your time at KAS, Lee....much appreciated. :))
Unfortunately, despite trying a couple of different programs I am unable to open your pic. It comes up with either 'invalid image' or 'this is not supported by this program'.
Thank you Leanne. Your comments help me appreciate more fully the workings of Knit-a-Square. It is a pleasure to read your blog.
Bev, I had the same problem with the photo so have done a bit of 'fiddling'. [See below]
Thank you Linda. :))