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Knitting for Soldiers
"From every hearth, parlor, log cabin, and farmhouse, whether in the North or in the South, women sent socks to protect and warm their soldiers. With every stitch, they knitted in their courage, tears, prayers and hopes."
- Karin Timour, Piecework magazine 2009

An article about Civil War soldiers' socks started me thinking about knitting for soldiers. Something I have never done. Then an email from my friend, Anne, whose son Darren is serving in Iraq, nudged me even further. All weekend, she wrote me, they waited tensely to hear from him. Worrying the big worries until they finally did. "Would he like a hat?" I offered, embarrassed that I had overlooked knitting for him, and for others.

In every war, American knitters have been called upon to fill the gap in what the country was able to provide. Socks, wristlets, vests, helmet liners. Warmth for the troops. What kinds of needs were there now? Looking for answers to share with those of you, who like me, have never knit our bit, but might like to start, I googled "knitting for soldiers." That's where I found The Ships Project and The Handmade Afghan Project.

In October 2001, Ellen Harpin's letter to "Any Sailor" mentioned her love of knitting. The sailor who answered mentioned her very cold feet, and joked "maybe Ellen could send her a pair of knit slippers. She did. After the first pair, and the snowball effect of the demand it created, Ellen launched the Ships Project. In eight years, with the help of over 1,000 volunteers, 284,000 hand-made slippers/socks, hats, neck gaiters and other items have been sent to soldiers on the land, at sea, and to those wounded and injured. The troops have nicknamed their gifts "hugs".

Without noticing, many times I've stumbled over Ellen's Ships Project hat pattern (click for the pattern) on the Lion Brand site, but now I'm knitting it. On size 7 needles, casting on 80 stitches of Lion Brand's Fishermen's Wool. 465 yards. Should make a bundle. One will go directly to my friend's son.

Ellen's Hat

In 2004, determined to do something for the wounded soldiers she saw on the news, and remembering her own "cold and lonely childhood hospital stays", Deborah Starobin-Armstrong began The Handmade Project. With over 1,100 volunteers, HAP, as they call themselves, collects 6 x9 knit or crochet rectangles, and sews them into afghans "to warm the body and soul." Over 2,192 have been given to American Red Cross, hospital chaplains, Walter Reed Medical Center, and other military care centers in the US and abroad.

HAP recommends cutting a 6x9 template. It's the first thing I did. A simple seed stitch made my rectangles flat and easy to measure. Knitting in Vanna's Choice, (HAP prefers a soft, washable yarn) on size 9 needles, 4 stitches to an inch, one skein gave me four patches. There are 49 in an afghan.

Check each project's websites detailed guidelines for yarns, patterns, and needed items. Note that each project requires you contact them first before you are given a mailing address.

I now know there are thousands of knitters who have been hard at work, for many years knitting for our soldiers. With Memorial Day approaching, you might like to join them. One skein at a time. Hats, slippers, or rectangles, your choice. Knit your bit of hand-made comfort and warmth to those in harm's way, and those recovering from the fight. May they all return safely, and one day, enjoy them in peace.

If you have a project, share it with others by posting it on's Stories from the Heart. And by the way, you might like to know that The Ship's Project founder, Ellen Harpin, was Lion Brand and Knitter's Magazine's 2005 Knitter of the Year.

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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