I started Crafty Angels three years ago at Edgebrook Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago, IL because I wanted to find a way for young women and older women to fellowship together, learn from each other, and serve the needy in our neighborhood. I love to knit, and knew there were many older women in our church who knitted and crocheted. There were younger women in our church who were just learning to knit and the popularity of knitting was on the up-swing – so focusing on charity knitting and crocheting seemed natural. Our church had been involved with the North Park Friendship Center – a food pantry and clothing depository serving the neediest of the needy on the northwest side of Chicago – and I wanted to find a way to strengthen that relationship and expand it.
I spoke with Rev. Ann Maleski, head of the Friendship Center, and asked her if the Friendship Center families (the center serves over 1500 people per month – and more in the winter) -- many who are refugees from the Middle East, Russia, and Africa – could use warm hats, scarves, mittens, blankets, and baby clothes to deal with the cold weather Chicago is famous for. Rev. Ann said this was an answer to prayer – she desperately needed warm clothing for her families.
I ran it by our Pastor, Greg Mesimore, and he said it was fine with him, so I took the idea and ran with it. I bought yarn to get us started, and begged for yarn at local stores and yarn shops. A friend of a friend contributed knitting needles her grandmother had left her, and women from the church offered to teach others to knit and crochet. And that’s how we started. I had no idea if it would work, but I felt very strongly that this was something God wanted us to be doing.
Crafty Angels became a solid program in its first year – with about ten women actively involved. We now have fifteen women actively involved, and another eight who knit or crochet when they are able. That’s a large number for a small church like ours!
Lion Brand was my lifesaver from the start. Every quarter I put together a pattern book with new knitting and crochet patterns, most of which come from the Lion Brand website. I decided early on that we would use synthetic yarns, because it would be easier for the Friendship Center families to take care of the knitted and crocheted items that way. We use Homespun, Jamie, Lion Brand Boucle, Fun Fur, Chunky USA, Pound of Love, Imagine and Jiffy to make our creations – they are fun and easy to work with. We survive on donations from a local yarn store, Mosaic Yarn Studio in Des Plaines, IL – and donations from friends, family members, and the Deacon Board of Edgebrook Covenant Church.
We prayed for (and continue to pray for) the recipients of our hats, scarves, mittens, blankets, shawls, and baby clothing as we make them. The Crafty Angels get together every other month at my house to show off completed projects, get more yarn, share ideas, and share fun and fellowship. In the meantime, we knit and crochet on our own – at home, work, on the bus or train, in our cars, in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms – wherever we can squeeze knitting and crocheting in! And knit and crochet we do – last year we made nearly 900 items for Friendship Center families, as well as providing blankets for all new babies born in our church family, and afghans for newly married couples in our church.
The knitted and crocheted hats, scarves, mittens, shawls, baby blankets, afghans, and baby clothing are blessed by Pastor Greg on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and distributed to Friendship Center families the first two weeks in December. Every year, the items fly out the doors – this year all the items were distributed within a week. For many of the families, these hats, scarves, and mittens become treasures – and help them survive the cold Chicago winters.
Rev. Ann keeps aside some of the baby blankets, and performs a special blessing ceremony when Friendship Center families have new babies. Almost all the new mothers are very moved by this – they tell us that no one has ever made anything so nice for them in their lives before.
I work for my church denomination just a couple of blocks from the Friendship Center – and I can’t tell you the joy it gives me when I see our hats and scarves walking by our windows on a cold winter day! Last winter was particularly cold here in Chicago – and Friendship Center volunteers told us how our knitted and crocheted items truly helped people stay healthy and warm.
Our Crafty Angels have taken their enthusiasm farther a field, too. One of our women decided to teach teens in the high school where she works to knit, so that they can knit things for the Friendship Center families. The teens loved learning to knit – have contributed wonderful knitted blankets. They have also learned the importance of sharing a bit of themselves with needy people they will probably never even meet. Another young Crafty Angel has taught women in her college dorm to knit – and they are all making things for Crafty Angels, and some are even now volunteering at the Friendship Center. Other women have been knitting at work, or their husbands have mentioned it to colleagues at work – and people we don’t even know have contributed yarn, knitting needles and other supplies to help us out. I once mentioned what Crafty Angels was doing on the KnitList – and I got a tremendous response from people all over the world, wanting to know how to start such a group themselves. There are now several other Crafty Angel-type groups in Australia, Europe, New York state, and in the western US. Several of our sister churches in the Midwest have asked for copies of our pattern books so they can start doing knitting and crocheting for charities in their communities. All I can say is WOW!! It is definitely a God-thing!
Crafty Angels has touched approximately 3000 people in the past three years in our neighborhood who desperately needed warm clothing. But the Crafty Angels have touched not only the recipients of the results of our needlework, but our own congregation. The Crafty Angels’ enthusiasm and interest in the Friendship Center families has sparked greater interest in the Friendship Center on the part of our congregation. Edgebrook Covenant collected food once a month for them for a long time – but now we also collect clothing once a month, do book and toy drives twice a year, collect school supplies in the fall, buy Christmas presents for the children, and our youth and members are doing hands-on service at the Friendship Center. To me, that’s an even greater gift – to see knitting and crocheting spur on a revival that let’s us show God’s love to others in more and more ways!
I would strongly encourage others to use their knitting and crocheting skills to help others. Not only will the recipients of your gifts benefit – but so will you. And your group may just start a revival of your own!