They call themselves "The Knitwits." But silly and foolish they are not. A group of local women added the “K” because they joined a project to knit “welcome blankets” for immigrants and refugees entering the U.S.
The Welcome Blanket Project is national in scope. It aims to connect citizens with immigrants through stories and homemade blankets, providing both symbolic and literal comfort for some of the country’s newest residents.
When Jo Wayles of Ashland learned about the project, she knew she wanted to be involved. Her father came to the U.S. from England, settling in Connecticut in 1919 at age 9. And her daughter was adopted from South Korea when she was 10 months old. Both became naturalized citizens.
“My father and daughter are merely two examples of immigrants who have made our country richer,” Wayles said.
The Welcome Blanket Project is accepting blankets until Nov. 4. Those submitted will be on display at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago between July 18 and Dec. 17 of next year, after which time they’ll be distributed to nonprofit partners which will disperse them to new immigrants.
National organizers of the project also want people to think of the blankets as an alternative to a 2,000-mile border wall, emphasizing the spirit of inclusion instead of exclusion.
Jayna Zweiman, originator of the welcome blanket idea, proposes re-conceptualizing that wall as a line of 3.5 million yards of yarn. Zweiman, of pussycat hats fame, said 3,200 40- by 40-inch blankets would include that much yarn.
Blanket creators were asked to enclose a note about their own immigration history, words of welcome to the eventual recipients, and instructions for care and cleaning.
In her note, Wayles talks about her family and is candid in her welcome message.
“This blanket,” she wrote, “made with warmest wishes, is not perfect. Neither is your new country. But in many ways it’s a wonderful place to live, to grow, to learn, to raise a family, and to contribute.”
Wayles started knitting when she was a teenager and has friends who also knit. She said they joined the welcome blanket project enthusiastically.
Other local project participants are Pat Bibee, Tilly Gibbs, Jody Hodges, Vicky Huxtable, and Liz Pischel, all of Ashland; and Kristianna Woods of Talent. A friend, Kelly Sacks, came up with the Knitwits name, Hodges said.
Hodges also has knitted since she was a teen.
“I did mostly hats,” she said, “but I had done a couple blankets, too.” She calls them TV blankets because they’re warm and cozy, perfect for getting wrapped up in while watching television on a winter night.
Hodges doesn’t know how long it took to knit the two blankets she’s donating. Wayles, however, knows exactly.
“I used 1,224 yards of yarn to make my blanket,” she said. “It took six minutes per row for a total of 27 hours.”
Although patterns are available through the national project’s website, the local knitters created their own patterns.
Dona Zimmerman, owner of The Web-sters, an Ashland store catering to handspinners, weavers, and knitters, donated several boxes of yarn for the project.
“We always give to the community when there’s a need,” Zimmerman said. She found out about the project from Huxtable and Hodges.
“I got first choice of the yarns,” said Hodges. “I chose some nice wool, silk and mohair yarns for my blankets.” They're multi-colored and very soft to the touch.
Wayles used cotton and acrylic yarns for her blanket. “So, it’s washable,” she said.
The women knitted their blankets mostly at home on their own, but they got together, too.
“We had a couple ‘sip and knit’ gatherings to work on our projects and enjoy some wine,” said Hodges, smiling.
It was a project that was both fun and satisfying. Wayles said it was more than that, though.
“There was something about the gravity of it,” she said, searching for the words.
The weight of the blanket as it came together in her lap was for her a metaphor for the weight of oppression or distress immigrants can feel in a new land.
“Creating these blankets is important,” Wayles said. “It’s an act of kindness. I feel so blessed.”
—Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the project, go to welcomeblanket.org.