Unsung Heroes: The Knit Wits, knitting for love

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HARPSWELL — Enter the basement of the Islands Community Church on Bailey Island any Wednesday afternoon between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., and you will see a dozen or so women knitting – and telling stories and laughing and eating cookies prepared by one of the women’s husbands.

You will feel the energy these women have for being together and doing what they love to do: knit.

What you won’t know, until you start asking questions, is the extraordinary impact these weekly knitting sessions make on people who live on Bailey Island, in other parts of Maine and, even, in other corners of the world.

The Knit Wits began in 2007, when a few women who belonged to the Islands Community Church gathered to knit hats for Grace Street Ministry, which ministers to the homeless in Portland. The group has since grown to nearly 20 women, and the beneficiaries of their knitting efforts have expanded even more.

The output of these prolific knitters has been contributed, for example, to the Tedford Shelter, the Ronald McDonald House and the Barbara Bush Hospital. They’ve made chemo hats for cancer patients – one woman alone has made 100 chemo hats – and gloves and helmet liners for soldiers in Afghanistan.

In addition to donating knitted goods, the Knit Wits host an annual fall fair where they sell some of their creations, baked goods and other items. The fairs generate more than $1,500 annually, which is then given to people in need: those requiring assistance to pay heating bills, or families dealing with the consequences of a house fire.

The women vary in their skills levels and knitting interests. One has knitted for more than 70 years; another just began a year ago. What they share is a passion for getting together to create things that help others, for the camaraderie of these weekly sessions, and for the opportunity to help each other work through knitting problems.

A few years ago, the women decided to knit prayer shawls, which could be given to people with illness or some other personal trial. The prayer shawls are first laid out on the altar at the Islands Community Church, so that members of the congregation can put their hands upon them in prayer. One of the members then delivers the shawl to its recipient.

Janet Foley knows the power of the prayer shawl through first-hand experience. While recovering from an automobile accident two years ago, she received a prayer shawl from a member of the Knit Wits.

“The shawl was so beautiful, so soothing,” she recalled. “Every stitching these ladies do is a blessing of love. I get weepy talking about it.”

Foley said she still curls up with the shawl around her at nights to watch television.

Brunswick resident Arden Debrun, another prayer shawl recipient, was facing a life-threatening surgery when he was given a shawl by Surrey Hardcastle, one of the Knit Wits founders.

“Arden took it with him to New Hampshire for the surgery; later he would take it with him everywhere he went. He’d even sleep with it,” Debrun’s wife, Connie, said. “It really touched our hearts, and it meant a lot to him.”

As to the future, the members of the Knit Wits know that they’ll continue to meet each week to knit and to discuss where to send their gifts of love. They joke that they might even create a Knit Wits calendar with knitting materials strategically placed on the knitter of the month.

One thing is certain: These dedicated knitters will meet every Wednesday at the Island Church to do what they love to do, lifting the lives of many many people in the process.

Sidebar Elements

Marnie McFarland, right, and Ellen Schiilinglaw work with each other as other members of the Knit Wits work on their own projects at the Islands Community Church on Bailey Island.

A Knit Wits member holds a knitted lobster, which the group members make and donate to the Bailey Island church fair.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.