The seventh draft of my current novel is finished, and finally it’s in a state that I’m not ashamed to show to other people. It’s gone to five of my trusted friends and I await their comments. I have also finished the final proofread of my earlier novel The Epidaurus Inheritance so that paperback copies can be printed. Now it’s time to think about the next novel.
One of the best ways to free up your mind to do some creative thinking is to give your hands something to do. Two months ago I joined an initiative I had read about on Facebook: to get enough people to pledge to knit a blanket for some underprivileged person who doesn’t have one, and to do it before winter sets in. Winter in the southern hemisphere, that is.
Driving this venture are two remarkable women. Zelda la Grange was for many years the personal assistant to the late, greatly-mourned father of our nation, Nelson Mandela. When journalist Carolyn Steyn asked her what she would like people do in his memory, she answered that she would like 67 blankets to be knitted for poor people who would otherwise not have one.
Carolyn Steyn took up the challenge and invited people around South Africa to join her in making 67 blankets by July 1, in time for Mandela’s birthday which is on July 18. While anyone is more than welcome to buy and donate blankets to any charity of their choice, this is different: these blankets have to be made with your own two hands, either knitted or crocheted.
Like many good things in this internet age, the request went viral and over the last few months individual people and groups from all over the country have signed up and are either knitting or crocheting. Housewives and mothers, ballet dancers, schoolchildren, even butch rugby-playing men – there are no limits. As people’s friends and contacts on Facebook have read about it, others have joined too, and some members live as far away as Japan, Australia or America.
As of today we have 983 members. Many who started earlier have already finished their first and are onto their second or third blankets by now. The first handover is scheduled for April 7, so more than 1000 cold people are going to be warmer this winter. Now that’s enough to give any hardened, cynical person a warm, fuzzy feeling, isn’t it? Even a writer like me.
When I first signed up, I had no idea just how much knitting I would end up doing. I started with 5mm needles and some leftover double knitting yarn. I cast on 35 stitches and knitted until I could fold it diagonally to form a square. With my tension that’s 70 rows, which makes a square about 21cm by 21cm. Then I moved on to the next colour. I’m not very good at joining up, so I decided to knit my squares in 7 vertical strips of 10 squares each. My 70 squares will make a blanket that’s roughly 147 cm by 210cm. So far I’m on square number 24 and still have a long way to go.
Constructing a blanket stitch by stitch, square by square, reminds me of constructing a novel word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. But knitting is much easier (apart from the physical pain of the swollen joints) because you don’t have to do seven drafts of a blanket and re-do almost every single stitch before you are brave enough to let someone else look at it. I will finish this blanket in the next two months, whereas a novel takes me about two years to complete. And my blanket will keep someone warm for much longer than it takes to read one of my novels.
The beauty of something that is handmade speaks for itself, and no one minds a dropped stitch or a wonky seam, because its primary purpose is to keep people warm. If at any time a knitter feels discouraged, a quick visit to the Facebook page results in messages of camaraderie and inspiration, and beautiful pictures of the blankets that others are making with their own two hands. Suddenly the pain in my joints isn’t so bad. Another cup of ginger tea and I go back to the knitting.
Sore joints are not all this blanket has given me. Another thing I didn’t realise at first was how – unlike my novels which serve only to entertain – knitting a blanket could actually serve a basic need and help one person get through winter. Other ordinary people like me can make a difference just by doing this small thing of taking up two needles or a crochet hook, getting a few balls of yarn, and casting on that first stitch.
Have a look at what people have created in Mandela’s name by going to Facebook and typing “67 Blankets for Madiba Day” in the search box. As Carolyn Steyn says in one of her many posts to encourage and support all who partake in this venture: “Stitch by stitch we will be keeping people (around the world) warm this winter!!!”
Maybe you’d like to join us?