Knitting communities together stitch by stitch

The women from the Spin a Yarn knitting club, from left, are 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day ambassador Ruth Ely, Azeza Manie, retired librarian Fatima Daniels, Dawn Abrahams, Esme Gradwell, and Stephanie Fransman.

The women from the Spin a Yarn knitting club, which meets in Lansdowne, are making rainbow blankets for the #RainbowNationBlanketOfHope campaign run by the 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day Foundation.

The thousands of blankets being made by people all over the City will be displayed, on Wednesday May 11, at Steyn City School in Johannesburg, showing the world the meaning of ubuntu – that communities are knitting their lives and the nation together through bright, warm, colourful thread, says 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day Foundation’s founder Carolyn Steyn.

“After the activation at Steyn City School, the blankets will be given directly to Gift of the Givers to distribute to needy communities around South Africa.”

The 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day Foundation was launched in January 2014 after former president Nelson Mandela’s assistant, Zelda la Grange, challenged Ms Steyn to knit, sew or crochet 67 blankets that would be given to the needy, on Madiba’s birthday, Mandela Day, July 18, which was officially declared by the UN, in 2009.

Ms Steyn called on her friends for help and created a Facebook group, 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day. In a few days, hundreds of people from around the globe had pledged to knit a blanket for Nelson Mandela Day. Since then, 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day has transformed into a global movement, which the Spin a Yarn knitting club supports.

The club started in July 2019 when the women came together every last Thursday of the month to knit for the less fortunate. They now meet every last Wednesday of the month at Lansdowne library, where they knit, socialise and take out knitting and crocheting books.

The club is a place where children can dip into a box of knitting needles and wool to knit or crochet while they wait for their parents to fetch them from school, says retired librarian Fatima Daniels.

The knitted squares are joined together to form a blanket.

Over the years, she says, the library has been asked to knit blankets for premature babies and for Lansdowne police station’s trauma room.

“Last year we donated baby beanies to the Mowbray maternity unit, and we are always donating to worthy causes.”

Esme Gradwell, 84, from Lansdowne, joined the club about three years ago. She’d been knitting since the age of 50 and remembers the first item she knitted was a cable jersey for herself.

It’s a pleasure to be part of the club where she can leave her worries behind for a couple of hours, she says. “We get to learn new skills, new patterns and talk to each other – just let go.”

67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day ambassador Ruth Ely says people think the 67 minutes for Mandela Day campaign is a “once a year thing”, but every day when you meet up with people for a cause and do something for your community, even knitting in the comfort of your own home, you are contributing to the campaign.

“We are bringing communities and families together stitch by stitch. We are trying to get children involved not only adults, and that is why we are targeting our libraries – the children are here as they find libraries a safe place. Kids know they will learn something when they come to the library.”

To make a donation or join the club call Fatima Daniels at 082 774 4234.