Because chemo drugs are infused at a low temperature, cancer patients often feel chilly. Cotton blankets don’t help.
That’s something most people not affected by cancer would not know. But when Ellen Lane found out, she also realized she could help.
The 25-year Westport resident began knitting as a child in the 1950s. She stopped as an adult, but picked up the hobby again in 2007. That’s when her daughter knit “healing shawls” for her Hopkins School senior project.
Ellen joined her. Her daughter graduated, but Ellen kept knitting.
A friend took one of the soft, cozy shawls to the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center at Bridgeport Hospital. It brought warmth — and solace — to a woman undergoing treatment.
Ellen and Westporter Mary Heery soon gave a shawl to a woman having chemo at Norwalk Hospital’s Smilow Family Breast Health Center.
A movement had begun.
In the past few years, Ellen has been joined by hundreds of other knitters. Together, they’ve created over 600 shawls for cancer patients.
The women (and a few men) are joined together in a loose organization called Knit One, Nibble One.
The “nibble” refers to magic-bar cookies the multi-talented Ellen bakes. She puts one in a tote bag that also holds yarn, needles and knitting directions. Each kit costs $25, which covers not only the cost of materials but a donation to cancer research. Refills are $15 each.
With very little marketing — but plenty of word-of-mouth — Ellen’s Knit One, Nibble One network grew. The youngest knitter is 7; the oldest is 91. Over 125 are from Westport and Weston.
Some people knit alone. Others gather in groups, at places like the Senior Center. One son consistently drops off 7 to 10 “exquisite” shawls made by his mother, who lives in New York. (Ellen drops off tote bags, picks up shawls, even mails materials to people outside the area.)
Some knitters have relatives with cancer. Some simply want to help. A few are women who received a shawl themselves, and want to give back.
Experience is not required. She has taught several people how to knit, from scratch.
“It’s a win-win,” Ellen says of Knit One, Nibble One. “It gives people a chance to knit, and it makes everyone feel good.”
She describes the reaction of one woman who had forgotten to bring a blanket on her 1st day of chemo. A nurse handed her a shawl. “That made her day,” Ellen says.
The shawls go to area hospitals, as well as a small infusion center in Fairfield.
“People grow attached to their shawls,” Ellen reports. “They take them everywhere.
“Even if a woman has a good support network, this lets her know that strangers care.”
(For more information — or to volunteer to knit — email email@example.com, or call 203-454-2277.)
Thanks Dan, this is a fabulous group! Will try to get my own stich and bitch group to join in!
I recently finished 20 weeks of chemo for breast cancer at St.Francis Hospital near where I now live in West Hartford. I too received what was called a “prayer shawl” similar to the ones you talk about. I also got one from a coworker. I have used both shawls on a daily basis. As a cancer patient your body temperature is constantly changing and these shawls are a Godsend of comfort, especially throughout the winter months. Every time I use one I feel wrapped up in Hope and healing! These volunteers should be proud of the work they are doing because personally I am forever greatful! I am now cancer free but still have a lot of recovery and my shawls are always nearby whenever I need a “hug” . I applaude these volunteers for their time and devotion !
Dan, you write about the most interesting people and cover such meaningful stories. Thank you! Three years ago after I had major surgery, a total stranger made me a beautiful healing shawl and it quickly became my “blankie.” I was so touched by her generosity and thoughtfulness. It’s still my blankie that I cuddle up with whenever I’m cold. Now I wonder if she was part of Knit One, Nibble One – or another like-minded group. I’ve wanted to relearn how to knit for a long time, and now I have a very good reason to get going on that desire… to pay it forward and bring tangible comfort to another living soul. Thanks for a great story!
The Unitarian Church also has an any-ability knitting group – the Shawl Ministry – which meets the first and third Friday of the month at 12:30. Anyone may join in making shawls for those going through any kind of loss or illness. They’ve also made hats and scarves for children in Bridgeport.