There was a low hum of conversation in the arts and crafts room at the Westport Center for Senior Activities on a cold afternoon. The six ladies sitting around a table were doing more than just enjoying each other’s company; they were knitting healing shawls, or as they like to call them, “hugs,” for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Ellen Lane, a long-time Westport resident, is the driving force behind this project. She decided to work with the senior center to get her knitting project underway because many seniors already know how to knit and they are enthusiastic about the project.
Lane is now trying to expand her knitting circle to include the entire Westport community. She decided to create together shawl making kits; a tote bag that contains yarn, knitting needles, detailed instructions, and something extra special – a package of “Nellie’s Nibbles” Magic Bars, Lane’s freshly baked cookies to nibble on while knitting.
“People saw me knitting the shawls and were interested in what I was doing. I decided to put together the kits so that more people could easily participate in the project,” explains Lane.
Lane charges $25 for each kit which covers the cost of the materials and a donation to the Laura Hartenbaum Breast Cancer Foundation. Once the shawl has been completed, Lane picks up the shawl and donates it to the Smilow Breast Care Center at Norwalk Hospital where it’s given to a woman undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Attached to each donated shawl is a tag with the name of the person who made it.
“When you are going chemo, you tend to be chilly. Knitting a shawl is like giving a hug. These women can wrap it around themselves and it makes them feel that someone cares,” says Lane.
Although the group at the Senior Center began just this winter, Lane has been knitting the garments for awhile. She says that she began knitting them in 2007, with her daughter who was knitting healing shawls for a senior project in college.
In the past few months, Lane says she has made about 20 shawls. “I am trying to knit two or three a week to get this project underway. I’m not sure I can keep that pace but it is rewarding to know more and more women will be able to benefit from them.”
Lane says that the shawls are not difficult to make and the perfect starter project for anyone who would like to learn to knit. “Healing shawls are made with one basic knit stitch. Non-knitters can easily become knitters, and experienced knitters can complete a shawl in less than a week,” she explains.
The ladies at the senior center can attest to the simplicity of the project and that one is never too old to learn something new. Lane was instructing Ruth Waters of Norwalk on the basic stitch, while Westporter JoAnne Siebrasse says that she has been “knitting forever.”
Ellie Herman, a long-time Westport resident enjoys knitting the shawls and feels that, “People who receive the shawls are so appreciative,” Herman adds, “It’s the perfect winter thing to do!”
Lane hopes to make the kits available at a few locations around town, but for now, kits can be purchased by e-mailing Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org.