Nittany Knits

Saturday, September 15, 2007

In the next coming days, I will talk more about the charities that we will be supporting at this year's Knit-A-Thon. Before I do that however, I wanted to share this lovely story that has inspired me to action for many years now, written by Barbara Smith. It was found in the book 'Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul'. I hope it speaks to you as much as it has to me.

In God's Hands a World of Mittens

It was time to dedicate the mitten tree at Emmanuel Congregational Church in Watertown, and time to reveal a decades-old secret.

Since 1949, one woman had knitted dozens of pairs of mittens and matching hats that hung on the pine tree at the front of the church each Christmas, so many of them the tree's branches were laden as if with a heavy snow. But the woman insisted on remaining anonymous. Except to her family and a circle of friends, she was known only as "the mitten lady."

And so when the mitten lady's identity was revealed that morning, Helen Bunce, 86 years old, sat quietly in her wheelchair, her daughter holding her hand. The members of the congregation began to applaud, then rose to their feet and gave her an ovation that lasted a full five minutes, able at last to thank the mitten lady in person for her many good works.

It was the last time she went to church. Helen Bunce died on Saturday.

The custom of the mitten tree began in 1949. Church members would collect mittens and hats, decorate a tree with them, then give them to poor children. Helen's best friend knew she knitted, and so she asked her if she would contribute. The first year, Helen made 25 sets of mittens and hats.

The Reverend Graham Hodges, who came to Emmanuel in 1956, talked to the children about the mitten tree one morning. He told them how children in Europe lined up to receive mittens from relief workers in the years following World War II. As the workers came to the end of a line one day, a little boy held out his hands to them. But by then they had run out of mittens.

"The moral was, the need is unending," said Hodges. "We need another pair for that little boy."

Helen Bunce took the talk to heart. She could not forget about that little boy and his cold hands, and so each year she tried to knit more. In each of the past 20 years she easily exceeded 100 sets of mittens and hats. Every one of them bore a handwritten tag attached with a gold safety pin: "God Loves You and So Do I."

When she had reached her goal for the year, she knitted two more sets, one for a little girl and one for a little boy, the children at the end of the line. Those she hung on the mitten tree herself, or gave to one of the grandchildren to hang, a reminder of why she knitted, and whom she knitted for.

Helen followed one rule in her knitting: never finish one project without starting the next.

As soon as Christmas passed, she began working toward the next year. Every time she finished a hat or mitten, she cast on the stitches for her next project on her needles, so her knitting would always be ready to pick up.

"She felt as long as she was knitting those mittens, the Lord wouldn't take her," her daughter said.

Helen told her family she wanted to be buried with her knitting needles. Her daughter remembered that on Saturday. She went back to her mother's room, planning to retrieve the needles that would be holding a final, unfinished project.

She found a pink and white hat that had been completed, and then she saw the needles. Her mother had bound them neatly with a rubber band and stuck them in the skein of yarn, empty. Helen McDonald is certain of the reason: her mother had known her work was done.


  • I've read that before and actually think of it from time to time. Thanks for bringing it to me again. Hope all is well.

    By Blogger tinkknitz, at 10:15 AM  

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