A chance remark has put beautiful hand-knitted garments on thousands of babies born across south Auckland.
When Pukekohe’s Joan Loader, armed with bootees and a hat, went to hospital to visit her grand-daughter and meet her new great-grandchild, one of the nurses remarked 'here comes the knitting granny'.
It was like casting on the stitches…
Joan went home and talked to friends, put a few feelers out, and before she knew it, the Knitting Grannies were off and in full production mode.
That was 17 years ago and now, every second Wednesday, Joan’s home is crammed with good samaritans battling to be heard over the clack-clack of flying knitting needles.
They like to be referred to as ladies, though Joan says a staffer from the Middlemore Foundation, where all the knitting goes to be distributed to new mums, once dubbed them 'Knitting Angels'.
With wool and needles at hand, Joan’s grannies set about making hundreds of items a year. The clothing and blankets they make are gifted to the area’s newest citizens, keeping them toasty warm and in rude health.
"Middlemore has a ‘Knitter Natter’ we go to from time to time for all the women who donate, and you wouldn’t believe how much is there," Joan says. "They call it all their 'little gifts of love', which is rather nice."
Keeping up production doesn’t come cheap, and Franklin Local Board has chipped in through its local grants rounds over the years to keep the wool coming.
"I suppose we are mostly women who grew up knitting baby clothes because back in the day that’s just what you did," Joan says.
"But it is nice to see your skills used and to feel like you are contributing, doing something useful for the community, even if you are never going to see the little ones you’re helping."
And nothing goes to waste. All the little bits of leftover wool are dutifully collected and transformed into bootees, crocheted or knitted into one of the hundreds and hundreds of peggy squares that eventually form baby blankets.
"We can have a couple of dozen of us here, and sometimes more talking than knitting goes on, but it’s great fun. Once we even had someone who had to stand in the doorway and knit, we were so full," Joan says.
The Knitting Grannies knit in every colour imaginable, making for a colourful display when the clothes are laid out to be packed in large rubbish sacks for the hospital - as many as eight at a time, with hundreds of items in them.
Once it’s gone, they just fire up the jug for some more tea, and start all over again, safe in the knowledge the Middlemore Foundation will make sure south Auckland’s babies, and children admitted to Kidz First Children's Hospital, have something warm to wear.
"The Knitting Grannies are a wonderful example of how much good the voluntary sector does for our community," says Franklin Local Board Chair Angela Fulljames.
"It’s not just the good they do for those children and babies, it’s the coming together to have a common purpose and contribute to the community.
"What might seem like something quite simple is really something much greater than that. The board has been really pleased to support the Knitting Grannies.”
Auckland’s local boards offer groups or individuals funding for events, and community and environmental activities. Find out more at aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/funding