By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Thinking back on all the hats stitched by members of the Warm Cap Project in the past eight years, Sister Mary Lou Schmersal says, “It’s been thousands. I would guess close to 5,000.”
And that doesn’t include all the hats, gloves and scarves donated from other knitters, crocheters and seamstresses in the area.
Members of the Warm Cap Project, based out of St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church, are gearing up for their one and only money-making venture of the year: the church’s annual Christmas bazaar, set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 11. The rest of the year, expertly made winterwear is lovingly handed out to those less fortunate throughout the city, from elementary students to victims of domestic violence.
“Our purpose is not to make money. It’s to make a gift available to families, to people,” Schmersal says. “As we learn of different groups or individuals that need assistance, we try to meet those needs.”
Schmersal founded the Warm Cap Project in 2009 as a way to help members of the church and the public visualize — and respond to — the needs of those less fortunate.
“I wanted people to begin to realize that there is a need out there, that people could use our help,” she says.
Along the way, she’s built a community of knitters that shares patterns, ideas and new skills with one another. Members of the group celebrate life’s joys and mourn each other’s setbacks and losses like a true family.
“I enjoy the company. I’ve met so many nice people,” says club member Dorothy Lussier, who prefers knitting but can also crochet afghans.
She’s been knitting since she was 12 years old and enjoys the hobby as a productive way to pass the time.
“It takes up a lot of your time. If I’m not knitting I’m eating. And I prefer knitting,” Lussier says.
The daytime group gathers at the main church from 12:30-2 p.m. the second Monday of each month, with the smaller evening group meeting from 6:30-8 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month. Schmersal says each meeting begins with a prayer, and the spiritual aspect is carried over into the members’ work.
“I find it restful and relaxing. And it’s prayerful,” she says of knitting, a skill she learned in the fourth grade. “We encourage people to pray for the people who will end up with these caps.”
Organizer Sandy Weaver says the recipients change based on need. Members regularly create newborn caps for infants in Blanchard Valley Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and hats are donated to Jacobs and Lincoln elementary schools for students to wear during recess.
“We all do it because we found out the kids don’t have something warm to put on their heads,” Weaver says, explaining other charities such as Open Arms and City Mission occasionally request caps, too.
Weaver says at about 6 years old, one grandmother taught her to knit and the other taught her to crochet. She’s perfected her craft into adulthood and says now, it’s so second nature she can crochet a hat while watching TV without hardly glancing at the yarn.
“It has always fascinated me how you can take a skein of yarn and make something from it,” she says. “It’s a work of art. It’s a painting.”
Many women in the club match Weaver’s skill level, although plenty are relatively new to the hobby. Some have even learned from fellow club members.
“We’ve had people walk in here who’ve never picked up needles,” Weaver says.
Some, too, like Gracie Rissler, are working to pass their skills along to a new generation of knitters. The Girl Scouts troop leader works primarily with girls in fifth through seventh grades and has taught them to sew scarves and lap blankets, and to use a loom to make hats. She feels it’s important for these girls to have sewing skills, but it’s equally important for them to recognize that some of their peers are less fortunate than themselves.
“I’ve been trying to teach them service, and it’s about giving and not receiving — and how many people in the county could use that help,” Rissler says.
In preparation for the bazaar, members have crafted matching mother and daughter hats; hats in team colors; hats embellished with ruffles, flowers and puff balls; headbands; scarves and mittens. Items are priced shockingly low, because members want to sell as many as possible. Proceeds will benefit St. Michael’s Rosary Altar Society.
Anyone interested in joining the club may call Weaver at 419-422-8955 or, better yet, show up to a meeting. Organizations seeking hats for their clients are also welcome to contact Weaver.