As the Seasons Change

Autumn is one of those weather-crazy seasons in Canada. In a span of 24 hours, it could be sunny, warm, rainy, cold, windy and snowy. Just the other day we had brooding clouds, rain, sleet and hail, all mixed with sunny breaks. Out come the woolen items from their summer hiding places, whether handmade or store bought.

IMG_9472I know that South Africa is coming into their summer months but I can’t help but think what it’s like to go without a pair of handwarmers or a hat on a cold day. To know there is nothing to protect you from the elements is a harsh reality for many. Luckily, KAS members are there to help.

Recently I watched a show about glass. It followed the invention, innovation, tinkering and collaboration that has brought us to a time where, among many other things, we can share photos. From spectacles to mirrors, fibre optic cables to cameras, glass has transformed the way we understand the world.

Now, imagine for a moment that we couldn’t share photos of our achievements, squares, distributions. We would miss so many opportunities to innovate, tinker and collaborate. We have made our very own social network with KAS. Like the lenses in a microscope, ideas build on each other and create a whole new way of seeing the world. Through the sharing of photos we have single-handedly broadened our experiences of humanity.

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I Love Yarn… Let’s Celebrate!

ILYD2015_instagram_small-300x300I Love Yarn Day 2015 is being held on Saturday, October 17. Brought to you by the Craft Yarn Council (CYC), this annual event celebrates yarn. (Personally, I love to “celebrate” yarn at least once a month by squeezing, caressing and/or buying it, but everyone deserves a day!) To commemorate its fifth anniversary, the theme is Stitch It Forward, encouraging everyone to teach a friend, neighbour or family member how to crochet, knit, loom or otherwise have oodles of yarn fun. This is a great chance to pass along your love of stitching to someone you love.

In the recent past, I’ve taught one friend to knit and another to crochet. There are a lot of free beginner patterns out there but what better way to learn than to make a square? Think of the possibilities… teach someone to knit or crochet for the price of five or ten squares. They learn an essential life skill while practicing a relaxing hobby and you get squares to contribute to KAS. Brilliant!

pencil-paperIn other news, the kids are back to school here in the western hemisphere which means the sales are on for school supplies. Stocking up on 10-pack pencils for 25¢ and 80-page notebooks for 50¢ really gets my excitement level going because I use the notebooks to line the sides of my packages and the pencils to maximize the weight. There are only so many squares I can squish into a package and they don’t really weigh that much.

KASshopIf you can’t get out to the stores, you can always visit the KAS Shop and purchase some colouring books and crayons, paper or reading books online, sent directly to Ronda and her team. It’s true that one of the main goals of KAS is to warm and comfort the children but think what a difference some paper and pencils can make to a child who has virtually nothing.

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Time to Celebrate!

FireworksJuly starts out as a festive month in my household, which is half American and half Canadian, as we celebrate both Canada Day on July 1 and Independence Day on July 4. Fireworks, barbecues and warmer weather abound to mark an official start to summer. But it’s also a reminder of how lucky we are to live in a place like North America and be able to give our time and energy to the children of South Africa.

This year, we KASers have something extra to celebrate. Having worked so hard for over a year and a half, we made over 178,000 squares, enough to exceed the height of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. That is a huge achievement! Knitters and crocheters alike traveled the world – from France to Japan, Egypt to Tunisia, Switzerland to New Zealand – one square (or 30!) at a time. That is well over 5,000 blankets.

This is what can happen when global citizens pool their efforts for the common good. We can reach such great heights together, square after square, blanket after blanket, smile after smile.


Table Mountain

Part of a national park, Table Mountain is the most iconic landmark of South Africa and serves as a welcoming to travelers from all over the world, including KASers! The flat top peak of the mountain reaches 1,086 metres above sea level.

Here are some amazing facts about this UNESCO World Heritage Site:
1. It is the only South African and only natural site on the planet to have a constellation of stars named after it. The constellation is called “Mensa”, which means “table” in Latin.

2. Having withstood 6 million years of erosion, it hosts the richest floral kingdom on earth, with more than 1 470 floral species.

3. The Khoi people used to call the mountain Hoerikwaggo (Mountain of the Sea).

4. The first European to climb it, Antonio de Saldanha, called it Taboa de Caba (Table of the Cape).

5. The mountain is now officially recognized as one of the new seven world wonders.

6. Table Mountain is often covered in cloud. The cloud that forms around the mountain is called “table cloth.”

7. It is South Africa’s most photographed landmark.

8. Table Mountain is featured on Cape Town’s flag.

9. There are many caves on Table Mountain, the biggest one being Wynberg.

10. Over 800,000 people visit it each year.

11. The rocks on the mountain are over 600,000,000 years old making Table Mountain one of the oldest mountains in the world.

12. More than 70% of all the plants found on the mountain are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else.

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Squares with Friends

Have you ever wondered what 370 squares, five hats, two sweaters, two cuddlebags, one Go-Over, handwarmers and countless slip-ins look like? An influx of squares and hours of work created a backlog that I finally packed, weighed and wrapped.


That’s right, nine packages, made (and filled) with love!

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to meet up with some fellow KASers. There’s nothing like it to renew enthusiasm for different patterns, techniques and colours.

At the cafe

Striped SquareWe talked of more KASers getting together in the future. Wouldn’t it be great to organize “reunions” in different parts of the world? Knit-a-square has managed to bring so many different people together for a common cause. It is such an experience to finally meet virtual friends in person. I highly recommend it!

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Wear a Square!

Winter. In Canada, it really is its own entity. I have spent the last three months in denial of the cold, snowy, shorter days and longer nights of Winter. But this week, we’ve had record low temperatures here in the northland, with today sinking to a low of -25°C (-13F) with a windchill of -35°C (-31F). There was a point last week when the temperature outside matched the temperature inside but one was negative. I actually saw a headline today that said, “At 39 below [Farenheit], Michigan [USA] almost as cold as North Pole.”

SnowSo, what does one do when faced with Siberian-like conditions? Combat the growing sense of cabin fever by spending ten minutes donning an extra pair of socks, two layers of clothes, scarf, parka, heavy duty gloves and a hat, then squeeze into snow pants and boots and go tobogganing for 30 minutes. Subsequently spend another ten minutes taking everything off and making hot chocolate.

Bobble SquareThere really is only one prescription for these ills – knit or crochet a square! Place the completed square on your leg and revel in the warmth. Repeat. Even better, choose bright colours to lift spirits. Perfect for the February theme, Think Like a Kid, and the upcoming March theme, Colour Collision.

February, the shortest and coldest month for those of us in the northern hemisphere, is also great for finishing WIPs (works in progress, also known as UnFinished Objects). I started the month with a whopping 14 WIPs and I’m down to 6! March is just around the corner, I can smell it.

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First Fruits of the Harvest

The holiday Kwanzaa was created by the American Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a way of reinforcing African culture and heritage and reconnecting Africans throughout the world with the traditions and building blocks of community. The number seven holds a special significance – the celebration is seven days long, there are Seven Principles (the Nguzo Saba in Swahili) and seven symbols, including one called The Seven Candles. The last day of Kwanzaa (Swahili for first fruits of the harvest) is the first day of the new year, January 1.

While I have never celebrated Kwanzaa, I can’t help but think that the Seven Principles should serve as a reminder of how we should act in our communities all year long. I also believe that the Knit-a-square community embodies these principles.

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

kwanzaa_candles_2January 1 has always served as a time for self-reflection, a time to “hit the reset button” and assess where you’ve been and where you want to be. Kwanzaa is used to ask and answer the three Kawaida questions: Who am I? Am I really who I say I am? Am I all I ought to be? At which point, we can recommit ourselves to higher ideals and be the best people we can be.

Here’s to a happy, healthy New Year and much community- and people-building in the year ahead. Check out the January challenge, The Garden, for more first fruits of the harvest!

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The Knit(-a-square) Retreat

3a2effa5-32ae-46b8-a740-fb54fa6ddf27I’ve been crocheting practically my entire life but I’ve only been knitting consistently for the past six months. Last year at this time, my friend Fi hosted her first knitting retreat. I considered going but because I didn’t knit, I didn’t think it would prove very interesting. A short 12 months later, I was graciously invited to join my friends Fi and Andrea (she’s Big A and I’m little A) for the second annual Pines & Needles Knit Retreat.

Two weeks before the retreat, I received an email entitled “Knit-a-square for Africa at Pines and Needles.” Fi wanted to do a yarn bomb at the retreat (street art that uses knitting or crocheted items) but didn’t want to waste perfectly good yarn. Instead, she asked the participants to bring along a square for KAS with the hopes of collecting enough squares for a blanket. She included all of the instructions so the squares would be made properly. I was so touched that she would choose a cause I feel passionate about.

The retreat was from a Friday night to a Sunday afternoon at a beautiful, old hotel north of where I live. The food was amazing, I was away from my family for the first time since having children and I learned how to use a drop spindle, but the most exciting thing that happened was being deluged with squares. Not only did the generous knitters at the retreat make enough squares for one blanket, they made enough squares for almost FOUR blankets! I collected 131 squares from 35 people.

Below are the squares laid out into blankets so we could show everyone what they would look like. I contributed some of my extra squares to make up the difference. Way to go, Pines & Needles knitters!

Blanket One

Blanket Two

Blanket Three

Blanket Four

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A Square Can Be So Much More

Have you ever wondered about the secret language we use on the Knit-a-square forum? Over time, we’ve evolved squares into warm garments to help combat a distinct lack of warm clothing. Thanks to KAS, little bodies can be warm, dry and protected.Go-Over

The Go-Over does just that – it is a sweater that is meant to “go over” other layers of clothes for extra warmth. They are typically heavy duty and feature a wide neck and ample armholes. Think: acrylic worsted weight.

The Go-Over uses 16 squares, four for the front, back and each sleeve. You can also make it in one piece from the neck down or from the bottom up. I’ve tried both ways, individual squares and in one piece. While it goes faster when you’re making it with squares, it does take longer to put together. I make the sleeves the way you would with a traditional sweater, less wide at the wrist, increasing as you go up the sleeve.

Slip-OverA Slip-Over is like a tank top or vest and is meant to be worn close to the skin to hold in the warmth. Because it is worn next to skin, it should be made with softer, thinner yarns. Think: sport weight or even a natural yarn.

The KASCuddle was created after forum members saw a photo of babies sleeping on a linoleum floor with no protection from the cold. Like a sleeping bag, it is perfect for sleeping but it can also be used during the day when the baby is being carried. Believe it or not, that’s Evan in the first Cuddle I made, way back in 2010! Think: soft acrylic, worsted weight.


KASCuddleApparently, 2009 was a banner year for our creative juices. All three of these garments were created that year!

The important thing about any garments that are sent to KAS is that they are sized appropriately. Go-Overs and Slip-Overs should be sized for children three to ten years old, with ample length to cover distended bellies. KASCuddles are used for babies up to 15 months old. The KAS forum has a great pattern section with lots of information about sizes.


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Behold the Evolution

It was February 2009 when I received the email from Lion Brand Yarns introducing me to the world of Knit-a-square. Can you believe I actually emailed Sandy to ask if they’d accept crocheted squares? I had no idea what an impact my small amount of 8″ squares could make, nor the impact KAS would have on me.

First Squares

I joined the forum and started crocheting a handful of squares, originally with the goal of making enough squares for a blanket (40, at that time) by the end of the year. Then in April came the first forum challenge – make a square a day for a month. I decided that if I could complete the challenge then I was definitely committed. Thirty squares later, I was hooked! It’s hard to believe I used to send five or six squares at one time in a padded envelope.

Dance Blanket

At the end of 2009, Debbie Posmontier bought tickets to see the Soweto Gospel Choir in Philadelphia (U.S.) and suggested we make blankets for the choir members to bring back to South Africa with them. Could we do it in time? I created a jigsaw square pattern, pulled together my stash of yarn and finished the blanket with just enough time to post it for the concert. A total of 28 blankets were made and presented! And, unbelievably, my blanket was chosen to be on stage.


Personalized squares, baby blankets, GO-Overs, KASCuddles, hats, squares from quilt patterns… it didn’t take me long to branch out. My family started gifting me balls of yarn for Christmas and birthdays. I created alphabet books for members to print and send, an 8″ ruler to help spread the word and alphabet square patterns. For all that I’ve done for KAS though, this charity has returned the gift to me tenfold.

KAS has given me a chance to learn new patterns, play with colour and expand my crochet skills. I can’t describe the joy and pride I feel when I see one of my squares in a photo, in amongst all of the other colourful works of art.

Through KAS I have made friends across the globe and even met a few of them in person. One of these days, I’m going to travel for the sole purpose of meeting more of those lovely people.

KAS has given me something purposeful to do while waiting – in lines, for appointments, on transit – and allowed me to start conversations with curious people so I can raise awareness about the poverty and need in South Africa.

It has helped me to feel fulfilled as a human being because, from half a globe away, I can help children in need. I can’t think of anything else in this world, aside from helping by physically being there, that can give that feeling, and at so little cost.

So, thank you, Knit-a-square – Ronda, Wendy, Lindi, Wandi, Lorinda and so many more – for giving so much not only to me, but to all the precious children you help each day.

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Purl One, Knit For Good

My mom taught me to crochet when I was seven years old. In my memory I learned instantly, although I know that isn’t possible. I’m sure there were challenging times where I was trying to catch on to the stitches and order of things. Since I’ve been crocheting for such a long time it comes easily to me; I can read a pattern like a book, know what type of yarn it is by feel and turn out a square in about an hour.

Knitting, on the other hand, is another story. I learned to knit last year, again thanks to my mom. I had tried to knit (unsuccessfully) for years but finally something clicked. My first square took three days. I made one more square after that and put the idea of knitting aside.

TeddyFast forward to this past winter when I joined a knitting group. After being literally surrounded by knitters, I felt compelled to pick up the needles once again. I decided to knit a simple sweater for Evan’s teddy bear. I made some mistakes and more than once shouted at my husband, “I don’t know why people think this is a fun and relaxing thing to do!” while trying desperately to get my stitches back on the needle. I persevered and Teddy had a sweater.

JorgeThen it was Mason’s monkey’s turn. Jorge’s sweater went a little quicker but I still experienced some frustration. The difference was, I was finally learning the construction of the knitted stitch. I found better ways to fix my mistakes and even learned how to increase and decrease. Now I was unstoppable.

I moved on to a square. I really wanted to try the seed stitch. I learned how knit and purl stitches interacted with each other. I managed to finish a square the same day in which I had started. Next up: a basketweave square. I perfected the way I held my yarn and actually managed to keep track of my stitches.

Seed Stitch-Basketweave

Now I’m really hooked. Or would that be needled?

Check out the amazing squares members have made for the KAS July Challenge: Stripes, Textures, Zig-zags and a Mandela Day Salute. Mark your calendars for Mandela Day on July 18!

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