by Carri Hammett
I have a girlfriend named Teddy who lives halfway around the world — in Japan. We’ve never met in person, but we’ve built our friendship around a common love for knitting, a belief in the healing power of the sisterhood of yarn, and a sense of awe for the grace of God.
The Sisterhood of Yarn
I first found out about Teddy Sawka (shown at right) from a Wall Street Journal article a few years ago. She is a Christian missionary who lives in Shichigahama, Japan, a fishing village that was ravaged by the tsunami in March 2011. Many, many elderly people lost their homes and all their possessions and were moved into temporary pre-fab housing. Like most knitters, Teddy knew she would go crazy if she had nothing to do with her hands so she worried about the “grannies” living alone with little privacy and no way to keep busy. Bringing yarn and needles, she started a group called Yarn Alive that met once a week and began teaching the ladies to knit and crochet. Teddy understood that when women join together to spend time knitting or crocheting, a special kind of sharing happens that gives birth to hope. Personally, I think of it as the sisterhood of yarn.
As one of the ladies said, they “knit and chat and comfort each other one stitch at a time.” After a time, they began to crack jokes about knitting so much they were getting blisters on their fingers and more than half started meeting every day.
The Miracle in Seattle, Part 1
I have a lot of yarn. By a lot, I mean a small garage in a self storage facility filled with yarn that was left over after I sold my yarn shop to my pal, Cynthia, in 2010. It was beautiful yarn and I really needed to find a good home for it! Enter Teddy Sawka and Yarn Alive. As soon as I read about Teddy I emailed her and offered to share my yarn. Teddy would love to have it but the sobering truth was the cost of sending yarn to Japan was more than I could afford.
“There’s just one thing,” said Teddy, “there is a container leaving Seattle on a ship in August. If there’s any way you could get the yarn to the shipping port then it could hitch a ride to Japan for free.”
“WELL, AS A MATTER OF FACT I CAN,” I said! It turns out that my smarty pants youngest daughter had just gotten herself a fancy engineering degree. She had recently accepted a job — in Seattle — and the company was paying for professional movers to get her there. Think about it. How much stuff does a 21-year-old new college grad really have? Despite owning an excessive number of shoes (she gets that from her mother) there was no way her stuff would fill even a corner of the moving van. I got to work packing yarn and when the movers showed up they actually looked relieved to see 15 big boxes of yarn to add to the paltry collection of hand-me-down furniture, Ikea’s latest, and shoes going to Seattle.
Two weeks later the yarn boxes were delivered to my daughter’s fourth floor walk up apartment. She, too, was a part of the mission spending several nights cramming the boxes into her VW and taking them to the UPS store to be sent from downtown Seattle to Ferndale (the shipping port). Finally, the yarn — all 2,000 balls — made it onboard the ship bound for Japan. Two months later the yarn arrived at Teddy’s door in Shichigahama and quickly to the ladies of Yarn Alive.
As the events unfolded, Teddy and I shared a sense of awe for the grace of God. It was simply amazing how strangers from halfway around the world could join together so that yarn could be put into the hands of lonely, dispossessed women who had found hope through a group called Yarn Alive. Teddy and I called it the Miracle in Seattle.
The Miracle in Seattle, Part 2
Teddy and I have stayed in touch. The program has been very successful in part because, sadly, many still live in temporary housing. They often make blankets to donate to others. “We feel that one of the important values of Yarn Alive is that the women are able to bless others as we have been greatly blessed,” says Teddy. In a recent email she shared many stories, here is just one:
“My neighbor is an example of one that we try to keep busy so that she will stay mentally alert and have purpose in her life. She lost all of her friends in this harbor area. In other words, all of the homes were washed away and the people have had to go to temporary housing. Her house was destroyed, but her son’s house was safe so she has moved in with his family. I supply her with yarn and beads and brooch pins and she crochets flower pins all day long. She says this gives her something to wake up for every day! Those flowers have gone all over the world!”
Teddy, with a smile in her words, also told me that you can’t imagine how challenging it is to keep 40 ladies satisfied each week when they have a voracious appetite for yarn. The yarn I sent is long gone. Thankfully many others have contributed, but the need continues.
My friends, Teddy needs more yarn for Yarn Alive. A shipping container is once again leaving Seattle in August. We need another miracle in Seattle and it can only be done with your help. This year can you share some of your yarn? My aforementioned pal, Cynthia, has volunteered her yarn shop, Lakeside Yarn, as a collection point. I’ll take care of boxing all the yarn in preparation for a sea journey. While we don’t have a moving van, a donor has volunteered to pay the cost of mailing from Lakeside Yarn to the shipping dock in Seattle.
You can’t imagine how great it feels to know that your yarn donation is spreading love and smiles to fellow knitters halfway around the world. When I go to their blog and see pictures of the ladies using yarn that I know came from me I feel so grateful to be a part of Yarn Alive. Please! Join the sisterhood of yarn, with the grace of God, bringing comfort to those in need.
The knitters of Yarn Alive especially need yarn in sweater quantities although they can use any donated yarn. “Every little bit helps,” as Teddy says.
Send your yarn donation to: (must be received by August 1)
c/o Lakeside Yarn
347 Water Street
Excelsior, MN 55331
If you would prefer to make a cash donation you can do so through PayPal. The link and more information about the program (inspirational ideas and wonderful pictures) can be found on the Yarn Alive blog: YarnAlive.wordpress.com.
Carri Hammett is a popular contributor to Annie’s and she has stitched hundreds of hats and mittens. She is the author of More Than a Dozen Hats & Beanies. Carri is also the instructor of Knit Finishing Techniques, available on AnniesOnlineClasses.com and has written several books which are available at your local yarn shop. For more information about Carri, visit her website: ColdwaterYarn.com.