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Blanket Party
By Suki Casanave '86G

Kristen Melamed's grandmother gave it her best shot. She tried, back when Melamed was in junior high, to teach her granddaughter to knit. "I just couldn't get it," says the junior English journalism major. But these days, Melamed can often be found, knitting needles in hand, clicking away, counting stitches under her breath. "I love it," says Melamed, who joins a Wednesday night knitting circle at Waysmeet, home of the campus ministry.

She is joined by a half dozen or so other students as well as a group of experienced knitters from the Durham Community Church. Melamed and the other novices were quick learners, according to Carly Rushmore Hellen '57, who helped launch the knitting circle last spring. By the end of the semester, everyone was sitting around the dining room table, chatting easily as they knit colorful squares. Well, they're not always square, exactly. "Some of mine look more like circles," admits Melamed. But it doesn't matter.

"We always manage to squish them in," says Hellen, who oversees assembling the squares into an afghan. The finished blankets are packaged up and sent overseas as part of the national Afghans for Afghans project, a nonprofit endeavor to help the beleaguered people of Afghanistan. "I've always been involved with projects like this," says Hellen, who was born into a Quaker family with a long tradition of giving.

She helped roll bandages during World War II, and she remembers seeing her mother and grandmother bent over a knitting machine, making socks to help the war effort. After the war, her grandfather helped feed hungry children in Europe. And her parents housed burn victims from Hiroshima, who came to New York City for treatment. "I just see activity as what life is all about," says Hellen. "It's a way of sharing."

The opportunity to help others is precisely what brings the Wednesday-night knitters together, people who otherwise might never have met—or talked. Conversation is always lively and covers lots of ground, from politics to religion. The women from the community hear about dorm life. The students hear about travel experiences and get a glimpse of what it's like to be the parent of grown kids. "It's just fun to hang out with them," says Melamed of her older knitting partners.

For all participants, it's a way to feel like they're making a difference. "It's cool to see your square in the middle of the big afghan," says Melamed, "and know it's going to help someone else in another country."

Melamed plans to continue her Wednesday night knitting sessions during the fall semester. To keep in shape over the summer, she'll visit her grandmother—who delights in her granddaughter's new skill. They'll sit together, chatting and knitting, creating squares that will, someday, provide comfort to someone in a distant land.

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