Knitting grannies spread fluffy love

Chen Huizhi
Needlework for the needy: knitting circles in the Songjiang District donate their handicrafts to underprivileged children, the elderly and other charitable causes.
Chen Huizhi

For 62-year-old Pan Xiaomei, knitting is more than a way of killing time since she retired as a street cleaner. It’s also a noble cause.

Every week for the past seven years, Pan and a dozen retirees have gotten together in their residential complex Lantian Yicun in Songjiang District to knit. The hats, socks, sweaters, gloves and scarves they make are donated to needy children and the elderly in their local community, or sold at charity fairs.

“My parents died early, so I’m always happy to be around older people,” Pan told Shanghai Daily. “It’s gratifying to see that what I do makes them happy.”

Born and raised in a village, Pan said she started to knit at an early age. It was a necessity back then because of the scarcity of goods.

“We even knitted slippers and socks, and made gloves with yarn,” she said. “I had to do that then, and knitting became part of my life ever since.”

Pan and her knitting circle have no shortage of recipients for their needlework. There are children from poorer families, who sometimes suffer from illness or physical disabilities. There are seniors who live alone. Currently there are 12 people 90 years or older living in Lantian Yicun.

“Hats and scarves are the most popular gifts for older people,” said Wang Meihua, 70, a member of the knitting circle. “We try to refresh styles when we visit them with new gifts.”

Pan said knitwork gets intense sometimes and can take its toll on her neck and back.

“My daughter often advises me to stop knitting, but I simply can’t because I enjoy both knitting and the friendship with others it has brought to me,” she said.

These grannies have a whole array of goods they knit, including wallets, mobile phone holders, dolls and bags. Many are sold at community charity fairs, with sales used to support further knitting.

Most knitted objects sold at charity fairs are priced at between 5 yuan (70 US cents) and 10 yuan, while more sophisticated creations such as bags go for 100 yuan or more.

Pan said her husband has often helped with the creations, such as coming up with a good solution for the handles of bags.

Her knitting group is part of a project initiated by All-China Women’s Federation, where women from all over the country knit sweaters for impoverished children in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of northwestern China and for children across the nation who have been left behind in rural villages when parents go to work in cities, for children who are disabled and for children who are orphaned.

In 2017, loving hands in Shanghai knit 1,600 sweaters for children in Xinjiang, according to Shanghai Women’s Federation.

In Songjiang, Pan and her friends are not the only knitting circle participating in the charitable effort.

At Haide Apartments, a residential complex in Jiuting Town, 64-year-old Yang Lanzhen leads a 17-member team of knitting grannies.

“I was talked into organizing such a hobby group eight years ago by two knitting friends,” Yang said. “It has become an activity where my neighbors and I can socialize and do something creative and positive.”

One member of the group, Hu Meien, 67, said the knitting circle has changed her life.

“For so long, I never thought I would be good at handicrafts, but now I wow my family and friends with my creations,” she said, as she proudly displayed some exquisite bags she’s made. “Yang is such a strict teacher, but she has been patient enough to help me along.”

Why stop at knitting? When the needles are down, Yang’s group gets together for singing, dancing and the playing of traditional Chinese instruments. They also sometimes take trips together.

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