Knitters aim to spread Madiba’s warmth

Maureen Stein of Sea Point holds up the prototype of the Madiba picture blanket.

Volunteers and ambassadors of 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela, a non-profit organisation which aims to spread warmth by knitting blankets and donating them to the needy, got together for a family “hook-up” day on Sunday April 23 at the V&A Waterfront.

On the day, the knitters spread blankets around statues of Madiba as a reminder of his legacy, and also taught some of their children to knit.

Founded three years ago by Carolyn Steyn in response to Madiba’s private secretary Zelda la Grange’s challenge to knit 67 blankets for Nelson Mandela Day, the organisation has grown from 67 blankets to 670 blankets, to a world record breaking 27 000 blankets all donated to those in need.

In the process, 67 Blankets claimed the Guinness World Record for “Largest Crochet Blanket in the World” in 2015.

The India faction made a bid for the title and briefly took it out of South Africa’s hands, but the locals won it again in 2016 with a blanket measuring more than 17 000 square meters.

“South Africa is now working towards the Guinness World Record for the “Largest Picture Blanket in the World”, which they will reveal on April 24 2018, the day which marks 24 years of democracy for South Africa.

Maureen Stein from Sea Point said the squares knitted would all form part of the pixelated image of Madiba. “We will all knit 160cm squares and put them together as part of Madiba’s picture and it will be photographed from high up somewhere. We will also be making a smaller version, but when we make the bigger one, it will be very big. We are all working to get it done for next year, but the blankets we make on the side will each be donated to someone in need to help them keep warm for winter.”

Berenice Norris, a friend of one of the volunteers, came all the way from Australia to help the cause. “This is one of the highlights of Cape Town for me, and something I can take back to Australia. An ambassador for 67 Blankets, Bryoni Dawson, said the family “hook-up” was something they wanted to do annually on April 23.

“While we only have about 50 volunteers in the Western Cape, it is a worldwide movement, so everyone is assisting with the picture blanket of Madiba. The aim of it is to get a group in each community and you knit some squares. It’s all about goodwill – like knitting broken lives together.”

Another ambassador, Terry Milne, said the initiative was a Correctional Services project. “We work with a number of prisons, where men and women – its not just a women thing – learn to crochet or knit and assisted us with the world records. In Drakenstein prison, where Nelson Mandela was kept for part of his prison sentence, the prisoners are very engaged. They said it was their way of giving back to society.”

She said while they are working towards the largest picture blanket in the world, some of them also still knit blankets on the side to distribute to the needy. “Last week, we did a distribution of 40 blankets at the Haven in Maynardville, and we also distributed blankets to the Hout Bay fire victims. “Each blanket made is logged in a database and receives a Madiba tag with a number on it before it gets distributed, so its really special. From when we started, we could have easily knitted over 150 000 blankets.”

She said they are looking for more volunteers to help complete the picture blanket and also with the cause.

Jean-Pierre Damstra, whose mother is an ambassador for 67 Blankets, learnt how to crochet on the day.

“Terry showed me how to crochet with a loom stick, and it’s like knitting on steroids. But its easy and addictive and fun. It helps me survive my time with the wool-igans.”

To become involved, contact Charmaine Damstra at infocptss@67blankets.co.za