A $30,000 grant will enable a knitting group to bring even more joy and love — and beanies and blankets — to deserving families.
Craig Fraser can still remember the smile a hand-knitted blanket put on the face of his daughter, Keara.
The Taranaki family travelled to Auckland for Keara to have open-heart surgery to repair a hole in her heart and fix a faulty valve.
But while she was recovering from the emergency operation in February, the then-2-year-old suffered a stroke that paralysed the left side of her body.
She stayed in Starship Children's Hospital for six weeks before being transferred to the Wilson Home on Auckland's North Shore.
When she arrived, she was presented with a brightly-coloured, cuddly woollen blanket, produced by Peggy Purl In Your Community.
"It really sparked her up to see something handmade," Fraser remembers. "The nice, beautiful bright colours. You can tell it was made with a lot of love. In the midst of all the hospital craziness, it was nice to see a little bit of handmade love being passed along."
Keara, now 3, is one of hundreds of babies and children who have been given a blanket by Peggy Purl over the past three years.
There are groups around the North Island who meet each week to knit and donate blankets, beanies and even jumpers to needy kids in their communities.
Peggy Purl In Your Community is the 13th recipient of a Jetstar Flying Start grant, a programme supported by the Herald on Sunday.
It has received $15,000 cash to buy resources and advertising materials and $15,000 in flights to establish more knitting groups around the country.
The grant was launched to help those wanting to enhance the lives of people in their communities.
Previous winners include Bellyful, which provides meals to isolated families with newborn babies and with children suffering illness, and other not-for-profit groups such as Arthritis New Zealand, Deaf Aotearoa, Clown Doctors and Safekids.
Grants are awarded quarterly and the next round of applications closes on June 30.
The Peggy Purl programme has its roots in the 1930s but was brought back to life in 2012 by Devonport women Lynn Dawson and Adair Eady, daughter of Peggy Huse, the inspiration for the original Peggy Purl movement.
Dawson was at a meeting where a Plunket regional co-ordinator asked for blankets for mothers who were wrapping their babies in tea towels to keep them warm in winter.
"I had started a knitting programme in the Devonport community house and we had blankets and thought this would be the perfect recipient.
"As we started knitting, more people became interested."
In 2012, with two or three groups of knitters, Peggy Purl distributed 300 blankets. The next year, 400 were handed out. Last year, 515 Peggy Purl blankets went to the North Shore region alone.
"One of the successes is that it's people in our community doing something for our community," Dawson says.
"For many years, organisations around New Zealand have been knitting blankets and sending them overseas. We're supporting children in New Zealand."
Organisations that have received blankets include Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, Plunket, local birthing units and the Wilson Home Trust. Dawson says the benefits of knitting and distributing blankets flow both ways.
The knitting groups can be used to boost literacy, numeracy, language skills and help rehabilitation. Among her first group of blanket creators was a woman who had suffered a stroke, who had previously loved to knit. "She struggled for a while but we got her knitting," Dawson says.
British immigrant Wendy Lambert says Peggy Purl made a big difference to how quickly she settled in New Zealand when she moved to Devonport last year.
She followed her son, an only child, and arrived in New Zealand knowing no one.
"I used to knit and crochet a bit in the UK and I joined Peggy Purl. It felt a bit strange at first but I made friends. I call it 'knit and natter', there's probably more talking than knitting."
Lambert has lost count of the number of blankets she has produced but estimates it is more than 20.
More groups have formed and now, Peggy Purl units meet weekly in Helensville, Tutukaka, Palmerston North and Rotorua, as well as all around the Auckland region. Most groups have about 10 or 12 people.
Dawson and Eady say there is the potential for the programme to spread across New Zealand.
"Wherever there is a need and the inspiration for people to get together, enjoy some company, benefit and support their own communities, it can happen.
"We'll happily supply knit kits, a community flyer to advertise the project and help get it under way."
Dawson helped Helensville organiser Glenys Osborne to get her group going. It meets each Wednesday at a local cafe.
There is a hardcore group of 15 and others who knit around work commitments and drop their contributions off when they can. "I think we've produced about 90 blankets," Osborne says.
"They go to people in the area around Kaipara from South Head to Wellsford. It's very appealing to do something local when there's so much in the news about child poverty. The fact we do distribute locally is important to people."
Some knitters have started to branch out into "designer" blankets, buying wool specially and delivering intricate patterns.
"People get quite involved in them," Osborne says. "The groups develop in their own way according to the people that are there. It's a very supportive group.
"People do knitting to their own design, and encourage everyone to do their own thing."
Dawson credits a wider resurgence in knitting and crochet with some of Peggy Purl's success.
Even some school groups have become involved although Dawson says their participation is reliant on having a willing teacher to co-ordinate the group.
Next school holidays, there will be a Peggy Purl programme at the Devonport library.
Finding wool is rarely a problem. "Groups very quickly develop a store of wool because people see us knitting and say 'I've got some wool under the bed I don't use any more' or 'my mother's got a stash'."
Dawson says the organisation is always open to hearing about families who might need their assistance. "When people in an organisation like Plunket or Rotary know there's a family who needs such a thing, they tell the group.
"We had a family on the Devonport peninsula who had a fire and lost everything, we gave the children a blanket each.
"We're always saying to our networks if you know of anyone who could do with such a blanket, we don't have any problem distributing."
The win will enable Peggy Purl to have a much greater reach, Dawson says.
"Setting up groups in Christchurch is a no-brainer. There are people there still trying to survive the earthquake aftermath.
"This is going to enable us to get as many blankets as possible for children and establish groups where they want to set up and get themselves going."
At Wilson Home, Keara is recovering well. She has regained her speech and started walking again. Craig and Suzanne can't wait to get her home and are determined to help her back to her old self.
She'll be taking her little bit of Peggy Purl with her. "It's a lovely programme they've got going," Fraser says.
Peggy's squares make a touching yarn
It was during the Great Depression in 1930 that Adair Eady's mother, Peggy Huse, then 4, learned to knit. She started to make six-inch squares that her mother would sew together as a blanket for her doll's bed.
Muriel Lewis, a radio host on 2YA, visited the family home and saw Peggy knitting. Thinking of the number of families who could do with a bit of extra warmth, she suggested to her colleague, Aunt Molly, who presented a children's programme, that her listeners could be encouraged to knit squares with any leftover wool that was lying around at home. They could then be used to make blankets.
Peggy was asked to work out the number of stitches needed for a six-inch "Peggy square" and Aunt Molly described to her listeners how they could be made.
The idea took off and thousands of squares arrived at the radio station. They were sewn into blankets that were distributed to needy families suffering through the Depression.
In 1932, the DIC department store in Wellington had a window display featuring some of the blankets that had been made and a photograph of Peggy.