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Women of the ELCA Grants: The Yarn of God's Grace

by Violet Cucciniello Little

I learned to knit when I was 50. It took nearly that many people to teach me before I could get it right. There was my mother, the church mothers, people on the train, and even one person who used two sharpened pencils and string to demonstrate this old craft.

My first scarf was full of holes—“design elements,” as one of my parishioners called these dropped stitches that most of us knew were mistakes. My first prayer shawl looked like it needed a lot of prayer. After a year of doing nothing but the knit stitch, a small group of friends did a knitting intervention by not allowing me leave the room until I learned how to purl.

After a while, knitting became more than an activ- ity to conquer. My fingers began to move with the rhythm of the stitches and my hands relaxed. The tight stitches that tired my hands became looser and much easier to move from stick to stick. The back and forth movement of the yarn from one needle onto another made me think of how as a young child I would pray the rosary. It was not long before knitting became my new prayer beads.

I carried yarn and needles with me wherever I went. Knitting became a way to connect with others and start conversations with those who were curious and those who had advice to offer. And so it was not so strange that I carried a bag of yarn and a bunch of needles with me when I first founded The Welcome Center, a place of hospitality and healing in Philadelphia, Pa., for people experiencing homelessness.

In those early days of my work with this drop-in center—now its own nonprofit still welcoming those off the street who are tired and hungry—I simply sat with people and knitted. It was not long before the hands of God through the yarn of God’s grace began to join us together in ways we could not imagine.

It began with Anita, who lived in a shelter with her beautiful six-week-old baby girl. Life had been difficult for this resilient young mother who remembered as a child watching her mother bring men into their house and sell her body for drugs. For weeks Anita would come to the drop-in center and sit at the same place on the sofa, holding her new baby and not saying much. One afternoon, as I was knitting, Anita looked up and asked if I would teach her how to knit. She wanted to make a blanket for the baby. It was the first time since I had met Anita that I saw a spark of life in her eyes.

Anita chose some yarn, an important first step for folks who have had so many choices taken away from them, and we sat close together. My methods were unconventional, teaching with phrases not used in most knitting classes, but Anita learned quickly in spite of me.

Soon Anita had completed the blanket for her new baby, and with that I began to see changes. Her posture improved, she smiled more, and she realized she had a gift to offer.

The Rev. Violet Cucciniello Little is an ELCA pastor of The Welcome Church in Philadelphia, Pa.

Download the article to see who receive Women of the ELCA grants in 2012.

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