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Charity knitters stitch up the world

In providing warm clothing to soldiers, third-world infants, and the needy, they comfort themselves as well.

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Laura Payson has always enjoyed knitting for others. As a college student, she made argyle socks for boyfriends. Later she turned her talents to baby clothes for relatives. Now she has a different focus: knitting for those in need. Every Saturday morning at 10, Mrs. Payson joins more than a dozen residents of the North Hill retirement community in Needham, Mass., for an hour of charity knitting. The women, known as the North Hill Knitters, stitch caps, mittens, scarves, and blankets for families who are homeless or struggling.

"I love to knit, and to know that I'm doing it for something worthwhile is really nice," Payson says as she knits and purls her way through rows of a yellow baby blanket bordered in white.

Across the country, groups like this are finding pleasure in what is sometimes called community knitting. Other knitters, including men, stitch at home and during lunch hours. Collectively they form an invisible army, creating afghans, caps for newborns, security blankets for ill or troubled children, and clothing to provide warmth and comfort.

"There's a huge population of socially minded people," says Betty Christiansen, author of a new book, "Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time." "They have this gift and want to share it."

Charity knitting has an illustrious history. During the Revolutionary War, Ms. Christiansen says, farm women stuffed saddlebags with hand-knit socks, breeches, and shirts, then rode to the battlefield to deliver them. Martha Washington even organized officers' wives into a war knitting group.

Knitting needles flew again during the Civil War as women in the North and the South made socks, gloves, mufflers, and blankets. During World War I, John D. Rockefeller welcomed knitters into his Fifth Avenue mansion. President Wilson allowed sheep to graze on the White House lawn. Their shorn wool brought $1,000 a pound at a Red Cross auction. During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt set an example by knitting for soldiers.

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