Once my students have grasped the basics of knitting, I encourage them to think about ways they can use their new skill to help others. There are always charities and community groups collecting knitted items to help those in need, and the contributions are most definitely not all from adults. As always, I like to introduce ideas with a story. The one below is particularly beautiful as it is about children helping children; each person contributing what they can, and it really making a difference.
Before telling this story it is a good idea to have researched charities in your area who are collecting knitted squares, or other knitted items that the children can make.
The Story of Peggy Squares
Any adult who grew up in New Zealand will be able to tell you about Peggy Squares. They will know that they are knitted squares that are collected by charities and sewn into beautiful colourful blankets for those who need them. What they may not be able to tell you is who invented the Peggy Square, and started the campaign that spread all through New Zealand and helped keep hundreds of children warm through the years of the 1930’s depression.
Peggy Huse was four years old when she learned to knit and began making squares that her mother would sew together into blankets for her dolls. Peggy's family lived in a farm in New Zealand and they had a friend called Muriel Lewis, who was a famous radio presenter. One day when Muriel came to visit Peggy's family at their farmhouse, she noticed little Peggy sitting by the fire working on her knitting.
Times were hard in New Zealand and Muriel knew that there were lots of children who didn't have enough blankets to keep them warm at night. She also knew there was plenty of wool in the country, she just needed to find a way of turning the wool into blankets. Seeing Peggy sitting there knitting gave her a wonderful idea – they could use the power of the children to help other children!
Now, if you know how to knit, you will understand that knitting a whole blanket is a very big job that takes a long time. Muriel could not ask the children to knit a whole blanket each, but she could ask them to knit a few squares. This way, everyone could contribute a little, and together they would achieve something enormous!
Muriel was so excited about her idea, she went back to her radio station and told Aunt Molly, the children’s radio presenter, all about it. Aunt Molly also thought it was a wonderful plan so she agreed to ask all her young listeners to ask their mothers for their leftover scraps of wool to knit into squares. Of course the children of New Zealand were happy to help and began knitting enthusiastically.
But, with so many children knitting squares, there was a problem – if the squares were going to be sewn neatly into blankets, they would all need to be the same size.
Muriel knew she had to consult an expert to find a solution to this problem, so she returned to Peggy’s farmhouse and asked Peggy to work out the number of stitches and rows needed to make a six inch square. Peggy gladly did this and gave Muriel a set of instructions. On her next radio broadcast Aunt Molly asked the children of New Zealand to make ‘Peggy Squares’, using little Peggy’s instructions.
The idea spread and children from all over the country began knitting at home and in school, sending Peggy Squares into the radio station. Many children even used their pocket money to pay for postage.
Aunt Molly organised volunteers to take on the huge task of sewing the squares into blankets and distributing them to the children who needed them most.
The campaign to make Peggy Square blankets became so strong that at Christmas time in 1932, the radio station decided to arrange a treat for 300 of the children who had received blankets. They laid on a special train to take the children to Peggy’s farm, which had now become known as ‘Peggy Square Farm’. Peggy, who was now six years old, helped Aunt Molly give her Christmas broadcast from the farm.
Since then the Peggy Square has been part of countless charity drives and is a well known part of New Zealand culture – in fact, it even features in the 'Dictionary of New Zealand English’
The picture below is an original Peggy Square blanket, in progress, given to me by Adair, Peggy's daughter.