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Knitting up a storm in honour of Madiba




Referring to her audience as a happy mix of knit-wits and hookers, art patron Carolyn Steyn smiled happily at the high tea at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, last week, held to celebrate the launch of “67 Blankets for Madiba Day”. This project has grabbed the imagination of thousands, attesting not only to the power of Facebook, but also that of the magic of handicraft.


Suggested in jest by Steyn’s friend, former President Nelson Mandela’s long-standing personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, toward the end of last year, the project has taken on a momentum of its own, reaching as far afield as Cyprus, the UK and Australia.


The garden of the Nelson Mandela Foundation was filled with striped blankets, colourful cushions and parasols. Close to 100 knitters and crocheters, old, young, black, white, men and women, entered the space, uniformly with a big smile on their faces, and clutching a bag of needles or crochet hooks and wool.

Concert at Joburg Theatre

Adorned with tiered trays of petit fours and crustless sandwiches, and celebrated with the voices of Timothy Moloi, Michael da Pinna, Nashville-based Nathan Belt, who is currently doing an Elvis concert at the Joburg Theatre and soprano Zandile Nzazi, it felt like a garden party in 1900.


“Knitting is the new yoga,” declared the event’s MC, Da Pinna, as he introduced Danielle Melville, director of communications and outreach at the NMF.


“‘What counts is not the fact that we have lived’ she quoted Mandela, ‘but how we touch others’ lives.’ This initiative has the making of a real movement for common good.”


“Within a few days,” Steyn explained, “we’ve had a commitment from television soapie Generations to weave the project into their storyline. Some incredible art works are already beginning to emerge,” she added, commending in particular the men, who have pledged blankets and are learning how to knit or crochet for this purpose.


“To take part in this project, you cannot simply buy a blanket. There are so many blanket initiatives out there and the central tenet of this project is to make something with your own two hands. The person receiving your blanket will know that someone has taken the time to make it. There is no exchange of money. And no branding.

Please honour your pledge

“Each blanket must be 150x200cm; there is also a section for baby blankets. Blanket recipients have not yet been identified and will be announced closer to the time.

“The main thing,” she added, “is if you pledge a blanket, please honour that pledge. The deadline will be announced, close to the end of June, so that we have time to co-ordinate the blankets by July 18, Mandela Day.


“I initially had targeted 67 blankets, but given the huge support this is getting, it seems 670 or dare I say 67 000 blankets will be possible. This is just the start of a great knitting revolution!” 


* For more information and to pledge a knitted blanket for Mandela Day, click HERE.

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