When Jinjutha Cheepluesak attended a Kids’ Knitting Summer Camp at the Purl District during summer break, she wanted to knit herself a backpack for upcoming school year.
Cheepluesak quickly changed her mind and put her needs second in order to knit an “African Comfort Doll” for a child she has never met.
The 10-year-old girl, who already is an accomplished knitter, has made four comfort dolls. The dolls are given to African orphans.
“The reason I wanted to make them is I thought about the African kids and how they don’t have anything at all, and they are buried with their dolls when they die so they are not alone, so I kept knitting,” Cheepluesak said.
She is not alone in her feelings of compassion. Although she is one of the youngest knitters, area fiber artists have taken on making these scores of these dolls.
Ann Ferrell held a knitting circle at her Silverton home recently for people to finish up their dolls. One person in the group has made more than 40 dolls since the project began.
“I heard about the project and was very impressed with the effort,” Ferrell said. “With these children sick and ill, it is a good feeling to make the dolls. When making the dolls, I put a little love into each one and I try to picture the child who will get that particular doll I am working on.”
Employees at Citizen’s Bank in Silverton knit dolls during their breaks and when there was free time during work hours.
“One of our knitting members, Jean Baldwin, is the one who actually mentioned this project,” Stapleton said. “A company called Icross in British Columbia, Canada started it to send HIV-AIDS drugs to villages in Africa.”
Stapleton said the comfort dolls – made either by knitting or crocheting – are used instead of packing peanuts to ship medications for African orphans who often have AIDS.
“These dolls are used to protect the medicines during shipment,” Stapleton said. “When the medicines are unpacked, the dolls are given to the children in the community. Many children who receive dolls are also patients in the clinics. Most are orphans. They don’t have any personal items, so these dolls are very special to them.”
A knitter for about four years, Darrel McClure helped with the Doll Project.
“I like when I am putting the filling into the doll, as it starts to look like a doll,” McClure said. “Knitting one takes about a day per doll. It is pretty easy and you don’t even realize it is a doll until you start sewing it up.”
“Most people get nervous about making the faces,” Stapleton said, who also attended the circle at Ferrell’s home. “There are literally all colors of ‘skin color.’ Beige, dark, blue, green – each kid responds to a different type of doll. Some people even use half the stitches to make babies for the dolls and make tiny slings or tiny shawls.”
The group is going to have another push to get more done just before Christmas. Patterns are available for free at the Purl District in downtown Silverton.
“Now that school has started, I will finally make my backpack,” Cheepluesak said, “but I will be making more comfort dolls to send soon.”