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Local women sew hats, pillowcases for those battling with cancer

Arlene Novak sews on a 1947 Singer machine her husband bought her 10 years ago. The vintage machine sews like a dream, she said. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)1 / 3
Cynthia Smith knitted with yarn made from corn fiber. Her "chemo caps" had a silky luster to them. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)2 / 3
Tricia Frederickson, who is going through chemotherapy, struggled to get her pillowcase perfect. She thanked her fellow seamstresses for their efforts, telling them firsthand how much their gestures mean to cancer patients. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)3 / 3

To someone suffering with cancer and its grueling treatment, a simple gesture such as a phone call or a quick note makes all the difference in your day.

But when that gesture comes from a stranger, in the form of an artfully crafted hat to hide your bald head, or a beautifully stitched pillowcase to hold something of comfort, the impact is immeasurable, a cancer patient maintains.

Sunday, a dozen women came to Monika's Quilt & Yarn Shop in downtown Park Rapids; half hunkered down over sewing machines making pillowcases and the other half clutching circular knitting needles and crochet hooks, making "chemo caps."

The pillowcase project is part of a One Million Pillowcase challenge to fabric shops across the nation, said owner Monika Wilkins.

It was begun by American Patchwork & Quilting magazine. Two dozen shops across Minnesota are participating.

Every pillowcase can make a difference to a cancer patient, a foster child, a battered woman, Wilkins said.

"We're doing this to give back to the community."

The color-coordinated stack of finished pillowcases can eventually hold a pillow for comfort, or a child's belongings when they are forced to flee a difficult domestic situation quickly, Wilkins said.

Local quilt shops like Monika's have enlisted sewers and provided fabric as part of the challenge.

Wilkins decided to invite knitters, to craft the charming caps that will only partially obscure the affects of chemotherapy.

Wilkins made the day a social event by inviting participants to bring their favorite dish. An elegant potluck covered a long table in the sewing room. It was obvious the women took as much care preparing dishes as they did the objects they were giving away.

"It should take me several hours to finish this cap if I don't make any mistakes," said knitter Cynthia Smith, who was using yarn made of corn fiber to make a dusky blue cap.

Next to her, Arleen Larson was scalloping the edges of a variegated pink cap that will fit a baby.

"Sometimes I take it out unless I leave an 'Amish mistake' in it," she explained, undoing several stitches.

Many cultures believe in putting a deliberate error in their handicrafts because "only God is perfect," Larson explained.

Rosalie Hill happened upon the quilt shop by accident Sunday on her way to Bemidji. She was shopping for quilt fabrics.

When she stopped by the knitting table, the women pulled out a chair, handed her a crochet hook, yarn and a pattern before she realized she'd been recruited.

"Single stitch, double stitch?" she asked.

She was off and running.

In the sewing room, a quest of a more personal nature was taking place.

Tricia Frederickson, whose bald head was concealed by a purple cap, was struggling to assemble a pillowcase. She's undergoing chemotherapy for cervical cancer and a relapse.

"I'm very positive," the frail woman said. "Things like this help, to know there's support from those you don't even know."

She thanked her fellow seamstresses.

"You guys don't know what this means," she said.

Actually, two sewers did.

Across the table, Patty Alberg, a kidney cancer survivor, understood very well. She still goes to semi-annual checkups, but said she's in generally good health.

Patti Stulich is a 13-year survivor of breast cancer. She laughed as she finished her meal before she moved to a sewing machine.

First things first, she said.

As the stack of pillowcases and caps started piling up, the women surveyed their own work critically.

"Lately, we say, 'Done is better than perfect,'" Larson said to peals of laughter. One finished cap was intricately layered with colorful petals placed on top of each other. It looked like a day-long project, a work of art in pastel yarn.

Monika's is accepting pillowcases and caps if volunteers want to make them at home and bring them in to the shop.

They will be distributed to organizations in the Park Rapids area.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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