Sue Grogan is seen through one of her colorful handmade blankets recently at her home in Connoquenessing Township. Grogan's grandmother taught her to use the time making blankets as a time to become closer to God.
Handmade blankets do more than just keep someone warm — they are reminders of love. “When I give a blanket as a gift, it's just a gift of love,” said Sue Grogan of Connoquenessing Township. Grogan, along with many other Butler County residents, makes blankets for friends, family, co-workers and charities. “That's the biggest problem with crocheting, what to do with it,” Grogan said. Grogan makes baby blankets for her sister's church which then go to mothers in need. “Hopefully, the mother cherishes that she's got something special for her baby because she can't afford it otherwise,” Grogan said. Grogan is also on the prayer shawl ministry team at St. Fidelis Roman Catholic Church along with Lois Duggan of Butler Township. The group makes prayer shawls for members of the church. “It's great satisfaction for me to give something to someone,” Duggan said. Duggan has been making blankets for more than 60 years. Some of the blankets she gives as “thank-yous” to others for allowing her to visit or for them coming to visit her. “I hope that there will always be a memory of somebody's trip here,” Duggan said. “It's just my appreciation and love.” Sharon Hilliard of Penn Township sometimes makes blankets before she even knows where they are going. “I've made them for people who have had cancer, people who have lost family members, people who need comfort, as a wedding gift or maybe a baby shower,” Hilliard said. “There are a lot of reasons why I make them, but they all find their way to good homes.” Hilliard hopes the blankets she gives can be therapeutic to those in need, that they actually use her blanket and can feel her love wrapped around them. Kathy Haunty of Butler gave blankets as Christmas presents to a group of her friends she has lunch with on a regular basis. “They keep telling me, 'Oh, I just cuddle up with your blanket,'” Haunty said. “It's so nice that everybody seems to like them.”
Why make blankets?
Haunty learned to crochet when she was younger, but with three children, she found it difficult to find time to continue doing it. “One of the reasons I started doing this again was because my sugar was up and the doctor said I needed to lose weight,” Haunty said. “If I'm crocheting, I can't eat.” Now Haunty is not only losing weight but also spreading her love by making lots of blankets for her grandchildren. Haunty said, “The kids will ask me, 'Can I have one this color?' or 'Can I have one like this?' and I say, 'Yes, when Grandma has time.'” Hilliard, who has been making blankets since she was 10, said crocheting for her is a stress reliever. “The more stress, the quicker I crochet,” Hilliard said. Grogan's grandmother taught her to use the time making blankets as a time to become closer to God. “My grandmother always taught me that anything you do, you offer as a prayer,” Grogan said. “She crocheted all the time, and she always offered every stitch as a prayer. For me, it's a way of praying as well as crafting.”
Crochet as you go
Haunty said she is the classic “crocheting granny” because she is always taking her projects with her on the road and to events. “Anytime we go anywhere, I've got to have something to do,” Haunty said. “I just can't sit there.” Duggan, like Haunty, always has some sort of crochet project with her. “I don't have a computer. I'm not texting. I don't have a cell phone, because there are too many things you can do,” Duggan said. “... I can talk, that's the best part. I can talk to someone and just keep going,” she said. Joan Whalen of Saxonburg likes to make blankets while she is watching television. “I'll be watching like 'CSI' or something, and it will be so interesting,” Whalen said. “I'll be crocheting along and when a commercial will come on, I'll look and I'll realize I goofed the pattern.” Grogan likes to alternate between easy “no-brainer” blanket patterns and complex patterns. “In the evening, I like my 'no-brainers,' but during the day I'll sit down and do my more complicated ones,” Grogan said.
Gifts for everyone
Like many who crochet, Whalen has a stockpile of extra blankets she's made to give away. “Right now, I'm making a baby blanket and I don't have anyone in mind for it,” Whalen said. If someone is getting married, Whalen will find out their favorite colors and make them a blanket to match. “They all get a blanket when they get married whether they like one or not,” Whalen said. Duggan will make extra blankets or find out people's favorite colors and give them a blanket to match. “I've given a lot of them away,” Duggan. Haunty likes giving the blankets as gifts to people in person. “The main thing is seeing the joy you get from people,” Haunty said. Since each blanket is made by hand, they are as unique as the person making it and the person receiving it. “Everybody can go to the store to buy something, but I think if you give something you made, you took the special time to do that,” said Grogan.
Time and skill
Baby blankets are usually very soft, a solid color and an easy pattern. “A simple baby afghan can usually be done in a week,” Haunty said. More complex patterns, such as Leonardo da Vinci's “The Last Supper,” which Hilliard made, can take months. “That one probably took the course of a year, but that's not steady work,” Hilliard said. “I was making other things too, on and off.” No matter how long it takes the maker or how complicated the design turns out to be, these Butler County residents say each stitch is made with love.