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Woman comforts sick children, one loop at a time

Gail Nagie, 79, chats away on Thursday, June 27, as she cranks out a blanket for a sick child. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — In the two years Gail Nagie has been a resident of Atria at Cranberry Woods, she is almost always seen with one accessory.

“It’s not Gail without her little crochet bag,” said Brianna Neely, engaged life director at the senior living complex.

But Nagie, 79, is not wielding her needle just for something to do or to pass the time.

She crochets beautiful blankets for children being treated at Shriners Hospitals in the region.

Most of her creations go to Shriners Children’s Erie, while some are sent to Shriners Children’s Philadelphia.

Nagie, whose mother taught her to crochet at age 10, became involved with a sewing group at her late husband’s Shriners group after he passed.

“They needed somebody to assemble the tote bags we made,” she said.

Nagie crocheted colorful drawstrings for the tote bags, which each child receives when they are admitted to the hospital. The children then select free items to place inside the bags, like art supplies, small toys and games, or other items to keep them busy as they are treated at the hospital.

“They convinced me to make blankets,” said Nagie, who still goes to the Shriners temple in Cheswick to help assemble tote bags. “That was about seven years ago.”

She makes small, medium and large blankets to fit all sizes and ages of children who arrive at the hospital.

“Every one is different,” Nagie said of her blankets. “I have taken photographs so I know each one is unique. I don’t want to have kids fighting over blankets.”

Including the handful of blankets she has made for the children of employees at Atria or grandchildren of friends, Nagie has made more than 130 blankets. She made 19 blankets in 2023 alone.

“Each blanket takes about 40 hours,” she said.

Nagie is one of a legion of crochet aficionados in six Shriners temples who whip up blankets for children staying at Shriners hospitals all over the United States.

As she completes the series of loops that will become a blanket, Nagie barely looks at her hands and can carry on a detailed conversation while crocheting away.

“I am famous for my Atria bag and everyone asks me ‘What are you working on now?’” she said.

Yarn therapy

Nagie said many are surprised to learn she has significant arthritis in both hands, which is greatly relieved by the motion of crochet.

“I benefit more from this than the kids who get the blankets,” Nagie said. “They benefit from my discomfort.”

She said her fingers become stiff if she goes just a few hours without crocheting.

Nagie also enjoys talking with her fellow Atria residents about her work, especially at the wine bar that is open for a few hours before dinner each evening.

“I inspire people to crochet,” she said.

Some crocheted in the past, while others have never picked up a skein of yarn.

She also brings her needle and yarn when she goes to see entertainers or presenters at Atria.

“When we have entertainment, I sit and crochet,” Nagie said.

One performer approached her and asked what she was working on, and marveled because Nagie can watch an act while quickly crocheting.

“People look on it as a form of art,” she said.

Nagie also makes blankets for the elderly members of a church in Seneca, S.C., that she happened upon in her travels.

“They send me pictures of the people who get them,” she said. “That’s my paycheck.”

Supply and demand

Nagie uses only acrylic yarn, as cotton shrinks and puckers and some people are allergic to wool.

She puts out occasional requests to Shrine members to donate acrylic yarn they may have lying around.

“I get balls of yarn about the size of a grapefruit,” she said.

Nagie also peruses the sale inventory at local stores that sell yarn.

“I am a great sale table watcher,” she said. “Why pay $7.99 when you can get it for $3?”

Nagie spent about $500 on yarn last year to pursue her passion.

“I don’t mind,” she said offhandedly. “It’s for the children.”

The cash donations she sometimes receives are placed in an envelope, and she taps into the small bankroll if she needs a certain color for a blanket border.

Nagie prefers using variegated yarn — or yarn with many colors — as she enjoys watching the pattern evolve.

“It creates its own pattern,” she said.

Once a multicolored blanket is complete, Nagie gets to choose a color for the border, which prevents the blanket from losing its shape.

“I love choosing colors for the border,” she said.

Signed, stitched, delivered

When a group known as the Shriners Roadrunners notifies Nagie they will be picking up a child and adult in the area to ferry them to Shriners Erie, she organizes her bagged blankets for the trip north.

The tote bags made in Cheswick also are transported in the Shriners’ van.

“We are getting ready to send about 300 tote bags to Erie,” Nagie said.

Neely said everyone at Atria is impressed by Nagie’s dedication to her craft.

“She is an amazing individual,” Neely said. “She is really known in our community for her community outreach.”

She said Nagie is a very patient person, which helps when she teaches others how to crochet.

“She’s an artist,” Neely said. “She’s very creative.”

Nagie also spends time in the memory care unit at Atria.

“I believe in giving back,” she said. “Most of the people need somebody to spend time with and I say ‘Hey, why not?’”

Nagie also calls pokeno at Atria.

“We play for pennies,” she said. “If you have a bad day, you might lose 95 cents.”

Nagie also is working on a handbook for residents.

“I have found that we have 25 clubs,” she said.

Nagie also serves as an Atria ambassador on her floor, showing new residents the fire drill process, where the public restrooms are, how to properly dispose of their trash, and other important information.

“I take time with each of the new people on the floor, to help them,” she said.

Nagie said she will continue to pursue her passion of making blankets for youngsters treated at Shriner’s hospitals because it benefits them and alleviates her arthritis symptoms.

“Everyone benefits from it, because the kids get something and I get something,” she said.

Gail Nagie, a 79-year-old resident of Atria at Cranberry Woods, tells stories about her blankets on Thursday, June 27, 2024. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Gail Nagie, a 79-year-old resident of Atria at Cranberry Woods, crochets blankets for children being treated at Shriner’s hospitals. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Gail Nagie, a 79-year-old resident of Atria at Cranberry Woods, makes lots of blankets for children being treated at Shriner’s hospitals. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
The able hands of Gail Nagie, 79, have made hundreds of blankets for ill children and others over the past seven years. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Gail Nagie, 79, whips up a mint green blanket on Thursday June 27, 2024. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
Gail Nagie, 79, crochets by touch while making one of the hundreds of blankets she has created for children being treated at Shriner’s hospitals in the area. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle

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