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Sailors program needs needleworkers

Quite by accident I had a chance to meet and chat with Susan Ashland, director of the "Christmas-at-Sea" program for the Seamen's Church Institute in Manhattan. She gave me details about the institute's ongoing 99-year-old knitting program. At the moment it has approximately 3,000 knitters (and crocheters) who work year-round to make assorted knitted and crocheted items.

What's the basic premise of the program? Susan says that the general idea is to give sailors warm items, and through doing so, let them know that someone cares. Sailors who go on deep sea assignments become pretty isolated; they go out for four months at a time without family contact. Inland mariners go out for one-month periods.

The institute serves ports at Newark and Elizabeth, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y. _ so it reaches out to sailors from many corners of the world. It is also expanding its programs to serve ports with inland waterways, including the Ohio, Cumberland and Mississippi rivers.

Christmas-at-Sea distributes 11,000 to 13,000 packages yearly, with each sailor receiving a handmade watch cap and scarf set, vest and/or two pair of socks, and an assortment of toiletry items. With so many packages to assemble, the institute is always seeking more people to volunteer to help with this service.

What do you need to know to help the institute with this program? First, it has patterns available for some of these simple items, or you may use your own patterns. If you need yarn, it can be provided for you to make these easy accessories or garments.

The institute prefers to have the knitted and crocheted items made from acrylic yarns or machine-washable wools, as the sailors don't always have state-of-the-art laundry facilities. If you do make something in wool, please mark it as such. The distributors will direct wool items to those who can best use them. Suggestion: Use worsted-weight for most items and a lighter weight yarn for socks.

Do color restrictions apply? Susan said dark colors are best (and please, no white). The institute traditionally has preferred that pastels not be used, but now that there are women at sea, items using lighter colors are acceptable.

What can you do if you aren't able to knit or crochet? You can also send yarn donations that will be passed on to other knitters and crocheters.

If you do send items, provide your name and address or the names of those in your group who worked on the projects, as many recipients like to send a thank you. Get on the mailing list and you'll receive mailings and newsletters about the program.

Write to the Seamen's Church Institute, Christmas-at-Sea Program at: 241 Water St., New York, NY 10038; call (212) 349-9090, ext. 222; fax (212) 349-8342; e-mail

Assemble afghan as you crochet

"An old-fashioned look in modern-day design" appropriately describes this special crocheted afghan. A cream background nicely highlights the purple and sage green centers. It begins with one square, and other squares are joined as you finish them, eliminating tedious finishing. Just add the border, and you're done! It measures 54-by-72 inches and uses a large-size I (5.50mm) crochet hook. The afghan is made of Caron's "Wintuk," a 100 percent Monsanto acrylic yarn with Bounce-Back(tm) fibers. Refer to kit HM890323. For the pattern only: Send $2 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Herrschners, 2800 Hoover Road, Dept. M, Stevens Point, WI 54492. To order a kit for $33.99 (postage included), call (800) 441-0838 (Dept. M) or send to above address.

Hints or questions of general interest will be used in the column when possible. Please send them to Nancy Trexler, in care of the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

1997, Universal Press Syndicate