16 May 2019

100-year-old knitter among thousands knitting for premature babies

From First Up, 5:45 am on 16 May 2019

Marjorie, who has been knitting for 95 years, is one of thousands around New Zealand and the world working to keep South Auckland babies warm.

The number of premature babies at Middlemore Hospital has reached peak levels this year and when the Middlemore Foundation made a plea on Facebook last week for more knitting because they were running low, the response they received was overwhelming. 

The post has been shared more than 6000 times.

The foundation's wool group is just one of its initiatives to provide warmth for some of the country's most vulnerable children.

One of their most prolific knitters is 100-year-old Marjorie Corlett, who has been knitting for 95 years. It was a skill that came in handy when her husband served overseas for three years during the Second World War shortly after they got married.

"I did a lot of knitting back then, during the war, to make a bit of money," she says. "It was just a help, because the Army pension wasn't that much. You had to do something to pass the time away."

Marjorie says she was born and raised in the South Auckland suburb of Papatoetoe and has lived in the community most of her life. Today at her South Auckland rest home, she's crafting a pink cardigan.

She does knitting for premature babies, older children - all sorts - and says she's lost count of how many items she's made over the years but it makes her feel good. 

"Oh, very good you know, I don't mind doing it. What wool I've got, I knit.

"It's just something to do really, you know, and that's helping them along. I'm just so thrilled to be able to do anything like that."

Middlemore Foundation chief executive Sandra Geange has lived and worked in South Auckland for almost two decades and says it is thankful for regular knitters like Marjorie who make a difference in their community. 

It's a community in the highest deprivation bracket in New Zealand where one in two children live in poverty. A significant number of the babies who leave Middlemore Hospital go into overcrowded housing or homes without adequate heating.

The foundation was overwhelmed when the call for more supplies went gangbusters.

"I got the callout from our neonatal - our premi baby ward at Middlemore Hospital saying 'look we're just running really short and we've got an influx of premies that really need clothes, they just don't have any other way to get clothes', mainly because we come from an environment of quite a lot of  high social economic deprivation, South Auckland," Ms Geange says.

"So we put out a call on Facebook thinking 'okay, we'll get our existing knitters to get on board to start knitting more premie, tiny little garments, rather than the full-size baby stuff they normally do', and we were just overwhelmed by the result."

She says  says a little bit of knitting goes a long way, as the garments often go to mums who cannot afford to buy warm clothing or are unable to leave the hospital if their babies are born premature.

"These are beautiful items, they're knitted with care and love and skill by knitters who want to make a difference and who want to help so it's just one way of reaching out to a family that needs it.

"A mum whose baby had a rare disease and she was in hospital for a very long time with her little wee baby and ... I think they were in hospital for more than six months, and she was given some socks and a blanket by the knitters when she was in hospital.

"The baby is now five and she's still got the socks and blanket and they're really important to her, to think that somebody cared enough to help her while she was in that really difficult time."

Ms Geange thinks the Foundation has about 1300 regular knitters across New Zealand but this response has been much bigger. 

"We've just recently realised with this Facebook post that we have knitters from all over the world and they're knitting away in the States and in the UK and in other parts of the world and in Australia." 

While the foundation welcomes all sorts of new clothing sent in for the babies, knitted garments are useful because they stretchable and breathable for the babies who wear them.

Marjorie encourages others to take up knitting and says she won't be stopping anytime soon. She says it's part of her secret to a long life.

"It's just practice ... I think once you start knitting, you can knit anything.

"Just keep going, once you sit down. I think 'you throw it in, you've had it' - you've got to keep going."

Additional reporting by Pip Keane.