Thursday, March 29, 2012

Handmade Afghan Project (HAP) – What Is This?

What can an amazing group of women (plus a few men) accomplish if all of them are working toward the same goal? Designing 350 afghans in one day. Then the designs have to be crocheted together, which takes another amazing group of people. Let me share the story of my first put together event (PTE) with members of the Handmade Afghan Project (HAP for short).

HAP is an organization that was created by a very selfless woman, Deborah Starobin Armstrong in 2004. Volunteers throughout the country (and Canada) knit or crochet 6” x 9” rectangles. There are very specific requirements – the type of yarn, color selection and design, and size. The rectangles are then sent to 4 collectors in Maryland, who sort the rectangles by color and store them until it’s time for a Put Together Event (PTE). At the PTE, 49 rectangles are used to design each afghan. These designs are then packaged in a Design Kit, which is sent to various people throughout the country who will crochet the sets together to make the completed afghan. The afghans are returned to Maryland, where they are washed, wrapped in plastic, and sent to various military hospitals throughout the country. Additionally some of the afghans are sent to hospitals in Germany and Afghanistan. These afghans are given to wounded military personnel who are recovering from their injuries.

On March 12th, forty five people gathered in the cultural hall of a local church in Maryland to design these blankets. Several people traveled from other states to help at this PTE. They began the day at 8:30 a.m. and finished at 3:30 p.m. As I stated before, 350 afghans were designed that day.

Can you see the USA in the design?

Just one of many tables of 6x9 rectangles.

As a collector of rectangles, every time I opened a box or envelope, I marvel at the designs of the various rectangles. Some are crocheted and some are knitted. There are so many designs, from very simple to quite intricate. As I do not knit or crochet, I don’t know the names of these designs, but I love to see what arrives at my house when I opened the packages. Some people are so careful in the way that they package the rectangles. Some are wrapped in tissue paper, some are wrapped between cardboard and banded with rubber bands. Although it’s not necessary, some are labeled as to the color and type of yarn that was used, including the brand. Some arrive in Ziploc bags. I’ve been collecting for awhile now and when I see the name of the person who sent the box I know what I’m going to find when I open the box.
Back to the PTE – just look at all the activity that goes on at this event. As you can see, the rectangles are sorted by color and placed on tables in the middle of the room. Designers when select what rectangles they want to use. Some designers have graphed out color designs on paper and will replicate the designs they created on a computer. Some come with ideas in their heads of what they want to create. As I walked around the room to bear witness to what was happening at the PTE, I asked various people how they created their designs. Some people told me they like certain colors and will only design afghans in those colors. Some people have designed for years and years and it has become second nature to them. Some people talked about the honor they feel toward the wounded soldiers and how this is such a small sacrifice on their part to help create something special for these brave soldiers.
Some people work with others in the design process; some people work alone. There were amazing designs created – whether it was the colors that came together in an exciting pattern, or the unique designs of the individual rectangles , it was exciting to see the “birth” of these afghans.

There are so many things that go on before and after the actual PTE – labels are made up ahead of time with a numbering system that is kept on a spreadsheet. Some people who design afghans will take them home to crochet them together. The spreadsheet keeps track of who takes an afghan with them. The labels are used to acknowledge the afghans when they are returned to the collector. Once the finished blankets are returned to Deborah, she photographs each and every one of them and posts them on the HAP forum for everyone to see. This is especially nice for those who are unable to attend the event. It’s so inspiring to look at the finished blankets.

Throughout the day, Deborah walks back and forth through the room taking photographs of the finished designs. I don’t know how she keeps the numbering system straight in her head as she goes from table to table taking photos. I spent the entire day photographing the event. Next time I’m taking a pedometer to see how far I walk during the day. By the end of the day, my back was killing me but I loved that I was able to participate and document such a worthwhile event.

In the eight years this organization has been in existence, they have lovingly created 8,000 afghans. This is entirely a volunteer group of more than 1,500 people. There are people who make the rectangles, collect the rectangles, crochet the rectangles together to make the afghans, wash the blankets, wrap the blankets for shipping, photograph the afghans, mail the boxes to the various hospitals, keep spreadsheets updated, donate funds to help with mailing expenses or yarn to help with the project - the list goes on and on. It is amazing to me that this organization is still going strong after 8 years.

Just think about the love that has gone into the making of each individual rectangle. These afghans are made for our wounded soldiers. More than 1500 individuals take time out of their busy lives to help in some small way to honor military personnel who have sacrificed so much for each and every one of us. It is an honor to work with this very dedicated group of individuals.