(Above) Stitch and Chat members stand proudly in front of The Salvation Army’s Montreal Citadel alongside the Christmas trees with their mittens, scarves and toques, free for anyone who needs warmth

Five years ago, Montreal resident Ginette Poulin was going through an emotional time. Her mother had recently passed away, and she was looking for support and comfort. She lived close to The Salvation Army’s Montreal Citadel in the Ville-Émard neighbourhood and noticed an invitation to join “Stitch and Chat,” a group for people who knit, sew or crochet.

“I kept looking at the sign and thought, Maybe it’ll be a good thing. I’ll be with a group of women, and it’ll help me get over the death of my mom,” says Ginette. “I’m so glad I joined!” she continues. “The people who attend are full of kindness and we all help each other. There’s a lot of love.”

Knit Together

The idea for Stitch and Chat transpired at a Salvation Army women’s camp, when members of the church discovered their shared gifts and passion for knitting. Two members had already been knitting Izzy Dolls for Health Partners International, which provides medicine and treatment to vulnerable patients around the world, so they were eager to start Stitch and Chat in 2016 to form a community that could encourage each other.

It started with four members and has since grown to upward of 35. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group met every Tuesday afternoon for two hours at the church to work on projects, learn from others, talk and enjoy refreshments.

“Over the years, I’ve registered more than 96 individuals from more than 41 countries in Stitch and Chat—it’s really amazing,” says Louise Fernandez of the Army’s immigrant and refugee programs, who has worked with the Army for 20 years. “It became a fellowship and we began to have meaningful conversations over our coffee break that helped people express themselves and grow closer.

“For example, one time, I asked people to share their first experience of putting makeup on, or I asked them what room they prefer most in their apartment or house, and why. The stories that came out were amazing. We had a woman in our group pass away. Months before, she had given all of us an angel pin for a special occasion. We were knit together as we wore our pins and attended her funeral. These were special moments we created.”

Gift of Warmth

Members of Stitch and Chat had knitted more than 6,000 Izzy Dolls even prior to the group’s formation. They have also knitted slippers for a women’s shelter. Every December since 2018, the group has adorned Christmas trees outside the church building with mittens, scarves and toques, free for anyone who needs warmth.

“Instead of dollar store stars and little bells, why not make garlands out of knitted items?” asked Louise. The initiative is further supported by Farm Wives’ Circle, a knitting group from Châteauguay, Que., who donates bags of knitted items each year.

“Everything that gets taken from the tree, we replenish it,” says Louise.

“Some people find it hard to believe it is a free gift they can take, but the beauty of it is that we trust it is going to people who truly need it.”

The pandemic has meant fewer knitted items than previous years, but the group continues their volunteer efforts to keep people warm.

“If a member doesn’t want to do a programmed project or have their own in mind, we help them so they can accomplish their goal,” says Louise. “We also include the Stitch and Chat members in church activities, so they can be part of Army life and feel welcome.”

Lifelong Friendships

Stitch and Chat members met sporadically during the pandemic, depending on restrictions and an individual’s comfort level. Still, Louise and members of the group kept in touch throughout, often through phone conversations, and they plan to gather together as soon as conditions exist for a safe and healthy reunion.

“I received permission from 98 percent of the group members to give their phone numbers to each other, so we would call each other, and I’d ask if they were safe, if they had seen anyone and so on,” says Louise. “Often, they wouldn’t want to hear about themselves; they would want me to tell them something new!”

“We meet on the street sometimes and talk about Stitch and Chat,” says Ginette. “We missed each other during the pandemic, but we keep on knitting because for all of us, it’s a passion.” 

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