ROCKFORD, Ill. — Clare Bland and Fiona Fordyce sit knitting little hats — Clare using a four-needle technique and Fiona using a small circular set.
Next to them is a printing paper boxtop filled with little booties and hat sets in all shades of pastels and weights of yarns. They get together often, sitting, knitting and chatting while lovingly creating tiny articles of clothing for little ones they will never meet.
Thirty-plus years ago, they didn't know each other when their husbands accepted jobs with Sundstrand Aviation in Rockford. Fiona was a newlywed from the Cotswolds, a hilly area of west-central England with a rich historical past. Clare was from the university town of Cambridge, with its famous King's College Chapel, right alongside a cluster of high-technology businesses in a centre known as "Silicon Fen."
Both women had babies at Rockford's SwedishAmerican Hospital, where each infant went home with a hat and set of booties.
"We were touched by that gesture," said Clare, "So we were inspired to give back." The hospital still gives each of their babies a hat and booties, but now about 150 of them are knitted each year by Clare and Fiona.
They belong to Rock N' Knitters, a guild that was formed in 1998 and is now an affiliate of The Knitting Guild of America. Guild members work with donated materials to knit, crochet, spin and weave, quilt and do needlepoint. The Guild sponsors many charitable projects. This past fall, Fiona and Clare joined other members in making red scarves for students who have aged out of foster care.
Knitting and sewing are family affairs for Fiona and Clare. Clare's now-grown daughter, Sarah, and her mom, Kathleen, who still lives in England, also contribute their knitted items to the box-top collections. Fiona's mom, Doreen, also living in England, used to knit her daughter's dresses and sweaters when she was young. Now she, too, contributes sets for the hospital.
Both ladies became U.S. citizens and are, as Clare says with a laugh, "Both fully immersed in the American Way."
Fiona and her husband, Graham, live with their two teenage sons in Rockford. Clare and her husband, Tim, who has since passed away, raised their two daughters in Rockford as well.
The two women also share another passion: gardening. Clare's home has an attached conservatory where she can grow flowers year-round.
Fiona asks, with a smile, "Don't call me a homemaker — say I'm an apiarist."
Indeed, she has two hives of honey bees in her large backyard.
"The bees don't stay around my garden," she says, ruefully, "They go around to everyone else's." This past year the family harvested 181 pounds of honey. The two ladies belong to Seedlings Garden Club, part of the Rockford Council of Gardeners.
Knitting needles flashing, Fiona and Clare share their garden club adventures as they create love out of yarn.
Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com