Knitting project ties citizens to soldiers (10/1/09)

Prayer clothes to be offered to deployed troops

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Patricia Coleman considers the hundreds of hand-knit prayer cloths being made for soldiers more heartfelt keepsakes than religious objects.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Patricia Coleman displays a pair of the prayer cloths that will be offered to troops going to Afghanistan.

The Charlotte resident is heading a volunteer effort to produce 1,500 of the pocket-sized cloths — 3-by-5-inch rectangles in assorted colors, many stitched to reveal a just-visible cross or heart — within the next six weeks. The goal is to give them to members of the Williston-based 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) before they start heading to Afghanistan later this year.

“We just wanted them to know that people in Vermont care, that they aren’t alone,” Coleman said. “It isn’t just their family. There are a lot of people they haven’t met who are thinking of them.”

Coleman said she was moved to do something for the troops when she heard about the deployment.

She first broached the idea with fellow members of the Faith in Action Group at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Catholic church in Charlotte. But Coleman emphasized that the effort is non-denominational.

“It’s not a Catholic project,” she said. “It’s for anybody who can knit or crochet.”

Prayer cloths have traditionally been prayed over, then given to a sick person or anyone who needed good fortune. In this case, the cloth “holds and symbolizes all the prayers, concern, comfort and healing that we want to give to the troops as they are deployed,” states a brochure about the effort.

Charlotte resident Thyleen Tenney, who is working with Coleman, said the prayer cloths will provide a “touchstone” for Guard members stationed thousands of miles from Vermont.

“It’s a piece of home,” she said.

The deployment to Afghanistan will involve the entire 86th Infantry Brigade, 3,000 soldiers from Vermont and other states whose home base is the Williston Armory. Capt. Kate Irish, a spokeswoman for the Vermont National Guard, said the deployment is expected to start in December and continue through most of 2010.

The knitting effort was carefully vetted by the Vermont National Guard. The cloths will be displayed on a table where soldiers can choose whether or not to accept one.

“All we did was ask that it be non-denominational and be available to take if they like,” said Daneen Roy, coordinator of the Vermont National Guard’s Family Readiness Center. “We didn’t want to force anything on them.”

The prayer cloths and other donated goods will be displayed during a series of “yellow ribbon” events starting next month where soldiers can also learn about services available for them and their families, Roy said.

The knitting effort is just one of the dizzying array of volunteer efforts aimed at helping Guard members. In fact, Roy said there were so many offers that a database had to be compiled to track all the donated good and services.

Coleman estimates that about 100 of the cloths are completed so far. She hopes to recruit enough volunteers to make 250 a week for the next six weeks. When the work is done by mid-November, they will have produced enough cloths to give to each soldier going to Afghanistan.

Coleman said it’s hard to know how many volunteers are working on the project because word has spread and the effort is no longer confined to members of her church.

“You drop a pebble into a pond and watch the ripples spread out from there,” she said.

How to help

More volunteers are needed to help with the effort to knit or crochet 1,500 prayer cloths to give to troops headed to Afghanistan. Those interested in helping should use yarn in subdued colors (no white or neon hues) to make cloths measuring approximately 3-by-5 inches. Sample patterns are shown at

Finished clothes can be delivered to drop boxes at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Charlotte, St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Hinesburg or at the Charlotte Senior Center. They can also be mailed to Patricia Coleman, P.O. Box 27, Charlotte, Vt. 05445. Knitters are asked to include their address and phone numbers with finished cloths.

For more information, call Coleman at 425-2980. For instructions and yarn kits, e-mail Thyleen Tenney at

For those who can’t knit, there are a myriad of other ways to help Guard members. Contact Daneen Roy at 338-3364 or for more information.