Close knit friendship inspires not-for-profit project

22 May 2017

A close knit friendship between UTS graduates Anita Dawson and Tamara Shaw inspired the launch of a not-for-profit project bringing together yarn lovers who craft beanies for sick kids.

When Tamara Shaw, a nurse at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, and Anita Dawson, a Communication Officer at UTS, first met in Year 7 they had no idea they would forge a friendship that would span 13 years (and counting).

During this time, the two have finished high school, graduated from UTS, travelled overseas and started a not-for-profit project, Beanies for Baldies, which brings together yarn lovers who craft beanies and sick kids in hospital.

Anita Dawson and Tamara Shaw

Anita Dawson, left, and Tamara Shaw, founders of 'Beanies for Baldies'

Tamara Shaw

A few years ago, I noticed one of the oncology wards at work had a stack of beanies for kids, but there weren’t enough for all the children. My grandmother taught me to knit when I was younger and so when I went away with Anita and a few other friends for a girls’ weekend in June 2014, I showed up with a stack of knitting needles and forced them all to knit and watch Harry Potter.

Anita's grandmother had also taught her to knit when she was a child but neither of us could remember how to do it! We had to look up some YouTube videos, but after that it all came back.

Since then, Beanies for Baldies has grown and grown. It's been massive; way bigger than either of us ever expected. It started off with Anita and I knitting beanies in our spare time and putting them in a box on the ward, but the interest among our family and friends kept growing so we decided to make Facebook and Instagram pages so more people could get involved.

We have about 20 regular knitters and crocheters. This year alone we're already north of 200 beanies, and it doesn't look like it's slowing down! We’re even getting a couple of donations of booties, mittens and scarves, which we love.

We have so many now that we're looking to send them to different areas of the hospital and even to surrounding hospitals. Every now and then at work, I'm on the Variety Ward, we have a quiet night shift so I'll teach some of the other nurses how to knit so they can contribute beanies too.

We also organise regular meet-ups which we call 'Wine and Woolies'. It's basically where we get a group of people together and we all sit, drink wine and chat. It's a great time to thank people for what they're doing and connect with knitters of all different ages. It's really cool to see grandparents and people in their 20s all sitting around teaching each other how to knit. People think it's hilarious when we sit in a cool rooftop bar in Kings Cross and whip out our knitting needles!

Anita Dawson

Tamara and I were so different when we met in high school at Catherine McAuley Westmead. Toward the end of high school we became so much closer and then we both ended up at UTS when we started university in 2010.

Tamara did nursing and I studied a Bachelor of Sound and Music Design and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. I was coming into a course that was brand new and I really enjoyed it, but I loved international studies more than anything. I'm still at UTS – I work in the Marketing and Communication Unit (MCU) - where I manage the university's social media channels, so I think that's a testament to how much I love UTS!

Tamara and I didn't see each other all that much during university – it was mainly just our friendship that kept us going. But we used to go on dumpling lunch dates. We were regulars at the Chinese Noodle House in Haymarket. We'd always get the braised eggplant dumplings and still do to this day! We recently found out it's also BYO so we could even have a Wine and Woolies there!

Wine and Woolies is our favourite part of Beanies for Baldies. I feel like we built this project just to combine our two loves: knitting and wine. It's really nice to give the crafters a purpose for their knitting, and it's really rewarding to put a smile on the kids' faces. We even have a small group in MCU who get together once a week for a lunch and a catch-up over knitting. We're lucky to have amazing people who support us and regularly donate yarn and knitted items – we don’t accept financial donations. It makes it easy for us to love what we do because everyone involved is really passionate about it.

Want to know more?

To find out more about Beanies for Baldies, email anita.dawson@uts.edu.au.

Reproduced with permission from U:mag and available via UTS Newsroom.

Story by Peta Gilbert