Monday, March 9, 2015

Being crafty for a good cause

By Morgan Tarpley

If you’re a frequenter of multiple Pinterest boards like myself, just a crafty kind of person in general or enthused with an interesting story then I think you’ll be fascinated with the following story I discovered online recently. It not only involves types of specific crafts that have been going on for centuries and centuries but also penguins, koalas and kangaroos. Who wouldn't love that??
I bet I’ve got you good and confused now, don’t I? Well let’s get to the story then – a 109-year-old who spends days knitting sweaters for penguins. Yes, you heard right but I think the biggest surprise about it is that this person is a man. Here's the scoop!

Alfred ‘Alfie’ Date is 109 years old and he spends his days knitting sweaters for penguins. Actual, real-life little penguins who live off the coast of Australia and New Zealand. It may sound crazy, but it’s the truth. Date, the oldest living man in Australia, has been an accomplished knitter for seven decades. He says he completed his first project, a sweater for his nephew, in about 1931. 
“Date had recently moved to an assisted living facility in New South Wales, when he got an unusual request from the staff. ‘I think I’d been in here about 12 hours, might have been 13,’ Date tells ‘The two [nurses] come in to me and say ‘We believe you can knit.’

“The nurses explained that the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation had put out a call for sweaters to help the animals. Sweaters for penguins sound adorable, but seem farfetched. But in fact, they serve a practical purpose in rescuing the birds after oil spills. ‘This is not a fashion statement!’ the organization says on its website. ‘Knitted penguin jumpers play an important role in saving little penguins affected by oil pollution. A patch of oil the size of a thumb nail can kill a little penguin.’

“After a spill in 2001, nearly all of the 438 affected penguins were saved. Date took the request to heart. ‘The girls who used to work for me, they’ll tell you I’m a sucker. I can’t say no,’ Date says.

“Response to the request has been tremendous, largely due to the attention from the press, and the penguin rescue group is now politely asking knitters to lay off. ‘Please note that we have plenty of penguin jumpers at this time donated by generous knitters across the globe,’ the group says. They suggest donating cash to support their work instead… 

“Apparently knitters can’t resist a call to help. Date is not the first knitter of a certain age to take up the cause. Merle Davenport, a 96-year-old great-grandmother in Ferntree Gully, Australia, made headlines last year for her penguin sweaters. ‘I’ve got to have something to do with my hands,’ Davenport told the Knox Leader. She said each jumper (Australian for “sweater”) took her seven to eight hours to make.

“Even if the sweaters aren’t immediately put to use, they are having a positive effect on the knitters themselves. The craft has been used as a therapy to boost mental health, it relieves stress, and it boosts brainpower. One study found that crafting lowers your risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by as much as 50 percent and may lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.” 

The possibility of greater health is a great reason to knit a penguin sweater if you ask me (besides helping the penguin of course). Another article I found in connection with this one involves animals needing mittens and pouches and crafters’ help.

Thousands of koala mittens arrive in Australia from around the world to help creatures burnt in wildfires, prompting new appeal for pouches for orphaned kangaroos. A group which urged people to make mittens for koalas whose paws were burnt in recent wildfires has received thousands of pairs from across the world and has issued a new plea for pouches for orphaned kangaroos. 

“The International Fund for Animal Welfare says it has more than enough koala mittens after thousands were received from various countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Canada. But the group has appealed for people to knit ‘pouch liners’ for baby kangaroos, possums and wallabies which were injured or orphaned in the recent wildfires. The pouches can be made from bed sheets or flannelette in five different sizes, according to detailed instructions on the group’s website. 
‘“If you still want to help our bushfire victims and you have material available, we’ve now launched Project Pouch!’ the group said in a statement on its website. ‘After all, it's not just koalas affected by bushfires. Many other species like possums, kangaroos and wallabies arrive with vets and carers, often including orphaned and injured joeys. These joeys need to be kept warm and quiet in a 'pouch' like environment so carers use sewn pouches.’ 

“The appeal for knitwear followed fires earlier this month which spread across the states of South Australia and Victoria, razing 12,500 hectares of bushland and taking a heavy toll on the region's wildlife. Experts said slower creatures such as koalas and baby animals were badly affected because they were unable to escape the path of the fire.
“The International Fund for Animal Welfare said it will need a large number of pouches because each animal will need to use about six a day. It said it was grateful for the koala mittens but urged people not to make any new ones. ‘Don't worry if you’ve still got mittens to send or have already started some,’ the group said. ‘Please finish these off and send them in – sadly we will always need a good stockpile for the inevitable bush fires yet to come. Just don't start any more!’”

Have you heard of any fascinating craft projects like this before? Have you perhaps participated in one?
Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a contemporary and historical novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, photography, and singing. She resides in Louisiana with her husband.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog ( You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. That really touched my heart when I saw the telecast, Morgan. I can just picture the little animals in their new gear. Trouble is I can't knit or crochet. I'll just have to take up something else to stave off the dementia!

    1. Thanks Rita!! It was so cute! And I'd think writing definitely keeps the mind sharp! :)

  2. Wow, what a fascinating story! Thanks for sharing Morgan.

    1. thanks Sandra! I though it was so cute too! :) and you're welcome!

  3. The women in our church knit or crochet dish clothes out of pure cotton and give them to The Compassionate Warehouse. Most go to Africa where they take the place of sterile gauze during surgery or childbirth. The pure cotton, when washed and hung in the sun, is nearly completely sterile and can be used repeatedly. Thousands have been sent from our small congregation, improving the lives of tens of thousands, while keeping fingers busy here at home.

    1. Wow, Alice! That is so neat and special!! Thank you for sharing! :)

  4. Morgan, great post! I've visited Phillip Island and the little penguins are absolutely adorable :) It's wonderful to hear about the knitters and the work they're doing to help the animals. Thanks for sharing their heartwarming story with us.