Her busy hands keep babies’ heads warm

Caitlin Causey
Post Independent Correspondent

Martha Rabe doesn’t even need to look at her hands while she works on a blue beanie that will soon warm the crown of a newborn baby at Valley View Hospital. Perhaps 70-plus years of knitting practice will give a person that kind of talent.

“I’ll be 84 next month,” Rabe said with a grin. “I learned how to knit when I was a young girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old.”

Rabe is an active member of Threads of Love, a volunteer group that meets in the hospital lobby every Tuesday from 2-4 p.m. Knitters and crocheters from around the valley gather to make prayer shawls, baby beanies and other handcrafted items, which are then donated to patients and their families.

“I spend about three hours on each hat,” Rabe said. “I make about three dozen a month. Well, sometimes four. I might turn in four dozen in October — ’cause I’ve been hitting it pretty hard this month. I knit constantly. I’m retired, and I can’t just sit still. I like to do something — so I knit. It’s better than sitting and watching the boob tube.”

Rabe is known for her spunk.

Having steadily donated to Valley View’s Family Birthplace for over three years, Rabe recently turned in her 1,500th handmade cap on Sept. 8.

“I always do pink and blue, pink and blue. I alternate. I don’t make yellow, and I don’t make green,” she said. “Maybe my new goal will be 2,000. It might take me about 13 more months at this rate, to hit that number. Really, my goal is just to make as many as I can and pass them on.”

Born in Delaware, Rabe also lived in Missouri and Colorado Springs before settling near her daughter in Carbondale in 2011. She met her husband while serving in the Army during the Korean War, and later worked as a professional pet groomer for over 35 years. Her love of knitting spanned the decades, regardless of her location or profession.

“I was always knitting. It keeps the hands busy,” she added. In addition to her baby beanies, Rabe has become skilled at knitting an array of various types of items over the years. Nowadays, she makes socks for Christmas gifts and even fashions sweaters for her cat.

“He’s a Cornish Rex, so he doesn’t have much hair. And he gets cold,” Rabe chuckled. “So yes, I knit the cat sweaters.”

Rabe’s kindness, generosity and dedication have been keenly felt by both patients and staff members at the hospital.

“She has touched so many lives through knitting these hats,” said Valley View Chaplain and Threads of Love Ambassador Lauren Martin. “The beanies provide warmth, and are a symbol of welcoming a new child into the community. It takes a village to care for and raise a family. The beanie shows that our care is authentic, letting people know the support is there not just for the physical but also the emotional and spiritual aspects of being a newborn’s parents,” he explained.

Approximately 60 newborns make their debuts at Valley View each month, so unfortunately not every family will receive one of Rabe’s famous baby caps. How is a new mom or dad to know the difference?

“There are other people who donate baby hats, too. But those usually have pom poms,” Rabe said, touching the top of one of her beanies. “Mine don’t have pom poms.”

Sometimes, she notices her handiwork in the Post Independent.

“Once in awhile I look in the paper at the new baby announcements and see one of my hats in the picture,” she said. “And maybe that little family will hang on to it, save it.”

Now that more than 1,500 local children are in possession of one of her beanies, Rabe hopes that her hard work will translate into treasured family memories for generations to come.

“Fifty years from now, somebody will open a drawer and there will be one of my baby hats,” she says with a smile. “I love that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, there’s Grandfather’s hat from the day he was born.’”

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