With nimble hands that contradict his age, Ted Schuman threads colours of pink, white and yellow together.
He’s creating a gift for a very special person he will never see.
It may seem unusual for an 86-year-old man, but Ted spends about three hours every day knitting hats for babies who enter the world at the Grey Nuns and Misericordia community hospitals. All that work to add extra warmth to tiny heads adds up to about 100 hats a month.
“I enjoy doing it. It gives me gratification to be able to do something useful,” says Ted. “At my age, you can’t do a lot of things physically.”
Knitting hats for babies holds a special place in his heart. Ted learned the art of working with yarn four years ago under the careful guidance of his wife, Mary, a long-time knitter. The pair first started by making hats for the homeless during a Christmas season. When their work was done and demand for winter tuques dried up with warmer weather, Mary suggested they switch to making hats for newborns, a decision that became a year-round work of love and warmth.
“She would help me. I would do the bottom, and then she would close the top and sometimes put a little tassel on the top,” Ted explains. “Both of us love babies, and we have grandchildren, so it’s the love of giving something to the little ones.”
Working together, Mary and Ted made over 2,000 hats in three years. And then Mary was diagnosed with cancer. The pair continued to knit until Mary became sicker and knew it was time to teach Ted to craft a hat without her helping hands.
“She showed me how to finish them because she got to the point where she knew she couldn’t finish them anymore,” says the soft-spoken senior, who lives in Spruce Grove. “We worked really well together. For 66 years, we were a good team.”
After Mary’s death in September 2018, Ted continued their work. He’s crafted more than 900 hats on his own.
“Even though she’s not helping me, the little guys still need them, so I do it for them,” says Ted.
The hats are most welcome and help babies stay warm, says Corrine Barrett-Rose, a Clinical Nurse Educator for Labour and Delivery at the Misericordia hospital. Babies lose much of their heat from their heads, so having a hat is not only heart-warming, but also important for their well-being.
“It’s a great standard to live by,” says Corrine. “If you look at somebody like Ted, who continues to do something like this for someone he doesn’t know and will most likely never meet, it makes us all feel like we should be doing a little more and live by his example.”
With around 3,000 babies born at the Misericordia every year, Ted's hats are in high demand and are a welcome donation, especially to new mothers.
“I am so happy knowing that my baby is comfy wearing the hat,” says Lara Ambalika, whose newborn daughter, Kirania, received one of Ted’s hats. His hats are often the first piece of clothing babies receive, making it a special memory for families to cherish.
Thoughts like these make Ted’s three children proud of their father’s work.
“This really extends his reach as far as being able to help out in the community,” says Brian Schuman, 61. “At 86 years old, it is still a wonderful contribution he can give.”
Ted’s daughter, Laurie Parkinson, 57, says he has been a knitting machine since he began making the hats.
“We are very proud of him,” says Laurie. “It’s wonderful that he is willing to give back.”
While Ted buys some of his yarn, much of it is donated by people who have heard of his work and want to help. He welcomes all donations, but he favours the classic blue for boys and pink for girls. He also likes to use yellow, green and purple, but his overall favourite choice is white.
Ted says his wife knew he would continue their work when she could no longer be by his side.“She always knew it, even when she got ill. She knew I would carry it on,” says Ted. “I plan on kitting as long as I can.”
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