East Washington woman caught up in crocheting for a good cause

February 15, 2014
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
It takes Mary Lou Schmitt an average of three days to crochet one shawl. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
No two shawls crocheted by Mary Lou Schmitt are alike. She varies the pattern, size and, of course, the color. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
Mary Lou Schmitt has made more than 800 shawls as a member of Immaculate Conception Church’s Prayer Shawl Ministry. Order a Print

M ary Lou Schmitt has been crocheting since she was a child, but she went through a rather long dry spell when she was raising her six children.

“I didn’t have too much time to crochet,” she laughed.

Well, the petite 87-year-old East Washington woman is certainly making up for lost time.

For nearly eight years, she’s been crocheting shawls for Immaculate Conception Church’s Prayer Shawl Ministry. To date, she has made 820 shawls and is, by far, the group’s most prolific contributor.

The shawls, many in a colorful array of solid colors, are donated to residents of nursing homes and Thomas Campbell Apartments and infants of unwed mothers.

Mary Lou gladly agreed to join the Prayer Shawl Ministry when it was organized, but never did she think it would lead to this.

“I don’t even know why I started keeping count,” she said.

While growing up, Mary Lou spent time talking with a neighbor who had emigrated from Croatia. She remembers the woman would be crocheting, and not once would she look up from her handiwork when she spoke.

Mary Lou decided to give crocheting a try. She sought instruction from others, but when one woman yelled at her for doing it wrong, which, Mary Lou insists, she didn’t, Mary Lou ended up buying a book and teaching herself.

She started out making pot holders and purses. After tiring of that, she graduated to afghans, crocheting them for family members and wedding gifts. Now, however, Mary Lou is done making “family things.”

But Mary Lou likes to keep busy and is a very independent woman. When she suffered a heart attack nine years ago, she drove herself to the hospital. She continues to drive, but her car has remained parked recently because of the wintry weather.

“I’m crocheting a lot now,” she chuckled.

Mary Lou crochets every day, “some more so than usual.” She estimates that it takes an average of three days to complete one shawl, although the shawls for infants consist of a thinner yarn and are more time-consuming.

And no two shawls are alike. Mary Lou varies the pattern, the size and, of course, the color every time.

She said she’s never received any feedback about her shawls, but perhaps this is truly a case of actions speaking louder than words.

Despite the volume of shawls she produces, Mary Lou rarely has to buy her own yarn. She purchased yarn about two weeks ago for the first time in years because the majority of it has been donated by staff and residents at Thomas Campbell Apartments.

“They’re very, very generous,” she said.

Denise Bachman is an award-winning journalist and veteran of the Observer-Reporter. She joined the staff in 1981 as a sports writer after graduating from Penn State University with a degree in journalism. After working in various capacities, she has served as the managing editor of production and lifestyles editor for the past several years.

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