Knitting with the Roller Derby Girls in Minneapolis

Three skaters and four regular knitters dropping off 250 hats to the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center. From left to right are: Julie Parent, Konceal'N Kari , Shelby Parent, Norah Torious, Skullateral Damage, Alex Leih or Duchess Destruction who skates for NERDY, Pete Leih or Jammit Dim who skates for the TC Terrors. (Photo courtesy of Konceal 'N Kari)

Do you think you have to be a little rough around the edges to hang out with the Minnesota Roller Derby Girls (MNRG)?

Think again.

Many have a much softer side and that involves knitting. So if you are a MNRG fan, you can catch up with them each month at Crafty Planet, a local fabric shop located in Northeast Minneapolis, where they hold a monthly knitting session for charity.

Knitting for charity with the Roller Derby Girls started in 2004 when Roller Girl, Norah Torious' mother was diagnosed with cancer and had to go through chemo. Norah decided to knit her mother a hat. Other crafty people in the league thought making soft, warm hats on a regular basis was a good way to help other cancer patients.

Every month during their home season, the Roller Derby Girls gather with other knitters at Crafty Planet to make hats for charity. Once completed, they attach a tag identifying that the cap was knit by fans of the Minnesota Roller Girls. Hats are then sorted into two groups: those soft enough for cancer patients are donated to the Fuel Your Fight Foundation and hats that are not are given to the St. Paul Salvation Army.

For Crafty Planet owner, Trish Hoskins, hosting the event is good for everyone. "It brings customers in the shop (12-25 at a time). We enjoy contributing to our community too. We provide many of the yarns they use at or near cost,” she said.

Organizer of the monthly sessions, Konceal 'N Kari, said, “I am a perpetual knitter. I am normally knitting anytime I am not skating or sleeping. Many of the knitters, including myself make hats for the cause all the time, not just at the monthly get-together."

She estimates 400 hats are donated each year from the events. Between one and seven Roller Derby Girls participate and there can be as many as twenty people (both new and old) who show up at each session. Some of the regulars have been coming since the very beginning.

According to Konceal’N’Kari, one of these regulars was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. While she was getting her chemo treatment, she was offered a hat and the one she picked was one of theirs.

The knitting event spread out into other community circles as well. At Bywood East, a long term care facility, residents joined in to make caps. According to Mary Farnham, Activities/Volunteer Director at Bywood, coordinating cancer caps events with the Roller Girls was a great way to build self-esteem with the residents. She said the Roller Girls were local celebrities that were "touchable."

Knitting at Bywood (Photo courtesy of Mary Farnham at Bywood)

Residents learned to knit on a “Knifty Knitter.”

"A lot of activity departments make crafts with no function. It's my opinion that this is a waste of time and money. My goal with our residents is to always realize that someone needs our help," Farnham said.

She estimates that the residents made over 500 caps during their three-four year involvement.

The events were very important to the residents. "I feel that providing them with an opportunity to mix with the community gives them a positive outlook on life. It was about healthy conversation, a connection with their community, helping those with cancer, being productive and a chance to teach others what they can do," she said.

Farnham thought about having the residents go to Crafty Planet for the events but transportation was difficult for them. Instead she arranged for the Roller Girls to visit at least two times in the winter months. Bywood was close enough to Crafty Planet so that the Roller Girls could pick up the caps they had made, take a few photos and return to their event at Crafty Planet. But the knitting groups at Crafty Planet became so popular, Farnham changed the times of their appearance so they could be with the residents as well. When Bywood held these events, they also provided hot soup.

"It was like "family" sitting around and chatting. No one had a cell phone out. An older Northeast Royalty Ambassador came to the knitting event from a polar plunge. (Northeast Royalty, a youth service group, also participated in the events at Bywood). This really impressed one of the Roller Girls. The "princess" and the Roller Girl shared a "fist bump." We all laughed. Our residents hosted the perfect afternoon (during winter) with hot soup, a knitting bee and great fun," she said.

Everyone is invited to knit or crochet with the MNRG during their monthly events at Crafty Planet. You can find the schedule on www.mnrollergirls.com, Facebook or Crafty Planet's website at www.craftyplanet.com.

If you want to see the Roller Girls in action outside their knitting circle, they will be back on the rink, Saturday January 19 at 7:30 pm at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

The Minnesota Roller Girls (MNRG) organization is an all-female, four-team flat track roller derby league founded in 2004. Members are unpaid and donate proceeds from each bout to charity. Proceeds from the January 19 event will go to the Ann Bancroft Foundation.

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Robin Sauerwein's picture
Robin Sauerwein