Northwest Needlers brings Jewish knitters together to create a bounty of tzedekah projects

The Northwest Needlers created twiddle muffs for residents with dementia at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging and other senior living facilities. (Photo courtesy Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life)

Armed with knitting needles and crochet hooks, the Northwest Needlers are women of valor, says founder Judith Feldman.

For the past five years, the Northwest Needlers, who currently meet Tuesday afternoons via Zoom under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life, have been creating hats, gloves, and other tzedakah (charity)  projects to donate throughout the community.

In addition to knitting more than 75 hats each year for kindergarten students at Homer Davis Elementary School in support of the Federation’s Homer Davis Project, the Needlers have crafted twiddle muffs for residents of dementia units at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging and other senior living facilities.

Twiddle muffs have buttons, ribbons, and a variety of textures that restless hands can fidget with. “Those are fun to make and they use up a lot of odds and ends.  They’re really good for tactile stimulation,” says Feldman, who is a consulting dietician for long-term care centers.

The group also has made more than 50 comfort dolls for young surgical patients in Africa, large shawls for patients at a local dialysis center, and slippers, scarves, and hats for a low-income assisted living facility.

Anyone in the group can decide on a project, says Feldman, who notes that the group has no hierarchy.

They do have strict rules: “If it’s not fun, don’t do it” and “We don’t make mistakes, we make design elements,” she says.

Feldman was knitting “with a bunch of church ladies” when she decided to seek out a similar group of Jewish knitters. She was directed to the Tucson Jewish Community Center, where volunteers knit 9–inch squares that are pieced into blankets. Living on Dove Mountain in the Northwest, driving to the J was a trek for her, she says, and she grew tired of knitting nothing but 9-inch squares.

“I thought, ‘If the church ladies can knit things for kids, we can knit things,’” she says. She called the Olson Center and spoke to staff member Marti Cohen. Soon the Northwest Needlers were up and running, although it took the group a few years to grow into a core membership of about 10 women.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great way for us to interact with each other. I’ve met people I never would’ve met,” Feldman says.

Most years, the group knits sweaters for premature babies at Tucson Medical Center, although this year the hospital is not accepting donated goods, she says.

The group is currently making twiddle muffs and fingerless mitts for the Arizona Veteran’s Home. Abiding by the “If it’s not fun” rule, one member who is less adept at knitting is crocheting hats instead. “That’s fine, because the vets have heads,” says Feldman.

Although she calls her fellow members women of valor, Feldman notes that men are welcome to join the group. “We don’t discriminate,” she says.

To join the group, visit https://jfsa.ticketspice.com/nwneedlers. For more information, email northwestjewish@jfsa.org.