Knitting for Christmas at Sea ... at Sea

Aug 7, 2008

Bettie Rile of Ridgewood, New Jersey seems to attract knitters wherever she goes.  Coordinator of a popular Christmas at Sea (CAS) knitting group based out of her parish church, Christ Church Ridgewood, Bettie’s charisma draws around 40 members from all over her community—Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and even Jewish knitters, participating in the project of knitting scarves and hats for mariners around the world through Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) knitting program.

Recently, Bettie took to the sea herself.  She and her husband, Howell, embarked on a 102-day cruise around the world onboard a Princess cruise ship.  Bettie knew that she would have some spare time and brought aboard her knitting.  “I only came prepared with enough to knit for myself,” says Bettie, “but I soon had to try to find some more needles.”  The reason Bettie began sleuthing for knitting equipment is because she unwittingly had started a satellite branch of her own CAS knitting group on the ship taking her around the world. 

Bettie was able to connect with others on board the cruise interested in knitting, needlepoint, and cross-stitch through the ship’s newsletter.  She showed up at the initial meeting to a group of about six.  The group soon grew in numbers, however.  As word got out of the gathering, “kindred spirits of talented people from all over the world began to come,” says Bettie.  “We had to stop in Sydney and in China to pick up extra yarn,” she says.  By the end of the cruise, the group had grown twenty people strong.

The reason for the growth is no doubt due in part to Bettie’s own personality.  She told SCI that she is constantly recruiting knitters for Christmas at Sea.  “One time I went to vote,” she recalls, “and a saw woman knitting that looked like she was having trouble.”  Bettie sat down and helped her fix the issue with her needles and yarn and had garnered another volunteer for SCI’s knitting program, Christmas at Sea.

Bettie’s tutelage also kindled the needle skills of those on board the Princess cruise ship, and she kindled the interest of them in the knitting program of CAS.  She shared with them the work of the Seamen’s Church Institute for which she was knitting the items—items that may even one day make their way back onto a cruise ship like the one that they were on.  It is not impossible.  “The captain of the ship told me that early on in his career he’d received a gift from the Seamen’s Church Institute at Christmastime,” and too Bettie says, “The crew was thrilled once they got to know what we were doing.”

Bettie hopes that the group she helped form will stay in touch.  They shared many hours together on board the vessel, and in the process, Bettie inspired and educated.  She says that she will send several of them materials from Seamen’s Church Institute to keep them knitting and interested in the work of the Institute. 

SCI’s Christmas at Sea program relies on the work of volunteers like Bettie to knit and distribute gifts containing handmade scarves, caps, vests, helmets or socks, and other useful items.  On board her world cruise, Bettie Rile knit together more than these.  Bettie says she is part of "a community of friends" that grows with sharing stories and yarn.  The story that Betty shared of SCI’s mission to mariners has helped bring others to the support of SCI’s unique and important work.