VIENNA, Virginia — When her friend’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Holly Christensen, an Alaskan mother and oncology nurse, decided to make the little girl something pretty to wear.
She created a Rapunzel-style wig made of soft yellow yarn with flowers strewn throughout the long braid. The gift was a hit.
“(My friend) was able to see her daughter just be a little girl again, twirling around in a dress with her Rapunzel braid and having fun — this little girl who had previously been lost in this painful, scary world of cancer,” said Christensen in a video about the project. “One of the things I’ve learned is that I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”
Christensen converted her one-car garage into a wig-making workshop and invited her friends to help. In just a few years, the Magic Yarn Project has sent more than 16,500 yarn wigs to children experiencing hair loss.
Crocheters from around the world volunteer their time and yarn to make the princess wigs and superhero beanies, which then are given for free to ailing kids.
Janet O’Grady, a crafter from Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna, was looking for a pattern online when she stumbled across the website.
“I was very absorbed by it,” she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. “I was thinking about children when they lose their hair, especially little girls, and how horrible that would be for them. A wig like this can make them feel pretty.”
O’Grady knits with the parish prayer shawl ministry and enjoys quilting but hadn’t crocheted until she started making the wigs. She watched some of the newer princess and superhero movies to learn more about the characters that inspire the handmade headgear.
“I had to,” she said laughing. “Merida (from “Brave”) is my absolute favorite. I (have) Scottish heritage and her wild hair — I just love it.”
When there’s a craft store sale, she’ll buy bunches of acrylic yarn for the wigs. “I have enough yarn to make 70 wigs right now, so it should get me through the year,” she said. Then she crochets a simple kid-sized beanie. Strands of yarn are threaded through the edge of the beanie and tightly knotted.
“One of the really important things we try to do is get these things in there nice and firmly because obviously the child is already suffering from hair loss. We don’t want them to end up with a wig (that loses hair),” said O’Grady.
Then she styles the strands based on the character, often adding something extra, such as a tiara for Anna, a starfish for Ariel or ringlets for Belle. Of the many options listed on the Magic Yarn Project website, boys often choose the Captain Jack Sparrow wig, Spider-Man beanie or Teenage Mutant Turtle mask.
Once the wigs and beanies are complete, she ships a batch to her regional leader to distribute. She loves hearing how the wigs have impacted the children, but feels she’d be too emotional to witness a child receiving one.
“I picture the smile on a child’s face when they get it,” said O’Grady. “When I’m having a bad hair day, when it doesn’t go exactly as planned, I always stop and think, ‘You know what? I want it to be nice for that child.'”
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Maraist is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.
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