Since November last year, residents of White River in Mpumalanga have been busy making the thousands of knitted and crocheted squares that were needed to create the 6,4m Christmas tree.
And they finally got to admire their handiwork as the tree took pride of place at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre earlier this month.
“This was just to celebrate life. We’ve come out from the pandemic alive, so we need to pick ourselves up and carry on,” explains Penny Boden, who oversaw the project.
Penny, one of the regional ambassadors of the White River 67 Blankets for Mandela Day "KnitWits", shares that the idea was sparked by pictures of a similar tree which was made by residents of the British town of Appledore in Devon.
After contacting those residents, they were kind enough to send plans and details of how to create the basic structure of the Christmas tree.
The KnitWits started collecting crocheted and knitted squares for the project last November. People were asked to send in 20cmx20cm squares and the original aim was to collect 1 000.
“We were just making plain squares but then people started putting little Christmas symbols onto the squares – Father Christmas and bells – and then I suggested that we add some animals on it too since we live close to the Kruger National Park,” Penny (75) says.
With 80 people sending in their squares, they ended up collecting 3 000 crochet squares, which meant a much bigger tree than originally planned.
Luckily, Penny was able to find an engineer, James Luus, who was happy to advise her and her team on how to assemble the tree.
A crane and scaffolding were needed, as well as 180kg of steel to create the inner structure of the tree. The KnitWits then added the squares onto the three separate parts of the structure.
The beautiful tree, located in the garden of the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre in White River, stands tall and will be there until mid-January for all to enjoy.
On the very top of the tree is a big star made of silver wire. It was created by "Edwin the wire man", a local craftsman who sells wire art.
There’s also a huge copper rhino adorned with crochet flowers near the Christmas tree, and a bench is also covered in squares made by the KnitWits.
The White River 67 Blankets for Mandela Day "KnitWits" was formed in 2015, with just a few members. They now have about 70 members who meet monthly to enjoy each other’s company, knit and crochet as well as share patterns.
All of the items made are donated to the less fortunate in the community.
Aside from enjoying the crafts, Penny shares that their programme has helped many who have been suffering from loneliness and depression.
The KnitWits plan on making about 30 blankets from the squares on the tree when it's taken down next year. The blankets will then be donated to families in need.
She says she felt very proud when the tree was erected.
“It was a dream come through for me. I dreamt of this tree for the last year, and I never ever imagined that it'd bring so much goodness and so many kind people donating things to us. It’s so gratifying to do something good for others.”