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Former librarian's knitting legacy keeps Cleveland warm

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Posted at 5:22 PM, Feb 01, 2022

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A splash of color on Superior Avenue is a break from the monotony of winter grays, whites and browns in Downtown Cleveland. Several dozen hats, scarves and mittens hang on a clothesline strung across the wrought iron fence near the Cleveland Public Library, free for the taking.

“I think it’s really nice. People really need hats and gloves because the cold weather is coming again. I sometimes wear two, three sets of gloves,” said Tiffany Bartram.

The Cleveland resident grabbed a pink, purple and maroon knit hat from a box near the library entrance Tuesday afternoon.

“One, because it looked cool,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh this is going to look good.’ And because of the bad weather coming, I’m going to need an extra hat.”

When an inevitable winter storm is forecasted for the region, library staff hang knit items outside for passersby.

“Everyone needs to warm up and the Cleveland Public Library is here to help,” said Aaron Mason, the director of community engagement at the Cleveland Public Library.

Mason explained the initiative known as ‘Warm-Up Cleveland,’ which now receives hundreds of hand-knitted donations annually from volunteers, community groups and library staff, started as a tribute to former librarian, Diane Mathews.

“I think she would be honored to know we do it in her name. She was a fabulous librarian and kind of the LeBron James of knitting,” Mason said.

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The file photo shows former librarian Diane Mathews working at the Cleveland Public Library.

Mathews was credited for expanding the library’s collection of knitting instructional books during her tenure. When she died from ovarian cancer in 2010, she left her personal collection of yarn, knitting needles and other supplies to her former coworkers.

"She said, ‘Do something for charity.’ So it was from that that this initiative was born,” said Mason. “It started with a core group of 25 staff and now we take donations from knitters all across Northeast Ohio and the country.”

Over the ensuing decade, several library branches have developed knitting social groups and others have formed their own knitting clubs, crafting the winter weather items year round. In addition to hanging them on the fence outside the main library, Warm-Up Cleveland also donates them to more than a dozen charities throughout Greater Cleveland.

Since 2010, the project has distributed more than 25,000 items.

If you’d like to donate your own handiwork or join a knitting group, you can call the library’s Outreach and Programming Services at 216-623-2921 or email OPS@cpl.org.

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