Knitted mice project contributing to ALS research

by Kevin Mcbain

  • <p>KEVIN MCBAIN PHOTO</p><p>Have a Yarn employee Angela Churchill (left) and store owner Heather Tunnah, stand behind a display of Dickensian mice that have been knitted by Tunnah and a team of volunteers. The shop is selling tickets on the display with all funds going to the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia ALS Society, in honour of fellow knitter, Charlene Scott who was diagnosed with the disease last December.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Charlene Scott holds a couple of the knitted mice, part of the 14-piece Dickensian mice set for which tickets are being sold to raise money for the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia ALS Society.</p>


A nest of knitted mice is being used as a fundraiser to help further ALS research after a Mahone Bay resident was diagnosed with with that disease.

Mahone Bay resident Charlene Scott was officially diagnosed with the disease around Christmas time last year. Once highly active, now she has trouble with even the most basic of activities, including walking and talking.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS, is a devastating disease that gradually paralyzes those afflicted with it because it stops the brain from communicating with muscles that typically people are able to move at will.

There is no cure. But research is ongoing in the hope of finding one.

For her part, Scott is learning about the comforting powers of a community, and in particular her knitting community. And that the role of mice in research endeavours to find a cure for ALS doesn't just relate to rodents in the laboratories.

Scott is a knitter, and a good one at that, according to the community. She's a frequent visitor, and was once an employee, of the Have a Yarn shop located on Main Street in Mahone Bay.

Upon learning of her diagnosis, Heather Tunnah, owner of the shop, wanted to help.

"She has always excelled at knitting little, very detailed, fussy things and she has knit a lot of mice," Tunnah told LighthouseNOW. "We can't really do anything to make the disease go away or make things better for her, so several of us came up with the idea [that] the one thing we could do was have a fundraiser with money going towards the ALS Society of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia."

The call went out and three knitters - Annette Fralic, Peggy Abbott and Danielle Baines - responded that they would like to help Tunnah and Scott with the project.

The five decided to knit up a Christmas scene, called the Dickensian Christmas mice, which includes 14 different knit mice dressed in styles of the Dickens' era.

"We have the chestnut roaster and the mince pie seller, the skaters and the carollers," explained Tunnah.

They are selling tickets on a draw for the set at $10 each, or three for $20. Tickets are available, and the set is on display, at the Have a Yarn shop. The draw will take place November 30.

The patterns come from the website of designer Alan Dart.

"The knitting is probably the easiest part of it," suggests Tunnah. "What really runs into a lot of time and frustration is assembling them – putting all the little pieces together and then sewing them in such a way. You are knitting their clothes, their feet, everything is separate. Then you have the add-on details such as the lantern, the snowballs and the tray of mince pies."

Each mouse, and its accessories, took about eight to 10 hours to complete.

Have a Yarn is a meeting place for knitters in Mahone Bay and many stop in on Sundays and Tuesdays to get together and knit. That in itself is a challenge for Scott.

"ALS has affected me in every way. I used to enjoy conversation. Now it is a struggle," she said. "I do have a board to write on and my husband has set me up on my iPad and iPhone with a text-to-speech app which really works well. I am not ready to be silent yet," she told LighthouseNOW by email.

While she used to enjoy walking around town that has become increasingly difficult, although the walking poles she recently acquired helps some. Her breathing as well as eating have also been affected.

"My tongue doesn't work right anymore, and I can not lick an ice cream cone," explained Scott.

On the plus side, she said, the support from family and friends has been overwhelming.

"I have really come to know the compassion and kindness of all the people in my town of Mahone Bay. I seldom go out that I don't get at least one hug before I get home," she said.

"Somebody told me that if you share your burden it is not so heavy. There are many people helping me to carry mine," she said.

Scott said that the mice fundraiser was a "fabulous idea" and was glad she could help.

"I was so touched that my knitting group would immediately swing into action when they found out about my diagnosis," she said. "I am lucky so far because my hands are still working and I am able to still knit, cook, hook rugs and drive my car, so I was able to contribute to the fundraiser as well. Nothing happens without funding."

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