British Columbia

Knitting takes off at addiction treatment centre in Surrey as men stitch hundreds of toques

Men living at a treatment facility for mental health and substance abuse in Surrey have taken up knitting. The therapeutic activity has turned into a mission to help those in need.

More than 200 toques are being given away to homeless people, women in recovery in the Fraser Valley

More than 200 toques have been knitted by men at the Phoenix Society's treatment facility in Surrey, B.C. (Christian Amundson/CBC news)

Knitting and being behind bars isn't the likeliest combination, but that's where 41-year-old Nelson Mendonca took up the hobby.

It was part of art therapy and although he had a lot on his mind in jail, he picked up a round knitting loom brought in by staff to create toques.

When Mendonca later joined a 90-day live-in treatment program at the Phoenix Society's transitional housing in Surrey, he returned to loom knitting as a way to overcome his anxiety and loneliness.

"The first thing that came into my head was I just wanted to go get some yarn and a loom. I started making a toque. Everybody was wondering what I was doing since it kind of looks weird at first," explained Mendonca.

But his curious hobby sparked interest and became an icebreaker leading to new friends.

Knitting club stitches hundreds of toques

Other men started asking what he was doing and wanted to learn more. So began his knitting club.

Nelson Mendonca poses with toques created by a group of men at a Surrey transitional housing facility to donate to people in need. (Christian Amundson/CBC news)

"Before I know it, on my treatment floor there are probably 10, 12 guys knitting toques. And it just went crazy. Everybody was going to Wal-Mart every day to get yarn and looms. It just became a little knitting club on our floor," said Mendonca.

They use knitting looms to create colourful toques and the designs are becoming more elaborate as they incorporate pompoms and take special requests for basketball- or football-themed hats.

Knitting looms in use. (Christian Amundson/CBC news)

He said every toque that he has made has been given away. However, he plans to make toques for his nephews using colours inspired by the Seattle Seahawks football team.

Others have already been making them as presents to give to friends and family.

The group of men at Phoenix have made more than 200 toques to donate to homeless people, a woman's recovery house and have even knitted tiny ones for newborns that will eventually be given to Surrey Memorial Hospital.

Knitting as therapy

Mendonca's addictions counsellor John Flyman said the knitting phenomenon is unique and is proving to be another way to help the men at the facility in their journey to recovery.

"When someone finds their way, they kind of leave footprints for the next guy to follow. The toquing is definitely original," said Flyman.

Sean Brossard is part of the knitting club and is a resident at the facility.

"It's almost like meditation. It definitely takes you away from worrying about a ton of stuff or thinking about negative things, especially when you're doing something as fun as this."

Some staff members have purchased toques from the men who used the money to have a taco party and buy more yarn.

For Mendonca, his favourite part is the act of finishing a toque and then giving it away to someone who needs it.

He pointed out in the past he has not been the best person to finish things he's started but making toques has been rewarding and taught him an important life lesson.

"It's really nice to start something and finish it."