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When illness or death leave craft projects unfinished, these strangers step in to help


A story now about a hand-hooked rug, the woman who couldn't complete it and the stranger who stepped in to help. They were matched through a program that pairs volunteer crafters with projects left unfinished when health became an issue or somebody passes away. Martha Bebinger of member station WBUR reports.

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: The small, Turkish-style rug is a bright mix of red and blue geometric shapes on a gold background. Donna Savastio spent more than 100 hours following the pattern stamped on linen, using a hook to pull strips of wool through the backing, making loop after loop.

DONNA SAVASTIO: You can sit here for hours if you want to. I mean, it's like, wow. But I love it.

BEBINGER: Savastio started this rug around the same time she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It maps the progression of her disease. In one section, delicate, red scrolls expand to become solid blocks of red. John Shambroom fingers tangled loops along the navy blue border where his wife stopped.

JOHN SHAMBROOM: She started to get a little bit off the rails and having difficulty pulling the threads...


SHAMBROOM: ...Up through the top.


BEBINGER: That was about a year ago. It looked like Savastio's rug would never be finished. Then Jan Rohwetter arrives at the front door.

SAVASTIO: How are you? Nice to meet you.

JAN ROHWETTER: Real good to meet you.

SAVASTIO: Thanks for...

BEBINGER: Rohwetter is a rug hooker the couple has never met.

ROHWETTER: I've recently lost both my parents and my mom to dementia.

BEBINGER: She's here to collect and complete Savastio's rug.

ROHWETTER: And it's something that I would have loved to have been able to do for my mom. And so...


ROHWETTER: ...That's why I'm here.

SAVASTIO: Oh, this is a godsend.

BEBINGER: Rohwetter moves around Savastio's craft room, gathering the supplies she'll need. There's one lingering question - how to mark the spots where Savastio's handiwork stops and Rohwetter's will begin. The two women open Savastio's closet in search of options.

SAVASTIO: We're kind of picking through the clothes here.

ROHWETTER: OK. Here we go.

BEBINGER: A silky scarf with thin tassels looks promising to Rohwetter.

ROHWETTER: Instead of cutting it up, I could...


ROHWETTER: I could just take some tassels.

BEBINGER: Rohwetter bundles up the rug and heads home.

ROHWETTER: I will be in touch.

SHAMBROOM: Thank you so much.

ROHWETTER: All righty.

SAVASTIO: Thanks again.

BEBINGER: Rohwetter and Savastio found each other through Loose Ends. The program has matched more than 600 unfinished blankets, sweaters, socks, rugs and doilies since launching 10 months ago. It's the brainchild of two longtime friends and knitters, Masey Kaplan and Jen Simonic, who were both asked last summer to complete projects for friends who'd lost moms.

JEN SIMONIC: Sometimes you look around and think, this must be happening somewhere in the world. And when it's not, you're like, oh, it has to.

BEBINGER: Now, says Simonic, Loose Ends has 9,100 volunteers in 42 countries. Kaplan and Simonic spend hours of their free time every day filtering data on spreadsheets, looking for the closest person to a submitted project with the right skills and interests.

SIMONIC: There are some people who are like, give me an 80-foot blanket. And there's some people that - like, I don't do anything bigger than a sock. So it's me and Masey looking at spreadsheets till we go blind.

BEBINGER: Here's Masey Kaplan.

MASEY KAPLAN: Watching strangers take care of each other has been really wonderful.


BEBINGER: A month after picking up the rug, Jan Rohwetter is back with a gift-wrapped package.

SAVASTIO: Oh, my God. It's gorgeous.

BEBINGER: Three silvery threads, slim tassels snipped from Donna Savastio's scarf, mark spots in the rug's blue border where Rohwetter took over.

ROHWETTER: Every loop was with love...


ROHWETTER: ...And thinking of you...


ROHWETTER: ...Thinking of my mom...


ROHWETTER: ...And whatnot.

BEBINGER: John Shambroom looks at Rohwetter, shaking his head in wonder.

SHAMBROOM: This is just a purely good thing, especially these days.

ROHWETTER: These days it's pretty nice to be able to do something pure - pure of the heart, right?

BEBINGER: For NPR News, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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