Turning Sweaters Into Books

Longtime West Shore Community Library volunteer has raised at least $10,000 for books with her knitted creations

By Molly Priddy
Louise Redfield, pictured at the West Shore Community Library on March 8, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

LAKESIDE — Walking into the West Shore Community Library, visitors are greeted with the welcoming sight and smell of books, each its own world in which to lose one’s self.

There’s also a stand from which hang a colorful and bright arrangement of small, knitted sweaters, emblazoned with delightful creatures and designs, just right for the small explorers venturing into the world of books.

The sign on top of the clothing rack reads, “Sweaters by Louise,” and each one is $25. What it doesn’t say is that each of those little sweaters is made by hand and with a considerable amount of love by one of the library’s most stalwart and beloved volunteers.

Louise Redfield, 84, has volunteered for and at the library for decades, and in the last eight years, she has managed to knit and sell $10,000 worth of sweaters. All of the money has been used to buy more children’s books for the library.

“We used to have bake sales to pay rent for the library,” Redfield said last week. “But I don’t bake. I prefer knitting.”

The West Shore Community Library has been a volunteer passion project since its inception as the Lakeside Library in 1991. At that point, the library was housed in a garage.

Redfield and her husband, Joe, retired to Lakeside in 1989, and Louise missed her career as a teacher. She taught second and third grade in Monroe, Washington for 30 years, raising her three sons with her husband. She eventually became a remedial reading specialist, though she always loved being in a classroom.

A static retirement wasn’t in the cards, Redfield realized.

“I was bored!” she said. “When you teach at school, you’re always moving. Now whenever I sit down, I knit.”

Her love for teaching and reading led her to volunteer tutoring at Lakeside Elementary, and eventually to the library. The first sweater she sold probably went for $20, but it was more than she’d get for a pie, Redfield said with a laugh.

As time has moved along and the library has evolved, so have Redfield’s sweaters. They’re now mostly hooded, with dinosaurs and kittens and puppies and horses and more, and the zipper is in the back of the sweater to make it easier on both parents and kids.

Knitting wasn’t always in her skillset, Redfield said.

“My sister-in-law showed me how to knit,” Redfield said. “And a friend had a pattern I could use.”

From there, it’s about following the rhythm, and her knitting needles still click-clack along, each sweater representing a few more books for the local children to explore.

“They buy children’s books, and I get to keep busy,” Redfield said. “I needed something to do.”

Donnie Underwood, a volunteer for the library’s children’s section, said Redfield’s sweater success inspired her to help out the library in her own way, too.

“She inspires me,” Underwood said. “I bring in jam and sell it for money to buy books.”

On March 17, the West Shore Community Library will host a St. Patrick’s Day dinner and dance, with the proceeds benefiting the library. The party begins at 6 p.m. at the Beargrass Bistro, and tickets are $75 per person. To RSVP, call (406) 844-3917.



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