James Lee
James Lee showcases his many hats at Ridgmar Place. (Photo by | Ridgmar Place)

James Lee concentrates as his steady hands thread red yarn through a handheld loom. 

His finger wraps around the corner of the loom as he uses a needle to tie knots in the thread. That completes the base, and now the real fun begins. 

Lee, 72, spins the loom once. Then twice. And again and again until the finished product emerges: a cotton hat to warm heads in the cold. 

“If I’m paying real close attention and I’m trying to go fast, I can do it in about an hour and 10 minutes,” Lee said. “Sitting there and watching TV, it takes me up to maybe an hour and a half to two hours.” 

For the past decade, Lee, who lives at the Ridgmar Place retirement home in Fort Worth, has knitted colorful hats and donated them to Fort Worth organizations helping people experiencing homelessness. He said he has made more than 150 hats in the past 10 years. 

An ‘inexpensive way’ to help those in need

“We do it for God’s grace to give God the glory that we are able to help others, and this is a very inexpensive way for us to do it,” he said. 

Lee learned knitting from his mother. He poured himself into the craft until he was 27 when his mom died. He left his knitting needles untouched for more than 20 years. Then, 12 years ago, he picked up the hobby again as a paramedic.

As people age, they tend to take up what they’ve learned from mothers or grandmothers and Lee’s talent is a gift to the community, said Rachel Williams, resident service director at Ridgmar Place. 

Most of Lee’s hats are donated to homeless shelters across Fort Worth. He said a volunteer group comes to Ridgmar Place to pick up the hats and send them to shelters. 

One charity that receives Lee’s hats is Friends of Lancaster. Carol Stank, a Friends of Lancaster board member, said the organization serves the people who are homeless on Lancaster Avenue and downtown Fort Worth. 

The organization receives donations from churches in the area, such as gloves, scarves and hats. Friends of Lancaster distribute these donations on the third Friday of every month. 

Stank and volunteers are thankful for all the donations they receive, as winter is a hard time of year for people experiencing homelessness, she said. 

“Any donations we could get from anyone we are very excited about,” Stank said. 

Making warm hats for premature babies

Lee first started making hats when he was a paramedic at Cook Children’s Medical Center, where he worked for 17 years. He knitted around 1,000 for premature babies in the intensive care units and children who intentionally hurt themselves. 

“They had me sit with children and make hats for them,” Lee said. “Rather than play on the computer all day, I’d have three days a week set to sit with those kids.” 

He called his beginner hats “pree-mees” because they were small enough to fit on a premature baby’s head. He still donates hats to the hospital.

After leaving Cook Children’s, he made hats for his church, Southside Church of Christ. He, along with other members of the church, would assemble care bags for people experiencing homelessness and included hats, socks and snacks. 

“I decided to make the hats because it’s cold and rather than giving money, which can be used for other things. We just gave things they could use,” Lee said. 

Lee is expanding his talents from a hobby to giving back to his community that he deeply loves, Williams said. 

“Ask a retirement community, independent living, assisted living, if there is a need for those things,” Williams said. “Because look at the goodness when somebody could have just tossed it out where he’s actually keeping somebody warm.” 

Taylor Coit is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at taylor.coit@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Taylor Coit

Taylor Coit is a recent graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Shorthorn, UT-Arlington’s student publication...