A project that started as a weekly knitting get-together has quickly transformed into a worldwide project to warm combat soldiers in Israel.

The hats are especially useful during night operations

(Chicks with Sticks)

"Chicks with Sticks" is the brainchild of Channah Koppel, who described to Israel National Radio's Eve Harow of the Judean Eve program, how she mustered a group of amazing handcrafters in Gush Etzion to help produce winter hats for Israeli soldiers who serve in cold places.

The mission of kindness, which began last year, has grown exponentially in the past twelve months from a simple desire to do something to give back to the soldiers of the IDF.

It gets really, REALLY cold up in the Golan Heights, especially on night guard duty.

(Chicks with Sticks)

What better way than to make sure these soldiers had warm winter hats? With a son serving as a paratrooper, Koppel knew conditions can get mighty chilly around this time of year and downright cold in the winter – especially in the north. "The hats provide both physical warmth and emotional support, and we feel good knowing that somewhere tonight, a soldier doing guard duty in the cold will be wearing one of our warm, hand-knitted hats, made with love," she explained.

Koppel decided to adopt the entire army and send all the soldiers black woolen hats. She sent out some emails and suddenly, hats started arriving from all over the world -- mostly from North America, but also from places such as England, Australia and France. She personally delivered several hundred hats to combat units in the Golan Heights and Mt. Hermon, but realized the task was becoming overwhelming, and contacted Barbara Silverman, founder of "A Package from Home" for help in making sure the hats reached soldiers everywhere in the country.

Hats come in handy even for a quick sprint to the base canteen

(courtesy of Chicks with Sticks)

The "Chicks with Sticks" enlisted Silverman's organization for an extra bit of help from its wide network, especially in reaching the "chayalim bodedim" -- soldiers without families in Israel -- serving in combat units. Silverman's group also helped get the hats to soldiers stationed in the north, where the crisp mountain air and winter winds cut straight to the bone, as well as to balmier climes in the state.

Stacks of hats by Chicks with Sticks!

(Chicks with Sticks)

It's "an intimate grassroots kind of thing," Koppel says, the kind of "homegrown" personal support that comforts those who must fight to defend the homeland. "Alot of people who call me represent other groups, like senior centers and other organizations that have knitters, so it's growing exponentially.".

IDF soldier sips a hot coffee wearing his new, warm hat

(Chicks with Sticks)

The "Chicks with Sticks" project has distributed several hundred hats so far, each with a special label sewn inside assuring its wearer in Hebrew that it was "Knit for you with love and warmth." They're also knit with special care: each hat must be knit to rigorous specifications set by the IDF that include a certain pattern due to the strict uniform regulations.

Label shows, "Knitted for you with warmth and love"

(Chicks with Sticks)

It's a tough job, but there are plenty of people out there who are willing to do it. In addition to Israeli knitters, participants have joined the project from aaround the world. Most are Jewish, but not all. Most are women – but not all. Any and all hats that follow the pattern are welcome, says Koppel.

And when every IDF soldier has a hat, what then? Koppel laughs, and points out "There are a lot of soldiers in the army!"

Channah Koppel

(Chicks with Sticks)

Anyone interesting in joining the project and knitting a hat for an Israeli soldier can email Channah Koppel at: [email protected] . Finished hats can also be sent directly to Koppel at POB 3081, Efrat, 90435, Israel.

For those who are savvy with the sticks (read: knitting needles), here are two patterns, one for a hat that can be knit flat on two straight needles and one for a hat that can be knit in the round on a circular needle and/or double pointed needles. The latter method is recommended because it requires less sewing up at the end and tends to look neater. The cost of the wool is approximately NIS 10 in Israel and $4 in the United States.

Yarn: You must use machine washable, plain black worsted weight yarn - this is in order to comply with both the soldiers' requests and army regulations. Look for a yarn that is soft, warm and non-felting. Super-wash wool is best, although acrylic or a wool/acrylic mix is okay. You'll probably need about 220 yds / 200 m. Gauge: 24 or 28 stitches=4 inches / 10 cm in K2P2 rib stitch. Needles: Use whatever size needle you need to get gauge. The 4 mm - 5.5 mm range is a good place to start. For circulars, use a small circumference, 12" to 16".

Pattern A: Knit on Two Straight Needles:

Loosely cast on 98 stitches and work back and forth in K2P2 rib as follows:

Round 1 (right side): K1, [K2, P2] until one stitch remains, K1.

Round 2 (wrong side): P1, [K2, P2] until one stitch remains, P1. Repeat these 2 rounds until work measures 9.5 inches / 24 cm, ending with a wrong side row.  Shape crown: 

Row 1: On right side, K1, [K2, P2tog], K1. 74 stitches remain.

Row 2: P1, [K1, P2], P1

Row 3: On right side, K1, [K2tog, P1], K1. 50 stitches remain.

Row 4: P1, [K1, P1], P1

Row 5: K1 {2tog), K1. 26 stitches remain.

Row 6: Purl

Row 7: K1, [K2tog], K1. 14 stitches remain.

Row 8: Purl

Row 9: K1, [K2tog], K1. 8 stitches remain

Break yarn, leaving a 20-inch / 51 cm length. With a tapestry needle, thread the yarn through the remaining 8 stitches (pull tight) and then sew up the back seam using mattress stitch (to see an example click on "mattress stitch", scroll down to "Finishing" and then select "mattress stitch" for a short video demonstration.) 

Pattern B: Knit first on a Circular needle and then on double pointeds (or, you can work the entire hat on double pointed needles if you prefer.) Loosely cast on 96 stitches. Join work, place marker, and work in K2P2 rib until work measure 9.5 inches / 24 cm.

Shape crown:

(Here you begin a series of decreasing rounds. When you find the hat getting too small to work on the circular needly, switch to double pointed needles.)

Round 1: K2, P2tog to end of round. 72 stitches remain.

Round 2: K2, P1

Round 3: K2tog, P1 to end of round. 48 stitches remain.

Round 4: K1, P1

Round 5: K2tog to end of round. 24 stitches remain.

Round 6: Knit

Round 7: K2tog to end of round. 12 stitches remain.

Round 8: Knit

Round 9: K2tog to end of round. 6 stitches remain.

Break yarn, leaving a 6-inch / 15 cm length. With a tapestry needle, thread the yarn through the remaining 6 stitches (pull tight).

Weave in the ends and admire your work! Please wash and dry your hat before mailing. Please include an email address so that you can be notified when your hat arrives.