Knitted wigs help with princess transformation

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Kelley Schipp, center, Nancy Jackson, left, and Stacy Kitchin, all of Ferdinand, braided the hair of Rapunzel yarn wigs for the Magic Yarn Project, an organization which donates Disney character wigs to young cancer patients, at the Tri-County YMCA in Ferdinand on Sunday.


FERDINAND — Kelley Schipp learned to crochet so she could make wigs for children with cancer.

The Ferdinand woman was surfing Facebook back in November when she happened on a post for the Magic Yarn Project, an Alaska-based nonprofit that creates Disney princess wigs out of yarn for children with cancer. Although Schipp hasn’t known a child with cancer, the project struck a cord with her. She found herself watching YouTube videos to learn to crochet the beanies that form the base of the wigs. Before long, she was hooked.

“I had dabbled with (crocheting), but had never gotten very far,” Schipp said. “This was my motivation.”

In the four months since she first found the Magic Yarn Project, Schipp has held two workshops for her friends and friends of friends to learn to make the wigs. It started with four she made and shipped to Alaska to get her approval to teach others to make the wigs. Then, she held a workshop for a handful of her friends to teach them. During that workshop, six more wigs were completed, and Schipp sent those to Alaska.

Then, on Sunday, Schipp hosted another workshop at the Tri-County YMCA in Ferdinand where eight more wigs were completed, as well as several embellishments such as tiaras and flowers.

Staci Williams of Huntingburg adjusted a completed yarn wig, based on Ana from the movie Frozen, at the Tri-County YMCA in Ferdinand on Sunday.

Each wig starts with a beanie. Then, lose strands of yarn are attached to the beanie and formed into hair styles that mimic those of Disney princesses. Lastly, tiaras and other embellishments are hot glued to the wig.

The Magic Yarn Project provides volunteers with kits that have all the materials inside, or volunteers can make the wigs from scratch, as long as they use approved yarn types — they have to have “soft” in the name — and the approved colors. Once completed, the wigs are distributed free of charge to cancer patients throughout the world.

According to the Magic Yarn Project’s website, chemotherapy treatments often leave children’s scalps too sensitive for traditional wigs. Holly Christensen, one of the founders, made the first wig in 2014 when a friend’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer and lost her blond hair. As an oncology nurse, Christensen had seen firsthand the suffering of children with cancer, and thought a Rapunzel wig would be just the thing to brighten her friend’s daughter’s treatment.

Her friend then told her how big a difference the wig made for her daughter and how much the other girls on the floor would benefit from one, too. What Christensen thought would be a small, one-time workshop to make about 12 wigs has grown to a worldwide project with 6,070 wigs delivered to 33 countries to date. Right now, the most popular wigs are “Frozen” characters Anna and Elsa, followed by Rapunzel from “Tangled,” Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” and Moana, the most recent Disney princess from the movie “Moana.” Around the world, more than 3,800 Magic Yarn Project volunteers —dubbed Magic Makers — work to keep up with the demand.

In Ferdinand, Schipp has plans to expand her community of Magic Makers. The Magic Yarn Project allows volunteers to set up local chapters that can distribute wigs themselves, rather than having to ship them to Alaska. Although Schipp missed the deadline to create a chapter this year, she said that is something she plans to do in the future. In the meantime, though, she’s going to continue making wigs and creating a local team of wig makers.

“Once I started it, I had the bug,” Schipp said. “I couldn’t stop telling people that I know are crafty, ‘I can’t wait for us to do it together.’ Now those people are like, ‘Yeah!’”

Schipp, who started making yarn wigs in November, was partly inspired to get involved by her sister-in-law who passed from cancer at the age of 30. "I think for little girls, if they lose their hair, this is something that can put a smile back on their face," Schipp said.

One of those people is Schipp’s aunt, Karen Mehringer. Mehringer is an avid crocheter, so Schipp calls on her when she needs beanies, tiaras or other embellishments for the wigs. Mehringer is happy to help. She imagines that the most embarrassing part of cancer treatment for the children is losing their hair, so anything she can do to help is worth it.

“It’s always a disease that’s going to be out there,” Mehringer said. “When it strikes kids, that’s kind of where your heart is.”

Schipp’s friend Staci Williams also loves to help. Since she doesn’t crochet or knit, Williams lends her hand in bedazzling the embellishments, styling the loose yarn strands into the princesses’ signature hairstyles and hot-gluing the embellishments on the wigs.

“You feel good doing it because you know the kids are going to love it,” Williams said.

Although the Magic Yarn Project began with princess wigs, it’s beginning to branch out to help boys fighting cancer, too. The website now includes a pattern for a wig that mimics “Pirates of the Caribbean” star Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as hats that mimic superheroes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the renowned “Star Wars” Jedi master, Yoda.

Anyone wishing to join the magic making can contact Schipp via email at For donations, Schipp said she most needs funds to buy yarn and cover the postage for shipping the wigs to Alaska.


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