Stellan Sparks was born with the fingers on his right hand all fused together, “kind of like a paddle,” his family said.
The limb difference was due to symbrachydactyly, a rare congenital condition. The 5-year-old has undergone surgeries to separate his fingers and get him close to having five digits, but he wound up with four.
Typical gloves don't fit Stellan so the only option during cold weather had been mittens.
“We just kind of figured mittens would be fine, but he has a twin brother who does not have a limb difference,” Stellan’s mom, Tak Sparks, 35, told TODAY.
“And he noticed that he got different gloves than he did. It's something that we never thought would make a difference, but it did and he's like, ‘Well these are different. I want real gloves.’”
So the family turned to “Knit for a unique fit,” a Facebook group that connects knitters with people who have limb differences.
The Sparks, who live in Southern California, were matched with a knitter in Atlanta. They told her Stellan’s favorite color was rainbow and sent her pictures and measurements of the boy’s hand. A couple of weeks later, “these beautiful gloves showed up that fit him perfectly,” Sparks said.
“It really was this blessing we didn't know we needed, but it just made him feel so included with his brother and with other kids."
“He was over the moon… he wore them to sleep for like two weeks straight. He just loves having real gloves,” she noted.
“It really was this blessing we didn't know we needed, but it just made him feel so included with his brother and with other kids.”
About 1 in every 1,900 babies is born with a limb difference in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Besides physical challenges and surgeries, the children can also face emotional issues.
As a child, Alex Barone spent so much time hiding his hands that his mom sewed his pockets shut so he couldn’t do it anymore.
Barone was born with a thumb plus two fingers webbed together on each hand due to fibular hemimelia, a rare condition that also meant the fibula bone in his right leg was missing.
His webbed fingers were separated when he was a baby, leaving him with three digits on each hand, “so now I have hands like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle,” Barone said. But growing up looking different was hard. When other kids called him names, he began burying his hands in his pockets — until his mom stepped in.
“It was the best thing that she could have done for me,” Barone, who is now a 31-year-old actor in Los Angeles, told TODAY. “I couldn’t hide them anymore. It forced me to keep them out and talk about it.”
He was used to wearing regular gloves and stuffing the extra two fingers. But after turning to the “Knit for a unique fit” community, Barone now has custom-made gloves that fit his hands. He was connected with a knitter in Virginia who used black wool, his favorite color.
“It’s such a great idea,” he said. “I can't wait to wear them when I go to the mountains.”
How it works:
The Facebook group was started in October 2020 by Rena Rosen, a Chicago teacher born with craniofacial differences. A friend whose daughter was born with Apert syndrome — which can cause unique bone structure or webbing of the hands — was looking for someone to create gloves that fit the girl’s hands just like her sister’s did.
Rosen didn’t know how to knit or crochet, but she knew how to connect people. That’s how “Knit for a unique fit” — a community that now has more than 2,700 members — began. Requests come from parents of kids with all types of limb differences and adults who’ve spent most of their life wearing gloves that weren’t functional, she said.
Once the crafters are connected with the recipient, they decide on the price point for materials and shipping. If the price is a problem, some people offer to support the cost and some knitters create gloves for free. Both Sparks and Barone offered to pay for materials, but their knitters declined.
Members of the knitting group are also busy during the summer in the U.S., when more requests come from people in the Southern Hemisphere as it enters fall.
“I just want to shout it to the world that accessibility comes in all shapes and sizes, disability is not bad or scary or wrong, and anywhere in the world that you are, you belong, and we are so glad you are here,” Rosen said.