Hundreds of mittens, hats and scarves are among hand-knitted gifts for needy youngsters -- and some special adults -- in Westport and Norwalk thanks to around a dozen grandmas and great-grandmas who are members of the loosely-knit RSVP Knitters at the Westport Women's Club.
Needles and yarn at the ready, the knitters meet once a month for two hours to "knit and gossip." Food and drink are not served at this 21-year-old group; knitters like to keep their minds on the knit, pearl track, said the group's co-founder, Gerry Munce.
Last Thursday, hand-knitted items crafted by RSVP volunteers were distributed to children in the NEON Child Development Program at the Ben Franklin School in Norwalk.
Westport's Sue Mahar, the other co-founder, said the knitters produce hundreds of mittens, hats, scarves and special items during the estimated 4,000 hours a year they keep at their charitable work.
The bulk of knitting goes on while the women are watching television -- or during down time while members are doing volunteer work at various posts in the community -- Munce and Mahar said.
"Knitting in front of the TV set makes television palatable," Munce said.
Mahar, the other co-founder, chimed in: "I find when there's down time at the Red Cross headquarters in Norwalk, where I have been volunteering for years, I knit to pass the time."
The group began its venture by knitting blankets for babies with AIDS, and branched out as requests for other items came in, Munce said. The women make prayer shawls for churches, and shawls for American Cancer Society units to use as gifts to women undergoing mastectomies.
"One of my favorite things is knitting itty bitty hats for preemies in Norwalk hospital," Mahar said.
Teri Klein of Westport, head of the Norwalk-based RSVP operation, which serves the needs in Southwestern Connecticut towns, called the Westport knitters' efforts a win-win situation.
"The knitters put their hearts into their good works, knowing they are helping youngsters keep warm in cold weather, and eyes of the boys and girls literally dance with joy when they receive the warm-up gifts, typically early December," Klein said. "Hearts of givers and recipients are warmed."
Klein said the knitters use donated acrylic or nylon yarn -- never wool, which shrinks -- and the Westport Women's Club RSVP group always welcomes donations.
Mahar and Munce said knitting is a lifelong skill, although their children and grandchildren have not taken up the hobby.
"Those who stick it out learn after a while that knitting is very satisfying," Munce said. "I was five or six when my mother got me started."