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Knitting group gives teens a chance to have fun while making items for charity

Knitwits sponsor Meredith Andersgives some knitting advice club member AddisTryon. | Phoby Denise Linke~For Sun-Times Media

Knitwits sponsor Meredith Anderson gives some knitting advice to club member Addison Tryon. | Photo by Denise Linke~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 1, 2014 10:08AM

GENEVA — Alex Kuska, Allison Bryan and Bridget Foley had never knit a stitch when they walked into the Geneva Public Library’s basement meeting room at noon Sunday for its monthly Knitwits meeting.

But the chance to help others while spending time with their friends gave the Geneva teenagers the courage to brave the learning curve.

“I’ve heard that knitting is fun and relatively easy. We’ll see,” said Bryan with a nervous laugh. “I like to do origami, but knitting is more useful to other people.”

Young Adult Section Librarian Meredith Anderson organized Knitwits last September to give teens a chance to earn volunteer hours learning a skill that will let them help their communities long after they leave high school.

“It’s a pretty low-key group,” she commented. “We talk about what we want to make and where we could donate it, but most of the time we hang out, watch movies, have snacks and socialize while we’re knitting.”

Anderson, a veteran knitter, had just enough time to give the newcomers their first knitting lesson before longtime club members Karen Elliott, Addison Tryon and Allison Knop arrived. Soon all six participants and their mentor were discussing everything from English class assignments to favorite movies to the best way to cast stitches onto the needle, while their knitting steadily grew and “Parental Guidance” played on the pull-down movie screen.

Elliott, Tryon and Knop soon joined Anderson in coaching the novice knitters. Tryon said she had no idea how to knit when she attended the first Knitwits meeting last September.

“That first time, I knit the first row over and over for three hours,” she recalled. “I undid it so many times that I lost count. But since then I’ve knit half a scarf and five or six cat toys for the animal shelter.”

On Thursday, Knitwits members were scheduled to deliver their first charitable donation: several dozen knit and crocheted cat toys for Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin. They planned to tour the facility and watch the shelter’s resident cats play with their creations.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Tryon asserted earlier this week. “We’re going to get to see that what we’re doing here really matters.”

“We always tend to be short on cat toys, so this is a great idea,” said shelter volunteer director Jeff Pal. “We always need food, litter and bleach for the cats, but we usually have about 100 cats here at any given time, and each cat gets a toy because playing is just as important for them.”

Several scarves, a few hats and a pair of mittens knit by club members are waiting to find the right home.

“I’m hoping that we will have multiple organizations to partner with,” Anderson said. “Some of the girls have talked about making baby hats to send to Africa. Somebody else suggested making prayer shawls [to give to cancer patients, new widows and other people going through personal traumas]. There are a lot of possibilities out there.”

Anderson logs how many hours each participant spends at meetings, then reports those hours to whatever social service organizations participants designate, such as the high school’s National Honor Society chapter. But that’s not what brings members back to meetings every month.

“I like to hang out with my friends and knit, talk and watch TV,” Elliott said. “I love knitting and crochet, so it’s fun to share that with people, and I like thinking of what I can make to donate to someone and how it will make them feel better.”

“It’s definitely cool that we’re giving away what we make here,” Tryon added. “Now we have a purpose for getting together and having fun.”

By 3 p.m. at the most recent meeting, the experienced knitters had produced part of a scarf, half a slipper and a few more cat toys, while the first-timers were still struggling but making obvious progress in learning the basic stitch.

“This is harder than I expected,” Foley admitted. “But I think I’ll come back next month. I know most of the people, I like learning something new and I had fun, and that’s what I came here for.”

Knitwits will meet next from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 23. For more information, contact Anderson at 630-232-0780.

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