September 24, 1998


photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

The women meeting Tuesday evenings in the social hall of Smithsburg's Trinity Lutheran Church range in age from 15 to 80-something.

They begin to trickle in at about 6:30, carrying tote bags of yarn, partially finished work on knitting or crochet needles and piles of hand-worked squares ready to be joined to make afghans. Once their work is pulled out and started, their needles and hands never stop. Neither does the talking.

--cont. from lifestyle--

With humor that is typical of their gatherings, they call themselves the "KnitWits."

It was Christine Walters, now 15, who came up with the name. She came to Trinity Lutheran Church from Kansas last year with her parents, Charlene and the Rev. Mark Walters, pastor of the church. Despite the difference in her age and that of some of the senior members, Christine enjoys just sitting and knitting and chatting with everybody.


"It's kind of nice," she says.

About 70 or 80 women of the church had gathered at a July 1997 tea to welcome the Walters family. After discussion about re-activating the congregation's women's organizations, the needlework group came into being just about a year ago.

Someone had heard about "Warm Up America!" - a project started in a Wisconsin yarn shop, now national in scope. The group, sponsored by Craft Yarn Council of America, works with American Red Cross and several other organizations to stockpile afghans so they are available when disasters or emergencies happen.

The Trinity Lutheran group donated its first afghan - a crocheted patchwork - to the Hagerstown chapter of American Red Cross in mid-January.

They learned that a local family's home had been destroyed by fire that same day. For several weeks last fall, the KnitWits shifted their focus from afghans to hats and mittens donated to Smithsburg Elementary School.

They have contacted the local community outreach program, Reach Inc., and plan to make hats for people who are homeless and lap robes for elderly persons, and they will contact a local nursing home to see if the fruits of their labors of love can be used there.

Approximately 15 women attend regularly. "Affiliate" members, including a 90-year-old, knit or crochet at home and send in the squares. Yarn has been donated, as well as purchased, and leftover threads are put outside so birds can use them to build nests.

Christine Walters says she was just being silly when she thought of the name "KnitWits" for the group.

The name has come to mean a lot more.

Debra "Debbie" Persons is the KnitWits' unofficial spokesperson. A knitter since the age of 8, Persons hosted the group's organizational meeting and keeps the congregation informed of its progress in "KnitWit News" entries in the church newsletter.

She asked readers not to confuse the name with "nitwits" - defined by Webster's as a stupid or silly person, although she says the group fondly adopted the term "idiot squares" for one of its simplest afghan projects. Wit can be defined as the ability to think, have practical good judgment or possess a talent for clever remarks, all of which Persons says are exhibited at the Tuesday evening gatherings.

Considering the focus of their efforts for local mission work, KnitWits like to think of "wit" as an abbreviation for "witness," providing evidence of their faith.

Persons brightens her newsletter entries with appropriate poems or scriptural verses. She says the KnitWits could take the old Shaker saying as their motto: "Hands to Work, Hearts to God."

That work is appreciated.

Christy Trenton, Executive Director of The W House Foundation Inc., attended a KnitWits session last November. While the women were working, Trenton told them about the group's mission at W House in Hagerstown, a residential home providing support and treatment services for women in recovery from chemical dependencies.

In January, two knitted patchwork afghans were delivered to W House - the first of nine to be made - one for each bed.

Having a handmade afghan on the bed fits in with the homelike atmosphere W House strives for, Trenton believes. It's part of the residents' growth, and it's wonderful to know that there are people in the community who care enough to do this, she says.

LaFerne Gardenhour, one of the more senior KnitWits, likes to lay out the 49 individual squares of the afghans, coming up with designs that are pleasing to her eyes which no longer can see well enough to do the close work of knitting or crocheting.

"I like the fellowship, and they always find something for me to do," she says.

Elaine Persons, 16, already knew how to knit but has learned to crochet. She says she unwinds at the Tuesday evening sessions and enjoys the company of people who are funny in their own way.

"It's just fun," she says.

Octogenarian Margaret Schlimme knew how to crochet but has learned to knit with the group. She says she comes because of the people.

"It's been a really wonderful experience. We're a good group," she says.

Warm UpAmerica program helps others

Craft Yarn Council of America, headquartered in Gastonia, N.C., publishes an annual newsletter about Warm Up America! The program works with American Red Cross and several other organizations to stockpile afghans so they are available when disasters or emergencies happen.

The newsletter includes news from participating groups across the country, as well as knitting and crocheting patterns.

For information about Warm Up America, write to CYCA, 2500 Lowell Road, Gastonia, N.C. 28054, call 1-704-824-7838 or visit the Web site at

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