The University Record, March 12, 1996

700 hats and mittens will warm hands, heads across country

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Nearly 700 hats, knitted and crocheted by hundreds of flying fingers belonging to staff members and community residents, were distributed across the country by U-M students participating in the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.

Living rooms, campus conference tables and even airports became hubs for the production of vibrantly colored, warm hats that found their way to such chilly outposts as the Bahweting Anishnabe School in Sault Ste. Marie; the Appalachian community o f Cranks Creek, Ky.; Hmong refugee children in St. Paul, Minn.; the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota; and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Denver and New York City. Each girl in the Detroit Alternatives for Girls program received a set of mittens/gl oves, hat and scarf.

Lee Burkhardt, administrative assistant in the Department of Chemistry, started knitting and didn't quit until she had finished 100 hats and used up a batch of yarn that was at one time headed for the trash. Turning what is usually a solitary a ctivity into teamwork, Lee enlisted the help of her husband, Wayne, supervisor of laboratory services in the same department, to make pompons for the hats and to take over some of the housework so she could keep knitting and purling.

For others, the opportunity to be of service brought out yarn that had been stored for years in closets and boxes. Members of Ann Arbor's International Neighbors Club and a Senior Center in Livonia pitched in.

"I read about the project in the Record," said Gene Regenstrief, retired from the School of Public Health. "I had a pile of yarn around for three or four years. I just started knitting. I had time on my hands and yarn in t he house."

Barbara C. Riehl, mathematics and statistics lecturer at the U-M-Dearborn, sent her 54 completed hats to Ann Arbor via campus mail. Making sure no harm came to her creations, Riehl covered the holes in the campus envelopes by lining them with mat h tests.

As word of the knitting project spread and non-knitters became interested, Mary B. Price, administrative manager at the Institute for the Humanities, started knitting lessons in residence halls where s tudents became a part of the spontaneous knitting effort quickly tagged the Knitwits.

Adding to the serendipitous nature of the project, a Record reader in Florida knit her share and brought the results to Ann Arbor in February.

Jane M. Hansen, administrative associate for Near Eastern Studies, managed to knit a sweater for a family member in between churning out hats for the Knitwits project.

Melissa T. Zakhary, administrative associate in the Office of the Dean of Students, summed up what most Knitwits felt about participating in the project. "Having a connection with the students," she said, "that's what's really impo rtant."

"From Project SERVE and the ASB Program, we offer our most bountiful thanks to the wonderful people who have given their precious time and creativity to children who will obtain warmth from your love-filled hands," Amanda K. Rajabzadeh t old the Knitwits. Rajabzadeh is a Project SERVE site leader and library assistant at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.

While the flying fingers may slow down for a while, the Knitwits have no thoughts of stopping. Needleworkers across the U-M campuses and adjoining communities will continue making hats, caps, scarves, and mittens for next year's Project SERVE si tes and for anyone in this or other Michigan communities needing the warmth created by two needles clicking.

For additional information about Knitwits, to obtain patterns, or to donate yarn or that knitting machine gathering dust under the bed, call Lisa Weiss, 763-5493, or send e-mail to