TRAVERSE CITY — Busy switchboard operator Sherry White welcomes Friday — and not just because it's the end of the work week.
Friday is the day the Munson Medical Center staffer gets together with the Knitting Circle for Charity, a small group of women at the Grand Traverse Senior Center with one thing in common.
"My days are very, very hectic and it's nice to come in here and relax," said White, who sat knitting at a rectangular table overlooking Grand Traverse Bay on a recent Friday afternoon. "And it's a beautiful view."
The women began meeting in March to knit with a purpose. They make and donate chemotherapy caps, baby items and winter hats and mittens to Munson's Infusion Clinic, the Grand Traverse Baby Pantry and the Goodwill Inn. Community Mental Health soon may be added to that list.
"I'd seen these stories on TV where these girls make hundreds of quilts for charities," said group leader Diane Solem, who is employed at the center through the mature and disadvantaged worker training and employment program, Experience Works. "I quilt but I'm slow, so I thought, 'What else can we do?'"
Solem said the circle has about five to 10 regulars depending on the weather and the time of year, though others donate yarn or knit for the cause at home. Knitters can choose from one of Solem's patterns or use their own.
Each donated item bears the tag: "This item was made with love. We hope it brings you some comfort." Knitters also work on their own projects and sell others at the sales corner in the Center's lobby.
Mittens and hats donated to the Grand Traverse Baby Pantry housed at Bethlehem Lutheran Church are distributed to qualified Grand Traverse residents with children 4 or under, said pantry director Sally Hanley.
"It's really important, especially hats," Hanley said. "I've even shared them with the receptionist desk at the Government Center to give to people who come in without hats, and they do. We just don't like seeing people in the winter without hats."
Bobbie Sladek has always knit, but only for family and friends until joining the knitting circle — and only as a solitary hobby.
"I do it at home, too, but I thought it would be fun to get to know others," said Sladek, who was working on a man's gray cap. "And you run out of family to knit for."
For White and newcomer Devlin O'Brien, the circle also is a way to advance their skills by learning from others.
"I've knit for years and years, but I could only knit and purl," White said. "I couldn't read a pattern or get it from paper to my hand."
O'Brien came to her first session with a pattern, needles and nubby yarn for a baby sweater, which proved to be too complicated.
"This would be my first project. I'm just getting started," she said. "I love yarn. I walked into that yarn shop and it was a little slice of heaven."
While White comes to the circle directly from work, Marlene Evans only has to walk a few steps from the adjoining room, where she plays poker just before. She also participates in the center's mahjong, dance, lunch and "meet-and-eat" international food programs.
"That's one thing about coming here," said Evans, who has knit on and off for 65 years. "A lot of us are alone, live by ourselves. We have somewhere to go."
Like the others, White said the weekly knitting circle is a welcome retreat where the only sounds are the quiet clack of needles, idle chatter about projects and doctors or live music from the jazz band that practices next door.
"It's a time strictly for myself, to forget any other responsibilities, relax, not think about them or anybody else," she said.