By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Knit one, purl two. Or was that knit two, purl one? With no less than 1,600 hats behind her, it’s a mystery how Carolyn Riley manages to keep track. The woman doesn’t leave home without her knitting needles.
“That is my waiting time and my navigational time,” said Riley. That means that if she’s in a waiting room, she’s knitting. And while her husband of 51 years, Rich, is driving, she navigates while she knits.
She rarely knits at home, so her knitting supplies are gathered in a big bag, ready to go with her out the door. Inside the bag are her bamboo needles, circularly connected with nylon.
“I never know how long I’m going to have to sit and wait,” said Riley.
Riley, 73, remembers knitting in her teens. Born and raised on a Grant County farm, her mother taught her the craft. Once she started, she was on a roll. By the time she graduated from high school in Fairmount, her knitting career was launched, including sweaters, baby blankets, hats and scarves.
“She knitted me a sweater when I was about 20,” husband Rich recalled the bright red sweater that didn’t quite fit.
“I ended up ripping that sweater out and making something else with it,” Riley said, laughing.
Nowadays, Riley mostly knits caps — a lot of them. She launched her charitable cap effort in 2005.
“I saw an article in a magazine about chemo caps,” said Riley. “I went online and got the pattern.”
Riley knitted up about a hundred hats. A friend from church, Belinda Gillaspey, was a nurse in the outpatient oncology unit at St. John's (now St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital). Riley approached her to see if the hospital patients undergoing chemotherapy could use the caps. Riley's been making deliveries ever since.
“I’ve always enjoyed knitting and it’s something I can do to help somebody else,” said Riley.
Each of the caps that Riley knits is unique. If she makes solid colors caps, they are knit in different patterns. She may mix in stripes of other colors of yarn left over from other projects.
“I do not intentionally make any two alike,” said Riley. “I do different stitches. I try to make every one different.”
It takes Riley anywhere from a half-hour to a little more than two hours to make a cap, depending on the complexity of the pattern.
“I have my pattern in my fingers I’ve made so many,” said Riley. She makes one size for women, and another for men, using very soft, synthetic yarns. Riley has allergies of her own, which makes her thoughtful about the materials she uses in her creations for others.
A few years ago, Riley also started making hats for Man4Man Ministries, a rehabilitation agency for ex-offenders in Anderson.
“They’ve had people come in with nothing,” said Riley. The hats are set out at the facility. “If the fellow needs it, he takes it.”
“Carolyn’s a special lady,” said Jeffrey Dowers, of Man4 Man. “We deal with a lot men who are homeless, transient, have very little resources …. It makes a huge impact on their comfort. And knowing they’re homemade – that adds a little warmth, too …. The guys wear them all winter.”
Riley knitted her way through life. That included earning degrees at Ball State University, having a career as a teacher in Indianapolis, and raising three kids. Riley and her husband moved to Anderson in 2000.
The pair are actively involved In First Friends Church, helping out with the food pantry there for more than 10 years. The couple was honored for all their charitable service with the Golden Hoosier award in 2012.
Riley is self-effacing about her charitable endeavors. “Those of us who do it think ‘So what?’” For those gifted with the token of love and care from a stranger, however, it’s priceless.
Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.