Two-needle knitting takes time to grasp, so members of The Loving Stitches figured they'd make a quicker impression at Albany Options School by teaching with circular looms.

They didn't count on just how quick their pupils would be.

"We got them started, and they just went nuts, I guess," said Darlene Chambers, one of the tutors. "The next day, some of them had them done."

Fellow knitter Helen Smith added the volunteers hadn't even told the students how to finish the tops of the knitted caps they were teaching them to make.

"We left them an instruction book and they just figured it out," she said.

The Loving Stitches is made up of retired educators who meet monthly to knit, sew and crochet items for charity organizations.

AOS Principal Candy Baker, a longtime friend of Smith's, approached her in September about creating a community service partnership with the alternative high school program. Since then, one or two members of the handwork group has come to AOS weekly, providing supplies and expertise.

As of late November, students had piled a classroom table with 26 hats, and some had a few more at home.

Most of the hats will be donated to Helping Hands homeless shelter, and to babies and toddlers at Samaritan Albany General Hospital and the school's teen parent program.

Baker said she struck a "donate one, keep one" deal with her students.

Some plan to give hats for Christmas gifts.

Chrissy Bursell, 15, made one for her mother's birthday, to keep her warm following chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Heather Moore, 18, made a cap for her 10-month-old son.

"It's pretty easy," said Micaela Herrera, 18. "It has been fun. Actually, I'm going to be doing more as a hobby."

Shawn Kites, 16, said the craft was a snap to learn.

"I was like, whoa, I've never done this before. I've crocheted before, but not really anything like this," he said. "It's pretty relaxing. Something to do when you don't have anything to do."

Next semester, Baker said, she hopes to offer more fabric arts classes, such as rug-braiding or tie-dye.

In the meantime, AOS is accepting more yarn donations to keep the hat project going.

"I love it because the kids have such a sense of accomplishment with it," teacher Kelly Muller said.

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