Schenectady County

Women gather at Alplaus post office to knit and chat

Every Tuesday a group of six women from Alplaus meet in the local post office to knit and converse.

Every Tuesday a group of six women from Alplaus meet in the local post office to knit and converse.

Postal worker Elizabeth Burke started the group just over a year ago. “I got the idea to start the group to give the ladies and myself a sense of community,” she said as she leaned out the window behind the postal desk.

Burke is proud of the group for helping others while they help themselves. “There’s a strength in numbers,” said Burke, “it keeps the women together and gives them a sense of purpose.” All of the women except Burke are widows.

Around 2 p.m. the women meet at the post office, set up folding chairs in the middle of the floor adjacent to the post office boxes and about three feet from the window of the postal desk. They knit for about an hour.

Except for the stacks of shipping forms, the post office more closely resembles a country store. Everything is wooden and a bit faded, from the paint on the counter to the newspaper clippings hanging on the walls. A customer has to tiptoe past the six knitting women to request a change-of-address form and a book of stamps. The post office building itself consists of two rooms but only occupies one and keeps limited hours.

They don’t just knit. They talk about all sorts of things, from the economy to gardening to the hand-written thank-you note Shirley Sutphen’s granddaughter sent her. Esther Miller, one of the group, brings in her well-worn, yellowing copy of former New York Times reporter Hal Borland’s book, “Twelve Moons of the Year,” and reads a section aloud every week. “Today I’m reading a section about how May is the month of changes,” she said.

The women are chatty and often interrupt and talk over each other, and while the purpose of the group is to knit, knitting isn’t required. Sometimes the group is just good for company as displayed by Helen Robinson who said, “I didn’t bring my needles today. I’m too tired.”

“We talk about everything from birds to finances,” said Herrick, deftly handling her needles as she worked on the sleeve of a pastel-pink child’s sweater. “We also talk about food and swap recipes a lot.”

Most of what they knit during their weekly meetings is donated to various charities. They make sweaters for needy children, which they donate through Guideposts’ Knit For Kids program. The sweaters get sent to children in the United States and around the world. The women also make hats for premature babies that they donate to local hospitals through the New York Capital District Chapter of the Embroiderers Guild of America. “There’s always a need for knitted goods,” says Burke. The women donated 15 handmade sweaters in the last month along with 12 to 15 preemie hats.

“Elizabeth is the prodder,” Miller said. “She keeps us on track and teaches us new things, like Sudoku. She showed me how to do those and now I do it every morning.”

Last Tuesday, Burke showed Shirley DeLuca her newest project, needle punch, which is punching a needle and thread through a tightly pulled piece of cloth to achieve an effect that looks like embroidery. The verdict: “I don’t think my eyes can do that,” DeLuca said of the intricate work.

In the fall, Burke hopes to lead the women in doing some work for Keep America Warm. This is another one of her new ideas, many of which come by word of mouth from the volunteer work she does with Robinson at the Alpha Pregnancy Care Center in Albany. Burke and Robinson teach young mothers how to knit. The women will knit 10-inch squares to be made into blankets and afghans for Keep America Warm.

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