It ran as a small notice in the Daily Calendar section of The Daily Times. The Tennessee Valley Machine Knitters would be meeting from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at Alcoa First United Methodist Church.

Nothing unusual about that. This group of machine knitters from all over the area come together to knit on a regular basis. It’s the reason they were meeting that piqued this newspaper’s interest. They would be knitting possum-themed items.

On that Tuesday, about a dozen or so of the knitters were churning out possum purses and scarves. One of the members, Helen Prinz, created the purse pattern being used. The scarves are the result of the creativity of Sharon McCarty.

It was a second attempt for the purse. The first possum purse stood upright, but Prinz said she opted to create one that was flat and easier to produce. It was a huge hit.

The real question is why possums? There are cuter, cuddlier animals on the planet. But these possums had a purpose, the knitters said. They will serve as prizes for the annual Corryton Possum Chase to be held Oct. 6 in Corryton. The race will feature both a 2-mile and 8-mile course. All of the proceeds will benefit the Corryton Community Food Pantry.

Tennessee Valley Machine Knitters member Becky Grindstaff got this possum assembly line moving. A runner who lives in Corryton, she is involved with the Corryton Possum Chase and said she and other organizers needed a way to attract more runners.

Why not offer these purses and scarves, Grindstaff surmised. She asked her talented group of knitters to help and they were in agreement. Runners can win them as door prizes and other awards. The medals for age group winners also are possum shaped.

Prinz is one of the charter members of this machine knitting family. She said members drive here from Athens, Madisonville, Crossville, Oak Ridge, Morristown, Blountville and Corryton.

Joan Suggs, club president, travels here from Oak Ridge. She has been in the group for about eight years.

“I saw an ad in the paper, and I wanted to know what a knitting machine looked like,” she said. “I got here to the meeting and heard them all hooting and hollering and having a good time before I even get to the room. I said, ‘This is the club for me.’ I joined in.”

Heart to help others

Over the years, these machine knitters have provided lap robes to the elderly; socks, afghans for Ronald McDonald House and hats for chemotherapy patients. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital is a frequent recipient of their talents.

Grindstaff said she is very grateful that her fellow knitters agreed to take the project on. She said the name of the race, the Corryton Possum Chase, came about because Corryton has a lot of these critters roaming about. Runners come into contact with them on rural routes, she said, both alive and as roadkill.

This will be the fourth annual event. Grindstaff said that first year, they offered possum prizes as a joke. Last year, winners were given nice duffle bags; they preferred possum swag instead.

“People were like, ‘Where are the possums?’” she said, laughing. “They came for the possums.”

So, the Tennessee Valley Machine Knitters will not disappoint. They were at the workshop all day to make as many possum purses and scarves as possible.

Jerry Arp stood out as the only man in attendance. He has only been in the organization since January. He already knew how to hand-knit but wanted to learn how by machine. “It’s a great group to learn from,” he said.

The machines come in various gauges to accommodate the wide range of yarns. Fine, standard, mid-gauge and bulky/chunky are the choices. Machine knitters use coned yarn instead of skeins. They can knit most anything a hand knitter can do — and a whole lot faster.

Over on another machine, Jackie Johnson was busy completing her possum-themed item. She has been in the club for quite some time. “This has to be one of the most fun projects,” she said.

Prinz admitted this was a first. It took her about eight or 10 weeks to put together a workable pattern. The purses are large enough that a cellphone can be placed inside.

“I have never made anything possum related,” she said. “And after working for two and a half months on the pattern, I probably never will again.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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