Nine-year-old Lyta Gallant puts her knitting before her chocolate brownie. And she loves chocolate brownies.
Lyta, a student at Hammond Elementary School, learned to knit at the 100th meeting of Columbia Sip and Knit, an open-invitation knitting club for beginners and pros alike.
But surrounding her weren't the usual suspects.
There's Dorothy, the library science teacher, Maura, the engineer, and Adrienne, the construction project engineer who comes to the meetings so she can talk to women.
There's Liz, the horseback rider and runner, and Lynn, who can knit and ride on the back of her husband's motorcycle at the same time. Professionals, doctoral students, moms, store owners and businesswomen. One has been knitting for 59 years, and one has been knitting for five minutes.
The group held its 100th meeting last week at Panera Bread in Columbia's Dobbin Center, with more than 30 members in attendance. The group meets at 7 p.m. every Wednesday, and the best part is that there are no dues, no committees to join and no requirements to show up each week, said Lynn Zwerling, the group's organizer.
Zwerling, of Columbia, found herself very distressed during the October 2002 sniper attacks, and decided that she needed to pick up a hobby to keep her mind off the news. Her mother, Pearl, was a great knitter but always told her daughter to go outside and play, Zwerling said. Years later, and for a very different reason, Zwerling went on the Internet and learned how to knit.
"I was really upset, and I was just fixating on it and fixating on it," she said. "Knitting was just so relaxing, and it really took my mind off the whole situation."
And then the concept grew in a most unexpected way. It was not by word of mouth or fliers or phone calls. It was, once again, online. Zwerling said she believes that the Internet is geared toward women.
In fall 2006, Zwerling considered using Facebook and MySpace to promote the knitting group before landing on Meetup.com, a social networking Web site where members can search for groups by interest. She created a page for Columbia Sip and Knit, which has grown to 168 members.
Leigh Spearman, 28 and a graduate of Wilde Lake High School, attended the group's first meeting in October 2006. She joined because she was trying to quit smoking, and she knew she couldn't go to the bars with friends and kick the habit at the same time.
"I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started," she said. "But I like the people that come, and knitting is something I can do with the group or while watching TV, and then I actually have something to show for it."
But Bridget Fredstrom, 29, of Columbia has had the opposite problem.
"Sometimes, ... I go around and talk to everyone, and at the end I realize I haven't knitted much at all," she said. "You see someone working on a project you admire, and they're right there to teach you. That 'oh, it's gorgeous' reaction is the best one."
And everyone is always working on different projects. Members work at their own pace with their own designs and templates - showing off striped socks, beaded scarves, colorful handbags and a green baby sweater. The exception to this free-for-all is a "knit-along," when participants select one project to work on for a meeting.
Aside from knit-alongs and meeting Wednesday nights, the group participates in other programs.
Worldwide Knit in Public Day is Saturday, and members of Columbia Sip and Knit will gather at 10:30 a.m. at Kings Contrivance Village Center to show that knitting can be a very public hobby, said Zwerling, the group's organizer.
And this isn't the only special initiative.
"We participate in the Red Scarf Project, which sends scarves to foster children in college, the ones who don't have families to send them care packages around Valentine's Day," Zwerling said. "And also, for soldiers in Iraq - the military gives them helmets but doesn't provide helmet liners. So we make those and send them over."
Denise Ciotti, 46, of Laurel is an assistant vice president of sales in Washington and is the assistant organizer of the group. She said members can attend group knitting retreats twice a year. The February retreat was to North Carolina, stopping at yarn stores along the way. The four-day fall retreat to Harpers Ferry starts Oct. 17 and will feature classes, demonstrations and a similar "yarn crawl," Ciotti said.
"This is just a wonderful group because everyone's so welcome," she said. "When life gets in the way, no one will ask why you haven't been showing up because most of these women have careers and families. Plus, we don't gossip and get into everyone's business - we're not catty."
She said attendance seems to dwindle just a bit when Project Runway and American Idol get into full blast.
Chris Gallant, 46, of Scaggsville, who attends with her daughter, Lyta, said she has caught the knitting bug. She was a new knitter when she started in April, and she already has whipped up a beret and a tan shawl with buttons.
"I'm stunned to see so many people here, especially young people," Gallant said. "I just love this group. Everyone's so friendly and helpful. It's a great group."
The Columbia Sip and Knit will gather at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Kings Contrivance Village Center to celebrate Worldwide Knit in Public Day. Information: Lynn Zwerling. 410-997-3965.