Delicate work for a worthy cause

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PITTSFIELD

Gertrude Treat is the last of the "knit wits."

Seven days a week, from 9 to 11: 30 a.m., you can find the 95-year-old grandmother of six -- and great-grandmother of four -- in the sunny Country Kitchen at EPOCH Assisted Living at Melbourne with needlework in hand. She patiently counts the stitches, double checks the color chart on her pattern and expertly pulls the embroidery thread through the small table topper she's working on.

"I have a list of 21 people," she said of her growing, handwritten wait list of orders for her delicate embroidery work. "I've done 22 tablecloths in seven years. Hopefully, I'll live for quite a while.

"I tell people, ‘You do realize I probably won't get to it?' But if I do, I do," she said with a giggle and unapologetic shrug of her sweater-covered shoulders.

For $100, you can purchase one of Treat's tablecloths, embroidered with a pattern of your choice -- a small price to pay for the intricate handiwork and the long-lasting benefits of the organization she donates 100 percent of the profits to.

"I give the money to HospiceCare [in the Berkshires]," said the Ohio native who moved to Pittsfield in 1942 with her husband, Charles Treat, a former safety engineer at General Electric. "It's a wonderful organization. They took such good care of my husband in the end."

She joined a group of women at EPOCH who called themselves the "knit wits," about six years ago after her husband passed away and she found herself with extra time on her hands.

"I had nothing to do," she said. "I would walk around. There was a group of women called the knit wits, they knitted and crocheted." The items they created were then donated to EPOCH's annual craft fair to raise money for HospiceCare. She remembers there wasn't room for her at the table at first, so she sat off to the side and embroidered. Today, she's the last remaining member, keeping the knit-wit legacy alive with each pull of the brightly colored thread.

"I enjoy doing it," she said as she pulled a stack of needlework magazines from a hidden basket under the small seat on her rolling walker, which the healthy great-grandmother uses "for balance."

"She has such a big heart," said Sherry Pease, life enrichment director at EPOCH, who helps Treat order requested patterns, collect and deliver the money to hospice. "Everybody that walks by there knows her and what she's doing."

On a sunny Thursday morning, Treat is interrupted three or four times by residents stretching their legs on a walk around the main floor.

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"Oh, Gert, did you finish that one? It's so beautiful," one woman said, parking her walker along side Treat's to admire her most recent work of art -- a burlap pillowcase with satin-stitch red flowers in full-thread bloom.

Treat may have a waiting list to tackle, but she doesn't mind the interruptions.

"I call it my social hour," she said.

But don't think her needle is slowing down. Pease estimates that Treat has raised about $3,000.

"If not a little more," she said. "That's a safe number. She's amazing."

Treat began cross-stitching somewhere around the age of 5 or 6, she said, when her mother taught her the craft. Today, though, she sticks with embroidering over the more traditional cross-stitch.

"I like the big showy stuff, it's more exciting," she said. "And then everyone walking by can watch the whole progress."

She kept at it for years, but then life, a house, a husband, two children and a job came along and she didn't get to pick up an embroidery needle too often. Today, she said, she finds the work helps with her arthritis and keeps her eyesight in top shape -- though, occasionally she does bleed for the cause.

"Oh, I get myself with the needle sometimes," she said with a laugh. "But I always wash and iron the tablecloths before I give them to the people."

Pease helps present the finished project by sometimes taking tablecloths home to sew a finished edge for Treat.

"We can't give it to someone not finished," she said. "That's how we both feel."

All this fuss over her handiwork makes Treat smile shyly with a giggle. She's just happy to keep busy doing what she loves and help people at the same time.

"She's too cute," said Pease. "She's very sweet, humble and doesn't think much of it at all. It's just a part of her day."


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