FARMINGTON, Maine — It’s tempting to refer to Martha Gulliver, 75, of Farmington as the Mitten Lady of Maine. But she would be the first to squelch that idea. She is a practical, down-to-earth woman who simply enjoys knitting mittens to warm the hands of schoolchildren she has never met.
“I don’t want thanks. It gives me pleasure to know someone can use them. I have nothing else to do with my hands and it gives me something to do,” she said.
Recently, she sent 28 pairs of mittens to her daughter, Brenda Deveau, a member of the school board for SAD 24 in Van Buren. On behalf of her mother, Deveau saw that the mittens were donated to the elementary school in Van Buren. Deveau said her mother has made a total of 150 pairs of mittens for the school over a period of several years.
“It’s always heartwarming when someone takes the time to do something for kids they don’t even know,” said Chad Bell, principal of Van Buren Gateway Elementary School and Van Buren District Secondary School. “Kids lose mittens, or don’t have mittens. A mitten gets a hole in it. Kids are kids and that’s what happens.”
Gulliver knits mittens all year long, pausing only during the hottest months of summer when she crochets doilies and dishcloths.
She also knits mittens destined for students in her grandson’s classroom in Jay.
The mitten pattern she uses is one she has worked out on her own to fit hands of all sizes. Once she has figured out the number of stitches to cast on and the number of inches required to fit a specific hand, she stores that information on her computer. If she meets someone with a hand size she thinks she may not have, she asks that person to make a tracing on a sheet of paper, including the maintenance man where she lives. Then, the man commented he didn’t understand how anyone could wear wool socks. “I told him to take off his boot and trace around his foot,” Gulliver said. “And a week later he had a nice handknit pair of socks. Then he knew.”
Gulliver, who grew up in Dover-Foxcroft and raised a family in Millinocket, said she can complete a pair of mittens in a day or two, knitting in the evening while she watches television or in spare moments during the day. She uses yarns in both boy and girl colors that can be washed and dried in a dryer.
“If you have to do something, it’s not fun,” she said, “but if you like to do it and someone appreciates it, you can’t do enough of it. It’s not a chore. I make the same mittens I made for my four children when they were little.”
She spent 25 years of her life working in a nursing home. She said her sense of taking care of people has been with her all her life.
“It carries on,” she said.
Gulliver learned to knit when she was 8 or 9 years old. Her mother was sickly, she said, and on days when she was unable to do anything else, she taught Gulliver to knit. “I thought knitting was the nicest thing anybody could do,” she said. “It’s something that lives with you. My mother always made sure we had plenty of mittens — when you grow up knowing you can go in and get a dry pair of mittens when the ones you have on are wet, that means a lot.”