Learn why the Mad Hatters knit for local cancer patients

The Mad Hatters (from left) Sue Hanauer of Riverhead, Harold Gordon of Mattituck, Rita Cohen of Southold and Prue Brashich of Cutchogue during last week's bi-monthly knitting session at Ms. Hanover's kitchen table. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
The Mad Hatters (from left) Sue Hanauer of Riverhead, Harold Gordon of Mattituck, Rita Cohen of Southold and Prue Brashich of Cutchogue during last week’s bi-monthly knitting session at Ms. Hanover’s kitchen table. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

In 2003, Sue Hanauer was working on a project with fellow North Fork Reform Synagogue members when she developed the idea for Mad Hatters, which knits hats for local cancer patients.

“We were finishing a quilt cover for a wooden ark and were talking about what we wanted to do next,” said Ms. Hanauer, of Jamesport. “I had heard about a nationwide group that was doing caps for women and brought that to their attention. They liked the idea and the rest is history, as they say.”

In the 12 years since Mad Hatters was formed, Ms. Hanauer said, the group has delivered more than 2,700 seamless caps to Eastern Long Island Hematology and Oncology’s offices in Riverhead and Southampton for distribution to chemotherapy patients who have lost their hair.

“Sue brought the idea to us,” said Lynn Kay Winters, a practice administrator at ELIHO’s Riverhead office. “And we thought it was a wonderful idea. We provide funding for their yarn and then place them in little baskets in the waiting room, where people can just kind of shop on their own.”

Mad Hatters’ eight members meet biweekly at Ms. Hanauer’s home in Maidstone Landing. There, they knit or crochet at her expansive dining room table, discussing everything from the latest books and movies to current events and personal struggles.

This sense of camaraderie has been very important to Harold Gordon of Mattituck, the group’s only male member.

Mr. Gordon said he was grieving his partner’s sudden death in 2003 when his good friend Ms. Hanauer invited him to join Mad Hatters, he said.

“I had learned to knit when I was a kid,” Mr. Gordon said. “Sue said, ‘Why don’t you come knit with us?’ So I did and it was just a fun thing to do. My mother had breast cancer, my sister has it and my nieces are candidates for it.”

Ms. Winters said patients at ELIHO, most of whom are women, express a range of emotions upon seeing the hats, which are frequently replenished and designed without seams so they’re comfortable enough to sleep in.

“It’s very painful for someone to lose their hair,” she said. “People are very touched. They can’t believe someone would spend time on these beautiful designs for someone they might not even know.”

Ms. Hanauer, who knits at least one hat a week, said she enjoys the giving process inherent to Mad Hatters’ mission but also finds joy in the group’s social aspect.

“Knitting brings people together,” she said.

The Mad Hatters have left their mark on the East End, Ms. Winters said.

“We’re such a small community that I suspect some of the Mad Hatters have been in the grocery store and seen their creations,” Ms. Winters said. “You know, patients are very grateful. There are plenty of options online but there’s nothing that beats yarn some local person with a lot of talent knitted.

I think that’s very special and patients pick up on that right away.”

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