INDIANAPOLIS -- A nationwide army of knitters, crocheters and weavers has created more than 13,000 blue-and-white scarves to help keep Super Bowl volunteers warm and highly visible when the big game comes to this cold-weather city.
Thousands of scarf-makers, from great-grandmothers to prison inmates, put in hours of work on the 6-foot-long scarves.
Super Bowl organizers hoped to get 8,000 scarves – one for each volunteer. They ended up with thousands more, sent from 45 states, as well as Belgium, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The designs vary widely, from simple blue-and-white stripes to intricately plotted Super Bowl themes.
The idea behind the Super Scarves program was to give the unpaid volunteers "a warm thank you" to keep them snug during the week leading up to the Feb. 5 game and make it easy for visitors to the city to identify someone who can give directions and other help, said host committee spokeswoman Dianna Boyce.
She said the scarves program was inspired by a similar effort staged a few years ago by the Special Olympics. Each scarf is adorned with an official Super Bowl host-city patch – all sewn on by inmates at the Indiana Women's Prison.
Bev Meska, an 82-year-old retired school secretary from Michigan City, Ind., was the most prolific of the more than 3,000 Super Bowl scarf-makers. She planned on crocheting only a few when she set to work in April 2010, after her daughter emailed her a link to the project website.
But Meska, who's been crocheting since age 16 and has made hundreds of afghans over the decades, ended up creating a staggering 250 scarves by November's deadline. She estimates she spent three to four hours on each one, using crocheting's single-hooked needle. Each of her scarves sports tasseled or fringed ends.
Every day, Meska said, she used her spare time to work on the scarves, often as she and her 12-year-old great-grandson, Ben Fore-Knight, watched sporting events, including NFL games. She said Ben kept encouraging her to make more. During the summers, she took her scarf work to nearby Lake Michigan.
"I crocheted everywhere – even down on the beach. I took my lawn chair and basket down there and worked away on them," she said.
Meanwhile, a group of inmates at a state prison in Indianapolis who call themselves the Naptown Knitters were learning how to knit, guided by prison volunteer Doreen Tatnall.
Tatnall, a real estate agent, didn't know how to knit either when she started. But she and 17 inmates at the 350-inmate Indianapolis Re-Entry Educational Facility, where inmates go as their release date nears, learned together by following YouTube instructional videos.
The men slowly picked up speed, creating more than two dozen scarves. Two prison staff members who knew how to knit gave them lessons during their twice-weekly, two-hour sessions.
"Once you get the hang of it, it's kind of calming. Some of the men said that for a couple of hours they forgot where they were," Tatnall said.
Steve Jordan, a 44-year-old from Kokomo who is due for release the day after the Super Bowl, made three scarves and said he would have made more if not for a prison rule forbidding inmates from taken their plastic knitting needles back to their cells.
Jordan, who is finishing out a murder sentence, said the courses were a nice break from the monotony of prison life.
"Here's a group of a guys sitting around knitting, something we normally don't have inside prison. No tension, everybody just sitting back and laughing. And knitting," he said.
Elsewhere, Belinda Martinez of St. Paul, Minn., knitted 46 scarves, some with elaborate Super Bowl or football designs. One captures in yarn the game's kickoff, showing a player's leg down to the shoe making contact with the ball.
Another pays homage to late "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz, a Minnesota native, rendering in comic-strip style the moment when hapless Charlie Brown once again tries to kick a football held by Lucy, who once again snatches it away.
Martinez let her patriotism show in other scarves, including one that includes the first verse of the National Anthem on one side, and a traditional Scandinavian design on the other.
She also knit a striped, blue-and-white "Uni-Scarf" jumpsuit for the Indianapolis Colts' mascot, a horse named Blue, to promote the Super Scarves project.
Because many of her designs are complex, Martinez, 58, charts her work first on graph paper. She'd often knit while watching football and rooting for Midwestern teams.
"I've been teasing my two brothers for a long time that knitting goes with football, and now I have so much proof that I was right," she said.