Meet Helene Tallo, the Blanket Lady

Helene Tallo knits over 120 baby blankets a year to send to her son, Dr. Chris Tallo, a pediatrician, who gives them to his new patients at the Children’s Health Center in Fort Wayne, Ind. Janis Hewitt

    Helene Tallo of Montauk knits about 120 baby blankets a year, at least 12 per month. They are given to every newborn infant patient at her son’s pediatric medical practice at the Children’s Health Center in Fort Wayne, Ind. Most of the tiny patients leave their first visit already swaddled in the blue, mint green, purple, or pink coverings.

    Her quest started in 2003, two years after she made a blanket and sent it to her son, Chris Tallo, M.D., who had just opened his own practice and asked her to make some for his patients. He must have known that she had baby blankets of all colors stockpiled in her knitting room, which is chock-full of knitting books and patterns, colorful spools of thread and yarn, and a large variety of intricate tools that she uses to manipulate the computerized Brother knitting machines that are now considered vintage and no longer made.

    A former manicurist and hair salon owner in the Bronx and Larchmont, N.Y., with her husband, Jerry Tallo, a hairstylist, Ms. Tallo fell into the hobby in 1992, when she learned a customer was selling a Brother machine. “I had always been a sewer, so I thought I’d try this,” she said, sitting at one, counting stitches.

    Mr. Tallo poked his head in and said she is in there every day. “It keeps her out of trouble,” he said with a laugh.

    The couple kept a boat in Montauk at the Snug Harbor Marina through the 1970s and moved full time to the hamlet in 1983. They rented a house that they eventually bought on West Lake Drive. Luckily, it came with a den that was turned into Ms. Tallo’s “hobby room.”

    She now owns three of the Brother machines. They fill most of the room. She uses floppy disks and can tweak designs on a monitor as she sees fit. Once it’s ready, she slips the disk into the knitting machine and then follows it from there. In addition to the blankets, she makes sweaters and scarves and does embroidery.

    Since the machines are no longer made, it’s becoming hard for her to find the yarn that they use. She has found a place in England that still sells it, but the shipping costs are too high, she said. Online, she visits a site called Knitting Paradise, where she has found a network of people willing to chat and share tips, patterns, templates, tutorials, and other product information.

    “Meeting people in the knitting world is wonderful. They treat you like family,” Ms. Tallo said.

    Knitters for some reason stop after they have been doing it for about 10 years, she said, so yarns, hooks, and various pieces of equipment often can be found on eBay. “Machine knitting is at a low right now, but it’ll come back.”

    She spends about a day and half making each blanket, but they don’t all go to the babies. If you’re lucky enough to be a friend of Ms. Tallo’s, she will pull out a stack of her completed projects and tell you to choose one.

    In the last 10 years she has made more than 1,200 blankets — all for little ones she has never met. But she does have a few photographs that parents have sent to her showing newborns wrapped tight in their new knitted blankets made by the lady in Montauk.