Monday, October 31, 2011

Thoughts on Charity Projects

Practical Crocheter talked a little about needlework and charity in her last post. There are some wonderful opportunities out there for knitters and crocheters to use their skills to benefit others, ranging from nonprofits that take donations of finished projects, to opportunities to teach, and beyond. So I thought I'd mention a few unorthodox ideas.

First, practical crocheter mentioned she had some "ugly afghans" that are too big to give to veterinary hospitals. Many animal clinics and especially shelters take donations of old blankets and towels, because the kennels the animals sleep in are too cold and hard without any kind of bedding. Since the bedding is likely to get messy and torn, and the animals don't really care what it looks like, you can donate things that you would never donate for human use. And when these blankets and towels become too worn to use as bedding, many shelters cut them into strips and transform them into tug-o-war toys for dogs.

For example, I have two baby blankets (both handmade...sigh) that had a tragic encounter with the dryer. They got caught in my dryer door, and the part that was caught shredded. It really isn't worth my time to repair them, so I've cut out the loose threads and opened the holes (don't want anything getting caught!). At some point, I will donate them to my local Humane Society shelter.

Practical Crocheter said her blankets are too big. However, a large blanket can always be cut down to a better size. It could also be used at its original size as a horse blanket. However, I would only cut down a blanket that has big holes in it. A blanket made from wool can be felted and cut down to make especially warm animal bedding.

For those who are a little more creative, old wool blankets, socks, and sweaters can be felted and transformed into stuffed animals. The resulting critters can make charming gifts for your own children, but they may do more good if donated to a women's shelter, police department, or children's hospital, where they can comfort children who are trying to cope with difficult situations.

When it comes to giving of one's time, Practical Crocheter mentioned groups that teach needlework to prisoners, the young, and the disabled. Here are a few more ideas. Starting a knitting/crocheting circle at a home for the elderly is another option. Not only does needlework help people in nursing homes keep their minds sharp and active, it gives them an opportunity for social engagement with each other. And those who already know how to knit can teach others who are interested. Learning can happen at any age.

Teaching the young reminded me of knitting circles that were created during World War II. They were often created as an extension of home ec classes as an opportunity for girls to hone their knitting skills as they contributed to the war effort by making socks and such for the troops. Creating a charity-focused knitting class for high school students could be a good way to spread a skill, help others, and provide an opportunity for students to meet their community service requirements at school. For children, it could help them earn badges in 4-H or Scout troops. Of course, anyone who offers classes like this would benefit from donations of materials.

In all of this, I thought I would mention again, that I have set aside a day every week (Saturday, for me) when I only work on charity projects. I put away anything I am making for my own family or friends and take out something that I am making to donate. It's been a really nice way to avoid boredom in my projects and make sure that I actually get a little charity work done. At this point, I have completed several baby blankets this way and am now working on an afghan to donate to Warm Up America. Once that's done, I think I'll work on some hats.

One of the really satisfying things about needlework is that it is fundamentally constructive--both physically and socially. It creates relationships when people come together in circles. It reinforces relationships when we produce items for others--especially items that are truly needed. Best of all, it puts us in a mindset of seeking needs to fill, and filling needs is a really important part of reinforcing community.

Do you do any charity knitting? What's your favorite organization? What are you working on now?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Comfort afghans

Thinking about yarns, I am looking at the blankets around me. Between the weather and hormones, I have 4 blankets/afghans on my bed: One is a color block afghan I made back in the early 1970’s out of acrylic yarn from Woolworths. (Gosh, that was 40 years ago!)

Warning: the others are distinctly scrap afghans, which are not for just anyone, and that is okay, too. Another layer is made from a fluffy bulky weight yarn called Charleston that was discontinued some time ago, worked in a log-cabin style, with one ball of yarn for each block, starting in the center. A friend had bought bunches of it and then moved on to preferring something else, so she passed that bit of stash on to me. After making sweaters and blankets out of most of it, this came from using up the last of it.

It can be very satisfying to make what I call ugly afghans: pulling together different yarns or combining collections of motifs that different people started. It is always surprising to see how the motley-est collection of yarns takes on a solid personality in the finished piece. Most of these afghans go to charity, if they look decent, but sometimes, well,
the third afghan on my bed is an ugly afghan made in a log cabin style with lots of different leftover acrylic yarns: starting with a block made from one ball of yarn, I added rows on one side with each new ball of yarn, rotating the piece so each new block is on a different side. I did not get the gauge quite right, so the whole thing does not lie square. It is too ugly to give away, and too big to give to a veterinary clinic for the animals to use, so it is on my bed, where it works just fine.

And finally, another ugly afghan made from blocks that are fast to make and joined in the last round. I was very naughty with this afghan, using up single skeins of different fiber content from my stash: the yarn ranges from acrylic to hand-wash wool, so it will be a challenge when the day comes to launder it. All these styles and yarns made me think about the price of yarn and what the money to buy yarn really represents.

With the economy these days, the price of yarn is tricky to understand. Some yarn is expensive because you are paying for all the marketing and advertising around it. Some yarn is expensive because it is made out of really rare stuff that is carefully manufactured. Some yarn is cheap because it is made to be sold cheaply. Some yarn is cheap because it is an out-dated color or texture. Some cheap yarns last and last, while some expensive yarns are delicate and wear out quickly -- but the opposite is also true, so the sturdiness of the yarn is not directly connected with the price.

And then, of course, different people simply prefer different yarns. I have heard some women explain that they never use animal fibers because it makes them break out in a rash, but I have also met a woman who cannot work with acrylic because it made her fingers bleed. But back to pricing: after all that, some yarn companies and yarn shops are raising or lowering the prices on yarns depending on how well or poorly they sell. Yarns that don’t sell well to the independent yarn shops sometimes end up in dollar stores. In general, I have been the most creative with yarns I get cheaply -- it gives me a sense of freedom. I do very simple things with the really expensive yarns, not wanting to mess up with a limited material.

And aside from what is available at yarn shops - both brick-and-mortar and virtual - the thrift stores can have a surprising variety of yarn. Sometimes they have some real treasures. I have favorite sweaters are made from yarn I got at the thrift store. Other times, if I can afford it, I snatch up a basketful to donate: there are people who teach knitting and crocheting to young people, to people with handicaps, and to people in jail. All those efforts need yarn and tools to keep going, and the generous ladies who maintain that inventory and do the teaching don‘t have time to keep an eye on all the local thrift stores. Of course, there are lots of charities out there, too, for finished pieces. There seems to be a place and a time for just about everything, and it feels really good to be able to pay attention to that.