Podcast Episode 22 – Crafting in times of Crisis

The Craft Room Podcast, episode 22, Crafting in Times of Crisis

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Today we are talking about crafting in times of crisis. We crafters are really good at this … we’ve done it so many times before and we are doing it right now. Over the past few weeks, watching the craft community band together to make a very big difference to Australia’s wildlife carers, I’ve felt very proud to be a crafter. I’ve had a lot of thoughts, a lot of emotions, and thought we could talk about ways we can use our crafting superpowers for the greater good.

When someone is suffering … our friends, our family, our community, our country, our world at large … we feel, as human beings, like we wish there was something we could do. Obviously the go-to response is to make a monetary donation. But sometimes even if you do make that donation, you still feel like it’s not enough. We wish that we, personally, could physically do something to help right now. And as crafters I think we are really lucky and privileged because there is often something that we can do with our own two hands right now to help out. Here are the top five ways that we, as crafters, can help in times of crisis.

1. Make physical items

Not every crisis is going to call on your crafting area of expertise, but sometimes it will. And in those moments, we can make physical items that can be used to help. Right now let’s talk Australian bushfires. There has been a call out for a lot of items to assist wildlife carers to provide urgent care to Australian birds, animals and reptiles affected by the bushfires raging around the country. Joey pouches, koala mittens, bat wraps, bird & rodent nests, blankets, possum boxes and more. The list is actually rather small, but the volume required is enormous. If you can sew, knit, crochet or do basic woodwork, you can make something on this list.

Many years ago, there were big oil spills around Phillip Island that affected greatly the local penguin population. The call went out for people to knit penguin jumpers … and people did. It was not long before there were enough, in fact, too many penguin jumpers and the needs of the carers had been met. There are so many different charities that you can use your skills to support with a physical item that you have made. So that is a way that we really feel like we can be helping.

2. Donate from your stash

Perhaps you are in a phase of life where you are being pulled in 50 different directions with a to-do list that feels like it will never be done. And as much as you really would like to be knitting penguin jumpers or sewing Joey pouches, you just don’t have the time. You may have the resources needed, like a great stash of fabric or yarn, but time is a commodity in scarce supply.  In this instance you can do something incredibly valuable by donating some of your stash to somebody else who does have the time. Perhaps there are people in your community in a different phase of life who may be retired, house-bound, between jobs, on vacation or stay-at-home mums. They have the time but maybe they don’t have the physical materials. You can donate your excess stash to the people who have excess time and the two of you, together, are helping to create something that can be donated and used.

3. Teach

If teaching is your superpower, you can teach those who want to help but don’t know how. In one of the Facebook groups I belong to, there have been a number of posts from people who are teaching their friends, teaching in their community, teaching complete strangers, teaching family members …  how to crochet a nest or to sew a Joey pouch or bat wrap. People are getting together as families, with mums sewing up bat wraps, and the kids are stuffing the little pillow section. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an expert, if you can do the basics, you can probably teach the basics. I mean, you’re not teaching them to make a couture gown you’re teaching them to make a bat wrap.  In times like these, when large quantities of items are needed, we are just one person, with limited hours in the day and therefore our capacity to create is limited. When you’re teaching one person, why not teach two … or three. It takes the same amount of time, and now that investment of time is going to ripple out. You might be able to crochet one bird nest per night, and maybe you take one night off to teach 3 friends how to make them. That’s not the loss of one birds nest, because the next evening instead of you creating just one nest, now there are 3 new people making them, so there will be 4 nests made. Now there are more crafters making for animals and people and communities in need.

4. Spread the word

Perhaps you are lying in a hospital bed and all you can do is scroll through your phone right now. Or you’re on a deadline at work, you have a sick baby, or you’re overwhelmed with Christmas preparation. As much as you’d like to, you can’t make a joey pouch or sew up a pair of koala mittens … but you can spread the word. Clicking a like button, sharing a post or even just talking about the work that’s being done when you’re chatting to a friend or a stranger in the checkout line … this is incredibly helpful.  If it was not for a friend I knew at school 30 years ago sharing a post from a Facebook group, I would never have known the group existed. In fact … there are two of them, and I’ll link to both in the show notes. My friend shared the pinned post from a group called Animal Rescue Craft Guild, and it not only had a graphic showing which items were needed (and how desperately they are needed), but also approved patterns and information about where to send finished products. Think about how many friends you have who craft, and how one click of a share button will spread the word in the crafting community, thereby mobilising thousands of crafters all over the world to get the job done! A month ago this group had 800 members, and last time I looked they were at 18,000. Because people share the posts! Three weeks ago Koala mittens were in a very high need category, and they got a lot of press. Because of people sharing, at a number of different levels, crafters around the country (in fact around the world) have made enough koala mittens to service all of our wildlife carers. That is the power of spreading the word.

5. Make to sell to fundraise

I know this sounds like just making a cash donation, but for us as crafters, it’s so much more. Maybe your crafting skills don’t match up with the need for physical product right now. Currently the Australian wildlife carers need items that can be created by knitters, crocheters, seamstresses and woodworkers. But let’s say you’re a painter, a jewellery maker, an embroiderer or a potter or ceramicist, and you want to help, but ceramic joey pouches aren’t really a thing that can be used. That feeling of helplessness sets in again and you still have restless fingers. But you can do something utilising your medium. Why not make a special piece that you can auction off to your customers or clients as a fundraiser. Maybe you could teach a special workshop, put on a display or exhibition. Money could go direct to wildlife carers, or to other crafters who need fabric and yarn and thread to create the physical items needed. You could even combine this with number 4 by contacting the local paper to let them know about the item you’re making and your upcoming auction, exhibition, display, workshop or sale. This way you are increasing the pool of people willing to bid on a stunning ceramic piece or framed artwork, raising more funds AND raising awareness about what people can do to help. Or let’s say you make and sell handmade items regularly, you could donate a set amount from each item to go toward this cause that is close to your heart.

There is always something you can do to help when you’re a crafter.

Photo credit: Samantha Brown, wildlife carer

I know that right now the news and the internet is all about the current fire emergency we have here in Australia, but crafting in times of crisis … this is not new. This is not even remotely new. I found an excellent article online, (linked below). Have a read (the links will take you to some other interesting articles about craft and I’ll link to a few of those as well). It was so perfect that I found this article around the time I was planning this episode. It talks about many amazing causes that crafters have supported throughout history. One that the article mentions is suffragettes who were fighting for women’s rights to vote. They would embroider on their banners and use their crafting skills to promote their cause.

And let’s think back World War One and World War Two … knitted socks, which I will talk more about later. This was something that women at home could physically do to, not only help by sending a little piece of home to a soldier who is fighting overseas, but also to keep their hands busy and their minds distracted.

We don’t only create things, as crafters, for practical support to those doing the hard work. Like the suffragettes so many years ago, craft is still used for peaceful rebellion. In this article they linked to a group called Nana’s Against Gas based right here in New South Wales. These women are against fracking in their community, so they have this banded together, crafting in protest … using their craft skills to be noticed and heard. And lest we all forget, in 2017, the infamous pussy hat, which was a knitting pattern put out by the Women’s Electoral Lobby. In marches, not only all through America, but across the world, a sea of pink knitted hats were donned and used to unite women in peaceful protest. We craft to be heard, we craft to help, we craft to feel better about what’s going on. Who would ever have imagined that craft could be such a powerful tool.

When we think of crafting in a time of crisis, we may instantly think big, like bushfires, oil spills, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis … natural disaster or man-made. Internationally, our own country, our state, our community or very close to home. There is that feeling we have … wishing we could help, because it really can make us feel very out of control and helpless. It can be all consuming, which is why making something with our hands can make us feel like we are doing something, and ease the mind, at least a little. But it’s not only these large-scale crises that can make us feel this way. Sometimes it can be something quite personal, and we probably all know somebody who has been through a crisis of their own, and felt the same way. When you hear that a friend has experienced a death in the family, a serious diagnosis, the loss of a job, has been in an accident … one of the first reactions is usually to say “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know”. And we mean it. People very rarely take us up on that, but occasionally they do, and when they do you’re not only able to help them but it’s good for us as well because we feel like we are doing something to assist them in their hour of need. I’ve been so grateful when my friends have allowed me to help them when times have been tough.

As crafters we can have quite a unique skillset that allow us to help people we know and love, as well as individuals in our broader community.

Quite a few years ago, several friends actually shared this one amazing cause on Facebook that I was unfamiliar with. This goes back to point number four (if you can’t do something, you can at least promote the people who are), and I came across this one organisation three times in one day. I’m not exactly one for taking subtle hints, but this was some sort of sign, and I noticed. It was an organisation called Angel Gowns for Australian Angel Babies, and their main work is to take donated wedding dresses, and transform them into very tiny gowns for families who are mourning the loss of their newborn baby.

The wedding gown I transformed

I know far too many people who’ve been touched by the tragedy of losing their newborn baby, and in every instance I felt so lost for words and didn’t know how I could help. A number of years ago when I had my dollmaking business, a young couple were looking at the dolly dresses at my market stall, and I will never forget this as long as I live. They came back a couple of times looking at the dresses and quietly asked me if I could custom make something especially for them. This couple was staring down what was to be one of the worst days you could ever imagine, knowing that their baby would not be coming home, and my heart absolutely broke for them. One of my neighbours was at the same market, and she made them a little quilt, and my Mum knitted the softest and tiniest little bonnet, booties and jacket for them. Our first impulse was compassion and we desperately wanted to turn our hands to something we felt could help. We knew we couldn’t fix it, and it honestly never feels like enough, but that same couple came to see me about six months later to say thank you, and assured me that our efforts were appreciated and that we did, indeed, help them.  That is why, when the Angel Gowns organisation popped up, I jumped on board, because I knew it that they work they did was making a difference for families across the country, and I wanted to be a part of that.

I put in an enquiry and ended up doing volunteer work with them for about 18 months. I was at a point in my life where I had some time to volunteer. I was looking for something that was meaningful, and joined with the intention of sewing and crocheting for this group, but it turned out I was able to contribute so much more. I knew that my craft skills would be useful but hadn’t bargained on being able to use some of my other superpowers. When I first expressed my interest to volunteer, the paperwork was sent to me in a rather inefficient manner. It’s not a criticism … not at all, but this girl saw a need, started an organisation to do something about it, and wasn’t prepared for it to grow as quickly as it did. I asked if she would like a hand to streamline the volunteer paperwork, and pretty much stepped into an admin role straight away. I was able to use my Photoshop and touch-typing superpowers to update paperwork and watermark photos for social media. I was able to use my committee superpowers to serve as secretary on the board for a while. I have a background in secretarial and admin work, and I love admin and paperwork, setting up systems and procedures … it’s fun for me. Yes … I know I’m weird, don’t judge me! Later I used my video superpowers to create training videos so that our volunteers had answers to all of their questions in a volunteer training program. I did transform one wedding gown and crochet many blankets, hats and booties, and it was always a privilege to create something with my hands that was needed.

There are so many organisations out there doing amazing work, like Blanket Lovez who donate handmade quilts to childrens hospitals. I will link to their website in the show notes.  They have an army of quilters who are making quilt tops, some incredible long-arm quilters who donate their time and expertise to do the quilting, and ladies who finish the quilts with binding. Being in hospital is not a comfortable experience, so to have a handmade quilt in such a sterile environment is a real comfort. When my dad was in hospital, in his last few days, they placed a gorgeous handmade quilt on his bed. Now I couldn’t tell you what the stitching was like, I couldn’t tell you what the fabric was like. I couldn’t tell you if it matched and it was perfectly coordinated or if it was gaudy. But what I did know, even many years before I made my first quilt, was that somebody had made this with their  precious time and supplies and donated it to the hospital. I know my dad was warm and comfortable, and that we were very appreciative of a piece of home being made available to us while he was in hospital. This is another thing that I have never forgotten, and one day, when time is once again on my side, I look forward to creating a quilt for my local hospital, because I know that it matters.

These are just two of the organisations out there that are pairing those in need with those who craft, and if you are looking for one that speaks to your heart, I will link to a few resources in the show notes, including a hub where many charities are listed for whom you can craft.

Most of these organisations will have some sort of social media presence, and one of the most efficient ways to get up to date information is to join the organisations Facebook group. Currently I am mostly monitoring two Facebook groups … Animal Rescue Craft guild and Rescue Craft Co (both linked below). When you join a Facebook group like these, there are a few things that it is helpful to know so that you can be a great group member.

Photo credit: Courtney White, wildlife carer

When we join a new group, our first instinct is to ask questions, but there are two things that you need to do first.

1. Check the pinned post. Where you find that post is going to vary, depending if you are checking Facebook from your laptop or desktop computer or whether you’re using the app on your phone, tablet or other device. From your computer, when you click into the group, the pinned post will always be at the top. From your phone when using the Facebook app, you need to look in the Announcements section, which is quite prominent at the top of the screen. The reason it is front and centre is because it is important, and you need to read through it thoroughly and carefully, because it probably answers the question you’re about to ask. So, for example, when I joined the animal rescue craft guild group, there was a pinned post by admin with a graphic of the items needed showing how urgently they were needed, approved patterns and information about where to send finished items.  There are great tips that I hadn’t thought of, like writing a note on the back of the parcel listing the contents. This helps the people sorting through all that mail to allocate the parcels accordingly, without having to open every single one and figure out what’s inside. That is an important time saver to those who are volunteering their time to distribute the handmade items being donated. The pinned post may also link to files or other posts. For example, the Animal Rescue Craft Guild links to a post covering FAQs and announcements, which is packed with lots of great information. They also have a graphic on on that pinned post that is really helpful. You can see with a glance if the item you are going to make has a red dot for very high need, orange for high need, green for moderate need or grey with a tick for no need. The information can change quite quickly. Three weeks ago, koala mittens were marked red for very high need, and now it’s marked grey for no need, while other items have become marked red for very high need.

2. Use the approved patterns. We really need to talk about approved patterns because this is incredibly important when you are volunteering to make something for a charity. You must follow the approved patterns and I’m  not just going to wag my finger at you and tell you that you must do this … I’m also going to tell you why.

When a pattern is created for charity group, it is created with a lot of consultation and input by the people who will be using the finished product. Let’s take, for example, the current need for crochet bird and rodent nests. When I first joined the Facebook group, the first thing I did was download the approved pattern. I confess that I started crocheting after merely skimming the pattern enough to figure out the increases and size, but when I finished my first one, it just didn’t look right. I looked at the pattern again and realised I should have been using double strands of eight ply, not single strand. I am going to send my first nest crocheted with a single strand because it will still be useful for rodents. But in order to have nest for birds, they have to be double stranded eight ply because they roll down the tops and if the bird decides to hop up on the edge of its nest, a double strand of eight ply crocheted with a 4.5mm hook is going to be a much sturdier perch. This is why it’s important to use the approved pattern … because it was designed with input from a person who actually cares for injured birds. They know the birds’ behaviours, and consequently what works and what doesn’t work. This is something I saw a lot with our Angel Gowns volunteers, and why we created a training program which explained why it was important to use the approved patterns and not alter the designs. I’m seeing it again now in the Facebook groups. People are posting one of their original creations asking if it’s helpful, and it is probably making the group administrators want to tear their hair out because all they want is for people to stick to the approved patterns.

 If the pattern asks for French seams, it’s not because the admin are fancy and are demanding couture for joeys, it’s so that the seams hold up well to wriggling joeys with sharp claws and multiple washes so they can be used for as long as possible. When the pattern asks that corners be rounded, they are not trying to stifle your creative flair, it’s for the comfort of the animals and practicality of the item at the request of actual wildlife carers. And when they say to stuff bat wrap pillows firmly, it isn’t the polyfill industry trying to make more sales … it’s so those adorable baby bats feel secure and the wraps stand up to many, many wash cycles.

We crafters are obviously a creative lot, and even though we’re making a functional item for a serious cause, we enjoy getting creative and want to put our mark on each item to make it special. We love to create and design, and believe that this thing we’ve made is going to be helpful. But unless an actual Animal Rescue person who is caring for a bat, a bird, a koala, a joey or an Echidna tells me that this is what they actually need, I’m not making it. This is the time I need to put aside my creative ego, and fulfill my need for creative expression by choosing fun colours, not tinkering with the pattern.

Photo credit: Courtney White wildlife carer

When I worked with the Angel Gowns organisation, I learned so much from being involved behind the scenes. Some of it, I’ll admit, I wish I didn’t know … but even though the details were sometimes unpleasant, it was helpful to understand why we had to stick to the approved patterns. When we are crafting in times of crisis, be the crisis large or small scale, we need to be quick, efficient and create an item that is guaranteed to meet the needs of those who will be using them to care for those who need the help.

Earlier I mentioned knitted socks that were sent to solidiers in WW1 and WW2, and it was in WW2 that various government departments began publishing approved patterns. Solidiers who received knitted socks from home during WW1 would have provided feedback on those. Imagine receiving some lovely handknitted socks, but they made your feet sweat or lumpy bits irritated the skin, or worse, created injury resulting in an infection, as if you didn’t have enough going on by being in the middle of a war! So when patterns were published for people to use in WW2, it was for a very good reason. I will link to that article in the show notes as well … it’s an interesting read with some great photos.

We want to make this thing but when you are making pouches for injured wildlife, gowns for angel babies, knitted knockers for somebody who has had a mastectomy, or chemo caps for cancer patients … you have to follow the rules. They are there for comfort, functionality, longevity, safety and many other reasons … and so we stick to the approved patterns because it is not about us, it’s about them.

When you do stick to the approved pattern, it ensures that every item that you invest your time and resources into goes to where it needs to go, and be used effectively for a long time. It is heartbreaking and frustrating for organisations to receive a package of things that people have made without following the guidelines, because they just can’t be used. The time and resources have been wasted, and now the organisation has to figure out what to do with these items instead of doing their jobs. So please trust me when I say if you are volunteering and they give you approved patterns, you need to use them. When you do, the items you create are guaranteed to be used … and that is the goal, right?  For our items to be used to help people feel better, for good to be done and certainly for no harm to be done.

If you are feeling inspired to create something to help right now for Australian bush fires animal care, you are not alone. There are people not only around Australia but around the world who are feeling that need to use their crafting superpowers to help our injured Australian wildlife. There are parcels being sent from the USA, from the Netherlands from the UK, from Malaysia. It’s absolutely amazing. I think it’s so amazing people want to help, but at the same time it doesn’t really surprise me … crafters are an amazing group of people.

Photo credit: Aniko Kiss, wildlife carer

There is one last thing I would like to leave you with when it comes to these crafting Facebook groups, and I’ve seen it a lot lately … comparisonitis. There are literally thousands of people posting photos of items that they’ve made and are sending to the hubs for distribution. Some people have the time and resources and energy to make a lot of items, which is amazing. Some people have limited time, resources and energy, and make fewer items, and are feeling sad or inadequate because they aren’t making as many joey pouches as someone else. With lots of love I say … this needs to stop.

Here is my ultimate word on that. If all you can make is one bird nest, that is one more bird who has somewhere cozy to rest and recover. That bird wouldn’t be anywhere near as cozy in a shoebox, and the carer will be delighted that they don’t have to sacrifice their favourite hat to keep that bird safe and warm. Everyone is going to have different capabilities, different resources, different amounts of energy, different amounts of time that they can contribute to this. Every little piece helps. It really, really does. So if you’re looking at these photos of people who have made 40, bat wraps and 23 Joey pouches and all of these things …  stop … admire their work … pat them on the back. They’ve done a great job, but it in no way diminishes what you are doing. They are going to be having very different circumstances from you. Perhaps they have been doing this so long they can sew these things pretty much in their sleep. You also don’t know how long they’ve been working on it. Maybe a bunch of friends have gathered together and created this large collection together. You do you. Do what you can with what you have. Also, if you have tons of time on your hands, but no resources, nor the funds to get them, there are some people sharing some amazing finds and deals in this group. People are hitting op shops and recycle centres and donation hubs and sharing their clever finds and strategies. Pooling resources is what’s happening here. But comparisonitis is also happening here. And I beg you Don’t compare your efforts to someone else.

If you’ve made lots of things, absolutely share it, if you make two or three things, absolutely share it. I want to make more than I’m actually capable of doing right now. And yeah, when I look at the people who are doing heaps, that makes me feel a little bit bad, then I remember I can only do what I can do. My goal is to hit a dozen crocheted nests, that I can put in the post before Christmas. They need them very badly in Western Australia right now. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do what I can do, because that is 12 nests that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t do them.

I’m going to say it again, because it’s important and we all need to remember and believe it. Don’t compare your efforts to someone else. Every little bit really does count. Instead of comparing, we are going to build each other up and cheer each other on. And we are going to get this done because we need to remember … it is not about us. It is about those we need to help, and what we’re going to do is crafters, is put on our superhero crafting capes … we are going to use those superpowers … we are going to help … we’re going to make friends … and we’re going to make a difference in somebody’s life.

Thumbnail photo credit: Courtney White, wildlife carer
Huge thanks to all the wildlife carers who granted permission for me to use their photos for the thumbnail and blog post. I appreciate you taking time out to send them to me while you are so busy.

LINKS
Article about crafting in times of crisis HERE

Animal Rescue Craft Guild FB group HERE

Rescue Craft Co FB group HERE

Knitting Nanas Against Gas HERE

Pussy Hat Project (Women’s Electoral Lobby) HERE

Knitting socks for soldiers HERE

Angel Gowns for Australian Angel Babies HERE

Sewing For Charity Australia
Website HERE
Facebook page HERE

Some of their charities include:
Chemo caps for cancer patients
Quilts for nursing homes and hospitals
Clothing and bedding for premmie support organisations and hospitals
Clothing, toiletry bags and toys to children transitioning into foster care
Clothing, homewares, toiletry bags and other items for victims of domestic violence
Reusable sanitary pads for homeless women in Australia
Sensory items for dementia sufferers distributed through nursing homes, hospitals and organisations who assist the elderly
Gifts at Christmas for people identified as being at risk of homelessness, isolation and neglect
Bereavement gowns and items for parents who have suffered a loss through miscarriage or stillbirth
Capes 4 Kids

Craft Ministry Australia – a hub for finding charities you can craft for HERE … and their 4 page directory HERE

4 Comments

  1. Lavina

    Wow thanks Dawn for this amazing post. Some parts had me near to tears and choking up & others had me nodding in agreement at your wise words and learning the importance of sticking to patterns for wildlfe care! Thanks also for all the links! ❤️

    Reply
    1. Dawn Lewis

      So glad you were able to get something from this episode, Lavina 🙂

      Dawn

      Reply
      1. Gloria Russell

        I have material that I don’t know where to send it too.
        Gloria

        Reply
        1. Dawn Lewis

          Gloria, my best recommendation is to head to the Animal Rescue Craft Guild Facebook page and check out the announcements and files sections. Also use the group search function and search for your suburb to see if there is anyone there you can team up with. If you are outside of Australia, do a search for your country (USA, UK, etc) as there are some excellent conversations where people are sharing locations for donations.

          Reply

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