It’s very rare I’m anything other than positive on my blog about the world of knitting, crochet and crafting in general. It has profoundly affected my life, changing my career path and enabling me to meet some of the most inspiring people from every corner of the globe. In fact, today’s post was a lovely review of a quilting exhibition I attended, but a discussion on Twitter yesterday made me return to a blog post I started drafting a month ago about something I’m getting more and more perturbed about: Charity knitting.
There’s a definite backlash brewing under the surface as more and more big charities use donated knitting projects to ‘raise awareness’. At the moment you can participate in Innocent’s The Big Knit, The Big Issue Knitathon, Age UK’s Knit a Warm Home, the list is long and in amongst the more ridiculous campaigns are some genuinely thoughtful and essential ones.
When was the last time you saw a charity campaign asking people with hobbies such as carpentry, embroidery, sculpting or painting, to create a throwaway object in order to ‘raise awareness’? I doubt that you have and I doubt that you will. So why do knitters get targeted? Do the marketing and PR departments of charities think that knitters have nothing better to do with their skills, time and resources than make small hats for drinks bottles? Why do these campaigns always fall to the knitters and why do we keep entertaining them?
When I was growing up charity knitting used to be about creating small whimsical items from leftover odds and ends to sell at school sales and church fetes to raise funds for a community project. I remember bringing hand-knitted hat and scarf sets home for my Sindy dolls, and in later years knitting them myself to be sold. When did the tide change and knitters began to be called upon to create such pointless items as hats for drinks bottle that do far more to promote a huge corporation than the actual charity itself?
Jane Crowfoot raised an additionally good point regarding the throwaway nature of so many of these campaigns: ‘These projects go against what we teach our children about waste & environment.’ Does anyone know what happens to all those little drinks bottle hats once The Big Knit is over for another year – I suspect at least 99% of them go in the bin. What a waste of time and resources, especially when Innocent are a large enough company to make a quiet and perfectly legal tax-deductible, charitable donation without this silly and pointless campaign.
As for the ‘it raises awareness’ argument, well does it? Age UK claim the Knit a Warm House campaign will prompt ‘conversations about tackling fuel poverty locally’. Really? Would it not be better to provide a stock letter downloadable from their website and ask people to write to their local MP instead – surely this would be time better spent by everyone? Interestingly St Mungo’s 2014 Woolly Hat appeal was such a roaring success that they are now asking people to stop sending those hats – just stop now, please! What on earth were they thinking they would do with a billion bright orange acrylic hats? This appeal made me particularly sad as a warm woollen hat is something that would be really useful for those on the streets – again we return to a waste of time and resources.
Yesterday mornings Twitter discussion about knitting for charity made the point that most knitters are more than happy to knit items for charities so long as they will benefit someone – Clothing for children’s hospitals, blanket squares for the elderly, hats and mittens for homeless charities. Age UK missed a trick with the knitted houses – they could have commissioned a pattern for draught excluders instead that would at least have purpose as well as a message.
For a long time now many people have knit for children’s charities and hospitals. My Great Aunt Dorothy regularly took hand-knitted garments and blankets to her local children’s hospital unit where they are actually needed, used and loved by the staff and patients. She did this out of the goodness of her heart and wasn’t connected to any charity. Me, I’ve been crocheting hats for the Evelina London unit at St Thomas’s hospital who looked after our precious niece last year when she was born. Dressing her in regular (albeit mini) clothes was a huge milestone for her Mum whilst ensuring she stayed warm and cosy. Our niece also received knitted blankets and a beautiful stitched quilt which not only served a useful purpose, but added a more homely feeling to her station. It isn’t a campaign, I’m just doing it as a small token of my appreciation and in the hope that other families with newborns will appreciate these items as much as our niece and her family did.
You see, the thing is, you don’t have to be part of an expensive and overblown charity campaign to make contributions – it’s a revelation isn’t it!
If you want to knit for a charitable cause, do it under your own steam – make some preemie hats and blankets and drop them off at your local children’s hospital. Knit warm woollen hats, mittens or socks and send them to The Salvation Army or a homeless charity who distribute winter clothing for people on the streets. Crochet squares and stitch them together with your knitting group to send to an old persons home. Do something useful, beautiful and worthwhile with your precious crafting time and resources and remember just because people may be in need that doesn’t mean they lose their sense of taste, style or dignity – make something you yourself would wear or be happy to receive. That 500g ball of neon peach acrylic really isn’t calling out to be a handknitted adult onesie for a homeless person.
I’ve been involved in a number of charity campaigns and have blogged about them here, but I’m not sure how far my goodwill can stretch. Just because we knit for a hobby why does that automatically mean we want to knit something ghastly for charity? I very rarely do, instead I choose to make regular donations to a number of charities which support the arts in the hope it will support and inspire others to be creative. If you can’t afford to donate money directly to a charity you may have time you can donate – many charities would not be able to operate were it not for the volunteers who freely give-up their time to help.
Fundraisers such as p/hop, and other small projects set-up by knitters and crocheters, which provide a pattern in return for a donation to a specific charity make much more sense to me. They are an excellent way of raising funds which go directly to a specific cause whilst benefitting the crafter. Win, win. It would be great if the marketing and PR departments of charities were more thoughtful when dreaming up fundraising schemes. I suspect many of them are non-knitters are therefore unaware of how much time people put into these non-sensical objects.
There, I said it, finally got it all off my chest! Can we please stop the madness now?
I’m sure many of you have your own opinions and I’d love to hear them – maybe you would even like to blog them then link your blog post to my post here and maybe, just maybe, we can change the way charities think about using knitters and crocheters in the future. If you work for a charity running one of these campaigns or are actively involved in making for them I’d also love to hear from you too.