Holiday Donations

Around the holidays there seems to be an uptick in the number of people knitting or crocheting items (particularly hats) for holiday or charitable donations. When I have seen the contents of “donation baskets” – the  containers into which handmade knit or crocheted caps are dropped – I am always horrified by the goods.  They are almost always items that are “quick and easy” to make out of some of the most horrific yarns and colors one could choose … crocheted hats that could deflect bullets, knit scarves with garish clashing colors, yarns that won’t do much to keep the wearer warm, yarns that are not long-wearing, yarns that will not hold their shape, et cetera.

I’m sure you’ve seen hand-knit or -crocheted accessories that are, well, blindingly awful – the ones where the colors hurt your eyes, the feel of the fiber makes you cringe, and the design has you wondering, “What in the world were they thinking?”

Yes, the intended recipients are having difficulty (e.g., financially devastated, homeless, victims of a natural disaster, etc.) and as such will undoubtedly be thankful for the generosity of others.   But why demoralize them further by pawning off some ugly gift even if it is hand made?

A crafter with solid, basic skills can knit or crochet an attractive, usable item (e.g., cap or a simple scarf) simply by selecting a lovely yarn.  If she’s skilled with her needles or hook, she can easily create a more complex patterned hat, scarf, mittens, beaded wrist warmers, or cowl.

If you live in an area with long cold winters, don’t gift cotton ski caps.  If you live in an area with warm winters, avoid warm Lopi hats and mittens.

Why not personalize the gift?  Imagine the recipient pulling out a lovely, warm hat and seeing a note that:  tells her the name of the pattern and why you selected it;  tells her about the fiber source (e.g., an alpaca named Daphne raised nearby? from New Zealand possum?); contains  washing or care instructions; and includes your wish for the new year.  Certainly the recipient would appreciate feeling a little special in a dark time in her life.

If you have no nice single skein remaining in your stash, why not pick up a nice, locally produced skein?  In the U.S., you could probably  deduct the cost of the skein on taxes (that is, if you itemize).

My beloved American grandfather used to say:  “If you’re going to do anything, do it right or don’t do it at all.”  I’m thinking of my grandpa’s words as I write this: If you’re knitting or crocheting something for donation, do it in a way that doesn’t make the recipient feel bad about receiving the charity of others.

Have you any particular creations and ideas to share that work well as holiday donation items?

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Knitting. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Holiday Donations

  1. I agree. And perhaps my post was a bit muddled: I was thinking of the possum I had been knitting with. If I tell admirers of a hat it is made from possum, they invariably recoil in horror. So I always have to say “New Zealand possums that don’t look like ours!” Then I witness a relaxing of shoulders and sigh of relief! 🙂

    >

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  2. tonymarkp says:

    I agree with that part (washing directions). I guess I read it wrongly. I interpreted the purpose as putting info that may not interest (or could, at least I’d appreciate an anecdote) such as “Wool from sheep that frolic in the Wild West whose owners are totally into punk music.” The washing directions and fiber content are important. The geographical info and whatever else was what I thought was a bit much. BUT I repeat: I love your post. It’s totally necessary to write something like this. Knitting for the sake of others’ dignity is noble. Knitting without care because it’s charity is unkind.

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  3. A nice note re fiber content and/or cleaning hints is not pretentious when “normal” washing and/or drying (i.e., in machines) would guarantee ruin of the gift. (Many of us have gifted hand made wool clothing to friends and family only to see it unwearable and/or smaller a week later after the recipient tossed it in the machines.)

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  4. tonymarkp says:

    First, a little humor. Are you familiar with the “Muffin Tops” episode of Seinfeld. I thought of it when I read this. I completely agree with you on this in the vein of the Seinfeld show. People are people. Give them the gift of dignity by always donating wearables that are things you would wear. Including a note about fiber, etc. seems a bit pretentious to me. A note telling the recipient you wish them the best, or how much you hope they like the item, or how much you hope that their situation will improve in the future, seems more appropriate to me. I don’t tell my own partner about the excellent fiber I used for things I make him. Why? He doesn’t get it because he isn’t a knitter. Just my two cents. But, like I said, you’re so right. It’s disrespectful to donate horrid things. Give them the whole muffin.

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  5. Sanne says:

    I wish more were like that! But yes, it can get pretty bad online. Some Facebook groups I left simply because they were so engrossed in feeling better than others (sometimes even combining that with religion) it wasn’t about knitting anymore. I’ve had several people downright tell me a pattern was wasted on the yarn I chose because I had to steam to block it (acrylic again). I mean, sure, it’s not their first choice of yarn, but to outright tell me the pattern is too good for my ‘crappy acrylic yarn’? That’s just rude.

    It’s why I’m so fierce about it, I guess. I’ve had so much negativity in regards to it, and my friend has been reduced to tears and depressive bouts because her allergies literally exclude her from these places. (Granted we’re probably better off without them!) It’s pretty awful.

    WP is so, so very much nicer than any other online community I’ve found. I’m happy to be able to discuss things like this civilly without fearing buckets of drama. 🙂 So thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this, it has been enlightening and interesting.

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  6. Wow, I had not heard of knitters who love acrylic being ridiculed or ignored by “knitting communities” as you note. In my 50+ years of knitting, I’ve had many a knitter or crocheter proudly share their work with me seeking input. If the yarn is not what I would use (i.e., synthetic or maybe artificial), I talk only about their technique (i.e., their gauge, choice of stitch pattern with size of yarn and needles, consistent borders, etc.). If I am asked a direct question about the yarn (e.g., “what do you think of it”), I will be honest: “While I wouldn’t have chosen acrylic for this project, I love the color” or something like that. That way I’m honest (and hopefully the color is great) but not hurtful.

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  7. Now that’s an excellent guide – thank you for sharing it! Afghan adoration is so subjective … I’ve seen some hideous (in my opinion) ones that were adored (perhaps because they were gifted by a beloved aunt, mother, granny, etc.) Thor’s favorite cap is one I whipped up with some leftover yarn … he treats it almost reverentially. :/

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  8. Talya says:

    I will not donate anything that I wouldn’t wear myself (with the exception of Hubby’s grandmother’s granny square afghan – I think it’s hideous, and I would love to donate it, but he loves it, so it stays).

    I tend to donate things that are machine washable/dryable. I also take as much time to coordinate colors with items that I know I’m going to donate, as I do with items I will wear. I also use the same yarns that I use for myself. For instance- I have spent a lot of time trying to find the right colors for Hubby’s Dr. Who scarf. Well the rejected colors I make into scarves and hats and donate them. The color may be wrong (for a Dr. Who scarf), but the yarn itself is good, so why let good yarn go to waste?

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  9. Sanne says:

    I totally understand why people choose wool over acrylics, and I don’t fault them. I also understand that the chemicals can be irritants to some people’s skin, which is why providing diversity for both sides of the spectrum remains important to me. It becomes a problem when people are shunned for their choices though. Being proud of having acrylic yarns in your stash has become a reason to be looked down upon, ridiculed and even flat out ignored in many knitting communities. We’re told to be ashamed of what we can use/afford/prefer, and no matter your preference that is wrong and hurtful. I’ve been on the receiving end of this and my friend even moreso.

    I do have some trouble taking the base of that stigma at face value though. It seems the side-effects stem from people who work with the raw chemical, not the finished product. It reminds me of the anti-vax movement that heard there was mercury in a vaccination which led to mass refusal to vaccinate – even though the amount you ingest from fish is far bigger than one tiny shot. There are so many chemicals you’re exposed to on a daily basis just from walking in a city, I find it difficult to believe that a hat made from acrylic yarn is going to cause adverse health effects.

    I understand why people react they way they do, then, but I can’t agree with it. Not when I’ve been treated like dirt over something as silly as using acrylics. :/

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  10. kiwiyarns says:

    That rather defeats the true concept of charity doesn’t it!

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  11. You make several interesting points, including that there are lots of badly prepared wools. The reason knitters and crocheters extol the virtues (as it were) of natural fibers are many – just as people’s eating choices are made for a variety of reasons. For instance, vegans, vegetarians and omnivores make their eating decisions by varying factors: e.g., eating meat but only organic, range-raised, organically sourced; following a vegan or vegetarian diet to protest the commodification of animal flesh for food via agribusiness; some vegans and vegetarians who will not eat animal products for ethical or religious reasons. At the base of the “stigma” against acrylic is this: Acrylic is made from chemicals. When acrylic is made its polyers are disolved in a chemical solvent such as dimethyl formamide or sodium thiocyanate. The resultant slurry is then extruded into a coagulating bath. According to Wikipedia, “The potential toxicity [of dimethyl formamide] has received considerable attention. It is not classifiable as human carcinogen, but it is thought to cause birth defects. In some sectors of industry, women are banned from working with DMF.” OSHA considers sodium thiocyanate a hazardous substance. As a fiber, acrylics tend to crack with abrasion which can contribute to pilling; acrylics can decompose and discolor when heated. Just as some people react to natural wools or the chemicals used in processing wool, many people react to chemicals and chemical products.

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  12. There are a lot of “practicalities” at issue: cost, durability, warmth, hand, absorbency, dimensional stability, etc. It’s such an individual choice! 🙂

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  13. Knitting for donation I’d probably go a machine washable wool too (much as I don’t like working with them – but then it’s not for me!).

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  14. You’re right; acrylic has “improved over the years,” but it is still an artificial yarn made from copolymers, homopolymers or graft polymers developed by Du Pont in 1944. They just can’t and don’t hold a candle to natural fibers. While acrylics are generally more comfortable than nylon and polyester, they are no where near as comfortable as cotton or linen in humid, hot water or any type of wool (sheep, alpaca, camel, etc.) in cold weather – whether cold/dry or cold/humid. It is certainly an individual fiber artist/crafter’s choice based on a variety of factors, cost being only one of them. (And many artificial fibers are quite pricey!)

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  15. The worst “bins” (for lack of a better word) of collected knit items contained some of the most god-awful stuff I’d ever seen knit. The hats were clearly knit for speed – as suggested by the dozens of hats made by one knitter in the same pattern, same size and the same stripes of ugly colors – just in different order. (I had visions of spying those awful hats on people around town.) I found out there were a couple of knitters who were in competition to see who made the most hats for the bin, so I’m not sure they were thinking about the recipients as much as “winning.”

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  16. Yes, that’s understandable. People tend to be a bit “phobic” about caring for wool … perhaps because they or a friend/relative inadvertently shrunk a favorite wool sweater! (For non-fiber folks, there’s such a weird “mystery” around wool.) Any hand knitted/woven/crocheted I gift has a card attached via a bit of cotton yarn explaining yarn source and care of fiber. It is my goal to de-mystify natural fibers, one recipient at a time. 🙂

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  17. Oh, your yarn most definitely fits the “not ugly” category. And the socks I’ve knit up are so warm and cozy. The yarn has a beautiful halo, too!

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  18. Sanne says:

    I personally am very upset with the stigma against acrylic. You have to remember there are many people with wool sensitivity and even outright allergies. They can’t use any garments knit with animal fibers and rely on acrylic garments to get by. I have a knitter friend who gets terrible rashes from it and can’t even lightly rub a skein against her face without turning itchy red.

    Animal fibers =/= automatically superior quality. I’ve seen some shoddy wool yarns that are worse than acrylics. I’ve seen (and used) acrylics that surpass some of the wool I’ve knit with. I still have a pair of acrylic socks that are frequently worn in the past year and show no signs of wear yet. I have hats knit with acrylic that are just as warm and comfortable as a wool hat. I have acrylic mittens that are very comfy and warm.

    Even if I wasn’t on a budget or didn’t have access to cheap animal fiber yarn, I would still knit with acrylic for donated items just to counter-act the dislike many knitters have for it and, subsequently, forget that there are many who can’t wear their lovely wool knits.

    I know acrylic yarns were terrible a few decades ago, but there has been so much progress made on the feel and durability of it these days, there’s really no reason not to use it frequently.

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  19. belinda o says:

    I agree some of the acrylic yarns are practical for this purpose, and kids in particular are going to prefer fun colors. If someone has been in dire financial straits most of their life, an attractive hat that can last for years is most appreciated. Frankly, some acrylic can meet that need without shortchanging dignity. Yes, many of us don’t want to die and leave that to be found in our stash, and I’m with you, but I’d suggest adding practicality to dignity.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Verónica says:

    I agree with a caveat. If gifting for charity, use a yarn that is washable, not some “hand-wash only.” I like the idea of personalizing it with the chosen yarn and pattern.

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  21. marissafh says:

    I hear what you’re saying. As coordinator of a charity for the homeless, I am thankful and appreciative for the donations. And I’ve had to pick out and sort those that can be practically used. Even with guidelines on what to use, there are always a few who think that anything donated should be good enough. On the practical side, easy care yarn such as acrylic – I know all of you are cringing at that – work well too, and acrylic has improved over the years and is soft and warm. Keep in mind also that not all who want to donate to charity are that well off financially themselves, but would still like to contribute. So I welcome all donations and will just continue to sort out what will work.

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  22. kiwiyarns says:

    It is sad to read about that. When I sent out the call for support to knit scarves for sale with the proceeds going to Christchurch earthquake victims a few years ago, the donations that came back were stunning in their generosity of design and yarn. Some of it was seriously good stuff – think Artesano and Noro… Many women here spend hours and many dollars buying yarn to knit pure wool baby garments for donation to maternity wards so that newborns have appropriate clothing in hospital and go home warm and safe in their pure wool clothes. You are absolutely spot on about knitting quality things – as if you were going to wear it yourself, is how I think it is sometimes described.

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  23. belinda o says:

    Sorry, that reply got sent before I could ask for your thoughts, since you mentioned alpaca.

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  24. belinda o says:

    I completely agree, although I would add that as a rule I prefer to use machine washable and dryable yarn for donations since care instructions aren’t always easy to include.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. As you know, I don’t knit or crochet. But, I am happy to donate some yarn to someone who will knit such a garment. I think our yarn would fit the “not ugly” bill 🙂 LOL!

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