I wrote an article for the Fall 2013 issue of Crochetvolution called Responding to Tragedies with Heartfelt Handmade Donations. In this article I wrote about how many of us immediately pick up our hooks and needles after a major disaster happens in the world, crafting to heal ourselves from the fear surrounding that tragedy as much as to help others in need at that time. I expected the article to receive a positive, or at least neutral, response because this is something that I see as fairly normal to do after a tragedy occurs. I was shocked, actually, to find that the first comments that were posted on the article completely disagreed with me. After reading through the comments and mulling it over for a little while, I’ve decided that there were some valid points made and I’ve slightly revised my original thinking although I continue to believe that it’s valuable and helpful to craft for others after any major difficult event.
My Original View on Responding to Tragedies with Crochet
You can read my full article online (free) at Crochetvolution. Basically I said that we crochet or knit in the face of disaster for the following reasons:
- We want to contribute. We may not have money but we can offer a gift of yarn. We want to help and this is the skill that we have.
- It offers comforts to the victims of a tragedy. Blankets, toys and prayer shawls all let the victims of emergencies know that there are others out there who care, who are thinking of them, who want to help.
- It calms us down. Many people are personally hugely emotionally affected by the disasters in the world even when they don’t directly affect their belongings or city. Crochet and knitting reduce anxiety.
- This act of kindness restores some positive energy to the world. It is hard to explain exactly why or how but when something negative happens it helps to balance it out with positive actions. Whatever you want to attribute this to in your own personal belief system, many of us have seen this magic in action. Simply doing something good, like crafting with the intention to heal, helps bring balance to the world.
I continue to believe that these things are basically true.
The Gist of the Comments
The general response of the comments to this article contradicted my belief in the second point above where I said “it offers comfort to the victims of a tragedy”. Commenters made some really valid points.
I especially understood what KellieT said when she wrote:
“I believe, with all honesty, (and I say this as a knitter, crocheter, spinner, dyer and weaver) that were I to be gifted with a handmade whatever from a total stranger in the midst of tragedy that it would be deposited directly into the nearest trashcan. Not because I’m a horrible person who devalues the time and skill needed or the intent behind it, but because at that moment, in the middle of disaster and tragedy I am thinking of 3 things, finding shelter, finding food, and keeping my family with me. I do not need or want a meaningless object cluttering up my peripheral thoughts. In fact, it would likely cause much more stress than it was meant to cure.”
It was also pointed out that the time and energy required to organize and distribute those handmade gifts often gets placed on overworked volunteers who have other priorities. Admittedly, this is something that I hadn’t thought about.
My Initial Response to Those Comments
I admit that at first the comments made me really sad. I know so many people who respond to the difficulties of others by crocheting or knitting something as a gift to those people. Not all of these people could be wrong, right?
After Thinking it Over; A Revised Plan for Crafting After a Tragedy
At the same time, not all of the commenters could be wrong either, right? So I really thought through what they were saying and why I wrote what I originally wrote. Here are some things I’ve realized:
- I write primarily from a perspective of healing yourself with crochet. I believe in the power of this, in the power of how the craft saves individual lives and how crafting in general adds something positive to our society. Three of the four points I originally made about why we craft are really about healing ourselves in the wake of international tragedies and I maintain that there is a lot of value in this.
- The value of handmade gifts after a disaster is probably most applicable specifically to times when the disaster is emotional rather than physical. In other words, it’s true that if you’re looking for shelter and don’t even have a home to live in then you probably aren’t going to immediately appreciate the gift of a blanket. (Note: I don’t think that this is always true since volunteer crafters do make wearable and functional items that are of great use in the immediate situation in some cases.) However, if basic physical needs are still being met but the tragedy has a huge emotional impact (such as may be the case in the mass deaths after a bombing or school shooting) then the emotional comfort of a handmade gift could be very valuable.
- Another options is to give to individuals, rather than causes. I do think that what I’ve said above is true. However, in thinking more about it, the people I know who have been recipients of such gifts usually received them from others that they knew personally or groups that someone they knew was a part of. It may be that we should give to individuals facing specific personal difficulties rather than the people experiencing huge national disasters. So for example if you know someone who works in a hospital and you can donate to that person’s patients through them then you are working at a more individual level. I don’t know that I really think one way is better than the other but I do think there’s something really nice about the personal touch and this should be considered as another options with benefits for both the crafter and the recipient. Note: I’ve started a series of posts on prayer shawls over at Lion Brand that relates to this topic. The comments in the first post inspire me and make me believe that at least on the individual level there is a lot of value in receiving a handmade gift during a difficult time.
- It is important to be thoughtful about when and where you send items. Make sure that you know who is going to have to distribute the items and if they have the resources to do that. Be as organized as possible with donations to avoid causing extra work to volunteers.
One of the Crochetvolution commenters also mentioned that there’s the option of raffling off or auctioning handmade items and then using that money as a donation to the victims of a situation that concerns you. I LOVE this idea, especially in cases where a monetary contribution is really going to make a huge difference in the lives of some or many.
I really want to know what you guys think about this issue. Do you craft for others after a tragedy or disaster? Have you been the recipient of such crafting? What has your experience been about if and how we should do this?
Share your thoughts in the comments below. (Please let me know by using the “contact” tab at the top of the site if you can’t leave a comment. Apparently a few people are having issues and I’m trying to get a grasp on what the problem is so I can solve it!) Alternatively, feel free to bring the conversation to my Facebook page.