Crafting for a Cause: Using Your Sewing, Knitting, and Crocheting Skills for People Experiencing HomelessnessBy Seráh Blain
I see you, fellow crafter. Like you, I’ve crocheted a hat for everyone in my family twice. We both may or may not have 100 masks in a box somewhere left over from the 7,000 we made during the height COVID. Perhaps you, too, have sewn a quilt or knitted a hat for every single baby you’ve ever even heard of being born. Sweaters, aprons, coasters, shopping bags… you’ve made it all. And yet, while every person in your world is maxed out on practical things you can make for them, your urge to craft is stronger than ever. Surely there’s something you can do with this neverending drive to create. Well friend, I have answers. Charity crafting for people experiencing homelessness is a wellspring of opportunity to put your skills to use, and I’m here to guide you to fulfillment.
In the months I’ve been working with mutual aid communities in my area, so many needs have become evident. And for those of us who are inspired to create things with our hands, having a focus for our efforts can be incredibly rewarding. I love to watch the process of a hat or a bag forming as I work — and it’s all the more lovely knowing that the beautiful things unfolding before my eyes will serve a need.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some projects that have helped folks in my community. I encourage you to touch base with your local GO Team or mutual aid community to find out what is most needed in your area. Talking to leaders on the ground before you start crafting is an important step to ensure you’re not unloading a bunch of items on organizers that aren’t actually usable for local needs. Aim for gender neutral, culturally appropriate prints and patterns so your crafts will work for anyone.
Here are some ideas for things you can make for unhoused people in your community — and be sure to connect with a mutual aid group or GO Team locally for distribution opportunities. I’ve included links to some pattern options — but feel free to search for your own, keeping in mind practical, easy to clean materials.
Winter Hats – During winter months, it can be life-saving to have the right warm weather wear. Knit, crochet, easy sew or no sew fleece, there are so many options! Make sure to choose patterns utilizing warm, easy-to-clean fibers. Do not choose airy, decorative knit or crochet patterns, but use cables or ribs to make hats that are thick and provide protection against winter winds.
Blankets – Blankets are an essential survival tool for unhoused people in cold climates. We’ve found that layered fleece works best because it is lightweight and easiest to keep clean. Knit and crocheted blankets are too heavy, especially in damp, snowy weather. You can opt for sewn fleece blankets with a simple hem or a braided edge — or host a craft-a-thon event to make easy no sew patterns that even kids can do.
Mittens and Gloves – There are a million ways to make warm gloves and mittens, which protect against frostbite and dry, cracked skin from cold exposure. Again, make sure to choose patterns and materials that are warm, easy to clean, and don’t use airy, decorative stitches.
Insulated Water Bottle Sleeves – This is a great way to use up some of those awkwardly sized fabric remnants. These sleeves help unsheltered folks in hot climates keep their water cold throughout the day — and the strap offers an easy way to carry it. If you can get your hands on some inexpensive wholesale water bottles, you can provide a sleeve with a reusable water bottle, but these will also work for disposable bottles as well. There are many great patterns available with a little Googling — pick one that works best for using up the supplies you have on hand!
Cooling Neck Wraps – These keep folks cool in excessive heat and can be a lifesaver during heat advisories. Keep in mind that the neck wraps must be soaked for two hours in icy water to activate, so plan ahead to make sure they’re ice cold before distribution. If you have regular distributions, you can ask folks to bring them back once they’ve dried out and swap them with freshly chilled wraps. The wraps can be hand washed in soapy water and reused.
Sun Hats – Providing protection from the harsh sun, wide brimmed hats are another great use for fabric remnants, especially denim and other stiffer fabrics like khaki. There are dozens of free pattern options online, so check out our link or search for your own.
Plarn Sleeping Mats – For folks sleeping outside, plarn sleeping mats provide cushioning, and help provide some insulation against very hot or very cold pavement. Because they’re plastic, they’re waterproof, easy to keep clean, and practically free to make. Just ask folks in your community to save their plastic grocery bags, and you’ll have plenty of material to make plarn in no time. Check out this easy pattern and tutorial video to learn how to make this simple crochet project — even first time crocheters will be able to learn how to make these in no time.
Bags – An ongoing challenge for unhoused folks is carrying their belongings. After participating in many distributions of various items for people living without shelter, a very common ask is, “Do you have an extra bag I can put these in?” Any kind of practical bag will do, including: drawstring backpacks; sling bags; shopping totes; and reusable grocery bags. You can even upcycle a pillow case for this 5 step market tote! There are also myriad crochet or knit bag patterns. The options are endless!