Monday, June 30, 2008

What I learned from a group charity crafting project

My boss and I are both on the Community Service Committee (CSC) at the university library where we work; last year, my boss became the chair of the committee. I had once told her about my wonderful Mom's tradition of making warm knit hats and beautiful crochet-edged flannel baby blankets for charities in her area, and my boss was inspired by the idea, so in the fall we bought a bunch of yarn on sale and put out a call for volunteers to make hats for the Bowery Mission. We ended up getting about a dozen participants, and donated 28 hats to the Mission just before Christmas break.

We were pleased with the project, especially because we had many volunteers who didn't normally participate in the CSC's regular activities. Sometime in January, I think, my boss heard that the university's main community service office offered grants to assist university groups with their community service initiatives. This really got my boss going! Again taking inspiration from my Mom, she contacted the Children of Bellevue, an agency that provides layettes to newborns whose families are in need, and asked if they could use some handmade blankets (they answered "yes" enthusiastically). She then whipped together an application for one of the grants, to cover the cost of materials to make 50 cotton flannel blankets with crochet edging. The grant was approved, and as of last week we reached our goal - 50 blankets completed by 24 volunteers! The blankets need a final wash and then they will be sent off to the hospital.

From the start, this project was such a great experience for me - I learned so much, and it was great fun. I thought it would be useful to sit down and really think about what I got out of this project, to share what I learned, and to show off what our group accomplished (link later). So then, here's a list of What I learned from my group charity crafting project:

*How to work with people
I used to look at my employer's lunchtime seminars about managing different personalities or working with a team, and I always dismissed them as irrelevant to me because my department is quite small and we all get along. When the blanket project got underway, I realized I was wrong. A couple of the volunteers were often very negative - they complained a lot, and at first it was a huge downer. This is where I could have used those team management skills! When I took a step back, I was able to see A) that I shouldn't take their remarks personally - it's not about me; B) that their intentions were good - after all, they were volunteering for this, and were invested in making the project a success; and C) they had amazing skills, and turned out to be among the most productive volunteers we had. Everyone has something to contribute.

*Planning is key - but just do it, and be flexible
My boss really struck while the iron was hot and managed to get the grant application together in a short time, but it was still very well researched, and she made sure to contact well in advance the people whose assistance we would later need (to book meeting rooms, disburse grant funds, etc.). This planning provided structure for the project, so that any snags along the way (such as a long delay, due to backordered fabric, in the start of the project) were not catastrophic. In such situations we had to be flexible and stay focused on the project goal, rather than just following our plan for the plan's sake.

*It feels good!
-It feels good to create. Many participants often remarked that our crafting meetings were their favorite part of the day.
-It feels good to give. To know your creation will keep a little baby warm - what better feeling is there?
-It feels good to share and connect with others. One of my favorite parts of the project was meeting other library employees who I'd never had a chance to meet otherwise. So many smart, fun, giving, talented people!
-It feels good to be inspired, and to inspire. I'm now making plans for my own charitable crafting project, and I know of one other volunteer who has continued making blankets on her own. The energy generated by this group was really infectious. Oh, and did I mention that some of the participants had never crocheted before? We must have taught 7 or 8 people to crochet, and their blankets all turned out beautifully.

*It doesn't cost much, and it can be green
Our goal of 50 blankets was fairly big, but I think that even without the grant we could have come up with a way to fund our project. When we did the hats, we shopped carefully for good deals and each pitched in a bit of money to make it happen. Because one of the CSC's objectives is to "be green" we are considering ways to "green" our crafting projects, such as holding a materials drive inviting people to contribute from their stashes. One woman collected flannel scraps from the blankets and made a few adorable puzzle balls to send along with the blankets.

Here is a link to the CSC's Flickr page, with photos of every blanket. The photos are a bit washed out, but oh well. I also took some snapshots of the stacks of folded blankets because they looked so cute. You will notice many different skill levels and styles. There are also some blankies with super-tight tension in the crochet borders - this really bothered some participants, who wanted everything to be "perfect." In the end we decided that because babies are lumpy, some blankets could be too. The puffy blankets with tight edges were made with just as much love and care as the "perfect" ones, and will lend themselves well to wrapping up a squirmy baby.

And for more inspiration, check out Lion Brand's and Interweave Press' lists of charitable crafting opportunities - there is need everywhere!

Tree of Life, continued

Here is the Tree of Life blankie (with supervisor) as it looked yesterday; I've added another row of flowers since then. I just joined the third and last skein of yarn; I feel pretty confident I'll finish the body of the blanket but I might have to come up with a different border option if I run out of yarn, which is likely. I'm considering lining it, a la Rita.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Audubon card + blankie update

These are poor pictures, so take my word for it when I tell you these things look much better in person. Anyway, on the left is the card I made for my Dad for Father's Day, using some card stock from my bin of saved paper and a lovely Audubon image from an advertising supplement in the New York Times (there were a bunch of beautiful Audubon images - I cut them all out and added them to the paper bin). I also happened to have a little brown envelope that fit the card perfectly! My gift to him was a CD of folk & blues (Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, etc.) which I didn't take a picture of because I just printed the insert with iTunes.

On the right is the Tree of Life blankie in its current state. I'm just starting the first "flower garden" section.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

They have a plan

Well, sort of. On the desktop of my computer is a large Stickie note that represents my rough crafting & giving plan for the next year - this month through May 2009. Here's what August and September, for example, look like (names changed to protect the innocent!) as of right now:


-Cards & gifts for September
-Sweater vest for Dad (xmas)

September 7 Starbuck, 11 Apollo, 12 Chief, 22 Gaius

-Cards for October
-Garter stitch wrap
-Charity hats & mittens
-Pet toys?

The dates and names of any birthdays, anniversaries, etc. are noted next to each month. Below that is a list of projects to do that month: first there's a reminder to prepare for the following month's gift-giving events, then maybe an item in italics to indicate a project I wish to make for myself, and then any long-term projects that are either underway or need to be started. I'll be trying to plan for Christmas fairly early this year. I have a couple of labor-intensive individual gifts planned, plus a charity project (quantity rather than complexity). I'm also hoping to stockpile batches of different kinds of handmade gifts for giving out to coworkers and friends at the holidays.

This list is incomplete and very fluid, but maintaining it really helps me to sort out all the projects. It also helps me see when I've planned too much for one month, or how I can make use of the crafting lull in one month to get a head start on another.
I used a similar list last year, on a much smaller scale, to prepare for the holiday season, but I'm hoping for more this time. All of this is, of course, mostly theoretical at this point!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Something to think about

Over at The Simple Dollar, a personal finance blog I read a lot & very much enjoy, there was a recent post about personalizing blank greeting cards with favorite song lyrics or poetry, thereby saving money and presenting the recipient with a truly thoughtful card. For me, and for many of the people who commented on this post, this was preaching to the choir: a great many people agreed with the writer, and others went a step further with their great tips on making cards from scratch.

However, I was surprised to read a few comments by people who said they prefer store-bought cards to handmade ones - that they appreciate the quality of manufactured cards and the effort it takes for givers to select them. This was upsetting to other commenters, who felt that recipients should value handmade cards more and not place restrictions on the types of gifts they will accept. This discussion is very interesting to me, and presents me with a lot to think about as I try to get my gift-giving challenge off the ground.

I love giving and receiving gifts, and am blessed with wonderful loved ones who always give from the heart. I do believe that a purchased gift, thoughtfully chosen and presented with love, can be as meaningful as a handmade one. Among the reasons I originally listed for starting my gift-giving challenge, I included "approach gift-giving more meaningfully and thoughtfully." If I am really to do that, I must carefully consider the recipient's preferences, tastes, and personality - and that means I can't just dismiss a recipient's preference (for store-bought cards, for example) simply because it's not to my taste. In other words, I can't just give the gift that *I* want the recipient to have - I have to give the gift that the *recipient* really wants or needs.

What does this mean for my handmade year? Well, I did write a few "cheats" into my guidelines, so I can resort to those when I feel it's appropriate. What I really hope I can accomplish, however, is a happy balance - a place where a recipient's likes and my crafting skills meet and result in a gift that is just right.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tree of Life blanket

I have begun knitting a gift for a relative's baby, expected in October. I wanted to make the Tree of Life Afghan from Lion Brand as soon as I first saw it many months ago, but waited until I had the right occasion. I am using some Wool-Ease Sportweight yarn that I've had in my stash for ages; since its gauge is much smaller than that specified in the pattern, this blankie will be super tiny and just right for a newborn. The cabled tree motif is definitely challenging!

Starting small

I spent yesterday afternoon making cards and envelopes. For the cards, I used double-sided pages that I'd saved from an old Lotta Jansdotter address book. I folded each page in half and inserted a slightly smaller folio of translucent paper for writing on. To secure the two folios I tied embroidery floss around the fold. I made 20 of these; they are about 3 1/2 x 5 inches.

For envelopes, I used odd paper I've been saving and some old military field maps I got years ago when the museum I worked at was throwing them away. I used my circle cutter to cut an 8" circle and then folded it around a card. I cut the triangles out from between the flaps and then glued the bottom flap to the side flaps.

Below left are two finished envelopes. The paper with the birds on it was what my printer produced when I ran some test or other on it - I thought it was so cute so I saved it. On the right are some other envelopes I made from an old calender. These envelopes are squares with four half-circle flaps, and I made them the right size to hold a CD.