In many years of sewing, I've learned that sewists have incredibly generous hearts, and that's even more true during the holiday season. The spirit of giving is more important than ever this year, with so many people all over the world in need of a helping hand or a warm gesture. Why not use some of your sewing energy and extra fabric to sew for charitable causes? You can do this on your own or make and send things through any number of worthy organizations. We'll include a few suggestions here, and ways to research more.
Think in terms of simple projects where fit isn't too much of an issue, and use easy-care, quality fabrics that will hold up well and appeal to a broad range of people. Simple, warm fleece hats and mittens in solid colors for kids and adults can be a boon to a homeless shelter, a family in need, or a cancer clinic; easy quilts can warm hearts and bodies for wounded veterans, children, women in shelters, or the elderly; simple cloth toys can delight children with illnesses in the hospital over the holidays. Making these projects in quantity is easiest if you set up an assembly-line arrangement. Or make a party out of it; making projects for giving is a great way to spend a day with sewing friends. Just make a big pot of soup, some coffee and cookies, and set up work tables. Even non-sewing friends can cut out simple patterns or wrap things for mailing (or serve the coffee and keep the iron filled with water for steam!).
If you'd like to donate locally, call your town's shelters for the homeless, women, or teens and local hospitals and nursing homes. Ask them what kinds of items are most useful, in what sizes, and how to donate them; there might be specific times for drop-off, or they may prefer mailing if privacy is an issue.
Or work with one of the many organizations that provide patterns and distribute your sewn projects. One of the best known of these is Project Linus, named after the Peanuts cartoon character who never let go of his security blanket, which has distributed more than three million handmade blankets and quilts to children through local chapters. Little Dresses for Africa distributes easy pillowcase dresses for girls in that continent (see photos at left); visit the website for instructions and more ways to help. Soldier's Angels distributes easy-to-make sand scarves for troops in the desert heat.
There are many more sewing charities; About.com has a terrific list of sewing-for-a-cause projects for nursing homes and hospitals, cancer patients, shelters, troops and veterans, and even for pets. These organizations support communities around the world, including Haiti and Africa. SewMamaSew also offers a page of sewing-related charities, and Nancy's Notions Creative Kindness page has many patterns and instructions for chemo caps and other projects. Bernina's We All Sew project has a long list of links for charity sewing here.
Even if you don't have time to sew for others this season, many of these organizations will also accept donations of sewing supplies and fabric, and of course, monetary contributions. Others specialize in getting sewing machines to communities to help people rebuild their lives after disasters; the Sewing Machine Project is one we've written about in the magazine (Stitch Fall 2010, page 9) and here on the blog. If you're lucky enough to get a new sewing machine for the holidays, consider donating your old one to them, along with a small check to help them get it where it can do the most good! Or shop for products from a nonprofit like Baba Blankets, a New Orleans-based organization that teaches girls in Ghana to dye and sew beautiful handmade products.
If you enjoy sewing for charity, why not make it a part of your sewing plans for 2011, and keep it up all through the year? And please do write us and tell us about your favorite sewing-for-a-cause project or sewing-related charity. We love to hear about how sewing connects us all, and the wonderful things that sewists do to make the world better.