Charity begins at home – with a pair of knitting needles or crochet hook

IMG_4053Knitting and crocheting are no longer just for the blue rinse set. These crafts are enjoying a renaissance across all age groups and are being used to help others and to create cheerful and creative temporary art installations.

The knitters and crocheters also receive benefits through the social interaction (via face to face or online knitting groups), sense of pride and accomplishment, and by exercising their minds and motor functions.

Some researchers even believe that activities such as knitting can help to treat conditions such as anorexia and depression and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other degenerative diseases.

Weekly knitting classes are also being used in US prisons to teach inmates qualities such discipline, empathy and patience and to encourage them to make gifts for their families, people they have hurt or disappointed, and people in need.

pip knittingI personally found that knitting was a good way to meet people when I lived in Finland years ago. It turns out that Australians knit differently to Europeans – so strangers would come and ask me where I was from and what I was doing. (Hence the photo of me sitting on a Finnish footpath knitting a pair of socks.)

Knitting for charity

Teams of volunteers all around the world donate their time, wool and skills to knit teddy bears (and toys such as finger puppets and clowns), beanies, mittens and other warm clothing, chemo caps, knee rugs, and blankets of all sizes.

These items are then distributed by charities and service organisations to people in nursing homes, women’s refuges, evacuation centres and hospitals etc.

photoWhile some end up in developing countries (e.g. Knitting for Africa – here), I was surprised by how many are provided to local groups and community projects.

For example, tens of thousands of knitted Trauma Teddies are given out each year by the Australian Red Cross to comfort children affected by fire, floods or other forms of distress.*

(See here and here for lots of other examples in Australia.)

In addition to any practical benefits, the recipients are able to sense the love and thought that has gone into producing these special handmade items – especially compared with machine-knitted alternatives produced in overseas sweatshops.

POuchsmVolunteers in Australia also knit blankets and toys for animals, as well as pouches for orphaned and sick kangaroo, glider, wombat and other baby native animals (e.g. here and here).

And other groups knit prosthetic breasts for breast cancer survivors that are much lighter and more comfortable, attractive and cheaper than silicone alternatives – and they don’t leak! (See here for more about Knitted Knockers).**

Many of these organisations welcome new volunteers and donations of wool and/or cash.

Or for volunteers who prefer to sew, there are opportunities to make other items, such as liners for ‘roo pouches’ and patchwork quilts.

Yarn bombing

IMG_4078Yarn (or knit) bombing, a form of urban graffiti or street art, can also make people feel better.

Yarn bombers are anonymous artists and groups that decorate trees. poles, statues, buildings, public seats, bike racks, bicycles, cars, tractors and all sorts of other objects with colourful knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre.

Some installations are commissioned or expected (such as regular projects by a group called Yarn Corner at Melbourne’s City Square and the Royal Melbourne Show) but others appear in the middle of the night with no warning:

“Spotting a newly yarn bombed street crossing on your way to work in the morning or finding a previously bare tree, down main street, festooned with pompoms. The suddenness with which yarn bombs appear and often disappear is surprising and often magical.”***

IMG_4063(See here and here for lots of great examples of yarn bombing.)

I love the fact that even the very craft-challenged can be yarn bombers – as demonstrated by the Accidental Anarchist and her family when they simply wrapped wool around a dead tree branch in Hampstead Heath to form wide bands of colour (here).

And while I prefer the idea of covert installations, I’m still looking forward to seeing the National Arboretum’s ‘Warm Trees’ installation that starts tomorrow in Canberra. Volunteers have been knitting and crocheting scarves for the past few months in preparation for this event. Stay tuned for photos! (See here for event details.) 


* Knitters and crocheters (e.g. here and here) of trauma teddies are required to meet strict quality standards and are urged to stick to the patterns provided and not try to make their teddies ‘superior’ in any way.

The teddies are made from 8 ply wool and filled with hygienic stuffing (not old stockings, cut up rags or bean bag filling). Their eyes, nose and mouth are embroidered on as buttons and other plastic parts are not used for safety reasons. 

Their design also takes into consideration cultural sensitivities, such as not using white for teddy faces and paws as this colour is associated with death or mourning in many cultures, and using black for the eyes (rather than blue as it is not common outside European countries). 

Similar programs are run in the UK (e.g. Teddies for Tragedies – here) and many other countries (here).

** The Knitted Knockers site provides links to patterns so that you can knit or crochet your own false breasts (here and here respectively – complete with a painless pierced nipple). You can also order knitted falsies online (e.g. here – including fun designs such as watermelons). 

*** Excerpt from ‘Guerrilla Yarn Bombing With The Fairies‘ at (Posted 1 June 2014)


Photo credits:

  • Joey in knitted pouch – Sue Ulyatt, WIRES Northern Rivers (Reproduced with permission)
  • Trauma teddies – Bev Kearns (Reproduced with permission)
  • All other photos – Pip Marks

Sources: (Accessed 21-24 July 2014)

Categories: Art, Health & Wellbeing, Philanthropy

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. I love how you write, Pip Marks! “Knitting and crocheting are no longer just for the blue rinse set.” – priceless!

  2. I knitted and crocheted in my pre blue-rinse days, still, I didn’t know Australians knitted differently to Europeans… um, that’s related to the water going down the drain the opposite way, right?

  3. Hi! I’ve been meaning to write about the knitting for impact movement taking place in pockets around the globe for some time now. But you’ve said everything I could say and more!

    Would like to invite you to guest post this feature on my blog. Please let me know if you’d be interested at: 🙂


  1. Warm Trees 2014 – Dragons, scarves & spiderwebs « Sustainability soapbox
  2. Wartime austerity – a time when recycling was not optional | Sustainability soapbox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: