Using Crafting to Help

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Our guest writer, Ella Mason, considers crafting for charity


The rise of crafting is indomitable. Sales of sewing machines are soaring, with most recent reports from high street retailers showing a 60% rise. Figures from Folksy, the largest market place for UK handmade work, report a 526% rise in sales over the last three years and websites such as are the perfect place for you to find a range of products to inspire you, from paints to wool and chalkboards to candlewax.  As the popularity of crafting grows, more and more people, all over the country, are putting their talents to good use to help make a difference too.

Make ME’s craft products are sold entirely on behalf of a good cause. All their crafts are made by people suffering from M.E as well as their family and friends. Profits on the sale of the products, things like cards, candles, bags and lanyards, go towards funding a UK M.E. centre for biomedical research and treatment. All Make ME’s crafters want to give something back and the team behind the project are keen to emphasise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting involved, everyone contributes in slightly different ways.

Innocent’s Big Knit involves thousands of volunteers who knit hats to raise funds.

Making a difference

According to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), every year individuals raise around £10.6 billion to charities and voluntary organisations. Over the last few years, fund raising and crafting have combined to raise money for good causes.

One of the highest profile examples can be seen in the Innocent Foundation’s annual Big Knit. Every October little bottles of Innocent fruit smoothie suddenly begin to appear wearing miniature woollen hats. These hats have been knitted by an army of volunteers to raise much needed funds. Last year more than a million of the little hats were knitted securing £250,000 for Age UK to help keep older people warm during the winter months. 

Emma Palmer’s needle felted dogs were auctioned off for charity.

Handmade items for auction

Emma Palmer from Brighton has been crafting ever since she can remember and her own blog about crafting, Sew Recycled. “I learnt to knit using pencils while sat down for story time at primary school. I sew, needle felt and make all sorts of things.”

Earlier this year Emma took part in the Red Nose Day Dolls initiative. “Various makers contribute pieces of work that are then auctioned through eBay to raise money for the Red Nose Day appeal.”

Sell what you make

Sammy Scott from Wiltshire is studying fashion and textiles at college and teams up with other crafters to run stalls to raise funds for charities. She thinks the benefits of crafting for charity go both ways. “Not only are you raising money but you are able to get your name out to the world too.”

The key when it comes to a successful charity craft stall, she says, is not to over think it. “Crafts do not have to be complicated or really fancy. It can be as simple as cutting out some holly shaped leaves from green card and creating unique gift tags. Job done. It’s something that anyone with the interest and enthusiasm can get involved in.”

Give your time for free

Emma Palmer also makes a difference by giving her time to teach crafting workshops with all proceeds going to the good cause. “There is a high demand for this kind of group session” she explains. “I am currently getting ready for a one off needle felting Easter egg workshop that I’m running. I’m giving my time for free so all proceeds will be going to Save The Children. I can't afford to give a lot of money to charity, but this way at least I know that my time and knowledge is helping someone somewhere, whilst also giving pleasure to others at the same time.”

Cheryl Thompson from London also runs classes to support good causes. Her charity crafting workshops have so far proved popular. She said: “People learn a new skill, go home with what they have made and the charity gains too.” Cheryl believes that craft-philanthropy can be really effective. “I love the idea of crafting for charity. I think people are more likely to pay for a product or class than give a simple donation.” 

Greeniversity’s skill sharing classes are a big hit up and down the country.

Share your skills

You don’t have to sell your crafts or time to make a difference either. Another way to contribute is to share your skills for free with other people who are keen to learn something new. The team behind not-for-profit skills share scheme, Greeniversity, know first-hand the difference that learning something new can make to a person. “People often have bad memories of school and think they don’t like learning. Greeniversity is all about rekindling a love of learning new skills in a friendly, informal environment” explains project manager Ian Tennant.

Greeniversity is one of those simple but effective ideas. Essentially, it builds on the skill sharing that naturally happens between friends but broadens the appeal. According to Ian, it’s based on the premise that learning is good for the mind and the soul. “We’ve had examples of where Greeniversity has helped people re-skill and build confidence to get back into work. Crafting can also be used as part of a therapy programme for people suffering with mental health issues.”

So, how does it work? Well, people with a skill that they are willing to share create a class online, and then local people who live close by can attend it for free. Classes can be anything from knitting and refashioning clothes, to Christmas wreath making and scrapbooking.

Top tips for doing it yourself

If you fancy putting your crafting talents to work on behalf of a good cause, what are the things you need to consider?

Keep it simple

If you’re producing something for auction you can afford to invest a bit more time and effort in it, but if you are creating multiple items for a sale then you need a formula that you can replicate. Think production line! You want something that doesn’t take too long to make, isn’t too fiddly, and that you can face repeating a number of times over.

Be clear on what the charity is looking for

If you’re keen to support a particular cause, it’s a good idea to get in touch with the relevant charity to discuss your ideas before you start. Staff will be able to tell you what would work best for them. Some charities really like to receive knitted blankets because their beneficiaries can make good use of them. Others’ prefer donations of funds raised because this is the most efficient and effective way for them to work. For example, a knitter might make and donate one jumper to a charity for one homeless person to wear. If the jumper had been sold to a buyer and the money donated instead, then they charity could probably buy ten jumpers for ten people thanks to their buying power and economies of scale. The key is to find out what your charity of choice would find most beneficial.

Do what you can

A top tip from one of the crafters we spoke to was to make your charity work achievable. It needs to be manageable around the other work and responsibilities you have. If you try to take on too much it can get very stressful so focus on doing a small amount well rather than spreading yourself too thinly. 

Make it fun

Much of the popularity of crafting comes down to the fact that it’s good fun, and the same rules should apply when you’re using your talents for good causes. Do it with friends, with a glass of wine or two and some nibbles and what can seem like a big ask suddenly feels less intimidating

Themes work – needle felt crafter Emma Palmer is running an Easter themed workshop in April

Themes work

When making items for a stall or other event it’s a good idea to theme what you’re doing. Running workshops that are Easter or Christmas themed, or a session that is child-friendly during half term can help attract an audience.

Get your promotion right

Student crafter Sammy Scott says that getting the advertising right for any charity craft sale or event is important. She suggests getting in touch with schools and colleges to spread the word as well getting involved in the big social media following around crafting. Every Wednesday from 7.30pm on Twitter you can tap into the hashtag #handmadehour giving you a great opportunity to promote what you’re doing to an interested audience.

Be part of something bigger

If you prefer having a clear goal and timeline to work towards you might be happier taking part in an organised craft fundraiser like the Innocent smoothie hats where there is a specific task and patterns are provided. Other big campaigns include the Knitting for Oxfam, UK Hand Knitting knitting for charity and Hope 4 Women International’s pillowcase dresses campaigns.

Cheryl Thompson who runs craft workshops also takes part in organised campaigns. She says that there is still plenty of opportunity to be creative and add your own stamp within this sort of wider project.

No one size fits all

There is no golden rule on what you should do to use your crafting skills philanthropically. Think about what you’d like to do as well as what would have the most impact. From running workshops and free skill swaps, to Christmas stalls and charity auctions the possibilities really are endless.


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