Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Follow-up: Charity Knitting

A couple of months ago I wrote a review of Knitting for Peace, a book devoted to what is sometimes called "charity knitting." It amazes me that I still get commenters from latecomers who have just discovered that post. In fact, I got one just about two weeks ago, and it went like this:

I was disappointed by the negative and even spiteful comments about people who knit for charity. There's enough vileness in this world already without adding to it.
It's not about ego or "ugly yarn" it's about doing something to make the world a better place.

Indeed, most of the latecomer comments are in this vein, e.g.:

I never thought I would see the day that there would be some sort of "controversy" or argument over charity. Especially the comment about a friend (with good taste?) who recieved a prayer shawl and her saying she wonders what he did with the "acryllic wonder", wow, I would be ashamed of that comment. A lot of love and hope for wishing him well went into that shawl, and hopefully he came through all right, and came through with a sense of thankfulness that strangers were thinking good thoughts for him.

This is WHY we need a book like Knitting for Peace (charity, etc) because peoples hearts have become so guarded, jaded and self interested, that we NEED instruction books for being kind and giving humans. :(

I have to say that this perplexes me a bit. There seems to be a sentiment that simply because the topic of the book is "charitable," any objective review of the book, particularly any criticism, is mean-spirited, and, likewise, that since charity knitting is A Good Thing, any discussion that is not all hearts and sunshine and :)s is mean or cynical.

Does a knitter have to participate in knitting for others to be a nice person? Or is it possible to be a kind, giving person concerned for others who simply does not to wish to participate in knitting charities? Maybe you'd rather give money or do things for people who live in your own community, like work in a soup kitchen, rather than knit stuff to mail halfway across the world. Does that make your giving acts less "good"? Or maybe you have limited time to knit and feel you'd prefer to knit for yourself or your family and friends. Does that make you selfish? or just someone with limited time who prefers to knit for her/himself or her/his family and friends?

If you do choose to participate in knitting charities, isn't it entirely appropriate to keep your focus on the intended recipient of the knitted item? Isn't it possible to say "Yes, I like to participate in knitting for others but only where I know the item will be needed and useful"? If you knit lacy pink hats for The Ship's Project, when they tell you over and over again that they can't use lacy pink hats for the mostly-male recipients and the coordinator ends up throwing them in the trash, is the fact that you knit something for someone else all that counts? If you knit scarves patterned like the American flag, and some kid in Afghanistan might get shot for wearing it, is that okay because, well, beggars can't be choosers, or because we're all being "too politically correct" these days? And can't we discuss these issues without being accused of cynicism or "vileness" -- or without being judged harshly by those who like knitting for charities?

I guess what I'm trying to put my finger on is the narcissism that I sometimes (of course, not always) see in the context of knitting for others (not to mention the heavy-duty judgment being laid on those who don't believe such causes are worthwhile or who simply choose not to participate). Knitting what you want to knit rather than what is needed. Sending stuff to get rid of it, or because it isn't "nice enough" to give to someone you know. Ignoring the guidelines or requirements that the organization sets out because you assume everyone in the world thinks like you -- or because it makes you feel all rosy inside because you're Doing Something For Others. If you are going to participate in knitting for others, then oughtn't you do it right? Or is it still all sugar and spice and everything nice when fifty lacy pink berets end up in a trashcan?


Anonymous said...

Personally, I RARELY knit for charity. In fact, a hat I made the other day may be only the second time in my entire knitting life I've knit for a charitable cause. I hardly ever knit for OTHER PEOPLE let alone charities. ;-)

I'd rather write a check.

That's not to say there's nothing wrong with charitable knitting. If that's what floats your boat, go for it.

As far as your review is concerned, I think there's a lot of that going around. Sometimes I feel like you can't criticize anything without backlash from someone. Even though the book might be about something worthwhile (i.e. charitable knitting,) the subject of a book doesn't automatically make it a well-written or well-produced book.

Emily said...

Well said! I never knit for charity, and I refuse to feel guilty about it. I have limited time and money for knitting, and I'd prefer to know that my gifts were tailored well to their recipients (generally friends and family, as I hardly ever finish anything for myself) and appreciated. I think it's great that people knit for charity, but frankly it's just not my thing...

Anonymous said...

I'm very wary of self-proclaimed charity knitters and those who feel a need to advertise the fact. It seems to be one of those issues like patriotism that strikes a fine line between philanthropy and fundamentalism. I enjoy your comments and reviews - don't let the naysayers get at you.

Unknown said...

Interesting that I read this post not 10 minutes after I posted a picture of my Red Scarf Project scarf on my blog! But I swear, I swear, it was just to show off the cool scarf I made. I'm not seeking any accolades for knitting for charity (although if you're offering...).

Carol, I don't think that anything related to charity is so far above reproach that you can't write an objective book review without fearing for your life. On the other hand, I think there's room to be a smidge more forgiving than you might be otherwise.

I think the comments posted above sound like they're more a reaction to other people's comments than a reaction to your book review itself. Being a new reader of your blog, I just went back and read the original review (and comments) myself. I have to admit - I was surprised that your review stirred up so much controversy, and that so many people were vehemently opposed to charity knitting. Those who are against it generally seem to be the recipients of some ill-conceived "charity" in the past. I don't think a bad experience is necessarily a reason to write off all charity knitting as self-serving or useless, but I'm glad those people gave their opinions. Hopefully one or two people who donate handknit items for the "wrong" reasons you mentioned will get a clue and do better next time. Hey, anything's possible! Maybe my boss (who makes at least twice as much money as I do) won't re-gift crappy toys and expired baby food to our "adopted" family next Christmas. Here's hoping!

Anonymous said...

Very well said.

Janice in GA said...

There is a whole sentiment these days of praising any little thing someone (especially a newbie) does, even if the work is, uh, not really that good. I think the feeling that goes with the "my charity knitting is good no matter WHAT" kinda falls into that spectrum of reactions.
Abby over at Abby's Yarns
has a long post about how she was trained a little differently.

jillian said...

I concur - well said. These sorts of comments always make me think that they wouldn't be so offended if you hadn't hit a nerve in your post that regards them. Charity of any kind is not above reproach, especially when the commentary is objective. Don't let the snide comments get you down.

Debi said...

First of all it's your blog and your opinion so you're entitled to write whatever you like but of course you know that :)

As someone who enjoys reading your honest reviews of books, topics, ect. I appreciate your honesty, even if it's an opinion we don't share. If I didn't want perspectives different from mine I suppose there is a cave in Nepal I could move to!

As far as charity knitting I agree with your assessment of those "charitable souls" who knit to their own specs or to get rid of stuff they don't want...that's just unconscionable! If you wouldn't wear it yourself what makes you think it's gonna make some poor kid in Mongolia happy? If you can't follow the rules, don't bother! As a medical professional I know that many Oncology Units and Newborn Intensive Care Units wont accept chemo caps/preemie caps because of the germs they may harbor, best intentions aside! Yet the knitters keep on knitting.

I confess I do knit scarves for the Red Scarf Project because it's a charity that touches me and I know the scarves go to people who really appreciate them...who doesn't like a care package when you're in college? The rest of my knitting time is precious so I donate cash or my time.

Anonymous said...

I used to volunteer in a neonatal ICU holding babies. During the down times when all the babies were sleeping I'd knit tiny hats, basically just to keep myself busy. (I admit I'm a bit of a compulsive knitter). Once the nurses were squabbling over a particular hat and later I was told that the recipient died the next day. His mother took the hat home with her as a reminder of the (short) time she shared with her child. It broke my heart, as you can imagine, but I was glad to have helped her in some small way. As a knitter who rarely knits for herself, I enjoy knitting for those I love and also for those I don't know. I can't imagine why people get so bent out of shape about this subject, though. It's not like you're telling them they CAN'T knit for charity and have taken away their yarn and needles =)

I enjoy the blog and your thoughtfulness and honesty. Keep up the good work

Bridget said...

People get so worked up over differences of opinion nowadays, it seems that you can't win no matter what. Don't get me wrong, I can be morally righteous with the best of them, but I really do try to censor myself if it's not appropriate.

I think it's just as important to decide why you do or don't do something, as it is to do/not do it.

But what do I know? I'm told all the time how selfish I am, because I don't have children. So I'm not the best one to opine on this (plus, I just wanted to use "opine" in a sentence!) ...

Anonymous said...

There are some great knitting charities, ones that really can do more with (the right) knitted items than they could with money, like the Red Scarf Project and the Dulaan Project (the latter since knitters have easy, relatively cheap access to warm fibers like alpaca, but when do you ever see an alpaca sweater for sale? I've seen one, once, and it was $200 and a blend).

But there are many, many, many more that are, to my mind, pure vanity projects. Someone (wish I could remember who!) recently compared the vanity of some charity knitting to that of the people who donated heavy winter coats after Katrina. In many cases, a knitted item is in no way superior to the bought version and, moreover, the average charity can do much more with money (which can buy whatever they need) than with knitted items (which are pretty much just that one thing).

The worst, though, is people who say "well, if I screw up I'll just donate it" or "if it turns out ugly I'll just donate it." Sorry, but I want to SLAP those people. That's a horrible, despicable attitude, and I suspect it turns many truly charitable people against the idea of charity knitting altogether.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. This whole beggers can't be choosers attitude with charity crafting is upsetting. I also think that the fact that you don't have to see the receiver face to face makes it easier to make crappy things. Really, if you want to knit for charity then follow the rules they set down and make the best possible item you can.

I do a ton of charity knitting. I feel that if a homeless person is going to get one hat to wear then I have to make sure it's warm, comfortable, well made, and fashionable.

Anonymous said...

In the modern age, it's hard to defend charity knitting on practical terms. If you really want to do the most good for the most people, then hand-knitting items in the US and shipping them to Mongolia is probably a very inefficient way to go about that. So, it has to be about more than just providing the goods. I still haven't decided if it's a futile feel-good gesture or not. I think it's a worthwhile debate. I'm glad you're willing to take on questions that don't have easy answers. If an assumption can't stand up to scrutiny, then it really needs to be scrutinized.

Jen said...

It's very easy to be self-congratulatory, and very difficult to be truly useful. Good post.

Anonymous said...

I'm not one big on quoting biblical vers but one of my favs is Matthew 6:1 I try to keept it in mind when I do charitable deeds. Basically it says "Do your charitable deeds in private, let no one but you and God know you are doing it because you are a hypocrite if you trumpet your acts to gain accolade"

I knit scarves for the Red Scarf project because I have a foster son and I know how much he appreciated care packages, I do use left over, end of the year stash to make hats & mittens for a shelter, not because I don't want the stash, but because I know they need it, I have volunteered at a soup kitchen because I have so much where others have little.

I think that posting the pictures of the red scarfs and chemo hats and such seems a little like "Look at me, look what I did." but maybe I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

I read your original post, and I hope you don't let negative comments stop you from reviewing books. Charitable knitting is a good thing, if done right, but I have to agree that I would rather write a check because my time and funds are limited, and I think the charities probably need the money more than the knitted goods. Also, do people in Dulaan and Afghanistan want hand knits? I'm not trying to be negative, I'm actively curious.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog. It's well written and interesting. I almost always agree with your opinions. I don't knit for charity. I never have and I never will. I live in the NorthEast, where it is 12 degrees (Far.)today. My husband works in the city. Want to help someone in need? Do what my husband does. He takes the jacket off his back, the hat of his head and the gloves off his hands and gives them to homeless people. He does this a few times each winter. He also gives them his brown bag lunch, hot coffee and a smile. It's a small gesture (and kind of expensive) but very satisfing in the short term. At least we can SEE where our donations are going. And we know they are very much needed and appreciated. That's how we like to help those less fortunate.

Carol said...

The funny part is that I do knit for certain charities, if I'm sure they are well-run and tailored very closely to meet the recipients' needs. I use the Ship's Project as an example because the group leader doesn't hesitate to scold the members for sending crap and will pitch anything that either is fugly or not useful to the soldiers she sends to. She also works very closely with the individual units she sends to to make sure she is sending what they want and need rather than what some people want to send. In fact, she changes her requests from time to time to accommodate specific needs of the soldiers. Likewise, I think Afghans for Afghans and Dulaan have close working relationships with the countries and the recipients and are fussy about what they send.

On the other hand, when I hear about people sending afghans to the Crocodile Hunter's family, and when one questions whether the family might need or want them, and they say "Well, if they don't want them, they can give them to charities," I get apoplectic. Like the man's family doesn't have enough on their mind having just buried him, without schlepping the afghans somewhere??

Ah me.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see how negative comments in a book review equals negative comments on the subject of the book.
As far as any kind of charity is concerned, it seems to me you should know there is a need, and fulfil that need in the way that's asked for. Would be people who willie nillie send off any darn thing they please rather than what's requested be happy if they ordered a pair of blue jeans and recieved nylon stockings? Not too likely!
Keep up the good work Carol. The dictionary defines criticism as:
The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works
Seems to me that's what you do.
Barb B.

mindy said...

What a can of worms...
Well said, everyone above. You too, Carol.

Anonymous said...

This has been very interesting to read. It seems to me that this is one of those times where most everyone can be right. I suppose it depends on what other experiences one has that allows one person to see something as knitted love and another to view it as an acryllic wonder. I don't know when someone seeks a reward for charity knitting by posting on a blog or when it is posted to let others know of the need and direct them to a source of information if they are interested. I knit for some groups and pass on others. I do what is right for me, and also try to make sure I do what is right for the group seeking knit items. I never have a negative thought for anyone who decides that they will not knit for charity. I understand why, and even if I didn't, it is none of my business. We are all free to make our own decisions and need to make sure we allow that same freedom to others without judgment.

Anonymous said...

I just read your original review and I too am puzzled by the comments. I just don't see negative remarks about knitting for charity. I am appreciative of your attention to detail in giving me the information I need to decide whether this book is worth buying (to me).

Keep up the good work.

M-H said...

Afghans to the Irwins? You're kidding me. Don't these idiot knitters know that they live in the tropics? It's too hot to even need a blanket at night on your bed. And don't say they can use them in winter. Queensland doesn't have winter that gets cold. Reminds me of the penguins that needed little jackets because they were getting cold. On the general subject of knitting for charity, a friend told me that she was telling someone about how difficult her very elderly father is, and how he doesn't seem to appreciate how much she does for him. You know, just moaning in a general kind of way, as you do. The person she was talking to asked, in all seriousness, why my friend didn't just give up on her father and do nice things for nicer people, because at least she would feel better about it. It explained quite well how some pepople view charity - something to make them feel better.

Anonymous said...

Amen to your post, especially the last paragraph. The recipients of "charity" are sometimes put in the position of, not only being needy, having to appear grateful for something that is unwanted. When it's a good match on both sides, that's true charity.

Anne K. said...

Another fascinating thread. I enjoyed the first one, too. In fact, I posted some of the comments in my own blog. Feel free to visit - the post is under "Some stuff to think about."

I do a lot of knitting and sewing for local organizations. And I found the most-critical comments in this discussion to be the best reminders to *do things right.* Rather than bristle at reading the criticism, it makes sense to recognize that there are, unfortunately, a lot of really schlocky excuses for charity crafting out there...those that, as Carol so correctly noted, feel smug and happing for Doing for Others. That's always been true, and probably always will be.

I hope my own post conveyed that we who choose to do these types of projects need to do our own reality-check so we don't fall into the "posturing schmuck" category. The candor of those who commented was spot-on.

It's a shame if any so-called charity crafter looks down his or her nose at those who choose not to. I do it simply because it's the right time in my life to do so. I don't have little kids at home. I love to sew. I love to knit. How many hats and quilts can I really inflict on my own family? So I find places to donate them. And since I choose to do that, it's my responsibility to make sure I'm making things that are truly needed. Thanks for the reminders to do just that.

AuntieAnn said...

I agree that not all of these charity knitting projects make sense. I do knit for some, but others seem to me to be such an inefficient way to help that they make no sense to me. I can't help but feel that they exist to make the knitters feel better. I blogged about this here:

Thanks for your sensible comments, Carol.

brewerburns said...

I like reading your book reviews. You are honest and straightforward and give reasons for your opinion. Very useful.

As for charity knitting, I think that if you want to do it, then you should, and if you don't then don't. And don't feel bad about it either way. Life is too short.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but feel that they exist to make the knitters feel better.

I have to agree. A non-craft community that I used to be on lost a member to cancer. Later, another member, who had knitted the dead woman a Fun Fur scarf, claimed to have had a dream that the dead woman had come to her in a dream and said "I want you to make 500 scarves for the poor, like the one you made me".

And so everyone made scarves of all kinds, but mostly furry ones, for what was called the Cindy Project. The board split rather acrimoniously not long after, and to this day I have no idea of where the dead muppets were donated or who used them.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read your review yet, but I can tell from this post that I totally agree with you. And I must send Rabbitch a thank you for linking to you.

This country (world) is so f'ed up, when a person cannot comment on a book because the intent of said book is noble (or some other such crap).

Your articulate "defense" is inspiring.


Anonymous said...

Another example of feel-good misdirected charity knitting here:

Anonymous said...

Actually, fernmonkey, Mary Read's family was very pleased by the project. If you click on the blog, you can see a note that her father sent on the subject. Her aunt also has commented publicly on how happy she was about the project.
And the recipient organization was also very pleased and said the items will be very useful.