Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crafting and Charity, a Chat with Jaala Spiro

(Edited to add, Wendy of comment #7 was the lucky winner!)

When I heard Editor Jaala Spiro was looking for bloggers to host stops on a Knitcircus blog tour, I got right in line for a visit.
I have been a subscriber for a while now, and was delighted to hear the magazine was going digital. For me it means all those lovely articles will be accessible through my lap top instead of having to hunt down my physical copy of the magazine, and that rather than having to print off a pattern, I can just pull it up on the screen for the tricky bits. In a larger world view, it means the sense of responsibility with which Knitcircus was started is being carried one step further. The original goal of having a lovely magazine springboard the ability to donate to Heifer International and will continue, and with the move to digital, the magazine will have a larger circle of readers and a much smaller environmental impact.

I have been looking forward to her visit here, I have been eager to learn more about using a publication for charitable funding, and delve into her own thoughts crafting, and giving.

Read to the end for details on winning the complete Issue 9 pattern collection!


Jaala, welcome to Otterwise!

(me) There are many generous people in the world, but crafters as a general rule seem to go above and beyond. Is that a true perception? If so, why do you think that crafters tend to be so generous with time and funds when compared to non-crafters?

(Jaala) That’s something I wonder myself; watching people on Ravelry and Etsy jump in to figure out ways of helping in the wake of the Haitian earthquake really made me proud. This may sound simplistic, but as a group, fibercrafters are predominantly women, and women tend to have more well-developed senses of compassion and empathy as a group than men. As a subgroup of women, crafters spend time specifically creating something for other people to enjoy; the idea of translating your time into something to enhance someone else’s life gets built in to the work that we do. Crafting for other people by its nature is a generous act, so it may also be that people who choose crafts select themselves out as folks who are willing to take time out to create for and think about others. I don’t see a huge leap from creating a hat for your son to knitting a hat for a baby in need or, if that’s not going to help, selling that hat or pattern and giving the money created to the baby in need.

Knitters and crafters may also be driven to generosity by the desire to use up their stash—maybe your boyfriend doesn’t love that fluffy yellow alpaca and you already made a sweater out of it; a crafty gal knows she can donate that yarn to a prison knitting program or knit a scarf for a battered women’s shelter and erase stash guilt!

What do you personally gain from the generosity of Knitcircus? Have the results been all you wished for?

People purchasing the magazine have made it possible for me to donate more to KIVA and Heifer than I would have ever been able to alone, so that’s exciting. Part of the reason we’ve moved online stems from a desire to be able to bring more readers in, make the magazine more successful and increase our ablility to donate.

We held our first-ever Hat Circus event last year, and we had a big turnout—more people than I ever expected attended and we were able to sew polarfleece hats and scarves for 30 children in the Milwaukee area who needed warm clothes. That warmed the cockles of my heart and exceeded my expectations.
(photo is of only part of the donations generated by Hat Circus)

How will the new electronic format increase Knitcircus' ability to support charity? Are there any new charitable plans in the works taking advantage of the larger online platform?

We hope that having more readers will allow us to support our charities more fully; because of the Haiti disaster, we’ve also added a link to Medecines Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders; it’s a trusted name and especially well-known to knitters because of Stephanie Pearl McPhee’s ongoing generous work with them.

Right now, we’re not planning anything in particular; a charity knitalong would be fun, and we’re expecting and hoping that even more people will participate in our Hat Circus event this fall; we’re planning to add sewn and knitted mittens this year!

Would you consider having a database of charities available on the Knitcircus site?
What criteria would a charity need to meet to be included? How would someone propose a charity to be listed?

That’s a great idea. We’re not real strong on database code in our staff, more on the creative side, but we could probably manage a list. Yarn snob though I am, Lion Brand yarns has a great charity links page to look at when thinking about yarn-related giving. We’re pretty happy with the small number of charities since we’re a pretty small organization.

When you design a pattern for charity whether it be knitting, sewing, or something else, what do you keep in mind? (i.e.. Does it need to be simple enough for all skill levels? Androgynous colors? How do you make certain the finished item is appropriate for the charity for which it is intended?)

Umm, well, I haven’t specifically designed patterns for a charity, though along with you and a number of our designers of whom I’m quite proud, I did volunteer to donate the proceeds form sales of my Aden Hat, Spun Sugar Mittens and Lime Lace Scarf patterns to Haiti.

A lot of charities have specific garments they’re looking for and specific yarns/patterns they recommend, so I’d say a good way to help out as a designer would be to design a really appealing pattern and then let people know that you’re donating the proceeds to charity. People also have their interested buyers donate to the charity and then forward the email receipt to the designer, after which the designer sends the pdf or the printed pattern out, so those are both good ways to help.

What tips would you have for someone who is interested in beginning to craft for charity? With so many deserving charities out there, the sheer volume of need can be overwhelming. As a beginning 'gifter' how would you advise them narrow down who to help?

There are so many great ones out there; Project Linus is very accessible; Mother Bear Project gives a lot of comfort to kids in dire straits; lots of places create baby hats…a great book for charity knitting is Betty Christiansen’s Knitting for Peace. There’s so much information available online and on Ravelry, I’d say a good way to approach it would be to decide who you most want to help—is it abused women? People who have lost someone? Babies born to poor families? Kids in windswept places? And once you decide who’s the best fit for you, search Ravelry or type in to Google to find organizations that match well.

How and why did you choose and Heifer International?

Since we are small, and our donations weren’t going to be huge, we carefully chose organizations whose structures allow people to “pass on the gift,” so that you’re not only giving one time to one person; you allow that person to turn around and pay back the loan to loan out again to another small business (KIVA) or pass along the progeny of your livestock to other families (Heifer). These organizations work around the world and Heifer also works with people here in the USA, which makes me happy.

Many charities are religion-based groups. What are your feelings on that? Do you seek out secular charities? If so, why?

I myself was not raised in a particular religion, or it’s more accurate to say that our family includes several religious backgrounds; I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for a secular entity (like a knitting magazine) to support a specific religiously-based charity. We don’t go to the extent of keeping holiday-based knitting away from the magazine, (we would consider holiday stockings, but would also then like to balance that with Solstice and Hanukkah patterns if possible) but would want the patterns to focus on the secular aspects of the holidays, if that makes sense.

Thank you Jaala! It has been great having you here. I love putting my money where it does the most good, and Knitcircus definitely qualifies! The terrific articles and lovely patterns are the first payoff, but I appreciate knowing the money I spend helps to support two of my favorite charities.

Thanks so much, Diana!

Readers, to win a pdf containing the complete pattern collection, simply leave a comment and come back tomorrow to see who won!


Steph said...

Great stuff!

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the heads up about the post; I hadn't heard of Knitcircus before. I love online knitting magazines, and I love the idea of one that donates to great organizations like Kiva and Heifer International.

Min said...


What a great read for a snowy day!

morewithles said...

interesting... thanks!!!

Lynx said...

Somehow or other I am going to figure out how to work this interview into my paper for English!

I am proud to be a Crafty Lady!!

Deborah said...

I enjoyed the interview. Thank you.

Christine W said...

Thanks for the information. I hadn't heard of KnitCircus until Diana started talking about it. Sounds like a great magazine that I will have to check out.

vicki said...

Great info! I hadn't heard about Knitcircus before. I'll be watching for it now!

Wendy said...

Very cool! I hadn't heard of Knitcircus before either.

Katie said...

Wow! I had no idea there was so many ways of helping. I will probably have to check out Knitting for Peace. Thanks again for all the info and fun!

Rhonda said...

Thank you, very interesting.

Kym said...

Great interview, Diana. I'm inspired. :-)

AlisonH said...

Cool, on all counts. And I love Heifer International.