It can be hard in some moments to keep sight of that. I mean thinking about what people are going through, finding somewhere to sleep, getting food to eat, dealing with the memories that must be haunting them and the fears that must overtake them, craft can seem kind of frivolous.
To some people such unimportant contributions might actually seem like a kind of nuisance, an imposition on other people and a distraction from the real work. In between the flurry today I've been thinking a lot about that, whether it is right to be thinking about little things when the big things are still a mess. About whether a gift of something creative can ever be as important or meaningful as the gift of cash.
And you know, I'd never want to be in the way of important work, I'd never want to divert resources from essential services, or discourage someone from donating cash or serving meals in a relief centre in order to knit, or buy fabric or sew a pretty quilt. Getting people housed and fed and clothed and moving on is absolutely non negotiable. And so is the importance of people choosing what they want and not simply being given the stuff other people think they should have.
But Handmade Help is about something different, something for a different time. That time when the basics have been covered and moving on is about more than just surviving. When having something precious seems very important indeed.
When someone wishes the plain T-shirt they bought in a hurry in Target didn't look so bland, when they wish they had some earrings to wear, or a pretty tea towel to dry the dishes with. When the make do starts to remind them less about how lucky they were to survive and more about the treasures they lost. Grandma's doilies, the pendant they got for their 21st birthday, the tablecloth their daughter embroidered in year 10 home economics class, the photo frame they got for a wedding gift, their favourite handbag. The things they collected, the gifts they were given with love and pride.
Of course nothing can replace the treasures of the past, but the gifts made by hand and with the best of intentions can become part of a new era of lives. Tokens to remind them of how much people cared for strangers who had suffered great misfortune, of how powerful and meaningful community is. That they are embraced for no more complicated a reason than because they are human and deserve care. I think this is real and important, I absolutely do. Sometimes feeling touched by someone else can be life blood.
Crafting is and has always been a central thread of community, of building and rebuilding lives. It is no mistake that so many of our words and metaphors to describe coming together relate to the materials and processes of craft - the weaving, spinning, knitting and stitching that create the fabric, the thread, the web, the net; the forging, the binding, the blending and the seaming make us strong and solid and inseparable and resilient.
The Handmade Help project is something for the long haul. It is a call for crafters to get to work now to be ready for that time when people start to think about the next step in their lives. We need to fill that community chest, the glory box, so that when those families are stepping over that threshold into their new lives they have something special to bring with them.
For some that moment will come much earlier than for others - the process won't be neat and orderly, it won't be big and dramatic. It will take a long time, months and months. It will be hands and ears and mouths at work. A call from one person to the next that someone, somewhere, needs something. A quilt for a new bed, a table cloth, a handmade shawl. A child who needs a new special toy or blankie, a man who needs a good pair of hand knitted socks, someone who needs something to make them feel joyous and treasured.
And for some people it will mean getting them crafting again. Because it isn't just things that get lost in fires. It is also inspiration and the drive to craft, the collection of pattern books or knitting needles or a lifetime of embroidery floss, it's stash and tools and sewing boxes containing mum's old darning needles, a pin cushion, a box of beads, the button tin. And because crafting is healing and creating something where nothing was before.
So I feel absolutely no guilt in asking you to think about giving. Not instead of all the other really important stuff like cash and time, but as well as. In the background, over time. While life goes on.
- To make that next project something for someone else. To knit and sew and smith and create the beautiful foundations of lives and homes.
- To pass on some of your stash to a crafter who needs a little inspiration and a hand to start the re-stashing of their crafting life. Make a project bag or sewing box and stock it with the gear someone needs to get some crafting done.
- To keep your eyes and ears and email inbox open for opportunities to touch someone - ask friends, colleagues, extended family - to find people who have personal connections in affected communities which might allow the right things to get to the right people.