Years ago I found this article called "How charity knitting changed my (knitting) life". When I read it, I had one of those amazing feelings where someone articulates exactly what you already knew, but didn't realise that you knew it. When someone explains to you why what you already know works, it is affirming, gives clarity and can be a 'coming home' moment. That article certainly did that for me. (You'd really better go and click on that link and read the article for the rest of this post to make sense...)
It reminded me that you can plan something down to Plan H (because only have one Plan B is a recipe for disaster in my opinion) but that no matter how much planning you do, it isn't a substitute for getting out there and doing it. I too remember hearing that story about the pottery class, and I have seen no end of examples of the truth of that.
When learning a new skill - be it knitting or anything else - it is good to read books, get lessons, watch video clips and seek advice, but there comes a point were further planning is not useful (eeeep!) and you just have to get out there and do it.
When you are knitting for charity, quantity is important. Quality is too, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't need to be perfect. Sometime 'good enough' is just that - good enough. Getting something as close to perfect as possible can actually be counter productive, if it means that you are forever undoing and restarting and backtracking and reundoing....
If you are making squares to stitch into a warm colourful patchwork blanket like these, then it doesn't matter if the red stripe on your square is three rows longer than the green one. Patchwork knitted blankets are fairly forgiving when stitched together, so it doesn't matter if some squares are a little bit wonky. A muddled stitch on a square is ok as long as it's secure. You're better to spend time knitting a few more rows of your next square than to be undoing and refixing over and over again.
The more things you make, the better you get. If you let yourself just slide over you small mistakes, if you let yourself make things which are 90% perfect, then you will stop making mistakes in time. You will do more stitches correctly if you just work through the small mistakes, than if you unpick them and redo them. Ten good squares are more useful that two perfect ones.
Sizing can also be less of an issue for charity knitting. It doesn't matter if the jumper you were knitting for a 10 year old gets away from you and ends up fitting a 12 year old. There will usually be someone for the item to fit - just check with the charity in case they have a need for a particular size.
Charity knitting can be a great way to make items which knit up quickly. A simple baby cardigan can be done in a weekend because of its small size. Vests knit up quickly as the don't have long sleeves to knit - it's more rewarding to make one vest than half a jumper.
Knitting lots of small items for others can also be a good way to keep from getting bored with one big project of your own. I always seem to have about five or six things on the go at any one time; it can help with the monotony of a big task.
All that aside, improving your skills doesn't mean that you should give charities crap. If you wouldn't be happy to use it yourself or give it to someone you love, then don't pass it off to a charity. Most charities are staffed by volunteers, so don't waste their precious time having to sort through and fix or dispose of items which can't be used. It still has to be 'good enough'.
So if you are thinking of learning a new craft, why not consider giving your practise items away? Charity knitting (or sewing or cooking or crocheting or whatever skill you want to learn) is a great way to practise, help others and avoid having your house taken over with crafty products.
So, what to make and who to give it to? You can approach this by working out who you want to help, or you can find who needs what you want to make. If you have an organisation in mind who you would like to help, then ask them what they want and what would be the most useful. You can work the other way if you want - try to think of who might need your item and seek them out. Some ideas for knitting are below:
Baby beanies, baby blankets, toys, beanies for older children and adults
Homeless/ disadvantaged assistance groups
Very warm beanies, scarfs, gloves/ mittens, blankets
Overseas or local aid groups
Beanies/ warm hats of all sizes, squares for making blankets or scarfs, vests, jumpers/ sweaters
Beanies, jumpers/ sweaters, toys. Matching sets are great as gifts.
Contact the organisation to find out specifically what they need. Is there a preference for sizing or the type of stitch or yarn? How are items to be packaged? Are there any special postage instructions? Are their any colours or patterns to be avoided?
Here are some charities which might be a starting point:
Knit-a-square (about whom I wrote) needs 20cm squares, adult sized beanies and monetary donations to help AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa.
QuIHN works with people in South East Queensland with issues such as homelessness, drug dependence, violent backgrounds and mental health issues. They need warm beanies, scarfs and blankets.
Help-a-bub provided baby good for several charities and orphanages around the world
The Givit List publishes the needs of charities Australia wide which often includes things which crafters can help with.
Wherever you are there will be someone who you can help with your new skill. So enjoy helping others, stitch by stitch.