knitting · sewing

Handmade Help

In the aftermath of last week’s Hurricane Harvey, there’s been a lot of good conversation about how to help in times of crisis. Too often, disaster donation sites are overwhelmed with goods that are either useless or inappropriate for the needs at hand.

As someone who works for a non-profit, I can vouch for the message that has been reiterated wide and far: money is often the greatest blessings in times of crisis: it is easy to transport and infinitely flexible to meet the needs of a particular crisis. Especially when one is trying to send relief from a great geographical distance, money matters. As I look down Hwy 290, just 150 miles to Houston, my husband and I have sent money to the Mission Centers of Houston, where I served as a summer missionary in college, and to the Texas Organic Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Association (TOFGA) Disaster Relief Fund.

At the same time, while our heads may know that money goes far, our hands and hearts want to feel that our help is real. There’s a reason people enjoy food drives and clothing drives so much – we like to hold things in our hands and know they are going to bless someone else. Here in Austin, we’ve had some compelling opportunities to help in ways beyond monetary donations. Earlier this week, our mayor posted a video announcing that the Austin Disaster Relief Network was in need of “welcome kits” for hurricane evacuees who will be sheltered here. “Company’s coming,” he said, “and everybody’s got chores.”

As I assembled the toiletry items requested for the kit, I thought about the advice I’d heard from more than one person discussing donations: that you should give the kinds of funds and goods that you would want to receive in a time of crisis.

In my three years living on the Gulf Coast, I only faced one real hurricane threat. While Hurricane Isaac (2012) turned out to be little trouble, I remember packing a bag in case evacuation became mandatory, and wondering what would happen to the things I left behind. I fretted most for my storied goods: the handmade clothes from Mama, the books from friends, the special photos and letters.

Looking over the welcome kit list again, I realized that there were at least two things I could make. Maybe, I thought, it would be some comfort to an evacuee to have something homemade.

The items I chose—wash cloths and pillowcases—are each quite simple to make; I needed items I could start and finish over the weekend. Knowing that I would be on a street retreat on Friday night, I tucked a ball of cotton yarn in my backpack and picked a pattern that was easy to memorize and even easier to knit. I did most of my knitting as we walked the streets of Austin all Friday night and Saturday morning, praying keenly for those who find themselves wanderers, with no idea when they will return home.


The pillowcases I made in about an hour on Saturday. Lindsay Connor’s “burrito method” makes for a quick project with a pretty contrast panel and sturdy French seams. If I hadn’t cut the main fabric incorrectly, I probably could have made them in about 15 minutes each. The patterned fabrics are reproduction 1930s prints.


I don’t know if the recipients of my kits will care about handknit goods, or if they will like the colors I selected. I can only hope that they will see them as signs that they are neither alone nor forgotten. For men, women, and children whose stories have entered a hard chapter, my prayer is that these little tokens will foreshadow even better help to come.


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