The Giving Challenge: When sustainable sewing turned into charity quilting

Can I be upfront and honest here? My reason to start sewing for charity wasn’t that I was feeling particularly philanthropic, but since I have found out more about different charities and the kinds of home-sewn items they request, I’ve found myself trying to do more on the sewing to give side.

My sewing has been generally a selfish pursuit, besides the odd “can you act as my local dry cleaner and do my alterations please” type requests from the family. It was an initial desire to not waste anything that made me look at quilting and charity in the first place. As a garment sewist, quilting is never something I thought I’d ever do, until one day I was cleaning out my stash and realised I had a TON of offcuts and scraps I’d collected over the years. A lot of them were wovens and I didn’t really think about making patchwork clothing at the time, so I figured quilting. I also had a bunch of fat quarter packs I collected when I used to go randomly browsing in fabric shops.

Time to sew baby quilt for charity
My first ever quilt which I gave to the East London (UK) arm of Project Linus. It took me at least 3-4 years to actually do something with the fat quarter pack I picked up from a fabric shop once upon a time.

Turns out that being handy with a sewing machine is pretty useful. When I started to google charity sewing, I never knew that there were that many places that appreciated donations of home-sewn things. Coming from Australia, I found the sheer number of charities in the UK to be overwhelming, with a charity for almost every topic you can think of. I’m not sure if this is because philanthropy is a deeply rooted cultural trait or a symptom of the inequalities in society (or both) — but I do appreciate that there are a lot of good people trying to do good things for others.

Siblings Together — a charity for siblings separated due to entering the care system

For the last 1.5 years I’ve quilted primarily for Siblings Together in the UK. As a parent, this charity tugs at my heartstrings. They run summer camps and get-togethers to give siblings that have been separated an opportunity to be together and connect. The founder of the charity was in care herself, and the way she tells the story of the kids who enter and leave the system with nothing, the bonds that they form at camps when they are allowed to just “be” without any social workers etc. looking over them makes for truly emotional reading.

Where the sewing comes in is that at the end of summer camp, the kids receive their very own quilt It might sound like a small thing, but it can make a real difference to for them to have something of their very own as well as providing happy memories of their camp experience.

There are a number of quilting bees (I believe 7 by now), each of which make about 10 quilts a year. Each of the bees has monthly block makers, and also a rotating monthly chair (quilt mama) who sets the block that month and then collects the contributions and makes it into a quilt.

Time to Sew charity autumn quilt top
A Siblings Together quilt top I’ve just finished. I set the block earlier this year and quilting bee members sent me their completed blocks which I’ve supplemented with different panel pieces.

There are also block drives every few months so that people who can’t commit to sewing each month can also participate and make one or more blocks. If you’re interested in joining in, please see the blog here.

Other charity sewing opportunities in the UK

There are loads of other charities in the UK that take handmade goods. If you have the time to do the making and you are happy to give it away to a good cause, it’s highly likely you that you won’t have a scrap box left by the end of it! Without further ado, here’s a small list of ideas for UK based charity sewing (click the links for further info):

  • Project Linus (began in the US): quilts and blankets for hospitals and other charities. My regional coordinator accepted my donations of batting, fabric, and a completed quilt when I was still living in East London. My quilt went to a charity which provides family support workers for families with seriously ill children.
  • Pyjama Fairies: make pyjamas for kids who are undergoing surgery or medical tests. Much more comforting than the traditional hospital gowns; for this kind of sewing you need to use 100% new lightweight woven cotton.
  • Cherished Gowns UK / Little Things and Co / Daddy’s Angels: clothing for babies who are stillborn or pass away shortly after birth. Some will accept donations of wedding dresses. See this summary article here.
  • Post Pals UK: a charity which invites members of the public to send cards, letters or little gifts, to seriously ill children and their siblings to make them smile and feel less isolated. Knitted or crocheted things, even quilts or blankets are welcome.

Also for US-based readers, I saw an article here with a bit of a list as well.

I hope you are feeling inspired to do something for #givesewmuch — when it comes to charity there is so much sewing that can be done, big or small. Just a matter of will, cost and time!

Kate is a former guest editor of the Sewcialists. An import to the Netherlands via the UK, she thinks sustainable fashion and sewing should be accessible to everybody. Follow her blog Time to Sew for sustainability chat and to purchase recycled fabric sewing kits, and Instagram @timetosew for sewing adventures!