Tag Archives: charity

Choosing The Path of Tears


One of the reasons I got involved with charities and volunteering is because it’s a choice.

Memories were triggered for me today….

Once upon a time in college I did a lot of work with severe and profoundly handicapped children, affected mentally, physically and developmentally.  The forgotten ones in our world, the ones who are often wards of the state, whose families have abandoned them because they can’t take the pain or because their medical need for care is too great.

One of the medical facilities I volunteered in had designations on every bedroom door as to whether or not to resuscitate or try to save the young life that lived within.  We walked into those rooms each time knowing that the child we worked with today might not be there tomorrow.  And though we were officially there to help with physical and educational therapies, most of us knew we were also there to hopefully make a difference and help make the quality of life for one young living being a little better.

I thought for a time that I would go into that profession as a music therapist.

And then I watched nurses and professional after professional working with these kids, their pro hearts grown hard and cold.  Because it’s too painful to get too close and they had a job to do.  They couldn’t afford to break down.  And so many no longer responded to the cries of the children when they were scared or in pain and there was little comfort from their caretakers.  It’s not that they were mean or anything, or that they provided less than excellent care.  It’s just that they had lost their ability to be soft inside.  There were only a handful of professionals who seemed to have held on to their compassion.  And it was far too few.

After witnessing it again and again, I finally realized that I couldn’t do the work I was doing as a means to feed myself in life.  I did not want to take a chance of becoming hardened and cold because years of a broken heart made me so and because it was my job.  I didn’t want to have to make ends meet in life this way.

So I chose a different path, the one of a volunteer.

As a volunteer, I know I can walk away at any time.  I generally haven’t been paid even when I organize events.  But I *choose* to be there.  I have no other reason or motivation to be there other than to serve.  My next meal does not depend on the volunteer work I do.  And though my heart may be broken again and again in service, and I may receive little thanks, my compassion remains intact.

It is often a path of tears, but it is also one of heart.

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Crochet for Chemo Patients…


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I have created many hats for chemo patients. Even sold some of my work to a local wig store who caters to chemo patients. There are far too many victims and survivors of cancer in my family. And I’ve received a lot of valuable input over the years from local patients that has influenced my hat designs and work.

With so many people asking questions these days, I decided to compile some of my various posts on the subject in one place for everyone’s reference. Not every item I design or make is with chemo patients in mind, but the vast majority of my life’s crochet work is. I hope you will find it helpful.

Where to start?

Materials: Chemotherapy tends to break down the skin, on the scalp especially. So patients’ skin is generally extremely tender, not just because they used to have hair and now suddenly don’t, but because the skin is not as strong. Using soft materials is very important for someone undergoing chemo.

Baby alpaca, pashmina and even cashmere and such are quite soft, but can still eventually become annoying or even painful. But I find this is largely tied to quality. I have purchased “baby alpaca” from totally different farms and found them to be drastically different in quality. Still, we’re talking expense and up-keep. Many patients are going through enough just trying to keep up with their appointments.

Some patients find themselves developing an allergy or sensitivity to animal fibers and many folks like to think in terms of non-animal sources. Soft cotton has been used a lot, but I have found that cotton is not always comfortable to all patients. I have heard complaints of cotton feeling rough to some tender heads. However, this may be due to the type of stitches used or honestly the way the fiber has been plied. If you want to use some measure of natural fibers, bamboo is a nice non-animal option.

Silk is an option that is usually hypoallergenic and is both durable and soft. But I must share that it is not impossible to be allergic to silk. I had a repeat customer who couldn’t touch it, but would buy my silk meditation shawls for his wife (what love!). I find silk fiber to be easy to do up too tightly when working with it. Silk is less comfortable without “flow.” It is also a unique fiber in it’s ability to both breathe and yet provide warmth, even in hair fine fibers.

Man-made micro-fibers certainly add a variety of options, some actually derived from plant bases, such as rayon. There are many micro-fiber possibilities including acrylics, nylons, and viscoses, which most of my chemo customers seem to prefer. Today’s micro-fiber technology has come very far in creating incredibly soft fibers and at a fraction of the cost of pashmina and the like. The up-keep is also easier.

All fibers to note. However, if scabs or cracked skin are present on the scalp, even micro-fibers may actually snag/tear at the skin, which is understandably uncomfortable. If you know your beneficiary, you’ll want to evaluate their situation and needs. When thinking about your beneficiary’s needs, keep in mind that acrylic fibers are generally preferred by most US hospitals for preemies in part because they can be sterilized. If you feel washing and sterilization might be a factor for your cancer patient, this should be considered when weighing what fibers to use.

Every person is different and their tolerance of chemo treatment varies. I find the skin sensitivity issues seem similar to what happens during labor. Everything that used to be comfortable to you suddenly may not be and may even be downright awful! Skin sensory input seems to peak during chemo and the skin breaks down, so it’s extra frustrating to some patients.

Tip: Use the inside of your wrist for a little help in the soft department when you are trying to judge your fibers. You want to rub it for a few seconds. Do this with a swatch as well. Inside of the wrist is a more tender area and better helps establish the feel you are looking for. I’ve been doing this for some time and after awhile you begin to intuitively recognize certain feels and stitch patterns that work better than others. Yes, even stitches change the texture and how a scalp senses the garment it’s wearing.

Stitches: Loose stitches are generally better than tight stitches. No matter how soft the fiber is, you can make it less comfortable to the skin with tight stitches. I also prefer to make items that breathe. Part of that is because down here in Central Texas, we don’t get much winter. Garments that breathe are both cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter – providing a “thermal” effect.

Style: Many female chemo patients have told me they really want to wear something not just to keep their heads warm, but so they don’t have to look in the mirror and see only a bald head, but see a pretty lady. Several ladies have been drawn to my hats because they “don’t look like chemo hats.” I think this emotional response is something important to note. Having cancer is hard enough, much less adding the emotional impact of your change in appearance. I even heard one lady reference the typical “turban” style as “death” caps – that she didn’t want to wear it because people associated it with emotional pain and dying. I’m not saying that every cancer patient feels this way. I am however pointing out things I have taken notice of when I go about the crochet designs I do.

Also, the patients I have talked to often want to have a handful of things they can wear to cover their head, not just one item. Personality plays a role, but some patients appreciate being able to treat their situation more lightly and with more adventure than others. One wonderful light described to me her new adventure into a world of style she’d never previously known.

Kids: I have to admit they are my soft spot. I read once about one little girl’s anxiety about being so sick, but also suddenly losing her hair and becoming bald. And it nearly broke my heart. It was then that I resolved myself to make and donate hats for children going through chemo. I like to make fun things for kids, because kids like to have fun and “be cool.” And they need compliments and smiles too. We adults have our insecurities about our appearances, but fact is – we’re adults. Kids are resilient, but depending on their age especially, are barely mature enough to deal with all the emotions themselves. Being sick and losing your hair can be scary. Something fun can make all the difference in their experience of their battle.

I hope some of this helps. If you are considering making something special for a cancer patient, what you are doing for them is very loving and wonderful. I would also highly recommend the charity “Spirit Jump” to you as well. It is a wonderful charity, whether for your crochet efforts, or to benefit someone you know who may need their spirits lifted. If you need more help, let me know.

Dorothy - Sweet and soft Cloche

Dorothy – Sweet and soft Cloche

I began crocheting hats for chemo patients in part due to my grandmother Dorothy who helped teach me to crochet when I was little. Everytime she has gone through chemo, she always had hugs and smiles for everyone, never complaining for herself and crocheted herself a cute new hat. Everyone has always loved her and she has many adopted grandkids. And every time she has a new hat, so do several people in her church as they love her hats too. You’d hardly know what she’s been through. She is and always has been “The Crafting Queen.” Believe it or not, she’s still alive at nearly 90 years and fighting lymphoma for some 15. The hat you see pictured here is named after her.

There are too many cancer victims and survivors in my family, now including my mother. As such, I now often crochet with these in mind; choosing the softest, highest quality materials I can find for the tenderest skin going through chemo. I’ve also been blessed to receive a lot of highly appreciated input from survivors over the years that has led to the development and creation of these unique designs.

May these creations bless everyone they touch.

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Filed under Artist Information & Notes, Charity Crochet, Crochet Techniques

I Joined Spirit Jump and You Should Too!


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For those who don’t know me personally – one of my charity efforts is to give special crochet hats and items to people going through chemo or other major medical situations, especially to children.

Crochet is very meditative for me and as I create something, I focus the intent of joy and healing into what I make. I also focus intent toward the item being a beautiful experience to wear. It may sound wistful or romantic, but whether I give it away, or I sell my creation, I truly desire my work to be ongoing blessings to others.

Spirit Jump is a simple concept in sending encouragement to others. It’s as simple as a card to say hey – I’m pulling for you as you battle this; to say I send you Caring and Prayers. It doesn’t even require money to participate, only your time.

It’s perfect for my charity efforts, as I get to focus on the creation and am given permission to send someone prayers and encouragement through crochet, my favorite medium. And I dare say that if you are reading my blog, that it’s a perfect outlet for your charity work as well. There are no commitments other than what you set. You are not adopting someone, you are make a one time “reach out” to someone. And no money is really required.

Making a difference in this world one Light at a time.
Will you check it out?

This is the Flier for Spirit Jump!

This is the Flier for Spirit Jump!

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Filed under Artist Information & Notes, Charity Crochet

Crochet for Preemies….


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While on my latest trip, I was asked to help teach 3 young girls how to crochet simple “preemie hats” for a charity project in their area. It was a fairly simple task, however I’d never been asked to make hats for preemies before. Generally when I get involved “crocheted-ly” in a charity project, it’s been for children going through chemo. So I learned a few things regarding the needs for preemies-related handcraft.

Initially, the one basic bit of “requirement” guidance I received (3rd hand), as to what the hospital wanted, was to make a hat for about the size of a doll……

Ah hmmmm…. Well now…

Unless you have a good frame of reference, this guidance alone may seem confusing. As, after all, dolls come in various sizes – so just what does that mean? But the truth is, so do preemies.

Preemies can burn a lot of calories to keep their bodies warm. Something we don’t want, because then those calories are not there to aid them in gaining weight, etc.. So the need to keep little preemie heads covered, and save those calories to help them thrive, is great. NICUs can also go through a lot of hats as, once one has been dropped on the floor or the like, it cannot be put back on the baby. The parents are allowed to keep it, wash it at home or whatever, but it cannot be put back on the baby while still hospitalized. Needs for multiple sized hats are also high because they get outgrown pretty quickly. An 8 to 12″ circumference seems to be a good place to start for most preemie hats. But there are needs for preemie sizes even smaller.

After consulting with some of my crochet peers and researching the subject a little, here are a few more details that stood out as significant, most specifically for charities within the US.

1. Most US hospitals require “no natural fibers.” Preemies are born with their immune systems already fighting, so hospitals want to avoid all possibilities of allergies before they start. Also, fuzzier fibers are not allowed at all where oxygen is present, to avoid all static risks. So acrylic fibers only.

However there are other countries that do prefer wool as that’s something they are more used to than we tend to be in the US anyway. And a few charities up north request soft wool for warmth. There’s also the issue that your donated wool hats may also become history with a toss into the washer or when sterilized. Care tags are not helpful as hospitals will remove all tags before using with the babies. Check with your charity for specifics on their fiber requirements. Otherwise, stick to non-static acrylic yarns.

2. Make sure the fibers are soft. Believe it or not, I actually saw a hat made for a preemie out of old scratchy yarn scraps. And had to say something about it too. Because it’s important that they be soft to the most sensitive skin you have – realizing that a preemie (or any baby) is going to be even more skin sensitive than you. When taking on such a charity project, please consider your fibers and don’t skimp. Many hospitals are reluctant to say too much on some of these details because they are afraid people will stop donating and they don’t want to discourage the well-meaning. So nip it in the bud and consider it now before you get started and your donation doesn’t become one of the ones that simply can’t be used.

3. A lot of hospitals require that the hats *not* be laundered. Though I found some places where people do pre-wash them in Dreft or something else baby appropriate, I also found that many hospitals prefer this not to be the case, due to concerns of allergies and soap exposure, etc.. Preemies have unique medical concerns and needs. Of course, then again, you can make a case for gee, why wouldn’t you launder the hat! Unfortunately, when it comes to preemie hats, you are creating something that has the potential to expose an under-developed baby to foreign things, whether chemical in nature due to soap or environmental in nature because you own a pet or crochet around your kids, etc.. Either case can be a potential issue, so I’m not sure there’s an absolute answer here, except to follow your hospital’s requirements.

4. Consider making hats with a fold down flap or a hole in the top for tubes and scanning equipment, etc.. This makes it much more comfortable for the baby and easier on hospital staff so they don’t have to remove the hats constantly.

5. Avoid pom-poms and yarns that shed. These are typical avoids for any baby hat, but certainly for preemies. Pom-poms are one of the most nightmarish of choking hazards, because as one emergency worker put it to me, the fuzziness makes it near impossible to dislodge from the throat. The fibers just tend to “stick.” Yarns that shed easily can also be breathed or swallowed. Either way, they can get inside a baby, and that’s something no one wants.

6. Donations must be from a smoke free home/environment and made from new fibers. That old stuff you might have pulled out of Grandma’s attic unfortunately won’t do.

7. Consider checking with your hospital/charity of choice as to whether they have greater need for preemie hats or newborn NICU hats. Some hospitals receive a ton of preemie hats but their newborn nurseries run low.

Here are some additional websites that offer very helpful preemie-hat related info:

(Be sure to read!) Some very potent and detailed insight about preemie clothing from a nurse! http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/preemie-clothing-tips.html

A list of suggested yarns here: http://www.thepreemieproject.com/volunteer/yarn_list

Preemie growth charts: http://www.babylinq.com/index.asp?PageAction=Custom&ID=107

Lots of crochet Preemie patterns links listed here: http://home.inreach.com/marthac/preem.html

Patterns for charity here: http://www.p2designs.com/Links-CharityPatterns.htm

These sources and information should give you a good frame of reference to get you started in your own fiber-related preemie charity efforts. However, as we sadly know that many preemies don’t make it, another consideration for fiber related charity work might be via bereavement needs. Charities like Emmazing Grace specialize in serving families who have experienced the loss of an infant. You can find them at: http://www.emmazinggracefoundation.org/index.html

Here you’ll find a list of patterns for bereavement items: http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/bereavement-gowns.html

Here’s a list of hospitals in need: http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/peds.html

Hopefully this information will help you in your quest towards charity projects such as these. If you found this info helpful to you, please let me know!

Copyright ©2008 – 2009 by Julia Meek Chambers, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Charity Crochet, Crochet Techniques