Sewing to show you care...
I just spent a week caring for my aunt after hip replacement surgery, and was reminded anew how important handsewn and handcreated gifts can be for people who are in less than perfect health. Much of my goal -- when I wasn't helping her stand up or sit down again -- was to find ways to help my aunt be both more comfortable and more independent when I left, since she won't be able to drive or go anywhere for a month. So I spent time doing things like:
- Fashioning simple bags for her walker, to carry her cell phone and water bottle.
- Creating a mattress pad for her bed, to cushion her whole body but especially her hip -- so important when there's limited movement and you don't want bedsores! (I know I've said it before, but our Luxurious Wool Pile is perfect for mattress pads, and doubled or tripled up it makes splendid malleable padding to help get just the right level of comfort.)
- Making simple nightgowns that are comfortable to wear, decent when sitting, in bed, or participating in physical therapy, and don't get caught up in the walker when she's moving around. (The Subtle Pointelle is really nice for knit nightgowns, and the Natural Brushed Wide-Width Sheeting for woven ones.)
- Sewing simple rice packs that can be either microwaved for spot heat or chilled for temporary cooling. (When making longer/bigger pads, it's nice to make them segmented so all the rice doesn't fall to the bottom. That's the concept behind a baffled featherbed, and it works here too.)
I also had far too much fun with sticky-backed velcro, which is not at all organic but is incredibly useful for people with limited mobility -- with a nice wide strip of velcro on one edge of her chair-side table and pieces on her cell phone charger, flashlight, grabber, and other necessaries, my aunt is much less likely to drop things and have to laboriously attempt to pick them up again. (And, knowing me, you won't be surprised to hear that I cooked -- my aunt's freezer was nicely filled before I left, so she can bring out organic meals whenever she's hurting too much to cook for herself. I wish I could have stayed longer, but my family pretended to want me back so who was I to argue?)
My aunt, of course, is incredibly fortunate -- she'll be up and around soon and should be all the better for this eventually. Not everyone is so lucky, though, and this was borne home to me on Tuesday when I went to visit a family friend who is struggling with cancer. For people in her position sometimes being surrounded with comfort and love is of utmost importance (as I suppose it is for all of us, but it's even more important as we're facing the final transition). I find myself in a position where I don't quite know what to do to show my love, my appreciation of her role in my life, and I fall back again on creating things. My ideas?
- When cooking for sick people and their caregivers, the best book I've ever found bar none is Laurel's Kitchen Caring. It's full of nutritious recipes designed to tempt even the most feeble appetite, including many broths and clear liquids that can sometimes be all that people can swallow.
- Although the bigger rice bags can be too heavy for people who are weak, smaller handwarmers are sometimes still appreciated -- especially if there are caregivers who will warm them up for someone who is bedridden.
- Beautiful things and comfortable textures are both very valued at times like this, when they can fall by the wayside.
- If someone is very sick in the height of summer, consider the indulgence of a wrap of Amity Peace Silk which is so light and gorgeous but yet will help maintain modesty and provide the perfect amount of modesty.
- If the person is likely to be chilled, consider making a simple quilt (like this, or one of the projects from Meryl Ann Butler's book) out of fleeces or other soft fabrics to quite literally wrap them in your love.
- If you have an organic garden (and the person you're visiting isn't allergic), bring some long-lasting flowers or an arrangement of greens -- it seems obvious, but isn't necessarily. Organic only, though, if the person is at all sensitive; my aunt reacted really badly to a conventional bouquet that we had to ask the nurses to remove from her room but was absolutely fine with a similar arrangement from Organic Bouquet. (And notice, please, that I'm not even discussing the environmental, social, etc, aspects of non-organic flowers; can you believe it? Neither can I!)
Many wonderful, wonderful people sew, knit, and crochet for charity -- making things for people who they'll never see but who will benefit immeasurably from their hard work. We benefited from that when my firstborn son was in the hospital for so long ... he was the recipient of a hat, booties, and a blanket that people made for babies in the NICU. He was such a tiny, scary-looking baby, with wires and tubes sticking out all over, and seeing him in clothes made such a difference -- it made him look like a real baby. Almost more important than that was the knowledge that people we didn't even know cared enough to make these items for my baby, that they were made with love, compassion, and best wishes. That hat, booties, and blanket meant so much more than any commercially-made clothes ever could have, and I still have them today. (The picture, in case you couldn't guess, is of Neil when he was only a few days old. Notice how my finger's bigger than his arm? Winnie wants me to mention that he's 10 now, and just had his Suzuki Violin Book 4 recital last weekend. His arms are stronger now. Bigger, too.)
I was lucky enough to talk with a woman who makes blankets for NICU babies about a year ago. She was denigrating her work, saying it was a way to pass the time and probably wasn't that important, and I was able to tell her how much it meant to those of us whose babies benefitted from the work of people just like her.
It's not just NICU babies, of course -- Project Linus provides blankets for children in need (and the Miss Hailey's Baby Quilt Pattern was designed to benefit Project Linus and to be a good introduction to quilting). ChemoCaps and Head Huggers focus on making hats for chemo patients who've lost their hair (and The Daily Knitter has a partial list of other charity options for knitters). Ugly Quilts are marvelous, easy-to-make sleeping bags for the homeless, and a perfect project for any group to which you might belong (friends, dinner groups, moms or dads groups, church groups, SCA folks, etc). Mama to Mama's goal is "connecting families through homemade action"; their first project was making blankets and caps for babies in Haiti, and I'm looking forward to seeing what their next focus will be.
And, of course, I firmly believe in the curative power of crafting with sustainable materials. Or at least in the "first do no harm" theory thereof. But when combining the love, care, and positive intent of a handmade item with the best, safest materials, I feel like I'm doing as much as I can in this area.