This interview was created by Kathy Sheldon, the development editor of Craft Hope: Handmade Crafts for a Cause.
A year and a half ago, I was tooling around on the Internet, half goofing off from my then-job as managing editor at Lark Crafts and half hunting for book ideas. I wanted to do a book that offered both beautiful craft projects and a way to make a difference in the world, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. I googled “craft” and “charity,” probably for the 20th time in months, and this time I landed on the recently launched Craft Hope site. As soon as I saw the Craft Hope logo, I knew I loved the aesthetics of Jade Sims, the site’s creator. Part way into her description of the first project—sewing pillowcase dresses and bandana shorts for a children’s shelter in Mexico—I knew I loved Craft Hope and had found my author. What I didn’t know was that I’d also find a friend.
With lots of help from Lark Editor Beth Sweet, Jade and I spent the next nine months reaching out to designers, contacting charities, gathering and photographing projects, editing instructions, checking illustrations, marking up layouts, figuring out the legalities of having our publisher donate one dollar to Global Impact every time we sold a book (turns out giving away money is complicated), and generally making a book—in about half the normal time! Meanwhile, I was in the process of leaving Lark to start a new life in Charleston, SC, and Jade was in Texas, raising her two young children, having a third baby, keeping up her chikaustin.com blog, and processing the hundreds and sometimes even thousands of cloth dolls, baby blankets, sock monkeys, knit scarves, quilts, etc., that poured in for Craft Hope. After countless phone calls and emails, we finally got to meet in person this summer, when Jade and her three kids came to Charleston for some well-deserved beach time.
Jade, how did you get started blogging?
I’ve been blogging on chikaustin since October, 2006—so for almost four years. In my past life I was a teacher, but now I was a stay-at-home mom. I started blogging as a way to connect with other mamas. What I found was an incredible community of women, some mothers and some not, that quickly became friends. I also wanted a good way to document the day in and day out of life with my kids.
What made you realize you wanted to do more and start the Craft Hope site?
Honestly, Craft Hope was an idea I had one morning at breakfast. I loved writing about and photographing those special small, picturesque moments in my life, but I also felt a calling to do more with it. I knew there was this community of incredibly beautiful women out there in blog land, and I hoped this would be something they’d be interested in.
I think you had just finished up your first project—the pillow cases dresses for the shelter in Mexico—when I found your site. Tell us a little about those first projects.
We started with that first project and quickly collected 27 dresses, mostly from my blogging friends around the country. It simply took off from there. The beauty of Craft Hope is that is has spread over the Internet and so all over the world. We’ve had such an overwhelming response simply because other people blog about it and put our button in their sidebar. Craft Hope is becoming a global movement of people helping others. We give people a direct connection with people who need them. It’s not about donating money; it’s about taking your time to make something handmade for someone who would never otherwise receive such a beautiful gift. I truly believe that time is one of the most precious gifts you can give another person.
Can you talk a little more about that: What it means to give something you have taken the time to make by hand?
Handmade works allow crafters to provide someone in need with something tangible from the heart. And you end up creating such personal connections between everyone involved right down to the local letter carrier or delivery driver. We’ve also recently created something called Working Bees that encourages
Craft Hope groups to form based on crafters’ locations. It’s amazing what a collective group of diverse individuals with varying skill sets can offer. It’s such a wonderful representation of the good in society.
I remember we also felt a bit as if we understood the limit of a handcrafted gift when the earthquake hit Haiti and people needed help immediately. Crocheting an item to send just didn’t feel right, but then someone suggested the Craft Hope for Haiti Store on Etsy.
Yes, we realized that what was needed in this case was money.
With a lot of help from online friends, we opened a shop so artists around the world could sell their handmade items and 100% of the proceeds went to Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.
In just over a month we raised $33,000! All of this happened because we created a button for people to put on their websites that took folks directly to the shop. People could donate items and others could shop to support the cause. The outpouring of support from the crafting community was just overwhelming.
You’d just found out you were pregnant when the Craft Hope site started to take off and we began work on the book. I remember before you signed the contract, you called me and said, “My kids and my pregnancy are my priority–is this going to work?” I knew right then I wanted to work with you. Can you say a little about the challenges of having two young children and then a newborn at the same time you were on a book deadline, writing your blog, AND running Craft Hope?
It definitely is a juggling act! To me, being a family means focusing on simplicity and doing what really matters–just enjoying the little things in life. On the other hand, I think it’s incredibly important to give my children a worldview that is outside of their daily lives. Craft Hope lets them get directly involved in helping others. They understand what the packages [of Craft Hope projects] coming to the house are for. They help sort the items, talking about each one and who it’s going to.
They’re able to learn about the countries and people we help. We also talk a lot about the beautiful people who make up Craft Hope—the people around the world who selflessly craft for others. Craft Hope also keeps me involved in the world. I spend many days cleaning up messes, changing diapers, playing with play doh. Craft Hope gives me an outlet, a connection with other people around the world that I would not otherwise have. I never take those relationships for granted. They’re a part of who I am.
Craft Hope has become a true community, an international one, hasn’t it?
It really is becoming a global community of people exchanging ideas and giving from around the world. I think it’s so empowering for crafters everywhere to be able to use their voices through blogs and other online means. Everyone wants to make a difference (we have a lot of children involved in the projects now, too), and I believe Craft Hope gives people an easy way to do just that. They’re connected instantaneously to a global community of like-minded individuals who simply want to make a difference. To me, it’s the most beautiful thing.
It really is the Internet that allow all this to happen, isn’t it?
Yes. It was certainly the Internet that allowed Craft Hope to take off so quickly. We’ve reached a global audience that otherwise would have taken years to reach. And I do think the Internet has provided mothers who once might have been isolated at home a new way to be activists. You have a generation of well-educated women who are now deciding to stay at home with their children (and, of course, privileged to be able to stay at home!). I never thought I’d stay home; I have a master’s degree in education and planned to eventually teach at the college level. But the Internet has given mamas like me an avenue to reach out to others while we’re at home with our children. Sites like Etsy have allowed women who craft a wonderful place to sell their items. They don’t have to spend weekends at craft shows; they can simply make their items during nap times and late at night and sell them online. So now it’s possible to create a business and contribute to the family from home.
And blogging is an incredible tool for expression. As I said, I started simply to document my kids’ lives. I’m a terrible scrapbooker, but I love to tell stories and take pictures. I soon found that I had a community of friends around the world who were interested in my life and my kids’ lives. They offered support and encouragement on those days when all you need is a bit of adult interaction.
And of course, not everyone involved in Craft Hope is a stay-at-home mother. We have plenty of women who work outside the home, men, grandmothers, teenagers, and children who are making items and sending them in. More and more kids have been participating, learning about other cultures around the world. Compassion and giving—what beautiful things to teach a child.
What has been the reaction to the Craft Hope book so far?
It has been incredible. The stories that touch me the most are the ones where people read it cover to cover and cry. I love that people now have a portable version of Craft Hope they can take with them so they can do projects without having to wait for us to announce it on the blog.