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Here’s What You Should Know about Knitting for Homeless People

Are you interested in knitting for homeless people? Here’s how you can be sure your donations will be useful and appreciated by society’s neediest folks

knitting for homeless

Would you like to knit for homeless folks? It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular charity knitting causes. It’s a great way to show love and comfort to truly needy people.

Imagine how the cold months feel when you’ve no place to lay your head. Then imagine going without a hat or a scarf or mittens or even socks to stay warm. Imagine feeling alone, forgotten… even like you’re a lazy burden on society.

Now imagine how it would feel to know that a total stranger cared enough about your suffering to create an article of clothing, or a blanket, to warm you.

This is why so many of us knit for homeless people!

“Knit for Homeless People, They’ll Take Anything”

I think an unfortunate stigma, if you will, surrounds the choice to knit for homeless people. To wit: since homeless people have little to nothing, they’ll take “anything.”

While I have seen and heard that homeless people are more often than not thankful for anything they receive, this does not mean that we should offer them our “dregs.” Charity knitters should put as much thought, love, and effort into knitting for homeless folks as they do knitting for, say, preemies or those fighting cancer.

Since you’re reading this, I doubt that you plan to donate your dregs! But it’s possible you’ll hear from others something like this: “Oh, great idea to knit for homeless people, they’ll be happy to receive anything!”

If you do, I hope you’ll gently correct them!

I like to say that I enjoy knitting for homeless people because they’re so often the forgotten ones of our society. And they deserve kindness and respect, too. It might be worth sharing with those who have this misconception of knitting for the homeless.

After all, as Carol of Relief Share told me, “God loves all of his children and wants us to help each other.”

Guidelines for Knitting for Homeless People

I wanted to offer a comprehensive guide to knitting for homeless people. I have never been homeless, and hopefully you never have, either! So I went to the experts: founders and directors of charities that take knitted items especially for homeless folks.

From their outstanding advice, you’ll find the following guidelines helpful!

1. Remember who you’re knitting for – especially when you’re choosing yarn colors. Homeless agencies work often with men, and they want (and perhaps need) the plainest, most muted colors possible.

Emily of Emily’s Hats for Hope (no longer running, but with many spin-off chapters, the legacy of her incredible charity lives on!) told me this:

“We have personally handed out hats to the homeless on the streets of Manhattan and were asked multiple times if we had solid black hats because that is what they preferred. Even the women we encountered asked for solid black hats.”

Carol of the Streetknit Project added this:

“We at Streetknit have found that [those who frequent] the agencies that address those on the street per se are more often men and would need dark colours (don’t want to stand out…dangerous when someone might be on a bad trip and could take it out on someone who draws attention with bright colours). Also, the dark colours don’t show dirt.

“For youth shelters, nothing too bright, but slouchy toques, wrist warmers, cowls, that sort of thing. Funky brights, again, make them stand out. Apparently black is still sought after particularly with a pattern like skulls, etc.”

Of course, many other shelters house women and children, who tend prefer brighter, more cheerful items. This is where you can get a little more decorative.

2. Use wool or wool-blend whenever possible. Wool is simply warmer, and when you’re knitting for homeless people, the idea is to protect them from the elements as much as you can.

But remember that you still need to make a comfortable item. And some wool yarns can be on the scratchy side. This is why wool blends are often such a great yarn to use; the wool makes them warmer, while the other fibers (often acrylic) makes them softer.

Emily told me, “We usually use Lion Brand, Caron or Red Heart yarn, although other brands are fine. We always tell people it is important to avoid yarn with angora or mohair because the person who receives the hat might be allergic.

“If the hat must be hand washed, then the yarn is just too fancy and really not suitable for someone living on the streets.”

Diana of the now defunct Knitting Neighbors Together told me this: “I prefer buying Michael’s Charisma yarn because it’s soft and warm and also extra bulky, so it’s more motivating to get through more hats, scarves, etc.”

Carol of Streetknit Project said, ““Worsted weight seems to be the best for knitting most of our projects. As I said, wool is the warmest, particularly if you create larger items, and then felt or line them.”

Carol of Relief Share said, “Many people think they are allergic to wool, but, in fact, wool is hypoallergenic. What most folks experience is stiff fibers poking the skin, which causes irritation.

“Having said that, acrylic is often the best yarn to use in charity knitting. Hobby Lobby carries their own house brand called I Love This Yarn and it is very reasonably priced – Relief Share volunteers use that kind of yarn a lot.

“Use the ‘feel’ test when choosing yarns. If it feels stiff and scratchy, walk on by, if it is soft and supple – it may be a good choice.”

Leah of Project NightNight said this: “I would also suggest using a softer grade of yarn vs. just the least expensive. Sometimes the blankets can be very stiff. We want the kids to snuggle them and feel safe and secure.”

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3. Any skill level of knitter can knit for homeless folks. This is one of the exciting things about knitting for charity in general! Beginners can knit scarves, hats, and blanket squares.

If you’re a more accomplished knitter, consider knitting gloves and mittens; charities desperately need them.

And if you enjoy knitting socks, do so! They are just as happily accepted as other items.

Some comments from our experts:

Emily: “Items for winter that we have found the homeless men and women want: hats, scarves, socks, gloves (or fingerless gloves), mittens, and afghans.”

Carol of Relief Share: “Some of the most needed items are: blankets, all sizes; hats, baby to adult; gloves, mittens and fingerless gloves; slippers, socks, booties; soft toys.”

Carol of Streetknit Project: “Hats, scarves (not too long, can be choked with longer lengths or get them caught up in things), mitts (warm ones; we recommend thrum knitting, chunky real wool and/or polar fleece liners), and socks.

“Because socks are harder to knit and take longer, it is generally thought that buying them addresses the immediate need for foot warmth, but there are knitters who love doing them. Adding linen thread to the heels makes them last longer.

“For women and children’s shelters, anything goes. Little kids love colour, and mitts that look like animals are big. The women appreciate more feminine things, even shawls and bed jackets, shrugs.

“We have volunteers who knit squares until the cows come in, and then someone graciously puts them together into blankets for refugee family shelters.

“Slippers in all sizes are good for drop-ins and family shelters. Drop-ins can use anything we can make in terms of scarves, hats, sweaters, etc.

“Even babies can find themselves in a homeless situation, so baby things for family shelters are welcome.”

Diana: “A basic ribbed hat works wonderfully because they stretch well. Some individuals will wear two hats on the extra cold nights, so that extra stretch is really helpful, as is knitting hats a little bit larger.

“While distributing, there did seem to be a big need for gloves or mittens as well. Scarves are great as well, since they can probably double as pillows too.”

4. Animal lovers, you can knit for animals as well. Of course, check with the charity you’re knitting for to make sure they have a space (and need) for your projects.

Carol of Streetknit Project: “Also, for the animal lovers, there are some drop-ins that also welcome pets. Dog coats are also in certain places useful. Just sayin’.”

(Of course, if your local shelter or drop-in doesn’t need animal items, you can always knit for your local animal shelter!)

5. Always, always, always check the guidelines for the charity you’re knitting for. Unfortunately, charities often have to dump many projects because they don’t fit their guidelines.

If you’re not knitting for a specific charity, but rather for your local shelter, it’s never a bad idea to call them first and find out what they need. The above guidelines will always be helpful, but it’s always best to find out exactly what your local shelter needs — before you start knitting if possible.

Sadly, homeless people tend to be outcasts. It’s far too easy for them to believe they are no longer worth anything because they don’t have a job or can’t work.

When you knit for homeless people, you don’t just keep them warm. You let them know that they do have value, you love them, and they are worth keeping warm.

I think that’s a great reason to keep knitting for homeless folks! How about you?

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42 Comments

  1. Can anyone PLEASE, PLEASE help me. I have lots of hand knitted scarves that I would like to GIVE to homeless or Women’s Shelters. But the Internet has soooooo many ads, I do not know where to start. Please they are knitted by hand and can be washed because of COVID but WHERE DO I DONATE THEM????

    1. Are you having trouble finding the nearest homeless or women’s shelter? If so, you can mention where you live (you don’t have to give your address, just a basic region) and we can help you find a shelter nearby.

  2. I have been knitting caps for a local hospital for sometime; however, due to C-19 they are no longer accepting the bennies. I have been unable to find a local place in Roseville, CA that can use them. I also do scarves. I’m willing to also donate to the homeless. Any suggestions?

    1. Is there a homeless shelter in your community? They may be willing to take your beanies and scarves; if not, they may be able to direct you to an organization that would accept them.

  3. I have over 300 loom knitted hats in all colors. would love to work with someone who provides Christmas gifts to unfortunate families.
    With so much devastation happening and the weather turning cold soon, i am sure
    these can be used.

    1. I’m quite sure they can be. Thank you for your service! If there’s a homeless shelter in your community, try contacting it; if they can’t accept the hats for any reason, they should know of an organization that can. Good luck!

    1. I’m going to email you, Rachael, because to help you I’ll need to ask some questions that I’d rather not ask on a public forum! 🙂

  4. Thank you for all the info on knitting for the homeless, it is very helpful. I did not realize homeless people preferred black or muted colors. i have mainly knitted for women and children shelters, and they do like the brighter colors. Thanks for all your helpful articles!

  5. I have been knitting a lot the past year. I am 70 1/2 years old and started when I was 16 years old. I can knit and purl, use circular needles and also double pointed needles. I don’t use patterns, but the bag I have is an assortment of things I made. I use acrylic yarns. Can you help me get rid of my knitted “collection”? Thank you for your time, Marilyn Frees

  6. I have several pieces of hand knitted wool items gloves a pair of long sock and a scarf, I knit these items to keep my hands busy whilst watching TV and would love to give them to people in need

    1. Wonderful! If you haven’t already, I highly recommend contacting the nearest homeless shelter and seeing if they would like to receive your donation.

  7. i would like to find a place to send my homemade knitted projects (hats, scarves, booties, slippers, mittens,
    soap sacks, etc). i also knit small comfort dolls and other toys for animals and children. i live in southwest Florida so there isn’t a need here. where can i get a list? i don’t think i overlooked but could had.

    1. Hello Evie! I would suggest signing up for my free guide “How to Get Your Handknits to Local People in Need.” https://www.subscribepage.com/HandknitsToLocalPeople Some of the local suggestions might not help with some of the warmer items you knit, you’ll get ideas for things like soap sacks and toys.

      Otherwise, I’d suggest you reach out to Southeast Florida Head Huggers for ideas on where you can take your other items. https://www.facebook.com/Southeast-Florida-Head-Huggers-aka-Caps-and-Wraps-371994652827513

      1. Hi Charlotte – I would suggest starting with your local homeless shelter! Even if they aren’t able to use your hats, they should be able to instruct you on the best place(s) in town to take your hats.

  8. Thank you for the information on the colors. I never knew that, I guess it makes since. I want to knit and maybe crochet for the homeless but I didn’t know how to go about it or what colors they wanted. Again Thanks for the info.

  9. Hi, I just happened upon this page. I only know how to knit on a loom, I saw that some organizations do not take loom knitted items. Do you know of any that do? I would love to be able to contribute. I’m in Charlotte, NC.
    Look forward to hearing from you!! Thanks for the booklet!

    1. Hi Cynthia – most organizations are willing to take loom knitted items. There are a handful that don’t, because they have specific guidelines that loom-knitted items aren’t able to produce. Who are you interested in knitting for?

  10. I’ve just begun to crochet and was wondering what would be a good length and width for a scarf. I was also thinking of making a pocket at both ends of the scarf so one could tuck their hands in for some extra warmth.

    1. Hi Suzann! The usual standard for scarf length is fingertip to fingertip, when your arms are outstretched. This is generally around 60″ in length (for an adult). As for width, 8 to 9 inches is considered standard for a winter scarf. I think the pocket idea is a really good one, too. Thank you for your desire to crochet for people in need!

  11. I think you all are leaving out a very large group of people who could help too! Us crocheters!! I don’t knit at all. But I can make warm squares in muted colors for blankets too. I can learn to make hats and can most certainly make scarves. There is no mention of crochet anywhere here no patterns. It makes it seem like our contributions would be unwanted, unappreciated or unacceptable. I’ve seen this a lot with knitting am I missing something is there something like an unspoken war between crocheters and knitters.
    By the way some of us who say we are allergic to wool actually are. I get itchy watery eyes, my nose gets stuffy and I sneeze all before I even touch it. It’s worse for my roommate.
    I have to say I want to help but I certainly don’t feel welcome to
    Raven

    1. Raven, I am so sorry that you feel left out. The simple truth is that I am not much of a crocheter! I can do granny squares and borders, and that’s all. Because I don’t know much about crochet – for instance, I can’t really tell when patterns are easy or difficult – I don’t write much about it, because that could be disastrous. However, I think it goes without saying that anyone who will take knitted contributions will also take crocheted donations. After all, most folks who don’t craft with yarn can’t tell the difference!

      Also, Carol’s comment wasn’t meant to imply that everyone who thinks they’re allergic to wool is wrong. She simply meant that certain kinds of wool – those that are stiffer and not as soft – cause irritation that people sometimes confuse with allergies. The term “hypoallergenic” doesn’t mean incapable of causing an allergic reaction; it simply means that it’s less likely to cause it.

      I guarantee that unless a charity needs only certain kinds of items (that can’t be produced by crochet), there isn’t a charity that takes knitted items that won’t also take crocheted items. (This goes in reverse as well. For instance, Octopus for a Preemie – which I’ve written about – insists solely on crocheted octopuses, because knitted ones don’t meet the stringent requirements.)

      I hope you won’t let your feelings about this post prevent you from crocheting for others. I assure you, your contributions are very much valued.

  12. I have a big bag of wool and needles which my Mum, who was a keen knitter, is not able to use now. I would like to donate it to a group who may be able to use the wool and needles and wondered if you were interested – I can bring them to you
    kind regards
    Kerrie

    1. Kerrie, that’s very kind of you, but from your email address it looks like you’re in Australia. I’m in the United States. If you’d like to email me at [email protected], I can help you find an Australian group to donate to.

  13. Here in the UK the same thing applies…dark or muted colours so they don’t stand out (which is a very sad reflection on the plight of rough sleepers, not only are they cold they’re also prey to violent people). And wool is more durable, warmer and more waterproof than acrylic but not everyone can afford to make their donations in 100% wool. I guess if you make your items as nicely as you can, in what you can afford to buy, then they will be just great for the recipient. We may never know what a difference we might make to someone’s whole future with the simple gift of a knitted hat and scarf/neckwarmer; that gift might be the first time for years that they feel someone cares, and that THEY MATTER.

  14. This is the first time I have knitted for charity. I thank you so much for the heads up on color and yarns. You are an angel in disguise. God bless and merry Christmas

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Judy. Merry Christmas to you as well, and best wishes in knitting for charity! Please let me know if you have any questions.

  15. I have been knitting for homeless for a long time but didn’t k ow about not using bright colors. I will finish the yarn I have and get some dark yarn. Maybe kids mittens in the bright colors would be okay. I will finish the hat I am working on now.

  16. I am heading to the shelter this week with a bundle of quilts, hats, socks, and mittens. They are on a table in my living room waiting to be boxed up. One bit of advice for anyone who wants to do knitting for shelters: solicit donations from your church, your senior centers, post a note on a bulletin (if there is a death in the family, usually they don’t know what to do with all Aunt Sally’s stuff), check garage sales. Believe me, I get scads of stuff, fabric, notions, yarn, patterns, etc. Usually any group that does baby items will not accept wool or dark yarn. Looks for those groups! I have a tub full of wool, brand new stuff, some mixture of yarns, and all beautiful! And wool is so nice to knit, it just works up so well. But, after I am done making these items, I WASH them. In the kitchen sink with cool water, roll in a big towel and lay on a table. If it is nice outside, they go out there. Winter, they are in the house drying. I am never sure where the yarn came from and I will not pass it on unless it is washed before going out the door. That is a big rule of baby charities – things must be washed. I don’t worry about wool items on needy people. I have a pretty good idea that once it is washed at my house, it will never see soap and water again. So don’t worry about it. Warmth is what we are looking for and wool is positively the best! Size? No worry, it will fit someone. I usually don’t make scarves but will make cowl neck warmers. At least they don’t fall off and don’t drag on the ground. Believe me, it is a wonderful feeling to finish a pair of mittens or socks for someone who has nothing. And always take your knitting with you and if people ask what you are doing, tell them. Never know, they might have a closet full of yarn they don’t want.

    1. This is absolutely fantastic advice, Carol! And I so agree. Once you get the word out that you’re knitting for charity, you’ll be bombarded with yarn donations. At least I was! At least half of my stash (and possibly more) is donated. Love your advice about washing and using wool, too. Thanks so much for your generously offered comment!

  17. As usual, Nicole, you’re giving us some great advice for another worthy cause. Thanks so much for a another wonderful year of ideas and inspirations! You rock and I’m looking forward to seeing what you have in store for us in 2020! Wishing you a blessed Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  18. Great article Nicole. I did not know about the muted darker colors but it makes perfect sense. I also didn’t think about the length of a scarf reasoning that if it is longer it can be wrapped around the neck for extra warmth. Thanks for the info.