The Yarn Brigade, pictured prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy Flint Handmade
The Yarn Brigade, pictured prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Flint Handmade Yarn Brigade group isn’t your typical crafting group. They’re on a mission to keep Michiganders warm this winter.

FLINT, Mich.—A close-knit group of about ten people are working to spread warmth and comfort across Flint as winter begins in the Mitten State.

Members of the Flint Handmade Yarn Brigade (YB) are close-knit in the sense of forming friendships with one another and because they’ve been successful in building a community around crafting, knitting, and crocheting.

However, this isn’t your typical crafting, knitting, or crocheting circle.

“While there may be a stereotype of grandmas by the fire, our members are in their mid-thirties. You’d see us out and about at restaurants and bars in Flint and Genesee County,” said Flint YB Assistant Coordinator Liz Svoboda.

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Breaking Records to Keep Flint Warm

YB, which was formed in 2011 following a knitting and crafting gathering at a Flint-area restaurant, also sets itself apart from typical crafting groups because they focus on honing their craft for charity.

The group has seen an exponential amount of growth since then, breaking records for handcrafted items donated to those in need, year after year.

Beginning in 2017, YB was able to craft over 200 hats, scarves, and ear warmers for charity, and that number has only continued to grow since then.

This year, YB crafted over 570 hats, scarves, and ear warmers, which broke 2019’s record of 501 items.  

Svoboda credits the growth of the group for being able to donate more items to people in need.

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Since its formation in 2011, YB has crafted and donated a total of 1,901 handmade scarves, hats, and ear warmers for those in need across the city for Operation: Warm Up Flint.  

Svoboda said past donation locations in downtown Flint included places like the Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) bus terminal, and shelters such as the YWCA of Greater Flint, Carriage Town Ministries, and My Brother’s Keeper.

The Latinx Technology and Community Center on Flint’s east side was added as a new donation location this year thanks to increased numbers of hand-crafted cold weather gear.

While there is a great need for cold weather gear among Flint residents, YB has to take a realistic approach to setting crafting goals.

“We typically set our goal as one more piece than last year,” said Svoboda. “Any additional operations or project goals we set are based on the need of the organization we are partnering with plus what our members think we can accomplish.”

Crafting for the Community

In addition to the hats, scarves, and ear warmers, YB group members crocheted and knitted items such as fiddle mats and twiddlemuffs—which are short, knitted, tube-like items similar to a handwarmer that are covered in buttons and ribbons—and donated them to a Flint-area memory care facility.

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The group was able to provide all 50 residents of the facility with fiddle mats and twiddlemuffs, which helps the patients by keeping their hands and minds occupied so that they don’t hurt themselves or try to wander off.

Past charitable craft projects include their 2018 project called Operation: Safe Slippers, which supplied Flint-area survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault staying in shelters with handmade slippers.

Tags were attached to the slippers that read, “You are safe in these slippers. You are loved, respected and supported by our community,” according to the Flint Handmade website.

Another example is their 2019 project known as Operation: Mighty Mittens.

Members of YB crafted mittens for children in need in Flint, including those in the foster care system.

Tags were attached to the mittens that read, “You are strong and mighty! Keep your hands warm with these Mighty Mittens!”

Fundraising for Good

Svoboda, along with YB Coordinator Hayley Randol and Flint Handmade Executive Director Crystal Pepperdine, says they are proud of this year’s accomplishments and want to continue achieving their goals.

In years past, YB relied on Flint Handmade’s Craft Supply Swaps to help build stashes of yarn and other crafting supplies. However, plans for a swap are on hold right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an effort to ensure that projects like Operation: Warm Up Flint can continue, Pepperdine launched a fundraiser on Facebook.

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Any funds raised will go towards purchasing yarn, crochet hooks, knitting needles, and other necessary supplies, as well as totes to store hats and scarves.  

The group is also working to raise money so they can print tags and attach them to the items before they’re distributed across the city.

You can visit their fundraising page here.

If you are interested in joining YB, you can email the organizers at hello@flinthandmade.org.