Hats crocheted by Kimberly Stevenson for her kindergarten classroom at Michigamme Elementary in Port Huron, MI. (Photo courtesy Kimberly Stevenson.)
Hats crocheted by Kimberly Stevenson for her kindergarten classroom at Michigamme Elementary in Port Huron, MI. (Photo courtesy Kimberly Stevenson.)

Michigan teachers often go the extra mile to improve their classrooms. Here’s how one used crochet to expand her family for the holidays.

MICHIGAN—As a mom, Kimberly Stevenson already wears many hats. Kindergarten teacher and community theatre actress are two others. Within the last year, she’s added another hat: charity hat-maker.

Port Huron is a coastal Michigan town that hosts the Blue Water Bridge, one of Michigan’s four International Border Crossings with Canada. Less than a mile away from the Michigan Welcome Center is the Michigamme Elementary School. And for the 20 students in Mrs. Stevenson’s kindergarten class, Christmas comes early this year with a hand-knitted beanie hat in their favorite color.

“I just wanted them to have something handmade,” Stevenson told The ‘Gander. “And they can use it at recess to keep their ears warm.”

The holiday season has been especially important for Kimberly Stevenson and her classroom. Learning about the holidays and celebrating them is important to Stevenson’s teaching strategy. It builds community, which the children have needed after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The past two years, these kids have been stuck at home,” Stevenson lamented about her students, or her “gremlins,” as she affectionately calls them. “They need something to get excited and celebrate.”

In Stevenson’s classroom, one of the activities the kindergarteners do is share their favorite color. In crocheting the hats, Stevenson not only utilized that information for the hat’s color, but she also took that crocheting time to focus on the actual student.

“It also made me a better teacher too, because it was a lot of time to spend on each child individually,” Stevenson said about the hat creation process, which took about two hours per hat. “I could think, what does this little child need at this point in order to keep going towards reading or math or social skills or whatever they need in the classroom?”

Stevenson is not the only Michigander who loves giving away handmade gifts for the holidays. Google Trends shows Michigan’s search interest regarding both crafts and knitting peaks in November and December, just in time for the holidays. The Association for Creative Industries (AFCI) reported in 2016 that 62% of Americans give the items they craft as gifts, and knitted and crocheted items are the most commonly donated crafts. 

Stevenson has spent about 40 hours outside the classroom, a full-time work week, since October to give Christmas break gifts to her students. She started crocheting in November of 2019 after exchanging a few jokes about it with her teacher colleagues at a training event. During the shelter-in-place orders, Stevenson often crocheted while teaching virtually. Many people started crocheting and knitting during the COVID-19 pandemic, among them former First Lady Michelle Obama.

“There was crocheted stuff everywhere in my house. I had to start giving it away even more because we were staying home,” Stevenson recounted of the shelter-in-place orders. She started making hats and other gifts for her 18-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. Stevenson’s daughter also received scarves, blankets, and a skirt from her mother.

“He’s a college man now, so he doesn’t need the really frilly stuff,” Stevenson recounted about her son, who started his first semester at Michigan State University, about three hours away from Port Huron. Despite this, Stevenson’s family still considers it important to spend time together, especially for Christmas, which they spend with extended family every year.

“We don’t think too much on the gifts. We’d rather just be together,” Stevenson said, which likely helps to inspire her creative crafts. However, her children are hardly the only people in Stevenson’s life to receive her lovingly crocheted gifts. Last winter, she donated hats and scarves for community members in need, donating them to popular local coffee shop The Raven Cafe to give away to those who need it. Stevenson loves the people in her community, even if they aren’t blood-related.

“My family tends to branch out to school and my kids at school and my theatre people,” Stevenson said, referencing her involvement in community theatre group Enter Stage Right, otherwise known as ESR. Her children have also gotten involved in the group. “The theatre is definitely our family. I tend to adopt people.”

Stevenson has made gifts for the actors of ESR as well, including a dice bag in the shape of a dragon’s egg for a young adult actress. Another gift was a Kleenex box cover intended as set decor for ESR’s production of Steel Magnolias.

One of Stevenson’s most elaborate gifts was a Tudor rose stage prop, intended for the historical stage play Anne of the 1000 Days, which she is directing with ESR. Although the play was delayed to 2022 due to COVID-19, Stevenson still plans on using the prop as set decor. 

“I crocheted the Tudor rose to hang in a throne room, just as a pop of color,” Stevenson described the decoration. “That was the biggest pain to make. Maybe 90 hours.”

The Tudor rose piece will be auctioned after the show, and Stevenson plans to donate all proceeds to the non-profit theatre group.

“It’s just another way to help my theatre family,” Stevenson said.