How Madhatter Knits turned a hobby into a full-fledged philanthropy
When Kathryn Huang first tried knitting, she admits it didn’t quite go as planned. But it would also be difficult to call this a “mistake”.
What started out as a few hats too small for the head of an average child led to the creation of Madhatter Knitwear, a non-profit organization operating in several states and several other countries whose mission is to knit and crochet hats for premature babies in neonatal intensive care.
âIt’s a bit overwhelming how many hats we have now,â Huang said. “But just knowing that someone is grateful for what we do makes us happy.”
Huang originally learned to knit from his cousin, Tiffany Chang, after Chang began teaching family members to produce hats that Huang said “fit perfectly on dolls.” Huang’s sister, Christie, was a volunteer at the San Gabriel Medical Center at the time. After visiting the NICU, Christie noted that they could use hats for the “premature babies.” The sisters challenged each other to see how much they could earn before the end of the year. For Christmas 2014, they brought 160 hats to the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital NICU. From there, Madhatter Knits was born.
When Huang, a civil engineering major, started attending USC in 2018, she brought Madhatter Knits with her.
âAlthough there were knitting clubs at USC, they weren’t specifically designed to try and help premature babies,â Huang said. “I thought I would continue the Madhatter Knits influence here.”
Whether you are a knitting fan or just love to give back, Madhatter Knits welcomes you
The organization started out with only a handful of people knitting what they could, but has grown to around 20 members. While Huang said some students are joining because they are interested in knitting or crochet, others are joining just for the philanthropic element, such as current vice president Veronika Zilajeva.
âI didn’t really like knitting or anything like that, so I didn’t really pay attention to the club at first,â Zilajeva said with a laugh. “But then like [Huang] was talking about the impact it has in hospitals, I said I was going to try it and I really enjoyed it.
The new senior has been with Madhatter Knits since joining USC in 2018 and has helped the club become an officially recognized organization on campus. Although Zilajeva joined and stayed without ever really getting into knitting, her forties changed her attitude.
I have always seen knitted and crocheted items as one of the ultimate symbols of “thank you” or appreciation.
âIt was certainly not a very calm and peaceful time,â Zilajeva said. “Having a hobby that impacts not only other people but you as well, I think that helped me get through these semesters in part.”
For other members like Divya Jeyasingh, crochet has been a hobby for most of her life, which she admits is probably not typical.
âAll of my classmates called me ‘grandma’,â she said with a laugh. “I laughed at myself so much and I just didn’t care.”
Jeyasingh was already working on full coverage in her spare time when she heard about Madhatter Knits. The fourth-year college student joined earlier this year in her mid-40s after deciding to channel her crochet skills and enthusiasm to a good cause.
âI’ve always seen knitted and crocheted items as one of the ultimate symbols of ‘thank you’ or appreciation because you know someone who has made something by hand,â Jeyasingh said. “It’s just a really nice way to show someone you love them.”
The pandemic offers the possibility of producing “maternal protective care kits”
Huang said that although the number of hats varies each season, they try to send them out four times a year, usually with some type of seasonal or holiday theme. Surprisingly, Huang said the pandemic hasn’t really slowed down production, but has actually been more of an incentive to provide hats to a neglected and vulnerable population. It was during the pandemic that the group saw another need that it could fill for its target population.
They started making âmaternal protective care kitsâ complete with masks, disinfectant and gloves. But then Huang decided to use this civil engineering knowledge to make handmade face shields for premature babies.
âMaking face shields is very different from knitting hats,â Huang said with a laugh. âThere is a lot more involvement with very different materials. “
Huang admits the project was short-lived as the CDC adjusted its guidelines on COVID precautions. She said they would still provide face shields to mothers who specifically request them, but the group themselves have returned to their roots with knitting and crochet hats.
Madhatter Knits has since partnered with an organization called Compassionate Colorado to donate hats to the children of the Navajo Nation.
âThey really need more materials and resources, and we’re happy to provide them,â Huang said.
The Madhatter Knits team can’t wait to meet up in person
With social distancing and precautions, the group was unable to interact with the mothers they serve or even with each other. The only constant throughout the pandemic has been the work itself. As of this semester, it can be done in person again, which Huang, Zilajeva and Jeyasingh are all grateful for.
âLet’s have the knitting parties; let’s have the crochet parties, âJeyasingh joked. “I’m just thrilled to finally be in person and meet a lot of faces that have been virtual.”
For some members, work has been an outlet. Others have acquired a new skill and a new hobby. Aside from what this means to the members, it has been a real difference maker for NICU mothers and children.
âHonestly, I don’t think I need to see people’s faces; I know they like it and that’s enough, âZilajeva said. âThey don’t need to thank me or anything because I don’t do it for that. It’s just the right thing to do.
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