Made With Love | Meet Our Charity Stitchers: Jess Judkins

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There are millions of reasons we’re drawn to yarn crafts and the joy of giving handmade gifts is undoubtedly high on the list. Many of us stitch for charity, a cause, or even just to make the world a little brighter through random acts of kindness. Earlier this year, we asked our community to nominate a friend who knits or crochets for a cause to be considered for our Charity Stitchers Award. The responses were both heartwarming and overwhelming. We were inspired by the hundreds of stories you shared with us about loved ones who enrich their communities with the heartfelt gift of a handmade item.

We’re excited for you to meet one of our winners, Jess Judkins. Inspired by her son’s desire to brighten the day of coffee shop customers waiting in line for their morning brew, Jess began stitching up coffee sleeves to pass out in 2013. Far beyond simply making community members smile, Jess’s cozies plant the seed for recipients to pay it forward with their own small but generous act in what she calls an “encouraging it forward” movement. Her whimsical designs carry playful themes, with nods to Vincent Van Gogh, Dolly Parton and much more.

Ready to spark your creativity? Read on to learn more about My Charming Colors, Jess’s coffee sleeve project.

To view the Charity Stitchers Lookbook pattern collection featuring the project named after Jess, click here.

*Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

jess judkins

Jess Judkins
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“Jessica exemplifies to everyone, including her children who help distribute the cozies, that an act of kindness can have a wondrously positive effect in fostering connection between people. A simple hand-woven gift can turn around a busy, rushed trip for coffee, and then be a daily reminder of the good that a small kindness to a stranger can create.”

Kelly Miller, Nominator

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1. Tell us how you got started with knit & crochet. Where did you learn? What made you interested in starting the craft?

I started crocheting when I was in second grade. I had a family member who used to crochet blankets and doilies. I was captivated by watching her hands move to create colorful and intricate patterns. I asked her to teach me how to crochet and she didn’t think I could learn because I was left-handed. With a hook in my hand and a skein of yarn by my side, I sat in front her until I could figure out a single crochet. That year I carried around a paper bag of yarn wherever I went and looked for any opportunity to crochet. I was even called the bag lady by my peers at school, but I didn’t care, I loved crocheting. Once I was in my early 20s I took crochet a bit more seriously. I couldn’t understand regular patterns because most of them are written by right-handed people, so I tried to create a left-handed one. Once I started to create my own left-handed patterns the process of crocheting became fun, and I haven’t put a hook down since.

Tell us about the coffee sleeves project! How did it get started? Why did you decide to start leaving them in coffee shops?

I got the idea to distribute free crochet coffee sleeves in 2013 when my son, Judah was 3.5 years old. We would hang out at a Starbucks in Fairfax, VA, and I would drink my coffee while Judah enjoyed a snack. Judah noticed that the customers waiting in line looked sad and wanted to give them flowers to cheer them up. There was a florist next door, and the manager allowed my son to hand out daisies to the customers. Judah was so excited from all the smiles he got from the customers that he asked me to crochet something for everyone. At the time I was crocheting hats and banners, but I knew I couldn’t make enough of those to hand out. Then I thought “I bet I could crochet some coffee sleeves”. I spoke to the manager at Starbucks about my idea of creating these coffee sleeves for free to hand out to the customers and he was on board with it. That started an “encouraging it forward” movement. My hopes that someone would be so encouraged by receiving a free coffee sleeve that they would want to encourage it forward by doing something unconditional and encouraging for someone else. Since then, my family has given out 3,033 free crochet coffee sleeves.

I like to create for the local community and strangers at coffee shops because you never know what someone is going through in their life. Sometimes a random act of unconditional encouragement, like a free crochet coffee sleeve, is all it takes to make that person smile or give them a tiny bit of hope for their future.

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3. How do you select the patterns you use for your donated projects? What about the yarn and other supplies? If you design the patterns, where do you get inspiration for your designs?

I am left-handed so I create all my patterns. I buy all my yarn and crochet mainly with Red Heart because not only is it my favorite, but the brand has a wonderful diverse color selection, the yarn holds up the sleeves so well and I am able to mass produce them because of the cost. I get inspiration for my patterns from what people love. I love creating fun things that will bring a smile to their face. Like butterflies, cherry blossoms (I live in the DC area), Starry Night, Dolly Parton, Bernie's mittens (when that became a big meme), Louis Armstrong, Harry Styles, The Beatles, Care Bears, Davie Bowie, Bluey and Bingo, the Muppets, Monet etc

4. How do you balance helping others with self-care? Do you still craft for yourself or gifts?

Crocheting for others is self-care. I use it hand in hand with my EMDR trauma therapy because crocheting calms me when I’m feeling super anxious. I bring it with me everywhere and always feel at peace whenever I’m crocheting a coffee sleeve. Crocheting gives me the opportunity to create something beautiful that I can give to another person.

5. What’s next for you? Are you working on anything exciting you’d like to share?

We just gave away 133 free coffee sleeves at a local place called Weird Brothers Coffee in Leesburg. My family and I got to individually hand out the coffee sleeves to each customer and let them know that they are loved and that their life matters. Right now, I am crocheting 50-100 coffee sleeves to giveaway at SimplyBe Coffee in Leesburg to encourage the customers in the fall. Then we will find another coffee shop location to giveaway more sleeves. I would love to design and crochet more butterfly species, nature sleeves, more famous artists, and my kids want me to crochet a coffee sleeve of each of Taylor Swift’s albums, one of Snoop Dogg and a Fleetwood Mac album. I would love to eventually write a book about our free crochet coffeesleeve movement. But until then I’ll keep crocheting sleeves for coffee shops.

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Find more of Jess's creations on her Facebook page, My Charming Colors, and Instagram:@jessjudkins. You can also share your photos with our community using #YARNSPO and tag us @yarnspirations or @redheartyarns on Instagram or find us on Facebook. We love to see your charity makes!

Would you like to learn more about our other Charity Stitchers? Kelly Martino crochets blankets for shelters in Toronto and you’ll enjoy hearing Susan Moser’s journey and tips on donation drives. Looking for more charity patterns? Check out our 2020 Charity Stitchers lookbook here.