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I’ve noticed that many knitters love to knit for others. To give gifts from the heart, made with our own two hands. To spread a little bit of warmth and a little bit of love, in our hand-knit way.

You may have found a tag tucked inside your copy of MDK Field Guide No. 12: Big Joy that says “I’m Not Lost.” That tag has a story.

Photo: Elysa Weitala for MDK Field Guide No. 12.

Inspiration from the North

A few years ago, I saw some photos from an Ottawa knitting group that had been leaving hats and scarves around their city. Scarves tied to trees, posts and benches; hats left behind for people in need of some warmth to find.

That winter, it had been particularly cold here in the midwest. The furnace in our house went out and our family huddled around our fireplace. Our furnace was fixed soon enough, but living without it had made us think harder about people in our community who didn’t have heat, a home, or a warm place to huddle.

Inspired by those Ottawa knitters, I made cardstock tags that said “I’m Not Lost: If you’re out in the cold, please take this. Warm wishes.” I left a few handknits tagged with these words around my city, hoping people who needed them would find them, and I shared the project on my blog in case anyone else wanted to do the same.

This year, I wanted to do this project on a larger scale, using the “I’m Not Lost” tags we included in Field Guide No. 12.

I’d need some help.

Help Was On the Way

Each November, a group of Iowans gather for a weekend to knit and crochet in a lodge at Walnut Woods State Park, just outside of Des Moines. We call our retreat knitXmidwest; it’s a nod to to the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival, but it is less about music and more about knitting. I have co-hosted this event for seven years with different combinations of friends: Erica, Kim and Jess.

We like to keep it simple. Our agenda is the one thing we all we really need:  lots of uninterrupted time to knit. This year, I invited anyone attending our retreat to knit or crochet a hat, cowl or scarf, with a plan to tag our knits and distribute them together.

On the appointed day, we chose an area downtown that has heavy foot traffic and has seen an increase in homeless population. It also happens to be right next to the city’s Pappajohn Sculpture Park, which includes fantastic pieces like Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade,”  Yoshitomo Nara’s “White Ghost,”  Tom Sachs’s “Miffy Fountain,” Keith Haring’s “Three Dancing Figures, version C,” Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin (L)” and Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture. 

We decided the LOVE sculpture would be the perfect meeting place for us to gather and start distributing our knits. Our goal: spread the love, share the warmth.

We have a tight-knit (pun intended) group here in Des Moines; many of us have knitted together for over a decade. So when I put out that call for hats, cowls and scarves to donate, I expected a good response.

But when I saw so many familiar faces showing up, adding their knits to the pile of cozy, colorful accessories, I was brought to tears.

“Iowa nice” might be a very real thing.

I hope our knits helped spread joy to people in our city. We certainly experienced joy in knitting and sharing them. 

The More the Merrier

The “I’m Not Lost” concept is simple. It can apply to sharing one handknit or a few, or many dozens of items.  If you or your group would like to do an “I’m Not Lost”  project in your community, you can print out your own set of tags from the PDF right here

About The Author

Jen Geigley is many things: knitter, author, knitwear pattern designer, graphic designer, and knitting instructor. There is a modern sensibility and a ton of love in everything she makes.

You can see Jen’s work in many publications, and most exquisitely in the six pattern collections she created herself, from start to finish: WeekendEveryday, Visions, Visions Kids, Luna, and Chroma. Originally trained in the arts, Jen creates her own patterns, illustrations, schematics, and graphic design for these collections. She also designs for Quail Studio and for Rowan Yarns.

Jen’s designs for MDK Atlas yarn are stunning examples of her sense for graphic design and color combinations. You can find them here.


  • As I read this I am in the airport on my way to Seattle, a place with a huge homelessness problem. What a great cue for me to get something meaningful done on my trip. Thanks for the tags.

    • While in Seattle you can check out Ballard Knitters for the Homeless. They meet the 3rd Tuesday of every month and donate hand knits to various groups in the area.

    • Lightbulb!!!! I’m going to Seattle for Thanksgiving and my DIL works with housing the homeless. I’ll bring some knits there.

  • Thank you for such a beautiful story and a lovely read to start my day at 6 am. Sent the link for the tags to my computer and I will definitely be leaving my own “I’m not lost” items around the town I live in.

  • As I have started to pack away my summer clothing and unpack winter, I discovered that I have several (many?) knitted hats that have never been worn. I set them aside to figure out what I should do with them and now I know! Thank you for sharing this wonderful project and for the tags!

  • Each year in NE TN, SW Va and Ky a special CSX train runs the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The tracks are cleared of other traffic (less than when the coal fields were active) and the train starts at o-dark hundred and finishes with a celebration in my town of Kingsport, TN. The attached video tells about it but I work in the office where gifts are received throughout the year.
    We receive box loads of wonderful hand knit scarves, hats and gloves from church circles, knitting groups, and individuals. These are shared with people of all ages along the train route along with food and other gifts. New clothing is distributed in backpacks customized for age and sex of children.
    Some of these areas are very isolated and depressed due to the slowing of the coal economy. For some, this day will be Christmas with Santa and gifts. We also provide a party for and personalized gifts from Santa for children with special needs.
    Follow the Santa Train onSocial media, it will brighten your day. We love being the ground elves for this program.
    Thanks to all who also contribute to this project.
    Our address is Santa Train, KINGSPORT Chamber of Commerce, 400 Clinchfield St, KINGSPORT, TN 37660.

    • Wonderful! I’m going to keep that address handy. Do you have a list of items that are needed/ wanted? Any additional information will be shared with my knitting /sewing buddies.

  • I hope everyone who has A knit surplus of hats, scarves and gloves/mittens will contribute to this meaningful project! I know I will!

    • One of my favorite things, knitting, in one of my favorite places.

  • Thank you so much once again for this uplifting story of knitting generosity! I am inspired to print these tags and attach them to my own hat knitting. I really like the Tags, like a happy greeting that says “Some one loves you!”

  • Thank you so much for organizing this event. It was magical to be a part of it.

  • I LOVE this story! Beautiful idea!!

  • I love this idea, and minus the tags, I have sometimes done the same, but knitters should be reminded that if they live in a cold climate, there is a pretty good chance that there is a charity knitting program somewhere nearby. In Minneapolis, I have been knitting for Hats for the Homeless for about a decade, but there are similar projects in many communities.

  • Thank you for a beautiful post to start a snowy day in Wisconsin! I am headed to a knitting retreat this weekend, and will take along some of the tags you shared. ❤️

  • This is absolutely genius. I love it. I’m on SC and would love to be part of this.

  • Hello fellow Iowans! With love from Grinnell!

  • I love this idea! Thank you for sharing it.

  • We plan to yarn bomb Annapolis with similar items in early December. I have made several hats, one scarf and hope to finish several pairs of mittens as well.

  • what a happy message for today. It is a great way to start – servant hearts doing for other!!!

  • Good morning. I love your work and the other knitters. The ideas not limited. I thank you for your love and ideas. Keep up the beautiful work. I’m doing my best to get to where you are. God bless.

  • This is such a great idea! I urge my fellow knitters to join in this effort to give the gift of warmth to others. Use up your stash (is it sitting around gathering dust?) and make good use of your time!

  • Thank you for sharing this wonderful
    project. My city has a very large Hispanic population. What if the flip side of this tag was written in Spanish? Maybe a word by word translation would be enough, but it may need a slight rewording to be clearly understood.
    Any knitters able to do this? Thank you

    • HI I can help! I’m Hispanic, here’s a translation:

      No Estoy Perdido.
      Si tienes frìo y me necesitas para calentarte, por favor cojeme. Fui hecho a mano con amor y buenos deseos.

      It’s such a generous, loving idea and an example of why I’m so proud to be part of the handmade community! Now I’m off to make some hats and cowls.

      With love from NJ

    • Not sure about my Spanish, but I think this is should work:

  • This is a wonderful idea. As Iowan born and raised I am not surprised by their love.
    Is it possible to get I’m Not Lost tags without buying the book? I would like to do this in my area of Missouri.

    • There’s a PDF link at the bottom of the story, you can download it and print out as many sheets of tags as you like.

  • This is a wonderfully story and a great project. It’s got me thinking about how, along with some work colleagues, we might be able to do something similar here in the UK. Thank you.

  • What a wonderful idea! I can’t wait to share this with some of my local knitting friends! Thank you for sharing the concept and the tags!

  • i love this! thanks for posting! i’ll print some tags and get some hats out in my neighborhood.

  • I’ve heard about this type of giving before and it still makes my eyes leak. The generosity of makers is awe inspiring.

  • I love this and I like to knit hats—- going to do this and leave by my downtown local library where many homeless people go…I knit hats one winter for a program that took inner city kids on wilderness trips and they gave each teen a hat— that was over 10 years ago, time to gift some more hats…thanks for the inspiration and “kick in the but” I needed to do this …love the tags!

  • Thank you , Kay and Jen , for sharing the details of the “I’m Not Lost” project. I will share this with my knitting pals.

  • Love this!!!!

  • I wish I would have known this. Desmoines is less than sn hour from me! How can I find out about this for next year??

  • Wonderful, thoughtful, loving kindness!

  • Choked up with pride (Iowan) and inspiration. I have a large knitting group here in Vermont inspired by my knitting group from Iowa City, and we always love a project like this. Thanks so much for the idea and the tags!

  • We have a similar group here in Morris County, NJ called the Fiber Fairies. Great idea!

  • Thank you for such a good and inspiring idea – I’m going to see what I can do here where there is also a huge homeless problem.

  • This is amazing. Greater Victoria certainly has a homelessness issue and it spreads around the other communities, too. I’m looking to find a way to keep my stitch & bitch group interested, this might be a good idea for us.

  • LOVE this! I’m moving to a new community and think it will be fun to start this project. Thanks for the inspiration! ❤️

  • I love everything about this! Great job, everyone!

  • I’m from Cedar Falls, Iowa, and I’m going to work with a group to leave knits in and around the college where we work. What a great idea!

  • What a lovely thing to do. I knit hats for neighbours children but love this idea may try even though in Houston we do get a wee chill now and from Scotland and learned to knit from great grannie thank you for sharing and caring.

  • Jen
    Thank you so much for your article on knitting scarves,hats etc. and leaving them for those in need. I am doing this in my city, Calgary Alberta Canada and I appreciate the PDF for tags.

    • Hello Calgary, Edmonton here. Just one caution. I have been told by staff at the Hope Mission (I think you have one in Calgary too) that the homeless do not want scarves, as they can be used as weapons. I think small neck warmers might be the better idea. Carry on, it’s a great way to give back (and to stash bust.)

  • Don’t forget about rain and snow: someone who is homeless or in need may not be able to warm up and dry out somewhere, so please consider sealing knits in resealable bags. That person likely has another use for the bag as well.

    • Great idea!!

  • Just read at 630am before knitting might be into a project more to come!! Love Iowa ❤️

  • Such a ‘heartwarming’ story and project! I have heard about this idea before and love it. In our area we have a program called Everybody Deserves a Smile, working with schools and volunteers to provide kindness care packages. Among the items collected are hats, gloves, scarves and socks; a great opportunity for hand made items.

  • Just reading this has brought me to tears. Thanks for reminding me of all that I can do for my community.

  • This warms my heart ❤️

  • Love it! I am learning to crochet, so my hats aren’t perfect. I live in the 515/641 AC and am thinking of donating these to UBFM Des Moines to distribute.

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