Arya Bochantin, left, irons a pattern while Rio Goette, right, cuts out patterns.

Arya Bochantin, left, irons a pattern while Rio Goette, right, cuts out patterns.

Whidbey crafters sew pouches for Australian wildlife

In some cases, social media really can serve as the great unifier.

When Kaili Slate and Denice Bochantin saw the devastation wildfires had been causing in Australia, they wanted to use their resourceful sewing skills to help the suffering wildlife.

They learned from Facebook groups Animal Rescue Craft Guild and Relief Crafters of America that they could sew nests and pouches for the joeys and other orphaned baby animals to live in.

“I’ve been wanting to donate in some way,” Bochantin said, “but I didn’t have a lot of available money. But I have a lot of available fabric.”

Bochantin, a mother of children at a local community arts school, encouraged other parents and their kids to get involved with the rescue efforts, inviting families into her own home and teaching them how to sew. Bochantin’s daughter Arya, who likes sewing, has helped make pouches for the wildlife.

“The patterns are really pretty,” Arya said about her favorite part of the project. She added that they probably have “every single fabric there is.”

The Facebook groups share information about patterns, everything from hanging bags for baby kangaroos to wraps for bats to tiny pouches for sugar gliders. Requirements for the materials are also posted. Fabric and thread must be from natural fibers, such as cotton, wool or bamboo. Pouches are typically sewn inside-out, so the softest part of the fabric touches the baby animal.

A kangaroo lover since visiting Australia at a young age, Slate volunteers as a point of contact for people on Whidbey looking to get involved. They can contact her through the Facebook pages.

“There are so many people that value handmade items,” she said,” so it’s not surprising that there’s been so many people interested in this on the island.”

The first batch of sewn items was sanitized and “quarantined” in clean plastic and sent to a contact in Bellevue, who will send the pouches to Australian relief groups.

“Animals and this kind of work transcends political views, transcends borders,” Slate said. “It’s really been bringing people together for a common purpose. I’ve met a lot of really amazing people.”

For Bochantin, the crisis in Australia and the response of volunteers across the world has been a teaching moment for her kids.

“These animals are ambassadors for other species that are facing extinction on a daily basis,” she said. “If we can garner this type of passion for animals halfway around the globe, how can we draw that back to local rescues?”

The Australian Facebook groups have asked the crafters to cease sewing while they evaluate what is needed for further animal rescue efforts. Bochantin said the greatest demand now is food, because many animals lost it in the fire in addition to their habitat.

Bella Bond, left, and Arya Bochantin, right, work on the sewing machine together.

Bella Bond, left, and Arya Bochantin, right, work on the sewing machine together.

Arya Bochantin displays a finished sewn pouch, big enough to fit a sugar glider.

Arya Bochantin displays a finished sewn pouch, big enough to fit a sugar glider.

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