When you hear steampunk, what do you think of? An alternative subculture that blends Victorian England, scientific fiction, and … blankets? For steampunk group Her Royal Airship (HRA) Ashanti, the combination is not random at all. For the past five years, members have organized Fleet of Fleece, a philanthropic drive that invites local steampunk enthusiasts to create and donate no-sew blankets to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. This winter, however, the blanket drive is going remote and will keep four-legged friends cozy instead.
From February 21-27, participants across the country can make no-sew blankets and donate them to their local animal shelters, where restrictions are a little easier to meet than hospitals’ during the pandemic. Although participants can give to any shelter accepting blankets, HRA Ashanti is partnering with Cincinnati Animal CARE, SPCA Cincinnati, and Rattie Tattie Rescue.
“Over the past six years, HRA Ashanti has leveraged our steampunk costumes and aesthetic to bring attention to philanthropic causes [and] encourage others to volunteer and give back to their local community,” says Mandisa Njeri, HRA Ashanti founder.
Founded in 2014, the airship—which is a group that participates in steampunk events together—promotes multiculturalism and philanthropy in the steampunk community. Members support various philanthropic causes, including the annual NAMI and Out of the Darkness walks, and host their own fundraisers, such as the Cowboy Bebop-themed jazz concert for music therapy nonprofit Melodic Connections and a comic book drive for Comic Books for Kids and Operation Gratitude.
“The whole purpose of our particular airship is to do philanthropic activities,” says Yasuke Wolverhampton, an HRA Ashanti member. “We like to give back to the community in the name of steampunk.”
As part of this philanthropic focus, HRA Ashanti began participating in Project Linus’s “Make a Blanket Day,” which occurs on the third Saturday in February. The annual event encourages people to create and donate blankets to children in local hospitals, shelters, and social service agencies.
In previous years, Fleet of Fleece participants would meet up at a Michaels retailer to cut and tie about 10 no-sew blankets for Cincinnati Children’s. In the COVID-19 era, however, individuals will fashion their blankets at home. Because of this new setting, where exposure to animal hair or other allergy-inducing agents is possible, participants will give to animal shelters instead of hospitals.
“It sucks that we can’t really do it the way that we normally do,” Wolverhampton says. “But I love animals. And I’m just imagining little furry dogs and cats in blankets, so I’m really happy for this.”
As for the animal shelters, “the donations go a long way,” says Ray Anderson, media and community relations manager for Cincinnati Animal CARE. The shelter goes through roughly 12 industrial-sized loads of laundry every day, making new blankets and linens an essential commodity. The practicality of these donations isn’t the only benefit. “Knowing our community is out there, thinking of the animals and putting the time and effort to hand-make something, that not only benefits the animals, it’s also a huge morale boost for the staff,” Anderson adds.
To participate in Airship Ashanti’s Fleet of Fleece event, you can contact your local animal shelter to check if they are accepting blankets, make a blanket from a yard of fleece, and snap a picture to post on the group’s Fleet of Fleece Facebook page.