Hello all, Nikki here! I’ve known Karin for *mumble mumble* years – ashamed to say I’m not entirely sure when we first met. I know we’ve been online friends for a long time, starting with LiveJournal (ah, the good old days). We hung out IRL for a couple years when I moved to her town from Alaska back in 2003. Now I live on the coast and age fish for a living (yes that’s really a real job). I’ve been knitting since I was 8, spinning for the last 3 or so years, and generally trying my hand at every craft I can get my hands on at least once if the budget will allow. I write a book in 30 days every year with NaNoWriMo . (I am working on the “publish” part of that equation now). I act in local community theater, two, sometimes three shows a year. Often I’m working on one of those shows at the same time I’m writing the novel with NaNoWriMo, so I’m usually writing my book backstage between my scenes. Add to that the fact that NaNoWriMo is in November I’m mad enough to want to knit gifts for people for Christmas, I’m usually just a little bit nuts around the end of the year.
So today I want to write about Craft Gifting Pitfalls.
(Did you see that segue? I’m pretty proud of that segue.)
Giftalls? That sounds nicer than it is.
Everyone’s had those gut-dropping moments when you realize that a present totally missed it’s mark. Maybe you got something really oddball and the recipient didn’t find it as funny and quirky as you did. (Or maybe they DID – my sister got a walnut toilet seat for a birthday gift once. And liked it. We’re an odd family.) Maybe you found something you thought was perfect and found out later it was re-gifted, stored indefinitely, or *shudder* thrown away.°
All this is hard enough to put aside when you’re spending cold hard cash. When it’s cash AND hours and hours of your time and love (and, admit it, sometimes cussing because where the hell is the designer getting that stitch count from?!?) it can be hard to take.
Take it from me. I’ve had some gut-wrenching hand-knit gift missteps over the years. Admittedly some of them were partly (or mostly) my fault.
To protect the innocent (and sometimes not-so-innocent) I’ve changed names here. Or maybe not. You’ll never know unless you find me on Facebook and stalk me. Even then you may not because I mostly post about my dog these days. (His name is Bert, and he doesn’t care who knows it.)
THE STEALTH DISPOSAL
When I was in high school I was kinda dabbling in knitting. I’d learned young (like I said, I was eight, taught by my grandma) and picked it up well, but if you are old enough to remember knitting in the near past it wasn’t like it is today. Today we have yarn shops even in small towns like where I live. There’s this glorious internet and online shops with awesome yarns and patterns even on a budget. (Am I allowed to gush about KnitPicks? If it weren’t for them I never would have been able to afford to knit three Doctor Who scarves¹. Yes, I’m a glutton for punishment, haven’t you noticed that already?)
But back in the day? Back in the day I had no money, no yarn stores, no online shopping, and a box of knitting books and patterns already dated and way too retro for their own good. From the 70’s.
There was this jacket/vest/box thing that for some reason I decided I wanted to knit.
No, I know why I wanted to knit it. Because it had an admittedly really cool design element in it, one which I would love to reproduce some day but in a much more stylish way. The top half was an ombre rainbow.
Jumping back to the present for a bit: I googled like a mad thing, pestered every forum I could get away with on Ravelry, and I still could not track this *&$!! pattern down. I long ago got rid of the book, and can only remember snippets of what else was in it², and so don’t have the original pattern photo to show you. I do, however, have an artist’s reproduction. I’m using that term loosely because i can’t draw worth beans. But here’s the best I’ve got:
This is a technical bit, but the rainbow is made by knitting with three strands of yarn held together. You start with three strands of red yarn and knit a few rows, then swap out one strand for orange and knit a few more rows. Then swap another for orange, then another, until you’re knitting with 3 orange strands. Then you fade from orange to yellow, and so on.
This can work if you’re using a really thin, delicate yarn. I however, wasn’t.
I can’t remember if I managed to track down a thinner yarn than Red Heart acrylic, but I suspect no. Whatever yarn I had, the result of holding three strands of it together was a really thick, stiff fabric. On a moderately small woman you couldn’t even tell she had any shape at all underneath. And the whole jacket was oversize in the end. Ugh. I wore the thing a few times, but realized it wasn’t really my style. For some reason I decided it was more the style of my friend Brittany. So I gave it to her as a present.
I don’t remember if I ever saw her wearing it. I know she accepted it graciously. And it was a long time later before I was rummaging through Salvation Army and I found it hanging on one of the clothes racks.
I have to admit my heart fell about to my ankles at that moment. It was only like $3, I could have bought it back. But I didn’t, which says a lot about how highly I thought of the thing in the first place. I never mentioned to Brittany what I’d found. Partly because I didn’t have the guts, and partly because I wanted to continue to believe it wasn’t her. If I didn’t tell her I’d found it there, and she didn’t tell me she’s the one who gave it away, I could continue believing that it was her controlling, slightly evil mother who had cleared it out to spite her. It was the kind of thing she would have done.
I’ve never had anything else I’ve made show up in a second hand store, at least not at one that I shopped at. But I also don’t think I’ve ever made something that… well, let’s say “obnoxiously 70’s” before or since, either.
I had a friend, Jake, who knew I could knit. This is, again, in high school, where if you’ll remember I was not making the best choices in knitting. Jake wanted a beret. He told me so on numerous occasions. Nowadays, knowing what I know, I just smile and nod and don’t ever knit things for someone who fishes that hard for a giftie.
But I was young and dumb and totally unfamiliar with how to knit berets. I didn’t have a pattern for one. I was kind of scared about knitting things that were tubes. And I was armed with this insane skein of silver acrylic yarn.
So I made this weird helmet-hat thing. That was originally intended for a toddler, but I’d scaled up in size. Again, I have no pictures of the actual item, and can’t find the pattern, so this is thanks to my friend River, who is a lot better at drawing than me, obviously:
Only imagine it much shinier and not as pretty. I made this nonsense and wrapped it up and brought it to Jake’s 18th birthday party. I knew, I knew, that he wasn’t really going to wear it. I gave it to him with the full intention for it to be a gag gift. I mean honestly, it was like a spaceman spiff thing going on there. But still, I made it. I figured he’d laugh, wear it around for the party, take it home and stick it in a drawer somewhere.
What happened instead was the party wound down, Jake put the hat back in the box, held it out to me and with a smile said “Thanks, but i’ll wait for the beret”. And he handed me the box.
I was too gobsmacked to do anything but take it.
No, I don’t still have that hat. Not sure where it went to, what second hand store or garage sale it disappeared at. But needless to say, years later when Jake was visiting my husband and I in our new apartment after college and saw these awesome adorable knit hedgehogs I’d been making for my friends he said he’d really like one.
Yeah, dude, your fishing days are totally over. NOPE. And no beret ever for you, either.
THE WHERE’D IT GO?
My sister is a knit-worthy person. She’s an amazing crafter in her own right, making fantastic quilts:
Like this one. Which was so awesome she traded it for a whole horse³.
The girl knows what it means to make something that takes (to put it delicately) a buttload of time.
At the time she was living in Montana working with horses. By now I know my stuff a lot better and have access to much nicer yarn and so for Christmas i make her this very personalized thing:
It’s not the best photo. But it’s horses and hearts and a tassel, all in a lovely soft wool and double-thick around the ears. She loved it.
Two years later I’m coming back around to another handknit hat for Christmas. It’s pretty, it’s her colors, she opens it up and she loves it.
“Yay!” she exclaims. “I’m so happy i finally have one of your hats!”
“What do you mean? I gave you a hat two years ago!”
“No you didn’t.”
I give her a look. “Yes I did. It had horses on it.”
“It was blue and green. I have pictures.”
“Ohhhhh,” she said slowly. “I think I remember that…”
Yeah, she’d lost it somewhere. I don’t think it was out in the wild, I’m pretty sure she still actually owns it – it’s just in some unknown box somewhere. The poor girl has moved so many times in the past few years it’s not even funny. Can’t blame her too much. And she does wear the newest hat a lot.
And then there’s my mom.
My mom’s not a crafter, but she’s one of those people who has always been able to see what went into making something by hand. She’s been the recipient of a number of my sister’s wall hangings and quilts, and I had made her hats and scarves in the past. So when I saw this one sweater hanging on the wall of the yarn shop, it was so her that I had to make it for her.
It took me two years. It was first time I had ever done steeking.ª I had enlisted my sister to measure my mom in “secret” to make sure I made the right size, and because she’s a wee little 4’11” I knew her arms are shorter than standard patterns allow for. So I was also altering the length of the sleeves so they’d actually hit her at the wrists instead of bunching up all over her arms. I was terrified that I’d got the sizes wrong.
I give it to her for her birthday, and this was her reaction:
I have seen my mom wear this sweater all the time. She wears it every time she comes to visit. I know she wears it at home in the winters too, because people have commented on it. She actually told me once that when she got it home at first she was afraid to wear it. But then she told herself “No, my daughter made this for me to wear. If something happens she knows how to fix it, and this thing is too pretty to leave in the closet.”
So she wears the heck out of it. Which is why I made it for her in the first place. 🙂
IN THE END…
Not every gift is going to land the way you want, no matter how much time and effort you put into it. As a crafter and a gifter, you learn to roll with the punches and sometimes harden your heart a little. But just as you learn from the goofs and snags of the craft you practice, you learn to spot the people you’re willing to spend your time on. Not to sound snotty, but in reality learning to gauge how worthy people are is an invaluable talent. You pour a lot of time, effort and love into the things you make. Once given away, the recipient has the right to do whatever they want with it, really. But hitting the jackpot of perfect item to the right recipient is such a wonderful feeling that when you find it, it really can wash away the past mistakes.
Whether they be the giftees, or yours.
Fun with Footnotes!
0: Not my story but if you want to read a real gut-wrencher and are a member of Ravelry: the most horrible gift-recipient-failure story I’ve read so far.
1: for the uninitiated, a Doctor Who Scarf is a reproduction knit by some insane fans of this show Doctor Who. The 4th incarnation of the Doctor (it’s complicated, don’t ask) wears this absurdly oversize striped scarf that gets longer and more insane as his years with the show progress. At the end of the 4th Doctor’s tenure it was well over 28 FEET long. The version i made was from the first season, and comes in at a modest 14-16 feet, depending on how long I’ve been wearing it and how much it’s stretched out. And yes, every foot of that is garter stitch. Talk about a mindless knit.
2: While trying to track down this blasted pattern, I found the one other image that has I kid you not been SEARED into my brain since I was a child. THIS:
3: Two, actually. Turns out the horse was preggers.
a: (What the heck is up with only having 0-3 in superscript, as well as “a”?) When you knit in the round you make a big tube of fabric, which is exactly how you make a pull-over sweater. But this is a button up, so you knit it as a tube and then CUT IT OPEN, which is steeking. If not properly stabilized cut knit fabric will unravel. Needless to say, the sound I made when I cut into this thing I’ve spent like 18 months on was a frightened squeal at a pitch high enough that only dogs could hear it.