This Is for You. I Made It Myself.

“This is for you. I made it myself.”

You make something for a friend or for a family member.

You think of them, with every stitch and brush stroke and creative impulse.

You consider their likes and dislikes, their favorite colors, their lifestyle. You pour yourself into the making.

You want it to be perfect, to express your love, your affection, the extent to which you value their presence in your life.

You value their presence but . . . do they value your present?

A couple of times lately, I have come face to face with what I consider a bit of a betrayal. I’ve found, at garage sales, beautiful handmade gifts being sold for a pittance.

It’s given me pause and made me wonder about the extent to which handmade gifts can ever be truly appreciated by people who are not, themselves, hand makers.

One of the items I came across is this beautiful hand crocheted afghan, in wild and wonderful shades of green.

 

It was hanging on a clothesline at a yard sale and I idly asked if it was for sale. Yes, it was. How much? Two dollars. Two dollars?! I’ll take it.

I asked, Did you make it? The answer was, No, my best friend made it for me.

Um.

Okay.

Your best friend spent hours making you this gift and you are selling it to a stranger for two dollars.

I knew not what to say. But what I thought was “pearls before swine.” What I thought was your friend deserves a better friend than you. And I became the crocheting friend’s friend, in absentia, and will give her afghan the good home it deserves.

And then I came across this fabulous hand knit sweater.

This sweater has it all. It is big and burly and well made. It has cool colors and a terrific retro design. It has a proud tag, added by the maker, “From the knitting needles of Eleanor E. Heffner.”

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Oh, Eleanor. I am so sorry that your sweater ended up at a garage sale, being carelessly sold for three dollars. For whom did you knit it? I hope that first recipient cherished it, even though the sweater came to this sad end.

But, of course, it isn’t the end for the sweater. I’ll offer it for sale and the perfect owner will present themselves, someone who understands what Eleanor was communicating when she stitched this great old cardigan.

I know that, in theory, a gift is supposed to be given freely, with no strings attached. That the joy is supposedly in the giving and, once given, we can’t determine how the gift will be used and maybe we should try not to care.

But I can’t help but be sad for these makers whose work was underappreciated, for any one of us who makes a gift for someone who just doesn’t get it.

I think it may happen more than I knew. I mentioned the topic to my group of sewing ladies, we who meet weekly to stitch, and knit, and crochet, and quilt. To make things that often become gifts. And, I should note, these women are excellent makers, who take great care in their work—no sloppy, amateurish rags coming from this group!

And I heard their horror stories of quilts that took days, weeks, months to make and that were immediately re-purposed as dog beds. Of handmade gifts that were never acknowledged or were given away. Of faint praise and insincere thanks, or no thanks at all.

Is there an abyss, a huge disconnect between those who make and those who don’t? Am I trying to communicate in a language foreign to others, those who receive a handwoven kitchen towel and think, “Oh . . . a towel. Big deal.”

What do think? Are you happy with the simple act of giving, in a selfless, loving way, the things that you labor over? Or do you consider the recipient and, perhaps, reserve your handwrought work for those you know can appreciate it?

And how about those of you who aren’t makers? Are you thrilled or made uncomfortable by a handmade gift? Are those of us who craft expecting too much? Do you cringe or cheer when you hear the words, “This is for you. I made it myself”?

Advent, My Way #12

In a crazy, crafty, color convergence, all my current projects are red and white!

I told you about my red and white quilt last week, my evening hand embroidery is still redwork, and the candy I need to make today is peppermint bark.

And serendipity finds red and white on my loom as well!

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I am pleased to say, for my own state of mind, that none of these are Christmas gifts.

The weaving is a gift of a different kind and the peppermint bark is for a customer but, with two weeks left until Christmas, the projects aren’t piling up, causing me stress in a rush to finish them in time. In their joyful red and whiteness, they are just helping me get into a proper Christmas mood.

“Advent, my way,” our low-key approach to the holidays, means the stress of making and baking is simply not an issue anymore.

I love that. I love mellow making and mellow living.

But for those of you who love giving and who love a traditional Christmas, I know that, right now, your loving hands may be working feverishly to create an excellent holiday for people you love.

Are you baking? Trying to get paperwhite narcissi to bloom at just exactly the right moment? Do your knitting needles clack and does your sewing machine hum? Are you making your own cards? Finishing a quilted table runner or Christmas stocking? Poring over cookbooks for Christmas dishes to add to the traditional favorites?

Are your hands busy with Christmas creating? Are you stressed or is everything right on schedule? Do you love and flourish in the bustle or look forward to that quiet, really quiet, week between Christmas and New Year?

Have you found your own ways to keep the holiday season mellow?

Loving Hands at Sandringham

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A handmade gift can go terribly wrong but it can also go wonderfully right . . .

Imagine you’re in love.

Everything is going so well and seems so perfect.

But you’ve been invited to Christmas at his grandparents’ house and need to get a gift for his grandmother.

The pressure is on . . .

Oh, and, by the way, his grandmother is the Queen of England.

I love the story about now-Duchess Kate, who found herself with this dilemma.

How do you impress the woman who has everything? How do you set the right tone, hit the right mark, choose the right gift?

Kate Middleton seems to have gotten it just right. She turned loving hands to the task and made her gift, chutney from her own grandmothers’ recipe.

According to the reports, Kate says she thought, “’I’ll make her something.’ Which could have gone horribly wrong. But I decided to make my granny’s recipe of chutney.” Kate was reassured when the chutney appeared on the table at dinner the next day.

It seems we can learn quite a lot from Kate’s decision and from Queen Elizabeth’s response.

From Kate we learn to trust our instincts. A handmade gift, done reasonably well, communicates differently than any purchased gift can. It speaks to a confidence that the receiver will understand the gesture and be moved by it. It acknowledges that gifts are about something other than cost. And it hints at Kate’s respect for and connection to her own family, to use her grandmother’s recipe.

From the Queen we learn that it’s important to use and enjoy a handmade gift in the presence of the giver. I think the handmade gift giver is often anxious about the reception of such a gift. Is it good enough? Will the receiver think the gift is tacky or that the giver is a cheapskate? Will the receiver understand the spirit in which the gift was made and given?

Kate Middleton took a chance and Queen Elizabeth understood and appreciated it. And from this, one expects, a certain kind of connection was made that should serve them well.

So, you, you with a gift for baking or knitting or growing beautiful flowers—trust your gift and make a gift of it to others.

And you who receive such gifts—use them and enjoy them in the presence of the person who did the making.

After all, if it works for the Queen of England and the Duchess of Cambridge, it can certainly work for the rest of us!