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”?

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Fiber Is Good For You!

We had a healthy high-fiber experience, a glorious autumn day in the Adirondacks!

Not this kind of fiber, silly!

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by Richard Cocks

This kind!

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The Southern Adirondacks Fiber Festival took place this weekend and was a gathering of wool-loving, fiber-lusting hands at home.

The focus was on all things wool, for all wool fanatics.

Lots of sheep:IMG_8457 IMG_8556

And other wool-bearing animals:

Dogs that keep the sheep under control:

Shearing, provided by Jim McRae, professional shepherd. He owns the dogs, too!

What do love most about fiber?

Fleece?

Roving?
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Yarn?

To spin it?

Or my favorite spinning technique!

For weavers, knitters, felters, crocheters, rug hookers . . . for us all. So much wool, so much pretty, so very many loving hands!

Afghan: A Blanket By Any Other Name . . .

For me, it doesn’t get much better than finding a treasure that is both handmade AND vintage. The idea that an item is a tangible expression of affection, made by someone who is no longer living, gives that item a special resonance. Of course, those makers DO still live on because they created something beautiful that is still cherished by the living.

I think it’s especially neat to find handmade afghans. An afghan is a crocheted or knitted throw or blanket, made by hand, often as a gift. Think about the symbolism of receiving such a gift, made by someone who loves you, and sort of wrapping yourself up in that love!

Not everyone appreciates these beautiful objects—I find a LOT of vintage knit and crocheted blankets at garage sales and estate sales. It seemed sort of sad to me at first, as if here were these items, made with love, full of love, but floating around without anyone to bestow that love upon.

But then I realized that I wasn’t the only one who appreciates the old-school charm of these throws—I’ve found “forever” homes for a great many of them.

These are some of the beautiful vintage afghans I’ve had the pleasure to know, all handmade, all special.

I have afghans made by my grandmothers and even made one myself, in my only real attempt at crocheting. Do you have any in your home?

A Gift of Fun and Whimsy

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I received a wonderful gift this week!

I am one of those people who “never wins anything” but I recently won a giveaway from one of my favorite bloggers. Yay me!

Johanna, from Mrs. Walker’s Art and Illustrations, makes beautiful, whimsical things. She creates tiny dioramas, she draws magical creatures, she knits, she lives a life of mindfulness and joy, and writes a lovely blog about that life.

All of her work is light-hearted and colorful and a little off-center in a way I admire; I envy her talent enormously!

She knitted these adorable egg warmers and offered them to be given away in a random drawing. (Look! Her blog photos are exceptional too!)

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And Charley, the Cutest Dog in the World, chose my name from the pile of entries in the drawing. I do love you, Charley!

Johanna took this photo of Charley!

Johanna took this photo of Charley!

When I learned I had won, I panicked a little—I don’t really like soft-boiled eggs! What was I going to do with the egg warmers? I promised Johanna I would come up with a use for them.

The egg warmers came in the mail yesterday, along with the original, signed work of art shown at the top the post—when Johanna becomes a well-known artist I will have proof I knew her when!

Johanna says that she has lots of egg warmers because she just loves soft-boiled eggs. That got me thinking about the things I love.

I thought they could be paw warmers for a cat, but I doubted Charley would approve.

You know I love chocolate.

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And, of course, I love maple syrup.

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Oh, and I love weaving!

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And I quite like adult beverages. (Johanna, I included the genever for you—I got it in your homeland when I visited!)

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So many possibilities! The egg warmers have already provided me with a great deal of fun and brightened my snowy Easter weekend!

Do you have any other ideas for how I can use my sweet gift? Let me know, and have a wonderful weekend!

My Kind of Book

It’s a book.

IMG_3987It’s a vintage book.IMG_3989

It’s a vintage book about textiles.

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It’s a vintage book about how to make textiles by hand.

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It’s as if we belong together!

“With her knowledge she can combine her imagination and ingenuity to create new patterns or adapt old ones and so give color and meaning to modern life.”

“Hands at Home” Heritage–Who Taught You?

Where did your interest in handmade start? Do you remember the first thing you made?

I have all these little snippets of memory from growing up, of being exposed to people making stuff and teaching me how. We lived on a farm so my paternal grandmother was always making food. She made the bread for the household and, when she took the loaves out of the oven, she’d use a stick of butter and rub the end over the tops of the loaves to give them a nice finish. My sister and I would sneak in and use our fingernails to pick the buttery crust off the bread to eat. And I don’t remember anyone ever speaking harshly to us about that!

My maternal grandfather was a serial craftsman. He ALWAYS had a hobby, one hobby, that he would do intensely and master. And then he would drop it and move on. He built houses. He took and developed photographs. He was a rockhound and collected rocks and gems all over the country. He made the most amazing wood furniture. But, once he was really, really good at something, it seems to have lost its hold on him and he’d find another outlet because he just seemed to need to make things.

My mother inherited the serial crafting gene from him. When I was little, she was into sewing. She made her clothes and our clothes. She was a first-grade teacher so she would do that all day and then stay up late, late at night and sew fabulous clothes. And then, one day, she just stopped. And took up knitting. She read knitting patterns to fall asleep at night. She made up her own patterns. She knit fabulous sweaters. And then, one day, she just stopped. I could go on and on . . .

So I’ve come honestly by my desire to make things! The first thing I really remember making, other than the typical drawings a little kid makes, was a piece of embroidery. My farm grandmother started me on it. It was a transfer design of a basket with flowers in it and I remember working really hard on it. I wish I still had that little piece of cloth and I think of it sometimes, when I’m ironing embroidered linens for my Etsy shop.

I cherish the “hands at home” history of my family and I can see, everyday, how it has influenced my style and aesthetic sense. I wonder if most artisans learn their love of crafting at home?  Or do some people come to it later, without the influence from an early age?

How about you? What was the first thing you made? Who taught you?