...Or, why sometimes not
giving is the kind thing to do
During the wretched
heat waves of last summer while I was languishing
on the sofa, practically panting and watching
the ice cubes in my drink melt at alarming rates,
I dreamed of knitting.
Or rather, I dreamed of a
cooler time, when the very thought of wool,
or even linen or cotton wouldn't raise my core
temperature an additional ten degrees. To pass
the time, I'd imagine that it was chilly enough
to knit snuggly sweaters, smartly shaped socks,
snazzy slippers. I imagined cool nights, a fire
blazing, delicate tea in a matching cup and
saucer steaming by my side, dozens of things
flowing off my needles as if by magic. Gloves.
Mittens. Socks, hats, scarves, sweaters, just
in time for. . .
Just in time for me
to be smartly clad this winter.
I hereby declare that, for
this year at least, I am knitting only for myself.
It's true. There will be no felted slippers,
no chenille scarves, and no aran hats issuing
from my house to any other. I expect there to
be gasps at this: knitters have a reputation,
even among ourselves, for being the sort of
people who love to churn out baby gifts, who
love to knit scarves for nieces and nephews,
sweaters for boyfriends or grandchildren. I
know of knitters who have been asked by coworkers
or other non-relatives point blank for a knitted
item, like it's a batch of cookies. So entrenched
is our reputation that when I am knitting in
public, the question I am asked most often (after
"is that knitting or crochet?) is "who
are you knitting that for?" So entrenched
is that reputation that if I say "for myself,"
I get looks akin to those one might give to
a professional puppy-stomper. We're supposed
to knit for others. We're supposed to like to
give away the products of our hours and hours
and hours of labor.
And we do. Knitting is one of the human skills
whose results cry out for dissemination. Giving
a hand-knitted item is wonderful. Offering something
hand made to someone we love, or to someone
for whom it is needful, is an act filled with
shy pride, with love, and with true good will.
A grateful, touched recipient is icing on the
cake. For most knitters, this is the common
So why won't I be knitting
gifts this year? Before you think all sorts
of horrible things about me, before you chalk
me up as selfish, or lazy, realize this: things
don't always go so well.
Listen: as well known as knitters'
reputation for generosity is, we also have a
reputation for getting things wrong. Many of
us as children experienced the horror of being
forced to wear a shockingly colored, itchy sweater
hand made by a dear relative - and many of us
grew up to perpetrate the same injustice on
the young in our lives. The very small can't
object to these gifts, but I have heard of grown-up
folks who tactlessly and naively asked that
an intricate aran be reknit in a more flattering
color. There are heartbreaking tales of indifferent,
even hostile recipients. There is the curse
of the boyfriend sweater, too well documented
to be doubted. I have heard of knitters who,
asking after one of their creations, were stunned
when they were told it was never worn or used,
or worse, was set out for donation to the local
charity. In North America, anyway, it is stereotypical
that knitters' gifts are received with a barely
concealed rolling of the eye.
And yet who among us has not
felt the impulse (and sometimes the pressure)
to knit gifts for the people in our lives? I
say it is a testament to the resiliency of the
human spirit that we knitters, in the face of
lore and sometimes of our own bad experiences,
continue to ply our craft and yearn to share
its results. And I am not immune. I have knit
for people. I have knit with a heart full of
anticipation to present my hand-made offering.
got an enthusiastic-but-touched-with-puzzlement
"thank you" when I handed a hat for
my newborn niece to her parents. True, it was
knitted soon after I had taught myself continental
knitting and I managed to twist every stitch
so that the tiered effect looked more like a
swirly-cone. And true, the hat was not really
sized for a newborn. In fact, it made her look
like a Who from Dr. Seuss. My brother and his
wife report that, over a year later, it now
fits, but that it still makes her look like
you're scoffing right now, suggesting that I
am too thin-skinned to be put off gift-giving
over a simple little incident like the Who hat.
Wait, there's more:
I promised my sister a sweater
for her 30th birthday, which was last May. As
of the writing of this article, it still has
not been sent to her. It's finished. Blocked.
All the loose ends woven in. It's ready to go.
So why hasn't it been sent? It's a little, well,
revealing. Just a little too revealing, I think
[see left]. Oh, she'll get the sweater, but
now I'm on a quest to find the perfect little
camisole to wear underneath it.
Still not convinced?
I made a hat for my sweetheart.
He plays soccer, and in the chilly Bay Area,
nothing looks more sporty than a knitted black
cap on the soccer field. Using a pattern I found
on the internet, I actually swatched, checked
gauge and everything, counted stitches correctly.
Blocked it. The resulting hat is so small that,
when worn, it constantly battles to spring itself
from the head. It would fit only if he were
tragically disfigured. Perhaps if I felted it,
he'd at least get a yarmulke out of the deal.
I really don't get it. I have knit sweaters
and other things for myself that fit, look well-made
and make me jut my chest out just a tad when
someone asks "you made that?" I think I freeze
when knitting for others, that my brain becomes
addled in a peculiar way, preventing me from
And even if I could knit consistently
well for others, as soon as I promise something
for somebody, it's a sure bet that I will not
get it done. My skills in time management are
not my strongest, and I don't do well with even
self-imposed deadlines. Then missing them makes
me feel guilty, which makes me resent feeling
guilty which makes me resent the thing that's
making me feel guilty, and around and around
like an evil carousel. I didn't actually finish
knitting the va-va-voom sweater for my sister
until July, fully two months after her birthday.
At least I finished that one.
A dear friend saw me knitting with a groovily
colored rayon blend and loved it. I had enough
left after knitting a shell for myself [which
turned out great!] to make a little tank for
her, so I carefully took measurements of one
of her existing tanks, carefully drew a little
sketch of what it would look like, carefully
computed my gauge, and set to work. I finished
the first half in a day or two, and felt confident
that I could deliver the tank within the week
I'd promised. But then, I had some issues with
the i-cord straps and it has been bunched up
in a knitting bag ever since.
Sorely do I wish that there
were some check, some inner voice of reason,
some genie that could pause time so that, before
the sentence promising a gift were fully out
of my mouth, I would see a tableau showing a
frantic knitter at midnight the night before
something is promised, wired with caffeine and
cursing both the sweater and its recipient.
In this way, if I chose to finish the sentence,
it would be with the fresh, full knowledge of
the gravity of the undertaking.
Even if I were suddenly vested with tremendous
competency, I fear that I am lacking the gene
that makes people look at something and immediately
think of the perfect person for it. I would
love to have that ability, if only so that just
one time I could see what my face must look
like when I suddenly realize that my gift is
inadequate. I have never once been in a yarn
store and had my eye caught by the perfect color
for relative x or friend y, never once leafed
through a pattern book and thought "say, that
cap would look quite smart on so-and-so." I
do like to give gifts, and I think about my
loved ones very often. But, perhaps because
of knitting horror stories I've heard, coupled
with my too-vivid awareness of my knitting limitations,
I don't think of knitting for them.
So I just can't do it this
year. This year, I am officially not fretting,
not worrying deadlines, not cursing, not losing
sleep to finish things. This year, in front
of a warm fire and soothing cup of tea, it's
me, my list, my credit card and the Internet.
I wish I were giving hand-made gifts, but I
suspect that the reason I'm not is that I tend
to get too wrapped up in things I make - too
much of my ego is invested in them which for
some reason, at least this year, causes them
to come out wrong.
I am very lucky indeed to
have friends and family who would go to the
ends of the earth wearing shockingly colored,
itchy sweaters before they'd hurt my feelings.
I just love them all far too much to do that