Why I No Longer Give Handmade Items as Gifts at Showers

It’s that time of year again!  Invitations are trickling in each week, enticing me to “join in” and “share in the joy” of a loved one’s anticipation of adding another person to their family, be it in the form of a wedding or the birth of a child.

I, for one, am an absolute, fall-down delirious sucker for babies and weddings.  It borders on ridiculous, and I’m aware of the level of my obsession, but I decided a few years back that weddings and babies are simply on that list of things that spark an air of optimism, joy, and excitement in me, and that’s not a bad thing, so I’m going to roll with it from now on…I’m comfortable with being known as a lady who “has a thing” about weddings and babies.  (Because, seriously, there are way worse things to be known to “have a thing” about…)

So yeah.  Weddings and babies.  Let me at ’em, and please, please, please invite me to the shower, because I am a gift giver.

I love to give gifts.  I love wrapping gifts.  I’ve been my extended family’s go-to gift wrapper since I was six and I offered to wrap my uncle’s Christmas gifts because he kept going on and on about how much he hated gift wrapping.  (Let it also be known that I “have a thing” for gift wrapping, and just cannot understand why people don’t like the experience.  I am also comfortable with this quirk of mine.  Some members of my extended family are very comfortable with my quirk as well, and are quite enthusiastic about embracing it…sometimes I get to wrap a lot of other people’s gifts!  Love it!)

It’s a no-brainer that I would love showers, because showers = weddings or babies + gifts.  That’s my idea of some serious fun.

And then, years ago when I started amassing all these awesome handcrafting skills, showers became an even more fun venue because I also got the bonus of an audience to witness my giving of lovingly created items for my friends and their future family member.  I’m not going to lie, it’s fun to nod your head in response to the question of, “Did you make this yourself?!?!”

When Michael and I were first married, we were strapped for cash, and it was far more feasible to buy a $2.19 skein of sport-weight acrylic that would yield two or three pairs of knitted baby booties than it was to purchase $10 gifts from three different baby registries.  Seeing that we lived in married student wards at BYU, there were A LOT of baby showers to attend, so I knit up a fair amount of baby booties during the years we lived in that area, which was fine because I had just graduated from college with a six month old baby on my hip.  My life had dramatically gone from reading 2-4 scholastic books per week and writing my senior thesis while my husband watched our infant, to me being home full-time with said infant who slept…a lot.

I learned to knit from a kit that I purchased from JoAnn Fabric, one week after my college graduation, when I just could not stand to be in our apartment for one more second.  During my baby’s numerous nap times, and after her early bedtime, I’d settle in on the couch and laboriously knit up baby bootie after baby bootie until Michael got home from school or work.  I about drove myself mad that winter, but it never got old to see a mother-to-be’s smile when she opened up a gift of baby booties I made for her child.

A year later, we moved into the house where we live now, which boasted a completely different economic pool.  I was no longer surrounded by fellow brand-new mothers on beans-and-rice budgets waiting out their husbands’ degree completions; I was now a member of a neighborhood of people who could own two cars, pay full-price to see a movie at the theatre, and who were usually beyond their “first baby” moments.

Handmade baby booties weren’t quite as popular in this crowd, and I’ve come to understand it better as I’ve had more children–by child #3, most moms have given up on socks.  Baby booties are little more than glorified socks that will inevitably be lost at the grocery store because you’re supervising three children under the age of five, and keeping track of lost socks becomes a very low priority when you’re that entrenched in battle.  (If I had a nickel for every time a grandmother stopped to admire one of my babies in public, only to reach out and grab my baby’s naked foot and ask, “Why isn’t s/he wearing socks?!” when that baby had honestly left the house with two sock-covered feet only twenty minutes before…)

So, yeah…the era of the baby booties had ended.  I was pretty OK with that because I’d made way too many of them by that point and desperately needed something else to do.  I experimented with simple patchwork quilts, but the noise of the sewing machine usually woke up my sleeping baby, and the point of nap time was to have her sleep, not cry.  I went back to knitting and started churning out baby hats.  When I’d get bored with that, I’d switch over to crocheting baby blankets.

And that worked for about a year.

Because then I had my second child, and I had made more friends in my neighborhood.  My time for crafting diminished at the same time the demand went up.  I gritted my teeth and sweated it out for about three months before conceding to the fact that I just couldn’t do it anymore.  All the other babies had mothers and relatives who could craft for them, so they could do that.  I would focus on crafting for my own children.

So I did that.  I knitted, crocheted, and sewed (rarely) my way through the arrival of Child #3 (eighteen months after Child #2’s arrival) and Child #4.  During my last trimester of Child #4, in an effort to preserve my sanity, I formed a local knit group that met weekly at my favorite cafe.  We had a glorious two years of dinners together, and my skills increased exponentially as I rubbed elbows with fellow fiber junkies.  Homeschooling began to take up more of my time, and I had to step away from my beloved group just shy of our three year anniversary.  I miss those weekly meetings so much, but there’s just no time anymore.  Those women kept me afloat at a time when I felt so overwhelmed and so ineffective at nearly everything I did–except knitting.

About that time, my kids became manageable enough that I could start knitting gifts for showers again.  And, to my great surprise, I was a million times better than I had been when I quit making gifts some seven years earlier.  I could churn out simple patterns in a few hours, and quickly moved onto more intricate patterns that garnered even grander reactions when they were unwrapped.  I gained a reputation for my crafting skills, and it was fun to rise to the expectations.

Unfortunately, demand began, once again, to rise too quickly.  I found myself dreading another baby pattern, and apologizing to my kids that I couldn’t make them another thing because I was too busy making things for other kids.  I knew I’d need to start stepping back again, but it’s hard to stop when you’re in that cycle…I had made a hat for Friend A’s baby, so I needed to make a hat for Friend B’s baby or her feelings would be hurt.  So I made another hat…a beautifully intricate wool fair isle hat, wrapped ever so nicely, and headed off to the next baby shower.

There was a blossoming crocheter amongst the guests at that baby shower.  Like me so many years earlier, she was adjusting to being a full-time stay-at-home mother of one infant, and she’d picked up crochet to help fill in her days a little bit.  The expectant mother opened the crocheter’s gift–a simple little hat made up in pale yellow acrylic yarn, and the ooh’s and aah’s began, along with that well-loved question, “You made this?!?!”  The new crocheter beamed with pride, and my crafter’s heart glowed with happiness for her pride in a job well done.  (Goodness, do we crafters love to watch each other succeed, especially the newbies because we remember how hard those first projects were to complete!)  The little hat began its “admiration journey” around the room, and the expectant mother reached for the next gift.  I was still basking in that look of satisfaction on the crocheter’s face, so I wasn’t aware of what the next gift was until the crocheter’s face fell as she watched her little creation get dropped onto the floor when the person who had been admiring it got sidetracked by the gasps over the beauty of the next gift–my knitted fair isle hat.

I lost every shred of desire to hold a “reputation” for creative endeavors over the course of the next few seconds as I watched the emotions wash over the crocheter’s face.  My project garnered much more exclamation and excitement, and I looked away when my hat passed her hat, forgotten on the floor, as it made its way around the room.  The crocheter put on her brave, smiling face; but she was crushed.

I knew it wasn’t my fault; that it was the poor behavior of the other attendees that had caused the crocheter’s discomfort and embarrassment, but I couldn’t help but feel for her and remember my own beginning days of yarning for baby showers.  I remembered getting so frustrated with my efforts because I’d make so many mistakes, but pushing through and overcoming those mistakes while envisioning the entire time what people would say when they saw my finished creation.  That transition to full-time mom is hard, and crafting helped to fill in the void left by being done with school and living away from family and having a non-verbal human as my main daily companion.  It means a lot to a new crafter to have their creations admired, and my appetite for flattery had ruined that moment for that newbie crocheter.

And then, to top it all off, a few weeks later a crafty neighbor mentioned that they were afraid to give handmade gifts if they knew I was going to be at the shower too, because their handmade gifts were never as good as mine.  Once again, not my fault or even really my problem, but it also doesn’t make me feel good to make another person feel inferior, especially when it comes to creativity.

The crafting community is an actual community.  The longer you’re in it, the more like-minded people you meet in real life and online, and you become a weird little family that sends each other packages of yarn and fabric and chocolates even if you’ve never actually met each other.  I’ve been one random knitter’s swap partner three different times over the course of five years.  I own a small label CD of another crafter’s harp music because she included it in a swap package she sent me, and it’s one of my favorite CDs.  One of my favorite scarves was made for me by a near stranger who picked out the most perfect colorway after reading every one of my blog posts and deducing what kind of colors I would love together.  I received gift certificates from members of a knitting message board two years ago when I blew out my back, with instructions to “spoil myself a little” while I was stuck on bed rest for six weeks.  I get “doorbell ditched” with boxes and bags of yarn and fabric every now and then by neighbors who are cleaning out their stashes.  I’ve brought bags of no-longer-wanted skeins to Knit Night and given them away.  The worldwide crafting community is a wonderful society.  We get each other’s obsessions with creating, we support each other through learning new techniques (“Don’t give up, trust me–it gets easier the more you practice!”), and we band together to help each other weather life’s trials with donations, words of wisdom, and offers of service.  We are a family.

I upstaged my crafty sister that day.  And I never want to do that again, so I now show up to showers with a nice little purchased gift, and I make sure to lavish a ton of praise on any handmade item that makes an appearance.  It’s scary to give your first few handmades–you hope so hard that they’ll be appreciated, and you feel so much relief and pleasure when they are–I recognize how powerful that validation is for beginners, so I try to give it freely and without interruptions.  This amazing community grows one positive crafting experience at a time, and I’m doing my best to make sure those positive experiences happen as often as they can.

And then later, usually after the baby has been born and I’m taking over a dinner to the new parents, I bring along my handmade gift.  I “have a thing” about post-partum mothers because I struggled so much with my own post-partum periods, so I love the extra opportunity to visit with them and get a feel for how they’re doing in that regard, and I love holding a fresh little babe.  It’s win-win all around without rubbing a newbie crafter’s nose in my skill.  (I am aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but believe me, it’s not coming from a narcissistic place.)  I wouldn’t have continued to become better at what I do were it not due to the positive public feedback I received about my creations in the beginning of my crafting “career.”

I still get a fair amount of positive feedback in regards to my gifts as they get worn or show up in the background of Facebook photos.  The blog also helps fill that little internal well that enjoys being filled with recognition.  I sometimes wonder if I’m “hiding my talents” by taking this approach, but I’m still creating and improving my skills, so it’s not like I’m letting my abilities rot.  How noticeable do our efforts really need to be to count?  The parents and the child still get a lovingly-created gift in the end, and that’s truly all that matters, so I think it’s probably alright.

This new arrangement also allows me the freedom to cut back on my handmade shower gifting so I have enough time to create for my own family.  I can’t create for everyone anymore (my days are much fuller now with four children and the management of their “big kid” activities), and if we’re not close enough friends that I would bring you dinner after your baby is born, then spending hours upon hours on a handmade gift is probably almost inappropriate, given the depth of our relationship.  It’s a little sad, but as we get older, we have to draw a few more lines to keep the right priorities as the right priorities.

This arrangement also works well in that I no longer get surprised by last minute invitations and the ensuing, stressful, late night crafting sessions needed to finish up a project before the shower.

I know my attitude towards handmade gift giving in public settings is probably different from the norm, but I thought I’d share it in case anyone would find it interesting.  It’s amusing how something as simple as gift giving changes for me over the years.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we just had all the time and resources needed to make everything for everyone?  What a wonderful world that would be.

Happy shower season!

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3 thoughts on “Why I No Longer Give Handmade Items as Gifts at Showers

  1. June Allmendinger says:

    Cara,
    As usual, your article was such an enjoyable read. As stated, I understand your reason for not giving handmade gifts anymore. You have excelled in your ability in all of your crafting to produce beautiful, beautiful items. But this is who you are giving your best in all things.

    Like

  2. Beatrice says:

    Hello, great article! Thank you for sharing your take on “giving handmade gifts”. I, too, would rather give handmade items to my family first – and to myself (!) even if that can sound selfish. For me, time is the key factor, I’m afraid (I can’t do “late night crafting sessions”: I need sleep!). So no swaps for me, for example 😦 . I do try to fit in a couple of handmade items for a charity I support (and which I know will have them!).

    Like

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