Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas Report!

The packages have been opened, the ooohs! and aaahs! are over, and now I can talk about the projects I completed! I didn’t post ahead of time because my children, parents and other recipients check out my blog more frequently than I realized until this Thanksgiving! So rather than spoil their Christmas, I just kept quiet. But now I can show everyone what I did this fall!

I did lots of gloves this year. Gloves for my husband, sons, mother and mother-in-law and gloves for myself (see the October 25 posting). I used Knit Picks’ Andean Silk for my husband and my older son, who is currently living in the northeast (courtesy of the US government). I also used another Knit Picks yarn – their merino Sock Landscape in the Cape Cod colorway was the choice of my younger son. I used Debbie Bliss cashmerino for my mother and mother-in-law, and made them each a sinfully soft pair of DK-weight gloves.

Knitting gloves for a person gives ample time for reflection and prayer. I thought about my DH’s large, seemingly clumsy hands that have always been gentle, whether changing a diaper on a small child or helping up a stumbling spouse. My husband is a quiet man who is the center of our family – we all revolve around his laughter and kindness.

My mother’s hands are beginning to show the signs of the arthritis that has become the bane of her seventh decade. RA is a great deal more than a television commercial if you’re living with it every day. Yet she continues to spend her time doing for other people, either family members or members of her church family. Her hands are competent, sturdy and graceful despite the swollen joints.

My mother-in-law has very small hands that belie the strength within her small frame. She taught special education for decades, and is now spending her time serving her family and church family. She only grudgingly gives in to the restraints her body is beginning to impose.

My older son has flown the nest. The Navy suits him; he’s happy and busy and learning new things every day. His hands have toughened since June; the palms are broader, the fingers stronger and new callouses have formed. My best Christmas gift was to have him home this year. It was a bittersweet time, since I realized just how little he still needs us. But he has the maturity, sweetness and grace to pretend otherwise, and I’m so proud of him.

My younger son is straining toward the door. He’s a senior in high school, anxious to go on to his next challenge. His hands are a combination of his father’s and my own – a broad palm with long, tapered fingers that always move gracefully. He’s a graceful young man, with a bit of salt mixed in with his sweetness. He’s both the athlete and the musician of the family, and I can’t wait to see where his talents and drive take him.

I also did purses – one for a young friend, one for my older son’s fiancĂ©, and one for my younger son to give. Those are fun, since fulling the finished knitting hides any ‘mistakes’ and intensifies the colors and textures. They’re a fast knit compared to something more detailed, and fitting is quite flexible. Purple is ‘in’ right now for young ladies, and since I also love purple, these small bags were simply a pleasure to make.

My daughter has definitely flown the nest. She married this year, and her Christmas was given early so that she could spend the day with her new husband. I did a hat, scarf and purse for her from some thick and thin wool novelty yarn. Hopefully it will keep her warm and remind her that we all love her while she’s creating a new family life. I miss the younger and teen-age years, and wish her all the best in her new adult life.

Then there were the sweaters, made for the grandchildren. A tradition seems to be in the making. This year's offerings: A fun alpaca boucle´ with pewter buttons in the shape of a turtle dressed my granddaughter in high style.

My grandson got a more traditional look. I’ve loved Elizabeth Zimmerman’s commonsense approach to knitting for a long time, and decided to make her Tomten Jacket for my toddler boy this year. His young complexion looks best in neutrals and bright colors, so I used Knit Picks’ natural Wool of the Andes, trimmed in handspun brown Shetland wool dyed with cherry kool-aid. The toughest thing was putting in the zipper – machine-sewing zippers doesn’t bother me at all, but hand-sewing in knitted fabric took all my courage! I followed EZ's toddler-size pattern, and can only assume that Elizabeth’s children were larger than my own! However, he’ll grow into it in no time at all.

As for my own gloves – I spent a great deal of their knitting time praying for patience and healing. It’s been a difficult year from several standpoints. My husband still continues to look for work, my daughter has presented us with her own set of challenges, and my son’s departure for the service was difficult emotionally, even though it was a good decision for him. But I look forward to 2006 with hope for a wonderful year.

I wish you all a happy 2006, filled with love and joy and peace and fiber!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Gifting Handmade Items – A Manifesto!

It’s the time of year when many of us have either started or completed several handmade items as gifts. I’ve been following several discussions on the Knitter’s Review forum (http://www.knittersreview.com/forum/) with interest and, in some cases, horror. Here’s my own two-cents’ worth on the subject.

Your handmade gifts are wonderful expressions of caring – you’ve thought about what fiber, yarn, color and technique will suit the recipient and you’ve thought about and prayed for that person as you made the gift. You’ve put much time and at least some money into the gift, and anticipated the recipient’s delight upon opening it. You’ve invested a good bit of yourself in this gift, and exercised (and in some cases stretched) your talents to make it.

Let’s leap forward a bit. It’s gift-exchange time, and the recipient is opening the gift. If you’ve chosen the recipient well, you’ll get a delighted squeal or a heartfelt ‘thank you so much’. But if you’ve chosen to lavish your time and talent on an unappreciative person, their reaction may be downright hurtful. What do you do when the recipient doesn’t appreciate your time, energy, talent and money?

Opinions vary, of course. Some say just don’t make that person anything again – buy them whatever you can afford (even if it’s only a token gift). Others suggest that you explain why you chose to make the gift, sure that the recipient will appreciate your effort if it’s only explained to them – slowly, lovingly and using very simple words.

Explanations and excuses abound – depression-era adults or those raised in poverty feel that ‘handmade’ equates to ‘poverty’, and either feel insulted or uncomfortable that you felt it necessary to make their gift. Kind people insist that the ungrateful recipient simply doesn’t understand the effort and love, or is jealous of your skills. Perhaps those are explanations of a sort, but a simple “thank you” delivered in a sincere tone isn’t too much to ask in return for any gift!

Sometimes education does help – it did with my mother-in-law, a product of the Depression. She hid my gifts to her for several years, although she was always polite enough to acknowledge them gracefully. I finally got the message and started giving her purchased items only because she WAS my mother-in-law; then several of her friends saw things I’d made her and raved. Suddenly she wants only handmade gifts from me and brags about my skills to those same friends.

Sometimes education doesn’t help at all – I have one family member who will never receive another gift from me beyond a holiday greeting card. He simply didn’t appreciate the effort or the skill – he’s one of the unfortunates for whom money is the only measure. The only thing you can feel for these poor souls is pity; don’t lavish your time and skill on them again!

I’m probably in the minority but I think that poor manners are exactly that – poor manners. Rather than purchase anything for an ungrateful so-and-so, I’ll strike them from my gift list entirely! Harsh? Perhaps so. But I still feel that it’s the best way to handle it if at all possible. Sure, sometimes you just can’t do that – like my mother-in-law. If I’d stopped gifts to her entirely my darling husband would have been justifiably upset.

I have many people for whom I do make things – most of them in my immediate family, although one or two are especially good friends. I make their gifts because they understand and appreciate the love and skill involved. They are awed and delighted that I make the time in my busy life to do something especially for them. I make these gifts joyfully and with love in every inch.

But herewith find my own personal manifesto! I declare my freedom from guilt! I will no longer force myself to make something for those who do not appreciate the effort, no matter who asks me to do so. And if I don’t have the spare cash to buy a relative something, I’ll simply put a card under the tree and again refuse to feel guilty! The shortcoming is theirs, not mine, and the responsibility for modifying their attitude is also theirs. So be it!

Now where did I put that pattern and yarn…