Friday, December 12, 2008

Selfishly holding on through gift making

I was sitting in the gallery at Eldest’s gymnastics center, galloping toward the toes of the then-current sock in progress, gleefully checking off another gift from the list of Christmas knitting and busily pondering the riveting and all-consuming question of which yarn and pattern would be best for the next person on the list, when I was approached in that sideways direction Muggles often take when they’re about to make a comparison between what you’re doing and something they saw recently at WalMart.

“I’ve never seen anybody doing that,” she exclaimed. “So, is that…weaving?”

“Ah, no, it’s knitting.” Weaving, huh? That’s a new one.

“I thought knitting was two needles?”

Blah blah blah socks on four DPNs, yadda yadda in the round yes it is pretty cool.

“So, where do you get the, uh, the stuff, to make those?”

“Oh, well, we have a really nice yarn store right downtown – she carries everything you’d need to get started. Sock Hop on Friday nights, come on down, she’ll teach you how and everything!” Just call me the walking Yarn Store Billboard…

“Sooooooooo…how much does it…you know, how much is that…” Ahem. Yes. Here comes the WalMart comparison…

“Well, that depends. The needles you only need to buy once…” (unless you lose them all the time like I do, in which case you buy them four or five times and then you start finding them all again and then you have Storage Issues because for heaven’s sake how are you going to keep thirty-seven 2.25mm double pointed needles “neatly contained” somewhere, but let’s not talk about that right now) “…so, you know, that’s about five bucks once and you use them forever. The yarn…”

Oh, the pause that happened there. It hung heavily in the air between us. I knew I was inviting the squeak of, “But you can buy six pairs for three dollars at WalMart!” explosion.

Still, there are no two ways around it. Making socks instead of buying them at WalMart is not economical. I’m not making socks for Christmas gifts because I’m trying to be cheap, and if you factor in the number of hours it takes me to finish each one, Good Grief.

These are, like, a $900 pair of socks.

(I’m not a fast knitter – determined, yes; fast, no) (willing to overlook the housework as much as I must to get the job done? oh hell yes!, because as all’y’all know, I am all about the noble sacrifices…my gracious, I would much rather be scrubbing a toilet right now, but it is my sacred duty to handknit something with love in the stitches for my rotten little beloved and only brother)

The silence hung there and grew for a second.

“Wellllllllllll,” I offered at last, right before the Bubble of Silence popped and spurted Awkward all over us. “See, OK. You can get enough sock yarn for a pair of socks for anywhere from, uh, well, let’s see. This here is from an online store called KnitPicks, and it costs about $4 a ball…and you need two of them for a pair, so that’s $8 for the pair.”

“Wow,” she said. I was waiting for the WalMart comment, and sure enough…I got one. Different store name, and a different sentiment, though.

“Wow. And that’s so unique. It’s nothing like what Old Navy is selling for five bucks right now. That’s only three dollars more, but they look really expensive.”

I almost yelled, “HA! YOU’RE NO MUGGLE!!!!! REVEAL YOURSELF, CRAFTER!!”, but figured blowing her cover in public like that might not be my most tactful move ever.

“Well, yeah…so, this is about the least expensive you can go, and then, well. OK. So, I made this other pair a little bit ago? I used a hand painted [brief digression while the concept of ‘hand painted’ yarns is discussed] yarn, see, and those…well, those cost $25 just for the yarn. But, OK, so, the thing is? I made them for my grandma because I had made her a shawl for her birthday out of a silk yarn that was painted in the same exact colors.” There was a pause while we both contemplated the crazy that this is. “So it’s like…you know…a theme gift. Sort of.”

There was another long pause. She watched me twiddling the yarnovers, moving around and around and around the four double pointed needles for a while.

“That is really smart. I mean, you go out and buy something for twenty five bucks and, what are you going to get? I could get my sister one of those $10 scarves at Old Navy but, you know, she’s going to know it’s a cheap $10 scarf. She shops there too, you know? I spend $25, it’s still going to be on cheap crap.”

You are SO TOTALLY a crafter, I thought. What is it, beading? Scrapbooking? Quilting? C’mon, give…you’re SO not a Muggle…

“Do you do any crafts?” I asked casually. (Because I am not a bit nosy, just making idle conversation and all.) (Shut up.)

“No. I don’t have the time,” she tucked her hands under her armpits, snickered and corrected herself. “I don’t make the time. Look at you. You’re making the time, huh?”

“When I’m sittin’, I’m knittin’,” I admitted. Soon I was whizzing around the toe decreases. The socks would be blocking before bedtime, and I’d be rooting through my sock yarn drawer searching out the next pair.

As I began grafting the toes together, she leaned over to watch. I showed her the crazy-talk that is the Kitchener stitch, and explained that it made a good strong seam that wouldn’t let any cold in (unlike drawing up the stitches, where there’s often a little hole right at the tip), or leave an uncomfortable lump under my Undisclosed Future Recipient’s big toe.

“You know, I really need to learn how to do that,” she said, with surprising force. Usually those words are spoken dreamily, in tones that make it clear this is merely a social nicety, and should not be construed as an invitation to inform the speaker of all the various ways and means by which they could learn before sundown this very day.

“Well, Kathy would be delighted to show you how,” I said. “Her yarn store is right downtown, by the big Bank of America building.”

“I think it’s the kind of thing everybody should be doing,” she insisted. Before I could admit that there were people who would rather hang by their thumbs than take up knitting, she reached out and poked at the sock. “This takes a lot of thought. I mean, you have to think about size and color, and…and…what stuff to use, and things like lumps in the toes…”


“You have to think a lot about each person on your list, when you make things for them.”


“It’s personal. It’s really, really personal. It’s…well, it’s like…I don’t know what I’m trying to say.”

Well…I’m afraid I do know where you’re trying to go, there. I’m terribly sorry, my dear, but you’ve been bitten by a rather dangerous little bug. The symptoms might be purely seasonal, and may go away on their own…but then again, they might not.

So, uh, you might want to think about clearing out some storage space for whatever craft you’re about to take up. Just in case.

Because, girlfriend…you’re feeling the need to give yourself to the people you cherish. You’ve got that vague itchy feeling that you want to give things that aren’t merely things, but things you’ve created specifically for this one person.

Something with some of your own sweat, and blood, and tears, and maybe a choice cuss word or two, woven right on into the fabric. With love, dammit!

It isn’t about trying to spend less money. Shoot, if it was, I wouldn’t have moved on to the Lorna’s Laces for the next sock, trust me. This particular infection is an utterly selfish, utterly absorbing need to hold onto the experience of giving to this person longer. To think about them as you dig through the yarn store (or your stash, if you’re lucky enough to have a big enough one to be able to “shop” it) to find a color and fiber that suits them, to hold them in your mind as you flip through pattern after pattern, matching the style to them and the yarn…and then each time you pause to look at what you’re doing, to think about the next steps, as you’re creating the Something for them, you’re bringing them back into your mind again and again and again.

Some people just get the seasonal version. After the holidays, it fades for a while. Lies dormant through the summer, and only returns when the festive seizure season is upon us and we’re trying to find gifts to express our love and affection for those closest to us…and finding everything comes up short, somehow, no matter how high the price tag goes.

Some of us get the incurable form of the disease. In the ‘knitting’ version of it, we’re shopping for Christmas-gift yarn by January, and putting sticky notes on patterns all year around. We’ve got drawers dedicated to stashing the gifts we finish in February, and are constantly on the lookout for sales on empty gift boxes.

We also manage to tell ourselves that spending caps don’t count if you use stash yarn. Sure, granted, the cap is technically $25 for this particular gift exchange and technically the Schaefer Andrea is $52 a skein but!, see, I bought it, what, two years ago? So it’s a sunk cost, and I’m sure if you add in a little depreciation, it’s sure to be under $25 by now, right…?

Besides, what the Muggles don’t know won’t get me busted. And if there’s one thing Muggles really don’t grasp well, it’s how much a skein of hand dyed, 100% cultivated silk runs out there in the retail yarn world.

It’s a sad, sad condition. And worst of all, we think we’re happy, enfolded in warm fuzzies, aglow with the happy task of making by hand that which could be purchased for five bucks at a discount retailer near us.


And Lord, I hope they never do find a cure…because those socks are the perfect color for my Undisclosed Future Recipient, and I think they turned out rather well. For the inquiring minds, they were the Girly Girl socks designed by Robin Fouquette, from Interweave Press’Socks. The yarn is KnitPicks Essentials, in Burgundy.

The sock blockers are relatively new, and I am amazed that I went without them for so long because having owned them for, what, four months, I can’t imagine life without them:

Girly Girl socks


Marty52 said...

Lovely post... between you and the non-Muggle, you have rather succinctly captured the joy of handmade gifts. Just lovely!

Anonymous said...

i. am. in. awe.

Clearly, I am a muggle.

Anonymous said...

I tell muggles I've been wearing my handknit socks for 7 years, and none are showing any wear. Let's see your Walmart socks do that!

mama edge said...

And when it comes to crafting, I am definitely a squib.

Unknown said...

Yes, it is a lovely post, and those are lovely socks as well.

Anonymous said...

Boy, can you say it straight! I loved your post, and it was apropos for me today... which is our annual holiday party. (I've taken a few minutes off my feet to surf blogs, though.) We've got 110 folks coming (a few more than usual, but not many), and we are still decorating and cooking and such - and my husband is replacing the carpet on the back porch(WTF?) - and I've been asking myself why I do this.

You see, I've been down with walking pneumonia for a few weeks, finally over it but exhausted, and I seem to have forgotten why this has always been important to me. And now, after reading this, I remember. It's because I love these people, and I can't think of a way to tell them that except to give myself to them, and give them fun and food and a place to be happy for at least a while.

Thanks, Tama

Jeanne said...

Love the socks, and I loved the exchange between you and the Future Crafter. Such a nice deviation from the usual.

Dysd Housewife said...

:::Raising hand to reveal myself::: Yep..fellow crafter here. I've done a little something of everything, EXCEPT knitting. I crochet, scrapbook, paint,'s ALL good.. Now you've made me want to go and finish my pinecone Christmas trees..Curse you.

gartlande said... here's how I justify $25 socks or the $90's the cost of my enjoyment, like taking a yoga class or going to a movie. I GET the pleasure of hours of knitting AND I GET a pair of socks. So, $5 for the socks and $20 for the 8-10hrs I spend knitting them...what is that...$2-3 an hour. What else costs so little for so much fun?

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written! I really hope that muggle shows up at your lys. Let us know if she does! I showed a relatively new knitter how double-points work while sitting in the allergist's office the day before yesterday, so it's possible for us to spread the knitting bug wherever we go! Knit on!

Yarnhog said...

One of my favorite posts ever.

Tola said...

Mine too (see above)

knitalot3 said...

YEAH! Exactly. I know several people I want to send this link to.

Great post. I feel it, but I can't say it that well.

Knit on! I hear a sucking sound for that muggle.....

Anonymous said...

Hi Tama!
Great post.

I was at a cookie-decorating party on the weekend, and I showed a lady the hand-knit socks I was wearing. She admired them and asked, how much would you charge to make me a pair?
I sighed, and said, if I charged even minumum wage it would be over $100. And if I charged less, I would really be undervaluing my time, which would make *me* feel bad.

So I can't sell them. I can only give them.

Weird, huh? But you understand.

Take care,

Rena said...

Well THAT did it. I am a crafty kind of person, but stopped giving it the time, so have slipped into muggledom. But really, I'm a closet knitter. Now I want to pull out my old stash, dust off my needles, and finish that dang scarf I've been working on for three years!

Very beautiful post!

Science PhD Mom said...

Someday I will finish my DH's sweater vest in progress. Bravo on the gift-making. So, em, how do you get such fine stitches on the bottom part of the socks? Using different size needles? But I'm only curious, really...