September 19, 2012

Who Can Be Found Knitworthy?

My latest project/design. Now that I like the design, who
do I make it for?
Many years ago, I became pregnant with my fourth child. Of course, no matter how many children you may have, they are all special; I was excited. At that time, I was doing a lot of cross stitch, so I promptly went to the craft store to play out my excitement.

I selected for my baby an adorable cross stitch kit in sex-indiscriminate colors that pictured of a toy shelf complete with several adorable, old-fashioned toys, lined up in a purposefully tousled row. It had a place on the scrolled shelf for a name, birthdate, baby's weight... some of the more fun things you dream about during pregnancy.

I promptly brought it home and began to work voraciously on it. It was complex and large, and I knew that I would normally spend about a year and a half working on a project like that, but this time I wanted to finish it in less than 9 months in order to have it stretched, framed, hanging and ready in the baby's room.

Back then, I had this friend. We'll call her "Jane," since I call all the disguised people in these stories "Jane."

Shortly into my own pregnancy, Jane called. She was pregnant too, she announced, and our babies were due only a couple of weeks apart. This of course added to the excitement. I had never been able to share pregnancy alongside a friend. I was elated.

As I hung up the phone with Jane, I began to think. She and her husband had expected to have no children at all. They had been married for 17 years. They had tried many things--and had failed--to have a child. Just when she had given up, she became pregnant.

I looked at my cross stitch, which was laying on the couch near the phone. Sure, it was special to me, but oh how much more special it would be to my friend! I became giddy with the thought of such a surprise and got to work even harder on the project.

Driven by friendship and excitement, I completed the project with time to spare. I headed to the local frame shop and had the piece professionally stretched. I selected an exquisite birch frame that would match my friend's baby room, with a pale matte to match. It was beautiful.

I admired it at home for only a short time as I lived 3,000 miles from Jane at the time. Because I wanted it to arrive in time for her baby, time was of the essence. I packed it carefully to be sure it was safe in the mail, and I sent it.

I hadn't heard anything from Jane by the time our babies were born. They were both girls, born 3 weeks apart. I assumed of course, that she was busy--maybe too busy for thank you cards. I was busy, too, and in the excitement of a new baby in my own house, I forgot about the gift. For a time.

When the girls were nearly one, I hopped on a plane with my daughter (the other 3 kids stayed home with their dad for ease of travel, and, I thought, to emphasize the meaningful nature of the visit) and headed to Jane's house. Several times during my trip, I imagined the toy shelf cross stitch hanging on her baby's wall in tasteful arrangement.  I had also purchased another kit for myself, so the girls could have matching wall hangings and I imagined how special it would be to have them hanging 3,000 miles apart in different homes.

Once we arrived at Jane's house, she showed me the baby's room right away. No lovely cross stitched picture. There was another one, done by a woman at her husband's office, a small, lovely angel, but not mine. There was a quilt on the wall, too, on a wooden bar, that a mutual friend had made. I thought my gift was of higher quality. Tossing that last, catty, thought aside, we moved on.

She showed me gifts and toys, bedding and cards, but not once time did she mention my gift. I knew she had received it as I sent it through UPS and had a signature for it. It was certain after several days together: she was not going to even mention it.

In fact, she never did. Now, several years later, our daughters are still friends, but Jane and I have become distant and I never did quite finish my own daughter's wall hanging. Perhaps I misread the friendship. Perhaps a lot of things were misunderstood, but one thing stands out to this day: how do you know who you can trust with your handmade treasures?

In this season of gift making, it is hard to know. Most of us crafters have stories of gifts given and never seen again--hats never worn, scarves given away to third parties (or even fourth parties), even perhaps cookies never even tried, let alone eaten.

What is the best course of action?

There are of course, a few rules for these dilemmas, such as: never knit a man socks till you have a ring, lest he walk away from you while wearing them. Same goes for the more complex "boyfriend sweater." (I would even say that last one requires an actual wedding.) Some say never give knitted to anyone but knitters. Maybe you have developed a few rules of your own. But no matter how many rules we come up with, it still can end in disappointment that feels like disaster.  Unless...

Do we knit for the praise, or do we knit for others because we love them? Do we give gifts to get back or out of the goodness of our hearts and the sheer joy of making the item? I do still have the memories of all those good feelings I experienced while making Jane the cross stitch, after all.

Part of me wants to say that we should give freely because we want to, because we live knowing we are inserting art into the world, because we are really saying "I love you," to someone when we hand them that pair of lace anklets. That same part of me wants to rally around the obscure aunts living in distant lands, saying, "Obscure Auntie, you make Ralphie that giant bunny suit!! And if he doesn't like it, make him another one!" Maybe this is what the world needs!

The other--jaded--part of me says, "Yeah, right, and maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt."

Where is the balance? I say craft carefully. Craftily, if you like. Do it with joy, do it in the spirit of giving while trying to discover who in your life is truly "knitworthy," keeping in mind the receiver. Do it with love, plus a grain of truth and through reality-colored glasses. But do it.

Make no mistake, knitters, sewers and purveyors of shell art, you truly are adding to the joy and beauty in the world, big picture-wise, no matter what. I truly believe that and I will be thinking of how much I personally appreciate all of you during this approaching holiday season.

And I still say: happy knitting. Because you want to.

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