Saturday, November 16, 2013

Homemade Holidays

It’s that time of year again. Halloween’s just over, and the Christmas decorations and gifts are already out. In this part of the country, they were out in some stores a couple of weeks before Halloween. Did they jumpstart Christmas before Halloween where you live, as well?

I don’t like starting the decorations and carols this early, but in one way I welcome the reminder that the winter holidays are closer than we want to think. (It’s “winter holidays” at our house because we’re a blended family and celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, and Winter Solstice here.) If I remember in time and am not traveling, I like to make some gifts to give.

Detail of tapesty-woven shoulder purse
 I happen to be quite skilled at spinning, knitting, crocheting, sewing, and (not quite so skilled at) weaving. When I had more time and was more naïve, I used to make gifts for almost everyone on my gift list. My time became more limited, and at the same time, I discovered that a number of the people I gave gifts really had disdain for anything handmade—until they saw how much something similar actually cost. (Hint, since I use original designs, luxury fibers and fabrics, and have been studying and practicing these arts for years, comparable items can be very expensive.) At that time, I began to design and make things only for the people I loved who appreciated such work.

Detail of large art-quilt wall hanging
This leaves me with a sister, son, daughter-in-law-to-be, husband, a couple of friends, and my agent and editor to which to give handmade gifts—if I begin early enough. My sister, son, and other son’s fiancée also give me lovely handmade gifts for which I’m truly grateful, for which I’m truly grateful because I know how much time, effort, and money go into such gifts.

Making homemade gifts is not necessarily a cheapskate activity. I make mine from high-quality cashmere, alpaca, quiviut, angora, mohair, brocades, silks, and satins, none of which are cheap at all. My sister makes me gorgeous bed and lap quilts from expensive beautiful combed cottons. My son knits with the same kind of fibers I use. My other son’s fiancée makes a wide variety of original, high-quality household items from topnotch materials. All of these gifts are much nicer than anything we’d buy to give.

Shawl of alpaca, cashmere, merino/silk
I’m glad there are still a few people within my inner/family circle who treasure handmade gifts—and a few who even give them. For me—raised by a generation of people who knew how to use their hands to make things for use and enjoyment—the holidays will always be in some small measure the time for handcrafted gifts and homemade goodies from the kitchen. There’s something very gratifying about knowing someone has taken the time and effort to make you something with their own hands rather than simply order online or rush through a store snatching up presents.

I realize this makes me old-fashioned, and even I have had years lately when the crush of obligations has left me without the time to make gifts for everyone I wanted to. But this holiday season I’ve laid in some incredibly soft, hand-dyed alpaca/silk to spin and knit into gifts and an assortment of luscious luxury fibers to combine in others. A few people in my life are going to be very lucky.

What about you? Do you give handcrafted gifts? Do you like to receive them? What are your big holiday gift-giving plans?

NOTE: My not being able to comment on my own blog continues to be a problem, and I continue to seek the solution. If you leave a comment, I will edit the blog to feature my response to your comment at the bottom. SO FRUSTRATING, BLOGGER!


Gaylin, I still like to make goodies to give.I haven't encountered anyone who's turned up his/her nose at
homemade candy and cookies.

Mary, you will love weaving! Watch out for the looms that will take over your house.But you can weave on anything. That tapestry purse that you see above was woven on a cardboard box with a lid. (I like trying out primitive weaving methods.) Weaving is a great way to make lovely gifts--table runners, place mats, dishtowels, scarves, tapestry wall hangings, bags.

DebRo, anyone who can't appreciate yummy, homemade goodies is brain-dead. Now, I can understand that someone might have dietary restrictions, that's different. I think too many people try one craft and find it difficult and think they can't do any. Everything's hard when you're first learning it. Some things are easier for some people. I can crochet and knit, but I'd always prefer to knit. It's a better fit for me. But I've crocheted rugs, table runners, and afghans where you want a sturdier or thicker fabric.

Marystoryteller, for me it's simply a case of not having time to give to a gift for someone who makes it clear that they think storebought is better, even if it's made-in-China crap. I used to design and make one-of-a-kind multicolored, luxury-fiber lace shawls on commission. They were far from inexpensive, and I often had to turn very lucrative offers because of lack of time. If someone prefers something from a big-box store, why knock myself out to give them something they won't like as much? And I love Alice Walker's story!

Reine, I think taking those classes on weaving small rugs might be great for you, but one caveat, "beating" the throws of weft down for a rug is hard work and might be too much for your arms right now. Rugs need heavy beating. Perhaps better to do a tapestry with lighter beating. You can set up a frame on an old picture frame. For that matter, the tapestry detail I show above is from a shoulder bag I made using a cardboard box as a frame. Such things might be easier for you to handle initially. I know my rheumatologist thinks that the spinning, knitting, and weaving are the reasons I haven't lost more use of my hands with the lupus. So it could be very good for you if you choose a form that doesn't require that heavy beating down.

Reine, yes, a small one to begin with would be excellent. Do think mug rugs, at least at first. I can't wait to see your first one.


  1. I don't exchange presents with anyone . . . I do make my own Christmas cards to send out and I make many types of treats to give away - especially to friends who don't bake!

  2. I wish I had the skill to make hand crafted gifts. Am learning to weave - I might get there yet! Anyone who receives hand crafted gifts, especially when lovingly made, or at least well-made if lovingly isn't part of it, is very fortunate.

  3. I love receiving hand crafted or home baked goods. I have none of the skills you have, and I admire people with those skills. One of my many attempts to crochet had me up all night, too agitated to sleep! (But I'm not a bad cookie baker, although I am not sure that too many people appreciate gifts that "disappear" in a few days!)

  4. I love the hand-made gifts I receive. I used to make sweaters for the little ones, now mostly stick to easy baby hats . . . but they are all special, full of the love that went into them <3 Those few friends who don't appreciate deserve not to get more. They remind me of Walker's "Everyday Use."

  5. Linda, of all the topics you've introduced here on your blog, this is the one that touches me very deeply and personally in the way a letter from home might. The value here is not simply in the work but the love behind it. There are a few indigenous women in Tucson who teach rug making on a small frame that they have you make yourself. I am so intrigued with this... people wanting to pass on their skills.

    My mother used to knit and sew clothes for me until I gained weight. One day she showed me a beautiful woolen skirt that she made for a friend my age. It was so beautiful and in my favorite colors and plaid highlander pattern. I thought she was going to say that she was going to make one for me. Instead she said, "When you get skinny and cute again, like Caitlin, I'll make one for you."

    So, while this topic brings up some sad and unfortunate memories, it also helps me remember a time of love when my family made and gave beautiful things to each other when things were good with us.

  6. Linda, thank you for the suggestion. I think it will help me too as long as I know when to stop. I think they all have you start on a very small frame. What is the women has instructions on her webpage. So they might start out being mini rugs? Just to learn how to do it I would love. Even a little mug rug could be very nice. Useful, too.