The gift of giving of gifts

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Baby sweater

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time, but have been struggling with a way of presenting it that does not seem to be directed personally at anyone to whom I have ever given a gift or from whom I have received one.

If you fit one of these categories, please assume that this post is not written specifically about you. If you see photos of gifts given to you in this post, please do not read anything into it other than that your gift has a pretty good photo to go with it. 🙂

If you persist in seeing a ghost of yourself anywhere in these musings, please assume that only the positive parts are about you.

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Isaac and Alice's sweaters

Over the years I have given a lot of hand-made gifts as have, I suspect, many craftspeople. When you’re just getting on your feet, business-wise, it’s often an economical way of financing gift-giving occasions. After all, it’s far easier and cheaper to haul out something that you’ve made yourself (cost of gift = labour and materials and when you’re getting started, your labour is relatively cheap) or to find a few hours to whip something up than it is to make something, market it, sell it and then head to a retail store with the profits (cost of gift = labour + materials + marketing + purchased gift).

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For wee feet

There’s also the feeling of wanting to give something that’s unique, special and reflective of your own personality and abilities. (Although with this comes that demon self-doubt, which always wonders if what you’ve made is good enough. Beware!)

As you get further and further into the life of being a craftsperson, however, you become more jealous of your time as it becomes worth more to you. Your valuation of your product also increases and you become less likely to give it away without due thought. In short, you start to realize your worth.

Then you grapple with the realization that things freely given away, such as like your time as seen in things that you make and gift, can be undervalued. You also may feel dissatisfied with what you’ve given people or their reactions. You wonder if what you’ve given is “enough,” even though it probably exceeds the dollar value of what you would have spent at a store.

Night Passages

All of these thoughts jumble together into some strange kind of run-on thought that cycles though your brain, sounding rather like, “I want to give Person A a gift that they’d really like and they like that piece of my work, which coincidentally hasn’t sold yet (but probably will eventually), but my work is worth a lot to me and I would only have spent about $50 on a gift for that person and the piece retails for $120, which is only $60 wholesale, really, and it would probably make them happy and it’s easy but somehow it feels wrong to give it away or maybe they wouldn’t like it at all and it would be a complete waste and I didn’t want to “spend” that much on them….”

Birches

And you keep playing this little broken record in your head over, and over and over.

If you’re smart, this is when you start to make a decided distinction between the stuff you make to sell and the stuff you make to give. There is a decided difference between making Object A for sale to some random and generally anonymous stranger and making that same item to give to a relative or friend. When you sell it to a stranger, you get money and the validation that money implies in the limited relationship that you have with this other person. When you give something to a friend or relative, you get….. Well, that’s the question. What do you get? And what have you given, really?

I think there’s a decided difference between giving someone something that was made for just about anyone and taken from your general inventory. When you give a gift that you made with no specific person in mind, you’ve given a gift of your skill, time, vision and taste (after all, you picked that gift for them). In many situations, that’s all it is. If you’re lucky, it was a perfect fit and didn’t cost you any more than buying a gift would have. If you picked the wrong thing for the wrong person, you can feel like you’ve lost more than just money.

When you give a gift that was made with a specific person in mind, you’re effectively giving something that’s more like a commissioned work. There is more concentrated thought in the design process; often the selection of colours, materials, size, layout and even subject matter or medium are determined by what you think this other person wants, needs or would appreciate. This is what I think most people want to give when they give hand-made gifts of their own creation. They want to give the person something that says, “I thought of you as an individual and this is what I thought you’d like and I imbued it with who I am by making it for your with my heart, head and hands.”

Snowflake fabric, from a friend

While making this gift, a lot of times the creator’s mind is on the person for whom it is being made. You can’t help it; you think about what they’d like, you replay conversations you’ve had and you dwell on what makes them tick, somehow hoping to whack that nail square on the head through your creative perspicacity.

There is a very real risk in giving such a gift, though. There is the risk that you have entirely misjudged this person’s character, their likes and even the basis and nature of their relationship with you. There is the risk that they will open the gift that you have poured hours and effort into and say, “Oh. Well. That’s….. nice.”

If you’re lucky and careful, this doesn’t happen very often.

Be prudent in your giving. Like most craftspeople, I’ve given gifts that I wished I could take right back after having seen the reaction of the recipient. Apparently you’re not allowed to do this (damn). Your only recourse is to move them off the crafted gift list and into the realm of the mundane.

It is also important to remember that not all people, no matter how much you like them, warrant hand-made items. Some people lack the ability or inclination to appreciate such items and in these cases I whole-heartedly advocate not wasting your time and effort. They may be great people, they may be wonderful friends, they may even be relatives who expect to get something you’ve made, but if they are not the sort of “kindred spirits” who will grasp the full implication of such a gift, don’t put yourself through the wringer.

And folks, if you get something that has evidently been the result of much thought and toil (and sometimes  the purchase of pricey materials) by the giver, take a few minutes to ask what went into it. You might be astonished.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. mary hood says:

    And for the record, I love every single handmade gift you have ever given me. I treasure them all for their true value in the creation and the giving. Hugs, MOM

  2. Christine says:

    I bumped into your greeting to the woman moving from Ireland and found that you live in Torbay. I figure an artist living in Torbay must be somebody worth investigating! I figured I’d respond to this particular post. I really enjoyed reading it. It’s so true that while it may seem “easy” to give something homemade, it has to be the right thing for the right person. I find that it’s hard to count the cost in terms of time and effort and supplies when it’s something you really want to give, especially to someone who will understand the wholeness of the gift. Other times, I look at what I’m planning to give away and decide that they wouldn’t appreciate what went into it and do the generic gift thing. Looking back, it’s interesting to see who those people are and what they mean to me.

    Cheers!
    ~ Christine

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