It’s a delight to welcome Quinn Piper to MDK. We’ve known Quinn since our entry into the knit blogosphere, where we first were enchanted by her words, drawings, photography—and knitting. Say hi to the goats for us, Quinn!
—Ann and Kay
’Tis the season of looking at that special surprise you are knitting, and then looking at the calendar. Anxiety—which has no place in gift-making—begins to rise: “Is there time to finish if I work on this project every day? . . . Is there time to finish if I do nothing but work on this project every day?”
Doubts that surfaced once or twice become a recurrent theme: “Are the color choices really as perfect as I thought? . . . Will my friend love—or even want—this thing I have been pouring my heart into?”
Fiberfolk, I am here to make the case for collaboration. The simple secret to making the perfect handknit gift is to plan it with the recipient.
A personal example
In Autumn 2019, my Occasional Helper announced that he and his wife were expecting their first child. Neither parent is a knitter. Both appreciate handknits. Patterns flashed through my mind like calendar pages in a 1940s movie.
Perhaps they would like me to knit something for the baby? We started at, “Would it be too much trouble for you to make a little cap?” and landed, comfortably, on a blanket. Encouraging them to enjoy coming up with exactly what they wanted became part of the gift.
Nearly all the planning for this project—and there was a lot of planning—was done by email. Email just made sense for three people with different schedules. It also meant the parents-to-be had plenty of time to discuss patterns, yarns, and colors at their own convenience, and to enjoy the process. I answered lots of yarny questions from my friends but the decisions were entirely theirs.
We used a sort of hierarchical winnowing approach, starting with shape—rectangular? square? round? triangular?— then moving on to size, then stitch pattern. Pictures of examples flew back and forth, and each decision narrowed the selection for the next level of planning.
Choice of fiber was of course a big one, and since people respond so differently to textures, I sent my Occasional Helper home one day with a box of sample items made with various types of wool and other fibers.
The decision: Gudrun Johnston’s Hansel Hap—a traditional-style square Shetland hap, made with traditional Shetland wool, large enough to be folded for a manageable triangular wrap. A lacy stitch pattern, but not so elegant as to be undraggable by a toddler. A wavy-not-pointy edge for a lifetime of easier blocking.
Color was the icing on the planning cake. With a vast range of colors available in Shetland wool from Jamieson & Smith, I was prepared for a decision-making delay. But no! In a surprise move, they went with natural, undyed wool in five soft shades. Emails took on a poetic aspect: “We are thinking Gaulmogot as the main color and are looking at Mooskit, Sholmit, Katmollet, Moorit and Shaela as possible accents.” An order went out. The clicking of needles soon began.
It is genuinely heartwarming to plan a gift with the people who will be receiving it. This blanket belonged to the recipients before I cast on the first stitch. It belonged to them even as I put all my love and hopes for their family into every row. Each detail of this blanket was chosen by the people who would enjoy and use it.
And when Covid arrived shortly before the baby—suddenly rendering all anticipated introductions and baby visits impossible for many long months—the feeling that we had created this blanket together became especially sweet.
The benefits of collaboration
I’d like to say three things about the “It should be a surprise!” aspect of gift knitting. First, I’ve done that, and watched others do it, and I find it generally overrated. Also potentially sad-making. Surprise lasts for a moment, but hurt feelings seem to last a lifetime. For me, the stress of uncertainty can take a lot of the joy out of knitting a gift. I think knitting is better used to relieve stress, not create it.
Second, collaborating can totally eliminate deadline anxiety. If I want to knit something special as a Christmas gift, I’ll make a gift card specifically for the item, and write something like, “Let’s talk about your Special Socks/Scarf/Mittens/??? the weekend after New Year’s when things calm down!” Then I follow through. I start with the card because I’ve found it easier to get things rolling if there is an actual item and “appointment” in hand.
Finally, here’s a little bonus that I’ve discovered: Even if the recipient has made every decision in the planning process, when they hold that finished item in their hands, they will be surprised. Trust me.