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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.


  • What a good article. I am in the process of making this hap and love your color selection.

    • Thank you 🙂 I love the naturals too – so soft and blendy.

  • I couldn’t agree more! Over the last couple of years I gifted four knits to four young women loves of mine, one for each of my husband’s daughters and one for each of my own. I took measurements on each, each chose her pattern based from options I provided after a conversation about what type of garment she wanted, and I shopped for yarn for each. I was able to check one for fit before knitting sleeves. Each received her garment joyfully,and with a certain degree of surprise. Best of all, the three cardigans and a camisole are all worn and enjoyed with considerable frequency!

    • TOTAL success – congratulations! 🙂

    • I think this is a great idea (as in why didn’t I think of this). I guess I’m wedded to the surprise idea of gifting. Time for a dissolution.

      • It does make sense when you start to think about it 😉

  • How very wise of you to realize this. While there are occasional people who want no part in anything but the color choice, most people are going to appreciate being in on the planning. It takes a lot of stress away from the knitter, which makes the knitting much more enjoyable.

    • Exactly! No-fret knitting 🙂

  • Thanks for this article! I can’t wait to try this!

    • Simply brilliant! I have always been too selfish to knit holiday gifts for people. When my boys were little this season was already too stress filled to turn knitting into a stressor. Not to mention that some loved ones are not appreciative of handmade items. I love the idea of gifting a knitting appointment to a fave friend or relative.

    • Good luck, Purple Paisley! 🙂

    • First, I determine if someone is knit-worthy. Will they wear it, will they care for a wool garment, etc. My sister is one of the most knit-worthy recipients in my family. I am currently knitting a vest for her with yarn picked out by her on a trip we made to Shetland last summer. She has had design and color input all along the way and I know she will love the end product! I have no stress while knitting and will be happy so see her wear it for years to come.

      • I’ll bet that vest is going to be a treasure 🙂

    • What a lovely, thought-provoking article and the hap is gorgeous
      I especially love when my knit worthy family or friends ask me to knit them something. It’s often something I probably wouldn’t have chosen myself but it’s an honor and privilege to make them something I know they will love. They are very good about not pressuring me time wise which is another advantage to this approach to gift giving

      • I made my sister a very nice Icelandic sweater as a surprise and she loved it. I then made my brother one …. And he didn’t.

        Maybe he liked it a little but he was mostly annoyed that it wasn’t an 8 stitches to the inch gansey with traditional Cornish patterns. He was snotty about it on Facebook “yeah it’s ok but it’s like the cheap ornaments glass blowers make for the Christmas trade. Not the best she can do.”

        My knitter friends went over and schooled him but he’s never getting anything else handmade by me.

        • Wow! That is harsh. I’d be hard pressed to even SPEAK to him again!

      • Phyllis, that sounds like an ideal knitting/gifting situation you’ve got there! And thank you 🙂

  • How true, just sent a tank top to my daughter-in-law, she picked the pattern out from several patternsI sent to her, and is now happily wearing it.

    • What a nice mother-in-law you are! And “happily wearing it” = knit-gifting success 🙂

  • Absolutely the best way to gift knit!

    • My favorite 😉

  • Agree! I started using this approach recently and it has been a delightful experience. My sister chooses items that I would never even have considered but she loves them and wears her them regularly. And, it was fun making them! That’s a win-win in my book. P.s. that baby blanket is absolutely gorgeous.

    • Absolutely a win-win! And thank you 🙂

  • So true! I have three totally knit-worthy niblings, and I’ve made them all sweaters. But they got to pick patterns (from suggestions and Ravelry links) and colors for themselves. I would never make them surprises, everybody’s taste is so different. Bonus points – I got to knit three sweaters, all different, all things I hadn’t tried. And the recipients loved them.

    • “everybody’s taste is so different”…Amen to that! And congrats on three successful sweaters 🙂

  • I am so with you! I ask my children and grandchildren what they want and what colors they like. I have had too many surprise flops not to collaborate!

    • This is how we learn! At least…this was how I learned 😉

  • Welcome, Quinn!! Today, I am joining body and sleeves of the Isabel sweater for my bestest friend, Boo. I involved her in all the choices along the way and it is a wonderful feeling that she will have the pullover she WANTS. She even gave me her most favorite, well-worn sweater to measure. Though the modifications were tricky, it has been well worth it!
    I now have Nora Gaughan’s lovely orchid cables and finishing to go.
    It has been a pleasure to see the results while we try it on to check the fit. She IS surprised every time!
    The Hansel Hap is beautiful. Such lucky parents and baby!

    • Thank you, Kathleen! Wow, that sweater is going to be a wooly gem in every way, especially having been made by a bestest friend!

  • I very much agree!

    • Collaboration rocks 🙂

  • Thank you for this truthful observation. The planning process may take more time, but the result is soo worth it!

    • Yes, in this case it took a lot of time at the start because the recipients aren’t knitters, so I explained a lot of details and variables. But talking about knitting is never exactly a hardship, is it? 😉

  • Nice concept. I am doing the same thing with my nephew and making a doggie tuxedo for his English Bulldog. We have had such fun choosing style and yarn. Now I am ready to cast on and will be keeping him informed all the way.

    • That sounds like a design challenge – good luck! 🙂

    • Great insight, and gives more opportunities to grow closer with our precious knitworthy tribe.

      • That’s a great point, Dawn!

    • Tuxedo for a bulldog, yay!

  • Brilliant!

    • Thank you – I hope it works for you!

  • Lovely gift of an article. Thank you!

    • Wow, thank YOU!

  • What a stunning blanket and most appreciative recipients. It warms the heart! I completely agree with you about surprise gifts and the hurt that can last a lifetime. After knitting a lovely blanket for the baby of our nephew and his wife, we received absolutely no acknowledgment. Years later, it still stings.

    • So many people have had a similar experience… so sorry, Madeleine!
      And thank you 🙂

  • I love this, have started doing this with my grands as they age, they need to be in on the planning. Thanks for a wonderful article and the blanket is amazing!

    • Thank you and thank you, Susan!

  • Yup, indeed. I’ve been knitting only 7 years and have learned this lesson the hard way! Right now I am knitting two sweaters, two very different ones, one for each of my adult daughters. They chose the patterns and the colors and the fiber type (by my description). I show them the progress as I go, which I think also helps them to understand the work and devotion involved, and soon we will be trying in for sleeve length and crop length on the top to bottom cardi. Thank you for encouraging all of us to take this approach!

    • Good point about the progress updates! I’m going to remember that 🙂

  • Totally agree!! Lovely summary of knitted gifting.

    • Thank you, Monika 🙂

  • Yes!!! I have made 2 knitted blankets for each of my 10 grandchildren. The last of these is still on the needles… But the 1st arrives before baby. The pattern for each if these was picked out by my daughter and daughters in law. The only disappointment was the one where I was left to pick out the colors. One color wasn’t what she had envisioned. The rest have all been fantastic successes. I help them to find the patterns they love and guide in picking out the yarns that will work well. They approve the skeins if yarn. Then they don’t see it again until it’s done. Being a work away from home Nana, 3 months of work and live into a project is much easier without anxiety of if they will love it. THEY DO!!!

    • Exactly!! And kudos on the awesome number of blankets you have knitted – wow!!

  • I love this perspective! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to using it in the future❣

    • Thank you, Carol – I hope it works well for you! 🙂

  • Breathtaking.

    If I did not know how to knit, this would make me want to learn.

    A long time ago a friend asked me to knit a sweater for her. We headed off to the yarn store one Saturday morning. Her boyfriend came along. I was a bit concerned that this might shorten the time we had to select a pattern and yarn. Just the opposite. My friend and I spent some time making selections and ended up with an oversized polka dot Arianne Vittadini cardigan. (Which places this experience firmly in the mid-1980’s). At one point I looked around to see what her boyfriend was doing. He was performing a jugging act with random balls of yarn for all of the children who were “shopping” with their mothers. Magical, really.

    My friend and I met in the middle of the country. We now live on opposite coasts. She told me recently that she still wears the sweater. Its bright colors liven up the gray Seattle days.

    • What a wonderful story – thank you for sharing it! And thank you so much for the lovely compliment, which put a big smile on my face 🙂

  • Thank you for this great post! I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about how to incorporate the recipient in the process of planning the project. My attempt at it didn’t turn out so nicely. I initially received a list of very specific demands (some of which it turned out I could not meet), and have received a good deal of the cold shoulder when the knitting wasn’t completed in their assumed time frame. I see now, that communication at every turn and involving the recipient in each planning detail the key. The blanket is Amazing! Even through the photo, I can feel the love that it contains.

    • Diane, thank you very much for your kind words, and I’m so sorry you had that negative experience. “Demands” doesn’t sound like something a knitter should have to deal with when making a gift 🙁 I hope another time collaboration will work well for you and a (perhaps different) recipient! 🙂

    • Diane, I usually have good experiences with collaboration, but also had an experience like this once. The recipient was someone close to me, who asked for a sweater. It wasn’t a fun experience, similar to yours. I later learned there was a lot of anger and resentment unrelated to knitting, of course, which led to our eventual estrangement. I hope that isn’t true for you.

      Here’s to knitting given and received with joy and gratitude <3

      • Raising my glass, Pam!

  • Welcome Quinn! Thank you for the lovely memory, which was full of surprises for all.

    • Thank YOU, Nell 🙂

  • This is almost always how I knit for others (the exception to the rule being the hat and mittens going off to my daughter-in-law today for her birthday). People don’t always want the job of planning to the detail in this story, but I think it DOES work out better for everyone.

    And sometimes, when there’s something I want to make, but don’t think I will use myself, or that reminds me of one of my knitworthy crew, I extend an offer. “I’d kind of like to make (this). Would anyone like one?” Sometimes, crickets, sometimes, a surprising yes from one or another.

    • That’s where I am with hats now. I rarely wear them but often see one I’d like to knit. I think I’ll try your method!

  • Perfect advice, every word of it. Your last paragraph rings especially true: even when knitting for myself, having made every decision in the process and knitted every stitch too, I’m surprised by the reality of the finished project.

    • ps: I mean surprised in a pleasant way (usually!), not in an “oh, no!” way. 😉

      • I agree! Even having seen every stitch created, I always feel surprised the first time I put on a new pair of handknit socks.

  • Thank you so much for this! I feel like you read my mind when you wrote it (I know it’s really about how almost-universal the experience is, but it’s more fun to think you read my mind)!

    Your encouragement and suggestions about collaboration are pure gold.

    • thank you very much!

  • I agree completely! My best friend that I gifted a card for a hat & mittens last year, loved the finished product. And it was relaxing to be able to knit with all my love on those needles. She recently told me during a brief cold snap here recently, she wore the hat to bed!

    • That’s knit-gifting gold, that is!

  • When someone wants a hat, I send them to the LYS to pick out their own yarn. They tell the clerk that whatever they like is to be for a hat and the clerk makes sure they have enough and puts it away for me, I then get the yarn on my next visit. It really separates the sheep from the goats of hat recipients and I’m always startled by what my friends taste really is, not my taste of what I think they might like!

    • Yep, people are full of surprises! 🙂

  • This is such a lovely story! I think planning like this would end the “Boyfriend Curse” for sweaters! I love to do this with my own family and find it makes the whole process more enjoyable. I’m making hats for two kids and their significant others this year, and made some socks as well. I took my step-daughter to a yarn shop last winter to pick some yarn for a hat for her, and she had such a delightful time looking around and picking! It was a nice time for the two of us to spend together.

    • That sounds lovely, Margie! At one point early on, I thought the hap-recipients and I would be making a yarn-choosing trip to a local yarn emporium, but as soon as the “traditional Shetland wool” decision was made…well, Massachusetts is SUCH a long way from Shetland!

  • Lovely to see Quinn here!

    • What a nice thing to say – thank you so much 🙂

  • Beautiful story, beautifully written!

    • Thank you! 🙂

  • Lovely post. I’m not typically a gift knitter, because the opportunity for disappointment is too great. But I recently finished PetiteKnit’s Sophie Shawl in Atlas, and I can tell it my friends/family would like one as well. I could ask them to pick their color (mine is pear♥️), and I’m sure they would be very happy with their present. And it’s a speedy, easy knit!

    • Great idea! And with a built-in i-cord edge…sounds like a winner 🙂

  • I did this for a baby blanket! And I still get comments from the mother about how perfect it is. I made it big enough to grow with the baby, as well, so it’s being used as a lap blanket.

    • Long-term appreciation is the gift that keeps on giving! Kind of like a woolly blanket 🙂

  • I love everything about this!

    • Thank you so much! 🙂

  • This is a brilliant idea!!! Thank you!

    • Well, thank you! 🙂

  • I only have one sibling who is knit worthy. Unfortunately, she lives in Florida, where knitwear goes pretty much unused for 11 months out of the year. I did gift her a gorgeous Tree of Life blanket that took me a year to make, along with a cowl she specifically requested, as well as fingerless mitts. I’ve had people ask me to knit on consignment; maybe I should start taking orders? Lol

    • Does she like cotton or linen knits? And do you like knitting with cotton or linen? Just a thought 🙂

  • Really beautiful idea and gorgeous outcome….soft, delicate shades bespeaking “baby” without the stress of choosing supposed girl?boy? colors. So lovely reading this.

    • I was surprised but also happy they chose the natural wool colors – it was a pleasure to knit with this yarn 🙂

  • Thank you, Quinn, for this wonderfully expanded idea–making the gift the whole process!

    • That’s really how it felt 🙂 I hope if you try it, it works out well for you!

  • Thank you, Quinn, for your wonderfully expanded idea–making the whole process the gift!

  • Thank you. I love this. And, the blanket is beautiful. I always plan a baby blanket with the parents, ok, usually the mother. Right now, I’m crocheting a “Pretty Brown Doll” for a little girl I don’t know, and since I’m not of that ethnicity, or maybe I’d do it anyway, I’m consulting with her mother, who is my friend, all the time!

    • That doll sounds like an excellent collaboration! With the hap, I was glad both parents were very involved in the planning process – it was a real group effort 🙂

  • Thanks for this recommendation.

    It prompted me to tell a friend facing major surgery that I’d like to make a lap quilt for her in the colors of her favorite K pop groups (Monsta X, Stray Kids, Seventeen) and if she’d like that. She said she’d love it.

    So bonus, she knows she’s got support even before the quilt is made and she has something to look forward to.

    • Oh, that is wonderful in every way! Thank you for sharing it here 🙂

  • I’m with you 100% on this! If you are going to put all the effort into a custom-made gift, let it be something the recipient really wants and enjoys. Shopping for yarn with children is so much fun!

    • I think any adult who goes yarn shopping with me might feel like they are going yarn shopping with a child…kind of excitable, me 😉

  • This is such a simple yet brilliant thought process! I love that you put it so succinctly into words. SO much less pressure and stress about the entire process, from deciding what to make to getting it finished. (I am definitely going to use the gift card idea!!) And I agree that it will still be a beautiful surprise when the gift is all knit together.

    • Thank you, Marcia – I hope the process works out well for you! 🙂

  • Loved your essay. The baby blanket is stunning. Well done!

    • Thank you, thank you, and thank you, Lucille! 🙂

  • I rarely will knit for someone unless they buy the yarn…. My family and friends still consider it a gift because they know how much time it can take to make something. I’ve mostly had my second mom take me up on this offer, but I’ve also had an aunt and my parents do so too. And I recently had a friend give me yarn in her stash to make her mittens and a shawl – she isn’t currently knitting and wanted her pretty yarn turned into something. She gave me carte blanche on the pattern since she already had the yarn.
    I second the idea that even if someone is knit worthy, they should partake in the process from the beginning – picking the yarn/color and the pattern (I usually will offer 3-5 patterns for them to choose from) so that the finished item is loved by the recipient.

    • It sounds like you’ve got a great system that works for everyone involved 🙂 I’ve been on a yarn-buying moratorium for so long now, it was downright thrilling to buy the yarn for this project. I may have used the phrase “the sky’s the limit!”

  • Wow. This is so inspiring, both as a product and as a process. I love the final hap but more than that, I love that the process created safety for all involved. Thank you for teaching me another way to gift.

    • Thank you! Yes, the happy accident of discovering that knitting collaboration can safely take place regardless of a pandemic was kind of a bonus with this project!

  • I love the last bit about them being surprised, even if they planned every detail. The magic of handknit can’t really be anticipated. It will always be a magical surprise.

    • Agree 100%. Aren’t we surprised by our own knitting? 🙂

  • A granddaughter asked to make her a baby shawl just like I made for her sister. Another sister would like one too so now making them for all the grandchildren.
    Making the Bubbles pattern.

    • Now that’s an excellent bypass of the planning process – congrats to all! 🙂

  • I agree completely! Plus, I love the calendar reference – it’s perfect and funny.

    • I knew it was the 1940’s because the images were all black-and-white

  • Yes, yes a million times yes! PS- love the reference to calendar pages in a 1940’s movie.

    • 🙂

  • I have asked my sister and 3 daughters to go on Ravelry and choose a design, then we choose the yarn together. They are all so very knit worthy and appreciative. I just sent my youngest socks and leg warmers for her birthday. I know her taste in color and style and she was thrilled with them. She asked me for mitts and I was happy to oblige. I love it when they ask me to make things for them.

    • This sounds perfect – what all knitting-gifters are hoping for 🙂

  • I’m a terrible knitter – granny said it was because I am left-handed and grip the wool too tight. That’s all true but I can’t carry a pattern and things go horribly wrong. I can knit plain stitch or stocking stitch and can go backwards and forwards so blankets are my thing but they are always misshapen. I occupied an old jumper shop called ‘In Stitches’ in Colchester, Essex (I had a painted furniture business and was keeping the premises occupied until the owner sold it because jumpers were no longer fashionable ???!!!!). I marvelled at all the old stock of wool – shelves and shelves filed by colour. I still have some of Sylvia’s jumpers (that’s how we met) and I am about to send 2 of them off to the Ukraine as they no longer fit me. I still have the Aaron cardi granny made for me approximately 30 years ago – must be that old coz she died when my son was just a year old and he is now 28 and I was wearing it long before he happened. Recently I have had to add a couple of rows of moss green blanket stitch around the cuffs as they were a little worn. It has evolved over the years from a collared cardigan with horrible buttons, through to its present state of moss green cuffs ( wool from Sylvia’s shop) with posh buttons sewn on with flecked brown wool from Sylvia’s shop. It also has a large patch of paint on the sleeve which was annoying at the time but the shop was cold and i wore it when i was working on my painted furniture but really a dab of paint is part of its journey and just adds to its charm and as I cant see it when I’m wearing it, it doesn’t count. I currently wear it as an autumn jacket with a vintage Liberty shawl wrapped round my neck scarf style. Keeps me toastie warm. My son has been known to wear it when he thinks I’m not looking. Long live woollie pullies. Janet x

    • With all due respect to your granny, you don’t sound like a “terrible” knitter to me, Janet. You sound like a fine and stylish knitter 🙂

  • What a beautiful finished piece and a great thought provoking article! I’ve been making lots of baby gifts and this process seems very helpful. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you, Cheryl! I kind of wish I had more babies to knit for – I’ll bet you are enjoying every stitch 🙂

  • I took your advice for Christmas this year and brought out the National Parks inspired hats book for and let people choose one for me to make if they so desired. Three of four adults said yes please!

    • This makes me so happy, Alice! That will be some very happy knitting, I bet 🙂

  • The more I think about it, the more I’m liking this concept.
    I’ve never been one for gift cards because there’s such a letdown (unless specifically requested) it seems like they don’t really know you or care to at least try to shop for you.
    I could certainly use this concept for future gifting with my own twist to acknowledge the recipient…and take the pressure off trying to meet the same deadline for everyone.

    • Sounds like an excellent plan to me 🙂

  • I’ve been making a few Fair Isle Hats for folks. Knitting with someone in mind for the project is a good thing – and if they’ve helped decide what colors takes away any anxiety.

    • Lucky recipients! And Fair Isle knitting is a perfect example of the way color choice can be an important decision to share 🙂

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