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Click around on craft sites and social media often enough and you’ll come across the term “selfish knitting” along with its close cousin “selfish sewing.” These phrases are usually used to describe a project that’s just for the maker.

Of course I fully understand that the words are used with a sly wink, especially since I don’t know of anyone following knitting quotas. But I have an issue with it.

February Lady Sweater by Pamela Wynne in Malabrigo worsted; Daybreak by Stephen West in AVFKW Farm Series; Shirt no. 2; Skirt no. 1; Pants no. 2 

You just can’t get away from the negative connotations of the word selfish. Perhaps we bandy the word about because people who are conditioned to be caregivers are supposed to be self-less. Society looks approvingly upon those who put other’s needs before their own and less so on those who do not.

There are many stories and fairy tales with this exact dichotomy on display, in which characters who only do things for themselves are cast in an unfavorable light. 

Cria by Ysolda Teague IN Abundant Yarn & Dyeworks DK; Shirt no. 2; modified Dress no. 1; pants pattern forthcoming

Calling something selfish, even casually, helps reinforce the notion that making things in the service of others is somehow better. So if you are not knitting a Tomten Jacket for that new baby in your life, however distant the relation, well, shame on you.

We need to create things for ourselves without any associated guilt. Besides, the babies outgrow those things in minutes. That is a joke, because babies must learn to wear wool from an early age.

Modified Featherweight Cardigan by Hannah Fettig in AVFKW Farm Series; Bitterroot Shawl by Rosemary Hill in Twirl Yarns Twirling Petals; Shirt no. 2; modified Dress no. 1; Pants no. 1 

I might not have started from infancy, but I’m closing in on nearly ten years of wearing mostly handmade things. For me it’s a form of self love. I couldn’t find the clothes I wanted to wear, so first I started with knitting, then the rest of the garments followed. In some symbiotic way—I make what I like, like what I wear and this translates into my general contentment.

Thinking about yourself, does not necessarily mean disregard for others. It’s blessedly easy to remain in a world where every good attribute has an equivalent negative one. But as we grow, we learn that things are much more nuanced. 

Modified Stopover by Mary Jane Mucklestone in Léttlopi and Noro kureyon; Shirt no. 2; Dress no. 1; Pants no. 2 

All of this is in no way a judgment on people who garner real pleasure from making things for others, be it for gifts or charity. After all, there are many prolific knitters whose drawers are already stuffed to the brim with handknits and stopping is not an option. Maybe you’ve never made anything not for yourself and all your knitting is personal knitting. Just as long as you are meeting your needs. Because indulgent knitting or sewing and taking care of those needs, is important. 

Save it for later. Keep Sonya’s recommendations handy in your MDK account. Here’s how.

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • Oh, Sonya, it’s so great to have you back here! You are so beautiful in those wonderful clothes, and such an inspiration. Thank you!

    • I SO agree!

    • Thank you so much for the warm welcome Ginny! <3

    • Love having you back…So many of us focus on the “Do unto others” and ignore “as we do unto ourselves.” Had i practiced this during the first adult decades of my life, I would have grossly neglected everyone! Thank you for this, Sonya.

      • Thank you Kathleen and yes, that’s a really important point. It’s definitely tricky to find that balance!

      • This is such a good point Kathleen. I could say the same.

    • Truth!

      • I hate the term “selfish knitting.” Why is making something for oneself branded selfish? At the same time, we all realize that many people who might received the products of our labor will not appreciate the cost and time that we put into them. (Check out the giant pile of handmade Afghans available at any thrift store if you don’t believe me.) Thank you for addressing this misguided phrase.

  • You always wow me with your writing, sewing & knitting. Thank you for your inspiration.

    • Thank you so much Martha!

  • TRUE and beautifully said!

    • Thank you Anne!

    • What the world needs now, is LOVE sweet love! We are generating love, and joyfully sharing it! Thank you, lovely Sonya! Hugs and mask free days are coming!

      • Thank you Lisa! I do miss hugs, looking forward them.

  • Sonya! We all need to do some self-love knitting and sewing and, and, and! Wonderful words, and as always I love seeing you in your beautiful clothing.
    Are the forthcoming pants a stand-alone pattern or they in your book that comes out in April? xo N

    • Thank you Nell! It always seems like we can and should do a little more for ourselves. And yes, those pants are from the book – soon, soon, SOON!

  • Thank you for this wonderful message! And the reminder that, really, all knitting and sewing is selfless. No sweat shop labor, “waste” that can be incorporated into other pieces, and it’s great self care.

    • That is such a wise way of looking at it BJ, thank you.

  • Always love the fashion show! I think the Stephen West shawl is Earth and Sky.

    • You are absolutely right, I have a Daybreak as well and mixed it up. You know your knits!

    • Good eye! It is Earth and Sky, one of Stephen’s early classics. A friend of mine made it in black, white, and orange – Panthera Tigris.

      • That sounds lovely! I made the mistake of starting this on a plane and dropped one of my little pre-wound balls I was using in place of bobbins :0

  • YES to this, and praise for general contentment!

    • Hear Hear!! Thanks Max xo

  • Thank you! I rarely knit for others but when I do it’s special, sometimes accidentally

    • It’s funny. I knit for others accidentally too. I’ll make something because it’s called me to make it, then look at the finished piece and know that it’s for a specific person in my life. Like I did it subconsciously for them.

    • I do enjoy the practice of knitting for others, I find myself thinking about them as I’m knitting and feel like it somehow, strangely goes into the knitting.

  • Love your words, and I am thinking perhaps we need to invent a new term for our self-care. If we can have self-less, how about self-full……..taking care of ourselves is the best gift! Thank you for having such a kind, loving Heart, and for sharing yourself with all of us.

    • Thank you so much Dixie, you are so sweet. And I love the idea of self-full as a new descriptor. It’s like re-filling ourselves, which is very necessary!

  • So Much Fun! Thank you, great way to start my day immersed in your creativity~now leaning into mine.

    • Thank you Niki, wishing you a very creative day!

  • Great outfits! And it bears saying that, of course, the term ‘selfish’ seems to apply only to traditionally female crafts. My furniture designing BIL built himself a kitchen table, which was never referred to as a ‘selfish’ table. I suspect he’d be perplexed by the phrase. It’s the whole ‘women as nothing but caregivers’ schtick. Gonna be a revolution!! Sorry, you touched a nerve….

    • Yes!!

    • It’s a very gendered thing, you’re absolutely right Martha. This is something the Yarn Harlot has talks about A LOT. Hoping that by thinking about these small, seemingly insignificant things, we can try to effect some change.

    • 100% truth.

    • This!!

      • Right!
        I am saying over and over to other women (including my 82 yo mom whom I care for):

        Men are practitioners of outwardly expressing & telling the world what they want,while we women have taught and still teach our daughters to ask permission for their needs, let alone their wants, with “Do you mind if I…”.


        This is going to help me with a difficult conversation I NEED to have with a fellow co-worker this morning in order to preserve my respect for her.

        ALSO – SONYA: will know knit for my own inner revolution.

        Thank you

        • There are so many studies on how gendered behavior is – how people talk and interact with babies dressed in pink vs dressed in blue. And the asking permission for needs really is so ingrained culturally, no matter how many other strides are made. It’s a thorny issue for sure!

    • Thank you. Yes. The expectation of ‘women as nothing but caregivers’ touched the same nerve in me. I have so many thoughts…Because it is part of practically every conversation I have right now. I think about my neighbor with the four bedroom, one office, one family room, one living room house with a finished basement and fully grown children who is frustrated because she does not have room for a jigsaw puzzle (she does not knit, but it’s the same idea). This dilemma is about not having enough physical space or enough time. It seems to be about what women expect themselves to be doing–taking care of something. Or another friend whose father recently passed away, leaving her mother, who has Parkinson’s, without the full time support she needs. The mother has financial resources for high-quality assisted living. The family, four siblings, expects my friend to move in and be the primary provider of full time care. There is just so much pressure on women, especially, to make this kind of choice. Her older brother thinks nothing of assigning his shifts to her when he wants to fly off to his second home in Florida for vacation time. The underlying issue is the fact that my friend feels guilty for not just taking up this responsibility, and I feel guilty for not telling her she has to do it. We both know the expectations. On the other hand, we have discussed the very real challenges of providing 24/7 care and realize there needs to be a different solution. My friend is framing a solution that involves determining how and by whom the level of care her mother requires will be provided and how she will set firm boundaries on her time commitments. Because there are four siblings available, there are many ways of providing quality care, and she does have the right to take care of her own needs.

      • Interesting story. Here’s mine. Background: my mother wanted nothing to do with me from birth. My father was the one who taught me to use the potty, read, etc. Result: I suffered from depression most of my life; remember asking God to let me die, as a 5 year old. Fast forward decades: I moved thousands of miles away, with my son and daughter, to try to deal with my depression. Once day I get a call from my NEPHEW who never before called me, in decades. He was rather “nasty and offensive”, telling me that it was my duty, as the daughter, to go back and take care of my parents. (He wasted his time.) Fast forward to now, my brother told me how my dear nephew, had stolen all the valuables, in my parent’s home, when dad died, no problem with the fact that my mother was still alive. I can only laugh. She only cared for my brother and I was the one with the “duty”. By the way, they were not even remotely poor.

      • This is something we are very clearly seeing in the numbers of women leaving their jobs as they become the de facto teacher and caregiver. This starts a whole different conversation of who’s career is put on hold, which in turn shines a light on who is earning less and the continued pay gap between men and women. And that’s for caregiving young children, caring for aging parents is just a complex, as you point out. I hope she is able to work through her feelings of guilt and find some solutions for her mother. It sounds like she has a good friend and advocate in you.

    • !!!

      • Sorry—supposed to say: one hundred percent!!!

    • Bingo!

  • So creative, so beautiful!

    • Thank you Kimberly!

  • Glad you are back! Beautiful written piece, beautiful photos, beautiful garments, beautiful you!

    • Thank you so much Amy, you’re so kind!

  • Preach, mamma! Preach!

    • Thanks for the encouragement Kristin!

  • I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject. Thanks so much!!

    • Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

  • “It’s blessedly easy to remain in a world where every good attribute has an equivalent negative one.” So true, thanks for another thoughtful piece.

    • Happy to hear you enjoyed it!

  • So True! Sigh & Smile ✨ thank you.

    • You’re very welcome Emmy!

  • I love this concept. While I’m an indiscriminate knitter in that I knit for lots of other people, many who I don’t know, I treasure the things I make for myself.

    • Bernadette, it sounds like indiscriminate knitter is code for avid knitter. Love that!

    • Thank you so much! Here I am, feeling guilty for having knit 25plus pairs of socks for myself. Welcome back!

      • You have to have socks!!

  • Well said, Sonya!!! I need to hear this again and again. Every time I see your clothes I think, I’m gonna try that — they just look so cool. I especially like shirt #2 in the dress length with that blue fabric. WOWzer.

    • Thank you so much Jan and hoping you try your hand at it!

  • Welcome back! Yes to this. I too have always had issue with the concept (and words) selfish knitting or sewing. Well said!

    • Thank you Marlene, I’m really happy to be back!

  • I’ve always been a “ selfish” knitter and sewer. Except for sewing and knitting for my children and husband ( after many years) everything I made was for me. I still have almost everything I ever made.
    Unless they totally fell apart.
    I have no guilt or regrets.

    • That’s wonderful to hear Jane, I know I am definitely more connected to the things I make.

  • Gorgeous colors-especially the monochromatics! I enjoy what I make and wearing a piece of art is a form of modest self expression. Other than a hat or scarf I can’t be sure of fit or colors if it is a gift. I gift to others in many ways but I save the yarn for selfish ol me. I do not know of one creative person who is not a giver in some form. Truth-I’ve been making a few gifted dog sweaters lately. Dog owners will dress up our pups at almost every chance.
    P.S.Sonya, I wish compliment the amazing background art for your photo shoots too!

    • Thank you! I do keep an eye out for good murals and am lucky to live in a place with a never ending supply. I wholeheartedly agree with wearing what you make as a form of self-expression. And I need to knit some sweaters for my dogs, there is nothing cuter than a dog in handknits!

  • Yes! Yes! Beautifully said by a beautifully talented maker. When we knit, we bring creative freedom into the world and so whatever we knit is relevant. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much Davida!

  • I have missed you, Sonya! And yes, yes, yes, yes YES. Most of my knitting is for me but it is often gifted to someone who admires it. I once removed a just finished sweater at a baby shower and gifted it to the woman sitting next to me when she told me for the third time how much she loved it. A) I could have offered to knit one for her but she was my size and entering into that bargain would mean pressure to finish instead of knitting on my own schedule. B) Dear me, now I must head to my LYS for supplies for that sweater’s replacement.

    • What a wonderful story Lucinda and you know that generosity of your gift will always be wrapped up in the sweater for that woman. Now get to the yarn store!

  • I agree completely. It’s no more selfish to make clothes for yourself than it is to go buy them for yourself. We all need to be clothed 🙂 and we have a right to decide how to do that.

    I have knitted for others and success can vary. Sometimes, it’s sizing difficulties. Or the person is more comfortable with manufactured articles of clothing.

    Once I knitted a complex shawl for a friend and she even picked out the yarn, but in the end, she didn’t care for the color.

    I do charity knitting from time to time, and like it best cause I don’t have to know if the recipient really liked/wanted it or not 🙂

    In sum, absolutely fine to furnish yourself with clothing by making them. Great to knit for others from time to time, but think carefully about it! It’s not automatically something that always works out!

    • Thanks so much Laura. In a perfect world, all recipients of handmade gifts would fully appreciate the care and time put into every item. And you’re so right, we buy clothes and so it follows, we can make them for ourselves if we choose.

  • Wise words! Thank you!

    • Thank you Claire!

  • It is a goal of mine to wear something I have made every day. Also a goal of mine to one day to wear top to toe everything that I have made – all the way down – hat to shoes !

    • Thank you so much Darla! And I would love to try my hand at clog making sometime.

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Those are great goals Darla, both the near and long term ones! It’s also a dream of mine to try making shoes. Maybe some handmade clogs in the not too distant future?
    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Those are great goals Darla – both the near and long term ones. I also have a dream about learning how to make shoes. Maybe one day some handmade clogs!
  • Thank you for putting words to a concept that is almost universally ignored in the world of makers. I think making for charity is wonderful, and I’ve done it a few times since I started knitting 16 years ago. But I hardly have time to work on (and finish) projects intended for myself, let alone for others, and it is the reason I have basically sworn off membership in various guilds. There is always a huge emphasis on charity knitting, and in some of them it is a requirement of membership. I have decided that I prefer to support charitable groups in other (and no less important) ways. If I choose to make anything for others (and I often do), it is because I want to. If that makes me “selfish” in some people’s eyes, so be it!

    • Finding enough time to make what you want is definitely a tricky thing. I hadn’t realized that charity knitting is sometimes a requirement, that seems very severe. I think you’re doing what’s best for you Susan and not selfish at all.

  • The minute I first saw your style I thought “That’s it!” You’ve been my style beacon ever since. I have yet to sew anything for myself (that’s coming slowly) but I’ve been layering for warmth and have gotten lots of compliments on how I dress from people lately, which is a rare thing for me. Thanks so much for the inspiration and your understanding that wearing clothing of our own making is important for so many reasons.

    • Thank you so much! I think there’s this feedback loop where you dress to make *you* happy, other people notice it and give compliments – reinforcing the whole thing.

  • I find that I put a lot more pressure on myself for perfection in the things I knit for others. A wonky stitch, a little hole, a too big sleeve opening, or even a bit of lace pattern done wrong doesn’t bother me on something I knit for myself, they are almost like little friends. But for something I’m knitting for someone else, any of those flaws would make me feel like a failure. I need to be kinder to myself and my family and friends will benefit!!

    • I know what you mean about that pressure! Sometimes I can let things slide but then other times I feel compelled to redo and then it becomes a chore. The flaws aren’t failures. If nothing unravels or disintegrates, it’s just a little design anomaly.

  • Brilliant post. Thank you Sonya. I love to see all your beautiful handmade clothes.

    • Thank you so much Ruth!

  • Decades ago a struggling friend described her personal struggle as needing to create a firmer grasp of what she called “enlightened self-interest.” Hallelujah and amen…. Thank you for your good words on the subject, timely indeed.

    • Your friend was definitely on to something! Thank you for sharing.

  • I don’t care about who knits what for whom. sI mostly knit for myself, sometimes for others as gifts. It doesn’t matter. Reducing the word selfish to being about who you knit for and then being offended by it seems like a tempest in a teapot. Has anyone actually be shamed for not knitting for others? Does anyone keep track of a knitting friends knitting to determine if they are selfish or not? If that has happened to you I am sorry you have such obsessive, critical people in your orbit. I saw the term ‘selfish’ knitting first used by people describing themselves because they were tired to giving people hand knits who didn’t show what they thought was proper appreciation. A person who does nothing for others, never thinks of or takes others into account is truly selfish. If someone wants to apply that work specifically to my knitting habits in a serious, not joking way, it’s their problem, not mine.

    • Thanks for your view on the subject, it’s interesting to see how other people view the term.

  • way to say it!!!

    • Thank you Martha!

  • All my knitting is for me whether I keep it or give it away. Thanks, Sonya, I love your knitting and sewing style

    • Thank you Betty! Your knitting sounds a bit like how I shop for Christmas gifts 😉

  • Your outfits are such a pleasure to see! I couldn’t agree more as far as knitting for yourself. Things take longer to knit than I ever expect them to – after all the time, the effort to get it right – I want to reap the rewards and I don’t feel even a little selfish. Is one too selfish if they read a book to themselves rather than find a book someone else likes and spend hours reading it aloud to them? Is one too selfish if they bake themselves a treat and they didn’t bother to bake enough for the neighbors? So strange to think doing something nice for yourself is wrong.

    • Thanks so much Wanda, I’m glad to hear you enjoy the column. And you are absolutely right about reaping the rewards, knitting does take time.

  • i have removed the term ‘selfish knitting’ from my vocabulary preferring to make ‘personal projects’.

  • I am so happy to hear I am in good company in knitting for myself. I spent a lot of energy knitting for others, and it wasn’t appreciated nor were the items well cared for… lesson learned. However, a Norwegian niece by marriage, whose mom passed away two weeks before her wedding, with a new baby, was delighted with a hat for the little one and a shawlette for herself. Could it be that certain cultures are more appreciative of handwork and beautiful yarns?
    I’ve also started sewing for myself again! Only a bathrobe so far, but Carole Lombard would love it!

  • Thank you! I so agree. It’s not selfish to knit for myself…it is an extension of my creativity and self-expression. (P.S. love your style!)

  • I have so missed your columns & IG posts & am dancing some happiness to see you back! I pre-ordered your book last night & CANNOT wait for it to arrive. A perfect, self-less gift for me. <3
    It's taken me most of my life to realize that if I don't take care of myself first, I don't have a lot left to help others. I'm 65 now & it's a shame my family, society, culture insisted the best path to happiness for women my age was to give, give, give. Well, for me, that's led to burnout & depression & not enough left to help anyone, let alone myself. I love this post & the letters that follow; so many truths!

  • Sonya, you are extraordinary. I don’t think I have ever “met” anyone with a stronger sense of her own personal style.

  • I adore that pretty much everything you wear is hand made for yourself. Those are true acts of love. And I think you nailed it with the last line…I vote that we change “selfish knitting” to “indulgent knitting.” xoxo

  • After reading this I had to follow the crumbs and ended up at the Makingzine No8. What a lovely publication. My architect daughter drooled over its style and contents. More projects especially since I bought the zine for the Chaparrals- perfect things… cannot wait to make them.
    The “thing” here is NOT so important as the glorious permission to craft fine wearables for oneself. Nearly 60 and getting around to it.

  • Years ago, when I was under-employed and had more time than money, I made Christmas gifts for my entire family. I have a big family and was up to 26 knitted gifts every year. I’d start in August, and finish by the time I saw the last family member in early January. It was always such a thrill to cast on something just for me. One year, someone from my church overhead me talking about my just-finished post-Christmas shawl and started pressuring me to knit for charity instead of just for myself. It was really upsetting.

    Now I work full-time and have a young child, and I very rarely knit for anyone else. My mother, my best friend, and my daughter only. (And my husband upon request, which is rare.) No one else appreciates the value of what I’ve made. I don’t have time to waste my precious crafting hours. It’s my hobby, my skill, my time, and my money spent, and I refuse to apologize or feel guilty for that. Super liberating!

  • I love your fun, happy clothes! I wish I lived nextdoor to you!!!

  • Love the combo of your knits and clothing! You may have inspired me to start sewing again after a hiatus of about 30 years.

  • I have stopping seeing for myself but this story has inspired me to begin again. Thank you!

  • Love your cute outfits! I just turned 74 and still wearing jeans and stuff I can wear when gardening, over and over. Have tons of clothing just hanging around, from size three, to way beyond. Never wear any, even those that still fit me. I just decided to reconsider. I learned to sew when I was 13 as a “Future Homemaker of America” member. (They don’t call it that anymore, not politically correct. Now boys and girls get to be equals under Future Farmers.) Have two sewing machines which I never touch, just like buying stuff. Also, have lot of yarn and fabric (shopping issues for sure). I think I will be using you for inspiration. Never too old to look cute.

  • How about a 100 acts of knitting

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