When I was a child and my mother called me over so she could pull the measuring tape around my chest and along my torso, I didn’t think much of it. She knitted often, and making sweaters for me was a regular event. We lived in upstate New York; sweaters were necessary. Being a child, though, those sweaters didn’t mean much more than my other pieces of clothing. To me, they were just sweaters.
Years later, pregnant with my daughter Lily, I opened a gift from my mother: a tiny knitted cardigan and matching hat, and a knitted blanket. Of all the things I was given for the baby, those gifts were the most special. Yes, they were from my mom, which was special in itself — I was carrying her first grandchild, after all. But they were special because they were made by her hands, hands that had chosen colors and spent hours clinking needles together and tugging at yarn. I’m certain my eyes welled up.
It was when I was pregnant that I began making things as well. I took a sewing class and learned how to use my hand-me-down sewing machine. I made aprons and bags and a quilt for my unborn child. I didn’t know how to knit then. That would come the week Lily was born when my mother visited and got me knitting and purling my way through my first scarf, the easiest of all knitting projects.
I kept knitting and sewing and dabbling in other crafts. Something about making things made me feel wonderful. It wasn’t just about the handmade gift-giving; it was the entire process — from choosing materials to putting on finishing touches. To put it simply, I like the feeling of using my hands to construct something new.
A few weeks ago, the blog Elsie Marley hosted Kids Clothes Week Challenge. The rules were simple: spend one hour a day for a week working on kids’ clothes. I had been planning to knit Lily a hat, so I figured this was the perfect time. I chose a lightweight cotton yarn in a pale green and a pattern I had used a year earlier. I knitted for an hour every day.
At the end of the week, the hat wasn’t quite complete. I expected this. Knitting projects can be lengthy and arduous. I kept at it a few days past the week’s end, but as I got further along the hat didn’t look quite big enough. Turns out it wasn’t. I held it up to Lily’s head and found it was about two inches too small. I had miscounted stitches, an unfortunate error.
So I ripped the whole thing apart.
I wasn’t angry, though. Sure, I’d lost all those hours, but I didn’t see it as a loss. The thing is, I like to knit. I like to finish projects too, but the actual knitting process is, to me, just as enjoyable as the product. All that time I had my daughter in mind, knowing that the work of my hands would yield something cute to keep her head warm. Just because it didn’t work out the first time didn’t mean that the hat would never be finished. It would just take a little while longer.
So I recounted and remeasured and made sure the hat would fit this time. I cast on and started over, and I’m OK with that.
Giving a handmade gift provides me a bit of a thrill, even if the gift is for Lily, who I know can’t appreciate it any more than I could as a child. I trust that if I’ve given something away it will be well-used and well-loved. Even if it isn’t, that’s OK.
More and more I realize that making things by hand is really for me, the maker. Whether I end up keeping what I’ve made or giving it away, I know what went into making it, and I did it because I wanted to. When I think of those sweaters my mom knitted for me as a child, I imagine she felt much the same way. I don’t knit because it’s trendy. I don’t sew because I think it’ll save money. I do these things because I love to create.
Lindsay Crandall spends her days writing, teaching, photographing, and (mostly) chasing after her toddler daughter Lily. She lives with Lily and her husband Adam in the Deep South, though they secretly hope to return to their northern roots one day. Lindsay blogs at A Condition of the Heart and frequently posts her photographs on Flickr.