Earlier this year, I decided to make a gift for a friend’s birthday. I spent a long time trying to decide what I should make and then choosing fabrics that I was sure she would love. I was really happy with the result and was excited to give it, feeling sure that she would love it. She did. She really did love it, but somehow, I came away feeling a little disappointed. You see, after my friend had unwrapped her gift, she said to me ‘It’s beautiful! You’re so talented—I could never do anything like that!’ It took me a little while to realise exactly why this had made me feel so deflated, I mean, she had been delighted with the gift and clearly understood that it was a token of love, but there was something else lurking there, something darker. I was concerned that the gift that was supposed to demonstrate how much I cared about her had also made her feel diminished by her comparison of my supposed ‘talents’ and her own.
I love to make handmade gifts. For me a handmade gift is a tangible expression of love. It’s the best way that this English girl knows of telling someone how much they mean to me. Wherever possible I make it a point to focus my thoughts on the person that I am making for while I do it, at least for some of the time. I allow my mind to wander down memory lane, recalling some of the memories that I have of them, and with them. I embrace the opportunity to spend time considering the things that I like about that person and all the ways in which they have enriched my life. By the time I am finished I feel so much closer to them—I feel like our connection has been renewed.
Which, I suppose, is why I feel so disappointed when a handmade gift is unwrapped to be met with ‘Oh, you’re so talented! I wish I could do that.’ My aim had been to show a person how well they are loved and instead my gift seems to have made them feel inferior; less talented, less creative, generally… less. This huge discrepancy between the thoughts and feelings that go into our handmade gifts and the thoughts and feelings that they evoke in the recipient seems to be far too common. Instead of, or perhaps as well as, seeing an expression of love, too many people see in our handmade gifts a confirmation that they themselves are less creative, less talented, less worthy. How is it possible that instead of lifting them up, our gift brings them down?
In truth, I am not more talented than anyone else—I was not born with some special ability to knit or sew, I do not even consider myself to be particularly creative. These ‘talents’ of mine are not talents at all, they are skills which I have learned, slowly, with a great deal of effort, practice and mistakes made along the way. These skills do not come naturally to me, I cannot summon them with no effort at all—everything I make has its challenges in one way or another. There are always problems to solve, decisions to make and mistakes to be fixed (or sometimes not!). In giving a handmade gift, I want to show that I am willing to spend, not just money, but something infinitely more precious, time, on my friends and loved ones. By praising my ‘talent’ they have inadvertently diminished both the love that went into it and consequently their own worth.
“All handmade items contain love, regardless of whether you have deliberately spent time meditating on the person you are making for or not. There is love in the decision to make by hand, love in the choice of project and love in the hours spent making.”
But I don’t want to be too hard on them. It’s important to remember that they haven’t experienced all of the thoughts and feelings that we experienced while we were busy making. They have no way of knowing how we were feeling towards them or which memories were uppermost in our minds as we worked. They have no idea of the gratitude we experienced for them or the love we felt as the fibres passed through our fingers. Because all handmade items contain love, regardless of whether you have deliberately spent time meditating on the person you are making for or not. There is love in the decision to make by hand, love in the choice of project and love in the hours spent making. Our handmade gifts are infused with many gorgeous thoughts and feelings and we often seem to simply trust that the recipient will comprehend this, but I think that sometimes, sadly for everyone, the message is missed.
So what can be done? How can we ensure that our handmade gifts are understood, are recognised for the treasures that they are? I recently decided that from now on all my handmade gifts will be accompanied by a little ‘love letter’—an explanation for the recipient of what their gift really means. It will be a space to share the treasured memories that came to me as I made their gift, the qualities they have which I admire, the times they have helped me to laugh, to grow, to move forwards, the times they were there for me, the things I love about them. So that there can be no more doubt. A small, shy part of me (the very English part!) sometimes finds the thought of sharing these feelings to be awkward, embarrassing even, but when I consider the alternative (that my family and friends will never really know how much they mean to me), I think any shyness on my part is a small price to pay. In fact, I can’t help but wonder whether the letter might end up being treasured more than the gift itself.