When we sew for others, we don’t just give them unique hand made items, we give them our time, thoughts, effort and love. And if, like me, you have a tendency to sew tired and get multiple sewing related injuries or have pets that enjoy sleeping on the WIPs, then your (and your pets’) literal DNA is entwined within the gift you have made for someone. On so many levels, you aren’t giving just the physical gift, you are giving a little part of yourself.
My first handmade presents as an adult (I made some pretty awesome art as a kid) were made when I was a very poor University student. I am talking “scavenging the shared house for food no one else would eat because it was out of date or mouldy, and down to the last pennies of my overdraft” poor. I scoured charity shops in the beautiful city of Norwich and bought fabric that I hope my sister would like. I knew it wasn’t quite right but I was limited in choices! I cut out my squares each evening and used an old hand crank Singer my parents had bought me, and my Great Uncle had repaired, to make a double sized quilt. It was the simplest design, literally just squares and made in a rather eye catching contrast of pink and blue. But I was so proud of it!
But here comes the challenge with handmade gifts — I find that, because you have poured parts of yourself into the gift, actually giving them feels even higher stakes. If the recipient doesn’t like it, then are they rejecting you and a key part of your identity as well? Of course, most family members, when presented with something that has obviously taken time, effort and a hell of a lot of maths, are grateful and kind.
My sister loved her quilt, understanding when I gave it to her that I was gifting her my love as well as a quilt. Over the past decade it has moved through so many life changing moments with her; the quilt has let her know I love her as she left our childhood home, got a dog and later got married, and now it still lives draped over a bed in her house.
After this initial gift I went on to make handmade gifts for most of my family; amongst other little things my Mum has had a Cleo Dungaree dress, Dad has had some hilariously oversized self-drafted PJ shorts, and my husband a few handmade shirts. Nothing is ever 100% perfect, but then neither am I, and so maybe it’s the best representation of me!
I try to make something for my daughters now at every gift giving opportunity, something small, and if I am honest, usually made the night before! I made felt finger puppets for my daughter’s first birthday, a soft book full of applique, a handmade coat, a fair few dresses — it’s getting harder to set aside the time but I want to show them that gifting one’s hard-won time is valuable in and of itself.
When you sew for family or friends, try to not to worry that it has to be perfect, or the most expensive or the best materials. Sew what you can; a scrappy quilt, a garment from a free pattern using thrifted materials, a simple felt stuffed animal, use colours you think are ‘them’ and send some love out into the world.
Have you sewn gifts for loved ones, this month or in the past? What did you make? Has the effort been appreciated or have you felt let down by the reaction? How do you determine if someone is “sew-worthy”?
Sophy is a Guest Editor for the Sewcialists. She is originally from the United Kingdom but currently lives in Hong Kong. Sophy started sewing three years ago and is looking forward to the moment when her wildly optimistic plans match her finished garments.