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Gift Knitting: My Three Ground Rules (Updated for 2023)

Gift knitting season is upon us, and with it sometimes comes a lot of stress for knitters. I’ve seen a lot of people over the years get very stressed out over all of the knitting they have to finish before the holidays, especially in these last few weeks before the holidays officially begin.

Three pairs of knit socks (pink, blue, and caramel) are laid out on a flat surface in a diagonal from top left to bottom right. They're surrounded by white roses, antique books, a teacup full of chamomile, and antique paper ephemera.

I used to feel like that, too.

It got to the point where I felt overwhelming guilt looking at my holiday gift knitting list. I was so stressed out about finishing that I didn’t really enjoy it. So I sat down with myself, really thought about things, and established three ground rules for myself to make the holiday season more manageable.

I thought I’d share them here, in case others find them helpful, too. As always, we all have different needs, so feel free to keep what helps and discard what doesn’t.

And if you’re planning to knit some gifts this year but you’re running out of time, don’t worry: here are four quick knits for gift knitting.

Gift Knitting Rule Number One: I don’t owe anybody a hand knit gift.

Every year, I see knitters online stressing about how much gift knitting they need to finish before the holidays.

And I get it. Really.

As a knitter, I know how precious a handmade gift can be, and what an expression of love it is. When it comes to giving gifts to the people most important to us, we want them to have a tangible reminder of how much we love them.

But sometimes, there are other things that get in the way of the gift knitting process. Maybe you are in a particularly busy season of life, and as a result, you have less time for gift knitting than you did in previous years. Perhaps you were making a gift for somebody you’re very close to, and somebody you don’t know that well saw it and asked you to make them something, too. Now you feel obligated even though you normally wouldn’t knit for them. Maybe you are feeling the pressure to make everyone handmade gifts because of a commitment to slow living and anti-consumerism.

A pair of blue hand-knit socks is laid flat on a textured surface. They're surrounded by other pairs of socks (almost entirely cropped out), a white and gold teacup, some antique lace, and some antique paper ephemera.

Whatever it is, know this: you can live your values without piling more stress onto your plate during this already chaotic time of year. You do not have to knit gifts for everybody. You can knit gifts for some people and not others, or you can even decide this is the year you won’t be knitting gifts at all.

Any of those decisions is valid.

Gift Knitting Rule Number Two: Once a gift is given, it’s no longer mine to control.

I see this conversation happening around gifts generally, but it’s especially common around handknit and crocheted gifts. There was even a large dustup on Twitter not long ago involving a person who poured dozens of hours into a handmade blanket for a friend’s son, and then the friend’s son didn’t want it.

The thing is, homes can be very personal spaces, and what we put on our bodies can be even more so. Different people have different needs, so that even the most lovingly given gift might be a burden for the recipient.

If I give a handknit gift to somebody, I have to relinquish any expectation for what happens to the gift afterward. If it doesn’t feel good against their skin, or the colors don’t match their decor, or it’s not the right size, or they just end up not using it, well, it is what it is. The item that I made them is theirs to do with. It’s their property, not mine.

Once I gave it to them, I no longer retained any ownership interest in it or any right to determine what happens to it in the future.

If you stop to think about it, that’s actually kind of liberating. Once a gift is out of your hands, you no longer have to worry about it. Did it get stained or felted or worn out? Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Gift Knitting Rule Number Three: When I make a handknit gift, I make it for the recipient, not for myself.

This can be particularly tricky for knitters, who often have strong preferences for certain colors or fibers or styles.

Maybe you are a person who loves working with worsted-weight wool and making cable knit sweaters. If your gift recipient loves finer-gauge items with lots of openwork in bright colors and plant fibers, though, they are not likely to use or enjoy a white fisherman sweater.

And that’s fine! Everybody has their own tastes and preferences, and the world would be extremely boring if they didn’t.

A pair of caramel-colored knit socks is laid flat on a textured surface. The foreground is slightly blurred, with the focus on the highly textured leg-portion in the middle of the photo. In the background is a pair of blue socks and a white and gold teacup.

What it does mean, though, is that we as gift knitters shouldn’t force our own tastes and preferences onto others in the form of a gift and then expect them to be grateful for it.

If the art of giving a good gift means paying attention to somebody and finding something they would like, then the art of knitting a good gift also requires paying attention to somebody and making something that they would like.

That means, for example, if you’re knitting a sweater for a baby and the parent doesn’t have time or energy to handwash, you really shouldn’t choose a NSW wool or cashmere blend. If you’re knitting for a teen who loves Taylor Swift and bright colors, you should probably choose something like an Eras cardigan rather than a Shetland lace shawl.

Let’s save the projects we’d most enjoy for ourselves unless we’re sure the recipient will enjoy them, too.

Now, all of this is not to say that gift knitting is a bad idea and you should never do it. In fact, a handmade gift can be a real gesture of love and satisfying for the giver, too. If you’re knitting gifts for loved ones this year, you can help avoid stress and frustration by communicating with them clearly, asking about what they might like (pattern, colors, fibers), and respecting their answers.

As we draw close to the end of the year, I hope your holiday season is filled with joy and rejuvenation, and that your knitting fills your cup instead of emptying it. Wishing you warmth from my little corner of the world to wherever you are as you read this.


Monday 25th of December 2023

Thank you for this. My mom always gave "gifts with rules". Don't share this. Be sure to only wear this for special occasions. My sister has adopted the same mind set (I'm not talking handmade gifts.) Most gifts come with a caveat. It is so important to genuinely GIVE the gift. I knit socks! I start in June.(because I do other stuff too. ) one year my son's now wife was wearing my son's socks. I heard my mother speak through my mouth, but those are his. Uh oh. Immediately made her her own pair. She likes his better. Haha. I now make Them socks and they can sort out who gets which pair. All is good.

I enjoy your site and love your patterns. Have a great holiday season and happy crafting

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