Holiday Knitting: A Polemic

  I am a selfish knitter and not in the way that it has been defined by anxious knitters trying to explain why they’re selfish (but not actually) because they don’t knit for other people.

 I’m just selfish.

 I knit a pair of handwarmers for my older sister and she’s demanding a reknit because she says they’re too baggy. (They are, but I think they stretched a bit in washing. They can wait.) Other than that, I studiously avoid knitting for other people.

 One part does have to do with a limited stash. By limited, I don’t mean that I don’t have enough yarn, it’s just that I can’t go out and buy yarn for a project whenever I feel like it. But the other part has to do with the fact that I refuse to knit for another human being that will take it and say, in a carefully-modulated voice,

 “That’s nice.”

 I like people to enjoy gifts and so I don’t want to knit for someone that won’t like it. But for some odd reason, Christmas (which, let’s face it, is THE holiday that’s been pimped by the retailers) always spurs dozens of anxious forum posts from knitters.

 They want to know what they should knit for their fashion concious son, or if their mother-in-law deserves a 9 foot by 9 foot Orenburg lace shawl knit entirely from yarn whose fibers have been combed from the disgestive tract of the rare cashmere-and-silk devouring Yarnimal and hand dyed by holy priests dedicated to the art of color and the harmonies of craft.

 And this is after their mother-in-law took their last knitted gift (an classic aran cardigan blessed by the hands of Norah Gaughan herself) and used it to mop up her spilled coffee.

 My question is NOT what you think it will be. It is not, “Does Norah Gaughan bless sweaters and if so, can I arrange an emergency exorcism for that Orange Thing under my bed?”

 No, no, my question is nothing like that. It’s a lot less sensible, a little more plaintive and lot more cosmic.


 If you can buy your surly teenager son an iTunes gift card and call it a day, why would you spend 8 hours combing through patterns to find a beanie pattern that he won’t wear anyway? Why do you finally settle on coffee colored Aran slippers to accompany the disdained cardigan and hope that this year, your mother-in-law will refrain from laughing as she opens her gift?

 After all, most people do know someone that appreciates handknit gifts. Why not cross mother-in-law and surly son from your list and concentrate on the striped socks for your grateful aunt?

 It’s gotta be the symptoms of a disease, you know? Unreasoning grace and blessings in the face of ingratitude and bad treatment. Merino wool in return for malice, silk lace for spite? It’s like living with someone that can’t be pleased: people simply try to come up with better and better offerings in an attempt to make them happy.

 Maybe it’s cruel to call out people for being too kind and too generous. After all, if everyone did something good, regardless of what they received, we might get something good flowing here. The holiday spirit would descend on all and love and harmony would fill the air as you peacefully knit that beanie for your loving son that puts it on and says, “Gee, Ma, just what I wanted,” and skips off with his friend to make snowballs.

 And Norah Gaughan would come down every knitters’ chimney and bless every cardigan and pullover…

 even if it’s coffee-stained.



December 1, 2008. Snark Editorial.


  1. pdxknitterati replied:

    Not knitting for Christmas. Knitting for me. Beading for Christmas!

  2. Amanda replied:

    Hehe, are you part of the Selfish Knitters group on Ravelry? I do not feel the least bit bad for being selfish. I make gifts for those I know will appreciate them. 🙂 Everything else is for me.

  3. Darcie replied:

    Oh, this one is priceless! Hear, hear! And all of that! Thank you for putting into words what I have always felt about knitting for (most) others. Huge bonus points in that it made me laugh. 🙂

  4. emily replied:

    I knit what I want to make. Sometimes it ends up finding a home somewhere else. I rarely knit on a deadline because, it’s a hobby, right? It’s supposed to be relaxing.

    So totally with you.

  5. Monica replied:

    Hhaha well put. Some people just don’t like knitted gifts. Too bad for them. My dad looooves his felted clogs… but I’ve never once seen my sister wear her 10-foot scarf (she had several others, so I thought it was a safe bet).

  6. turtlegirl76 replied:

    Well said!

  7. Jadielady replied:

    Heheh I always love reading your posts. I am also usually a selfish knitter. I am however making some fingerless gloves for my sister and my best friend. I think they will appreciate them, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.
    There’s definitely some women who go nuts at the holidays trying to knit something beautiful and intricate for all their family and friends.

    I say stuff some scraps in a glass ball ornament and call it a day!

  8. Marissa replied:

    Well put! Hence the reason I don’t knit for half the people who have asked (read: demanded) I knit them something massive. Like the friend who backed out of paying me for a baby blanket, wanted me to knit a California King sized blanket for her bed.

  9. Merenwen replied:

    I’ve decided not to knit anything for my cousin Breanne, because from what her brother (another cousin) has told me, she’s difficult to make things for. I was going to make her a Calorimetry, since I already have a basic knowledge of short rows, but I don’t think she’ll like it. Plus, I have to get Justin (her brother, my cousin)’s Triforce scarf done. Whee.

    I think I’ll get her a necklace. She’s a nice person, really, I just don’t see her often enough to know what she’d wear.

  10. Rachel replied:

    I am SO with you on this.

  11. MJ replied:

    Not selfish. SENSIBLE. SENSE is what you make.
    I’m glad at least SOMEBODY has it 😛

  12. tangletale replied:

    I don’t knit much for Christmas because I’m just too slow- I prefer to opt out of the Holiday stress anyway. Fruitcake is really the answer: Let them eat cake.

  13. jinniver replied:

    This post (along with Aunty BubboPants comments in the most recent TWIR that gifts must be given freely and without reserve) is going to be hyperlinked in every new thread I come across where someone complains about not looking forward to Christmas knitting because of previous experiences where the recipient didn’t fall over themselves far enough. Well said.

  14. Jennifer replied:

    I am in complete agreement. I do like making presents for people, but not at the expense of my sanity. I crafted very few presents this year…and I only made what *I* wanted to make, for people who I knew would appreciate what I made.

  15. quirkyknitgirl replied:

    I agree. I do knit for my family, but that’s mostly because they’re a) small and b) like knit gifts and request more. Even the one relative who reacts less than enthusiastically uses and remarks to others that she likes her gifts. (For the record, she doesn’t react well to store bought gifts either. I gave up caring long ago.) I don’t get all the post from people who have seen their gifts end up in yard sales or thrift stores yet insist that they must knit the recipient something even more complex this year!

  16. Ceci replied:

    Now, that’s a genius post. Too smart. The holidays just make people stop using common sense, I think. My blessing is that most of my family loves knitted gifts, appreciates them dearly, and takes great care of them. My curse is that I haven’t time to knit for them all!

  17. tana replied:

    At first, two years ago, I knitted a few items for a few people and 90% of the time I got a negative reaction and the other 10% of the time I got an apathetic reaction. To be, that’s like my husband working an 8 hour day and using that money to buy me food and I go, “Eh, thanks. I guess.” It takes a lot of heart and work – as you well know – to knit anything. Crap, it takes heart and work to knit a swatch!

    So then I decided I didn’t want to bore people with my knitting projects. I would post them on my blog and that’s it, unless someone specifically asked to see something I finished. And I didn’t knit for people without asking them specifically if they would like a such-n-such and if they gave anything less than an answer that deserved an exclamation point, I didn’t bother.

    But then I realized that no, I’m going to show people my knitted items. I’m not going to hide them away because I think that either they’ll be bored or they’ll ask for one. They can pretend to be interested and I can say no.

    Now, I show people all the time what I’ve knitted and I expect them to be kind and act like they give a crap. I pretend to give a crap about their stupid hobbies. And if someone asks me to knit them something, they have to really ask. I mean ask. Hard. Make sure I hear it. Tell me what color they’d love and what size shoe they wear without me asking. Then I’ll knit them something.


  18. Cristina replied:

    This is an amazing post. I’ve knitted very few things for other people (and all of them small, I think my total is 3 pairs of socks and a small scarf), but I mainly knit for me. Because I do appreciate all the time and effort. I will link your post from my blog, because if I do have readers that are stressing about Xmas knitting, I want to try to get through to them that it’s ok, and that maybe they shouldn’t, and should pick up that lacy shawl for themselves.
    I am selfish and I like it. I also like shellfish, and try not to get them confused when I type.

  19. Clara replied:

    And another voice rises from the crowd to exclaim, “Right on!”

  20. Jennifer replied:

    My surly teenager (the most surliest in the history of the world) requested a hat striped to match a polo shirt. He has worn it plenty. Not making him anything unsolicited. Other holiday knitting is 3 pair of socks for known appreciators and 2 pair mittens, likewise.
    When I was very young I made 2 nice wool afghans for in-laws and they trashed them. Those 2 people scratched off the list. Forever.

  21. Juli replied:

    Dude, we must be completely in sync. I don’t think i’ve knitted ANY gifts this year. I’m not TRYING to be selfish, but it comes off that way. First of all, do you realize how hard it is trying to go to michael’s or hobby lobby in this house? very. Do they realize how LONG it takes to make something? Do they realize your hurt feelings when you don’t wear the item or use it or whatever its purpose is? It is really hard to make someone something when you know they probably won’t use it. I was going to knit my sisters stuff for C-mas, but opted out and got them store-bought gifts. My little one doesn’t take care of things, so no nice knitted item for her. And my older sister is just strange. I could knit her an entire wardrobe and she’d say she likes it (being sincere), and then she’d never wear any of it. I didn’t have time for my mom… plus I don’t know what she’d want. xD


  22. yarndancer replied:

    I’m also a selfish knitter, for the pure reason that I’m selfish full stop. I always want to keep what I knit for myself! I’ve even ended up making two of some things because I will knit for people I really like, and who will appreciate it, but I still want to keep the item, so I need to make one for me too. I say, just because we knit, doesn’t mean we HAVE to knit for others. We can if we want, but if people are expecting something handknit, they’ll probably be disappointed, because 9 times out of 10 there’s a shop bought item they’ll like more, so I get that for them. This christmas I’ve made two gifts, and that’s only because I really like the people (my mum and my friend) and I saw patterns that they both would really like. 😀

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