In 2001, I became hopelessly entangled in the handmade world. At the time, I didn't know the tendril-like features of this world (or surely I would have been more cautious at the get go); all I wanted was to crochet a baby blanket for my very good friend's first baby. And so it began - the learning (to crochet), the researching (for the perfect pattern), the planning (for the perfect combination of stitch, yarn and colour combination), the shopping (for the perfect yarn), and finally, the creating. There wasn't a single step in the process that I didn't like. A born researcher and perfectionist, I spent hours trawling books and websites, searching for that one, unique, pattern that would be easy enough for a beginner but would not look too basic and that would be appropriate for a baby but not be too festooned with pastel pompoms as to make me want to sick up on to it mid-stitch. Most importantly, though, I was searching for something that my friend (not necessarily her newborn baby) would love and would welcome into her new life and the home she was building around them.
Thoughts of my friend did not end there. As I began to crochet, I thought often, with each stitch, about the woman that I know - her stories, her likes and dislikes, her fears and favourites, her hopes and plans - and tried to imagine her new life in another country. As I watched the blanket grow, nervously anticipating the final product, I thought about our friendship - its history and present - and felt the jumble of emotions that the stretch of all close friendships creates over time. And in that time of counting stitches, following row on row, I also let myself imagine, over and again, the way she might receive this gift. I wasn't so inflated as to imagine a falling-on-her-knees-at-the-letterbox-in-gratitude kind of reception, but nor did I think she would receive it disinterestedly. Mostly, I just hoped that she would get that I had Made Her Something. And that that was significant.
It took me many hours to make that blanket. Many, many hours, from beginning to end, and I thought about her during much of that time. As I have come to learn, this is one of the truly and addictively engaging bits about handmade gift giving - the many hours immersed in thoughts of the person you are making things for and, at the end of the day, your hopes (and fears) that it will mean something to them, also. We all know that there is a kind of magic in pairing a person with the perfect gift. It is such a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience for everyone. Handmade gift giving is just like that. Only in slow motion. And, if you get it really right, multiplied a dozen times over.
I haven't always got it right, it must be said. Sometimes my inspiration has been off kilter; sometimes my ideas have not fruited as imagined; sometimes irony, or silliness, has been interpreted too literally and I've had to explain the joke. (Although, to their credit, neither of my brothers blinked when they received their own personal 50s-esque tea cosies.) Inevitably, sometimes the match between person and present is just not right and no magic ensues. Nevertheless, I never regret the making and rarely regret the pairing of gift with person. (I may cringe slightly later down the track, but that's hindsight for you.) Because the gift goes both ways in handmade gift giving. I am always grateful for the time I found - amidst the chaos and order of a busy life - to dream big, to think carefully (and care-fully) about those I am making for, and am grateful for the time spent bringing a little piece of unique Emma-ness into the world for others to know and, importantly, to know me by.
Making gifts by hand, as I have come to know it, is an appreciative move - one that strives for greater connection and understanding between the giver and, well, the givee. All the hours spent imagining that blanket and the friend that would unwrap it, were also hours invested in relationship building of a kind. As I sought to appreciate who she was, I was also offering a little bit of who I am - my tastes, my skills, my values - so that she might know me a little better too. In this way, I am better for having plodded away at my perfectly imperfect hand hewn offering. And in this way, too, the gift made is given also to me.
I can see now that I am stuck with handmade gift giving for the rest of my days. Having been ensnared in this rewarding cycle of making, giving, sharing and receiving, I can see no way out. Therefore, if you are my friend or family and you receive a crocheted toilet roll cover in the shape of a doll this Christmas, just know that I will enjoy the present as much as you do.
PS: From memory, my friend was very moved by my gift. Years later, she sent me an email to say that she had unpacked it again while she was preparing for the birth of her third child.
PPS: These photos are a little motley collection of some of the gifts I have made for other friends' babies (or their mothers, as the case may be) over the years. To my knowledge, a photo of the original crocheted blanket does not exist. It will just have to be created in your imaginations.