Monday, July 5, 2010

Handmade Gifts and Separation Angst

This morning I wrapped my two cushions. They're for two of my colleagues, both expecting babies - and on the same day, to boot. There's something very nerve-wracking about gifting an item you've made yourself: What if they don't like them? What if they generally don't like handmade stuff? What if they think crochet is tacky or kitschy or some other derogative adjective that ends in -y? It feels quite personal somehow and I find it quite unsettling. My gifts are generally given under tables or left in bags in the corner with a mumbled instruction that the recipient should look inside, there's just something small in there - just a token, just a gesture. Nothing fancy.

While some people will look at and appreciate the time and effort put into a handmade gift, others will always regard the handmade item as ... cheap (you didn't even bother to buy a gift!) or - curl your lip as you say this - homemade. The sad thing is that the latter type are often the ones who'd be willing to fork out a fortune on the same kind of object ... if it had the right label.

As a result, I try to wrap my work as nicely as I can, label it appropriately and present it well - figuring that if I show my work respect, others will see its value as well. And it seems to work: my preggy colleagues were very happy (or very good actors: let's not rule it out) and other bystanders were also impressed. Lots of oohing and aahing. I was even told that my work was so nice, I should do it professionally! Make cushions and blankets and all kinds of colourful stuff!
I smiled and said gently, "Well, that would be really, really lovely but ... if I did, I'd probably only earn about 50 cents an hour."
"Really? How long does it take you to make something like that?"
Honestly? I don't know. "About seven or eight hours in total?" I ventured.
Shocked silence.
"And then there's the cost of the yarn, the fleece, and the cushion itself," I added. "So I'd probably have to charge about €100 per cushion to make minimum wage." Nervous laugh.
All eyes turned to view my cushions with new respect. I bet no one had ever been in the company of such expensive home furnishings before. (Ha ha - take that, Jasper Conran! Your smelly cushions only cost a paltry €30!)

The weird thing about the whole escapade was that I had a bit of separation angst when I was wrapping my cushions. One part of me didn't want to give them away, I had a bit of an inner sulk ("They're my cushions! Mine! I made them, they belong to me! Mine!" Foot stamp). I have to watch that - otherwise I'll end up like one of those messies: living in a house with stacks and stacks of crochet cushions, burrowing tunnels to the door.


Paul & Carla said...

People just don't know what things cost, do they? They can look at your gorgeous cushions and think, "Thirty minutes to whip that out?" They know it's beautiful and they know they don't know how, but the time frame eludes them.

I love how you presented these lovely things. Your friends will love them, too!

Aussie Maria said...

I have to say that those cushions are impressive!!!
I had to wise up adult children as to the cost and effort in their blanket I made for them - just in case they thought I was cheap and lazy ☺

Gumnut said...

I know exactly how you feel. I may not have given away any crochet projects (yet...I'm planning a birthday pressie for my sister :D), I have been drawing and painting and a bunch of other arty/crafty things for years and the majority of the results have been given away. In fact the other day I was asked to show some of my art as part of a short documentary my cousin was filming and I realised that I have hardly any of my art at all. 30 odd years of artistry and all my major pieces are dwelling former friends' homes as presents. All gone, a few photos remain for me to gaze at, but there are plenty of memory only pieces.

I don't really regret that, they served their purpose at the time and most were designed as pressies anyway, but it doesn't leave much for me to show anyone :D

And we put so much work into those gifts. I once spent two solid weeks (around employment, sleep and eating) painting a huge waterlilly painting as a surprise for a friend. I was nervous when I gave it to her, but her reaction was worth it, and when she spent a fortune on framing it and hung it up in her dining room, it was well and truly worth it.

But when she asked me for another one for her birthday, she had no idea what she was asking me to do and the amount of work involved. Many people have no idea just how much work goes into art and craft and efforts are devalued...part of the reason why we can't do this full time except for a lucky and industrious few.

Finished works are like children or animals we have nurtured from birth and release into the wild. It is a little scary as we await reaction and say goodbye. Photos are wonderful things.

One thing you shouldn't be afraid of is the receiver thinking you're being a cheapskate or the like. Handmade is truly rare nowadays, yarn is not cheap, and you've given your work moments of your life, what could possibly be more worthy? Anyone can walk into a shop and buy stuff, only you can create what you created. That is one of the beauties of art.

And I'm rambling. It's late here and my day has been long. Apologies for blabbing all over your blog. Your thoughts struck a chord ::grin::

I've replied to your kind comments on my blog. I was unsure whether to reply there or here and whether you'd be notified of the reply. I'm new to blogger and am learning the netiquette. Is babbling allowed? ::grin::

Hope you and your family are well.

(awaiting bubs to wake for her last feed of the night)

GerryART said...

I'm gald you'd explain to people how much time and effort go into our 'home made' gifts.
People see the sox I make and always want a pair - when I tell them how much I pay for the yarn they turn a little pale. I then tell them - at minimum wage how many hours goes into the hand work.
All of a sudden they think buying sox from the superstore is a better deal for them.


pip said...

well done giving them away :) If I could make things as lovely I'm sure I'd be burrowing to the door ;)

glor said...

I'm glad that your co-workers like the pillows, they are beautiful and they look so pretty how they are wrapped. I know what you mean about giving your things away, I find it hard too. I love each and every piece I've made and although many times will not use it I just can't bear to part with it. I especially cannot even think to give to someone who doesn't appreciate the craft.

Erica said...

Like you, I for some reason look down on my own creations, FROM THE IMAGINED PERSPECTIVE of the recipient. Many times I have crocheted something with someone specific in mind, and then lost confidence in their reaction as the project progressed - not because it was ugly or lacking, but because I just imagined that the person will think it's tacky, or not good enough, or whatever. Even though I personally would be happy to keep it for myself!

I'm still working on this. I primarily try to be sure that I'm only giving crocheted gifts to someone who WOULD appreciate the spirit of the gift itself. There is no point in laboring on an item for someone who will not appreciate it. Is that selfish on the part of the artisan? Possibly! I don't mean to be a snob - I gift handmade things generously to my loved ones, but I try to gift appropriately as well. As an example, my dad always appreciates my gifts (for example, a lovely crocheted stuffed eyeball completed with severed optic nerve) because the craft behind it is a mystery to him, and he knows I made the gift specifically FOR him.

Anyway, I have to agree with Gumnut's comments above! Our created objects are just part of us somehow, and it's surprisingly nerve-wracking to send them out into the world on their own! I also agree that photos are important - I didn't take pictures of my work in the beginning, and I'd love to be able to look back over my "yarn portfolio" and observe my own progress in skill, and my changing tastes in color and project.

After all this rambling (possibly topping Gumnuts for word count :-) ), I have forgotten to mention that I LOVE your granny cushions!! So colorful and cheerful, instead of traditional baby pastels - those are cushions that will still appeal to the children as they grow older, instead of being relegated to the closet for the next baby, or heaven forbid, up to the attic!


Fernanda said...

I've just found your blog and this post is exactly how I feel today. Some people don't realise the work we put on our handmades. Right now I am knitting a scarf for a woman my mother-in-law is acquanted to. It will take me some time to do it because I have pain most of the time. So, I don't know if it's worthy...

The Gingerbread Lady said...

Hi Fernanda,
Yes - it's terrible, isn't it? It makes you feel really vulnerable, somehow, much more so than if you give someone a machine-made gift. I hope your MIL appreciates all the love and work you put into your scarf...

jeanette said...

Wow, thought was just me.
You give a part of yourself. If someone does not get that, well thats their problem. You obviously spent time and alot of thought on your project.Colours are gorgeous and well placed. ANYONE can just go shopping, huh?