Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 23 December 2011

Walk Away: On Becoming a Selfish Knitter

You've likely been there.  I know I have, numerous times.  You plan, you plot, you choose the perfect yarn (or spin it yourself), the perfect item for that special someone.  You craft with love and attention and all the skill you can muster.  With joyful anticipation, you give your special gift, only to run headlong into The Ungrateful Recipient.

The Ungrateful Recipient manifests in many ways.  She or he may greet your offering with a "What is it?"  They may trump your gift by buying a similar item (extra points if they buy the item they've requested you make or tell you that you could have saved time and trouble doing so).  They may feign enthusiasm or wear your lovely hat, etc. while complaining that it's the wrong colour, wrong size, or that-a classic-it itches.  They tell you that they will "save the item for good." Perhaps you receive a warm thank you and the gift is stored away, never to be seen again.

However the UR behaves, her reactions or the lack of them hurt.  When expectations aren't met, the results may be sorrow, guilt or anger.  I've seen gifts used as weapons, thrown back in the face of the giver as a sign that whatever she does, it will never be good enough.  Clearly, the intention of a gift, something given freely with love, is lost here. When there is so much emphasis on finding the "perfect" gift, when relentless advertising campaigns spread false cheer and proclamations on what to buy, to give and how your holidays will go, it's easy to link our egos with expectations.

It took me a while to learn this lesson, but I've discovered that you can't make other people behave.  You may want your UR to react differently, but he did not and there it is.  The only things within your control are your reaction and your behaviour. In the spirit of the season, and with some thought to next year, I offer some suggestions for taking our Selves out of holiday giving:

  1. Don't set an agenda.  If Aunt Clara is a die hard fan of synthetic yarns or scorns knitting all together, don't think to change her mind by knitting her a hand spun silk scarf.  Odds are, she'll complain about having to dry clean it and will refuse to believe that silk can be washed.  Trust me, you will not gain another knitting enthusiast.
  2. Give 'em what they want. Uncle Buck has spent the past year dropping hints that he needs a camouflage gun cover from Big Box Store X; he won't be thrilled if you've made a hand sewn cover in hot pink.  If you love him and you want to get him that something special, get him the gun cover.  If your conscience doesn't allow that, buy him a box of chocolates.
  3. Practice Random Acts of Knitting.  If you can leave gifts for strangers, no strings attached, you can learn to do this for family and friends.  Tastes vary and despite your best efforts, sometimes, you miss the mark. Hand over the gift and let it go.  Your work is done with the making of the gift.
  4. Don't turn your gift into a weapon.  We sometimes use our work to demonstrate our value to others.  If you suspect that your hand crafted gift is an attempt to play "I Love You More," to guilt the UR into gratitude, your efforts are bound to fail.  The result will be hurt feelings all around and a wasted "gift."
  5. Finally, Just Say "No."  That's right-if a first attempt at giving the hand crafted gift has met with failure, then don't do it again.  Don't waste time and energy repeating a mistake.  Learn to be a Selfish Knitter, in the best possible sense of the term.  Save your efforts for those who appreciate them-including yourself.   
Are you sensing a theme here?  When we learn to give something freely, with our best efforts and intentions, but with no expectations, with non-attachment, we change the game.  With practice, we can remove ourselves from the negative emotions that others send us when they don't appreciate what we've done.  What we're left with is love.

Like any mindful practice, giving with non-attached freedom is simple, but not easy.  We're human and the sting of rejection may never go away completely. (Decades later, it still hurts when I think of my handwoven bag showing up on the arm of a stranger, who had rescued it from the local thrift shop.  On the plus side, I no longer remember the original recipient, although I do recall the pleasure I took in weaving that bag.)  When we practice Selfish Knitting, which in this case is really Selfless Knitting, we learn to accept and maybe, just maybe, appreciate the lessons provided by our Ungrateful Recipient.  (May you have only one!)

And if you are the Ungrateful Recipient, I have two words for you: Thank You.  Yes, that's a hint. 

Namaste and Happy Holidays.  Love to all my family and friends.  I wish you all the best.

I've given myself the gift of learning to crochet!


  1. And then there is the joyful recipient--the cousin who complained she couldn't find a hat that fit her (a pin head)--so i send her one of mine (a failure--to small for my bowling ball noggin)--it was an afterthought--but it happened to come near her birthday. Five years later, she is still raving about (and wearing)the hat!

    By sheer luck--the hat (a stranded color work one) has a shade of blue that is just about a dyed to match shade for her nylon jacket (couldn't have done better if i tried). for every UR--there are some JR's--another trick is to focus on them! (my DIL is another JR--but then again, she knits herself!)

  2. Good point! I have many JR's. Unfortunately, taking pleasure in those who appreciate our efforts usually comes more easily than being grateful for the UR's!

  3. Well said. Again. I enjoy your commentaries.

  4. I always agonize over the decision to knit someone a gift or not. I cannot stand the thought of purchasing a beautiful, expensive yarn, spending my time and energy making something that is both attractive and functional, and have the recipient not appreciate it. Luckily, the few I knit presents for this Christmas loved what I made. =)
    Another thing that bothers me are those who "commission" handknit articles. My mother-in-law is constantly asking for cabled sweaters, lace shawls, gloves... Time-involved items that, as a full time student, I simply do not have the time or energy to make. When I do take requests, I start to resent it. Maybe it's just me, but if I'm going to knit a gift, I want to make it because I WANT to make it. I know that they will appreciate it once it's done, but I feel like it would make me happier to give it if it had been my idea in the first place. Does that make sense?

  5. I think that we are trained to believe that refusing requests is selfish, but I see making something out of obligation or with underlying resentment as being far more selfish. If what we do is making us annoyed or angry, does anyone benefit? Being mindful involves awareness of our negative emotions as well as our positive intentions.