CraftStylish RoundTable: The Greatest Gift Ever Made

comments (0) December 3rd, 2008     

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MichaelaMurphy Michaela Murphy, contributor
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Give your gift stylish presentation with these awesome handmade gift tags by Artful Memories at Etsy.

Give your gift stylish presentation with these awesome handmade gift tags by Artful Memories at Etsy.

Photo: Courtesy Artful Memories/Flickr

Years ago I was working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and our department head decided to have a Secret Santa gift exchange within our small ranks. I had only been working there for a short while and didn't really know anyone very well. It is already hard enough to find a gift, let alone find a gift for someone that you don't know for under ten dollars. I should also mention that I suffer from a bit of gift-giving-anxiety (or maybe this is how I came to suffer from gift-giving-anxiety?). Anyway, I was fretting that I was going to somehow let "my" person down by being a lame Secret Santa. I suddenly realized that I had a ton of yarn in my stash and could knit up a pair of colorful mittens to present. On the appointed day, we all discovered exactly who had been leaving assorted candy around our cubicles and opened up assorted coffee mugs and office chotckes from our Secret Santas, but when my handmade gift was opened, the shocked recipient burst into tears: No one had ever made her anything by hand (she was the big crafter in her family and friends circle). She was so taken with my gift that she actually had them framed and hung them up in her office at the museum. It was a bonding moment for us: She assumed that I had somehow intuited that this was exactly what she had always wanted—when really it was simply that I had found myself in the company of a fellow crafter, and to be honest, I had made for her what I secretly coveted: a handmade gift.

This week's roundtable query is a two-parter.

The question part one is:

What is the greatest handmade gift that you have ever made to give to someone?

And part two is:

What is the greatest handmade gift that you have ever received?

Here's the round-up (so far):

Erika Kern:

I love every gift I've ever made anyone! But I guess if I had to pick one, it would be an embroidery project I made for my friend Jen a few years back. She said, "Make me art for my office." So I decided to do an embroidered take on an Adrine Tomine illustration and it was my first attempt at using embroidery to mimic illustrations and it turned out really well. It was the beginning of a lot of embroidery experimentation for me.

As for gifts received, my mom made me a super-long, super-wide scarf for when I went away to college in Boston. It was the warmest thing ever! I asked her to make it "Doctor Who" long and she did! It was almost 7 feet long. I had it until I was 28 when it was stolen by scarf-thieving hoodlums! I miss that scarf. . .

Linda Permann:

Hmmmm. Without divulging too much info, the gifts I've been preparing this holiday for my sister's family are my favorites. First of all, I only have one nephew so it's easy to spoil him. And since her husband is currently fighting cancer, I feel like I am sending lots of love and energy with every little handmade thing, and I hope that as they use the things it will be like I am right there with my support.

My favorite handmade gift is a pair of wooden boxes that my boyfriend made for me. He built the boxes from baltic birch, torched them, then carved some pictures into their lids. You can see them here. I love them because I know that he put a lot of time and thought into making them, during a year of grad school where he didn't have a lot of extra time.

Jeffery Rudell:

The best gift I ever made was a collection of "Holiday Fetish Figures for an Agnostic." Made for a friend, my hope was to give him something he could proudly display during the holiday season when everyone else was unpacking their creches or Santa and Elves. The project was packaged in white, paper boxes from a Chinese Carry-Out—with one object per box—and consisted of odds and ends from my junk drawer, lovingly put together to form symbolic items of contemplation. There was a brown, porcelain doll hand, held skyward in the wire cage of a Champagne cork that came with its own benediction prayer, inscribed on parchment and wound into a tiny scroll that I nestled inside a hollowed-out walnut shell that I'd made a tiny thread-hinge for. There was a little piece of plastic webbing left over from a package of garlic that I filled with an old marble, three yellowing die, a bottle cap, and a fortune cookie and then labeled, "Rejoice that the ocean of Memory is bountiful in gifts." You get the idea. It was one of those weird, avant-garde things that (surprisingly) was a huge hit. Each year since (going on seven, so far) it sits proudly upon his fireplace mantle where it generates no end of conversation among his guests.

The best handmade gift I ever received is an easy one, it's "Duckie," a small piece of fired clay, no more than a few inches long, and quite crude in its execution. It was created by a very dear friend of mine when he was in the first grade and it lived for nearly 50 years in a place of pride atop the dresser in his bedroom. He gave it to me with the knowledge that I have no such object from my own childhood with which to remind me of where creativity began. His note remarked that while "Duckie" was his own special creation, he had no doubt that I had a similar creative effort lost somewhere in the mist of my childhood. He suggested I let Duckie act as a stand-in to remind me of how far I had come and where creativity had taken me. It now sits in a place of pride on a shelf in my studio overlooking (and encouraging) my every creative effort.

Mary Ray:

These are hard questions—I've made and received many!

I think one of my favorite gifts to give -- I'm not sure how "great" it is -- is something I bake rather than craft. My grandparents came to this country from Finland and when I was young we always celebrated a "Finnish" Christmas including lots of traditional food. One of my favorites has always been Finnish "pulla," which is a cardamom bread shaped into a braid. I love making it (and eating it) and giving it as gifts wrapped in a kitchen towel with a little Finnish Christmas story printed and included on the tag. "Hauska Joulua" is the traditional greeting!

And the best handmade gift I ever received: When I was a little girl -- maybe around 8 or 9 I had a wooden doll that had been broken in a few places. Her name was Eugenia! For Christmas, my mother took her to a doll hospital, had her repaired, made her a beautiful new wardrobe which she packed up in a doll-size metal trunk that had a hanging pole with little metal hangers and drawers and was completely lined with tiny floral paper. The new wardrobe included knitted sweaters and hats as well as dresses, underwear, a nightgown, and a robe. It was better than getting a brand new doll!

Diane Gilleland:

Part one:
In 1985, I made my great-grandmother a teddy bear. (She was 85, I was 19.) She had confided to me earlier in the year that she never had a teddy bear growing up, so I went all out and created a big white plush one with embroidered paws and a giant pink bow around its neck. She loved it, and kept it on her bed for years. In 1999, when she passed away, the bear came back to me. And I still have it—a reminder of a wonderful lady.

Cal Patch:

The best gift I've given was a blouse I made for my sister that she actually WEARS, unlike the many other handmade gifts I've given her that are 'too itchy' or 'unflattering'...

The best one I've received was a sweater my grandmother crocheted for me in the 90's, from a vintage pattern from the 70's that I picked out. I still have it and wear it!

You can read the last CraftStylish Roundtable discussion (on gift-giving obstacles) right here.


posted in: craftstylish roundtable, part three

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