Crafte's Inferno: Crafting For The Family

comments (9) August 15th, 2008     

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MichaelaMurphy Michaela Murphy, contributor
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Calling Virgil: Here is picture of the two Christmas stockings that I made for Gregg and his daughter Elliott.  They hang proudly on our mantle at Christmas--but I havent made one for myself yet.

Calling Virgil: Here is picture of the two Christmas stockings that I made for Gregg and his daughter Elliott.  They hang proudly on our mantle at Christmas--but I haven't made one for myself yet.

Photo: Michaela Murphy

Last night, as I sat watching the Olympics on television, I experienced a moment of recognition while watching the faces of the competitors in gymnastics. It wasn’t in their athleticism or endurance that I saw myself. It wasn’t a triple twisting dismount or some feat of great balance on the pommel horse, that seemed familiar. Rather, it was the look of betrayal on some of their faces that made me sit upright. As I watched them run toward the vault and hurl themselves into the air – knowing the countless years of training and practice that had gone into this moment – only to see them land, with a splat on the mat. That's when I thought, “Oh yeah, I know that look.” A similar expression has fleeted across my own face, as I have sat and watched the members of my family ripping open all of my carefully wrapped Christmas presents.

Years ago, I had the wonderful idea of handcrafting presents for everyone on my Christmas list. I had the requisite skills in sewing and knitting, but more importantly, I possessed a great dose of denial that I called "Christmas spirit." I called it that to disguise what I knew would be the months of self-enslavement necessary to pull off such a task. I carefully combed through the Vogue and Annie Blatt patterns books, choosing only the most complicated and time consuming projects (no quick-to-makes for my loved ones). As the big day approached, I relinquished all opportunities to go to Christmas parties, caroling and tree trimming, opting instead to watch the sunrise, with red-rimmed eyes, after another all-nighter spent crafting.

I mostly ignored the frightened and concerned looks of my roommates who, over morning coffee, watched as I proudly displayed the yield of the previous night’s work, a pile of perfectly crafted gifts, all made by just one elf. I swallowed the feeling of reproach I felt whenever one of them breezed in after a day spent Christmas shopping at Macy’s and exclaimed, “Whew! All done!" Instead, I sat alone, stitching manically, with crippled fingers, watching the Grinch and Scrooge on television as they learned what I felt certain I was putting into practice: namely, the true meaning of Christmas.

My family is the kind of family that has never had much use for the Santa pretense: we tear into our gifts as soon as it starts to get dark on December 24th. That Christmas, my sister Erin was the first to open one of my handmade gifts. It was a dark blue satin dress with white satin trim that I had created expressly for her. At first, she looked confused. She could tell it wasn't store bought. But, when she realized I had made this garment - by hand - she looked at me as if I’d just arrived, via a time machine, from another dimension. "You know, you can buy this, Kayla." My mother held up the velvet opera cape I’d made her, stupefied. "Only you,” she murmered.

My family liked the presents I’d made but instead of the enormous gratification that I’d been anticipating - dreaming about for months, actually - I felt a sweltering disappointment and a sense of remorse.

I was explaining this all to a friend of mine on December 26th - let's call him Virgil - when Virgil asked, "Well, is your mother a huge opera buff?" "Not especially” I admitted, "But, you never know." "Hmmm,’ Virgil said gently, "Well, it sounds like you felt your family didn't get you." That's when I realized that I hadn't really given my family anything. Instead, I had showed them who I wanted them to be and, more than that, I had showed them who I wanted them to think I was.

That New Year's I resolved to never make anything else for my family (“that'll show them”). My resolve lasted about two months before my desire to please - and my mother's desire to spruce up the house - resulted in me sewing new curtains for every window. Thus, began a long period of crafting to my family's exact specifications: I started making for them only things that they wanted (instead of what I wanted them to want). I made things for them I would never in a million years have chosen to make of my own accord. But, now that my crafting talents had been fully revealed, my family slowly began to see and appreciate me for what I was; an alternative to a trip to the mall.

Years later, as I sat weeping into one of the one hundred and fifty heart-shaped 'Dream Pillow' bridal shower favors my sister had commissioned for her upcoming wedding, my friend, Virgil once again, intervened, " Uh, what exactly is a ‘dream pillow’?" he asked. "They are like little sachets, filled with chamomile, lavender, and rose petals, to put under your pillow and make you dream better" I sniffled, to which Virgil replied " Do you ever make anything for yourself?"

It was as if a spell had suddenly been lifted. I had never even considered such an obvious thing, 'make something for myself.' So I made the dress that I wore to my sister's wedding. Then, I got really carried away and wrote a one-woman show called "Something Blue" that was basically about how I had been torturing myself under the guise of trying to please my family. The show ended up being produced Off-Broadway and, when my family came to see it, they each shook their head in wonder and said, “Only you, Kayla, only you." And, they were right.


Coming soon:  Crafte's Inferno: The Fourth Circle of Craft Hell: Crafting on the Fly and Under Pressure

Previously on Crafte's Inferno:

The First Circle of Craft Hell: Working for a Crafting Website

The Second Circle of Craft Hell: Heavenly Ambitions Meet Hellish Skills

posted in: craftes inferno

Comments (9)

eveh writes: Oh, how well I remember the year I discovered chicken scratch embroidery. I was new to the family, having just been married in Oct. I made a complete bathroom set, a dresser scarf, matching arm rest and head rest for a chair, a Kleenex tissue box cover. We draw names in our family and I can still remember the look on my Sister in laws face when she opened her gift and saw all that handmade stuff. I think total shock would cover it. It was the year 1972, and crafers were having a field day. So, I wasn't the only one who gave crafty things that year.

Some of my eight sister in laws chose to give handmade too. I got a stiff book made to look like a Bible, with a verse and trimmed with lace and flowers. I also got a wooden elf that says Merry Christmas and a cute little corner doll that has obviously been naughty and has to go stand in the corner with it's back to you. I think I also made reindeer Christmas ornaments out of clothespins that same year, as I recall, a box of twelve. My MIL loved them.

I have learned who likes handmade and appreciates it and who had rather have bought. But I made a lot of things that languished in a drawer somewhere before I learned. OH well, they are probably selling them on eBay today and getting filthy rich off my handiwork. LOL
Posted: 12:26 pm on December 13th
Missy23 writes: Ahh, yes the holiday season approaches, This is my first year out of colledge, and despite the lack of backbreaking workloads, dorm dramas and other amazingly fun distractions, I still lost track of time. and realize that no matter how old you get, its still gonna end up something closer to a drunken stagger to the finish line instead of a race. At least for me, there is no strait shoot one project at a time, more like 4 or 5 juggled around, and I gotta say I love it. Though I found some fun little things I'd love to share, first of all, the library. (700 section nonfiction is crafts and fine arts( it's great for Ideas, and a wonderful chance to get out of the box and try something new. Also try the cookbooks, I decided to do the cookie thing, but even though chocolate chip has always served me well, but they really didn't seem pretty enough for the holidays. Also something perfect for quick gifts, (lots of friends, coworkers ect) painted ornaments. All you have to do is take a clear glass ornament squeeze some paint in there and swirl it around, takes fives minutes tops and attached to a little ceophane bag of candy ,it's the purfect 'thinking of you' sort of gift. Last year my big find was tamari balls, they're japanese thread balls and definitely look them up, there gorgeous. Another plus (still on the Tamari Ball thing) is all they take to make os a styrafoam ball, or better yet, scrap fabric or yarn (do you have scraps, I think you do) and a spool of thread, about enough quilt batting to cover a baseball, and some embroidery thread. I've also seen them done small and used for jewelry. There really geometic, but if you're like me and still can't quite figure out the mystery behind a strait line, freeform is still truely beatiful. Best of you cand find these in the department store.
Posted: 10:51 am on November 22nd
Jen1964 writes: I feel better now. It isn't just my family! We're all big fans of handmade treasures, AND the funny stories that go with them. On my daughter's first scarf, she couldn't finish it in time for her dad's birthday, so he decided he couldn't turn older until she did... and that was 3 years later. He loved that on more than one level. In painting, I've been told that if 1 out of 5 canvases comes out amazing, that's great odds. I figure I have a similar allowance in yarncrafts. And looking back, in sewing as well. Sometimes a project really nails it, and all the other efforts are suddenly worth it to get there. My daughter's second project was a sweater. It's still under construction, but destined to be beautiful. I've learned if I want them to be in love with the results, let the recipient have a say in how it fits and looks, if possible. Sure it kills the surprise, but at least I know they'll use it, and they tend to have more appreciation for the love that went into it.
Posted: 9:13 pm on September 23rd
Sweet_Pea writes: Micheala,

I love your article and I love the comments by the posters! How true is this for so many of us. We've all got these stories, but it is so refreshing to read someone else's. We can laugh. I don't know, but I think the appreciation of handmade, blood sweat & tears projects has truly fallen by the wayside.

Remember the day when all people had was handmade? AND, they were happy to have that!
Posted: 1:43 pm on September 13th
TROLLBYrm writes: The death of an idealist told in both a casual and funny way - how often does that happen?!
If only more folks were making things for each other instead of hitting the mall or Family heirlooms - are they even created anymore?
My grandmother was constantly knitting - Lark cigarette hanging out of a corner of her mouth, BIG glass of sherry perched on the kitchen table. Never anything for the kids or grandkids - it all went to the navy. Maybe she had suffered the pain of giving to her family at an early age, but just couldn't stop knitting...
Posted: 12:58 am on August 20th
shannon_P writes: I would like to put in an order for Rachel and Rikki Stockings. "You can buy these Michaela" sounds like something I would say huh?
Posted: 8:24 pm on August 15th
Rachel_P writes: One of the funniest stories I've ever read. I love how you compare watching the gymnasts in the Olympics{Go Michael Phelps, while we're on the subject} to Christmas presents. You're way too funny.
Posted: 5:47 pm on August 15th
madeline_mcrae writes: This story is a classic! I can totally relate, but have never admitted how let down I have felt sometimes when making things for others--it feels so selfish. Wasn't I making something for someone else? You have given me something to think about: my own creative agenda. Thanks for making me laugh!
Posted: 3:17 pm on August 15th
Jen_W writes: I feel that this article is destined to become a classic. I can totally relate. I've made things for people to show off my skills without really thinking about them and their tastes. Now I do a lot of reconnaissance to determine if the recipient is going to "GET" the import of the hand-made gift. No more making socks for people who look at you and say one of two things:

"You gave me SOCKS?"



Yeah, you ingrate. I sure did.
Posted: 2:37 pm on August 15th
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