It’s that time of year again, the time when magazines start urging us to make Christmas “even more special” by making a home-made gift. What could be nicer, we’re told, than making a unique pressie? Whether it’s a pair of home-knitted socks or a Liberty print hot water bottle cover, we’re often encouraged to delight our family and friends by turning to some DIY.
On one level, as someone who loves knitting and sewing and generally just messing about and making stuff, this is music to my ears. I love gorgeous craft magazines like Mollie Makes and Crafty, and I’ve always got a couple of arty projects on the go (whether I finish them all is another matter).
In fact, I’m currently knitting a cardigan for my brand new baby nephew. But I’ve got to admit that I’m also a bit wary about making people presents. Because as all of us who make things know, creating a gift can take up a lot of time and effort. And there’s always the chance that at the end of it all, it’ll be greeted with a forced smile and an over-enthusiastic cry of “Oh wow! Did you make it yourself?” Which will leave you feeling the urge to respond “Hang on, do you know how much work went into this?” Hardly the Christmas spirit.
And with home-made presents, there’s also the chance that the recipient will think it’s a somehow lesser offering. After all, most of us are just a generation or so away from a world where everything was home-made, whether you liked it or not. In that context, home-made isn’t bespoke and unique, it’s just cheap and second rate.
It’s like being a kid and praying for a Barbie and getting a home-made rag doll in a blonde wig instead. In this country, most of our families never had the luxury of seeing home-made gifts as a special treat. These days, of course, the materials needed to sew or knit an item might cost more than buying it in a shop – decent sock yarn costs around a tenner – but you can’t exactly tell people, “Don’t worry, it’s actually quite expensive!” Also hardly the spirit of the season.
And of course, many of us have experienced receiving such dodgy gifts – the wonky jumpers knitted by a granny who’s not as good at it as she thinks she is, the scarf that’s bigger at one end than the other. We know it’s the thought that counts – and when we love someone, we’ll wear the scarf anyway. But we might find ourselves wishing she’d just given us a good book instead.
Of course, it’s always a lovely feeling when you make something and the recipient is thrilled by it – I made my sister a book cover from Grayson Perry’s limited edition Liberty fabric a few years ago, which did go down very well. But I do always worry a bit when I embark on a gift project. Although I think my new nephew will be fine with it. He’s only a few days old, after all, so he can’t be too fussy.
So are you planning to give some home-made gifts this year? Have you ever given – or received – a DIY disaster? And what makes a personal home-made gift really special?