This has come up in the comments recently, was alluded to by Jess Schreibstein in yesterday’s Our Tools, Ourselves, and also was the subject of a very funny post at January One this week. I hear it all the time — and I say it all the time, for that matter. There’s this idea that knitting for oneself (or knitting too often for oneself?) is “selfish.” Maybe that’s inarguable, I’m not sure. But if it is indeed an offense, then I am guilty as charged! I knit for myself.
Here are my reasons:
1. The number one thing that motivates me to knit is that I want that thing. That I want to be able to make and have the thing I want, rather than being at the mercy of retail racks. Sure, I also love the process — I don’t think process and product knitting are mutually exclusive. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. But I knit to have. And sure, I also sometimes want someone else to have some thing, and in that event I enjoy making it for them.
2. It’s dicey to knit for other people. You could spend a week or a month on something (along with the more literal spend on the yarn) only to have it wind up at the back of a drawer somewhere, unused. One way to avoid that is to not surprise them, of course. But that takes away some of the fun. Plus — is it just me? — things just seem to go wrong more when knitting for others. Take this “hat” above. It’s a brand-new yarn, not yet released or reviewed, that came to me unlabeled, so it’s terra incognita. Thus I swatched, I measured, I calculated, then I cast on. It’s meant to be a hat for my sweet husband — a hat I’m really excited for him to have. (See number 1.) And somehow it is huge. As Bob put it, it looks like I’m knitting a hat for a giant with an afro. Maybe when knitting for others, I should adhere more closely to the tried and true, I don’t know.
Your experience and perspective may be 100% different from all of this, which is why I’d love to hear from you: Who do you knit for?
PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you plan your knitting/sewing projects?
I’m another selfish knitter. I will knit for my husband, my parents, or my in-laws on occasion but mostly for myself. In many ways my yarn budget is my clothing budget.
“In many ways my yarn budget is my clothing budget.” <– Yes, exactly. That should have been reason number 3.
It is very discouraging to knit for someone and have them not wear the item. I made a very expensive shawl for someone who does not knit. I’m sure they have no clue as to the time it took and the cost. But I have never seen them wear it. Learned my lesson.
I always wonder if there’s a polite way to ask for it back, in a case like that. “It’s ok if you don’t wear it, but in that case, might I have it back?” But you run the risk of their having to confess that they sent it to Goodwill or something.
I’ve always knit a lot for other people. It started in high school & college, when I was first learning, and all of my friends wanted hats & socks. Then, after college, a lot of toys for friends & family who were having babies. After getting married, I knit several toys & sweaters for our ‘someday baby’ — but when you’re struggling to conceive, that’s a shortcut to insanity. Recently I was looking through my project page on Ravelry, and I realized that – although I’ve been knitting for over 10 years – I have little to show for it. So now, I’m knitting for myself. I’m knitting a sweater in a pattern & yarn that I love (Reine, from BT’s Wool People 3, using Loft in Woodsmoke). And it feels pretty amazing, watching this thing grow and daydreaming about wearing it this fall.
I have a hard time knitting/crocheting for others. I want them to like it, to understand the love of that fiber sliding through fingers, and so many times it doesn’t get worn or used. I do knit/crochet for my kids as they are still young enough to love things that Mom made and they are little enough that the projects go fast. :)
Do you knit the kid stuff oversized so it lasts longer? I see so many cute baby knits, in particular, and think even at that size, it would likely take me longer to knit it that it would take for the baby to outgrow it.
So far in 4 years of knitting I have only made things for other people. I love the process of picking out colors and planning a pattern with a particular person in mind. Some of the people I have made presents for wear them, some don’t, and that’s ok with me. The part that is a present of sorts for ME is the planning and the playing with yarn and the knitting, the end result they can do what they want with.
That being said I don’t want to come off sounding like I think I’m soooo altruistic, I do buy yarn all the time thinking that I might use it to make something for myself…and one of these days I do plan on doing just that. :-)
That’s amazing — never once for yourself?
Not yet! I really do mean to make things for myself (I have tons of stuff saved on Ravelry) but for some reason when the time comes to plan my next project I’m always more inspired to do things for other people. I think also I’m much more of a perfectionist when making something for me rather than for someone else, which I fully admit is weird.
One thing that I think helped me avoid the stress/pressure angle when making gifts is that the second scarf I ever made I gave to a friend, and after I handed it over and apologized profusely for the mess-ups, her response was that she WANTED there to be mistakes since that’s what makes something a one-of-a-kind handmade garment. She said she wanted to see me in the scarf, so because there were some, ahem, imperfections, she could look and them and find me there. It was such a beautiful response, and really helped me feel more relaxed about the whole thing. I know when people make me things that aren’t perfect I don’t mind at all, so I assume most of my friends/family feel the same way. And if they don’t, they’re too polite to say so! So I don’t worry about it. :-)
Knitting for me is MY joy, an escape from everything else I do for other people all the time. I feel like my whole day can be filled with fulfilling other people’s needs, especially during the school year– the 60 students I see in my high school classroom and when I come home to my own family. When I pick up the needles and it’s something I want to make for me, it is selfish, and that’s how I want it to be. I also still make too many mistakes as a knitter to feel comfortable knitting for other people. When I do choose to make a gift, I start out excited, but then I start to feel stressed by the process. And I see my own WIP sitting in their bags untouched making no progress! Some quick hats are about as far as I’ll go, but even then I think, “man, I could have made myself a new slouchy hat with that new yarn I picked up…” I was going to just say, “horrible, isn’t it?” But, no, it’s not. After all, I’ve got tons of stash waiting for ME!! :-)
That sense of pressure can really knock down the joy factor.
I tend to knit mostly for myself or for my husband, but only after asking “would you wear something like this if I knit it for you?” and getting a definite yes response. I’ve knit things for friends who have made heartfelt and appreciative requests– but only good friends, not acquaintances that have no concept of how much time goes into something handknit.
That’s pretty much my approach. I want to make sure the receiver actually wants the thing before I spend the time making it — unless I’m just really, really sure they’ll love it.
I knit to have the finished things, too—while enjoying the process. I occasionally give these things to people I share genetic structures or a bed with.
This article is great for decision-making, too:
“people I share genetic structures or a bed with” — I love it.
I tend to knit mostly for myself. I have knit for people and had the item end up felted or never worn too many times. The only exception I make is knitting for a few select friends, my mom, and my grandma because I know they will actually wear and care for the things I make for them. I recently started dating someone who is also excited about wearing handknits and it is super refreshing to knit for a man! Even still, most of my knitting is for myself and I have to continually remind myself that it isn’t selfish.
There have been a few times that I have knit for myself because I really wanted the garment only to realize that I don’t like the way it fits or looks on me. Those knits go into a special drawer where they wait until I find someone who would love them.
That’s a good point. I have things that were ostensibly knit for me but that I don’t wear. (At least when I do it to myself, I have only myself to blame.) I need to find homes for those things.
I have knit many smaller items as gifts for family and friends. Since they don’t all live close by, I really have no idea how often they are worn, but then again that may be a good thing. There have been a few disappointments – hats that grand-kids deemed too hot or scratchy; colors my husband didn’t like when the hat was done. Mostly its been satisfying and fun. I knit for myself (shawls, wraps, socks and now a sweater). I knit a few things for my husband, but he has trouble keeping up with them so I haven’t made him anything for a while! My favorite gift knit was an over-sized Spectra shawl that I made for my friend’s 91 year old Mom the year before she died. She loved it and wore it almost every day in the fall and winter. Now my friend can wear it and remember her Mom.
That’s really wonderful, Delia. You’ve created an heirloom.
I knit mostly for myself. I’ve been knitting since I was 4 years old (I won’t say how many years, but the number is very high). When I was younger I did knit for various boyfriends and they did seem to appreciate the sweaters. However my husband seems to think that he should be working in the yard or on the boat when wearing one of my sweaters, and when we go out to dinner he puts on a sweatshirt. Needless to say, I don’t knit for him anymore. I’m a great believer that if the person you’re knitting for doesn’t do any type of handcrafts then it’s likely they won’t appreciate your work. Knit for yourself – you appreciate the work!
“Needless to say, I don’t knit for him anymore.” <– Ha!
I knit what I want to knit, for whatever reason the project calls to me: construction, color combining, playing with a new yarn, etc. Then when it’s done the project frequently announces who it should be for, who gets to wear it.
Weird but true.
I’ve been that way a little bit about hats, here and there. Again, it’s nice to be able to knit what you’re moved to knit and then worry about its ownership later. I’m going to keep that in mind …
I’m nuts for the feel of good yarn sliding through my fingers. That’s what got me knitting again (my husband took up weaving and there was yarn around, then he started spinning – GORGEOUS yarn around!) I knit for our little gallery. Most of what’s there and most of what sells is our work and we do lots of different things. Hats (sometimes scarves) was my way of taking time to knit and be “productive.” Family folks did start asking for hats and scarves. (There was no way I was going to “surprise” them with something that takes so long to do and costs what it costs only to find out they were allergic to wool or preferred machine made.) They actually wear them! Hats are quick (relatively) and I love giving where its appreciated. But my creating time still goes to the gallery so those sweater projects for me remain stash – their time will come. Bottom line: I’m satisfying my love of good yarn running through my fingers using the gallery as an excuse to buy yarn and patterns and spend way too much time browsing Ravelry and yarn blogs! :)
That’s a great way of looking at it. People always ask me if I sell (or ever intend to sell) the things I knit, and it’s a definite no for me, because I fear knitting ever feeling like work. And honestly anything that has any kind of deadline causes me to lose the will to knit. But I like that you’re just knitting whatever you want and making money from it.
Our very biggest challenge: if its not fun, we have to stop doing it. And in our experience, if its not fun, it never sales. My hats are a small “side dish” to my “real” art. As everyone knows, take price of good yarn + time it takes to knit or spin and knit and its clear I’m making pennies an hour. (If my husband only knew how much I spend on knitting patterns, yarns, needles VS what I make – HAhahahahahaha… oh my… But he’s as addicted to yarn as I am!
Not a lot of knitters can say that their spouse is addicted to yarn as they are!
I knit for my friends, co-workers, my kids, whoever wants to wear anything I knit. Sometimes when they (friends) want to pay at least for the wool I always tell them to donate the money for an animal shelter. And this makes my incredibly happy! :)
I knit stuff for the people I love.. daughter, new grandbaby (not so much – he lives in Florida) sometimes myself, my Mom and nieces mainly.. The guys don’t really go for much of my hand knit items and dont really wear sweaters etc much.. (Most of us live in warm climates).. but I do want to go off topic for a minute and say that I just started following you on Pinterest and you truly have beautiful taste.. I love your work and your style.. I will be keeping an eye on you to find inspiration for future projects.. Thank you
Thank you, Nina, I appreciate that. Welcome to the blog!
Definitely a “selfish” knitter, as much as I dislike that phrase. I do knit the occasional small item for others, but I don’t knit garments for anybody but myself. I occasionally feel bad about it because nearly all the knitters I know in real life are knitting for others most of the time. Oh well.
I honestly can’t imagine knitting a garment for anyone but myself or my husband, and even the latter is risky, as previously discussed. Accessories, yes. Garments, highly unlikely.
Not sure if any of the other “selfish” knitters out there have mentioned this, but one of the main reasons I don’t knit for other people very often is because a lot of people don’t know how/can’t be bothered to look after handknits properly! My mom is the one person, besides a close friend who also knits, that I can trust not to throw a handknit item into a washing machine followed by an hour’s tumble in a hot dryer (or lose it, forget about it, use it to sop up spilled coffee, etc).
Oh Z, that last phrase gave me the shudders.
It all depends on the recipient of the knit. My husband…for sure. He LOVES me knitting for him so of course I’m going to do it. He wears my knits and treats them like some fabulous treasure. My in-laws have never worn the sweaters I made for them, so I’m in no hurry to go there again! But of course, I love knitting for myself the most. I spend a lot of my time looking after other folks needs, so making for myself is something I refuse to feel guilty about!
I know you sew a lot for your kids (as well as yourself), which must be fun. My mom sewed for us a lot when we were little, and I treasure that. Still, nice that you keep most of the knitting for yourself.
It’s the same with the sewing…me and the kids and occasionally The Husband…but very little for other folk, unless I know in advance they’ll appreciate it! The kids really love it at the moment. I hope they’ll treasure it in future years. I know I treasure my mum knitting for me when I was little!
I seem to go through phases… When I first started I was a completely selfish knitter. In fact I thought of it as the one thing I did for myself, like my sanity. Then right before I got married and would be moving across the country from my friends and family I had always been with, I compulsively started knitting for everyone dear to me. Like, I couldn’t stop and I was stressed about getting it all done before I left (I did). I eventually determined that I was just trying to give them a piece of me and a token of how much I loved them. And I’m very happy I went through that phase!! Now that I am pregnant I ASSUMED that I would immediately be whipping out everything for my sweet baby, I assumed I would want everything to be handmade. But something about being pregnant has sucked the creative energy out of me. I’m not inspired to knit AT ALL, which is very uncomfortable for someone who used to never put her knitting down. Just now at 21 weeks I seem to be getting inspired again, but it all seems to be for myself. I have a baby blanket and a sweet little sweater lined up, but I’ve decided to just be patient with myself and roll with life. I wonder what my next phase will be!
I’m sure those friends treasure those going-away knits. I don’t know what the climate is like where you are, but can imagine pregnancy and summer squelching the knitting urge.
I fail to see why anyone would think it selfish to knit for themselves and, frankly, would probably mark down anyone who told me that on a list of people not worth bothering with ever again. If other people are so desperate to have something knitted then they can learn. Having said that there are a few, very few, people that I knit for quite frequently. Generally though it’s for me.
You crack me up, Belinda. I honestly don’t know if most people mean it as derogatory when they use the word “selfish” — hadn’t really thought about it that way till I started writing this post and wondering if it would read as defensive. I don’t feel defensive about it, no matter what term anyone uses! I knit for myself, unapologetically.
Hmmm, that old chestnut of being divided by a common language perhaps!
Oh, it’s generally considered a derogatory word. I’m just not sure people think of it that way when using it in this context. But maybe I’m wrong!
Great post, Karen. And so many great responses.
I love to knit for myself for the same reasons you cite. I have also noticed that I shop and spend less on clothes since taking the needles up in a serious way, which makes me feel that my yarn budget is justified. ;-)
As for knitting for others, I have often been disappointed in what has seemed a lackluster response and/or appreciation. As another commenter said, it is risky. So I’ve learned to keep the gifts to the very simple and classic… hats, fingerless gloves, scarves, etc.. If someone I love waxes (authentically!) eloquent over something more labor intensive, then I take note. My mom was just visiting and gushed over a silk shawl, so guess what she is getting for Xmas. My husband, for whom I made a sweater back in our courting days (when my skills were, ahem….very basic) has only recently started expressing interest in my making him another one. Dang…he is a big guy too…so I better allow plenty of time for it.
As for receiving handmade items from others, one of the loveliest and most surprising gifts I have ever received, was a gorgeous shawl that another Raveler had made for herself. In my comment on her project page, I teasingly posted something about wanting it. Lo and behold, it arrived in my mailbox not long after. This just blew me away. Needless to say, I absolutely treasure it.
People can be so amazing sometimes!
I am definitely willing to knit for others, but I’m always careful when I do. First, only close friends and family. Then I make the receiver go through the whole process with me! Choosing yarn, choosing color, showing me a similar item in stores or online… it’s actually very fun when someone appreciates the amount of work that goes into something as simple as a pair of mitts. Luckily the people I knit for (sisters, boyfriend, parents, etc.) are very willing to participate. As far as knitting for myself, that’s about 80% of my projects. And I am unashamed. However, if I make something that looks good on me I will knit a version for my sisters. I also have no problem making socks for others (fittings required!) because everyone can use them.
A (maybe bad) habit I have is just knitting things that look beautiful and aren’t necessarily practical. For instance, giant beaded lace shawls aren’t a normal part of my wardrobe, but they are just so gorgeous that I don’t care! It’s a joy to make them and simply look at them. It’s great to pull them out and show them to company that wants to see what I can do. These pieces I consider extremely selfish, and I love every single minute of creating them.
That’s really wonderful, Olivia — I love that you do that completely out of the love of doing it.
I knit exactly what I want to knit, and then bequeath it to whoever I think it will suit or fit and have an appreciation for it. My grandsons (7 1/2 and 10) love it when I make things for them. People who don’t knit haven’t got a clue about the amount of time and money and effort that goes into handknitting. And there’s no explaining it.
This is my new favorite approach.
I just knit. Sometimes I want to make a certain thing, so I make it. Sometimes I just have to be doing SOMETHING, so I knit. Fancy stuff, difficult stuff, easy stuff, I just need to be doing it. I keep some of the product and I give lots away. The only thing I want to be is in control of what I’m making. I don’t want to take orders. I greatly dislike deadlines. I just want to knit. If it’s your birthday and I think you’d like something I’ve made, I’ll give it to you. I find that so much more enjoyable than thinking, “Hmm, I wonder what Jim would like?” and trying to make that. The exception is knitting for babies. They look awesome in everything so I make outrageously cute and silly things for them. And it’s all handwash-only.
Babies and socks are the only time I’ll consider superwash yarn. But not for you?
I also knit primarily for myself. When I knit for others, I find myself getting really nervous that the project won’t turn out right. I agree with Stefanie Japel’s advice for new knitters (I’m paraphrasing here). Stefanie said that you should first knit for yourself because when you begin a project for others, you automatically place a great deal of pressure on yourself to be perfect. So you should allow yourself the luxury of not having to be perfect, and you should just knit and not worry about being perfect.
I started my knitting career making things for myself – that is, after I’d got past making a lovely scarf for my Dad – because that was the expectation. You want a jumper? Here are needles, yarn and a good pattern. Off you go! Logically, therefore, I have knitted lots of things for myself over the years, but I’ve also knitted even more “lots of things” for others. Sometimes those things have gone to good homes, sometimes I could weep tears of blood to see them mistreated and/or neglected in their new homes. Funnily enough, I’ve recently knitted a hat for another friend who has moved to a cold climate and who is herself a prolific knitter – but I knew she’d never do it for herself because she’s always so busy knitting for others!
In part, I don’t offer to knit for others because I am not a fast knitter and life tends to throw up interruptions that derail things, no matter my best intentions. Therefore, I can’t guarantee how quickly anything will eventuate. When I do knit things for others, they tend to be smallish projects (I except the shawl I made for my mother-in-law for whom I’m now knitting a cardigan; but she’s fairly low maintenance so I don’t mind and, you know, she’ll get the cardie eventually!) such as hats or mitts and sometimes they come from my “just in case” box, where I’ll put such things. I knitted a long scarf for my elder stepson for his 40th birthday. It was one of my faster efforts and it got to him only a week after the actual birthday (because delivered in person) but I have no idea if he wears it. I suspect not.
So having outlined all that, you’ll doubtless laugh to know that I offered to knit my son a jumper for his 21st birthday. He keeps laughing at me about it, though he’s looking forward to getting it. But he’s only 18 now, you see! He is, however, an extraordinarily grateful recipient of things I make for him. That helps. My husband has likewise been grateful for jumpers and smaller things like mitts that I’ve knitted for him. And I’m less fussed about how worn some of those have become because I think that means they are loved and worn to death. So I might echo the comment about sharing genetic structures or a bed – because I have to say that my sisters, nieces and nephews are generally willing recipients, too.
Oops, didn’t mean to prattle on so. Once I started, I kept thinking of something else I wanted to say!
I’m into that 3-year plan. Very smart.
I’ve always been a crafter and a maker. So over the years I’ve given homemade stuff to lots of people – cards, photo-collages, blankets… And I’ve seen the things I make go to people who don’t really appreciate them (I usually find that the people who don’t appreciate handmade things are the ones who aren’t makers themselves, but not always), and that bugs me. If I put time and effort and creativity into a gift I want the recipient to love it, and love it not only for it’s pure usefulness or function, but also for the bit of myself that I put into making it.
Anyway, the point is that I brought these previous experiences & ideas with me to knitting, and I so I don’t knit things for people I don’t think will appreciate them. With that in mind, I’d say I do an equal amount of knitting for myself and for other people. Most of the knitting I do for others happens because I come across a pattern that I want to try, but I don’t really want to keep the finished object for myself. For example, I enjoy knitting lace shawls, but I don’t personally want to wear a lace shawl. So my mom & my grandmommy get those :)
I once read an online discussion and someone said it was ridiculous to call someone a “selfish knitter” because no one is ever called a selfish golfer, or a selfish stamp collector. It has stuck with me and I try to remind myself. I tend to crochet for other people, it is faster for me so I feel like the commitment is less. On occasion , unless it is something really special and the person is knit worthy if I am wearing something I have made and someone likes it I give it to them (if they will accept it, sometimes that is a challenge) because I know I can make another for myself if I really miss the item. It all depends on who the person is.
I love that, Anne.
“Selfish” knitter here! Now, I do knit for my boyfriend (hats only, he wears the heck out of them and knows not to lose them!) I will knit for my Dad ( he loves my hand knit hats and socks), my Mom and siblings. I keep the items small so I am not spending too much time making them, and I don’t buy the most expensive yarn where if its for me I don’t care about the price as much.
As far as friends, I will knit baby items for them. But I attach specific instructions on the care of the item. I also ask them not throw it away. Luckily, my friends who have had babies treasure the items. In fact, my first baby blanket I ever knitted was for a good long time friend of mine when she had her first years ago. That baby blanket and sweater has now been worn my her other 2 kids she’s had since then. The baby blanket is now falling apart (9 years of love) and she’s asking how to save it!
Overall though, I knit for myself. If I am spending the time to knit a lace shawl or a sweater, I want it to be worn and cared for properly. And I know I will!
9 years and 3 kids — that blanket has had quite a life! That’s lovely.
Excellent question! I try to balance knitting for myself with knitting for others. Most of the people in my family are super-appreciative of handmade gifts, use them frequently, and even know how to properly care for them, so that is a great motivator (not to mention, pretty remarkable). Even my friends & family who don’t quite “get” the handmade thing are usually excited to receive a cute amigurumi stuffy.
I tend to make accessories when knitting for others, though I usually just make socks for the core members of my family since they’re so time-consuming. I’ve only made a few sweaters for others, but I find it is just too stressful because I’m worried about fit the whole time I’m knitting. At this point, the only person I’d willingly make another sweater for – besides myself – is my husband.
In recent years, I’ve had some similar problems with gift-knitting mishaps (sasquatch-sized socks, a lovely hat that crocked profusely when blocking, etc.). I find it way too stressful when things go awry, especially when the occasion I’m knitting for is looming just around the corner. I always try to start early, but the universe is pretty good at thwarting me regardless!
When I said that in my post about things tending to go wrong when knitting for others, I thought you were all going to laugh. I’m so relieved to know it’s an actual phenomenon and not just me!
EVERY YEAR I say, “This is going to be the year that I knit only for me.” And I never do it. It’s ALWAYS for other people. Part of the problem is having a big family, and they always request things. Maybe 2014 will be my year…
I think you’re going to be busy this year, MJ. Make it all about you! :) You won’t have time to finish a gift, this way there’s no deadlines!
I’ve never really considered that something I knit for someone else might sit in the back of their drawer, unworn. I think making something with your hands to gift to someone else is so special, that even if they never wear it, the sentiment is there and they know how much you cared to put all of your love into it. :)
I knit gifts – usually children – for my friends. I find it’s a bit more meaningful (and always appreciated) than whatever latest plastic noisemaker is out there, with the bonus that it’s usually cheaper than buying a toy.
Right now though, I’m working on a cardigan for myself to wear this winter. I am inspired by Z’s blog (that you posted about recently) and all of her great pieces, I love the thought that I can make myself exactly the kind of squishy soft cardigan that I want to wear. :)
I just re-read that and it sounded like I said I was knitting children, not knitting FOR children. Obviously I am not knitting up little stuffed kids. That would be weird. Ha!
I giggled when I saw that, but I knew what you meant!
Just ran across a funny column by Franklin Habit on this subject, and this is so well put:
“Yarn is precious. So is time. Yarn plus time is a luxury gift.”
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