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How To Delight Those Who Play With Sticks And String: A Gift Guide For The Bewildered Non-Fiber-Crafter

How To Delight Those Who Play With Sticks And String: A Gift Guide For The Bewildered Non-Fiber-Crafter

Well, then. Hi! You’ve found yourself clicking this link because someone in your life thinks you need a very strong hint! That’s okay. Don’t be hurt. Maybe you’re a fantastic gift giver in all other regards – kudos to you! But, when it comes to the fiber artists in your life, you’ve had a little hiccup. Either you’ve given a gift that has missed the mark, or you’ve ignored your favorite crafter’s art completely and purchased a toaster instead. Let’s fix that for you and help you become a yarn-lover’s hero for any gift-giving occasion. This article is being released for the holiday season, but it will work all year to guide anyone to the perfect present.

As someone who has tucked herself deep into the center of the fiber world, I have heard time and time again a version of the same words: “My mom/husband/sister/friend just doesn’t understand what to buy me for Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule/Birthday/Anniversary/Other Occasion.” It’s a source of frustration for both the gift-giver and the receiver. I knew I wanted to help, as some kind of go-between, but the universe has bestowed upon me a knitwear designer for a husband, and immediate family who pays careful attention to what I do, or at least asks very specific questions. So I turned to all of my Groovy groupies on Facebook for help. I asked the questions, and they answered. Overwhelmingly, it’s true. Family and friends are well-meaning, but clueless when it comes to gift-giving to the yarn-loving crowd.

You watch your fiber friend do his/her thing, and you’re just mesmerized. Balls of colorful string becomes clothing and housewares, and you just know your friend is fully prepared for any zombie apocalypse that may overcome us someday.

“Skeiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnns.”

Now it’s November. The holiday season is creeping up, and you know you’re going to receive a gorgeous handmade pair of socks in your favorite color, in just your size. You’ll have the coziest toes in town.. You want to show your gratitude for warm, comfy feet by getting something amazing for this sorcerer of socks. Craft stores terrify you, what with all the glitter and glue flying at you from every corner. You panic. What in the world is a stitch marker? Oh my stars, those needles look like they could stake vampires. Fabric chalk? Do they need that? Knitting is like sewing, right? (No, no it isn’t!)

I’ve got you. I can save you from ever stepping foot into a craft store, lest you get pelted with pompoms. It’ll be just as easy as going to Amazon, but you’ll be supporting small, handmade businesses just like mine. Your recipients will love how thoughtful you’ve been, and you can feel good about your purchase going toward someone who is trying to provide for themselves and their families. Let’s get to it. There are five simple things you can do to make this gift-giving experience a good one in both directions!

(1) Find Out What Their Fiber Craft Actually Is!

Let’s look at it like this: maybe you’re a fisherman/fisherwoman. You wouldn’t get a saltwater striper rig for the pickerel in your local pond. The same strategy goes for crafting. One size does not fit all! You need to know if your friend knits, crochets, weaves, felts, or naalbinds. And the funny part is that maybe your gift recipient has told you a thousand times what they do, and you just haven’t processed it yet. It’s fine. Our eyes glaze over when you talk about Crossfit, car parts, scrapbooking, or fly-tying. We don’t listen to you, either!

“Sticks and string and sticks and string, la la la la la la.”

Fiber artists love to talk about their projects. We’ll tell you again, because we want you to love it just as much as we do. At the very least, we want you to appreciate our handiwork. It’s okay to ask, “What are you knitting?” We may roll our eyes, and show you that we are, in fact, crocheting something. Maybe we are bistitchual: we do both! Find out what the favorite craft is, and you’re off to a good start! Helpful hints: knitting involves two pointy sticks working simultaneously with both hands to create fabric. Crocheting uses one hooked stick with lots of swooping loops to make similar fabric, but certainly not the same as knitted fabric.

(2) Know Your Recipient’s Taste

As human beings, we tend to buy what we would like for ourselves, even if it’s something we would never use. It’s just the nature of the beast. Don’t accidentally fall into the pit of being a selfish gifter. If they live in Alaska, don’t buy them a pattern book for warm-climate knits hoping you’ll get some lightweight scarves for your Florida balmy weather (yes, this actually happened to one of my customers)! If you love orange and your sister hates it, purchasing Totally Tangerine yarn for her may make her think you  simply want a finished item for yourself. That’s not the way to earn knitworthiness, dear gifter! Think about the scarves, hats, mittens, and other things your favorite crafter has made for themselves. What color families do they wear? Stick to those color palettes for a gift of yarn. There is no better gift after the holidays for me after I’ve made a million baby sweaters and socks for others, than to pull a skein of something luxurious out for an item that is just for me and only me!

 “Flower Power,” or  maybe more flower child? This is is important to know!

Let’s say it’s not yarn you’re after. You want to get something that tells the fiber fanatic that you see them; that you know what they do, but don’t want to add to their to-do pile. Perhaps a hand-thrown mug with a fiber craft saying. After all, handmade crafters love nothing more than a handmade gift in a craft they do not do! If you curse like a drunken sailor, then these Pawley Studios mugs with sassy, snarky, and dirty sayings are absolutely for you! But maybe they’re not for your brother who learned to knit to pass time in the Army, but has little kids learning to read, or your mom who is far too proper to ever drop an F-bomb!

 (So cute! But it’s not for everyone. If you’re wondering, I have four of these!)

Another thing to be said for taste: we are VERY specific about our crafting gear. We are brand-loyal at an obsessive level. My social media followers would (mostly) all love new fancy needles and hooks, but by golly, you have to ask them if they are partial to SignatureChiaoGoo, Hiya-Hiya, Lykke, needles, or Furls hooks. This list is far from exhaustive, too. The tool may be the same size, and do the same job, but our hands like what our hands like! This is one of those things that you absolutely have to ask about. If you guess, the chances are that they may forever sit unloved in a drawer, regardless of how fancy they are. And, oh. They are ever so fancy.

 

(3) How About A Luxury Version Of Something They Use All The Time?

As crafters, we have some fairly utilitarian materials at our fingertips. We have eleventy billion plain plastic buttons in a cookie container at the back of our closets. We have blue rubber washers from the hardware store that double as stitch markers. We have plastic shopping bags to toss a project in for crocheting on the go. Fancy versions of these mundane things are just something we might never buy for ourselves, because we are too wrapped up in getting the nicest spinning fiber or yarn we can afford for a project.

There aren’t too many yarncrafters who wouldn’t be awed by these swanky, glitzy buttons by Marina of A Sheep In The Woods. Every piece is crafted and polished by hand, and entirely unique. No two are exactly alike. I have an embarrassing amount in my collection, and I always want more. With materials ranging from semi-precious stone, to petrified wood, to antler, to Fordite, to dinosaur fossils, there’s something for everyone.

 (That blue one, though!)

Maybe your cousin always wanted to be a famous biological anthropologist and save all non-human primates from extinction. But now, she’s trapped in a cubicle all day, and makes shawls by night to stay sane. She is the queen of “knitflix and chill.” Wee Ones Creations has the cutest stitch markers I have ever seen for lovers of every animal of every breed. As if they were plucked from the forests of Madagascar, take a look at the lemurs!!!

Projects need to be protected, and that’s something that fiber artists tend to forget from time to time. Or, we have cast-on-itis, and we have more projects than we do bags in which to hold them. Jennifer from Otterly Adorable Knits has been my friend for well over three decades. I direct folks to her shop not because she’s my friend, but because of the quality she puts forth into the world. I beat the ever loving heck out of my project bags, and I’ve never snagged so much as a single seam. And the name Otterly Adorable? It delivers, my friends! The themes and fabrics that Jenn picks for her customers are squeal-worthy!

For real. Those rainbow clouds. If that doesn’t say “happy,” I don’t know what does!

Enamel pins are SO hot right now. They transcend the fiber world, but yarn artists are super into them.  You can find them for every fandom, every food craving, and pretty much any hobby. What to put them on is super simple. Bridget from Draw Four Designs has a brilliant design for her project bags made specifically for pins. There is a hidden flap that protects the yarn and project from getting snagged on the pin backs. Ask me if I learned the hard way before I bought one of her genius bags. Go ahead, ask me! Her bags are incredibly well-made, and stand up by themselves because of the sturdy canvas. She has several fandoms and themes, and will probably make something to order for you if you ask realllllllllllllly nicely (but do not ask this three days before Christmas and expect a yuletide miracle. It doesn’t work that way!).  If you get a bag like this, definitely get a few pins to make sure it doesn’t go naked. These Mr. Rogers and Trolley pins are just the most amazing things ever! If you don’t buy some, you totally cannot be my neighbor! I need these. Someone tell MY loved ones to get them for me!

Yarn needs protection while we work on our projects. If we pull it in and out of a project bag too much, it can get ratty – or worse, we risk the all-too-scary yarn barf. In a recent fiber-world gift exchange, I received a One Sock Wonders “Sheep Squeezer.” I am enjoying using it (mine is tie dye! My gifter REALLY took time to know me and my likes) and I think that other knitters and crocheters would like using them, too. It keeps the outside of the ball clean and fuzz-free, and puts enough pressure on the yarn to be able to center-pull without disaster. That’s a win.

Gotta catch ’em all? Go for it.

Most people into the fiber arts buy themselves good yarn, but they rarely buy themselves high-fallutin’, fancy yarn. Kid mohair and mulberry silk laceweight. 

That’s pretty special. So are cashmere blends. I sure do carry all of these, but there are fibers even I don’t get my hands on unless I buy them from someone else, and I am totally fine with that. I can’t make all the yarn in the world, nor do I want to. I love little more than supporting my fellow fiber businesses! Qiviut comes from the muskox, and it’s one of the most amazing fibers on the planet. Bijou Basin Ranch sells blends of this, and the crafter in your life would love you forever for even a mere ounce of the stuff! My husband worked as a ranch hand at the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska, and although he’s a textiles archaeologist and knitwear designer, he didn’t bring home a single bit of fluff! Somehow, I still married him.

 (photo credit: Thaddeus J. Nelson)

 

Touching all of this soft fiber and pretty bags, the yarncrafter’s hands need protection, too. This is especially true if the winter months are tough in your target climate. I personally have found the Knitter’s Relief Salve by Crafting The Wild to be one of the very best products out there for this purpose. The best part, to me, is that it’s unscented, and weird perfumes don’t rub off on whatever I am knitting or crocheting at the time. Brandon knows what he’s doing when he concocts a new potion or lotion, and I always trust that it will do what he says it does. My hands are in hot water, citric acid, and dye all day. They can crack and bleed. Once I started using this, it healed everything and prevented it from getting bad again.

  Photo credit: Me and my Dunkin/Starbucks Socks!

 

(3) Snoop. Find Out What They Like To Make. Now you’re prepared to buy yarn or patterns, even if you’ve never crafted a thing!

Chances are, if you’ve been around the internet a time or two, you’ve learned how to be a bit of a stalker. Don’t be a creep about it, but you can find out what your person likes to make, and even the craft that they do if you simply cannot ask them. There’s a magical website out there called Ravelry, and it will tell you everything you ever wanted to know, but had no idea you needed to ask! And it’s FREE. There’s a “people” button on the website. Search by name. I’ll use my landing page as the links for example here.  If you find it, awesome. If not, you may have to find out what their user name is and enter it. But try to make it a surprise at first. You can go to your person’s notebook to see their projects and every link in every project is clickable. It will show you all they’ve ever finished, and everything they are still working on now. You can find the yarn weight they used, the brand they used, and probably see photos of exactly what they did. You can look at their favorites, which means everything they have looked at and loved.  You can also view their queue, which is everything they want to make, but haven’t quite gotten there yet. The queue and favorites can be used as a kind of wishlist, so you can look at their library to make sure they do not own a pattern, and gift them patterns they haven’t purchased for themselves yet! But if you really do want to be an amazing gifter and buy yarn for someone when you’re clueless, Ravelry is exactly where to start to discover the type of yarn your recipient uses the most (besides the aforementioned luxury stuff that everyone will probably love, but not use a lot!). You can then go to the website of that person’s favorite indie dyer, and pluck the perfect skein off of a virtual shelf and have it shipped wherever you want!

(4) We Never Stop Learning Until The Day We Die

Although I know how to knit and crochet, there are certain techniques within those crafts that I’d love to be able to do, and YouTube can’t quite give me the knowledge that a course by a master instructor in a LYS (local yarn shop) could teach me. I also would love to learn to weave, and I have no idea how to do that! Once, a few years ago, I had the fortune of taking a one-day wet felting class; I made the most awesome slippers for my own feet from some raw fluff, all with my own two hands! It was exciting to do a new thing.

<— I made these. In one day.  From fluff. I made these!!!!

This suggestion is tricky. You may have to ask your person if this is something that he/she would really even like, and you have to consider you may be giving the gift of spending more money to your recipient! Course materials and learning yet another obsessive hobby will incur all sorts of unseen fees! But for me, it’s something I’d love. So again, you have to know the taste of your giftee. But if their fiber idol comes to town – say, Stephen West, Andrea Mowry, Melissa Leapman, or the Sockmatician, I am guessing these people could read us the phone book and we would be there to soak up every word. A gift idea like this not only supports an independent designer or technique expert, but usually it also supports the brick-and-mortar local yarn shop who hosts them, and they’re a dying breed in the States because of big box stores and online mass-market discount shops.

(5) Still not sure? My social media followers have assured me that “GIFT CARDS ARE NOT IMPERSONAL!” 

I say this in all caps because I, too, was surprised. Shocked, even. I figured that gift cards were the kiss of death. But, no. Not all gift certificates are created equal. You can’t run to CVS on Christmas Eve and grab a Snickers and a plastic magnetic swipe card to my shop from the front register rack, and apparently that makes all the difference to MY customers (your mileage may vary. This wasn’t a scientific study, just a survey of the folks who love my products!). Although we might love some Red Lobster on nights we’d rather crochet up 50 more rows than cook a single meal, we want to know that you’re thinking of us in a more specific kind of way. Some of my folks are just so darn picky, that they’d actually rather you got them enough credit to pick out their own special skein, and they’d be over the moon about that. They don’t want you choosing the thing. In fact, they may be so appreciative, that the finished object might just be your next favorite beanie! If their wishlist hasn’t been populated on my website, the gift certificate is absolutely an option!

So, although I absolutely DO provide you with the ability to get your loved ones a gift certificate from Groovy Hues, I urge you to try to find something physical for them first if you can. Everyone loves something to unwrap! I also urge you to go to a small handmade business if you are able, because the little guys are often forgotten at the holidays, as the financial power of the big box stores push for the biggest, brightest ad spaces, and are able to afford sales that would leave us without enough for rent and food! Chances are, if you’ve been directed to my website, that the fiber artist in your life does not visit big box stores or online warehouses for their supplies. Those items absolutely have their place and use, but they are things a crafter can purchase for themselves. They’re used to coming to us at this point, and anything mass-produced will not be nearly as exciting as a unique, handmade gift.

A small, handmade business will usually be more than happy help guide you through your purchase to make sure you are getting the right thing for your fiber artist, and most of the time we can try to fix any mistakes, should you have gotten something that isn’t perfect for your giftee (but you should be pretty prepared at this point! I’ve armed you with knowledge!). We are just as easy (if not easier) to purchase from than Amazon, and you don’t have to put on real pants or start the car in chilly weather. Our products will be made with love, and care, and will be entirely unique. This is something that your fiber artist friend will love and appreciate, and they’ll remember the thought you put into this gift forever.

I hope this has taken some of the mystery out of gift-giving for the non-crafter – or, maybe you’ve been inspired to take a class or two because of all the nifty stuff you’re missing out on doing?! The best gift of all is having someone to hang out with for coffee and craft time!

Good luck, have the happiest of holidays regardless of what you celebrate, and if I can be of help at all, please reach out. I do have a Contact Us button that will directly send me an email. I am here to serve you and make your life better. I would be thrilled to do anything I can to make your experience an amazing one!

Thanks for reading!

Recommitting to the enjoyment of the fiber arts. (In other words, “I have a blog?!”)

Recommitting to the enjoyment of the fiber arts. (In other words, “I have a blog?!”)

Whoa. I have a blog! Who knew? (Not me, apparently.) I’m really glad that I discovered that this week, because it’s a good week for finding such things. At least… it is for me. I needed this outlet.

It’s been almost half a decade since I began my business of making and selling pretty string for people to stab with sticks or jab with hooks until it’s even prettier. That’s shorter than some businesses, and longer than a lot of others. I’ve seen so many of my extremely talented dyer friends hang up their dye pots and reluctantly return to traditional careers. I am saddened for them, and worried for me. I count my blessings every day that I am fortunate enough to still be here, doing that thing.

At the same time, as the days progress, I can readily admit that even the very thought of using yarn after my work day is over can make me vurp a little bit sometimes!

When you immerse yourself into a creative business, you don’t always consider that working with the things you love and turning those things into a job, well, turns it into a JOB. Colonel Sanders probably didn’t go home expecting Kentucky Fried Chicken to grace his table every night. (I mean, maybe he did. But I’m thinking probably not. I’m thinking the very thought of a crispy drumstick likely made him want to hurl!)

Right off the bat, let me tell you: I am not whining! I am so fortunate to do what I love and not have to go to a 9-5 traditional jobby-job to do it! But for some months now, it’s been pretty hard for me to pick up needles or a hook at the end of the day. As I add more LYS trunk shows and fiber festivals to my yearly calendar, I have had to increase the number of shop samples that I have in my booths or on my tables. So for quite some time, I was under the pressure to crank out projects with my own yarn so that people would see it, want it, and I would have to dye more if it. Even my knitting and crocheting after cleaning up dinner and settling into my jammies has become a job! That ain’t cool.

In the last few weeks, I made a conscious choice to stop being ridiculous. It may save me a few cents to make my own samples, but at what price? I have TONS of gorgeous yarn from other makers just sitting here in my stash. For years, I have stowed away the things I’ve purchased from other dyers and spinners, because it made me sad to look at it, and feel guilty if I used it instead of my own products. Even some of my own OOAK stuff makes me feel guilty to use it. Why make a project in a color I love, but one I don’t dye anymore and can’t recreate? When I knit or crochet something that I say will be entirely for myself and it IS yarn of mine that’s repeatable, I feel guilty for doing that, too, and it somehow becomes a shop sample that I can’t wear. And spinning? Oh my gosh. When’s the last time I spun a darned thing? Wislawa (that’s my dark walnut Kromski Minstrel, and she’s a beauty!) just stares at me, unloved.

The only thing I have done entirely for myself in the last two years that hasn’t involved my business is long-distance running.

My hour (or more for long runs!) of running every day is the one time that I don’t owe anyone thoughts about wool. That’s all well and good, but sometimes I want to sit on my arse, not sweat, and also not owe anyone thoughts about wool. Something needs to change so that I can love working with fiber again.

And so, I have decided that I will be outsourcing almost all samples from here on out. The best thing I can do for myself is pay someone else to work with my yarn so I don’t feel like I have to. I can choose to, but I won’t be forced to do it. That’s pretty key and will be worth every last cent.

Yesterday, I went banoodles. It all started with cleaning out my car and finding the tinker-toy grid boxes I used the first year we vended at Hallockville before I figured out the glory of gridwall. My hands are bleeding and sore, but I built those stinkin’ boxes. I took ALL of my beautiful stash of yarn and fiber out of hiding, dusted  Wislawa off to give her a spot with the antique chair next to my bed. Everything has a home. I’m going to use it, and not feel guilty. I love to support other dyers by buying their things. What’s the point if I’m not using their stuff?!

My floor needs vacuuming (don’t judge me. It’ll happen someday, but today is not that day), but here are all of the things I can finally display and use! It’s not particularly neat, but I know what every box has, and where it is. The cat thinks it’s all hers, and clearly that’s the only thing that matters.

 

Annnnnd I got my fiber mojo back! Knitting at Spider Bite with the usual locals is a favorite pastime of mine. This is my yarn, but it’s yarn I want to use, not yarn I have to use. These will be my socks, and will not grace a fake foot at a fiber show. They will grace my feet! And this cowl is one that I want to knit. It’s also my yarn, but it’s my husband Thaddeus‘ new The System Is Down design, and it is super fun to work on. I love short rows, and can’t wait to finish it!

  

And, Wislawa is happy – I put 2oz on a bobbin this week, and the other 2oz should be done and I can ply them this weekend!

Bottom line? Know when to ask for help. No matter what the situation is, if you find yourself wondering when it’s time to ask for help, it’s totally time to ask for help!

I have some wonderful sample knitters and crocheters lined up for myself, but feel free to drop me a line if you think you can be of service!

Thanks for reading! Until next time 🙂