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they're not worthy

By Rachael Herron

When I was 29 (almost two decades ago) I quit smoking–one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I rewarded myself by knitting as much as I wanted to. Up until then I’d been too broke to justify nice yarn, but when you stop buying smokes, money goes a lot farther.

New knitters are so eager in their gifting, aren’t they? It’s a wonderful thing to watch: their first wonky scarves going to mothers or grandmothers, their first hole-ridden hats going to dads and brothers.

The right kind of person wears whatever you make them. A great friend will receive a felted pair of slippers the size of the Grand Canyon and immediately tear off her shoes and proclaim them just the right fit. A beloved sibling will put on the neon-blue muppet-like sweater and not take it off till the spring thaw.

But not everyone is worthy of being knitted for.


One of the first gifts I made after I quit smoking and got serious about knitting was a pair of socks for my cousin. I’d only recently discovered that those clever Germans were making self-striping sock yarn, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d already knitted pairs for my parents, my sisters, and myself.

So I made him a pair of blue and green-striped Regia socks. I loved them. Okay, the aqua was a bit bright, but I thought they were beautiful.

He laughed when he opened them. I wasn’t totally sure what the laugh meant, but his smile was broad as we sat outside in the sunshine. That smile was a good thing, right? He had to like them, didn’t he?

He held them up, turning them around in the sunlight. “Wow!” he finally said. “Are these going to make me look gay?”

I felt like he’d slapped me.

“Joking!” He laughed again. “I’m just joking.”

But it didn’t feel like a joke to me, and even if it had, it would have been a terrible, homophobic joke. (Plus, I’m gay. Bonus confusion and anger points.)

I just stared at him and wondered if I could just snatch them out of his hands and run.

There should be a law. It should be engraved into plaques in city halls, and it should be something we all learn, like the Pledge of Allegiance.

If given a handcrafted gift, act grateful, even if you are not. Send at least one picture with the giftee wearing said present. If you don’t actually like it, never admit this fact except in a whisper in the darkest dead of night to someone not related to the knitter.

All muggles (non-knitters) should know this rule—they should learn it early. It should be taught in school, along with the multiplication tables and how to shove fish sticks into an empty milk carton.

Theresa Stevens says, “My grandmother used to make baby blankets to welcome her new grandchildren, and I'm the only one in the family who knows her pattern. After she died, my uncle and his wife learned they were expecting, so I made a blanket with Grandma's pattern so that the tradition would continue. The mother-to-be opened the gift and said, ‘Thanks, but we already have a blanket.’ And that was that. Yes, this aunt knew about the blanket tradition.”

Can you imagine? To put in all that heartfelt work, to imagine the joy that would cross the new mother’s face, the delight in handling what would become an heirloom, only to watch her toss it into a corner for future donation?

Lennette DeLisle Daniels told me, “I made a scarf for one of my cousins. He picked out this beautiful yarn and the pattern. I finished it, blocked it and thought it looked beautiful. He commented to the rest of the family and said I made him a scarf that looked like a burlap sack. Then, he threw it away.”

I’m seeing red as I sit here right now, and I bet you can feel your own blood pressure going up.

What do you do when this happens to you?

I’m not the kind of person who swears or shouts, though sometimes I wish I were. Instead, when my cousin said that to me, I just sat in dumb, stunned silence. I didn’t know if he was insulting me, or the socks, or my sexuality, and I had no idea what to say. Later, of course, I thought of several wickedly brilliant things, but it was too late, he was already on the train back to his home state.

I asked my friends what they do in these situations.

Mandy Stevens says, “I quietly liberated a brand-new handmade quilt from a loved one when I caught them using it as a dog bed.” Excellent! She did leave behind a store-bought blanket, but I’m honestly not sure I would have had that kind of class (and foresight!).

And Shannon Okey goes one further: “I revoked a handknit sweater from my (then boyfriend, now husband) because he wasn’t wearing it enough and I’ll be damned if I put all that work in for nothing.” Heck, yeah, girl! Take it back from him!

And some people even use old, revoked objects to learn important skills. Beverly Army Williams says, “One of my first knitting projects was a Fair Isle vest I knit for my then husband. After our divorce, I used it to practice steeking. Over and over and over.”

Yes, Beverly is brilliant.

Honestly, I believe the best policy is to knit for only two kinds of people:

1. People you adore who are also good listeners. They must be able to hear you say, “Look, this took me about 100 hours. Please like it. Also, please don’t wash it in hot water.” Then they must wear it in your presence as often as possible. If you have people in your life who can follow these rules, go for it. (When the giftees are under 12, their parents have to be these people.)

2. Other knitters (or crafters). Feel quite free to knit for anyone who understands the expense and thought and time and heart that went into what you’re giving them.

Once a friend knitted me a scarf in a particular shade of yellow that made me look like I had jaundice. Guess what? I wore that thing everywhere. It made me sneeze and it made people ask if I still had health insurance. But she made it for me. And my sister gave me the first sweater she ever knitted. It’s a bit short on my long torso, leaving my bellybutton needing its own sweater, but I wear it all winter with a tank top underneath. I feel more love in it than anything else I own.

My cousin? He never got another knitted item from me. I found out later he’d actually worn holes in the toes, which was a lovely thing to find out. It made me forgive him completely.

Maybe he’ll get another pair someday.

They’ll be rainbow-colored, for sure.

Rachael Herron is the bestselling author of  
Splinters of Light, the Cypress Hollow series, and the memoir A Life in Stitches. She's a proud New Zealander as well as an American, and she wishes she could knit and play ukulele at the same time.