Throwback MD: FREE STUFF!

It's been a long and difficult week for we Mighty Distractible gals.

Cassandra has pneumonia and the rest of her family is alternately sick with fever, snotty noses, and puking. And I, of course, managed to catch a devil of a cold - the result of working in a corporate petri dish and having a slightly compromised immune system - which caused me to be foggy-headed and miss work.

So, it's a "Throwback Thursday"... The only way a post was going to make it up this week. But I think it's a good one - especially as we're in the throes of holiday crash-and-burn crafting. 

Send good vibes for speedy recoveries on all fronts and, hopefully, we'll have something new for you next week. 

- Alex  *cough, sneeze, blow*

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ORIGINALLY POSTED: Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Everybody Loves Free Stuff

Ah, the holidays! It's a time of...well...stress, frankly. And the source of that stress? (besides family of course) Gift giving.

What started as a simple gesture of generosity, love, and friendship has turned into a billion dollar industry with layers of guilt and inadequacy piled on top. Just makes you all tingly for the season, doesn't it?

Between having to find the "perfect" gift for every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the phone book and the cost associated with that quest, the holidays are more of a nightmare than a hot chocolate-filled dream.

On top of it all, we crafters get to experience our very own extra-special gift stress. Here's how it works:

1. Crafter says: "I'm going to put 75 hours of my time, plus the cost of materials, into this handmade item. I am going to meticulously choose a pattern and colors that will be perfect for the receiver. I'm going to craft every bit of this with love and care for this special person."
2. Receiver opens gift and says: "Oh, isn't that pretty. Thanks!" and moves on to the next gift.
3. Crafter is crushed.

Ralphie's aunt worked hard on this
Do you see what's happening here? There's a huge disconnect between the crafter's and non-crafter's perceived value of the gift. I have family members that would be appalled if I gave them something handcrafted - regardless of how expensive and lovely the materials and finished product. I mean...only poor people and hippies "do" crafts, right? On top of that, it's hard to convince a non-crafter of an item's value when a machine-made, off-the-rack version is cheaper and looks as good. The industrial revolution really took it's toll on handcrafting, in a lot of ways.

When it's all said and done, if you want to give a handcrafted gift, the key is to keep your costs and efforts down and make the actual value of the present a little closer to the perceived value (and save yourself some soul crushing.) Here are my tips:

Use free patterns.

I can't remember the last time I paid for a pattern because there are tons of resources on the web. Granted, you may only be saving $5-$10 but, if you're making more than a couple of handmade items, this can add up quickly. My favorite resources are:

1. Ravelry - Also known as "Facebook for knitters." There are, literally, thousands of amazing free patterns (as well as patterns for sale) on this site. The very best part is that, for most patterns, you can look at other people's attempts at making the piece. This gives you invaluable insight into the pattern's difficulty level and flaws. I can't recommend this site enough.
2. All Free Sewing - This site is incredibly comprehensive - with patterns for everything from accessories to quilts to holiday projects. The clean and easy interface makes searching for patterns a breeze. The site even has video tutorials. You are going to love this resource.
3. Craft Bits - Most of the free-craft project sites online are aggregators - they gather links to free projects on myriad other sites. Craft Bits, as best I can tell, has all "original" content so you're not popping off the site every time you click a project link. I also really like the site design and I find the projects appealing. One specific tip for this site: scroll down! There's tons of content below the fold on every page. It's easy to miss it if you don't think to scroll.

Keep materials cost in line.

Let's be honest, it's easy to want to buy that gorgeous yarn that's $20 a skein because the scarf is for your mom. But, honestly, she'll probably never be able to tell the difference between that and the $10-a-skein version. The key to this one is: know your audience. If the person you're crafting for has an eye for good materials and you KNOW they'll appreciate the color or hand of the piece at the end, go ahead and look for the material on sale somewhere. Otherwise, buy materials that are "good enough" to make the piece nice but not over-the-top. My favorite resources for reasonably-priced and sale goods are:

1. Knit Picks - Knit Picks is an all-around great site for yarn crafters. They have beautiful tools, like their interchangeable circular needles set (I seriously covet these), but they also have great basic yarns for ridiculously low prices.
2. Fabric.com - This clean and easy-to-navigate site is one of my favorite resources for fabric. Their selection can be light - especially in specialty fabrics, like decorator (upholstery) weights - but most of the time, the styles are really tasteful and the brands are higher-quality. The thing I love most about this site (besides the amazing prices) is that, under each fabric "swatch", they list the number of yards they have in stock. Saves me tons of time if I know how much yardage I need.
3. Joann.com - You may have a Joann Fabrics in your area so this may be redundant but... not for nothin' Joann is a great resource for craft supplies and their online store has damn-near anything you'd need. The quality tends towards the middle and the prices are reasonable (not super-cheap) - but you can be assured that they have what you need and that, if you need to return anything, their customer service will do you right.

The 5-minute Skirt: http://bit.ly/WaK1o
Finally, don't pick difficult projects. This one is easy, people. If it's a gift, make it something you can complete with plenty of time to spare and that it's easy enough that you won't be struggling. That way, you'll spend less total time on the project and your finished piece will be top-quality because its instructions will be well within your comfort zone.

So, there you go. My tips for making the 2010 holiday season a little less stressful. I think what it boils down to is this: if the person you're making a gift for won't appreciate the time, money, and effort that went in to your handmade creation then to heck with 'em. Go buy them something that they've seen on TV and save yourself some heartache. ;)

- Alex (bah-humbug)

1 comment:

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