Whether it’s celebrating Christmas or Hannukah, a bunch of winter birthdays in our circle of friends or just because, this time of year is typically one where the knitters amongst us will often reach for their knitting needles and a beautiful skein of yarn to make something as a gift for a loved one. I, too, absolutely adore using this craft of ours to make someone else happy, and I’m only half joking when I say that knitting is my love language. As a matter of fact, most of what I knit ends up living with family and friends, and this December, I wanted to round up some of my favourite knitwear designs for gift knitting and share a few tips & tricks I have picked up along the way.
We all know how busy the holiday season can get, and it might sound tempting to quickly whip something up for someone, maybe even as a last minute gift. I have knit up sweaters over a couple of night shifts in the past, too, I know what I’m talking about. But when we think about it for a minute, what we really want to give someone when gifting handknits is something with a story, something a person they care about put thought and love into, something they’ll cherish and wear, right?
Here’s what I have learned over the past 20+ years of knitting for others, and the questions I try to keep in mind when planning handknit gifts!
First and foremost: Make sure they’ll actually wear or use what you’re making for them. If you’re uncertain about what to make for someone, a good place to start looking for ideas is browsing through recent photos to get an idea of the colours and styles the giftee loves to wear. In case you don’t have any photos of them in your camera roll, ask their partner / family / mutual friends if they can help out or take a look at their social media profiles, if they share photos of themselves online. Once you have a couple photos handy, pay close attention to what pieces of clothing they actually wear, and which colours would work well with what they wear on a regular basis. If, for instance, you’ve never seen your sister wearing a hat, it might be because she hasn’t found the perfect one just yet, but it’s more likely that she’s just not that fond of hats. And if you’re still having trouble deciding, don’t be afraid to ask someone who knows the recipient well, too! When I went to get yarn to make a cardigan for one of my closest friends, I asked a mutual friend for advice and consequently felt that much more confident with our choice of colour while knitting.
And though this is rather obvious, I think it’s still important to keep in mind that a gift isn’t supposed to be the perfect opportunity to force your wife to wear that shade of green that you think would look glorious on her but that she hates, or to guilt your father into wearing a turtleneck pullover because you think he needs to keep his throat warm if he doesn’t feel comfortable in them. Even if you don’t agree with someone’s preferences, don’t just ignore them! Gift knitting might mean that you spend quite some time with a project you personally don’t necessarily consider pretty (hello blue glitter socks that my brother asked for!), but it’ll be that much more special to the recipient if they can tell that you really thought about them.
Find the correct size. If you’re making something that’s supposed to fit in a certain way, like a hat or a pair of socks for instance, but also when you’re making a piece that can come in a lot of sizes, such as a scarf, it’s crucial to know the recipient’s measurements and fit preferences. Should you live with the person you plan to knit for, you can easily look for a similar piece of clothing in the closet when they’re not home and take its measurements. But don’t despair if you don’t have access to the giftee’s closet! You can always ask them to lend you a pair of socks, sneakily take their favourite hat’s measurements while hanging out at their place, ask them to try on something of yours for reference or bring someone close to them into the loop.
Help them take care of their new handknit. Unless they’re as much of an expert when it comes to different yarns and how to care for handknits as you are, include a little card with washing instructions. Many people I have knit for were surprised to learn about wool’s self-cleaning properties, for instance, and would have washed their new woollens a lot more often than actually necessary, resulting in them now lasting longer.
Include or keep leftover yarn, and consider gifting a fixing service / skill sharing coupon. No matter how careful someone will treat their new handknit, inevitably, at some point, a little hole here or a lost button there will occur. If you keep just a few metres of the original yarn and are willing to fix the piece you gifted or show the recipient how to fix it on their own, you’ll be able to extend the piece’s lifespan, and who knows, maybe one day your gift might become that one very special belonging that gets passed on to future generations.
Now if you plan to make something for a fellow knitter, the bar might be set a bit higher, but you often also have much easier ways of getting the information you need. Never underestimate Ravelry queues / favourites! Even if your knitter friends don’t meticulously keep theirs up to date, browsing through their queues and favourite patterns and yarns will still help you get an idea of what they’ll enjoy, and you can refer to completed projects for details on sizing.
Many people like their gifts to be secret, and I can’t say I wouldn’t enjoy a nice little surprise, too, but when you think about all the resources that go into a handknit gift, I would also love to encourage you to not rule out the option of spoiling the surprise and asking the recipient directly. Especially if they’re a first time giftee, you might learn more about what they enjoy wearing, and in case you’re not sure if they’d like to be part of the process, you can always start out with telling them that you’d love to knit something for them and ask if they’d like to share their thoughts or keep it a surprise. Last Christmas, my brother asked for a pullover, and even though I have known him for all his life, I wouldn’t have guessed what style he was hoping for had he not shared a couple of inspirational photos with me, and before he told me about his plans to make a Treysta, I never would have never mentioned “Malte” and “colourwork knitwear” in the same breath.
Lastly my favourite pro tip for those who love to plan ahead: Throughout the year, casually try to learn as much as you possibly can about potential giftees’ preferences whenever there’s an opportunity, and don’t forget to take notes. I would, for instance, sometimes ask friends how they’d wear / style a specific piece, or ask for advice when choosing yarns for a project to get a better idea of what kinds of knitwear styles and yarns they like. The list on my phone that I use to keep track of gift ideas usually says something like “Myoung would love a dark blue sweater”, “Elisa mentioned she doesn’t need any more loose-fitting cardigans at the moment”, “Only ever use very soft yarn for Petra, preferably cotton”, “Jochen likes his socks to be slightly longer than Malte’s”, or “Alena would definitely wear a colourwork yoke pullover”, and I find it super helpful to have that sort of notes to come back to when beginning a new gift knit.
Below are some of my personal favourite accessory designs to use for gift knits, and you can find more knitting patterns we love over on Pinterest. I hope you enjoy this little curated selection, and I’d love to hear what you’re making these days in the comments!
This new head band design of ours will be released in a couple of weeks, so not in time for December gifts, but you’re warmly invited to join the test knit (starting soon!) if you’re eager to make one or a few. Like a couple other Sustainablist patterns, this one, too, comes with instructions for various gauges.
Hats usually knit up relatively quickly and only use one skein of yarn, and with the plethora of pretty designs out there, you’ll likely be able to find just the right one. What about our all-time community favourite Fleesensee? If you don’t shy a way from a bit of colourwork, you might enjoy our Vík, cable enthusiasts will love Sari Nordlund’s new design that’ll be published as part of Making Stories’ upcoming collection, or maybe our Glendalough is what you’re looking for?
Who doesn’t love warm feet? Whether you opt for a pared-down variation like our Knit Night Socks (including instructions for 7 different gauges and 2 heel options!), a design with minimalist patterning such as Meltemi or Keiko Kikuno’s Provenance, or a beautiful cabled number like Hanna Lisa Haferkamp’s Memory Lane Socks, a cosy pair of socks is usually an excellent idea.
This pattern will be published in Making Stories and Friends: Winter 2018, too (dropping Wednesday!), and I love how versatile it is. Claire Walls designed it to include options for full mittens, half finger gloves and an optional mitten flap, and there are even more variations to choose from.