My husband once told me that I was nigh impossible to shop for because I constantly walked around stores pointing out things that I could make [better, cheaper, or at least in a different color].
I recently shared a list of sewing tools that would make great gifts, but tools are not the ONLY gift option. I am writing this gift idea guide for people like my husband, who want to add a bit more personal and creative flair to their gift but also feel uncertainty about the realm of crafting. More of an idea generator than a list of specific items, this may also prove useful for my fellow sewists and crafters who are seeking inspiration for their own wish lists. It doesn’t have to be all seam rippers, chalk, and presser feet…unless you want it to be.
The details might be biased toward sewing and knitting, but I hope the guiding principles and suggestions will be also relevant to quilters, wood crafters, scrapbookers, illustration artists, and others.
Things to Consider & Ask
If your crafter hasn’t provided a wish list of specific items or if you want to go “off-list” and surpise them, here are some questions to ask or observations to make.
How long has this person been sewing, knitting, drawing, etc.?
What skills would they like to learn or improve?
Is there something they specialize in? (Scarves, costumes, hats, cat toys, etc.)
Some gifts scale with skill level – an intro to sewing book might not be of much use to a veteran seamstress. Others are craft-specific. Quilting and apparel sewing use a lot of same tools, but there are some tools and techniques that are specific to each specialty.
How often do they start and finish projects?
Do they use up supplies quickly or are they accumulating a large stash?
How much space to they have for storage?
What does their craft space or room look like?
When I had a small sewing space and an infrequent sewing schedule, I couldn’t accept all the fabric my mom wanted give me because I wouldn’t use it fast enough. Your gift might inspire a wave of creation, but think about their crafting habits and storage strategies first.
Do they blog? A great way to see what they are working on, what projects they gravitate toward, and what about their craft interests them. You might also see photos of their sewing space, tools, and fabric stash that indicate what they already own and use.
Are they participating in any specific challenges or pledges? Some of our online sewing community members have taken the Seamless Pledge to not buy new clothes, others are devoted to using up the fabric in their stash before buying more. Just like I wouldn’t want to give a vegetarian a box of cured meats, and I try to be equally respectful of someone who was intentionally avoiding mass-manufactured clothes.
Do they use Pinterest to collect things that inspire or interest them? Pinterest should be taken with a grain of salt – sometimes a pin is just an inspiration, other times it is a specific item we want to buy. Still they are another window into things that interest them.
What else interests them besides sewing, knitting, etc.? Who says you have to get them something craft-related? 🙂
Tips for Crafters
As someone who always has a large stash of materials, a long list of projects, and a spur-of-the-moment shopping “strategy”, it has been challenging for me to identify things for my wishlist. That said, if wishlists are part of your traditions, there are things we can do for our loved ones to take some of the intimidation and mystery out of surprising us.
Let people know where you like to shop. Locally and online.
Talk about your projects. It has taken me years to be comfortable talking about my projects. I used to feel insecure – both because I felt like I was bragging and because I believed there were better seamstresses out there. But here’s the thing, your friends and family want to hear about your life and if sewing or drawing is your life, talk about it. Share your victories and frustrations.
Use online lists. I use Amazon because it lets me share from outside sites too. Online lists let you link to a specific item and people can mark when it has been purchased (to avoid duplicate gifts).
Be specific. If you prefer one brand of scissors or need a iPad-compatible stylus, let them know. Likewise if you are just linking to a generic fabric scissor as a reference, let them know that direct link is NOT specific.
..but trust their expertise. If your grandmother has been sewing for years she might gift you a better scissor than the one you asked for. Or your cousin worked at a computer store and she knows all about digital drawing tables and styli.
Keep a list of all the things you don’t buy for yourself because your budget prioritizes fabrics and materials over replacement tools. I’ve put off buying a magnetic pin cushion and new rotary blades because everytime I am in a fabric store, my priority is buying fabric for a costume or project.
Let people know if and when it is ok to buy you something that “you could make.” Maybe you are in the midst of the Wardrobe Architect process and you aren’t able to sew EVERYTHING (yet). Ask for the RTW snazzy black blazer and cute red heels that would pull together your outfits.
The big ticket item. If you are concerned about the cost of a serger or professional dress form for any single person, ask if they would contribute to help you purchase it. (My friends and family did this for my wedding shower, they all contributed to the purchase of my new sewing machine in lieu of the “shower” of gifts.)
Gift Cards & Certificates
Let’s get the easy (and sometimes controverisal) option out of the way. Gift cards are not for everyone. But a creative person probably would probably love a gift card to their favorite online or local store. (I can tell you this one does.)
Gift cards are great when:
- They don’t have a current project, but they will in the future and they will think of you when they select the delicate wool crepe for their next dress or foam and paints for their costume.
- You don’t feel confortble choosing specific yarn, fabric, or paints for them.
- Multiple individuals are helping contribute to the purchase of a Big Ticket Item.
Tools, Supplies & Materials
Tools are usually the first things I think to add to my wish list. Pins and seam rippers dull over time, needing replacements. Some tools improve efficiency – elastic threader, pattern weights, seam allowance marker, and fabric clips. And it always seems like each new knitting project requires a different size or type of knitting needle. To me, those are the obvious gift ideas. (You can read more about them here.)
But what about some out of the gift-box ideas?
Hand-me-downs and antiques – Every year we host a “Green Elephant” gift exchange which encourages people to bring things in good condition that they no longer use. “Getting rid of junk” isn’t the intention, rather it is finding a new home for an old possession. If you are a crafter – a gift from your own stash and supplies can be a wonderfully personal gesture. An antique sewing machine from my in-laws deocrates my sewing room. And I think of my deceased grandmothers each time I use their knitting needles, thread, and buttons. Unfortuntaely some of their yarn stash was old it kept breaking.
Giving notions and supplies vs giving fabric – Choosing fabric for a project is very personal to me and my mood, so I hesitate to ask for fabric as a gift. Even though one of my favorite dresses was made from gift fabric, other gifted fabrics have gone unused for years. So while I caution against gifts of new fabric that cannot be returned, there are still supplies & materials that you could give to support their ongoing projects.
Think about what they make regularly. What supplies might they need lots of?
- Plush toys – a bag of stuffing or toy eyes
- Corsets – a spool of corset lacing or eyelets
- Clothes – buttons, elastic, hook & eye closures
- Foam cosplay armor – contact cement, x-acto knife blades
I don’t immediately think to ask for these category of supplies because they seem so mundane, but it makes my projects go so much smoother when I already have multiple elastics to choose from at home.
Thread – I once recieved a pack of poor quality thread, so I want to encourage people to scrutinize those “value packs” and read online reviews. The gesture was full of love, but unfortunately the thread was unusable in my sewing machine. (It now has been donated to my museum for hand craft activities.)
Rather than try to predict the thread colors someone might need one day, give them a gift of gray thread. (Are you serious? YUP!) When the perfect matching thread cannot be found, gray thread has a “neutral” effect when used with colored fabrics. Light gray almost disappears into light colors, dark gray into darker color fabrics.
The Craft Space
Whether a corner behind the couch or a separate room upstairs, most of us have a “Craft Space” that is devoted to storage and creation. It is also my observation that most of our craft spaces are in a constant phase of “upgrade”. Is there something you can contribute to their space? Just search “sewing room” or “craft room” on Pinterest and you’ll be flooded with ideas.
Decorations – This doesn’t have to be craft related – it could be a framed photo of you two or a print of his favorite painting. My mom gave me a framed sewing scrapbook collage and my friends gave me a “Mulan” movie poster.
Organization – Ikea, Container Store, Joanns, Michaels, World Cost Market, and many other stores offer a vast assortment of organizational systems. Every crafter needs organization.
- Binders with sheet protectors are a simple and effective way of organizing patterns and sewing notes.
- Closet organizers are great for fabrics and bulky craft materials.
- Tackle boxes or harware organiziers are good for beading, small sewing notions, paints, pencils, etc.
Lighting & Ergonomics – Hours bent over a craft project can contribute to eyesight strain, carpal tunnel, and back pain. We know we need to take breaks, but sometimes the project just takes on a life of its own (and takes over our lives). Good light fixtures and ergonomic seat cushions can do a lot for a craft space. Or maybe a neck rice pillow for resting after hours of knitting.
Mirror – a large clear mirror is immensely helpful when fitting clothes and costumes. My $10 dorm room mirror works, but it is small and has some distortions. My mother-in-law is giving me a reclaimed and restained mirror and I can’t wait to set it up in my sewing room.
Photography backdrop or box – if your crafter is also a blogger or sells their creations, good photos go a long way. Help their build a place to take well-lit photos inside their apartment or house.
*RELATED* – If you are or know a photographer, gift a photo session to take some pictures for them. (Not all seamstresses are good at taking pictures.) This would make cosplayers happy too!
Sewing Mixed Tape – create a playlist or CD with music to groove or relax to while they work. An iTunes gift card or gift subscription to services like Spotify or Audible would also be sweet. I sometimes listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I work.
Tea, Coffee, or Wine – I am always drinking something when I work – water, coffee, tea, wine… It just depends on my mood and what I need to accomplish. Consider gifts of mugs, non-spill glasses, tea pots, french press coffee makers, and the beverages themselves.
Lessons & Leveling-up their Craft
Experiences and classes make great gifts. Help them grow their skills.
Gift certificiates for classes at their local fabric store, community center, or maker spaces –The most important and impactful skills I’ve learned have come from in-person sewing classes. The Seattle area has great options at Pacific Fabrics, Stitches, Dry Goods Design, Seattle Attic, and many many more.
Gift certificates for online classes – I have enjoyed the Craftsy classes I’ve taken so far. I particularly like that you can go back to them. While I wonder about the long-term plan for these online classes, they are great resources for people who don’t have time to take a weekly sewing classes.
Retreats – Some clubs or stores have sewing or knitting retreats to build community, learn, and find inspiration in a different setting. These often have a registration fee.
Books – There is no shortage of how-to books out there. There is where you really want to make sure you know what their skill level is and what their project preferences and future goals are.
Ask folks at the art or craft stores what they use. Contact instructors at local fashion design schools or departments – what books do they use to teach with? Do a few Google searches because many bloggers review the books they use.
The book I use the most for sewing is How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns. I use it mostly for making pattern alterations and it also has good illustrations of common sewing techniques.
I am only one sewist in a large community of makers, but I hope some of these ideas and insights were helpful. Please leave me a comment if you have other questions, concerns, or other suggestions. Happy Holidays!