One of the Minnesota-related Ravelry groups linked to this Star-Tribune article. A number of crafters were insulted, both in the article's comments and on Ravelry because she suggested that hand made gifts were not the way to go, the implication being that they were cheesy. Or just plain awful. I spent a good amount of time today hand crafting an email response to Kara McGuire, and in the process I've decided that maybe she wasn't wrong to discourage the making of hand made gifts.
First, the article is about giving gifts this year when you don't have much money. Anyone who's spent $25 or more on hand painted merino wool sock yarn knows that homemade does not necessarily mean low cost.
Homemade=inexpensive is a reality that evaporated along with U.S.-based manufacturing. Nobody sews their own clothes or knits their own socks because they can't afford to buy them. They do it either because they enjoy the process or because it's impossible to buy something ready made that fits right.
Second, the focus of the article is about price tags and perceived value of things, and how to give someone a gift that appears to have a price tag of $X, without having to actually spend $X. For example, she suggests exchanging credit card rewards points for gift cards. You can give someone a $50 gift card to Best Buy, for example, without forking over a dime, and the recipient will have a gift worth $50. Easy and painless, and the recipient feels like you "spent" $50 on him or her.
Calculating how much a handmade gift is worth is incredibly complex. It isn't simply a matter of knowing the value of the materials. It's a matter of knowing the values of the people involved in the gift exchange. Will they understand how much time you spent on them? Will they care? In a good way?
Third, Selecting the right gift -- whether it's hand knit fingerless mitts to ward off frozen typing fingers, or a gift card purchased using rewards points -- is about knowing the recipient.
If what your recipient cares about is what the price tag on the gift says, then the absolute wrong gift is something hand made. By all means, go get that gift card.
Giving something you made by hand is far riskier than giving someone a gift card acquired by cashing in your reward points. Just think of the psychological ramifications of receiving a gift someone made for you that clearly took a lot of time and effort. More than one boyfriend has been scared off by a hand knit sweater or scarf. Worse, what if all that time and effort was put into something completely wrong for the recipient? What does that say about the relationship? A gift card is impersonal enough to make the recipient wonder if the giver cares at all, and possibly impersonal enough for the recipient not to care either, but what if the gift is a hand made lime green, fun fur hat with doggie ears? What does that gift say? What if it's a cashmere, cable knit pullover in just the right color and fit, and you've only been dating three months? When you give a hand made gift, you're giving a bit of yourself, too. Sometimes the bit you're giving is more than the recipient wanted.
I will say that exchanging rewards points for gift cards is a good idea. We got Target gift cards for the four of us a few weeks ago by using our rewards points. The first thing Nina bought was supplies to make a scrapbook of the Disney vacation her Nana took us on last winter and the trip to LA Nana took her on as an 8th grade graduation gift. Nana doesn't need a gift card, and no amount of money or rewards points could buy the time and effort going into that scrapbook. Nina knows her recipient.
It takes time to develop skill in a given craft, so I think it's fair to steer the uninitiated crafter away from making holiday gifts two weeks before Christmas and Hanukkah. Aside from the stress of mastering a new craft sufficiently well enough to make presentable presents, it's freaking expensive.