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Thoughts on the perception of handmade presents

So every year people will inevitably ask me if i made Christmas presents instead of buying them. It’s something i think about a lot, as there is often this unfortunate mismatch between the way a handmade present is perceived, and the reality of a handmade present.

As i’ve previously mentioned – I much prefer to buy handmade items and make things myself. This year one of Birdie’s presents is this gorgeous handmade doll from Roving Ovine (i have epic love for Roving Ovine, super fan here – she’s on Instagram too if you want to know when new dolls are coming, and these are the dolls she made for Bunny and Buddy).

But sometimes I worry about taking this outside of my family.

My time is precious, and I have little free time – so making someone a gift by hand is a big deal. It’s a big freaking deal. I really care about it. I put a lot of thought, planning, resources and heart into. If i make you something it’s because i really REALLY care.

Unfortunately, I know from experience, that this is not always the way other people see your handmade gifts. Sometimes when you give someone a handmade gift they think you are cheap. Sometimes they may think you couldn’t be bothered spending money on them, couldn’t be bothered buying a “real present” from a “real store”. EWW HOMEMADE. It’s sad but in my experience, its true. It’s a perception mismatch.

And this is why i don’t often make handmade gifts for anyone other than my family, and a few very close friends. I just can’t see the point in putting so much effort and expense into things that will be perceived as junk. To be honest, it just breaks my heart.

So tell me – have you experienced the handmade present perception mismatch? Am i wrong? What are your thoughts on handmade presents? Are you giving handmade presents this year? Do you like receiving handmade presents? Tell me!

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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Mel
Mel
6 years ago

I made a quilt for my new niece and my brother’s comment was “wow, we’ve gotten a lot of blankets!” I’ve never seen it being used so I bought an outfit for their next baby :(.

Sue
Sue
6 years ago

I’ve received handmade gifts before (an ex boyfriend’s mom knitted me a scarf and sewed me a quilted tote/purse for past Chrismases), and this year I made Grainline/Fringe Stowe tote bags for everyone I could on my list. Buying a tote bag for everyone would not have felt right, because the whole thing that makes it a special gift is the fact that I made it, with the recipient in mind. I haven’t given out the presents yet, so I’m crossing my fingers I won’t have to experience the handmade present perception mismatch!

Jill
Jill
6 years ago

I love to receive handmade gifts! I know the time and thought that is put into them and they are so much more special than a store bought item to me.

justineabbitt
6 years ago

I usually make one or two gifts every year. This year I made my stepdaughter a faux shearling paneled shawl collared coat. She’d better like it, haha!

smonakey
smonakey
6 years ago

I agree with your perception mismatch comments. I only make knitted or sewn gifts for my family & very close friends who are knitters or sewists, themselves. I’ve spent time on knitted gifts in the past & found the recipients would have much rather received something I purchased. I don’t bother spending my time on them anymore

amanda
amanda
6 years ago

I think if you’re a maker yourself you truly appreciate a handmade gift as you understand the time/effort/money and general thoughtfulness that has gone into it but maybe none crafty types just dont always get it! I think its the same argument for when people try to sell handmade goods- people rarely appreciate the true cost in time/materials involved and dont understand why they’re more expensive than mass produced goods. I don’t think children have a concept of what something costs necessarily though so will appreciate a handmade doll just as much a Barbie!

Lucy
6 years ago

This is sad but often so true! I used to make most of the gifts I gave, but now I only do it if someone has specially asked, or because I want an excuse to make something cute that I or my family wouldn’t use… That sounds kind of mean, but it’s a big investment of time and materials if someone’s going to say ‘oh, have you made this? Er, thanks… ‘

Honora
Honora
6 years ago

My aunts are all fiber artists who make the most amazing things. As a child I hated having homemade clothes and gifts, but now as an adult I absolutely adore and cherish the gifts my family make for me. I think having an appreciation for the craft and skill it takes makes a huge difference.

Ali
Ali
6 years ago

I hand knitted a lace dress for my friends little girl with a velvet ribbon threaded through the waist, she’s really anti gender specific colours so I was careful about the colour of yarn, I even bought 2 Breton tops that would match to go underneath and I never even got a thank you, and she sews too so she knows how long it all takes! I have made other less time consuming gifts with mixed reactions, it is quite upsetting some times. However, my Mum has asked me to make her a specific top this year and I know she will love it and appreciate my efforts!

niekemieke
6 years ago

Truth is that I was scared to make gifts for a long time because of this exact reaction, but I’ve noticed that as my skills advance people don’t see the difference between my me-made stuff and store bought stuff anymore. (Coming from a non-crafty person that’s a compliment). I think it’s mostly the fact that they don’t want it to look home made. I do sew for some people but only for people who know that I sew and who’ve expressed their liking of my stuff before.

katherine
6 years ago

I had a wonderful and uplifting experience a few days ago…we swapped Christmas presents a few days early when the grandparents were visiting. To my surprise, I got a big box of presents from my 12 yo daughter. She had made me coloured bath salts, some bath bombs, a notebook covered with the box from my favourite tea, and a purse made out of op shop zippers. She not only thought of me, but went and found stuff around the house to make me presents without my even knowing about it. I’m pretty glad I never got around to yelling at her the day I found all the salts and food dye and bicarb in the bathroom, where she must have been making the bath bombs :)…and I’m pretty sure when will appreciate the appliqued “dance” shirt I have made her for Christmas.

Jessica
6 years ago

Yes, this has happened to me. I made my new sil a quilt for Christmas one year. Honestly I poured my heat and soul into it, and nearly all of my time too!!! She didn’t even take it out of the wrapping paper!! Opened a corner, oh its a quilt, then left it on the couch mostly wrapped. I’m sorry to say, but that has changed me BIG time.
Now I don’t sew for others, I only do it when I really want to. Mostly I just buy them things

Sara Mayo
Sara Mayo
6 years ago

Once I brought a homemade apple pie into work. Someone told me that it was really good and he thought that I could probably sell a pie like that for $20. I told him that I hoped so, because I paid $20 for the ingredients. People think that if you made something from scratch, then the expense is negligible.

JamieDSC
6 years ago

I also rarely make gifts because I’m afraid of the response, but I try to look at it from the other perspective too. I’ve gotten gifts that really aren’t my style and I never wear them. Just because I spend the time to make something for someone, doesn’t mean they’re obligated to like it! I really have to know someone well to know what their response to the gift is probably going to be before I put the time in to make it.

Paola
6 years ago

Handmade gifts are a minefield! Apart from my sewing, my husband and I make wine (really good wine too!). I gave a bottle to a friend for her birthday, and she made some crack about a cheap present.
If you add up the cost of grapes, equipment, bottles, and labels, not to mention time, that is the most expensive bottle of wine she will ever drink! But that’s not how it’s perceived.
I only do the handmade thing if I am confident it will be received in the spirit in which it is made – sometimes this is hard to gauge.
Another trick is to help my daughter make presents, and the gift is from her. A handmade gift from a cash-poor teenager is better received overall it seems.

Megan
6 years ago

There are definitely some people who don’t appreciate handmade gifts. That probably says quite a lot about them actually. Superficial, materialistic? I have been crazily sewing presents for my family for a while now, but only because I know they’ll appreciate them. All I can say is that your girls’ patterns have had a massive workout in my sewing room. I’m not sure what I would have done without them. You’re a star!

Pam @Threading My Way
6 years ago

I only give handmade presents to family and close friends and the response has always been very positive. Sometimes it’s as simple as pillowcases to wrap presents. At the other extreme are quilts. This year I’ve made a few make up bags. If I got a negative or nil response, I wouldn’t do it again for that person.

Jill
6 years ago

Homemade gifts are tricky business! I usually get a good response, but I always have the worry in the back of my mind that people might be sick of my sewing/baking/etc. This year I made batches of gift tags for all my church ladies to use for their holiday wrapping and gave them out earlier in December. I already got one back on a jar of homemade caramel sauce, so I guess that’s a win. ;)

Sarah
6 years ago

I can totally relate! I don’t like giving a gift expecting to be thanked (with strings attached) but with handmade gifts, I can’t help but be disappointed when they don’t seem as appreciative. You put in so much heart and care while you hand make it so you can’t help but care about how they feel! It’s always a delight when they see the value but it can be hurtful when they don’t.

But it also helps me realize that maybe I’ve also forgotten to be appreciative when someone’s done something nice for me and let’s me reflect on how I treat others!

leigh
6 years ago

I find I like handmade gifts far more when they suit me. My colors, nice fabrics. It’s hard to love the scratchy poly yarn afghan even knowing how many hours went into it.

I do handmade teacher gifts, but only things I want to experiment with(zip pouches on year) or something easy to quickly mass produce (tissue pack covers).

For family I have a few that never say thank you, no matter what, do they get books from Amazon. On the otherwise my mum and I will make suggestions for what to make each other and we both often make for the kids, often semi on request.

Lori
6 years ago
Reply to  leigh

Nobody wants those, especially teachers. They pile up in my drawer and I give them to the Salvation Army Thrift Shop.

Leigh
6 years ago
Reply to  Lori

I have preschoolers so the teachers go through tissues like water. This year several of the pocket packs got broken into before they could get to thank yous. And I see them in the pick up line with them years later.
On the tag I say “because kids are gross”

Nicole
Nicole
6 years ago

I try to make gifts when I can for people who appreciate them. After one Christmas I had a friend say to me not to bother making things for her girls anymore (in the past I’d knitted them clothes, cloths and toys, sewn them bags, dresses, tops and toys and given them french knitting and sewing kits). Heartbreaking is totally the word.

Janet Clark
Janet Clark
6 years ago

I am giving homemade gifts a go again this year. The Stanley tree by Sewaholic got me going – great for in-laws and my sister. I also am making pillowcases for my daughter’s significant others. Both my daughters think they will love them. (Dr. Who theme etc..) I think that quick makes at this time of year is the approach I need to take, otherwise who needs the added pressure?

Pumpener
Pumpener
6 years ago

The assumption that handmade is a cheaper option than store bought stems from a time when fabric and materials were alot cheaper to buy, thats no longer the case. To grab a gift card or something from the shop takes very little thought and effort, but making a patchwork quilt – oh jeez that devotion to a loved one, im struggling to finish my own! This year im crocheting cute little things for friends and family- squids, emoji ghosts, sushi, whales etc i should really get back to it actually. But we cant make people appreciate gifts whether we make or buy them. The stigma around handmade is changing but i think alot of times there are too many options, choices and possibilities and just because you can make it, dosent mean you should, idk i think im just an ungrateful snob, but on the other hand i see the progression in my crocheting as i make each item so if they dont like them then they are really silly, cause they are well cute

thisismoonlight
6 years ago

What a great discussion you’ve started Meg. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head regarding perception. I would like to think that more and more people appreciate handmade, well at least in my world. I would always prefer to give something I have made rather than select something that will go to landfill. If I am unsure I opt for food or an experience instead.

Mary
6 years ago

It really stinks when someone doesn’t like something you’ve made, but I try to give them room to be themselves and not take it too personally. I’ve already had one bomb this year, but, after the initial pride hit, I realized that maybe I wanted to make it more than I wanted to think about whether it was something they wanted. Makers gotta make and sometimes that overpowers our better gift giving sense. Next year, I’m going to ask myself, if I saw this at a store, would I buy it for them? If not, probably shouldn’t make it then.

Sarah
Sarah
6 years ago

Interestingly I was asked to make a gift this year as part of a Kris Kringle, where the value was $50pp. My extremely wealthy recipient asked me to make her something copied off something else. She bought the fabric, and dropped it off. All was fine until I found a crappy little top in the bottom of the bag with a broken zip and a note to see if I could ‘do something about it’. I’d specifically told her how time poor I was in the lead up to Christmas and I was so angry that she thought in addition to working full time I would make her item and repair a garment that she could have paid someone to do. It took me about 8 hours to make her item, on the one weekend this month I wasn’t working (making my hourly rate approximately $6.50/hr). I haven’t repaired the top and I won’t. I was pretty resentful about the whole thing and despite doing my best on her item I didn’t feel gracious.

In contrast I also made my best friend a dress for Christmas, as she’s just had her first baby and I thought it would be fab for feeding. It looks amazing on her and she was delighted, as was I. And the first thing she said to me was how on earth did I find the time! As you say I think a lot of people don’t realise the time and labour that goes into a handmade item. Only the special ones get my time voluntarily!

Becki Fisher
Becki Fisher
6 years ago

My mother was an accomplished seamstress (before “sewest” became vogue ?). I learned a valuable lesson from her. Momma’s attitude was always “only for love…”. So, I’ve learned-the hard way-that I only sew special things for the special people in my life. And- as a side note–if I receive any kind of handcrafted gift–I will absolutely dote over it and the giver-regardless of what it is because I know their precious time and effort went into the making.

Ana
Ana
6 years ago

One Christmas I made gifts for every one in the family, scarfs, woodbox with pictures, cross-stitch, hats.. my family really loved it, my family in law not so much, they like it but I could not feel that they loved it.. I made once a huge nappy quad for a friend that just gave birth, she didn’t even wait 1 minute before removing all of its parts… then she asked if we took a picture…
Some pleople really appreciate handmade gifts, others they don’t at all. It’s not just the time it takes to make them, also the time it takes to find all of the material you need, the time spent finding the best idea, thinking how to make it. Evenmore, it’s not just time, it is also money, sometimes it is cheaper to buy a gift than to make it…
After some experiences I only make gifts when I’m 100% sure they will love it, appreciate it and “use it”.
It is not just my time, but also the time I’m not spending with my kids to make the gift.

Ashley
6 years ago

I made several things last year, including an Elsa costume for my cousin’s child, and I have never seen them worn or used, I wouldn’t do it again!! This year I just bought everyone something. It’s too disappointing to put all that time and effort into something that isn’t appreciated.

Ann
Ann
6 years ago

I have had my share of unenthusiastic thank yous for my home made gifts, but one time;

I usually make a throw sized quilt for my nieces and nephews when they graduate college in their school’s colors. They all like them, but I don’t expect them to go overboard with compliments especially the boys. Well a couple of years ago, one nephew was enjoying his graduation party, but my husband dragged him over to open the gift bag we brought with his quilt (I was fine with him probably opening his gifts later in private, but my husband picked out the pattern for this one, so he was kind of proud of it too). So my nephew was all, “Oh thanks, you made this? It’s nice.” Very polite, right? Then he (I thought) went back to the other room with his friends. Nope, pretty soon he had his girl friend back to show it off to her. They are married now, and I just know that future baby quilts will be appreciated the same way.

Louise Woodward
6 years ago

I made my mum a pair of bobbin lace earrings in the shape of Fuchsia’s and because I put them in a jewellery box from a high street she didn’t realise. That was a nice surprise, having someone think my work was high street worthy and I did tentatively broach the subject a few days later and she was amazed that they were hand made.

Ashleigh | Mish-Mash Made

I’ve learned to kind of gauge the personalities/wants/styles of the family and close friends that are on my list. And sometimes I just straight up ask – would you like if I made one of these for you for ___ (christmas, birthday, etc.) and usually the answer is enthusiastic :) So I’ve learned if I’m wondering, just to ask. My best friend made me a tree skirt last Christmas and it is so precious to me! This year I’m making my nephew a tee-pee and my niece some leather moccasins. I usually try to pair with a small gift from their wishlist as well if I can keep it all within budget. Can’t lose that way!

Truth is, it’s way less pressure to shop and give them a gift receipt :P so I choose carefully.

Emma
Emma
6 years ago

I tend to make gifts for only particular people. This year I made my first quilt for my dear friend’s baby. Her response was wonderful and said to me “you know it’s really special you can make presents, not everyone can. You’re the ONLY person I know that gives handmade, no one else can be bothered”. I was somewhat embarrassed by such praise (typical Australian reticence) and answered truthfully that it’s partly selfish on my behalf, because I LOVE the making. I’d be making something anyway. She’s getting a pair of Closet Case Files Carolyn Pyjamas for Christmas this year!

Debbi Harris
6 years ago

I made an heirloom baby day gown for my husband’s colleague after she asked me/demanded that I make her one. It was a size newborn. She sent me a thank you six months after the baby was born saying that they were looking forward to putting it on the baby someday. I guess it was not up to snuff (and I am actually pretty good at this stuff). I was so hurt and felt so betrayed that I am very careful who I make gifts for now. That said, the feeling of making a gift for someone who understands that you are giving love as well as the gift is unbeatable. Nothing store bought can compete.

rrregena
6 years ago

I’ve been on all sides of the handmade gift spectrum.
it all depends on the person and the gift being given. I have received a few very crafty gifts that, although I appreciate the effort, were just something I would never give or want to get…ie….plastic spoons cut and melted into a flower. I sew, I don’t craft, per-say, so I enjoy the sewn over the crafted by far. I have given handmade and got “the face”, I have given handmade and gotten oooooos and aahhhhhhhhs and I have been on the receiving/getting end both of those behaviors. Know your person. My handmade giftees are reserved for people who are worth my time and effort (and expense, quilting ain’t cheap)and who appreciate it. those who prefer store bought, get store bought. this year I handmade notepads with one dollar bills….I did not handmake felt money holder ornaments like I usually do, since I found out they just get tossed. some of those things we just plain awesome…..personalized felt piggy bank ornaments were my favorite and only one kid loved the ornie as much as the cash….he hung it on his guitar and left it there when he played a gig…..that kid was on my good list. LOL

abailey0674
6 years ago

I dont.make gifts either. I feel it’d a total waste of my time and money. No one but my children appreciate it and it’s not cheap and it takes a lot of time! That being said I did make project bags for my knitting buddies and that went over quite well. I, myself love handmade gifts. I know what went into it

kristin
6 years ago

Like many others, I tend to be selective about who I sew for. Certain people LOVE handmade and are so appreciative and wear what I make all the time (I love it when that happens!) and others just don’t seem to care. I have a 5 year old niece that has been the recipient of a bunch of my daughter’s handmade dresses because she wears them ALL THE TIME and is so excited about them, but her older sister couldn’t care less – I’ve never seen her wear a thing I made for her. So this Christmas, that 5 yo niece was the only one that got a handmade skirt from me! ;) I do love sewing gifts, though, and giving handmade, so like I said…I’m selective. It’s more fun to give to people that actually want it!

Jonathan
Jonathan
6 years ago

I worked as a cashier at a major clothing and home furnishings chain. I saw womens jackets where the welt pockets were improperly installed. It was common for drape sets to have panels of unequal length. The womens clothing was uniformly tasteless and made from thin polyester. The fabric colors were bland. In contrast, my ASG members have consistently made very handsome garments.
The dresses from Ross Dress and Old Navy are so ugly they would make children cry and dogs bark. I don’t know why handmade is held in such low esteem when there is so much commercial crap.

Sara
Sara
6 years ago

I made my 26 year old daughter a couple of things this year. The premise for me was that I had to use things I already had (making things can be more expensive than buying them and I had little money this year.) I made her a drawstring make up bag and a knitted pencil case. She knew about the make up bag as she requested it. She does like the things I make for myself, even if she doesn’t want them herself. They were both received very well. They took quite a long time, despite being small so I wouldn’t make for just anyone.

However, it is important to only make for those you want to and for those who will appreciate it. Hurt will result if those two conditions are not met. Also, think about what you are making and if they would be wanted. My daughter has never worn knitted things much (pulled off mittens as a baby and never worn anything but fabric scarves.) This year though she admired my fingerless mittens, so I gave them to her (I knitted them) as she does wear them. She also liked my crochet scarf and tried it on and decided she would like one too – she has never said that before. So that is maybe something for next Christmas. I am really quite pleased about that. But in previous years it would not have been a good idea, as they really were not required as she found no use for such items, bought or made. She really loved the things I made as a child so for me it is lovely doing it all again! She didn’t go through a despising handmade phase, she just isn’t someone who needs lots of things, and whose wants are small.

I have a friend who always makes her Christmas cards but otherwise, no one I know makes gifts. I think handmade things (done well) are beautiful and so much nicer than manufactured ones.

gingermakes
6 years ago

Great discussion! I like making handmade gifts, but like many people, I’ve gotten more selective. I made something like three baby gifts in a row that I thought were super cute and were tailored towards the recipients’ likes (a little sweater vest in the colors of their favorite basketball team, etc), without getting even an acknowledgement of receipt! So now I make things for the people that really care about me, and know that even then, I might not quite have their styles right and that they might not love the gifts. I try to remember that I don’t love every gift I get, but it’s the thought that counts and the cheerful heart of the giver, right?

BARBARA BUTLER
BARBARA BUTLER
3 years ago

I absolutely love giving and receiving handmade gifts. I have been creating gifts for years and each one I get I treasure. There is just something emotional attached to a handmade gift.

Yukishi
Yukishi
3 years ago

I’m making one right now.. but i also have the same feelings as u.. i made these with effort.. spend a lot of time.. sacrificing my sleep and gaming time.. sometimes i just wonder.. do they really like it? Do they think I’m cheap bcs i don’t buy them expensive presents and made them instead? Am i just filling their houses with unwanted items? I’ve never been given handmade present before so idk how they feel.. but if i did get one i would definitely treasure it.. I’m searching for opinions on handmade presents bcs in case most people don’t like it.. then maybe i should start saving to buy presents instead :/

Declining to State
1 year ago

I can’t reciprocate, and am suspicious if it’s a non family member giving the gift, so there is always a weird guilty feeling. Then I can’t look at the thing with enjoyment any more. It’s literally a litmus test of both the level of intimacy and the push of the crafter’s ego v my boundaries. This literally kept me up last night. Don’t do it!

Lila
Lila
6 months ago

It depends on the person and the situation, but often I perceive handmade gifts as more about the giver than about the recipient. With certain exceptions, I feel like the giver is just setting up an opportunity to be praised for their talent. Sometimes I feel like the giver is shoehorning their talent into a gifting situation where the recipient would be far happier with something altogether different. Gifting should be about the recipient.