Saturday, September 02, 2006

Contest: Secret Pal 9 and the Lure of the Swap

Yesterday, I signed up for the Secret Pal 9 swap. I haven't participated in any of the previous 8 Secret Pal swaps, but I've enviously been reading posts about Swap 8 and thinking to myself that I have to get in on the next one. I've participated in smaller swaps hosted by Spindlers and MDK Swapcloth...it was only a matter of time before I went for the big 'un.

I've been wondering why I like swaps so much, whether of the anonymous, "secret pal" variety or the more straightforward, barter-type "I send you something and you send me something of equal value in lieu of cash" swap. After all, I recently got burned pretty badly when I sent off 3 pounds (yes, you read that right -- 3 pounds) of superwash merino in a barter deal and got absoltely nothing back for it, not even after many emails, a list mom intervention and a certified snail-mail letter. (Laurel Smith of Adkins, TX, if you happen to read this, I'm still waiting for my alpaca.) DH asked me as much after the "Superwash Incident," as it's come to be called in our house, and I think I've figured it out.

As a kid, I always loved surprise packages. I would dutifully send off my $1.99 (or $3.99, or -- if I managed to save up enough of my allowance for the giant-sized package, which in all honesty I don't think I ever did -- $7.99) for a Mystery Surprise Package from one of the knick-knack catalogs that my mom always got in the mail around Christmastime. I would then wait with anticipation until the day that my package arrived in the mail. They were always full of junk, whatever the mail-order company ordered too much of or hadn't sold enough of, but I loved it all nonetheless. I pretty much just loved opening up a box with no idea of what could be inside, knowing it was full of...stuff. Maybe great stuff, maybe kitschy stuff, maybe (probably) stuff I never would have bought if I'd seen it out on a shelf. No matter; if it came in a Mystery Surprise Package, the experience alone was enough to justify the expense.

As an adult, I no longer send away for random boxes of Carol Wright-esque crap. But, I still just love a surprise.

And so I'm willing to take a chance that the bulk of the knitters and spinners in this world are honest. I'm willing to send something off to someone else and get something back in return, sight unseen. And even moreso than in a barter-type exchange, I'm willing -- no, not just willing, actually eager, truly looking forward to -- putting together packages of stuff for a person I've never met; stuff picked with thought and care in the hope that the recipient will love getting that surprise box just as much as I enjoyed getting my surprise boxes all those years ago. And judging by the popularity of fiber swaps of all types, I'm not alone.

Are we fiber-folk just weird? I mean, I don't see the people on DH's listservs (mostly martial-arts and weapons-related sites) arranging to swap personalized gis or handmade pocketknives.

Hmm. I wonder what it is about fiber-folk that can account for that level of generosity, that degree of joy received in the giving. While some knit-lit writers (the Yarn Harlot comes to mind) write, mainly in jest, about not wanting to share their stash, I find that for the most part, fiber-folk are more than willing to do just that, whether in the form of sending stash yarns to people who had lost theirs, knitting for a variety of charities, or just making and giving handmade gifts to those they love. There must be some sort of chicken-and-egg conundrum going on here: Does working with fiber make people more giving, or are generous people somehow drawn to working with fiber?

In the spirit of giving, therefore, I'm creating a little contest. Leave a comment with your answer to the question above (Does working with fiber make people more giving, or are generous people somehow drawn to working with fiber?) and why you think it's so. I'll pick one answer that I think is particularly nifty and reward the writer with a surprise. The surprise will be a good one, and I may just check out the writer's blog a bit to get an idea of how to tailor the surprise to suit his or her likes and dislikes. So put your thinking caps on, everyone, and let me know what you think!

23 comments:

Rose said...

I think that working with fiber gives an outlet for people who are generous to give not only money to help, but something of themselves. When I put time into a sweater for charity, or even something as small as a hat or washcloth, it feels as if I'm giving my time as well as my feeling toward the recipient. So, I guess it is a little of both. Generous people are drawn to knitting for others, and fiber folk become generous when they see their work truly appreciated.

Kinderhook said...

It seems to me that creative people are givers. I know that's a very broad statement and there are probably a bazillion exceptions. But painters and sculptors want to have their works seen. So, too, with the performing arts. Why should it be different w/ fiber arts? It's only a difference of scale.

So we have found these wonderful PERSONAL ways of sharing our creative expressions. I found this to be true of quilters, too. You spend your time and your creative zen and out pops (sometimes after months) a THING! A sweater, a blanket, a quilt, a pair of socks. What do you do with it? Take a picture of it (try to remember that) and then give it to someone. That makes it so much better. Someone else will love it, too. You smile. They smile. You've created a little corner of peace in the world. Imagine if we all did that! WoW! --Sally (sba13221 at flash dot net)

Robin said...

Fiber has magical properties - how else do we explain the fiber fairies and gremlins that flitter about and hide in my WIP and stash?? In the entertwining of the fibers, there can be found the essence of goodness, compassion, comfort and peace. That is why people are drawn to the yarn and the needles. One cannot help but have the veil of peace and happiness fall upon them when they pull that first loop through. This peace and happiness can only translate and ascend to generosity. Why would those of us who have found such wonderment not want to share it and all that we have with others who are still searching? Of course, it goes without saying that an even greater kinship and generosity is felt for our own kind.

http://kentuckypurlandfrog.blogspot.com

Ren said...

I started knitting because I saw a pair of fingerless gloves I wanted to make in a book. I never thought I would want to start knitting things for other people. To some extent, I think that having the ability to knit has caused me to look beyond just knitting for myself and, instead, see places where I can bring a smile to someone else's face. Giving a handknit is much different to me than giving money because part of me is in my knitting... the love I have both for knitting and the person I am knitting for, the time I spend choosing a pattern and yarn and knitting it up makes a handknit so much more valuable a gift. I would hope the recipients agree. Maybe that is why generous knitters are drawn together; they understand the work put into creating and can appreciate that at a level many other people cannot. To answer your question more directly, I think that truly having something to give makes many people who work with fiber more giving.

Terri D. said...

Great question, splindy; one that I've been pondering for awhile. I think part of what makes fiber people so giving is the nature of the art. It's a craft rooted in domesticity. I'm not talking about the 19th century cult of domesticity that outlined the ideals of "true womanhood" and urged piety, purity and submissiveness--this is a non gender-specific desire to nurture and protect. Sure, when people are in need we could (and often probably should) give cash, but we want to warm them. I knit better than I cook, and it's kind of weird to offer hugs to people you've only met on the internet, so I give knits. As for fiber people giving to other fiber people--well, it's family.

As for the chicken-or-the-egg question, I don’t think anyone starts knitting or spinning with the intention of churning out a 12-stitches-to-the-inch fair isle cardigan to sell for profit. Somewhere in there is the desire to nurture, protect and warm--maybe ourselves, more often others.

Kate A. said...

I agree with all these answers, but I think there might be another part of it, maybe one that's more basic, but also specific to knitting and spinning . I think that however you got into the craft, the fact of spending that many hours making tiny, repetitive motions and taking weeks to watch a sweater emerge, sometimes frogging it and doing it all over again (as opposed to the quickness and decisiveness of sewing clothing, although it's probably similar in quilting, I wouldn't know) -- it's time to sit, and think, or not think, but just *time*. In our everyday lives, very people these days just take time to do little or nothing with their minds. We're always worrying, planning, freaking out, being angry, or dissatisfied, or depressed, or scared. Knitting and spinning, especially, and other crafts that involve the same kind of repetitive small motions and long stretches of time per project, I think, force you to break out of that frantic cycle and just be for a little while.

And it's always been my theory that when a person *really* stops and thinks, their best instincts come to the fore.

Of course, I'm saying that as the most un-generous knitter in the world (I'm obsessive about my current and not-growing stash, and give knitted gifts only to those I love best best bestest in the world, so far, but that's partly because I'm at a life stage when I have zero, and I mean zero, financial wiggle room) but...imagine how much less generous I'd be if I didn't knit?? :-P

nancy said...

In my instance, I loved to give before I began knitting. Actually I learned how to knit so I could make my brother a baby blanket for his new son. I have grown to love knitting things for others. I think I have a total of 3 items I have made for myself. When I knit for others, I can feel the love and kindness in each stitch. I don't feel that when I'm knitting for myself. I have always loved to see the look in peoples eyes when they recieve the gift. It comepletely melts my heart and I feel like I'm contributing. I have always loved to surprise others. So, I guess in my case I was generous before I started knitting and now I am even more giving.

wavybrains said...

I think it was only a matter of time before I discovered knitting. We made nearly all of our Christmas presents growing up, and I learned to crochet to make Christmas ornaments. I let this love-to-give part of me lie dormant through college and law school, but my generous soul just wasn't satisfied doing the shop-drop routine. Then, my mother stuck a crochet needle in my hand again about a year and a half ago. From the first, I was obsessed with what to make for whom. I learned new skills to make better presents. I learned to knit about a year ago because I wanted to make something other than scarves. Each skill I have learned has been tailored to a desire to make a specific special gift. http://www.flickr.com/photos/wavybrains/sets/72157594163775603/Cables, socks, vests, sweaters--I'm not sur I'd be motivated to do all this for me. I hold myself to a higher standard and challenge my creativity more with gift knitting. Swaps and charity knitting have been a natural extension of this--after all who appreciates your hard work more than another knitter?

PBnJ said...

I like what everyone else has posted. Interesting question. I think there's just something special about fiber, yarn, etc. that brings out generosity and other virtues in people. I think it is both- something in the yarn, something in the people - like a connection or something. Like a spark and fuel together create a fire... It seems that the connection between fiber and the soul and hands of a person just makes you want to share, nurture, to connect...

Kristina said...

I don't really think it's a giving nature of fiber workers, rather I think it's the nurtuing nature. Spinning and knitting/crocheting are about as fundemental as it gets. Knitting was popularized because of the want to take care of people (sweaters to keep your children warm, socks for the boys in WWI and II), so it is only natural that fiber art lends it's self to generosity. Knitting is my way of showing I care. I don't make my dad socks just for the sake of giving them to him, I give them to him because they will keep him warm, and wear with him, which in my opnion is far more important than the act of generosity itself.

Maggii said...

I would say knitting/crocheting makes ME more generous...as I LOVE to knit and crochet and after awhile I HAVE to start 'giving' it away..since there's only sooo much room in this house for another blanket or scarf or hat or socks etc etc...( alhtough then agian I am a generous person by nature so maybe it IS the other way around....LOL)

margokaye said...

It is exciting, this knitting interest. Joyous colors and textures of fibers, plus knitted patterning just add to the delight. The more one knits and gives aways the completed creations as gifts the more the mind expands to soak up another knitting challenge. My eye, while deep in the midst of knitting, is always making a plan for the next project's colors and textures soon to be at hand. We have the chance of creating something marvelously wonderful out of very little. What a happy life we have to feel joy ourselves in the work with fibers,and let it spread out to others who receive the special treats.

mf said...

I think working with fiber makes people even more generous

I've had lots of fun with SP8!

Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elizabeth said...

I think knitting and other wooly things has made me more generous. Sometimes I want to make things I have no use for, like infant sweaters. I get the pleasure of knitting it *and* the pleasure of giving it away. But I think it works both ways. Knitters and other creative artists seem to be generous by nature, but the art sort of fuels the generous fire. We want to share our work with the world. We want to inspire non-fibery people. We also like to have our work appreciated by our wooly friends.

Aimee said...

I think there is such a joy that we all feel to know that there is community out there--other folks that "get it" about fiber. It's wonderful to support and encourage one another, to feel the support from other people all over the world. And by giving, receiving, swapping, we get to see and touch what our fiber friends are doing so far away from us. Beautiful.

Joni said...

I'm giving my answer before I read the others, so forgive any possible redundancy please. :)

I think that working with fiber is an artistic endeavor or at least satisfies an artistic or creative drive for a lot of us. You can't creat art or gain much satisfaction from the experience of participating in the fiber arts with a your spirit closed. Therefore we knitters, crocheters, spinners and whatnot--whether we create for the sake of art, pleasure, or both--must be open. Open people tend to be more giving.

For me personally, I love surprises, I love putting together and giving gifts, and I love knitting-along. I can't get out to local fiber-related events often with small children to take care of. Blogging and the related exchanges, swaps, etc. are a way for me to make contact with a community of others who understand why knitting and whatnot are so exciting to me. It's also a chance to indulge the side of me that likes to do nice things for other people, and is just selfish enough to enjoy reciprocity.

Dani said...

Knitting and other fiber arts are gifts in and of themselves, so I believe the generosity and warmth of the fiber community is a natural extension. Many (I won't say most, no data to prove it) people are taught to knit by someone else - a gift that is passed literally from one fiber artists' hands to another's. The giving of generations of knowledge is such a precious gift, such empowerment, such freedom - for someone to be so willing to share that I think they must, by nature, be a sharing soul to start.

I also believe that when you create something, whatever it is, with your own hands, with your own emotions, with your own thoughts, you are sharing something very personal, whether you or the recipient see it that way or not. It is a piece of you you are setting free out into the world, and it is made up not only of it's materials, but infused with a part of you as well. To be willing to share that requires some semblance of not only trust but confidence, and of course, a healthy dose of love and respect. Hence, a community full of (mostly!) warm, loving, giving, generous, honest, empowered, creative, expressive, interesting, talented people!

-=Dani

Gina P said...

I didn't read the previous comments, so please forgive if these sentiments have already been conveyed.

The answer to the question is: NO. Generosity isn't limited to people who choose fiber, nor does fiber attract the generous. I think if you had asked the question more broadly, e.g., do generous people choose to be more creative? Or, do artists tend to be more generous? I would have answered yes, because being creative tends to make one look at the world and all its constituents in different ways. And in doing so, the generosity of attention paid to details often overlooked often makes the resulting creation that much more unique.

There's my .02 fer ya.

Kate said...

Hey Spindy - We are so generous because we love the thrill & joy of finishing a project, buying new yarn, finding a great pattern, etc and we want to share that with others. We know we can make or give something that will make their day - even their week - and all it takes is a little thought & a trip to the post office on our parts. I had a little birthday contest because I blog on both the One Skein & MDK and folks there love to felt - I don't love to felt - but I had yarn that would be great felted so I wanted to pass it on to a home where it could be loved. Also, I love to knit for others because I'm far away from my friends & family so I feel like I'm giving them not just a gift, but a piece of my time.
Good luck getting all healed so you can get back to knitting! :)
Kate

bfmomma said...

I think generous people are naturally drawn to fiber. For one thing, it is not exactly an inexpensive hobby! You could certainly buy a sweater (or socks or a scarf or....) for much cheaper than the (good quality) yarn needed to make one. And if you count the time to make it (at even minimum wage), the cost goes through the roof! But there's something about being able to give someone an item that you MADE... that you crafted and chose the fabric for, and put in your precious "free time" to make. There's just something that makes a giving person even happier about giving.

At least, in my opinion!

Lacey said...

I think that generous people are drawn to activities like spinning, knitting, and other crafts because so much love is put into our projects. I love to make things with my hands, but these things are just objects until I have given them to someone who will love and use the item. The spirit of giving comes along with the spirit of creating. I think all crafters (no matter if it's wood or fiber we craft with) feel the urge to give things away in order to make others happy. Look at all of the charity work so many knitters throw themselves into, they knit to help the quality of life for others. It just seems to me that the impulse to craft, to craft well, comes tied with a generous heart and a caring spirit.

I_dont_blog said...

The fiber people become generous. One of the reasons (okay, justifications) I give for having so many WIPs is that I have to have a blankie for Project Linus going, another if there's a baby on the horizon, a mindless pair of socks, a complicated pair of socks, and generally some lace. Generally all except the mindless socks leave the house and find happy new spots and always have.