Entries open for Honi Soit 2021 Writing Competition

Threads that bind

What makes a handmade gift so very special?

Art by Shania O'Brien

I am a sucker for handmade gifts. The thought of them makes me feel like a star collapsing in on itself, vibrating with a kind of longing that can create new worlds from its abundance of nervous energy. This applies to both the act of receiving and giving, though I personally feel more of a rush when partaking in the latter; as it is one of the states at which I feel most vulnerable.

In the past, I have gifted loved ones necklaces made out of shell and craft-store leather cord, woven bracelets and embroidery, innocently rotund stuffed toys, scarves fumbled over, knotted and unravelled again and again. I have chipped off pieces of myself and woven them into the fibres of these finished products, bled, from needles digging into my fingertips, viscera wiped across the back of my hand so it doesn’t stain the efforts I cradle in my hands. I have worked into the late hours of the morning, dark spots of vision crawling across my vision like vermin that I don’t quite understand aren’t real until I realise I’ve been swatting fruitlessly at the projections of them across my work desk, to no avail. Maybe the exhaustion was unavoidable, because I’ve never been one for exemplary time management skills. But it’s not a process that is ever truly scrutinised. Rather, it’s the effect that is focused on, the ceremony. It’s the light in someone else’s eyes bursting like fireworks and sunrises and red lights that turn green just as you drive up to them, as you tuck your bandaged hands into your pockets, bashful and warm. The act of creation has always been one of the most celebrated ways to bleed for someone.

It’s kind of creepy, when you think about it. The intensity that goes into creating fugly, misshapen shapes that are meant to adorn the bodies and abodes of others. Saccharinely unsettling to the point it’s been picked up on by generations of those subscribed to the art of knitting. They say — well, about fifteen percent of them say, really — that to gift a loved one a sweater, or to even have the intention to, means that loved one will leave them, cold and bitter and broken and alone and cursing the memory of the lovers that were once their muses. Or something like that. It’s been dubbed the “sweater curse.”

Knitted goods, bringers of curses, breakers of hearts.

I don’t think I have the sweater curse. I’ve never made a sweater, since I don’t have the patience for them. I guess I’ve still been cursed, though. Not many of the people I’ve given handmade gifts have stayed in my life, to the point that I’ve started giving them out as means of farewell. Final goodbyes, vessels for hopes and dreams, of what-could-have-beens, as I think of those I care for, softly. I sit there with thread knotted in my hands, trying too hard to make the stitches even and then I sit there for several hours more, numb, as I wonder for how long the little homunculus I’m piecing together will sit in a bottom-shelf drawer, stagnant and unloved, until it is taken out for the first and last time to be discarded. I package the monstrosity that I’ve pulled out of my chest, bleeding, and try to keep the gore from seeping out into the packaging, or into my expression. I hand it over. I watch my loved one’s face, desperate for approval. I breathe out in relief at the twitch of a smile. Look at me, I want to say, Look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me and miss me and think of me and please come back to me one day.

And then I remember they owe me nothing, so I turn away and curl in on myself and I wait for the next burst of inspiration, and I convince myself that the smile I have been honoured with is enough for me. They are worth a whole world, and I have never forgotten a single one; I hold a galaxy in myself, mine alone, and in this moment I am God.

To all those I have given handmade gifts to: take part of my heart with you, and do what you will with it. Let it sit on your shelf beside your childhood toys, or in your bed to watch over you whilst you sleep, a guardian over you at your most vulnerable. Wear it like armour, like chainmail. Throw it away, use it as a washrag. Give it to your children, and tell them stories about the person you once knew. Know I loved you with everything, and this is the evidence, and allowing you to do what you will with what I gave you does not make me weak. I’ll just miss you forever, and that’s okay.

It’s not that sweaters knit the most twisted of curses, really. I think it’s all to do with love. Love, love, love. That’s all that we’re left with, really. That’s all that there ever really is.