It’s been said time and again (by Charlie Brown, for instance) that the holidays in the US have lost their meaning and become a great shopping-and-spending fest. First Christmas became over-commercialized and now Thanksgiving — America’s national day of thankfulness — seems in danger of becoming the “day before you start your Black Friday shopping.” Around where I live in northern New Jersey, Halloween is also over-hyped, with stores devoted to decorations and costumes galore.
My mother always sewed costumes for my sister and me when we were children: We were “colonial girls” with beautiful frilly dresses in blue and pink that she made at her Singer sewing machine. Another year I was a rabbit and one year, a Native American (ok, an “Indian” as I said back in the 1970s) in a costume sewn by my mom that I decorated with fabric pens. When I was very young, I had looked enviously at the shiny, ready-made plastic costumes in the stores but soon came to appreciate how valuable, and much more special, a homemade, mom-sewn costume made just for me was.
I’m no seamstress — at the most, I hem my pants or sew on a button — but my mom is, as well as my late grandmother Ngin-Ngin and several great aunts. They all sewed clothes (Ngin-Ngin was known to criticize the poor sewing of the chain-store clothes we had wasted our money on) and knit sweaters, crocheted afghans, cooked everything from scratch. Those Halloween costumes my mom made and years of home-cooked Chinese food have given me a huge appreciation for making things yourself, for knowing how the clothes you’re wearing or the food you’re digging into was made and by whom.
I’d love to make all my gifts and doing so seems a proper way to occupy Black Friday and embrace Buy Nothing Day. My time and talents being lacking in regard to sewing and cooking, I usually limit my holiday gift-making to creating photo calendars and cards for relatives. But I like to seek out things that are sold and made by individuals. This holiday season, my aunts and cousins will receive hand-designed and printed towels from Skinny Laminx. I’ve no knitting ability and have been glad to find the creations of TortillaGirl. A hand-sewn bag from Moop in Pittsburgh or a backpack from Infusion or Sketchbook in Oregon make carting around books, a computer, coffee (which tastes better in a nice cup, no?), lunch, colored chalk and everything I need to teach a breeze on the crowded cars of New Jersey Transit and the PATH train.
Some of these handmade gifts do cost more than what you’ll find in Target or Macy’s. By buying directly from the person who makes what you’re buying, your dollars are going right to the source, directly to the person who is supporting her or his own small business, for their materials and equipment and labor rather than to Some Large Multinational Conglomerate that divvies out the smallest possible piece of profit to the women sewing in sweatshop conditions in another country.
Photo by kate*
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