When Knitting for Others, Sometimes It’s Best to Skip the Surprise Factor

Over the years, I’ve found that trying to surprise my family with knitted gifts isn’t really a good idea. That’s not to say that I don’t knit birthday or Christmas gifts. In fact, I’m lucky enough to be able to knit for people who love—and fully appreciate the value of—handmade gifts, but I just like to make sure I involve the recipients in the process. Too many lovingly handknitted items have ended up in the back of the closet for me to keep making the same mistake year after year.

This is particularly true when it comes to knitting for my daughters, Gianna and Michela, although this wasn’t always the case. When the girls were younger, I felt more confident about making size and color choices without their input. But now that they’re adults and no longer live at home, I’m not as keyed into their fashion preferences. And getting the right size is particularly challenging because they’re not able to try on things in person.

Knitting for my husband, Carl, is a little easier because his most frequent request is for hats—he’s a landscape painter who spends a lot of time in a perennially cold basement studio.


The trickiest part of knitting hats for Carl is that they need to fit just right, which entails his trying them on as the knitting progresses. In the winter, the studio can get very cold, so the hat must be long enough to cover his ears and must fit very snugly around his head. The easiest way to achieve such a snug fit is by using a cable or rib pattern.

For his next hat, Carl chose the Warren Cap from Interweave Knits Gifts 2018.

knitting for others

The designer, Andrea Cull, used a tubular cast-on that starts with the Italian cast-on method, followed by a couple of rows of double knitting. But there are other ways to produce a tubular cast-on. I prefer to use the folded method because I think it makes it easier to join the stitches in the round. (To learn more about the folded method, check out this series by Larissa Gibson.)

To add a little texture to the cast-on edge, I joined the provisional cast-on stitches to the live stitches so that the purl side, instead of the knit side, was facing out.

Choosing a color for Carl is never a problem because, even though he’s an artist with a true appreciation for color and texture, his personal aesthetic tends toward the cooler end of the spectrum. Over the years, I’ve made many sweaters for him and they’ve all ranged in color from gray to gray-blue to blue. This penchant for cool colors extends even to his paintings.

Luckily, I had in my stash a skein of beautiful, vibrant-blue yarn that was perfect for the Warren Cap.


Gianna is the most challenging—in a good way—person I knit for because she rarely asks me to knit something that has an existing pattern. Sometimes I’ll get a text with a photo she has found online and a note: “Mom, can you make a hat like this, but without the ball on top—I frickin’ hate those.” Most often, however, she’ll send me color swatches and notes about how the colors should be arranged, how the sweater or hat should fit, or what the fabric should look like.

While Gianna doesn’t know it, she is a knitwear designer, although she doesn’t knit. (Luckily, she has a sample knitter who works cheap.) Her color preferences are limited: black, gray, maroon, and ochre. Her fabric choices are also limited: just stockinette stitch and occasionally k1, p1 ribbing. Her interest lies in bold-color, geometric shapes and whimsical motifs. For the next hat that I’ll make for her, I plan to use the rabbit motif from the AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary. (With a name like Coniglio, one has to love a rabbit motif!)


Michela and her husband T.J. and their two rescue pups, Calvin and Lola, spend a lot of time hiking and camping in Oregon, where they live. Michela’s love for the outdoors is reflected in her color choices, which range from neutrals to greens and blues. As far as stitch patterns go, she particularly loves lace, cables, and brioche stitch.

She also loves to wear dresses.

As soon as I saw the Arizona Tee by Amy Gunderson in the Interweave Knits Summer 2018 issue, I knew I had to make it for Michela—although finishing it by Christmas will be a challenge. But just to make sure, I sent her the photo collage below. As I suspected, her response was immediate: “Yes, I would definitely wear that.”

I plan to use Cobasi by HiKoo in a beautiful turquoise.

The shape of the Arizona Tee is a simple rectangle and there is enough extra ease in the measurements, so fit shouldn’t be a problem, which is a plus since Michela lives so far away.

The lace pattern looks complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. There are a few rows of wrong-side lace, but most of the wrong-side rows (and many of the right-side rows) are plain so I can knit while watching a movie without any problems.

I have high hopes that all my knitted gifts will be well-received, fit perfectly, and be worn for years to come!

How about you? What are your experiences with knitting for family and friends?

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