5 Tips for Successful Gift Knitting

Gift knitting is one of my favorite ways to knit. I knit a lot of sweaters for different people – both family and friends, of all genders and ages. And now that I’m a few years into my yearly Gift KAL, I’ve learned even more about what makes a a happy knitter and a happy gift recipient. So today, I have a few:


Tip 1: Be realistic about your yarn

It’s tempting to try and use gifts to show our loved ones how utterly amazing yarn is, and it’s super important to love what you knit. But filter your excitement through your recipient’s life – and choose a yarn that matches their daily routine.

Morgan loves all things soft and purple – and is happy to take particular care of her clothes. So a luxe wool-silk blend was a great choice for a special gift. Beth is dramatic and constantly cold, so I knew she’d love this ultra-warm, high-contrast yarn. Brenna is a rough-and-tumble kind of kid – durable Berroco Vintage to the rescue!

I think most of us are on top of the care aspect of the yarn we choose – nobody wants to see their hard work felted! But I’d encourage you to think past machine washability as you select your yarn, and consider durability and personality, too. Is the sweater intended for someone who will wear it when they’re being active outdoors? If so, a super-delicate, pills-when-you-look-at-it merino/cashmere blend probably isn’t the right choice. (Even if it is sinfully soft.)

Will a little kid wear it while on the jungle gym? Something dense, maybe with a bit of hard-wearing nylon or acrylic, will work better than a loosely-twisted woolenspun. Does your recipient think different shades of gray are “getting a little crazy”? This might not be the time to pull out that exquisite skein of hand-painted yarn.

Tip 2: Match what’s in their closet.

We knitters think about our knitted items on two levels: How they’ll look at the end, and what the item will be like as a knitting project. (Is it fun / challenging / different / special enough? What do I want to learn next, in my knitting?) But it’s important to remember that our loved ones only consider the first question as they’re opening their gift.

So when gift knitting, I recommend that you try and check your own desires as a knitter as much as possible – and investigate what they already wear and love.

Jay is definitely a “let’s not get crazy with multiple shades of black” kind of guy, so a plain gray pullover was in order for him. Beth, a super-dramatic dresser who loves jewel tones. Something soft and squishy for baby Dan, something orange and swingy for Brenna, something retro and colorful for Jess.

We all love to knit things that speak to us as knitters – but be honest with yourself – what you probably want is for the gift to be loved like crazy and worn all the time. So think about what your recipient loves like crazy, and wears all the time – and then match your yarn and pattern to them.

Often this means something a bit more basic than you might choose as a knitter. But I promise, the (often surprised!) look of utter joy will more than make up for any knitting boredom.

Tip 3: Keep it simple for yourself, too.

Gift knitting isn’t the time to break out a new, unfamiliar technique or an unusual construction you’ve never worked before.

jacob-spidey spidey-2
Jacob’s big request for this sweater was “a scary spider”, which I made out of cables. So I made the rest of the sweater something I could knit in my sleep!

Gift knitting often involves some improvisation – whether it’s to match a yarn you know the recipient will love, or adjusting a pattern to make a motif something they’ll enjoy, or something else. So keep the canvas of your gift something that you’re really comfortable with. That way, when you need to adjust elsewhere, you’ll be confident the rest of the project is on track.

Tip 4: Don’t worry about deadlines!

Crazy deadlines + gift pressure = super stressed knitter.


This sweet elephant was a couple of weeks late… …he unwrapped just the front for his birthday! But don’t worry, the sweater was still worn and loved until he grew out of it.

And none of us are at our best when we’re stressed. While I’m not usually one to talk energies, I think that stress gets woven into our stitches (and expectations around the recipients’ reaction). To make sure your gift is as lovely as can be, either give yourself ample time to finish the item, or permission to gift it on the needles without guilt.

If you’re taking the first tactic, consider your schedule, the complexity of the project, and be sure to build in finishing time! If you’re taking the second tactic, try to complete one of the most interesting pieces or motifs first, so that there’s something fun to unwrap.

Tip 5: Consider eliminating the surprise.

This is tough for some knitters to consider, but many knitters I know have had way more success when our loved ones have been part of the decision making.

Luciano, Christian, and Neil all had a hand in the choice of sweater and yarn – and they absolutely love the finished gifts as a result.

Working with your gift recipient is a great way to make sure they’ll adore what you create. (Just make sure to given them some room to express their feedback, and listen to it!) You can make this as full-disclosure as you like, or keep it to guidelines. When knitting for Luciano, above, Mollie asked for color and style preferences and then went off on her own; Lauren included Christian’s desires at every step of the way. With Neil, I went somewhere in the middle – I gave him a few patterns as ideas, and went from there.

It’s not for everyone! But if you’re willing to give up a little bit of the surprise, you’re likely to get a more excited response, and the reward of seeing your knitted gift used again and again.

Hand-Knit Love

However you approach your gift knitting, when it comes right down to it? Nothing is as good as the feeling of seeing the ones you love, love what you make for them.


(My most favorite photo shoot out-take ever.)

Don’t you agree?