January 11, 2009

Does everything these days have to be homemade? The credit crunch has made people frugal - and industrious. Now it seems there's a backlash against anything that is store-bought.

A few weeks ago I went to a party and took the hostess some chocolate brownies. She put them on a plate and passed them around. People seemed happy. Right up until someone asked: "Did you make these?"

It's no longer enough to bring something, I have to have made it too? I said no, I didn't make the brownies and in an effort to redeem myself pointed out they were Fair Trade. No one cared. The guests continued chewing. Disappointment hung in the air. A woman leaned in and gave me a sympathetic pat on the knee.

Instead of making money, people are making cookies. My friend Audrey was excited about a new man she's met. She loves that he bakes and declared: "He's very self sufficient." Why? Because he knows how to make a peanut butter cookie?

Then the other day I ran into a friend on the street and made a comment that I loved her hat. She took it off and handed it to me. "It's yours," she smiled. "I made it."

It was like a scene out of Fiddler on the Roof. Only instead of a Russian Shtetl, we were in Notting Hill. I know times are tough but is this what it has come to? People are making things and giving them away. No wonder stores are closing.

Generally speaking, I'm not good at making things. I've tried in the past but it hasn't worked out. If you're going to make something it should be something to wear or something to eat. I discovered no one really wants a poem for their birthday.

There are people who are not only good at making things but actually enjoy it. Liza, for instance, will always make a homemade card. The problem is once you go down that route, you're stuck. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, the list is endless; and she's got a lot of friends.

Every year the cards have to become more creative too. She has an arsenal of glue guns and glitter, rhinestones and markers; and she puts pressure on herself to improve upon previous efforts. When she's making a card, she's in lockdown.

"Can't talk," she'll say, "Only two weeks left."

Now that she has a boyfriend with Valentine's Day coming up, she could give him a child and it would be less work.

Giving homemade gifts is one thing, receiving them is another. My friend Nina knit me a scarf which I love and wear all the time. But there are some loops coming undone and I'm worried it will unravel.

I sent her an e-mail mentioning this. She wrote back: I did the best that I could.

Should I not have said anything? It wasn't a criticism, it was an enquiry. If someone makes you a gift, and it falls apart, then what? It's a lot of pressure.

Making something should be a magnanimous gesture with no expectation that it will be reciprocated. If I buy someone a bag, I don't want to feel bad that I didn't tan the leather.

Not everyone is willing or able to bake their own bread or grow their own vegetables. There are plenty of reasons I let people down - not being able to hand-sew a kimono shouldn't be one of them.