Years ago, for reasons that are still unclear to me since affordable commercials versions were widely available, Jon and I decided to sew a ski bag. Armed with neither a heavy-duty sewing machine nor any experience sewing such an item, we applied equal doses of bravado and naivete to the effort. How hard could it be, we asked ourselves? After all, a ski bag is basically just a fabric cuboid. With an oversized industrial zipper, straps, buckles, handles and clips, it turns out.
With benefit of neither Google nor template, we sallied forth to the nearest fabric store and purchased yardage of a material of suitable durability to withstand the rigors of ski storage. The material was also of suitable durability to withstand perforation by light-duty sewing machine needles, it turns out.
Four fights, 37 hours of labor, a dozen broken sewing machine needles, and $310 in materials later, we were in possession of a ski bag that was twice as expensive and half as attractive as one we could have purchased at a retail store. You know those photos of Ernest Shackleton and other early polar explorers, with their Burberry gabardine and canvas jackets, and mitten holsters over their shoulders? Our bag was the ski storage equivalent of those outfits. We used it once, to load our skis into the U-Haul truck that moved our lives from western Maine to the Methow Valley.
I find myself thinking about that ski bag every Christmas, as I begin — always way too late — making gifts for family and friends. Somehow summer’s inspiration and good intentions hurtle into fall’s panicky preparations, and then in a trice it’s the week before Christmas and my gifts are still in their infancy at best, purely conceptual at worst. Once they’re completed, they’re like the ski bag: functional but only vaguely reminiscent of their retail counterparts.
But I promise you, my recipients, these are thought-full gifts. I think about you the whole time I’m not making gifts for you. I think about you during the design phase, while I visualize my crafty little projects. I think about you when Christmas looms ever closer and I haven’t yet taken the critical leap from concept to reality. And I think about you when, finally, I sit down to work on the gifts, to learn whether the gap between my vision and my ability to achieve it is a sliver or a chasm. It is said to be better to give than to receive, and the amateur craftsmanship of my gifts reinforces this adage.
Underwhelming in their execution, my gifts are heavy with both sentiment and aspiration. They make me think that next year I’ll start earlier, that next year I’ll do better. They make me think of you and they make me think of me — a more prepared and artful me. They make me think that despite all the stress, it’s worth it to do things for the people who matter to us. And after all, it’s the thoughts that count.