Handmade Gifts: An Etiquette Guide

Receive a handmade item for the holidays? Lucky you! Here’s the proper way to respond and say thanks.

This post was inspired by true and horrifying tales seen recently on several closed Facebook groups I’m a part of for sewing and quilting.

Moore Approved Tote Bag Quilted Exterior Color Me Happy Cotton and Steel Canvas Robert Kaufman Essex Linen Denim GFX Handmade Gifts Etiquette GuideWithout revealing specifics, names, or other identifying characteristics of these conversations – here’s a gist of what other makers like myself have been experiencing:

  • Recipient of a handmade gift barely acknowledges the thoughtful gesture, insulting and hurting the giver/maker
  • Family member/friend/co-worker of a quilter asks them to make a quilt to gift someone else, then balks at the price or majorly downplays the cost/skill involved (“I can get one at Walmart for $50, why would I pay you $750?”)
  • Maker is asked to produce an unrealistic amount of items at ridiculously low price by an impossible deadline for Christmas gifts
  • Maker with Etsy shop is bombarded by customers placing orders too late to gift for Christmas

Whether you’re giving a handmade item you buy from a maker, or were given something special – there are some things you should know about the process from the other side.

Moore Approved Monogram Applique Waffle Weave Towel SetsOver the time I’ve been sewing and quilting, I’ve given away most of the things I’ve created – from monogrammed applique towels, bags, baby blankets, bibs, quilts, fabric baskets, to throw pillows. Hardly any of the recipients asked (or were even expecting) me to give them anything.

Let me tell you, the response to my gift giving has been all over the map. Mostly, the gifts were delivered at an event like a baby/bridal shower or through the mail.

I’m not kidding, but in a few instances – the recipient never acknowledged even receiving the gift. No thank you, no “Hey, I got a package from you,” or a message/text telling me what they thought of it. Due to USPS tracking, I know that the packages were delivered, otherwise I’d never have known.

A couple times, recipients sent me a rather brief “thank you” message via social media MONTHS after getting the gift. REALLY??? Nice to know it had such an impact…

Free Spirit Fabrics Anna Maria Horner Loominous Woven Yarn Dyed Headlines Grape Metallic Plum Placemats Flipped OverIn my opinion, the nicest responses have been getting a super excited message/text/hug in person followed up by a physical thank you card. I’d say this happens 40 percent of the time. And strangely – many of the most grateful recipients aren’t personally that close to me. They’re friends of friends, co-workers, or someone I’ve never actually met in person.

For those of you who don’t craft, sew, quilt, or create – a handmade gift is special. Really special. Much more time, effort, and cost than say – a Starbucks gift card or a box of mass produced candy.

If you’re blessed to have someone in your life that makes amazing things – SHOW YOUR FREAKING GRATITUDE! The giver would love to see you post pictures on Facebook and Instagram to tell the world how much you love the gift. And take five minutes to write and mail a thank you card.

My advice for properly thanking someone for a handmade gift is this:

  • Enthusiastically thank the giver/maker in person or via text/social media ASAP
  • Send a physical thank you card
  • Post photos on social media showing off the gift to your family/friends – tag the maker in them. If they have a business website/Etsy shop – share that information in your post also. It’s a nice way of giving back to them.
  • Do this regardless of rather or not you like the gift – is it really worth busting up your relationship over personal taste? Obviously this person thought highly enough to spend time, skill, and money making you something. Be a decent human back!

Moore Approved Bound Challenge Art Gallery Fabrics April Rhodes Swoon Patterns Nora Doctor Bag Gold Hardware Front View AngleQuilts in particular are extremely time consuming and expensive to make. Some quilters spend years on a quilt for someone special and would be very hurt if the recipient doesn’t fully appreciate what they did.

Even the bags I make take a couple days at least to cut, fuse, press, and construct. I don’t part with my creations lightly, and have turned down quite a few admirers who wanted me to make one for them. Honestly, it just wouldn’t be worth my time – they wouldn’t be willing to pay the prices I’d have to charge.

Moore Approved Noodlehead Poolside Tote Cotton and Steel Canvas Robert Kaufman Geopop Blue Green Silver Bag Hanging FrontOn another side of the coin is someone buying someone from a maker on sites like Etsy to give as a gift for Christmas, birthday, baby shower, etc…

If this is you – please heed by these guidelines in order to show respect for the creator:

  • Pay close attention to turnaround times on the seller’s shop – these items aren’t being churned out in a factory, they’re being made one at a time by hand. If you need something by a deadline – be sure to order it far enough ahead of time with a buffer zone for unforeseeable circumstances. The seller is human, and may be delayed by a sudden life event. Remember the old saying, ‘Failure to plan on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part.’
  • Don’t EVER stiff a maker on a custom order – Whenever I see someone on Facebook talking about a customer who flaked on paying/picking up a handmade item, I cringe. How utterly tacky, rude, and unethical! By doing this, you’re leaving the seller with a sunk cost and an item that would be difficult to sell to someone else since it was made especially for you.
  • Don’t tell a seller to their face that you could buy/make their products cheaper – again, this is completely rude and disrespectful. A friend of mine often sells her wares at local events, and encountered a family talking about her products like she wasn’t even there. Going on and on about how they could make the same thing at home. That’s fine, go ahead! Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. No need to insult someone’s talent and skill! This is particularly irritating when the person talking down to the maker has no idea what they’re talking about or what goes into making the product. Quilters become quite irate when someone tells them they can get a quilt cheaper at a big box store. There’s a HUGE difference between a handmade quilt and a prefab “quilt” from Walmart. If you don’t think so – try washing one of those $50 “quilts” a few times and see how well it holds up. Also, you should read my Quiltonomics article.
  • Make sure expectations are clear – handmade items are one of a kind, not exactly alike. You and the seller should be on the same page for the final product, it’s best to have this in writing so both parties are satisfied and aware of the expectations. This happens more frequently with seamstresses who do alterations. They do everything they can to please a customer, and then are asked for a refund or discount because they claim it’s not “exactly what they wanted.”

Moore Approved Priory Square Steeping Awakening Gold Roses Cotton and Steel Flying Geese Quilt Full ShotHappy New Year everyone!


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