Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Recently, I ventured into swaps.

A swap is an organized event where participants are paired up with each other so that partners can send each other objects.  You can find swaps for any interest you have--coins, postcards, books.  If it is a crafting swap, the partners make unique gifts.

At least one website exists to facilitate swaps.  Swap-Bot is celebrating its 10th year.  Users can start swaps and the site takes care of a lot of the administrative tasks, like sending out reminder e-mails.

I first learned about swaps while browsing the more nebulous world of Instagram.  An IG friend posted pictures of things she made and received for swaps.  I asked where she found out about them.  Due to the nature of this social media platform, there is really no central location to find out about swaps.  My IG friend gave me the names of some users that are known for starting swaps on their own, and told me about one that was going to start up soon.  There always swaps going on.  Some are specific to one craft, like sewing or knitting.  Some are very specific to one theme, like Downton Abbey or the Muppets.  I am really jealous of all the Muppets swap participants.

The way a swap works on Instagram is that the organizer posts a link to a sign-up survey (usually on Google Docs).  The survey asks for your name, mailing address, whether you are ok with international shipping, and your preferences.  A few days later, the sign-up time ends and the organizer assigns swap partners.  The partners must make each other a gift by the deadline, usually a few months later.

To insure that participants are making good on their promises, the organizer requires that people occasionally "check in" to confirm they are still participating.  This might involve posting a comment on a certain date, or taking pictures of their works in progress.  Some organizers have larger demands, like posting a Pinterest inspiration board.

By the deadline, participants must ship the gifts to their partners.  At this point, organizers usually require participants to send them tracking numbers.  When you receive your gift, it is good etiquette to post a picture of it to publicly thank your swap partner.  If someone drops out along the way, the organizer will ask someone to volunteer as a "swap angel."  This is a person who makes a gift so that the dropout's partner isn't left empty-handed.

I signed up for the "Positive Vibes" swap.  The organizer touted it as being good for beginners.  It was open to all crafts, and you just had to make something that would give the recipient "positive vibes."  I received a partner in England.  The swap began in June--back when I had unrealistic ideas about how much time and energy I would have to craft as my new job started.  As I adjusted to my new job, I had to think of something to make that would be impressive, but realistic in the time I had. I decided to make her tatted items.  She would be unlikely to get tatting from other people.  She liked goth imagery, so I figured that black, white, and purple lace would be right up her alley.  It was intricate, but small enough not to break the bank on shipping.  I made her a flower bookmark and two blank greeting cards decorated with flower motifs.  I also included some fancy and unusual chocolate items.  She posted a "thank you" and seemed to really like what I sent her.
She made me a small sewing bag with a cute design.  She also included some thread, needles, and other small items.  It is the perfect size for taking my embroidery on the go.

How was my swap experience?  I came up with a list of the following pros and cons:

1.  You are making a gift for someone who will appreciate it.
Every crafter has at least one sad experience in which they painstakingly make a gift for a loved one, only for the recipient to give an underwhelmed, "Oh.  A hat.  Gee, uh, thanks.  I guess."  The worst story I read was from a woman on Ravelry, who made a cable-knit hat for her brother-in-law and gave it to him at the family Christmas party.  The next day, she was taking out the trash when she found the hat--wadded up and stuffed in a bush.  These experiences have given rise to the term "knitworthy"--someone who has proven themselves to be deserving of the work of your hands.  Yes, it is inspired by Seinfeld's "spongeworthy."  (Insert any craft in place of knitting.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has even proven herself to be tatworthy.)  I've frequently heard the tip that you should reserve your show-stopping handmade gifts for other crafters because they are the only ones who will appreciate the time and skill it took to make it.  With a craft swap, that is guaranteed.

2.  You can step out of your crafting comfort-zone.
We all have our preferred colors, patterns, and materials.  If you sign up for a swap, the combination of a theme and your partner's preferences mean that you can try something new.

3.  It makes mail fun again.
I love getting fun mail.  Is there any mail more fun than a package just for you?

4.  You build a connection with a far-off person.
Wether you get a partner on the other side of your country or the other side of the world, you get to exchange something with someone you would have never met otherwise.  It makes the world just a little bit smaller and friendlier.

1.  Deadlines and requirements are stressful.
There's deadlines for sign-ups, deadlines for check-ins, deadlines for shipping.  I was especially worried about the shipping deadline.  The last date for international shipping was the beginning of a 10-day long stretch of rain, and I went nuts trying to find the post office in a heavy downpour.  I reached a post office, only to discover that it had closed at 4:30pm instead of 5pm.  I went back the next day to ship my package.  The organizer said that we all HAD to post tracking numbers to verify that we had shipped the package.  Well, the clerk explained that the only way to get a tracking number on an international package was to send it registered mail, which would have been an extra $13 and make the package take longer to reach its destination.  Yeah.  That wasn't going to happen.  I just stuck with regular shipping and posted a picture of the postmark from my customs form.  Still, for something called a "Positive Vibes" swap, the whole thing was really stressful.

2.  It's costly, especially for international swaps.
The cost of shipping a package can be a barrier for some people.  However, there are swaps for smaller items like bookmarks and cards that can be accomplished with one or two stamps.

3.  There's a risk of public humiliation.
Yes.  You read that correctly.  Public humiliation.  The swap organizer said that good swap participants have the chance to be part of an invitation-only swap.  If you dropped out or left your partner hanging, she threatened to out you on Instagram and ban you from all of her future swaps.  I read that and thought, "Yes, it is rude when people don't fulfill their end of a swap, but we are all adults here.  Outing someone publicly?  She has to be joking."

She wasn't joking.

She did a post listing all of the people who didn't follow through on the swap.  I didn't realize that Instagram was the middle school cafeteria in a new medium.  For someone who hosted a swap focused on positivity and has Bible quotes in her profile, the organizer came across as very petty.

Will I participate in another swap?  I'll have to think carefully before I do.  Even if I have free time when I sign up, unexpected events could make my life busy.  As a first time participant, I was also very anxious over the swap's requirements.  Still, I'm glad I did it, and my partner and I ended up very happy with what we received.  In the end, that is all that matters.

1 comment:

  1. I think the swap mamma was right to out the people who flaked. There is a lot of bad feeling amongst swappers about these people. They sign up for swaps, don't send anything but still receive a parcel carefully and lovingly hand made by someone else. Often they'll sign up for lots of swaps, doing the same thing each time. This isn't people who became ill, or had a family crisis, in that case if you tell the swap mamma, she swaps the partners around. These are people who simply didn't send anything whilst receiving a parcel themselves.