Making Christmas Bright (and, hopefully, a little less expensive)

Well, here we are again. Eight “working” days before Christmas. By working days I do not mean that’s how many days I have left to come to work and try to organize files or answer phones, or a dozen other tasks. No. I’m referring to how many days I have left to start/work on/finish making and/or shopping for Christmas gifts before the day itself is upon us. In other words, I need to get my shit together.

As in past years, the idea this year was to try to make as many things as possible for this year’s gifts. I have a stockpile of fabric in the basement, I have some clay, and a number of other little odds and ends. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Eh.

Things get a little harder as you start to realize…”Wait a minute, I’ve already made a bunch of stuff for so-and-so.” I find myself, after having made things for people for a couple years, at a loss for new things to make. Well, for some folks. For instance, I’ve made my mother a robe, a scarf, a shirt (she wears the shirt more than anything else). I made her new hot pads last year for Mother’s Day. She cried. Not because they’re that good – though they are cheery.

I made pj pants for dad one year. He wore them a lot that first year, but I haven’t seen them in a while, and I think he’s misplaced them.

In the midst of my mad dash to figure out new things to make for everyone, I find myself wishing I knew how to knit. If I could knit, it would be easy…everyone would be getting cool, kick-ass socks. There are some pretty awesome sock yarns out there (I know, because I go to the yarn aisle and feel them when I go to AC Moore), and everyone always needs socks, right? The major, glaring flaw in that plan is that I cannot knit. I can barely crochet and, from what I hear, crochet is easier than knitting.

“So make folks scarves,” I hear you say. You can only make people so many scarves. I made one for Maggie last year – 20 feet long – and I think she’s set on scarves for a good long while.

Also, I taught my boyfriend how to crochet this year, and that’s what he’s doing. So making a scarf for his dad or his stepmom is out. Though, for the most part, I have other ideas for them, so it’s all good.

I will say…for someone who just learned how to crochet, he’s doing pretty good. His first project in, and he was already learning how to switch colors mid-scarf. I didn’t do that until I had already tried to fumble through several projects. Now he’s doing fancy ridges. I’m quite jealous. Mom’s been teaching him some new tricks, and everyone seems to pick this up faster than me. I can’t even make circles.

So, what have I finished? Well, some of what I’ve made I can’t discuss here yet, as some folks read this blog and I don’t want them finding out what they’re getting before they’re allowed to open their presents. But I’ve been happy so far with what I’ve managed to put together.

The biggest project so far has been a quilt. I had actually started it about a year and a half…oh, maybe two years ago. I finally finished it about a month ago. (Pictures to come soon, I promise) I made it for my old bosses, the O’Mearas. I worked for Mark and Loretta O’Meara for 11 years, and they always did their best to look out for me. Figuring out the fabric for their quilt was a little tricky, as green is apparently a “bad luck color” for the family. I, of course, tend to gravitate towards greens when thinking of quilt-making, and I found myself having to take a good long look at certain fabrics before finally deciding that the blue of a print or two swung too close to the green end of the spectrum. Eventually, though, I picked some fabric, and I’m pleased with the way things turned out – even with the addition of a different print in the middle of the quilt, which had to be added in when I discovered that I hadn’t gotten enough of the main print.

I made another quilt just this past week, though it’s not for anyone I know. My church decided to participate in the “Santa to a Senior” program this year. In years past, we’ve done the Angel Tree project, sponsored by the Salvation Army. This year, we went to the other end. Mom and Dad worked with one of the area retirement homes and picked up a whole bunch of tags with the names of participating seniors on them. The tags had things like sweatshirts, slippers, dvds, crossword puzzles and the like on them. One had coloring books and a stuffed animal. We hung the tags on the Christmas tree out in the foyer of the church and people could pick up the tag of a person to shop for. My brother picked one that wanted a Redskins sweatshirt (which proved to be a little more difficult to find this year than in years past…I think it’s because the team’s doing so well right now).

Mom and Dad had originally picked three tags – one for each of their mothers, and one for Frank’s mom, and one for Mom’s grandmother. However, the first round of tags were picked up so quickly, and there was still so much interest in participating in the program, that Mom and Dad had to hand their first picks to folks at church still wanting a tag. Mom went and picked up a bunch of new tags, and those were all chosen quickly. It seems this program is pretty popular with the folks at our congregation.

When she got the second group of tags, Mom asked if I wanted to pick one. I looked through them and settled on one from a woman, asking for a twin-size pink blanket. One of the ladies at church said she thought it would be pretty hard to find. In fact, she said she had kept her eyes open for one after seeing my tag, and still hadn’t found one yet. I figured I could find one at Target, if I went to look, but I didn’t go that route.

I went the hand-made route.

As I mentioned, I’ve got a pretty good stash of fabric in the basement that I’ve been trying to work through. Most of it is color-coded in individual cardboard boxes by now. Somehow, despite not being a fan of the color, I’ve managed to amass a fair amount of pink fabric. Since I don’t like it personally, and I don’t have too much call to use it in projects for other people, it’s just been sitting there. Being pink. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to use fabric that’s just been sitting there, waiting for a purpose, as well as a chance to give someone I don’t know something hand-made. Personally, I think there’s nothing better than hand-made items for Christmas.

I didn’t use a pattern of any sort, beyond a basic sort of patchwork. I measured out my many yards of pink fabric (at least seven different solid color variations or prints), cut them all to the same length, and then pieced together different widths. Some were really long rectangles. Some were skinny. I did my best to not have two rectangles of the same fabric touching each other. I happened to have a bag of twin-size quilt batting, and a crap-ton of light pink fabric with fuzzy with polka dots (which came to me by way of my brother-in-law’s grandmother) to use as the backing fabric. I even had pink thread in my box to sew the pieces together.

Because my sewing machine is sort of crammed into a corner, I don’t typically quilt on a machine. I tend to opt for hand-quilting, except in the case of my nephew’s quilt a couple years back, which was a special exception. Due to time and space constraints, I wasn’t going to be able to quilt the front, batting and back together by machine or by hand, so I opted for the method of tying a quilt. Normally, I don’t do that type. I mean, a quilt is meant to be quilted, right? But it is definitely a viable method for assembling a blanket. And, speaking from the experience of this week, it does still take time to put together. I actually went back and added a whole bunch of extra ties to the blanket on Sunday, before turning it in (Many thanks to Mom, Robert and Ginny for helping me out!)

In my search for interesting projects to make with fabric stashes, I found an idea for a firewood carrier, which might be on the radar for folks I know who use firewood. (Read: not my house currently, as our fireplaces are non-functioning at the moment). After my first experience with canning earlier this fall, I believe I’m set for a few family members. My brother-in-law loves apple butter. I’ve got a bunch of apples, a crock pot, and a bunch of jars Robert and I unearthed while clearing out the store room downstairs. I’ve found or had a couple of ideas for a few other people but, again, can’t really mention them here, in case folks get wind of what I’m doing.

For the most part, though, I haven’t come across a whole lot of ideas that scream “ALRIGHT! LET’S DO THIS!” A few, yes, but not many. And some of what I’ve found either wouldn’t have any takers (kids think they’re too old), or it works more for me than anyone else. Like this idea here. This is, in my mind, an awesome idea. Pair this with a night of safari pizza (mainly just pizza made with grilled chicken, so it looks like zebra stripes, but you could get creative) and a living room with cut-outs of jungle animals, or a couch full of old stuffed animals, and I think you’ve got a pretty great evening in. But then, I’m about 7-years-old, in terms of what I find fun.

So what about you? Making anything interesting for the holidays? Got an ideas for last minute gifts? What are some of your favorite hand-made gifts from past years? It might be something you made, it might be something you received. I’m sure you’ve got favorites. I do.

(These are just a sampling)

Made:

  • sledding snowman ornament
  • 20 foot Doctor Who scarf
  • TARDIS cookie jar
  • Snowman menorah wall quilt

Received

  • Woven turtle
  • Rowlf stuffed animal (yes, it was handmade!)
  • afghan made from granny squares Gramma had made YEARS ago and left in a closet
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