Now that we’re past the holidays…let’s get to this year’s line-up of handmade gift items! ( a few will not be included in this round-up, as they have not yet made their way via mail to their final resting place)
Of course, you’ve already seen the lovely purple Merino wool I spun for Meri earlier this year. Since I learned to spin at the beginning of the year, I was able to include this new skill in my plans for Handmade Christmas. There are a number of knitters and crocheters in my family, so this came in pretty handy.
First up was some lovely green yarn for my cousin, Errin. She lives in Colorado and is a few years older than me, but we joke that we’re basically the same person. In fact, she jokes that this is our theme song. So, of course, we share a favorite color – which made it easy when it came time to pick out the roving to turn into yarn for her. I picked up two bags of a mohair/alpaca/finn-x, and glitz (a shiny fiber) from Avalon Springs Farm. I loved spinning up the “Harvest” colorway earlier this year, so I was happy to find more options from them at Uniquities. This colorway was aptly named Woodsman. It had several shades of green, with some dark brown mixed throughout, and just a bit of sparkle. I originally considered doing a 3-ply with this, but I went with a 2-ply, which makes it a nice fingering weight. Inspired by the name of the colorway, I also included two fairy-tale/woodland themed knitting books: Once Upon a Knit and Woodland Knits.
Next on the list was a fleece pullover for Robert. I had purchased the fabric last year but never got around to working on it (isn’t that always the way). Since I had the fabric on hand, and had made the pattern before (it’s the same one I made for my brother last year), I figured it was high time I followed through on my original plans. The pattern works up rather quickly. In fact, I could have probably finished it all in one evening, if I had a couple hours to devote just to that. As it was, the cutting out and construction stretched over two evenings. And left fluff absolutely everywhere! I’m not kidding…that fabric was insane, in terms of how much it shed all over the place. Robert happened to see the basement when I was halfway through construction on the piece, and it was not a pretty site. His main response was to laugh and try his best to vacuum the floor (and me). It looked like a Muppet exploded all over the work room. In fact, I’m still picking blue linty fluffs out of fabric in the work room.
Robert also got a new scarf this year. I made him one two years ago, when all I really knew how to do was single crochet. The original scarf is, understandably, rather plain. Though, I did incorporate a stripe in it. However, I learned that it’s rather itchy, and so he doesn’t wear it as often as he otherwise might. The solution, of course, was to make a new scarf out of yarn I knew he liked. After a bit of back and forth, I finally opted to make The Gentleman’s Scarf, by Nadia Fuad. I used Caron Simply Soft in Pagoda, which was a finer yarn than the original pattern asks for, but I thought it worked up nicely. Of course, when I finished the scarf, had it all wrapped, and went back to the website for the link I realized…I didn’t make it as wide as I was supposed to. Grrr. Thankfully, it wasn’t difficult to go back and add the missing row….I just had to open the wrapped package, pick out the ends, tear out the finishing stitches, and add the last segment. ::sigh:: This is your friendly reminder to READ the dang pattern.
I found the perfect gift idea for Heather during a visit to Uniquities. In fact, it was the same visit where I was picking out the fiber for Errin’s gift. One of the braids that caught my eye was a beautiful, handpainted selection of Blue-faced Leicester, in a colorway named “Durango.” Perfect, perfect, perfect. When we lived in Cortez, Colorado, our family would often make little day trips up into the mountains or out to small towns scattered throughout the southwestern corner. Mancos was a favorite, with its giant arrows sunk into the ground, as was Durango, with its beautifully preserved/restored Gold Rush era architecture and the Durango-Silverton train (which we always wanted to ride but never got around to), and a little candy shop where we would get rock candy when we missed the departure of the train. I knew that was the colorway I had to spin for Heather. I also searched through our old family photos for a shot I knew was taken in Durango, so it could accompany the finished skeins.
Blue-faced Leicester is fairly easy to spin. It drafts easier than Merino (I find), takes dyes well, and spins up into a nice fluffy, soft yarn. It has become one of the most common wools for spinners, these days. The wool braids I purchased worked up quickly, filling my bobbins with a beautiful variation of blues and purples and deep maroons. I already loved the colors when they were just singles, sitting on their individual bobbins. When I started plying it, though…oh my stars. It was so hard to part with this yarn! It became even more lovely after it was plied together. And I was happy to see that my spinning is becoming ever more even (there are a few places here and there where I’ve had difficulty getting the singles consistent, but the plying helps to hide those). When I took the first bit of the niddy noddy and hung it from my finger, it didn’t even start to curl around…something that happens before you set the twist. What does this mean? It means that my spun yarn is well balanced! Yay!
My original plan for Maggie’s gift was a snowflake hat pattern I found on Ravelry. However, as I tried and tried to work it up, I realized the pattern was just not written in a way that was going to be easy to puzzle out. After a few starts and stops, I scrapped my original plan and searched back through the patterns I had saved in my library. I chose a rather simple pattern – a snood, originally intended to be made with a B size hook and fingering weight yarn. However, the directions said that the pattern also worked with a heavier weight yarn, and an H hook. I rummaged in my yarn bag and pulled out a little more than half a skein of green wool (with just a hint of blue to it) that I had purchased earlier for one of the textile workshops (I needed 100% wool yarn so I could crochet up small hearts and show how to do knit-felting). I figured there would be just enough in the rest of the skein to finish the hat. With the thicker yarn, the snood works up a bit bigger than you might originally expect it to. In fact, Mom commented on the size of the snood before it was even finished. Of course, knowing both how much hair Maggie’s got now, as well as her frequent difficulty finding hats that fit, I didn’t forsee it being a problem.
Except…I was running out of yarn. I got to the end of the skein just as I reached the end of the netting part of the snood, and still needed to make the band for the ribbon. I briefly considered using another contrasting color, but then my eyes alighted on the bag of aforementioned hearts I had made for the felting workshop. Not everyone who registered actually attended, so there were a number of hearts left over. Thankfully, there were at least two swirly hearts in the same green I was using for the snood. So, I carefully unpicked all of the finishing stitches and disassembled the finished hearts for use in the snood. I just barely had enough yarn to finish the project! Whew! I chose a white ribbon to gather the snood – with the help of my trusty bodkin. Seriously, job-specific textile tools are your friend.
David was another recipient of this year’s scarf making. I used a cream colored yarn named “Aran,” which seemed kind of weird to me, as Aran is typically used to describe a yarn weight, not a color. It has little flecks of color throughout it, giving the cream section of the scarf a little more depth to it. I also added green stripes to both ends of the scarf. It’s a really long scarf, which would probably look ridiculous on someone of my height (or lack thereof), but David is fairly tall, so I think the length works.
For LeeAnn, I turned to some of the yarn I spun up at the beginning of the year. I used the blue/yellow 2-ply to make up a Cloudgate Cowl (pattern, once again, found on Ravelry). I didn’t do as many repeats as the original pattern, but I liked how it turned out – sort of speckled with the two colors. I think I’ll try this one again with a yarn that is all one color.
Once upon a time, when I first “learned” how to crochet (take that with a grain of salt…this was before I actually kind of knew what I was doing), I made what was supposed to be a scarf for Cris. It was not great. However, I now know how to actually crochet, and I have to say, my work has gotten better. I wanted, therefore, to make something for Cris that was nicer and maybe a little more likely to be used than that poor excuse for a scarf, all those years ago. So I made her a nice hat for the winter. The pattern is known as Nana’s Papa Beanie…which really doesn’t sound all that catchy. I think it needs a better name. I like the pattern, though. It’s fairly simple, but incorporates a few color changes, a few fairly routine stitches (double crochet, half double crochet, single crochet) and one slightly more advanced (front post double crochet), to round out a nice little beanie. I liked the pattern so much I made a second one for one of my cousins, Danny. He likes black and purple and mentioned that he didn’t have a beanie and kept “borrowing” one of his siblings’ hats.
Cris and LeeAnn’s granddaughter was the recipient of one of the owl hats I made – Mathilda got the other one, earlier this year. I really like the way they turn out, and I forsee making a couple more of these this year.
Cheyenne got a purple crochet beret. I wasn’t originally a fan of how it turned out, but when I washed it, the yarn softened up a great deal and the teeniest bit of sparkle came out in the finished product. Cheyenne also got a pair of drop earrings from this year’s round of jewelry making. I chose three tones of wood beads and a little feather charm for hers.
In addition to some wool for spinning, a book for Jack (one of my favorite series!), and some Harry Potter-themed tea that arrived a little too late for Christmas (despite being ordered in plenty of time!), I also made a pair of earrings for Casey. I opted for some pretty blue glass beads I had in my possession, along with some much darker blue-green glass beads, and some silver seed beads.
I happened to have some butterfly charms in my bead selection, which worked perfectly for Anjela’s earrings (and go nicely with the butterfly mug cozy she already has). I used an assortment of plastic and glass beads I also had on hand, as well as a really pretty greenish pearl that I always liked but never really knew what to do with.
Patti’s earrings were easy to figure out…she has a blue and gold Macaw at home. When he molts, she saves the feathers. She gave me a whole bunch of them a few years ago, thinking I might find a use for them. I’ve been saving them all this time, trying to figure out how to utilize them. While pondering all of my jewelry findings, I decided I had just what I needed to make a pair of feather earrings for her. I love how they’re extra special, because they came from her bird. Unfortunately, they turned out rather difficult to photograph. I’ve got more of the blue feathers, but those were the only fully yellow ones that were in the bag. The larger feathers – molted wing and tail feathers – are blue on one side and yellow on the other, but they’re a bit large to turn into earrings. I’m still puzzling out what to use those for.
I think I like the earrings I made for Rose, best. I really liked how the different shades of green came together. Sadly, these were another pair that I had a hard time photographing. I really need to use a real camera…that would probably help. Anyway, I thought these came out suitably simple but elegant. That seems to be a good way of sizing up Rose’s personal style. She’s not a super glitzy person – no fringe and gawdy sparkles, but always put together and stylish.
I also made a bunch of hot chocolate ornaments and distributed them to Anjela, Casey, Patti, Rose, LeeAnn, Cris, Robert, David and Maggie. I used a couple of different flavors: Raspberry, Mint, French Vanilla, and Caramel. Each flavor had a different kind of sprinkle inside. The mint ones had crushed up candy canes, French vanilla had blue and white snowflakes, raspberry had little pearls, and caramel had green and red sprinkles. I had hoped to have enough of the teeny-tiny marshmallows for all the ornaments, but I ran out partway through and had to use regular mini marshmallows. They worked out okay, though.
My cousin Maya has the distinction of being born on Christmas. Most people often reply “Aw, what a shame. You don’t get to celebrate your birthday.” Which seems silly, because of course you do. Just because your birthday falls on a day when you already get presents doesn’t mean people can’t put forth a little effort and make the day extra special for you. So Maya’s parents always celebrated Christmas in the morning and Maya’s birthday in the evening. Maya LOVES Christmas (I think she decorates her house earlier than anyone else), so I figured she would appreciate a Christmas-themed Christmas gift this year. She was, therefore, the recipient of my first ever felted ornament…the earmuffed head of a snowman, made out of Hog Island Sheep wool, from the farm. I also made her a pair of earrings, similar to the ones I gave Patti (with the addition of quail feathers in hers).
Kwana and Mimi also received handmade earrings, as well. Kwana’s were similar to the ones I made for Rose, using copper wire as the base but utilizing the same turquoise and green glass (except for the bottom drop). Mimi’s were a sparkly blue and…not exactly clear, as they are REALLY sparkly, bead, with some silver seed beads.
Maya’s daughter, Neenah, really likes pink, so I figured I would work on a pink hat for her. It was actually rather difficult to track down a shade of pink yarn I actually liked. Most of what seems to be out there is a soft baby pink, which I really didn’t want to use (not just because I’m not a fan of pink). I finally picked out a skein of Caron Simply Soft Party in Fuschia. I loved the sparkle. Originally, I wanted to make a peaked cap pattern, but I was having a real problem figuring out the pattern, and opted for one of the other patterns I had found on Ravelry. That one worked up extremely quickly.
Maya’s youngest, EJ, has kind of a dapper style now and then, and I decided to make him a golf-style cap. A quick conversation with his older brother pointed me in the direction of green, for the yarn…which turned out to be more difficult to pin down than Neenah’s pink yarn had been. While most of the pink options out there were in the baby pink arena, most of the greens I found fell into one of two categories: NEON! or puke/snot green. Now, don’t get me wrong. Olivey and sagey green has its place. I mean, I love green, so I generally have a place for all greens. But I feel that there should have been more variety in the shades of green available at the yarn store. Afterall, most kids are not going to pick olive green as their color. I finally went with Vanna’s Choice in Kelly Green – which didn’t necessarily photograph as pretty as it is in person. Oh well. I loved the cables on this cap, and found it to be fairly simple to put together.
Part of Christmas Eve was given over to this year’s (literal) jam session. I had picked up quince at the new Lotte by my house, along with some huge grapefruit. I still had a few raspberries on hand from my last big session of berry-picking around the park last year, so those also went to use. Mom and I found a couple of different quince jam recipes. I ended up not following any particular one. Mostly, I just looked at them to get an idea of what to include and what not to include.
My basic plan for the quince was as follows: Peel and core five quince, saving the peel and core in a separate bowl. Boil the peel, core and seeds in 4 cups of water for 10 minutes, in a covered pot. While the water boils, chop the quince into smaller pieces. Strain the peel, core and seeds out, reserving the liquid. The liquid should measure 4 cups. If it doesn’t, add a little more water until it does. Add the chopped quince, sugar to taste (I think I added two cups?), and a cinnamon stick. Boil for another 30 minutes, making sure to check on it regularly. I also went ahead and used the immersion blender (that I didn’t realize we had!) after the mix had boiled down a bit and the quince became soft. I didn’t need to add any pectin, since I had first boiled the peel and cores in the water.
I used this recipe for the grapefruit jam, but I think I would make a slight change if I made it again. I suggest collecting the pith, peel and seeds in some cheesecloth and boiling that in with the juice and pulp for a bit, to add some more pectin to the jam. Mine never quite set up to the level I would like.
One of the things we do at our yearly Christmas party at work is an ornament exchange. Last year, we were supposed to make the ornaments (though not everyone did), and I figured I would go the same route this year. Michael’s has a nice assortment of ornaments that you can personalize – that’s where I got the pieces for the hot chocolate ornaments – and I picked up a couple of wooden bauble shapes. I broke out my wood-burner and set about making this year’s offering for the exchange. I debated about whether or not to paint it or put some sort of sealer on it, but I opted to leave it as is. In case you can’t tell, it says “May your days be merry and bright, and all your Christmases be white.” And yes, that writing – done with a regular wood burning tip – is very small. That’s the bonus of having small hands and a lot of experience with fine detail work in sewing….a steady hand. There are also a ton of tiny little snowflakes all over the top. Originally, Cory unwrapped this one. He really liked it, too, and it seemed fitting, as he had contributed one of the few handmade items and had also done wood burning for his. However, MaryAlice was the last one to pick and she snagged this one for her tree. It’s always nice when someone likes your work enough to steal it from someone else. 😉
(Semi)Final Handmade Count:
- Merino yarns – colorway: purple – __yds
- Alpaca/mohair yarn – colorway: woodsman – 366 yards
- Blue-faced Leicester yarn – colorway: Durango – 412 yards
- Yarn sampler – approx. 100 yards
- Blue fleece pull-over
- Gentleman’s scarf – colorway: pagoda
- Green snood
- Beanies – 2
- Cloudgate cowl (made with handspun yarn)
- Hot chocolate ornaments – 9
- Woodburned ornaments – 3
- Feather earrings – 2
- Butterfly drop earrings
- Turquoise and glass drop earrings – 2
- Blue glass drop earrings
- Owl hat (child)
- Purple beret
- Green golf cap (child)
- Sparkly pink cap
- Aran/green scarf
- Homemade jams:
- crochet dragon
- crochet badger hat (child)
Whew! Not too shabby! Especially considering how little I felt like doing for much of the past couple of months.