Friday, November 16, 2012

My Favorite DIY Gifts

Once upon a time, my handmade Christmas gifts were knitted items. I welcomed every October (far too late to start, as any seasoned knitter probably knows) with an ambitious list of gifts matched to recipients. I always failed to complete most of the list, but it didn’t stop me from repeating my habit the next fall.

Until last year. Having a Christmas baby changed the way I think about holiday gift-making and gift-giving. I knew well in advance that only a crazy person would try to knit gifts for everyone while preparing, and subsequently caring, for a new baby. Unless you count the many sweaters I knit for Adelaide prior to her arrival as Christmas presents, not a single person received a hand knit from me that year.

This holiday season, knitted gifts will be nearly as absent from my “to-make” list as they were last year. I do have a couple of exceptions – a stuffed brontosaurus for Addie’s birthday and a well-fitting winter hat and pair of mittens for her Christmas stocking. Since I’m knitting the latter two in miniature adult, they won’t take me much longer than a weekend (next weekend my ambitions self says), and the boogie woogie brontosaurus? With three weeks to go until the big birthday [party, he’s only lacking in the leg department. By December 8th he will have ample legs upon which to boogie. I promise.

Those who might have made it onto my knit list in prior years? They are still getting handmade gifts. Just not of the fiber variety. I’m not going to divulge too much, as prying eyes may be reading, but as a concession, I’ve put together a roundup of my eight favorite DIY gift ideas. My near-term weekend plans may or may not involve making a few items on the list. Tutorials are linked to the photos.

I adore chalkboard paint, especially when applied to surfaces that are not playroom walls. So I maybe swooned a little when I discovered this how-to. Added bonus: check out the link to a tutorial that shows you how to turn any paint into chalkboard paint

A good book ranks high on my list of ideal gifts for giving. Pair it with one of these adorable pompom bookmarks, and it’s even better.

This is one of the cutest felt boards I’ve seen. Sure, it requires a pretty significant time commitment, but the finished result is fabulous.

I know the “in a jar” trend is nothing new, but I’m still as in love with the idea as I was when I first discovered it. These jarred pumpkin pies look delicious and gorgeous – a perfect food gift for the holidays.

Keeping with the “in a jar” theme, I love the minimalist look of this Christmas in a Jar potpourri mix

And one more gift in a jar – homemade finger paint. This recipe uses common household ingredients that won’t harm little ones should they happen to ingest a bit of color.

If I had a decent sewing machine and few afternoons worth of time, I’d sew a stuffed fox for all the little ones in my life. The cuteness. It slays.

I don’t often consider making wall art to gift, but this tutorial, which shows you how to transfer images onto wood has me reconsidering.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tutorial Tuesday: Stained Glass Ornaments

In case you’re not keeping track, only six weeks remain between now and Christmas. Whatever retail stores that had the dignity to wait until after Halloween to unveil their garish holiday displays have completed the terrible act. Now everyone’s flaunting faux evergreen, holly, poinsettia, nutcrackers, stars, snowmen, and dozens of other motifs that signify the season of spending is here.

And boy do I want to spend. This year, more than any other, I want to blow lots of money on extravagant gifts, buy decorations ample enough to turn our home into a holiday wonderland, and invest heavily in scented candles that make the entire house smell like orange and cinnamon and pine 24/7.

Last year, all the energy I might have poured into decorating our home, baking seasonal treats, and searching for the perfect gift instead went toward mastering breastfeeding, changing diapers every hour on the hour, and sleeping in stretches no more than two or three hours in length. This year I’m ready to jump in and binge while I can on holiday everything, and introduce Adelaide to the spectacle that is the Christmas season. I know she won’t remember much, if anything from this year, but I have a difficult time remaining rational.

In an effort to appease my appetite for all things Christmas without breaking my budget, I’ve thrown myself into Holiday DIY projects. You’ve probably noticed. It started with a garland of crochet Christmas trees and then a trio of evergreens made from felted wool sweaters.

My latest crafty endeavor? Stained glass ornaments made with wax paper and crayon shavings. Call this one practice for when Addie is old enough to join me in the holiday making. But even without a little one to help you sprinkle the crayon shavings just so, this is pure comfort food crafting. A little glue, kraft paper, crayons, and some paint – classic craft ingredients if there ever were any.

If you want to make stained glass ornaments my way, check out the tutorial!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tutorial Wednesday - Recycled Felt Holiday Trees

I haven't even started my November tutorial series and already I am one day behind my intended schedule. You can blame my tardiness on yesterday's Presidential Election. Once the returns started pouring in I couldn't tear myself away from the live coverage for long enough to post this first installment (darn you, Brian Williams!). I wanted so badly to maintain my fidelity to the schedule I announced in my last post that I briefly considered back-dating this entry, but that felt a little disingenuous and silly to me. After much hand-wringing (because I do fret over my admittedly nebulous blogging schedule), I resolved to put to use the option to schedule a post next time.

But enough with the excuses; I have a tutorial to unveil!
I know these little guys are not exactly ornaments, but they’re small enough to nestle in the branches of a larger Christmas tree without weighing it down.

I love my wooly trees, which will likely occupy the coveted role of dining room table centerpiece this holiday season.

You can find the complete tutorial here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Goodbye Sandy, Hello November

When Super Storm Sandy barreled through the District earlier this week, we were prepared. Pasta, lentils, tomato sauce, and stock filled our pantry; a package of bottled water lay at the ready in the dining room; and I had queued up my knitting and craft projects. So I wasn’t surprised when Monday and Tuesday came and went without so much as a minute sans electricity. About four hundred thousand people in my area were not as fortunate, but that’s still a small number compared to the millions who are still in the dark along the east coast.

We weathered the storm on Monday with a succession of Christmas movies (I know, I know, it wasn’t even November. Oh the horror), homemade banana bread, and an ever-growing stack of crocheted Christmas trees. By Tuesday the worst of the storm had passed and I had strung the crocheted trees into a garland that, in a few weeks, will hang along our living room staircase.
Unlike Christmas movies, which I have no reservations about popping in the DVD player whenever the spirit moves me, Christmas decorations have no place in our home until mid-November at the very earliest. Besides, I am not yet prepared to part with my collection of ornamental gourds, my turkey pumpkin, and the autumn wreath I made a few weeks ago.

I may be waiting a little longer before I litter my house with fake evergreen and garlands ranging from the rustic, handmade variety to the tacky, sparkly, but with the crocheted trees began my holiday crafting spree. From now until December 24th I’ll be churning out ornaments, assembling gift baskets, knitting my fingers numb, and baking quick breads and candies until I am covered, head-to-toe, in a semi-permanent dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Although I will work up until Christmas, November is the best month for holiday make-ready, and I am celebrating with four weeks of Tutorial Tuesdays.

Starting next week, I’ll post a holiday DIY tutorial on the blog every Tuesday through the end of the month. This year’s theme is cheap and chic ornaments. Every project features supplies you probably already have lying around the house, or that you can buy for less than five dollars at any craft store. They may not cost much money or take much time to make, but I think the DIY project I have planned this month will add a ton of handmade cuteness to your holiday.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Little Red Goes Pumpkin Picking

Someone is going as red riding hood for Halloween this year, which meant, of course, that I had to make the requisite red cape. Since I had a couple hanks of Neighborhood Fiber Company's Studio Worsted in a delicious semi-solid red colorway (Old Town -- named after the home of my favorite Dublin-Style Chipper and beloved, though not oft visited these days LYS), it was only appropriate that I knit said cape.

I didn't just have the perfect yarn for the job. I also had the perfect pattern -- Capuchon, by Tagil Perlmutter. It's a wonderfully simple design with just a bit of texture around the border and at the hem, and it works up quickly with two strands of heavy worsted weight yarn.

It took me just a couple of days to churn out the one-year size, and I mostly love the finished result. The one thing that will force me to frog this sweet cape (once Halloween is over, because once I realized the error I had made, I knew frogging would put me dangerously close to not finishing on time) is my apparent inability to work a provisional cast-on. I admit, this is a technique I almost never use. I prefer the crochet method or the method that requires knitting a couple of rows of waste yarn before switching to the working yarn. My lack of experience with this cast-on, and my inability to see my mistake until I removed the waste yarn, resulted in a far from invisible seam at the nape of the neck.
We ventured out for Addie's first costumed Halloween activity last weekend - a visit to a local pumpkin sale. Barring interference from Hurricane Sandy, she'll be sporting her red riding hood ensemble this weekend and on Halloween night. Then I can set to the task of correcting my mistake. In the meantime, I think she looks pretty cute, visible cape seam and all.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Knitwear for Jam Jars

Since my early knitting days I have focused my stitching efforts on churning out garments of all varieties. Hats, scarves, the off pair of mittens, and my favorite: sweaters. Rarely did I cast on with the intention of knitting something that I or a knit-worthy recipient could not throw on before greeting a cool morning.

Knitted pillows? Lovely, but I couldn’t be bothered. Wooly throws? I adore the idea of having a few to toss over the back of our living room couch, but I can’t commit to knitting something that large. My inability to knit for the home has even put me off making that heirloom lace tablecloth I so badly want to conquer. Seriously – I planned to start that monster no fewer than three years ago, and I have yet to even attempt the cast-on.

So my most recent knitting project is somewhat of a breakthrough, because unlike my usual knitting fare, it cannot be worn. Well, it technically can be worn if you are a glass jar or aluminum can or some other round, container-shaped object. Yes, I made a knitted jar cover. But it is a knitted jar cover capable of turning a container destined for the recycling bin into a lovely vessel for flowers, pencils, and even, perhaps, knitting needles.

October 20, 2012
 It’s a project small enough to keep me from throwing it to the ground halfway in and returning to my beloved sweater knits, and it’s a fantastic canvas on which to practice stitch patterns that might one day become part of a sweater, hat, or other wearable. It also features a method of working from the center out using an i-cord umbilical cord (thank you techknitting), and for those of you who are like me – with lots of leftover yarn in amounts too tiny to make much – it’s great for stash busting.

Want to know how I did it? The full tutorial is here!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Autumn is for Making

Last weekend the first wave of deliciously chilly weather passed through DC; it actually felt like autumn and we dressed accordingly, wrapping ourselves in handknits that had not seen the outdoors since sometime last spring. The knitwear, crisp air, and crates filled with winter squash at the supermarket (and at the farmer's market) – these are all reasons why fall is my favorite season.

 I also love fall because it usually marks the beginning of crafting season for me. While I knit pretty much year-round, I don’t attempt many other craft projects. But with the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas trifecta within sight, I can’t help but stray from the knitting path.

Crafting season must begin with a craft store expedition, so early Saturday afternoon I strapped Addie into her car seat and we embarking on our first mother-daughter shopping trip. We braved the Northern Virginia traffic (brutal, especially on a lovely weekend day) and stopped at not one, but two craft stores. I was tempted to visit all four of the local spots, but prolonged car trips do not mix well with a ten month old who is never thrilled about outings that involve a car seat and driving. We survived our two-hour journey beautifully; Addie loved taking in all the colorful fabric and seasonal d├ęcor at the craft stores and I emerged from each with provisions for several projects.

I’m devoting a lot of this year’s autumn crafting time to decorations for our home. It’s the first year I feel like I can really settle in – I don’t have a wedding for which I am frantically constructing dozens of paper flowers or making last-minute doily runners, and I don’t have blank nursery walls badly in need of wall art or a soon-to-be baby who needs just one more hand knit sweater. Okay, my soon-to-be one year old could always use a new hand knit sweater, but these I save for week nights after she has gone to bed.

 For my first craft of the season, I chose a yarn wreath, since our poor naked front door badly needed a cheerful adornment. Sadly, I cannot take credit for the brilliant idea of wrapping yarn around a wreath form. It is, apparently, a thing, as evidenced by the hunderds of results that return when you ask google to search for the term "yarn wreath." It's a good thing I wasn't trying to engineer a completely new to the internet DIY project.

I’m pretty pleased with the finished result. I chose some rust-colored wool and a bit of deep brown handspun Jacob from my stash, and instead of felt flowers, I made rolled flowers from strips of fabric leftover from a wedding craft project. To finish it off, I added a few leaves cut from mocha-colored cashmere scraps and tiny flag bunting.

Here’s to a successful first autumn DIY!