Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gifts received

I have got to get a better camera - it's a shame to post such inadequate photos of these wonderful handmade gifts from my talented Mom. At the top is a gorgeous gray wool wrap, with a mother-of-pearl ring and one of my great-grandmother's tiny bone crochet hooks for the fastener. So beautiful - what a perfect gift. She also made this little pouch that is lined with a delicate patterned silk fabric; it was tied to the outside of the gift box, and held a pretty soap and a set of tiny antique ivory book covers, which I think I will bind together with some nice paper and silk thread to wear as a pendant. Mom is a great inspiration - she also knitted pretty short-sleeved cardigans for my sisters & sister-in-law, and sewed adorable corduroy jumpers for four of my nieces.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Before we drive off to visit the family, I thought I'd post these last-minute pocket notebooks I made on Tuesday for brothers & brothers-in-law. I wanted to give something thrifty (for me) but useful for the recipients. For sisters & sisters-in-law, I'm giving some pretty scarves I did *not* make, but bought months ago for an amazingly good price. In the past, we siblings & our spouses did a name-drawing & gift exchange; this year we decided to ditch that system and any gift-giving rules and just allow everyone to give what/if their budgets permit, no pressure. Since we only made this decision in the weeks after Thanksgiving, I didn't have much time to incorporate 6 more gifts into my schedule; next year I'll be able to plan ahead better. safely, and have a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Two more - and just one left to go!

I pulled together two last-minute baby gifts this weekend, which leaves just one more gift to finish. I'd been saving an accidentally felted cashmere sweater for a special project, and decided that a new baby's first Christmas is the perfect occasion. So I looked at some bear patterns and then just kind of winged it; it didn't take long to sew it by hand and I'm really happy with how he turned out - he is so soft! I also made this bunch of colored knitted balls for the same baby. They are so fast to make; I only wish I'd had the foresight to put a jingle bell or rattle in the center of each time, I guess!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


These are the gifts I'll be giving to coworkers. I packed them in boxes from a Martha Stewart kit I got on sale. The small upright boxes contain popcorn with caramel, butterscotch, & chocolate drizzled on it. In the square & rectangle boxes are: pecan tassies, brownies, more popcorn, wheat crackers, and molasses almonds, all of which I made in a frenzy one night earlier this week. Making cookie boxes is one of my favorite holiday traditions - I really hope these go over well!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Christmas story

It's my favorite Christmas story, actually, though I am biased - it was written by my Dad and printed in the January 1982 issue of Catholic Digest. And the "fifth child" in the story is me! My Dad showed me this story when I was a kid, and last year my Mom hunted it down and shared it with me again. Here it is...I hope you love it as much as I do.

"My wife and I were having a hard time of it. We were separated by my training program and expecting our fifth child. Although our bills were plentiful and our funds were low, we were looking forward to a few days together at Christmas.
A week or so before the holiday break, my wife attended a large prayer meeting. As she left, she noticed a conspicuous offering basket with the message, 'Share Your Love.' Recently reminded of the Scriptural injunction that it is more blessed to give than to receive, she hesitated only a moment before dropping in her last dollar.
A day or two before Christmas, my wife received a phone call from one of her prayer group leaders. He wanted to stop by for a visit that afternoon. We expected a short, pleasant visit with perhaps some prayers. We were totally unprepared for the envelope he presented to us containing over $300, including the dollar my wife had planted as a seed of faith."

And they're off

Here are the first two of three gift shipments, ready to be packed. One bunch is destined for the West Coast; the other will go to the Midwest. Most of these are handmade gifts, a couple are purchased gifts from my husband to my family, and there are two sort-of handmade gifts in the pile that I haven't posted about here yet. One is a mix CD of silly songs my husband and I compiled for our nieces, and the big pink bundle contains several of my dance outfits from when I was a kid, plus two pink poodle skirts my Mom made for my sister and I one Halloween long ago. I've been saving them in my cedar chest, but I thought it was time they were enjoyed by my sister's little girls who are getting big enough to wear them.

I did all of my gift-baking last night, and will be putting together goodie boxes tomorrow night, as well as wrapping the third and final shipment of gifts. There's one gift that will be missing from that box, as it's far from finished, but since we won't be celebrating with that part of the family until New Year's Eve, I'm hoping to finish by then, even if it means knitting until the plane lands in their town!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Approaching deadline

Clockwise from top left:
Two blank notebooks for a brother-in-law, made mostly with scraps of materials from work; a few of my holiday cards for this year, also made with scraps & salvaged materials from work; a rainbow spiral scarf for one of my nieces; and two ribbed cotton hats for two other brothers-in-law. I'm still working on a couple of crafty gifts and hope to start with all the food-gift making this week!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Red cashmere shawl

I finished another gift today! It's a very simple shawl, knit in a luxurious red cashmere that I picked up at Smiley's Manhattan sale last year. It drapes beautifully and is so soft and warm. This rather poor picture doesn't accurately show the pretty red color or the size - it's about 4 feet across at its widest.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Crazy baby sweater

Here's another finished holiday gift; it's for an impossibly adorable one-year-old girl. It was pretty quick to knit and was a fun way to use up some odd amounts of this wacky yarn. At this point I'm still feeling pretty good about getting everything else finished in time!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Turkey pinata!

On a bit of a whim, I made this turkey pinata for a coworker who'll have a few kids running around her house on Thanksgiving Day. I used papier-mache over a balloon for the body, then constructed the head & tail with thin cardboard. I cut the sides off a paper shopping bag and wrapped it around the body for the handle/hanger. There is a trap door on top for adding candy. I had a blast making this, and it was a big hit when I carried it on the subway to work!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The home stretch

Now that it's November, it's time to really focus on my holiday gift crafting! I think this vest, which I finally finished yesterday, is the last really big project on my list - the rest are much smaller in scale, but they are great in number, so I can't rest yet. I'm really pleased with the vest (as long as it turns out to fit the recipient!).

On the right is my Michael's purchase from this weekend. I've been very good about buying yarn this year - in fact I've bought very little - but for the holidays I have some projects that I couldn't complete from my stash, so I waited for a yarn sale and it finally came. Also in the bag is a Martha Stewart kit for packaging the food gifts I'll be giving to my coworkers this year.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cookie donation

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo to document this, but I wanted to share it anyway. I haven't done much baking lately and was really craving cookies, so on Friday night I made a whole bunch - 4 dozen *each* of peanut butter chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. Obviously, more cookies than 2 people can reasonably eat. I gave a plate of them to the doormen of our building, but I still had about 6 dozen left.

Then I remembered the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who do a lot of good work in the community (in multiple boroughs, actually). They depend entirely on donations for their meals, so I packed up the cookies and brought them to the friary today. A very sweet young Brother accepted the cookies and we chatted a bit, and I walked home feeling great. I'm glad I took advantage of this spur-of-the-moment opportunity to give a simple gift, especially to such worthy recipients. I'm hoping I'll have time this winter to make some hats to give to their homeless shelter and/or the men's residence they run.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Paper wallet

Here's a little wallet I made, loosely based on this tutorial, to hold a money gift for a nephew. In the future I'll play around a bit more - I think I can figure out a way, or at least find another tutorial, for making more pockets in the wallet. Anyway, I think this is a fun way to present a gift of money (or gift cards for that matter), and the wallet fit perfectly into the envelopes I made from the same paper.

Knitting update

I have finally finished a simple knitted blanket, the Plush Throw from Lion Brand, for a late wedding gift. At least the weather is finally turning chilly enough for the recipients to use it! My cat certainly approved of the finished blanket and was very unkind to me when I had to take it away. The blanket caused a slight delay in my holiday knitting schedule, but I'm doing alright nonetheless. The brown wool vest is over halfway done, as are two pairs of socks, and I should be starting another project today or tomorrow. So, not panicking yet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Birthday notebooks

Here are some skinny notebooks I gave as a gift earlier this week. I used graph paper and card stock, held together with a seven-hole pamphlet stitch. I applied a strip of gray paper along the spines to conceal the sewing and to make the notebooks look like a set. I like using graph paper in blank notebooks because it's so versatile - you can write, draw, and design on it. I gave these along with a pack of colored pens.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tree of Life afghan, at last

After languishing for a few weeks while I read the whole Harry Potter series, the Tree of Life baby blanket is finally done. Here it is all pinned out for blocking; I did an applied I-cord border rather than the leaf border called for in the pattern. I'm quite happy with how it turned out, and now that this project and Harry are both out of the way, I'm hoping to focus and pick up some steam in my gift-knitting agenda. I still have another small blanket and a sweater vest on the go, but should be starting two new gift projects over the long weekend, and hopefully making progress all around.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cage comforters

As one of my charity crafting projects for the year, I finally finished making 11 Cage Comforters to donate to New York Animal Care & Control. Pictured above are three of my favorites. I used fabric recycled from clothing and sheets; the tops of the cushions are mostly knit fabrics, while the cotton sheets make up the bottoms. They're about an inch thick each, and around 12" x 18" in size, as specified by NYACC. These were very simple to make, and I hope they do provide some comfort to a few animals in need. I would have liked to make more but I have a full roster of gifts in progress, and I was limited by a tight budget for materials. Maybe next year I'll be able to do more.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A baby gift + animals are people, too.

The Baby Surprise Jacket is done, in plenty of time for the baby's October arrival. This jacket was a joy to knit. I used a machine washable acrylic/wool blend from my stash and some sweet purple buttons I also had on hand. The jacket turned out the perfect size for the baby to wear through the winter.

And here are some little things for the animals. On a recent rainy Saturday, I spent the morning working on the Cage Comforters, one of my charity projects. There they are on the right, stacked up after being sewn & stuffed. I still need to sew up the stuffing holes and then tack them in a few places before they are ready to donate. I had some scraps of fabric left, so I cut them into strips and braided them to make toys for a friend's two Chihuahuas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brief update

Just a quick update on the gifts I have in progress. The Tree of Life is almost done, then I have to add the edging! That will get a big post of its own, hopefully soon. On the left above is the Baby Surprise Jacket (I switched yarns, and much prefer this new one), and on the right is the vest...not progressing as fast as I'd hoped due to the heat!

Friday, July 4, 2008

New gift projects + crafting for animals

Over a long weekend recently, I had time to flesh out my bare-bones holiday gift plan. I filled in a lot of blanks and was happy to note that I will probably not have to buy any new yarn to complete the knitted & crocheted gifts I hope to make. Pictured above are the beginnings of two holiday gifts: a wool vest for my Dad and a Baby Surprise Jacket for a niece.

During my time off I also started work on one of my (non-work related) charity crafting projects: Cage Comforters for Animal Care & Control of New York. These are small, simply constructed cushions for the animals housed in AC&C facilities. I'm also planning to make hats for a neighborhood shelter or mission, but I really wanted to allocate some of my charitable crafting energy to a project for animals. Anyway, fabric is not in my budget at the moment, but I had just cleaned out my closet and had some clothes set aside to donate to my local thrift shop, so I pulled out some dresses & other larger items and cut them down. Now I have a stack of pieces ready to sew together - all I need now is the batting.

Monday, June 30, 2008

What I learned from a group charity crafting project

My boss and I are both on the Community Service Committee (CSC) at the university library where we work; last year, my boss became the chair of the committee. I had once told her about my wonderful Mom's tradition of making warm knit hats and beautiful crochet-edged flannel baby blankets for charities in her area, and my boss was inspired by the idea, so in the fall we bought a bunch of yarn on sale and put out a call for volunteers to make hats for the Bowery Mission. We ended up getting about a dozen participants, and donated 28 hats to the Mission just before Christmas break.

We were pleased with the project, especially because we had many volunteers who didn't normally participate in the CSC's regular activities. Sometime in January, I think, my boss heard that the university's main community service office offered grants to assist university groups with their community service initiatives. This really got my boss going! Again taking inspiration from my Mom, she contacted the Children of Bellevue, an agency that provides layettes to newborns whose families are in need, and asked if they could use some handmade blankets (they answered "yes" enthusiastically). She then whipped together an application for one of the grants, to cover the cost of materials to make 50 cotton flannel blankets with crochet edging. The grant was approved, and as of last week we reached our goal - 50 blankets completed by 24 volunteers! The blankets need a final wash and then they will be sent off to the hospital.

From the start, this project was such a great experience for me - I learned so much, and it was great fun. I thought it would be useful to sit down and really think about what I got out of this project, to share what I learned, and to show off what our group accomplished (link later). So then, here's a list of What I learned from my group charity crafting project:

*How to work with people
I used to look at my employer's lunchtime seminars about managing different personalities or working with a team, and I always dismissed them as irrelevant to me because my department is quite small and we all get along. When the blanket project got underway, I realized I was wrong. A couple of the volunteers were often very negative - they complained a lot, and at first it was a huge downer. This is where I could have used those team management skills! When I took a step back, I was able to see A) that I shouldn't take their remarks personally - it's not about me; B) that their intentions were good - after all, they were volunteering for this, and were invested in making the project a success; and C) they had amazing skills, and turned out to be among the most productive volunteers we had. Everyone has something to contribute.

*Planning is key - but just do it, and be flexible
My boss really struck while the iron was hot and managed to get the grant application together in a short time, but it was still very well researched, and she made sure to contact well in advance the people whose assistance we would later need (to book meeting rooms, disburse grant funds, etc.). This planning provided structure for the project, so that any snags along the way (such as a long delay, due to backordered fabric, in the start of the project) were not catastrophic. In such situations we had to be flexible and stay focused on the project goal, rather than just following our plan for the plan's sake.

*It feels good!
-It feels good to create. Many participants often remarked that our crafting meetings were their favorite part of the day.
-It feels good to give. To know your creation will keep a little baby warm - what better feeling is there?
-It feels good to share and connect with others. One of my favorite parts of the project was meeting other library employees who I'd never had a chance to meet otherwise. So many smart, fun, giving, talented people!
-It feels good to be inspired, and to inspire. I'm now making plans for my own charitable crafting project, and I know of one other volunteer who has continued making blankets on her own. The energy generated by this group was really infectious. Oh, and did I mention that some of the participants had never crocheted before? We must have taught 7 or 8 people to crochet, and their blankets all turned out beautifully.

*It doesn't cost much, and it can be green
Our goal of 50 blankets was fairly big, but I think that even without the grant we could have come up with a way to fund our project. When we did the hats, we shopped carefully for good deals and each pitched in a bit of money to make it happen. Because one of the CSC's objectives is to "be green" we are considering ways to "green" our crafting projects, such as holding a materials drive inviting people to contribute from their stashes. One woman collected flannel scraps from the blankets and made a few adorable puzzle balls to send along with the blankets.

Here is a link to the CSC's Flickr page, with photos of every blanket. The photos are a bit washed out, but oh well. I also took some snapshots of the stacks of folded blankets because they looked so cute. You will notice many different skill levels and styles. There are also some blankies with super-tight tension in the crochet borders - this really bothered some participants, who wanted everything to be "perfect." In the end we decided that because babies are lumpy, some blankets could be too. The puffy blankets with tight edges were made with just as much love and care as the "perfect" ones, and will lend themselves well to wrapping up a squirmy baby.

And for more inspiration, check out Lion Brand's and Interweave Press' lists of charitable crafting opportunities - there is need everywhere!

Tree of Life, continued

Here is the Tree of Life blankie (with supervisor) as it looked yesterday; I've added another row of flowers since then. I just joined the third and last skein of yarn; I feel pretty confident I'll finish the body of the blanket but I might have to come up with a different border option if I run out of yarn, which is likely. I'm considering lining it, a la Rita.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Audubon card + blankie update

These are poor pictures, so take my word for it when I tell you these things look much better in person. Anyway, on the left is the card I made for my Dad for Father's Day, using some card stock from my bin of saved paper and a lovely Audubon image from an advertising supplement in the New York Times (there were a bunch of beautiful Audubon images - I cut them all out and added them to the paper bin). I also happened to have a little brown envelope that fit the card perfectly! My gift to him was a CD of folk & blues (Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, etc.) which I didn't take a picture of because I just printed the insert with iTunes.

On the right is the Tree of Life blankie in its current state. I'm just starting the first "flower garden" section.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

They have a plan

Well, sort of. On the desktop of my computer is a large Stickie note that represents my rough crafting & giving plan for the next year - this month through May 2009. Here's what August and September, for example, look like (names changed to protect the innocent!) as of right now:


-Cards & gifts for September
-Sweater vest for Dad (xmas)

September 7 Starbuck, 11 Apollo, 12 Chief, 22 Gaius

-Cards for October
-Garter stitch wrap
-Charity hats & mittens
-Pet toys?

The dates and names of any birthdays, anniversaries, etc. are noted next to each month. Below that is a list of projects to do that month: first there's a reminder to prepare for the following month's gift-giving events, then maybe an item in italics to indicate a project I wish to make for myself, and then any long-term projects that are either underway or need to be started. I'll be trying to plan for Christmas fairly early this year. I have a couple of labor-intensive individual gifts planned, plus a charity project (quantity rather than complexity). I'm also hoping to stockpile batches of different kinds of handmade gifts for giving out to coworkers and friends at the holidays.

This list is incomplete and very fluid, but maintaining it really helps me to sort out all the projects. It also helps me see when I've planned too much for one month, or how I can make use of the crafting lull in one month to get a head start on another.
I used a similar list last year, on a much smaller scale, to prepare for the holiday season, but I'm hoping for more this time. All of this is, of course, mostly theoretical at this point!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Something to think about

Over at The Simple Dollar, a personal finance blog I read a lot & very much enjoy, there was a recent post about personalizing blank greeting cards with favorite song lyrics or poetry, thereby saving money and presenting the recipient with a truly thoughtful card. For me, and for many of the people who commented on this post, this was preaching to the choir: a great many people agreed with the writer, and others went a step further with their great tips on making cards from scratch.

However, I was surprised to read a few comments by people who said they prefer store-bought cards to handmade ones - that they appreciate the quality of manufactured cards and the effort it takes for givers to select them. This was upsetting to other commenters, who felt that recipients should value handmade cards more and not place restrictions on the types of gifts they will accept. This discussion is very interesting to me, and presents me with a lot to think about as I try to get my gift-giving challenge off the ground.

I love giving and receiving gifts, and am blessed with wonderful loved ones who always give from the heart. I do believe that a purchased gift, thoughtfully chosen and presented with love, can be as meaningful as a handmade one. Among the reasons I originally listed for starting my gift-giving challenge, I included "approach gift-giving more meaningfully and thoughtfully." If I am really to do that, I must carefully consider the recipient's preferences, tastes, and personality - and that means I can't just dismiss a recipient's preference (for store-bought cards, for example) simply because it's not to my taste. In other words, I can't just give the gift that *I* want the recipient to have - I have to give the gift that the *recipient* really wants or needs.

What does this mean for my handmade year? Well, I did write a few "cheats" into my guidelines, so I can resort to those when I feel it's appropriate. What I really hope I can accomplish, however, is a happy balance - a place where a recipient's likes and my crafting skills meet and result in a gift that is just right.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tree of Life blanket

I have begun knitting a gift for a relative's baby, expected in October. I wanted to make the Tree of Life Afghan from Lion Brand as soon as I first saw it many months ago, but waited until I had the right occasion. I am using some Wool-Ease Sportweight yarn that I've had in my stash for ages; since its gauge is much smaller than that specified in the pattern, this blankie will be super tiny and just right for a newborn. The cabled tree motif is definitely challenging!

Starting small

I spent yesterday afternoon making cards and envelopes. For the cards, I used double-sided pages that I'd saved from an old Lotta Jansdotter address book. I folded each page in half and inserted a slightly smaller folio of translucent paper for writing on. To secure the two folios I tied embroidery floss around the fold. I made 20 of these; they are about 3 1/2 x 5 inches.

For envelopes, I used odd paper I've been saving and some old military field maps I got years ago when the museum I worked at was throwing them away. I used my circle cutter to cut an 8" circle and then folded it around a card. I cut the triangles out from between the flaps and then glued the bottom flap to the side flaps.

Below left are two finished envelopes. The paper with the birds on it was what my printer produced when I ran some test or other on it - I thought it was so cute so I saved it. On the right are some other envelopes I made from an old calender. These envelopes are squares with four half-circle flaps, and I made them the right size to hold a CD.