Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday crafting, part 7 - Wrap it up

Ugh, puns. I'm so ashamed.

But gift wrap did seem like a fitting conclusion to my holiday crafting ideas. Hopefully you are about done with your holiday crafting (as we are about out of holiday season). Should you be a procrastinator like me, here's the recap:

Part 1: Knitted Coffee Cozies for the caffeine addicts. A good, quick option for making a Starbucks card a bit more fun.

Part 2: Okay, part 2 was about pirates. Maybe it's better to recap the ornament ideas.

Part 3: Pretty paper wraps for votive candles. You can do these assembly line style if you need gifts for a crowd.

Part 4: Fleece blankets. A no-sewing-required option for my dog or any Linus-wannabes on your list.

Part 5: The major craft. You can't do it for everyone (at this point, you may not have time to do it for anyone). But some people are worth a bigger project.

Part 6: Truffles. Each one is about as fussy to make as an individual Christmas cookie. But you can wrap up 2 dozen cookies for your neighbor or 8 truffles. Overall, you'll save time.

Which brings us to the end. So many lovely projects - store bought wrapping paper would be a let down after all this craftiness. Plus, they want like $5 a roll for that stuff.

Enter, the recycled sweater. One red cashmere sweater with moth holes + six cycles in the hot cycle of the washing machine = a whole bunch of soft and pretty felt. Cut out a couple of foot shapes, add a bit of blanket stitching around the edges and you've got a stocking. Perfect for wrapping up small presents. A bit of i-cord and you can hang it on the tree. (I always wondered how they did that "presents on the tree" stuff)

Cashmere wrapping paper - it seems so fancy. But I've gotten 2 big stockings, a bunch of medium stockings and all the ornament-sized mini-socks I can stand to stitch together from one crew neck sweater that would otherwise have been garbage.

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(This one is Emily's present. I point that out only to see if I can drive her nuts with curiosity between now and Christmas)

Okay. That's it for me. This will wrap up my holiday blogging (ugh, enough with the puns already) because I'm off to visit family. Whether the final night of Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Christmas, New Year's or whatever you choose to celebrate, I hope it's merry.

Falling Water - and with 3 days to spare!

I finished the Falling Water scarf I was making for my Grandmother last night. I made it through 18 pattern repeats without incident, but managed to screw up the 19th round and needed to rip it our twice, otherwise I probably would have finished this Tuesday.

The pattern is from Bonnie Sennott, and I have to say it was a great project. With the possible exception of the 19th repeat, the pattern was detailed enough to hold my interest but still pretty quick to complete and easy to memorize. I think the stitch pattern is really pretty when it opens up (actually - it is kinda cool unblocked too)

Here it is on the blocking board, er, my couch:

I used one skein of KnitPicks Essential yarn in burgundy on US #5 needles. That got me 20 pattern repeats which blocked out to about 4.5 feet. I think if I did it again, I would like a slightly longer scarf, but this one didn't look too short when I tried it on. (I have another skein of the burgundy and I must say it looked pretty good on me, so trying this again is a distinct possibility)

All in all, a gift for Grandma for around $4. (You may think I cheaped out on the yarn, but the KnitPicks worked out to be super soft and showed the pattern well)

I hope Grandma likes it. (As usual when there is a camera around, Maddie wanted to be in the picture. Such a diva)

Holiday crafting, part 6 - Cookies? We don't need no stinkin' cookies

What can I say? The Christmas cookie spirit didn't move me this year. Ordinarily I go through alarming quantities of butter and flour this time of year. For a change, I thought I would try truffles instead.

I made three batches of ganache for the truffle innards. In each case I used a ratio of 15 oz of bittersweet chocolate (about 2.5 cups) to a scant cup of heavy whipping cream. (Scant only because I wanted to save enough cream for a really good cup of coffee the next morning - I usually only have milk for my coffee)

To one batch, I added 2 Tbsp of instant coffee. When the ganache had cooled, I rolled the little balls in chocolate sprinkles. Voila - dark chocolate espresso truffles.

To a second batch, I steeped 6 green tea bags in the cream as it was heating. I thought the resulting green tea flavor was a bit too mild, so I would probably use more tea bags for future efforts. I rolled these guys in cocoa powder - I wanted to make the coating for each look different so the flavors were easily identifiable.

The last batch I left as straight dark chocolate. Then I dipped them in milk chocolate - which was a bit of a disaster. I most definitely did not master the art of evenly coating them. However, rolling the resulting blobs in chopped pecans made them more or less round and hid most of their aesthetic flaws. Looks aside, the double chocolate pecan truffles tasted really good.

Overall, this was a fun change from cookies. Rolling the truffles is insanely messy - I highly recommend wearing plastic gloves. The ingredients are a bit pricier than most cookie recipes, but you need a lot fewer truffles to make a nice looking gift for the neighbors than you do cookies, so I think it is really a wash.

If you want perfectly round, double-dipped beautiful chocolates, you are probably better off buying them. But a gob of good chocolate is going to be tasty whether it is round or slightly asymmetrical.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

One of these things is not like the others...

Today's lesson in semantics: "knit even for a half inch"

Now I know that if you are knitting something that is ribbed or otherwise patterned, "knit even" means keep going in your ribbing or patterning. What if the last directions you get are "knit one, make one across" - does "knit even" mean keep on keepin' on with your increases or does it mean easy there tiger, that's wide enough, how about you make some nice stockinette stiches and call it a day?

Well, apparently the latter, but I blame the pattern writer. That's just confusing (as evidenced by the bootylicious cat toy on the right).

I figured it out in time for the second one - which was good since I nearly ran out of mouse colored yarn on the first. But do I rip it out and start over? Heck no. It's a cat toy. We're not looking for perfection. Plus, I'm banking on the kitty recipient being something of an @ss man.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kitties and bunnies and bears, oh my!

A little while ago, I mentioned the GetCrafty toy and blanket drive to benefit Project Night Night.

I had intended to make a couple of fleece blankets. After making a blanket for my dog and two for Project Night Night, I had about a 1/3 yard x 2 yard scrap left over from each of the colors of fleece I bought. Turns out, there is some merit to determining your yardage requirements before you go to the fabric store.

I also had a giant bag of fiberfill leftover from a girl scout uniform giraffe-making endeavor a while back. Voila - fleece toys.

I used this "easy teddy bear" pattern. I like patterns with the word easy in them. And I more or less copied this pattern from My Little Mochi for the kitties and bunnies (I skipped their little pants - hope no one is offended by nekkid bunnies that vaguely resemble Cartman from South Park). I know you aren't supposed to use button eyes for little little kids because they can eat them, so I tried to embroider eyes on one of the kitties. Yeah, embroidery is hard. Mostly I think I'll have to stick to making toys for kids old enough to know not to eat buttons.

There is definitely a learning curve to toy-making and these guys certainly look homemade, but they are soft and cuddly. I like making stuffed animals though and the fleece seems to hide a lot of mistakes, so we'll probably revisit toy-making in the future.

Mail Bag, Part 5 - So Spoiled.

This is getting completely out of hand. There weren't supposed to be 5 mail bag posts, but my cheap @$$ secret pal is totally spoiling me.

These wonderful books arrived yesterday:

She has sent an awesome book of papercrafts. The authors seemed to have embraced my aesthetic of bright colors in simple, bold combinations (read: reproducible using paper and cardstock from the jumbo bargain pack) I already have 3 pages marked for things I want to try.

She also gave me some cool papers and a folder for organizing my knitting patterns - which should be a nice improvement over the wrinkled, dog-eared pile of knitty print outs currently littered across my desk.

And this fun book of Vogue Knitting vest patterns. I think it is time for me to move beyond variations on rectangles and attempt an actual garment. I think a vest would be a good entry level garment. (I'm not entirely sure what the VK book editors were thinking though. There are a bunch of really cute patterns in here. I have a few flagged as things to make for myself. There is a really cute baby sweater that I'm going to try and make for a little girl turning one at the end of this month. There are several more lovely Fair Isle patterns that I want to revisit when I'm brave enough to try colorwork. But seriously, and I apologize to any multi-colored check fans out there - the vest featured on the cover - that is a total Cosby sweater - not at all indicative of the rest of the book)

So thank you thank you thank you Secret Pal! We'll see if I can get my act together this weekend and maybe show you all some baby vest action soon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mail Bag, Part 4 - The Sampler

Betcha didn't realize there'd be four parts when I started my ode to mail...

But the other fantastic thing that my mail carrier was kind enough to leave at my door was the December/January issue of the Sampler.

If you are not familiar with the Sampler, it is a monthly mailing of awesome promotional items from indie businesses, crafters, artists and the like. Or, more accurately, about as much fun as you can possibly cram into a 9x12 envelope.

You can subscribe to the Sampler, or if you are a contributor, you get a free copy. You may remember these mini-button idea books from my October craft binge.

s&em designs submitted a bunch of these little books for the Dec/Jan issue, which meant that I got all this in return:

A beautiful wall calendar from MilleFeuille Photography. Her photos of Africa are stunning - check out her website and you'll see what I mean.

This little "Vacation Days" scrapbook kit from Chronicle Books. They must have known about my love for and aversion to buying scrapbooking supplies when they sent me this.

Eclectic Jewelry Artisans is a collective of artists who promote their jewelry together. My pair of yin yang earrings was made by Ahna.

Okay, I had to start making groups - there were too many goodies. I got...

a mini issue of Craft: (Yay! Craft:)
a super-cute Christmas card from Jaime Zollars (her illustrations are adorable - despite the deforestation imagery going on here)
a Mandala card from Serpent Mandalas (really cool intricate designs)
and a portrait card from Heavenly Skull (apparently you can have your own picture made into art cards which would be pretty fun)

More, more, more!

handmade paper from Panda Girl (yay- more free cardmaking supplies)
a crocheted flower from Handmade Obsessions (handy since I can't crochet - I think this would be so cute on a knit hat)
a crocheted skull ornament from Emily Kircher, Recycling Artist (adds just the right touch of kitcsh and the macabre to my tree)
a fabric bracelet from Carly Couture (the bags and hoodies on her website are adorable)

And there' s still more! Seriously how great is this?

a birds nest charm from Yankee Girl Deisgns
little beaded earrings from Cherry Runway
a glass chip necklace from the Starving Artist Bazaar
a polymer clay magnet from Nice Clutter
holiday pins from the Glitter Workshop
a little package of collage supplies from Maison Celeste
delicious smelling loose leaf tea from Herb + Ginger
a mini-melt to make your house smell nice from Martinsville Emporium
a pretty orange button from Saidie
a snowman button from Kittycrossbones18
a magnet from EtsyDarkArt - mine was handpainted watercolor paper from AsilArt

Okay, I think that's everything. I love it all. I don't know if our participation will actually translate to increased sales, but it was totally worth it to get all of this fun stuff in the mail. Once you have all of the glue gun t-shirts you need, you should definitely check out some of these websites for holiday giving. Lots of beautiful one-of-a-kind things to be found.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mail Bag, Part 3 - Ornaments!

As I was saying, lots and lots of great things have been appearing at my doorstep lately.

This includes the submissions for a holiday ornament swap from GetCrafty. I cannot believe how awesome everyone's submissions were. There were quite a few ideas I may be stealing in the future.

(Sorry for all of the different sized photos - in cropping to compensate for my shoddy photography, they seem to have all ended up different)

Quornflour made these very cool sequined balls. The red and blue ones were covered with fabric scraps as well as beads. So sparkly and fun.

Athos' ornaments are top secret. Can't show you. Sorry. But if you got one in the mail and the tag had fallen off, they were wrapped like this:

for_esme got the gold star for timely submission. Her adorable felt owls were the first to arrive. I took a picture of the whole flock before I sent them out.

Petal also worked in felt. She made these great beaded snowflakes. I'm completely intimidated by how symmetrical and perfect these are. Nothing I make is symmetric.

All of binah's ornaments were different. She made these miniature quilts and stockings and a great little mini-bag.

Researchasaurus made these lovely embroidered circles.

Artgeek made these really intricate floral embroidered rectangles. I tried to do a bit of embroidery for some toys (pictures coming soon) recently. Yeah, I'm terrible at it. I'm totally impressed by the quality of researchasaurus and artgeek's stitching and detail.

Lilmissthrifty made these Martha-inspired button wreaths. It didn't show well in the photos, but she has interspersed cool little beads and holiday charms so there are little surprises when you look closely.

Gusmarco made these fun Nightmare Before Christmas collages. The photo doesn't really show off the dimension and sparkle that they have in real life.

Mazelpants made these beautiful little nativity scenes out of matchboxes.

See what I mean? Everyone is so creative and talented. This was a very fun swap to coordinate. Although it was not without its headaches. A couple of packages seem to have been lost to the abyss - and by abyss I mean United States Postal Service. Hopefully, they have just been misdirected and will still turn up some day and are not lost forever.

And if any of you still have holiday crafting to complete, hopefully you'll be inspired by one of these lovely handmade designs. (I think there's still time to add ornaments to our list of holiday crafting ideas)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mail Bag, Part Two - My Sister Rules

Not only do I have a fantastic secret pal who sends me swell things in the mail, I have an awesome sister.

Despite being totally MIA on her crafty blogging, Emily rules. During her travels to the Arctic Circle last winter (yes, Emily and her best friend went to Finland in the middle of winter, you know, when it's cold and dark pretty much all of the time. For the record, "Emily rules" and "Emily is completely nuts" are not mutually exclusive statements)...

Sorry, during her travels to the Arctic Circle last winter, Emily was kind enough to put in a good word for me with the big man himself...

that's right, Santa Claus!

Father Christmas!

Jolly Old St. Nick!

Mr. Kringle (if you're nasty)

Check me out - I have written documentation of my standing on the list of good girls and boys this year.

Personal correspondence from the one and only Santa - who just so happens to be my true friend forever.

And you know it is official because it was mailed from the Arctic Circle. Plus, it says so:

It's a genuine greeting. I totally love it.

On a slightly less magical yet slightly more crafty note, I also got Emily's Christmas card this week. She is a way more advanced card-maker than me, but this one I think I could replicate:

I think I would need the next size smaller circle cutter, but otherwise, how fun is this?

I can punch circles out of scrap paper. I could totally do this. My scrap paper isn't as cute as Emily's, but if any of you are still thinking you want to make your holiday cards this year but you haven't started yet - I give you the bubble wreath. Or at least that's what I'm calling it. You could probably knock quite a few of these out before admitting defeat and buying a box of cards.

Mail Bag, Part One - My Fantastic Secret Pal

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I love mail! I love it even more when it isn't someone asking me for money. I've gotten such great stuff lately, I'm having to split it up into multiple posts. Let me just say that after a stressful day at work, it is really nice to come home to this:

Okay, technically that isn't new mail. That is actually the amaryllis that my Cheap @$$ Secret Pal sent me a few weeks ago. But I'm so pleasantly surprised that (a) I haven't killed it and (2) it has bloomed already (the package said 8-12 weeks - they totally lie) that I thought I would share.

But I did get another lovely surprise from my Secret Pal in the mail this week. It came in the cutest little flowered package.

And check out the insides:

Some mulling spices (do you know the part in It's a Wonderful Life when George Bailey and Clarence the Angel go to the bar and Clarence orders a flaming rum punch, then decides it isn't nearly cold enough for that, and instead orders mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves? no? just me? all right, forget you then - I'm not sharing my mulled wine), vanilla & lavender fabric softener, a knitting gauge finder (perhaps now my hats will fit my head on the first try?), 2 pairs of knitting needles (both in sizes I was missing, hurray!), a pair of embroidery scissors (uh oh - did she see the nail clippers I had been using?), some pretty flowered coasters and a pack of holiday mint scented cleaning wipes. Once again, I am being totally spoiled and I quite like it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

New for the Holidays!

Sarah has posted all kinds of craft project ideas for everyone on your holiday gift list. But what about your fellow crafty ladies?

Be sure to visit s&em designs for lots of t-shirts, totes and other gifts for all the crafty chicas in your life.

Our latest design features a .357 Magnum Hot Glue Gun - the crafter's weapon of choice. Let the world know you're packing heat and you aren't afraid to bedazzle anything or anyone who crosses your path.