Archive for the 'Crafts' Category


Two birthdays

Early May is a busy time around here, with Sylvia’s birthday and my birthday only two days apart. I don’t mind the busy-ness so much, though. May is a great month for a birthday! With so many flowers blooming, it seems like nature shouts “Happy birthday!” to us every year. And the weather is usually cooperative for an outdoor party.


Remember the party garland I made for Sylvia’s birthday last year? About a month later I lent it to my next-door-neighbor for her daughter’s surprise birthday party. A couple of days after the party, my neighbor knocked on my door and sorrowfully announced that she’d lost the garland. (The party had been held at a local church, and she’d put some of her daughter’s friends in charge of hanging the decorations. No one knows what happened to the garland.)

She felt just awful about this, but honestly I wasn’t too upset about it. She offered to make a new one for me, but I decided on a compromise instead: she could do all the cutting. She (happily!) did this while watching the Winter Olympics and gave the pieces to me in plenty of time for sewing them together into a new garland. And this one, at 80+ feet long, is even longer than last year’s 60-foot-long version!


Sylvia wanted to help made decorations, too. So Jan created a skull-and-crossbones stencil that she could place over construction paper and paint with craft paint. When the “pirate flags” were dry, we glued on eye sockets and nose openings cut from black construction paper, then strung the flags on some yarn.*


Jan is an awesome baker, which means that Sylvia gets pretty amazing birthday cakes each year. (Remember last year’s fairy cake?) To match this year’s pirate theme, he created a three-dimensional pirate ship. This is chocolate cake, with reduced-raspberry-jam “glue” in a few places, covered with chocolate buttercream. The cannons are Rollos, the ropes are red licorice, and the cannonballs were Whoppers. We even managed to find gelatin-free gummi-style sea creatures. And the whole thing is sailing on a sea of baked meringue.


My own birthday was a more low-key affair but just as enjoyable. We went out for high tea, then spent the afternoon flying kites in a park. Awesome.

*Red Heart acrylic yarn is pretty vile stuff. Seriously–I think I’d rather knit with boogers than with that stuff. But it is useful to have a skein of it on hand for kid-oriented crafts.



Guess what happened again yesterday?


(I love how rhododendron leaves curl up when it’s really cold outside.) Fortunately, only about an inch fell this time.

We’ve been busy with crafty stuff around here, partly because of being snowbound. We do go out to play in the snow, but after a while it’s time to come inside to get warm and enjoy some hot chocolate and do some inside stuff for a while. The other day, Sylvia and I build a nest: I hot-glued together some pieces of craft felt into a bowl-ish shape, and she filled it with lengths of yarn. Then she asked me to make a bird for her, so I made up this one:


I’m in the home stretch of the Wonderful Wallaby I’m knitting for myself–working on the neck placket now (woot!). I’ve decided not to knit the hood. The result won’t be an exact match to the hooded Wallabies I’ve knit for Sylvia and Jan, but I know I will never wear the hood, so there’s no point in wasting yarn and time on it. I expect to finish up this sweater in the next few days. In the meantime, I’ve been wearing a sweater that I finished during the summer…and just now realize that I never wrote about here.

It’s a simple bottom-up in-the-round raglan knit in Wool of the Woods. It’s very toasty and has a buttoned opening on the front-left raglan seam. (Because the neckline is so wide, I don’t ever need to unbutton the sweater to get it on or off.) My favorite part? The buttons:


I bought these buttons when Sylvia was maybe a year old. They are pewter, and I bought two of each of the five designs, thinking they would be so adorable on a sweater for her. Unfortunately, they are rather heavy–too heavy for a fine knit. They work well on this raglan seam, though; because it’s on an angle, I think that helps prevent the buttons from sagging.


Signs of the season

Aside from some Christmas-related stuff (lights and ornaments, mostly), we don’t have a lot of store-bought holiday decorations. Our holiday-themed decorating is pretty restrained–partly because we don’t want to have to store the stuff for the rest of the year, and partly because our quotidian stuff already takes up most of our space.

But we do like to make things, and now that Sylvia has become fairly adept with scissors, glue sticks, and crayons/pencils/markers, she likes to work on these crafts too.

First up this year, an autumn tree for our front door. (We actually did this one a few weeks ago, when the leaves first started to turn.) We did something like this two years ago, but at that time Sylvia’s only contribution was patting into place the leaves I had cut out and backed with rolled-up pieces of tape. (She was only two then–not quite ready for scissors.)

This year, however, she cut out all the leaves herself! (I made stencils for her to trace onto construction paper.) I cut out and taped up the trunk and branches, and she put all of the leaves exactly where she wanted them.


Next up: some mice for the steps! I did all the cutting for these, but Sylvia put (most of) them in place. (I did have to offer suggestions now and then, to ensure that we didn’t end up with six mice on one step.)


And of course we needed some bats! These are solar shades, which block harsh sunlight and UV light but don’t block all light and still allow visibility. (We prefer to have no curtains or shades on our windows, but this room gets bright morning light, and we need to protect the piano.) When they’ve been pulled down in the evening in anticipation of the morning sun, they provide a nice amber-hued, slightly glowing backdrop to the bats.


Here’s some more of Sylvia’s (mostly) solo work. The spiders were easy: one circle for the body, one circle for the head, and eight strips for the legs.

I made eye, beak, wing, and chest feather stencils for her to use for the owl parts. By the time she got to the third owl, she said, “I don’t feel like doing the chest feathers.” I told her that it was okay for the owls to be different–they didn’t all have to look the same. She wasn’t satisfied with this response, though, and scowled until a lightbulb went off in her head: “I know! This one can be a baby owl whose chest feathers haven’t grown yet!”


Our final project was this leaf garland. I made stencils of oak, maple, and birch leaves, then traced them (with tailor’s chalk) onto craft felt. Sylvia and I each cut out half of them (some of hers required a bit of “smoothing” on the edge by me afterward), she chose the order in which they should appear, and I sewed them together with invisible thread.


In spite of what recent posts here may have led you to believe, I haven’t just been taking pictures of flowers these past few weeks. I’ve actually done quite a bit of crafting!

In early spring, I decided to start on my first “real” (i.e., not teddy-bear-sized) top-down raglan. At Christmas I’d received a copy of Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the Top, and after reading through it felt pretty confident that I could knit a top-down sweater for myself.

So in March I dutifully swatched and found the gauge I wanted for the many skeins of Nature Spun I had in my stash, then cast on. All seemed to be going well at first, and when it came time to set the sleeve stitches aside and continue on the body, I tried on what I’d knit so far and double-checked with some of my knitting friends that it was turning out all right.

But somehow, in spite of my gauge checking and careful measuring and getting a thumbs-up from my friends, something went terribly wrong: in mid-April, when the sweater length was about four inches below the arms openings, I tried it on again and discovered that it was too big. No, “too big” doesn’t do the size of this thing justice. It was ginormous. I spread it out on the table, whipped out a measuring tape, and was astonished to find the width of this thing at 22 inches. That’s 44 inches all around. That’s nearly a foot more than was I was aiming for. I have no idea how this happened. It’s so bad that I’m not even going to take a picture of it. Needless to say, at that point I was feeling pretty discouraged about the whole top-down sweater thing. I’m sure I’ll give it another try, but I need to put this aside for a while first.

p5268618socksftf.jpgFortunately, I have managed to get a good dose of project-completion satisfaction recently. For the last year or so, I’ve taken to having a sock-in-progress with me at all times (well, whenever I’m taking my sling bag somewhere with me). My sock projects fit neatly into the awesome bag that Deborah gave me last fall, and it’s amazing how a-few-rows-here and a-few-rows-there can turn into a completed sock faster than one might expect. The pair of socks I just finished is for me, and I made it out of the fabulous Sea Wool yarn that Chelle gave me a year and a half ago. I loved working with this yarn, and the socks feel very luxurious. They’ve been packed away for the summer, and I look forward to wearing them when the weather turns cold again next fall.

p5268619washclothftf.jpgAnd here’s another recently (as in “two days ago”) piece of knitting. I knit a lot of ball-band washcloths a few years ago when the first Mason-Dixon Knitting book made them all the rage, but then I ended up taking a break from them for a while. Now I make them as gifts for friends, and I really enjoy the process of making something by hand that contains thoughts of the recipient and is likely to be appreciated and used. My latest thing: monochrome cloths. I really like the simple look of these.

p5248481blanketftf.jpgI’ve been doing some experimental sewing, too! I recently did the “seasonal switcheroo” in Sylvia’s room (put out-of-season clothing and bedding into a storage box, make sure the in-season stuff still fits) and remembered that there was still a stack of receiving blankets in one of her underbed drawers. When she was born, we got a gazillion of these as gifts. They didn’t get used for swaddling—partly because Sylvia was born just as spring hit its stride and the weather was warm, and partly because she was ten pounds at birth and from the get-go was just too big for them—and were mostly used by Sylvia when playing with her stuffed animals.

She’s been in need of a light cotton blanket for summer, so when I saw these receiving blankets I figured, “Hey, I can just sew these together to make a big blanket for her.” And that’s what I did. Sort of. My plans to make a huge blanket were foiled when I realized that the dozen or so blankets in the drawer were of two different sizes—and some had been stretched or poorly cut or whatever and weren’t as square as I’d like. So I ended up making two blankets: one with six blankets, and one with four. Here’s a picture of the smaller one (which lives in our den now). I can’t provide a photo of the larger one because it is on Sylvia’s bed—she loves it.

Recycling + something Sylvia will actually use = Hooray!

p3046456yarnbox.jpgA few years ago, I started saving my yarn scraps and snippets in a large Mason jar. They’ve proven useful for crafting with Sylvia (yarn cuttings make great hair), and last spring she enjoyed spread handfuls of them outside for the birds to use in nest-making.

This year we decided to kick our bird-aiding efforts up a notch and made a little box to hold the yarn bits. I covered this Barilla pasta box with packing tape (to make it a bit weatherproof), and Sylvia decorated it with stickers that she thought the birds would like. I punched holes for a little perch and punched yarn holes. She then filled the box with yarn from the jar, and pulled some strings through the holes to give the birds a hint. (I think of this as akin to the “suggestive change” in a busker’s open instrument case.)

We hung the yarn box on the dogwood tree outside our dining room window. It’s just a branch away from the birdhouse and a different branch away from our new goldfinch feeder. All of this is easily visible from the dining room, so I hope this spring nature will provide us with some mealtime entertainment.


Recycling, politics-style

If you showed your political colors via a pumpkin, your sign can go into a compost bin when it’s no longer needed. But if you opted for one of those lawn signs, composting is not an option.

You could, like a few homes I see in my area, continue to display your sign. At this point, though, that smacks of schadenfreude. I think it’s best to have your Schadenfreude Pie, then move on.*

You could just throw it in the trash. But if just thinking about that triggers your want-to-save-the-planet reflex, then try this instead: turn it into a birdhouse. Looks pretty easy to do!


*The creator of this pie, John Scalzi, has this to say about the pie he made last week: “One of the reasons I love this pie I have invented is that it is perfect for what it’s supposed to be, which is something rich and dark and bitter that you better not have too much of. Last night and this morning, each time I took a slice of it, I took ever-so-slightly more than I should have, and now both times it’s sat in my stomach, threatening reflux. It’s a moral lesson, really: Like this particular pie, too much gloating invites payback. It’s nice to have a physical lesson to go with the existential one.”



I recently read a very thoughtful post that wondered if swaps were bad for the environment. After all, there’s a lot of packaging and transportation resources going into these things. If swaps are just about getting stuff from other people, then maybe we ought to help out the planet and stop doing them.

For me, though, swaps are about meeting other people–with whom I have something in common–I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. I believe that people who do swaps just to get yarn, tea, whatever from someone else should just buy that stuff for themselves if they want it. I haven’t participated in many swaps, but I’ve been fortunate to become friends with several of my partners. We keep up with each others’ blog, send letters, and just generally keep in touch. I like it. And it’s those experiences that make the swap experience so worthwhile for me.

The swaps I’ve done have been ones I found on knitting blogs. If you, too, have an itch to meet some fellow knitters, crafters, vegetarians, dog-owners, stamp collectors, music lovers, whatever, here are a few places you can look.

Swap-bot has been around for over two years, and I think I first heard of it some time last year. A quick perusal of the offerings can be paralyzing: there are so many possibilities. Christmas-themed swaps are on the “most popular” list for now, but you can also find swaps for wind-up toys, lists of secrets, digital photos of pets, postage stamps, and handmade paper.

A new blog, SwapDex, also covers many types of crafts. It does (so far) lean heavily toward knitting swaps.