Archive for the 'gifts' Category


Sew what have I been up to?

p6118677apronftf.jpgNow that I know how to use my sewing machine, I’m having fun trying different patterns and learning how fabric and thread come together. (Or not–which can prompt the use of some choice words.) Last month I made this apron (modeled here by Jan) as a birthday gift for my brother. The pattern is from Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projectsand he’s the one who gave me that book for my birthday two years ago. Sewing through seven layers of cotton twill (when attaching the ties to the body of the apron) pushed my machine to its limits, and I had some trouble negotiating the thumb curves* when sewing on the hand-shaped pocket (it looks like someone on a bender sewed that part), but overall I think it looks great.

p7229158skirt1.jpgOne of my birthday gifts this year was Sew What! Skirts: 16 Simple Styles You Can Make with Fabulous Fabrics, and I decided that my first project should be something small. So I made a skirt for Sylvia, using the first “pattern” in the book. It’s for a simple drawstring skirt with an A-line shape, a pocket on the front, and rickrack trim along the bottom. I subbed an elastic waist for the drawstring, ditched the pocket, and kept the rickrack (I found rainbow-colored stuff!) trim. Sylvia loves it!

p7229159skirt2.jpgShe also likes this skirt, which I made from a funky cotton print she and I found together in the remnant bin at Joann. This time I didn’t follow a pattern or use any measurements. I cut two identical rectangles, sewed together one side, made a casing at the top, strung in elastic (sewing it down at both ends), added bias tape** to the bottom hem, and sewed together the remaining side. I didn’t bother making double-fold seams anywhere, relying instead on pinking shears to control fraying. This was intended to be a quick-and-dirty sew–and it was. And she loves this one, too.

p7229161skirt3.jpgI made this final skirt last week, and of all the projects mentioned here it is the only one for which I did not use stuff from the remnant bin. I actually purchased fabric off the bolt for this one. Owls! On corduroy! Seriously–how could I resist buying a yard of this stuff? My plan from the beginning was to make something for Sylvia, but when I got home I was sorely tempted to use it for myself. But she really loves it, so another skirt for her was born. I used the same technique as for the previous skirt–easy peasy.

*Wabi-sabi rules!
**Bias tape is awesome for hem edgings. You get a clean, finished look without investing huge amounts of time and effort.


Two knitted gifts

After my last knitting-related post, I was still feeling pretty antsy to cast on for a non-sock knitting project. I started two and have already completed both of them.

p6108672bonnetftf.jpgFirst up: a bonnet based on the one Lyra wore in The Golden Compass. The story behind this yarn is a sad one. My friend Gina has a colleague whose mother died recently, and the colleague gave Gina her mother’s yarn. There were two balls of Lion Brand Jiffy Thick-and-Quick, and when Gina was at my house last week telling me the story, she asked if I wanted one. We both decided to knit charity hats with them (part of our admission to Knitters Day Out this fall), and I like to think that her friend’s mother would’ve have liked to see the yarn used this way. This was a very quick knit, done in maybe an hour and a half.

p6108673vestftf.jpgNext, I set out to knit something for Maggie, the daughter of one of my college friends. I’ve knit Maggie a few things already (a jester hat and a novelty-yarn scarf), both of which she’s appreciated. She just turned six in March, so I thought I’d make a foray into full-on garments this time. I started with the vest pattern in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes & Gauges (a very excellent book that belongs in every knitter’s library) and tweaked it here and there. I opted for a button-front style (rather than a pullover) and knit it in the round out of yarn I’d gotten in Vermont over the past few years. This was a lot of fun to knit!

maggie1.jpgThe result? Apparently, it was a hit! It arrived on an 85-degree day, and Maggie insisted on wearing it anyway. As you can see, it mostly fits yet still has lots of growing room, so she should get to enjoy it for at least a couple of years!

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!

Where I grew up in the Midwest, people didn’t distribute “goody bags” at birthday parties. That’s a phenomenon I first encountered here on the East Coast, and at first it struck me as a little weird. Since then I’ve come to think of it as akin to [START GEEK ALERT!] the Hobbits’ tradition of distributing gifts on one’s own birthday [END GEEK ALERT!], and I think it can a nice way to teach small children about being hosts and thanking their guests for sharing a special day for them (and not just giving thanks for gifts received).

p5027714goodybags.jpgJan and I wanted the gifts to be something special, so I decided to start by using my newfound sewing skills to make the bags themselves. Each is a simple rectangle with two drawstrings. I went a little nuts and did applique letters (corresponding to the initial letter of each child’s first name) on each bag, too. With her pre-reading skills, Sylvia really enjoyed identifying which bag went to which child and handing them out herself.

p5027716bagsample.jpgEach bag contained a little fairy doll (Sylvia chose fairies as the theme for her party), some multicolored pencils, and a set of mini sketchbooks. The books were a lot of fun to make, not least because I used images from Japanese coloring pages for the covers. Those little animals are just so darn cute!

p5027713ethanbag.jpgSince one of our guests is only 17 months old, I figured he wasn’t quite ready for those items. So I made a stuffed rabbit-thingy for his bag. I winged it, so its ears are as long as its body, but it was fun to make. Experimenting with fabric is a lot faster than experimenting with yarn!

p4267532dolls.jpgThe little fairies were a lot of fun to make, too. I used recycled felt for the bodies and wings, a pipecleaner for the arms (with polyfill-stuffed muslin hands), and polyfill-stuffed muslin for the head. For the hair, I ordered four different sets of hand-dyed Border Leicester locks from Enchanted Yarns. I told her what I was going to do with them, and she suggested using needle felting techniques to attach them to the heads. Amazingly, I was unable to find any local vendors (either large craft stores or local yarn shops) that carried them, and by the time I started on this project I didn’t have time to order them. So I took a chunk of locks and used invisible thread to sew down where the center seam would be, thus creating a “wig” of sorts, which I then hand-sewed to each head. Perfect, no—but I think they turned out all right.

It’s taken me a few days to recover from all of those wild Pi Day festivities (okay, not really), but here I am with a whole bunch of good news!

News the first: I just had my car’s annual inspection this morning, and my little 1993 Saturn SL1 (yes, it’s official: I drive a beater) gets to live for another year! Yippee! I’m not looking forward to the expense of replacing this one when it’s no longer (legally) drivable. And I just love my little car, which has traveled to both coasts and back again several times since I bought it new.

p3086462socks.jpgNews the second: I knit these socks for my friend Valerye for her birthday. They arrived a day late (she lives in Australia, and it’s hard to gauge how long international mail takes these days), but she didn’t mind at all—she thinks of late gifts as just prolonging the birthday celebration. She loves them! And they fit, too—no small thing, considering I don’t know her shoe size. I’ve never even seen her feet, since we’ve never actually met. We’ve been pen pals for sixteen years. Wow.

p3186555garden.jpgNews the third: My garden is already off to a great start!* A couple of weeks ago we had a break in the cold weather. It was one of those freakishly warm days when you see pretty much everyone outside and hear lawnmowers revving throughout the neighborhood. Sylvia and I took advantage of the day to clean out our garden beds. We found several wiggly earthworms (which she enjoyed holding in her hands before finding a nice patch of dirt for them), cleared off dead leaves, and set up stakes for our peas and other climbers.

Yesterday, on St. Patrick’s Day, we planted our pea seeds—as instructed by Mike McGrath. Once we find the staple gun (it’s somewhere in this house…) we’ll set up trellis netting on the stakes, and those climbing peas will be able to go nutso!

News the fourth: On Saturday, the three of us attended a regional theater production in Old City, Philadelphia, of A Year with Frog and Toad. Wow. I am pretty sure that this is just about the best show (professional or amateur) I have ever seen. This particular production was terrific, but the show itself is just utterly sweet and charming and well-paced and cleverly structured. It’s based, as you can probably guess, on Arnold Loebel’s famous Frog and Toad stories.

The best part? Watching Sylvia’s almost-four-year-old face just light up while watching the show. Since Saturday, we’ve been listening to the soundtrack pretty much nonstop. And she’s got Jan and me doing pretend play with her based on the stories. Usually, she likes to be “the snail with the mail” or “the red bird.” I’m usually cast (she is the casting director, of course) as Toad, and Jan is usually “the blue bird.” On Sunday morning, she asked me to show her how to write “Dear Toad,” then she copied it onto a piece of paper, then—as “the snail with the mail”—very, very slowly delivered it to me.

News the fifth: On Monday I went back to Philly to meet an old friend (and his fiancee) from Oregon. They live in Portland now but are in New Jersey visiting her family for a few days. Mike and I met when I was doing my fieldwork and he was doing his doctoral research in marine biology and ecology. We kept in touch but this was the first time in ten years we’d seen each other. We met up at our favorite Chinese vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Chinatown. Yum!


*Sylvia is taking a picture here with her “new” camera (my old point-and-shoot), which she got for Christmas. She is quite the shutterbug. It’s fascinating to look at the photos and catch a glimpse of the world through her eyes.


Baby hats

Two friends of mine just had their first babies. One friend is someone I was close to in high school, saw a lot in early grad school (he lived in the same town where I was in school), and fell out of touch with for several years. We’ve recently resumed contact, and when I learned that he and his wife were expecting their first baby this month, I knew I just had to knit a hat for them. Their daughter arrived last week, and I knit the little red strawberry cap for her in one three-hour stretch; it will go out in the mail this week.

p1185811hatsftf.jpgThe other friend is someone I met in Oregon many years ago. A little over a year ago I made hats for her and her husband as wedding gifts (and apparently they still get a lot of wear—hooray!). Their first child, a little girl, was born just over a week ago. Not long before that, I sent them a sweater and hat for the baby: a simple boatneck and rolled-brim hat, both from Debbie Bliss and both done in Rowan All-Seasons Cotton left over from Sylvia’s first Wallaby—and both, unfortunately, unphotographed before I packed them up. As soon as I’d heard that little Orla had arrived, I just had to knit her another hat. The pink raspberry hat is for her, and I knit it in a not-newborn size, so she’ll have something to grow into.

Both hats were done in Lamb’s Pride worsted on the bottom, and Knit Picks Wool of the Andes worsted on the top. Lamb’s Pride is the very first yarn I ever knit with (and I did three garter-stitch scarves in a row with it), and I’d almost forgotten how much I love this yarn. Once I knit through my stash, I may just have to plan a project in Lamb’s Pride…


My final FO of 2008

So here’s what I’ve done with the yarn I won at Knitters’ Day Out 2008. (Some of it, at least. There is a lot of it.)

After knitting the We Call Them Pirates hat last summer, I was eager to try my hand at more Fair Isle, and the Squirrel and Oak mittens had long been on my to-knit list. (Like the pirate hat, this pattern is a freebie from Hello Yarn. This site is where I also found the hat that inspired the Totoro hat I made for Jan’s Halloween costume.)

p1025583first.jpgI really wanted to make mittens for Sylvia, and I figured that subbing fingering-weight yarn for the sportweight called for in the pattern ought to yield something the right size for a three-year-old, as long as I chose the correct needle size. That seems logical, right?

So last September I picked up my #1.5 DPNs and knit away. The result was too small (just barely) for her hand.

p1025585second.jpgSo then I moved up to #3 needles and knit another one right away. This time I used the purple yarn for the dark spots on the chart and the green yarn for the light spots. (I had reversed them the first time around and ended up getting confused every once in a while, which required some tinking here and there.)

This time I ended up with a mitten that was too large. D’oh!

p1025588third.jpgAfter putting this project aside for a couple of months, I decided on December 20 that I really wanted to get them done by Christmas. So I tried again, this time with #2 needles.

And it worked! The mitten fit perfectly (with “perfectly” being defined as “there’s just enough extra room to insure that she won’t outgrow them this winter”). After trying on this mitten, Sylvia was so happy with it that she wore it (yes, just the one) around the house for half an hour.

p1025581front.jpgI finished the second one after Sylvia went to bed on Christmas night. I am thrilled with how they turned out.

I love this yarn. Linda at Bearlin Acres grows, spins, and dyes some mighty fine fiber. If you have a chance to throw some on your needles, go for it. This stuff didn’t split or snag or anything, and it flowed wonderfully as I knit.

I love this pattern, too. It’s very well written, and the result is something worthy of a post on Cute Overload.

p1025582back.jpgSee the fuzz on the palms? That’s the result of some post-Christmas snowman building. Sylvia loves her new mittens. That’s the best part of all.


Today was a good mail day

I’ve decided to suspend my outrage at the USPS temporarily. I figure they deserve a one-day reprieve for bringing me some goodies in the mail today.

p9253531booksftf.jpgFirst up, a trio of books from Two Pointy Sticks. She held a poetry-writing contest three weeks ago, and I think she fell and hit her head or something because she actually liked what I wrote and chose me as one of the winners. I got to choose my prize from among a list of books she was getting rid of and opted for two Harmony stitch guides. No sooner had I responded to her e-mail with my choice when she wrote back saying, “Oh, would you like to have another book, too?” So this lovely Jo Sharp book hitched a ride in the padded envelope to my house.

Getting something in the mail that isn’t a bill or junk mail? Wonderful. Getting knitted-related mail? Oh, so very sweet indeed. Thanks so much, Rooie!

p9253532bagftf.jpgSo I’m sitting on our driveway, going through rest of the mail while watching Sylvia scoot along on her scooter, when the mail carrier actually comes back to my house with some stuff he neglected to drop off earlier. (He is not our usual mail carrier. Our usual mail carrier, Catherine, is awesome. And she runs marathons.)

Along with the weekly sales circular (ugh, I hate those things—mine goes straight into the recycling bin) there was a big envelope from…Deborah! She was my downstream secret pal in SP11 last fall, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. She’s a very talented knitter and a great sewer, too. And look what she made for me: this beautiful knitting bag (with a gorgeous solid green lining). And see how the zipper pull matches the stitch markers she also sent? Awesome.

Two gifts in one day: one expected, one unexpected. Okay, USPS, I’ll let you off the hook for now. But tomorrow, you’re going back on my shit list.


Busy times

Last Sunday (just over a week ago), the three of us did a day trip up to New York (about a two or two-and-a-half-hour drive for us) to attend a one-year-old’s birthday party at Shea Stadium. We left our house at 7:30 in the morning and had parked at the stadium lot by 9:30.*

I love New York City. I don’t think I would ever want to live there (unless I were filthy stinking rich enough to afford a home larger than a closet), but it’s a magical place to visit. Coming into the city early on a weekend morning is my favorite: everything is so quiet, there’s no traffic, and the city has a lovely otherworldly quality.

We hopped on the subway and took it one stop to the end of the line, right in the middle of Chinatown in Flushing. My brother (who lives in Greenwich Village) met us there, and we had dim sum brunch together at a terrific vegetarian Chinese restaurant. We took the subway back to the stadium and got to the party location (a box for thirty people) about half an hour before the game started at 1:10.

Neither Jan nor I are sports fans, but we were able to explain the basics of baseball to Sylvia. Well, not all of them: we didn’t get past the part about the guy trying to hit a ball with a special stick. That’s all she wanted to know. She enjoyed watching the first inning and a half of the game, then mostly lost interest unless the organist was playing a song.

Mr. Met stopped by the box to say hello to the birthday boy and pose for pictures. Personally, I don’t know why all the little kids who were at the party didn’t freak out at the sight of him. Think about it: it’s a guy with a giant baseball for a head. If that isn’t horrifying, what is?

The Mets trounced the Cardinals in just two-and-a-half hours, so we were back on the road again by 4:30. Even though Sylvia napped in the car, by the time we got home around 7:30 we were all exhausted. We all fell out.

There’s a knitting connection to this post, though. The gray toddler socks I knit last month were a gift for the birthday boy (whose birthday isn’t really for another week). His mom’s birthday was on Sunday (though totally downplayed because it was her son’s party), and I gave her a pair of socks I’d completed the night before (racing against deadline!). I neglected to take a photo of them, so I’ll have to see if I can get one from her.


*Of course it figures that when I finally make it to Queens (I’ve now visited all five boroughs—woot!), the one person I know there, Deborah (my awesome downstream pal in SP11), was busy running the NYC Half Marathon through Central Park and Times Square. I’m sure I’ll get a chance to meet her some day, though!


Mail call!

Today’s mail brought not one but two delightful packages.

p6091210magnets.jpgFirst, wrapped in even more packing tape than even I use (and I like to use enough to ensure that any package I send will survive a nuclear winter), was a small envelope from my friend Mary Ann, whom I’ve known since we went to college together. About a month ago, she sent me a birthday card in which she’d written a promise to send me another tacky magnet for my collection. When she and her family went on vacation to Great Smoky Mountain National Park a couple of weeks ago, she made doubly good on that promise by picking up two of the cheesiest magnets she could find. (Note the use of Smokey, a misspelling that ratchets up the tackiness quotient for this duo.) I’m putting these on the fridge right next to the Bass Pro goodies that another college friend, Frank, sent me in April.

The second box contained lots of yarny goodness. About two weeks ago I won a contest at Yarn Is My Metier. Karen asked people to compose haiku poems for her birthday (which was May 29), and the random number generator chose my entry as one of the winners.

Next thing I know, I get an e-mail from Karen asking my for my snail-mail info and all about my yarn preferences. Sending along my address was simple, but answering the other questions was tricker. I had a bad case of option paralysis. It was like standing in front of the counter at a Baskin Robbins. Fortunately, Karen was very patient and, after a few e-mails back and forth, announced that she would send me enough burgundy yarn for a shrug (a project I’m interested in trying) and enough taupe yarn to make something for Sylvia.

p6091211yarn1.jpgThe taupe yarn? Four balls of Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran. I received a Jo Sharp book as a gift from a friend in Australia two years ago, but have never tried any of her yarn before—or even handled it, for that matter. This stuff is so soft. It’s 85% wool, 10% slik, and 5% cashmere. (Interestingly, the care instructions say “Dry flat in shade.” That’s the first time I’ve seen that variation. What happens if you dry it in the sun? Does it get a sunburn?) I’m thinking I might turn this into a little vest for Sylvia, or perhaps some legwarmers for her. Ooooh…maybe cabled legwarmers!

p6091216yarn2.jpgAlso in the box were a panda pencil sharpener (which was of course immediately appropriated by Sylvia) and three balls of Jaegar Shetland Aran in a beautiful burgundy color. This yarn is 80% wool and 20% alpaca and it, too, is very soft and totally new to me. I haven’t quite decided what to do with this yarn, but I’m eager to get it on the needles. Karen suggested I look at her Mia Shrug pattern (available in the sidebar on her blog, and also a popular knit on Ravelry). It’s awfully cute and may be just the sort of dive-in-head-first plunge I need to get over my reluctance fear sheer terror of lace knitting!

So thanks, Mary Ann and Karen, for making my day!

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