I have to admit that I don’t decorate much for Christmas, or throughout the year, for that matter. I put up a tree and hang a wreath on the door, but that’s about it. A few years ago, I started collecting the LEGO Winter Village sets (Some people collect ceramic houses, I do LEGO.), but I never get around to setting up an actual display. Maybe this year will be different.
I came across a video a few weeks ago for how to make pumpkin pom pom garland. I’ve seen a similar technique for making several pom poms at once, but this is pretty clever. First, wrap lots of yarn around two poles several feet apart. Then, securely tie short sections at equal intervals. Finally, cut between the ties to create individual pom poms; for garland, though, keep one strand intact all the way across so that the poms are strung along the length of it, evenly spaced. To trim and shape the pom poms, hold the long strand out of the way while you carefully snip around.
I thought the pumpkin garland was cute, but Handmade Christmas is my schtick. So, how about snowballs? Yep, white yarn works just as well as orange! I flipped a table onto its side and wrapped yarn around the legs. It’s a 6-foot table, so I’m guessing the legs are about 5 feet apart, making my garland about 5 feet long. For a longer garland, I imagine you could flip a table over completely and wrap around all four legs. One tip I have is that it’s faster to wrap with two strands at once by using the inside and outside of the skein. Also, your fingers will get pretty sore from tying a lot of pom poms, so plan breaks accordingly if you’re making several lengths of garland.
Two years ago, I made lots of large white pom poms for my sister’s three girls for a Frozen-inspired indoor snowball fight. I made them with a Clover pom pom maker. It’s a great little tool, but it took forever to make those things. I wish I’d known about this trick back then. Do you know some kids who live in a warmer climate or are too small for a knockdown, drag-out snowball fight? A bucket of fluffy pom poms would be a fun, quick gift.
Another gift I’m thinking of is knitted Mason jar covers. When you place a candle inside (battery-operated, for me), the fabric diffuses the glow and casts pretty figures onto the wall. Jenn Sheelen has several beautiful patterns, but the one I used was Faerie’s Firelight. Several of my knitting friends made these last year. I think I knit mine in about a day.
And, of course, cowls, shawls, and toys are rather quick projects to knit or crochet. Don’t forget about the Indie Design Gift-A-Long! The 25%-off sale ends November 30. Then post your projects by the end of the year for a chance to win prizes!
With Christmas just over a month away, it’s time for all you knitters and crocheters to kick your crafting into high gear if you’re planning to make hand-stitched gifts. If you’re still looking for just the right pattern, now is a great time to support independent designers like me. It takes a lot of time and hard work to put out quality designs, so we all really appreciate every pattern sale. The Indie Design Gift-A-Long (GAL) is a Ravelry-wide knit-along/crochet-along (KAL/CAL) that showcases knit and crochet designers who self-publish their patterns. Without wide exposure from magazines or yarn companies, indie designers are left to fend for themselves. This GAL is an excellent way to discover fun patterns from new-to-you designers. The event begins with a pattern sale running from tonight, November 22, at 8 p.m. EST (New York time) through Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 11:59 p.m. EST. Hundreds of designers (335, actually) have created “pattern bundles” on Ravelry to highlight their 5-20 designs that qualify for a 25% discount. Use the universal code giftalong2016 in your shopping cart to take advantage of the sale.
But that’s not all! Once you’ve saved some PayPal cash and added patterns to your queue, you can participate in the KAL/CAL GAL. Get busy with those sticks and hooks and then post pictures of the finished objects in their appropriate threads on Ravelry. You’ll find inspiration and encouragement from other knitters and crocheters along the way. You just might win a prize, too! Since you do need to rest your hands every once in a while, you can play a few games and even win prizes that way. The Gift-A-Long ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on December 31, 2016. All the details are spelled out in the Indie Design Gift-A-Long group.
I’m thrilled to be included as one of the indie designers again this year. All of my patterns (except the free ones, of course) qualify for the 25% discount, so this is a fantastic time to buy one or more that you’ve had your eye on. Only projects started after the official GAL start time on November 22 can qualify for the GAL; however, if you’ve purchased a pattern in the past but just haven’t gotten around to making it, the GAL is an awesome excuse to shop your pattern stash!
I know budgets are tight and you might not be able to support me or others by buying all the patterns you want. That’s totally ok. You can still help by sharing patterns you love with your friends. Hit the like/favorite/pin/share buttons wherever you see them to spread the love. That would totally make my day.
I love to make quick projects, so that’s generally what I like to design. That means any of my patterns could easily be finished before Christmas. If you start now, you might even be done before Thanksgiving. Do you have big knitting/crochet plans this holiday season?
How about something for the kids this month? Choosing from a wish list on Amazon is awfully easy, so I’m certainly happy when that’s an option. Sometimes, though, I like to give a small handmade gift, as well, to show that I’ve put a little more thought into the gift.
When my son was a toddler, I ran across the idea of busy bags**. These are little learning activities that young children can handle with little to no supervision- -a necessity if Mom wants to get dinner made. Some activities are portable enough to be used while waiting for dinner to be served in a restaurant.
For Christmas, I’d choose just one or two activities to add to a store-bought gift. A search for “busy bags” or “busy bags for toddlers (or preschoolers or kindergarteners)” on Pinterest or in a web browser will yield a ton of results. “Quiet bags” or “quiet books” are other keywords to use. Keeping the age and skillset of the child in mind, choose activities that focus on areas that need a little work. There are games that can help with color matching, counting, fine motor skills, and so on. As with any toy, good judgment should be used with regard to the readiness of your child for each activity.
One of my favorites is one that helps with fine motor skills and counting. Pipe cleaners are snipped to various lengths and bent a little to look like wiggly worms. The worms are spread out over a piece of green or brown felt (the grass or dirt). Then the child uses a clothespin (mama bird) to pick up worms and feed them to her babies in the nest (a plastic bowl). Clothespins take a lot more strength to open than you’d think, so they are good for building hand muscles, important for handwriting later on. Younger children can use fingers to pick up the worms. The child can also count how many worms there are in each color.
For older children you can trust to use Play-Doh without eating it (My son was about 4 when I first made this.), my old stand-by is a homemade Gak kit. Gak was a nickname for the green slime on the Double Dare game show on Nickelodeon and was later marketed as a toy for kids. The gooey slime is easy to make at home with just a few ingredients.
1 teaspoon borax powder
liquid food coloring
1.5 cups warm water, divided
1 4-oz. bottle Elmer’s glue, white or clear
In a measuring cup, dissolve borax and a few drops of food coloring in 1 cup warm water and set aside. Pour glue into a medium bowl. Measure an additional 4 oz. warm water in glue bottle and add to glue in bowl. Carefully stir glue and water until combined. Pour the borax solution into the glue/water mixture and watch as it seizes up. Stir for a few moments to combine. Begin working it into a blob with your hands, kneading it until most of the water is absorbed. Discard any excess water. Store in a plastic bag or airtight container.
To make this more giftable, I like to pre-dye the borax. Measure out the borax into a bowl. Add a few drops of food coloring and stir until the color is mixed throughout. Let the powder stand overnight to let it dry completely. Pour borax into a small plastic bag and include it with instructions, bottle of glue, and a 2.5-cup disposable food container.
Popsicle Puzzles- -Glue a magazine photo to a series of popsicle sticks and cut apart. Make it more challenging by gluing a second photo to the other side. This is an easy one to toss into a purse for emergency entertainment.
**If you get a group of moms on board with the idea, you can organize a busy bag swap and come home with an assortment of busy bags. My friend Kristen did this with her moms’ group in Des Moines and let me join from afar. The swap is run like you would a cookie exchange. You choose one activity and make one for yourself and one for each mom in the swap. Rather than coming up with (and buying various supplies for) ten different busy bags for your own child, you make ten copies of the same activity and place each in a plastic bag. The result is ten unique games for your child to choose from.
By the way, Christmas is now just TWO months away! Seriously? I’m not sure how that happened.
Do you have any fun handmade Christmas ideas?
I’m so excited to release my new shawl pattern today! Gathering Rosebuds is a shallow crescent, one of my favorite shawl shapes. I love the long tails that can wrap around my shoulders when worn as a traditional shawl, and when I wrap it around my neck like a scarf, the center isn’t so deep that it feels like I’m wearing a lobster bib. The increases are worked all the way through the border in order to maintain the elegant curve of the crescent. This means that the tails cascade gracefully rather than being lopped off at the ends.
I designed Gathering Rosebuds to be knit with just one skein of fingering weight yarn. I chose a gorgeous skein of MCN (Merino/Cashmere/Nylon 80/10/10) dyed by Jeanette of Sun Valley Fibers. (Mine used about 92 g in the Moody colorway.) She has some of the most beautiful semi-solid colorways. If you have extra yarn, I’ve included additional instructions for knitting two more rows of rosebuds. Charts and written instructions are provided in the pattern.
What’s in a name?
When I found the stitch pattern for the rosebud border, I thought of the first line of a poem, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” and was instantly taken back to an English literature class I took as a senior in college. I had a fantastic professor who renewed my interest in poetry. One of my favorite poems from that class was “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” by Robert Herrick, published in 1648. At first, it drew giggles and blushes from the class, but once we got over our immaturity, I think most of us in the class learned to appreciate the poem, at least on some level.
On the surface, it sounds like a man’s ploy for young girls to abandon chastity, and it very well might have been, but I think there’s more to it. He’s warning that our time on earth is short, so should start living full lives before it’s too late to enjoy ourselves. Even though life was very different three-and-a-half centuries ago, I think this poem is still relevant. The underlying theme is “carpe diem.” (Remember that great line in Dead Poets Society? Robin Williams’ character says, “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”) It’s not just about getting your act together and doing something, but also enjoying the journey; we should stop and smell those rosebuds we gather. “Carpe diem,” “live in the moment,” “make hay while the sun shines,” or “gather ye rosebuds while ye may”—whichever expression you prefer, embrace it and fill your knitting time with gratifying projects. After all, you only live once. YOLO, baby!
Time is flying! I still haven’t settled on my handmade gift for everyone this year. I just keep collecting ideas and dabbling, but nothing has lit my fire yet. It could be that it’s hard to feel the pressure of Christmas when it’s still 85 degrees, but now that fall is officially here, it’s time to get on the ball. Christmas is only three months away!
To create a rope basket, I found several methods to choose from. First, using hot glue to adhere the coiled rope to itself. No thanks. That seems like it’s just inviting disaster (while making it or while using it). Second, crocheting the rounds of rope together (like this and this). This method definitely has potential, but it takes longer. Third, and the route I chose, using a sewing machine to zigzag the rounds of rope together. (This one is absolutely gorgeous! If you subscribe to Creativebug, they have a good video tutorial.) A variation of this is to first wrap the rope with scraps of fabric or even yarn just before you zigzag. (I like the look of the baskets shown here.)
cotton rope — I used cotton/poly clothesline, 3/16″ x 100 ft, from Wal-Mart for under $4. (Choose rope that is close to 1/4″. Much thicker than that will be difficult to fit under the needle.)
sewing thread — a full spool or more, in one or more colors
Like many projects, the hardest part is getting started. The clothesline I used is cotton braid with a polyester core. It’s surprisingly multicolored and ultra-multi-stranded. Bending the rope makes the core pop out a little. The trick I learned is to slide the outer cotton sheath back to expose the core. Then, pinching the core firmly, cut it back about an inch or so. Slick the cotton back down. This leaves the end of the rope empty and less bulky for starting the spiral and the fuzzy core isn’t exposed.
Begin with a FULL bobbin. This project eats thread.
Fold over about 1″ of the end of rope. With the fold at the top, cut end on the left, and working rope on the right, backstitch to secure the beginning of the thread, and begin sewing with a zigzag stitch. Rotate your work (not the length of loose rope) counterclockwise as you continue to wrap the new rope around. Use the center point of your sewing machine foot to follow the groove between ropes so the zigzag straddles evenly. Work in a flat spiral until the disc is the size you want for the base. If you want it to flare out as the sides grow, begin tilting the disc at a 45-degree angle. This angle will fatten the basket. When you’re happy with the overall width, tilt the basket up to 90 degrees to build the sides straight up. If you want straight sides without flaring first, skip the 45-degree angle and immediately go to 90. When you’re ready to finish off the basket, cut the rope about 3″ from where you’ve stopped sewing. If your rope has a core, you can trim it back to reduce bulk as before. Fold it over so that the cut end is tucked in between the basket and the working rope. Join the cut end to the basket with a zigzag until you reach the fold. Zigzag backward over the remaining bit of rope to secure. (There are countless ways to add handles to your basket if you want them. This tutorial walks through one type that looks nice.) Trim threads and marvel at your new basket!
It’s best to work slowly in order to achieve neat results. In my case, I put my pedal to the metal and just let it rip! (I sometimes like to imagine that I’m on Project Runway and am sewing at the speed of light on an industrial machine.) That means that I did go off course once or twice and had to backstitch to close up those gaps. That’s what some of those darker blobs are in my samples. After a couple of those re-dos, I added in a few backstitches here and there just to balance things out. Planned imperfections. If you don’t want any mistakes to show, you can go back with a needle and thread that matches the rope and close up any holes. Mistakes will be more obvious if you use dark thread. Using neutral thread is a smart choice for the first try.
One more note:
If you need to stop and start in order to close up gaps or to change a bobbin, the basket might be hard to slip back under the needle. Try disengaging the feed dogs while you reposition the basket and the stitches won’t get caught on them. Just be sure to put them back up or you won’t get anywhere.
Now that I’ve got the hang of it, I think I might have to attempt a larger basket to wrangle balls of yarn or clutter that accumulates at my knitting nest.
Watch for the release of my Gathering Rosebuds pattern VERY soon!
Every year, I tend to choose one unique gift to make and give the same thing to everyone. Last year, I finally got around to trying something I’d seen on Pinterest (this post) a few years ago— Nutella Powder. It was a big hit with my family and friends, so I thought I’d share it with you.
So what is it? Nutella (the creamy spread made with hazelnuts and cocoa powder) is combined with tapioca maltodextrin powder (a tapioca-derived starch that is used as a thickener, filler, or stabilizer in foods) to transform it into a treat that can be sprinkled rather than smeared. Without getting too technical, the tapioca maltodextrin absorbs the fat in the Nutella and transforms it into a powder.
(If you’ve ever watched cooking challenges on Food Network, you may have seen chefs transform foods using “molecular gastronomy.” They make instant ice cream with liquid nitrogen, spheres of “caviar” out of fruit juice, and foams whipped out of everything imaginable. The transformation of Nutella into powder is along the same lines. Check out this website for some examples and recipes. You can even download a free e-book with hundreds of recipes here.)
Why would someone want to sprinkle Nutella? Well, first, because it’s cool. Second, because eating a tablespoon of straight Nutella is a bit decadent, but you can get the same punch of flavor from just, say, a teaspoon of the powdered version. The maltodextrin dissolves in liquid, so when it reaches your tongue, all you get is that rich Nutella flavor without all the fat. I wouldn’t necessarily try to reconstitute it back to its creamy state, however. It’s not quite the same.
So let’s break it down. One serving of Nutella out of the jar is 2 tablespoons with 200 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 23 grams of carbohydrates (1 gram of fiber and 21 grams of sugars). Finding nutrition facts for the maltodextrin was really difficult, but I think I’ve found something that is correct (Amazon product review/customer image). Serving size is 100 grams (What?!) with 370 calories, 0.15 grams of fat, and 92 grams of carbohydrates (1 gram of fiber and 5 grams of sugars). I weighed my 3/4 cup of maltodextrin and it was only 14 grams. So for the entire batch of Nutella powder, we’re looking at about 252 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 36 grams of carbs (1 gram of fiber and 26 grams of sugars). Now, the fat doesn’t disappear; it’s just absorbed. Still, the 12 grams of fat in the original 2 tablespoons of Nutella are now spread out over the entire 7/8 cup batch. I’m not sure what a normal serving would be, but let’s say 1 tablespoon is a serving. (That’s probably generous.) That gives us 14 servings per batch. One tablespoon is only 18 calories, .86 gram of fat, and 2.6 grams of carbs. Sold!
How do I like to eat it? My preferred vehicle is vanilla ice cream. It’s also good sprinkled over fresh fruit, such as apples or bananas. Some people have told me that they like it in hot chocolate or coffee. Experiment!
Here’s the recipe I use:
2 Tbsp Nutella
3/4 cup Tapioca Maltodextrin
Add Nutella and maltodextrin to the bowl of a food processor. Begin with short pulses, working your way up to longer pulses, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally until fully incorporated. When you see that the powder has a consistent color with no large clumps of white or brown, mix on high for a few more seconds to make it fluffier. Use a spoon to transfer the powder to sterilized glass jars or other airtight storage containers. Label, give them to friends and family, and prepare yourself for some amazed and puzzled looks.
I use 4-oz. wide mouth jars, or 8-oz. jelly jars for more generous gifts. One batch yields about 7/8 cup of Nutella powder, enough for 2 small jars or one large jar. I usually make double batches to speed up the assembly line.
*What if you don’t have a food processor? In a deep bowl to reduce spillage, use a pastry cutter followed by a wire whisk to combine the ingredients. The powder won’t be quite as fine or as well incorporated, but it will be good enough. You can see the slight difference in color and texture in this picture.
*Be careful when handling tapioca maltodextrin, especially when opening the package. Don’t run a fan while you’re making this, and don’t inhale or exhale too quickly. This stuff is lighter than air and it will take flight. It’s also a little staticky around plastic, so beware of that, too.
*I bought my tapioca maltodextrin from Amazon in a 1-pound tub. Yes, that will make a lot of batches of Nutella powder (about 32 batches). Here’s a sneaky tip: if you add it to your Subscribe & Save order, you can save 5-15%, depending on how many other items in your subscription. But, like I said, that 1-pound tub will last a long time, so why would you need to have Amazon automatically send more? You probably don’t. I set my subscription to every six months. Then six months from now, if I happen to need it, I’ll order again. More likely, I’ll put off the subscription or cancel it altogether. I do this all the time. You’d be surprised by the weird things you can subscribe to—why would you need to order Sea Bands repeatedly? I don’t know, but I ordered once and canceled.
Other uses for the rest of your 1-pound tub of tapioca maltodextrin:
—Dry caramel salt (I’m totally going to make this one! In fact, I went to the grocery store this morning and grabbed some caramel ice cream topping on a whim. When I got home, I looked at the label and there’s no fat! Darn!)
–Butter for popcorn or corn on the cob
By the way, World Nutella Day is February 5. Good to know.
On a knitting note, I have new shawl design coming soon–Gathering Rosebuds. I have five *brave* testers knitting the pattern right now. Watch for the pattern release in the next couple of weeks!
For this month’s handmade Christmas project, I was inspired by my summer vacation. What? I know. I know. Bear with me.
Last week, my family got back from an 11-day road trip. We’re calling it Dino Drive 2016. (Our first one was in 2013.) My son is 8 and has loved dinosaurs since he was an itty-bitty thing. He’s slowly losing the passion for prehistoric creatures, so his predicted career path has been evolving from paleontology to video game design. I imagine those plans will further evolve over the 10 years between now and college. (Yikes! Only ten years?!) Still, he’s our only child, so we cater to him. We also happen to like dinosaurs and science-y things. So we embarked on a 3400-mile, 59-hour drive across the country. We went to Denver, CO; Vernal, Price, Lehi, and Salt Lake City, UT; drove through Idaho (and 6 minutes in Wyoming) to get to Bozeman, MT; and finally, Billings, MT. We went to ten museums and two zoos. Whew!
The best deal of the trip was that we got in free to most of the museums. We have a family membership to our local Peoria Riverfront Museum; one of the benefits is free or discounted admission to a long list of other museums around the world. Our $95 membership saved us $254! If you’re thinking of traveling to museums over 90 miles from home, a membership to your local science center or museum is definitely worth checking out. Similar reciprocal programs exist for zoo memberships, too, so be sure to investigate that, too.
So what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, with all the traveling we did, we lugged (get it?) lots of suitcases around. That made me think that it would be nice to have a pretty luggage tag. Whether you need to spot your suitcase among a hundred others on an airport baggage carousel, distinguish yours from your husband’s matching bag, or even add identification to your knitting project bag or tote, a luggage tag is a good idea. And if it’s something you’d like to use, then your friends and family might appreciate it, too. You can even use the luggage tag as a gift tag for another handmade gift. Even better!
I searched Pinterest and Craftsy for pattern ideas. I settled on the tutorial by Ms. Elaineous. I liked that my personal information wasn’t on display for all to see. I also loved that I didn’t have to cut a million pieces of fabric. And my mom’s name is Elaine, so that was the clincher. I had saved a vinyl pouch that pillowcases came in, so being a packrat paid off; I used a piece of that for the clear sleeve on the luggage tag. (The frugal part of me is wondering how well a freezer bag would work.) I agree with the tutorial that using a walking foot for sewing the vinyl is definitely a good idea. The only fusible interfacing I had was featherweight, but I fused a second layer and it was perfect. With fabric I had on hand, I was able to sew this tag without a special trip to the store. That may be a crafting first!
My one criticism is that when the tag is folded exactly in half, the strap has to backtrack to get into the buttonhole, making the tag gape open. Next time, I think I’ll sew the buttonhole closer to the edge or make the entire tag about 1/4″ longer, or both. Then I’ll fold it just shy of the midpoint.
Now I just need to get my act together and make a few more! Have you started your handmade gift plans? You have five months left!
It’s hard to believe that the year is half over and that Christmas is only 6 months from now. Holy cow! If you know me from my guest appearances on Knitting Pipeline podcast or follow the KP group on Ravelry, then you probably know that I love to give unique handmade gifts. I typically find one or two items that I can produce en masse and give to everyone at Christmastime. Pinterest has made searching for ideas both easier and overwhelming. Pinterest also makes it easy to save ideas throughout the year, sort of like a knitting pattern queue.
Finding something that will appeal to everyone can be challenging, but once I choose the project, I can usually save money and time by making a lot of them at once. For instance, I might want to package my gifts in Mason jars, typically sold by the dozen. Buying a whole dozen jars only to use seven of them means I’d have five jars sitting around until next year. It’s not such a big deal if it’s just a few jars, but it’s a different story for ingredients with a shelf life. The ever-popular handmade bath and body products use oils and butters that can turn rancid after a while; being able to use up more of the bulk ingredients reduces leftovers, and therefore, waste. Simply planning the number of people to give the items to and/or tweaking the recipes can reduce waste as well as cost per gift. That’s something to keep in mind. (more…)
Today marks my 7th anniversary on Ravelry. It also marks the approximate date I started knitting. The specifics are a little fuzzy about when I cast on my first stitches, but I know that I started my first project, this pair of shorties for a cloth diaper cover, on June 20, 2009. I watched videos on knittinghelp.com to learn everything I needed to know. I remember researching diaper cover patterns online before buying yarn at Ewe-Nique Yarns in Morton, IL. When I was in the shop, I saw a sign about joining Ravelry; I signed up as soon as I got home. Of course, back in those days, Ravelry was still in beta testing, so I had to wait a day or so to get my approval email. The agony! I had no idea seven years ago just how much that simple sign-up form would change my life.
Windswept Forest is my latest knitting design–a cowl knit in the round using a simple lace pattern. For around $8, Quince & Co. Finch knits up quickly into a deceptively inexpensive gift for a friend or for yourself.
The inspiration for this cowl came from a design challenge put forth by Frenchie, a.k.a. ArohaKnits. The challenge began with creating a mood board inspired by one of three themes: ocean, mountains, or forest. I focused on images of forests. I found lots of really cool photos of dense forests but was most intrigued by the windswept trees–trees with branches bent backwards at crazy angles. It’s amazing that some of these trees can possibly remain rooted in the ground.
When I found a stitch pattern that reminded me of the back-bending trees, I knew I was onto something. After a little tweaking and swatching, Windswept Forest was born. The yarnovers and decreases combine to evoke gnarly branches on purled trunks. A bonus is that this stitch pattern, while not truly reversible, looks great on the wrong side; strong trunks stand amidst countless tangled branches. The alternating columns of purl and knitted lace act as ribbing that prevents rolling, so there is no need for a top or bottom border. If joining the first round is tricky for you, I have a nifty trick for resisting the twist.
When I called upon my test knitters to keep an eye out for some crazy trees to photograph for my pattern, I hit the jackpot. Laurie’s (LuvPrettyYarn) husband just happens to be a photographer and just happened to take this awesome photo in California a few years ago. Ken was very generous and allowed me to use his photo in the pattern and on my website. Ken just happens to be awesome!