Making the Awesome

For the last few years I’ve struggled to find gifts that I could make in larger quantities that I felt people would actually want. We can’t buy traditional gifts, but it’s just not Christmas if I can’t give my friends and family something. The obvious solution is to make something, but it can’t just be stuff. It’s got to be a good gift. Gifts that would fit the following criteria:

  • Easy
  • Fast
  • Inexpensive
  • Useful
  • Wow factor


Vanilla beans are pretty damned cool.


This year, I’m happy to say, we have the finances for me to really hit it out of the park. For a ridiculously low investment price I’ve jumped on the internet bandwagon and have made a bunch of 4oz bottles of gourmet ‘Bourbon’ vanilla made with lovely beans from the highly recommended Beanilla. Friends and family have gotten quite excited about it as I’ve documented the process on Facebook. Could it really be as simple as vodka and vanilla beans? Yes, yes it is! I spent two days splitting and cutting vanilla beans down to size, stuffing them into the bottles, and boozing the little guys up. Three giant jugs of cheap vodka later I have 21 bottles of premium vanilla that my recipients can refill twice with vodka of their own, extending the life of their vanilla gift. Two days after bottling the vodka is already turning a golden color and it smells amazing…


Cheap Vodka is the only other ingredient.


And then there you go.


The other gift I’m making is a hybrid pocket potholder based on a pattern I found here. I rounded the edges and made them an inch wider for better coverage since they looked a little small in the specs. I’ve taken a bunch of holiday fabric and made up four sets so far. Two are duds, with fabric placement either upside down or backwards, but I figure that’s just part of the learning curve. They’re actually really easy to make once you stack up the fabric and batting layers. Did you know they make special batting with a Mylar layer to reflect heat, especially for oven mitts and pot holders? I had no idea until I started these! Very cool.

All the bits and pieces.


Come together to make pocket pot holders!


So, here and there over the next few weeks I’ll be making a set until I’ve gotten as many done as I can stand.  I’ve got the sewing machine set up in the living room and quality PBS entertainment streaming to keep me entertained. It’s all coming together.


My Hooker Aspirations

Some long term readers may have noticed that I used to take a lot of pictures of rug hooking at festivals. Not as much now that I’m vending more often, but still, I have a burning fascination with the rug hooking. There’s just something about the colors, the texture, the primitive and yet elegant designs. And then there are the ubiquitous crow/pumpkin/moon/stars themes. It’s like wooly crack to me. This is the year I finally found someone selling a kit for less than $50, in a design (sheep) that I liked. I picked up said kit at the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival and set it aside for “after show season”, when I’d have more time in the evenings.


the kit I bought at SAFF.


Easy peasy!


Sunday night, after I returned from the New England Fiber Festival, I set aside the baby blanket I’m working on and picked up the kit. Now, I’ve watched demos for years, and tried it once hands on, but I’m in no way trained. Still, I was armed with a basic sheet of instructions and my memories, so away I went! My first impressions:

  • My hook is too fine for the width of wool in the kit. I bought it separately not knowing any better, and it kind of mangles the wool.
  • This is really, really easy to do. It’s the tensioning and making the loops even that comes with time.
  • It would be even easier if I had a real hooking lap stand and wasn’t fighting with the unsupported basic embroidery hoop. As these are not cheap, home made might be in order should I continue.
  • This is a great, mindless TV hobby, and I definitely want to do and learn more.
  • This was about two hour’s work for me. Not bad!


Only a couple hours worth of work, including ripping out my first attempt at the face.


At first I wondered “what would these things be? Wall hangings? Pillows? But I can already see so many ways to make gifts and home decor items that I don’t worry about having a lot of useless end-products hanging around the house. Coasters, hot pads, placemats, table runner, wall hanging, rug, chair cushions… Yeah. I might just be in love. I just need to remember to take it slow and pace myself. I am one woman, with two hands, and two jobs. Now, to get some books. ‘Cause, you know… it’s not like I don’t have enough books in my craft library.

Seamy Sunday

Every once in a while I remember that there was life before yarn. My life before yarn was a mish-mash of a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The only real focus I had was sewing, to the tune of Ren Faire and Vampire the Masquerade: Dark Ages LARP costumes. I don’t geek by half, that’s for sure. But then I got a gift of a sewing machine that I didn’t enjoy as much as the Brother (brand) it replaced, and the last nail in the coffin was learning to knit and spin. Poor sewing, it didn’t stand a chance.

Since 2004 it’s safe to say that I’ve sewn maybe four or five projects, two of which were knitting project bags. It’s kind of shameful, really, when you consider that I have a giant tote with over 100 patterns of all sorts in my basement. Worse yet, I have many naked windows here at Tiny House. For shame! Then this Christmas I fell in love with my mom’s new Project Runway (Brother) sewing machine and my parents decided that they wanted me to love sewing again. Now I have one too; an early birthday/Christmas gift.

(The photos were taken with my iPad, sorry for their over exposure.)


I like the spider.


The machine has been sitting quietly for a month, but now that the wool room is cleaned up it’s in the place of honor on my crafting table. It’s been whispering to me. When I dug up some gorgeous Halloween fabric I’d squirreled away in there, I knew it was time to sew. I washed the fabric like you’re supposed to, ironed it, and found myself a free pattern for the type of sling pouch I used to have before I lost a bin of bags and WIPs when we moved to Tiny House. I loved that bag, a girly skull and vines combo I’d made a few years ago. Clearly my lovely Halloween fabric was destined to be a similar bag. Sunday was the day, I decided.


Major surgery was required.


It started out well enough. I cut out my free pattern download and taped it together, only to find that it was too large by about 35%, and the longer handle too short to comfortably hang off your wrist. The entire pattern was hacked apart and maneuvered, ending up roughly where I hoped it should be. On top of that, where the hell did all my black thread go? How could I not have a single spool of black thread with all the Halloween costumes I’ve sewn? Not to be daunted, I chose a lovely burnt orange and released my angst to the universe. Contrasting thread isn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen to my project.


Proof! That iron was actually on at the time of the photo.


Knowing the value of following directions, I dove in, checking against both the written steps and the schematics. I was a good girl. I even pressed my seams! Trust me, I should have had a cookie just for that and washing the fabric, for I am a lazy sewer. I slowly read the directions aloud when it came time to really start assembling the bag, a trick that sometimes helps me when I get stuck with any kind of pattern, for stuck I was. The instructions said one thing, namely to stick the outer fabric ‘bag’ inside the liner and sew up the sides of the handles, both outer and inner edges. The schematic showed the two ‘bags’ and handles sewn separately. I became confused. There was much seam ripping and time lost.


The left handle could be more slender, though it matches across, it looks stubby.


I took a break. Steve wandered in several times for advice on cooking my oatmeal cookies for PAX gifts and I may have been less than helpful while I glared daggers in his general direction. In the end, I said “screw you, pattern!” and just did what I thought would ensure I’d have a bag to show for my now aching back and dry, unblinking eyes. Eventually, I won.


Everything fits, but another inch or so in depth would be welcome.


The bag is everything I hoped it would be, and my pattern re-working gave me a WIP bag that’s just enough for a sock project and my Altoid tin of notions. The main handle is slender and not too bulky, and the bag has a nice shape when stuffed with a project. I love the filigree, slightly vintage look to the Halloween fabric! With another yard and a half, I have plenty for future use. Not too shabby for someone who hasn’t sewn in forever! It took me about three hours to make, and that includes having to rip apart and resize the pattern, and the hour I lost trying to figure out what was wrong with the handle instructions (or my understanding of them). With practice I bet I can knock one out in about an hour.


Ready to rumble.


Note: I wish it were about an inch and a half longer, but it works. I’ll adjust the pattern accordingly for the next one I make. Also, I want to see about getting some fusible interfacing so help prevent sharp needles poking through.

Tat’s What SHE Said

I am drifting along in a haze of tatted snowflake-like shapes. I only wish I had nicer thread, but as I’m still prone to losing track of what I’m doing half way through, it’s probably a good thing. You can pick out a few stitches with no problems, but this isn’t knitting folks… tatting plays for keeps.


It's a mini-flurry!


Have I ever mentioned what got me interested in tatting to begin with? I might have, but just in case you missed it, it was this pentacle-like star from Jon’s treasure trove website. Go on, please, take a moment and click on the link. You’ll be amazed at how gorgeous her work is. Yes, that single project threw me headlong down the tatting rabbit hole. I’m still a bit behind on the modern tatting skill set (split rings, double shuttles anyone?), but my ultimate goal is to make that star. Some day.


I'm not kidding. It's so simple.


Lest you think that this is one of those endeavors that sucks up time and money, I’ll share with you three facts:

  1. You can get into tatting for less than $10 with a $2 ball of crochet cotton and a $5 package of two Clover shuttles. The internet will show the rest.
  2. The ornaments I make take an hour or less on average for me to make. When I get good, I bet I can shave quite a bit off that.
  3. The whole kit can fit in an Altoids tin and slip into your pocket.

Eventually I’ll work with finer materials and tools, but it’s not necessary to start. You should try it someday. In the end, it boils down to a two-step knot and deliberate spaces that get scrunched up into picots. End of story.


Home Run Knittah

Beneath the tree may be bare for now, but that is a situation that will soon change. Aside from weaving in some ends, for which I need to find my large eye needle, all of my must-have holiday knitting is done. Done, I tell you! I went from 0 to 9 projects in less than four weeks. May the gods bless worsted weight yarn. I swear that I forgot knitting could happen this quickly!


Mama minds the tree for me.


The men in my life read my blog, so I can’t show you what I made for dad and the husbeast. I can, however, show you what mom will be receiving. Now, these are what she specifically asked for, mind you. Normally I’d have knit her a pair of socks, but this year she wanted a winter headband and a pair of boot toppers. How she even knows what boot toppers are, I have no idea, but there you have it.

It worked up lickety split.


Strange shape, but snuggly warm.


The headbands took me less than an hour each to make, so I made three! It’s not surprising when you keep in mind that the yarn I chose was so chunky that it appeared to be two strands of worsted weight yarn plied together. It’s another offering from the Deborah Norville line at JoAnn’s, the Serenity Garden Chunky in Apple Blosson, Dark Forest, and Walden Pond. I could have used some of my Noro stash, but mom is sensitive to wool around her face, so I know she’d prefer a baby-soft acrylic like this. The pattern is the ubiquitous Calorimetry, from Knitty, and I highly recommend it for quick gifts.


Really, really red. And done, despite what the photo tells you.


The boot toppers are my own pattern, in a very cheery holiday red called “Really Red”, also from Ms. Norville (Everyday Soft Worsted) that I had leftover from baby knitting earlier this year. After sussing out how boot toppers are made, I came up with something pleasing. The waves and foam edging was simple enough, though I want to make them again using a provisional cast on for a more seamless join when it comes time to turn the trim into a cuff.

My cousin’s enormo socks are also done but for the weaving in of ends. They are pretty epic when you see them in real life. Watch, I bet I’ve overcompensated and they’ll be too big for her. Fingers crossed! You already saw the sparkly dog sweater, which along with the two gifts I can’t talk about, makes 9. Not too shabby! There’s an optional gift, the chunky, acrylic Lazy Katy I had begun while I waited for the rescue sock yarn to come in. It’s this shy of done, I’ve got just a few more rows on the border and then to see how it all works out in the wash. There’s no reason I can’t knock that out as well, and there you have it, 10 gifts in just over 4 weeks.


Tatted 'snowflakes' for our trees.


Last, but not least, I’ve started tatting the snowflake ornaments I hope to give out as gifts for those who don’t get pickles or beer bread mix. I remembered the basics, but I got confused on a more advanced technique and had to pull out my trusty tatting DVD that came with the learn to tat book I bought. The quick visual reminder was all I needed to get back in the saddle and away I went. As of this morning I’ve knocked out one ornament, and started another. It’s nice to be knotting these delicate, beautiful pieces again. I wish I knew people who tat; it’s such a cool and portable hobby.



Quiet Weekends & Other Mythical Creatures

I’ve been savoring the most delicious feeling all week, a feeling caused by the fact that I have nothing – nothing ­– planned this weekend. No company, nowhere I need to be, no major errands that need to be run. It feels almost sinful, like fresh, cool sheets and a trashy novel. Given how busy the fall and holiday season have been, I’m fairly flabbergasted. What a luxurious and much needed stay-cation of sorts. I’m attending a dinner party tonight, but Saturday and Sunday are mine.

My plans include the usual knitting, maybe some spinning, and at least two movies. We just got Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World in from Netflix, and Steve can’t wait for me to watch it with him. I wasn’t interested when it came out so he saw it without me and was raving about how awesome it was. The second movie, Inception, we saw together and were just blown away by. Hands down one of the best movies we’ve seen in years. Given that the weather is looking to be clear and hovering around freezing, you can bet that there will be fire to go along with this picture of sedentary bliss. Steve and I will be happily vegetating, in our own ways.

Also on the radar for the weekend? A dyeing session. Ah, yes… dyeing, I still remember how to do that, don’t I? An order is going in for replacement dyes; I switched to another company for teal and red, much to the detriment of my signature colorways, Dragonfly and Concubine. *sniff* Never underestimate the value of predictable, “true” colors. Now that my wool room is back in order I hope to also set up a studio table for shooting product photography, possibly on Sunday. It’s about damned time, I know.

Uuuugly... but hey, they're mine. :)

I have some knitting to show, I finished the first of my Noro socks and they fit like a glove. Would you believe that I’ve only just taken measurements for my socks? Instead of trying them on and winging it, I actually now know how long to knit until I have to start the heel. Imagine that. People, it’s the little things. As always, I’ve immediately started the second sock, and I have decided that I’m not going to try and get them to match. Socks this ugly should be completely mismatched. Loud and proud, baby.

Unstarched ornaments in waiting.

Oh, and just so you know, though I put it down for a week or so, I’m still tatting. I’d be tatting in delicate, silky, multi-colored thread too if didn’t have such god-awful shipping practices. Seriously? A week to ship, and then not a shred of tracking info, leaving me with no idea when my package will arrive? It’s been more than two weeks since I placed my order and I’m still in the dark. Shame on you, .com division, shame on you.

Knot Knitting

That tatting thing? Still going strong. Two additional pamphlets courtesy of Amazon have provided me with enough instruction, patterns, and variety to keep me entertained for quite some time. One of them, “Easy Tatting”, gave me the instruction I needed to learn how to flip my work and create motifs with interconnecting chains, the first step in creating more complex projects. I started the more complex beginner motif on Wednesday night, and by the time Thursday evening came ‘round I was done. I’m pretty proud of myself, truth be told.

It's not starched, so it's kinda floppy, but I'm very pleased.

Next up: an actual (and far more complicated) snowflake ornament, either from “Easy Tatting” or “Tatted Snowflakes”. I’m in love, what can I say? The thing to remember is that the motifs are built in rounds made up of repeated sections. So once you “get it”, it’s not hard at all.

The grand total of my knitting thus far this week.

I did, in fact, finally cast on for that Noro sock last nght. You can see I haven’t actually gotten very far yet. I’d like to point out that this is the first knitting I’ve done in almost a week. Seriously. It’s kinda creepy actually, but it is indicative of just how incredibly focused I get when my interest is piqued. When my attention is caught by something that interests me passionately, I LEARN it. Zero to sixty, everything I can get my hands on. It’s like a light switch flips on in my head. I only wish that I could do the same thing when I’m not interested in something. You don’t want to know what my math average was in high school.

Eye Candy Friday: The view on the way home.

Tomorrow is Yule & Yarn, tonight is massive dishwashing. Fun? Maybe later. Speaking of fun, I posted a gift guide over on the Confessional. My favorite item is that tote bag. Too true, too funny!

That Cracking Sound Was Hell Freezing Over

Something strange has happened to me, something mildly disturbing, truth be told. As of this moment, I have not a single project on knitting needles. Not one. Mom’s socks were finished in time for our Christmas last weekend, and I only have the child’s crochet capelet to work on. Other than that, however, I haven’t knit in days.  In all my years of knitting I’ve never gone more than a day without needles in hand. What’s going on? This is:

I am TATTING! Well, at least I'm learning how.

Yes, I have taken up tatting. You can read a little bit about it on the Confessional, including how I became so possessed by a wicked looking little tool and normally “boring” crochet thread. Boring will only last as long as I can resist the lure of tatting with variegated rayon sewing thread like this. It’s sick, I know, but that’s not even as fine as “real” tatting weight thread is. What I’m using now is considered the training wheels of tatting thread. Heh. What the hell will I be doing with all these little motifs? They’re practice for when my pamphlet on tatted snowflake patterns comes in tomorrow. My Yule tree will be resplendent I tell you!

Everything you need fits in an altoids tin. How cool is that?

Have no fear, I already know that I’ll be casting on for the Forest Path Stole in just a few days. Until then, just because life isn’t life without a sock, I’m going to cast on a sock FOR ME. Yes, this pair will actually be fore me, and will soothe the sting of my two favorite pair of socks being rendered unwearable. One developed a hole, the other was not superwash and went through the wash. *sniff* Since my last pair of Noro socks are wearing so well, and are so well loved, I know I’ll enjoy the knitting very much.

Noro Kureyon Sock: fun, quirky, and one of my favorite sock yarns.

In other news, my 6th Annual Yule & Yarn party is Saturday and I am really looking forward to it. A gathering of good people, good food, and small gifts, Yule & Yarn was our first official gathering last year when we’d just moved into Tiny House. We’d been there literally just a few days, and we had very little in the way of real furniture after the “doesn’t fit/broke down” purge, but we had a wonderful time regardless. This year will be just as good, of that I have no doubt. Fingers crossed for no snow.

Watch Me Go

There must have been something in my butter beer. :P

Yes, as you can probably guess we saw Harry Potter & the Half-blood Prince. It was pretty good, in as much as something that makes the title revelation a non-event and features the death of a beloved character can be “good”. I enjoyed the movie, and it was definitely laugh out loud funny at times, so that’s a plus. We saw it after a very good Chinese dinner with friends Jodi and Eric. I wasn’t as blown away with the hand-knits this time around, but I did laugh when Dumbledore came out of the loo with a Brit knit mag and gave his infamous line.

So, back to the butter beer… I don’t know what got into me, but holy smokes have I been productive this weekend! Let’s start with the sewing.

Local folks know that the only local Wal-Mart that still carries fabric and has a “real” craft department is downsizing to be just like all the new stores. Yay. I was able to get some great deals on 50% off fabric though, so at least that was exciting. One of my finds was a milk chocolate duck cloth and a coordinating cream floral. And interfacing. And trim. Oh look, a project!

Sorry, kinda squished there.

Sorry, kinda squished there.

Neat - pleat!

Neat - pleat!

What you see here is a completely organic, self-designed large tote bag that just kind of came together. And I mean that literally. I used no pattern references and didn’t draft a paper pattern for cutting guides. I just kinda… eyeballed it. I figured things out as I sewed, which means that I really had no idea of what it was going to end up looking like in the end, other than the fact that the outside and straps would be brown, the lining would be floral, and that I’d have some sort of border on top of the floral, hopefully with the sage green rope trim I liked so much.

Oh so sloppy stitching. :P

Oh so sloppy stitching. :P

Mission accomplished. The sewing sucks, and no, I’m not being super critical here. Seriously, it’s sloppy, uneven, and pretty much looks like a kid did it. But the design… the aesthetic… I like that very much. The bag was bigger than I though, meaning the top would be too wide, so I added pleats. I think they rather make the bag! Really, the sewing is pretty poor, and I was rushing because I wanted to be done with it. As with so much of what I create though, I like it despite its flaws. This will be come my festival shopping bag, and will be very useful when I’m packing spinning and knitting paraphernalia for travel.

There's a single person blanket in there, along with three knitting projects and STILL room to spare! Spinning wheel for scale.

There's a single person blanket in there, along with three knitting projects and STILL room to spare! Spinning wheel for scale.

Also this weekend I managed to get some more spinning done for the Tour de Fleece, but not much. My knee, it bitches at me quite loudly. I have spun though, and that’s what counts!

Chug chug chugging along.

Chug chug chugging along.

Delicious sherberty goodness. Nom nom nom.

Delicious sherberty goodness. Nom nom nom.

Lastly, I have made quite a bit of progress on my Garden of Allah KAL shawl. I am almost done repeating the B chart for the second time. One more time and then I can move on to set up the border and be done. I will NOT be doing the odd original border, but instead will be doing the knitter-submitted, simpler alternate. Big improvement there. I’m very glad that I decided to sub out with the solid color yarn. While I lose the fun of watching colors pop up, I don’t have to watch colors pop up, if you get my drift. Some things are better left for less busy patterns.

Finally, true to color.

Finally, true to color.

Seriously, the shawl is lovely, but I’m not quite sure the designer got what she was aiming for. I thank her for offering it to us, but would respectfully suggest that this plain version (with alternate edging) blows away the multi version any day. I’ll find something for that pumpkin spice yarn, sooner or later.

Waiting & The Sling Bag

I got an email from my realtor this morning that the couple who are selling the house are getting divorced. One half has been presented with our offer, the other half will see it today. We probably won’t hear anything till tomorrow, if not later. Also, the added strife that a couple who has been married for at least 33 years (time they’ve owned the house) may be throwing out could mean the entire process could be… complicated. No holding of breath here, just a desire to know one way or the other.

So, on to other things. Last night I finally got time to work on a project I’ve been thinking about all week. Every once in a while, I like to try my hand at some sewing, and so I found a pattern for a simple bag that could fit my overflowing shawl project. I love my current Jessalu box bag, but I’m on the hunt for the perfect red and black fabric for one of her new larger bags. For now, I’m willing to play around on my own with fabric I already have. The pattern is New Look (Simplicity) #6574, and the fabric and interfacing was bought at my local WalMart craft department.

I took out some half yard pairs I bought a while ago with a project like this in mind and laid them out. Which to choose? I was feeling playful so I chose the skulls.

An hour and a half later, after fighting with my sewing machine’s wonky tension, I had a decent bag. It’s not perfect by any means, and I couldn’t find the iron to press anything, but it’ll do.

I made one modification with this pattern, namely to lengthen the bag. I could see that once I accounted for the seams and how the bottom of the bag is made, that the bag would be quite tiny. I lengthened it about two inches since I had plenty of fabric to do so and I’m glad that I did. The next time I make one I’ll also modify it to have a wider opening, the pattern as printed is on the narrow side.

My mom’s shawl and assorted supplies fit in there just fine, and there’s room for the next ball of yarn I’ll need to finish the border. It’ll be stuffed, but there will be room. I love how it self-closes, though of course it’s not as secure as something with a zipper. All said though, I really like it and I’ll be making more as gifts and to switch out with my moods. At $5 or less in supplies, what’s not to love?

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