Autumn Update

Hello friends!

Because I’m quite sure you wouldn’t get all giddy over a post that chronicled which boxes I unpacked and where I put the stuff that was in them, I figured it was better to not update you until I had something creative to show you.

I’ve had no inclination to sew, knit, whatever, AT ALL, and I’ve been OK with it because the more I look back on the past twelve months, the more I realize that we went through A LOT of stressful stuff, and it takes energy to deal with all that stress, which came from my creative reserves.  Happy moment, though: This last week I had a brilliant little moment where I wanted to make something.  That feeling has been absent for months, so I’m grateful that things are calming down enough that my interest in crafting is starting to come back.

201811117370910250702226081I did grit my teeth and make my youngest daughter a Little Red Riding Hood costume for Halloween because I did have time for it, and her little brother decided to be a wolf so he could match her, and I think they were adorable!  Her costume was an exercise in frustration–I could not locate the pattern in her size ANYWHERE.  And my best friend rode in for the rescue and bought the pattern* at her local JoAnn Store, not realizing that it came in adult OR child size, and sent me the adult size.  (Oh gosh, we laughed…)  So the costume ended up being the Adult Small skirt, minus five inches around the waist; a plain white t-shirt with aspects of the original costume appliqued onto the shirt; and I tracked down a different pattern** for the cape/hood.  She was so pleased with it all, and totally didn’t care that it was a crazy hodge-podge costume.  A woman stopped me at the school Halloween party to liberally compliment me on the costume, so I’m pretty pleased with the experiment.  (And totally want to make more things edged with eyelet lace!  Such a sweet look!)

20181103_145518-01And right now I am eyeballs-deep in making linen napkins for my Thanksgiving table because I’ve always wanted linen napkins and I have no crafty deadlines on my plate at the moment.  It’s been so. much. fun. researching hemstitching and heirloom sewing, and oh my goodness, do I love me some beautiful heirloom sewing.  So much drooling.

BUT…I massively underestimated how long these napkins were going to take, mostly because I didn’t think ironing the hem allowances was going to take twenty minutes PER NAPKIN.  Four more napkins to press before I actually get to meet needle to fabric!  Ugh!

But look at this gorgeous view from my new craft room’s window…it’s so nice to have something besides a window well to look at!

The napkins are going to be lovely, with mitered corners and hemstitching.  I’m seriously in love with them.  That bit of brown fabric and thread in my craft-room-view photo is the start of one of them.  It’s a gorgeous chocolate brown.  So pleased!

And then it’s on to Christmas crafting, which I was really hoping to not do this year, but something went wonky with my bank transfers to my Christmas savings account when we moved, and there is much less in that account than there should be, so I’ma gonna have to get creative with supplies already on-hand.  Boo/yay

I’ll probably start writing a bit more, now that things have started to settle.  It was such a mistake to think I’d be able to paint everything upon moving in–I’ve come to the decision that I’m going to tackle the house room-by-room, because it’s driving me batty to not have a single “finished” room in this house.  I’ve been working on my youngest daughter’s room, and it’s looking pretty cute.  I’m excited to share that when we finally reach the finish line!  (You can have a housewarming party five years after you move in, right?)  😉

But I am hosting Thanksgiving this year, and there could be as many as twenty people attending, so it’s all about the napkins and the cleaning and the cooking for the next two weeks.  (And my dining room table that was supposed to be delivered in August?  And then October?  They changed the delivery date AGAIN…to December.  Fan-freakin’-tastic.  We’re eating Thanksgiving dinner on folding tables this year.  So classy.)

I hope the onslaught of the holiday season is treating you all well!  I look forward to seeing your posts and photos of what you’re working on in these next weeks!

*Red Riding Hood Costume: McCall Pattern #M6187
**Substitute Cape/Hood: Simplicity Pattern #8729
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There is a House in Washington

So, yes, our family made it safely to Washington almost two weeks ago.  We rolled into town just as the fireworks for the Fourth of July started going off, and it felt like the state was welcoming us with gusto.  (And added the much-appreciated side effect of lighting up the heavily-treed highway that was tough to navigate…but the cats weren’t big fans of the fireworks and may have peed…a lot…in their carriers.)

 

We signed the papers for our Washington home the next morning and officially had the keys by lunch.  My aunt made a beeline for us and helped us unload our truck and trailer, and our ward helped us finish the huge task later that evening.  We’ve been screeching, “Where is the [insert a million different items here]?!?!” ever since.

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20180713_131255Where we’re living is *lovely.*  It’s a little removed from Suburbia-proper, but only by a little bit, so running to the grocery store/Costco/Home Depot takes minutes, and the drive is lush and green and has a crazy spectacular view of Mt. Rainier the entire way.  Sometimes I have to sit and wait for the dairy’s cows to cross the road to get to their next milking, and there’s rivers, and hydrangea, and four different types of purple or pink flowers in bloom by the roadsides right now (Fireweed, Sweet Pea, Foxglove, and a plant that looks like Butterfly Bush) and I just…get so happy to see familiar plants again.  I figured out plants in Utah, but these are what I grew up with and can name without thinking because my dad taught them to me when I was in preschool.

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We’ve had family over TWICE in one week for dinner, which is crazy amazing and as fun as you’d expect, and we get to attend a family wedding this weekend because we don’t live fourteen hours away anymore.

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The house is bigger than our last house, which I’m loving a lot–six people in our old house got old about six years ago, so the extra space is much-appreciated by all of our family’s members.  Unfortunately, though, this house is painted in a very warm and earthy color palette, and I lean toward the cool and ocean-inspired color palette.  And the ceilings are painted the same color as the walls…the same, sand-brown light-absorbing color…even the twenty-feet-up ceilings in the front room.  Yep, I gotta paint ’em all…and that sand-brown color is just dark enough to warrant two coats of primer every. time.

So I’m busy for the rest of the month, and probably for most of August as well.

But it’s OK, because at the end of all the painting my kids will all have bedrooms with fully-finished walls painted the colors of their choosing, and everything will be just as lovely inside as it is outside.

We went and got our library cards today, which really does make you feel like you truly “belong” in your town.  And I forgot to turn on Google Maps for the drive home, but it didn’t matter because I got home just fine, with no special mental gymnastics.  I pulled up to this house in this new state without help, and my kids clambered out of the van like they always do, helped by dumping our purchases onto the kitchen table before running off to binge-read their library books like they always do, and in that moment it was clear: This house in Washington is now our home.

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Probably still a bit of time before Happy Crafting Times can recommence, but with each newly-unpacked box and newly-painted wall, I’m getting closer to reopening the fun conversations I get to have with my crafty friends!  I’ve missed you!

Classic & Vintage: Double Nine-Patch Quilt

Good morning, friends!  Today I get to FINALLY share Fat Quarter Shop’s newest pattern with you!  It’s from their “Classic & Vintage” series of patterns, and it’s called the Double Nine-Patch Quilt!

You probably aren’t aware that one of my most favoritest, favoritest things about quilts is NESTED SEAMS.  Seams that have to match perfectly, and so you press the seam allowances opposite each other so they’ll nest into each other and lock themselves into place…oh my goodness, sign me up for THAT.  You can imagine my exclamation of joy when I first laid eyes on the mock-up of Fat Quarter Shop’s newest pattern in their Classic & Vintage line-up, the Double Nine Patch:

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Just. look. at all of those nested seams.

Putting this quilt together is pretty simple–I’d even suggest that it’s accessible by a “gettin’ tired of making charm pack patchwork quilts” kind of beginner.  I actually kept track of how long each of my sewing sessions were with making this quilt, and I went from starching my pre-washed fabric to finishing attaching the borders in a little under twenty hours (spread over five days).  And the finished quilt is sooo beautiful:

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I just love classic patterns, and this is such a clean, pretty look.

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I chose to go with a fat quarter bundle of Riley Blake’s “Comfort & Joy” fabric collection, because, hello,  CHRISTMAS, and I decided that I was going to keep this quilt for myself and I have been in love with this collection since it was first released last year, so “Merry Christmas” to yours truly, mwa ha ha.  I love, love, love the red, green, and white together.  Oh, be still my Christmas heart.

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I had the quilting done by Utah Valley Quilting, in their “Holly AB” pattern.  I love how it turned out!

Fat Quarter Shop has a kit available with Sweetwater’s “Project Red” collection included (oh, it doesn’t get more classic than red and white, does it?), and also a backing kit to match.  (Seriously love the print they chose for the backing!)

As always, there’s a cute little video explaining the new pattern, and you can watch it here:

Oh my goodness, I love this quilt.  Thank you, Fat Quarter Shop, for the opportunity to help you spread the fun news of this new pattern!

Linking Up:
Can I Get a Whoop Whoop? @ Confessions of a Fabric Addict

 

The Nutcracker Mosaic Quilt Story

My mother and I adore decorating for the holidays, and we send each other new Christmas decorations most years, specially timed so that they arrive in the mail right about the day after Thanksgiving.  (Because it’s silly to give a Christmas decoration to someone to open ON Christmas–it just gets packed up the next day and you don’t get to use it for almost an entire year!)  My decoration theme is gingerbread men and woodsy greenery, and her decorating theme FOR YEARS has been snowmen.

But a few years ago she decided she was done with snowmen, and that she wanted to instead decorate with nutcrackers.

190e6f6925a9ba7931102d1122490416Last spring (think 2016) the fabulous “Nutcracker Christmas” fabric collection by Riley Blake came out, and the first time I saw it I thought, “Oh my goodness, that would be perfect for my mom!”  But money was tight, and it was softball season and I had no time to make anything anyway, so I told myself I’d revisit the idea at a later date.  Softball season came and went, and I kept catching glances of the collection and thinking every time that it really would be just perfect, but everything was working against me to buy the fabric.  But the pressure to make something with it kept hounding me.

Finally, one evening in July after having seen a whole bunch of mentions of the collection throughout the day, I had enough.  I was saying my evening prayers and I was so weighed down by thoughts of this fabric collection and really frustrated, so I decided to just be straight with God about my dilemma.  I told Him that I felt like He wanted me to make a nutcracker quilt for my mom for whatever reason, but that I just could not make the financial aspect of getting the fabric to work out, and if He really wanted me to make the quilt, then He needed to figure out how to get the fabric to me for free.  I was instantly washed over with a feeling of relief, and, thinking that the matter was settled and I was freed from the obligation, I crawled into bed, sighing with gratitude that I wouldn’t have to worry about the nutcracker quilt anymore.

The next day was quilt guild, and I set out for my meeting with a peaceful heart, settled into my seat on the front row, and chatted with my friends while waiting for the meeting to begin.  A member of my guild, Shannon, asked if she could make an announcement.  She walked up to the front of the room carrying a large basket and said that she had lots of scraps leftover from some quilts she’d made and that we could have anything we wanted that was in the basket.

Guess what was sitting on the very top of the pile?  Yep, a bundle of Nutcracker Christmas fabric.  I looked up at the ceiling and shook my head in humbled amazement.

il_340x270.1029714215_rds0Upon getting home, I measured the fabric in the bundle and I had roughly a fat eighth of every print in the collection, plus about a yard of all three colors of the border print.  That’s A LOT of fabric to get for free!

I decided to use the fabric with the “Mosaic” pattern found in Fat Quarter Style, and that I wanted to fussy cut the border fabric for the Christmas trees, gifts, and individual nutcrackers, using  the rest of the fabric to fill in the mosaic blocks.

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I chose to use Kona “Snow” for the borders and sashing, and ordered some more of my favorite print for the back.

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Utah Valley Quilting did the quilting; it’s “Christmas Pano 2009 SD,” using a light mint/seafoam-colored thread.  I went into the shop thinking white thread, but Kerri, the shop owner, talked me into a little bit of color and I’m so glad I listened to her!  The quilting really pops on this quilt!

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Last, but not least, the binding is made up of leftovers of the diamond section of the border print fabrics.

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I apologize for the photos–in my haste to make sure that the quilt got to my mom on the day after Thanksgiving, I rushed it to the post office and forgot to do a photo shoot!  “Draped over chair in living room so I could show the binding to my best friend in a Google Hangouts photo” is all I have of it in its completed state.  At least there’s that, right?

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I love how this quilt turned out, down to its cute little quilt label!  My mom phoned me half an hour after opening the box, apologizing that it took so long to contact me because she’d “been staring at it for twenty minutes” before remembering to give me a call.  She’s extremely pleased with her gift, and even more so after I told her the backstory of how this quilt came into existence.  Perhaps she just needed a reminder that God loves her?  It was fun to let Him work through me.  This has been a Christmas gift for both my mother and myself.

Bed Rest, Weeks 1-3

Sooooo…

…had some surgery in November, which wasn’t supposed to take that long to recover from, but then, at the one-week follow-up appointment, my doctor broke the news that I needed to stay in bed for another five weeks.  So I went from expecting one week of lying around to SIX WEEKS.  DURING THE HOLIDAYS.

The six-week follow-up appointment happens during the week before Christmas, so I’m pretty much stuck in bed, drooling over all the gorgeous Instagram posts of beautiful Christmas quilts and lamenting that I can’t finish all the stuff that I promised myself that I was going to finally finish up this year.  2016 has not been a banner year for me, people.

BUT…I do not want to be one of those people who mopes about and whines about their difficulties, so that has meant trying to stay “busy” despite the bed rest.

Week #1:

I spent the days leading up to my surgery frantically finishing up a quilt to the point where I’d only have the hand stitching of the binding left to do.  During my first week post-op, I finished hand stitching the binding.  Then I designed some alterations for a dress I own that’s too short on me, and, inspired by the idea of sewing clothing, I read Couture Sewing Techniques, which then had me researching Christian Dior-everything for a few days.

Week #2:

After receiving the very unexpected news of another five weeks of bed rest, I panicked and decided to start a Christmas EPP quilt, but after finishing two of the blocks I realized that I didn’t actually want to make it and abandoned it.  I’ll keep the blocks for something else in the future.

Then I decided that the quilt label for the quilt I’d just finished binding could use a little extra pizazz, so I opted to embroider parts of it, which took the rest of the week and little of the next.  (There is a lot of napping happening during my day.)

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I also read The Art of Manipulating Fabric, and Draping: The Complete Course.  I’m seeing some garment construction in my future, and I’m excited.  I have three daughters who are about to embark upon their teenage years, and I’ve always thought that one of the funnest parts of having girls would be making their party and dance dresses, and it’s always good to practice a skill before you actually *need* it, so maybe next year will see me venture into that arena a bit.

Week #3:

Thanksgiving, which had to be delegated to my kids and they did a pretty great job of it.  A friend from my quilt guild saw my SOS Instagram post and brought me over a ton of books to read, so I spent most of my third week reading:

  1. A Curse Dark as Gold (very good retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin!”)
  2. Dragonfly (enjoyed very much!)
  3. Once Upon a Marigold (not sure I’ll finish it), and
  4. The Blue Sword (enjoying)

So here we are, amidst Week #4, and I was really hoping that my doctor’s “six weeks” prescription was just overly cautious, but I tried to sew up the swap block for November this week and it about killed me with pain and exhaustion to just do a fabric pull, so I had to send out an email apologizing for the block’s tardiness because it will not be getting finished anytime soon.  And, as a precaution, I wrote to December’s swap recipient as well and gave her a heads-up that her block could end up being late as well.  Sigh.

BUT…I woke up from this surgery with NO BACK PAIN for the first time in three years, so the future is looking mighty bright!  I can rest three more weeks if it means no back pain.

And, for Week #4, I’m feeling the knitting a-calling to me…especially:

  • Color-Tipped Italian Cashmere Beanie by Churchmouse Yarns (because it’s beautiful in that wonderfully elegant way that “simple” is beautiful)
  • Honeymoon Cowl by FitzBirch Crafts (learning double knit could be fun)
  • Botanical Yoke Pullover by Purl Soho (oh, that cabled yoke…will have to wait, but it’s sure fun to stare at it when I can)
  • St. Brendan by Kelbourne Woolens (I’m making this some day, but not now because it takes some planning), or
  • Socks! (Because I can do that…)

My son does need a new winter hat…I think my second daughter might need one, too…OH! And I was supposed to mend my youngest daughter’s Hello Kitty hat…bed rest or not, a mama’s work is never done.  I cannot wait to get back to making pancakes, and vacuuming, and cooking dinners that don’t come from a box.  Resting is a nice change, but it’s sucky to be forced to rest from taking care of the people you love.

Evolution of a Crafter: Gifts

We made it through Halloween.

And like a collective sigh, the online creative world shifted from maple leaf quilt blocks and fabric pumpkins to an overwhelming insistence that “YES, YOU HAVE TIME TO MAKE ALL YOUR CHRISTMAS GIFTS.”  Overnight.  I went to bed on October 31st proud of myself for getting my kids’ costumes done right, and woke up the next morning to an online frenzy of DIY gifts.

Many years ago I stumbled across the advice to get your handmade Christmas gifts done before Thanksgiving so you didn’t spend December in a state of anxiety over whether or not you’d finish your gifts.  For the most part, I adhere to this wisdom because it’s the only way that Christmas baking is happening–I dearly love Christmas baking, and I don’t have time for it if I’m struggling to also finish knitting and quilting projects.

So I tried something different this year.  On January 1, 2016 I drew up a list of the people I generally give gifts to at Christmas and concocted an rotation of various categories that I like to make, assigned them to a ten year schedule, and then plugged my gift list people into the categories based upon what age they were turning this year.

Example:  If your age on your birthday in 2016 had you turning something ending with a 5 (ie. 5, 15, 25, 35, etc.), then you were assigned a hat because I assigned hats to 5.

Other categories included: Pillow (1), Socks (2), EPP (3), Apron (4), Scarf (6), Mittens (7), Choice (8), Bag (9), and Quilt (0).

After spending my New Year’s Day happily ensconced in pattern searching and stash diving, I woke up on January 2nd with  optimism and excitement.  I decided to start with the big items first and work my way down to the smaller things, and first on my list was a quilt to make for a special girl who celebrated her tenth birthday in 2016.  (Understandably, I can’t show you a picture of it until after Christmas…)

And it was glorious for a few weeks–oh, the pace was exhilarating, and I patted myself on the back for my excellent plan.

But then, in March, I had to start a project that just wasn’t interesting to me, mostly because of the colors.  I lagged behind my schedule as I grit my teeth each morning and forced myself into my studio to continue plodding along towards the completion of that project.  The next gift on the list was once again in a color palette that failed to excite.  My life started to look like one long, endless road of projects I didn’t really want to make.

And on top of all that, so many people had babies this year.  To date, I’ve completed six baby quilts, with another 1-3 possibly in the works.

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People, I am gifted out.  I have spent this entire year making gifts for people. THE ENTIRE YEAR.

I don’t regret it at all, but I’m also just. done.

I think I’m evolving.

Have you noticed that so many people, when learning a new skill, give away their projects?  It’s like they make that first project to figure out how to work the new skill, and then start cranking out projects and just give them all away?  I’ve touched on this idea before in a previous post, but it seems that we go through a phase of “Look at what I can do!” with any newfound skill, gifting any living being with the works of our hands.  I think it’s part excitement and pride in a job well done, and the other part love.  All good things.

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Some of the swap blocks I’ve made this year. I’ve actually been able to do a lot growing with The Beehive Swap!  New techniques and skills galore!

But there comes a point when you look around and know that you’ve spent most of your time creating beautiful works of art, and realize that your personal life is quite devoid of any of that particular beauty because you’ve given it all away.  There is beauty in service and giving, definitely; but…that moment when you realize that your dwelling is practically ascetic causes a big pause and an even larger moment of reflection.

Giving gifts is good.  Improving one’s skills while working on said gifts is also good.  There has been a lot of good this year.  (Please no one who received a gift from me this year think that I’m upset or regret making something for you.  That is totally NOT the case AT ALL.  I’m quite proud of all the nice things I made for you all this year.)

But…

…it’s falling short.  There are new techniques to try, new skills to learn, and they don’t fit into gifting categories, so I’ve been slow to start working on them, despite my heart being pulled in that direction.

So, I think it’s time for a Gifting Decommission.

Less time spinning my wheels creating more of the same, and a new focus on learning new techniques and stretching my abilities.  I can’t do that with the pressure of gift lists on my shoulders; with the thoughts of “Now who would like this?  Maybe I should change that color to match their decor a little better.  Hmm, I know that so-and-so really loved that appliqued one, so maybe I’ll put this pattern aside and do something with more applique because then I can give it to her for Christmas…” in the back of my mind.  A shift to making art for the sake of art.  “What is best for this project?” instead of “What is best for this person?”

My creativity needs to be mine, and I also need the time to tackle new techniques that will allow me to progress.

I’ve a few gift projects that are near completion that I’ll see through to the end, but after they’re done, that’s it for a while.

It’s time to build a cocoon and do a little bit of growing.

This is what I will tell myself in two weeks when I snap and think that, yes, I SHOULD MAKE ALL THE GIFTS.

I am not an elf in Santa’s workshop.  It is not my job to make gifts, nor does my livelihood depend upon my ability to supply others with gifts.

Now to get going on that cocoon…

Why I No Longer Give Handmade Items as Gifts at Showers

It’s that time of year again!  Invitations are trickling in each week, enticing me to “join in” and “share in the joy” of a loved one’s anticipation of adding another person to their family, be it in the form of a wedding or the birth of a child.

I, for one, am an absolute, fall-down delirious sucker for babies and weddings.  It borders on ridiculous, and I’m aware of the level of my obsession, but I decided a few years back that weddings and babies are simply on that list of things that spark an air of optimism, joy, and excitement in me, and that’s not a bad thing, so I’m going to roll with it from now on…I’m comfortable with being known as a lady who “has a thing” about weddings and babies.  (Because, seriously, there are way worse things to be known to “have a thing” about…)

So yeah.  Weddings and babies.  Let me at ’em, and please, please, please invite me to the shower, because I am a gift giver.

I love to give gifts.  I love wrapping gifts.  I’ve been my extended family’s go-to gift wrapper since I was six and I offered to wrap my uncle’s Christmas gifts because he kept going on and on about how much he hated gift wrapping.  (Let it also be known that I “have a thing” for gift wrapping, and just cannot understand why people don’t like the experience.  I am also comfortable with this quirk of mine.  Some members of my extended family are very comfortable with my quirk as well, and are quite enthusiastic about embracing it…sometimes I get to wrap a lot of other people’s gifts!  Love it!)

It’s a no-brainer that I would love showers, because showers = weddings or babies + gifts.  That’s my idea of some serious fun.

And then, years ago when I started amassing all these awesome handcrafting skills, showers became an even more fun venue because I also got the bonus of an audience to witness my giving of lovingly created items for my friends and their future family member.  I’m not going to lie, it’s fun to nod your head in response to the question of, “Did you make this yourself?!?!”

When Michael and I were first married, we were strapped for cash, and it was far more feasible to buy a $2.19 skein of sport-weight acrylic that would yield two or three pairs of knitted baby booties than it was to purchase $10 gifts from three different baby registries.  Seeing that we lived in married student wards at BYU, there were A LOT of baby showers to attend, so I knit up a fair amount of baby booties during the years we lived in that area, which was fine because I had just graduated from college with a six month old baby on my hip.  My life had dramatically gone from reading 2-4 scholastic books per week and writing my senior thesis while my husband watched our infant, to me being home full-time with said infant who slept…a lot.

I learned to knit from a kit that I purchased from JoAnn Fabric, one week after my college graduation, when I just could not stand to be in our apartment for one more second.  During my baby’s numerous nap times, and after her early bedtime, I’d settle in on the couch and laboriously knit up baby bootie after baby bootie until Michael got home from school or work.  I about drove myself mad that winter, but it never got old to see a mother-to-be’s smile when she opened up a gift of baby booties I made for her child.

A year later, we moved into the house where we live now, which boasted a completely different economic pool.  I was no longer surrounded by fellow brand-new mothers on beans-and-rice budgets waiting out their husbands’ degree completions; I was now a member of a neighborhood of people who could own two cars, pay full-price to see a movie at the theatre, and who were usually beyond their “first baby” moments.

Handmade baby booties weren’t quite as popular in this crowd, and I’ve come to understand it better as I’ve had more children–by child #3, most moms have given up on socks.  Baby booties are little more than glorified socks that will inevitably be lost at the grocery store because you’re supervising three children under the age of five, and keeping track of lost socks becomes a very low priority when you’re that entrenched in battle.  (If I had a nickel for every time a grandmother stopped to admire one of my babies in public, only to reach out and grab my baby’s naked foot and ask, “Why isn’t s/he wearing socks?!” when that baby had honestly left the house with two sock-covered feet only twenty minutes before…)

So, yeah…the era of the baby booties had ended.  I was pretty OK with that because I’d made way too many of them by that point and desperately needed something else to do.  I experimented with simple patchwork quilts, but the noise of the sewing machine usually woke up my sleeping baby, and the point of nap time was to have her sleep, not cry.  I went back to knitting and started churning out baby hats.  When I’d get bored with that, I’d switch over to crocheting baby blankets.

And that worked for about a year.

Because then I had my second child, and I had made more friends in my neighborhood.  My time for crafting diminished at the same time the demand went up.  I gritted my teeth and sweated it out for about three months before conceding to the fact that I just couldn’t do it anymore.  All the other babies had mothers and relatives who could craft for them, so they could do that.  I would focus on crafting for my own children.

So I did that.  I knitted, crocheted, and sewed (rarely) my way through the arrival of Child #3 (eighteen months after Child #2’s arrival) and Child #4.  During my last trimester of Child #4, in an effort to preserve my sanity, I formed a local knit group that met weekly at my favorite cafe.  We had a glorious two years of dinners together, and my skills increased exponentially as I rubbed elbows with fellow fiber junkies.  Homeschooling began to take up more of my time, and I had to step away from my beloved group just shy of our three year anniversary.  I miss those weekly meetings so much, but there’s just no time anymore.  Those women kept me afloat at a time when I felt so overwhelmed and so ineffective at nearly everything I did–except knitting.

About that time, my kids became manageable enough that I could start knitting gifts for showers again.  And, to my great surprise, I was a million times better than I had been when I quit making gifts some seven years earlier.  I could churn out simple patterns in a few hours, and quickly moved onto more intricate patterns that garnered even grander reactions when they were unwrapped.  I gained a reputation for my crafting skills, and it was fun to rise to the expectations.

Unfortunately, demand began, once again, to rise too quickly.  I found myself dreading another baby pattern, and apologizing to my kids that I couldn’t make them another thing because I was too busy making things for other kids.  I knew I’d need to start stepping back again, but it’s hard to stop when you’re in that cycle…I had made a hat for Friend A’s baby, so I needed to make a hat for Friend B’s baby or her feelings would be hurt.  So I made another hat…a beautifully intricate wool fair isle hat, wrapped ever so nicely, and headed off to the next baby shower.

There was a blossoming crocheter amongst the guests at that baby shower.  Like me so many years earlier, she was adjusting to being a full-time stay-at-home mother of one infant, and she’d picked up crochet to help fill in her days a little bit.  The expectant mother opened the crocheter’s gift–a simple little hat made up in pale yellow acrylic yarn, and the ooh’s and aah’s began, along with that well-loved question, “You made this?!?!”  The new crocheter beamed with pride, and my crafter’s heart glowed with happiness for her pride in a job well done.  (Goodness, do we crafters love to watch each other succeed, especially the newbies because we remember how hard those first projects were to complete!)  The little hat began its “admiration journey” around the room, and the expectant mother reached for the next gift.  I was still basking in that look of satisfaction on the crocheter’s face, so I wasn’t aware of what the next gift was until the crocheter’s face fell as she watched her little creation get dropped onto the floor when the person who had been admiring it got sidetracked by the gasps over the beauty of the next gift–my knitted fair isle hat.

I lost every shred of desire to hold a “reputation” for creative endeavors over the course of the next few seconds as I watched the emotions wash over the crocheter’s face.  My project garnered much more exclamation and excitement, and I looked away when my hat passed her hat, forgotten on the floor, as it made its way around the room.  The crocheter put on her brave, smiling face; but she was crushed.

I knew it wasn’t my fault; that it was the poor behavior of the other attendees that had caused the crocheter’s discomfort and embarrassment, but I couldn’t help but feel for her and remember my own beginning days of yarning for baby showers.  I remembered getting so frustrated with my efforts because I’d make so many mistakes, but pushing through and overcoming those mistakes while envisioning the entire time what people would say when they saw my finished creation.  That transition to full-time mom is hard, and crafting helped to fill in the void left by being done with school and living away from family and having a non-verbal human as my main daily companion.  It means a lot to a new crafter to have their creations admired, and my appetite for flattery had ruined that moment for that newbie crocheter.

And then, to top it all off, a few weeks later a crafty neighbor mentioned that they were afraid to give handmade gifts if they knew I was going to be at the shower too, because their handmade gifts were never as good as mine.  Once again, not my fault or even really my problem, but it also doesn’t make me feel good to make another person feel inferior, especially when it comes to creativity.

The crafting community is an actual community.  The longer you’re in it, the more like-minded people you meet in real life and online, and you become a weird little family that sends each other packages of yarn and fabric and chocolates even if you’ve never actually met each other.  I’ve been one random knitter’s swap partner three different times over the course of five years.  I own a small label CD of another crafter’s harp music because she included it in a swap package she sent me, and it’s one of my favorite CDs.  One of my favorite scarves was made for me by a near stranger who picked out the most perfect colorway after reading every one of my blog posts and deducing what kind of colors I would love together.  I received gift certificates from members of a knitting message board two years ago when I blew out my back, with instructions to “spoil myself a little” while I was stuck on bed rest for six weeks.  I get “doorbell ditched” with boxes and bags of yarn and fabric every now and then by neighbors who are cleaning out their stashes.  I’ve brought bags of no-longer-wanted skeins to Knit Night and given them away.  The worldwide crafting community is a wonderful society.  We get each other’s obsessions with creating, we support each other through learning new techniques (“Don’t give up, trust me–it gets easier the more you practice!”), and we band together to help each other weather life’s trials with donations, words of wisdom, and offers of service.  We are a family.

I upstaged my crafty sister that day.  And I never want to do that again, so I now show up to showers with a nice little purchased gift, and I make sure to lavish a ton of praise on any handmade item that makes an appearance.  It’s scary to give your first few handmades–you hope so hard that they’ll be appreciated, and you feel so much relief and pleasure when they are–I recognize how powerful that validation is for beginners, so I try to give it freely and without interruptions.  This amazing community grows one positive crafting experience at a time, and I’m doing my best to make sure those positive experiences happen as often as they can.

And then later, usually after the baby has been born and I’m taking over a dinner to the new parents, I bring along my handmade gift.  I “have a thing” about post-partum mothers because I struggled so much with my own post-partum periods, so I love the extra opportunity to visit with them and get a feel for how they’re doing in that regard, and I love holding a fresh little babe.  It’s win-win all around without rubbing a newbie crafter’s nose in my skill.  (I am aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but believe me, it’s not coming from a narcissistic place.)  I wouldn’t have continued to become better at what I do were it not due to the positive public feedback I received about my creations in the beginning of my crafting “career.”

I still get a fair amount of positive feedback in regards to my gifts as they get worn or show up in the background of Facebook photos.  The blog also helps fill that little internal well that enjoys being filled with recognition.  I sometimes wonder if I’m “hiding my talents” by taking this approach, but I’m still creating and improving my skills, so it’s not like I’m letting my abilities rot.  How noticeable do our efforts really need to be to count?  The parents and the child still get a lovingly-created gift in the end, and that’s truly all that matters, so I think it’s probably alright.

This new arrangement also allows me the freedom to cut back on my handmade shower gifting so I have enough time to create for my own family.  I can’t create for everyone anymore (my days are much fuller now with four children and the management of their “big kid” activities), and if we’re not close enough friends that I would bring you dinner after your baby is born, then spending hours upon hours on a handmade gift is probably almost inappropriate, given the depth of our relationship.  It’s a little sad, but as we get older, we have to draw a few more lines to keep the right priorities as the right priorities.

This arrangement also works well in that I no longer get surprised by last minute invitations and the ensuing, stressful, late night crafting sessions needed to finish up a project before the shower.

I know my attitude towards handmade gift giving in public settings is probably different from the norm, but I thought I’d share it in case anyone would find it interesting.  It’s amusing how something as simple as gift giving changes for me over the years.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we just had all the time and resources needed to make everything for everyone?  What a wonderful world that would be.

Happy shower season!

Appreciating the Teachers

The girls’ last day of school happens today, so I put together some gifts for their teachers and a couple of other staff members at their school.  I trolled Pinterest for inexpensive gift ideas that were easy to assemble because I don’t have access to my gift wrap vault, which is a little sad-making.

Undaunted, I pressed forward and decided upon dressing up regular ol’ paper bags with some paper Christmas doilies, which was ridiculously easy.  The girls were so excited to take “their” gifts to school–there was a little bit of bickering about who would carry the box containing all the bags as they headed out to catch the bus.

I kept it simple, gift-wise.  I baked up some soft ginger cookies and then piped a simple snowflake on top of each one and added some foodie pearls at the various snowflake junctions:

I don’t even know if ginger cookies are something Australians even like, but it was from the heart.  (FYI, Peanut Butter and Jelly isn’t a thing here.  My neighbor asked me what PB&J actually was…”Just peanut butter and jam?  On bread?  Do you toast it first?”)  I’ve questioned a lot of my food assumptions in the past months, especially after having the missionaries over for Thanksgiving.  I’m constantly amazed by how different two first-world, English-speaking countries that stem from the same mother country can be.

I put two cookies in each bag, along with a gift card to a popular chain of stores around these parts.  Simple, looks and smells good, done.

Michael and I were talking about the irony that this is the first time our kids have given teacher appreciation gifts, and how it really was too bad I never received any teacher appreciation gifts while homeschooling.  And then, at the same time, we both laughed aloud and said, “Yarn stash!”

Now that I think of it, a lot of my yarn was purchased at the end of trying school days…

Merry Christmas, Educators!

Bonus link:  Doilies to dress up plain ol’ chocolate bars!  Squee!

Something Beautiful

This is my friend Rachel.  We’ve been friends for a few years.  She’s the friend who “tutored” Bluebird in Latin when we were first starting out two years ago, we embarked on a lofty 72-hour kit creation kick a year ago that she kept up and I did not, and we get to rub elbows a lot in musical pursuits.  I think she is one of the coolest people in the world.  She’s funny, she’s intelligent, she’s…Rachel.

About a year ago we started a short-lived ritual of walking our dogs during my family’s morning recess break.  During this ritual walk each school day (for however long we kept up with it) Rachel and I talked.  We talked about religion, briefly visited politics, talked about the books we were reading, and shared childhood memories regarding various subjects that came up.

We also talked about infertility.  My dear friend wanted to become a mother, and was having a hard time realizing that dream.  I listened as she described what tests and procedures were coming up, I listened as she talked through how she felt about the results, I listened as she thought out loud through something I wished I could fix for her.  I had suggested herbs in the very beginning of her struggle to conceive, but it had become apparent through the years that herbs weren’t going to fix the issue.  I watched her struggle to control her emotions after a round of fertility drugs; she’d wave it off and shrug, saying, “It’s just the hormones.”  So much time and effort to bring into creation a child.  Why wasn’t it working?!?!

I prayed for her and her husband.  My children prayed for one of their favorite people that she could be a mommy like she wanted.  Our family prayed together, out loud, every morning and night, remembering her alongside our cousins and siblings.  “Please, Heavenly Father, if it be thy will, allow Rachel and her husband to become parents.”

I just got home from throwing my friend a baby shower.
She’s due to give birth to a sweet little girl in June.

During those walks and talks I made up my mind, should God bless Rachel with a child, that I would throw the biggest, most beautiful baby shower I could muster in celebration of her impending motherhood.  To work so hard for something deserved a huge to-do!  As luck would have it, other ladies in our neighborhood wanted in on the fun as well, so we went all out.

At Rachel’s request, we had a tea party baby shower; which is funny, because we’re Mormons.  As a collective group, we’re not really known for our tea party-throwing skills.  Therefore, all the “teas” offered were herbal:  Lemon Chamomile, Peppermint, and a rooibos-based Tulsi Dosha Chai.  (I made a little announcement at the beginning of the party that there was no actual tea in any of the teapots, and that no one had to worry that I was enticing them to disregard the Word of Wisdom.)

And it was lovely, oh so lovely.  The looks of delight on the ladies’ faces as they carried their delicate cups of “tea,” the “oohs” and “aahs” over the finger foods…it was pretty, it was refreshing, and it was just wonderful.  I think I’ll be pleased with how well this baby shower went for a long time.  It was one of the nicest things I’ve seen in a while.

Seriously, always throw a party with multiple hostesses.  There were five of us altogether who put the food together, and it went splendidly.  (I didn’t have to touch the Egg Salad Sandwiches or be anywhere near them at all!  Score!)  We all made what we each liked to make, and everything was taken care of.  I was in charge of the tea and scones.  That’s it.  I also made some macarons on a whim, since I’m obsessed with the recipe from Martha Stewart Living and have been waiting for an excuse to try it out just because.

I don’t have a picture with the mom-to-be, but I do have this one with my fellow hostesses.

I told her that I needed a picture of her
with all her swag, and she obliged me so fittingly.
Love her!

There was a good attendance, and we had fun with the various (non-annoying) shower games.  Rachel received some lovely gifts for herself and her daughter, and I saw her make multiple trips to refresh her tea cup.

I took pictures of everything.  I knew I would write a blog post about this awesome party that I helped throw, and I wanted some beauty shots to accompany the play-by-play.  But as I look through the photos, I’m disappointed because they don’t capture the true beauty of the occasion.

Because what is beautiful about all this, after all the tea and finger foods are gone, is that we’re celebrating a miracle.  We’ve watched a heart-wrenching struggle turn into something so joyful that it makes our hearts hurt with happiness, like when you’ve smiled for too long and your cheeks ache.

We gathered together today to bask in the glory of our friend’s answered prayer, to sit together as women and cheer on another one of us who will soon enter the ranks of motherhood.  We thought of our own miracles at home; far, far away from the breakable china we balanced in our hands, while laughing at the realization that we celebrate the arrival of motherhood with delicate servingware and dainty foods when the realities of motherhood dictate that we eat PB&J and drink from plastic cups soon after we are initiated.

We hugged each other, placed hands upon each other’s shoulders in concern, smiled, laughed, and nodded our understanding.  We shared stories of our experiences–stories about our fears of motherhood, our disappointment with some of our parenting choices, amusement over what children say, gratitude for the help we receive and the lessons we’ve learned, and love for our families and friends.  And amidst the clinking of tea cups upon saucers and tearing of wrapping paper, we shared one more thing:  A quiet sense of excitement for Rachel.  She got her wish, her prayer, her love:  She’s going to be a mother.

Which is one of the most beautiful things that this world has to offer.

Cookies & Cocoa

One of my Wise Mama bits of advice:  When you send your (young) children out to play in the snow, set a timer for 30 minutes when the youngest goes out the door.  When the timer goes off, start the kettle.  It usually works out that I’ve just finished mixing up everyone’s cocoa when some of them start heading back in, pink-cheeked and in need of some refreshment.  So much easier than having them clamoring around my knees and telling me how cold they are while we’re waiting for the water to boil.