Family Handmade Christmas: How Our Family Did Christmas Presents This Year

In case you haven’t noticed, I like to make things.

However, this can make Christmas a little bit troublesome.  I want to craft a treasure for each person on my gift-giving list, but (in case you haven’t noticed) I’m terribly busy with growing and educating my family.  Crafting time is a bit hard to come by at times.  As a result, we haven’t sent out Christmas presents in years because I didn’t want to send handmade gifts to some people and generic store-bought gifts to others, just in case it caused hurt feelings.

That all changed this year.  I delegated the Christmas gift-giving list amongst members of our family and allowed everyone to partake in the joy and anticipation of giving to our extended family.  I think it was a smashing success and plan to continue with the practice for next year’s Christmas.

Unfortunately, this idea of delegation came to me in October, which didn’t allow for extravagant crafting, but it was fun nonetheless.  First, I wrote up the list of the people we I wanted to give gifts to and then we had a family meeting and everyone took turns choosing a name from the list and accepting responsibility for making their present.  I put a “handmade gift only” rule into effect because I was not about to open the gates of allowing a 7, 5 and 3 year old to run rampant through the mall, choosing any gifts they desired for their recipients.  I’m OK with spending a few dollars to purchase fabric and odds ‘n ends for projects; I am not OK with forking over $50 for some novelty monstrosity that my 3 year old thinks would make a good gift.

Our list of thirteen gift recipients was divided amongst five people, which meant the girls each made three gifts each and Michael and I were each responsible for only two.  A “Handmade Christmas” has an actual shot at success when you’re only responsible for making 2-3 gifts!

The girls LOVED making their gifts.  Bluebird put her newfound sewing skills to use and sewed up little lavender-stuffed heart sachets for two of her recipients, and I took her and Penguin to a ceramics studio to make a gift for one person on their lists.  Bluebird chose to paint a cappuccino mug with matching saucer for her Aunt Sandra and it turned out so incredibly cute that I would possibly have thought about keeping it for myself had Bluebird not painted a gigantic “S” on the saucer.

Penguin used her ceramic studio experience to paint a gift for…well, I can’t exactly say yet because I’m not sure if that particular family has received their box yet (I’m glaring at you, Canada Post, for this infraction).  We were at the ceramics studio for THREE hours as the two of them diligently tended to their projects.  I was so proud of their commitment to producing “good” presents.

Penguin also painted a picture for Granny and helped make a basketball-themed hair ribbon for her cousin Amber, who recently made it onto her high school’s JV basketball team as a freshman.

Junebug…knows what she wants to do and will allow nothing to distract her from accomplishing what she decides she is going to do.  She wanted to paint pictures for everyone on her list.  Period.  I tried to talk her into other ideas, but she was adamant–she would paint pictures for all three of her recipients.  So she did.  And I packaged them in gift bags with a big bag of Ghirardelli chocolates as a way to sweeten the deal.

Michael had big plans for his people, but a last minute business trip to Hawaii made it impossible for him to make his ideas tangible.  He ended up purchasing some thoughtful gifts for the people on his list.

I knitted for the people on my list.  (Shocking, I know.)  As luck would have it, I ended up with my mother and my father as my intended giftees and I made both of them hats.

My mother’s hat was hard to give away.  The pictures turned out terrible because lavender purple does not look cute when photographed in a lime green-painted room.  The pattern is Leafy Rosette Beret, by Amy Jansen and I enjoyed knitting it very much.  I used Berrocco’s Ultra Alpaca yarn in colorway 6283 “Lavender Mix,” and I’ve already used up the leftovers in a project for myself.  It’s a gorgeous shade of lavender.
My father’s hat was super soft and warm.  I made him a Turn a Square (designed by Jared Flood) from some charcoal Ultra Alpaca (#6289) and the leftover forest green yarn from the scarf I made for his wife a few years ago.  I have only one picture of it, and it’s while it was on the needles.  In my haste to get the packages out on time, I neglected to take photos of just about everythingHopefully I can avoid this error next year; or, better yet, hopefully the recipients of each gift will email me a picture of them enjoying their gifts, which I can then add to this post.
With Junebug’s insistence on sending pictures to people on her list, I “stole” one of her recipients and made him a hat.  He’s 17 years old and I’m quite sure the cuteness of a 3 year old’s painting would have minimal effect upon him.  He received the first Turn a Square that I ever made.  I made it earlier in the year because I felt prompted to make one to have on hand “just in case” come Christmas-time.  Awesome.
And that was that.  🙂  The day after Christmas we “chose” our names for next year.  With the success of this year’s gifting, we decided to expand our list to twenty-something people and changed up the selection process a tiny bit:
  1. Everyone got to hand-select one name up front.  We all get “perfect ideas” for random people, so I wanted to allow everyone a chance at creating at least one of those “perfect” gifts.
  2. We then drew the rest of the names out of a bowl to assign the remaining names.
  3. Each person had the opportunity to “trade” one of the names they drew for a name on someone else’s list, if the “owner” of that name was willing to trade.
  4. You could not have a name that you had last year.  (And, in future years, this rule will extend to the last two or three years…I’d like to avoid monopolies.)
Now we each have 5-6 names we are each responsible for and an entire year to work on the gifts.  I’ve sectioned off the next year and set up deadlines for gift-making–if they want to take advantage of this idea, then all their gifts will be completed by the end of September, thus allowing them total freedom in Halloween costume design and any other last-minute gifts they may wish to make for members of our immediate family during November and December.
So watch out Family, we ALL have our eyes on you in this next year…
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Gingerbread Leg Warmers

PatternLegwarmies, by Alana Dakos

Yarn:  Knit Pick’s Imagination Handpainted Sock Yarn in “Gingerbread House” colorway, 50% Merino, 25% Alpace, 25% Nylon.

Needles:  US 3/3.25 mm.

Modifications:  I used Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off rather than Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Sewn Cast Off.  I also held the yarn double, as the pattern called for sport-weight yarn and this is fingering-weight.

Oh the cuteness!  Junebug loves gingerbread men.  She has a gingerbread man apron, gingerbread men thrown pillows on her bed, a gingerbread man stuffie and a creepy little gingerbread man stuffie as well.  When I received the shipment of yarn that these particular skeins belonged to, Junebug was mildly interested–until she found out that the name of the color of this yarn was “Gingerbread House.”

As soon as she learned that vital bit of information, she snatched the hanks right out of the box and clutched them close and declared that they were hers.  Being a complete softie, I didn’t put up much of a fight.  (I had actually ordered them because I thought the color would please her when she found out the name.)

We searched and searched for a pattern befitting the magically-colored yarn, and finally happened upon this cute (free!) pattern for little leg warmers.  Junebug gasped and her eyes lit up, and I knew we’d found this yarn’s calling.

It’s an easy pattern and I knocked these off the needles quickly.  I finished up the first legwarmer and presented it for her inspection, and she immediately put it on under the pants she was wearing that day and has not taken it off since.  She also took to coming up to me and reminding about just how cold her other leg was since it didn’t have a legwarmer to keep it toasty.  I finished the second legwarmer in record time and she has happily taken to showing the full pair to whomever will let her chatter to them about her clothes.

It’s an easy, quick pattern.  Should I make them again I would either just use some sport-weight yarn or bump up a needle size or two, as doubled fingering-weight yarn on size US 3 needles produces a very dense fabric that doesn’t really want to stretch. 

Warm Sweater for a Cold Schoolroom

Continuing with the “Hey, I can make clothes!” theme, here is Bluebird’s new sweater for the winter.  She picked out the colors and requested the hearts along the bottom.

PatternKnitting Pure & Simple #293 Child’s V Neck Down Pullover, by Diane Soucy.
YarnPlymouth Yarn Galway Worsted, Colors #135, #127 & #8.
Needles:  US 6 & US 4.
Modifications:  When picking up the stitches for the armholes, I did a K2tog at the beginning.

I knit up the gauge swatch during the last little bit of our trip home from Alberta and have since been steadily working on this sweater and only the sweater.  I stalled out when it came to knitting up the sleeves, but that’s just something I always do when making anything with sleeves.  I have to waste a week worrying about making the sleeves before going forward.  Every.  single.  time.

I ran into a problem with knitting monogamy about a week ago and seriously considered putting the sweater in the back of the closet and casting on for something quicker and more fun, but after two days of not being able to settle on a new “quick and fun” project, I hunkered down and knit on through the finish.  I’m glad I persevered.

Bluebird, who has a reputation for being a tad lackluster in her reception of handmade goodies, has surprised me with her adoration of her new sweater.  We’re experiencing 80 degree (F) weather here, and when I presented her with the sweater she threw it on and wore it for the rest of the day, despite repeated inquiries about whether or not she was getting too warm.  After today’s photo shoot, she refused to take off her sweater until I noticed that she was sweating, after which I demanded she take the thing off.

I’ve had a bit of mental anguish over the creation of this sweater.  Wool ain’t cheap and knitting ain’t quick.  I’m a homeschooling mother of four, and you can imagine how much excess money and time I (do not) possess. 

However, I really wanted to make this sweater for my girl.  I’ve spent the past seven years honing this skill and all I have to show for it are hats and scarves and a few shawls.  I was ready to venture into the land of sweater knitting and use my creativity to bless my family in practical ways.  Penguin and Junebug jumped on the “Knit Me a Sweater” bandwagon when they saw I was making one for Bluebird, so I have two more sweaters to make before winter sets in…and I’m obnoxiously excited about knitting them.

When I am knitting, I sometimes feel a little guilty for embarking on projects that take up so much of my time.  Really, I could go to a clothing store and buy a sweater, which would take tons less of my time and cost me about the same amount of money.  But there’s something about making something rather than buying it that fills me with a deep sense of satisfaction.

I figure that anything that helps to make me feel good about myself is definitely worth pursuing, so swathing my family is handknits isn’t a waste but an investment.  Each day Bluebird wears this sweater I will feel proud of myself and she will feel loved because I let her pick the colors and then spent all that time making something for her.  If it was a sweater from the store, that positive emotional boost would not happen.

This sweater is meant for wearing throughout the coming winter as we embark upon our first year of homeschooling in our new schoolroom in the basement.  The coolness of the basement has been a blessing throughout this summer quarter, but will soon become a point of complaint as we move into the autumn and winter months.  It is my hope that Bluebird will feel warmed by my efforts to craft this sweater for her, just as I hope someday that her heart will be warmed by my efforts to craft her education.

Pembroke Sweater Vest for Monkeyboy

Wow, look at that, I can knit actual clothes!

PatternPembroke Vest, by Kirsten Kapur (free!)
YarnCascade Yarns 220 Superwash Paints in colorway #9997 “Juniper Berries.”
Needles:  US 3 & 5
Modifications:  I mirrored the cables instead of having them all twist the same way as written in the pattern.

When I gave birth to Monkeyboy and found out he was a boy, this pattern (along with Roar!) went into my queue as soon as I got home from the hospital.

It has been sitting in the queue for over a year, mostly because I was a little afraid to take on something of this magnitude.  (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m more of an “accessory knitter.”  I haven’t had much luck with my attempts to create actual clothing.)

Michael even encouraged me not to give this a go, stating that it was a whole lot of work for something that our boy would only wear for a short time.  I agreed with the logic of his observation and pushed aside all thoughts of casting on for the vest.

However, the vest kept taunting me.  I’d see other people finish their own vests for special boy tots in their lives and I loved each new creation!  I remained firm in my resolve, no matter how many cute Pembrokes popped up on Ravelry, I was going to be smart and not put my time into something that would be used for such a short amount of time.

My resolve dissolved completely during my second class for the Rock Island Shawl at Blazing Needles.  I saw the most beautiful variegated colorway of yarn and it screamed at me: “Make me into a Pembroke Vest for your son!”  I immediately purchased three skeins of the magical color and dashed away from the shop amidst “colorway coveting” from fellow shawl class participants.  We knitters are such enablers!

And once Rock Island was finished, I wound up those three skeins and went to town.  The majority of this was knit on our trip to Alberta.  I had only finished a few rows before starting the trip, and had completed everything except the last few rows of the neckline ribbing by the time we returned home. 

I enjoyed knitting this up very much.  I love to cable!  It’s so simple to do and produces such complex-looking results.  I feel like a knitting genius each time I cross stitches against each other.  The entertainment value of cabling is high for me.

This vest was originally slated to be one of Monkeyboy’s church outfits for the winter, but I’m loving it so much that I may just deem it an everyday outfit because he’ll get a lot more wear out of it in the weekly “everyday clothing” rotation rather than the twice-monthly “church outfit” rotation.  (I’ll just buy him another dress shirt and he’ll be fine in the church clothes category.)

So pleased!  🙂

Rock Island Shawl

Pattern:  Rock Island Shawl by Jared Flood
Yarn:  KnitPick’s Shadow Kettle-Dyed in “Jay” colorway  (a birthday gift from the lovely Kirstin)
Needles:  US 6–29″ circular

This week in Utah we celebrated Pioneer Day, a state-wide holiday that commemorates the anniversary of Brigham Young and the first wagonload of Latter-day Saints entering the Salt Lake Valley after their long journey across the American Plains.  We didn’t have any school that day in observance of the holiday, and I figured that it was probably going to be my only chance at getting this shawl blocked.  After getting all the munchkins fed and dressed and starting up the ravenous washing machine, I soaked this puppy up and pinned the life out of it on my mattress.

This is a rather new pattern, only coming out this spring.  I saw it within the first few days of its release and I could not stop talking about it afterwards.  I had to have it.  However, I was heavily-entrenched in the creation of The Wedding Honeymoon Shawl, and could not squeeze this fabulous make into my queue.  Fortune smiled her loving gaze upon me and inspired the folks at Blazing Needles to offer a class on this very pattern, for which Kit and I signed up to attend.

I’m quite pleased with it!  Jared Flood loves knitters, the design of this is just lovely!  This was the first time I’ve ever attached an edging and it was super simple, given the YO edges on the entire length of the edging.  And it’s all done in garter stitch, no purling whatsoever!  AND it’s worked from the bottom up–that’s right, it gets smaller as you go!

The parts that were not my favorites:

  1. Edgings are nice and all, but this one took forever to make.  Since I had to have the edging done within two weeks before the start of my next class, it was very stressful for me to knit like a maniac for that entire two weeks.  Had I done this at my own pace, I don’t think the edging would have bothered me as much.  (But, hey, I finished the edging in two weeks!  Who can hold a grudge against that?)
  2. Garter stitch is easy, but also pretty boring.  There’s a lot of garter stitch at the end and it drove me a little bonkers, but it blocked out prettily and I’m over the negativity now.

This shawl was originally “ordered” in white.  It was supposed to be the replacement Wedding Shawl for Carly after she picked out a new wedding dress.  However, I couldn’t find any white lace-weight locally (and still haven’t found any since!) and so I went ahead and made this in its originally-intended color.

When and where am I going to wear this?  I dunno.  I’m sure I’ll think of something.  It would be criminal to just let this beauty sit around in my closet!

First Pair of Knitted Socks Ever.

Pattern#216 Beginner’s Lightweight Socks, by Diane Soucy
YarnMisti Alpaca’s Hand Paint Sock Yarn, Colorway #08 “Marino.”
Needles:  US 2 DPN

Oh, the high of finishing your first pair of hand-knit socks!

In Knitter World, socks seem to be one of those projects that you have to try.  A true knitter doesn’t NOT knit socks.  But all that jargon–gussets, heel flaps, insteps–has intimidated me for years and I have only looked on wistfully at other knitters’ beautifully-crafted foot encasements.

“Someday,” I would say, “after I’m finished with my current project, I’m going to give socks a go.”

But “Someday” kept getting pushed back in favor of projects that had to be finished immediately.

I bought the yarn for these socks in September of 2009, after lamenting about my sock fears to an understanding yarn shop owner.  She placed a beginner’s sock pattern in my hands and inflated my knitting confidences with assurances of socks “being super easy” and sent me on my merry way, only pausing to swipe the ol’ debit card to pay her for her enabling guidance.

The yarn is lovely.  It’s alpaca, merino and silk, with a little nylon thrown in for strength.  Wearing these socks is like walking on kitten tummies.  Oh, the deliciousness of the feel!

I should have knit these on US 1 sized needles.  They’re a touch baggy.  (That’s what you get for not doing a gauge swatch!)  But I love them anyway.  I’m now on the hunt for some sort of shoe that will frame my beautiful socks this autumn.  And I’m always on the hunt for some more gorgeous sock yarn!  (Curse you, Budget!)

A pair of handknit dress socks will soon be in-the-works for Michael.  Yay for socks!

Cherry Blossom Blanket

We are awaiting a new little addition that will arrive this summer for one of Michael’s brothers (and his wife, obviously) and I simply adore making baby things, so I volunteered to make a blanket for the wee princess.  I saw this pattern and color scheme used in a handmade purse and have been biding my time until I could finally use the combination for a project.

Details
PatternAfrican Flower Hexagon, by Lounette Fourie & Anita Rossouw (Sarie Magazine July 2009)
The edging is #250 “Coming Up Shells” out of 280 Crochet Shell Patterns by Darla Sims.  I figured out the half motifs through trial and error.
Yarn:  Red Heart Super Saver Solids in 0724 Baby Pink, 0774 Lt. Raspberry, 0378 Claret & 0505 Aruba Sea; Caron Simply Soft in 0003 Pistachio.

Hook:  G (4.0 mm) on the Caron Simply Soft & H (5.0 mm) on the RHSS.

Thank you Junebug, for “taking pictures with the blanket.”
(She was overjoyed to help model this finished project, as Bluebird is my usual go-to for photos.  I think Junebug has earned herself a permanent place in my arsenal of models.)

Click here for this project’s Ravelry Page.

Finished: The Wedding Shawl

PatternEcho Flower Shawl, by Jenny Johnson Johnen

Yarn:  JaggerSpun Zephyr Wool-Silk 2/18, less than one skein

Needles: AddiTurbo Lace US 4 (3.5 mm) 24″

Oh, the magic of blocking.  In the previous post I showed how teeny tiny this was when it came off the needles…it barely covered Bluebird’s shoulders.  But, after blocking, it easily covers her armspan.  Lace is so weird that way.

So now I will wrap this little beauty up and send it on its merry way up north to the bride-to-be.  (This seems rather anti-climatic, given the amount of energy and thought that has been wrapped up in this project over the past few months!)

I’m so badly bitten by the lace bug.  Nothing else seems remotely interesting besides lace!  I like knitting nupps (the little balls) a lot…I think they’re rather pretty in the design.

I’m very happy with how this turned out!  I hope Carly is pleased with it as well and that, should the weather require its use, it looks beautiful with her wedding dress.  It makes me so happy to have rendered this little bit of knitting service to my future sister-in-law!  Wear it often, wear it boldly!

There were requests for a post about blocking…I don’t know when I’ll have time for that, so here’s a post from the Yarn Harlot that covers blocking in-depth.  (She used string for the straight edge, I used blocking wires.)

Creepy Little Gingerbread Man

We’re experiencing a bit of the Winter Doldrums around here.  In an attempt to buck the gloominess of one particularly gray day, I spent naptime sewing up a little stuffie friend for Junebug.

Pattern:  Gingerman, designed by Cathy Gaubert, found in Fa La La La Felt by Amanda Carestio

Materials:  Eco-Felt, Embroidery Floss

We didn’t get to do a lot of Christmas crafting around here this past holiday season, so I think we’re making up for it by crafting in January and February and making big plans for this next Christmas.

I originally started this project with the intent of it becoming a little decoration for our home, but Bluebird and Penguin both exclaimed that Junebug would love it, so I figured…”Hey, why not?”  (Her blog codename really should be “Gingerbread Girl,” as she loves anything with a gingerbread person on it.)

When she woke up from her nap I presented her with the doll and the two has been inseparable ever since.  Another crafting success.

Little Monkey Baby Hat for my Little Monkeyboy

Oh, the cuteness is almost overwhelming!

PatternLittle Monkey Baby Hat by Irina Poludnenko

YarnKnit Picks Swish DK in Bark, Doe, Charcoal Heather & Coal

Needles:  US 6 DPN

Modifications:  Braided earflap tassels instead of I-Cord.

Many months ago, I became aware of this pattern after mentioning at Knit Nite that I wanted to make a monkey hat for my baby boy.  Kit found this pattern on Ravelry and showed it me, and I knew I had to make it someday.

I then got the idea into my head that it would make a great Christmas present and strived to make it work, but I ran out of the dark brown color a few days before the holiday and had to wait for it arrive later.  (If I had been a little more frugal in my tail ends and done I-cord tassels instead of braided tassels, I’m pretty sure I could have completed this with just one skein of the dark brown…)

Monkeyboy seems to like it.  He likes to hold a tassel in each of his chubby little hands and then chew on the yarn.

The pattern is a little crazy; I don’t think I’ll make this again because it drove me nuts.  It seemed as though the designer was trying really hard to make the pattern fit onto one page of instructions, and so she’d leave out minor details or type multiple rows’ worth of instructions onto one line.  Yeah, you’re still technically able to create the hat, but it takes more mental energy, which isn’t something I’m in excess possession of when I sit down to knit.  Things like that in pattern are the little things…and the little things matter!

Liking the yarn.  Haven’t done anything with DK weight before, but I really liked how baby-perfect it seemed…sometimes worsted seems just a little too heavy for babies, but this weight is just one step lighter, so it feels like “baby-worsted.”  I basically have full skeins left of the Bark, Charcoal Heather and Coal colors and I’d estimate I’ve got half a skein of the Doe/Light Brown color left.  And it’s superwash merino!  I don’t know why, but I am feeling pretty proud that my little bitty boy has a nice, warm, wool cap for his head.  It just feels like I’m taking especially good care of him by clothing him in wool against the bitter cold that’s outside right now.  Mommy Success!

Gotta keep those chubby little cheeks warm & toasty too!