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.

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Tweedy Lil’ Pumpkin Hat #2

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With the birth of my stepsister’s baby, I went into baby knitting mode.  One of the items I decided to include in the “Welcome Baby” package was one of my Tweedy Lil’ Pumpkin hats, size “newborn.”  I wrote up this pattern four years ago when I wanted to make my nephew a cute autumn-themed hat.  I haven’t made another since, mostly due to the lack of babies being born into our family, but also because I got wrapped up learning to make quilts and I’ve been doing lots of baby quilts instead of baby knits–but after spending almost all of 2016 making baby quilts, I decided to take a break from those this year.  Voila, back to baby knitting.

 

I love this pattern so much because it’s got classic, basic cables that always look good, and the yarn is DK-weight, which I prefer for baby hats because it’s just a tad less bulky, but doesn’t sacrifice on warmth.

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I went with two different colors this time with this Tweedy Lil’ Pumpkin Hat, the lighter orange and darker green available in Rowan Felted Tweed.  I now have scraps from both hats that I think will knit up nicely in a striped pattern next time there’s another beebs making a debut into the fam.

If you’d like to make a Tweedy Lil’ Pumpkin Hat yourself, the pattern is for sale on Ravelry.  I recently increased the price of the pattern, but you can get it for the original price of $2.50 until October 10th, 2017 with the promo code “babyknitting” (without the quotation marks).

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Happy knitting!

 

Bread & Butter Quilt

SONY DSCMy roommate from freshman year of college just had her first baby, the third of my close friends from freshman year to procreate this year.  We’ve stayed in touch over the years; she’ll randomly send me a little email here and there and they just brighten my day so much.  She’s always been one of the nicest people I know.

So, of course, when she emailed me early on in the year to let me know that she was expecting, I wanted to go all out for her and her wee one.  I had plenty of notice, so I really sat down and thought about what to make.  I recalled a quilt pattern I’d seen in a book I borrowed from the library while we were living in Australia, and luckily, I remembered the name of the book, Two From One Jelly Roll Quilts, by Pam and Nicky Lintott, and even more luckily, the book was available on Amazon.com (so many Australian books cannot be obtained stateside, but this one was British!), so I ordered it, took a glance at the pattern, chuckled at its cleverness, and committed.

Her nursery has been decorated with an alphabet and storybook theme, and she said she was fond of polka dots, and then she found out she was having a girl, and the Bread & Butter fabric collection popped into my mind’s eye, and I knew we had a winner.

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I’ve been in a lot of pain for the past couple of months so progress on this quilt was very slow.  It was decided that I would have another surgery to help with the problem, and when I finally got a surgery date scheduled, I just had a feeling that I really needed to get this to the binding stage before I went under the knife.  I had to enlist the help of my bestie, Denise, to cheer me on and encourage me, and we hosted a couple weeks’ worth of “Epic Sewing Thursdays” where we’d text pictures back and forth to each other every hour or so to show our progress on our respective projects.  You sure can get a lot done when you’re working “alongside” friends!

My check-in for surgery was at 12:45pm on Election Tuesday, and I was finishing up the machine-stitching portion of the binding at 10:30am.  Why fret about surgery and politics when you can focus on making pretty things for babies?

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The hand binding took two days, and the quilt label took lots of minutes over lots of days because my surgery ended up being a little more invasive than originally planned, and I was put on bed rest for five weeks instead of “three days of resting” afterwards.  Bah.  (Which is also why you’re getting quilt photos in front of the Christmas Tree…I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, ha ha.)

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But in the end, the result was the same:  A beautiful baby quilt for a beautiful baby girl, who has a beautiful mother with one of the kindest hearts you’ve ever met.

Congratulations, Stephanie and Jon, on the start of your family.  Welcome to your life, Baby Sydney…look to your mother’s example and you’ll do well.

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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…

Briar Rose baby quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

Briar Rose Baby Quilt

Briar Rose quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

Another baby quilt completed during this Year of ALL THE BABIES™!  This was for another friend from college, and I decided to bust out the coveted Briar Rose charm packs that I had been saving for “something special.”  She had mentioned in Facebook comments that she hoped to not “drown in a sea of pink,” and Briar Rose is the perfect amount of girly without a lot of pink, in my opinion.

Briar Rose baby quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

My oldest daughter, Emily, helped me out with piecing the top as part of her summer chores (I’ve assigned one hour of sewing to her everyday in the hopes that she’ll start making  a dent in some of her WIPs).  I then took over from there with the quilting and finishing.

Vine and clover quilting on Briar Rose baby quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

 

I was stressing pretty bad about the baby quilts when I started quilting this one, and I just decided to let go of all of the expectations of getting gifts done before the babies were born so I could actually enjoy the process of making the gifts.  I was going to burn through the quilting on this with a simple stipple design, but the quilt spoke to me and it wanted some sort of floral quilting.  Floral stipple?  Nope.  Chrysanthemum all-over design?  Nope.  And then the idea of vines and clover popped into my head, and the quilt clapped its hands in excitement, and off we went.  It took longer to do, but I’m so glad I went that route.  It was a good exercise in doing something new.

Back of Briar Rose baby quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

I tracked down some Briar Rose yardage* for the back, which made my matchy-matchy heart so happy, and I dipped into my preciously-hoarded stash of my own Briar Rose yardage for the binding.

Briar Rose baby quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

I decided to take some time and also have fun with the label, and I love how it turned out…little, teeny pinwheels!  Oh, be still my heart.  Love, love, love.

Quilt label on Briar Rose baby quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

It’s simple patchwork, yes, but I’m super proud of it–beautiful fabric, new quilting design, and adorable little label.  It makes me smile to look at the pictures every time I see them.  AND it was a joint project with my girl…win-win all around.

Briar Rose baby quilt made by Cara Brooke @ thatcraftycara.com

*I found the Briar Rose yardage at Lark Cottons, and they still have yardage of various prints!

Dr. Seuss Baby Quilt

Yes, it is indeed a post from me, and it’s even about a finished project.  Whew, end-of-school kinda kicked my butt this year, and I haven’t been sewing, blogging, or doing anything beyond mommy duty for months.  Life gets that way sometimes.

Anyway, you’re here for the finished quilt, not my life story.  Here we go…I give you the FINISHED Dr. Seuss Baby Quilt:

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SONY DSCSo, many years ago, I don’t how many precisely (five? eight?), the Dr. Seuss fabric came out and people went absolutely bonkers for it, myself included.  I bought up a couple yards without any plan for them, and, because I was in the midst of homeschooling and really young kids, it went into my stash to hibernate.

This May or June I found out that a friend from college was pregnant…and due to give birth in about three weeks or so.  Now, I’d always liked this friend, but I was in the midst of my “young children” years when she had her other kids and I hadn’t been able to make anything back then, but here I was, all primed for baby quilt-making, just a little short on time…and after a couple of days of stewing over it, I just decided to go for it.  Operation Sew-It-Like-You-Mean-It was a go.

Stash diving brought out the Dr. Seuss goods, which I matched up with some other coordinating fabrics, and I found a fun pattern that looked like it could come together quickly in Amy Smart’s Fabulously Fast Quilts.  Woo hoo!

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SONY DSCIt was fast, and I had a lot of fun making it!  And, to top it off, I bought some of the most perfect binding fabric from a member of my quilt guild.  I love, love, love the black and white stripe!

I used up all of my yellow Dr. Seuss print on the back, bordered with strips of the Dr. Seuss prints from the front.

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I think it’s rather happy, no matter which side you’re looking at.  I hope it’s well-loved, and used until it’s worn out to rags.  That’s Valhalla for a baby quilt.

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And many thanks to my little quilt models…

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…they’re so fabulous.

It Begins: Journal Covers for my Activity Days Girls

I serve as a leader for my church’s Activity Days program, which is basically our version of Girl Scouts for girls ages 8-11 years old.  When they turn twelve years old, they advance into the Young Women’s program, and we say good-bye.

I started serving in this position last spring, and we haven’t had any of the girls turn twelve in that time until now…and it just so happens that it is my very own daughter who is advancing.

SONY DSCServing as Activity Days leader when my girl is moving up is interesting because I have firsthand observations as to what would actually be valuable to her at this point in her life, and then I can apply that knowledge to the other girls as they reach this age.  And since you really do fall in love with these girls as you teach them and spend time with them, you want to give something to them when they leave, and the Young Women’s organization seems to be pretty big on keeping a journal, so I decided to go with making journal covers for my advancing twelve year olds.

This week was my daughter’s last Activity Days meeting, as she turns twelve in February, so we said our good-byes and presented her with her journal cover that will hopefully see her through to adulthood and beyond.

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I used Lori Holt’s journal cover pattern that can be found over at AllPeopleQuilt.com.  I’m planning on making a lot of these over the next few years (seven alone this year), so I think in the future I’m going to size it down to fit a composition book–this particular pattern fits your  basic full page journal ($15 +/-), which my Activity Days budget cannot handle purchasing for each advancing girl.  But a $2 composition book for each girl?  You betcha, and it will be so easy to replace those journals as the girls fill them up during their angst-filled teenage years of seeking solitude in writing their emotions.

I used a lot of fabric from a fat quarter bundle of Wee Wander fabrics that I bought specifically for my daughter a year or two ago.  She’s big into blues and greens and absolutely loved the collection, but then I gifted her the “Locket” quilt for Christmas, so I probably won’t be making a Wee Wander quilt for her anymore.  Which means I can start using it in other projects, and what better project than one meant for her?

The gingham is from Tasha Noel’s “The Simple Life” collection, and the other three non-Wee Wander prints inside the journal cover are from the years when I wasn’t paying attention to the names of fabric collections, and were conveniently missing their selvages, so I don’t know their names.  (That hexagon one, though…it’s on the tip of my tongue…Riley Blake?)  And the coral tile-looking print…I think it had something to do with Ty Pennington.)

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Front inside pocket

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Back inside pocket

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Back outside cover

SONY DSCThe navy strip on the top of the cover is from Pat Bravo’s “Dare” collection, leftover from binding the “Locket” quilt, and used when I cut my cover fabric the wrong size…good thing we quilters aren’t scared by that sort of mistake, eh?

The “e” on the front cover was cut with my Silhouette Cameo (font = Garamond), and then I just slowly machine straight-stitched it onto the pocket.  We’ll see how it stands up to wear-and-tear; it is backed with some fusible webbing to try to avoid fraying.

It’s a cute little thing, and I hope it gets a lot of use!

I’m going to be the mother of a twelve year old in a matter of weeks.  Goodness me.  Hopefully she’ll have journals filled with happy memories and wise lessons…

Linking up:
Made by You Mondays @ skiptomylou.org
Sew Cute Tuesday @ Blossom Heart Quilts
Linky Tuesday @ Free Motion by the River
Let’s Bee Social @ Sew Fresh Quilts
Needle & Thread Thursday @ My Quilt Infatuation

 

 

Randomly in November

  1. I saw the sign-ups for the Bee Hive Swap in time this year, and got in!  :::happy dance:::  So excited!
  2. My own swap group that I’m running liked it so much that a bunch want to do it again next year!  So, busy with setting that up at the moment.
  3. Yeah, two year-long swaps…talk to me at the end of next year.  🙂
  4. I wrote up an exhaustive inventory of the many works-in-progress taking up space in my craft room, and then hammered out a plan to plough through almost all of them in the next year.
  5. The first WIP that will reach completion as a result of my awesome new plan is probably a pair of socks that I started back in Australia.

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  6. A newly-finished pair of socks right now is kind of perfect, given that the snow has started.  I was actually thinking the socks would be a Christmas present for someone dear to me, but my feet are freakin’ freezing, so I’m going to keep them.  Mwa ha ha.
  7. The second WIP that will probably get finished is a baby boy quilt I started almost eight years ago.

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    The kid in this photo is Penguin, who is now nine years old.  She’s drinking from the mug I received after giving birth to Junebug, who is now seven-and-a-half years old…

  8. It’s funny how you can start a project with so much excitement, but with each passing year of not completing said project how much that excitement turns into resentment and shame.  So much so that I definitely don’t want to keep the quilt when I’m done, but fear the repercussions of giving a new life an item infused with so many negative feelings from myself.  The act of giving wipes off all the bad juju, right?  Right?

  9. I’ve also fleshed out a “Baby Gift Flowchart” to help me decide what to make for tiny humans on my radar.  In this age of social media, I find that I’m inundated with the awareness of many a pregnancy, and the baby-lovin’ crafter part of me really wants to make something for every one of them.  However, given the physical limitations of time, I can’t.  So I came up with a way to shrink the pool a bit and ease my conscience.  A line had to be drawn somewhere, or I’d never be done with making baby gifts.

    Baby Gift Flowchart

  10. I’m currently aware of nine pregnancies, and of three women trying to get pregnant.  That’s twelve impending births in the next year.  My flowchart narrows the gifts down to five recipients, which is still a lot, but gives me back a bunch of time.  I am raising four children of my own…
  11. My son broke the teeth off of the zipper of his winter parka the first day he wore it.  Of course.  Even better, he broke off enough teeth that the actual zipper pull fell off, too.  So, instead of working on WIPs, my time is needed to repair a zipper in a parka.
  12. Once again, making plans is a dumb idea.

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!