Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holiday Gifting: Kansas City Edition

The next round of gifts I made this year was sent to my family in Kansas City, and it comprised most of my knitting and crocheting efforts.

Clockwise from top left: I made sport weight socks for both of my grandparents using Louet GEMS yarn and two of my own designs, Chittery Chattery and Alameda (more on this later).

Next is a crocheted placemat which was requested by my grandfather to commemorate the Royals' American League Championship Title - you can't tell in the photo, unfortunately, but it's the perfect shade of Royal blue (I used Baah Shasta in London Blue for the main color).

Speaking of colors which really don't show up in the low light of mid-winter, we have my dad's navy blue hat knit in Zealana Air Chunky. I just did a simple rib and winged it - you can find more details here on my Ravelry project page if you're so inclined. It's incredibly soft and warm, and I'm pleased to report that Dad really loved it!

Last but not least is the Monster Tissue Cozy I knit for my mother, which she's been dropping some not-so-subtle hints about. Message received! She was quite ecstatic about it, too!

You may recall this fun pink flamingo from a few months back, which was one of my FreshStitches Kit Club shipments. I ended up gifting this to my cousin's adorable new baby Dany, and she loved it!

I also crocheted two more FreshStitches cuties, the Amigurumi Deer from Stacey's Woodland Creatures Craftsy Class for my grandmother (she loves my little critters!) and a Christmas-y Nelson the Owl for my mom.

On Friday, I'll be sharing my final holiday gift projects. Have a safe & happy new year - thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Holiday Gifting: To Portland With Love

I'll be taking it easy this week as I recover from the holiday madness and prepare for a fiber-filled 2015, so this week I'll be sharing the handmade items I gifted this year! I'll be starting out with the items I sent out to my sister's family in the Rose City:

Pattern: Howie the Holiday Penguin by FreshStitches

Monster Pencil Cups (to match each of my nephews' rooms) and Crocheted Bath Mat for my sister and sister-in-law; both of these patterns were improvised. 

For more pattern and yarn information, click the links below. On Wednesday, I'll share more DIY holiday gifts, see you then!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Jolly Boots of Doom

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know that my husband is a homebrewer who is rather prolific - and, I think, AMAZING! He began brewing in January of this year and has only had one batch of beer which didn't turn out. Those are some good odds. To be quite honest, I'd rather drink his beer than most of which I can buy at the store...but I'm biased. I am his brewing assistant, which means I keep him company, hold hoses, problem solve when things go awry, and - my favorite task - taste test!

We decided to try our hand at a holiday ale to gift to our friends this year, and it became a somewhat collaborative effort: Tyler developed the recipe, and I helped figure out the best way to infuse cherries based on what we had available to us at the time (i.e., the recipe called for dried cherries, which we couldn't seem to locate in our neck of the woods, so I suggested we try using frozen cherries). I dubbed the beer "Jolly Boots of Doom" in homage to Invader Zim's Most Horrible Xmas Ever (the song from which our beer derives its name is embedded below).

While Tyler tends to the bigger details (you know, actually brewing the beer and whatnot), I am able to pay attention to the finer details. For example, when we were at the local brewing supply store, I suggested we get red bottle caps, and I also printed these special labels for our brew:

We managed to save a few bottles for ourselves to drink over the holidays and will be brewing another batch soon since it turned out so well. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidaze!

Merry whatever-you-celebrate!

For the second year in a row, my husband and I made our holiday cards from scratch. I drew the design onto a piece of acetate, which he then burned to a screen - here's a shot of him rinsing the screen after completing this first step:

Then, with the help of tiny elf of course, he printed the design onto card stock:

Our original plan was to use silver ink on the red cards, but we had to do an 11th hour substitution when the jar of silver ink we thought we had on hand was nowhere to be found. Hence, our holiday cards became a bit more pyschedelic than originally intended; seeing them all in a row like this kind of makes me cross-eyed!

All in all, I'm happy with the finished product, and it was MUCH easier to pull together than last year's ambitious four-color design (which you can see here).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Off the Needles: Never-Ending Baby Sweater!

I'm totally mixing up my usual blog schedule from now til the end of year (consider this your fair warning!), which is why I'm sharing a finished project today instead of waiting til Friday. Over the weekend, I managed to finish the sock yarn baby sweater that I've been intermittently working on since October. October! I guess that's what happens when you spend the better part of two months ignoring something on your needles.

At any rate, it's finished and I think it turned out pretty well, although I probably won't be knitting the same pattern again. I used a free pattern on Ravelry and let's just say you get what you pay for: my first indication that this wasn't going to become my go-to baby sweater pattern was the vagueness of some of the instructions. I feel competent enough to fill in the blanks and figure it out myself, but I do find it a little annoying - if I wanted to do that, I wouldn't have been looking for a pattern to knit from in the first place, I would have just winged it.

My pet peeve is when a pattern doesn't tell you how to do something such as decrease in a specific way, but instead says "increase x stitches across the row" or something equally vague (I'm willing to kinda let it slide in a free pattern, but it really infuriates me when I come across it in a paid pattern). My second indication that this wasn't the pattern for me was the picot-like effect the instructions for the neckline decreases produced, which I'm not a fan of. It's something I should have just corrected as I worked, but for whatever reason, I didn't.

Despite these of my criticisms, I do think I managed to make a pretty cute little baby sweater with a very special skein of yarn I'd been saving, and it will undoubtedly look adorable on one of my friends' babies which will be making their appearance in 2015.

Thanks for stopping by today - I'll be blogging as usual this Wednesday and Friday, so I hope you'll find some time to come back and see what else I've been up to!

Friday, December 19, 2014

FO Friday: Hoots & Handspun

Earlier this week, I gifted this crocheted owl pillow to my secret santa from my knitting group...none other than Allyson from the Sweatshop of Love!
I used the Owl Pillow pattern from Ana Paula Rimoli's book, Amigurumi at Home, and Swish Worsted, which is a lovely merino yarn from Knit Picks. Turns out it's great for crochet!

Since I don't have an actual work party to attend this time of year, the holiday party that my knitting group throws is pretty much THE celebration of the season for me (other than weekly visits to the Christkindlmarket). It was a great party this year, and my secret santa (Laura from Ink Whale Design - we are a talented group!!) spoiled me with some gorgeous yarn from Hazel Knits and these hilarious gift tags & card:
My other project for this week was answering the call put out on the Spinzilla blog for handspun bows made from yarns spun in this year's event. They'll be using the bows to create a colorful banner display at the TNNA Trade Show in January, and I strongly encourage my fellow #TeamLouet-ers and other Spinzilla spinners to represent! You can find out more here on the Spinzilla blog - there is even a photo tutorial to help you make your bows!

I found that all of my leftover bits of handspun yarn were perfect for the task at hand; here are the bows I'll be sending along:
It won't be long til I can finally reveal the gifts I've been knitting and crocheting. Til then, have a crafty weekend! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The WIP Wednesday That Nearly Wasn't

I'm in the home stretch of my holiday gift-making; boxes have been shipped out to both Portland and Kansas City, and I have just a few gifts in progress for folks here in Chicago. I'm SO excited to be completely done so that I can start my reward projects!

I've also been trying to steal a few moments here and there to get this forlorn sock yarn sweater off the needles. It's now just two sleeves away from being done, though - that's certainly progress!?
Truth be told, I very nearly skipped writing this post since I'm sure everyone is as tired of seeing the glacial progress on the above project as I am....but then, these arrived on my doorstep:
Aren't they pretty? It's this year's limited edition gift set from Knitter's Pride which features their fancy new Marblz needles (web search "limited edition marblz gift set" to find online retailers who still have the set in stock, or you can click here to purchase from WEBS).
The colors are just incredible, and each needles' pattern is unique. I couldn't resist starting something new right away:
In other news, one of my finished projects from earlier this year was featured this week on the Knitting Daily blog - how cool is that?! Click here to check it out!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Snow Family KAL

File under: better late than never?! Over the weekend, I finally picked up this project and set to finishing it...of course, the official Snow Family KAL has long since finished.

Once I decided what I was going to use to weight down the snowmen, the rest came easily! The pattern calls for balloons filled with beans or plastic pellets, but I ended up some empty round containers that used to contain some sort of lotion or potion; I filled them with beans and then some yarn scraps to prevent excess rattling once inside the snowman. They did the trick and my little guys stand upright with no problems! I also decided to knit two sizes of the trees which I stacked to make one big one; my fake snow is once again provided by some lovely Louet spinning fiber!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy National Sweater Day!

Today marks the end of the Save the Children Pins and Needles Challenge, and it also happens to be National Sweater Day! If you missed out on a chance to knit a sweater for someone special during the challenge, don't worry! You can still make the world better with a sweater - just wear your favorite yarny masterpiece and pledge $5 to Save the Children today. It's that simple!

If you happen to live in Chicago, there is a fun celebration tonight at Nina in Wicker Park that's co-hosted by Heidi of the Hands Occupied blog. You can show off your sweater, donate $5 to Save the Children, and enjoy light refreshments and all the yarny goodness you can handle - click here for more details

I ended up making only one mini-sweater during the challenge, and now I need your help deciding which one of my fibery friends will get to wear it this winter. Last weekend, I posted on Instagram asking who wore it best, and now I am opening the floor to you, my lovely blog readers! Here are our lovely contestants: 

Small Squirrel (though he also kinda looks like a mouse?) - pattern from 50 Yards of Fun
Frances the Charismatic Monster
Jerry the Musical Monkey
Stuffed Ostrich from Malabrigo Book 3

Leave your vote in the comments below! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Forget WIP Wednesday, Here's a Tiny Elf!

I'm coming down the home stretch for handmade gifts, but my dedication to the cause means there really isn't much I can share here on my blog these days. Luckily, I finished a fun project which I can't wait til Friday to share: a Tiny Elf

I whipped this little guy up really quickly in Spud & Chloe Sweater yarn - the pattern is available for free here on Ravelry. There is also a fun photo contest happening here on Ravelry where you can share photos of your Tiny Elf making mischief for a chance to win a grand prize!

So far, my Tiny Elf has....
...ridden an elephant....
...attempted to nab my morning tea...
...and then he tagged along to knit night and nabbed a tater tot as a snack!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back to Blocking: 5 Favorite Tools

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about blocking handmade gifts; I thought I'd revisit the topic by sharing a few of my favorite time-saving tools to block finished projects with stellar results every time! This is by no means an exhaustive list of every useful item to have on hand - rather, it's a collection of my favorite blocking tools at the moment.
  1. Sock Blockers: Every now and again, I'm asked if it's necessary to invest in a pair of sock blockers. While they aren't exactly essential, it's undeniable that they make finished socks look extra-amazing (more about that here). Not only do I use sock blockers on all of my hand knit socks for gifting, I also use them on my own every time I wash them! 
  2. Blocking Mats: It was years (as in, at least 10) before I got a set of blocking mats. I always figured that using towels and/or clean cardboard was every bit as good as a blocking mat, and couldn't justify the expense. Then, as I started to do more and more loads of laundry, many of which just consisted of towels, I realized that blocking mats were a way to reduce the amount of towels needed for the blocking process. AHA! Now I'm totally in love with my blocking mats and use them constantly! 
  3. Plastic Bags: You read that right! Plastic shopping bags are really great for blocking shapely items. Not too long ago, I knit a pair of baby booties and a matching hat and used some plastic bags to stuff them and hold their shape while they were blocking, and it worked beautifully. Best of all, this tool is essentially free, since most places still insist on giving out plastic bags. While I'm a fan of reusable bags when I do my shopping, I do try to keep a stash of plastic bags on hand for blocking purposes. 
  4. Knitter's Pride Knit Blockers: Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I am completely obsessed with this relatively new product from Knitter's Pride. I cannot even impart how amazing they are, but I'll try: picture pinning out a long scarf with T pins. It takes a while, doesn't it? Maybe your back starts to hurt a but from leaning over so much - I know mine does, especially when it takes over 20 minutes to pin out one project. Ok, now picture pinning out that same scarf in 5 minutes. Seriously, that is how long it will take with the Knit Blockers, I've timed myself!
  5. Wool Wash: I am totally on board with a using wool wash for my handmade projects. I find that they are worth the investment for a variety of reasons: first, most of them are no-rinse, which means that they save water AND you don't have to worry about accidentally felting your project while you rinse out the excess suds. Second, they are quite versatile - I've used them to remove stains on my clothes, wash undergarments, and even spot-clean my carpet. Third, they smell nice, and I like using a dedicated product to put the perfect finishing touch on my finished project. My new favorite wool wash is Allure, which I wrote about in greater detail on this blog post. 
What are your must-have blocking tools? 

Friday, December 5, 2014

FO & Friday Fun

Man, I really wish I could share this week's FO project with you - but alas, it's best if I wait til after they've been gifted. Oh, man, are they cute, though. I apologize for being a total tease, but it's pretty hard to keep this project to myself. Ahem. I'll try harder!

What I can share with you is the first round of items which were already gifted when I went to the salon earlier this week: a robot for my esthetician and a basic black ribbed hat for my stylist.
Afterwards, Tyler and I met up at the Christkindlemarket, our favorite Chicago holiday tradition!
I also finished the first of what I hope will be many Zoom Loom ornaments - I just sewed a finished square into a tree-like shape and then added beads here and there, an idea which randomly popped into my head earlier today. I kind of like how it turned out!
Hope you have a fun & crafty weekend!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Calling all Hibernating Projects

Now that it's crunch time, I'm spending most of my crafting time working on top-secret projects. Luckily, I realize I didn't share my recent (although somewhat glacial) progress on my Snow Family and Evergreens, which I started for a KAL that has already run its course. Oops! I still have a ways to go before this project is done, but at least there has been progress since I last posted about it!
It may seem underwhelming, but I now have a tree, 2 snowman bodies, and a hat!
I've also pulled the Garter Stitch Baby Kimono out of hibernation since I needed a conversation project to work on recently - and last night I finished the second buttonhole row! Not bad for a project which has mostly been forlorn in my knitting bag since I started it.

I also made this cute little Santa Hat (it's part of this free pattern from FreshStitches) on Monday night, though I can't yet share what project it's a part of - instead, enjoy this photo of a somewhat-reluctant Robin modeling it on my Instagram feed earlier this week!

That's pretty much it for my share-able WIPs this week

Monday, December 1, 2014

Try Not To Panic: December is Here!

Renegade Holiday Fair, Circa 2012
Photo by Dan Grzeca
Ack! It's December, and I'm hitting the panic button for my holiday gift-making! This is the point at which I have to be honest with myself and decide whether or not it's possible for me to finish all of the knit and crochet projects on my to-do list; it may be time to admit defeat and purchase some gifts! Today being Cyber Monday, this is a great time to snap up some deals online to make your life easier. If you are in the market for some knitterly gifts, Marly Bird has an extensive list of Cyber Monday deals here on her website!

This is also a fantastic time of year to support other makers, either via Etsy or by going to a holiday craft fair. I'm fortunate to live in Chicago, where we have tons of holiday craft fairs this time of year - anything from larger affairs such as the DIY Trunkshow and the Renegade Craft Fair December Market to smaller shows such as the Handmade Market or Revolution Craft Show.

I've scaled back some of my gifting goals to include quickie holiday ornament projects such as the ones I've been collecting here on Pinterest. Of course, if you're still worried about a last-minute time crunch, perhaps some ready-made ornaments are more your speed. I recently came across these adorable knitted bear ornaments from the Mother Bear Project, which are a fundraiser for their efforts. The proceeds from each ornament sale allows them to mail 6 regular-sized Mother bears to children in Africa who are affected by HIV/AIDs.
Mother Bear Ornament
Here's another gift idea that just about everyone can enjoy: a club memberships! Last year, I was gifted a three-month membership to the Rare Beer Monthly Club and it flipping rocked. In fact, I've continued my monthly membership with a different beer offering from their list of choices - and they also have wine, cheese, and other options to please a variety of tastes (click here to check them out). Getting back to ideas for fibery folks, there are many yarn and fiber clubs which would be great options - a lot of indie dyers offer a monthly club with exclusive colorways, and there are also other clubs featuring related products such as the Slipped Stitch Studios monthly project bag club. I myself have my eye on a Cloudlover fiber membership this year!
Slipped Stitch Studios Adventure Time Notions Bag
I have one more idea for your crafty friends: a well-chosen project kit. Since we all have plenty of yarn for the most part, it's sometimes nice to have the whole caboodle so that you aren't faced with the challenge of finding the perfect project for your pretty new yarn. Some of my favorite kit sources include FreshStitches (for lovers of amigurumi crochet - she also has a kit club, but unfortunately memberships are closed til July 2015), Craftsy (which has sewing, knit and crochet project kits), and Bijou Basin Ranch - they even have a kit featuring one of my designs, the Forever Linked Hat & Mitts!
Forever Linked Hat & Mitts in Himalayan Trail Yarn (my favorite!)

I'd love to hear your gifting solutions for this time of year, too!