Friday, December 24, 2010

(An Abbreviated) Handmade Holiday

I didn't do a lot of handmade this year. Mostly I will blame it on finishing my dissertation, which kept me busy and focused until commencement last week. But I've also been placing a lot of energy into growing a baby! We are expecting our fourth child at the very beginning of April.

I am feeling great - this pregnancy feels easier than the last - but staying up into the wee-hours of the night crafting is not really in the cards for me these days. However, now that I am done with school and work, and as rested as I'm going to get, I am ready to go!

In the past few days I completed the socks and created a nice partially-handmade gift for my SIL. I was also able to pull together a little gift for each of my girls.

Starting with the socks:

I am very happy to report that my quick fix job really worked. I completed the pair with about 5 yds. of yarn to spare. That's cutting it close! But they look really cool. The photo doesn't do the colorwork justice - and I like that they are matchy without matching. I even finished them with 4 days to go before Christmas. That's a good feeling.

I am also giving my SIL my favorite book on writing, a to-go coffee sleeve (thanks Erin for the great tutorial!) and two gift certificates to local businesses: one coffee shop and one pet store. [There was a second coffee sleeve with a GC for a local coffee room that went to a special kindergarten teacher, but that was gifted before a photo could be had.]

And now for the gifts for the girls! I recently borrowed the Wee Wonderfuls book from the library and fell is love with many of the projects. I knew I didn't have time to complete any of the projects before the book was returned, but a few of the ideas stayed with me; begging to be made for my girls. Using photocopies of three patterns I ploughed ahead with a doggie necklace, a mermaid and a Gretel doll, and finished all of them inside of three evenings.

First, a doggie necklace for my dog-loving daughter:

This project is perfect for her. She is obsessed with dogs right now. She has checked out every book at the library on dogs, told Santa she wants a 'box of puppies' for Christmas, and is counting the days until our family gets a dog (not for a few years, mind you). The handiwork was a bit tedious - this little doggie is small - but I am very happy with the result.

Second, a mermaid for my excitable girly-girl:

What can I say about this mermaid? It's perfect. It's got golden brown hair like my daughter, she's got some bling in her flowing locks, which my daughter loves, and she is just overall a lovely doll. The pattern was fantastic - I really like how the doll is assembled. However, my free-quilting skills are not quite up to par (there is some embellishment on the hair and fins). I probably should have practiced some of the decorative stitches first, but this doll will do just fine.

And lastly, a Gretel-inspired doll for my little redhead:

This doll really stole my heart in the book. Gretel is paired with Hansel (who even has a feather in his cap) - can't you just imagine a pair of them together?! I took the idea of Gretel and modified her a bit to suit my 3 year old. She definitely prefers stuffed animals to dolls, and I'm hoping that she will take to the puppet feel of this special doll. Oh, and my painting skills? They leave something to be desired. But it works, it's handmade - and it's made with love. There's no better present than that. As for my pattern notes, I skipped placing the pipe cleaners for the arms and I also whip stitched the felt backing to the front template.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holiday Knitting (a.k.a. why I should weigh my yarn, or knit socks from the toe-up)

I am knitting a pair of bright, self-striping socks for my SIL for Christmas. We have a big-ish family and draw names for gift giving. This year I was lucky to get DH's younger sister. She is fresh out of college, just moved to our town, is writing a novel, has a steady job at a bookstore and has just entered adulthood. What a cool stage of life to be in! (Ok, maybe that is just my mid-30's, kid-raising mind rambling some BS. I think I also remember that stage of life being plenty full of longing, uncertainty and confusion too.) Regardless, I think that she'll like the socks. I think they are suited for a 20-something.

The thing that I didn't account for before starting the socks was her foot size. She wears a shoe that is 3 sizes larger than mine and I didn't make any changes to my pattern to accommodate. Yikes. And how many days until Christmas again?

There are a couple of things that I could have done to make this error easier to deal with, before I even started knitting. First, I could have split my skein into two balls and weighed them, thus ensuring that I had equal amounts for yarn to work with for each sock. I would have very quickly realized I was running low on yarn on the first sock before finishing it and could have made changes then. Secondly, I could have knit these socks from the toe-up. This makes adjusting the leg length much easier technically speaking. Since you are assured of having the proper foot length you just knit the leg until you run out of yarn.

But instead I am doing some magical knitting wizardry.

The leg of the finished sock on the left was WAY TOO tall if my yarn was going to accommodate the length of the foot. I realized this when I got half-way down the leg of the second sock and started running out of yarn.

So I had to do some emergency sock surgery to steal yarn from the finished sock for the unfinished one. This caused me to stop for 2 days and really think about the most efficient way to go about this. Here are my steps:

First, I snipped a stitch just below the ribbed cuff and unraveled the leg a couple inches. Then I unraveled the cuff and wound the yarn into a mini-ball. [You can't unravel a ribbed cuff from the top-down. It just doesn't work.]

Secondly, I re-knit the cuff on the finished sock, going up the leg this time, and bound off.

This allowed me to take 3 inches off the leg of the first sock - theoretically freeing up 3 inches of yarn for the foot of the second sock.

It's not the most elegant of solutions, but it works and it got me back on the road to finishing the socks on-time. [The cuffs on the socks won't match exactly since one has a cast-on edge for the cuff, and the other has a cast-off edge, but I don't think she'll notice.] I also debated on just ordering more sock yarn in the same colorway, but given my stash challenge I diligently encouraged myself to find a different solution.

Here was my stopping point last night. The returns are still out, but I am feeling pretty confident that I have enough yarn to finish off the second sock, albeit with a much shorter leg length.

Once the socks are done I will take pictures in the daylight. The colors remind me of a winter sunrise in WI - how the pinks and oranges in the sky above blend into the white and gray of the snow below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Putting my feet up

After the morning rush I decided to put my feet up. I made myself a cup of tea, read the newspaper, and watched the first flurry of the Wisconsin Winter descend outside my window.

To do this for myself was an actual decision that I had to consciously make. Normally I sit down in front of my computer, and let the (sometimes crippling) guilt of all that remains un-read, un-written, and un-finished wash over me. But not today, not this morning.

If you'll notice, my toes were warm inside my freshly finished socks. A nice treat for myself. I grafted the toe for the second sock on the morning after I successfully defended my dissertation. I did that on Monday evening. So you see, there isn't too much more to write at the moment. And all of the articles that I never read? Well, that's water under the bridge as far as graduate school goes.

I still have more revisions to make before depositing my dissertation - and since I plan to publish portions of it, this thing isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Some days I love it. Some days I am sick of it. But the best part is that it got me to where I am today, this morning. In my favorite chair, emboldened with a great sense of accomplishment.

The loftiest goal for today is to bake banana bread. I plan to spend my free time snuggling with the kiddos, and looking through my stash for a celebratory cast-on. What to make?

The socks are the finished TTL Mystery Sock '10 in madelinetosh sock (colorway: amber trinket). I did have enough yarn to finish both socks...and there's a bit left over too. Maybe I'll add another sweater to my winter door decoration?

And picking up my conversation from the last post, today was the first day that we put up our advent calendar. Hurrah for handmade holiday traditions! The girls don't exactly remember it from last year, but are very excited to participate this year and already have the rotation (who goes first, second, etc.) for picking socks worked out.