Tag Archives: Christmas

My future self will thank me

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(Note: This is a little out of order, because I’d really planned to follow up my last post with one about my goals for 2016. But, since one of those goals is not to waste momentum, I’m going to get this up now, and then circle back around.)

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When I was growing up, the vast majority of the Christmas gifts under the tree weren’t “wrapped” in the traditional sense. Yes, when all was said and done, we had plenty of wrapping paper to put in the recycling bin at the end of Christmas day, but for the most part, the gifts from my parents were wrapped in fabric bags my mum had made and reused every year. I don’t know when she first started using them, but I can’t remember a Christmas without them, so I must have been very young.

The concept is pretty simple, really. They’re just basic drawstring bags — unlined, no fancy seam finishing — in a variety of sizes and Christmasy prints. Every once in a while new ones would appear, but mostly it was the same ones, year after year, and they say Christmas to me as much as any ornament on the tree or special meal. Every year, after everything is unwrapped, my mum collects all the bags, folds them up, and puts them away for the next year. No one gets to keep them, and there’s no counting at the end of the day. A few years ago, though, my mum made new ones for my middle sister and I, and they were part of our Christmas gift that year: the beginning of our very own set, for the families were starting.

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Every year, I use those bags she made me to wrap my gifts for my family — L and I use them for each other, and I use them for my sisters and parents — and there is perhaps nothing more fitting than placing a hand-knit item or specially-chosen present into a handmade bag. Even people who have never had a gift wrapped that way before love it. L’s dad came to spend the holidays with us this year and loved his Christmas bag so much I felt a little bad asking for it back.

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All of which brings me to the point of this post: Back in October, when L and I were in Toronto for a wedding, I went to the shop to buy some fabric for my own set of gift bags. In the summer, Cotton + Steel released a Christmas-themed fabric collection (Tinsel, it’s awesome) and I took that as my cue. I bought fabric in three prints so I could start building a collection of bags of my own — ones that could maybe be part of the gift in some special cases.

I then waited for a free weekend afternoon to materialize so I could set about bag making.

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But, of course, free afternoons don’t really offer themselves up. Especially when you’re in the thick of Christmas knitting and exploring a new city and seem to be working all the time. Christmas arrived and my fabric was still sitting in the closet (not a disaster, since I had lots of other bags to use) and it wasn’t until Boxing Day that I finally had a day with nothing planned that had to be done. I cut all the bags and sewed up half of them, and you know, I felt pretty good about it.

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Today, we’re going to undecorated the tree and put all our Christmas things away for another year. I was thinking that I could just put away the cut-out bags as they are (I finished the bulk of them, after all), but then I thought about how busy the holidays were this year, and I realized that it’s not going to be any different next year. If anything, it’s going to be busier. So I decided to just take an hour (that’s all it’s going to take, if I’m honest with myself) and sew them all up. My future self will be so happy they’re done and ready to go next Christmas. Thirteen bags, ready to be filled — it’s practically an early gift for myself!

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Handmade holiday

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Well, I really didn’t mean to disappear for so long! The holidays seemed busier this year, somehow, between the knitting and the hosting and travelling, and of course working right up until the afternoon of Christmas Eve. We put our tree up a few weeks ago, and I had intended to do a little follow-up on my ornament resolution then, but I just never managed to find a spare moment.

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Merry Christmas!

Last year, our tree was a little spare, so I made a nice public plan to make 12 ornaments for our tree this year. I didn’t quite make it — I ended up with just eight — but since I also spent the year picking up a nice selection of handmade ornaments at craft sales, and also picked up some nice vintage ones, our tree was much fuller and more colourful this year.

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Simple stars. I actually made four (red ands silver, in addition to these two), but since they all look the same I didn’t think it was necessary to photograph them all.

The ornaments I made fell into two categories: origami stars, which were quite quick, and knitting baubles. I had planned to make lots of different kinds of ornaments, but time got away from me (partly because they were so quick to make individually that I never really set aside time to focus on them) so I stuck with what I knew.

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I’m pretty happy with the knitting baubles. They’re all the same size (a little smaller than a base ball, I’d say) and each one worked up very quickly. Each one uses the basic pattern from the Balls Up! pattern, and then for I used the colour work pattern from the Clayoquot sweater twice, as well as the lace pattern from Camomile and the Ben’s Balls pattern (included with the original). I definitely want to repeat the Camomile pattern with a different colour (the dark green blends in a little with the tree), and I’d like to do another one with this tree pattern, and how cute would it be to do one with little Santa Gnomes? So, I think there are definitely a couple more of these in my future. (Details on the four I did make are here.)

Of course, even though I didn’t actually manage to make more ornaments didn’t mean I wasn’t collecting patterns! Others I hope to make in the coming year (assuming I remember to actually do so) are: stars, tapered baubles, mini mittens, little stockings, lace stars, and, if I’m feeling really ambitions, a knit wreath (I really, really love this pattern, so I might buy the frame for it this year, if I can find one, so I have no excuse not to make one. I quite like the garland, as well, actually, and think it’s a good candidate for some beads if I can ever find ones that are big enough.)

So there you have it. Not as impressive as I’d hoped, but not too bad either. Did you make ornaments this year? What other patterns should I add to my list?

Here & There: All-my-projects-are-secret edition

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It’s that time of year again (already) when pretty much everything I’m working on is a Christmas gift and thus, secret. I am knitting like crazy over here, and can’t really show you a thing. So, in lieu of lovely projects (they’re here on Rav, if you’re curious) here are some things I’ve been enjoying/reading in the last little while.

  • I knit a ton of stranded colour work at this time of year, and this tutorial, about how to quickly and easily catch long floats as you knit, is amazing. I definitely didn’t catch every second stitch, but there are some loooong floats in this pattern, and this technique made keeping them snug much, much easier.
  • I loved this Slate piece about Apple’s Notes app and all the weird things we use it for. I don’t actually use Apple Notes, but I do use my Android’s notes app, and Evernote, for all kinds of miscellaneous things, including stitch counts for my standard sock recipes (heel and toe counts, since I can never quite remember), tutorials, measurements, gauge, and shopping lists. I haven’t kept a diary in a very long time, but these accumulated lists and notes and bookmarks paint a very personal picture and, in some cases, remind me of something I thought was interesting months (or even years) ago. This story made me go back through my notes, and I was pretty entertained by what I found.
  • Women are just better at this stuff’ — This Guardian piece about emotional labour and feminism is fascinating and thought provoking. It’s not a new idea, and certainly something I’ve talked about with my friends, but reading it while in the midst of holiday knitting gave it a new significance. The time I spend planning gifts is not insignificant, and it’s something I’m happy to do for the people I love, but this article made me think of all of that in a different light. Not negatively, just differently.
  • L and I have been watching a ton of Poirot now that it’s on Netflix (in Canada, anyway), so this story about a man who read all of Agatha Christie’s 78 mysteries was quite a treat. I love a good mystery and can’t believe I haven’t actually read any of hers (I’ve certainly watched them). Time to do something about, and his handy Top 10 is probably where I’ll start.
  • Pesto Ramen! I haven’t tried this yet (though the Vegan Pho recipe I linked to last time has become a regular meal in our house), but I plan to. I will report back, but if you’ve made it, let me know what you thought!
  • Last but not least, McSweeney’s is usually pretty good for a laugh, and this satirical take on a knitting group is very, very funny (maybe even more so because it resembles no group of knitters I’ve ever met). Stitch and bitch, indeed.
  • Edited to add: One more, and a timely one at that. As we’re all reeling from last week’s attacks in Paris and Beirut, I’ve seen a lot of confusion about who/what ISIS/ISIL/IS is and where it came from. I work at a newspaper, so when something awful happens, it becomes my wall-to-wall world (working for the business section is no insulation). One of the best things I’ve read about ISIS is this story from the Aug. 13 issue of New York Review of Books — The Mystery of ISIS. Sometimes the answer to a crisis is to try to get away from it, because it is so, so overwhelming; other times, the answer is to dig in and read, and read, and read. My reaction tends to shift from one to the other, and if yours does too, and you’re in the digging stage, this is a great place to start.

Baubles

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Remember when I said I wanted to make a bunch of Christmas tree decorations this year, well in advance of actually needing them? Well, I got my act together and I’m doing it! I knit the first one after finishing Bedford, and let me tell you that it is deeply satisfying to finish a small a pretty thing in one sitting after a finishing something that took a month (something that is still awaiting photos — they’re coming, I promise!).

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I used the basic Balls Up! template and the subbed in the chart of tincanknits’ Clayoquot cardigan. The yarn is all leftovers except the white, which is a Tosh Unicorn Tail purchased for this very project (at only 30g, I’m hoping I won’t have any leftovers, though this ornament didn’t use up much). I’m looking forward to playing with different colours and patterns, and using up some of my many, many leftovers. I don’t save everything, but often I finish a pair of socks and there’s 10g or so of the yarn left over, which seems like too much to throw away (and what if I need it for darning!?), so this will be a good way to work through some of that.

I don’t plan to blog every one of these, but I’m going to keep them all as one project on Ravelry, so you can keep up with them here, if you’re so inclined. This one was so quick (just an hour and a half, including fiddling with the chart), so I suspect they’ll become my go-to palate cleanser between biggish projects. Are you intrigued enough to make some along with me?

On my toes

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Tis the season for year-end posts, I know, but I’m going to squeak one more FO post in before I start that (I’m giving myself the whole first week of January for look-back, look-forward stuff). Anyway. When I started knitting/sewing all my Christmas gifts, I started a little tradition for myself: when my last gift is off the needles, I cast on a pair of socks for me. It’s not a big thing, but socks are good for all the travel and casual socializing of the holidays, and new socks are sort of a holiday classic.

This year, though, I decided to do something a little different. For starters, L and I decided to spend Christmas together, so I went home with him for a week. I know the rhythms of my family’s holiday traditions inside out, but I wasn’t sure how much knitting time I’d have with his family, and I wanted to be open to all the differences instead of lamenting a lack of time with my needles. I also, if you remember, wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to finish L’s gloves before Christmas, so I wasn’t really sure I’d even have time to knit Christmas socks for myself.

This picture is from the beginning of November, and I hadn't added a stitch to these socks until I pulled them out of their bag a few days before Christmas.

This picture is from the beginning of November, and I hadn’t added a stitch to these socks until I pulled them out of their bag a few days before Christmas.

How lucky then, that I had a lovely pair of socks already on the needles! I started my Blackberry socks way back in September, but as often happens with this kind of sock (fun, variegated yarn at a tight gauge) they were my in-between knitting, and quickly got put aside entirely in favour of holiday knitting. I was part-way into through the leg of the second sock, and they were in a holiday-ish colour, so they were a perfect alternative to an entirely fresh pair.

I finished L’s gloves a few days before Christmas, so I picked up these socks and got to work. Somehow, between cooking and eating and socializing I managed to sneak in a few stitches, and a couple of movies later they were finished! I cast off on Christmas Day (thank goodness I’d brought some back-up yarn for my short flight home!) and they are lovely, if I do say so myself.

Photo taken a few days ago, in front our (first!) Christmas tree.

Photo taken a few days ago, in front our (first!) Christmas tree.

I’ve been paying attention to my habits lately and it seems that, when I have a full drawer of clean socks, these kinds of plain, tightly knit ones are the first to get warn. They’re the ones I reach for again and again, though they’re also the ones I take longest to knit: if they aren’t striped, I don’t seem to ever be in a hurry to finish plain stockinette socks — my last three pairs all took more than three months from cast-on to cast-off, whereas plain striped socks seems to knit themselves. The solution, I think, is clearly more stripes!

Since this post is turning into an end-of-December sort of analysis anyway, one last thing: Do you remember my sock goal for this year? Basically I wanted to knit about seven everyday pairs of socks, preferably from my stash. Well, I just about did it. I knit six plain pairs (out of 12 pairs total — more on those in my actual wrap-up post) and, except for one pair, they were all from stash yarn! My Blackberry socks are actually from yarn I bought over three years ago, right around the time I was acquiring a stash, so that’s pretty good I think.

In case you're curious, this is Fleece Artist Merino 2/6 in Blackberry. I really like the way the colours knit up at this gauge. Not too much flashing or pooling, but a little pattern nonetheless.

In case you’re curious, this is Fleece Artist Merino 2/6 in Blackberry. I really like the way the colours knit up at this gauge. Not too much flashing or pooling, but a little pattern nonetheless.

I definitely have more sock (and knitting) plans for 2015, but I will give that its own post. In the meantime, do you knit for yourself over the holidays? After so long knitting for others, it feels like such a treat.

Return of the Moose (and the Brig!)

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I totally made it. Three days before Christmas these puppies were off the needles, blocked, and had their ends woven in, and I’m still not sure how I managed to make up that much time — call it a cliché, but this felt like a (secular) Christmas miracle.

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Because it’s basically impossible to secretly knit for the person you live with, and doubly so when you need them to try things on, L knew these were coming. I actually ended up giving them to him early since he hasn’t been able to wear the old ones and thus has had no gloves. They fit perfectly (like they were made for him!) and thanks to the denser yarn (Quince & Co. Chickadee), should be warmer than the last pair.

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I made a few other changes this time around, the biggest one being completely re-creating the chart in Illustrator. The chart in the book is impossibly small and has no numbers for either rows or columns, making it easy to lose your place. Additionally, the chart for the moose pattern on the back of the hand has enormously long floats. There wasn’t really any way around it for the actual moose (I didn’t want to make it speckled, though that does seem to be the consensus in other designs), but for the area around the moose, long floats seemed unnecessary. I charted in some little specks (a friend called them snowflakes, which is a nice interpretation), which definitely gives these gloves a different look than the other ones, but luckily it’s one that L likes.

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They go quite nicely with his Christmas hat too, which is a happy coincidence. He knew about the hat too, but I made him wait for it since he has others. This is a second attempt at Brig, and despite knitting it to almost exactly the same specifications as the previous one, it’s much smaller. L tried it on before I wove in the ends and said he liked it as it was (I offered to rip out the decreases and knit it long enough to have a fold-over brim), so I left it. It’s nice and tight around his ears, and the yarn (Swan’s Island Organic Washable DK) is lovely and soft, with really good recovery.

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I think it’s very fair to say that L is happy with his new hat and gloves. We took these pictures on Christmas day and it was definitely his most enthusiastic posing yet! (This is doubly amazing because I just realized that both of these are second-timers for him. He just likes what he likes I guess.)

Details
Pattern: The Moose at Sundown by Annemor Sundbo
Yarn: Quince & Co. Chickadee in Winesap and Slate
Needles: 2.75mm, 3mm, 3.25mm
Notes: My main changes were to the chart — adding extra specks to keep the floats from being too long (you can see the insides here) and adding extra length to the hand, which I did last time as well. I also when up a needle size for the fingers. One other thing I did when I recharted these was to make it so the beginning of the round was in the same place for both gloves. As it’s written in the book, for the left glove you knit the palm and then then back of the hand, and for the right hand you knit the back of the hand and then the palm. It’s not a huge deal, but I did notice that the tension of my floats were different on the two different gloves, and I wondered if that was why, so this time I knit both of these with the palm first. I’d say it resulted in much better tension, especially at the edges. Anyway, these are ravelled here. (And the hat is here.)

Just about ready

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It’s not like I don’t know that December is a crazy busy month, but it seems like every year it still catches me off guard. I think it’s because December is a month where I don’t want to say no to anything. There are holiday parties, craft shows, birthdays, and so much knitting, and I want to do it all, because it’s fun and it’s festive and it’s just nice.

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Does this look familiar? Well, yes. L completely wore through the last pair I knit, and requested new ones. I’ve tweaked a few things this time around, which I’ll detail later, but basically, yeah, these are the same gloves.

Inevitably, though, that leads to a knitting crunch. We’re spending the holidays with L’s family this year, which means everything for my family needed to be done extra early so it could be mailed. Last Friday I delivered their parcel to the post office, feeling pretty good about how much of my holiday making I’d finished with two weeks to spare. Then I looked down at the gloves I’m knitting for L, and did a little math (amount of work divided by number of days in which to do it) and felt a whole lot less smug.

Why yes, I did sew that trim on by hand.

Why yes, I did sew that trim on by hand.

This time last week, the gloves consisted of one finished hand, with one finger, which I had to rip out and reknit, basically I had: no fingers, no thumb, no second glove even on the needles. I also realized that I had committed to making us stockings, and that I hadn’t even started (as in: no fabric, no pattern). I powered through on the second glove hand over the weekend (there’s nothing like a chart to motivate you through).

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I took care of the stockings on Monday. I bought the fabric, I made up a pattern (yes, the toes are a little pointy, but that just adds character, right?) and I whipped them together. The fabric is upholstery weight that I got in the remnant bin at a fabric store downtown, so it was relatively inexpensive, but frayed like crazy, so these are French seamed. It seems a little fancy for something that will really only be used once a year, but I sure beat trying to line them.

I have since finished that last finger. Now on to the next hand!

I have since finished that last finger. Now on to the next hand! (The reason they look like slightly different sizes is because I blocked the right hand — through not the fingers — to check the fit. The left hand has’t been blocked or tried on, but I fully expect it to stretch to the same size. You can really see the difference blocking makes, though, eh? Wow.)

Now I’m just chugging away on the fingers. I’ve got four finished, which leaves me four more, plus two thumbs, and just under a week. We have some driving to do, so I’m hoping I can get a finger or two knit in the car (the chart is nice and straightforward, and now I’ve basically knit it four times, so I’m not worried), which leaves me with just a few more, and then blocking and weaving in the ends. It’ll be tight, but I think I might just make it.