A stocking is the thing

It dawns on me that in all the pre-Christmas crafting craziness, I never did show off all the stockings I managed to finish this year.

11202443_10153579879576141_6383239561933590061_n

The cookie stocking is the one you saw in bits and pieces in November. Bit by bit, it came together until…

12274226_10153579879521141_7651915652468136314_n

…a finished stocking was ready to head off to it’s new home.

Just in time, too, as there were a few more stockings yet to do before the big day.

12376038_10153621681596141_3816861148255840325_n

One with a sweet little reindeer…

1917556_10153625468841141_6061916188821175922_n

…one with Santa about to hop down the chimney. These two were destined for two little girls, sisters, who apparently loved them very much.

And then there was this one, simple and plain, but so much fun. The embroidery at the top was done using a couching technique, which gave it much more elegant curves than I usually manage with stem stitch and I am thrilled with how it turned out.

1486651_10153625471846141_5787002891724398362_n

But the one that captured my heart this year was a custom design that took many hours of back-and-forth discussion before we settled on a final plan, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

It started with a wolf.

wolf unsewn

A few trees and some snowy hills filled out the body of the design.

basic layout

And a generous helping of embroidery and beading made the snow sparkle.

71874_10153625471471141_464631000255317450_n

12391185_10153625471401141_551384511399192760_n

The trees were embroidered, too. They were stuffed lightly first so that when the embroidery stitches went in, the green felt took on a life of its own with branches and twigs, full and leafy, coming to life in more than just my imagination. A sweet little owl made its home in the branches, too.

222043_10153625471301141_2450359897791917097_n

And finally, the top cuff was put on in layers, embroidered, and beaded.

1910612_10153625471391141_2593468631816299367_n

It was based on a traditional First Nations design and together with the feather dangle, adds a huge amount of character to the stocking.

6038_10153625471261141_4524002929663017204_n

All in all, I am so very pleased with the final result.

Advertisements

Hours five, six, and seven

The hours between 5 and 8 o’clock in the morning are a study in extremes around here. At 5, the house is wrapped in stillness. Nothing is stirring, not even the birds, and certainly not the teenagers, nor The Man We Call Dad.

By 6 o’clock (and certainly by 6:30 at the lastest), at least one of the teenagers has come to life, often in a frantic flurry of clothes finding and breakfast making and schoolbook packing. The birds have unpiled themselves from their funny little sleeping pile (they sleep together in one tiny birdhouse, all piled atop one another in a cuddly heap). The moment a human sets foot on the main floor, the birds start calling out their hellos, making sure you’ve noticed that they, too, are awake and hungry for breakfast.

IMG_3210

By 8 o’clock, with the birds fed and content, and both kids out the door, I find myself settling in at my desk to begin my day’s work in a house gone quiet once more.

It feels different though, the 8 a.m. silence. Unlike the utter stillness of the world a few short hours earlier, 8 a.m. hums with movement as the world outside intrudes with its determination to seize the day. At 8 a.m., you can hear the washing machine churning away in the corner, the animals outside socializing as they visit our feeders, the kids waiting for the schoolbus, and the adults roaring off to work in their cars.

You can also smell the sausages and maple syrup from breakfast, and the remnants of autumn in the crisp smell of leaves and cold air that wafted in when the door was opened.

The 8 o’clock house may be quiet, but it is anything but still.

Likewise, the 8-hour-old stocking has undergone a radical change. What started as a single element has now become merely part of a larger whole sitting on the arm of the couch in the morning sunlight.

IMG_1853

A small hand lies ready to hold the gingerbread cookie tightly in its grasp…

IMG_1854

A bearded face is taking shape…

IMG_1855

And an apron is slowly aquiring some embroidered elements before it takes its final place somewhere above the boots.

IMG_1859

IMG_1858

The gingerbread man with all his embroidery took shape so very slowly. By comparison, the past few hours of work on the stocking have been a veritable explosion of activity not unlike that I see most weekday mornings around here. Yet now, with so many pieces cut and waiting for embellishment before being attached to the stocking itself, there’s a new kind of pause taking shape as I sit and embroider and bead and fuss. Progress will feel slow again until these pieces have been fancied up, though like the 8 a.m. house, there’s definitely a feeling of movement in the quiet.

 

 

A new stocking has begun

Very recently, I discovered that yet another big-name publishing house is not actually paying its writers, despite being quite a profitable venture. (If you want to read more about it, go here.)

As someone who writes professionally and has for years, and as someone who makes things as a hobby and sometimes for pay, I find myself baffled by the idea that anyone would give their talents away for free — or worse, at a cost to themselves — so that someone else can profit from it.

Don’t get me wrong; if you want to volunteer your time or donate your goods or services, go for it. But don’t do it “for the exposure” because that’s just a fancy way certain companies have of saying “let me exploit you so I can make money.” Make sure you’re doing it for your own reasons and that you have realistic expectations of what you’re going to get out of it. (Hint: getting “exposure” usually means you’re getting taken advantage of and in the end only serves to devalue the work we all do. Please don’t do anything just for the exposure.)

Part of the problem, though, is that in this age of instant gratification where anything you want to buy is a click away on Amazon, books are an instant download within seconds of seeing a review, and seasonal foods are available year round regardless of their proper season or country of origin, many people don’t understand just how very long it takes for things to happen.

Apples are a fall fruit, not a spring one, and it takes years to establish a tree thoroughly enough that it will give you a generous bounty of them. Raspberries bloom fast and furious, then give you an abundance of fruit for a few short weeks before they’re finished for the year and yes, you really do have to wait 11 more months before there will be new ones. A carrot really does take the entire summer to grow big enough to eat. And a Christmas stocking — at least, the way I do them — really does take hours and hours and hours of work before it’s finished.

Every so often, someone will ask me if I would make them a stocking, and even offering to pay for my materials, not understanding that the stocking they so admire and want to have for themselves not only uses $40 worth of materials, it took me 80 hours to finish.

Family members get stockings. Nieces and nephews get stockings. Dear friends who really should be family get stockings.

Random people on Facebook who admire my stockings and want one for themselves? Not unless they’re willing to pay for my time as well as my materials, which they inevitably aren’t.

And then they often get grumpy about it.

I don’t mind them changing their mind and not commissioning a stocking when they find out the price tag has three digits in it, not two. I don’t even mind them questioning why, exactly, I charge so much for such a thing when they can buy simpler ones much cheaper at Walmart.

But I do mind when they get grumpy about it and start saying nasty things about people who have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they can charge hundreds of dollars for what amounts to something a monkey could do.

To them, I ask: When was the last time you gave away 80 hours of work for free?

Not free, they tell me, being willing to pay for the materials and maybe a few dollars extra.

Yes, free, I tell them, knowing that even if they double their initial offer and pay me a whole $40 on top of the cost of materials, that still works out to an hourly wage of about fifty cents an hour, or a grand total of $4 for an 8-hour day’s worth of labour, 10 days in a row.

No, thank you.

Every so often, there’s someone who gets it. Someone who understands that what they’re paying for is one of a kind, crafted by hand, thoughtfully and mindfully and with an abundance of passion. I love those people. I strive to be one of those people when I visit craft fairs and art shows. Even if it means I can’t even begin to be able to afford all the things I want, it ensures that the people who are making the things I so admire will be able to continue to make a living making.

And just maybe, some day, we will realize the folly of devaluing ourselves for a little “exposure,” and treasure once more the art and skill that goes into whatever it is that we choose to do.

In the meantime, I have a new stocking to make for a sweet little nephew who is adored beyond measure. I’m four hours in to the process, and here’s what those four hours look like:

IMG_1841

 

 

 

A stocking full of joy

When I was a young girl, I don’t even remember what age, other than it was when we were living in the house on Fuller Street, my mother spent a Christmas or two working on a felt Santa kit from Bucilla. It was just his head, with an enormous white bear and a funny little mouth tucked under his mustache, and we spent what felt like hours and hours and hours sewing on sequins to that vast expanse of beard to emulate frost-tinged curls and tufts.

santa

I think I fell in love with Bucilla during the time we worked on that Santa head.

Up until then, I had always loved and admired my grandmother R’s fabulous quilts, my grandmother D’s beautiful handpainted ceramics, and my mother’s many art projects… and known, deep in my heart, that my own efforts could never, ever compare to the beautiful creations of the women around me.

I was not the sort of child who had a lot of self confidence, especially when it came to things artistic.

But Bucilla… they were exactly the sort of company that my girlish insecurities needed. They did all the hard part for you! They designed it, they picked out the perfect sequins and threads and felt, and they put it all together in a shrink-wrapped package just waiting for you to begin. They even included the needles. As long as you could follow the written instructions, you would end up with an end product just as fabulously perfect as the one on the package.

And as a child, I was nothing if not good at following written instructions. Anything written on paper was practically my BFF.

Fast forward to a decade ago or so–13 years, to be precise–and a fierce desire to provide our new little man with his very own Christmas stocking. I must have shopped for weeks, never quite satisfied with what I found in the stores, before I wandered in to a craft store that had a display of Bucilla stocking kits.

I poured over the plastic-wrapped packages, my heart finding joy in the simple shapes and straightforward-looking embroidery, and thus began what would turn into a decade-long love of assembling stockings for the many children in our lives, and my brother and sister, too.

The first stocking I made:

IMG_3520

Over time, the patterns I chose drifted towards the more complicated end of the scale. Then, after taking Sharon Boggon’s classes on embroidery and design, I started using the patterns mostly as a jumping off point, embellishing them heavily and drifting further and further away from the packaged design. When I look back now on that first plump Santa climbing into a chimney that graces K’s stocking, I smile at the memory of pride and joy and know that first effort bears so little resemblance to the stockings I make now.

The second stocking I made:

IMG_3521

But through all these years, The Man We Call Dad and I have been using store-bought stockings. They’re lovely, don’t get me wrong, but when the kids pointed out that everyone we knew had one of my stockings except for me and The Man We Call Dad, I realized it was time.

As I mentioned a week or so ago, The Man We Call Dad’s stocking was finished sometime this summer and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

IMG_3523

IMG_3525

IMG_3524

IMG_3522

The season of light

There is something about Christmas that speaks to my heart in a way few other holidays do. I find myself humming little snatches of songs at odd moments. I find excuses to do yet more fun things with my kids and their friends and cousins. And I catch myself staring out the window watching the wildlife or sitting on the porch breathing in the cold snap of the air while the kids build this year’s iteration of the Incredibly Amazingly Awesome Front Yard Snow Fort (not to be confused with the Awesomely Incredible Amazing Back Yard Snow Fort).

It might be because it is a time when family comes together.  When I think about it though, that happens more than just this once a year when you have a large family with many birthdays and weddings and new babies and other excuses for celebrations, so that can’t be it.

It could possibly be because it is a most perfect excuse to spend many, many hours making and crafting and baking, though I rarely need an excuse and will happily spend hours making and crafting and baking just because it’s raining out, or because someone is feeling blue, or because it’s Tuesday.

And it might be that I get to decorate the entire house from top to bottom with twinkle lights and sparkly gold ornaments and a little Christmas village full of quaint little houses and darling miniature people for the kids to play with and me to smile at. I do so like adding a little bit of sparkle to the house and often wonder why I don’t have twinkle lights scattered about all the time.

But none of those reasons quite hit the mark.

When I think about it, when I reach deep into the heart of the matter and feel for what I love most about Christmas, it’s the light.

The winter solstice falls just a few days before Christmas. It is a day of magic and mystery to some, a day of science reconfirmed to others, but all agree the winter solstice is significant. That day when we stop falling further into darkness and start edging our way slowly back towards the light is a powerful thing.

You might not notice it much at first, but by Christmas day it is no longer a suspicion, but an obvious truth: Today had oh so slightly more sunshine than yesterday, and tomorrow brings the promise of more again. Spring is coming, bit by bit, and with it all the dreams of gardens and harvests and wonderful family meals fresh from the earth.

Too optimistic? I could see how you might see it that way. Spring is, for us, still months away (though I must admit, having had the first green Christmas in over a decade, Spring does feel like she is already here). I still dread the bitterly cold days of late January and am resigned to the dreariness of February and seemingly endless month of March. But with the dawn of Christmas day, I know deep inside that this little ball of water and rock we call home has continued on its merry way around the universe, laws of physics and orbital mechanics still intact, carrying us all along for the journey.

And with that knowledge comes the surety that Spring is indeed coming.

A little bit of yarn…

It always surprises me how quickly the weeks can go by when you’re busy. Days blur into a vast sweep of time before you’ve entirely realized it. Time, it seems, is rather more fluid than we like to think it is. And like all fluids, time can be a slow and lazy river or a cheerfully tumbling brook when it wants to be. Or it can be a vast river rushing past at a deceptively fast pace that looks slow and lazy on the surface, but the moment you step in past your knees, you find yourself swept up in the current until you are miles downstream from where you began and you aren’t quite sure how you got there so quickly.

Yes, it’s January. The end of January, to be precise.

I’m still not quite sure how, exactly, I’ve managed to find myself on the far side of the Christmas crafting rush without hardly a blog post to show how seriously crafting dominated my fall and made my Christmas delightful.

Even stranger, I have no idea how I managed to create so many things and give so many handmade gifts… and didn’t manage to take a single photo of the majority of them. No work-in-progress snapshots, no finished object photo shoots, just… nothing.

There isn’t a single photo of the Waldorf-style doll my niece requested for her birthday.

Nor is there a photo of any of the three embroidered and embellished Christmas stockings that were made for a pair of baby boys experiencing their first Christmas and a slightly older it’s-serious-we’re-moving-in-together boyfriend experiencing his first Christmas living with my sister.

We won’t mention the four other stocking kits sitting in the cupboard waiting to be made since B announced that it really wasn’t fair that The Man We Call Dad and I have *gasp!* store bought stockings instead of Mama-made stockings. (But wait, you might ask. Four? You’re making four stockings for two people? Well, no… but my skills have, erm, improved a bit since I made B and K stockings more than a decade ago and they both love the idea of having a new Mama-made stocking to hang instead of, or maybe beside, their old Mama-made stocking.) They’ll get made sometime in the next few months, I’m sure.

Nor did I manage to take a photo of an adorable little quilt made by B with a little help from me.

But I did manage to get a few photos of the blankets I made for my 2 nieces and 1 of my nephews. I blogged months ago about the Maybelle Square afghan for one of my nieces.

(Yes, I really do start my Christmas crafting in July.)

AndreaDJuicyFruitsChallenge

This one is a bit of white and blue for a sweet little boy, the pattern is the Juicy Fruits and Whipped Cream Throw by Red Heart and it is free on their website, with a video tutorial also available by Mikey from The Crochet Crowd.

And this one:

IMG_3252

Is an in-progress shot of the the challenging and stunning Porthole Square pattern by Karen of Colour In A Simple Life. The squares are a wonderful new technique that I’ve never encountered before. Karen has a full pictorial tutorial on her blog showing her process. I will say that the squares were a challenge for me as they are a bit fiddly. I will also say that having the proper gauge is critical. If you should happen to get a ball of yarn that is not of the same lot as the first balls, and it just happens to be a shade thinner, the squares will refuse to come together properly and you will be hugely unsatisfied with this pattern. It needs a tight fabric, not a loose one.

IMG_3254

Given that the yarn was off, I chose to do the centre of the afghan in porthole squares then finish off with double crochet with occasional rounds of back post stitches to make a nice ridge that matched the joining ridges. I also gave it a border with several rounds of colours pulled from the porthole centres (no, not photographed), followed by attaching in an un-portholed centre in each of the 4 corners (also not photographed), and then more rounds of colour ending in a bright, vibrant red that just makes the whole thing pop like you wouldn’t believe.

(and since I didn’t photograph that, either, you’ll just have to imagine it. It was awesome. I swear.)

I could show you the super simple neck warmer done in bulky yarn I made for K (ch 15, sc in back loops only on every row, then add a pair of buttons), but I forgot to photograph it and he’s taken it to school and forgot it in his locker.

I would show you the yarn I got for Christmas, but I didn’t photograph that either. I’d show you the neck warmer/head band I’m making B with it… but again, no photos.

I won’t even offer to show you my current WIP that is actually a cardigan for me, since, you guessed it, no photos.

But what I will say is that I have every intention of being more present in this space again. I miss my daily musings. Judging by how many of you keep popping by every week to see what’s going on here, I suspect you’ve missed it too.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll start remembering to take more photos.