Getting ready for February

As I have mentioned before, I don’t suffer from a case of January start-itis when it comes to crafting. Instead, I take January to breathe in all I have finished in the preceding year and finish up a few odds and ends I didn’t quite manage to get done the year before.

And then, in February, I find myself admiring this and ooh-ing over that and before I know it, I’ve started half a dozen projects and have my eye on half a dozen more.

But this year, I found myself selling far more pieces than in previous years and I had almost more work than I could handle in the lead-up to Christmas. So much so that crafting for family was put on the back burner and crafting for myself hasn’t happened at all for almost half the year.

It’s hard to fathom.

As 2016 wrapped up, I started taking a mental inventory of all the things I want to finish, or at least make more progress on. And then I went digging through my shelves to see what I had meant to start but not gotten around to in a while, and found all sorts of buried treasures. I suspect I have enough to carry me through the entire year if not longer, especially given that I am still getting commissions for other things and will be devoting time each week to those items and have less time than usual for my own crafting. So I am determined to at least make a little progress on some projects–some that have not been touched in quite a long time now.

The first of which is a fire truck that I thought a certain young man had long outgrown a fascination for, but it turns out he remembers that I had started stitching a piece for him and he has decided he wants me to finish it for him after all.

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Working on this piece, even for a little while, made me recall a few other cross stitched pieces half done and sitting in the cupboard, so progress on those would be lovely, too. A Christmas sampler:

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A lovely witch/wizardess/goddess piece that was gifted to me partially done and our girl B instantly claimed (so I could finish it on her behalf, of course. She’s generous like that). I think it was the fact that the lady in question is reading a book that caught her eye.

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And a gorgeous Teresa Wentzler that I started many years ago and had completely forgotten about.wentzler

Of course, before I get to those, I have a mermaid tail to finish up – it’s almost done, just weaving in the ends to do. Approximately 6 bazillion ends, and you know how very much I love weaving in ends. (I don’t. At all. Why I keep taking on crochet projects built from blocks is beyond me. Remind me, would you please, to stop doing that?)

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This mermaid tail is from a pattern by The Felted Button. She has the most colourful, textural, gorgeous crochet patterns – check out her site if you never have. Here a closeup of the tail so you can get a better idea of what the triangular blocks look like:

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The tail is done in sock-weight yarn (it’s skinny!) and the yarns all have either a strand of glittery metallic thread or sequins or both woven in to them. It makes for a lovely, shimmery, fish-scale effect that’s missing from the photos above.

Another crochet pattern I want to finish up is this:

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It’s a lovely lace-weight shawl that I started on the plane to Cuba and then never found the time to get back to. As it’s for me, it’s easy to put it aside for other people, but when I look at it, it has been over a year now since I set it down. The pattern is lovely and intricate with bands of colourful lacework in various stitches in the centre and a wide strip of Bruges lacework on either edge.

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It’s going to be a couple of months at least before I get my hands back into this one, but I’m hoping to finish it by summer. Then, maybe I’ll find the perfect pattern for this lovely yarn:

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It has been sitting in my “wishful yarn bliss” pile for a few months now. I’m not yet sure what it will look like, but it will be either a scarf or a hat to keep me warm in winter.

On the embroidery front, I’ve been working on another tree skirt project. This one is from a kit, but I will be embellishing heavily with embroidery, as I did with the Peace Joy Noel wall hanging a few years ago. You can see how thoroughly embroidery-encrusted I plan to make it in the Love Letters piece I did after taking Sharon Boggon’s class.

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Last, but certainly not least, I hope to get another 2 blocks finished on my crazy quilted and embroidered wall hanging.

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The currently finished blocks are on the right in the picture above.

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The two empty blocks on the left are pieced, but not yet embroidered.

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The blocks are 10-inch squares and I think the finished piece will end up being 3×3 blocks with a border of some sort.

So, an ambitious plan for 2017, but one of progress, not necessarily completion, given how many other things are in the works both with myself and for the kids.

What do you have planned for this bright and shiny new year?

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Happy Samhain

Last night was Hallowe’en and I have to say, it was the most fun I’ve had on Halloween in a while. K is now officially “too old” to dress up (says him! “Never!” says I!).  B went as a ninja (and was out the door to meet her friends so fast, I never got a photo). She debated adding an onion and a kitchen knife to her costume (in tribute to those onion-chopping ninjas who sneak up on you during certain episodes of Gray’s Anatomy just to make you cry), but after discovering we were out of onions and pondering the wisdom of bringing an 8″ long blade to a party, decided a plain ninja would have to do.  I was a witch, as I often am–when I’m not wearing a hazmat suit and handing out terribly “toxic” candy with BBQ tongs that is. This year, I added battery-powered copper stringed fairy lights wrapped around my pointy witch hat for good measure and I quite liked the effect.

But the house…

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The house was done up in fine style with a graveyard on the lawn, a Harry Potter-esque dementor hovering just below the tree branches, and a quirky magic shop set up beside the porch. (I apologize for the terribly blurry picture).

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I had, as I often do, left the garden to grow wild and unkempt and suitably spooky for the season.

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And of course, as I do every year, I had the fog machine going with its sound effects, strobe light, and smoke.

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So what did my magic shop sell? I had candy galore, of course, and stickers promoting Girl Guides of Canada, and books.

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A whole table full of children’s books, plus an extra bin under the table with more. All for free.

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The reactions of the kids when they realized I was giving out books was fantastic. It truly was amazing.

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One little boy said “Oh! It’s a shop! A book shop! How much are the books?” When I told him they were free, he could pick one to keep, he turned around and ran over to his parents, yelling “Mom! Dad! Books! She has books!”

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Many of the kids expressed how much they like to read. Some shyly, some loudly, but all with sparkling eyes and absolute sincerity.

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Those who chose to take a book often lingered over the table while making their choice. Some lingered so long it prompted their parents to come closer to see what, exactly, was going on at that spooky house with the witch behind the table and a lovely set of Griffindor robes hanging off a dressmaker’s dummy.

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Another group of tall teenaged boys in various gruesome costumes all took some candy and laughed at the kids’ books on offer until one of the boys reached for the pinkest, prettiest, girliest book on the pile. His friends started teasing him, but he ignored them and asked me “Is it okay if I take this one? I have a little sister who would love it.”

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Suddenly their teasing turned to “Oh yeah! Great idea! Way to go, man, she’ll love that. That’s really awesome of you!” and I thought to myself, yup, they’ll turn out just fine, those boys.

All in all, 65 books and 175 snack-sized pieces of chocolate later, it was a very fun night for me and probably the best Samhain celebration I’ve had in a long time.

After all, books really are the very best sort of magic.

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Here comes the sun…

We have definitely turned the corner from Winter and begun Spring in earnest. Oh, there’s still a pile of snow on the front lawn that’s now as high as my chest, but the days have been warm, the ground wet more than cold, and the air ripe with the promise of green growing things to come.

This morning, I woke early and made my way downstairs to make muffins, and this is the sight that greeted me out the patio door:

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Clear blue skies and a gorgeous ball of light making everything bright. The kitchen and the attached eating area we call the sun room were filled with sunshine (the sun room is aptly named, after all) and my heart hummed with happiness while I made up the batter and popped trays of muffins into the oven.

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Soon, the muffin jar was filled to overflowing and the house was filled with the most delicious aroma. It was so tempting, that smell. And that sunshine, too.

Who could resist all that goodness in one place? Not me!

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A cup of tea, some organic cane sugar flavoured with little bits of lemon, and mini muffins in three varieties. It was a most delicious way to start the day.

 

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.

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

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…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.

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One with a sweet little reindeer…

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…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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

Old faithful

One of the things I have learned about myself over the years is that when it comes to crafting, I am not a very loyal person. Some crafters choose a project, get their materials, and then work on that project–and only that project–until they are done.

I am not one of those people.

Instead, at any given moment, you can find works in progress in practically every room of the house.

(Though not the bathroom. Or the kitchen. Knitting and cooking does not mix. Neither does crocheting and cooking. Though both are perfectly acceptable when keeping an eye on something going on in the kitchen from a nearby room without looking like you’re keeping an eye on anything at all.)

(Have I mentioned my children have been cooking a lot lately?)

(Like, a lot a lot?)

An acquaintance of mine announced a couple weeks ago that she was on a tremendous push to finish up all her WIPs and UFOs so that she could be one of those crafters. You know, the ones who always finish what they’ve started before they start something new.

My mother-in-law is one of those crafters, I suspect, as I’ve only ever seen her with a single knitting project on the go at any given time in all the years I’ve known her.

But one look around my house will only serve to confirm what you might have suspected: staying faithful to a single project until it’s finished is just not my cup of tea.

Case in point: I hooked the first chains of the Mariposa throw in 2013.

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A few squares finished, it then took a back seat to more urgent projects for friends who keep insisting on having babies. A few more squares finished and it took a back seat to friends having second babies or celebrating momentous first birthdays.

And so on and so on until, sometime before Christmas, I realized I had not worked on it for a very long time.

It’s a classic case of the cobbler’s children not having any shoes — the Mariposa throw is, after all, destined to belong to me.

But with Christmas crafting finished for the year, it came out of the cupboard once more and with a surprising little bit of faithful crafting on my part and only one emergency run to the yarn shop for more green wool, the squares are entirely done.

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(There are more than these – this is just a small sampling.)

It’s astonishing how faithfully I managed to work away at it. Well, except for the times I was working on little hearts.

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And making little tags for little hearts.

And then of course there’s the times I wasn’t at home crafting, so had to work on the traveling-in-my-purse project instead.

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(It’s Adrienne Lash’s lovely windowpane scarf)

And then there’s those moments when I need a break from work but don’t feel like going all the way upstairs, so I work on a little taking-a-break-at-my-desk project, the Globetrotter shawl.

I would show you pictures, but I haven’t been taking very many breaks at my desk lately and am only about 17 rows in. It uses a new-to-me technique, Bruges lace, and I’m still figuring out exactly how that works, so those 17 finished rows are actually more like 2,986,248,563 rows ripped out and 17 put back in again, but I think I’ve finally figured out how it all works and I am hopeful that I’ll have a finished shawl before I’m a grandmother.

But overall, I’ve been astonishingly faithful to the Mariposa throw. I’ve even resisted an almost overwhelmingly infectious case of New Year startitis (whereby you look at all the yarn you were gifted at Christmas, and all the yarn you never did use from last Christmas, and all the yarn you bought when you were just browsing, and you start 92 new projects with grand ambitions of finishing them all immediately).

Looking back on things, I’ve actually been pretty good at avoiding New Year startitis in January most years. But February? February is an entirely different story. February is the month where I typically either finish up something or get really, really close to being finished something I’ve been meaning to get to…and then I cast on every pretty thing I’ve been wanting to do for ages.

This February, I’m about 3 hours away from being done with the Mariposa throw. All that remains is finishing sewing the squares together and then sewing in all the tails.

(There are a lot of tails.)

So naturally, this happened:

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It’s an adaptation of a women’s cabled headband pattern. I worked it up in a super bulky yarn and made it into a close-fitting cowl instead.

I worked on it in bits and pieces over the past 3 days, feeling terribly guilty for being unfaithful to my Mariposa throw will all it’s nine gazillion ends to be sewn in, and before I could blink, it was done.

And then it was around one of the kids’ necks, and then around the other kid’s neck, and now I have to start two more of them lickety split so that everyone has one of their own instead of everyone fighting over this one. So I cast another on.

And then I was wondering if, instead of doing cables, I could make one with a diamond-shaped front-post double crochet stitch, so I grabbed yet another hook and another hank of yarn and started playing around with stitches, trying to figure it out. And then I remembered I had bought the most luciously soft yarn in a delicate cream and gorgeously rich turquoise to make the mittens I saw in the knitting magazine B bought me for Christmas, and I remembered I needed to work up a gauge swatch to make sure I had the right needles, and so I cast that on instead of reading just before bed.

And I liked how the swatch felt so very, very much that on an emergency run to the yarn store for more white yarn to finish sewing together the Mariposa squares (because really, if I’m working hard at staying faithful to the Mariposa, it really helps if I actually have the amount of yarn required for sewing together so very many squares), and upon seeing the “Buy 2 get 1 free” sign on the shelf, I immediately threw another ball of white and one of softest gray into my basket for a second pair of the same mittens, just in a different colour.

So much for being loyally devoted to the Mariposa throw until it’s finished, though I’ve learned something about myself in the process (or maybe just remembered it):

I don’t suffer from New Year startitis like so many others do. Instead, I get it in February, every single year, sure as rain. Or Old Faithful.

 

 

I {heart} hearts

I’ve had Valentines on the mind lately. We’re taking our Girl Guide unit on a 2-day sleepaway on Valentines weekend in February, for one thing. I’m currently trying to decide whether or not I dare attempt to have them sleep in snow coffins for part of our weekend (I confess I’ve never built a snow coffin that I can remember, despite my love of snow forts and snow castles).

But that’s not why I’ve been obsessing over hearts.

This is:

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Isn’t it the sweetest little crocheted thing you’ve ever seen?

Little being the key word here. These are crocheted in a fine mercerized cotton thread with a teeny tiny hook. Seriously, it’s miniature.

To put it in perspective, the afghan I’m working on takes a 5.0 mm hook. These little hearts are worked in a 1.5 mm hook. It’s so tiny, I need to wear my reading glasses to see the stitches, and even then, sometimes I stitch into the wrong spot because the stitches are just that tiny.

I’ve wondered more than a few times while making these if heart surgeons have these problems too.

I’ve made quite a few of them now, in several different variations. Some are solid instead of lacy. Others have had beads or swarovski crystals added to them.

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Some of them are made of larger thread with a slightly larger hook — a 2.0 mm or 3.0 mm hook is lovely for the fatter threads and thinner yarns.

Once finished, I back my little hearts in felt for stability, then add a bar pin so you can wear it as a brooch, and finally add my label so you know who made it.

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They take a little while to do, but they’re perfect for keeping your hands busy for an hour or so.

I do love crafting so very, very much. And I absolutely {heart} my little hearts.

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.

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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.

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

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A bearded face is taking shape…

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

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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.