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?

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.

 

 

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:

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Lumps of snow

Every year since the kids were old enough to lift a shovel, they have built a snow fort in the front yard. Some years, it boasts walls built of bricks. Other years, you would be hard pressed to identify it as anything other than a mashed down bit of snow where someone was tramping around for a bit.

This year…

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This year, they’ve built a palace.

To the right, just behind the tree, you can see the remnants of the turret. It was quite a few rows of snow bricks higher, but then they decided they had a better use for all those bricks and it was promptly shortened by almost a metre.

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From some angles, it still looks rather like a lump of snow someone’s been digging in, but you can sort of make out the different rooms.

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What I like most about this year’s snow palace, though, is the entrance tunnel/pathway that perfectly lines up with not one but two archways if you’re standing just right.

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And seen from a high perch, you can better appreciate the entirety of the structure (or so I’ve been told, with firm instructions that if I was going to blog about the snow palace, I had to post aerial view photos. Not being overly adept with the quadcopter, I opted for photos taken from the guest room window on the second floor.)

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To give you a proper sense of scale, the snow palace takes up the entirety of our front lawn save for the front walk and that arch you see? On a rainy day in summer, I can walk under it while holding an open umbrella over my head. Without ducking.  When the kids and their friends are standing in their palace, I catch occasional glimpses of the pompoms on the tops of hats and little else.

It’s a wonderful thing, snow is. Though I must confess I am getting a teensy bit tired of all the cold.