Jude’s Christmas Stocking

I actually finished this project quite a while ago—I’m pretty sure I at least had all of the knitting done before Thanksgiving last year.

This is, obviously, Jude’s Christmas stocking. It’s made using the Modern Classics stocking pattern by Nina Issacson. I got this pattern and the yarn as a kit from KnitPicks several years ago, just a few months after I had started my PhD program. The kit contained enough yarn for three stockings. I made mine and Aidan’s right after buying the kit and then patiently held onto the extra yarn until Jude was here.

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In the intervening years, I’ve actually made seven other versions of this pattern. Two for my in-laws and five for Aidan’s sister’s family. I reached max burnout on this pattern approximately three stockings ago, but felt like I was locked in and had to keep making them.

At this point, I feel complicated about these stockings. The complicated feelings have nothing to do with the pattern itself, which is perfectly fine. I love the way our family stockings look hanging all together. Aidan also really loves them.

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But I still vividly remember knitting the first two stockings for Aidan and I when I was deep in the middle of a crushing bout of depression and struggling to stay afloat during my first semester of PhD coursework. I knit these stockings pretty quickly, but only because I couldn’t get myself off the couch to do anything else. It was knitting as a form of numbing, and I still feel it a bit when I look at them.

The progressive burnout of knitting this pattern ten times only adds to the uninspired feelings. But now the big kicker is that I ever wanted to knit another stocking to match our family stockings for any future family member, the yarn that came with the original kit (Knitpicks Telemark) has been completely discontinued. It’s also not widely stashed on Ravelry, so finding some to buy from another knitter seems unlikely. So the best I would be able to do to try to match it is find a similar color in a similar base. And I have a feeling that even the closest match would result in a fourth stocking that is just off enough to drive me crazy.

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But that’s not a situation that is immediately before me, so it’s not something I’m actually worried about. For now, we’re enjoying another Christmas season with our matching stockings hanging in the hallway.

More Home Sewing: Throw Pillows

We’ve been in the process of freshening up our living room. Aidan ordered some new slipcovers for our sad couches and we went out and bought some new “art” (not sure you can call it that if you buy it from Marshall’s) to hang on the walls. Our old throw pillows were basically beaten to a pulp. But even if they were in better shape, they didn’t match the new slipcovers at all. We looked at throw pillows at Target and at TJ Maxx, but the options were truly terrible. They either weren’t in the color we wanted or had terrible embellishments or were made in that satin-y kind of fabric that is seriously the worst possible fabric to have anywhere near cat paws. 

So we put my new sewing skills to work once again and bought some fabric and some new pillow forms from JoAnn’s to make our own throw pillows. We picked out the brown and green stripe pattern for the fronts of the pillows and found a coordinating green for the backs. Both fabrics are decor-weight cottons that were really easy to work with and that will stand up nicely to our many cats.

To make these, I followed the same procedure I used to make the fleece cat bed I posted about awhile ago. I just followed the steps outlined in this video for making an envelope-style pillow case. The pillow forms we bought were 16″ square. I cut the fronts of the pillow to be 16″x16″ and then cut the back pieces 16″x10″. As Dana says in the video, cutting the fabric the same dimensions as the pillow form makes the resulting pillow case fit nice and snug. I sewed all four pillows assembly-line style, which was a little tedious but relatively quick. I did all the work for these in a single afternoon.

Most of the throw pillows we looked at in stores were somewhere around $20-$30 a piece. And that’s for fabric our cats would shred apart. We lucked out and got the pillow forms for 50% off at JoAnn’s, and we managed to get the striped fabric at the discounted remnant price. That, combined with JoAnn’s bizarro coupon system, meant that we walked out of the store with everything we needed to make four throw pillows for $50. 

Of course, right after I finished these, a blog post popped up in my Feedly about adding piping to the edges of pillows. Why didn’t I think of that? Next time.

Some Home Sewing (and a New Machine!)

I decided it was time to be done with my old, crappy sewing machine and so I went ahead and bought a new one: a Janome DC 2013. There are lots of things that I like about my new machine. It has a speed control function that makes it easy to moderate how fast the machine sews. It has a nice wide workspace and an up/down needle function. The machine has some different stitch options that will be especially helpful for working with knits, and it came with a walking foot. And it’s so much quieter than my previous clunker. Janome has been releasing a new DC model every year for the past couple of year and the DC 2013 is basically the same as the DC 2012 and the newer DC 2014—they have the same features and most vendors even sell them for the same price. So I did the only rational thing and made my decision based on which color I preferred.

Janome DC 2013

Before this, I’d only ever sewn on a $100 cheapo mechanical machine so this new machine is a revelation. It turns out that having a good machine that makes a straight stitch and doesn’t continually experience impossible tension problems makes all the difference. Suddenly, everything seems possible, and I’m excited to sew. I’ve resumed work on my January sewing project and am hoping to get it done pretty soon. In the meantime, I knocked out a couple of quick home sewing projects on Saturday to let me get acquainted with my new machine.

First up was a table runner (which, of course, is just a glorified rectangle). Aidan and I picked out this vintage-ish looking quilting cotton print from JoAnn’s, and I basically cut two very long rectangles, sewed them right-sides together, turned it inside out and then top-stitched the edges. The up/down needle function on the machine was really helpful as I turned the corners on this. The final dimensions on this are about 15”x 68”. It turned out a little long and depending on how much it bothers me, I might go back and shorten it a bit. We’ll see.

After that, I made a cat bed. And by cat bed, I mean that I made a pillow case out of fleece fabric (also from JoAnn’s), put it on an old pillow we had lying around, and threw it on the floor for our cats. To make the cover, I basically followed the procedure outlined in this MADE Everyday video for making an envelope-style pillow case. I used a heavy-weight ballpoint needle for this, but otherwise treated the fabric like a woven.

Even though it’s super simple, this project would have been a major pain on my old machine. On previous projects, my old machine would fight me if it had to sew through more than 3 layers of quilting cotton, and I’d have to wrestle just to get thick fabrics under the presser foot. This machine has an extra high foot lift feature that made it easy to get started sewing. At times, I had to sew over 4 layers of fleece and my new machine wasn’t the least bit bothered by the thickness.

We had to sprinkle some cat nip on top of the cat bed before any of our cats were willing to give it the time of day, but I think it’s officially been given the cat seal of approval.

I have to say that Aidan was the impetus behind both of these projects—he’s the one in our house with an eye for decorating and he’s the one who suggested that I make both of these projects. And now that I have a machine that doesn’t suck and that makes me excited to sew, I can make all of Aidan’s design dreams come true. Onward with the sewing!

Handmade Christmas Gifts, Part II

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I prefer to make just a handful of gifts each year so that I focus my energy on the projects that inspire me, so that I can finish my gift-making with plenty of time to spare, and so that I can avoid adding to the list of inevitable end-of-year stresses. This year I made the superhero capes that I blogged about earlier in the week, as well as two other gifts, one for Aidan’s mom and one for my brother’s girlfriend.

The gift I made for my brother’s girlfriend was an attempt to give a bit of a personal touch to an otherwise generic gift. Since we live pretty far from our family, this year was the first chance that I’d had to actually meet my brother’s girlfriend. My dad’s gift suggestion was that she would appreciate any kind of “girl stuff” like candles or lotions or the like. As it turns out, there is no shortage of generic “girl” gifts to be given, but that doesn’t mean the options are inspiring. I’m no Leslie Knope when it comes to gift-giving, but I still hate giving a gift that says, “I did the least I could possibly do to give you something.” So I compromised and paired some generic gift items—a scented candle and a tea/mug gift set—with an easy pair of knitted hand warmers.

Handwarmers via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I made these using the Women’s Wrist Warmer pattern from Last Minute Knitted Gifts. I adjusted the pattern numbers slightly to account for using a lighter yarn and smaller needles than called for in the pattern—you can get all the specific knitting details here on Ravelry. I made these using yarn leftover from a previous project and was able to complete them in a single evening, so making this gift wasn’t a major investment of time or materials. Even if she doesn’t end up wearing them, I like to think that taking a bit of time to make something for her says, “I’m really glad to finally meet you. Thanks for treating my brother well.”

Handwarmer Gift via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

When it comes to making handmade gifts, I think that careful finishing can be the difference between a gift a person wants to receive and a gift they give some major side-eye. When these hand-warmers came off the needles, they looked like little mussed tubes of nothing. When I blocked these, I made sure to let them soak for a good long time to really relax the stitch pattern and then stretched them over some cardboard templates that I cut out myself. (Saying I made a template is a fancy way of saying that I cut a 3” rectangle out of some cardboard to stretch the handwarmers to 6” circumference.) Careful blocking doesn’t change the fact that these are essentially simple knitted tubes with a thumb-hole, but it at least helps them look a little more impressive laying flat.

Tuscan Greeting via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The gift I made for Aidan’s mom definitely took more than an evening to complete, although I finished it much earlier in the year. I thought of Aidan’s mom as soon as I saw this Tuscan Greetings Dimensions kit—not only because it matches the decor of her kitchen and living area, but also because Aidan’s parents celebrated their 30th anniversary this year. This is the third Dimensions kit I’ve made in the last couple of years. Like a lot of mainstream designs, they don’t really match up with my personal aesthetic, but they’ve worked well as gifts that I’ve given people, and I honestly think that they are some of the best kits I’ve used. Their charts are easy to read, the instructions contain good explanations of the different stitches used, they separate out and label the different thread colors, and they rarely make use of 1/4 or 3/4 stitches that can be fiddly or difficult for beginners.

Thus ends my recap of handmade Christmas gifts for 2013. All in all, it was a very low-stress year of gift-making. The worst part was when we shipped our presents and had to sit for a week in a cold sweat hoping they would actually make it to Wisconsin. We ended up getting to Wisconsin before our presents, but they arrived just in the nick of time. Here’s to a new year of making!

Cross Stitched Christmas Ornaments

Here I am, publicly talking about cross stitch again, which I think means my crafting shame has decreased a bit. I’ve been eyeing some of the cross stitch Christmas ornament kits that are around for awhile now. Cross stitched ornaments appeal to me because they have a purpose, and because I have fewer aesthetic objections when it comes to Christmas decorations. Frankly, I much prefer an anything-goes Christmas decor to a more sanitized, monochrome Martha Stewart approach. At Christmas time, I embrace a whole host of things that I otherwise dislike, including Frank Sinatra, claymation, and glitter. One of my life goals is to own a miniature Christmas village, complete with little figurines ice skating on a frozen pond made of cellophane. I’ve even found myself wishing I had a really good Christmas sweater.

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I’m coveting this mini village. Photo by Rept0n1x, via Wikimedia.

So while I rarely come across a non-holiday cross stitch design I really love, I rarely find a Christmas-related cross stitch design that I’d totally turn my nose up at. Maybe I need to just embrace this and make cross stitching for Christmas my thing.

Cross Stitch Ornaments via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Anyway, as I was contemplating the purchase of an ornament kit, I rediscovered a set of small cross stitch kits I’ve had sitting around in a drawer for awhile. These are the kinds of cross stitch kits you can buy at places like Michaels or JoAnns for a couple of dollars. Aidan bought me the sock monkey kit last year (you can get the same one here), and I think I picked up the tree and Santa kits for $.99 at JoAnns a couple of years ago (they’re also available online). I’ve always been confused about what to do with these little 2” designs—how many of these little things do you need hanging on your wall? But then I saw someone who was stringing ribbon through the tab on the plastic frame and hanging them as Christmas ornaments, and I realized I was being obtuse. So it goes.

Christmas Tree Ornament via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Sock Monkey Ornament via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

So I stitched these up and got them ready to hang on the tree. I just popped the Christmas tree and the sock monkey into the plastic frames they came in and put a ring of hot glue around the back to secure them. The Santa ended up not fitting in the frame he came with because of where I backstitched the year, so I used a little 3.5” embroidery hoop I had sitting around to frame him. After the design was secure in the hoop, I trimmed off most of the excess fabric, used a hot glue gun to glue the remaining fabric to the hoop, and then glued a piece of white felt to the back of the hoop to hide the back of the cross stitch.

Ornament backs via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The Santa was totally worth the five minutes of extra work because he’s my favorite. Why is he hugging a Christmas tree? I have no idea, but I want to kiss his little cheeks.

Santa Ornament via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com