Another Handmade Christmas

This is it, folks! This is the final post documenting things I made last year. After this, I can move on…to catching up from the first quarter of 2019…

I admire anyone whose holiday traditions—whatever holiday it may be—involves making gifts for their loved ones or community members. My gift-making ambitions have always grossly exceeded my available time, resources, and common sense, but in 2018 I managed to make a few little things for some of my favorite people.

Up first, and by request, bowl cozies! From top to bottom, these went to my sister, my mom, and my sister-in-law Heather and her wife Elaina.

Two bowl cozies with a yellow and grey floral exterior fabric and a solid yellow interior fabric

Two bowl cozies with a taupe and cream abstract patterned exterior fabric and taupe and cream dotted interior fabric

Two bowl cozies with light and medium blue tie-dye patterned interior and exterior fabrics

My mom saw these at a craft fair but didn’t see any in a fabric she liked, so she sent me a text suggesting they might be an easy and well-received gift. I used instructions from Happy Hour Stitches, but you can find the details on any number of sites—in fact, Helen’s Closet just posted a tutorial a little over a week ago in a new series on scrap-busting.

My sister’s bowl cozies were made with leftover fabric (you may recognize it from her casserole carrier from the previous Christmas); the others were made with fat quarters from JoAnn. I already had 100% cotton batting on hand, but I needed to purchase 100% cotton thread to stitch everything up, as polyester could melt or scorch in the microwave.

Each recipient’s bowl pair of bowl cozies was served up with a bag of soup mix.

Three pairs of nested bowl cozies, each holding a bag of pre-packaged soup mix

The other gift was for a secret Santa exchange among the members of my D&D group. By sheer coincidence I paired with Jorren, the amazing illustrator from the art exchange. He had been working hard on multiple projects leading up to December, including prints for a holiday pop-up shop and several commissions. I wanted to show my appreciation for his work, so I picked a couple of art-themed gifts: a graphic novel called Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu and a set of Pentel Arts Aquash brushes.

I needed something to round the package out, and Jorren had just debuted his freelance graphic design business, Mind Fuzz, so I got it in my head that I needed to put his logo on something. Trouble was, he wasn’t using the logo as his profile image, and I couldn’t very well ask him for a copy of it without tipping him off to my plan.

In ninja-hacker fashion, I found a photo that he shared of a t-shirt screen-printed with his logo and proceeded to manipulate it in Photoshop and Illustrator until I had a black-and-white vector image that I could scale and print as a template. I transferred the template to a remnant of black poly cotton blend, embroidered the outlines of the letterforms, and then sewed up the embroidered fabric into a sturdy pouch with a brass zipper. Ta-da!

A black zippered pouch with outline of the words "Mind Fuzz" embroidered in white in a circle in the center of the pouch

I followed instructions provided by Jedi Craft Girl, but as with the bowl cozies, there are countless examples of this and similar pouches online. My pouch is lined with the same black fabric as the shell and interlined with 100% cotton batting to hold its shape. The embroidery is regular old DMC floss in white, stitched up using a hoop and a crewel needle.

A black zippered pouch with the zipper opened to reveal a cleanly finished interior lined in the same black fabric

I ignored the dimensions in the instructions; they were too small for my purposes. My pouch is slightly smaller than I intended at 9 inches tall by 11 inches wide (at the top), but is large enough to fit Jorren’s preferred style of travel notebook, along with a handful of pencils or pens.

Just for fun, I had Justin put together a GIF of the progress shots:

No last-minute sewing, I didn’t drive myself crazy, and everyone loved their gifts—success!

A Little Handmade Christmas, Part 2

Content with the handmade cheer I’d poured into our home, I set about lavishing it on a few of my loved ones. My sister-in-law and dear friend Heather is a collector of mismatched socks, and it only felt right that she should have a truly special handmade pair in her sock drawer. I’d entertained the idea of making her socks last year, but chickened out at the last minute—I had no doubt she was knitworthy, but I thought there were other things she needed and would enjoy more.

With Justin’s encouragement, I threw my doubts aside and cast on Glenna C’s A Nice Ribbed Sock. The yarn is Hedgehog Fibres Sporty Merino in color Bubble, from my beloved LYS Warm ‘n Fuzzy. I made my usual adjustment of going up a needle size, but otherwise knit the pattern as written. Details (like the length of the leg and foot to fit a women’s size 9.5 shoe) can be found on my Ravelry project page.

I was lucky enough not to suffer second sock syndrome, although I was a little rushed to finish them before we got on the road to see everyone for Christmas. I managed to make my right wrist and forearm rather sore for about a day, which is all the warning I need to take it easy on future projects!

Heather loves them and has hinted that she wouldn’t mind another pair, if I felt so inclined. I’m a bit jealous, though, as I don’t have any handknit socks of my own, so she may have to get in line!

My second gift, and the biggest undertaking of my four Christmas projects, was a casserole carrier for my sister, Loren. She loves to cook, and on many occasions she’s taken meals to friends: to celebrate special occasions, to take care of them when they weren’t able to cook for themselves, or simply to enjoy their company. Transporting a steaming pan of lasagna or enchiladas across town isn’t exactly a cakewalk, though, and last year she casually mentioned that she was looking for a carrier to make it easier to bring hot dishes to potlucks and the like.

As with Heather’s socks, I thought a lot about making her this gift, but again, I lost my nerve. I doubted my sewing was up to the task, feared she wouldn’t like pattern or fabric I picked. I settled for other things I knew she wanted, things that felt easy and safe.

You have to understand, though, that my sister is really, really good at giving gifts. She’s attuned to everyone’s changing hobbies and evolving interests. She’ll be out shopping and see something that reminds her of you, and she’ll bring it home. Maybe she sets it aside for a birthday or holiday; maybe she gives it to you right now, just because. She also has a knack for searching out something you want and, when she can’t find the exact thing, picking something else that you end up liking even better.

I felt I’d let her down when didn’t make her the casserole carrier, but she graciously didn’t say anything more about it, and I squashed the feeling until it didn’t bother me anymore.

It bubbled up again—boiled over, really—when, a full year later, she mentioned a casserole carrier again among the things on her wish list. She was quick to qualify her wish by saying it didn’t need to be handmade, purchased would be fine too if handmade was too difficult—but handmade would be very nice.

Well. That settled that. I wasn’t about to buy this thing when I could, after all, make it. I had my brief; I set to work.

Photo by Loren

The pattern is Simplicity 1236, which offers carriers for a 9″ x 13″ rectangular baking dish and a 2.5-quart oval dish, round bowl covers in three sizes, and soft-sided dishes similar to a key tray or bedside catch-all.

Photo by Loren

The rectangular casserole carrier has a quilted lining, double-zipper closure, decorative piping, and loops to hold a wooden spoon or dowel to create a handle.

Photo by Loren

The pattern calls for “quilted ironing board cover fabric” for the lining. The only ironing board fabric I could find (at JoAnn) was un-quilted. Instead of searching online, placing an order with another vendor, and waiting for it to arrive, I did the only logical thing I could think of at the time: buy twice as much fabric and a package of cotton batting and quilt all of the lining myself.

Indeed, it was probably the most logical thought I had at all, considering I was in my second JoAnn store of the day and having a hunger-fueled meltdown trying to select the fabric for the outer shell. (It was very important to me to get it right, and I could not be persuaded that any number of fabrics would be “right.” Suffice to say that I have a very patient husband.)

Photo by Loren

I relied on my walking foot with quilt guide to get the lines spaced evenly at 1 inch apart on the bias. Initially it was quite easy and mindless to sew, though by the end I definitely got bored and was ready to move on.

Since I knew I’d committed a fair amount of time to making the lining, I went ahead and purchased coordinating piping rather than making my own, and I have no regrets about that. I was able to get a pretty good match between the piping, zippers, and light grey flowers.

I followed the assembly instructions to the letter, and I’m happy with how neatly things came together overall, especially considering I don’t have a lot of experience doing three-dimensional corners. As you can see above, the entire inside is clean finished; there’s only a small amount of hand-sewing needed at the “hinge” to accomplish it.

There are only two things I would do differently. The first thing would be to interface the handles, which felt a bit flimsy. (I entertained the idea of making a second iteration out of a sturdier material like canvas, but I’m afraid that it would get too bulky to manipulate at the end, especially easing the corners).

The second thing would be to find a way to invisibly (or at at least subtly) tack the lining to the shell. As designed, the two are connected at the edges but not the centers, which provides that lovely clean finish but means that the two have a tendency to separate. I don’t think it’s even noticeable when there’s a dish in the carrier, but again, it makes the whole thing seem a bit flimsier than it probably is.

Loren seemed genuinely delighted when she opened this up on Christmas morning, and excited to put it to use. I hope that it holds up well and stands her in good stead through many family-style dinners and special gatherings.

FO: Jonah

If there’s a list of the top 10 most contentious topics in crafting, surely selfish/unselfish creating is on it. For myself, I’m in the staunchly selfish camp. I tried my hand at a bit of unselfish sewing about half a decade ago, and it did not go well. In hindsight, the attempt was ill-advised, and had all the hallmarks of a project doomed to failure: keeping the project a surprise instead of consulting the intended recipient, using techniques and materials that were new to me, and sewing on a deadline all conspired to make it a less-than-stellar experience for me or the victim beneficiary of my well-meaning intentions. Since then, I’ve shied away from hand-making gifts, as I don’t trust myself to focus on what’s actually important—the desires of the receiver, rather than my desires as a maker-giver—and I’ve become rather jealous of my creative time anyway.

I broke my streak when Justin joined a Dungeons & Dragons group and asked me to knit him a dice bag. It’s his first grown-up D&D campaign, and thus his first opportunity to purchase a fancy set of dice. We had both seen knit, crochet, and hand-worked bags—in fact, one of the members of group has a handmade bag—but he wanted something special to commemorate what he hopes will be a long and prosperous (and non-fatal) adventure. His character, Odo Fridtjofsen, is a trident-wielding fisherman, and Justin felt that it would be appropriate to have a suitably themed bag to wrangle and transport his all-important dice. I couldn’t agree more.

Justin picked the pattern, the Fish Purse by Doreen Blask (available for purchase on Ravelry). He also picked the yarn,
Blue Moon Fiber Arts Super Sparkle in Sapphire, because of all the yarns at our LYS Warm ‘n Fuzzy, it reminded him of scales the most.

I made several alterations to the pattern. I knit it in a fingering yarn held double instead of a DK yarn held single; I used a US 3 to get a firm gauge without the possibility of holes. I omitted the scales but added a bottom fin that mirrors the top fin. Instead of creating I-cord drawstrings, I created two three-strand braids using six equal lengths of yarn for each braid. Before knotting each braid I added a sterling silver charm that Justin picked out. One is an anchor, the other a ship’s helm. I threaded both drawstrings through the eyelets so that the ends hang downward, like the barbels of a catfish. I omitted the shoulder strap as well.

Justin’s favorite part, and the thing I was most worried about, was replacing the knit eyes called for in the pattern with googly eyes. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to find sew-on ones, and when we did I wasn’t sure if they would be the right size (they’re 20 mm). Once I sewed them on, though, they proved to be exactly the thing to bring the whole project together.

Jonah is currently safeguarding 14 dice, but he could easily hold twice as many. He’s weathered several intense sessions already, and could easily outlast Odo if the party keeps up the shenanigans. Justin is more than pleased, and I’m happy to have made something he’ll treasure as much as his memories of the game.

Does this herald the beginning of more unselfish crafting? As a matter of fact, it does. 🙂 Stay tuned!