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!

Art Exchange

When my friend Jorren asked me if I’d be willing to do an art exchange, I was beyond flattered—I was intimidated. My D&D group, which is where I met Jorren, is a wildly creative and wickedly clever bunch. To say they’re talented would be to ignore how much work they’ve poured into becoming as good as they are at what they do. Musicians, artists, programmers, writers, cooks, and homesteaders—art and craft are well represented in our group. Jorren could easily be said to be the most dedicated among us, because he’s working toward becoming a freelance illustrator and graphic designer who supports himself full-time with his art. I had seen his work on several occasions, both sketches and completed illustrations, and I was not at all convinced I could put together something comparable to his work.

But he had seen the subversive cross-stitch I made for my sister-in-law Heather, and he wanted something in the same vein. He envisioned a design with the expression “Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.” The details were up to me: fonts, colors, and borders were left entirely to my imagination. He elaborated by saying that he was at all not turned off by traditional elements such as florals, script, or muted colors, and if I decided to go that route, to lean into it as hard as I wanted.

With that brief, I picked out the Floral Circle Border Trio Set of 3 Cross Stitch Patterns from TheStrandedStitch on Etsy. Since I hadn’t chosen an alphabet yet and wasn’t sure how large I’d need a floral border to be to fit such a long phrase, a trio of patterns was a great way to hedge my bets.

A cross stitch of the words "Don't start no shit, won't be no shit" surrounded by a floral border and framed in a hoop

The patterns are designed for 14 count Aida. I used the 7-inch hoop design, the largest of the three (the other two patterns were for 6-inch and 5-inch hoops). I followed the instructions to use two strands of floss, and I did’t substitute any colors. The text is the same dark blue used in the flowers; the font is Georgia from the Subversive Cross Stitch website.

I printed the pattern’s chart and used it to plot the arrangement of the words, but only after I had already stitched the entire border. Thank goodness it worked out. I’d like to think that in the future I’ll exercise better judgment and check the layout first—but let’s be honest, I probably won’t. When disaster inevitably strikes, I will be forced to admit that yes, there was a better way and I definitely knew it, and really, I have no one to blame but myself. Till then? Caitlyn: 1, Cross Stitch: 0.

As with Heather’s piece, I finished the back by trimming the excess Aida into a circle a few inches larger than the hoop, using a running stitch to cinch the loose edge, and blanket stitching a piece of white felt as close to the hoop as possible to hide everything.

Half the fun of making the thing was sending these teaser photos to Jorren of my progress:

Collage showing a ring holding bobbins of embroidery floss, a close-up of a cross stitch chart, a close-up of the loose threads on the back of a cross stitch, and the back of a finished hoop covered in felt secured with blanket stitch

He ate it up. 😀 He’s a good friend like that.

You might be wondering what I asked for in exchange. At the time, we didn’t have much in the way of art at home, and basically nothing hanging on the walls. We’d lived in our house for just shy of three years, and we’d come to playfully refer to it as Pineheart because of the heart pine paneling and our own secret love of the idea of having a Big Fancy House with a Name and an Estate. I’d imagined doing some kind of drawing or collage or maybe even cross stitch to represent the house, and in my head I’d pictured a stylized pine tree with shield on it bearing the image of heart. Maybe a sunset in the background, or woodland creatures about the tree.

That’s what I described to Jorren. And do you know what that absolute madman did?

A framed illustration of a cottage-style treehouse with the silhouettes of a cartoon bear and rabbit in the foreground

THIS.

First off, it’s gorgeous. Second, it exceeded my wildest expectations in both scope and detail. He’s put in lots of little nods to us and the house, things I wouldn’t have thought to ask for. Third, whydidyoudothisIdon’tfreakingdeserveit?!

Jorren gave Justin a sneak peek of his progress when he finished the line art, and Justin tipped me off to how to just how awesome it was turning out. I panicked, because even with only a tiny bit of information I knew I was way out of my depth. I didn’t want Jorren to feel disappointed that he’d gotten a bad trade, so I decided to do a companion piece to the one above in attempt to move up to “nice effort” from “laughably unequal.”

A cross stitch of the word "fuck" surrounded by a floral border and framed in a hoop

Yep. That’s about how I felt about the situation.

The pattern is the 6-inch hoop design; everything else is the same as the larger one.

For his part, Jorren seemed really happy with how things turned out. I still can’t believe I came away with such an incredible and personal piece of original art from someone I respect and admire, and I continue to feel like I owe Jorren a little something extra to make things even.

If you’d like to see more of his work, purchase a print, or commission an original design, check out his positivity brand Mind Fuzz on Instagram!

Know Your Vegetables

Over New Year’s weekend, Heather and her wife were kind enough to host Justin and me so that we could visit with the Myers family. We’ve all done our share of going out to ring in the new year, both at intimate gatherings of friends and big parties of strangers, so we were perfectly content to spend this one at home with a plentiful supply of snacks, drinks, and games.

We’re all four of us gamers, so we’re constantly on the lookout for cooperative video games to play with our spouses and as a group. While there are a fair few online co-op games you can play on separate devices—some of our favorites are Gauntlet for the PlayStation 4 and Don’t Starve and Stardew Valley on Steam—it’s harder to find couch co-op games to play with our spouses (and as a foursome when we’re all together) on one TV that aren’t party games.

Enter Overcooked, an adorable couch co-op video game where two to four players are chefs racing the clock to prepare, plate, and serve up meals like soup, burgers, and tacos. In addition to the timer, players are up against challenging kitchen environments like a pirate ship, where the rolling waves cause the prep counters to slide around in changing configurations that can block access to ingredients or tools.

Despite the cooperative nature of the game, players are often inadvertently fighting each other as they try to reach for the same knife or pan, add the wrong ingredients to the dish another person is working on, or run slam-bang into each other as they’re scrambling around the kitchen.

Justin and I had played Overcooked before, and Heather and her wife had already beaten it more than once, but we had never played all together. Since we were familiar with the game’s hazards, we decided that an additional layer of difficulty was necessary to make it sufficiently challenging. And there is, of course, no easier or more instantly accessible way to do this than adding alcohol.

Seeing as it was a holiday weekend, the fridge was conveniently stocked with celebratory libations that suited our purpose.

As we barreled through several levels without any problems, we couldn’t help but think we work pretty well together in stressful situations. A thought which, while it no doubt contained a kernel of truth, was so confidently felt by everyone in the room in a context so obviously ridiculous that it should have been a clue our faculties were waning.

Not long after, as we were scurrying around trying to keep up a steady rotation through all of the tasks and not collide with each other, Heather called out for an onion for the soup she was making. One of us—I can’t remember who, and I wouldn’t stoop to naming them here if I did—had the misfortune to grab the wrong vegetable and then shove it at her with fervent abandon.

“That’s a tomato, you fuck,” said Heather, with the calm condescension you’d expect from the damned explaining the weather in hell.

Gales of uncontrollable laughter obliterated our concentration and ensured swift and total failure. We tried to soldier on, but alcohol-induced hubris and humor claimed us in the end.

And so, when Heather’s birthday rolled around in April, I could think of no better gift to celebrate her hospitality, handmade-worthiness, and general hilarity than to immortalize her words in cross stitch.

The fabric is DMC Charles Craft 18 count Aida in white; the floss is DMC. The pattern for the tomato was derived from a screenshot of Overcooked that I manually transferred to a grid in Illustrator and printed. The text is an unvention: I didn’t even think to look for an alphabet online, and instead simply charted out something that looked good to me on graph paper.

I took this photo on my phone when I finished stitching during a weekend mini-vacation in Hickory, NC. I forgot to take a true completed shot of the piece before I gave it to Heather, but I did remove the fuzz from the place where I took out the period, spot cleaned the fabric, and finished it in the frame following these instructions on the Stitch Modern blog.

(For those who might be wondering about the censorship: Heather is no shrinking violet, but she has conservative in-laws and a young nephew that she cares not to upset, so I opted for something that would be easier for her to display openly if she chose.)

After the success of Heather’s handmade socks, it was no surprise—but also no less gratifying—that she gleefully embraced a bit of cheeky home decor.

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.