Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Claustrophobia

For the past few years, we've made it a point to have a family Christmas outing. I look forward to them and enjoy them very much as there are Christmas lights, and a chill in the air, and all of us are together, and we end up eating yummy food. This year we had a few things we were back-and-forthing over, but we ended up heading downtown (you can read more about our last downtown adventure here).

We went on a Sunday this year, which, to my mind seemed like a great idea. Others thought it might be a little busy. That's an understatement. There was a tremendous amount of people, and it seemed sometimes as though you could hardly move. The thing that boggled my mind was the number of people who brought their giant horse-sized dogs to such a crowded place. It also struck me as an absolute truth of the universe that things would move so much more efficiently if people would put their phones down for five seconds, especially when walking. I would have loved to have stopped for pictures (we were at the Christkindl market at this point), but stopping to do anything other than pull out your wallet would get daggers shot at you from the eyeballs of other visitors.

Eventually we were all able to somehow get ourselves together for the Macy's light show, which was so crowded we couldn't even see it. So we all headed upstairs to the Dickens Christmas Village instead. My dad was having some kind of fit because we weren't sticking to the plan, and who had to pee, and who was really hot, and all that stuff that makes a large outing so...eventful. Eventually we all got into an incredibly long line to wait (our dinner reservations were for 5:30) and just tried to make the best of it (though there were a few times I was ready to lose my temper--WHY don't people find it necessary to see that their children behave anymore? I swear my mother would have hung me from my ponytail if I even thought about doing a fraction of the things kids do today--again, their parents' faces are buried in their phones while the kids are literally pulling things over and screaming. Grrr... OK, rant over).

OK, so we wind our way through, and eventually see signs that we are getting closer.


The last time I saw this was twenty-five years ago. We went after school when there was no line to wait in. It really hasn't changed a bit in all that time.


The first thing you see is Charles Dickens saying...something. We didn't stop for this part as there was no turning back at this point and we had a dinner reservation that we were all more than ready for.


The whole thing is set up to mimic Victorian London streets, as Mr. Scrooge would have seen them. There are mechanical figures that I think are the same ones my mother saw when she was a girl (and they are in great shape, considering the abuse they take from the children walking through as their parents say "No, don't touch" in that disinterested way that people who are texting have when "interacting" with others).


There are quite the number of scenes set up for each chapter (or stave, as Dickens calls them), with placards set up to tell the story as you move through the lamplit "streets."


The attention to detail is fabulous--the papers on the shelves in the background, the glass that is just so to give the hint of snow falling outside. I wouldn't mind having that decorator's job.


I guess I never looked up before, but I don't remember these ghosts (that Marley shows Scrooge when he's explaining what the nighttime situation is going to be).


I do remember being small and wanting to go into these little houses so bad. Wouldn't you? Look how cozy and warm and inviting it looks! You just know there's a fabulous bit of Christmassing going on in there... I used to want to climb into the exhibits and live there (but I never would have dreamed of doing so for fear of getting the 'look' from my mother).


When you emerge from the exhibit, you don't realize just how toasty it was in there, as the fresh air hits you in the most welcome way and you feel you can breathe once again. We thought we would catch the final light show but we had missed it. I took this pic of the sales floor while waiting for everyone to gather.


It seemed that lots of folks had headed to dinner as it looks quite empty, but not long before it seemed every square inch of floor was covered with people. There was also a lovely sense of quiet that sounded so wonderful after a few hours of very close quarters.

We headed to dinner at Maggiano's, a restaurant that is very popular and where a reservation has always eluded us. I checked it on a whim for availability, and jumped at the chance. I have never seen so much food, and every bite was delectable. If the only thing we had done on Sunday was go to dinner I still would have been a very happy camper--it's just so nice when everyone is together and happy and cozy.

On the walk back to the car, we cut through where the Christkindl market is, but it was all shut up for the night, except for a hut here or there.


It was a lot more enjoyable with no one else around, haha. As much as I love folk art and crafts and Christmas, I have such a low tolerance for close crowds. I can almost feel my brain glaze over. But this short walk through the quiet square was lovely and calming.


Mmm-hmmmm. I do love Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sittin' and Knittin'

Good morning, my little chickens! I'm taking advantage of this quiet Saturday morning to pop in here. I know things have been very quiet in these here parts lately. Life has been a little...tumultuous...lately, and it looks like it might be that way for a little while yet. This has left me with not much desire to sew (other than my ruffled Christmas trees the only stitches I've sewn are those in a garment making class I'm taking with my sister). However, I have been knitting like I get paid per stitch (but not sharing with you as you'd think I'd be showing you the same photo over and over again even though I swear the sweater I'm making is indeed growing).

Seemingly out of nowhere I was hit with this sudden understanding of my knitting and how it works. After ten years of knitting (though it's been easy squares and rectangles, really) I felt that flash and felt like "Oh! Duh!" Suddenly, like when a little kid realizes that those symbols combine to be a word that means something, I've been able to read my knitting like a lovely, lovely story. I find myself sitting at work and getting excited towards the end of the day that I'm going home soon and can knit. And no, I haven't suddenly turned eighty years old. Those folks who say the rhythm of the needles and the feeling of yarn running through your fingers is truly therapeutic are not lying. I have felt a tremendous sense of calm in some recent shaky days while I'm inserting needle--wrapping yarn--pulling the stitch through. Mind you, I've also gotten super expert at tinking ('knit' spelled backwards, and therefore undoing my work), but even that hasn't stressed me like it used to now that I can do it properly.

When people find out I can knit they always say "But isn't it difficult?" No, it's not. Like anything new, there's a little bit of awkwardness that goes away with practice. But the motions are simple, and with so many resources available it's easier than ever to learn so many things. Here are two of my favorites.

First up is Very Pink.


This is one heckuva YouTube channel and website (where all the videos are also posted). I have learned so much just from sitting and watching videos (even if they don't apply to what I'm doing at all). There are tricks and fixes for knitting problems, tutorials for fancy pants stitches, and easy patterns available for sweaters, socks, and more. Staci's teaching style is wonderful--to the point, but with enough information to be successful. I'd never heard of this site before, until Lion Brand Yarns posted her video tutorial for one of their patterns (a pattern I would have bypassed with a major 'Ugh! Gah!' until I saw her version). This is the project currently on my needles, by the way. So if you're just starting out or already know how to knit, I highly recommend this site.

Next is a Craftsy class I just took--"Improve Your Knitting--Alternative Styles and Methods."


Granted, it's not free, and it assumes you know how to cast on, knit, purl, and bind off, as it's an exploration of different styles for holding your yarn and needles, and different methods for making those same stitches. I learned soooo much from this course (I thought there was English and Continental styles, end of story. But there is so much more than I ever imagined (and there's probably still more information out there). The instructor's teaching style is easy-breezy, sprinkled with humor, and shot at excellent angles so you really get to see every detail. Craftsy classes frequently go on sale, and they have a wish list option in case you want to drop hints for a Christmas gift to anyone...

OK, so we've covered learning resources; now what about tools? All of the following bits can be widely found at yarn shops, craft stores, and a huge amount of websites (do some searching for the best deals).

There are so many options, but if you're just starting out I recommend bamboo needles to learn on. Acrylic/plastic needles come in so many pretty colors, but they have a little more friction when it comes to getting stitches off the needle. Aluminum needles are very satisfying to hear clicking away, but they can be quite slick and eager to let go of the stitches (which is fine, but not when you're just trying to learn the motions). Bamboo is right in the middle--just enough friction that your stitches don't fall off the needle, but not enough that you feel like you're dragging your stitches off.


Like all needles, they come in straight and circular (circular having a long cord to allow for very long lengths, but some also find the shorter needles of circulars to be more comfortable). Not too hard, not too soft, quite comfortable to hold--I'd recommend a set of straight and a set of circulars so you can see what feels best in your hands. If you like knitting, you don't have to have two collections of needles but can go with what you like, depending on what you're making.

When you finally finish a project you'll want to weave in your ends nicely. I used to use aluminum darning needles (they look like big sewing needles), but they never glided like I liked or seemed to want to cooperate, as I found myself tugging way too hard. Recently I found these bent-tip needles:


That slightly bent tip is more helpful than I ever thought at seeing where I'm weaving. I don't know what it's coated in, but these glide through the yarn so smoothly and comfortably. Plus isn't their little case adorable? I love these things.

When you get started going, you'll find that some patterns tell you to "do this thing for this many rows." There are a lot of different stitch counters out there, but I'm going to show you my favorites.

First is the kacha counter (where do they get these names?).


This is great for simple row counting. I especially like it because it reminds me of two things: one is the little thingee baseball umpires use to count balls/strikes; the other is a miniature version of one of those counters you see used in chess games. It's kind of satisfying to smack the top like you just put that row in checkmate.

The other is a peg counter:


This one is great if you need to count a few things at once (for example, how many rows you've done as well as how many decreases you've got to do). I use this one less than the other as I tend to shoot for simpler patterns, but it's invaluable when you need to keep track of several things.

Next up is a needle sizer/stitch gauge:


Let's say for some reason you've got some needles but no idea of the size. You just slide them through the holes (like sizing a ring) and there you go. And that little 'L' cut-out is how you can measure your stitch and row gauge (very important if you need something to fit like a sweater or a hat). Quite a handy little tool, but not totally necessary (you know I just love my gadgets, though). Most needles have the size printed right on them, and a small ruler (don't use a measuring tape--they get a little shifty sometimes) works just as well for checking gauge.

And last but not least is a set of point protectors:


These come in different styles and sizes, but I love the ones that look like something other than an earplug--I have several of these 'socks' because...cute. There are lot of styles, though. For example, I have recently (like in the past five minutes) started coveting these Pac-Man protectors:



These keep your work from sliding off of your stitches when you've laid your knitting down. Sometimes just pulling your work of your knitting bag can cause things to shift and move in a way you don't want. These keep everything where it needs to be until you're ready to work again. I've also read stories of how nosy or excited pets (or even young children) have had less than positive experiences when meeting the business end of a knitting needle poking out of a bag or something. So these are excellent for preventing various unwanted catastrophes.

Again, all of these bits can be widely found at yarn shops, craft stores, and a huge amount of online places.

Regarding yarn--people will tell you to knit with the best you can afford. That's great when you're experienced, but when you're learning that's not necessary (and can be wasteful if you find you don't really care for it). I still don't go for pricey yarn even after all these years. My recommendation would be for a mid-range worsted weight yarn. The super-soft yarns are lovely, but can split easily which can be frustrating. Cotton can be a little unforgiving to work with. So I would say to get a nice worsted weight acrylic or wool blend in something that feels good and in a color you like (I swear I don't work for Lion Brand, haha, but their Vanna's Choice yarn would be great for this!). Once you're feeling confident you can try out different fibers and price ranges to see what you love working with.

OK, this ended up being way longer than I thought, and I really must trot. But I hope you've found this helpful, and that it's maybe sparked a bit of an interest in learning something new (whether you knit already or not--there's always something to learn). Toodles!

Note: Just in case you were wondering, I have no association with any of the businesses/people/websites above. When I find something I love I like to share.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Need a Wee Giftie?

Hi gang! I am a truly horrible shop 'owner'. Here it is two weeks before the day and I never reminded you that I have some goodies available in my shop that might help you with your gift-giving. I do have a nice little supply of these travel sewing kits available in three different colors:

 

 Here's what you get on the inside:


Lots of helpful bits on the inside, and super cute on the outside. Perfect stocking-stuffer sized, or great to attach a gift card to a favorite fabric or craft store.

Take a look. I'll do my mostest bestest to get it to you in time (but once it's with the postie it's literally out of my hands, so sooner is definitely better).

Later taters!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Snack Pack Giveaway Winner!

Happy Sunday morning! More rain fell yesterday than I can believe, but today is shiny and bright! I've got an afternoon of treat making with my sisters planned, I'm almost finished with my Christmas shopping, and my latest sweater is moving right along. Good times.

But you're not here for that. You're here to find out who won this fun little Snack Pack of strippy Christmassy goodness.


Usually I use a random number generator, but I took a phone message in a marker the other day that looked quite calligraphical, so I decided to write out the names to get that out of my system (I know you understand these whims). So here's the lot of entries...


They got a good mix-around, I handed the basket to my mother with the directive "Pick one," and she complied quite nicely. So here we have our winner:


Who left one of these comments:


Congratulations Emily! I've sent you an email, so hopefully we'll get this winging its way to you soon! Go get your day folks!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ruffled Trees and a Giveaway!

Good Wednesday morning to you! I've got a fun and easy Christmas tutorial for you today. The lovely folks at Fabri-Quilt asked if I'd be willing to make something if they sent me some fabric. I've had an idea in mind for a long time that I thought was going to fall by the wayside for another Christmas, but this was a great chance to bring it into existence. To get the details on how to make these adorable ruffly trees head on over to the Inspired by Fabric blog for the tutorial (we're talking not many supplies and not much time so you can squeeze in one or two during these busy December days).


I've also got a giveaway for you. How does a snack pack of Christmas Basics sound? A snack pack is a set of 42 fabric strips that are 2.5" by 44". I am super jealous that one of you gets to win this.


The rules are a little different from my usual giveaways so read carefully. To enter to win this bundle, sign up to follow the Inspired by Fabric blog by email or through a blog reader, and leave a comment here letting me know you did so. For a second chance to win, like Fabri-Quilt on Facebook and leave another comment here letting me know you did so. This giveaway is open through Saturday December 6, 2014 at 11:59 pm EST. A winner will be chosen randomly and announced here and over at Inspired by Fabric.

Good luck!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

It's Christmas All Over

Happy belated Thanksgiving! And belated good-luck-on-Black-Friday! And belated any other salutations I may have missed over the past week. Time really got away from me. Between meal prep, the holiday, clean-up, shopping, and decorating, this may be the quickest perceived four-day weekend in history (and I'm only assisting and not the ringleader in any of these adventures). I feel like I want to go to work tomorrow just so I can sit down. But December starts tomorrow (to which I say yippee!!! and also--did you print your Christmas countdown calendar I posted last week?) and I. Am. Ready. Bring it.


After a democratic vote took place, it was decided not to put up the fiber optic village this year. While it is adorable, it is the biggest pain-in-the-rear to set up. And with A-train being eye level with it there'd be no way it would escape unscathed. My mother bought that buck and baby deer figure to the right, so we created a more woodsy scene with burlap, branches and bells. I spent a good twenty minutes gazing at it earlier this evening. I couldn't get the lighting just right in the photo, but it has the warmest golden glow about it.

Just because.

Sugarplum Forest got more sugarplummy this year as my mother bought a box of baubly ornaments in the most satisfying array of colors. My sister asked why we didn't put those ornaments on the snow in the trees and I had to explain to her that they were sugarplums that grow up through the snow due to the magic of Christmas. I then had to explain that the forest elves complained about the bare trees, and so we decorated them.

This is where the forest elves live, in case you were wondering. And no, I haven't lost the plot. I just get ridiculously giddy and silly and child-like at Christmas time. The best part is when I explain Forest politics to my sister, she just says "Oh, OK" in a tone of voice that implies that she gets it while in reality she's thinking "Please let one of us be adopted."

I wish I could tell you this entire shelf is full of all the Santa figurines we own, but that might be a lie. It's just full of all the ones that will fit on there. 
And those stars? They're German paper stars that I made a few years ago. They're one of my favorite things as they seem to add just the right touch without being overly Christmassy. You can find a tutorial for them here.

My mom and I do a lot of the inside work, but my sister pitches in before she starts to go crazy. The exact phrasing this year was "Use me now while I feel like helping, because once you guys start getting annoying I'm done." I guess I do get pretty annoying, what with constantly reminding her how I'm head elf in these here parts.

Isn't that just a ridiculously adorable face?

I took this photo for the sole reason that the boy caroler looks like he's giving the camera a bit of a side-eye from this angle.

When my sister came over with A-train I tried to get a cute picture of him, but he was too easily distracted by the light. Not in an "Oooo, lights" kind of way. But in a "I wonder if these are LEDs or incandescent bulbs" sort of way. Not kidding. The cutest thing is to ask him how electricity works. "You put the plug in the hole. The electricity comes out, and goes through the floor. Then it goes into the light, and the light comes on." Or "You put that in the wall and the electricity comes out and goes into the battery. Then your phone works." I'm not even kidding a little bit. I've been blessed with two nephews with the ability to make me feel like a right idiot sometimes.

So that's what I've been up to. I knitted a few dishcloths and made a scarf for myself to go with my new coat. I've got a tutorial in the works that will hopefully be shared soon. I've got no sewing to do. And I've got a bag of yarn that is begging to be knit up into another sweater (I really might be a teensy bit obsessed--I don't think I've knit this much since I first learned and was truly obsessed with it). Oh, isn't this just the most wonderful time of the year?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Countdown to Christmas (A Printable)

This week officially starts my favorite time of year. Not Thanksgiving, but that anticipation that seems to start right about this time and carries through until Christmas. If I close my eyes I can still conjure up that feeling from when I was a wee schoolgirl in our cozy old school building. The floors and walls were all dark wood, there was the ever-present aroma of crayons and pencil shavings, and the heater was coal-fed. I always found a reason to sharpen my pencil on coal-delivery days so I could steal a glance out of the window (coal was something my grandparents talked about, and not something seen often in the eighties). There were Christmas decorations on the classroom doors, and the teacher devoted some time each week to an arts and crafts project to surprise your parents with (my mom still has some of those. Or all of those, actually). There was that quiet hum of excitement that started right before Thanksgiving, and lasted until we kids left the classroom with our candy canes in hand with at least a whole week off from school.

When I think back to those cozy days, one little thing stands out in my mind--the mimeographed Santa Claus worksheet with numbers one through twenty-four that we received every year right around this time. We colored these in school, and took them home to hang up, excitedly counting down the days until Christmas. For some reason this one little thing stands out in my mind quite vividly.

So I made one. For you, for me, for anyone you know who misses being a kid and the silly little things we used to look forward to at this time of the year. Or hey, maybe even for a kid.

(I got the Santa image here).

It's not mimeographed in cold purple ink, but you get the idea. I'd think printing on card stock would give the sturdiest results, but back in the day our plain old copy paper held up just fine :) You can use cotton balls, fluffy bits of quilt batting, pom-poms, you get the idea. Simply start by covering number one on the first day of December and work your way through the month. Or, y'know, have your kids do it (although I don't know why they get to have all the fun). You can click here or on the image above to download the file.

Enjoy!

Linking up here:
Sundays: Submarine Sunday
Tuesday: Homework
Wednesdays: Your Whims Wednesday

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