Archives for posts with tag: Crafts

Making gifts for people is nerve-wracking. Handmade gifts aren’t just made of yarn, or dough, or paint. They include a huge chunk of yourself. Your aesthetic. Your sense of style. Your time. Your hand cramps. Your complete neglect of your children. Your sweat. Your love.

If you give a handmade gift to a person, and they don’t like it? It feels like a rejection of you. It hurts. And it’s not anybody’s fault, all that pain. Sometimes, things just aren’t a right “fit.” But knowing that in your logical, rational brain doesn’t make the rejection hurt any less. Really, those who make pieces to give to others are the bravest souls in the world.

Or the stupidest.

Let’s go with brave.

Either way, I put myself out there like crazy this year! Back in September, I decided to re-learn how to crochet (something my mother taught me how to do about 20 years ago, that I hadn’t pursued in years).

After stitching up just a few (really, very wonky) samples, I dove in, mostly making hats.

I crocheted 3 for my daughters’ preschool’s annual fundraiser. (They sold for a whopping $5 each! Woo!)

Then, I started on hats for gifts. One for myself (really, it was was sample. But a cute one!–Mine is the orange). One for my mother, and one for my sister. I used really nice merino wool, and made us all variations on the same pattern.

Once the hats were finished for the ladies, I then decided to whip up some beanies for the men in my life as well. My brother, father, and brother-in-law (my husband doesn’t wear hats). So, again, I used a wool yarn, and made a slight variation on a single, simple pattern.

Impressed? Well, don’t be. Honestly, I never would have made all of these hats had it not been for terrible luck on my part. Back in October, I tore my left trapezius muscle, and wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 20 lbs. for two weeks. So, I mostly sat on my couch, doing nothing, with a sore shoulder/back. Then, exactly two weeks after that diagnosis, I went back to the same doctor (“Didn’t I just see you?” Yes. Yes you did.) only to be diagnosed with shingles. Two MORE weeks of sitting on my couch. Finally, I came down with a cold. A bad cold. And it didn’t get better. Right before Thanksgiving, I found out I had pneumonia. Guess what I had to do? You got it! Even MORE couch sitting. Even more crocheting. These gifts wouldn’t have been possible without me being miserable for about two solid months. So, silver linings, I suppose?

For a brief period in November (between the shingles and pneumonia), I decreed that it was the “Month of Scarves.” My wonderful husband bought me a new, Ashford 16″ rigid heddle loom for my November birthday, and I got to work, whipping up scarves for some very important people in my life.

The first was for my mother. I wove it using a beautiful Yak down/bamboo blend yarn, then used the leftover yarn to crochet her another scarf, in a pretty “seashell” pattern.

Then, I wove a scarf for my longtime friend, Emilee. The denim colors and simple pattern seemed like the perfect fit for her!

Using leftover acrylic yarn, I made three (so far) scarves for longtime friends who asked for something handwoven. These haven’t been shipped out yet, but I promise they’ll be on their way soon, girls!

The greatest joy my family experienced in 2016, by far, was the birth of my nephew, Lucas. Continuing in the family tradition, then, I wove him a baby blanket out of soft, washable acrylic. As you can see, I’ve been having a ton of fun with my new pick-up sticks too! New, interesting patterns and textures have been amazing to explore, and have broadened my experiences on my rigid heddle looms!

Finally, Lucas, his big brother Cooper, and my niece Olivia all got something designed and stitched up by their Aunt Rachel. These small cross-stitch patterns are part of my “Boss Alphabet” series that I’m designing and will hopefully have available for sale via Etsy soon. They’re only about 3 x 3.5″, and I was able to frame them up in standard 4 x 6″ photo frames. I probably shouldn’t think about all of the hours these small pieces took to design and make. But they were so fun, and look how cute!

All in all, in spite of the terrible health problems I had in the last two months, I’d say that the last quarter of 2016 was a success. At least from a crafting point of view (I’ll say nothing of the dumpster fire that is current American politics). This seems like a lot, but I’m already looking forward to even more crafty goodness in 2017!

(Also, if you received any of these gifts and you DON’T like them? Please, just lie and tell me that you love it. My self-esteem can’t handle the collective rejection espoused by ALL of these gifts!)

Yes, I know that Christmas has come and gone. All but a few stubbornly jolly—or just downright lazy—individuals have taken down the decorations, put the furniture back in the living room, and reclaimed their homes from the seemingly endless Christmas season. It seems unfair of me to rifle through my pictures, unpacking all of the merriment again, just as everyone was feeling a return to routine and normalcy.

But, hey, it’s my blog.

So here are some of the handmade Christmas presents I created this holiday season. If you like what you see here, don’t be afraid to place an order now for next Christmas! (Because that’s probably how long it will take me to fill it…)

Weaving, Weaving, Weaving

One of my goals this winter has been to return to my weaving with gusto. I’ve missed the beautiful simplicity of my rigid heddle loom. The regular and predictable over-under of a plain weave. The way that white-on-white weaving never seems to disappoint. It’s a very fulfilling pastime, and because it’s a little bit of a strange hobby (how many people in their early 30s do you know who own and operate their own looms?), people really seem to appreciate woven gifts.

I started this past fall with a purple blanket.

100% Acrylic, 30"x48" finished.

100% Acrylic, 30″x 48″ finished.

I have to admit, I began with the full intention of donating this blanket to my daughters’ new preschool for their annual fundraiser. However, as I was hemming it, Honest Baby toddled in, felt the soft fabric, and immediately fell in love.

Sorry, St. Marks. This blanket belongs to my girl now. I promise I’ll make something for next year!

Sorry, St. Marks. This blanket belongs to my girl now. I promise I’ll make something for next year!

So the purple blanket immediately became a Christmas gift for my baby girl. Oops. Philanthropy was run over by maternity.

Right around Thanksgiving, I started on a project to make a couple of simple table runners for girlfriends of mine who had been helping me out with babysitting while I was finishing my dissertation.


This was a truly fun project, as I got to weave with 100% cotton in a really tight weave (I’m an aggressive weaver, so I like projects that require high warp tension and hard beating—that’s what it’s called when you squish the horizontal strings down together).

This was also the first time that I took the plunge and cut my fabric in half to make two equal sized table runners.


The first cut is the freakiest!




You don’t know terror until you take scissors to the thing you had just created! It worked perfectly, however (not entirely square, but I’ll do better next time!). I have to keep reminding myself that weaving doesn’t make strategically webbed yarn. It makes cloth. Cloth that can be cut, sewn, shaped, and turned into anything at all, just like every other fabric I’ve ever used.

The result was two table runners, each 3' long.

The result was two table runners, each 3′ long.

Finally, I wove a turquoise blue wall hanging for my mother-in-law. She loves the beach, and has been looking for something to put in her hallway that reminded her of the ocean. This is 50% cotton, 50% acrylic.


You can see in the side-by-side shot that, though it was woven to the same measurements as Honest Baby’s purple blanket (30”x 48”), after being washed (or what weavers call “wet finishing”—just a fancy name for throwing it in the washing machine to make the fibers tighten up and bind together) it lost about 10% in both length and width.

I am in love with the turquoise cotton on the warp (vertical strands). It turned out bright and beautiful.

I am in love with the turquoise cotton on the warp (vertical strands). It turned out bright and beautiful.

Also, because it was intended as a wall hanging, I made the hems a little thicker, so that her wall clamps had a good, heavy hem to hold on to. I was terrified that she wouldn’t like it (if Honest Husband is a Crafting Fascist, my mother-in-law is Mussolini!), but when I showed it to her this last week she couldn’t stop gushing about it (I had to specially order the warp yarn, so it didn’t even arrive at my house until after Christmas Day). Maybe it was all just a show for my sake, but I’ll take what I can get!

Glass Seahorse

Over Labor Day weekend, I was walking through an art fair held every year in my childhood home, Harrisville, Michigan. There, I saw a booth filled with canvases of pictures made from sea glass.

I stole the idea. Shamelessly.

Like I said, my mother-in-law loves the sea. I decided to make something beachy for her out of sea glass. I started by buying a pound of mosaic “sea glass” from a local crafting supply store (everyone asked me where I found the sea glass, but it’s really just etched mosaic glass in pale blues and greens. I found it pretty easily once I started looking for it, honestly, and those one-pound variety packs have enough shapes and variations that you can make just about anything). After fooling around for a bit (and having to Google what seahorses look like), I came up with a pattern.


Then, I went back to the same crafting supply store, and bought a small shadowbox.


Only problem was, the fabric backing was black. So I used a little iron on Stitch Witch (LOVE that stuff!), and made it a lovely grey instead.


After that, it was just a matter of hot gluing and mounting it.



My seahorse got a little chubby in the process, and I don’t like that you can see the shadow of the glue underneath the glass, but I think that this was a very successful project, especially in terms of cost and time. It was pretty easy and fast. About two hours total, and most of that was because I realized halfway through the design stage that I didn’t know what seahorses looked like!

Name Magnets

These were the last-minutest of the last minute gifts.

December 23rd, 6:30pm. My husband comes home from work, and we start talking about the plans for Christmas Day.

“So, you’re getting Josie a gift certificate?”

“Uh huh. Just have to get it printed off!”

“And what for Carlee and Nate?”

“—Carlee and Nate?”

“Yeah. We have to get them something.”


“You didn’t know they were coming?”

“Oh, sweet baby Jesus.”


I had no time. But I had a whole bunch of felt. And some vinyl letter stickers. And poly-fill. And a pack of magnets. And a hot glue gun.

I could totally figure this out.

This has not been staged. This is just what my work table looks like right now at this very moment.

This has not been staged. This is just what my work table looks like right now at this very moment.

First, I placed a vinyl sticker on a paper index card and cut it out to give it some stiffness. That was my letter pattern.

Next, I traced each letter onto a piece of felt with disappearing fabric pen.

Then, I cut out two of each letter, selected which one would be the “back” and which the “front,” and glued a bunch of magnets to the back of the “back” side.

Then, I took about 3 strands of embroidery floss in a contrasting color (I just have a large multi-pack that I keep around for doing hems, little personalizations, embroidery on crocheted pieces, things like that. It’s pretty cheap, and it has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion!), and did a box stitch around the outside of each letter, carefully stuffing them with a little bit of poly-fill along the way to give each letter a pillow effect.


And voila! Over the course of a few hours, I had personalized Christmas gifts that were bright, fun, a little bit educational, and that I could make while also watching A Muppet Christmas Carol with my girls.




Please know, I did not come up with the felt magnet letters all by myself. I stole this idea as well, dear reader. For more detailed instructions and ideas, check out Hello Bee’s DIY Magnetic Felt ABCs. They also have much prettier pictures than I do.

All told, I’m pleased with the amount of Christmas crafting I was able to do this season while also finishing up my PhD and dissertation. Who knows? Maybe next year, I’ll be able to do even more! (But don’t count on it.)

Hope that you and yours had the happiest of holidays!

I’m a weaver. I received my first loom when I was 14. It was a Christmas gift from my Dedo, an artist in his own right who whittled figures out of soft blocks of wood and created stained glass pictures. The loom was a 10″ wide lap loom, capable of only plain weave (think about the over-under crisscross of a cherry pie). I loved that loom. I made dozens of scarves and table runners, belts and sashes. Every birthday party, every Christmas, I wove presents. When I was 17, instead of spending my final days of summer vacation going for long drives with friends and trying desperately to get Jason Gauthier to kiss me, I went to a weaving conference hosted by Harrisville Designs. I took classes on weaving rag rugs, spinning wool, and the basics of tweed weaving, all against the backdrop of New Hampshire in late summer. That trip was only me and my parents. Dad and I, our ears trained from musical theatre,  picked up on the New England dialect almost immediately, much to my mother’s embarrassment, and we giggled uproariously at the locals who stared in confusion when we ordered “lobstah” and told them that we were from Harrisville too. Born and bred. Harrisville, Michigan, that is.

For some reason, that joke never got old.

I remember taking my wool spinning class, trying to take the soft wool fluff and turn it into usable yarn. But I couldn’t keep the rhythm of the spinning wheel going. I would forget how much pressure I was using to pass the wool through my fingers, leaving lumps and thin spots, compromising the integrity and strength of the finished product. Several times, I would get distracted, more interested in the view of the water mill and the old colonial brick outside the window than in the yarn. My fingers would slip, and the entire strand would spin madly, curling and bunching up in a tangled mess. I could never create more than a few yards of wool at a time, perhaps enough to crochet a coaster, but not nearly enough to place on a loom.

Lamenting my inability to make anything beautiful (especially when every other aspect of weaving had always come naturally to me), I became frustrated, angry at the impossibly knotted clump in front of me. My spinning instructor would come over, deftly untangle my wheel, and smile at me.  “It doesn’t have to look good. It doesn’t even matter what it looks like on the cone. The goal isn’t to make a beautiful cone, but a beautiful weaving.”

I was too embarrassed to take any of my handmade yarn home. I didn’t want to make a weaving out of it. I didn’t want anyone to see it. I left all of it there. I told my instructor to give it to the school children who took tours there every fall.

This past Christmas, while setting up my rigid heddle loom (making Christmas presents once again), I was reminded of my spinning class. I was using a large skein of yarn to warp my loom (Weavers often prefer to use cones of yarn instead of skeins, but with limited resources locally, I grabbed what I had available and just worked with it), and the whole roll was bunching, knotting, catching. Frustrated, I shouted at the skein, “Your only job is to unravel! You were made to unravel!”

I stopped.

You were made to unravel.


I’ve been thinking a lot about unraveling recently. Just off the top of my head, I can think of four girlfriends whose lives have been changed forever by a recent diagnosis of a chronic illness. Young women. In their early 30s. And their bodies are starting to fail them. There is no hope for a “cure,” just the resignation of good days mingling with the bad–days when they can play with their sons, or sing a libretto, or walk along a rocky coastline with their beloved dogs and spouse butting up against days of complete stagnation, bed rest, takeout dinners, and pain pills.

So, so many pain pills.

They feel as though they are unraveling.

And I can only watch.

It’s been hard to watch them go through these things. Hard to see them vacillate between appreciation for the good days, and crippling despair over the seeming unending bad days. Hard to see them feel bitter, cheated out of their youth, their careers, their schooling, their families, their futures. Hard to see them learn how to renegotiate the world while trapped in a body that is slowly (or quickly) losing the ability to physically experience that world.

As usual, I am no good in these kinds of serious situations. I crack dirty jokes. I tell poop stories. I change the topic. I start giggling. I defer and deflect. But then, I started working on my loom, and I shouted at a knotted clump of cotton, and I realized something:

Sometimes, beauty only comes after the unraveling.

Sometimes, we think that we are “complete” when we’re really just the raw material.

We get too caught up on being a beautiful cone, or a beautiful skein. Or a beautiful paintbrush, or a lovely pencil, or a freshly filled inkwell.

And we forget that none of us were born in a body that is complete. We are all just giant messes of potential. We’re not finished yet.

Only in the unraveling can we be made into something amazing. Only in the thinning out, spreading, scraping, chiseling, breaking down, cutting, and slicing can we metamorphose into, well, something.

Something messy.

Something broken.

Something uneven.

Something filled with flaws.

Shaped by an inelegant hand.

But something.

Because what is a cone of yarn? It is the illusion of completeness. It loves the potential of its potential. But it is nothing until it is stripped bare, rendered naked and searching, pulled taut. Remade.


Of course, the sad truth of it is that the unraveling is the easy part. The hard part is in the reassembly, the (re)creation. Making a self is no different from making art. It is painstaking, frustrating, infuriating. It keeps you up at night, embarrasses you, shames you. It makes you feel unstoppable one moment, and like a fool the next. And that’s just how it is for those of us fortunate enough to be working with undamaged tools.

But even a broken brush can paint a masterpiece.

A stub of a pencil can still write a poem.

Uneven yarn can weave tapestry.

It just takes a more patient hand.

My dear friends, you are the ones with the talent, vision, ability, intellect, and perseverance to create art, even on your imperfect canvases.

My wish for you in 2015 is not for perfect health. (I’m sorry. As much as I want it for you, I fear that would be just an empty hope.) My wish is that you will understand the potential you have in the unraveling, and that you start to make something new with your own clumsy, inexperienced, ill-prepared, broken, perfect hands.

M.L., R.S.T., M.W.U., N.W.– This post is for you. All of you are strong women made even stronger for the weaknesses you admit. I look forward to watching you kick this new year’s ass.