Wednesday, November 24, 2010

crafting extravaganza and handmade holiday ideas

there’s this stupid knitting project i’ve been working on for three stupid years: a big, ugly blanket made out of variegated green acrylic yarn, soft and fuzzy, worsted weight, on size eight needles. this particular yarn comes in intimidating 800-yard skeins; there are three skeins in the finished product. i started it in winter 07/08, the last year i worked at joann fabrics and crafts.

and now it’s finally finished! i don’t even like the colors anymore! the dimensions are off, it’s not wide enough for its tremendous length! it nearly killed me but it’s done! i’m being overly-dramatic, but honestly, this wretched cloth has caused me more than a little creative constipation over these last three years. many times i wanted to start new knitting projects but decided not to, pushing stubbornly ahead (row by row by tedious, garter-stitch row) instead.

after a while it became a strictly social knitting project, which is why the damned thing took three years--the only time i ever added to it was during craft nights and coffee shop knitting meet-ups with friends. its ever-presence became a running joke: what’s emily working on? oh yeah, the fucking ugly afghan, like always.

why didn’t i cut my losses, end the project early and call it a “lap blanket”? because i had to be the goddamnit victor, that’s why.

once i cast off my last stitch of fluffy green bondage, the floodgates opened. this is what i’ve been waiting for: my productivity enema. (i’m aware that scatological metaphors for creative pursuits are cliché, but they’re so fitting, i don’t even care.)

side note, i thought this was the first blanket i’d ever knitted, but i was forgetting the one i made around four or five years ago out of lovely homespun yarn. i accidentally ripped a hole in it a while ago, was too lazy to fix it and banished it to the back of a closet where it remained until i rediscovered it a few days ago, took it out and sewed up the hole.

now it’s good as new, soft and warm and wonderful.

anyway, forget about blankets. no more blankets, ever. only small, fun knitting projects from now on...or at least until i wring this green monstrosity out of my hands’ muscle memory.

here are a few other things i’ve finished lately, with some crafty holiday gift and decoration ideas (and brief instructions) mixed in.

the other day (before it snowed, luckily) i took a long walk by the river, collecting autumn leaves, pinecones, berries and other nature crafty bits as i went. i was lucky to find two fallen pine branches, still fresh. i wove them into a metal wreath form (which is a totally unnecessary piece of equipment that i used only because i had it on hand--you could easily form your own base out of branches and a bit of wire.) then i added rosehips, juniper berries and other accents.

this frame was going to be a second, rectangular wreath, but plans change. to make the frame i wrapped eight thin branches together with wire and added a few dried mini-sunflower stalks.

i had about a dozen ideas for how to fill the frame: first i was going to do a very minimalist black ink drawing of a small bird on a sheet of birch bark. i LOVE the idea of drawing on birch bark. then i remembered my drawing skills leave much to be desired, so instead i would take lines from mary oliver's poem “the sunflowers” and write them on pieces of birch bark. changed my mind again, thought of embroidering a monochrome picture of sunflowers on a square of torn-edged muslin, changed my mind again. then i printed out some of my photos of sunflowers and hung them in a cluster inside the frame. didn’t like the look of that, then it hit me that you rarely (if ever) see pictures hung *outside* the frame, so i moved four of them to the outer corners and left the inside empty.

the empty-frame-look wasn’t my favorite, so i added this little print i found at the NAC.

important tangent: NAC/re-style is a new, fabulous thrift store in boise with two locations, one on chinden and one in the fairview shopping center next to savers and the youth ranch (forming a glorious trifecta of thrifty goodness.) best of all, proceeds go to northwest animal companions. the prices are excellent, and now through december they’re having a 99-cent clothing sale--every single item of clothing, even in the special vintage section, is only 99 cents.

i made a papier-mâché bowl out of autumn leaves. it didn’t turn out as well as i hoped. to shape the bowl i used the inside of a metal mixing bowl lined with plastic wrap. in my mind it was going to go down just like normal papier-mâché, but the leaves were resistant to being formed and kept springing up and not sticking to each other. the end result is ok but slightly fail. i might try forming another one around an inflated balloon, using thinner, more papery (rather than leathery) leaves.

i pulled out a couple mason jars, thinking i’d stuff them with leftover leaves and pinecones and other supplies to make autumn-in-a-jar decorations. then i thought of placing just a single leaf with a tealight behind it in each one. these couldn’t be simpler and i think they’re pretty neat--just make sure the leaf edges don’t curl into the flame. in fact it’s a good idea to replace the leaves when they become dry and crackly. i surrounded the bases with more autumn leaves to make a nice centerpiece.

pomander balls! i used to make these with my grandma when i was a li’l one. i bought a bag of tangerines that weren’t very tasty, so i loaded them up with cloves arranged in fun patterns and stuck them in the oven to dry. it took WAY LONGER than i expected for them to fully desiccate. about a full day in the oven at 225. bonus, though, the house smelled beyond wonderful while they baked. my plan is to cut out squares of fine netting, wrap them and tie the tops closed with ribbons, for stocking stuffers.

my mom got a kindle for her birthday, so i sewed her this custom case. this project was a pain. the dimensions have to be absolutely exact, down to the quarter inch. that wouldn’t be so tricky with just one layer of fabric, but i had to line it, *and* in between each of the two layers i slid cut-out rectangles of thick, corrugated cardboard for added protection. the construction involved a lot of precise detail work and math (and guessing and luck), but it turned out perfect. unfortunately i didn’t write out a pattern and damn it now i have to make two more.

i had written off the kindle as sort of a useless piece of plastic crap, just another gadget no one needs (like its popular cousin the ipad, which i still look upon with some disdain), but kindles are actually pretty cool. there are around 5,000 classic books available for free download, anytime and anywhere (it has both wifi and 3g, and my mom hasn’t run into a no-service area yet, even in mccall.) she wanted it mainly for reading the new york times and wall street journal, to save paper, but she uses it for books now too. i’m not saying i want one, because i love the feel/smell/look/etc of books and i don’t need another gadget, but it’s an excellent gift idea for big readers who maybe don’t have time (or are too lazy) to go to the library. a protective case is very necessary because kindles are slippery as hell.

every xmas i give my parents a photo calendar using some of my favorite shots from throughout the year. they completely love it. i try to make each photo represent the season and sometimes the particular month it falls on. this year, after thorough online comparison shopping, i found a pretty good deal on calendars at winkflash: now through november 29 their medium-sized wall calendars are 60% off, coming in at under $9. even with the expensive shipping it’s a few dollars cheaper than anywhere else i could find. i ordered two extras this year to give to other relatives.

during my search i came across this nice promotional deal from canvas people: free 8x10 canvas photo, pretty decent discounts on other sizes and half off your second print. they try to get you to add-on extra crap like a $15 frame and pricey (and often cheesy) special effects that you could easily photoshop in two seconds, but you can pass on all that. i haven’t ordered yet and i bet they screw you on shipping, but it still seems like a good deal, since these canvas prints are usually expensive.

i’m giving away the majority of my homemade preserve stash as xmas gifts. i put together a basket with three of them for a charity fundraising auction my mom put on--there were five bids and it ended up going for $65! now i have to go get a bunch more thrift store baskets, sew some more little pillows for the bottoms, cut out a few dozen more skirts for the jars and design/print more labels. it's a lot of work for gifts i've basically already made.

i also need to work on sewing reusable gift bags. i have yards of brocades and satins on the ready, and i don’t line these so they go pretty fast, but i do have to custom fit them to individual gifts.

a friend was getting rid of this bookcase and offered it to either me or the dumpster. one of the legs was broken and the finish was kinda oogly, but after i fixed the leg and repainted it i think it looks pretty damn cute. it’s in my room at the cabin now, next to a comfy chair in my reading nook.

this mirror was another repainting project. while some early-90s-nostalgic part of me digs the groovy dayglo orange, there’s not a room anywhere in my life where this would fit in, or even stand out in a fun way--only in a holy-shit-hideous, retina-burning kind of way.

so i repainted it green. it’s still fun and funkadelic, but tamer, sorta. andy likes it.

this isn’t exactly a craft project, but i’ve been decorating with a lot of thrift store art lately. i try to find the pieces that have cool frames and are also originals rather than prints and reproductions. i didn’t pay more than a dollar for any of these.

one of my new favorite things is to hang frames inside of frames. i found this ornate outer frame at the distro for about $1--it was totally empty, without glass or backing, so i hung it as-is at first, then i found this cute 3D gopher picture that fits nicely inside.

i spent part of this afternoon helping my parents make fish house punch. it’s an annual family tradition and this might sound weird, but, it tastes like my childhood. even during the recent years when i wasn’t drinking alcohol i would still help mix the “hooch”--the beguiling aroma was almost enough to break my teetotaling resolve on a few occasions. you can basically get drunk just by inhaling the fumes.

the above-pictured recipe card was written out by my grandma decades ago. she’s the originator of the tradition: back in the day when she was a fancy little socialite she’d mix up this punch for their holiday parties.

warning, this is potent business. it goes down easy and it fucks you up. but by all means give it a try--bottles of fish house punch make great xmas gifts.

we always make at least a double batch. i squeezed four cups of lemon juice on my parents’ super-adorable retro citrus juicer they received as a wedding present 30-some years ago, the same one i used to use for juicing oranges on xmas morning. we poured everything into an enormous metal bowl and i stirred using an ancient wooden spoon, the same one i use every year.

at one point today my dad mused, “the family that makes bathtub gin together...uh...sins together?”

i also helped my mom make dressing for tomorrow’s dinner. get this: there’s a stuffing/dressing shortage in boise right now. how ridiculous is that? jason works at the co-op and all day today the customers were telling him that every store in town is sold out of stuffing. are you kidding me? who buys pre-made stuffing?

my mom saves up bread heels all year long in preparation for making dressing, tucking them away in a bag in the freezer, which drives my dad insane because he mentally can’t deal with things taking up space (in the freezer, or anywhere else, really.)

the three key ingredients that make my mom’s recipe ultra-amazing are as follows: granny smith apples, dried cranberries and herbes de provence. i tried to make some of this myself a few weeks ago and didn’t quite do it justice, even with my mom instructing me over the phone, telling me how easy and flexible the recipe is, how i couldn’t possibly mess it up. i used too much broth, not enough onion and celery, and i tried mixing it in the baking dish rather than in a separate bowl, which didn’t work out so well. so today i watched her like a hawk while she worked her magic.

first she sautés two diced onions and four or five ribs of celery (in a troublingly liberal dose of olive oil), then mixes in loads of poultry seasoning, herbes de provence and sage. she tosses that with a giant mound of cubed bread heels, dried cranberries, two diced granny smith apples and some organic vegetable broth, then bakes it in a pyrex casserole dish. it is so, so good. something about the combination of fennel seed and tart cranberries and salty bread makes my tastebuds euphoric.

i can’t wait for the feast tomorrow night. i’m having a celebration roast (a grain-based meat substitute, filled with “a sausage-style stuffing made from butternut squash, apples and mushrooms”) with tofurkey gravy on top. word to the wise, the stereotypical veg roast “tofurkey” is terrible. awful-tasting and rubbery. tofurkey gravy is delicious, though, and celebration roasts are amazing, even if they do make me feel guilty for buying processed food on a day when i should be a good little vegan and whip up every last dish from scratch. tomorrow i’ll also make some herb roasted fingerling potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with corn and spices mixed in, and i baked some chocolate chip fudge brownies for dessert. don't even pity me for missing out on turkey. my tummybox will be happy as a clam.

happy thanksgiving everyone! and happy crafting!


Kim and Victoria said...

Jason works at the co-op??? So do I!

I'm impressed with all of your craftsy projects. I'm driving myself bonkers trying to get three, yes, three pairs of socks finished for xmas gifts. Wish me luck. After they're done it's back to knitting things for myself again. I have a sweater started and some socks in mind.

Emily said...

oh cool! jason does the demo counter and works in housewares--you should keep an eye out for him and i'll tell him to do the same! you're totally his kind of person, i bet you'd be instant friends.

wow, three pairs of socks--good luck to you! i've never attempted them but jason's made something like five or six pairs. now both of us are contemplating making sweaters for the first time.