Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cross-stitch cards

I made these cards as part of a birthday floss exchange for an online needlework group I’m in. Now that they’re safely in the hands of the recipients, I can post the picture.

This exchange stressed me out. The first two birthdays fell soon after it was set up and because we don’t have any specialty needlework stores nearby anymore—only BigName Craft Store, where the selection is very limited—I ordered some nice thread online. The store warned me that some of it was backordered, so I expected it to take a little while, but the order didn’t come and didn’t come. It turned out that they had lost it altogether, and as a result, I ended up sending the birthday packages very late. (The store, by the way, did send the order quickly once they figured out the problem and didn’t charge me the usual shipping fee.)

The recipients weren’t bothered by this at all, but I was. If the tables were turned, I wouldn’t have minded a bit. I love late birthday presents! But because I was the one who was late, I felt guilty (and I’ve participated in enough online groups to know how people who don’t follow through are viewed. I wanted to shout, “I’m not a flake! Really!”).

The next birthday in the group is mine. It’s not for months and I don’t have to worry about ordering something for myself (although I guess I could, couldn’t I?). Still, I’m going to get everything ready for the rest of the recipients before then so I don’t have to worry about it. And so nobody thinks I’m a flake.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #2

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's see the blog roll at

Monday, February 25, 2008

Weekend projects

Somehow, in between soccer practice and games, the dreaded grocery shopping, a trip to IKEA, hanging shelves, housework, taking Dottie to the vet, nagging my children, and coming down with a doozy of a cold, I found time to work on some quick projects this weekend. First, while waiting for my son at a soccer game (he’s a ref, so I can sit in the car and knit instead of pretending to watch while I’m really chatting with the other parents: “Of course I saw your goal, dear. No, my back wasn't turned, really!”), I worked on the purple scarf I cast on at the art gallery.

Then I finally managed to pay attention long enough to do the decreases on the child’s rolled-brim hat correctly. It’s made from Paton’s Classic Merino, with a little cat hair thrown in for extra warmth, and will be donated to afghans for Afghans.

This is the same pattern I used for the adult hat, except for the top-knot. I had never knit an I-cord before and I looked it up in three books before I decided that I had to stop trying to understand the instructions and just trust them. It turned out fine. Oh, and remember my saying that my cats won’t model hats? Apparently I was wrong.

Ever since I saw some fancy stitch markers online, I’ve wanted to make a set of my own. Finally, with some help from a guy named Michael and from the Crazy Daisies, I got around to it.

I made one unique one (the red one) to be used for marking the beginning of a round. They were really fun and easy to make.

I recently got the wonderful news that my current Chemo Angels “buddy” is about to finish her treatment for breast cancer. I made her a little card and purse envelope, which I will send with a congratulations gift. She likes green and daisies. The pattern is from a Klutz’s Handmade Cards set and I found a little flower button in my jar of odd buttons to use on the envelope.

One of my goals for my Year of Living Differently is to make crafting part of my everyday life again. I’m rarely able to sit down for an hour or two at a time, but I’m rediscovering how much I can do when I take advantage of the little bits of time I do have.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bookmarks. And more bookmarks.

I’ve been looking for ways to use my photos in craft projects. Last summer I bought a bookmark made from a photo but, because I bought some craft stuff at the same time, I lost sight of it for a while (if six months qualifies as a while). When I got home, I promptly put the bag in my sewing room, with the best of intentions to get to it very soon, where it was soon lost in a pile of other bags containing similar intentions. In a recent reorganization of the room I emptied every darn bag and rediscovered this bookmark.

Inspired, I went through some of photos and had several printed up that I thought might work as bookmarks. I then cut them and had them laminated and these are the results: bookmarks with scenery,

with flowers (real and painted),

even with beans and ferns and buttons.

Some have ribbons—the choice of whether or not to use a ribbon was determined primarily by what colors of ribbon I happened to have.

I wasn’t sure how to laminate them. I went to BigName Craft Store, clutching my 40%-off-one-item coupon, to see what my options were. I was sorely tempted by the Xyron machines, which can laminate or make stickers or magnets out of just about anything you want, but even with the coupon, buying the machine and the laminating material would be a significant investment, more than a few bookmarks warranted. And I’d like to see the finished product before shelling out that kind of money.

So I bought a roll of self-adhesive laminate, but I wasn’t at all happy with the results. Then I tried clear Con-Tact paper left over from some art project I did with my kids when they were little. It was better (and cheaper) than the laminate, but not at all what I wanted. Besides, using these products in a household with three cats was a pain. Remember doing experiments with magnets and iron shavings in school—how the shavings would fly toward the magnet and glom onto it? It was like that. As soon as I peeled the covering off the adhesive, it was somehow completely covered in cat hair.

I took a few of my cut pictures to BigName Office Store, where, after being tempted by their little hot laminators, I repeated my mantra about not buying stuff I don’t need and marched myself over to their copy center to have the pictures laminated. They turned out great, so the next day I brought a stack had them all done—cheap. I could make hundreds and hundreds of bookmarks for the cost of a laminator. And I have lots of pictures that I could use, so I may do just that.

Of course, this begs the question of what the heck I’m going to do with all these bookmarks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #1

[Disclaimer: I will use some words this week to explain what the heck I'm doing.]

I first heard about Wordless Wednesday over on Tricotine's blog, long before I had a blog (or two) of my own. This is the first time I've remembered it on a Wednesday when I'm actually near a computer. Usually it occurs to me on Thursday afternoon as I stand in line at the grocery store.

Assuming I remember on a fairly regular basis (is that a valid assumption? We'll see), I'll be posting a picture I took in the previous week. Here's the first, taken on our outing to the art gallery:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Old dog, new tricks

Last weekend, Child Two and I went to SuperSunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery. If you live in the Lower Mainland and know children who like doing art, I highly recommend this. It’s a monthly free event for kids (adults pay admission to the gallery), with a wide variety of art activities related to the current exhibits.

We don’t go every month but, depending on our schedule and on whether the exhibits have changed since we were last there, we go as often as we can. The first time, we tried to view the exhibits and get in all the activities that Child Two wanted to do and I sat and waited for her while she worked. Based on that experience, (a) if there’s an exhibit we really want to see, we go on a different day because there is just too much to do on SuperSunday and (b) I started bringing some knitting to do while waiting.

On one of our visits, Child Two taught me some very important lessons about art and, really, about life in general. One of the exhibits included a huge sculpture of an elephant. We waited in line for over half an hour so that Child Two could build an animal sculpture herself. The twist to this activity was that she didn’t choose her own materials; they were decided by her spinning a spinner. She got the following to work with: a paper bag, four cone-shaped paper cups, a smallish block of wood, a piece of cardboard, and two small plastic cylinders of different sizes.

The room was hot, crowded, and very noisy—the kind of atmosphere that makes those who’ve chosen not to have kids very happy with their decision. It was getting late in the day and many of the younger kids there had obviously missed there naps. We found a spot at a table and I watched as Child Two tried various arrangements of her materials. We looked at other people’s projects for ideas and tried some more, but no animal was forthcoming.

I started to feel the way I used to feel when I couldn’t do something I had to do, like climb a rope in PE class or answer a seemingly impossible question on an exam. I got tense and panicky and—I hate to say—felt like I might start crying. “This is impossible. How can anyone build an animal out of this stuff?” I thought, starting to get angry.

I was about to suggest giving up when I realized that Child Two was not at all tense. She was enjoying arranging and rearranging her materials and laughing at the results. She wasn’t worried about making something “good” or “right.” This was just a fun activity at the art gallery, after all, not the bar exam.

I shut my mouth and pulled out my knitting. She rearranged and I knitted and we chatted until she built something that vaguely resembled an animal. Once it was immortalized with hot glue, she decorated it and, lo and behold, it became a recognizable dog.

She taught me more than one lesson that day: patience, perseverance, creating something just for the joy of it, not caring about being perfect or the best. Most importantly, though, I gained a new sense of perspective. Not everything is black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. This wasn’t a test to be aced or a life-or-death situation that had to be negotiated successfully. No, it was just a fun activity to be enjoyed for what it was.

Last Sunday was our first SuperSunday of my Year of Living Differently, and, although I did bring my knitting, I decided to do most of the activities myself (the gallery wholeheartedly encourages the adults to do this). I sketched, I painted, I made a collage out weird things, I blow-painted with ink and a straw (how fun is that?). As I’ve implied in an earlier post, I am challenged by anything more complicated than stick people, but Child Two has taught me that at these events, it’s not about the product—it’s all about the process.

I’m currently finishing a hat, but it’s in the fiddly, double-pointed-needle, decreasing stage and we all know what happens when I attempt that while distracted. So before we left the house I grabbed a ball of yarn and some needles. I usually use circular needles for everything—having been a crocheter first, I find long straight needles get stuck in my elbows and jab me in the armpit—but since I’m living differently, I chose short straight ones; the size was determined not by gauge but by the fact that these are the only short ones I have. I cast on a scarf while Child Two was doing decorating a pot and planting a tree. The pattern was developed on the fly (also a different way of working for me)—we’ll see how it turns out.

Oh, and apparently Little Bit would like to take up knitting, despite her lack of opposable thumbs.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Valentine color therapy

I’ve been a volunteer with Chemo Angels and Senior Angels for almost five years. This is a great organization for postally obsessed people like me, because it involves sending weekly mail to cancer patients and seniors. I’ve had the same “senior buddy”—a man in his 60s who has emphysema—for all that time, and my current chemo buddy is a woman in her early 20s with breast cancer.

This year, instead of buying Hallmark cards that aren’t quite right, I decided to make Valentines for my buddies. The card on the left, which is for my senior buddy, was done with watercolor crayons on cardstock, and the one on the right, for my chemo buddy, is made with stamps and . . . uh, stamps.

I’ve never considered myself to be very artistic. My family is full of gifted artists, including my brother, but I’m not one of them. I’m pretty good at following patterns, but making things without any direction is challenging for me. Showing them on the internet is pretty challenging, too.

I’ve always said that I can’t draw anything more complex than stick people—which at this point is true—but it recently occurred to me that I don’t actually know if I can draw because I’ve never really tried. Apart from a few weeks of art class in 6th grade, I never took any art lessons. I figured that my brother had inherited all the art genes—as well as the good teeth—while I had inherited the math ones and spent 10 years in orthodontics. But I’ve always thought the art genes (and the good teeth) were a lot cooler.

So the other day when I was in BigName Bookstore, I took a look at the beginning drawing books. Despite titles like Drawing for the Absolute Beginner, they were way too advanced for me. But my daughter, who inherited the art genes from both sides of her family (and—knock on wood—the good teeth), has loved art since she could pick up a pencil—in fact, she used to color with both hands at once when she was really in the zone. She has a whole stack of drawing books, so I’m going to start with those. Maybe after I master kittens and Snoopy, I’ll be ready for Drawing for Dummies.

Once again, crafting for others was therapeutic. After a hectic weekend sprinting here and there, I was tense and a bit cranky last night. But some good old-fashioned glueing and coloring worked wonders on my mood.

As usual, Little Bit and Jamie—who will not allow me to take their picture when it’s my idea—just had to be in on today’s photo shoot. And, as usual, Dottie was busy doing important cat things.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Crafting for charity

One of the many (well, two or three) readers of this blog left a comment earlier today saying that she had come to my blog from 25 Things for Charity. This is a blog for people who have a goal of making (you guessed it) 25 things to donate in a year. I joined it quite a long time ago, but rarely posted to it because (a) I didn’t really know how to use Blogger, especially how to post photos; (b) I didn’t have a blog of my own that I could link to; and (c) I have a teeny tiny issue with follow-through, which grows into a bigger and bigger issue the busier I get with work and all those other things that interrupt my creative time.

I’ve always loved making things for other people. Friends, family, complete strangers—it doesn’t matter to me. Although I’ve been crafting since I was a kid, I actually own very few things that I’ve made. Whenever I’m working on something for someone else, I think about that person. Even if I’m watching TV or listening to the radio or talking to a friend, an image of the recipient is in my mind, so by the time I’m done, thoughts of that person are part of the finished product. I do this too when I’m making things for strangers, even though I have no idea what they look like or who they are. I imagine a premature baby wearing a hat that’s small enough to fit an orange or a homeless person being a little bit warmer because of a scarf I’ve made. It’s a change of view that helps me keep my own life—both its challenges and its blessings—in perspective.

Volunteering has been an important part of my life since I was very young and at one time, crafting for charity was an almost daily part of that. I still give away most of what I make, but as my life has gotten busier and my crafting time has decreased, I find that one of the things I really miss is that time spent thinking of someone else as I work. My mind races through so much of every day—pick this child up here, drop that child off there, buy cat food before the cats revolt and start eating us, make that appointment that’s been on my to-do list for three months, remember which clients use serial commas and which don’t. I miss—I need—the opportunity to slow it down, to think of a woman in a hospital somewhere who has no clothes to bring her baby home in or a child in a shelter being given a quilt to keep for his very own. For me, doing things for others is not a selfless act. I get much more than I give.

One of the goals of my Year of Living Differently is to spend more of my time doing things that I enjoy and value. This year I plan to make at least 25 things for charity and to post them on the group blog. I now know how to use Blogger (kind of) and I do have a blog to link to (two, actually!), so all I have to do is figure out the follow-through thing and I’m set.