Friday, December 31, 2010

The Pony.

My mom is my favourite person in the known universe, but she's difficult to buy/make/otherwise procure gifts for.  She's one of those people who already has everything, and while she loves all things handmade, she can handmake most of them better than I can.

About a week before Christmas, I was doing some mostly-aimless searching around on Etsy for interesting things that she might like, and I suddenly recalled that when we'd been talking about childhood Christmas presents recently, she'd said, sort of sadly, that no one ever got her a pony.

My mom grew up in Queens, so while her family had a yard, it was a tiny yard, and I don't think she ever had any real expectations of a pony.  But I get the feeling it was the patriotic duty of all good little girls in the 1950s to at least want one, and if you didn't, the House Un-American Activities Committee might have come around to ask some pointed questions.

So I thought: perfect.  A pony!  My initial plan was to order a plush one from Etsy, made by someone more skilled than I am, but nothing I found in my searching grabbed me, so I went looking for patterns instead, and being slightly crazy and [falsely] emboldened by the success of the crochetalong penguin, I decided not to wuss out and buy a smaller pattern, but to go with the giant Perfect Pony.  (It was supposed to be about 17" tall, mine ended up about 20", somehow.)

It started out well!  The shaping on the head turned out beautifully, and my first attempt at adding sleepy-eyelids to a plush (an effect I've often admired on other people's plushes) was more or less successful.

And then I started the body.  And ripped it out. And started it again.  And ripped it out.  And started it again.  I could not make it work---I guess I'm just not a focused enough counter to handle the construction of the pattern, which involved working increase on a chain rather than in the round, where a few missteps are less evident?  I lost an entire day trying to get it right, and then gave up.  I almost gave up entirely, because it was December 22nd by this point, but the thought of being able to tie a big red bow on this thing and give it to my mom on Christmas morning all look, it's the pony you asked for fifty years ago! made me take a deep breath, scrap the pattern, and just make an improvised body in the round.

(Conveniently, the bow hides the ugly seam between its neck and body!) 

I stayed up until 2 AM with this thing a couple nights in a row, making its ears (which I designed with help from this adorable horse purse pattern) and legs and sewing in the mane, and finally got it to a place where it was at least mostly sewn together and free-standing around 1 AM on Christmas.  It's far from perfect, but my mom totally got the gesture of the thing and loved it.  Totally worth the angst.

Next, I have to design it some accessories!  There was a saddle/bridle included in the pattern, so I might make one of those.  And a pretty horse blanket! Maybe with some embroidery.  ...Does anyone know where I can find a good embroidery tutorial?

(Check out other, probably less insane projects at Tami's Finished Objects Friday post.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some Snowed-In Serial Dabbling

I still have to blog about the Giant Pony Project (I'm going to cheat just a little and do that for FO Friday), from which my hands are still recovering.  After spending most of December working on focused or semi-focused projects, it's making me happy in this post-Christmas, sadly-snowed-in lull to return to my more typical creating-stuff method of starting a billion tiny things just to see how they'll work...and then leaving them unfinished on the skeins until I need the yarn for something else and rip them out.

I'm reading a pirate-themed YA novel right now, and while I'm not sure about the novel, it made me want to do something piratey.  I made myself resist a number of cute amigurumi pirate bears, and went with this cool skull motif (that's a Ravelry link).

It's a great pattern---easy, fun, and pretty much foolproof, because I definitely messed up the eyes a bit (which is what happens when I try to listen to music and crochet things that require counting at the same time) and it still looks pretty good.

I'm thinking of making this adorable iPod hoodie, so I learned Tunisian crochet yesterday, via a nice tutorial over at Corchet Spot.  I need to stop being intimidated by new techniques just because they have fancy names, because this is the second one I've learned recently (the other being front and back post crochet) that I really like.

I'm still a bit wobbly at it, obviously, but this is just my test swatch to see how stripes would work up, etc.  This is the Tunisian knit stitch, and I love the knitted-look.  I'm hoping to learn how to knit in the upcoming year, but until I do, there's this stitch to perfect and create something that at least looks similar to knitting.

I might combine these two semi-WIPs, actually, and make a red and black striped scarf in Tunisian crochet with friendly skulls on the ends. 

I also have one actual project going, this cool market bag with a CD in the bottom to give it weight and shape. 

So far, so good.  And I am going to be so much better at treble crochet (which I hadn't used much, previously) by the time it's finished.

Check out more WIP Wednesday posts over at Tami's Amis!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Book Made Me Do It!: Long-Awaited Saint Lucia Buns

Like, I imagine, a lot of other people who were little girls in the 1990s, the American Girl books (and accompanying [and mesmerising!] doll catalog) were a pretty persuasive introduction to the historical fiction genre, and the wide world of history-in-general for me.  I always liked the Kirsten books.  The main character was a Swedish immigrant whose family was moving into the American west to farm, and that setting felt warmly familiar after encountering it in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.  (I was also a fan of the Molly books, which I think were actually a really good introduction into some of the important things about life in America during World War II.  Mary Downing Hahn's Stepping On the Cracks was also amazing that way.)
The Kirsten's-Christmas book (all of the various American Girls had a Christmas Book) introduced me to the Swedish tradition of Saint Lucia's day, where the oldest girl in the household gets to bring the family a tray of specially made buns and coffee while wearing a wreath with lit candles on her head, and the whole thing always seemed really enchanting to me.  I wanted to dress up and carry a tray and then eat the buns!  (And I really wanted those candles on my head.  Just the right balance of prettiness and danger.) 

Instead---a bunch of years later---I decided to make the buns, which are called lussekatter.  I used a recipe from the excellent and full of fun food facts Horizon Cookbook.  The first step was making some saffron-infused water, which was a very pretty process.

These buns are often made in an S-shape, which I was feeling dubious about, having entered into a bunch of shaped-dough projects where most of the dough ended up glued to the bowl and my hands rather than shaped and on the baking sheet, but this dough---maybe because it was an egg bread?---was so easy to work with.  The buns just coiled themselves right into perfect shapes.  If I make these again, I may even attempt one of the more complicated configurations.  Here's one before baking, decorated with raisins:

And the batch of them, all baked up. (I made a quarter recipe, I was thrilled that it worked and produced such a manageable batch of buns.)

They were tasty, too---a little sweet, with a nice texture, and the cardamom that I tossed in (it wasn't in the recipe, but I recalled it being a Thing in Scandinavian baking, so I added it anyway) gave them a really  nice flavour, especially when combined with the raisins/currants. 

I ate one with a tiny little coffee (made even more thematically Swedish by the cup I was drinking out of being from IKEA...), and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Despite the lack of candles balanced on my head.  I love it when books inspire me to cook, even if in this case, the actual food came a strangely long time after the initial inspiration.

I made these last Sunday, and they weren't really part of my (sadly unphotographed) Christmas baking, which included biscotti and Polish gingerbread cookies and pears baked with rum and spices.  Next project:  possibly homemade graham crackers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Aaaand Done!

My first Finished Object Friday!  (And being able to post this penguin today is totally what spurred me on to actually finish up his hat and not just dawdle over it through the weekend.)  Thanks so much to all of you for the sweet comments and input about the penguin on Wednesday.  I ended up going with the softer-coloured eye circles, because---as Mutant Supermodel pointed out, the softer colours made the eyes pop less and toned down the owlish look.  I thought this guy might want to be photographed near some snow, so I took him outside for this shot.  Much to my chagrin, there's still some snow on the ground/tables/etc. from earlier this week. 

In  my excitement to finish this penguin, I did make one huge and stupid (but not visible, at least) mistake---I was doing the final rounds of stitches, fastening off the yarn and weaving in the ends, all jaksld;f  oh my gosh, look how big and cute this is, I can't believe I made it...and right next to me were the washers to secure the safety eyes in place.  Yikes.  Luckily, the eyes themselves have pretty thick stems that are wedged into the crocheting pretty tightly and this isn't a gift for a kid, so I think it will be okay. 

I got to learn the loop stitch this morning to do the cute trim on his hat, and it was so neat to feel my brain and hands getting the sense memory of a new technique---at first I was confused and fumbly, but I gradually got into the rhythm of it.  (With some help from Stacey's loop stitch video.  I needed the 3-D representation for this one, which was interesting, since I managed to figure out front post/back post crochet from a 2-D diagram in a book a couple weeks ago.  My brain and what it will and won't interpret correctly is always a mystery.)

I crochet pretty tightly, so the penguin's hat can defy gravity, which I think is kind of awesome.  I named him "Unintentionally a Wizard Penguin" on Ravelry.  (Maybe his name is Harry?)  Now I want to make more wizard hats!  But first, a pony.  I'm really excited about this pony, guys.  More about that on Wednesday.

But before the pony (and before I get to catch up with everyone else's finished objects at Tami's Amis), errands!  I hate that the sun is almost setting even though it's quarter to four in the afternoon, but at least there's only another few days of shorter-days before the solstice and longer-days again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Penguin-ing Along.

I'm so happy about this penguin, even if the non-penguin colours make him look...well, non-penguiny.  (He could also be an owl, I think, which is fine, because owls are also fantastic.)  His feet and wings are sewn on, but the rest of him is held together with pins for photographing purposes, and actually, you guys can help me make him a finished object, because I can't choose which colour to use for his eye circles.

The one on the left is a sort of purple/seafoam variegated yarn, while the one on the right is more soft blues/browns/greens.  I'm sort of tending toward the one on the right, but I'd love some second (and third, etc.) opinions.  Once I pick a colour, I can sew everything together and make his hat.

This penguin is the biggest amigurumi project I've attempted yet, and I've loved working on it so far.  (The best part was pinning him together for the photo and watching the various pieces that have been lying around my room turn into something cute.)  I was afraid that making something big would make me wrist-sore and bored, but I was happily wrong.  Which is good, because now I'm thinking of trying to tackle the Perfect Pony in time for Christmas.

I started a hat for myself, too.  This is a really popular pattern on Ravelry, and it's just as quick and fun to work as all the project descriptions led me to believe. 

Although I think it may look better on my model than it does on me.  (This was one of those skeins of yarn that looked amazing in the store, but now that it's in my house, I'm not so sure about the colour.)  Anyway, this is almost finished, I just need to choose a good colour for the last few rows (I'm waffling between deep teal and heather grey).

(Check out more WIP Wednesday posts at Tami's Amis!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

All Manner of Good Things...

First of all, the winner of the star ornament giveway, as picked by is Dina of Five Cats from Crazy. :D  So one of the stars will be on its way to her, and the rest are available in the ornaments section of my shop.

I was lucky enough to win a giveaway myself, and got these beautiful gift tags by Deb of The Running Garlic.

You can't really tell in this photo, but the owl and flower are embossed and look amazing.  These are going to make my Christmas presents so much prettier.  (And you should check out her shop for more pretty tags and hot pads and even dried homegrown garlic, which I wish someone would buy me for Christmas. Yum.)

I've been trying to buy most of my Christmas gifts handmade for a few years now, and these are my favourite of this year's selection---tiny, gorgeous koi pond tins by Starless Clay.  The water and lily pads and lilies and fish are all done in polymer clay, and I can't believe how detailed and beautiful they are!  I keep taking them out of the gift boxes they came in to admire them.

Just for LOLs, some of the Christmas cookies I made the other night---nothing says "Christmas" like squirrels and palm trees.  (There were more traditional shapes in the mix, too, but of course I only photographed the crazy ones.)

And if you're near a Trader Joe's (and you like mangos, cranberries, and chili spices), run, don't walk, and buy a tub of this cranberry mango salsa.  I'm a recent convert to the wide world of mangos, and I never would have thought they'd go this well with tomatoes and onions and cumin and other salsa spices, but this stuff is delicious.  Sweet, spiced but not hot-spicy, so good you want to eat it straight out of the container with a spoon...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Penguin-in-Progress and a Mini Giveaway.

After last week's "oh my god, how did I wait until this long to do this craft fair stuff?!" crochet blitz, I gave my hands a bit of a break for a few days, but last night I started my crochetalong penguin.  This pattern is worked in the back loops all the way through---I've never done that on an amigurumi and I wasn't sure I'd like the effect, but I do!  The ridges it creates are really going to work on this particular penguin, I think, and give it really cute texture.  I was going to go with classic black-and-white, but when I glanced at other people's penguins on Ravelry, I decided I loved the idea of real colours instead, and went with this soft teal.  (And it's a lot easier to work with in black, especially in my badly-lit room at night!)  So far I've done the feet and beak and the wings and started in on the body.  I'm not sure about what colour the belly and eye circles should be yet, so those will come later, as will his adorable hat.  I think this guy might end up being given to my mom for Christmas.

I was too busy actually finishing stuff to post anything for Finished Object Friday, but here are some last week's felted star ornaments.  I ended up making little polymer clay buttons to go on them, which was fun.  I don't work with polymer clay terribly often, so every time I do it's like a whole new fun surprise!  These are a little more...rustic-looking than what I usually make, but I think I like them.

Anyway, you guys were all so sweet about these ornaments last week, and I'd love to send one of these stars to someone who'd like one, so I'm going to do a teeny-tiny Christmas giveaway.  If you'd like to enter, just leave a comment (make sure it has your email/a way for me to contact you) on this post, and I'll let a random number generator pick a winner this weekend. :)

(Check out more WIP Wednesday posts over at Tami's Amis.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Too-Many-Projects Wednesday.

I'm trying to get some stuff ready for a craft fair on Friday/Saturday, and last night I decided to do some felted star ornaments.  I love felting, it feels almost like magic to me.  The stars crochet up in a few seconds---I made them while happily sipping lemon-ginger tea and listening to Rihanna's new album, all of which makes a pretty strange combination, I think---and felted them just a little while ago.   The photo above shows them pre-and-post-felting.  I don't have a top-loading washer (and if I did, it would be a waste to put it on for things this small anyway), so I felt by hand.  Or in this case, by hand with the aid of my electric hand mixer, which made the process (a) messier, (b) sort of more fun, and (c) easier on my hands/wrists.  I'm planning on embellishing these somehow when they dry, I'm not sure how yet.  Maybe simple embroidery, or needle felting, or sewing on buttons...

I also have to finish this little felted cactus, which needs a separate (and unfelted, since it will be hidden) piece sewn onto it so it can pop in and out of the pot more neatly.  I'm pleased with the way this felted up, it almost looks real!  I used the basic idea from this pattern at Elf ♥'s Dwarf, and added some slip-stitching to give it more colour/texture.  I'm glad I did, because the felting basically obliterated the ribs that the back-loop-only crocheting technique gave it.  I'm toying with using really thick fishing line to give it some spines, but I think it would take forever, since each piece would have to have its own separate knot and be glued into the inside of the cactus.

Poor Bob the panda from last week is still stuck in unfinished-creature-limbo, but now he has company!  Two cats-to-be (Autumn and Noomi, without and with eyes, respectively), and Peppermint the Christmas Pentapus. (I wanted to keep him small, so he's just got the five tentacles.)

Next week, I hope to be working on this adorable penguin crochet-a-long for WIP Wednesday.

P.S.  Check out Tami's Amis for more WIP Wednesday posts.