Saturday, December 24, 2011

Handmade Holiday Gifts... an Etiquette Course

Ahhhh! Spock!! I can't eat peanut brittle!
We've all received them, the handmade gifts that you can't stand. Hell, I'm sure that I've given them.  The fudge with the walnuts (and you're allergic to walnuts), or the crocheted blanket made with horrible acrylic yarn, or the handknit hat that is such an awful shade of yellow that there is no way it could look good on anyone - let alone you.

Now, you're a courteous person.  You understand the effort that went into the pair of handknit socks that Aunt Matilda made for you, right?  No?  Well, here, let me break it down for you: a really fast knitter can get a pair of socks done in about 20 hours.  HOURS.  That is a fast knitter.  Slower knitters take longer, and usually mess up more frequently.  This might not sound like a lot, but that pair of socks probably took the better part of a week or two to make.  For YOU.

That hideous blanket?  While, yes, crochet is faster than knitting, a blanket still takes a while.  Poor Grandma probably sat in the same position, popping Advils like candy in order to make that for you in time to give it to you for Christmas, as you neglected to come to the senior home to visit.  Way to go.  ;)  Also, she probably used the horrible acrylic because that's what her budget allowed.  Were you expecting cashmere?

There IS in fact, a etiquette to handmade gifts.  I hear all the time "I'm only making something handmade for so-and-so, because she is the only one who appreciates it."  How wrong is that?  Why is it so difficult for people to appreciate the things that are crafted specifically for them?  Is it because they are jealous that they can't do it themselves?  Is it because they don't understand the amount of time it takes?  (And yes, some crafts are faster - take a look at Etsy.  The shops that have more items are usually a faster product.)  Maybe they are so used to living in a disposable world that they just don't get that handmade is usually better and lasts longer.  I don't deny that a lot of things in big box stores are, in fact, hand made on industrial machines, but we're not going to get into the sweatshop debate here.

So.  What SHOULD you do if you get a handmade gift that just isn't, well, you?  First and foremost, be gracious.  Remember when you went to a friend's house for dinner and they had liver and onions?  Remember the "No thank you bite"?  The same rule applies here.  Say thank you (and mean it), even if you don't like the particular item, you need to understand the work, the time, the effort, that went into it.  Remember, this person made this for you, hoping that you would like it.  No one wastes their time on a gift thinking "Muahahahaha, I know they're going to hate it!"

After the holiday, and you're sitting on the couch looking at the said hideous throw, knowing full well you have no intention on keeping it, what do you do with it?  Look up local charities that accept hand made donations. Some do, some don't.  Some are picky on what types of items they take.  That blanket may keep someone on the street warm next week.

All in all, just acknowledge the time that it took to make the gift in the first place.  As crafty types, really, that's all we want.  A simple, "Wow, this must have taken forever!  Thank you!" usually will go a long way.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Calm before the Holiday Storm

As we began to inch closer to the holiday season that we're now in the middle of, I began to have some pretty severe shoulder and back pain... its holiday prep, right?  As someone who works with their hands, and occasionally, arms, legs, feet, and head (you have to wind yarn somehow, right?), random pain is part of the business. 

A few years ago, I visited a fantastic spa, called Aequis in downtown Portland.  At the time, it was in kind of a crazy location, upstairs in a kind of odd building, across from the Paragon restaurant and bar.  It had kind of a back alley, what is the secret knock kind of feel... and it was awesome!  I remember it had these really cool showers, and was all dark and mysterious.  All in all, it was totally cool.  It was also really expensive and I had a gift certificate.  As the years passed, they changed locations a few times, and are now really close to their original location.

First and foremost, as I've stated before, I don't promote businesses that I don't feel do good things for the community and I don't support businesses that I don't like.  This particular spa, however, does charitible donations, works with community organizations, has a great social media presence, and rewards clients.  I won a massage on Twitter not too long ago, and thought... "Ahhhhhhhhhh!" All of the yuckiness that was going on in my back? I'll be able to get it taken care of!

I made my appointment with Brittany.  Cancelled my first appointment with Brittany (I was REALLY sick) and rescheduled with no issue... I think she felt bad for me - I sounded horrible.  When I went in, I filled out the standard treatment form - which was on a laminated sheet that you fill out with a overhead marker so there is no paper waste - and awaited my massage therapist.  Now, I could care less if it is a guy or a girl that I'm scheduled with, but they do offer a choice.  I was scheduled with Isaac, and it was super awesome.  They start with a welcome ritual of a foot salt scrub/massage, then move into the treatment room.  Never once did I feel uncomfortable, or off-put. 

My only downside to the new location that they are in, is that (according to some Yelp reviews) they cannot use aromatherapy anymore due to complaints by their neighbors.  This makes me sad, as one thing that I associate heavily with Ayurveda is the use of fragrance.  Personally, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to have an office smell good as opposed to having it smell like toner, but that's just me.

The environment is dark, quiet, and unobtrusive.  Furnishings are tasteful and in an indochinese styling, with lots of dark woods, stone, candles, and Buddha figures.  Music is quiet, yet conceals outside noises from the lobby area... including from my four year old, who came to pick me up when I was done.  I didn't even hear him from the treatment area.

All in all, the experience at Aequis is fabulous and I will be back... hopefully they can work out an arrangement with the neighbors!

Aequis offers:

- Body Treatments
- Couples and Wedding packages
- Private event packages
- Facial care
- Massage treatments
- and more

More information is available here, including information about holiday specials

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Death Sock... as in, this sock will be the death of me

I like doing test/sample knitting.  It is a break from the usual orders or Etsy items, and it gives me a chance to not only try a new pattern, but also a new yarn.  After the discussion this week regarding test knitters and payment, here's my two cents:  Working for actual payment is cool, working for trade (i.e. free yarn) is cool too; and sometimes, doing it out of the goodness of one;s heart for a pal is cool too.  I just think there needs to be a balance between the three.

In any event, a few months ago, I agreed to do some sample knits for Lorajean of Knitted Wit (you can read more about her and her schtuff in previous posts).  The first was the Virginia cowl with her Bulkan - gorgeous stuff.  Great color, great feel. I also signed up to do the 'Love Letters' sock, designed by Irish Girlie Knits.  Looked at the pattern and thought, "Cool.  A cuff that stops, a pattern down only part of the foot, Rad. I'll knock this out in no time."

Irish Girlie Knits 'Love Letters'
It is now three months later, and I just (finally) finished it.  I'm not sure exactly what happened during that first part of the sock.  The lace pattern isn't that difficult, the yarn is great, size 1dpns are fine... I don't get it!  In doing that first part of the cuff, I think I redid that first pattern repeat about SIX times.  Granted, yes, I was working on it at night, but I don't think it was any more challenging than Cookie A's 'Monkey' and I did that one practically in my sleep! 

Once I got past the cuff (which carried the lace pattern around the entire leg), the rest was a piece of cake.  I would certainly make this pattern again, with a few modifications.  I think I would do the whole sock like the foot is done, with just one needle carrying the pattern the whole way down, bump up the needle size to a 2 (personally easier for me to work with), and reduce the no. of cast on stitched to adjust for the needle bump.  I was really pleased with the end result.  I think the yarn and the pattern work really well together.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Five Gifts for Knitters

I know that the lovely Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (AKA the Yarn Harlot) has already done a gift guide, but this idea has been percolating in my brain for about a month, and well, I'm going to do my version.  Though, if you want to see hers, click here

While I agree with many of her ideas (especially the yarn swift... I find that a child or the back of a chair works in a pinch), I wanted to do something that was easy and things that wouldn't frighten a non-knitter.  Let's face it, going into a LYS can be intimidating! Especially a large one!  So this focuses on those little items that can be found at non-scary stores that anyone can go into.

Shea Set from L'Occitane
Number One:  Lotion
Sure, there are a bazillion types of lotions out there.  When working with cotton or wool, and especially around the holiday season, our hands get dry.  Really, uncomfortably, skin cracking dry.  I have found that the Shea Butter hand cream from L'Occitane, well, it rocks.  Very lightly scented, and it comes in several sizes and gift sets.  I prefer the "original scent" but there are several others as well.

Number Two: Books
A common complaint among knit designers is that everyone wants patterns for free.  While buying a book of knitting patterns can be tricky, as in "But, I don't know which ones they already have!"  Don't worry.  Really.  Hold on to the gift receipt.  They'll be more impressed that you actually bought a pattern book. 

Some really good ones that I like:
-Vintage Modern Knits
- Knit. Sock. Love.
- Modern Top Down Knitting
- Teeny Tiny Mochi Mochi

Number Three: Yarn
Knitted Wit's Bulkan in "Cedar"
If your gift recipient is a knitting newbie, then they would probably be happy with a chunk of yarn from a craft store.  If not, then, well, you're going to have to go a little bit bigger.  Now, you can venture into the world of the local yarn store... most of the help at any LYS is more than happy to help.  Especially if you have no idea what you are doing.  Names to keep in mind: A Verb for Keeping Warm, Malabrigo, and Madelinetosh.  These are great names and some really great yarns.  You will pay for them.  They are not cheap.  If you are okay with buying things online, well, then things get a bit more tricky.  Etsy is a great resource for indie dyers, and there are many... a few names to look for:  Dyeabolical Yarn, Knitted Wit, Yarn Pirate, some shops are bigger than others, and in the interest of full disclosure - I'm twitter pals with these shop owners, and I like to help promo indie dyers and makers whenever possible. 

If you are okay with shopping online and are looking for a lot of bang for your buck, head over to and pick out some of their favorite colors.  Don't necessarily worry about weight... knitters can find a pattern to go with just about anything.  :) 

Number Four: Soap
Eucalan's Grapefruit No-Rinse wash
Huh?  Soap?  How on earth does this relate?  Welp, most knitters tend to hand wash hand knits.  Makes sense, right?  When you spend hours upon hours working on a project, somehow, tossing it in the washing machine doesn't exactly work!  While you can in fact, use the machine for a variation on hand washing, you really shouldn't use regular detergent.  It can be damaging.  So, what to do?  I really like Eucalan.  (Although others I know prefer Soak)  Eucalan comes in several different scents, as well as unscented, and I am partial to the grapefruit.  It also have several different sized bottles, and one is the perfect stocking stuffer size.  You can get this at a LYS or also some little indie children's boutiques carry it as well. 

Number Five: Lantern Moon
Lantern Moon's Interchangeable Rosewood set
What the heck is a Lantern Moon?  They are a company that imports some pretty rad crafting items.  Everything from needle rolls in really cool fabrics, to baskets, to needles.  I know several knitters who have their interchangeable circular needle set on their Christmas lists.  You can find their products a good LYS, or head over to their site for more info.

I hope I've given some options that aren't too overwhelming and can fit into various budgets.  Gift cards to a craft store aren't a bad idea either... everyone always needs cotton for washcloths! :)  Another really easy idea is to get a gift certificate for a class at a local yarn shop, or find out when their "Knit night" is and make arrangements for your giftee to be able to go - line up a sitter, leave work early, etc... and snag a cool new bag for them to show off while they are there!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Putting a Bird on It?

I'm a little late to the Owl party, I'll admit.  That being said, they are still adorable, and so when I had a request from a client to make her daughters (6mo old twins!) little owl hats, I said sure and went in search of a pattern!  After playing around on Ravelry for a while, I found one that I liked and away I went!  I found some great yarn that was a merino, and a fantastic mix of pinks, greys, and a little bit of tangerine... also known as the 'girly without being pastel pink' yarn. 

The pattern can be found here, on the Daisy Cottage Designs blog.  :)

After finishing up on those, Xavier (my four year old) decided that he wanted one as well.  He has been living in the hat, wearing it every day since I finished it, and won't take it off.  His I did in the Bertagna Filati Essenza (which is discontinued, so when I find it, I tend to snag it.)  It is an 80/20 merino/alpaca blend and the colors are great. The grey trim around the edge I did in baby cashmerino, and the eyes are a little wonky. (We'll say I did that on purpose...) I would most certainly make these again - in fact I have green one up on Etsy right now!

I really enjoyed both this pattern, which, though I altered - this is a bulky weight yarn, was a great base to use as a resource.  I like crochet, it goes a crazy ton faster than knitting, and for hats for Xavier, it is perfect.  He tends to run on the warm side, so the "holes" in the crochet act as little air vents, keeping him warm, yet giving air flow to his head.  Win all around.