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Entries in christmas (6)


Handmade Holiday Recap: Of Owls and Cowls

If you are a regular reader of this site, you know that I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the inexplicable profusion of owls and cowls on handmade sites like Etsy. It's not that I am anti-owl nor anti-cowl. It's just that I eschew a certain hipster je ne sais quoi that seems to coalesce around these otherwise unrelated partners in rhyme.

And yet, as the handmade holiday got underway Chez Industrialiste this year, I found myself casting on for the first time in years and knitting up a cowl. And I must say, I rather liked how it turned out.

I didn't have a pattern—I just cast on a bunch of stitches and improvised. A little stockinette at the beginning for the soft rolled edge, and then a variation on seed stitch for a little visual interest. Freestyle knitting for the win!

And just as I was putting the finishing touches on my cowl, I received this in the mail:

And that, friends, is what's called paying attention. My friend Courtney is both a wizard in felt and a comedy genius. When I unwrapped this little goodie she sent I laughed until it hurt. He's been hanging on my back door, and I laugh every time I see him. I laugh doubly when my little boy notices him and shouts, "NO OWLS!"

And with inspiration like that, how could I not get into the making mood? Next stop: sewing machine. I'm not the world's greatest seamstress, but I have loads of small pieces of fabric (aka "strike-offs") from my textile design business. I also have loads of women in my family who are famously freezing all the time. So I sewed up a bunch of small warming pillows featuring an assortment of my fabrics—essentially, these are just a couple of rectangles of organic cotton sewn together and filled about 1/2 to 2/3 full with flax seed. A few seconds in the microwave, and voilà! Cozy warmth.

And still more knitting. And paper crafts. And sewing. A lot of things made it out of my grips without getting caught by my camera. And then there's the knitting I'm still working on (oops) (based on this pattern):

Finally, you may be wondering if I managed to turn my pirate snowman drawing into a stocking for my son. I avoided it for weeks for fear that I wouldn't be able to execute the idea that had taken root in my head. And then it was Christmas Eve. I pulled out the felt I had stockpiled from last year, and, miraculously, I had every color I needed. But other gifts had to be finished before going to my mom's house that night. And so later that night, we came home from my Mom's house fat, happy, and exhausted. After making, ahem, preparations for Santa's arrival, I collapsed. No stocking. Not one stitch.

I set the alarm for 4AM. It went off. I actually got up. And by 7:45 in the morning, I had built a snowman:


I think this was my favorite handmade holiday ever. Hope yours was great, too.

(And now I'm off to the post office...if you are my little sister and you are wondering where your #@&!* gifts are...the check, I mean, cowl, is in the mail...)


When it Snows in the (Sub)tropics

1989 was a watershed year in my life. And not just because I started high school, though that was pretty major. In September of 1989 Hurricane Hugo came to our little city and knocked it senseless. Trees and homes swept up in a windy fury and dropped just as senselessly into muddy piles. Windows broken and roofs blown off. Childhood memories submerged and soaked. A bridge ripped from its moorings. Most of the area was without power for weeks, and we could not return to school until mid-October. The clean-up was hard. It was phsyically hard. It was emotionally hard. Because even after debris was cleared, the wound was still raw—our landscape had changed overnight.

As Christmas approached, I think the people of Charleston were tired and a little sad and just ready to put 1989 behind us. Then a funny thing happened.

Late on December 23rd, the sky was cloudy and the temperature had plummeted. Our already scarred surroundings had an especially bleak pallor. And then. A couple of wet flakes. And then more. And more. Into the night the snow came down. And when we woke on Christmas Eve, the city's cuts and scrapes had been coated in a fluffy white blanket of snow and hope. Six-to-eight inches came down in one night here—a place that goes years without seeing the first flake. Nature had shown us her bitter extremes in September, and in December she showed us her gentlest embrace. Once again, our landscape had changed overnight.

For the only time in my life (before or since), there was enough snow for snow men and snowball fights. Living in flatlands below sea-level, there was no sledding to be done, but that was fine. My sister and I didn't have proper clothes for playing in the snow, and so our mother put our feet in plastic bags inside our tennis shoes and bundled us in all the layers she could find. We still lasted only a few minutes at a time, but it was the happiest we'd been in months. A Christmas miracle, as they say.


2009 has been hard for a lot of people—and not just on the money and jobs front, though that's been about as bad as I can remember. From fires to floods to flu, I think a lot of people will be happy to say goodbye to this year. And while it may not snow in Charleston in 2009, my hope for us all during the holidays is that we each get a glimpse at that same kind of miracle as we usher in a new year and a new decade.


What Are We Doing Here*

© 2009 David Mandel // Ampersand IndustriesI don't usually post pictures of myself. But I think this one captures how I was feeling last week—hopeful and overwhelmed and trying to figure out how I could possibly get it all done. For me (and so many others), this time of year is one of great excitement...and great peril. It's all too easy for me to get sucked into the excitement of projects and decorating and gift-making and—SCREECH—suddenly the joy and good will is replaced with excess and irritability. In our house, this is compounded by the fact that we observe both Hanukkah and Christmas. When, as this year, Hanukkah comes relatively early, the whole month of December can easily become consumed with doing and making and...whew.

I am trying to take it easy. Well, easier. Trying. And it has been more fun this year because my son is old enough to really start absorbing the meaning of these traditions and to get in on the act of making the food and finery that are the hallmarks of the season. And with all that's been going on, we didn't get around to picking out a tree till yesterday. Downsides: there were about 10 trees left, and we just picked up the first Charlie Brown we saw. Upsides: The tree cost $13, and we spent at most 5 minutes out in the bitter cold. I've still gone a little overboard, but my sanity and sense of humor have remained largely in tact, so I'm calling this a victory. 

Without further ado, this is what the blur—I mean last two weeks—has looked like:

Latkes. Photo © 2009 David Mandel // Ampersand Industries Menorah. Photo © 2009 David Mandel // Ampersand IndustriesAs has become our tradition, on the first night of Hanukkah, we indulged in what I have dubbed (sacriligiously, yes) Latkepalooza. In years past I have made full meals to complement the latkes. But this year I got wise. Latkes. Arugula dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. That is all. And you know what? It was awesome. A tradition is re-born. Also? On the first night of Hannukah, I realized that I had no idea where the menorah was about 20 minutes before sundown. So I made a makeshift one using some pretty bud vases (okay, they're really shot glasses, but we don't exactly throw the kind of parties where fancy shot glasses get put to their best use) filled with rock salt. The candles nestled snugly in the salt, which sparkled nicely in the candlelight. Sweet.

Each year for the last 20 or so I have made ornaments—sometimes from silver wire, other times from beads, or paper, or clay. And most of them are given away by the end of the holidays. 

Snowflake © 2009 Cameron Blazer // Cottage IndustrialistBut I saved this one a few years ago. It's one of my favorites, and it always gets a special place on the tree. If you like it, It's dead easy to make, too. Just string clear seed beads and teardrop beads in a fringe pattern on fine beading wire (ex: four seed beads, one teardrop bead, seven seed beads, back through the teardrop bead and two of the seed beads, and so on) until you've created 8 points. Then draw them into a circle, wrap the joint, and create a loop. Voilà!

Menagerie in Progress. Photo © 2009 David MandelThis year, my son and I made salt dough ornaments, inspired by these beauties. We used snowflake and animal cracker cookie cutters. Ours were by no means as lovely as their inspiration, but what they lacked in perfection we have since more than made up for in glitter. Here is what I have learned: crafting with kids can be tough on a type-A mom. While we obsess over color schemes and table scapes, our children just want to smoosh some clay and have a good time. But in glitter there is redemption and satisfaction for all. While my son enjoyed the sparkle and mess, by choosing glitter wisely, we have new ornaments that coordinate with our holiday décor. Shallow? Maybe, but we both had a good time, he's very proud of his glittery lions and elephants and giraffes, and they actually look quite cool.

Snowflake Chandelier. Photo © 2009 David Mandel // Ampersand Industries
As I have written previously, our dining room chandelier—this is an insult to the term chandelier, but you get the idea—was hung about a foot-and-a-half too high. And rather than rectifying this with what would probably be a $100 visit from an electrician, I choose instead to festoon it each year with ornaments that serve to bring it down a bit into better proportion with the room. The other 11 months of the year it just looks as though it's taking all precautions in case of flood.

The snowflakes are just chipboard cutouts that have been liberally doused in glitter. And I painted the bottoms of the silver balls with craft glue and sprinkled them with the same aquamarine glitter. Synergy!

(An aside: the reason for all of this color scheming—other than that I am an anal-retentive nutjob—is that our Christmas tree—and most of our other Christmas decorations—lives in our dining room. With the dining room rug. Which is one of my favorite things in our house, but which is also a mix of rusty orange, aquamarine, and moss green—not exactly a good combo with the traditional holiday red and green. But silver and gold and aquamarine still catch the wintry glow of the season quite nicely, I think.)

The other project that has consumed the better part of two weekends was preparing the gift baskets we made for my son's teachers. My son is only three, but he goes to a full day Montessori. It is really hard to send your baby off at 8:30 in the morning and pick him up again after 5. But it is a lot easier when you have wonderful teachers like the pair he lucked into this year. Last year this time, he was at a different school. And while nothing was wrong, it just wasn't right. We didn't realize just how out of whack things had gotten until we settled into his new school this summer, and we got our happy, well-adjusted child back. So, needless to say, we are very thankful for his teachers who have done so much to make that possible. We wanted to give a gift that would match their sweetness. Thus the candy making. And making. And making. And making. Here's what we ended up with:

Basket of Sweets © 2009 Cameron Blazer // Cottage IndustrialistWe made hot chocolate mix (which is really just finely hand-ground chocolate with a bit of vanilla), a box of candies (peppermint bark, spiced pecan brittle, chocolate truffles, and chocolate caramels), caramel popcorn, and, most importantly, marshmallows. My son's teachers often call him Marsh-mellow, so those were a must. A simple white basket and some coordinating tags, and that was that. I hope his teachers take a well-deserved break with their feet up, a steaming cup of hot chocolate warming their hands, and bonbons all around.

But you know, I don't believe in sharing only the successes. In every crafty project, there is a craftastrophe waiting to strike. With candymaking, especially, I was mostly afraid of burning myself. But in all, the only real misstep was that the chocolate caramels were a bit gooey-er than I'd planned (I stopped the cooking at about 245° rather than the suggested 255° because I didn't want them to crack people's teeth) so they had to be wrapped in paper and foil to keep their shape. We had a bunch of them leftover after the baskets were packed, so I experimented. I don't think you can fix a caramel that you overcook, but it turns out you absolutely can fix a caramel you undercook. I dumped them all in a pan, heated them to 255°, and now they're perfect! Craftastrophe averted!

There are still last-minute items on my list:

1. I need to replace last year's Christmas stocking. Speaking of failures, it was, um, pathetic. Stitched of leftover polar fleece at 2:30 in the morning on Christmas Eve, it looked terrible and performed its duties even less impressively. This year I have some beautiful wool felt. I think I'm going to do a reverse applique. But we'll see.

2. Fabric gift bags. I don't give a ton of presents. But for the ones I do give, I take the wrapping seriously. (You're shocked, I know.) This year, I am experimenting with several fabric wrapping techniques. One exists only in my head, but if it pans out, I'll be sure to share a tutorial soon.

3. Pajama pants. I've already made on pair for my son out of my winter animals fabric. But I'm planning more. Because there's little cuter on earth than my boy in jammies with rumply hair. Since he's off from school for two weeks (pity I don't get that same break!) I figure he'll have several mornings that stretch into afternoons in PJs.

4. It's a secret!

5. I am still at work on my 2010 printable calendar. I love it, but it is taking FOREVER. I'm thinking of releasing it in 3-month increments to take some of the pressure off to finish by Christmas—what do you think? (If you look over here, I'll give you a sneak peek!)

6. It's a secret!

What's left on your making and doing list? Got any triumphs or superfails to share? Any crafty New Year's resolutions? Do tell (and link to your blog posts) in the comments!

*This title is courtesy of, and with apologies to, the late Bruce Chatwin. Have you read his books? If you haven't, I suggest first reading his obituary (no, really!) by Salman Rushdie (collected in this anthology). If you can resist reading his books after that, they were not, I think, meant for you.


Free 2009 Printable Calendar

2009 is over! But I have a new monthy-by-month, free printable calendar available here--check it out!

So, if you are like me, a couple of things are true for you today. 1) You are committed to giving handmade this year; and 2) you are in a panic because 3) you just realized you forgot about your sister-in-law or your third cousin; and 4) the person you forgot will be at your house within the next few hours.


What to do?! What to do!?

How about a lovely calendar? 2009 is almost here, after all. And though your local Big Box Bookseller™ will probably have loads of very nice ones to choose from, there's still time to make your own.

So here's my gift to you, Internet: A downloadable, totally free PDF calendar for 2009!

Each page features a wee illustration by moi and is 95% likely to have the correct dates on every page--what a bargain, no?

And, hey, even if you are morally and practically superior to me, and you have been finished preparing for the holidays since October, perhaps you've been neglecting yourself. Maybe YOU need a snazzy new calendar for your wall.

Putting this little guy together is a snap:

  1. Print the calendar on nice heavy-weight cardstock.
  2. Cut down the center of the calendar (at 4.25" to be exact).
  3. Fasten the pages together with a tiny binder clip or punch two wee holes at the top and "sew" the pages together with festive yarn or floss.

That's it!


If you print the calendar as a gift or keep it for yourself, I'd love to know--just drop by the comments to this post, and tell me what's what. While you're at it, you could make me feel better by telling me your worst last-minute crafter-disaster!

Update: If you like the calendar, you might like some of my other printables, too!


Merry Fishmas

We are slowly, veeeerrrry slowly, decorating around the house for Christmas. I have seen shiny ornaments dangled from chandeliers to far greater effect than is on evidence here, but my "chandelier" is an ugly piece of junk that my spec-house builder spent $69 on at Lowe's, so, you know, domino this ain't. (Note how I have deftly edited around the chandelier for this pick in a bid to deny its ugly existence.) Still, I'm pretty happy with the way this turned out. It also helps to make my (still deftly unpictured) chandelier not seem so freakishly far above the table. The cheapo fixture came with only enough chain to hang it at a proper length in a house with 8' ceilings. Our downstairs has 9' ceilings, so it's like the clamdigger of chandeliers. Lovely.