November 17, 2012

Hand-Made Gift Ideas: Bookmarks and Wine Charms

Because Christmas songs have been playing in the stores and on the radio since last Christmas, so why wait until now to get in the mood? And although Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (or New Years??) songs aren't popular in stores around here, the season can be creeping up to you right before your eyes! I, for one, prefer to make the majority of my gifts [in the summer when I actually have time], and many have been wrapped and shoved in my closet long before my summer APUSH homework was done. Since many of you now might be frantically compiling (or consciously avoiding to write) your lists of stuff to buy your friends/families/bosses/self when you hit the mall at 4am this Friday, I thought I could provide some other craft ideas that requires more time than $$$. And on this special shopping day of the year, you could even just sleep in!!

Because I'm sure most people aren't willing to spend time knitting sweaters for each one of their besties (trust me, I'm not either), all of these project ideas took me less than two hours for me to make. The longer projects can also be done while multitasking: spending time with family, watching movies or TV, or in the car (please not while you're behind the wheel). So hit your local craft store, and get to it!

Most people enjoy reading, and most people prefer not to dog-ear the page they stopped at. I've never met anyone who complained of having too many bookmarks, and they really don't take that long.

Time: 10-15 minutes max for each bookmark.

What you'll need: paper (card stock, scrapbook paper, or construction paper), hole-punch, ribbon, clear nail polish, scissors, and decorating tools: markers, colored pencils, stencils, sharpies, glitter, sharpies, blo-pens, stamps, calligraphy supplies, glitter glue, stickers, dried leaves or flowers, and adhesive wax paper in some cases.

How-To: Simply cut pieces of paper no more than 8"x3" and no less than 4"x1" and decorate them however you wish. After, cut a hole about 0.5" from the top in the center and put a ribbon through using a Girth Hitch or Strap Hitch knot (for a how-to, go to If it is curling ribbon, then curl it using a scissors, if it is satin or some other kind of fabric ribbon, go over the edges with clear nail polish to prevent future fraying. 
Techniques Used: Blow-Art pens, Glitter Glue, Stamps,
 Curling Ribbon, Flower Stencil
A batch of bookmarks with different designs
and colors with the same techniques.
Wine Charms
For family and friends who enjoy hosting wine-tasting parties or can never remember which wine glass is theirs, this gift is a great one. Wine charms can be rediculously expensive at places like BevMo, and it costs almost nothing to make them. Wine charms usually come in sets of 4-8, so you could give a loved one one set of four one year and another set of four the next year to complete a set. 

Time: 5-10 minutes for each wine charm.

What You'll Need: 1" metal rings (not sure of their technical name but purchasable at any craft store like Michaels or Jo-Ann), assorted beads, pliers

How-To: Simply straighten the ring with the pliers so you can string some beads on. String some beads on (symmetry or just one bead is good). Then with the pliers, bend the edge of the metal ring up so that it can securely close into the loop. If it is your first time, try it around a (plastic/unbreakable) wine glass to see if it looks good. 

Happy Crafting! 

October 10, 2012

A Course in Life Enrichment: Yarn

My yarn collection is hidden in my room. But it’s not in a secret place, or even in my closet. Just like an Easter basket hidden for a five year old, my yarn’s not hiding at all. You just dove in too fast.

Ever since you swung open the door and didn’t bother to close it, you won’t be finding it anytime soon. So do me a favor and slow down. Because you’re with me, we aren’t on a schedule. Chase the imaginary dog within yourself. Take some time to scrutinize everything instead of visually stuffing every sight into your memory like a starving man at a feast with five minutes to eat.

So stop it. Your restless eyes are scanning the craft projects and sewing machine on my craft table with one eye, and the sights of my messy slept-in bed under my hand-made quilt with the other. It’s impossible for you to see everything when in the same nanosecond, you’re also surveying the books in my bookshelf that I haven’t even read in the last five years. So please, just turn around. Your eyes are dancing too fast. Close the door, and find a plethora of unfinished dreams available for you to see and experience: life lessons and stories in the form of yarn. 

You might want to call it string, but don’t even consider it. The colorful stuff that resides in my stacked drawers was not snatched and purchased at a hardware store. Peruse the details of the yarn with patience and care, for you must get to know it if you two will ever share common ground.

The sun shines a natural spotlight on you as you pick up your first skein of yarn to examine. The light highlights the yarn’s coiled texture of several distinct fibers combined as one. Each separate fiber contributes to the yarn’s distinctive personality, exactly how the exclusive genetic makeup of every individual contributes to his guaranteed uniqueness.

Some yarns are bulky, some are thin. Some are multicolored and cheerful, some look old, frumpy, and untouched contents of the bottom of a grandmother’s yarn basket. Some came from the bottom of my grandmother’s yarn basket. Some are fancy, recycled, soft and fuzzy, others are ugly, rough, fragile, tangled, and reek of mothballs. Some were purchased with a specific product in mind; others were acquired so they wouldn’t be thrown out. But still, others were gifts: dreams of friends donated for me to translate them. Others will be gifts: July is the beginning of the Christmas season. I have the job of “Dreamweaver.”

Each skein, each ball, each hank, each spool, they all have stories. Some yarn came with their own stories already inscribed, but with others, I helped to contribute and define their characters. One instance was my purple skein of fuzziness, where I purred inside each time I stroked it. I felt sensations of purpose, happiness, and sheer content each time I thought of something new I could add to my two page list of what I could make with it. Bizarre ideas like curtains, beanbag chairs, and pants.

Some yarn will act as your third parent when you are forced to learn life lessons while interacting with this wooly friend. For example, the third skein of yarn I ever bought, eight years ago, taught me patience and persistence. Upon arriving home from my LYS (Local Yarn Shop), an impatient and eager third grade version of myself hastily attempted to turn the skein into a ball much too desperately. Without the needed patience, the originally innocent skein brought me into a sweated tizzy as it became more and more tangled with each additional pull. It stubbornly remained a tangled mess for the greater part of five years until I had given it the patience required to completely restore it back to normal.

Yet some of the yarn came with its story already written before I came in the picture. For example, consider my newest addition to my yarn family the last time I got to go on a SEX (Stash Enrichment Expedition; don’t be so naughty!). I purchased some hand-compiled recycled silk from Nepal, bursting with so much flavor and character that it broke repeatedly in my hands as I attempted to transform it from hank to ball.

Each project you embark on should be treated as an adventure. You never know what you’ll run into when only acting as the translator. Some projects take longer than originally guestimated. A scarf was going to be a scarf, but really wasn’t long enough so it was later sewn into a bag and felted. A blanket was going to be completed, but it never happened. Multiply this attempt by four other incomplete blankets in my UFO (Unfinished Object) box. Not to mention the pieces whose only home is in my “Thingymajiggers & Whachamacallits” box in my closet and have no use whatsoever.

Other endeavors simply don’t work out as expected or are too stubborn to submit, desperately wanting nothing to do with my controlling knitting needles. Dropped stitches, broken tails, and miscounted stitch totals are signs that neither the yarn nor I is enjoying the experience. When the muttered cursing is more abundant than the knitting, abandon the project and find another that matches your style better. There is a reason why only three pairs of mittens, all of them barely worn, have been whipped up in eight whole years of knitting. All hole-y and filled up with the frustration I had in making them consumed and turned them sour. The only I time I wore them, I was full of hot chocolate, energy from ice skating, love, and warmth. That night, I breathed into them with negative flashbacks in my head about my lifelong struggle with cabbage. Cabbage. The images I had in my head even smelled bad.

But when you are successful and find yarn with a fuzzy, soft, and sweet aura about it, you can make the same things out of it over and over again. For two years, my knitting focused on hats. Here come more than 120 hats of the baby variety. The NICU at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital thanks me. But I thank the baby yarn I used, for it helped me find what I loved. Their role in my life became important to me, and I wanted other people to help and continue my practices. I started a club at a senior home for bored grandmothers to bring out their needles again and feel useful in the community by knitting hats.

The yarn will drive you one direction and will eventually rear up and steer you into unexplored territory to begin a new chapter of repertoire. It is thus that I can let my own knitting history be unintentionally organized into the eras of: coasters, flowers, cat toys, hats, scarves, blanket attempts, cables, spool knitting, pillows, intarsia, and a sweater that will have to be ripped out if it is ever going to fit me.

My actions are always the same: knit one, purl two, yarn over, cable three. The yarn, however, can stimulate a different response regardless of what I am doing. Different yarns act as psychics with unique powers that trigger different reactions when I knit publicly. 

Some yarn hogs all the attention at school, either in its raw form, as the article of clothing that I failed to make a fashion statement, or as the half-completed concoction, just a work-in-progress. Comments like “I would buy that,” “You did all this today?” and “Where did you buy that?” change my expectations of a piece’s popularity, where I then expect a plethora of positive reactions in its next public appearance. These reactions create a perfect equation for being disappointed the next time I take the piece “out”.

And contrastingly, some yarns are antisocial and are still awaiting their transformations from tacky grossness to an attractive sweater, meanwhile stimulating comments that question my grandmother-wannabe-ness. “Oh hey! I know what knitting is. My grandmother knits all the time in her rocking chair when we visit. Why would you ever spend all your free time doing something so unproductive?” people say. I hate to break it to you, but when I’ve knit myself a hat to keep me warm on a chilly Palo Alto evening in the time that you beat all the levels in your oh-so-cool video game, who’s the productive one now? Sometimes the most glamorous results come from the least glamorous of processes. Deal with it.

When your yarn tangles, breaks, or ends unexpectedly, you can learn how to live life on the edge and react well to unpredictable occurrences. A normal person living life in the fast lane wouldn’t bother to make even a dismal acquaintance with yarn and would refer to with a condescending term like “string.” A word of wisdom: next time you go to fly a kite, please don’t use my hand-made recycled silk from Nepal as string. Not only will you deeply offend its utility and beauty, but its delicateness will cause the yarn to break and carry your kite far, far away. So next time, please go to the hardware store and buy some twine to fulfill the task. No knot-ty person could ever fix a disaster this hopeless with any procedure less complex. You should have turned my Nepali yarn into a washcloth, anyway.

So take some time to get to know the yarn, learn its story, and start to slow down. Listen to the morning alarm clock from the birds, take deep breaths, and sense the warmth your own sweater is providing for your heat-hungry skin. Become more aware of the little details in life that make every day worth living. A knitter undoubtedly produced that sweater you’re wearing, a successful dream woven in yarn. The diverse presence that yarn has to serve in our daily lives is an existence of which many are clueless. So join me, as we finally start to uncover this ancient fuzziness together, slowly but in earnest, one knot at a time.

Because I'm sure y'all are dyeing all that yarn to know where this came from (no I did not just write all this), this was my first creative writing piece of the semester. This would be draft #5. If you like it, that's great, and if you didn't, start a blog about why. If you're that opinionated I'm sure you have something to say. 
And most importantly, happy almost-end-of-the-first-quarter! If you got this far without cheating and skipping everything but the first ten words, I commend you. You have great endurance. 

See ya next time!

September 26, 2012

The "I Can Knit!" Phase and Other "I Can Do These!" Moments

Remember when you just learned to read and would just read things because you could? You'd be so proud that you could read that you'd read Go Dog, Go, The Cat in the Hat, and Mat on the Rug just because you could. Who really cares whether "you like my hat?" What you cared about was the fact that you could finally do something you thought was cool.

I'll have to admit that I was never enthusiastic during my "I Can Read" phase. Reading was torture until midway through second grade, and after that all I would read was 5th grade level and up biographies and historical fiction. But that's another story, and not a very interesting one, anyway. 

Just like you might have recently gone through the "I Can Drive" phase (unless you're like me and haven't finished driver's ed yet), the "I Can Do This" model can be implemented with almost anything! 

Although I didn't have an "I Can Read" phase, I did have an "I Can Write in Cursive" phase. During a few weeks of third grade I would practice my cursive letters pages at a time at my own will. I started to develop an interest in calligraphy then, and it hasn't gone away yet. (No, I am not a professional. Yes, you should probably be able to read my handwriting.) This was also why I started a journal then (after rereading it a few years ago, I have started to wonder where my priorities in life are), because I figured that if I loved the act of writing so much, maybe I should actually make myself productive whilst doing it. 

Now don't look at me strangely when I say that I hand-write everything before I type it. Note: I started a draft for this post, but I lost it so this is an exception. Whoops. :P

At around the same time the "I Can Write in Cursive" phase ended (there was some overlap), a new phase began that lasted the greater part of two years: the "I Can Knit!" phase. 

Starting in December 2004, I was very happy knitting for the sake of knitting. There wasn't anything I wanted to make in particular, I just wanted to knit. This of course was mainly because I thrived on the attention I got when I knitted in public. Knitting was an uncommon sight to see. I liked being an uncommon sight to see. I loved the attention as a person doing an uncommon sight. 

"Ooooh, it's so cool you're knitting," someone would say. Of course the next thing they'd ask would be "What are you making?"

The reply every time was "I don't know yet," to which they'd roll their eyes as they looked condescendingly to this little child who was so proud she could knit and isn't she cute and well she'll grow up someday and shoot, I have to go. You're welcome. 

So, as my "Whachamacallit & Thingymajiggers" box became fuller and fuller during those years, I considered my time productive. Over the years, I've thrown away some of the unmemorable stuff that takes up too much space in my closet and too little in my brain. What currently remains that was deemed worthy on "Photo/Going-Through-all-the-Junk-in-that-Box Day" can be found below. 
Notice the green cursive letter L in the middle. Also, the three different yarns used are the first three balls of yarn I ever bought (see previous post). This project took a few months, with size 7 needles, and a rate of production similar to that of my progress in SAT prep. 

This thingymajigger was crocheted. During class. In 5th grade. I had a brief "I Can Crochet" phase, but my crocheting abilities haven't improved since than and I am still a beginner that only knows chain stitch and first crochet (or is it second crochet?). If you're not impressed, don't worry. I'm not either.

Happy beginner knitting with Red Heart yarn!

September 7, 2012

First Knits

When a non-knitter thinks of knitting, according to my informal research over the last eight years, "Grandma," "ancient," and "rocking chair" are the most common associated terms. Let me clarify that the person that taught me to knit was not my grandmother, nor was she ancient, and we didn't sit in rocking chairs when I learned. In fact, at the time she was a high school student, and unless I'm missing something, being sixteen isn't ancient. And we sat on a couch because at her house, there were no rocking chairs to be found (on the second floor).

Think about where knitting has crossed paths with your life. The cartoons? Your grandmother? Your mother? TV? Pickles Comics? All these images from the media do not portray knitting accurately. Most knitters do not hold their sticks downwards, and none just rub their needles together to create a bunch of fabric coming down in no time. And another thing, time is critical. 

It's time for a pop-quiz!

How long do you think it takes to knit a simple scarf 4 feet long and 8 inches wide, with acrylic yarn and size 10 needles?

a) 30 minutes

b)1 hour
c) 2 hours
d)4 hours

If you guessed a, b, or c, the media is ruining your life. You're wrong. If you guessed d, that's probably how long it would take me, and I've been knitting for eight years. I've also become a lot faster over the years, because like anything, practice certainly makes a difference. 

Knitting requires oodles of patience. And practice. And yarn. That's why I have about 150 balls of it and it still feels like nothing. And SEX (Stash Enrichment Expeditions) are still one of my favorite things to do, especially when I'm not paying for it (which is never...)

One of the great things about a hobby like knitting is that it although it is a little expensive, it feels very productive and especially rewarding when you manage to complete a project. They make great gifts (until you run out of creative things to give to the same person) and keep you warm when you're making it, especially if it's a half-done blanket. If you choose to make something for yourself, and you happen to mention this fact after someone asks where you bought the scarf you're wearing and finished earlier that morning before school, it's the greatest feeling. And if you just assume that the gifts you made for other people get the same comments when they're wearing them (assuming your friends do end up wearing it), it's an even better feeling when you feel that your handiwork is making its way around the city (or state, country, or world, if you have a large friend network). Knitting is more productive than playing video games. I could write an entire entry about that. Or browsing Facebook. Or watching TV, sitting in the car, or doing homework. I'm not trying to discourage you from traveling in automotive horseless carriages (yet), but I always feel more productive knitting a hat while in the car AND getting community service hours all at the same time. That way instead of being bored on a road trip to LA, I just earn seven hours of community service. 

So now that I've told you why knitting is so awesome, maybe you were wondering why I started. Because I didn't learn all this stuff until a few years into it, so none of the aforementioned reasons were motivations of mine. 

To be honest, the blame is entirely upon the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you were a lucky third grader, you may have been forced to read one or more of these books. You probably didn't enjoy them, but I did. My reaction was nothing short of wanting to live their life because it was so cool. They knit all their warmth, sewed all their own clothes, baked all their own bread, and grew all their own food. Self-sustenance ftw. It's still a goal of mine. Kind of. 

So since my parents wouldn't even consider moving to South Dakota (and in retrospect I don't blame them one little bit) and building a log cabin and working on a small family farm that are very rare in existence in this day and age, knitting would have to do to mimic their lifestyle. And quilting, sewing, embroidery, and hanging the clothes out to dry in the backyard. Since I already "knew" how to do those other things, learning how to knit was first on the checklist. 

Our family was having dinner with some family friends. The other family has three daughters at least eight years wiser than I am. They had abilities far superior than mine [are], and one of their many talents was being able to figure out how to make me think that they loved "playing" with me. After dinner, we all went up to the playroom/study room/library/ I don't know what the room was classified as, but it was definitely a room. The middle daughter was showing me her knitting basket, and I asked her if she'd knit something for me. She did. It was a yellow rectangle about three inches by one inch that said "LIZ" on it via different stitching. Unfortunately, I don't have it anymore. I already spent some time yesterday looking for it. I wasn't that impressed, but it didn't matter. I simply flat out told her that "I'd like to learn how to knit." And ten minutes later, I had some knitting needles and yarn and was what I considered myself to be a pro. I could cast on, knit the garter stitch, and cast off. In my world that lasted twelve months, that's all there was to knitting. After half an hour or so, I had to go home. I couldn't take her knitting needles home with me so I cast off, carried my little knit work home and was determined to knit some more tomorrow.

There was just one problem: I didn't have any knitting needles! Whatever, I thought. Where there's a will, there's a way. I found two #2 pencils that were exactly the same length when perfectly sharpened, and started knitting my second piece ever (see picture below). When my mom found out, she cracked up when she saw graphite on every inch of yarn that I'd used. I was convinced that my entire knitting career was going to be rock solid with pencils, but my mother was skeptical. She took me to the yarn store where I bought a pair of size 7 knitting needles, and three skeins of Red Heart 100% acrylic yarn, the ultimate beginners package. And since that moment, I never really stopped. 

My oldest knitted work that I still have ever. The pink, purple, white, and first half of the green were knit with pencils. The top blue multicolor yarn was one of the three skeins I bought in my first knitting shopping spree.

Thanks for reading this! Let me know what you think or what you'd like me to include in later posts by commenting below. If you don't want to miss a post, feel free to subscribe; if pressing a button sounds like too much work to you right now, I'll try to make a new post every Friday, so just check back here next week. 

Happy crafting!

P.S. If you have some yarn lying around your house and want to start knitting and have no knitting needles, don't use pencils. The household remedy I'd recommend would be chopsticks.

September 3, 2012

The Beginnings

We start at the very beginning, which as I'm sure, is a very good place to start. But instead of ABC, 123, or Do Re Mi, it was knit, knit, purl, and over, under, tighten, and knot, knot, knot... because that's how I roll. The exact moment my crafty life began is rather uncertain, but what is certain is that it started at least twelve years ago. And it wasn't knitting, lanyards, or jewelry, but... paper. 

Paper cakes. Paper chains. And plastic-in-paper, also known as Light Brite creations. The paper cakes were surely a favorite. With childhood excitement comes the desire that time would move faster, but then slow down by tenfold on the special day. I'm talking about my birthday, and more specifically, my birthday party. And even more specific in that would be a birthday cake. And that sets the premises for my paper cake obsession. I would plan and sketch and design and present and dream about what my birthday cake would look like, complete with my full palette of eight Crayola washable markers and twenty-four Crayola crayons. Nobody had to rain on my parade to tell me I was (and still am) an atrocious drawer, but what everybody didn't see was the imagination that didn't find its way onto paper. The creative wheels were still turning that would later be released in other forms of which I had more aptitude, forms that I still pursue and find joy in to this day. 

My grandmother was quite the sewer, and the dresses and blankets and quilts and even curtains she made for me and I saw her make definitely inspired me to do something similar. I noticed all the attention I got when I wore these special outfits, especially when I told the onlooker that my grandmother made them for me, and special feeling I got inside during moments like these made me want to sing and dance with joy. And I did; all the time (more on that some other time). I figured out that making dresses like this wasn't the normal thing to do, and due to this, it was a special and cool thing that got one lots of attention. Obviously, I knew this was the thing for me. 

But one who's only five doesn't decide they are going to sew themselves a dress by themselves without any baby steps first. My mother enrolled me in a doll-clothes-making class when I was in kindergarten, where I made lumps of fabric that eventually found homes in the waste basket. I still loved it. 

My grandmother took me under her wing and taught me how to use a needle and thread to sew two pieces of fabric together. Whether I achieved this goal or not is not the moral of the story. What matters is that I loved every minute of it. And since then, I always have. 

I've found homes and comfort in other mediums besides sewing, which I don't even call my dominant crafting form nowadays. Regardless, I would still consider it the first medium which converted me into the art of crafting. And as far as I know, the aftermath of the conversion has been vastly successful up to this day.

Happy Crafting,