It’s a homemade Christmas, Part I

This year my family decided to exchange gifts that are either homemade or inexpensive (less than $5). I love this idea, but the execution leaves something to be desired.

The Tree. To get in the spirit of DIY Christmas, R and I decided to decorate our house with things we found in the forest. We drove up to Sunset Hill and trampled through the woods foraging for felled branches and pine cones. We felt right smart (as my grandmother would say) for getting our “tree” for little effort and no cost. After toting the branches inside I carefully arranged them on the mantle and moved on to making a door ornament to compete with my neighbor’s. I was feeling pretty smug about my homemade ornamentation until I noticed it was crawling with insects. It was practically moving. I raced over to the mantle and discovered that all the branches were festooned with buggery. I disassembled my piece de resistance on the porch, shaking it out while trying to keep the cat from eating all the droppings. In the end, my door ornament was too flimsy to hang outside, but it looks pretty nice in the entry window. The mantle looks fabulous with the branches and a few of my favorite ornaments.

The Cards. Last year my handmade Christmas cards were fantastic. I took a page out of Martha’s book and used embroidery floss to make Christmas trees. They got rave reviews, and were simple to make. This year I thought I’d go big. The problem is that I lack the crafting supplies to go big, so I asked my crafty neighbor if I could borrow some of her gear. She invited me over to take a look and what I found was a veritable workshop with all her amazing homemade gifts on display. I was inspired by her creations and they seemed simple enough. I bought some stamp ink and 20 blank note cards and set to work. Out of bravado, laziness, or excitement I decided to move full steam ahead without really planning out my theme. I just kind of stamped some images at random and added glue and glitter. Five cards in, I’m sorry to report that my 6 year old nephew could have put together something much more inventive and aesthetically pleasing. I’m going to read Martha’s page on card-making and get back to you on this one.

Card making attempt #1

The Gifts. While I was screwing up the cards, R wrapped up her 2nd annual batch of homemade mustard. The first annual mustard canning event was something of a debacle. R decided to make the mustards on the night before our flight home. She not only lacked canning experience, but also the cans. She drove to at least five stores before finding one with the jars and the lids. Then she read the directions and realized one has to sterilize the jars beforehand and boil them to death afterwards. We stayed up really late boiling jars, and re-boiling them because the seals didn’t pop right away and we thought they should. Lesson learned! She started the mustard making on Sunday, and canned them last night. She spent most of the evening boiling jars, perfecting her mustard and making a big mess in the kitchen.  After we’d invested several hours in canning and card making, I was pretty psyched to reward myself with an episode of Breaking Bad. I ran upstairs to grab a sweatshirt, and when I came downstairs to settle into the couch I found R standing helplessly with mustard splatter all over her arms and legs. She ran out of canning jars, and in a desperate attempt to avoid wasting any mustard she decided to “can” the leftover supply in some old jars we’ve been using for various and sundry things. The jars exploded upon retrieval from the boiling water bath and splattered hot mustard all over her, the stove, the kitchen cabinets and the floor.

I understand why people buy cards and give money.

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Asher’s Mobile

I have never been a crafty person in spite of my best efforts. However, mom’s visit in April prompted a trip to The Fiber Gallery where we bought wool roving and a beginner’s needle felting kit. For about $20 I’ve had nearly three months of therapeutic entertainment. The first thing I needle felted (is that a verb?) was an owl, and let’s just say that I was the only person who could tell that it was an owl. I realized that I started kind of big, so I tried to scale things down a notch by making a simple bird sitting on a bifurcated branch–that went pretty well but took a really long time.  I regressed some more and started working to master basic shapes. I watched a few videos on making felt balls, and used this blog post  to teach myself new techniques. [Note: I did not have great luck using the panty hose technique, and much prefer to hand roll the balls. It takes about 10-15 minutes per ball, but you have greater control over the final shape.]  I found that I really enjoyed making the balls and decorating them. I became mildly obsessed. Then, whilst making my Kentucky Derby fascinator (which involved an embroidery hoop, some Russian netting, and a ribbon studded with pom poms) I was inspired to make a mobile for my friend’s son, Asher.

First I made 15 felt balls in three different sizes. I used black, white, teal, orange, and dark purple wools for the background colors and then used contrasting colored wool to decorate the balls with designs that would catch Asher’s eye. I used mostly geometric shapes, though I did add in the requisite bird (a must have for any trend setting baby). I wanted Asher to be able to tug on the balls if he was so inspired, so I set out to find a wire that was thin enough to thread through the felted wool but sturdy enough to stand up to a baby’s grasp. I decided against metal wires [too sharp] and threads [easy to shred], and settled on fishing wire for its strength and aesthetic appeal–it made the balls look like they were floating, which was kind of cool. For the base I used a plastic embroidery hoop after discovering that I could splinter the wooden ones with very little effort. Unfortunately, the fabric store only carried plastic hoops in pastel shades of purple, yellow, or pink (blech!) so I used a fabric glue to attach a brown and cream ribbon to the hoop. R helped me finish the top with beads and then we looped it onto a copper hook she created. I think the whole project turned out pretty splendidly, and I hope Asher enjoys looking at it as much as we enjoyed making it.