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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Christmas on ramp

How sewers approach Christmas goes through evolutions. 

There are the early days when on tight incomes you try to make everything for everyone, which works until you figure out that it costs more to make gifts half the time, or you have had the delightful experience of having the recipient ask "What's this?" Christmas morning.

Then there is the stage when you decide what the hell I am sewing for me and do your best in the stores.

Later, and this is where I am now, the kids are big enough to buy their own good taste stuff, and you are best taking orders. 

At least it is something no mall or online merchant can give them and it does spare them your own random taste, which in my case is quite an issue. My daughter's classic line when shopping with me is "well that looks like something you would wear" - a comment that suggests she will never be one day writing a book called "What my mother taught me about style" or that she and the daughter-in-laws and granddaughters will ever be killing each other for a crack at my curated wardrobe after I have drifted off to that great fabric store in the beyond.

I am doing pretty good with the order up system, up to the point where my youngest son asked me if I can knit him a sweater for Christmas.

I have a distinct feeling that he means Christmas 2015 not 2016.

Here is what I am supposed to be trying to knit. Five hours of Netflix and I have the ribbing on the bottom done. My goal for this afternoon is to see if I can knit while I walk on the treadmill. Stay tuned on that one, or watch the local papers for the accident reports:


I really wish I could say that I knit at even a fraction of the speed at which I crochet. I have been happily crocheting cardigans for the kids.

I have to say though that part of the reason for the swiftness of my crochet production is that I have no idea what I am doing, even when executing the most simple of patterns.

For example I suggest new crocheters learn how to actually count rows before they start a pattern. If you count ridges say thinking they are actually rows, rather than counting both the ridges and the dips underneath as two rows, which they in fact are, you will crochet arms that are, just saying, about twice as long as they should be. This is what that will look like:

Unblocked but that isn't going to fix anything
Probably the worst part of this is that it took me two sweaters to figure out I was doing anything wrong. In fact it took me going back to the picture to realize that the original did not have cuffs on the sleeves rolled up to the armpits. I just figured it was part of the style to keep kids really warm.

Onward as they say.

Now I have a question for you.

Are you attempting any self-made gifts this year, if so what are they?

If you are giving fourteen people stranded Norwegian colour worked mitts, or tailoring your husband a sports coat, or or crocheting everyone an heirloom quality bedspread feel free not to leave a comment.

For the rest of you, I really want to know what you have on the on ramp for this year, and what you actually think you will get done, or what your generally philosophical position on gift giving this time of year is.

We are, after all, in this together.


badmomgoodmom said...

I've just spent 6 weeks sewing DD's back to school wardrobe, Halloween costume, and birthday outfit. I'm taking a selfish sewing break unless she's really serious this time about learning to sew.

celkalee said...

I am planning to embroider RTW pj's and shirts and other smalls with machine embroidery. For what I paid for that machine I figure each embellishment costs about $300. So this group needs to choose, bugs, flowers or cartoon figures because this is it!

Jacq C said...

I can't stress myself out with Christmas gifts this year - I still owe my brother a dressing gown for which we purchased the fabric in 2013 - good job it doesn't go off! On the plus side my family don't ask me to make much as I'm so unreliable!
I'm making 4 cushions for my husbands parents and Aunts and Uncles. The 4 couples were really close and sadly we lost 2 of them recently. I've inherited Auntie E's random stash - am now foundation paper piecing for the first time and trying to make them co-ordinating gifts. That'll be my lot 🎅

Anonymous said...

My rather small family generally does a "secret santa" gift exchange, in which you draw one person's name out of a hat and get something for only that person, so the stress of buying or producing a lot of gifts is significantly reduced. There are no young kids around right now, either, and my nieces and nephew in their mid-20s aren't likely to ask me to make anything (although one is starting to sew and even learn pattern drafting--that's quite exciting). But there are always a few gifts exchanged in addition to the "secret santa" ones, and this time I am going to make a Liberty cotton shirt for my mother, using Vogue 8496. It's very simple, only four pattern pieces--darted front with five buttons, back, camp-style collar, and plain sleeve with a deep hem you can fold up. She picked the fabric herself this time, so it won't be a huge surprise or anything, but I'll enjoy making it and she'll enjoy wearing it. And if I have any time left, I'll be working on my own UFOs. Elizabeth in Massachusetts

Anonymous said...

Hi from remote SW Scotland!! Isn't the internet a wonderful thing!!

For the first time this year, we have decided to go down the 'home made'route.
Friends have been informed, and in lieu a donation to dog rescue will be made instead of all the usual expensive (and time consuming to buy) purchased stuff. There is much giddyness amongst friends. Fabrics from my stash have been selected and as all are 'rescue' dog owners there is much excitement!! You cannot beat a home made gift made with love particularly at Christmas. On the list are quilts, dog beds, door stops, lavender bags, tote bags, dog biscuits, zipped pouches. Wish me luck!!!!!!!!!!!

Love your blog - and in particular news of Daisy. We have Minnie, a rescue with a similar spine problem - though try telling her that there is a problem!!

Anonymous said...

One year I made oversized scrap quilted Christmas stockings for every family member, large and small. The smalls got their names/initials in counted cross stitch trim at the top of their stockings (there were three at the time). Not completely satisfied with the sewing, I then filled the stockings with some pretty nice (for my budget at the time) gifts -- I remember buying Waterford crystal shot glasses for my sibs (all boys). I have never topped that in terms of output or project completion on deadline -- every year since I've wrapped an IOU to someone. I still can't believe I made and filled a dozen Christmas stockings. But that was nothing compared to the year my mother made a dozen quilts for each family member. We used to get a little crazy on the home-made front.

Kathrynsb said...

My husband has been buying all gifts for several years now for christmas and birthdays. He does not show me the purchases so I'm just as surprised as the recipient. The grandkids like having stuff made to order. I have them draw a picture and indicate colors. Since they are ordered it occurred to me that I can give them anytime which has the added plus of not getting lost in the shuffle. They remember what grandma made and ask for more or different. I'm backed up but that's OK.
No christmas rush. Jalie skinsuits have been a surprise hit. They can be Batman or Spiderman or a princess (add tulle)
And a huge size range in each pattern. Good value as my father would have said

Carol in Denver said...

Several years ago, for my single older neighbor lady, I made a corn bag (flat bag, loosely filled with corn, with occasional tacks through from front to back to keep the corn from going all to one side). Included info on how to use them. (Heat in microwave then apply to where heat is wanted.)

I got a thank you and nothing more was said, until today. She's having leg pains and raved about how helpful the corn bag is in alleviating the pain. I had thought she must have thrown the bag out!

So, if your handmade gifts seem to generate only lukewarm thanks, don't despair. Maybe their time hasn't come yet.

For myself, I simply sew a fat tube of a sturdy but soft fabric, wrap one end with a jersey strip pulled so it curls, fill with corn, then wrap the other end in a likewise manner. When heated, it comforts my aching back while I read in bed. Afterwards, my feet push into it and keep warm while I fall asleep.

Kathrynsb said...

I truly love celkalee's comment. I'm in the same boat
Kathryn in iowa home of the caucus nightmare

Ccmel said...

I spotted a twill fabric with a cute cat print on it last week and couldn't resist thinking my daughter would love it as she is cat mad. Now I'm trying to think what to make with it. I doubt she will wear it. She isn't that mad. So cushion, bag, towel trim? I'll probably still be procrastinating on Christmas Eve! Also Christmas related I saw that Sewaholic has a free download for a fabric Christmas tree that looks very cute.

theresa said...

For a select few of the grand nieces and nephews I'm doing pillowcases and camp shirts. Thomas, the Tank Engine and one set of "Minion" pillowcases is already done with a few more to follow. I also have a scant yard of a "surfer" print to be made up into a child's camp shirt and two yards of a dog and cat print. Who gets what will be discussed with great grandma when we visit for Christmas. DH will take care of the older ones via cards and $$. Before I start on those I have some curtains to finish.

Theresa in Tucson

Janet said...

The adults do Secret Santa in our family. And I end up giving my sister something anyway. I have my brother in law. I was thinking a coffee cup warmer and matching coaster. Or a BBQ apron. That is it for sewing this Christmas. I don't want to stress.

Patricia said...

I am going out on a limb this year, and making a nightgown for my daughter. Japanese lawn printed in tiny flowers, and a vintage pattern. She is 41, and has noted many of my efforts look 'home-made'. Won't tell her until I see the reaction.

Birdmommy said...

I'm going to make my son his Christmas Eve present; a super simple blanket (flannel front and back with a layer of batting). I didn't think a cool 9 year old wanted anything made by me, but he's been casting envious glances at the baby blankets I've been making for a coworker. He picked out the fabric last year, but my excuse is that we were moving, and the fabric was in storage...

Anonymous said...

I almost spilled my tea laughing at your crocheted baby cardigan! I think it's awesome that your son asked for a hand-knit sweater. He must be a smart young man. :)

I'm at the stage of sewing where I sew very selfishly for myself and few requests from my immediate family. I find myself perpetually behind schedule on my own sewing list and cannot think of sewing for others. I give other handmade presents like cookies and jam though. Much easier to make and one size fits all!

~A new fan in Cali

Margaret Delong said...

Generally going very light on presents- making homemade table runners for my mother and for meeting my bf's mother for the first time! My bf is getting a new homemade t-shirt- I'm sticking to things I know how to make this year, as learning new skills takes forever! (Instead of making presents this weekend I made my first woven shirt... In a mere 12 hours)

Brenda said...

One Christmas I made the three grand daughters bathrobes. They all got to pick the fabric they wanted (but I told them to *forget* what they chose so it would be a surprise!). They turned out great and everyone was pleased. I have made all the daughters and grand daughters personalized aprons, also. The all get purchased gifts too. We get carried away at Christmas. We are up to 6 grand kids and another daughter just got married so now we are adding another son in law to the mix. We get my my parents a new nut cracker every year for their collection and we get my sister and her husband something. I usually sew for my sister because we are the same size. The newly weds are trying to start a family right away so this is getting out of hand! It is fun though. I only sew what I want to sew for people. Very rarely does anyone get to request something!

Leigh Wheeler said...

Well, if I were a good person, I'd finish that half-done vest for my mom, as well as sew the border collie print shirt she bought fabric for and keeps pestering me about. Both are possible, but need a variety of fixes to make them work. Most are beyond my capacity after work, and weekends have been double=booked for the last month.

Your comment about 14 Norwegian sweaters made me laugh. Today, this very day, I bought some lopi wool for an Icelandic sweater for my husband. I am telling myself that it is his Christmas present. I may be lying. He is quite likely to get a box full of yarn with knitting needles attached and an IOU under the tree. It has happened before. I tend to have optimistic plans and about 1/100th the time needed. Though I just took a class on Knitting for Speed and Efficiency, so perhaps there is hope.

Lyndle said...

Sewing gifts for Christmas? Are you all crazy? I think I'm doing well if I have enough food and wrapping paper organised.

jirons42 said...

I have about 25 people in my immediate family that I give gifts to so not everyone gets something hand made. This year the five adult females are getting "me made" girlie flannel pj's. Lots of piping and fun patterns. So far I have four pair done so I'm feeling pretty good. I usually give one person a quilt but I've had to do two wedding quilts this year so no one will be getting a Christmas quilt.

wendy said...

Usually the men (3 of them) get hand knitted socks because they appreciated them so much - then one other hand made gift for a deserving friend. That's it!

Colleen Gander said...

I had promised a duvet to my son last Christmas and between then and now, life happened including an interprovincial move. I found and unpacked the sewing machines but not much else so I fear it may never not be completed in time. Since the print on the fabric involves his occupation, I hope he is still doing it by the time I finish it.

Laceflower said...

OMG Barb, don't knit on the treadmill, you'll put your eye out! I have to hold on for dear life as when people are moving on the TV I lose my balance.
I'm making a few small things like snap purse, MP3 zippered pouch holder, soap, stuff like that. I've been through all the other phases with you.

LinB said...

The year we spent Thanksgiving at Edisto Island, SC was unseasonably cold. Something had prompted me to dump my entire drawerful of woolen socks into my suitcase. I was able to hand out thick, warm, hand-knitted socks that everyone in the house could thrust onto their feet, and which more-or-less fitted them. (Said socks were not all in the best of repair; some sported multiple patches and darns.) At the end of our holiday, no one would give them back to me.

Since that time, I make socks for my family for Christmas, every year. If we give each other anything at all (no small children currently) we limit ourselves to spend no more than $5 for each gift. Not difficult to accomplish since I make almost all my gifts from salvaged yarn -- either bought cheaply on the shelves at thrift store, or raveled from thrift store sweaters. I perform my knitting everywhere, during travels and meetings and in waiting rooms and watching t.v. Using worsted yarn and my trusty size 5 DPNs, I turn out a couple of pairs a week for average feet. The new boyfriends and new husbands with size 12s and 13s have slowed me down, so I confess that half of those gentlemen will receive hats this year.

Using recycled, reclaimed, rescued yarn has metaphysical implications for the many and varied relationships in the family itself: Everyone is of worth to someone. No one deserves to be tossed out like trash. Combining unlikely personalities can enrichen the lives of all concerned. Not everything has to be the same color to be part of a matching set.

kim nath said...

I a going to try to finish the handsewn gifts I started last year which never got finished for Christmas 2014.

Sally King said...

Love your writings and love your commenters! (Is that a word?). Anyway, a long long time ago I made matching pajama pants for my girls. Then it became pajama pants for girls and spouses. Then it became....do you see where this is going? This year the kids, spouses and grandkids will all get home made pajamas AND shirts. Total of thirty-two pieces. I made the announcement that this is the last year I will do this. The silence was deafening. *sigh*.

Kay said...

I am making my daughter, who keeps chickens, an Egg-Gathering apron. For my other daughter, who is expecting a baby in January, I am making a new Baby-Wearing sling and for her delightful 2 year old I am making a little Doll-Wearing sling with a baby doll in the pouch.

(Please note: Although making slings for carrying babies in is a simple sew you must use the appropriate rings that have been tested to bear the weight of a wriggling toddler. The only source I know of is "Sling Rings".)

Anonymous said...

Not sure if I'll manage it for Christmas, but the next gift I sew for my boys will be trousers with invisible zips in the side seams of the lower legs for secret pockets. They're four and seven, so it'll be perfect. (And I'm 38 and mine will be perfect for me too.) I just learned to sew invisible zips for a smart fitted dress for a formal event, which was very satisfying, but I spent the whole time thinking about the potential for secret hidden treasure pockets.
- janome Gnome

Jodie said...

Oh dear Lord - I'm a little intimidated. My family is small, with the core being my husband and an errant teenager who no longer likes hand-made items. My hubbie loves home made boxer shorts, I knuckled down and sewed 5 pairs last year in succession (grey thread for everything, worked like a charm). So I'll repeat that this year as well. I might make a nightgown for myself (like a long t-shirt type) and I'm HOPEFULLY making a small paper-pieced quilt block for a friend (perhaps two the same). And that's it. It's enough. I'm teaching until Dec. 19th, so worst case...I'll sew after then. No sewn gifts that have to be mailed. Too stressful!

Mary said...

This post made me laugh so hard, I almost woke up the napping babies. But thanks anyway--I needed a good laugh. I am always devoted to sewing a Christmas dress for my daughter because she is my human doll, and I have to dress her up for as long as she will let me. Now I've had a baby boy, and obviously they need coordinating outfits because they are my baby dolls! I would also love to sew myself silk pajamas, and other than that, I just can't handle any other handmade gifts. I try to sprinkle the handmade love throughout the year for birthdays.