Five rules for Secret Santa awesomeness

It’s that time of year again.

 

Sometimes you’ll be given a name from a hat, sometimes you’ll just be told ‘bring a gift for Secret Santa’. Sometimes you’ll be told “there’s going to be a fun game as part of the Secret Santa”- to which my reaction is usually

Secret Santa comes upon us often unexpectedly, rather like this:

I have a particularly fraught history with Secret Santa. There was the year I gave a nice Lush gift box for the knitting group Secret Santa and got…a button. The year I carefully made a gift for someone only to be given a random assortment of flotsam from a charity shop. I’ve had things I actually wanted stolen off me, and been stuck with thoughtless gifts. I think we all have. And yet I persevere. I’m stubborn that way.

But, for the sake of any others out there under a Secret Santa curse, I would like to present you with five rules for your Secret Santa gifting that will, hopefully, make your experience and that of your recipient more festive than f***ed off.

1: Stick to the budget.

You’re not going to get any special prizes for going over-budget, so resist the temptation to buy something that costs more than the price limit you’ve been given. And don’t go way under, either. That’s just mean.

2: No ‘funny’ gifts.

You wouldn’t want to be stuck with one. Don’t stick someone else with one.

3: If you’re allowed to state preferences, be reasonable

Give people some leeway to work with, but remember rule number 1 about the budget. And don’t provide a long list.

4: If someone else has stated preferences, pay attention to them

If they haven’t asked for reasonable things, then see if you can interpret what they’ve asked for into some idea of their tastes. If they have expensive tastes then a small amount of something fancy is probably better than lots of something cheap (so for example a mini bottle of the posh fizzy wine instead of a big bottle of Lindauer- or just get them some strawberries to accompany their posh fizz instead).

5: Don’t make the gift.

Unless it’s an exchange of handmade gifts. Save your crafting time for yourself, or people who you *know for sure* will appreciate the effort.

And remember, keep smiling no matter what you’re given.

After all, if it’s the work Secret Santa, you can always “accidentally” leave that “hilarious” gift on the bus.

Gratituesday: Knock knock, motherf***ers

I have my own metal chicken. Her name is Geoffery Peabody Wildington III (now), and she is everything I could ever have imagined a metal chicken could be:

Metal chicken on a coffee table

My awesome flatmates bought her for me a couple of months ago, so she’s been in their room, hiding under a towel, awaiting her magnificent Christmas big-reveal moment. Apparently they found her up north, a couple of days after I first read the Bloggess’ story of how she acquired HER metal chicken and went “it’s a sign. We have to buy this metal chicken for Ellen.”

Apparently my reaction made it ALL worth it.

I have found my people.

It’s been quite the week for people being awesome like this. There was Geoffery. And then there was an old colleague and friend of mine messaging me on Thursday and telling me I’m going to Webstock. He won a free ticket, but as his work had already paid for his spot, he gave the free ticket to me! Talk about floored.

I started to get my kraken tattoo coloured in on Friday and it’s looking fantastic. It also itches like a motherf***er. It was a really lovely couple of hours (pain aside), chatting to Nursey, Dr Morse and the woman he was tattooing. Dr Morse told me about the very best misheard song lyric I have ever heard- but I’m going to make you wait to hear it because I plan to turn it into a cross-stitch.

Spending a bit of time down in Wellington was nice, I got to catch up with some friends I haven’t seen in a while, ate nice brunches, and I may have bought things at Holland Road Yarn Company. I also went to the Santa Parade. The takeaway from THAT was don’t go to the Santa Parade if you’re OCD. Nobody’s shoes match their costumes.

The Christmas cross-stitches are DONE, and now I can start on fun summer stuff. Also bunting. Which really I should have started on first, but I had an overwhelming urge to embroider a lawn flamingo. So I am. I haven’t tried paper piecing before, but with just over 2 weeks off over the break, it’s a perfect time to try something new.

The little things:

Tiki tours with the Best Beloved, Christmas music, tea (always tea), meditation, decluttering, library books, nice reactions to presents, fun stuff in the mail, Gchat.

I’ll leave you with a photo of Geoffery paying homage to Beyonce the Metal Chicken:

Metal chicken outside a doorKnock knock, motherf***ers.

 

Environmentally friendly gift wrapping- three ways

Hopefully by this point in December you have most of your Christmas gifting sorted. Or at least some time off before Christmas to finish it all (like me).

Of course, you can’t have a present without wrapping.

Well, actually, you can. You totally can. I would say the number one best way to avoid using unnecessary and landfill-bound paper or cardboard is simply to hide the gift and tell the recipient (as I often do) “Close your eyes and hold out your hands”.

By the way, don’t use this to prank them if you expect to be able to use this line for holidays or birthdays. Just saying.

2) Sew reusable gift bags.

My friend and former flatmate has done this the past few years and I cannot even with how well they work. She matches fabrics with peoples’ tastes, so the wrapping is always as popular as the gift. And they’re reusable. I have several she’s made me over the years, and they make fantastic project bags. They’re also almost laughably simple to make. Though if you WANT to get all fancy then there are many other tutorials around out there. Also you probably have way more time on your hands than I do.

3) Furoshiki.

Don’t want to sew, or don’t own a machine, or just plain don’t know how? You can still give a gift beautifully wrapped in fabric.

Well, you can if you can tie a knot. C’mon, that’s basic life skills right there. You can tie your shoelaces, right? Good. Anyway.

Furoshiki is a Japanese technique for wrapping things in fabric. You can find a basic tutorial on the Liberty website– and no, you do not have to use Liberty print tana lawn fabric. I’ve used bandanas from the $2 store, fat quarters of quilting fabric (go to a craft store, they’ll know what you mean). But if you want to have a play with different techniques (or you’re wrapping something that isn’t rectangular, such as a wine bottle), you can find a whole bunch of different tutorials on the Furoshiki website.

And if you get paper-wrapped presents, please, please recycle the paper. And as much of the packaging as you can. And if you’re buying presents, take along a reusable shopping bag, and try and minimise the packaging. Every little helps.

Monsterful Monday: Pick myself up, dust myself off

So I didn’t get the funding to go to Webstock. But I learned some useful things. At least I think I did. And maybe, just maybe, if I apply those lessons next time I try something like this I might have more luck. Anyway, I’m grateful for those friends who did back me, and for the learning experience.

I’ve been getting the cross-stitch on, and I might even finish all the Christmas projects I had planned this year- first time ever. I’ve also been getting a strong urge to embroider- expect photos and tutorials in that line in the new year. I grabbed the latest Mollie Makes to arrive in New Zealand at the weekend, and found lots of inspiration, which always makes me feel motivated and energised- definitely something to be thankful for. Sewn/cross-stitched/embroidered graffiti? Ohhhhhh, yes please. Little crocheted frames? Two thumbs up! We’re two issues behind out here though, so their confident assertion on the front cover of ‘QUILT IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!’… well, maybe if I didn’t have a job and could sit in a fancy cafe stitching all day.

I also have an exciting tutorial coming for y’all as soon as I’ve taken some photos to go with it. Because the other urge I’ve had along with embroidery is zines and scrapbooking. That came out of another really useful bloggers’ Meetup– I’m so grateful to have access to friendly, supportive and inspiring folks!

The little things:

Snuggling the Best Beloved (always), cookie time, finding new fun ways to style my hair (maiden braids with a headscarf– super simple and gets lots of compliments), freshly made bed, counting down to Christmas, bunting inspiration (another tutorial coming), festive lights, alarming Santas (they make for fun photographs), warm weather (finally), talking to Anna, ice cream, the Slash card game, ideas.

How about you? What’s on your gratitude list this week? Let me know in the comments.

Epic ornaments for Christmas crafting

I admit, I may be a little biased when it comes to Christmas tree ornaments, but I think they’re awesome. I collect them, too. My best friend in the UK and I exchange the craziest decorations we can find each year. There have been Christmas mushrooms, Flying Santa, the Christmas Giraffe, Santa and Mrs Claus paddling a waka (ah, New Zealand), Elvis playing the ukulele- we never seem to run out of options. I have to admit I was rather disappointed to discover that I couldn’t buy a Santaur this year because Archie McPhee doesn’t take payments from outside the US. But it’s probably for the best because I would inevitably have bought a whole bunch of other stuff too. I still want a set of giant Christmas tree googly eyes though.

But for Christmas crafting fun, what’s not to like? They’re festive, they’re great for gifting, and they’re quick. With 3 weeks until Christmas, quick is good. Experienced crafters know this. And to save you the time of disappearing down the internet rabbit hole looking for ideas, here are some of my favourites:

Colourwork Christmas ball ornaments are a classic for a reason (and that link will take you to a free pattern!). They’re beautiful, and the possibilities for designs are endless. Also you get to make a lot of jokes about balls while you’re knitting them. If you fancy buying a whole book on the subject, you can! May I recommend: 55 Christmas Balls to Knit by Arne and Carlos (who also have a book of creepy knitted dolls, and another of Easter decorations, if you’re that way inclined.)

Or how about some kitschy but lovely felt ornaments from Wild Olive? If you feel like dabbling in some stitching, felt is a good way to go (very forgiving and easy to cut).

If you have a social-media obsessed friend, how about this bird ornament by Sarah Elizabeth Kellner? It may say it’s the Bluebird of Happiness but you and I both know it’s totally the Twitter logo. You could add a festive hat, for intensified Christmassing.

Not much for stitching or knitting? All you need, pretty much, is some glue and some yarn, and you can make these pretty stars from Labores en Red? Yes I know, the site is in Spanish, but the pictures are pretty clear.

Have a hot glue gun? Get some mod podge and some glitter, and make snowflakes! Instructions by Pitter and Glink.

Beads plus ribbon plus a teeny bit of sewing=Christmas trees over at Stars Inspirations. Kinda hipster Christmas trees. But Christmas trees nonetheless!

Buy some green baubles. Get some appropriate coloured ribbon, and some glue. Add GOOGLY EYES (it’s ALL about the googly eyes, people). What do you get? Teenage Mutant Ninja Baubles and a lot of geek cred for your tree.

Sadly, I can’t have a lucky yodelling Christmas pickle (owing to the aforementioned ‘if you’re not American we won’t take your money’ issue). But I can crochet my own Christmas pickle, courtesy of Fresh Stitches, and add the yodelling myself.

I’m totally getting a lump of coal next year, aren’t I?

Have you made ornaments? Are you planning to? What decorations are you busting out for the festive season? Let me know in the comments!

Awesome Christmas Gift Guide, part 4: Clutter-free Christmas gifts

Black and white vintage Christmas photo

Christmas Eve 1928 by Don O’Brien, via Flickr

We all know a few people like this. Maybe it’s your parents, who already have everything. Maybe it’s a friend who’s moving soon and you don’t want to weigh them down with more stuff they’ll have to shift. Maybe it’s that aggressive minimalist who you love but who is always on at you to have less stuff.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

First up, there’s always a voucher for an experience. Sites like GrabOne and TreatMe in New Zealand, or Groupon in America are full of restaurant deals, or admission to fun places to visit. And they’re usually at a significant discount, so you can give someone a much fancier treat but still stay within budget.

Or just organise the experience yourself! What about taking your Mum out for high tea, or going to a spa together?

Speaking from my long-distance relationship experience, one of the most thoughtful gifts I received for my birthday this year was money for a flight to Auckland to see my Best Beloved. Simple, clutter-free, but so deeply appreciated. If money seems a bit tacky to you (it doesn’t to me), then you can always get a flight voucher. Or actually just buy the flight/train ticket.

Then there are the gifts that are designed to be used up. Lush is, of course, wonderful at low-packaging gifts which (if your giftee is anything like me) will be all used up before the ball drops on New Years.

But what about something a bit more punk rock?

Well lets see…

How about a donation to your recipient’s favourite charity? Or backing a really cool Kickstarter you know your giftee would support like, for example, Kim Boekbinder’s Infinite Minute where you can get a song written just for them (or a Pledgeme campaign– yep, I went there. More about that tomorrow!). There are plenty of funding campaigns where the rewards aren’t physical. PDFs, digital music, access to cool stuff on the net. And you’re giving something unusual- the kind of thing your giftee doesn’t know they want until they see it.

You could support one of their favourite artists on a site like Loudr or Bandcamp.

Or what about the gift of learning something you know they want to learn? For budding crafters, Craftsy has a huge selection of classes, as does BurdaStyle. Finally, Be More With Less (full disclosure- this is an affiliate link, but for an awesome site) has courses in starting a blog, creating a capsule wardrobe and dressing with less (if you have a friend who’s trying to declutter their wardrobe, this could be perfect!), and creating a meaningful morning routine (which could be great for someone determined to get fit, or just take better care of themselves).

You know the other great thing about clutter-free Christmas gifts? MUCH LESS WRAPPING. Which gives you more time to work on the Christmas craft projects and get them finished. Or watch ‘Die Hard’ and listen to ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’, and avoid the insanity that is anywhere with shops around this time of year. Or start prepping your Christmas meal (there’s a running joke in the UK that we put our Brussels Sprouts in to boil around now, so they’re done just in time for Christmas).

Have you found any fantastic online classes you think would make a lovely Christmas gift? Are you trying for a clutter-free Christmas? Let me know in the comments!

Links of Joy: Awesome Christmas gift guide part 2: Knitting & crochet

Knitters of Gayle by Sue Hasker

“I don’t care if your fingers are tired, we’ve only got 48 knitting days left!”

OK, so when you read the title of this post you might be thinking ‘it’s already November!  I can’t possibly do any Christmas knitting in time’. I understand this feeling. Certainly, if you were planning on making, say, a set of Christmas jumpers for your Weasley-sized-family (and I’m assuming here that you don’t have a set of Mrs Weasley’s magical knitting needles that do all the work for you- if you do, let me know in the comments, we should talk.) you’re definitely too late to start once the festive decorations and gifts appear in the shops.

But I digress. You do, in fact, have time to knit some awesome Christmas gifts. Even if you’re a beginner. Don’t believe me? Read on!

Lets start with some super-simple, but super lovely gifts. You could make a set of this geeky dishcloth (which could also be used as a facecloth if you make it in soft cotton), or perhaps this simple classic one? Environmentally friendly, handmade- if you’re looking for something for someone who loves, say, stuff from Lush, this could be perfect (and would be a beautiful companion gift for one of their Christmas soaps or shower gels).

Then there are hats. Hats are a great gift. If you use your time well (knit in front of the TV,  on your lunch break, and on the bus- with the added advantage that you get a seat to yourself a lot longer when you’re armed with pointy sticks), you can knock one of these babies out in a couple of weeks maximum.

There are so many lovely choices, too! I’ve made the Snow Devil hat, and it turns out very fun and flattering. Or there’s Wild is the Wind– a pattern that you can make with any yarn (as with most of Lee Meredith’s patterns- check out the site while you’re there, her designs are fab), and which you can make into a beret, a beanie, or a big slouchy hat depending on the tastes of the person you make it for. It’s also got interesting construction- if you’re going to make something you might as well enjoy the process, no? For those with lots of different oddments of coloured yarn, and friends who will enjoy a crazy accessory, how about the Fish Hat- which can be dead or alive depending on how twisted you or your friends are.

I haven’t forgotten the guys, either (though in fact the fish hat could be a great option if you’re making something for a man who loves to fish…). Keep it simple with this regular guy beanie from Yarn Man knits, or add a splash of colour with Turn A Square by Jared Flood.

If you, like me, are in the Southern hemisphere you may not want to make winter accessories. So how about a pair of earrings, or perhaps a fun little evening bag?

For me, the great thing about knitting is how many quirky options there are. For example you could literally give someone your heart.  If you have a niece (or a grown up friend) who has Blythe dolls, what about making them some outfits? Then there’s the Tiny Owl Knits Fox Stole for your vintage-loving gals (no fur!).

But it’s when you find a site like The AntiCraft that things get really fun. How about a menstrual cup cozy shaped like a Kraken (which you could also use to store a phone, or Ipod, or coins)- just imagine the fun you’ll have answering the age old question ‘what are you making?’. Maybe you’d prefer to tell the enquirer you’re making a shrunken head coin purse, though. Well, your wish is granted!  If you know any tabletop gamers, they might appreciate their very own plushie Beholder (bonus points- you get to glue on a whole bunch of googly eyes! Who doesn’t love googly eyes?) A tea cosy for your favourite pirate is also sorted.

What do pirates knit with? Yarrrrrrn.

On which note, I should probably stop. So, you badass crafters, what are you making for the festive season this year? Are you making gifts, or keeping all your crafty skills to yourself this year? Let me know in the comments!

 

And this is why you don’t mess with crafters before Christmas

It’s not, in fact, because we have pointy objects with us pretty much all the time, along with tiny scissors- because really, we’d have to really hulk out in rage to be able to make most knitting needles break through your skin, and the sewing needles, hey, we NEED those.

No, the real reason not to mess with crafters is this: we will make you presents.

And if you’re not careful, those presents will have hidden stuff.

I’m certain I’m not the only person who has accidentally sewn a vagina onto a plushie. That’s the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.

But here’s the thing…

What we do by accident…we can do on purpose.

I’m actually working on a quilt where most of the fabrics were chosen because they were so very yonic (the opposite of phallic- see? This post is educational.). Now I know how to sew an accidental ladygarden onto a plushie, don’t think  I won’t do it deliberately and insist it’s just a heart shape. It’s not a heart shape. 

That beautiful knitted horse hat? Not designed for what you think. WE know that. We’ll also make sure we get photos of you wearing it.

I guess what I’m saying is, be nice to your crafter. Say thank you. If we’ve made you clothes, wear the clothes (or put the baby in the clothes and take a photo). Use the thing, or display the thing. Tell people about the thing when we’re around.

If the fear of possible yonic teddybears isn’t enough, consider this: Crafting takes time. It takes effort. We could be spending that time on making something for ourselves but instead, we’re making it for you. Even at minimum wage, that represents a lot of value. As Brenda Dayne once pointed out in the Cast On podcast, “that’s a $400 sweater you’re wearing”.

Consider this a Public Service Announcement in the run-up to Christmas. Be kind. If you see us working on something, ask us about it. Say how cool it is, or how it’s coming along nicely. If you can’t think of anything nice to say try “well, that’s something.”

And also: When considering what to buy us for the holiday season, you may think we have enough craft supplies because we’re already surrounded by fabric and yarn and thread and what have you. But you would be wrong.  Craft stores. They exist. They do gift vouchers. We like gift vouchers. They let us buy more craft supplies. Which we totally need. Just saying.

Links of Joy: Awesome Christmas Gift Guide- cross stitch

“Ellen.”

“Yes?”

“ELLEN.”

“What?”

“It’s not even HALLOWEEN yet!”

You’re very observant. But if you’re planning on making things to give people, you really need to get started pretty soon unless you’re MUCH faster than me. Me, I started stitching Christmas gifts last week, because I know what I’m like.

And by ‘I know what I’m like’ what I mean is I’m much lazier about these things than I should be until it’s probably too late to finish everything I planned. Last time I had a big project to finish (making a wedding quilt for two very dear friends of mine), I started 9 months beforehand and I STILL didn’t get it finished until a couple of weeks ahead of the wedding.

Anyway, just to give you some ideas, here are some cross-stitches you could consider making. Cross stitch! It’s not difficult, you can make a bunch of them from one piece of Aida cloth, and you still get to go shopping- for awesome frames.

Also I resisted the temptation to link you to a bunch of beard-themed cross-stitches even though they’ve been calling to me. If you saw the Best Beloved you’d understand.

But I digress.

First, here’s one for that friend you know would be sitting in the jail cell next to you saying “that was awesome! Lets do it again.”

And one for your family (if they’re anything like, well, most families)- I’m considering making this for my Best Beloved’s Dad.

For the friend who is a liability if left alone with a credit card and Book Depository. Which is most of the people I know.

For the pre-teen in your life. Or maybe that’s just me. Who couldn’t do with a reminder to channel someone fierce in their lives?

Or perhaps you’re the sort of person who likes to give Christmassy Christmas gifts (or know someone who loves to receive them)?

How about this rather awesome festive pattern. Or there’s this DEFINITELY Christmas-themed one if you’re making something for, well, any geek man I’ve ever met and most of the girls.

Finally, this isn’t a pattern but I very much like the sentiment. What can I say? I’m a romantic at heart.

You can, of course, get a bunch more ideas on my Cross Stitch Shenanigans Pinterest board, if you’re so inclined.

What are you planning to make for Christmas? Let me know in the comments. And I’d love to see what you make if you use one of the patterns here or on the Pinterest. Show off your mad crafting skills!