Yuletide Greetings!

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stand. At Solstice the sun appears to stand still, to pause, before continuing on its path.  We’ve been celebrating Solstice as a family for over a decade.  No matter where we have found ourselves over years, on a tropical island, out west, up north, in the city or in the forest, no matter what has been happening in our lives, this time of year reminds us to pause, and to reflect.  Our celebrations have been simple (especially when it was just the two of us) and some have  been elaborate gatherings full of family and friends.  Decorations are natural and are designed to end up in the compost heap rather than in storage or the landfill.  The greenery reminding us of the coming spring.  The candles reminding us of the returning light.

When we first started celebrating Solstice we were met with many questions and confused looks and some people were even dismissive.  It was a little isolating.  And so starting nine years ago we began sending out what we called our “Cool Yule Cards”.  They were conversation starters for sure, just look at our first one:

cool yule photo 1Yes, I put a dress on my dog.  Mad Men was not a show back then either…we were just before our time I suppose : ).

banjo bellyIn the beginning we always tried to inject a little bit of humour to try to keep it light-hearted.

coolyuledoorThis is one of my favourites…Sostice in the forest with a wood stove inside…so dreamy.

coolyuleThis one did look more “Christmas-y” but Cool Yule wishes remained the same…

Grandma cool yuleI think last year’s card was my favourite so far.  Such a great vintage photo of J’s great-grandmother!

Our 2013 Cool Yule greeting card will be revealed to family and friends tomorrow (that is if I can get a great shot of the girls on their lantern walk).  Today, I’m wrapping our handmade solstice gifts to put under the tree and finishing up the preparations for our Annual Solstice Party.  Back by popular demand will be our lantern walk which the children loved a few years ago.  After dinner we make our lanterns and set off to carol our way through the neighbourhood.  If it is not raining we will gather around the bonfire outside to sing, drink and generally be merry and, if we remember, we mark the actual moment of Solstice.   Tomorrow we’ll open our gifts, make pine cone bird feeders and decorated our outdoor tree for our animal friends.  And as always we are busy reading our favourite winter and Solstice books.

I mentioned our celebrations to a neighbour a few weeks ago and they commented that more and more people seemed to be celebrating solstice.  I’m so glad to hear it.  Solstice also means “turning point”.  Our world could use a reminder to pause and slow down, a reminder that light follows darkness, and to reestablish a relationship with Mother Earth.

This morning we woke up to find a soft blanket of snow covering the ground.  The girls rushed to the windows and squealed with delight.  Mrs. Iverson declared that it was Solstice magic that made it happen.  I think the smile on this proud mama’s face should last all day…

Wishing you all a Cool Yule, peace and joy for the New Year!

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Things are coming together…

Have you ever had a feeling of uncontrollable giddiness as you came to the end of making something?  I had that feeling a little bit when I was making my French Press Slippers this summer.  The feeling was overwhelming when I was making a fox mask for Mrs.Iverson’s birthday (it was borderline euphoric!).  And last night, as I finished another gift for the Mrs., I felt my heart pick up the pace a little, a satisfied grin spread across my face…I had to tell myself to slow it down so I didn’t make any mistakes but really wanted to see how it had turned out now!!!

I think this project had been in my head for so many years that that alone contributed my buoyant mood, to that feeling of anticipation.  I had saved this plain grey, wool sweater for almost 8 eight years with this project in mind.  It felt so good to finally make the first cut.  I loosely followed the Cozy Winter Hat pattern in this gem of a book, Little Things to Sew:

Oliver+S

It was a really easy pattern and sewing with an old wool sweater didn’t cause any issues thank goodness.

Sweaterhat

Sleeve

Sweaterpieces

Once I had cut out the wool pieces, I ironed some of this on the “wrong” side near the sides of the cheeks to add some stability while I did some embroidery work.

hat embroidery

I used a tiny bit of the embroidery pattern meant for these mitts from Scandinavian Needlecraft:

mitts

Once that was done,  I cut out the lining pieces.  I sewed the wool pieces together and added the ribbon.  Then I sewed the lining pieces together.  Next was sewing both the wool and the lining together.  I was incredibly nervous at this point and I was sure I would make a mistake so I read and reread the pattern…but then I did end up making a mistake and so I made my own “stamp” on the piece and it didn’t turn out too badly.

lining

In this picture you get an idea of what the lining fabric looks like.

finished hat

And here is the finished product!  It is too bad I couldn’t put it on a child so you could see what it looks like on.  After Solstice I’ll post one of the Mrs. wearing it I promise.  I keep going to sneak a peek at this one.  I’m so excited to have made it and I can’t wait to see her face when she opens it!

When Handmade is not your thing…

I get it.  Handmade may not be you “thing”.  Maybe you lack the space, the time, the talent (although I doubt it)…my goal is certainly not to make everything I give and so sometimes it feels right to give something someone else has made.  This city I live in has no shortage of fantastic artisans and craft fairs.  With the rise of Etsy, there is a whole world of handmade at your fingertips!  Here are some of my favourite handmade things that I didn’t have to find time to make myself:

1.   Handcrafted knitting needles:

knittingneedles I picked these gorgeous needles up at the Squam Art Fair in NH this summer and they are destined for a very special knitter in my life.  You can find more treasures made by the maker Cynthis Ellis at Wood By C.

2.  A whimsical print by Fig Design:

fig designThis one caught my eye as the perfect gift for my new nephew.  It captures a dreamy sort of boyhood adventure one might have especially if you’re a boy growing up in Newfoundland.

3.  These endearing and quirky lockets from the Black Apple:

bear dance locket

maskedgirllocket

I bought these last year for my girls (if anyone remembers Lil’S and her “bat/mask” phase, you’ll know which one was hers).

4. Hammered Feather Cuff Bangle:

featherbracelet

These beauties are handmade with love – it says so right on the website!  I was lucky enough to receive the brass bangle as a gift and I do love wearing it.  Check out Salvage Jewelry Co. to find more gems made from deconstructed vintage jewelry that have been reinvented by designer Brandy Olley, to create inspired, modern pieces.

5.  A vintage inspired headband or hair piece:

jasminandolive

Mrs. Iverson was the lucky one to receive a headband by Jasmin and Olive for her birthday.  These hair adornments and headbands look fantastic on people of any age.  Simple and gorgeous.

Where are you favourite places to shop for handmade gifts?

My favourite handmades

I love handmade things, I do.  And so I thought I’d share some of my favourite gifts to make in case someone out there needed some inspiration.

1.  A fishing basket:

fishing basket 2

This one is as easy as drawing a fish template and tracing it onto some scraps of felt.  I embroidered some details on these ones and then decided to also make them “counting fish”.  Notice the orange one has one bead, the purple has two, the green has three etc.  Next, find a stick, tie some garden twine to it and secure a round magnet to the other end.  Each fish has a metal washer in its “mouth”.  Super easy and fun.  Then find a basket and some blue fabric for the water and pack them up!

fishing basket

2.  Wee Wonderful Dolls:

Lumina

This one I made for Lil’S a few Solstices ago.  We called her Lumina and still can’t get over her hair!  I love it!

joy

This one I named Joy and she was destined for my my niece on the east coast.  I actually made her outfit and shoes whereas with Lumina I stole the clothing off of another doll’s back (there wasn’t enough time!).  Making these dolls was so simple.  I really barely knew what to do with my sewing machine at the time.  I ordered and then downloaded a PDF from Wee Wonderfuls which included instructions for three darling dolls and their clothes for only $15.

3. French Press Slippers

french press slippers

Now these little lovelies I must confess I did not gift…they were for me!  Oh and how I adore them!  Actually I still can’t believe that I made these.  You can download the PDF pattern here.  And for $7.50 it is a steal.  I’ve been knitting up a number of these in some pretty funky colours for Christmas presents.  Now all I need is a trip to the laundromat to felt them in a top loader…

4.  A Scandinavian Inspired Felt bag:

Scandinavian Felt Bag

This will probably be the hardest gift for me to wrap up and give.  I have wanted one for myself ever since I saw it on the cover of Scandinavian Needlecraft.  It took me forever to source the thicker felt.  In the end I bought the synthetic felt from Fabricland but I would have loved real wool felt.  One day I’ll find a source (and if you have one that ships to Canada please let me know!).  The bag was super easy to make but it did put a sizable dent into my embroidery thread stash.

5. A Knitted Snake:

snake

The snake you see on the right is one I made for Solstice a few years back. “Snakey” as he is known has been well loved as you can see.  The skinny unfinished guy on the left will be gifted away this season.  The pattern can be found in the book, Knitted Toys.  I love this book and have made a number of their knitted dolls and animals.

6.  Even more slippers:

embroidered slippers

I love these slippers and they turned out even better than I expected.  They are another project from the Scandinavian Needlecraft book I mentioned the other day.  I used Sulky Solvy to trace the embroidery design on, laid it over the felt and pinned it in place.  Once you’re done embroidering you simply run it under water and the Sulky Solvy dissolves!

baby slippers

These baby slippers are from the same book.  The fleece on the inside is sooo soft.  I love them but I admit, they were not as easy to make due to their size.  They are en route right now to my new nephew in NFDL!

7. A Headband:

headband

I based this headband on this tutorial at Heidi and Finn.  I covered my elastic in fabric and made the band itself a little wider.  I’m still tweeking this as I’d like the band to be longer but the standard sheets of felt are too short.  I also had a hard time sourcing the pre-cut felt flowers.  Instead I used felt embellishments that were intended for use in scrapbooking from Michael’s.  I simply took off the sticker on the back, did a little hand sewing to reinforce them and sewed them onto the felt.  I’m using up my scraps from past projects for the fabric backing.  Lil’S has had many compliments on hers already.

8.  Felt Animal Masks:

felt animal masks

I made these for Mrs. Iverson’s birthday party this year.  Instead of loot bags the guest were able to bring home a mask.  I keep meaning to post a tutorial…one day…

9.  Alphabet Magnets

IMG_5658

Lil’S made these for Mrs. Iverson a few years ago and they are still a huge hit.  Click on the link to find out how to make your own.

10. Homemade Playdough

homemade playdough

This is always a favourite and it is super simple to make as well.  I’ve used this as an add on to many gifts over the years.  Click on the link and you’ll find my favourite recipe.

When Handmade goes wrong

I quite like making things to give as gifts.  It is always a delicate art.  First you must be sure you want to invest the time and that the final product will turn out well.  Second you must think carefully about who you are giving it to.  There is nothing more awkward than getting the feeling that the recipient doesn’t actually like the gift because a solid drawback to handmade is that you can’t return it.

This is a story about a handmade gift that the recipient, my father-in-law, liked just fine.  The problem was, I had made a really big mistake when putting this gift together.  Let’s see if you can spot it:

log carrier

What is it you ask?  Why it is a log carrier of course!  An absolutely chic log carrier if I do say so myself.

the embroideryThis embroidery took FOREVER!  In the end I just couldn’t do it on my machine and off I went to my friend Rebecca’s for help.  Man did it turn out great or what?  I was ever so pleased.

cute tag

Then there are the little details like this cute tag.  I was in love with this present and I couldn’t wait to give it.  Have you spotted my error yet?  Keep looking.

recycledjeans

And just why did I love this thing so much?  Well I thought it looked pretty great and it was made out of recycled materials.  In the picture above you can see that it is lined with denim from an old pair of jeans.  The cream coloured fabric on the front was left over from a couch slipcover I had made.  The thread was leftover from my bridesmaids dresses (13 years ago!!).  And finally the twill tape for the handles was from a grab bag at Value Village.  I was in recycled gift heaven.

folded

Can you tell now what is wrong?  Yep.  As beautiful as it turned out, it was utterly useless for carrying wood.  I had made it long and skinny.  It would likely only fit one or two logs (super long ones at that).  Sigh.  It was supposed to be folded the other way so that it was deeper and shorter.  I was entirely horrified and with no time left before the family gift exchange to fix it, I did what I had to do…I gave it to him and then took it right back offering promises to “fix it soon”.

oh dear

This is the way it was supposed to go.  Which means the embroidery is going the wrong way and so are the straps.  Not such as easy fix after all.   And do you know what is worse?  I still haven’t fixed it.  I’m going to do it tonight and give it to him again before Christmas so at least I don’t have to say it took me a year to fix it.  Wish me luck!

book

Oh and by the way, I found this project in this book.  I’ve now made a number of the projects in here and all of them have turned out so wonderfully!  I’ll share a few in the coming days.

What are some of your DYI disasters?

Easing into the season

adventwreath

I’ve decided we are not doing a countdown calendar this year.  I just didn’t want to invest the time it takes to make one and organize the little presents.  Plus there can be fights about whose turn it is to open that day’s gift.  This year I needed simple.  I needed relaxed.  I needed beautiful.  And I do think our advent wreath turned out beautifully don’t you?

advent wreath

The base is cut from a pine log out at J’s parents house.  We used it (and a few others) for decorations for Mrs. Iverson’s woodland animal birthday party a few months ago.  Eventually it is destined to be a “dinner plate” to be used in the girls backyard “mudpie kitchen” in the spring.  The centre is cut from a lovely cedar heartwood log.  We drilled 4 holes into it, melted a bit of wax into the holes and placed a beeswax candle into each (the candles were left over from our Earth Day celebration downtown this past April). We had a few branches that needed trimming on our evergreen out back and we used our glue gun to keep them in place.  The berries are from some grab bag I had from VV.

I was raised Roman Catholic and the advent wreath was central to the lead up to the Christmas celebrations.  Of course the use of evergreen wreaths with candles during this season predates Christianity and so an advent wreath can be enjoyed by Christians and non-christians alike.  I loved telling the girls about this piece of their cultural heritage and sharing something so peaceful and serene with them.  It ties in so nicely with our yearly discussions about Solstice and the symbol of the evergreen and its promise of new life in spring.  The light of the candles holds back the darkness just enough for us to remember that the light will return.

Each night at dinner we’ve been lighting one candle and letting it burn while we eat.  The girls take turns lighting it (there is another random candle for the girl who does not get to light the advent wreath that night : ).  So instead of chocolate/candy highs (and then lows) we’re enjoying candlelight dinners and a more gentle and peaceful sort of countdown.

Now this is a tradition I can live with…