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Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  The candle has been lit, the streets are white with snow, and the sound of Joy to the World still echoes in my ears from this morning’s church service. 

The Christmas season has begun.

Hubby and I have been busy making Christmas lists, planning celebrations, and I have at least ten homemade projects already on the go.  (Tutorials for evergreen Christmas wreaths and homemade envelopes will be up on Artisan in the Woods soon!)

But as much as I love the bows and ribbons, papers and cards, decorations and gifts, I know Christmas means so much more.

And as family begins to ask us what we want for Christmas, we are reminded just how very blessed we are in that our lists reflect beautiful things that we want, because we already have everything we really need.

It was out of this feeling and understanding that a new giving tradition has been born in my extended family. 

Many extended families have become creative with gift giving over the years.  Gift swaps, drawing names, gifts for kids only, gifts for the whole family to share, homemade gifts only, and card parties are just a few of the ways that families I know have chosen to celebrate the season of giving with each other, and as a way to lessen the number of gifts each family member needs to buy.

In my extended family, we decided that rather than trying to fill stockings with our wants, we would instead come together to help meet the needs of others.  This endeavour has had us shopping for Christmas dinner for families in need, giving gifts to those who otherwise wouldn’t have any, sharing gifts of love and handmade items to those who struggle through the season, and putting our hands and hearts into serving others.  Even my young nephews are involved in the gift-giving and love-sharing.

And this giving to others is also a gift to each other.  A gift of time spent together doing something worthwhile.  A gift of counting our blessings together and knowing we have more than enough.  The gift of watching the children among us grow in their understanding that Christmas is more than Santa and gifts under the tree.

When we come together as an extended family for Christmas dinner we may not be passing each other shiny-wrapped presents, but we share in the joy of the season and allow time spent together and warm embraces to be our gifts of the day.  It has become one of my favourite parts of celebrating the holidays together.

 It came without ribbons,
It came without tags,
It came without packages, boxes, or bags.
Christmas can’t be bought from a store…
Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.

~ Dr. Seuss 
How do you share Christmas with your extended family?    

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Some of you might be saying, “The holidays?  Already?  Isn’t it too early for that?”   I’ll admit that I don’t like hearing Christmas carols in the grocery store in October or walking past rows of Christmas trees before the leaves have even fallen from the trees outside, but if you are thinking about planning holiday events and parties – now is the time to begin.

 And this is one of my favourites. 

 What is a “New-To-You Gift Swap?”

It is similar to the standard office party/large group gift exchange, where everyone brings a gift to the event, and everyone takes a different gift home.  The big difference is that the gift you bring is something you already own. 

What types of items do people bring to a new-to-you exchange?

It could be that beautiful Christmas ornament that you just never put out, or that scarf you were given that you never wear because it doesn’t match your coat, or that game you thought you’d love but your family never plays.  It’s something that you don’t use anymore, but you think someone else might love.  This leads to a whole lot of variety, and a whole lot of fun.  One year one of the party-goers in my group of friends wrapped up a tacky Christmas sweater as her contribution to the exchange.  What a laugh we had when that gift was opened!  It was quickly followed with a photo shoot of the recipient modeling the “beautiful” sweater.  It was such fun that it has become a tradition and there always seems to be a festive sweater hidden in the pile each year (and with the popularity of “ugly sweater” parties, it has actually become a very useful gift!)  J   Of course, if you only want pretty things or useful things at your party, you can just say so in your invite.   

Why bother?  Why not just buy something new?

In my group of friends, the gift exchange started as a way to share the joy of gift giving with each other, without having to add another item to our long “to buy” lists.  For those of us concerned about the environment, it is a way to reuse and recycle and lesson the “consumer” aspect of the holiday season.  But most of all – it’s fun!  The selection of gifts is always varied and it’s exciting to see what items will appear in the gift exchange each year. 

How do you decide who gets what gift?

This is the fun part!  We play a game commonly called a “Yankee Swap” around here.  (I have no idea how it got that name.)  You can find the rules here.  It’s the swapping and exchanging part of this gift-giving game that makes it so enjoyable – and it’s always interesting to see which gifts are the most popular and most often swapped.  There are other ways you could hand out gifts, of course.  But adding a game aspect adds to the excitement. 

What would I write in an invitation?

On top of the usual “what, where, when” here are some things you might include:

You are invited to a “New-to-You Gift Swap” – a gift exchange party without the stress of buying a gift!

As part of this evening of fun and giving, each person will give a gift, and go home with a different gift.  The only rule is – the gift must be something you already own.  Maybe it’s something you have, but never use.  Or something you love, but don’t need anymore. It doesn’t matter what the item is, as long as it is something that can be used by someone else.  The variety of gifts is half the fun!  Don’t forget to wrap it up!

Take it a step further

Are you loving the swap idea?  Here are a few ideas to take it a notch further:

  • Have a tacky swap party.  If laughs are more important than the gift, have everyone search their houses for the tackiest thing they can find and wrap that up!  This might be a great accompaniment to one of those “ugly sweater” parties!
  • With a really close group of friends you could go in the other direction and have everyone bring something they own that they really love.  This is the true spirit of giving, isn’t it?  Giving things that are important to us to those we love!
  • If you really want to make this an earth-friendly party, you could also encourage reusable wrapping for your exchange gifts.

Time to Party!

Does anyone else host these types of parties or plan to hold one this year?  Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

 I was inspired to write this post after “meeting” Amy from  Joy to the Earth.  Her plan for a more joy-filled, less commercial Christmas really resonated with me.  It reminds me of the story of the Grinch – where Christmas came to Whoville even without the presents, the decorations, the roast beast.  That’s the holiday I am celebrating this year – the one that makes us sing for joy no matter what is lying beneath the tree!  Happy party planning!

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I’ve had this Harry Potter inspired project on the back-burner for the last few months, but with the new (and last!) movie coming out very soon I knew now was the time to tackle it.

And so, may I present, straight from my sewing room Madam Malkin’s: Robes for All Occasions: Gryffindor school robes!

I used this tutorial on BurdaSyle and although I found them a bit of a challenge to put them together, I am pretty happy with the results.

I used broadcloth for its affordability, and found the Gryffindor crest on Etsy.

If you are thinking of making some yourself, definitely read through all of the comments on the tutorial, as they were really helpful in drafting and cutting out the pattern.  Next time (oh yes, there will be a next time, I still have at least one more to make!) despite the extra fabric it will take, I think I will line the whole front, and not just 4 inches as the pattern calls for.  This was the first time I have used seam tape and I wasn’t really happy with it. 

I can’t wait to hand these robes over to their owner tomorrow! 

Harry Potter Fun!

Your robes are on and you are ready for a magical adventure.  Here are some magical ideas I’ve collected from around the web.  (Most of these I used to create a magical day at Hogwarts for my students, but the kitchen creations would be appreciated by fans of all ages.)

1.  Find or make yourself an owl and send letters by “owl post” in invisible ink.  (I was lucky enough to find a beautiful snowy owl stuffy at a yard sale, but several years ago I made a pompom owl for my mother as part of  Harry Potter-themed birthday present, that, of course, had to arrive by owl post.)  Or write letters in regular ink, or with calligraphy pens,  on “scrolls” (receipt or adding-machine tape works great for this!)

2.  Spend a day taking classes at Hogwarts! 

  • Herbology: create magical plants of your own with art supplies, or use your imagination and spend some time in the garden planting and caring for “magical” plants. 
  • Potions: think cooking or science experiments (magic mud is a favourite), or write your own
  • Transfiguration: play a game of charades
  • Charms: create your own spells
  • and if you have enough people, don’t forget to play a game of Quidditch (I have played a modified version with as few as seven people)

3.  Cook up some favourite Hogwarts treats by following some fun recipes on Heather Bailey’s site: Chocolate Wands, Butterbeer and mini broomsticks, Cockroach Clusters, and of course you could always make chocolate frogs or pretend any jelly beans are of the “Bertie Botts Every Flavoured” variety.   

Enjoy!   And remember: “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”

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It’s Fun to Give!

Remember Pay it Forward?  I have been having so much fun sewing for others this year.  Although it is nice to be paid for my work, (and necessary for making a living,) there is just something so uplifting about making something to give away “just because.” 

I have two of my Pay it Forward projects finished and received by their new owners.

The first was this little pencil roll for Penelope Neal at Nothing Worth Stealing

Penelope is a talented lady who often posts sketches of dogs, which led me on a search for the perfect dog fabric.  It took me forever to find just the right one, and when I saw this one I knew it was perfect!   It is a Heather Ross fabric from her “Lightening Bugs and Other Mysteries” line.  And it was listed at $38 for a half-yard – what??!!!!  This was my first encounter with highly priced out-of-print fabrics.  I couldn’t pay that price, but all of the other dog fabrics I found paled in comparison.  But patience and perseverance paid off on this one and it eventually came up on Etsy at a reasonable price and I snapped it up.

Besides the great dog print, this is one of the most beautiful fabrics I have ever worked with.  It had a beautiful weight to it and was so soft!  A quilter’s dream.  I completely understand why you pay more for designer fabrics – and it is so worth it! 

The second Pay it Forward present was for Sara.  Sara is a fellow quilter who posts her beautiful creations on her blog, as well as her embroidery projects (which I am in awe of.)  I discovered that her favourite flower is the peony, and that got me started on her gift. 

It’s been a while since I’ve taken out a crochet hook (maybe years?) but I went looking for fabric peony tutorials and found this crochet one and knew that’s what I had to do!   I was really proud of myself for getting this done without one call to my mother (who is the crochet master.)  Maybe crocheting is like riding a bike…once you learn you never forget? 

The fabric underneath is from Heather Bailey’s “Pop Garden” line.  Once again I was on Etsy and Ebay searching for the perfect peony fabric and this was the winner.  It took me awhile to decide what to make out of this one but eventually I settled on a purse.  (As Sara said when she wrote me – a woman can always use another purse!)

I used this tutorial which was fun and easy to follow.  I made a few changes (of course) because I wanted my strap to lie flat against the bag at the sides, I just think it looks neater that way. 

I still have one Pay it Forward present to go.  I am still pondering this last one, although I have a few ideas for what I might do.  In the meantime I won a little present myself. 

I won these beautiful coasters and napkins from Small Town Girl.  She also has a great blog where she posts sewing projects, and if you have little ones at home she  has a weekly series where she posts fun and easy activities to do with toddlers. 

So yes, it is fun to give and to receive! 🙂 

What projects have you been working on lately?

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Dolls for Little Girls

Thank you to all of you who commented on my last post.  If you haven’t yet, there is still time to respond and be entered into the giveaway too! 

I wasn’t planning on being absent from the blog all week, but between having several projects on the go at the moment (including this one which is almost finished!!) and catching a terrible head cold, the week seemed to run away from me.

But despite the busyness and the stuffed sinuses I took time out yesterday to make a pair of dolls. 

Every year my woman’s group takes on the project of helping out families with young children in our city who are in need.  Usually we take a baby shower approach and gather up hundreds of items and package them into gift bags and let the early intervention workers decide who needs what and when.  This year the workers gave us lists specific to the families that they work with.

I was lucky enough to get to shop for books and toys for two little girls who have next to nothing.   On top of which we were told that these families rarely get gifts of any kind.

And what better gift is there than a handmade gift?

  Ruby Lou is for the older of the two girls.  You might remember her from here and her pattern can be found at Sew Much Ado.   I’ve always wanted to make another and this was the perfect opportunity.  I found it much easier this second time, helped by the-most-wonderful-tool-ever-known-to-doll- makers-that-I-wish-I-had-known-about-ages-ago tube turner (it deserves a post of its own).  I even made her a little flannel blankie in case her new playmate wants to tuck her in at night.

I still remember the flannel nightie my grandmother made me out of this same fabric when I was 11 years old!  I love that pretty yellow. 

For the toddler, I made this Black Apple Doll.  There are no little pieces or parts on this little lady so I thought she would do well in little hands (and maybe be a doll she can grow into.)  The Black Apple pattern was easy to follow, but I think next time I will make her arms and legs a bit fatter – if I add seam allowances to the current pattern pieces I think that will make it about right. 

I hope these little ladies get lots of loving in their new home!

For more doll inspiration check out the Black Apple website.  Just being there makes me wish I had more girls to sew for.

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Do you ever happen upon a blog and something about the writer makes you decide you just have to add it to your daily blog reading? 

That’s what happened with me and Keri who writes Quaint and Quirky.   Three things in her bio caught my attention  – she lives in New England (so she’s not too far from here), she’s an Irish dancer (and I would love to be an Irish dancer!) and she used the words “kindred spirit.”    I have been reading her blog ever since.

She had a great idea she posted on her blog yesterday to start her year with giving, by paying it forward.   I decided it would be a great way to start my year too, and I am excited to pass my giving on to you.

Here is how it works. 

“Pay it forward” is the idea that random acts of kindness are given without expecting anything in return. It’s passing on a kindness hoping that your recipients will do the same, and forming a never-ending chain of goodwill , that’s what this is about. But it isn’t only kindness, it is also a means to connect with our fellow crafters, to network, if you will, and to share our enjoyment of crafting/sewing instead of just keeping it to ourselves or where only friends and family get to see it.
 This is how it works: You’ll have to comment on this post and the first three people who comment will receive a handmade gift from me within the next few months. But those three people will also have to post the idea on their blog (or Facebook for those of you I know who might like to participate but who don’t blog!) and commit to making a gift for the first three people who comment and so on and so forth.
 
SO, the first three people to comment here will get something handmade by me,  but you have to do this on your blog as well.  I’ll be reading your blog (or checking out your Facebook!) to figure out what to make you and to make sure that you have posted about your Pay it Forward!   

Have fun giving to others!

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I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas holiday!  Hubby and I packed up the car on Christmas Eve (and boy was it packed!) and headed over the river and through the woods (literally) to his parent’s house where we spent the holidays with all of his family.  It was a wonderful Christmas full of love, laughter and lots of good food, we certainly could not have asked for anything better.

One of my favourite parts of the week-end was finally being able to watch everyone open their hand-made gifts, and now that they have all been received by their recipients I am equally as excited to share all of my “secret sewing” with you! 

For Hubby I made him a lunch bag using this tutorial.  I toyed with the idea of making a number of more complicated insulated bags, but none of them seemed big enough for the containers we often use for lunches, and because he stores his lunch in the fridge the insulation seemed unnecessary.  Plain and simple won the day!

It’s lined with NASCAR fabric to jazz it up a little. 

For my sister-in-law I made a sewing set. 

The big piece of fabric is a sewing machine cover based on this tutorial.  I had lots of fabric left over so decided to sew up a few accessories. 

A little pin cushion

A needle book.  I have seen several of these on blogs over the years but couldn’t find a tutorial to make one so just made it up!   I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

And finally I made a gathered clutch to hold it all.   This tutorial was a lot of fun, I now understand why everyone seems to be making them.   This was my first zippered bag and I have to say I am no longer afraid of zipper installation. Yay! 

My sister-in-law had also asked for some produce bags (I use them in my fridge instead of plastic) so I made a set of those, too.

For my mother-in-law I rediscovered the joy of paper piecing.  I had forgotten how much fun it is (and also how time-consuming – I was still sewing on the evening of the 23rd – yikes!)  This is my first paper-pieced quilt with such tiny pieces and I am really happy with the way it turned out – and I think my mother-in-law liked it too!

For Hubby and my father-in-law I made personalized mouse pads.  The pads were bought blank and then I used an iron-on-transfer to decorate them with a photo that reflects their interests.   (The canoe is for Hubby)

And finally, I made some handmade ornaments for a good friend of mine.  She has a nativity-themed Christmas tree but happened to mention that she didn’t have any shepherd ornaments.  I can understand why when I tried to find some and come up empty-handed!  Not finding any tutorials on how to make your own shepherd (!) I had to improvise.  Based loosely on penny rugs I rediscovered hand-stiitching and made a felt shepherd and sheep. 

It was a busy week before Christmas (I know, I know, every year I say I am going to start earlier but there I was on December 20th just getting started!), but definitely worth it! 

Did you make or receive any handmade gifts this year?

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