Updated: Sep 3
One of my favourite things about being crafty is my ability to create handmade gifts. I love receiving handmade gifts - as a maker I appreciate the amount of thought, time, and love that goes into them.
Plus, some people are just darn hard to buy for - a handmade gift is guaranteed to be unique, and completely customizable. Below, in addition to some of my finished patterns, I've included some beginner friendly "recipes" - determining the fit and look you want is part of the fun.
Without further ado, here are some of my favorite handmade gifts:
For the Home Decorator - The Jumbo Knit Throw
This is one of my favourite projects because they are so popular, so chic, and so fast and easy! I would always see these at craft sales for hundreds of dollars, which made me want to make one myself even more. It turns out, the yarn can be rather expensive, because a few balls goes a long way - and is quite heavy. Anticipate needing about eight pounds of yarn for a project like this. I used Free Spirit by Loops & Threads (now discontinued) - each skein was 2lbs! Wool roving is a great fibre to use for this project. With such a thick yarn, extraordinarily large needles are required. Many people use their arms as needles - there are so many videos on how to do this. Here's one.
Personally, I found that arm knitting gave me an inconsistent gauge. Some people purchase giant needles (35mm or larger), or use PVC pipes. I used tubes of gift wrap because I had them on hand and they were lightweight, although once I got going, the yarn itself became very heavy anyway. Arm knitting has a little bit of a learning curve, but knitting on large needles is just like regular knitting - think of it as a giant version of a gauge swatch.
I was lucky to find the Free Spirit on clearance and only spent about $60. But the best thing about this project is that you can complete a blanket in an hour or less, and simple stockinette stitch still makes a big impact. This is definitely my favourite last-minute handknit gift that is sure to impress.
Try this: for a throw-sized blanket, get about 8lbs of jumbo yarn or wool roving, and size 35mm or larger needles or other cylindrical implements. Cast on 30 - 40 sts, and knit in stockinette until you run out of yarn. For neat edges, slip the first stitch of each row. Couldn't be simpler!
For the Commuter - The Chunky Cowl
Every fall and winter I love making chunky cowls and infinity scarves. They combine all of the things I consider "fun" knitting - bulky yarn, circular needles, and a fast, easy to memorize stitch pattern. I find working in this manner meditative. Where I live in Canada, winters can be brutal, so a thick cozy scarf that can be wrapped around the face and head is a must. I even made one for my dog!
Another great thing about the chunky cowl is it's a perfect way to show off a relatively small amount of yarn, and run wild with colourways. From ombre, to variegated, to tonal, it can all work in a relatively simple rib stitch. I find a rib or brioche stitch works best for this project because it creates a thick, warm fabric. Just a skein or two of bulky yarn (something like Lion Brand Scarfie) is enough. If you know how to brioche, you can use two colours to create a reversible fabric.
Try this: For a cowl, use a bulky weight yarn and size US 13/9mm or larger circular needles (16" long). Some bulky yarns are heavier than others, so if your fabric feels too dense or doesn't have enough "squish", you might need an even larger gauge needle. Many yarns have a needle size suggested on the ball band. Cast on about 60 sts and work in the round in rib stitch until your tube is 12 - 15" long. This creates enough fabric to cover the neck and pull up around the face. Go even longer for a cowl that can be pulled up over the head like a hood.
For an infinity scarf, you can do the same thing but on a longer circular needle, casting on about 160 sts. Alternatively, you can use straight needles and cast on 40 stitches, work in rib stitch for five to six feet. My general guideline for scarves is as long as the wearer is tall, but an infinity scarf doesn't need to be as long; just enough to wrap around twice. Bind off, and then seam the two ends together.
Also try my Chasm shawlette - the complete pattern is free for newsletter subscribers or available on Ravelry.
For the Environmentalist - The Wash Cloth
I use these every day at home - my great aunt makes them every Christmas and I find them so so handy for reducing the amount of disposable products I use (wet wipes, paper towels). I often see small skeins of cotton yarn on sale - again this is the perfect project in any colour. Bonus points for matching your recipient's home decor.
There are so many patterns for this and it is a fun place to try out any stitch pattern. My great aunt has a lot of gifts to make, starting with over 30 grandchildren, so her go-to is the basic garter stitch mitered square.
Try this: using worsted weight cotton yarn and US 8 / 5mm needles, cast on 3 stitches. K1, m1, knit to end; every row, until you have a triangle with sides measuring about 7" (measuring the edge of the work, rather than the depth). From this point, k1, k2tog, knit to end, until 3 stitches remain, and bind off. That's it! You can play around with the increase and decrease stitches you use (try out a yarn over or a kfb instead of a m1 for a different look).
If you crochet, try making 4" circles as face scrubbies or makeup cloths.
For the New Parents - The Baby Sweater
This is getting a bit more advanced, but still a relatively quick make. Every time a new baby comes along, I love to knit them a sweater. While the baby blanket is a beautiful, timeless gift, I really enjoy making tiny garments. I've shared my own design, Baby Sand Dollar, in another blog post. It takes a smaller amount of yarn than a baby blanket, and less time. I also find sweaters more engaging than blankets, which helps me stay on task. Other great baby gifts include headbands, hats, and of course, booties. Note that babies don't really wear scarves, but they definitely need hats when they are small, even in warmer climates.
Try this: For a quick baby hat, use size US 6 / 4mm double pointed needles and DK weight baby yarn. Cast on 70 (preemie) to 80 (newborn) stitches and work in the round in rib stitch for 1/2". Switch to stockinette and work until piece measures 7" (preemie) to 9" (larger infant). Graft straight across using kitchener stitch, or bind off and sew straight across using a tapestry needle. Use tapestry needle to gather and tie the corners into "ears". This pattern looks even more impressive in a self patterning yarn such as Bernat Baby Jacquards or King Cole Cherish.
My biggest tip for a successful baby gift is choosing the right yarn. Even inexpensive baby yarn feels softer and smoother than other yarns, which is good for baby's delicate skin. Also check the label to ensure that the yarn is washable. New parents are very busy and new babies are very messy. My first prototype sample of Baby Sand Dollar turned out not to be washable, and thus, not practical for a baby. I currently use Cascade Anchor Bay - a cotton wool blend that feels extremely soft and is wearing very well.
What's your favourite project you've ever made as a gift? Share on instagram with the hashtag #handknitsandhygge - and be sure to tag if you try any of these!
Updated: Sep 3
Spring has arrived in Canada. It's a time when things come back to life - and I feel like I have too. Now that we are no longer in "survival mode" I finally feel that I have a chance to focus on some higher order needs.
Over the past several months I've noticed some bad habits have formed in terms of taking care of myself, and that I need to pay more attention to certain areas. In order to ensure that I commit, I've created a few "rules" for self care.
1. My bedtime routine. Make one for yourself and commit. When your sleep improves, everything improves!
2. Blocking out time in the day for myself. For me, this is easiest to accomplish during the baby's morning nap. I don't always know how much time I'll have, and I have to stay at home, so no errands or going for a run. But I committed myself to not doing housework during this time, and I've stuck with it. This time is just for me and whatever I want to do, whether it's read, knit, or take a nap myself.
Your day might look much different and there might not be an obvious time for this. But I read a terrific post shared recently on Instagram that said if you have time to look at social media, you have time to meditate, journal, and practice gratitude. Excellent food for thought! I keep a gratitude log - it only takes a few minutes to list five things I am grateful for each day, and it really helps me to refocus.
3. "5 a day rule" - challenging myself to eat at least five different vegetables and drink a minimum of 5 pints of water every day. It's a big adjustment from my survival mode habits, but it feels like a manageable step towards feeling much healthier.
Saturday is a day when most of us have a little extra time, and can move a little slower, so it's a great chance to think about self care at least once in the week. But for maximum effect, try to work in one or all of the tips above every day.
What are you doing for you today?
Updated: Sep 3
This is not sponsored in any way - just a product I really like!
Since becoming a mom, the biggest struggle in my life has been sleep. Currently, healthcare providers campaign hard for breastfeeding as the most healthful, convenient, and economical way to feed your baby. And though I truly believe it is, exclusively breastfeeding still comes at a cost. It meant I was the only person who could fill that little tummy - and at the beginning that tummy was so little that it needed to be filled every 2-3 hours.
After several months, I became accustomed to broken sleep, but that too, has a cost. As I mentioned in my last post, my memory, concentration, and mental health have all suffered. I even developed insomnia - at times when the baby didn't need me and I could be sleeping, I could not fall asleep for hours, despite my exhaustion.
When my daughter was six months old, my doctor told me I didn't need to feed her at night any more, and that I should work on my "sleep hygiene".
I have been using the Calm app for meditations and sleep stories for quite some time, and have really come to depend on it. Today I received an email from Calm with a whole workbook for improving sleep. Here are a few of the suggestions from Calm that I have taken to heart:
Listening to a Sleep Story
Listening to relaxing music
Dimming the lights as you wind down for the night
Avoiding screens & blue light before bed
Using a sleep mask and/or blackout curtains. Darkness is a powerful cue for your body.
Drinking decaffeinated tea before bed
A clutter-free bedroom
Keeping a notebook by your bed to empty thoughts and to-do list onto paper so that you can rest your mind
Cooler temperatures in the bedroom
A set bedtime - going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time improves your circadian rhythm, which can make it easier to fall asleep and ensure that you get enough each night.
As you can see, many of these suggestions contribute to a cozy, relaxing sleep environment. Turning off the tv early and curling up in a dim, clutter free spot with a book or journal and a cup of tea sounds like, well, just what the doctor ordered.
Will you try any of these suggestions for improving your sleep? Find Calm's sleep workbook and more here.