The Best Gifts Are Handmade

Last week, the Fiasco and I drove up to Boston to spend New Year’s Eve with a couple of our closest friends and their adorable toddler. (My apologies for the lack of photos, she’s seriously the cutest thing.) We had what has turned into our typical, relaxed NYE celebration: yummy food, some champagne, knitting, board games, and barely staying awake long enough to watch the ball drop (all the while wondering who the heck all those newfangled pop stars are). This year, though, we were also surprised with a wonderful gift.

03-IMG_2174A whole group of our friends coordinated to knit us this gorgeous blanket as a wedding present. They each contributed a few squares, even ones who learned to knit in the past but don’t regularly do it anymore, and sent them to Bridgit for sewing up.

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I adore the pattern and color palette they chose. Apparently, I made the choice of pattern easy by gushing about the Vivid blanket designed by tincanknits right around the time that my friends were coming up with this secret plan.

01-IMG_2170As you can see, the colors of yarn they used (Vally Yarns Colrain) coordinate perfectly with our couch and the tencel in the blend gives the fabric a lovely sheen. The project took a bit longer than they had expected and I can only imagine all the plotting and scheming that went on behind my back! I was wondering why everybody’s knitting production appeared to have halted. Whenever I asked them what they were working on I got such vague responses as “Oh, that alpaca sweater still” or “Some baby stuff” or “School’s been so busy I’ve barely knit at all” etc.

Dudes, we totally love it.

We love it so, so much. I don’t know if we can ever properly thank them. Handmade gifts are the best, as are our friends, and we’ll think of them every time we snuggle up under this blanket, and I love that.

What’s the best handmade gift you’ve ever given or received?

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WIPWed #74: Feeling Thankful

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US, and despite all the busy and the crazy and the deadlines swirling around my life right now, I’m feeling really thankful for everything this year has brought. At this time last year, we had just learned about my mom’s cancer diagnosis, and several surgeries and treatments later, she’s doing quite well and we are optimistic about her recovery. This time last year, I was still a fiancée, and now I have a husband who always knows the perfect thing to say to make me feel better when things get rough (such as, “C’mon, Alicia, what would Katniss do?”). This time last year, I weighed about 60 pounds more than I do now, and I’m hopeful that I will continue to make progress along this (stupidaly hard) path to better health. This time last year, I had never traveled outside the country, and I now have wonderful memories of sloths and howler monkeys and palm trees and Costa Rican rain drumming on tin roofs to soothe me when I need it (note to self: finish those recap blog posts!). And finally, this time last year my Sweet Sheep lotion bars were a mere twinkle in my mind’s eye, and now I’ve filled over 125 Etsy sales, received over 70 5-star reviews, and have over 390 ‘likes’ on Facebook. It’s been a rollercoaster of a productive and somewhat frenzied year, and when I feel ‘stuck’ or like I’m not making any progress, it’s incredibly beneficial and kind of amazing to pause and look back on it all with a sense of gratitude and appreciation.

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Free shipping for the holiday weekend!

To celebrate the holiday weekend (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday — oh my!) in one small way, I’m offering free shipping on all orders from today through December 1st. Use the coupon code “THANKS2014′ at checkout to receive free shipping on all domestic and international orders! Thanks for all your support, and consider shopping indie this holiday season. 🙂

And I cannot forget all my knitting and spinning in the list of things-for-which-I’m-grateful!

Baby Kalamazoo:

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CY Traveller, colorway Kalamazoo. Click for project page.

I knit this project in about 2 seconds flat (ok, 2 days) for a coworker who is having a little girl and going out on maternity leave today. I’m really happy with how the hat turned out. There are very subtle 2-stitch faux cables throughout the body which make for interesting texture without being overtly cabled. I’m thinking of incorporating this fabric into a larger design. And I just love the little i-cord loop at the top of the hat!

Overdyed Cypress:

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BMFA Twisted, overdyed by me. Click for project page.

My #NaKniSweMo sweater is nowhere near done, and definitely won’t be finished by the 30th, but I’m super proud of the fact that the back is finished and I’ve made good headway on the front. This is one garment that I’m actually going to complete, and that is exciting in and of itself.

Petrol BFL:

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Countess Ablaze BFL/silk/firestar. Click for handspun page.

To occupy myself while I wait for my new wheel to arrive, I started a braid of Countess Ablaze BFL/firestar/silk on my Babe. I intend to spin this as my ‘default’ yarn: a thin single that I then n-ply into a DK-worsted-weight yarn. I have two such handspun skeins in stash already, and have vague notions of spinning a bunch of color-coordinated BFL in this way and using them together in a larger project. I’m using this spin to take part in the Indie Untangled Knit/Spin/Crochet/Weave-along, come join us, there are prizes!

Finch Test:

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Abstract Fibers sample. Click for handspun page.

Finally, I’ve been spinning a bit on my new Jenkins Finch spindle. That photo shows all of the little sample it came with spun up, and later on I will ply a wee skein!

I hope you’re prepping for a wonderful holiday and enjoying all your WIPs this week! Check out other WIPs at Stitch Along Wednesday with Gracey.

Keeping Things Sweet

Halloween is here, which means the rest of the holidays are not far behind. To celebrate the start of the holiday season of thankfulness, I’ve decided that every Sweet Sheep order placed during the month of November with a subtotal greater than $10.00 will receive a free sample-sized lotion bar as a gift!

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Free sample-sized lotion bar with every order over $10.00!

This is just one way for me to say a heartfelt THANK YOU for being a customer! I will send a scent at random but if you have allergies or know that you ‘hate fruit scents’ or something like that, feel free to indicate that in an order note and I will try to accommodate you. The sample will be a fun way to try a new scent, or share it with a friend to spread the sheep-y goodness! Since the gift-giving season is nearly upon us, I’d appreciate as much exposure as we can muster: follow Sweet Sheep on facebook, sign up for the newsletter, and tell your friends! Everyone should have a handmade holiday, yes?

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Homemade pepita brittle.

I hope you’re all having a lovely Halloween! I’m usually a bit of a Halloween humbug since I hate dressing up and really can’t afford to eat candy (physically speaking), but I’m trying to get in the spirit a bit this year. I woke up about 2 hours earlier than I had intended and couldn’t fall back asleep so I figured, what the hell, let’s make candy.

I followed Smitten Kitchen’s pepita brittle recipe and it was super easy! I had never made candy before and wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, but it tastes fine so no harm done. The transformation from sugar, (an alarming amount of) butter, water, and corn syrup to finished candy was interesting to watch. There was a lot of foaming involved, and the addition of baking soda and salt caused more. I kept waiting for it to turn a deep brown color like in the blog photos but once it began sticking to my spatula like taffy I figured it was time to mix in the pumpkin seeds and spread it out to cool. The resulting candy is VERY buttery tasting, which surprised me, but is also delicious, so yay for that.

What’s the most recent new thing you’ve tried, just for the heck of it? How do you celebrate Halloween?

IS #78: Good Clean Fun

Today’s Inspiration Saturday post veers away from the realm of yarn and knitting, and towards a newer obsession that’s been piquing my interest lately thanks to Sweet Sheep: handmade personal care products. Specifically, handmade soap.

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Champagne soap by Calise Soapworks & Such. Click for Etsy shop.

Soap is made by an interesting chemical reaction (called “saponification“) that occurs when you mix together fats/tallows/oils and lye in certain quantities. There are a few benefits to using handmade soap. Firstly, handmade soap retains all the natural glycerin that is produced during the saponification process so it is extra moisturizing.

IS #78: Good Clean Fun | Woolen Diversions

Salt soap by e.l.m tree suds. Click for Etsy shop.

Secondly, one can custom blend the types of oils used to produce specific results (such as using olive oil for a harder bar, sea salt for extra minerals, or shea butter for additional moisturizing properties). Of course this also means one can control whether they use soap made with organic ingredients or particular fragrances and colorants.

IS #78: Good Clean Fun | Woolen Diversions

Sweet Lemon Creme soap by Royalty Soaps. Click for Etsy shop.

Thirdly, they’re really beautiful! The prettiness factor can’t be ignored. You will never find a mass-produced bar of soap that looks so delicious. You likely won’t find any that feel or smell nearly as good, either.

IS #78: Good Clean Fun | Woolen Diversions

Peach Pie Soap by Toil and Trouble Bath. Click for Etsy shop.

Finally, and most importantly, I love the creative aspect of handmade soaps. Some soaps (as proven above) seem practically edible! I think there’s something really special about taking a humble and unassuming bar of soap and turning it into something delightful and extraordinary. Why not add a little whimsy to your day, amIright? Speaking of extraordinary: that pie soap was made by an 11 year old kid, and he donates half his proceeds to a supportive housing coalition! You can check out his story on the Soap Queen blog. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is!

Within the last 6 months or so, I’ve gone from a plastic-poof-and-body-wash kinda gal to an artisan bar soap user, all the way. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll venture into cold process soapmaking territory quite yet (there’s a fair bit of equipment involved and lye is pretty nasty stuff to work with) but there are some amazingly creative things you can do with pre-made soap bases, which I’m hoping to explore soon. What kind of soap do you use? Had you ever thought about handmade soaps before? What’s been inspiring you, lately? Share with us and link up you post in the comments!

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