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Lazy weekend with a side of yarn haul

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This is my first uninterrupted long weekend in quite a while (since I usually teach on Saturdays).  I successfully avoided the Black Friday madness yesterday by staying home most of the day crocheting, inventing new turkey leftover dishes, and making the best batch of brownies ever.

These look like standard brownies, but deep inside, amazing flavors await.

MC and I have been avoiding high fructose corn syrup for some time now, which is actually kind of hard to do in a regular grocery store.  I decided to pick up all of my chocolate in the fancy organic part of Fairway to be on the safe side.  (Side note: It later turned out that good ole Nestle Toll House chips do not have high fructose corn syrup anyway!)  I was working with the banana brownie recipe from my all time favorite brownie cookbook, The Ultimate Brownie Book: Thousands of Ways to Make America’s Favorite Treat, including Blondies, Frostings, and Doctored Brownie Mixes by Bruce Weinstein.  I used Sunspire unsweetened baking chocolate and peanut butter chips along with some Endangered Species Chocolate dark chocolate, and an extra banana.  The brownies were so rich, we could only eat a few.  I’ll probably freeze most of the batch for later.  Yum!

I’ve been planning all week to do some local shopping today for Small Business Saturday.  It’s a sad fact that most of my favorite local stores closed in the last few years, so there are few options left.  Naturally, I took this opportunity to visit my two LYS.  I don’t actually need any yarn, but I went with two specific holiday projects in mind.

A collage of The Yarn Company signage.

I stopped at The Yarn Company first (review here).  I did see some lovely yarn, especially some undyed alpaca that is exclusive to their shop.  Nothing was suitable for my projects though (or my limited budget), so I left without buying anything.

Do you think they want us to notice there’s a sale?

Though I’ve been avoiding the holiday shopping fervor, I did stop briefly into the Laytner’s Linen and Home adjacent to The Yarn Company.  I’m working on several free patterns in collaboration with Galler Yarns and I picked up a pillow form for one of the samples.

My next stop was my favorite LYS, Knitty City (reviewed here).

A collage of Knitty City signage.

It was fairly crowded, but I did manage to find yarn suitable for my holiday projects.  I bought one skein of Cascade 220 Superwash in 817…

I hope I have time to turn this skein into a hat before Christmas!

…and three skeins of Sandnes Garn Mandarin Petit in 4418.

This may work itself into a Valentine’s Day gift since I have so many holiday projects and other looming deadlines.

I haven’t used this brand before, but the color was really red, which is exactly what I was looking for today.

One the way home, I stopped by the Greenflea, which is now open on Saturday for the holiday season.

This is one of those really hit or miss markets, where you might find a treasure but you are more likely to find vendors reading newspapers and tables stacked with random junk.  Today was a miss.

When I got home, there was an email in my inbox from American Express. My purchase at Knitty City qualified for the $25 credit for Small Business Saturday, so that was pretty sweet.

How’s your weekend going?

Handmade Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Handmade Gifts to Make

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Happy Thanksgiving!

In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) signifies the official start of the holiday shopping season.  In the spirit of keeping the holidays a little more handmade and small business and a little less mass produced and corporate, I’m sharing several holiday gift guides today.

Handmade gifts to make

This time of year, many crafters are using every spare moment to make holiday gifts for their loved ones.  Tracie Barrett‘s Gift Giving Guide on the Fibers by Tracie blog gives some great suggestions for quick-to-make holiday gifts and Fearless Leader recently posted a teaser for the Crochet Liberation Front‘s upcoming Official Guide to Super Awesome Gift Giving.

My personal favorite last minute crochet gift projects are scarves made with bulky yarns (or multiple strands of yarn), hats, and cotton washcloths.

For scarves and washcloths, I turn to my stitch guides for inspiration.  Don’t have any stitch guides?

Not sure how many stitches to start with?  This post in my Crochet 101 CAL explains how to use your gauge to figure out how many stitches to start with if you want to make a project of a specific size.

Some of my holiday 2011 washcloths.

Hats make wonderful, quick holiday gifts.  Some of my favorite crochet hat patterns:

Stocking Caps. (Photo (c) House of White Birches.)

I just reviewed 60 More Quick Knits, which has some great knitted hat patterns, as well as patterns for mittens and scarfs.  My favorite crochet mitten pattern, amazingly available in 8 sizes from infant to XL adult, is Heart Strings by Cathy Pipinich.

Amigurumi can make a fun gift, too.

Filled with great gift ideas!

Speaking of books I haven’t had a chance to review yet, there are three great patterns in Little Crochet: Modern Designs for Babies and Toddlers by Linda Permann that would make speedy children’s gifts: Cozy Crawlers Leg Warmers (6 mo – 2 years, and available here as a free excerpt), Tiny Tee Appliques to add to store bought or hand sewn clothes, and Beanie and Bonnet (in baby, toddler, and child sizes).  (Beanie and Bonnet errata available here.)

handmade gift bag can be a wonderful addition to a handmade or store bought gift.  These bags can be also reused, unlike conventional wrapping paper, making them more eco-friendly.Kathryn from Crochet Concupiscence has a great list of crochet patterns for bags in this blog post.  The Mel Stampz blog has a list of 50 templates and patterns for papercrafts gift bags.

Deborah Atkinson from Snowcatcher has excellent crochet patterns and tutorials in her Snowflake Monday posts.   (It would be great if you could contribute to her charity of choice, Bike MS, so that she can send you a PDF of her 20 most popular designs.)  These snowflakes would make great holiday decorations or embellishments for gifts.  Some of the patterns would also work well as a set of holiday coasters.

With all of this holiday crocheting and knitting, you may be running low on yarn.  So why not stop by your Local Yarn Shop to celebrate Small Business Saturday?  You can even register your American Express card in advance to get a $25 credit on your statement if you spend at least $25 at a small business on Saturday, November 26.  Your LYS employees are guaranteed to have some additional project ideas and maybe even a few new patterns or yarns for you try out.  (If you’ll be yarn shopping in NYC, check out my Visitor’s Guide to New York City Yarn Shops.)

If you aren’t in the mood for knitting, crocheting, or papercrafting, handmade food gifts are another option.  I like to make jar mixes:  I don’t exhaust myself with last minute baking, the mixes last longer and can be used after the holidays end, and the jars can be reused in the kitchen or for craft storage.  Nestle‘s Very Best Baking is a good site for finding classic gift recipes.  My favorite jar mixes to give are the classic Toll House cookies mix, the chewie brownie mix, and the hot cocoa mix.  For those who don’t like chocolate (and there are some of them out there), I like the pumpkin cranberry bread mix or the oatmeal chip cookie mix (substituting butterscotch chips, raisins, or craisins for the chocolate chips).  You can also check out the Best Cookie Mix in a Jar Recipes and Dry Soup Mix Recipes pages at Allrecipes.com for more ideas.  If you can’t find canning jars in your area, there are many online options for ordering these days.  Just remember that if you are shipping jar mixes, you need to be careful about packaging.

Enjoy the first gift guide, and feel free to share your favorite gifts to make in the comments!