Handmade Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Handmade Gifts to Make

This post contains affiliate links.

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!

Must-Have Beginner Crochet Books

This post contains affiliate links.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just in time for the holidays, I decided to update my post on must-have beginner knitting resources with a crochet version.  I’ve been crocheting for 27 years and have been a Craft Yarn Council certified crochet instructor and teacher since 2008.  I’ve taught about 125 beginners to crochet since then, and my students often wonder which of the many books out there are actually worth owning.  Here’s my short list of beginner essentials.  (Tip: If you’re a beginner crocheter, you just might want to “accidentally” email this list to a loved one in time for holiday shopping.)

Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet is one of my favorites.  (I reviewed it here).  It has recently been revised and re-released with all new patterns. I can’t quite decide if it has been eclipsed by The Complete Photo Guide to Crochet by Margaret Hubert, or not.  I think it is fair to say that either one of these books will be about as much crochet reference as you’ll need for quite a while.

Unlike the Encyclopedia, which relies primarily on illustrations to demonstrate techniques, the Complete Photo Guide, as the name suggests, uses step-by-step photos.  I think this gives it a slight edge over the Encyclopedia, as does its conventional size which allows it to fit on most bookshelves.  (The Encyclopedia is more of a “coffee table book.”)  However, if you are a lefty, you may give the edge to the Encyclopedia, which includes both right and left handed illustrations.

Once you have the basics down, I recommend that you pick up some project books to help you develop your skills and practice pattern reading.

Crochet Techniques by Renate Kirkpatrick features several great crocheted sampler “rugs” (a.k.a. blankets for the U.S readers).  (I reviewed it here.)  You will be able to learn new stitches and techniques while working towards a beautiful and useful project.  The format of the book allows for a lot of customization of the projects.

Hats are great crochet projects – portable, fast, useful, and easy to customize.  Get Your Crochet On! Hip Hats & Cool Caps by Afya Ibomu is my favorite hat book of all time.  The hats are well designed, the writing style is casual and fun, and you get to fantasize about having your hats worn by Erykah Badu and Common (two of the many great models in the book).  The best part is that the book is beginner friendly.  Another great thing about the book is that Afya isn’t a yarn snob and most of the samples are made with regular ole Red Heart Super Saver.  (The only difference of opinion I have with Afya is about the use of fabric glue for dealing with yarn ends.  I much prefer to weave them in.)

These days, you can’t talk about crochet without mentioning amigurumi.  I consider The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi by June Gilbank (a.k.a. Planet June) to be the definitive amigurumi guide.  It isn’t as attractive to look at as some of the full color books, but June clearly talks you through all of the techniques and details that make the difference between a great-looking project and, well, a not-so-great-looking project.  I generally avoid any book with Idiot or Dummy in the title, but this one is solid.  Although the book is mostly in black and white, the idea gallery includes color pictures of many projects.

I think granny squares are to crocheters what sweaters and socks are to knitters.  You can hardly be part of the “crochet culture” without at least giving motifs a try.  Beyond-the-Square Crochet Motifs: 144 circles, hexagons, triangles, squares, and other unexpected shapes by Edie Eckman is just the book to indocrinate you, er, introduce you to motifs.  The introduction discusses all of the critical techniques for successful motifs including starting methods (sliding loop, slip knot, and chain ring), tips for joining and dealing with ends, gauge, increasing, and troubleshooting.  There is also a comprehensive overview of pattern reading using American abbreviations and international stitch symbols.  The book features beautifully photographed motifs in several shapes (circles, hexagons, triangles, squares, and “unusual shapes”).

What are your favorite beginner crochet books?

Come Blog-A-Long: Crochet Master Class

 This post contains affiliate links.

Today is Day One of the Come Blog-A-Long year of projects.  My goals is to work my way through Crochet Master Class: Lessons and Projects from Today’s Top Crocheters by Jean Leinhauser and Rita Weiss.

Instead of creating all of the patterns in the book, I’d like to make my own project using each of the techniques in the book.  Let me go back to the beginning to explain why I picked this book and this project.

My crochet background

I learned to crochet from my maternal grandmother when I was about 9 years old.  Over the years, I would crochet holiday gifts (primarily scarves).   I knew several  stitches but I didn’t know the names of any stitches.

In the early 2000s, my close friend was pregnant and I really wanted to make a baby blanket for her.  I found the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Needlecrafts in the Barnes and Noble on Astor Place in Manhattan. This book was (and is) great because it has photographs of the steps for forming each basic crochet stitch.  From looking at the pictures, I was able to identify the name of each stitch.  I downloaded a list of standard pattern abbreviations from the internet and would carry a copy of the pictures and the list of abbreviations with me to compare with patterns.  This helped remind me which stitch was which (a double crochet versus a single crochet, etc.) and what abbreviation corresponded to each stitch until eventually it all “stuck.”

This book opened up an entire new world in crochet for me because I was able to read patterns for the first time.  After making that first baby blanket (which came out terribly, by the way, but had lots of love in it!), I quickly moved on to other projects.  For the next few years, I made primarily baby blankets and throws.

Then in 2006, Afya Ibomu‘s Get Your Crochet On! Hip Hats & Cool Caps came out.  This was another giant leap forward in my crochet evolution.  I started out by making the patterns in this book and then eventually began to design my own hats.  This was followed in 2007 by Lily Chin‘s Couture Crochet Workshop, another book that rocked my crochet world.

Both of these books inspired me to want to design my own projects, rather than rely exclusively on printed patterns.  They also pushed my crochet skills, which had been relatively stagnant for many years, to another level.

In 2007, my grandmother’s health was starting to fail.  We would chat a few nights a week and would usually talk about our current crochet projects.  I heard about the  CYC Certified Instructors Program for Crochet at the Fashion Institute of Technology and decided to sign up at the last minute.  Arnetta Kenney, the amazing instructor of this course, taught us about many techniques in crochet I had never even heard of such as broomstick lace.  This program really injected some excitement into my crocheting.  Several months later, my grandmother passed and I began crocheting more and more, as a way of keeping the memories of our times crocheting together fresh.

After completing my teaching hours in 2007, I became a certified crochet instructor and teacher in 2008.  Since then, I’ve taught over 100 beginners to crochet.  (Check out my series of posts on on getting started as a local needlecrafts teacher or my interviews with needlecrafts teachers Vanessa from Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts, Angela Davis, and Becka Rahn for tips on getting started as a teacher.)

Why this book?

Crochet Master Class is one of the few crochet books I have seen recently that has really excited me.  The structure of the book includes a bio of each famous crocheter with her or his “crochet biography” as well as a description of the specific connection to a particular technique or skill.

For me, the book works on many levels.  First, it introduces you to many skills (which I promise to outline below).  Second, it introduces (or reminds you of) many masters.  Third, it presents some great photos and a sample project for each skill/technique.

But at this point in my own crochet life, I’m not as psyched by following patterns.  I’m a bit more intrigued by design.  So what I plan to do is work through each chapter with a project (large or small).  I will be updating each Monday with my progress.

Here is a list of chapters and the relevant skills and masters:

I don’t think I will follow Crochet Master Class: Lessons and Projects from Today’s Top Crocheters “in order.”  For some techniques, I may just work up a swatch, and for others I have a large project planned.  I’m looking forward to working through this book.