Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Knitting

Some years I’ve knitted presents for people. One year I knitted for almost every member of my immediate family. It was a bit of a mad sprint at the end, and a lot more stressful than I’d anticipated it being when I started doing it. I took a couple years off of holiday knitting after that.

For the most part, knitting handmade gifts isn’t exactly cheaper than buying a present. But there really is nothing like a handmade gift, especially if you’ve had the time (and taken that time) to strategize something that could really suit them.

This year I ended up knitting for a couple family members, as well as a few friends who weren’t expecting anything. Christmas for me this year was as much about focusing on giving where it wasn’t expected as it was about décor or decadent food. It was a way for me to remember how blessed I’ve been with friends this year, and I thought about that, sometimes, when I was knitting away.

But first off, I made a shawl for my mom, using the Shaelyn Shawl pattern, which isn’t too challenging a knit but is really pretty.

I knitted this with a single strand of Henry’s Attic Zephyr, which is 50% merino wool and 50% silk. It’s a nice, soft yarn with a pretty sheen and is very low on the itch factor. This was a rather fine gauge knit, on size 3 needles.

The next shawl was for my friend Alison, using some of the same color I used for my mom’s shawl, but double-stranding it with a green color of the same fiber.

This was a chunkier version of the Shaelyn Shawl on size 6 needles, but just as soft.

I made the third shawl using Stephen West’s Boneyard Shawl pattern, double-stranding the blue and green sections with a grey strand of the same fiber (I was pretty obsessed with this fiber, as you can probably tell).

This was also done on size 6 needles.

Miracle of miracles, I did knit something using another fiber! This is one I’ve loved for years, another Henry's Attic fiber, this time alpaca. I did these for my friend Rob and wanted something simple and in a nice neutral. This yarn is all-natural colors, I assume they strand together colors from two different fleeces.

They’re the ribbed hand warmers from Purl Bee. I added a thumb to them, using a 1 x 1 rib on the thumbs so they’d have some texture, and knit them on size 3 double pointed needles.

This hat was done last, for my husband—I had the luxury of knitting it up quick and last-minute, as I could wait until December 25th, if possible, to finish it! I ended up finishing it up the day before. It’s 2 strands of the Henry’s Attic Zephyr (surprise, surprise) and another, slightly lighter red strand of another Henry’s Attic yarn that is 80% alpaca and 20% silk.

This was also a Purl Bee pattern, the large rib “thank you” hat. It’s a great, quick, and satisfying knit.

I also did this on size 6 needles. It was a slightly tighter gauge but had a nice amount of give and wasn’t too stiff.

I gotta admit it’s satisfying to knit up a bunch of presents. It’s fun to pack up some of them and ship them across the country to new homes. And I also like seeing the pile of ‘em before they go out!

In the new year I'm gonna try to start immediately knitting for next Christmas, including a "present project" every 1-2 months. That'll keep my pace regular without making it too stressful. We'll see how that goes.

Christmas in Italy

I made these chocolate crinkle cookies as one of my halfhearted attempts at Christmas baking. I’ve never been able to do a big slog of cookie batches like my mom, my aunts, and my cousin Tine do…but on a good year I’ll do a couple personal faves. Some years it’s cookies, others it’s candy making, which I love as a concept but am less successful at. >These cookies triggered a fun set of holiday memories for me. My mom makes a similar kind of cookie with Sambuca in it. I didn’t remember that until after these were made, but I thought they’d be good with a little Sambuca to sip with it.

It was!

A few years ago my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. They’d fallen in love with Italy more than a decade before when they’d gone to Europe for the first time while visiting my sister who was studying for a semester in Aix-en-Provence. They went there, and to Paris, but Rome was what really stuck with them. For years after they’d go back and spend a month or so taking Italian classes in a chosen city, eating at little local restaurants or shopping in the markets and cooking at home, and taking trips on the weekends.

They’d stayed in Florence and Venice, but Rome was a city they knew particularly well and loved. For their 40th anniversary they wanted to renew their vows at a local Episcopalian church that was popular with expats from all over the globe, and invited my husband Steve and I to go with them.

My parents got married on December 22, 1967. So we went over to enjoy the city in the few days surrounding Christmas. It was a strange but lovely time to go. All the churches and cathedrals had beautiful nativity scenes. The city had an intriguing level of hushed bustle, a lot of the restaurants were active, the markets were busy and vibrant. The Parthenon sat like a huge marble phantom in a tiny square surrounded by happy, innocuous cafes and stores. There was gelato everywhere.

One afternoon Steve and I had a couple hours to kill before meeting up with my parents for dinner. It was probably a Friday afternoon, and we hit a café/bar right as people seemed to be leaving work and grabbing a drink on the way home. I ordered a Sambuca, and they poured a huge amount in a glass with a lone coffee bean floating rather forlornly in it. I don’t remember what Steve had. But jostling among all the other Romans, sipping Sambuca on a cloudy afternoon, as commuters chattered loudly in Italian all around us, is a seasonal experience I’ll always remember.