The zen and balance of yarn

Work has been killer this week. After leaving the office each night, all I want to do is collapse with an overflowing bowl of brownie batter and eat. the. whole. thing. I totally eat my feelings — and they’re delicious.

But eating a bowl of batter would require me to get up and make the batter, or otherwise bribe my boyfriend/sister/dog to do it for me. So I’ve started crocheting instead. I mean, I crochet all the time — but for my Etsy shop. And I love it. If it’s possible to have a true passion for Gryffindor and Ravenclaw scarves, I’ve got it. I’ve created more than 60 since opening up a few years back, and I still find it as fun as I did in the beginning. Even when orders pile up near Christmas and I have to stand in the black abyss that is the post office and I want to cry or run away. (But I don’t. Because I am reliable!)

My mom and sister recently came home from a jaunt to Hobby Lobby, land of joy and peace, with a present for little ol’ me: rust-colored yarn. A burnt orange, if you will. It inspired me. I haven’t crocheted anything for myself in so long, save a skinny scarf I’ve worn a few times. But that took about an hour to make, so I don’t really count that toward my “personal projects” goal.

And I would like to actually have a personal projects goal. Just like my attempts at balancing review copies vs. personal books read, I want to make time for more of my own “fun” crochet projects that serve no purpose other than I . . . like them.

Balance, I keep telling myself. It’s all about balance. As complicated and tenuous and difficult though it may be.

Yarn is very zen for me — and many other knitters/crocheters, I’m sure. The feel of wool or acrylic, the click and slide of the hook, the happiness that accompanies seeing your lap fill up with row upon even row of stitches — and the joy of declaring a piece finished. I love holding something and thinking, I made this. It’s a sense of tangible accomplishment so different from anything else I do.

When I worked at a craft store, a young woman in scrubs walked timidly up to my customer service desk. She asked if anyone there could help her choose yarn — “for an absolute beginner,” she said — and a hook. She explained about her long commute each day, noting she had been feeling stressed and anxious. A doctor recommended she pick up a hobby, something to keep her mind occupied on the train, and she thought about crochet.

The store was really busy that day. It was probably around the holidays. Though I didn’t have much help at the registers and knew I would probably get in trouble for stepping away, I walked with her to the yarn department and helped her choose a basic hook and skein of yarn. She knew nothing about crochet, but she looked so hopeful — and there was no way I was turning her away. No way. I had her stand at my register while I helped other customers — and when there was a slight lull, I tried to show her the basics.

I don’t know how much she picked up that day — and she might have been better served watching videos on YouTube than instructed by a frizzy-haired cashier fresh off a long day of college classes. But I’ve thought about her over the years — about whether she stuck with it.

In my mind, she’s sitting on the Metro somewhere with the makings of a blanket in her lap. Everyone else is on their iPhone, reading a Kindle, staring vacantly into the dark train tunnel. But her blanket is growing, row by row, stitched together in reds and grays and whites. One long and flawless piece.

Everybody go quilt tonight

I’m big on handmade. Owning something lovingly crafted by another human being — not a machine — greatly appeals to me, and that’s probably why I spend so much time perusing handcrafted items on Etsy.

Crocheting has been a hobby of mine since I was a kid, and I absolutely love making scarves. The repetition soothes my soul. When life has gone awry or I’m feeling anxious, just holding the crochet hook makes me feel better. There’s something to be said for the joy stemming from wearing something you’ve created. Taking two skeins of yarn and weaving them into something new — something I made — is a great feeling.

I wish I knew more, though. Of all the skills I envy, quilting is at the top of that list. Between Trish’s posts on quilting bees, Lexi’s skills and my boyfriend’s mom’s talents, I find myself surrounded by adorable quilted items and long to learn the skills myself.

If we lived closer, Alex could probably help me — but I’ll settle with admiring her wares, now up in my Etsy shop. Her latest creations are those adorable miniature baskets pictured above. I have one on my desk with the rest of — ahem — the Valentine’s Day candy I’ve been squirreling away. I’ll be using it for storing paperclips and other cute things when it’s empty. She has spring patterns and gorgeous pastels out now.

Further proof of her talent wasn’t needed after she made me a sock monkey quilt for last year’s birthday. I mean, sock monkeys — on a quilt.

I crocheted her a scarf for her birthday, but let’s be honest — not nearly as impressive.


Any craft skills you covet? Are you a quilter? Or do you share my rampant obsession with sock monkeys? (I’m starting a support group. We can get through this . . . together.)

Why has no one ever told me about Hobby Lobby?

I have a bone to pick with you guys.

Why has no one ever told me about Hobby Lobby?

Seriously. It’s like HomeGoods, Michael’s, A.C. Moore and Pier 1 got together for a big party, things got a little randy, folks made a few poor decisions and, well . . . nine months later, Hobby Lobby was born.

Last Saturday, I was innocently wandering around Fredericksburg, Va., with my mom, sister and Spencer, the world’s kindest and most patient boyfriend. After a day of checking out antique shows and shopping (again, I present to you: SPENCER! The World’s Most Patient Boyfriend!), we were on our way out of Ol’ Virginny when we spotted a gigantic sign glowing in the encroaching night: Hobby Lobby.

And who were we to resist? We had energy for one more stop, right? Just a dash in and dash out sort of thing? See what there is to see?


So many things start out that way, don’t they?

I feel bad because, from the start, I’d approached our Hobby Lobby visit as “for Spencer.” At an auction Friday night, Spence bought a pretty cool shop clock made of a saw blade (pictured above, with auction sign). Neat, but the hands were bent and it wasn’t working well. For less than $3, though, it was a steal — just needed a little TLC. And my guy is nothing if not handy and industrious. (And cute. And amazingly thoughtful. But, eh, I digress.)

After failing to find the right clock parts at another craft store, I thought that with a name like “hobby,” something good would come of this excursion. I was right, of course, but not for poor Spence. (Though he did find clock parts, yes.)

For me. And Mom. And Kate.

Walking in was like being transported to Craft Heaven. The place is gigantic, for one, and filled to the brim with all sorts of awesome seasonal merchandise. There were three full aisles of Valentine’s Day items, coupled with several more St. Patrick’s Day and Easter varieties. It was like a party store . . . in a craft store. Inside of a home decor store. Total insanity.

I was a good girl and left with only a few items, including a three-pack of paper bookmarks (for 99 cents!) and a skein of adorable green yarn laced with silver (called “Jelly Bean”). I’m working on an Irish-inspired scarf now for my Etsy shop and was just salivating over the yarn selection! I mean, a girl can only look at so much Red Heart before she goes colorless and devoid of inspiration. Just seeing a whole aisle of a fresh brand — “I Love This Yarn” — was so exciting. I probably should have bought more, but I’m trying not to become a yarn hoarder. I wish there was a 12 Step program for that.

Apparently Hobby Lobby is all over the place, friends, though nowhere within an hour’s distance of yours truly. Devastating.

But I think that means another road trip is in order.

EDIT: The scarf is done! So pretty and soft.

Crafting hope one stitch at a time

I have a serious love affair with the Internet — and things like Twitter. And furthermore, I love bloggers who become friends — and share their inspiration with the rest of us! I was innocently tweeting away the other day, as I often do, about the crochet projects I’m working on — for customers on Etsy and to appease my own creative energy. The lovely and talented Lexi of Tea and Crumpets responded to one of my tweets about crochet by asking: “Have you heard about the Red Scarf Project?”

“The wha?” was my initial reaction, but it didn’t take long for me to get myself over to Google and investigate. The Red Scarf Project is a “unique initiative to warm the hearts (and necks) of college-found foster youth.” A charity drive by the Orphan Foundation of America, the Red Scarf Project is rather simple: knitters and crocheters are asked to simply make and send red scarves to the foundation, which distributes them via care packages to their students in college as reminders of those who are cheering them on and thinking of them as they study, work and live. Even if we’ve never met them.

Sounds awesome, right? And as someone who has a hard time even watching TV in the evenings without a hook and chunk of yarn in my lap, this sounded like the perfect project for me. I like charity! I like helping! I like making scarves!

Only problem? The deadline for this year had passed. The scarves collected through Dec. 15, 2009 will now be distributed to the college students on Feb. 14. With a sigh of dismay, I closed out the 10 million browser windows open on my computer (seriously, multi-tasking is in the blood) and slunk away to find a Diet Coke and drown my misery in caffeinated, fizzy and noncaloric goodness.

Enter Lexi — and Craft Hope, a crafting website and community dedicated to helping others through crafts! Their sixth project is for — you guessed it! — the Red Scarf Project, and Craft Hope got special permission to extend the deadline for submitting red scarves to the initiative! YES!

You’d have thought someone handed me a multi-book publishing deal, I was so excited. And I made my first scarf this past weekend, with plans to make at least one more before the new Feb. 14 deadline. The group asks that the scarves be unisex — or as close to unisex as possible — and I can’t really see any gentlemen rocking the little number I have on at left! Therefore, I’m making another red scarf — wider, a little darker in color. Hopefully a young man won’t feel too awkward sporting it. Or, at the very least, he’ll make it his own!

In all seriousness, I think this is such an awesome project — and I’m so glad to have discovered it from Lexi! I really, really love to crochet and had no idea there was such a world of charitable crafting. Being all Internet- and blog-obsessed, I suppose I should have figured that out sooner, but I’m really happy to have learned about it now!

If you’d like to get involved, please do — Craft Hope has all of the information on the project. You can also see more about the Orphan Foundation of America or learn about the ways Craft Hope is now helping Haiti through crafts.

Crafters are such a devoted, generous crew, and I really feel like nothing beats handmade. At the risk of sounding cheesy (but it’s never stopped me before), there’s a little bit of love in every stitch. Aww.

“Potter” scarf up and ready to rock

scarf_tableI’ve finished my latest “Harry Potter”-inspired creation! Fresh off the heels of selling my first scarves at my Etsy shop — both for burgundy-and-gold “Harry Potter” creations — I’ve crocheted a scarf with the newest design from the films. I’m very proud of it!

me_scarfAnd as a devoted fan of the series myself, if for some reason it doesn’t, um, fly off the shelves, so to speak, I’ll look forward to wearing it around town this fall! As the colors are the same as those of hometown team the Washington Redskins, I doubt anyone would even blink.

If you crochet/knit (I guess it would work for knitting?) and are interested in the pattern, I started out by chaining 18 across. Next, I crocheted ten rows of burgundy, then two rows of gold, two rows of burgundy, and two rows of gold again — and then started all over with the ten rows of burgundy, etc. It’s a pretty simple pattern and goes fairly quickly, especially with my favorite stitch — the afghan stitch! It’s the only one I use; it involves no real counting, persay, and I never lose a stitch anymore.

Let’s get Etsy-fied

I scrapbook, crochet, make cards, design digital graphics and just generally . . . consider myself “artsy.” Not in the pretentious, black-beret-wearing way — just in the “I enjoy art and making stuff” way. And I sit at a computer all day and hang out on the Internet in between work projects most afternoons. And I’m the Queen Googler! Give me a problem and I promise that Google, the keeper of all knowledge, will have the answer.

So how, then, did I not know about Etsy, a marketplace for handmade goods?

It’s like eBay for crafts. And it’s awesome. You can find pretty much any gorgeous, homemade item you could possibly want! And most of it is quite affordable. There are a hundred reasons why buying from individuals all over the country (and the world) is probably better for you and them than heading out to a “big box store,” but it’s mostly exciting because I’m psyched to be able to find really different, ecclectic items for presents and decorating. I’ve been looking for something else to go with my office’s London theme — I have a London corkboard, various desk items and a London painting my sister got me. And then I saw this for sale by NestaHome (please ignore my very crude text box to keep the photo from being replicated):


It’s a digital collage — of London! And from a series the creator calls “Alone In the City.” I pretty much am in love with it. This one is “Waiting For the Bus”; there’s another in the set I bought called “Sometimes all you see are buildings.” I have wall space all picked out for them!

And I bought something else as a present . . . but I can’t divulge that highly classified information! Suffice it to say I’m very excited to get it — and to give it for Valentine’s Day.

Once I got more comfortable with Etsy, my plan is to start selling some of the multitudes of scarves I’ve crocheted over the years! My sister and I paid for a table at a local craft fair a year and a half ago — and sadly came back home with the majority of what I’d created for the show. We hardly sold a thing. And I don’t think it was for lack of quality, let me tell you — I’m very proud of my scarves! And I didn’t have anything on the table selling for more than $10. People were just being cheap that year. This past November, when we were in the throes of the recession and folks were gearing up for Christmas? We probably would have done much better. But that’s fine. Now I might have a way to unload some of my stock and bring smiles to the warm, happy faces of potential buyers looking for just the sort of random scarf I happen to be selling! That calls for some cheers!

UPDATE at 8:45 p.m.: I try not to be all talk and no action! I officially have my very own Etsy shop, boasting five scarves that I’ve crocheted lately! I figured I would start small, though I have plenty more to list. Feel free to stop by! And for you Harry Potter fans, here’s a sample — complete with my cultured hands-on-hips pose . . .


Acting ridiculous in coffee shops — my new specialty

I wandered around in the rain on my lunch break today, hitting up all my usual Southern Maryland afternoon hotspots. It felt good to be up — and walking — outside of the office. I really do like having my own little nook at work, but anyone who’s ever worked a nine-to-five job knows that some days, you really have to just bust loose.

So I had a pumpkin spice latte for the third time in the past week — and it tastes just as good on each occasion! Palmer’s doing well with his no-caffeine routine, but I would never even attempt that. I’m addicted. And, apparently, I’m addicted more and more every day to taking random photos of inanimate objects — I’ve majorly been building my stock photo collection lately.

And the rain ended just as quickly as it started, though it’s been gray all day since then. A good day for hanging out, being silly and acting pretentious in a coffee shop — if only I had more time!

I went ahead and broke out the fall decorations at work today, too. I have my fall leaves and, of course, my foam pumpkin I constructed with my sister last year. Though I’m 23 years old and haven’t worked for a craft store in almost three years, I still love me some random homemade concoctions! I briefly took up woodworking, painting and quasi-jewelry-making while working for a hobby shop my first few years of college. I also expanded my crocheting knowledge, which I still use. But random foam things are my sister’s specialty. We’re both especially fond of making holiday-themed foam finger puppets.

Now, feel the power of the pumpkin.

And yes, my nameplate does identify me as “Miz Suga Spice.” Little known (and probably TMI) fact about me: I have a gold tooth. You can’t see it unless you crane my neck back and peer dangerously into my mouth, but still — it’s there.

Sorry to alarm you!