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The Get Real Holiday Gift Guide

Dear Ann,
It’s November 30. December starts TOMORROW. Once again, one finds oneself in the situation of wanting to give charming, handknit holiday gifts, but having none on hand, or at least none on hand in an acceptable state of done-ness. What is a knitter to do?
Don’t worry! There are lots of wonderful, not-knitted things you can give people, especially your crafty-leaning pals. Knitting does not define you! (OK, maybe it defines you! Never mind!) Face it: with few, unreasonable exceptions, other people really do not care if you knit them anything or not. [Everyone gets up and leaves the room in a huff.] Liberate yourself! Spend your precious knitting time finishing that Red Scarf, and enjoying it, and get everybody else something else. Here are some ideas. I will add to them in the coming days, and if readers have any ideas along these lines, would you please pass them along in the comments?
Come On In, Have a Jar of Pickles!
I associate each of my friends very strongly with their kitchens, for some reason. I like the jug of fresh flowers on Diana’s counter in Providence, the trugs made from old plastic potato sacks in Belinda’s kitchen in East London, the pre-eBay (!) vintage aluminum canisters in Lisa’s kitchen 4 flights down from mine, and the extremely enthusiastic. blowsy asparagus fern that stands guard over your dishwasher in Nashville. Over the years, I’ve acquired duplicates of things that remind me of friends’ kitchens, and developed a habit of giving copies of my own favorite kitchen items to friends. So when I became unreasonably smitten with Bee House teapots, so tiny and well-designed, I gave them as holiday and birthday gifts until pretty much everybody had one whether they drink tea or not. One year I felt I had to share my discovery of the Best Possible Spoon Rest. Everything looks better wrapped up in a tea towel (even a tea towel).
Look around your kitchen. Is there some bit of whimsy or usefulness that you really love? Get a new one, wrap it up, and give it to someone you really love. It will remind them of you every time they use it. Whether they want to be reminded of you or not!
Mastering The Art of the Annotated Cookbook
As a sometimes-cook and all-the-time book lover, a gift that always thrills me is a cookbook that has a friend’s seal of approval. Over the years Belinda has given me a choice shelf-ful of British cookbooks. (It makes me feel so Merchant/Ivory when I’m instructed to set my oven to “Gas Mark” whatever–what is a Gas Mark anyway?) The best part is that my book comes with sticky notes on the recipes that Belinda has tried, imparting her unvarnished thoughts. So as I leaf through, months later, looking for something different for a Friday night dinner, I have the feeling of chatting it over with Belinda. Email is all well and good, but It’s also nice to cook what a friend cooks and eat what they eat–this is the basis of Civilization. So if someone is far away from you, or 4 flights down from you, and they like to cook, here’s what to do: (1) acquire new copy of cookbook you like, and (2) write notes on post-its. (Just this past weekend, I made Jamie Oliver’s Chili Con Jamie. My brother-in-law, looking over my shoulder, said, “Oh look, Belinda made this for Halloween and it was fantastic.” And it was fantastic.)
If You Insist on Making Something
So, you’re stubborn and you really want to give a gift made by your own fair hand. Consider this fact: sewing, with a sewing machine, is faster than knitting. Assembly-line style, you can whip up a whole bunch of gifts in one of those Long Nights of the Crafty Soul. One of my favorite gifts, still in use, is a Denyse Schmidt potholder, from her book Quilts, made by our mutual Nashville friend, Angela Haglund. That year, it was her Gift For Females; she made a huge stack of them. Mine has bobble fringe; I have burnt a whole in the thumb, but its charm is undimmed. Always makes me think of Angela, crazy like a fox, tracing and cutting out mitts that year.
As luck would have it, Denyse Schmidt has free downloads of patterns for great holiday gifts:
World’s Cutest Scottie Dog (neck scarf optional).
The Hope Market Tote (This is really just a fun-size prelude to Denyse’s amazing Proverbial Quilt. I’ve got the pattern but I’m stymied by the tasks of choosing the right fabrics and the all-important text –it’s like Twitter in quilt form.) (Currently leaning toward Jane Austen.)
For traditionalists, the All the Trimmings Stocking.
After all that, I have to confess that the nicest gift I’ve received in a long time is a pair of handknit socks, perfectly knit, in an indulgent fiber, that fit my feet exactly although the knitter has never measured. (She has psychic sock powers.) Thanks, you know who!

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  1. Love that tea pot!!! And I’m thinking the sticky note in cookbook idea is a great one. We also got everyone subscriptions to Cucina Italiana last year because it is one of the few cooking magazines that we regularly cook from and love all we have made. (Something like an Italian combo of Gourmet and Food & Wine), not as cute as the scotty, but gets a lot of use!!!

  2. Two quick gifting favorites (“quick” as in “immediate and achieved while wearing slippers and drinking tea” – alas, not tea made in one of those cute teapots):
    1)a Snow Leopard adoption from the Snow Leopard Trust
    2) a subscription to Smithsonian

  3. And yet again, Jamie’s Chilli was a success. That’s 2 Halloween parties running here, and the rest of the street seem to think it a tradition now. So cool that it was good for you over the weekend.
    One of my favourite presents ever is the potholder you sent with the tape measure binding and the old map of London tea towel on one side. I have burnt a corner of it, but better burnt than never used.
    I am tempted to donate towards landmine-finding rats for everyone this year, and that’s not quite as gross as it first sounds:
    just how cute are they? I want one!
    B x x x

  4. Last year I made everyone apple ginger chutney
    and canned it. Hand made and consumable because I get a little distressed about my own accumulation of stuff and don’t want to add more stuff to other peoples lives. Unless it’s really cute and I couldn’t knit cute and fast last year.

  5. One of our favourite teacher gifts is “cookies in a jar.” They think you are all clever, and all you do is put flour and sugar and chocolate chips in a big ol’ Mason jar… And of course, write out that they have to add butter and an egg, and of course, tie a pretty ribbon, and it’s tricky to layer the dry stuff nicely.
    So now, gift tips for teens and tweens, please!!

  6. Jacques Torres Hot Chocolate!!!! MMMMMMMM. Give it with nice mugs and you will have a hit

  7. Great blog Kay, been up since 4a.m. you sparked my brain early today,so maybe I can get somethings moving here! Of course I do need a new chiffon gown to do it in… Happy Hanukkah dear, hope you and your kids have lovely hoilday,may the Hanukkah Fairy be good to you all!P.S.Carrie gets more beautiful each time I see her! The guys of New York are thanking you I’m sure!Wendy

  8. Sewing is a great idea. it is quicker by a mile. Also, baking cookies or making fudge. My sister and neice have made 36 pounds of fudge. No one cares if it is not ‘unique’ or ‘original’.

  9. I made gallons of apple/pear sauce last month. Pints with ribbons on the jars will go to friends.
    Last year our son made every family a pair of market bags on his sewing machine and his wife, the chef, made us all herbed sesame crackers. Mom made aprons. Don made birdhouses that I painted. Homemade gifts are the best!

  10. I love the idea of sticky notes in a cookbook! That idea would be perfect for a friend on my list that I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a “cool” gift for her.
    My favorite gift for women is those wonderfully soft house/sleep socks. Another friend is getting a couple of pair again this year since the ones we gave one another several years ago are
    starting to wear thin. http://www.belk.com/AST/Main/Belk_Primary/Handbags_And_Accessories/Shop/Accessories/HosieryTights/Socks/PRD~2600817KR210/Kim+Rogers+Stay+++Home+Butter+Sock.jsp?off=1 (Sorry for the long link)

  11. Why didn’t I think of sewing gifts. I got four hours of sleep last night trying to get little ahead on my christmas presents.(It worked!)And yet, I didn’t think of sewing anything. I guess the reason I didn’t hink of sewing was because i was still up at two am. I need to re-work my stratigies.

  12. After seeing you “all dressed up” there by your refrigerator, I just had to go back and watch your video again (twice!) Still cracks me up!! Thanks for the laughter!
    Say, you showed the start of a beautiful log cabin blanket a while back—-love the colors! I’ve been waiting to hear what yarn it is????

  13. I also prefer to give consumables. My husband is the chef of the family and likes to give a hard to find ingredient (some herb from the Indian store or whatnot) with even xeroxed favorite recipes that use said ingredient. His last round (a birthday present) was all packed up in a former rice bag. Tres green, non?
    Our teacher gifts are typically gift cards to the movie theater, at least enough for two tickets and throw in popcorn if I’m feeling flush. Because there’s always something you wanted to see in that dead week between Christmas and New Years. And really, how many book store gift cards can one teacher use in a year?

  14. The sticky-note cookbook is brilliant! Makes me wish I hadn’t already crocheted a hat for my best friend’s Christmas present; we both like to cook, and I’m overly fond of sticky notes. On the other hand, why can’t I give her a hat AND a cookbook? I’m in. Thanks for the idea! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. One of my genius knitting students had this idea for new cooks/households. A favorite recipe with the right dish/pot to make it in, and key ingredients all wrapped up together. (In a tea towel, why not?) Off to search archives for perfect spoon rest as I broke my souvenir of Texas one last week.

  16. If you feel the need to knit a quick something, these fingerless mitts were quick. Go to: http://www.tangleyarn.com and look for “mittens two ways pattern”(Instant download-love that). Thick yarn-although next time I wouldn’t use pure wool, they get a lot of wear next to your coat and if the fuzzies bug you it isn’t a good choice. I changed the pattern a bit and did a couple rows of purl at the beginning and end. Turned out very cute and I have seen people wearing them over gloves in colder weather.

  17. I have an amazing recipe for hot fudge sauce. I put it in a cute jar, and no one ever complains, even if they get it two years in a row.
    Kay, I love that teapot, and in searching for it found only one source online, in your home town. Did you warn them?

  18. Hey Kay! I am about to binge out on some quick dishtowel totes–Crate and Barrel has some great graphic towels on sale for 3 bucks.

  19. Good ideas. Thanks, Kay. I agree, knitting the Red Scarf is paramount, and other gifts do not have to be as time-consuming.
    I like to make my Solstice-time gifts about light, warmth, and hope, because, at least in the northern hemisphere, no matter one’s personal belief system, winter solstice DOES happen, and we observe a new calendar year. (Sweetness is also a good theme.) Some years, I have given small, very bright) flashlights, and others, ginger scones. One year, I had great fun collecting agates for agate-lined votive candle holders. So warming and cheerful.
    Oh, and apple ginger chutney would be an excellent warmth-and-sweetness gift. Thanks for posting the idea, Gwyneth! ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. What knitter or anyone who has anything to do with any of the fiber arts could not love the video game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn? Seriously, who designed all those wonderful yarn backgrounds? I wish I had that kind of talent!

  21. OMG, my Nana used to make those Scotty dogs for all her church bazaars, all hand-stitched. I have a purple one around here somewhere. Love!

  22. Ok. Maybe it’s just the resolution on my laptop but, does anyone else think that the photo of Jamie Oliver looks like Ann, sans glasses?

  23. I love my Bee House teapot, which was a gift. A few weeks ago, I was in a tea shop and could hardly resist a big display of them in new shapes and colors. So visually appealing! And a great holiday gift suggestion.

  24. Arrrk! A naked tea pot. Quick. Cover your eyes.

  25. Errrr. You don’t have any vegimite in your fridge.

  26. I love the sewing idea, though I admit I’m a little chicken with my sewing machine!

  27. And why does your picture of the beehouse teapot look so different (and more appealing) than the pics I found on BeeHouses site? Suggestions on local businesses that carry them?

  28. First the Red Scarf Project. Now the Hope Tote and the Christmas Stocking. You’ll find me at the drafting/sewing/dining table from now until Christmas Eve. Best ideas ever!!

  29. I declare Kay – you sure look sweet in that festive gown. Now I can’t help but think that the orange stocking – or even the green – would sure look nice against your dress.
    Hanukkah stockings???

  30. Those Scottie dogs, I have seen them somewhere! Either a McCalls Needlework Magazine circa 1965, or some book somewhere in my abode (who knows where?). I can remember looking over and over at the picture of those scotties SOMEWHERE, and imagining how I’d make them. Now that I think of it, it was probably in a book that I saw them……
    Anyway, thanks for sharing these pictures and ideas, Kay.

  31. Beehouse teapots – I wish I had one in every color!!!

  32. Thanks for the red scarf suggestion. I saw it on one of your previous posts and got to it. Now I’ll send it off this week. It’s a great start to the true spirit of the holiday season!

  33. I liked the tea pot, it’s really nice and neat. Doesn’t mean I disliked the remaining all were great and the teapot stole my heart!


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