The world is full of lovely things that we encounter in our virtual and real-life wanderings. We offer this guide to cool things we’ve found. We think these are good gift ideas, and that they may lead to other good ideas. (Of course, we’d be delighted if you found a great gift in our shop. It’s a new, small shop, though; we know it doesn’t contain all the answers. Next year!)
If you’ve already got your homemade jams packaged in sparkling jars, well done you! (And please send us some.) Otherwise, read on. We’ve also opened up a topic in the Lounge (“Gifts You Don’t Have to Knit”), if you’ve got ideas to share.
One long-ago Christmas, I spent hours haunting bookstores in search of the perfect book for a boyfriend whose interests included ancient Greek and Jonathan Swift; it was a lovesick humanities exam. He gave me a book about Vienna in 1900, which I didn’t know a thing about at the time, but fell in love with. Ever since that Christmas, when someone gives me a book, I feel good. If nothing else, giving someone a book says, “I think you’re smart.” There are not a lot of compliments better than that. These are a few books we think will resonate with knitters and other lovers of beauty and usefulness.
Books That Are Actually About Knitting
Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook. Norah’s books are worth the wait. This one, fresh off the presses, makes us want to knit all the cables, nothing but cables, forever cables.
People Knitting. A century of photographs of people knitting. We find these images irresistible, and are grateful for the research that went into digging them up and reproducing them so beautifully in this little book. (Keep your eye out for a slideshow that we wangled from the publisher; coming soon.)
Franklin Habit said it all about these two:
In the Footsteps of Sheep: Tales of a Journey through Scotland by Debbie Zawinski. (Franklin’s review here.)
Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac. This pocket-sized Dover paperback is a priceless gem. The subtitle is “Projects for Each Month of the Year.” The projects are timeless—people are still making them today, by the hundreds—but the real prize is Elizabeth’s voice, guiding and explaining, making you laugh and making you understand. Every knitter needs this little book.
A Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker. This is the first of four volumes of knitting stitch patterns by Barbara Walker. Stitch dictionaries may look prettier today, but Walker’s work endures and is still a stunning achievement. These are not for beginner knitters, for they have no purpose other than to help you design your own projects, or immerse yourself in the mental gymnastics of constructing knitted fabrics. Mind-blowing. Grateful to Schoolhouse Press for keeping them in print.
Mason-Dixon Knitting Field Guide No. 1. This little book, published this year, is the start of a series that is dear to our heart. Three delectable projects by beloved designers, plus an exploration of stripes. The next one is coming soon. Think of this book as the ticket for the first leg of the adventure, and invite a friend along for the ride.
Books That Are Not At All About Knitting
The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks.
The Shepherd’s View by James Rebanks.The “Herdy Shepherd” Twitter account captivated us for months and years with its up-close view of traditional sheep farming in England’s Lake District. The fame of that account led to these extraordinary books by modern-day shepherd James Rebanks, who is anonymous no more.
The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems. I got this book as a gift and gasped at its beauty. Full-size facsimiles of poems that Emily Dickinson wrote on envelopes. There is an index of the poems by shape of paper. You see the mind through the hand.
And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman. Really, any of Maira Kalman’s books will do. We also love The Principles of Uncertainty, and her illustrated edition of The Elements of Style. Kalman deftly delves the depths of life, with words and illustrations. Fun (but not surprising) fact: she’s a knitter.
Kaffe Fassett’s Bold Blooms. The latest in Kaffe’s magnificent life’s work celebrating color, this time in all floral forms and media. More is more. Minimalism is stifling and small; who needs it?
To keep a kitchen lively, acquire at least one new cookbook a year, or better yet, get one as a gift from a friend who’s cooked from it. Cookbooks should be beautiful and cook-able; these two are.
Small Victories by Julia Turshen.
Food52: A New Way to Dinner. (Personalizing tip: if you’ve cooked from the book, go through the gift copy and stick post-its with your comments on recipes. When your recipient uses it, it will be like cooking with a friend.)
For Knitting Pals (Tools and Trinkets)
We each have a small network of real-life knitting and/or sewing friends with whom we try to schedule a lunch or get-together as the year draws to a close. It’s fun to exchange small items such as homemade treats, Christmas ornaments, or crafty tools. Something that they’ll use, and that will remind them that they have friends in this world who share their passion for making things. These are some fun things we’ve found.
Rule No. 1 Mug. Knitters are known for their love of hot beverages, and require a variety of cheerful vessels for same. Our diner mug is a useful reminder of what knitting is all about.
Clover Pom Extra Large Pom Maker. Pom poms are a necessity of life these days. Friends don’t let friends wind yarn around cardboard toilet paper rolls. We continue to stand by our standby, the Clover line of pom makers in graduated sizes. Perfect pom poms. Reliable tool.
Katrinkles Bamboo Things. Buttons, tools, ornaments. Well made in the US, and darling.
Fringe Supply Co. always has the best utility items for crafters. Our favorites:
Bento bag. Tidy and soft, in lovely fabrics, this is a bag you can fit inside other bags. Because we’ve all got a lot of bags. Also good for packing a picnic, which you can then carry on a stick as you walk along the railroad tracks. Or maybe that’s just us.
Bonsai scissors. Sharp little buggers. No one has enough scissors. These are cool.
Leather Wrist Ruler. These will not be ready to ship until mid-December, but if you want to wow a sewing or knitting pal, this is the item. Vegetable tanned leather and brass and made in Portland, so HELL YEAH.
Our very own Also Full of Yarn bag is handy as can be. We chose this specific Baggu model after seeing New Yorkers shlepping it around loaded with groceries, well-worn but going strong. We love this bag.
For Yourself or Your Best Friend
Here be indulgences! Textiles are a weak spot for us, and the following blankets are glorious, extravagant, and to be admired even if from afar. We imagine Heaven will have carefully folded, hand-loomed blankets.
Swan’s Island Blankets. Exquisite wool blankets from Maine, from the same people who make Swan’s Island yarns.
Brahms Mount Indigo Herringbone Throw. Indigo. Herringbone. Old looms. We like very much.
Mended Welsh Blankets. Tom of Holland fascinates us with his philosophy of exquisite mending, repairing, making do. He just launched a collection of hand-mended blankets at The New Craftsmen, a dangerous website filled with handmade, superspecial things.
Porter Bin. For knitters, Fringe Supply Company’s Porter Bin is 2016’s answer to the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. The Porter Bin will organize and hold all your stuff neatly enough to make KonMari weep with joy. Fringe is temporarily out of this one (because it’s awesome) but it will be back in stock this week.
Happy Cup Coffee Company 3-Pack. This social venture in Portland, Oregon employs adults with special needs and has been in business for years. The coffee is delicious and the gift boxes are beautiful. A great choice for caffeine-seeking pals and people who’ve done you favors.
Thistle Farms Liquid Hand Soap. Love in a bottle. Citrus Vanilla and Lemon Sage are our favorites. You’re helping women in Nashville escape lives of drugs, prostitution, and violence. The women in the program work to create these bath and body products, which smell absolutely great.
When you think about it, Single-Use Appliances is definitely a holiday gift category of its own. We won’t lead you through the valley of electric knives (although one of those made the Gardiners’ 1972 Christmas ham unforgettable—you’ve got to get the blades on right, people). Just a short list of good machines for better living.
Rival Crock Pot. The grande dame of single-use appliances and the vessel of choice for our Slow Cooker Odyssey. We have had steady, solid results with our stripped-down Rival Crock Pot—no timer, no metal insert—just the basics. The model we suggest here does have two clamps up top in case you’re transporting your Crock Pot to another destination. Having embarked on an odyssey, this seems a good idea.
Scale for weighing yarn. This little guy will save you from having to MacGyver up an awkward way to split a skein into two balls of the same weight using a coat hanger and two ornament hooks. Life comes at you fast. Be prepared.
Cuisinart Smart Stick. Don’t let anybody tell you an immersion blender is too chef-fy. This thing saves so much dishwashing, not to mention the terrifying experience of pouring hot chunky liquids into a blender for soup or sauces. Whatever it is, just blend it where it sits. ZZZZZip it’s soup/sauce/smoothie; rinse off the detachable end of the stick and you’re done.
Soap on a Rope. Finally, for that special someone, we turn the clock back to 1975, when Ann’s brothers both received the gift of portable hygiene, and memorably wore their Soaps on a Rope around the house all day, delivering unto us all a stirring cloud of manliness.