Before I forget, yesterday I did reach 100,000 meters on the Holiday Challenge, so yay! for being half done. And then I went to knitting.

Holy craftwork, Batman, we’re not in America any more! My local Stitch’n’Bitch group had our SInterklaas present swap last night and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. In the US, typically either you have a basic Pollyanna swap, in which you draw names and you prepare a gift for the person you drew, or else you have a white elephant swap, in which you prepare a present that could be for anyone. Then you draw lots for order; the first person picks a present and opens it, the second can take the first person’s gift or choose to open a new one, the third can choose either of the first two presents or open a new one and so on. Then you get your package, unwrap it, ooh and ah – maybe two minutes per person.

This was not like that. It took well over an hour for us to open the presents one by one – you have to read the poem out loud, and then opening the present can be a lot of work.

To prepare a Dutch Sinterklaas surprise, first, you have to write a poem. Then you do something creative with the wrapping – a plain box and paper is not going to cut it. Apparently it’s popular to make people reach through something that feels gross (like Jello) to get the present, though luckily no one did that last night because nobody really wants Jello on their yarn.

Having had it all explained and checking a couple of websites, I came up with a concept I was pretty happy with. I drew another American, which was lucky because I could write the poem in English. She’s from TX, so I knitted her a Texas washcloth (the shape of the state done in reverse stockinette), then attached it to a piece of cardboard (I used yarn, punched holes in the cardboard and whipstitched it on, like the projects we used to do in Girl Scouts). Then I made a conical tree out of layers of brown paper and then some foliage-printed wrapping paper, with some bath gel, lotion, soap and a pouf inside, and tied it to the base. To trim the tree, I looped gold ribbon around it, with some stitch markers and earrings I’d made tied to the ribbon. (The price limit was 10 euros; I was certainly not the only person pushing it, but on the other hand I only used a half a skein of the yarn and a bit of the tree paper, and all the beadwork was supplies I already had.)

Other people’s gifts included a Sinterklaas head (construction paper hat, head of a styrofoam sphere that opened up with the presents inside); a sheep (about 2′ long, wool made of cotton balls glued on, and a cylinder body with a lid that opened at the butt end to reveal the presents); a steamboat (which is what Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet come to Holland on); and a whole crocheted cactus. One person got a whole bunch of knitted tulips in a vase.

I was lucky enough to be drawn by one of the most talented people there, who also reads my blog, so the poem was very personalized and the gift I received was pretty incredible. I’m hoping that someone else’s photos were better than mine, since I forgot to bring a camera and had to use my iPhone. She made me a rowing machine out of cardboard! It was amazing – there was even a measuring tape embedded in the “flywheel” so that you could pull the handle out. Unfortunately I had to dismantle it to get to the presents. There was a project bag inside the seat, the useful kind with a large handle that slips over a small handle, so you can wear the small handle on your wrist while you knit. Inside the flywheel was a skein of yarn she’d dyed herself, in blue and purple. (She asked if I wanted to swap it for another she had there, but I knew that was a slippery slope – I’d have spent twenty minutes debating between them. Besides, she called this colorway Dichroic!)

I get the impression that this surprise-swap might be a bit above the average level even here, since by definition this is a group of creative people. Still – wow.

While telling my coworkers about it I had an idea; I think I will write a silly Sint-style poem for each of Ted’s family, for their stockings. I think they’ll like it.