THERE'S something enchanting about fabric stores. It could be the vibrant colors that spring from shelves crammed with bolts of fabric — or just the sense of possibility. Or maybe it's because no matter what you end up with, there's so much pleasure to be had along the way.

It's not just a fabric thing, either. Abby Pecoriello is a firm believer in the power of crafts to subdue whatever ails the spirit. College apps stress? The young Manhattanite made beaded rings. Work-related blues? Handmade charm bracelets.

And when Pecoriello had her daughter, Lily, and was navigating all those new mom insecurities, she decorated baby tees, whipped up fleece hats and knotted impossibly soft "swanky blankies." Soon, she had converted her mommy-and-me playgroup into a bunch of happy, crafty mamas who met each Thursday to whip up craft projects and share playground gossip.

You can spot crafters here on the Left Coast, too. They're the ones who sit through school board meetings or — like Lafayette's Claire Finne — cheer for the high school water polo team as their knitting needles click away.

They swap tips on the Berkeley Parent Network, browse the aisles at Michael's and Jo-Ann's and meet up to sew, knit or, in the case of the 27-member All About Stitches group in Pleasanton, cross stitch.


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And they clutch books such as Pecoriello's brand new "Crafty Mama," which includes instructions for 49 projects, from no-sew fleece blankets to the 10-Minute Tutu, which uses an elastic headband as a base for a froth of tied-on tulle and ribbon.

Any one of these projects would be perfect for a tween, teen or grown-up to make for their favorite little person. Make the fleece hats and blankets in a larger size, and you've got the perfect gift for any classmate, college friend or auntie.

Inspired, we set off to make some of our own. A foray to Jo-Ann's fabric store in Pleasant Hill uncovered hundreds of bolts of soft fleece in every pattern imaginable — tartan plaids, cartoons characters, florals and, for some unfathomable reason, five bolts emblazoned with the University of Michigan's logo. No Cal, no Stanford, only Michigan. We suspect Jo-Ann's buyer is a Wolverines fan.

With a craft-loving teen in tow, we picked a quartet of pinks and a passel of plaids and headed home to whip up some holiday fun. A few hours later, we were surrounded by stacks of softly fringed scarves, baby sized hats topped with a tumult of fringe, and every variation of swanky blankie we could lay hands on. Now it's your turn.

Contact Jackie Burrell at jburrell@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Getting Crafty
Why stop at fleece? Other low cost, fun to make gifts include:
  • CANDLES: Buy sheets of beeswax (10 sheets for $11.55) and wicking online from Dadant.com. Place a length of wicking down one end of wax. Using firm but gentle pressure, roll to form candles.
  • SOAP: Buy glycerin soap, dyes and molds at a craft store, such as Michaels. Melt the soap in your microwave, tint it and pour it into a soap mold -- clean yogurt cups and other plastic tubs work well, too. Let set, then pop out. Visit www.Michaels.com. for ideas and instructions for making layered and mosaic soaps.
  • PAPERWHITES: Force a pot of paperwhites or narcissus. Put the bulbs and rocks in a pretty pot now, place them outside and water them once a week. The flowers should start to bloom by the holidays.
  • FOOD GIFTS: From infused oils to mulling spices, gifts from your kitchen always delight recipients. Visit www.ContraCostaTimes.com/food.-and-wine for a roundup of culinary gift ideas.
  • KIDS CRAFTS: Check out the aParently Speaking blog for a 12-day countdown to the holidays, featuring crafts, recipes and activities, starting Dec. 12 at www.ibabuzz.com/.
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    Knot in a Hurry quilt
    For a baby blanket, you'll need 1 yard of solid fleece for the backing, plus enough fleece scraps in coordinating and contrasting patterns to cut into 42 9-inch squares. Cut fringe, 2 inches deep and 1 inch wide, around all the squares. Cut a 2 inch square out of the corner of each quilt block. Now, arrange the squares in a 6x7 grid and start knotting them together, tying each fringe piece to the corresponding fringe piece on the next square, in a double knot. Go row by row, then tie the rows together. When you're done, pull all the knots to the front of the blanket and lay it on top of the wrong side of the backing fabric and smooth the outer fringes out. Cut coordinating fringe into the backing fabric and start tying the two halves together. (Cost: $15-$40. Excerpted from Abby Pecoriello's "Craft Mama Makes 49 Fast, Fabulous, Foolproof (Baby & Toddler) Projects" from Workman Publishing.)
    Fleece scarf
    For each scarf, cut a piece of fleece from selvage to selvage, and 10-12 inches wide. Trim off the salvages and cut a 2-4 inch fringe into the ends. (Cost $1-$3 each. Time: 20 minutes.)
    Fleece hat
    Measure around the widest part of your head, add a inch and write that number down. Toddlers will probably measure 18-20 inches, children 20-22, and adults 21-24. Lay out your fleece and cut a piece 15 inches high and your head measurement wide, so that the latter runs along the stretchy direction of the fabric. Fold it in half, wrong sides together, and sew a narrow seam, stopping about 6 inches from the top. Turn it right side out, and fold the bottom edges up to form a 1 inch cuff. Fold it again. For a toddler hat, measure 5-6 inches from the bottom of the cuff and make a small mark. (For kids measure 6-7 inches, and adults 6 -8 inches. But don't worry about it too much, as the cuff gives you some wiggle room in the fit.)
    Now, cut deep fringe from the top of the hat down to the mark. The thinner the fringe, the floppier. Cut a long, narrow strip from the remaining fleece and use it to tie off the top of the hat, just below the fringe. (Cost $2-$4 each. Time: 30 minutes.)
    No-Sew Fleece
    Blanket
    For a child's blanket, you'll need two pieces of fleece, one patterned and one solid, about 1 yards each. For a teen or adult, measure 2 yards each. Lay the two pieces on top of each other, wrong sides together -- fleece is stretchier in one direction than the other so make sure they stretch the same way. Trim them so they're exactly the same size, then, using a rotary cutter or good sewing shears, cut a 4-inch square out of each corner, and a fringe of cuts all the way around, so each cut is about 4 inches deep and to 1 inch wide, through both layers of material. The wider the cuts, the chunkier the fringe. Attach the top to the bottom by tying each pair of fringe pieces in a double knot and working your way around. (Cost: $15-$40, depending on the price per yard. Time: 1-2 hours.)