Saturday, November 30, 2013

handmade holidays: merry and bright

I've had a remnant of Ralph Lauren red plaid kicking around in my fabric stash for years. I bought it to make a shirt for myself, but I felt the plaid was a little too small scale (though I still have enough leftover to make a sleeveless oxford, so I may do it after all!) for an adult's garment. So I made this little 2T dress for a friend's daughter (pattern is Butterick's B-4054). The only change I made to the pattern was in the sleeves: I made a separate casing, rather than turning up the sleeve's hem to make a casing for the elastic, as I knew I wanted to trim the sleeves with bias tape (in a contrasting white/blue/green/red plaid) that I'd fallen in love with at my local fabric store. I used it to trim the skirt, neckline, sleeves, and to bind the seam where the skirt meets the bodice. This dress is full of careful details: most of the seams are French seams, the skirt seam is tacked down, invisibly, by hand, and the invisible zipper is the best one I've ever done. Children's clothes are so small that I always feel like I have time to indulge in the special finishes.

After sewing the dress, I embroidered a little laurel garland to the chest in ivory cotton sashiko thread, using a chain stitch for the stems and herringbone stitch for the leaves.

Here's another picture: it's a bit less romantic with the light filtering in through the window, but it'll give you a better idea of the dress. I can't wait to wrap this little cutie up and pop it in the mail for a special little girl's Christmas!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

handmade holidays 2013: chamomile liqueur

I'm pretty sure that my old high school buddy's wife doesn't read my blog. If she does, man, am I ever ruining the surprise. I had said something about growing chamomile on facebook this spring and she asked if my husband (who's got a real knack for mixology) might be able to dream up a chamomile cocktail for her, as she loves chamomile. Well, I thought, I've got to figure out a way to make a chamomile spirit. My first attempt was a bust: I used Roman chamomile (a low-growing groundcover chamomile), I think that was the first mistake. When I later reopened the jar of roman chamomile flowers that I'd dried and saved, I noticed a faint bitterness to the otherwise sweet chamomile scent. That bitterness also came to the forefront when I infused the flowers for a couple of weeks instead of a couple of days - too long, I learned, for chamomile.

So, this second time around, I used German chamomile (the standard, upright plant that people tend to think of when they think of chamomile) that I grew this summer. I only steeped the flowers for five or six days (I steeped in vodka). Then I added honey (lots of it) and water (because the alcohol content of many sweet and flavoured liqueurs is lower than the vodka's standard 40 proof). I watered down and sweetened to taste, taking tiny sips from a teaspoon after each addition until I'd reached a point that seemed to best complement the sweet and sunny chamomile flavor. The benefit of sweetening with honey (as opposed to, say, a simple syrup), is that the combination of honey and chamomile is so traditional and expected - and the amber colour of the honey only enhanced the sunny yellow colour of the liqueur.

I poured it into an old absinthe bottle and corked it. We haven't figured out how we'll get this down to Oregon yet, but we'll get it there - and a little ageing in the bottle with the honey won't do the spirit any harm. In the meantime, I've got maybe one ounce of this liqueur left over, and I've challenged Cass to dream up a cocktail and try it out. He's only got one shot, so it's got to work on the first try; I figured we'd jot the recipe down on a tag and tie it around the neck of the bottle for gifting.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

a new hat

Inspired by Giles Deacon's F/W 2013 show (some images below), I knitted myself an oversized beanie this autumn. (For reference, I propped the hat up on a 14-inch-high vase for this shot. It's quite large, about 28 or 30 inches in circumference at the base.) The hat is made with Lanaloft Bulky wool yarn and knitted on size 19 needles. There 60 stitches (I worked a 3X3 rib pattern) that gradually reduces to a 2X2 rib pattern, then is sewn together at the top. It is accented with two metallic silver leather feathers that I cut by hand (unlike Mr. Deacon, I don't have access to a fancy laser cutter), affixed by a leather thong to a cast silver twig (from the silver twig shop on etsy). Mine isn't quite as long as some of the hats below because I didn't like the really long floppy shape, but it tucks down a little bit in the back and generally makes my head look like I've got a giant green mushroom for a hat. I love it!


Monday, November 25, 2013

project 52:9

well, now that I realize I haven't posted anything since last week, I feel a bit bad. I've got a few things photographed that I just need to upload and share with you - a hat, some finishing touches for holiday gifts that I've been tying up, and though that shirt is just about done, I realized I may have to tear off the sleeve facings and put sleeves on it. I just can't tell if I like it without sleeves or not. I think I need to get Cass to weigh in and make the decision for me.

In the meantime, at least I'm keeping up with project 52. Last week a friend posted a picture of a bare tree on facebook and it reminded me of the way nerves branch in the human body. So I sketched the tree (roughly) and then painted over it in a mix of acrylic and gesso.

Monday, November 18, 2013

project 52:8

for week eight, a quick painting of Mt. Ranier at sunrise is overlaid with a print from a moon-phase lino block that I carved (and later this week, I'll show you the shirt I'm making with that lino block).

Friday, November 15, 2013

DIY Imperial Prism Earrings

Time for another anthro DIY! Above are the "Imperial Prism Earrings," currently sold at anthropologie for $138. I think it's a great, bold earring for holiday parties and the quartz points make it feel rather wintery to me. These guys are made from two quartz point beads, a bunch of little brass spacer beads, and rhinestones in two shapes (12mm squares, and 15x7 mm navettes) mounted in brass sew-on settings with two holes. A single piece of wire feeds through the quartz point, then the two sides go up through the two holes in the sew-on setting. There are 15 brass spacer beads on each earring - four on each wire between the quartz point and the square rhinestone, one on each wire under the navettes, and one single brass spacer at the top. After stringing on the last of the navettes, the two wires are pressed together, the brass spacer bead is fed on, and they are made into a simple loop closure and attached to a lever-back earring with a small rhinestone accent.

Here's my DIY version. I wasn't feeling the pink-and-white colour scheme of the original, so I swapped it. I was hoping to do green navettes with an opalescent white square rhinestone, but I couldn't find the components in the right size. I settled on jonquil ( a pale chartreuse) navettes and peridot squares. These actually cost me more than I'd expected-  and the surprising expense were the brass spacer beads, which were $0.40 apiece. As I needed 30 of these spacers to make the earrings (and I bought two extra, in case I lost one in the carpet while making), there was no way I was going to be able to make these for my usual "1/10th of retail price" standard. Alas. I used leftover quartz points that I had on hand, and gold-plated shepherd's hook earrings that I had on hand to keep costs down - all in all, I think I spent about $25 on materials. That's a bit more than my usual, but still, a far cry from $138. And I like them in green. I think they might be great for spring, too.

Monday, November 11, 2013

project 52:7

this week, Cass suggested I use the postcard to do a study of a pomegranate, since I've got one in my next painting and I need practice (sorry, David  - do you feel used?). So, week seven is a pomegranate sketch (just using a mechanical pencil I found in the pen jar) that I stabilized with a bit of fixative before going back over it with a little wash of acrylic paint to punch it up with a hint of the deep dark colour of those ruby seeds.

Pomegranates are the perfect winter fruit, aren't they? No wonder it's the fruit that Persephone ate in the underworld - they're so dark and mysterious, all that brilliance and zest hidden in the labyrinthine folds.

Friday, November 8, 2013

kitchen alchemy

In addition to the fruitcakes, I've got a few drink infusions aging in out-of-the-way places around the kitchen, too. First, I wanted to try making a birch bark liqueur, because I adore root beer and licorice and all those sweet root/pod spice flavors. I infused dried birch bark in vodka for a week or two (I wanted to stop before it took on a bitter edge, as I'd read that birch bark is most commonly used as a bittering agent!). I strained the bark out and put the vodka back in a dark cool cupboard for another week (or two? hard to remember). Last week I added a couple of tablespoons of honey to sweeten it and put it back in the cupboard. I shake it up every other day, and plan to let it sit and mellow for a month or so before I try it. The ageing process (especially once you've added a sweetener) really changes a spirit; it mellows it and gives it body. So, we'll see. I'll report back closer to the holidays as to whether or not this was a success (and if it is, you can be sure that I'll be making more).
So much for the jar on the left. In the little glass bottle on the right I'm infusing saffron into gin. I ran across this cocktail on the anthropologie blog yesterday and wanted to try it, but I couldn't justify going out and buying a bottle of Bourdier's Saffron Gin (for one thing, money's tight; for another, I don't like to buy a whole bottle of something before I can taste it and make sure I'll like it). So I simply poured off 4 ounces of gin from a bottle I had on hand and placed several generous pinches of good Spanish saffron (I stocked up when we went to Granada last year; I wish I'd bought even more, it's so much cheaper there), then poured the gin over it. I suppose it's a little low-tech, but I hoped that my heavy hand with the spice would make up for the fact that I didn't have a better technique. Within an hour or two, the gin already had a strong forward scent of saffron, so it seems promising. I'll strain the saffron out in a day or two - again, I want to be careful that no bitter edge will creep in. I left the chamomile flowers infusing in my would-be chamomile liqueur too long and the result was a powerful bitter. I've learned my lesson!

Last but not least, I'm trying out the recipe for homemade apple cider from Yvette Van Boven's Home Made Winter cookbook (wow, it's currently out of stock!). I have to admit, I feel a little wary of this method: grated apples are combined with water in a bucket and left to ferment for a week. There is no pasteurization/boiling beforehand, no tablets are added to kill harmful bacteria (and thus, no yeasts are added to replace those which might have been killed by such a tablet). I didn't wash the apples beforehand. That might sound crazy, but I knew that if the apples were going to produce fermentation without added yeast, I would need to leave any wild yeasts that might be on their skins intact. So .... no washing. I just took this photo - it's day five. All the little bubbles are kind of cute and cheerful, aren't they?
After a week, you're supposed to strain out the solids, and add sugar, fresh ginger, and cinnamon sticks to the liquid. Then it goes back in the bucket to continue to ferment for another day. Then it is poured into sterilized bottles and goes into the fridge. Van Boven says you can drink it immediately or store it for a month or two - and that it will become more effervescent the longer it sits. I save beer bottles with Grolsch-style  closures for reuse for picnics and such, so I think I'll sterilize those and use them for the cider ... and we'll see? I'm definitely curious, and I'm excited to finally be trying this process out!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

and again, new DIY earrings

I fell in love with these iolite and brass earrings from Portland, Oregon vintage/artisan shop Demimonde. Of course, at $140, they're way out of my price range. (Note: they're labeled the "lolite" earrings; I assume that's a typo and that they're actually made of iolite. I've never heard of "lolite.")

Time to DIY! The construction is simple: two pieces of chain are joined at the top by a jump ring. At the bottom, twelve little flanges/drops/pendants of brass hang from a head or eye pin (or simple piece of brass wire) that has been threaded through the loops of this very fine chain and its ends bent over (once) and hammered slightly to flatten them (optional). The trick here is to get a very fine chain so that you can simply bend the head pin/eye pin/wire over to secure it. With a wider chain, the pin would slip through the loops and the whole thing would come apart in a second. The iolite is a tube bead, with a brass spacer bead on either side, also strung on a head pin/eye pin/bit of brass wire that is threaded through the loops of the chain and folded back on itself. You do have to be careful to count your loops so that the iolites don't hang in a lopsided fashion.

I was looking for perfectly neat little brass drops/flanges/pendants and couldn't find any, so I picked up some small square brass rod (hollow center) and hammered it flat to make my own. These earrings are about 1" wide, so those flanges/drops/pendants are only 1/12" each. I couldn't find anything so narrow, so I simply reduced the number of flanges in my earrings to seven. I couldn't find brass spacer beads that were quite the same dimension as my iolite tubes - oh well! And I chose to use a bright brass (instead of a tarnished/aged brass) chain for the sides of the earrings, as I wanted to have a slightly more unified look overall.

Cost to me? A $10 strand of iolite tubes (I have a couple dozen left; I only used six of the beads), $1.20 for the chain; $0.80 for the headpins, $1.30 for the brass spacers (I always buy a few extras, in case I lose one during the project), and $1.79 for the brass. The ear hooks and jump rings are gold plated and probably a bit more expensive, but I already had them on hand from previous projects. So all in all, about $15 for a pair of earrings (with lots of leftover iolite to make more).

I discovered that I really like working with the square brass rod. I can hammer it on my anvil to uneven thicknesses and it still has a fairly regular width/profile. I like the uneven, rough-hewn organic effect. I'll have to play with it more in the future. And while making these flanges does take some hours, I rather like the effect of shaping, trimming, and filing so many small pieces. Fiddly work like this is calming for me. Maybe some more earrings (or necklaces?) are in my future - certainly, the 1920s aesthetic at Demimonde is totally inspiring. I might finally have a good use for a string of green garnet stones I bought last year.

Monday, November 4, 2013

project 52:6

a little seasonal cheer: I rendered our Halloween pumpkins, and trusty spider (that Cass made out of foam core, and which we rig up over a corner of the porch every year with our trellis netting for a "web") in a little papercut exercise.