Thursday, December 26, 2013


This year I signed up for an ornament exchange thru Aunt Peaches' Blog, the theme was something pink and fabulous - Flamingos - how could I resist? I kicked around a few ideas of how best to create a one-leg-standing critter, and settled on felted wool.

Needle felting is time intensive (and a little dangerous!), but it offers lots of control and a chance to add little details.
First I had to find a good inspiration image, the typical flamingo we all wish to have on our lawn. I then started the body with a wet-felted ball. Just took some roving and dipped it in soapy water, then rolled it in my hands. It looks like a hair ball? Good, that means you're doing it right.
I decided that felting skinny little legs would be futile, and I want them to be posable! I used a paper clip to make leg wires...
And thinner jewelry wire for posing the neck. One wouldn't want to have a flamingo without that perfect neck curve! I wrapped the roving around the wire to create the neck, fortunately it doesn't seem to hurt the needle to graze the wire inside the wool.

Adding the feet to the wires was trickier, in the future I would use sheet felt for that. Finger stab count was still only one!

Finally I added little details - The beak and eyes, and some streaks of lighter pink and white on top. I tried to leave the ends un-felted for a 'feathery' appearance. I also added a little bit of pink yarn for hanging - All ready for the tree!
And I was rewarded for my efforts with an ornament for my tree! This girl has sparkles and marabou feathers, plus pink wire legs! I'm not the only one who solved the leg question this way. Here she is hanging with the sacred rutabaga...

Merry everything readers! And a Happy New Year as well!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Embroidered Tree Skirt

Last year I was inspired to create an heirloom piece for our Yule tree. This is, in fact, a big step for me. I have long despised the holiday season, mostly because it starts in September. I am the 'bah humbug' shouting obscenities at holiday decorations that go up before Thanksgiving, and shoving headphones in my ears as soon as the bad Christmas music is heard in stores.
But, like the grinch, I am softening back to the season. I have always loved snow. I have always loved fire. Now that Yuletide means a gathering of friends with good food around a fire on a long cold night... it's not so bad. So, for the first time, we cut a real tree in the mountains and decorated it with my odd collection of ornaments. Such a tree is worthy of a good skirt!

I decided on several traditional winter symbols - Holly, Ivy, Pine, and Mistletoe. All are noted for staying green through the winter, and thus are considered signs of rebirth, fertility, and heralds of spring.

I chose a different color for each plant, and a simple arrangement of three leaves for each. the backdrop is a linen blend trimmed in red bias tape. I had a heck of a time getting it round!
The happy kidney bean likes it!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Picture Perfect

 After much dithering I finally shelled out the big bucks for some prints of my graduation photos, and when you've paid $30 a pop for a picture, it deserves a good frame! Let's ignore for a moment, the price of the actual college education...

Since I earned a fiber arts degree, it seems only fitting that the frame should reflect that. Plus, I wouldn't want it to look all stuffy and professional! So I got into the bowl of small scraps and warmed up the glue gun.
The tricky bits - I started each scrap by gluing down the inner edge where the glass will press against the frame, then I spread the rest with glue and smoothed it down. Also, I cut mitered corners in order to get a fairly neat look at each corner. Then, I trimmed all the excess fabric from the back edge of the frame.

After an hour and some brand new blisters, the first frame was ready to go. The base is a cheap IKEA frame, simply because my trip to the thrift store was fruitless.

Pow! Now doesn't that match the decor better than a plain old white or some stuffy wood-grain thing? Yep, that's what my college education got me, a desire to cover things in fabric using my glue gun...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Soups for the Cold Season

 It's that lovely time of year when everyone learns the true meaning of sharing... germs that is. This year's new evolutions of ick are floating around, so it's time to gird your immune system and prepare for impact.

One of the things I make each year is comfort in a jar - a simple hearty soup for when you're too sick to make yourself something proper. Junk food and take-out will tend to make things worse, but when you're running a fever you don't want to go out shopping for the healthy stuff.

Throughout the year I dehydrate foods. Anytime I got the 5 lb. bag because it was on sale, or the garden floweth over, or I forgot that carrot in the back of the crisper and it's starting to dry out on it's own; I chop it up and stick it on the dehydrator.  Pictured is celery, mushrooms (from our farm share), and ginger. I use these for easy backpacking food year-round.
 Here's the options assembled, a variety of veggies. After veggies are totally dry one can place them in jars and they keep indefinitely.  Besides offering up nutrients, many of these foods can help treat you! Members of the allium family (onions, garlic etc.) are often used as immune boosters. Mushrooms offer protein, and are also traditionally used to treat fevers.

I also add ginger and/or hot peppers as a stimulant to promote sweating and good circulation. Sage, thyme, and rosemary are antimicrobial and assist the immune system.
 Simple starches will cause blood sugar spikes which hurt the immune system, so I use brown rice in small amounts. These are bullion cubes, but simple salt is sufficient. Hopefully the sick person is drinking tons of water and will thus need plenty of salt to maintain mineral balance.

 Here's the finished soups! One has carrot, green onion, leeks and celery for the traditional chicken soup experience. The other is southwest style, with tomatoes, corn, zucchini and hot peppers. Both have mushrooms. They are ready to be tossed in a pot with some water and spooned into a miserable flu victim!
 I also prepped some preventative medicine. Elderberry syrup and an immune booster (which involves whiskey, yum!), and some garlic infused honey. Garlic and honey are both wicked good for the immune system and surprisingly tasty together. I peeled and scored all the little cloves that get passed over for cooking and placed them in a jar.
Covered with honey and left in a warm place (here, on my stovetop) the garlic will seep it's goodness into the honey. A spoonful of this will keep your immune system strong, vampires (and friends) at bay, and freak out your exchange student.

Here's to hope that you won't get sick this season, but like a good scout - Be Prepared!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Finds - Warming Up

It's that time of year, the leaves are mostly fallen and the first big snow has left the city wet and cold. What to do when it's cold outside and not much warmer inside? Cuddle up to some warm goodies and warming treats.

Like this fantastic slouchy from MadamePeace, your grandma always did tell you to wear a hat...
And don't forget that grandma told you to have 'stockinged feet' in the winter so you don't catch a cold! Felted slippers by StoneJoyDesign are ideal.
Now make a nice pot of tea to warm up! This no caffeine blend from SpiralElixer will keep you toasty all day.
Particularly if you keep it in this Hebridean wool cozy by AMagpieandaDove. With a constant cold damp breeze coming off the ocean one imagines that the Hebrideans know how to stay warm.
Now pair that hot tea with a bowl of tasty soup, and you're ready to take on the day! A good hand-thrown pottery bowl, like these from WildChildClayWorks, will hold that heat in to the last bite.
Then you can bundle up and run out for a little bit of vitamin D and fresh cold air, use these fluffy gloves with loooong cuffs from CreativeTides to keep from getting a blast of cold air on your wrist. Even if you need to make some snowballs you will still be covered!

It's a hard transition to make, so embrace the good things about Fall changing into Winter, and have a another cuppa. What's your favorite way to enjoy a snowy day?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wooly New Zealand

 While the scenery and cultural attractions are spectacular in New Zealand, we all know what I really came for - WOOL.
 Following a tip, we rolled into Tally Ho Ranch, which is unique in hosting a number of different breeds, many are colored. The typical field here is filled with Merino, Corriedale and Rambouillet. Here, Gotlands, Cheviot, and others made for a more diverse flock. Also, Look at that cute wittle sheepy! Look. At. It.

Not pictured, but definitely also cute - newborn (like 3 hours old!) Shetland ponies. There was a lot of Daaaaws to be had.
 They also had a classic old carding machine, here the owner was demoing making a fluffy alpaca batt that will be used to stuff a comforter top.
 Aaaaaand this is the wool storage barn. Makes my craft room look pretty empty... I guess I'll buy some more fiber!

 Ooooh, look at that silver and charcoal Gotland! Hey, don't look at me like that! I spun up a pound and a half for Spinzilla, I have room for another Kilo... right?

 Yea... I know you're judging me little merinos...

 We also stopped into the town of Milton, following rumors of a mill and mill ends shop. Notice the angled roofs? That's to allow light in at certain angles. Where the wool is stored and sorted one wants indirect south light (southern hemisphere remember?) for a clear view of the fiber, and of course too much direct sun can damage the wool after a while.

In the Mill End shop there was a corner dedicated to being a museum, photos of the mill works and products from the early days up to the modern era were pegged up on boards. Old tools and machines were displayed. There were even old sample books showcasing the fabrics being produced there from the 30s to mid-70s.
 Even this hardened veteran of dozens of fiber museums saw a novel piece - this device "used to measure the twist of yarn".
The mill was Milton's main industry for almost a hundred years, and so the town remembers its "King". Many people who settled in this area were of Scottish descent, so the get-up is probably meant to harken to the olden days in the homeland.
And naturally, I sampled a range of their products! All these little balls are true "ends", leftovers from the weaving, plying, or skeining process. They were very cheap, and so cute, and I got a whole bunch, and... don't look at me like that! Several were actually very tough "Carpet Wool" that I will use for slippers.
 Our next little fiber stop was a total surprise, stumbled across in the small town of Hokiteka. The Sock Knitting Machine Museum and Shop. An entire wall lined with old machines of various makes and models, and a looping video of the owner demonstrating knitting machine techniques.
 Turns out the shop is manufacturing new machines, when we were there one was being tested before being sent to Switzerland! (Is there no where closer to buy a knitting machine I wonder?)
 The shop in fact had it's own little mill set up, carders, spinning machines, sweater knitters and more. An entirely self contained little venture, which seems to be capable of making o good deal of product in a fairly small space. My entrepreneurial mind was much intrigued.
 I indulged in some possum yarns there, and at a larger yarn shop. Possum are an introduced pest, and there is a bounty on killing them as they devastate native birds. The dead possum are skinned, and the fiber shaved off. It's a short, fine fiber that is hollow like Alpaca, and thus very warm. All four of these are hand-dyed and super soft, a blend of %20 possum with %80 merino is standard.

I also chanced to visit the Turnbull family (That's my Father's side) Wool Store (That's storage to us Americans, a warehouse.) My cousin showed us various samples, and explained wool grading. Each fleece is classed based on micron thickness, staple length, color, cleanliness and crimp. The far left clump is 'junk' wool destined for carpets and quilt batting. The middle pieces all variations on the finest grades, they were so fine the individual fibers almost disappeared when held up to the light. The final piece is the only bale of colored wool in the whole place... looks like us handspinners are the only ones interested in natural colors.

 I also kept my needles moving the whole trip, if I could only knit as fast as I buy yarn! Those purple pieces are Irish wool from my last trip, perfect for a global wool experience.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Oamaru - Steampunk Capital of New Zealand

Or so proclaimed a large rusty water tank outside of town along the main highway. I had heard rumors about this, my relatives (in their 50s and not exactly hip to the cosplay scene) had told me that this old town was where the steampunkers are - "Penny Farthing capital of the world..."

So, with curiosity and excitement, I exited the highway to drive thru the downtown area. The area was home to a large limestone quarry, so all the buildings are built in a lovely white stone splendor. Very nice, and certainly a good backdrop for an event, but other than festivals is there anything steamy going on here?

But down by the dock I spotted it, and I was not disappointing!  The locals had embraced this aesthetic, and built a playground with strange contraptions doubling as playthings.

We then continued south to Dunedin, another older city. Mind you, no city on the island predates the mid-1800s. This simply means that the downtown areas often were built in decadent Victorian splendor. 
This, is the train station. Every floor was tiled in minute mosaic with train motifs. Every wall completely covered in relief tiles. The windows were stained glass. The wood trim and bannisters were carved. Every. Single. Surface. All this for a waystation, a limnal space that one passes thru for just a few moments. It makes the local Airport look like a trailer park.
With such fine buildings abounding, it's no wonder that people feel pulled to return to a more genteel era. With airships and clockworks of course...