Friday, December 26, 2014

Sloe Gin Fizz

I have a dirty addiction - the BBC's historical re-enactments. I've watched historians recreate farms from every era, I'll stalk Dr. Lucy Worsley in anything she does, there's even a show which has Edwardian cooking tips. There goes your afternoon, you're welcome!

While watching the Victorian Farm series, I watched Ruth put together a few bottles of Sloe Gin, traditionally made with blackthorn drupes. She placed it in the pantry for the upcoming Christmas season. If there's two things I like it's foraging and booze!

Unfortunately, here in the western U.S. there is a lack of hedgerows with wild plums in them. Fortunately there is a decorative plum in my front yard! It's got rich purple leaves and bark, and makes small red plums. Not quite the same, but a decent stand in.

I put my small harvest in a jar, covered it in good local gin, and a shake of sugar. Traditional recipes call for a lot of sugar, and I prefer my cocktails less sticky. Plus, watching my weight or something..

The photo above was taken Oct. 1st, this is the end of December, nearly three months! A rich red color and fantastic fruity aroma has occured. It looks really good against that backdrop of fresh fallen snow don't it?

Now, for a Sloe Gin Fizz. A good cocktail must have at least three ingredients - mine has the infused gin, sparkling water, and lime. A Fizz is traditionally done with a whipped egg white, but I am lazy  I wanted to experience the full flavors of the gin.

Full measure of both, on top of ice, squeeze of lime, stir with a knitting needle.

Go outside into the snowy afternoon and enjoy the drink and the sparkling of the sun on the flakes.

Some research shows that sugar is an important ingredient for the chemistry of the whole mess, so I added a bit more and stuck it back in the pantry to infuse more. While it is totally awesome and delicious right now, I was hoping for a fruitier flavor. (I used good Gin, so it's hard to lose, really.) I'll crack it again in January and see how it's doing! Until then, I'll just have to drink mead...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gnomes Part III - Boots

For my army of little woolen gnomes, I'm trying outfit them for a cold winter. Woolen tunics, warm hats, fuzzy leggings, and of course nice leather boots to keep little feet warm and dry!

I rounded up some scraps of leather, I tried to use thin leather so I won't need to poke holes before sewing.
 I used a simple baby bootie pattern and scaled it down. There's a little foot shaped base, and a strip of leather long enough to go around it, with mitered corners. I stitched around the edge of the bottom, then stitched up the front where the two edges meet.
 For extra awesomeness be sure to have each flap cross a different direction, a matching pair!

I stuffed them with a little bit of wool and sewed them onto the bottoms of felted legs. I'm worried that they won't stay all that well, but so far it's working...
My gnomes can stand now! Next step - "Look Ma, No Hands..." (They need little mittens! I have decided against knitting itty-bitty mitts with lace thread and 00 needles.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Blessed Yule!

This weekend was a full 48 hours of lighting fires in the darkness, making an unholy racket, and praising the sun!

The word Yule (or Jul as it's often spelled) is from the same root as "yell". The ancients seem to have gathered at sunrise after the longest night of the year to make a ruckus and wake up the Sun, lest she slip further beyond the horizon. So remember, carols should be sung at top volume and with much drumming and jingling of bells!

No matter which holiday you celebrate, may it be full of light and love!

And if you're in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoy your endless sunlight you rascals...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Five Awesome Upcycling Projects for Sewers

 I am always on the lookout for good ways to make use of old materials. Unmatched buttons, bits of fabric, broken zippers and old notions. The best of the goods get rolled into my upcycled bags, but let's face it. I have a lot of fabric. A. Lot. 

So here's a sampling of good ways to upcycle those crafty bits, like into something exciting! Like purdy hangers, good for those of us with exposed closet spaces. Also, slippery clothing won't fall off.
From Corrieberry Pie
Or a cute little tree! Perfect for lonely little buttons, and that neat wood spool! (Let's not talk about how many empty spools I have in the craft room...)
From Kitsch and Curious
 Several ways to use old zippers? Yes please! I have an alarming number of busted zippers, and plenty of nice metal ones are available from the fly of old pants.
From Passion Make on Instructables.
Mmmmmm, little wee scraps! Stitching onto paper to give fabric a new life and purpose, and trees! (I really like trees, in case you didn't know.) One could of course branch out into any designs that suit the message... but trees are the best.

From Stitched in Color
 And here's the most practical of upcycling projects for the seamstress - a sewing kit! I find that us four-eyes tend to accumulate old glasses, and as I donate old frames I often keep the case, now I know why. See, just planning! I'm totally not a hoarder...
From Tea Rose Home
Now get out there and re-make cool things!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gnomes Part II - Old Man Eyebrows

 I've been stitching up dozens of little shirts for my gnome project, and after all that small tedious work it's time to stab something!

These are the heads for the gnomes, needle felted for maximum cute. I start out by needle felting a ball of skin colored wool roving (pale if you please, these are men of the far north!) into a roughly spherical shape. I make it a little more boxy and oval as I add details. At this stage it's not super densely packed.

I add the shaping of a face, first the indents for eyes, then the line of the mouth. Connect them with lines around the nose spot. I felted the sides down to make the cheeks round and full, and the brows fairly stuck-out. I then rolled up a very small ball and added that as a nose.

At that point it's time to add details - two little eyes in brown or green. A beard is made from Wensleydale curly locks in white or grey, and the shorter bits make some hair. The fluffy eyebrows are what make these little old men... well... old. (Sorry Dad, but you could shade your eyes with those brows of yours!)

There's no need for hair on top of the head, the tomté's wee red hat will cover it all, and keep them from being accidentally eaten by a friendly critter. Next step will be to put them all together with felted leggings, wee mittens, and leather boots! Stay tuned... same gnome time, same gnome channel.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Upcycling How-to : Felt Scraps into Festive Banner!

 After cutting out dozens of little felt shirts for my gnome project, I was left with lots of little felt triangles. Each one too small to be used for piecing or applique, but too large to simply stick in the stuffing bin.

But they were already all shaped like little pennants, perfect for getting your swag on!
I lined them all up and stitched along the top, there's a little gap between each flag where the machine wraps the two threads together. If you have an old ribbon or very skinny fabric strip (such as a selvedge) one could use that to hold it all together.
Bam! Cute as hell. Super easy. No waste. Decorate all your shit. Upcycle. Go make stuff.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Autumn's Offerings - Thor and Sif

NOTE - This article was written, and should have published back in September. It seems it got lost in the ones and zeros...

At the time of balance of the year, I look to nature to see the importance of balance in our lives. In this harvest season it's easy to look to the bountiful fields and the food on our tables as proof of the benefits of balance.

In the Norse tradition Thor is, besides being a mighty warrior, the Lord of Storms. By his presence or absence we get rain and fair weather. Thus, he would be praised for both bringing rain and snow, and for sunny days. Sif, his wife, is a goddess of the fields. Her golden hair (get it right Marvel!) is representative of ripened grains.

Their relationship is a thing of Balance. If there is not enough rain the grain will not grow, if there is too much it rots in the fields. Throughout the winter the soil rests to prepare for the next growing season. Their partnership has space. This is the lesson of the Autumn Equinox,  establish balance in order to create fruitfulness.

As for the making, I placed my ring on the top half of a rectangle of linen, and started stitching! The clouds slowly filled in with undulating waves. I added falling rain drops near the end, and the last touch - a bolt of lightening from the God of Thunder.

The bottom ring I filled with the plants of the fields - vetch, bindweed, grasses, and most importantly golden ripening grain! That space of overlap is the Venn Diagram of the season - rain on the fields.

We gathered for a large feast, think early Thanksgiving, to share in the fruits of the second harvest. This piece was an offering to the Patrons of the rite - Thor and Sif. That is to say, it went up in flames. We got a good omen, and had a fantastic night of food and fellowship. Sacred stitchery has become one of my favorite things!
What are you thankful for? How do you bring balance into your life?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gnomes - Part 1 - Shirts

 As any crafty person knows, making gifts for the Yuletide starts in January. However, this is the season to kick it into high gear. I, for one, detest seeing Christmas stuff out before the first of December, but it does remind me to get moving on the making!

This year as a gift for most of my dear friends I am creating little gnomes, in the Tomte tradition of the north. We could all use a house helper no? These will be entirely woolen, the bodies felted and attached to these wee shirts.

I decided to break up the tedium, and encourage creativity by making this a learning experience. I dug out an old pamphlet of embroidery stitches, and I'm trying to incorporate new and different stitches into each shirt. I'm not sure how many I will end up with, one can cut out an awful lot of little shirts from a single piece of felt...
I've gotten started on the heads as well, they are rather more time consuming! I'll post more details as these little creatures come together. In the meantime, I'm off to leave a bowl of porridge for any wights that may be already around the house, I wouldn't want them to get involved in any mischief...

What are you making for giftmas?

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Spinzilla... it's a monster! RAWR!

This year's Spinzilla challenge was much tougher than previous years'. No, the objective was still to spin the most yards, but now we had a baseline. Goals were set, records prepared to be shattered. Strategies and preparations were made, we got hyped up. While I was going thru my fiber stash I found this little gem, the first yarn I spun on this wheel! It's random wool that came with the machine, and I still haven't knit with it... (let's not talk about my stash problems.)

Since Team Fancy Tiger won last year, we had the pressure to repeat our victory. There was shit talking, well as much as some nice crafting ladies and gents can do...

 My first bobbin, and about my largest! I discovered that my bulky flyer can hold about 13 oz. of sock weight singles, which is way too much for our counting helpers to handle at once! After this I would give smaller bobbins over to them for winding off...
For the most part I was spinning thru a bunch of alpaca given to me by Mr. Crafty, some Gotland greys from New Zealand, and the mystery wool I bought in Ireland. Thus, that pile of finished objects is pretty plain in color. But I did have a few colorful braids given to me!
My final total was 6756 yards, 7 lbs. of fiber. 7 breeds, 2 species, 3 countries of origin, 5 natural colors. Half of the fiber was hand processed by me. One spinner who is looking forward to knitting for a while...

Team Fancy spun over 171,000 yards, which is almost 100 miles of yarn. We have our work cut out for us next year!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

VIking Sweater

The boat has sailed! Off to explore new lands and bring back great riches, the Viking Boat sweater is now keeping me warm thru chilly nights and grand adventures.

It began as a simple idea, I was inspired by Betsala's project on Ravelry, a brilliant take on an oversized drop sleeve sweater. I picked up large quantities of Imperial Ranch yarn on sale, one skein goes a long way and I got several! As always, I needed to change every last thing about the design, I never follow patterns! I have grown fond of yoked increases, so I spotted a nice chart for my fingering yarn. (in Norwegian of course, no matter for the chart tho.)

I ended up re-doing the chart, simple because the "x" in a grid is hell on the eyes after a short while! The chart itself was not difficult to follow, but very time consuming, and it needed plenty of table space! Each round on the sweater involved doing four passes of the chart, back and forth for the mirroring. The upside is that a pictorial chart like this makes it very easy to see if you're doing it right!

Beneath the main chart I went back into the red and black. I wanted something suitably scandinavian, but also badass - the Deathflake was the answer! I altered the skull to look like a dragon's head so there weren't too many conflicting motifs.

Below that I did two repeats of Furthak runes, charted myself. They are all straight lines, so it's not that hard!

As for the sleeves (It's soooo sad to get to the bottom of the body and realize, with horror, that the sleeves are yet to come. *sigh*) I decided to go with the traditional "lice pattern". Sounds tasty? I'm guessing that's why many fiber people just call it a Setesdal. It's nice and simple, but still involves the stranded carry, for extra warmth.

The bottom of the sleeves and body had a basic colorwork pattern from the Setesdal Sweater book I picked up in Norway.

In traditional style the sweater was steeked. In non-traditional style I put in a zipper instead of fussing with a button band. It was sewn in by machine and simply tacked down without a covering ribbon.

Then I tested it out by going in to the high mountains and drinking, just like a Norsewoman.
But wait, there's more! (Yarn, that is. I told you, these skeins are huuuge!) I was digging the red and black, and I do enjoy colorwork. It's super warm and sturdy. I pulled up ye olde Deathflake, and found a chart for some mittens. As I cannot stand to simple knit a pattern straight thru (see above), and Mr. Crafty prefers gloves, I gave them a split finger. Perfect for cycling in the cold!
What did you make this summer for the cold season? I, for one, am delighted for Skadi's return!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Celtic Knot Capelet

I've been sitting on this lovely Donegal Tweed Aran since returning home from Ireland last year (no, not literally sitting, it's been in bins...) and I gave myself the challenge to start working thru all my "souvenirs". I had not quite enough for a regular sweater, so a capelet seemed suitable. 

I wanted to keep in the spirit of the yarn's homeland, but cables are not my style. The Celtic Knot Hat seems to be the only colorwork celtic knot pattern on Ravelry! It's a rather nice one, so not really much to complain about...
I did a spaced increase system for the yoke, knitting 2 rows then make one every 2 stitches, knitting 3 rows then make one every 3 stitches etc... up to 10. I still did increases the whole way down to give it a slight flare. When I had used up most of my yarn I did the knot pattern along the bottom, and finished it off with a few rows of seed stitch.
Before steeking the front I did four rows of slip stitch crochet, one on the first column of knit stitches to either side of the steek rows, then it was turned inside out and one row was done into the side of each column of purl stitches. 

After the steek was cut I picked up a few stitches and made two button straps to close the front. Here it is washed and blocking. (The exchange student has moved out, and I'm only a little ashamed to admit I'm happy to have a spare bed for blocking things again...)

Here it is, keeping me warm on a grey autumn day, Pink Knit, Ginger Approved!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Plant Dyes - Bindweed

Another round of plant dying experiments. This time I'm targeting perhaps the most plentiful plant material on our property - Bindweed. That's right, I wasn't neglecting my weeding, I was collecting important dyestuffs! 

In to a pot it went, covered with water and boiled for several hours, then left overnight.
My resource is an old book,  perfect for my project! Rocky Mountain Dye Plants by Anne Bliss (What a great name!) It has a broad swath of plants, identification information, and descriptions of the colors achieved with different mordents.

The fibers are Lincoln roving, Norwegian top spun chunky, and 2-ply Irish wool, plus some crewel wool.

First, the wool must be soaked, then simmered in alum as a mordent. While that was happening I removed the plant material from the dye pot, as bindweed is a tangly mess it was pretty easy! As always, a few leafy bits remained.

I simmered the wool on low for several hours, then left it overnight again to cool. The color hadn't deepened much since the day before.
It took several rinses to remove the excess dye, but the color didn't fade in the least!

After drying in the sun it was looking a pleasant creamy gold. The color is a bit light for me, in the future I'll need to pack in some more bindweed! Or, it may be because the plants were gathered at the end of the season, a comparative dye might need to happen next spring. I can bet that there will be lots of bindweed again...