Sunday, January 27, 2008
in december after my father-in-law passed away, his home was soon filled beyond capacity with flowers (i say "beyond" as some of the arrangements fit only on the back patio.) over time, as the flowers began to wilt, i wanted to find some useful way to preserve them. years ago, i had heard about making rose petal beads, and rather than make jewelry of some sort, i decided to make a rosary for my mother-in-law.
i googled around and found several methods to make the beads. some options, like simply putting petals in a blender with water, didn't seem like they would produce a nice bead. i sort of combined the various instructions, and made up the rest. here's what i did:
1. gather ye rosebuds
i had the mistaken impression that one needed piles and piles of petals. not true. i think a half dozen or dozen petals would be sufficient. you may choose to use all one color (red would be especially nice, yielding a mahogany color), or do as i did, mixing whatever rose petals you happen to have around. be sure to discard any brown petals. some suggest snipping off the fibrous bottom end of each petal, but i'm too lazy for such things. (not having a control group, i can't say whether it would have improved the results.) if you like, you can keep the petals fresh in a plastic bag in the fridge while you wait for subsequent flowers to hang their heads.
2. cook your stinky porridge
first of all, don't be fooled by instructions that say that cooking the petals will cause the aroma of roses to fill your house. rather, to my nose, it smells strongly of decay -- a combination of your valentine's bouquet in early march along with some rotting leaves. my husband swore it made his throat feel allergic, and hours later, the surprise was in jeopardy when my mother-in-law came home to a stinky house for which i had no explanation. it's not terrible, just not the most pleasing. you might want to open a window weather permitting.
so: put your petals in a pot (something non-reactive, probably), cover with water, and heat. as soon as it boils, reduce to a simmer, and let it cook for a long time, stirring occasionally. i think i had mine on the stove for around 4-5 hrs, but if you're not cooking up many bouquets worth of petals, you might find a few hours is sufficient. basically, you're looking for the petals to have broken down into a a slimy brown mess, with no petals distinguishable from the others. it won't be a completely smooth paste, but the petals should be well broken down. see before and after (right) don't worry about the unpleasing color at this point.
3. remove the water
drain the whole mess in a colander or sieve. wait for it to cool enough so that you can handle the, um, solid matter (whatever it is now?). handful by handful, squeeze as much water as possible out of the stuff, and place in a container of some sort with a lid. the more water removed, the better. you can keep this "clay" covered in the fridge for several days if necessary.
4. shape your beads
you'll need some sort of drying assembly, including some way to keep the holes in the beads open. i used squares of corrugated cardboard and t-pins -- stick pins would be fine, but i liked the wider diameter of the t-pins, giving me more flexibility later in stringing the beads with bigger holes.
grab a (grape sized?) bit of the petal-gunk, and squeeze it in some absorbent cloth or paper to remove more residual water. pinch off a small bit and roll it between your fingers to form a ball (or whatever shape you like), making it as smooth as possible. carefully insert a t-pin, slide the bead halfway up, and stick the end of the pin into the cardboard. two things to be aware of: first, the bead will shrink a good amount -- i'd guess maybe 30% or so? so make the bead larger than you want the finished bead to end up. second, it will not shrink uniformly -- it shrinks more in width than it does in height (perhaps due to friction along the pin shaft?). my beads started off mostly round and ended up oval; my (unused) set of oval beads ended up very long and thin, almost like a stout bugle bead. you might find it to your advantage to make all the beads at once -- once they begin to dry/shrink, it's more difficult to keep them a consistent size.
5. wait. repeat.
let your beads dry, spinning them half a turn on the pins every day or so if you think of it (i doubt this is crucial). it's probably best that they be in a moderate temperature and not overly humid environment, so that they will dry before they grow mold. i had no trouble with this, they dried to the touch overnight, and continued to dry (and shrink) for another day or so. (be aware: they will still shrink a slight amount for up to a week or two after you make them, so if you don't want any gaps in your necklace, wait longer to string them up.
the results: you probably weren't fond of the color of the cooked petal goo -- mine was reminiscent of some unpleasant baby-offerings of which i'd rather not be reminded -- but surprise! the color now is much improved. mine (from a mix of rose petal colors, with red in the slight majority) went from an ugly tan to a lovely dark brown with a deep purple undertone. the texture becomes a bit more rough after the beads dry; i chose to view this as part of their inherent natural beauty rather than get concerned about it. it's also worth noting that some people recommend coating the beads with some sort of varnish, wax, etc. i chose to leave mine natural as i liked their look (and the oil from your hands supposedly enhances the beads over time), but you could research different options. (oh, and the foul smell goes away as they dry as well. luckily.)
6. create something useful and/or beautiful from your beads
you could easily make a necklace, bracelet, or earrings, or incorporate the beads into sewn or crocheted items (keeping in mind it's best to store the beads in a non-humid environment if possible). i chose to make a rosary for the meaning it would impart give the source of these particular petals. (i had to look up the proper configuration of a rosary, and i used a few standard variations: rather than use small ave beads and large pater beads, i just put more space around the pater beads to set them off. also, i couldn't find a pendant i liked, so i used a large stone bead for the center, plus a sterling silver crucifix for the end.)
string the beads on whatever size beading wire fits comfortably through your beads, interspersing (or not) some other beads for variety and interest. (i used some garnet colored glass beads to pick up the mahogany tones in the rose petal beads.) for the rosary, i didn't need a standard clasp (just silver crimp beads to secure the ends), but choose whatever style clasp works for your needs.
stored (generally) in an airtight container, and not, say, dropped in the swimming pool, these beads should last indefinitely. (or so i'm told... we'll see, eh?)
and there you have it. a lovely keepsake, especially meaningful if you used rose petals that had some meaning to start with. (valentine's day is coming up -- are any of you the type of person to get roses then? if not -- i'm not either -- or you just don't want to wait, the cheapest way to get petals is to ask for some (specify you'd take the wilty sad looking ones!) at a flower shop. they'll either just hand them over, or sell them for not much.
as for this particular rosary, its meaning tends toward the somber rather than other potential meanings, such as celebratory or romantic. however, although it could be seen as too sad and morbid to make something from funeral roses, i choose to view it differently. those flowers were given not only in sorrow, but also as a sign of the love and respect the givers had for my father-in-law. it's this -- the profound effect he had on the lives of others -- that i see symbolized in the rose petal beads. an unworthy tribute, to be sure, but meaningful nonetheless.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
some time ago, etsy labs posted tutorial on making fused plastic bags. as far as i can tell, they didn't start the ensuing crafting trend, but certainly fanned the flames (fumes?). you can see examples and more examples all over the place. (and really, if it's on etsy, craftzine, and whip up, it's been covered. thoroughly.)
i loved the premise of up-cycling (yes, we get to make up whatever words we want these days) only marginally useful plastic shopping bags into something better. so, in trying my hand at this technique, i decided to juxtapose it with something that in many respects is coming from the opposite viewpoint -- traditional quilting. (i did see some examples where bags were pieced somewhat to combine logos or to get large enough sheets of material, but didn't see anything pieced in a quilt style -- but that doesn't mean it hasn't been done.)
traditionally, back when quilting was at least in part a utilitarian undertaking, quilters used whatever fabric was available to them. it was common to repurpose old or damaged clothing, and whole styles of quilting existed for the sole purpose of finding ways to use every last scrap of fabric. nothing was wasted. plastic bags, in contrast, are used once and (often) thrown away. use and toss, use and toss (or maybe use it again once for something and then toss). they're a pretty apt symbol for our whole consumer disposable culture. (those early quilters would feel a bit disoriented my this mindset, i think.)
and so, i turned my horrible plastic bags into traditional quilt blocks, to sort of play with that dichotomy. i deliberately chose very familiar quilt blocks: the ohio star and shoo fly on the front, as well as the friendship star on the back. i added sashing between the blocks (to continue the whole quilt representation), then formed the whole thing into a tote bag -- coming full circle from bags to a bag. (as you can see, i behaved like a quilter and even drew out a quilt pattern -- plastic or not, you need to know sizes and where the pieces go, so that was actually helpful.)
i didn't have any trouble fusing or sewing the plastic. it was a pretty uneventful rendition of the much-described technique, so i won't elaborate on the process here (if you want to know how to do this, follow those links above to samples and tutorials galore). my only tip: if you're fusing outdoors to avoid fumes, wait for a warm day. in cold weather, the plastic cools too quickly and wrinkles more than otherwise necessary.
i'm pleased with the results, but i doubt i'll be returning to this technique unless i have a pressing need for something made out of this sort of material. should that come up (various halloween costumes come to mind), it's useful to know how to do this.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
i have a hard time cutting kids' clothing completely without a pattern. i find that i need to use an existing garment or bits and pieces of some cut up, recombined, or altered patterns for reference. that said, since i'm about to hack up the pattern i used to make eva's white dress last year, i thought i should finally write about the dress first.
last may, we returned to smith college for my 10 year reunion. smith is full of traditions: weekly friday afternoon tea served in every house, mountain day -- a surprise holiday each fall for everyone to go hike around and have a picnic rather than go to class (announced by the ringing of tower bells on whatever day has nice weather), and, of course, the whole white dress thing. for graduation, there is a big ivy parade where all the seniors wear white and carry red roses, and all the alumnae wear white along with a sash in their class color. for my five year reunion, i made my dress (and though it was well constructed, discovered why bias cut dresses are not for me). so this time, i decided to buy myself a cute little baby doll minidress and instead made a dress for eva.
i found some sweet embroidered eyelet fabric (there's a name for it, what is it?); slightly more geometric in pattern than the usual frilly variety. using a pattern pretty much straight-up (butterick 3782), i turned out the dress fairly quickly. (however, i spent a bit more time than strictly necessary ensuring the vertical pattern of eyelets was properly aligned between the skirt and bodice pieces, and between the front and back. of course, the pleats make that impossible, but i successfully lined up some key areas.) one deviation from the pattern: i'm resolutely against the use of packaged bias edging for necks and armholes (unless there's a compelling design reason to use it), so instead i just lined the whole dress. beside that, i find lightweight white fabric (with eyelet holes) sort of want for a lining anyway, don't you agree?
never one to leave good enough alone, i decided to make some edging for the hem with my then-new crochet skills. i tried using crochet thread and a wee tiny hook (maybe a #7) and quickly gave in to hand cramps and frustration. i then found some lovely rowan cotton glace -- which has a nice sheen that worked well with the embroidery of the eyelet fabric -- and had much better luck. i've since lost the pattern i used, and can only guess that i used an F hook, but what i can tell you is that i then vowed to make (and have yet to follow up) lots more fun edgings and trims for handmade and purchased clothing.
like everything i made for eva in that span of several months, she cried and ran away when i tried to get her to wear it. at least at first. once she put it on at reunion, she loved it and seemed to get that it was special. (now she loves it when i make her things, and every project i start prompts her to ask "are you making me a backpack?" no, not yet. but i need to move that up on the list.)
unfortunately, it rained -- literally -- on our parade. as a result, it was a bit less fun for an almost-two-year-old -- instead of frolicking along a parade route through campus, she was made to sit (relatively) quietly and listen to speeches in a giant gymnasium. regardless, the dress was a big hit. and after all, isn't that what really matters in life?
Monday, January 14, 2008
inspired by elsie marley's blog entry on the topic (thanks for the great idea!), today eva and i made a dollhouse out of stuff from the recycling bin. it was a fun project, that can be as easy or as perfectionist-obsessed as you make it (guess where i tended?), and it costs nothing and takes up little space. hurray!
basically, i cut three rectangles of cardboard from a big box slated for recycling. i cut slits on the top or bottom of each piece extending halfway down (or up). this allowed the pieces to interconnect -- if this is confusing, think of those cardboard divider things inside a box of wine or beer bottles. then, eva and i collected fun images from magazines and cut them out (in her case, she mostly cut them "up" more than "out", but she's two and that's to be expected). sadly, the recycling went out yesterday, so our selection was somewhat more limited than it might have been (and i didn't find that ikea catalog hiding in a stack on the coffee table until too late!).
based on elsie marley's comments, i decorated each cardboard piece individually so that the house could fold flat. i also determined that if i wanted to easily cover the walls with magazine pages, i should cut the cardboard walls to that height (10.5"). i added doorways between the rooms by tracing a 3x5 card -- the exterior door was cut on two edges only so it can close. the other thing i did was to use an item not strictly from the recycling bin -- tape. after i completed decorating, i taped along the top and side edges so that little hands didn't inadvertently peel or rip off the paper.
i also made one other key structural modification: i added braces at the tops so the walls don't pivot (in a way toddlers apparently find incredibly frustrating). basically i cut cardboard strips (for strength, i glued two layers together), bent each strip in half, and cut notches at the bend and near each end. i cut matching notches on the tops of the walls, and these quick braces seem to help a lot. (see top photo for the best view of this.)
in some places, i used whole pages from things like pottery barn; other places, i cut out individual items like furniture and lamps. since i couldn't find a good kitchen scene, i made my own i constructed perspective-challenged pantry shelves out of strips of black paper and filled the shelves with little individually-cut kitchen items like bowls and pots and spice bottles from the macy's and penzey's catalogs. add some curtains, artwork for the walls, a cute dog in a bed near the door and, say, a microwave on a table, and pottery barn has nothing on you! (if i had it to do over again, i might use fewer pre-made scenes and make more of my own -- the amount of detail in the magazine pages can get a bit overwhelming.)
eva also got a bit frustrated with the time it took (and the fact that i stopped her from cutting up or putting glue all over certain key pieces), but she seems to like it. time will tell, but even if she doesn't, it was free and can just be recycled when we're done, so it's no great loss.
i think it would be fun to use the same concept to make other scenes beyond doll houses -- a stage for shows with tiny puppets or dolls, an outdoor scene like a campsite by a lake, or more activity-themed rooms of a house, like an art studio or garage workshop or music room depending on your kid's interests. you could also cut strategically-sized cardboard pieces to slip into each room (or a larger cardboard "pad" that the room sat upon) so that you could add some floor decorations -- particularly for an outdoor scene. more of a three-dimensional feel could be achieved by using cardboard pieces to form, say, a murphy bed or fold-down table if you didn't have doll furniture handy to fill those roles. and so on...
if you're interested, click on a photo to head over to my flick page. you can mouse-over each photo to see tags highlighting some more details.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
i didn't realize it until after i'd done it, but it seems i crocheted scarves for both my mother and my mother-in-law this christmas. one is really more of a necklace than a scarf, and the other would have been more of a shawl had i had enough yarn, but yet there you have it. scarfy christmas and a happy new year.
i was inspired to make the necklace thingy for my mom by sooz's tutorial. i already knew how to crochet flowers, but i wouldn't otherwise have thought of making them so small and stringing them together. so thanks for the great idea!
i was looking around for rowan glace cotton (or similar, but everything else i found came only in blah pastels), but then went out of town before making it to the one local store that i knew would carry it. out of desperation, i ended up finding a great little yarn store called the hook and needle in bryan texas of all places, and they had some similar weight cotton (schachenmayer nomotta catania) in lovely saturated colors. that was perfect, just the sort of colors my mom would like.
i used #1 (2.75mm) hook for the flowers and (i think?) an F (3.75mm) hook for the chain. despite my hesitancy regarding tiny hooks, i found the work fairly easy. that said, the weaving in of the ends proved a bit teadious. i've already forgotten, but i think i did ten flowers in each of five colors. and, only one flower went walkabout with a toddler, which i found pretty amazing given that i was working on this project in the presence of two two-year-olds. (i made an extra, then the original turned up later, which seems to happen every time i crochet flowers... hmm, mysterious...)
i like that you can wear this necklace as a choker, short, or long, depending on how you wrap it. it even works as a belt in the right context. my mom liked it, and reported back that she was wearing it with various outfits over the next week or so -- that's good, i chose the colors to match the sorts of things she wears.
while at the aforementioned yarn store, i came across some beautiful recycled silk yarn by himalaya yarn. handspun with a beautiful variable texture, it was a mix of fucshia, purples, and blues with bits of everything from light pink to green. it's made in nepal from remnants from sari factories or from old saris, which i love -- not only does it employ people in nepal, but the yarn tells a story (of saris that were or might have been?). like the yarn for my mom, i knew this yarn was to become something for rita. sadly, they only had two hanks, so the shawl-style scarf i had planned had to become a scarf.
the main part of the scarf and the edge scallops (in left-over cotton from the above project) are done in the same fan-style pattern. you almost can't tell, given the dramatic differences in the two yarns, but i sort of like it that way, it's a bit of a secret. the pattern is chock-full of (american) treble crochet stitches (double treble elsewhere i believe?) -- that's one tall stitch! i found myself counting to four without meaning to (for all the yarn-overs -- oh, the obsessive couting). this was also my first time referencing a chart rather than reading a pattern, and i must say, i found it much simpler (as it seems i am basically translating the written descriptions to a "chart" of sorts in my head anyway -- starting with a chart saves the effort :).
for the silk yarn i used an I (5.5mm) hook and the fan repeats three times across each row. for the cotton edges, i used (i think?) an F (3.75mm) hook and joined the yarn carefully so that i fit exactly five repeats of the fan pattern. i then adjusted the design a bit so that subsequent rows tapered off to end with three scallops at the bottom edges. the cotton edges were i part to add interest, but honestly, it was to add length! since i was limited in the amount of silk i had, the scarf would have been a bit short without the additions.
i sort of intended this to be a dressy sort of scarf, they type of thing you might wear over a little black dress when you enter the room and maybe hang over your chair later. however, the yarn was a bit bulky for that, so it probably works better as a good old-fashioned scarf. thinking "silk" i was thinking delicate, but it's really quite warm and functional. i'm pleased with the results, and learned a lot in the process. oh, and i'd estimate that both scarves took me around 6-8 hrs to complete (based on multiplying from how long it took to complete one unit, a flower or row, etc).
so there you have it, scarves for mothers. i didn't mean to make it a theme, but as gift themes go, it does seem better than, say, scented bath soaps.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
inspired by the article in craft magazine, i decided to dive into some bookbinding for the first time. and if you're going to try something, why not make ten?
so, eva and i collected lots of new, recycled, and repurposed paper -- some lovely things from the paper store, recycled printer paper, and random things from around the house, like pages from my alumnae magazine, old calendars, the phone book, the instructions from eva's wooden kitchen, on down to graph paper and cut-up grocery bags. i don't have a paper cutter, but my more fabric-geared craft tools include a rotary cutter and mat, so i cut everything to size a few pages at a time that way.
borrowing some of larry's tools, like his collection of assorted clamps, i drilled the necessary holes. the pattern of holes depends on the binding pattern you're creating, but in general i put them 1/2" from the edges and spaced no more than about an inch apart.
the stitching only seems complicated the first time through -- after that, it fit with my math brain and i soon found myself making up my own patterns. however, i mostly stuck to traditional japanese patterns, such as standard, standard with variation, hemp leaf, and tortoise shell. in general, i found i needed the embroidery floss 7-9 times the length of the spine. the knot is cleverly hidden inside the book.
that's all there is to it. i really like the idea that i can simply bind my own books (for writing, photography, whatever -- preprinted or blank to be filled). a fun experiment. for better descriptions, search online or find issue 05 of craft magazine (which is my favorite issue yet).
above, top to bottom: the pattern that i don't know the name of, hemp leaf, and tortoise shell patterns.
top photo: green binding is the standard with variation pattern (standard is the same, but binding stitches are evenly spaced). books seen with tools of the trade -- clamps, drill, omnigrid ruler.
Friday, January 4, 2008
i've been making tons of things since i last posted in -- what, april? -- but we've been traveling nonstop, so the photos never seem to find their way here. i'm about to start catching up on that...
over the holidays, i made these butterfly wings for eva and sarah. they were more proof-of-concept than any great masterpiece, but the girls were quite happy with them.
i hemmed a square of cheapo satin fabric (sized to roughly their armspan), and ran a gathering stitch down the center by hand. rather than gathering it evenly, i put the bulk of the fabric toward the top to balance the fact that the fabric would all be hanging down (well, that was my plan, but i got distracted and eva's ended up upside-down, oops). to secure the gathered fabric, I placed a strip of polka-dot ribbon over the gathering stitch and stitched it in place down the center.
i then used the same ribbon at the top, leaving a length near the center (roughly at the shoulder, to use as a tie at the neck), folded it over the hemmed fabric and stitched out toward the corner (like a binding). near the corner, i secured a loop of ribbon so the kids could put their hands in and out without adult assistance to tie it. repeat on the other side, and viola. simple but effective (and cheap!) butterfly wings.
as an interesting tangent from this project, i started and ended on different machines. to start, i was using my mother-in-law's early 1980's (83?) singer, one of the first computerized ones. sadly, it reached the end of it's unexpectedly long life when i was halfway through the second pair of wings. the next week, she bought a schmancy new brother nx-450q. damn, that's a nice machine. beyond sewing well, it does fancy tricks like threading the needle for you, cutting the thread for you, etc. hmm, my beloved manual bernina is seeming a bit lacking in bells and whistles all of the sudden. in fact, she kindly let me borrow it for now, so expect a rush of fun projects soon. i'm excited to try some quiting, and it even does machine smocking, faggoting, etc. hmm, eva needs a cute old-fashioned dress, i think. :)
"we two cousins are being butterflies!" they ran and ran and flapped until they could flap no more.
i should note that this project is "inspired by" (read: a blatant rip-off of) the silk wings sold by magic cabin, and i'm sure, other places. i'm sure the waldorf crowd would be aghast that i used polyester satin (!) rather than silk, but the whole point of this version was to find out if she would play with butterfly wings without spending very much. if they prove popular, i'll make her a better pair from silk (which still won't cost $30).