Saturday, May 2, 2020

a spaceman came traveling....

This week was week 7 of our shelter in place and we learned that it has been extended until the end of May.  It's hard to keep track of the days and it's tough to find motivation to do much or the concentration to stick with anything.  Somedays my creativity is simply missing, other days I find comfort in stitching. I found this week hard but a highlight was definitely the release by the Pentagon of previously leaked UFO videos.  In any other news cycle this would be a big deal.  If you haven't seen these videos they are easily found with an internet search. 

I've always felt that it was rather conceited to think that we are the only living beings in the universe.  In the words of Arthur C Clarke, "Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying."  

Ages ago I designed a spaceship pincushion and oddly enough I had a couple of request for them recently and posted pictures of the latest ones on Instagram on the same day as the Pentagon videos!  My little aliens come in peace.  I think.  

Monday, April 20, 2020

how to make fairy furniture

I've been making some fairy house pincushions for my Etsy shop and with those in mind, I really wanted to try making some fairy furniture just for fun.  I recently bought myself a book about making tiny furniture from found things and it's full of beautiful inspiration pictures.  

This is a project that could be as simple or complicated as you'd like it to be.  If you have children who can safely use a hot glue gun, this would be a fun project for them too - imagine a fairy garden tucked under a tree in your garden or in among some small scale plants in a pot.  Sure you can buy fairy garden items at a local craft store but how much more satisfying to make them yourself.

It took a little while to gather materials.  I wandered round the garden, clippers in hand, collecting delicate and interesting twigs and flakes of bark.  I had the some little spun cotton red and white mushrooms, tiny pinecones, moss and faux ferns from previous projects.  I dug out some pliers to cut the wires off the mushrooms, some scissors, hot glue gun and some tweezers to protect my fingers from the hot glue.  This website is where I got the little mushrooms from and there are lots of other special crafting goodies there too.  The moss and faux fern are from Hobby Lobby.  

The instructions in the book suggest making a square for the chair seat first and building from that, which is almost what I did....I'm not very good at following directions exactly as they are written!  I made a basic chair frame and then filled in the seat with trimmed twigs.  

The moss is really to hide the spots of hot glue but it also gives the finished chair a really woodsy feel.  Chairs could be made any size and design and the book has lots of suggestions for materials.  I wanted to keep mine simple.  

My daughter worked alongside me and also made a chair but I think hers feels more like a fairy throne!  It's beautiful.  Notice how she used a long piece of curved bark for part of the seat back?  

So, what did I learn?  
It was harder than I thought to get the twigs to stick together and I had to be patient and use more hot glue than I really wanted to.  The tweezers were a really helpful tool for pushing the tiny bits of moss into the hot glue, saving my fingers.  Next time, I'd like a greater variety of natural materials and I'm now on the hunt for interesting seed pods and bits and pieces as I'm out walking with my dog!  


Tuesday, April 7, 2020


Life is a struggle right now for so many people and in so many ways.  It's tough adjusting to this new way of being and I'm finding this week hard.  I'm a homebody so being home all the time is not really a big deal for me.  However other things are.  Because I'm home by myself a lot of the time, I do things on my own schedule but now suddenly I can no longer do laundry whenever I need to because the machines are too noisy for others in the house who are working/in class or on a conference call.  Food disappears alarmingly fast and dust bunnies appear sooner than I think they should!  Everyone handles this isolation in their own way, and we try to be considerate.  It's still hard for everyone.  

Last night, I was planning to do some stitching but I felt compelled to sketch this quickly before the idea skittered away.  I wanted to do felt lettering with tiny appliqu├ęd flowers and leaves and then fill in the gaps with french knots.  The colors needed to be happy and bright.  

The embroidery floss I use is from DMC and I love using their variegated threads for filling in with french knots.  I know french knots can be tricky but they are my favorite stitch and there are a few things you can do to lessen the chance of pesky tangles.  Firstly use shorter lengths of thread and a thread conditioner.  I use "Thread Heaven" but there are several brands and some stitchers swear by beeswax.  Run the thread across the conditioner and you are ready to go.  When you are doing french knots, it's important to keep tension on the thread so it doesn't have a chance to tangle.  Despite all this, I still get the occasional snarl and I've learned to sigh, cut the thread and move on.  

Stitching is something I do because I must.  It has a positive effect on my mental health.  I keep hearing stuff about self care and I struggle a bit with that because it feels so self indulgent.  But you know what?  Do what you need to do, take care of yourself so you can take care of others if you need to.  Go ahead read that book, bake something, learn something new or make something pretty.  Stay home.  Reach out when you need to, isn't it wonderful to have the internet?  I saw a meme on Facebook today likening this year's Spring Break to one in 1985 but while it made me smile, it isn't really anything like the 80's thanks to the internet.  We might be isolated but we are still connected and I'm so grateful for that!


Thursday, April 2, 2020

awesome gluten free bread

Really good gluten free bread is the holy grail for those of us who must avoid gluten.  The tiniest bit of gluten makes my husband really sick and for years I have struggled to find a good recipe for bread.  There are lots of recipes and store bought bread options out there and some are ok but really who wants to eat stuff that's just "ok"?  Then one day recently, I stumbled on this recipe and it is a game changer.  The original recipe is for a loaf studded with olives and flavored with caraway which just wasn't that appetizing to me but in the video the baker and author explained that those could successfully be left out or replaced.  

I don't like a lot of additives in things so I was excited to find this recipe and also find that I already had everything in my gluten free pantry.  The only thing I noticed is that in the video she says to bake at 325f but the recipe says 425f which is actually correct.  I've found that in my fan oven, it works best at 400f and yes I bake it for the full 1hour and 40minutes!  I thought this sounded insane when I heard it and was sure my bread would be dry and burned, but no, it's perfect - every time.  

This is not fluffy white sandwich bread.  It is hearty and flavorful with a thick chewy crust.  Don't eat it warm, I know that is tough because it smells amazing but it needs that cooling time.  My favorite additions to this bread are chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds.  Also I've used my stand mixer and a bowl and spatula and both work just fine.  

Find the recipe here.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

fairytale swan pincushion

Many of us have extra time to read right now if not the ability to concentrate on much for any length of time.  I am re-reading "Wildwood Dancing" by Juliet Marillier, it's my go-to book when I need to withdraw from the stresses of the real world.  It's a fantasy book, loosely based on the fairytale of the dancing princesses.  The cover art is just beautiful and the story draws me in despite knowing it so well, or maybe because of that.  I recently had to buy a new copy as my old paperback disintegrated and I was happy to find a hard cover version.   

In the spirit of fantastical tales, I let my imagination wander through the pincushion possibilities.  Yes, this is the way I think!  I have wanted to design a swan pincushion for ages and it seemed like now was the right moment.  Early last Sunday morning, I made some coffee and sat at the table with my sketchbook and pencils.  Sometimes that can be the kiss of death to an idea - blank page and all that - but I sketched a swan and in my imagination it was sitting silent in the water with weeping willow branches reaching down to the water, blossoms overhead and surrounded by waterlilies.  One of the places we have kayaked is a small secret lake covered in yellow waterlilies with lots of tiny blue dragonflies so I think I was influenced by that.  

When I'm happy with a sketch, I move on to making pattern pieces out of printer paper, in this case there were just two pieces, the swan body and a wing.  Making the first one of any new design takes longer than subsequent ones and every single design, without fail, goes through an "ugly stage" where all I want to do is bin it and start again.  I've learned to trust my instinct though and push through this stage because it rarely lasts long and I almost never give up on a design totally.  That doesn't mean it's a smooth process.  I worked the beak of this swan twice and the wing three times!  

The felt I use is 100% merino wool and is certified organic in every aspect of its production.  It cuts and stitches beautifully.  I am so thankful right now that I am a hoarder of embroidery thread!  

After each element, I question myself about how I'm going to do the next part.  I probably overthink things!   In this last photo I'm trying to work out which shade of yellow to use for stitching the waterlily flowers down and whether to use a variegated thread or a regular one!(I went with a variegated one with yellows and pinks).

I asked my Instagram community what they thought should be on the sides of these pincushions and I love that someone suggested underwater with swan feet!  My plan is to  make a batch of these and then get back to working on orders and then make some more for a larger shop update when life gets back to something resembling normality.  

Friday, March 27, 2020

the march of the penguins

This week has been very strange hasn't it?  We've been settling into our new routines and way of being, learning to work around the others in our household so that everyone can do what they need to.  We've set up our guest bedroom as an office for my husband.  My two adult children are both at home and taking online college classes for the rest of the school year.  I'm teaching a middle school costume design class via Zoom. No actual costumes will get made but there will be lots of research and designing. It's a major adjustment for everyone. 

I've been struggling a bit with being able to concentrate on anything for long.  I've also been dealing with an asthma flare-up triggered by seasonal allergies (everything is blooming here in California) and fueled by anxiety.  I have some more meds now thanks to a video call with my doctor who shared how stressed he and his colleagues are and how he goes home as little as possible to protect his family.  How thankful I am for our medical professionals right now.  What a task they face. 

I have been stitching though and I've been working on these penguin pincushions.  These are papa emperor penguins with their chicks.  This design uses something called thread painting, where you use different colors or shades of thread and blend them.  For the yellow on the papa penguin I used three shades of yellow and one of orange and used just one strand of each.  I'm no expert but I've gotten better with practice.  I've found this book to have very clear instructions and examples of thread painting.  

The sides of these pincushion design are grey and have icy ocean waves with tiny silvery fishes.  When my children were little we had a membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the penguins were always a favorite.  The penguins they have are not emperor ones like these but my daughter had a bit of a penguin obsession so we watched all the penguin movies!  

I have these mostly all stitched up and ready for stuffing now and when finished they will be part of a future Etsy shop update.  

Stitch-along part 6

  Stitching the ridge tiles to finish the ornament Take one ridge tile and wrap it over the ridge of the roof as shown below.  Using two str...