Thursday, February 28, 2013

What We Made Today-Earthy Wedding Embroidery

Recently, an old friend of The Husband's was married. I'm not a big fan of mass produced gifts thoughtlessly plucked from a gift registry(I know, I know, I am a horrible person because registries contain all the things that the COUPLE want, and the wedding is all about THEM and NOT me, but I just cannot give gifts which feel meaningless to me) so I decided instead to make a sweet little embroidery inspired by the earthy elements of this land where they were born and raised. The piece was inspired by pine needles in the fall, the sun shining on the rippling waves of the muddy Mississippi in the summer and the rich dirt we grow crops, ride horses and drive four wheelers in year round.

It represents the comforts of the consistency of the seasons we experience here, year after year. There are always surprises and the unexpected too of course, but the things we love the most about this area are the things we come to rely on experiencing each year. Sweet corn and the river in the summer, pine needles setting the landscape ablaze in the fall, the contrast of sparkling white snow against the dark ground/trees/rocks in the winter and the richness of the barks and grasses and flowers of the spring. I think that's how most good marriages are-full of comforting consistencies of the seasons, while also subject to the unexpected, and sometimes exciting surprises of early snows, early springs, scorching summers, tornadoes, rainstorms, bumper crops, droughts, unusual migrations and snow days.

It features vintage and thrifted buttons in earth tones, cotton sewing threads, plus little gemstone chips and various earthy colored wooden,  glass and plastic(all thrifted/upcycled) beads.

I hope the happy couple could find the intent and good will in this piece, despite it not being on their registry, as it took about 10 hours to complete, start to finish. I put so much more love, meaning and good vibes into this than a trip to Target for towels would have provided.

Handmade and meaningful wedding gifts. I'm doing my part to try and bring them back into fashion.

In fact, I think maybe The Husband and I should get married again, so I can cash in on this growing(hopefully) trend...

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Be looking for your invitation in the mail...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cool Things To Buy-Flint Spirit Flint Knives And Bone Jewelry

A few weeks ago we traveled to Keokuk, Iowa to attend Eagle Days, a small celebration of migrating bald eagles, Native American culture and river history(Keokuk sits alongside the mighty Mississippi).

In addition to live bird presentations, wood carvings and bald eagle sightings, there were several vendors selling everything from dream catchers to traditional beaded Native American jewelry, to pop corn, but my favorite was a gentleman(Flint Spirit) selling flint knives, flint rocks, and elk antler and bison bone jewelry. He and a friend were also chipping away at flint stones with pieces of bone, demonstrating their techniques as people inquisitively buzzed around the booth, marveling at all the gorgeous and unique works, fascinated by the simple, ancient process they demonstrated.

I was fortunate enough to snag a beautiful knife made from flint and antler, a small elk antler pendant and a gorgeous necklace featuring carved bison bone and antique traders' beads. They were early Valentine presents from The Husband. Who needs chocolates and champagne?!

(I bought my own chocolate and obviously, being pregnant, couldn't have champagne. So that's who. Ha.)

Flint and deer antler-what a beautiful combination! I chose this knife not only for the beauty it possessed, but because it fit so perfectly in my hand, as though it was made for me. I was told that it had been "waiting for the right owner". Definitely me. Burglars beware. This bad girl could seriously slit yer throat.

This is the cool toned and lovely elk antler pendant. I love the simplicity of the carved feather. For me, it symbolizes my tendency to be a lone ranger. There is beauty and peace to be found in the quiet that loneliness can bring.

This is the amazing bison bone necklace. It features not only bison bone, but antique trader beads. I love this necklace, and the three feathers it features. Where as the elk antler necklace reminds me of myself, this one feels like a representation of my family. The Husband and I protect our little feather and do our best to create a sort of shield for her as she grows and prepares for the day when she will float away on the wind. I think feathers are a great representation for humans. As part of the anatomy of a bird, feathers work together to help the whole unit, or "family", fly. And yet, once they leave the "family", they are still capable of traveling such long distances on their own, through the fingers and limbs and mouths of the winds or waters or animals or humans.

For me, the best types of handmade items are those which possess almost spiritual elements, due to qualities like the materials they are made from, the obvious reverence for the craft displayed by the maker, the perfection of the skill involved, or the ability to touch the buyer's soul without explanation or pretense.

These items, to me, have all of those qualities. I have deep admiration for their maker. What an amazing skill set he has, and I applaud him for keeping such an ancient tradition alive. So often we get caught up in "new" art, style and process, looking for the next stimulating and provocative piece or person every five minutes, in vain attempts to satisfy our quest to be the first to find the next big things. It is good for us to keep the simple and "natural" crafts alive. They remind us of not only where we've been, but what we are capable of, and what we are made of.

When I come across an artist or craftsman like Tim, I am quickly reminded of why I am so thankful to be a maker. For me, making things is more than just a way to attempt to make money or impress people or make a name for myself. It is a real compulsion. It is who I am. If I never sold another piece of art or craft, I would still get up every morning and go to bed every night, making things, designing things or thinking about making things. And giving those things away. Making things is how I love people and take care of them, how I communicate with them, and in many instances how I help them. It is how I make the world a better place, not only for myself as therapy, but for others who need a little something positive or spiritual or humorous or relate able in their lives.

Truly, I hope I'll be making things until the day I die, an old and decrepit, painting and stitching, crazy cat lady. But even if that is not in the cards for me, I'll hopefully still be surrounded by the amazing and comforting things that have been made for me by people who love me, by myself and by all the wonderful craftspeople and artists I've met during my time on the earth.

Life is short. Too short to fill it full of disposable, meaningless, soulless objects, people and possessions.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Few More Late Valentine Treats

I know it's a little late, but I thought I'd go ahead and post about these anyway. In addition to the skirt/bow combo I made for The Kid for Valentines Day, The Husband and I also made a little necklace and some Waldorf inspired wooden cupcake toys for her. He cut all the wood, I painted it and did the sewing.

The Kid and I also made Valentines for the grandparents and some aunts and uncles using watercolor paper, acrylic and old fabric paints.

All around, it was a sweet, mostly handmade day!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What We Made Today-Glazed Ceramic Birthday Presents

We are lucky, in our little town, to have a small art gallery which allows people to purchase pre-made ceramic pieces(everything from huge vases to statues of Native American children, cups and saucers to Christmas decor and  giant bowls and platters) that they can then glaze and have the members of the art guild fire for them(since most of us don't have kilns conveniently hanging around our houses*I wish!*).

Last month we took The Cupcake Kid to "paint" birthday presents for an aunt and uncle at the art center. It was The Kid's first time working with ceramics and glazes(The Husband and I both worked with clay, glazes and kilns in college) and made for a really fun and inexpensive family activity on a cold and dreary day.

We let her do most of the painting, then "helped" her clean up(filled in bald spots) the pieces a little before leaving them to be fired. We were quite delighted with the results.

For her uncle, she chose a train themed beer stein. She loves trains. I don't know that Uncle has any particular interest in trains, but he loves his niece, therefore, he loved the stein. I think the colors she chose have an interesting vintage feel to them. I don't know why she chose the colors she did, but they looked quite a bit prettier than I anticipated they would. I mean, we are talking about a three year old here. He's lucky the whole thing wasn't pink with purple polka dots.

And for her Auntie, a little ring basket.

When we finally were able to pick up our treasures after they had been fired, it was oh so exciting for The Kid to see the fruits of her labor. These pieces are a more permanent form of art, compared to the paper crafts and such that we normally do together, and it was eye opening for her to see what she is really capable of. I can hardly wait until she's old enough to take an actual ceramics class with me and learn the joy of building a piece from start to finish. Then she'll really feel like she has super powers!

And, I think it goes without saying that her aunt and uncle really loved these sweet little pieces which will be sentimental reminders of days gone by when she's old and grown.

If you are lucky enought to have pottery painting locally available to you and you haven't tried it yet, you really should. Especially if you have kids. It's a fun activity to try during a boring/cold/hot/yucky day, and handmade gifts always win brownie points with grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles.

Unless your grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles just suck. In which case, maybe just treat yourself. You know you've always wanted a custom painted, three foot tall statue of a frog riding a unicorn. Just admit it.

And now, you can!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Time To Make The Chocolate Cinnamon Doughnuts

I love doughnuts. I can't help it.

Baked doughnuts are a wonderful thing, because they allow you to enjoy the naughtiness of eating a doughnut while also consoling yourself with the fact that since they are not fried in grease, they really aren't as "bad" as "regular" doughnuts.

No frying means no calories. Right? RIGHT?!

Ok, just kidding. Definitely calories(sob sob).

I recently modified this recipe to make these doughnuts.

Modifications included omitting honey, clove and nutmeg, and adding about 1/3 cup cocoa powder to the mix.

I also made my own chocolate banana buttercream.

For the buttercream I used one small mashed banana, 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/4 cup shortening, a teaspoon of vanilla, a couple Tablespoons of milk and confectioners' sugar to taste/texture. I basically mixed up the soft ingredients with the electric mixer than added my sugar in by half cupfuls(or so) until I achieved the consistency that I wanted.

I topped the doughnuts with the frosting then topped the frostining with chopped almonds and/or chocolate sprinkles.

It's no wonder I'm not a skinny girl.

But, it's like I always say, whoever said that being skinny feels better than any food tastes, never had a chocolate cinnamon doughnut with chocolate banana buttercream frosting.

*Sad trombone*

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Paintboxx-A Portrait In Purple

Painting is, and has been for as long as I can remember, my own personal brand of emotional and mental therapy. In times of anger, anxiety, depression, frustration and deep sadness, it has always been there for me, providing release and relief.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the rigors of everyday life and the unexpected wrenches thrown in my path, that I neglect my therapy until I get to a point where I realize that I have simply got to MAKE the time to do that little "thing" for myself, as it just helps me stay balanced, focused and calm. Painting is like meditation for me. It's not something I really do to sell, or as a career, but something I do for me. And sometimes, other people get something positive out of those works too, so I like to share them.

This painting was the first in several months(not counting two small Christmas presents I made), and is a self portrait of sorts. I wish I could find the words to describe the thought process behind it, but there really wasn't one. It was painted purely as a product of emotion. So if you connect with it on some level, maybe you know how I am feeling here lately.

And maybe you can explain it to me. Haha.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What We Made Today-A Valentine Treat For The Cupcake Kid

I am not super big on Valentine's Day, but I do think it's a fun little holiday when you have kids, and any excuse to make cutesy little things in shades of red, white and pink is always welcome at my house.

This year for V-Day, I decided to make The Cupcake Kid a girly little skirt and a few hair accessories to match(plus a couple other treats that I haven't finished yet). Everything was constructed out of materials I already had, so they cost me zero dollars and only a few hours worth of my time. I think she is going to love them!

The skirt is a simple elastic waisted skirt with a huge bow sewn on for cutesy embellishment.

It is made from pieces of heart and lip fabrics I thrifted, a piece of heart fabric cut from a handmade scrub top that a friend gave me, and some gingham fabric given to me by Dana of Dot's Diner. It is lined with a bit of a thrifted white sheet.

The hair clips and bow are made from the same fabrics, plus a bit of leopard print from Dana, a peppermint stripe from a vintage curtain and some hot pink tulle I had lying around. The two clips are also topped by little wooden heart buttons, cut out by The Husband and painted by me.

Super easy, super inexpensive, super cute and she will enjoy them so much!

So take heart, if things are a little tight financially for your family this year. It doesn't take a lot of money or new and shiny, expensive things to make a holiday a little bit more special for your little kidget. All you need is a little time and a little bit of thriftiness. Even of you don't have a sewing machine, these things could easily be stitched by hand too(Oh the horror!).

Or you know, call up Grandma and have her make them.

That always works too.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What We Made Today-Tea Dyed Hand-Me-Down Baby Clothes Part 1

So, in actuality, this project took several days to complete the finished pieces I am going to show you today. And about half the total amount of clothes I dyed are still waiting on custom appliques that I am going to make(in order to cover up the ones they currently display). Thus, this is part 1. When I get the pieces waiting on appliques finished(hopefully before the child is actually born, ha!) I promise I shall post the part 2

Hand-me-downs are great things. Especially when kids are little and all they do is pee and poop and puke all over their clothes anyway. When The Cupcake Kid was born, I accepted all the hand-me-downs anybody would give me, in addition to buying new outfits because I figured you could never have too many baby outfits.

I was SO wrong. You can definitely have too many! In fact, she never wore most of the new clothes I had purchased for her, as I ended up saving those for days when we got out of the house(which were not really that many) and relying on the hand-me-downs for her everyday clothes. I guess I just didn't mind those getting dirtied up because many already had insignificant stains and they hadn't cost me anything money wise, so it wasn't a big deal if they were suddenly "ruined".

When you have children who are of the same sex, hand-me-downs can really save you a lot of money. And time. When you have children of opposite sexes, nottttttt so much. This is my dilemma. I have a lot of little girl clothes, but I am expecting a little boy. Though I don't have a problem with little boys wearing pink and purple and such, all the lacy, frilly stuff is just a bit too much for my taste.

Determined not to call T.C.K.'s wardrobe an entire loss, I picked out all the pieces which I thought could potentially and easily be upcycled with a little dye and some custom appliques(think hand embroidered/painted acorns, leaves, robots, deer and such) into pieces that were appropriate for her brother.

I'm not a big fan of the chemicals in commercial dyes, so I stuck with boiled teas and spices(with vinegar used as the mordant) to revive about a dozen or so faded and dingy onesies, shirts and pants in sizes ranging from newborn to 2T. The ones with the best dye jobs, and the ones that did not require appliques to cover up pre-existing girly graphics and appliques(things like the word "princess" and sparkly cupcakes and ruffle petaled flowers) are the ones I'm going to show you today. Because I'm too impatient to wait until they are all done to create one giant post.

Impatient?! Me?! Whaaaaaaaat?!

Yeah. So here's a before photo of some of the clothes.

 Here's a few photos of the dye baths in progress.

The first pot features a combo of coffee grounds and black tea. The second features coconut chai tea. I also used mustard seed, prepared mustard, raspberry and peach teas, and a few other spices that I can't even remember right now, in a few of the other batches. It was totally a no pressure experiment for me, and I sort of figured things out as I went. Several pieces even had to be dyed twice since I wound them up so tight in the rubber bands that there was hardly any dyed fabric at all after they were washed out. Hey, it had been a long time since I went through a tie-dye phase and pregnancy brain failed to remember exactly how to bind the fabric up.

It also failed to remind me that information is just a click away on the internets...*sigh*

Anyway, when all was said and done, here were the pieces I ended up with that I really liked as is.

They are tie-dyed, but it's a very subtle tie-dye, and I really like that fact.

The Husband says our kid is gonna look like a hippie. I think that I'm about 25% hippie, so I'm ok with that. I have an auntie(one of my favorites) who really is an old(her words, NOT mine!) hippie, and I know she would love these. She's one of the coolest, most inventive and creative people I know. The woman can upcycle just about anything under the sun. I wouldn't mind being an old hippie like her someday!

The shirt on the left(below) turned out a nice even shade of brown, which almost exactly matches The Husband's National Guard undershirts.  So I guess the kid will be a part time hippie and a part time soldier. Which, I guess makes sense, all things considered...

As previously stated in other posts, I am not a tutorial writer. And, I am by no means an expert on this craft medium, so I wouldn't want to try and tell others how to do it anyway. What I will do is briefly explain what I did, and suggest that you do a few google searches before attempting to dye with natural dyes, and pick the method which seems like it will work best for you since there is a lot of conflicting information out there.

Personally, I boiled each batch of clothes(all were cottons) in mixes of vinegar and water(about half and half) for about half an hour(some websites said ten minutes, one even said an hour, so I went with a half hour), then rinsed and rung the pieces out before immersing them in the pots of boiling dyes.

To make the dyes I simply dumped tea bags/coffee grounds/spices into pots ful of water and heated until boiling. Easy Peasy.

I actually boiled/simmered the clothes in the dye baths for about an hour before turning the heat off and letting the clothing soak overnight(Some websites said boil for ten minutes then turn the heat off, others said the hour that I did). Some pieces I soaked for about 24 hours.

When I was finished soaking, I rinsed the pieces out in cold water and rung the excess water out of them(making sure to leave the rubber bands in place), then hung them from my drying rack in front of a heating vent, until they were dry. When they were completely dry, I unwound the tie-dyed pieces and threw the whole kit and caboodle into the washing machine and then the dryer. Many websites will encourage you to handwash your tea dyed pieces in mild detergent, but I wasn't worried about fading so I just chunked them in. And surprisingly, they didn't fade.

And now I have a bunch(well, half a bunch anyway) of refreshed baby clothing that will be more than suitable for our new little guy and whatever messes he may throw(or pit or poop) at them. And I can feel really good about these pieces because they are upcycled, saved me money, involved no icky chemicals being released into the water supply during their creation, and are completely and totally one of a kind.

Just like my little baby will be.

Pretty cool, huh? And no patchouli was involved!

Just a little joke, Auntie. Just a little joke.

Hee hee.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snapshots-Catticus Fatticus

Is there anything in the world that can make a human feel more unproductive than having a fat, lazy, furry cat sleeping in the same room they are trying to work in?

I mean, it's kinda hard to find yourself motivated to kick it into high gear when you find yourself staring at a loudly purring, snoozing pile of fluff that has never worked a day in her life for food or shelter or water(but rather, has made YOU work for those things AND clean up her poops), thinking to yourself that you might actually be jealous of the jobless bum, wondering what it would be like if YOU had the option to just lay around all day.

Today I'm taking a cue from the rotund lollygagger.

Naps and blankies and no work for me.

Oh who am I kidding. Piles of laundry, a sink full of dishes and the remainder of a Valentine project are calling my name. I suppose I'll be a grown up and go do them.

But that doesn't mean that I won't be shooting the hairy butterball a few jealous and dirty looks.

Hey, it's not like she'll know I'm doing it anyway.

Unless, of course, she cracks one eye open and gives me that condescending look that cats sometimes give their owners, which I interpret to mean, "Stupid human. I know what you're thinking. Guess what? I'm working on an extra special poop, just for you, right now. I might even leave half of it outside the litter box as an extra special treat. Now fetch me some tuna..."

Yep. Laundry, dishes, project and tuna. Callin' my name.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snapshots-The Cupcake Kid Strikes Again

We've been teaching The Kid how to use our dslr camera. It's been terrifying("please don't drop that, Honey. Mommy and Daddy can't really afford another xxx.xx dollar camera! *winces as she catches the camera by the strap) and really rewarding("Look, Mommy! I take da pitchur! I take da pitchur of youuuuuuu!!!!"). It's always exciting and heartwarming to experience the thrill a child feels when learning something new and "grown up".

The things she finds photo worthy make me laugh and shake my head sometimes, but they also challenge me to continually be more appreciative of my surroundings. She inspires me to try not to take all the colors, textures, materials and designs in my life for granted. Art, and inspiration really are everywhere, if we allow ourselves to just recognise them for what they are, where they are. I think that the ability to find inspiration in the everyday, as well as the extraordinary, is a great skill to have, and I am always delighted to encourage my kid to continue on in her journey of exploration.

Here are just a few of the scenes she recently found interesting enough to capture forever on film(well, digital).

Now if only she would find the salad as interesting to EAT as she does to SHOOT. *sighhhhhhh*

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Snapshot-Sewing Machine Belly Button Lint

Yesterday was "clean the sewing machine's belly button day".

I didn't have any canned air so I had to resort to cotton swabs(I swirl them as I dust, so the fibers of the swab don't get stuck in the machine's parts). Just in case there are any sewing newbies out there reading this, it is really important to periodically clean the lint and fuzz out of your machine. All those little fibers may seem innocent enough, but trust me, they can really mess your machine up and drive you nuts as you try and figure out what's gone wrong. Please consult your manual before you go tearing your machine up. Also, make sure you unplug your machine before you attempt any maintenance. These things may seem obvious to some of you(smarty pantses). I only mention them because they were NOT obvious to me, once upon a time, so I'd like to save others the frustration and pain if I can.

Now, who wants to discuss all the potential pranks that could be pulled if we save the lint and swabs???!!!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Snapshots-Best PB Cookies Ever

Ok, so I admit, I have actually never really cared for PB cookies all that much, but there's no accounting for pregnancy cravings and last week, I was craving peanut butter cookies something FIERCE.

However, I HATE crunchy cookies. I don't even see the point in crunchy cookies. Broccoli is crunchy. Celery is crunchy. Bones are crunchy. Cookies, as with so many other good things in life(kitties, flannel, ice cream, ladies...) should be soft(...say what?! Ok, that last one I mentioned is just self justification...heh heh).

I came across this recipe, and with nothing but a maddening craving to lose, decided to try it.

I now love pb cookies. Happily ever after.

If you decide to try the recipe too, I suggest using a bit more peanut butter than the recipe calls for. And be very careful not to over bake. The difference between divinely soft and hell beastly crunchy was only one minute in my oven.

Also, if you do decide to make them, I am requiring at least two cookies sent to me from the batch as a finder's fee.

Pay quickly, or else I'll be charging you interest...