Thursday, December 29, 2011

When Your Eyes Are Bigger Than Your Stomach

What do you call it when you try to quickly make a little craft project that turns out to be a lot bigger and more time intensive than you thought it would be?  Your eyes are bigger than your craft?

Anyways, last week for our dinner party I made a hand painted table runner that turned out pretty neat. But it was not my original idea for a table runner.  I have a lot of felt fabric I bought way back to make felt flower pillows and I thought I would take the left overs and make some neat cut out designs.

I used a Sharpie to draw out the design and an Exact-o to cut it out.  Only it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r.  I couldn't find my blade cutting mat and so I used a wood drawing board.  Big mistake.  The wood dulls the blade quickly and gets little splintery bits of wood all over the fabric.  Also, the fabric is pretty stretchy so you have to hold it down very firmly when you cut.  Below is all that I had cut out after watching 2- 2 hour plus movies!  (I probably was watching the movies more than cutting, but still, it took a while.)  Since the dinner party was drawing so near and I was still so far away from completion, I set aside the project. 

However, I love how it looks and want to go back and finish it once I find my cutting mat.  I also like how the gray looks on top of the green and am wondering about stitching down the gray to an un-cutout piece of felt.  Lots and lots of possibilities and very simple to do!  Just get a good cutting mat and I think it I could find stiffer industrial felt it would be even easier.
So little time, too many things to do in this universe.

Progammable Equals Happy

One of the most important rituals my husband and I have in the morning is to lay in bed and drink coffee while listening to the radio and catching up on news and cuddle with our cats (who are locked out of the bedroom at night and in desperate need of attention in the am).  

The only strife in this situation is that one of us has to get up in the cold house and run into the kitchen and turn the coffee pot on and then run back to bed.  Then the other person has to go get the coffee once it has brewed.   

Now we only require one trip because I just bought this fabulous new coffee pot with a programmable timer!   I know, I know, welcome to the 21st century, Jennevieve.   Our other coffee pot was a little 4 cup Cuisinart that was either on or it was off.  No programming, no clock, nothing.  Also, it was too small and dribbled all over the place when you poured the coffee.  When guests were over you had to make like 3 or 4 pots to make everyone coffee.  We loved it and used it for about 8 years but it was time to move on.  New house, new coffee pot. 

And really, who knew how many coffee pot options were out there?  I kept almost buying a new coffee pot when they were on sale at Fred Meyers but didn't want to end up with a lemon.  I actually ended up doing a lot of research to find one that had good marks on timer, ease of pouring, plus good looks for the counter top. 

This is the Cuisinart DCC-1200 Brew Central 12 cup programmable although we normally only make 6-8 cups at a time.  It makes me so happy.  Now I just need to find a good coffee grinder-- but that is another story for another time!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Table Setting

 I was in the middle of making a felt cut out table runner for our dinner party tonight and realized I just didn't like it.

I found some unstretched canvas when we moved and remembered somewhere in the back of my mind and idea about a painted words table runner.  I saw it on some blog, it was fabulous, and now for the life of me, I don't know where I saw it.  (This is where my sister points out that if I had posted it to Pinterest then I would know exactly where it was.)

So I winged it.  I cut the canvas so it hung over the edges and was about 14" wide.  Then I watered down some acrylic paint and wrote out famous food quotes by Oscar Wilde, Julia Child, and Martin Luther, among others. 

About half way through I almost abandoned this one as well but I stuck with it and now I am very very happy with how it turned out.  Simple, cheerful, and all about the joys of being with loved ones over food and drink. 

The felted rock place card holders and napkins add color.  
Life is too short for all the dinner parties I want to host!   Now it is time to go marinate the steak and chill the Prosecco and clean the kitchen.....

Happy, happy holidays however you chose to spend it and whomever you chose to spend it with!

Felted Rocks as Place Card Holders

 As you might have noticed, I love all things felted.  I also love throwing dinner parties and giving away gifts.  So yesterday after combing through the rocks in our yard, I settled in to felt them.  Felting rocks is pretty simple and only takes about 15 minutes per rock.

I learned how to felt rocks by watching this tutorial by Terri Pike.

Her website is amazing, please check it out and if you watch the videos as much as I did, be sure to give her a little Paypal donation!

I made sure each rock was a different color and pattern.

Then I used them as place card holders!  Our guests will get to take them home with them.
Maybe they will use them as paper weights or just put them up on a shelf or hold them once in while.

Simple Pocket Napkin Fold

 I love to dress up my place settings with cloth napkins.  I only have 6 napkin rings so when I host a larger party I stick to my old standby, the napkin pocket to dress things up a bit.

Start by ironing your napkins.  I know this sounds like a pain, but it is worth it.  And if you look close you can see I didn't even iron mine that thoroughly; you just don't want any giant wrinkles. 

Fold up about one fifth of the napkin.  It can be a little more or less but mine has a nice dotted line I want to be visible.  

Fold up again, this time so the fold ends up about halfway up the napkin.  

Carefully flip the napkin over.

Now fold one third over, keeping the folded bit nice and straight.  

Fold the final third over.  

Now flip the whole napkin over again and you will have a nice pocket to fit your silverware in.  I like to keep the knife pointing inward so people don't accidentally cut themselves.  
If I don't have place card settings, I will usually set this right in the middle of the plate.  But for tonight's dinner I do have place cards and will show you in the next post!

Happy napkin folding!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Easy Way to Save

Moving into a much larger house than our last one has been a steep learning curve in terms of wasting and using resources.  I have always prided myself on trying to be as energy efficient as possible.  We only have one car, we use front loading washer and dryers, we use the air dry cycle on the dishwasher, I reuse my own bags, I take 4 minute showers, I compost our food, I refuse to water the lawn in summer.   But I have been feeling like a bit fat hypocrite since we have moved into this house. 

Our first utility bill about knocked my socks off, the electricity part of the bill being $381 and that was just for 5 weeks!   At our old house with the heat pump, the electricity was more like $60 for 5 weeks in winter.

I don't know how the people that lived here before just let things go they way they are without trying to make it better!  I keep finding incandescent bulbs in fixtures all over the house, the fridge was set far too cold, the dryer isn't working correctly and takes over 2 hours to dry the clothes, the hot water heaters were set to scalding, the baseboard heaters either won't turn on or won't turn off.  It baffles me that people can be in such denial of their wastefulness!

The other thing that we realized that was broken was the toilet in the master bathroom.  The floating device would never properly engage and so water was running constantly.  Also, it was a big, water wasting tank.  So we bought a toilet kit to fix the leak and when Trevor ran to the store to get another part he also came back with this dual flush handle.  So simple and easy to install and is already cutting our water usage on that toilet in half!

Now I just have to convince Trevor to let me get rid of the hot tub.  I know he loves it, but we rarely use it and I am disgusted by how much electricity it must be taking to keep that monster hot.

The Week That Time Forgot

This is the week that time forgot in our household.  We are both sick.  Trevor came down with it first and I was relieved I seemed to scrape by without catching it and then Bam! -it hit me like a ton of bricks on Monday and seems to be in no hurry to leave.  And this week Trevor took off from work so we could have a little staycation before the holidays. 

Sheesh.  Forget that.  I had a little movie marathon yesterday (two Star Wars movies and Roxanne with Steve Martin) and tried to do some drawing but it wasn't a very productive day.  The holiday cards have been pouring in and I haven't even begun to make ours.  But at least they are New Years cards so they won't be too late if I can get organized. 

I drank about 2 gallons of soup in the last 2 days along with a gallon or so of Lemon Ginger  Echinacea  juice.  I don't really believe in the powers of echinacea to cure colds.  But I like how it tastes and fluids are good for you when you are sick.  I cut the sweetness with a little water and then bring it to a boil and then pour it over a slice of lemon studded with cloves.  Very tasty and relaxing. 

You might be wondering about that horse in the photo.  It's my latest prop.  It will probably show up often in the background of my photos.  I love it.  It was a centerpiece at a wedding we went to in October (the one I made all the metal birdies for) and when the bride found out I coveted it, she promptly gave it to me.  Sweet, lovely woman!

Now I must rouse myself and get to the store to buy more soup and try not to cough on anybody!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Making a Large Nuno Felted Wrap

I have been a little reluctant about diving into large, patchwork nuno projects.  I am not sure why. Maybe I thought I wasn't ready for it yet. My husband pointed out to me the other day that one of my faults (he meant this in a very nice way) is that I never think I am as good as I am.   Like applying for shows.  Sometimes I hold back because I think my work isn't good enough and then I go to the shows and say what the heck!$%#? when I see some of the work that was accepted.

So, out of the blue, late in the afternoon the other day when I should have been thinking about making dinner, I decided to make a large patchwork nuno scarf.  I still don't have a heater in my studio, so I have been taking up a large part of the kitchen and dining room.  Again

Nuno felting is a process of laminating silk (or some other delicate fabric) to wool through the felting process.  The wool fibers migrate through the silk and hold everything together.  If there is anything I learned on this project, it was the louder and bigger, the better since the design shrinks so much.  Like the snake print silk.  I used too small of swatches and it isn't as obvious in the final product. I also used open weave ribbon and some golden thread that is hard to see.  More is more when it comes to nuno!

Half of nuno felting is laying out your design.  The other half is wetting and rolling and rolling and rolling the piece.  It is very physical.  And at the end I like to throw the piece to felt it further. 

 The attached flower is a pin and is not part of the scarf.  I wet felted the flowers separately and then needle felted and embroidered them together.   I also needle felted at the end of the ties too to add some color and definition.
I am very excited to start trying some even larger shawls and triangle wraps.  Tis the season of the scarf after all!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fruitcake, But in a Cookie

Now that I have my oven back, I am on a baking rampage.  Two to three times a day, the oven is getting used.  This is an especially good thing since for 2 weeks now I have stuck with my cash only system and trying not to go out to eat that much and it works better when there is an oven working at home! 

And since it is the holiday season, I have no problem posting my second cookie recipe of the week.  I was browsing through the Betty Crocker Cooky Cookbook  last week (I love how they spell Cooky) and glanced over a fruitcake cookie recipe.  I promptly forgot about it but then yesterday I was at the grocery store and suddenly had a thought, I want to make Fruitcake Cookies!  When I had the container of candied fruit in my hand, I was starting to have some serious second thoughts whether that was such a good idea.  Did I really want to waste $2 of organic butter?  I decided to stick to my guns but also purchased some nice candied ginger to substitute if I got really apprehensive. 
 Let me pause for a second and talk about this Cooky Book.  There is a bit of history in my family about this book.  My mom baked out of this constantly when I was growing up and I would spend hours flipping through the pages, salivating over the glossy photos of fat chocolate chip and pinwheel cookies sitting next to glistening glasses of ice cold milk.

About 15 years after I moved out of the house, my mom gave me this cookbook as a gift, assuming I would jump for joy to have it for my very own.  Well, let me just spare you the $20 of going out and buying this yourself.  Most of the recipes are terrible.  Cooking times are wrong.  It ALWAYS says you are going to have twice as much as you actually end up with.  (One time, as an experiment, I tried to make the quantity of some cookie that the recipe said I would have; I ended up with cookies the size of quarters.)  Also, everything calls for margarine and many of the recipes use cereals or other product tie-ins.  Awful.

When I got home and looked at the recipe, I thought, uh, no thanks, and went and found an Ina Garten recipe that looked pretty good.  But then I found the exact same recipe on several other sites so I am not sure who to give credit to.  Probably Ina.  But I changed it up anyways because of course she wanted you to chop your own dried fruit and all I had was the Crayola colored fruit I bought at the store.  But I had the good candied ginger and that helps a lot.  They taste a lot like a shortbread, which was a pleasant surprise.  Guess what everyone is getting from me this year for the holidays?

Fruitcake Cookies
1/2 pound diced fruitcake fruit
1/2 cup plus chopped candied ginger
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons dried sherry
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp.
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour

Mix fruits with honey, sherry, lemon juice, pecans, pinch of salt.  Set aside while you make the cookie dough.

In stand mixer, cream butter with sugars until fluffy.  Add egg and mix until just incorporated.  With mixer on low, slowly add flour along with 1/4 teaspoon salt until just combined.

Add fruit and nut mix and blend in.  Divide dough in half, roll into 1 1/2 inch logs and wrap in wax paper.  Chill for at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350F.
With a sharp knife, slice logs into 1/2 inch slices, turning log as you cut to retain round shape.  Place slices about 1/2 an inch apart on ungreased baking sheet.   They don't rise or expand much but I still prefer to cook about 12 to a cookie sheet to give them a lot of breathing room.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.  Mine took about 16.5 minutes!

They look so festive and pretty and taste NOTHING like those fruitcake bricks that everybody hates but are ubiquitous to the holidays.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Octopus Vessel

 Here's my final project for my first quarter in the Certificate of Fiber Arts program at UW.  For the most part, I am pretty happy with how it turned out since I had less than 3 weeks to make it.  The vessel itself was stiffened with fabric stiffener, but I left the legs floppy so that they can be arranged as to how one desires from day to day. 

I chose an octopus since the largest octopuses in the world, the Giant Pacific Octopus, live in the waters we can see from our house. 

The needle felting of the suckers alone took about 19 hours. 

I am in the middle of painting coats of white paint out on a studio wall so that I can try and take some better photographs.  I have a nice little set up for smaller sculpture but these larger pieces definitely need a lot more room.  
I should have the painting finished by tomorrow and better photos within a couple of days!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Six weeks is a long time without an oven.  Granted, I had the cook top.  But it isn't the same.  I feel like the whole world has opened up for me now that my oven is fixed.  I can make anything!  I am going to make pizza from scratch for dinner tonight but first I needed to make some cookies.  Yes, needed.  

I spent seemingly half the afternoon browsing through cookie recipes in my cook books.  I wanted to make something I had never made before.  I ended up choosing a chocolate salted cookie from one of my favorite little cookbooks Salt: Cooking with the World's Favorite Seasoning by Varlie Aikman- Smith.  This is the cookbook where I got the recipe for black sea salted bread sticks that is a staple at many of our dinner parties.  I love this little cookbook.  You can tell the author really tested out the recipes.  The things I make out of it look just like the photos.  Also, when she says it makes 24 cookies, she means it actually makes 24 cookies.   She said bake the cookies 10 minutes.  At 10 minutes, they were perfect.  The only thing I changed was that the recipe called for one teaspoon of rum which I don't have so I substituted 2 teaspoons instant coffee instead. 
Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies 

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon rum (or substitute 2 teaspoons instant coffee)
fleur de sel, to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 350F.

Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda and set aside.

Melt 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate in double boiler.

Cream butter and sugars in upright mixer with flat paddle until light and fluffy.  Scrape bowl if necessary.  Add the egg, vanilla extract, rum (or coffee), and melted chocolate.  Beat until well combined, 1-2 minutes.  Reduce speed to slow and add flour mixture.  Mix until combined.  Stir in the rest of the chopped chocolate.

Mixture will be very soft.  You can put in fridge for a bit to harden slightly but I am not that patient.  I just scooped the dough by the tablespoon directly onto cookie sheets sprayed with cookie spray.  Slightly flatten the tops of the cookies with the back of a spoon and sprinkle generously with sea salt.

Bake 10 minutes and cool on pan for a couple of minutes before transferring to cooling rack. 
These are very rich, delicious cookies!  Now I am off to get the pizza started and then we are going to play our new card game, Killer Bunnies!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Most Awesome House Warming

Before we hosted our housewarming party a couple of weeks ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to name our house.  I wanted the name on the invitations but I didn't want to rush myself because I wanted a good name with a lot of reference to our location and the history of the place and also something that meant something to us. 

First off, why name a house?   Long before there were street names and numbers, houses had names.  Think England and Jane Austen and Jane Eyre: Mansfield Park, Pemberly, Gateshead, Thornfield Hall.  But not only big estates had names.  Small places also had names:  Shell Cottage, Orchard House, Rose Cottage, Stag's Leap, etc.

We ended up with "Gertie's Lair." Our good friend Kelly ordered this welcome mat for us and it couldn't be more perfect!
Now for the story behind the name.

We live right next to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and have a fabulous view of it all along the house.  These 2 bridges (but we always just refer to them as the bridge) are the 5th largest suspension bridges in the United States.  Originally, there was only one bridge and it was called Galloping Gertie.

If you know anything about the first Gertie, it is represented by this photo:

Galloping Gertie collapsed during high winds on Nov 7, 1940.  It had only opened on July 1, 1940.  Not a very long life!

Now when the original bridge collapsed, large tresses fell into the water and were left there.  Sea life took over and Giant Pacific Octopuses moved in, making their dens in the sunken ruins.

Now, my husband and I, we think of Gertie as an octopus that lives in the ruins of the old bridge under the water.  Hence the name, Gertie's Lair.  I have always been a bit obsessed with the octopus.  I am in the process of making a giant octopus vessel for my fiber arts class.  (Photos coming soon.)  I also plan on having a hand railing built with an octopus designed into it.

Long live Gertie's Lair and thoughtful friends!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Money or My What?

I know there has been a lot of talk around about sticking it to the big banks, jumping ship, and running to the credit unions.   I bank with a big bank.  In general, I like that bank.  Maybe it is because I have a mortgage payment for our rental tied into my accounts that makes them love me so much and the fact that I rarely have to pay for any services: so be it.

Anyways, it's not the big banks I am sick of as much as the big time scammers that somehow keep getting a hold of my debit card numbers and pins.  PINS!  How on earth do people snag your pin number?  I did some research and it turns out that some nasty, evil people will pretend to be service repair people and then switch out credit card/debit machines for ones that track the numbers.  And this must have been what happened to me twice this year.  TWICE!  Two different accounts!  I am careful with my cards; I never write my pin number down anywhere.  I cover the little pin pad with my hand if someone is close by.

Now I have made a big life style decision.  I have become a woman that pays with cash.  If I pay with cash, nobody can steal my debit number.  My mom has been doggedly refusing to use a debit card for years, stubbornly sticking to writing checks and ranting about security.  I scoffed at her.  Now I agree with her.  Only I don't want to write checks either.

This cash only business has all sorts of implications in my life.  It is a bit of a pain to go into the bank and withdrawal my month's money.  But it also means I am sticking it to the big bank anyways because they are not going to get a cut of the Visa fee on a debit transaction anymore.  Everyone around me keeps screaming Shop local! Shop local!  But they are all using their debit cards and taking a ding out of that local merchant so that a bank can make more money.

The best thing about this, but also the most challenging, is that I have to stick to a budget.  I've read this in finance books for years and mostly shrugged my shoulders about it but you do spend less, much less, if you stick to cash.  You think a little harder before making that purchase.  Is that exactly what you want to give up your cold hard cash for? With our new house our expenses have gone up quite a bit so it won't be a bad thing if I can set a little extra money aside.

I only started today and can't give much feedback yet about the process but I did notice that at the grocery store I was much more conscious of whether items were entirely necessary or not.  And when I went to get coffee beans I usually get an americano at the same time but I thought, nah, I'll just go home and make coffee instead.

See?  It's changing me already!

New Goodies in the Making

 I have been keeping myself pretty busy making new stuff the last couple of weeks.  I still don't have a proper studio up and running yet so I am doing metal work in the downstairs rec room and felting on the kitchen table!  This little felt vase with the big eyes was a prototype.  I took it to Matter Gallery in Olympia and the owner said it sold less than an hour after I dropped it off.  Guess I need to make some more.

I am not entirely sure what I want to do with this green vessel.  After I took this photo I cut off the top to make it a little more even.  Does it need eyes?  Undecided.  My husband suggested I cut it shorter and make beer cozies.  Hmmm, not a bad idea!

New ornament designs in reclaimed tin that I have been working on.  

I sent this bunch up to Tasty Gallery in Seattle.  We'll see how they do.

And these fellas all packed up and ready to be delivered!  
There never seems to be enough time to make and create and try all the things I want to do!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Felted Vessel Samples

 It is nearly the end of my first quarter in the Fiber Arts Certificate program at UW and I am working on my final project.

The goal is to create something you have never created before in order to learn new tasks.  I decided to work with a hollow vase form in felt, something I have been wanting to do since I started making 3-D forms to make into pillows.  I have also been experimenting using stiffeners and glues to make the pieces hold up and retain their form better.

I started with these 3 little bowls.  It is hard to get the felt into focus since it is so fuzzy.  The camera kept wanting to focus on the wood behind them. 

I felt good about the little bowls I made and so I ventured into larger territory.  

This vase is actually being donated to an auction next week.  The black spots were all done with needle felting but the rest of the colors were all felted in the wet felting process.

I used the fabric stiffener brand "Stiffy" to create a nice crisp edge.  My professor also recommended GAC 400, a Golden Artist's product, to try out as well.  I haven't gotten up to Daniel Smith art supply in Seattle to get any yet.  I don't think I can get it in Tacoma.  I might have to just order it online.

I love working with color in wet felting.  It is endlessly fascinating to me all the ways you can overlap color and blend.
I hope someone likes this vase and bids on it! Now I am ready to start my final project.  Fingers crossed!  It is going to be an octopus vessel.  Can't explain what that means really; you'll just have to wait and see when I get some photos of it!