Gathering inspiration, ideas, materials, tools, information; Gathering together with friends, new and old; and Making things beautiful, delicious, healthy, sustainable, and useful ~ Gather & Make.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Knitted blanket~

Sometimes I just need to zone out, no thinking allowed, like visiting a dear friend, where long silences are welcomed. That's what my knitted blanket was to me. It was that on-going project that required no explanation, no pre-meditated planning, just pick it up and get to it. I had been working this blanket, on and off, for almost five years.

You see, I had visited the fiber festival some years ago, and picked up a very large hank of the most lovely yarn. It was soft and lofty, variegated in earthy browns, coppery pinks, and rusts. The vendor said there was enough to make a small afghan. Moi, having only knitted a few, well-guided projects, thought I could wing an afghan. I mean, it was a smallish thing, really. If I knit the whole thing, that would make it elementary and easy; right? I found a 52" cord for my size 9 Denise needles, and set about casting on. Just how many did I cast on you might ask? Well, at 300 it seemed ample, and sounded like a nice round number. Now, right about this time all you seasoned, experienced knitters are chuckling or perhaps even tsk-tsking and rolling with laughter. Who casts on 300 stitches???? Well, unfortunately, I did.

Back then I was not used to looking up things on the internet, like "easy knitted afghans": I wasn't part of a knitting group: and I didn't know anyone whom I felt I could ask. Hindsight being what it is, I could have gone to the library or I could have asked the ladies down at our local knitting store. I felt a little awkward, since I had not purchased the yarn from them. But really, I should have gone in. They knew me as a customer and would have happily steered me in the right direction.

But no, I just wanted to knit. So I began. When I had practically used up my very large hank of yarn and only had, oh, about 20 inches to show for it, I realized I had made a very big mistake. This was either going to be the worlds longest scarf, or I was going to have to change my plan. Unknitting ... had I even heard that term then? .....was yet another unknown technique, thus starting over was not an option.

I looked at my crude, proportionally incorrect "afghan" and realized that if I added to it, perhaps I could still save it. I had many odd balls of yarn sitting around that would look fabulous with the variegated yarn, yarn that had the same fluff and loft, yarn that had a little mohair or silk spun in. Hence, plan B was hatched ~ a knitted blanket. I began searching and gathering like-handed yarns. I found ten balls of rust colored, vintage mohair at a flea market; a cone of bumpy variegated reds and wine colored silk at the op shop; a bag of fluffy browns. You get the picture.

I knitted, and set aside, and added, and paused, gathered more yarn, and knitted some more, and over time my blanket grew. It grew to rather ridiculous proportions. I never truly knew how long it was because it was on the 52" cord. The yarn was so lofty and fine that it just smooshed up into a smaller looking parcel than it really was. I knew it was not correct, but I was so much enjoying just sitting and knitting, and having this lovely wool around, and feeling the softness on my fingers. I enjoyed the mindless, meditative quality of just picking up and making.

You can see my cat also enjoyed the knitting time.

I recently pulled out my blanket. I could tell I was nearing the end of this endeavor. It would never really be complete. I was running out of yarn for it, and mentally, I was ready to finish the project. I had thoroughly enjoyed the process, but now it was time to move on.

When I knitted my last ball of yarn, the blanket measured just over five feet in width. I still did not know how long it was. Last week, with slight nostalgia, similar to reading that last chapter of a very long, engaging novel, I bound off those 300 stitches. I got out my measuring tape to see just how long it was. Those 300 stitches, the tape revealed to me, equated to ....are you ready?....12 feet....TWELVE feet! Oh, my goodness, ridiculous proportions indeed.

For reference the couch is 7.5 feet. 

It just goes to show you that a little planning can go a long way: Or conversely, a lack of planning can also go a long way. Lucky for me, I enjoyed the journey, and have gleaned a very good lesson in the process ~ winging it can be great, taking you down paths you may not have tread; but sometimes the path can be much shorter (and less expensive) with a little research.

My knitted blanket is warm and toasty, with colors that make me happy. It is useful, cheerful, and reminds me of life's lessons learned.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cranberry liqueur ~

I was visiting a friend one chilly morning. We were having a cup of tea, waiting for the sun to warm our path before we went out for our walk. As we were chatting about this and that, she told me of a delicious cranberry liqueur she had made and pulled out a bottle of the most beautiful red liquid. I was interested to know just what cranberry liqueur tasted like, wondering how this rather sharp fruit would lend itself to a liqueur. She asked if I wanted a little sample. I hesitated, only for a moment: It felt quite decedent, being a weekday and before noon, but I was terribly curios, so I said yes, I wanted to taste this elixir. It was at once tart, yet sweet enough without being cloyingly so. It was perfect on its own or could be paired with other ingredients for a cocktail. It was altogether delightful. My friend said it was easy to make and emailed me the link to the recipe.

The idea of gifting small bottles or jars of this pretty and tasty liqueur spurred me to action. On my way home I stopped to buy the cranberries and vodka. I borrowed some larger mason jars from my neighbor, gathered my ingredients, and set about making a batch straightaway.

It was extremely simple to make. The most difficult part was waiting the three weeks for the flavors to meld properly. Finally, it was time to strain out the cranberries.

I tasted the liqueur. It was good, but there was a slight bitterness that I wanted to tame. I added one teaspoon of vanilla bean paste and two tablespoons of honey powder. That did the trick! The addition smoothed out the rough edges without adding any flavor. Next time I think I'll double the additions to keep a subtle layer of these flavors.

I decanted the liqueur into recycled bottles and jars, wrapped them up, and gifted them for the Holidays.

I like the cranberry liqueur straight up.You might also try adding some to a glass of champagne. My current favorite way to enjoy is with the addition of a few bourbon soaked, dried sour cherries. Just place about 1/4 cup of dried, sour cherries into a small container, cover with bourbon, and let them soak. I used Oregon Spirit Distiller's C.W. Irwin straight bourbon whiskey. It's a gold medal winning, "proud yet lively" whiskey, made right here in Bend, Oregon.

The bright, red color also lends itself to Valentine's Day. If you hurry, you can make a batch just in time for sharing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Valentine tree, an Ode to Joy~

There is always a flurry of activity, putting away the holiday decor, cleaning it all up.....all except for one sweet little tree, vintagey, white feather with pale pink tips. 

During the holidays it's all dressed in snowy tone-on-tones ~ crystal, silver, white and cream. It's the only remaining sparkly thing in the house now that it's January.

Little tree will hang out like this for a couple of weeks until I bedeck it in pinks and reds and transform it into the Valentine tree.

I remember the first time I saw a Valentine tree. It was at my mother-in-law Joy's home. We were helping put away the Christmas items, and I asked about taking down the smaller tree. "Oh, no, we keep that one up. It's my Valentine tree." What a lovely idea! Joy added all her Valentines trimmings, and I adored how it brought one season into the next, a gentle reminder for what had just passed, and a celebration of all things love. That was my mother-in-law for you. A beautiful soul, full of spunky artfulness, a sparkle in her eye, and wisdom that went beyond judgement, with grace and gentleness. We lost her to cancer, and we miss her every day. My little tree, aka the Valentine tree, is my Ode to Joy, and my celebration of all things from the heart.

My kids and I have made little Valentines over the years, paper pompoms, tiny festive gift holders; nothing too fancy or glorified, yet they're colorful and fun. Added to the already tone-on-tone sparkle, they create just the right amount of kitschy, Valentine's Day theme.

When my children got a little older, instead of candy and chocolates for Valentine's Day, I would slip a set of movie tickets or some lip balm or a coffee card into the gift holder. To make the gift holder I used a toilet paper roll. Just staple the bottom closed, and glue pretty papers and any decorations you like on it.

Do you celebrate Valentine's Day? If so, what is your favorite thing about it?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Pretty Pillows~

Almost thirty years ago, while travelling on a bus down to the Isle of Wight in England, I met a girl. You know when you meet someone that feels like a long lost friend; someone you are instantly drawn to, interested in, and at once at ease with; someone you know will be in your life for the rest of it? Well, that's the girl I met that day on the bus. We have remained a constant in each other's lives, even though she lives half way around the world in Australia.

She would write the most beautiful letters; her penmanship artistic; her words flowing and descriptive. My husband would tease me when one would arrive in the mailbox. Remember before snail mail was just a kitschy phrase? He would say, "Your book is here from Australia". My heart would race. I'd carve out a block of time, away from hubbub and kids, wanting to savor every detail uninterrupted. I'd prepare the perfect cup of tea, find a sunny location, and indulge in catching up with my friend. Over the years our "books" have evolved into emails. I love the instant spontaneity of electronic communication, but I must admit I miss the feel of the page and the curved, dangling tails of her g's and y's. They would reach inches down, creating a lovely vine-like effect over her pages. She would grace our mailbox with handmade cards complete with ephemera, decades before I had even heard that term!

My Christmas shopping has dwindled to a few well chosen gifts, mostly for my children. Yet I still enjoy searching for just a little something, something special for her. This year I wanted to sew her an Alabama Chanin garment. Being practical and as close friends are bound to be, in a position to ask her just what she would like, were I to make her such a garment. She replied that she would most like a throw pillow. What a wonderful idea. No need to worry about the sizing of the garment, alterations, non-fit issues. So I set about creating just the right pretty pillow for her.

I found that once I got started on this path, I was discovering unused throw pillows in closets and storage areas, and small yardage fabrics that lended perfectly to the size of tiny tossing pillows. I set about gathering such items and creating a plethora of pillows for her and others on my gift giving list for Christmas and the year to come.

She chose the Magdalina stencil for her pillow.

Close up of the Magdalina stencil.

The Magdalina stencil worked in the negative reverse applique method.

I stenciled two of these, and also some pillows in the lovelace pattern. I used mostly natural, pale colors and one in black.

Close up of the Lovelace stencil, worked in the reverse applique method, with a few accent beads.

I started some from scratch: and I used a couple of existing, plain cases. At this same time I had just found the perfect bedding to refresh my parents' guest room. One pillow sham I had coordinated well with their decor, but it needed a little something extra. I embellished in colors that brought all the elements of the room together.

Original sham.

I used felted sweaters for the bird and golden flower parts, recycled silk sari ribbons, and white saved cut-outs from previous Alabama Chanin projects using the Bloomers stencil.

The final pillow case, incorporating French knots and various embroidery stitches in floss and silk ribbon for the flowers and Alabama eyelets. 

I still have a queue of unfinished pillows to be sewn together; but they're all cut, stenciled, and ready to go. What a lovely way to begin the year, with a stash of projects at the ready and just waiting to be stitched.

Here's wishing you a most wonderful and enriching 2016.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Having fun with the wood burner ~

I've heard tales that my Little Grandma (great grandmother) had a penchant for burning. She was the sole caretaker of her large grounds, even into her 80's. I distinctly remember the smell of burning leaves and brush oftentimes while staying with her as a child. So it's no surprise to me that I am fascinated at the moment with my little wood burning set. The smell takes me back to autumn days at her house in the most comforting and bucolic sort of way.

This fall my son asked me for some family recipes. I set about gathering favorites that I knew he liked. I found some handwritten recipes that my husband's mother wrote for him when he went away to college, oh so many years ago. I knew I had to add those to the collection.

You can see the splatters on this most favorite recipe.

 I had an old wedding photo album in my "stash" that had never been used. It had a wooden cover and leather binding. It was exactly the feel I was after....of course, minus the "Happily ever after" words that were burned into the cover. I hot glued some scrap wood over it, and found an interesting idea for a new cover.

Photo album with wood pieces attached.

I attached a leather cord so the recipe book could stand upright for easy reading while cooking.

I had so much fun making the recipe book, that I decided to make some wood burned gifts for Christmas. I found a set of  eight wooden cooking utensils at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for $4.99. I also picked up a couple of tiny toast tongs, some serving forks, Christmas ornaments, and Christmas tags.

After playing around for a bit, I found I really enjoyed the effects of the leaf shaped tip in my wood burning set from Walnut Hollow. I used a regular pencil to draw some curly "vines" on the spoons. I used the leaf tip to imprint the leaves, then switched to the flow point tip to burn in the vines, curly-cues, and dots.

Here's a spoon my son made. He's added so much detail. I love it, and am so happy that he gave it to me!

This package of culinary treats is all tied up and ready to give.

I picked up some blank wooden discs at the craft store and made these sweet little earrings. I used a stamp to imprint the pattern, then the tiniest wood burning tip to burn the image into the wood. They're very light too; perfect for those with sensitive ears. I can't wait to make up more of these.

I'm still searching for more wood to burn and excuses to get my little wood burning set out and use it.

I hope your holidays are warm and happy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A little more beading.....

The snow was dumping fast and furious last week, transforming our little corner of the world into a winter wonderland. With snowflakes twinkling in mind, I dug out our Christmas tree skirt. I've been enjoying the evolving Christmas tree skirt over the last few years. You can read the whole story here. This year I seem to be running behind in all things Christmas. Should I admit that I don't even have my Christmas tree up yet? (gasp!)  But I knew I wanted to get going on my yearly embellishment. After careful inspection, and snowflakes dancing outside, I decided on this year's addition.

This is the original stencil.

The difference is rather slight, as I don't have the luxury of months or even weeks to work on it. Small though it is, the act of sitting down each evening, stitching and beading, feeling the fabric in my hands, remembering happy times in Christmases past, and deep gratitude for my family and friends now has brought me peace and joy.

I hope that you too may find a moment or two to sit and bask in this most wonderful season of peace and joy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Crocheted addition~

You may remember my post about my knitting friends and our group afghan here. We each made nine of the same squares, then exchanged them to put together, one square from each knitter, into an afghan of our very own. I really adore my little afghan. It fills me with a sense of community and warmth. The only thing, it wasn't quite long enough, and my toes kept poking out and getting chilled! It needed a border to give it the extra length for comfortable snuggling.

This summer one of the ladies was crocheting dishcloths in a sweet little bubble stitch. I had been searching for such a stitch for my border. I practiced on a few dishcloths to get the hang of it, work out the kinks, and tweak it to fit my project.

 I crocheted strips, then sewed them onto the afghan.

The afghan is now long enough to cover my toes, and is quite warm and toasty. I like that the border is different than all the rest of the squares, yet is very similar to the central square. It's easier for me to crochet, so I'm happy that the crochet pattern transitioned well with the knitted blanket.

Thanks again to my lovely knitting friends with their insight and suggestions to help me in all my yarny endeavors. And thanks to this fluffball for keeping my toes warm when my afghan is out of reach.