Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lavender Valentine's Day gift to make!


A sweet pile of lavender goodness!
One of the nicknames for the town we live in is the "Sweetheart City" so Valentine's Day is a big deal for us.  We have a lot of amazing celebrations and so much fun!  After sort of ignoring Valentine's Day for most of my life, it's starting to grow on me.

I got inspired to make this fun heart centered gift by a pile of linen scraps, an extra bag of lavender flowers,and a need to make something fun and easy.

I'm going to assume you have basic sewing skills both with machine and/or needle and thread.  Nothing fancy, just straight seams and knowing how to turn a corner.  If you don't, try YouTube.  I'm not up for teaching those things. I learned them about a zillion years ago so I don't even know what you wouldn't know to be able to teach you.

Grab up some cloth in colors and textures you love and that make you happy.  I had two different kinds of linen scraps left over from various other projects, so that was perfect.

Cut out 2 squares per little pillow. Mine are around 4" square(ish).  The seams take up about 1/2 inch on each side, so the squares started out 5" each side.  It's not real important, just make sure the two squares are same size.


Using your mad sewing skills,(with right sides together, remember) stitch around 3 1/2 sides of the square.  Make sure to back stitch when you start and stop.  Do it, you will thank me later.

Okay, get ready to thank me.  After you have sewn the two squares together, reach into the place where you didn't sew and pull the square inside-out.  If you want to be fancy you can clip the corners just a bit to reduce the bulk but it's not important.

It's a bit of a struggle getting the inside out but you can do it.  Use a chopstick in the opening to square up the corners by poking the tip firmly in the corners.  Push and tug until you are happy with the square.

Here is the fun part:  using a funnel and your chopstick,stuff the square with some lavender flowers. I used two small handfuls per full sized pillow, less for the smaller ones.  Add other nice smelling herbs if you'd like.  Looking good!



Once it's loosely stuffed, don't make it too full,you will need to close the opening.  I use the "blind stitch" so it doesn't show but it really doesn't matter.  I would not use staples as they will be scratchy but a couple of staples would make it clear your gift was homemade.  It's really your choice.


Then you decorate!  Sew through both sides to make the puffy hearts.  Sew through just the top layer for the more pillowy ones.


Here is how to make a symmetrical heart shape.

Fold a piece of paper in half.  I used an old envelope here.  Draw the sort of ice-cream cone shape on the fold.  Don't worry about making it perfect, you can fix it later.


Cut it out.



Open it up and look!  You made a heart.  Adjust it as you like - make the heart shape that makes you happy!



You do the same thing when you go to cut the heart out of your fabric.  Fold the fabric in half and cut both sides at once.  This will assure that you have a reasonably symmetrical heart shape.


Make several sizes while you are at it.  It's fun!  Don't use your fabric scissors to cut paper though.  I will hunt you down and punish you if you do.  No wonder we can't have nice things.


When you hand sew the heart onto the pillow, you can hide the knot at the end of your thread under the heart like this:


I just took tiny stitches perpendicular (sort of) to the edge of the heart to fasten it down.


These are supposed to be rustic and simple, so don't try too hard.  It's supposed to be fun.  Once it was sewn down, I pinned a larger heart over the top and sewed through both layers of the pillow following the heart shape.  This helps a lot.  I can't sew without a guide.


The final result!  I love it. So sweet!  I gave it away immediately to a friend of mine about to have surgery.  She was so excited!


Here is my pooch Henry showing the finished pillow off.


I thought about outlining a heart in beads or attaching some trim but didn't do it this time.  I actually kept them pretty simple and graphical.  I really like them!

Great fun to create!  A different Valentine's Day gift for your sweeties!  Enjoy!



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saving herbs for the winter, a bit late but remember this for next year!


I had started the photo set for this, then got sidetracked with life.  Sorry it's not something timely but I really needed to look at green stuff today and think about herbs.  You know, it feels like it's been so gray and icy this winter, my bones are sore and cold.


Lots of folks grow herbs during the summer, we revel in fresh herbs!  Then is the winter we have to make do with either dried or those dear packets at the store.

Here is my solution for fresh herbs in the winter.

Herb ice cubes!

What you will need:

2 stacking/nesting ice cube trays
sharp knife for chopping (non-serrated)
cutting board
plastic wrap
freezer

fresh herbs
Vitamin C crystals or lemon juice
water/stock


I like to just pick a happy passel of herbs.  I can almost smell the herbs in this picture. Remove the stems and other bits you don't want to have to pick out of your soup.


Make sure to use a knife that is sharp. Dull knives bruise the herbs. Chop to your desired size.  I like pretty fine but not dust,  You can also use whole leaves.  This is a pretty versatile method.


Take one of the clean and dry ice cube trays and portion the chopped herbs into the individual cubes.  At least a teaspoon of herbs, a tablespoon is better, but don't fill all the way to the top.  Water expands when it makes ice so leave some room.



Take some water or stock and add a splash of lemon juice or a pinch of Vitamin C crystals.  The lemon juice or Vitamin C crystals are to help keep the herbs fresh and green. They keep them from oxidizing on the cut edges.  It is also a wonderful bright flavor for soups, eggs, meat, etc.


I only filled the tray about half full.  You want the herbs to be fully covered by the liquid.   They float so you will never get them under the water.  But make sure there is enough liquid to cover.


Cover the tray with plastic wrap and make sure the wrap hangs over the edges on all four sides.  Tuck under the tray and then nestle your second tray underneath, trapping the plastic wrap completely.  This will limit spills and other freezer problems.  

The plastic wrap will not stick to the plastic tray.  I have tried sticking it on with cello tape, packing tape, even duct tape, this two trays works way better than any tape.


Tidy! No spills!  These sat in the freezer since July.  Oops.  But look, very little problems or issues.  

When the cubes are frozen, remove the bottom tray, twist the top tray to loosen the herb cubes and pop out!


Bright green and fresh from the acidic water created by the Vitamin C or lemon juice.  


Put in a glass jar and store in the freezer.  Add a frozen cube or two in the final 5  minutes of cooking to keep the herb and lemon flavors fresh and bright.

It makes summer come alive in the dead of brown winter.  Do lots!  You will enjoy having them to splurge often.




Enjoy some lavender, just because Winter.



Friday, January 9, 2015

Natural dyeing with poinsettias

Poinsettia petals are actually specialized leaves.  The flowers are tiny.

The trappings of the Holiday Season, once over, become very cheap.  Talk to your favorite greenhouse and tell them what you want to do, I bet they will be glad to hear you want their uglies or leftovers.  Or see if you can just have the tops, that's all you really need.  

Have everything ready to go so you can use the flowers while they are fresh.  Snip the red bracts into a mesh bag.  I use the paint strainer bag from Sherwin Williams, you can get them for a couple of dollars apiece and re-use them many times.

I used 10% WOG alum and simmered 100% silk scarves in the alum water for about an hour.  They were rinsed in water.  This conditions the silk and makes the color fast.

Put the bag of bracts in a stainless steel or aluminum pot, add water to cover, and put on medium heat. It takes a long dispiriting time for the color to come out of the bracts.  Don't be discouraged.  We sure were but we didn't know any better.  Neither one of us had used poinsettias as a dye stuff.  Kathy (http://awanderingbotanist.com/) had read about the Aztecs using these flowers which grow wild as red dye.  So the quest was on!!!


Pretty blah, huh?  This is after about 30 minutes of heat.  But we kept telling ourselves that there was color in the bracts and to just be calm and carry on.


Then very quickly, the color came out into the water.  Look at the bag, see how little color is left in the petals?


This pretty pink color struck fairly quickly, I'd say after about 30 minutes.  



Here is the mass of poinsettia bracts after the 90 minute simmer.  Kathy observed that they looked like cabbage.  I didn't try eating them, even though I really love cabbage.  These little bracts gave their all, unstintingly.  

I wasn't entirely thrilled with the soft pink color, so I left the scarves in for another 5 or so days.  The dye pot water was so dark, I thought more color would transfer.  I never did heat them up again, I just left them sitting in the cold pot.



The color after time darkened and was pretty.  I messed about with some discharge techniques to add interest.  I like how it turned out.


Here is a close-up detail.  I like the shapes and darkening a lot.  It's a lovely pink.


Ironed and ready to go!

Time will tell how color-fast these are.  I am going to go out on a limb and predict that these will do well.  Berries, no, I have not had good luck with them holding their red colors, they turn quickly to a drab brown/beige/blah.  This color, being from a specialized leaf, I'm thinking will keep their red.

How exciting!  A new plant to dye with at a time when there is little alive.  Such a lovely color as well.  I like the Leaf Essence tm scarves better, to be honest.  More dramatic!  But what a great discovery!!!  Thanks, Kathy!  You have the best ideas!!!

I am about to start the processing of the past summer harvest of dyestuffs and medicinal herbs.  I did better this year in getting some of the harvested plants processed and into bags.  There is always so much to do during the summer and the heat saps my will to work.

I'm excited, some friends came over and we pulled everything out of the storage room and swept it.  Then sorted and tossed and put like things together.  And I now am the proud owner of a couple of shelves to store thing on!  I have had a repurposed baker's rack which is great in that it rolls around to store all my dye things on, but not everything fit on it.  So I had to go chasing around to find stuff that I had poked into one corner or another.  Now there are just a few places to look.

It feels amazing to have the storeroom organized and clean! 

Next, my office!  And then the basement!!!  Or maybe I'll just go lay down.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Leaf Essence Scarves done with poinsettias!

Vibrant!  Exciting!  Beautiful!

My friend Kathy, http://awanderingbotanist.com/, gets all sorts of great ideas.

She is constantly researching and had read a single throw-away line on a book.  It went something like "The Aztecs used poinsettias for red dye."  

Thus the madness begins.

We hatched all sorts of plots to obtain cheap/free after the Holiday Season poinsettia plants, which finally ended up with her getting a ton of discounted plants from Lowes in late December.  Fiendishly decapitating and stuffing the stems into plastic bags, she came over and the fun ensued.

(In a wild obsessive run, I spent most of last half-year perfecting the technique I  have dubbed "Leaf Essence"tm where the essence of the leaf or flower is actually coaxed onto silk using gentle heat and pressure.  I get some crazy good almost photographic effects.  I made a bunch of them and they sold well for the Holidays.  I hope to make more next year, once the leaves emerge again.)

We decided to try both a pot of color, using the bracts (the red of the poinsettia is actually a specialized leaf called a bract - look it up, really!) and then I would try the Leaf Essence tm technique.
(I plan to write a book soon exploring this technique but I can't wait to share these with you!  So here is my notice that these pictures and techniques are copyrighted and are mine.)  

We pulled the bracts from the stems and promptly got covered in the white gooey sap.  It washes off, but if you let it dry on your hands it can be a bit irritating.  It's kind of rubbery when it does, it reminds me a bit of rubber cement, if you are old enough to remember that!

We started the pot up with a bag of bracts, and then I started to make scarves.


The bracts removed from the stems.  You can see the white sap.


The bracts are laid out on half of the scarf in a pleasing design and then folded over.  
I'll have more details in my book so be patient with me.   



I also tried using some of the green leaves.  It really looks festive, doesn't it!


The scarves are steamed for a good long while.



When you open them up after the steaming, I was amazed by how the bracts completely transferred their essence into the silk.


The bright red bracts had become in some cases entirely transparent.


They are beautiful themselves, so delicate and ethereal.  I want to maybe make paper with them, but for now, I am just enjoying them in a bowl.


So lovely.  Each scarf is a work of art and entirely different.


At the end of the pictures, you will see this scarf washed and ironed.  



I love how you can see the veins.


This is on the fold where you can see how interesting the imprint is.  It's the same bract, but the print is creates is different.  I think this is stunning.



Totally still gobsmacked by how beautiful.


The thing that really amazes me is the range of colors created.


I have some more experiments to do, but the color is very pH sensitive as well as heat sensitive.  After washing and ironing, this scarf shifted to purple.  In several trials, the color once shifted seems to be stable, but I need to mess about more.  Always.  Nature is amazing and tricksy.


The color on this one is amazing.


 This is the scarf you see right after dyeing above.

Earlier in the fall, a friend of mine wanted to dye some yardage using commercial dyes.  I've never used them so I was willing to share my studio and equipment, but was very clear that I would not be a source of knowledge.

It was really an odd and weirdly envious experience watching her tear open a bag of color and dumping it into a pot.

I love natural dyes passionately.  I love how they are made from the plants that are the center of everything for me.  I love the weird smells they make such that my poor long suffering husband knows what is in the pot by the way the studio smells when he walks in.

But they are really hard work.  And they take a lot of time: the plants have to be grown or found in the wild, gathered, and then either processed by drying or freezing.  When you are ready to dye, the fabric/yarn needs to be very thoroughly cleaned, then conditioned with a metal ion so the color stays, called a mordant.

The dye stuffs are simmered to release color and then the two are made one.  Fabric and color.  Glorious color.  Never quite what you expected, rarely even, but natural and yours alone.

The downside is they rarely make the saturated even colors our eyes have come to expect from synthetic chemical dyes.

It was sort of dis-heartening to see what color could be had just tearing open a packet.  I have a natural dyeing friend who calls all the brightly synthetically colored yarn "clown barf."

I had to think through my process again and was able to come out the other end with my love of natural colors stronger than ever.

As ever, I hope by seeing what I create using plants, you will come to share my love of the dye natural.  Of gentle complex colors created without chemicals springing from the land we love.

I've posted a few in Etsy if you'd like to see more.  They are truly one-of-a-kind.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/FoxRydeGardens?section_id=13489394&ref=shopsection_leftnav_9