Vivid colors and nifty buttons

Purple flower hatHere is the second hat for little Miss Olive that her parents requested. I think it’s darling. I’ve been playing with vivid colors and with color combinations that I think are unexpected. Teal, orange and deep purple: how delightful!

Resin hat button

And the button! I’m gaga over the button. It’s a resin button made by Melissa Loden, a local (in a state as big as Montana everything within about 300 miles is considered “local”) artist. I love these resin buttons. I have a set in yellow with the same flower I’m hoarding for myself in the future (I’m so busy making things for other people I don’t make much for myself). Anyway, I thought the purple of the button matched the hat just perfectly.

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about my hats and blankets recently, so I think I may go for it on the sales front. Planning to sell in our brewery for a while, and maybe expand from there. If I can get in with a few local shops that cuts down on shipping, too. So wish me luck!

 

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Ripples

Started working on another baby/lap blanket. It’s already pretty much gorgeous. I’m using Debbie Bliss cashmerino aran yarn in eight different colors.

Ripples in progressIsn’t it just lovely so far? I’m using an H (5 mm) hook and Lucy from Attic 24’s ripple pattern. Is there anyone in crochetland who doesn’t just adore Attic 24? I just ogle at her photos and beautiful crochet projects. Crochet porn!

Anyway, I’m hoping to sell this blanket. Haven’t decided yet whether or not to start an Etsy page, or to just try to sell in some local stores or at local craft fairs. I’ve been chatting with a friend of mine who’s a wicked good knitter about going in together for craft fairs so we can split the cost of the booth. We think we’d be pretty successful because we’ve both got a good eye for color. But I worry about getting what I want for my work. I bought the eight skeins of yarn on sale for $7 (normally they’re $10.50). So just my cost of materials alone is $56. And I like to at least pay myself a little for my time and effort (well, actually, I’d like to pay myself so I can afford to go buy more yarn for my next project). I think I’ll ask $125-$150 for this blanket when it’s done (which is paying myself about $3 an hour, by the way), but the question remains, can I get it? I suppose if it doesn’t sell I have a lovely lap blanket for myself. I’m also trying to make a bunch of baby hats/women’s hats to sell, and perhaps some garlands and mobiles.

More ripplesIn other news, I picked up a little bag to hold my hooks, scissors, stitch markers, and tapestry needles last time I was at the yarn store. I’ve been on the hunt for something for a while to corral my hooks. I’d pinned a number of crochet hook book patterns, but I think I like this little drawstring bag better. It was made locally and I love the fabric the lady used for my home state.

MT hook bagAnd now I’ll leave you with a little glimpse of heaven:

Basket of yarn

Olive’s hat

A friend of mine who lives in Portland has an absolutely darling little girl (well, at least in photos… still haven’t met her in person yet). A few weeks ago I sent that darling little girl a cute hat I crocheted. Olive’s parents liked the hat so well they want a couple more! Here’s the first one (of two) that I’ve finished for Olive. It looks very much like an Olive hat if I do say so myself.

Olive's hat 1

Isn’t it adorable? I added the brim after some thought about how to make the hat look more complete than it did. That’s why I added the ribbon, too. And if Olive’s mom doesn’t like the ribbon she can just pull it out, easy peasy. I combined a pattern from the Interwebz, but tweaked it a little to make it bigger. Then I added the brim.

WEB 2-5-13 olive hat 2

The yarn is by Manos del Uruguay, which is a non-profit women’s fair trade cooperative in Uruguay. According to the tag, the aim of the organization is “to bring economic and social opportunities to rural women.” It’s viciously expensive, but it’s beautiful yarn. It’s 30 percent silk and 70 percent Merino extra-fine wool.

WEB 2-5-13 olive hat 3I hope Olive enjoys her colorful new hat!

Winter time

For me, winter is about reflection on the past year, letter writing, curling up with a good book and some hot chocolate, and projects. Let’s start with the last first and move backward from there. (Trying to make up for my lack of posts here with a long one with lots of photos, folks!)

I taught myself to crochet in October and have been pretty much a crochet fiend since then. I made almost all of the Christmas presents I gave this year, and while that did add to my stress load a bit as the holiday approached (pretty much spent all free time crocheting), I’m glad I did it. Homemade gifts are far more appreciated than store-bought ones. Of course I forgot to take pictures of all the different lovelies I created because I was more concerned with getting them done than snapping photos. Wish I’d been more diligent about my picture taking but well, next time. I made crochet snowflakes (both with crochet thread, which is quite time-consuming, and with worsted weight yarn) for my grandmothers, ear warmers for my female cousins and sister (they all matched, but were different colors: blue, orange, 2 purple, pink), and cowls/scarves for my mom (wave stitch in a delightful autumn red), a friend (double crochet fans), another friend and my step-mom (broomstick lace in china blue). Here are photos of a couple of them:

Crochet thread snowflake

I have a whole new appreciation for these crochet thread snowflakes. They take forever! I think each of the two I made took nearly three hours.

Crochet yarn star

These yarn snowflakes on the other hand I can whip up in about 15 minutes.

Scarf for Elise

Broomstick lace cowl

Matching headbands for cousinsThese are my two of my cousins and my sister (in the middle) with their matching ear warmers. Here’s where I found the pattern.

Currently I am working on a hat for a friend who is expecting a daughter in February, two sweaters for my son (one knitted, one crocheted), and finishing a star garland that is holiday festive. I plan to have the latter finished by tonight or tomorrow afternoon before the New Year’s Eve party my husband and I are throwing. We’re excited for the party and for the fact that we’re going to celebrate the new year at about 7 p.m. so that all of our friends (the majority of whom have babies/kiddos) can go home and go to bed. When you’ve got a little boy who wakes up between 5 and 6 a.m. every day, watching the ball drop at midnight (oh and we don’t even have a TV to do that, whoops) is pretty unimportant compared to 8 hours of sleep.

I love these little projects. I’m a stay-at-home and craft all day sort of person, but I only allow myself to do that sort of thing in the winter months because it’s just too nice where I live in the summer to stay inside and craft. Summer is for gardening and hiking.

I’ll post more about my star garland soon. I’m going to post something of a tutorial for it. I found the tutorial elsewhere, but it’s in Australian crochet terms, which are a bit different than American, and I’ve streamlined/made less confusing some of the steps. I post a link to the original, of course, but I’ll update the tutorial. It’s a quick and easy garland that can really add some festive this time of year.

Stars garland beginnings

So on to reading and hot chocolate. Where we live, it snows a lot during the winter (and is currently), so we spend most of our time inside (though we love to ski, snowmobile, and snowshoe too!). And since it’s dark so much here in the northern U.S. (sun sets by about 5 p.m. and doesn’t come back up ’til 8 a.m. or so) in the winter, there isn’t much to do in the evening hours but craft and read. Here’s a photo from our living room (oh right, it’s been so long since I posted I forgot to tell you all we moved to town!)

Snowy view

My reading has changed a lot since my son was born. Used to be that I could dash through two or so novels a week. Now if I finish a novel in a month, I’ve clearly had a lot of time to read! I’m re-reading Little Women right now, which is one of my favorite books (and movie! – the one with Winona Ryder) for sentimental reasons. I love that my copy of the book has an inscription from my aunt, who gave me the book a decade ago.

Little Women inscription

The inscription reads: “Christmas 2002, To our dear Kelley, It has been such a pleasure and delight to watch you grow up into such a fine young woman. We hope you will enjoy these books just as I did as a young girl and pass them onto your own one day. We wish you all the best, Kelley, and love you very much. Auntlee, Uncle Chris, Kylee & Hali.

I have ever so many other books on my reading list, and am supremely grateful for the Amazon gift card I received for Christmas for buying books! I try to use the local library as much as possible, but with my reading time so brief every day I often have to return the books I’ve checked out before I’ve finished them (or sometimes even cracked the cover). And I also try to patronize our local book stores (we don’t have a box chain bookstore here anymore… which is so completely awesome) too, but you can’t argue with gift cards! I need to be better about updating my “What I’m Reading” tab on this blog… but I don’t get much reading in these days so that’s why it doesn’t change much! I also have subscriptions to the New Yorker magazine and High Country News magazine, so I try to get those read too.

Rounding the corner to writing letters: I love to write letters (the snail mail variety) and trade frequent letters with a friend who lives in the mountains in Colorado. We’ve been writing each other letters since college. I have a shoebox stuffed full of letters from her and need to catalogue them in a binder one of these days. I also try to write semi-frequent letters to my grandmother, and to several other friends who I know appreciate that sort of thing. I just picked up a new pen for my letter writing and can’t wait to bust it out (yes I have to have a specific pen for letter writing or it’s just not as enjoyable). I also have scads of thank-you notes to write for Christmas presents. I was raised that one MUST write thank-you notes for Christmas and birthday presents and while I loathed writing thank-you notes for years, now I’m appreciative of the fact my mother made me write them. It’s a little gesture that means a lot. Just like a letter.

Finally, winter is a time of reflection. It’s for thinking about the year gone by (and holy moly was this an epic year), and thinking of the year to come. It’s for sitting in living rooms watching the snow fall. It’s for visiting friends and talking about what they’re reflecting upon to. Few things are closer to heaven for me than sitting with good friends engaged in good conversation in front of a fireplace or wood stove while the snow falls without. Seriously blissful.

I have two New Year’s resolutions this year. And I’m not a resolutions sort of person, but this year it just feels right.

1. Do yoga 2-3 times a week. There’s a yoga studio/wellness center in my town that has yoga classes three times a week for $7 a class. I can’t wait to start on Wednesday. For me, yoga is good, low-impact exercise. And I need flexibility and centeredness back in my life.

2. Write. Every. Day. EVERY DAY. I have three novels in the works (one fiction, one historical fiction, one gothic children’s fiction) and they’re never going to get done if I don’t work on them diligently. So my goal is 500 words (one page in Word) every day. I’ve already started this resolution and today is day three of success.

So there, I did it. Snuck a post in this December. Whew. It was getting down to the wire there, folks.

Happy New Year! I have a feeling 2013 is going to be pretty rad.

Recent projects: Pear bib

My son needed a new bib. Why? He only had one! It’s a blue and yellow cloth bib that says “Li’l Swede” on it and I wore it when I was a baby. He did have another bib, a plastic camouflage one that a relative gave us, but the plastic/velcro was irritating the back of Jonathan’s neck so we’re trying to use that bib only when traveling (it’s much easier to clean than the cloth bibs). Just like when I made my own makeup bag, I decided that instead of buying something, it would be much more fun to make something myself. An embroidery book I have, Embroidery Companion by Alicia Paulson, had a pattern and design.

I bought just a little blue gingham, which I tried to buy it at the local quilt store, but apparently most places don’t carry gingham anymore. Too old-fashioned. So I had to go to the dreaded Joann’s instead. I avoid Joann’s as much as I can because the fabric that store carries is low quality and because there are never enough people working there so if you need any assistance at all, such as having fabric cut, it takes forever to track some harried employee down. Anyway, I bought blue and red gingham and some pre-quilted cotton fabric for backing. I feel more confident about the gingham from Joann’s because gingham by its definition is woven instead of printed, making it hold up better.

I’m planning to embroider an ear of corn on the red gingham (for our little Cornhusker fan! Go Big Red!), which I’ll be making up myself. But to get started I used the pattern in the book for a pear.

It was a quick cross stitch project. It only took me three days of working on it here and there. Putting the bib together was a cinch and took about 45 minutes. I simply sewed the embroidered gingham square to the pre-quilted cotton, cut out the bib shape, then sewed bias tape around the entire thing. Easy!

And here’s my cutie boy modeling his new bib:

I had so much fun working on this bib, after I complete the ear of corn bib, I’m planning to make a few for friends who are having babies. Aren’t quick little projects like this fun? What are you working on right now?

Recent projects: Crib bumpers

I recently completed a couple of projects I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. I made bumpers for Jonathan’s crib, and also a bib (which I will share in the next post).

I decided to make the bumpers myself after reading this blog post and doing some research on what nice bumpers were likely to cost. For about a quarter of what I would pay to purchase the bumpers, I made my own. They’re not that great, but they’re better than nothing! And we needed something, because our son has a penchant for sticking his feet through the bars of his crib (and consequently his fat little legs get stuck and then he screams bloody murder), and he also scoots around in his sleep so much he kept banging his head against the bars of the crib. Waking up in the middle of the night to a screaming baby is not OK at this point.

I used some fabric I already had on hand (my fabric stockpile has gotten a bit out of hand, and I’m trying to use what I have before buying more… though I did buy gingham for the bib, but more on that in my next post), but picked up some navy blue piping for decoration, navy blue ribbon for the ties, and foam for stiff padding.

After the tedious measuring and fabric cutting stage (every project I do, I swear I hate measuring and cutting just a little bit more), I pinned together the fabric, piping and ribbon. I placed the ribbon at even intervals so there are ties on the ends and in the middle. I did, of course, run out of ribbon at the end, so I have one bumper with five ties on the top and one with four ties, but my baby sure isn’t going to notice something like that. It’s important if you’re making something like this yourself that the ribbon lays INSIDE the fabric, as shown below, as you pin, not the outside, or you’ll end up with the ribbon on the wrong side of the fabric. Though maybe I’m the only person who has to think that sort of thing through. I also use the same color pin (green in this case) to denote where the ribbon was so I sewed extra carefully in those spots. Anybody else give themselves visual clues like that?

I sewed the top (with the piping) and the two sides before inserting the foam and sewing the foam in. I probably should have used buttons instead so I could remove the foam to wash the bumper fabric, but I decided to live on the wild side (a.k.a. I didn’t want to learn how to sew buttons this time around) and sew the foam in. Down the road I’ll inevitably have to wash the bumpers and when I do I’ll plan to wash them on a cold, gentle setting. And keep my fingers crossed. I left about an inch on all sides of the fabric to account not only for seams but also for the width of the foam.

Here are the finished bumpers on Jonathan’s crib:

You can see the top of the crib bumper is actually a pale blue. The one on the bottom matches it. I didn’t have enough of either the pale blue or striped fabric to complete all four bumpers, but I thought the two fabrics went well together and the navy ties and piping help them match. Also, I think these bumpers are neutral enough for a baby girl’s crib in the future (no, I am not prego).

I’m happy to report our days of stuck feet and bumped heads are over. Our little peanut seems to sleeping better at night. Mission accomplished!

 

 

 

A wedding present

One of my oldest and dearest friends got married this past weekend and I was a bridesmaid in her wedding (she was a bridesmaid in mine). Elise and I have known each other since eighth grade. The first time we met was on the bus ride home from middle school. I didn’t enjoy sitting in the back of the bus with the other eighth graders because they were loud, obnoxious, and derived far too much enjoyment from shouting “PENIS” at the top of their lungs during the bus ride (most of those people are now lovely adults who I enjoy far much more than I did then). So I sat in the very front seat with the lowly sixth graders. But hey, I was always the first person off the bus. Anyway, here is the first conversation Elise and I had (keep in mind that until the very end of high school Elise weighed about 80 pounds soaking wet):

Elise: Can I sit with you?
Me: Sure, but just so you know, I’m an eighth grader. (She was so tiny I figured she was a sixth grader. Man, I was pompous back then!)
Elise (all about 4 feet 9 inches of her at that point): Me too! I’m reading “Les Miserables”!

And thus, a wonderful friendship was born. Elise and I spent many pleasant passing periods together in high school because we had many of the same classes (she always did a shuffle-dance impatiently while I took my sweet time at my locker… we were still on time to class, though!). We also got together after school and on weekends for tea and chats and filming the occasional ridiculous home movie complete with costumes (usually involving the three musketeers along with our friend Melissa). “Vive le signe de trois! Un pour tout! Tout pour un!”

Here’s a photo of said ridiculous costumes. I’m on the left, little Elise in the middle, Melissa on the right. This was taken in high school French class our senior year (those are soda bottles!). We all dressed up for, I think Mardi Gras, and throughout the day people in the halls during passing period would say: “So you’re the third musketeer!” or “Where’s the other one?”

Yes, we were THOSE people in high school. But hey, it was fun. We were well-adjusted, not-very-angsty teenagers, which apparently these days is saying a lot.

After graduation, Elise went to Minnesota for school and I to Nebraska. We started writing each other letters regularly (snail-mail letters with stamps even! 😉 ), and to this day, we continue the tradition. The contents of our letters has changed, but our friendship has only deepened over the years. It is a relationship I profoundly thankful for. It always makes my day when I find one of Elise’s letters in my mailbox.

So for Elise’s wedding, because she is the sort of person to appreciate something handmade, I embroidered a camping scene. She and her husband love to camp and hike and climb. The words on the embroidery are from the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song “Home.”

It took about a month of steadily working on it a little bit before bed every night, but I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. It was a lot of fun to make a wedding present for my dear friend.

To you, Elise! Congratulations! Lutefisk!

 

 

Why buy it when you can make it? Peach Chutney

Just as I’ve introduced a series about gardening (view the first post here), I’m going to introduce another series called “Why buy it when you can make it?” that will include information about making things at home. For example, a few months back I made a makeup bag instead of buying one, and I am SO glad I made it myself. This post is about making peach chutney, which is delicious on pork chops and chicken. This will also be an occasional series, but I hope readers find it inspiring. Isn’t it so true that we value that which we make ourselves over that which we buy?

So, I spent some time the past week canning peaches. Of course they’re not local peaches, since peaches don’t really grow where I live. But I think that sometimes it’s better to buy organically grown peaches from California while they are in season, can them, and then enjoy them in the winter, than to buy peaches out of season. I know I could buy them frozen, but they just don’t taste great. We so rarely buy food that we can get from right where we live, we consider things like peaches, bananas, and bell peppers a treat.

I’ve always loved peaches, ever since I was little kid. The first time I remember eating a peach is when I was probably five or six years old. We had spent the weekend at a cousin’s cabin in the mountains in Colorado and we were driving back to Denver. My mom handed me a peach. I remember watching the pine trees outside the window, the winding drive down mountain roads, and the fuzzy peach in my hands. I remember taking a bite of that luscious, succulent fruit, the juice spilling down my chin and onto my fingers. What a wonderful memory that is, that first peach.

So last week, my husband and I bought something like 10 pounds of peaches on a couple separate occasions. I canned some into peach preserves first. Then I made chutney. I could buy both peach preserves and chutney at my local grocery store for about $5 a jar. Or I could enjoy jars I canned myself, without all the weird unpronounceable preservatives! I’m going to go through the process of making chutney here.

First, wash and peel the peaches. Then slice into small chunks, like the photo shown:

The peach chunks toward the righthand side of the photo are obviously much riper than the other chunks. That’s OK. When you’re canning, the ripeness doesn’t matter as much. Less ripe is actually better. Some of the chunks will cook down, so that’s why it’s better to have small, inch-sized bits. They cook down faster.

The peaches go in a pot on the stove and simmer down some, mixed with brown sugar, raisins, chopped onion, a hot pepper (I used a Serrano and used the seeds too, which makes it even more spicy), mustard seed, ginger, salt, garlic, and vinegar. I use the Ball Blue Book for the recipe.

20 medium peaches
2 to 3 cups brown sugar (I used 2)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped onion (I recommend a yellow onion – did you know red and yellow onions are higher in antioxidants than white onions?)
1/4 cup mustard seed
2 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons salt
1 clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon jarred minced)
1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
5 cups vinegar

I like the Blue Book because it is cheap, something of a canning authority (lots of information about methods and such), and easy to follow. I do have to note that many of the recipes I’ve tried often recommend the use of WAY more sugar than I use. When I canned peaches, I put in one and a half cups of sugar and the preserves were quite sweet. The book recommended SEVEN. So, sugar to taste is my recommendation.

Making chutney is actually pickling, did you know that? Anything you can in vinegar is pickling.

The above photo shows the consistency you’re striving for with the chutney. Lots of peach chunks left, but some cooked down into a syrup of sorts.

While you’ve been making the chutney (from starting to peel the peaches to when the chutney is ready to can took us about an hour to an hour and a half), start your water bath boiling. It will take quite a while to heat the water bath to a rolling boil, so make sure you get that going in advance. As the chutney is cooking, you will boil the lids and the jars (their openings face-down in the water) for 10 minutes or so in a skillet with about an inch or two of water in it. This heats the jars so they don’t explode when you put them in the water bath, and it also sanitizes the jars and lids (you should have washed the jars and lids already, though). Cleanliness is absolutely essential in canning. While there are only a few cases of botulism reported annually (MANY more people come down with food poisoning because of dirty food from factories) in the U.S., that’s not something you want to mess with because it will kill you! You suffocate. Nasty. Make sure your equipment and workspace is clean! It’s also a good idea to check the lips of the jars for cracks or chips because this will interfere with the seal.

Once the chutney has cooked to the point where you like the consistency, transfer it to the jars that have been boiling. You want to leave about 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims down carefully with a clean washcloth dipped in the boiling water of the skillet. Be careful not to burn yourself! Make sure there is no residue on the rims or lips of the jar. Put the lid (Side note: the flat lids are the only piece of canning equipment you CANNOT reuse. One use only!) on, then tighten the screw top around the lid to as tight as you can with your hands.

Carefully lower the jars into the water bath with canning tongs. Boil for 10 minutes (I go for 15, but I always go past the recommended time just to be safe).

Here is the chutney as I pulling it out of the water bath. I used some pint-size jars and some of the smaller quilted glass jars as well. I like to give the quilted glass jars away as presents. Just as you appreciate something you made by hand more than something you bought, so others appreciate handmade gifts!

Set the VERY HOT jars on a towel. Listen for the pops of the jars as they seal. You know they’ve sealed when the raised bump in the center of the lid is no longer there. If you have a can that didn’t seal, it’s OK to eat, but you must refrigerate it from the get-go.

Once the jars are completely cool, remove the screw-tops. It is possible for bacteria to live in between the screw-tops and the jar. You don’t need the screw-tops when the jars are in storage if the jar is sealed. Once you open the jar to eat the chutney, you will obviously need the screw-tops. And you should always refrigerate canned goods once they are opened.

Canning supplies can be found at many grocery stores. If you find canning jars in your grandma’s cellar, make sure the jars don’t have any cracks or chips; if they’re intact, they’re OK to use! Once you’ve made the initial investment in purchasing jars, lids, screw-tops, a water bath vat, canning tongs, pectin, and a funnel, everything (except the lids) can be used again and again.

Canning is a fun way to preserve food. There’s nothing like peach chutney or applesauce in the depths of winter. And those jars always look so nice on the shelf!

A few more things to keep in mind:
• Canning is not the best way to preserve nutrients in your food. The boiling breaks down some of the nutrients. The absolute best way to preserve food to maximize nutrients is to freeze. However, canning doesn’t require refrigeration.
• The water bath method is only used for foods that have acid. Green beans, meat, fish, and the like must be canned using a pressure canner.
• Read all canning instructions before canning. Canning is easy, but you must follow directions and make sure everything is very clean! I am not responsible if you give yourself botulism. But you shouldn’t have to worry about that at all if you have a clean working environment. Canning is a safe way to preserve food, but you need to follow the directions!
• I have heard that ceramic/glass-top stoves do not get hot enough for canning. Not sure if this is true or not, but perhaps using a coil or gas stove is best.