Tuesday, March 3, 2015

For his daughter

The Bear spent the winter building a nightstand for the GB. He drew up the plans himself and he did very well (he wrote about it too). The drawer glides smoothly, the cabinet door fits snugly in its frame. He likes to build furniture and he's getting better the more he builds; I've put in an order for an expandable kitchen table (I'm patient).

We tried milk paint for the nightstand, J.E Moser's Genuine Old-Fashioned Milk Paint in Cream, which we bought from a local woodworking supplier. It's tough to work with but we like the finish. It looks old-fashioned, smooth, flat and a little transparent. He used Danish oil finish for a topcoat. The drawer and cabinet pulls are antique green glass, from a collection handed down to the Bear by his late grandfather, another great woodworker. I had a hard time choosing; I almost went with the red enameled porcelain ones but I love how the green glass catches the light.

She was overjoyed when we put the nightstand in her room. She carefully chose the items on top of the nightstand: her Maggie Rabbit, a three-piece wooden matryoshka we gave her, her tissues in a box like a birdhouse and her Lego Friends calendar that she assembles (slightly incorrectly) by herself every month. In the drawer, she placed her four lip balms - two flavored Bonnie Bell Lipsmackers and two plain Chapsticks given to her by the dentist. These are the things she wants near her bed right now, at six years and six months old.

He inscribed the bottom:
Made with love by [P.H.]
For his daughter [E.H.]
February 2015

He makes my heart so full.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Stitches Little Giveaway!

I have exciting news today! I'm collaborating with Apryl King, owner of Stitches Little, an Etsy shop specializing in modern cross-stitch patterns. Apryl is an experienced cross-stitcher and designer of patterns. Her shop has lots of wonderful designs, from cute animals and cartoonish characters to intricately detailed illustrations of jellyfish. She also has funny sayings, sweet sentiments and decorative designs with a mod flair. Apryl's designs are available as downloadable PDF's; she also includes guides for beginning stitchers to help them get started.

Apryl and I connected when I shared a link to her shop in a recent post about cross-stitch. I had the opportunity to interview Apryl about her work and we had an interesting conversation about everything from her passion for crafts to her skill as a pattern-designer to her experiences as the owner of a successful Etsy shop. We really connected over our early introduction to cross-stitch and our similar interests in all things crafty.

Turquoise Feather design

Me: How did you become interested in cross-stitch?
Apryl: My mother used to stitch large and intricate pieces that really captured my imagination, so she agreed to teach me when I was about 9 years old.  I first worked with the typical starter patterns that had the image stamped on the fabric and then moved on to counted cross-stitch.  I stitched for a few years until I outgrew the teddy bears and heart patterns that were available and did not want to move on to the country motif patterns that seemed to dominate the market.  To be honest, I think I decided that I was way too cool for a “granny craft” as I got older, so I traded it in for combat boots, pink hair, and mixed tapes.  As a self-proclaimed Riot Grrrl in the mid-90’s, I don’t think I would have been caught dead with a cross stitch sampler. Fast forward to my mid-20’s when I randomly stumbled across Julie Jackson’s “Subversive Cross Stitch” book and instantly fell in love.  I was truly inspired but felt stupid at the same time.  It was so painfully simple and obvious that a cross stitch sampler could come in a variety of styles.  I wasn’t stuck with just traditional or primitive style patterns.  To be clear I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to cross stitch an image of an English garden or a farm scene.  It’s just not my thing, and I think that in order to dedicate hours of your life to a project and then hang it in your home, it should be your thing.

When did you start creating your own designs?
I discovered a few programs online that allow you to draw or import an image and convert it into a cross stitch pattern for free.  I experimented with different images and eventually became obsessed with turning Andy Warhol prints into patterns.  Something seemed hilariously “meta” to me about spending hours intricately cross stitching a pop art version of Marilyn Monroe for my house.  I still haven’t done it yet, but that project is something I always think about whenever it is time to pick a new pattern to stitch.  I eventually made my own patterns from quotes or phrases so my friend and I could make Christmas presents, and that evolved into drawing my very own designs.  

How do you create your designs? What software do you use? Do you draw them? Do you use photos?

I currently use a program called StitchSketch.  It’s a wonderful app for the iPad, and I highly recommend it for anyone that wants to experiment with making their own patterns.  There is a free but limited version you can use to test it out, and they offer the full version for only $7.99. I create my patterns in one of three ways.  Sometimes I will start with a rough sketch and then chart the pattern based off of it.  Because StitchSketch is an iPad application, you “draw” with your fingers, so I often just draw my patterns directly in the software.  I have also purchased art from different designers when I feel that their work will translate well to a pattern.  Ellen from SweetShopDesigns was very nice and agreed to let me make some patterns from her clip art.  

Who inspires you?
I’m very much inspired by other designers.  I adore the work of Weelittlestitches, SatsumaStreet and What Delilah Did.  These are my probably favorite designers at the moment.  I’ve purchased and stitched patterns from all of them.  I should also mention that I am a fan of redbeardesign, flossandmischief, plasticlittlecovers, and  FoxYouAreSoCrafty.  Some of these designers are new like me, and I like to support their efforts to provide unique and interesting patterns. I’ve been told that I should focus my efforts on directing traffic to my shop instead of pointing potential customers to other shops.  I’m sure there is some wisdom in that idea, but I really want to promote cross stitch and embroidery more than anything else.  I would like for people to fall in love with the craft, and I feel the best way for that to happen is to show them everything that is being offered by so many talented artists.  I make designs that appeal to my tastes, but with so much now available, there is surely something for everyone.   

How do you use social media to build your business? 

I probably should not admit to being a little bad with social media.  I use Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram to promote my shop and to connect with customers and other designers.  I share photos of my current cross stitch projects and finished pieces.  Sometimes a customer will send me a picture of their finished work and allow me to share it with my audience.  I like to provide links to different blog posts and tutorials about embroidery and cross stitch, and if I am offering a discount or special, I will share that information too. You can find me on the following social media networks: 

Tell us about owning an Etsy shop; when did you open? What was the first thing you sold? What does the future look like for your shop?

I opened my Etsy shop on 1/20/14, and I made my first sale on 2/6/14.  The first item that I sold was my Fuzzy Love cross stitch pattern.  I was both surprised and elated because it affirmed my belief that it was possible for me to turn my hobby into a side business.  My intention for the first year was to experiment and then learn as much as possible about running an Etsy shop.  I had very low expectations for my first year, so when I started to regularly sell items and receive positive feedback, I was caught off guard.  I feel lucky but also proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. My primary focus has been to release a variety of patterns and to learn how to make the most of my Etsy shop.  Now that I am reasonably established, I want to shift my focus to improvement.  I am researching different software programs because I would like something that provides more features and a higher quality pattern.  I would also like to start a blog and a corresponding newsletter by the end of the year.  Aside from listing new patterns, I intend to expand my product line to include cross stitch kits, finished and framed pieces and even mini hoops from Dandelyne with my little designs stitched inside. Finally, I think that blackwork and embroidery patterns would make a great addition to my shop.  I feel that the possibilities are endless, and I’m excited to see what else I can accomplish with a little time and effort.

Bright Mod Bird design

Apryl has generously offered to give away one of her patterns to a lucky reader of my blog! I know you're going to love her designs. The designs in this post are two of my favorites from her shop and I love many others too, especially her retro-modern designs, many of which remind me of Orla Kiely's leaf and flower patterns. I love her Grow Your Garden design and her Mod Vines and numerous Mod Bird patterns.

How about you? You can win the pattern of your choice from Apryl's shop! Just go to Stitches Little on Etsy and have a look (be aware that some designs contain strong language). Then come back here and leave a comment letting us know which pattern is your favorite. I'll draw a winner at random from the comments and Apryl will email the pattern to the winner in PDF form! 

To enter this giveaway, you'll need to be a follower of my blog (or begin following now). The giveaway is open worldwide. The winner will need to provide a valid email address and will also need to be able to open and download a PDF. Our giveaway will end on March 9. I'll announce a winner soon after. The winner will contact me with his or her email address, which I will forward to Apryl; she'll email the pattern. I hope you'll enter our giveaway! Have fun choosing a favorite design and good luck!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Home, alone

After a fairly difficult couple of weeks, I was in sore need of some time alone at home. Do you find it as restorative as I do? Home is my favorite place no matter what, but there are times when I just need to be alone, puttering quietly around the house and the yard, lost in thought; able to think. Yesterday morning, I decided there would be no errands or serious housework for me. I baked, I inspected my potted bulbs, I worked on my Midsummer Sprigs sampler, I had a look at my new library books. I felt refreshed and ready to see everybody again.

This sampler is such a joy to work on. It's going faster than I want it to; I sit down to stitch and end up in a trance, almost. I can't get enough. The black linen is easier to work on than I'd thought it would be, as long as I sit in the window with the light behind me. I could happily stitch for hours but I'm trying to pace myself and savor the work.

I'm reading two books now. One is Ovenly, a baking cookbook by the owners of a bakery by the same name in Brooklyn. It's a beautiful book and the recipes are so interesting; they all incorporate sweet and salty flavors, as well as spicy ones. I haven't tried any of their recipes yet (my baking yesterday, an orange tea loaf, was an old recipe from Southern Living), but they look delicious. I'm also reading We Two, about the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It's fascinating! I love biographies. I'm extremely nosy. I have to know all about people.

I just finished reading a wonderful book that I can't recommend highly enough, called Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home. This book is comprised solely of letters written by a young woman (Nina) to her sister back home after Nina moves to London from the north of England to become a nanny. It's hilarious and sweet. Oh, and you should watch Chef. It's streaming on Netflix. Fair warning, lots of profanity in both.

I'm so ready for the weekend. I welcomed the Bear home from business travel to Washington, DC. We took the LB for hospital tests for his kidney condition before the Bear left; everything is stable - no better but not worse. The tests are stressful for everybody. I haven't felt great for about two weeks now, just a long, crummy cold. I need to hunker. I'm going to read and stitch as much as I can. It's cold again here, with some snow. We're actually having a no-school snow day, if you can believe it. Fine by me. Tea and afghans, ahoy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Martha & Me - February

I'm determined to keep trying something new from each issue of Martha Stewart Living over the course of this year. During the month of February, I tried two new ideas. I helped the small Bears make valentines for their school friends, using a printable template found on Martha's website here (there was also a pictorial included in the magazine), and I made a batch of Honey Blondies. The recipe can be found here.

Martha's valentines appealed to us because they were simple and funny. I have to admit that I love kids' crafts a lot but I'm not into fancy valentines. Some of the ideas seem so complicated. I like to let my kids make things themselves, as opposed to making everything for them. But I do enjoy a homemade touch and it's always nice when you can give a unique creation, so Martha's printable valentine cards really appealed to me. We chose the "You're a Catch!" design, on page 5 of the PDF in the above link. We actually modified it a bit, copying it to a graphic art program and erasing the colored "waves" on the original design. We don't have a color printer and anyway, we thought it would be more fun to decorate them ourselves. We could have just drawn waves but the Bear wanted to try making a stencil on his new toy, the 3-D printer. So much for not making complicated valentines! Ha.

What did we catch with these valentines? Swedish Fish! I ordered a box of individually-wrapped fish here. For each valentine, I helped the kids assemble four wrapped fish and stapled them onto each card near the fish hook illustration to look like the fish had been "caught" on the hook.

I think they were well-received. They were among the simplest, least expensive valentines given that day, from what I saw when I attended their parties. But I don't think kids' valentines should be fancy or extravagant. In fact, I sort of chafe at the idea, so this was a great approach for us. I liked spending the money on candy instead of licensed-character valentines, for one thing. I also liked the play on words, it was cute and silly. These valentines worked great for us and I would definitely use them again in the future.

I also tried a recipe from the February issue, Honey Blondies. These are bar cookies made with honey, brown sugar and bittersweet chocolate. I had some trouble with my camera around the time I made them, so I don't have my own photo of a sliced bar. To be honest, I felt a little disappointed with them, though the rest of the family liked them a lot. They were easy to make, though, and I liked the technique.

Generally, I don't eat much dark chocolate. I greatly prefer the sweeter milk chocolate or even white chocolate over the darker varieties. I don't know much about dark chocolate either, such as the percentage designations and so forth. In fact, I needed help from a clerk in Trader Joe's to pick a suitable chocolate for this recipe; I just didn't know where to begin. She suggested this one and it seemed okay to me. I enjoyed chopping the bar with my chef's knife; it was very tender and flaky and I had zero temptation to nibble any while I chopped.

Blondies usually require some stove-top cooking in addition to the baking stage. You have to melt the butter with the sweeteners in the recipe - in this case, both honey and brown sugar. I used basic clover honey to make my blondies, but Martha suggests trying different types of honey. I thought the honey flavor was fairly mild in these bars so I can see using a honey with bolder flavors, if that's what you're into.

Once the butter and sweeteners were ready, it was a simple matter of stirring in egg, flour, vanilla and salt, as well as the chopped chocolate. I liked the swirled effect of the chocolate through the batter. That may have been a sign of chopping it too much, but I thought it looked pretty. They baked quite quickly, though I did need to add five minutes to the recipe's suggested baking time.


When cooled, I removed the whole thing from the pan and cut it into sixteen squares. They were very moist and thick, and they had browned nicely. I thought they were just okay-tasting, though. They were a bit too sweet and the chocolate didn't really come through at all. I would just use semi-sweet chocolate chips if I made these again; it would be cheaper and I always have them in the pantry. All in all, this recipe was good but not great. I will probably try it again with modifications, namely a little less sugar.


Thanks for following along with my challenge! If you want to join in, please leave a link to your blog post so we can see what you tried this month, or tell us about it in a comment (it can be from anywhere, you don't have to use this magazine!). I'm already starting to think about March, having received the latest magazine last week; both a recipe and a sewing project have been catching my eye.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Good things

It was a long week. I wasn't feeling well, we had lots of schoolwork to do, everyone seemed a little cranky and out of sorts. I think it's the time of year; spring break is still over a month away but it feels like it should be sooner because the weather here has mostly been warm - a lot warmer than average. It's nice. But it's weird and frustrating too, like we skipped a season. I think that's what's bothering me most about this warm spell - the disorientation it has created. I found good things in the week, even though it wasn't an easy one. I'm getting better at finding those silver linings, I tell you what. My days are full and I fall into bed at night, used up but mostly happily so.

The Bear and I went to a bakery on Private Friday and were stunned to see these there. Do you know what they are? They're called kouign amann, and they are a type of pastry which originated in the Brittany region of France. We had never heard of this pastry until two weeks ago, when it was made by the contestants on The Great British Baking Show. The owners of the bakery are also fans of the show, it turns out, and they decided to make some of their own. I thought it was a delicious pastry - very buttery and only lightly sweet. We were intrigued watching the show and it was a very pleasant surprise to have the chance to try such an exotic treat for ourselves. Go try them at Swiss Alps Bakery, if you're local.

I've been admiring my Valentine's Day gift from the Bear, a set of Clover steel crochet hooks in the smallest sizes. I was planning to buy a single hook for my potholder-making, and he suggested a set. Hey, you don't have to twist my arm. I haven't tried them yet but they look pretty in my hook roll. The new hooks have caps for the ends. They're sharp! I've been using my bigger Clover hooks since November, when he gave them to me for my birthday and I'm a total convert. He appreciates good tools and he thinks I should have them too. My sweetheart!

I bought purple tulips this week when I shopped for groceries. The prices are coming down so I've been treating myself more often. I'm usually drawn to the bright pinks, reds and oranges but these cool purple ones called out to me. Do you move your flowers around the house? I get urges to see them in different places and might move them once a day. First, the living room, then the buffet in the dining room, then the kitchen table, maybe after that my dresser top. I just like to see them in a new place. They look good anywhere, and different too.

Not to be outdone, the tulips in the backyard beds are all emerging now. I've planted about 40 new ones since last year, including a Darwin hybrid mix. I can't wait to see what they look like. I'm hoping for better ones than last year's mixture provided, many of which were stumpy with weird, pulpy flowers. I'm hoping for a more classic look from this batch. I'm happy to report that my potted tulip bulbs are beginning to sprout too! It's looking good so far.

These girlies are back to laying an egg apiece almost every day. They're funny and sweet and I adore them.

And these two - well. I love them to pieces. I'm really enjoying this middle-childhood phase of life, it's my favorite so far. They're independent, playful, imaginative, active and fun!

I ordered some wildflower seeds selected for desert xeriscape gardening. I desperately want more flowers to cut for bouquets in the summer. I feel optimistic about these because the Bear tells me that they use a similar mixture on the grounds of his workplace. He says they're LUSH down there, so I have everything crossed for these. I ordered them from an Etsy shop, EarthCare Seeds. They were very affordable, shipped quickly and the seller included free heirloom kale seeds too! I've never grown greens but we'll give it a try.

These gorgeous sunny days have led to spectacular sunsets. I took this photo looking over the back wall and westward down the arroyo. Those clouds tell the truth - that's a winter sky. Warm though the afternoons may be, when night falls it still looks like winter. March is usually rougher than February; there are still storms on the horizon. I'm not done with winter yet - there are still afghan evenings ahead, baking afternoons, stews and soups, mornings of crochet and stitching in the sunny living room chair, nights spent reading beside the Bear in companionable silence.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Color Collaborative: February: Precious

This is not my precious thing. By that, I mean it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to my son and I am its trusted guardian. Sometimes I wish I were not; it's extremely fragile and is, in fact, falling apart. I'm afraid to touch it. I have it tucked away and I hardly ever take it out. It's a family heirloom, passed through six generations so far, a tiny leather-bound copy of the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

The binding is torn and is attached by only a small strip of very fragile leather. The leather is faded, cracked and dry but the gilt imprint shines. The leather was once supple and smooth, a handsome little book for a young boy. It was purchased, and gifted, in Ohio in 1887. The giver, my husband's great-great-grandmother, and the recipient, her three-year-old son, were Presbyterians. They were devout followers of their Scottish ancestors' faith. What were 19th-century Presbyterians like? I'm picturing austerity, simplicity, refinement. I'm picturing dark clothing, long Sunday meetings, a large but plain meal afterward. A devotion to hard work, good manners, studiousness. A comfortable life but not a fancy one. In my mind, 19th-century American Protestantism looks like this book.

The flyleaf has been inscribed. The first child to receive this book, CBH, was my husband's great-grandfather. He gave it to his eldest grandchild, my husband's uncle, CWH. He is my father-in-law's elder brother. CWH never had any children of his own. My husband's elder brother died at age seventeen. It must have seemed unlikely that my husband would be the one to produce the first grandchild but here we are. The book was given to my son when he was about three years old. This has not been inscribed in the book. We've all been afraid of damaging it. I may try, though. I think it would be nice. The facing page, which I think is called the colophon, has pencil scribbles from some long-ago child. I don't normally condone writing in books but I'm glad for it this time.

Inside is the only bit of color, a green grosgrain-ribbon bookmark decorated with an illustration of Christ. It's pasted onto the ribbon and is peeling at the top edge. I'm told by past keepers of the book that the ribbon has always been in it, at least as far back as 1950, when its last living recipient got it. I suppose it could be original, from 1887. I hope so. I'm careful with it. The edges are curled and faded and a bit frayed. The part that stays inside the book is darker, and smoother. The sticker is hardly faded at all, Christ's robes wine-colored, a crisp white stole around His shoulders. The sheep flanking Him are finely detailed, their fleeces snowy. He stands amid detailed rocks and plants with a clear sky behind Him. He is color and light in a drab little book with miniscule print and tissue-thin pages.

Now this precious little book belongs to my son. He has not been raised in a church-going family, though we do read Bible stories and we celebrate Christian holidays as well as some Jewish ones, in a nod to my own mixed-faith heritage. He has seen this book a few times and he thinks it's interesting. It stays with me for safekeeping, wrapped in old cotton Anne Klein scarf, tucked into the back corner of my underwear drawer with other treasures: letters written to me by my husband, my son's baby teeth in individual, marked envelopes (my daughter's soon to join them), my newborns' hospital hats and bracelets. I don't know who will receive this little book next, or when, but I plan to let my children handle that when the time comes. For now, I'm proud to keep it safe for them, a slice of family history and, hopefully, their own future.


Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below: 

Annie at Annie Cholewa 
Sandra at Cherry Heart 
CJ at Above the River
and February's guest poster, Sarah at mitenska
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.

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