New Inspirations

The turtle has arrived!

Turtle Done, Phase 1

He’s a bit flashier than I imagined, with the white around his shell, but that’s okay. This is my first quillwork turtle (that looks like a turtle), so he should be flashy. My projects usually don’t turn out exactly as drawn/imagined because I try to go with the flow. Although I drew a sketch for the turtle, I didn’t outline the design on leather. I usually freehand the whole thing right there as I’m quilling. Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn’t.

I’d say it worked this time.

Closeup of Turtle Done Phase 1

The turtle is done–he looks like he’s going to crawl right off the leather, doesn’t he?– but I still have to whip this into shape with leather tie, leather backing and quilled border. I have a few days left before the Powwow. Pressure is a wonderful thing.

While quills soak and soften, I pull together other porcupine quill pieces.

Silver Quill Loop Earrings

My tradition-style of porcupine quill earrings on the right; on the left are some new ones I envisioned in the middle of a bead store this past weekend. They are more stunning than they appear in the photo.

Friends and I checked out Beadnik in West Chester, PA (along with a fabulous dinner at Vincents and coffee/gelato/pastries at Sprazzo. We should have gone to Sprazzo first. Life is really too short to save incredible desserts for last).

I’m sure I’ve seen these silver tubes before since they’re among the many silver beads made by the Karen Hills Tribe in northern Thailand. I love Tribal Hills Silver and order it whenever I have money burning a hole in my pocket. But there in the bead store, these two little tubes spoke to me.

I have visions like that in bead stores.

In fact, I often have a take a deep breath and remind myself to focus when I go into a bead store. I get very distracted by, “Wow, I could pair this bead with that bead and have and fantabulous new thing.” Too many dollars later I have more beads to take up space alongside the other fantabulous beads I purchased before. This year, I’m aiming to use all those beads in projects so by year’s end my bead boxes are empty and I’ll have to buy new stuff. Then again, don’t all of us collectors-of-inspirational-bits-n-pieces dream of burning through our stash? If only we had enough hours in the day.

The Birth of a Turtle

Turtle Sketches

It’s time to get back to quillworking. May 3 and 4 the Museum of Indian Culture will host the first of its three annual powwows, the Spring Planting Corn Festival. For the past several years I have demonstrated porcupine quillwork at the powwow. The next week will be dedicated to whipping up last minute things for my booth.

One of the volunteers last year requested I make a turtle hair tie. Above are the sketches for different ideas. The frist layer of shell is done in porcupine quills dyed yellow using a line technique. Around that I straight stitched quills dyed black.

Turtle shell 1 TurtleShell2 Turtle 3

Can you see the turtle emerging? Next I’ll outline the shell and add his legs, head and tail in red and white. Red, white, black and yellow tend to be very traditional colors among several different Native American Indian nations. That’s going to be new colors and different stitch, so I need to sleep on it first.

My original plan for the turtle didn’t work out. I tried a complicated technique called a multiquill plait, thinking I could use a several dyed quills and end up with a woven round shape.

MultiQuill Plait1 MultiQuill Plait2 MultiQuill Plait

It didn’t pan out, but I ended up with this neat flower shape. So I’ll add a stem and some other embellishments and maybe turn it into a pendant.

Re- Something

Sewing Machine and fish

Good ol’ Earth Day is coming up next week (April 22, same day as the PA primaries, but we won’t go there). I still occasionally wear a ratty old sweatshirt from college that says “Earth Day every day.” Fraying sleeves and practically see-through fabric…it’s finally worn to perfection! Wouldn’t throwing it out be a real slam in the face of its message?

What strikes me this year, though, is how prevalent Earth Day and its message are among the mass media and major retailers. Everywhere I turn there’s a mention of Earth Day. Has Earth Day made it beyond a celebration in school where kids turn garbage into an art project?

Part of me is happy the message is getting out there. Part of me thinks they’re missing the point. Take for, example, the T-shirts made from recycled soda bottles: The ad says “If every shopper purchased one recycled T-shirt, we could keep 21,000 tons of plastic waste out of landfills.” Great, except rampant consumerism–buying a T-shirt just to say you have a T-shirt made of soda bottles–doesn’t reduce anything. If you go to the store in search of T-shirts because your summer wardrobe is lacking, then shell out those pennies (especially for the one that says, “I recycled a soda bottle and all I got was this T-shirt.” I think it’s funny).

I will now leave my little soapbox and show you some things I’ve done around here in the spirit of the “re-“s:

Reuse: I finally got around to using my “new” sewing machine. This 1941 Singer is a family heirloom, coming from my husband’s grandparents some 5 years ago. It’s like a dream they way it moves across the fabric. I can see why people seek out old belt-driven machines.

Boo FishIn front of the machine are my fish. I used the bib pattern from Bend the Rules Sewing and realized the cutout for the neck looked like a fish. Some are stuff with polyfill. Melody suggested I stuff some with flax seed and lavender, then put them in the freezer at the ready ice injuries.

Reduce: Baby towels into plate covers. How annoying is it do work twice? Such was the way of using serving platters in my house: wash them after I use them, then wash them before the next turkey/hors devours/fancy dessert because they collected a lot of dust atop the fridge. I contemplated buying pillow cases for them. But, since my babies have outgrown the towels (so sad), I sewed the towels to fit the plates. Cost to me: $0.

Toothbrush scrubber

Recycle: Electric toothbrush into toy scrubber. When a kid multiple times asks for a My Little Pony electric toothbrush for Christmas, can you really say no? Even when the heads on the toothbrushes are not replaceable? No cavities won out over environmental conscience and Santa delivered. Now that the bristles have gone their separate ways, I put the toothbrush into service outside, where my super-teeth-brusher can use it on to clean her toys when they get dirty. She loves it.

Revive: On Saturday, April 19, my family helped clean up the Bushkill Creek as part of the “Great PA Cleanup.” This initiative runs April 19 through May 3. Other states are holding Earth Day activities through the week, too.

Enjoy-my-summer tote

Repurpose: Gardening bag is now an enjoy-my-summer bag. Yes, my kitchen is only 10 steps from the patio, where we practically live all summer. But after running in and out 50 times for sunscreen, the ringing phone, a water bottle, etc., I got smart. I stock the bag with water bottles for all each morning and take the whole kit and caboodle 10 steps outside so I can actually sit and enjoy the magazine in the bag. New addition to my bag this year: ID guides for my little explorers who want to know what kind of bug that is.


Reinvent: Chandelier to ???? I thought this chandelier too pretty to live out the rest of its life in a landfill and carted it home, where it has been on my patio all winter. I think the little knobs and tubes may have at one time shuttled gas through it, but it’s been fitted with electrical wiring and bulb sockets. Check out that fringe. It’s all metal.


Four of the six stained glass panels are missing, but the two that are intact are a swirly golden color and curve along the chandelier.

The only use I’ve come up for this lost soul: flip it upside down, stick it in the ground, place a wide, shallow pan on top and make it a rather elegant bird feed or bird bath.

Any ideas what you would recycle/reuse/reinvent the chandelier?

Oh, and Happy Earth Day.


Who says life is boring if it’s vanilla. Frankly, vanilla is a pretty nice flavor. So I decided to make my own.

A few friends went in on bulk vanilla bean buy a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to making my vanilla extract. Here’s how you do it.

1. Start with some good Bourbon Vanilla Beans. You can also use Tahitian Vanilla Beans or whatever else you can get your hands on. Too bad they don’t have Smell-o-blogs so I could give you a whiff of how great my kitchen smelled today.

Vanilla Beans

2. Split the beans down the middle with a knife, except for the last inch so they stay intact.

Split Vanilla Beans

All those moist seeds inside, plus the outer pod, are what make the yummy vanilla taste.

Split Vanilla bean closeup

3. Pour vodka into the bottle with the beans at a ratio of 6 beans to two cups of vodka. Hedge suggested adding a tablespoon of rum to make it a tad sweeter. You can also use brandy or rum instead of the vodka. Remember, all extracts retain their flavor because they’re preserved in alcohol.

Pouring vodka into vanilla beans

4. Cap off and store in a dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. The darker the liquid, the strong the vanilla taste.

Bottled Vanilla beans

Just a few hours after I bottled the vanilla it was the color of weak tea. There’s a batch of chocolate chips make with this extract waiting for me in mid-June (if I can wait that long).

This really is as easy as it sounds, which probably leaves you wondering, “Why haven’t I tried this?” A bottle of vanilla can be pricey. And so can the beans. A local grocery store sells beans for about $5 for a package of 2. Find a good place online to order in bulk, and you can get beans for less than a dollar a piece. Keep in mind that a pound of vanilla beans equals about 100 pods, so sharing is good.

By the way, this bottle held a double batch of 4 cups of vodka and 12 beans. If you don’t put in enough beans, you end up with vanilla vodka instead of vanilla extract. Either way, you win!

******Update: My vanilla is dark, dark, dark and it looks great. I can’t wait to bottle it and give it as gifts to everyone! ******

I Love Spring!

Baseball artist book

As I type this, I am sitting outside, precariously balancing my laptop upon my knees with the sun shining in my face. I love spring. And it has finally come to eastern Pennsylvania.

Today will mark the third day in a row I’ve spent all day digging in the dirt. I love spring. And I love digging in the dirt.

Something about it renews me, makes me feel better after a long winter of being cold and shut in without only grays and whites outside. My husband begs for these days to come by mid-February, because apparently I’m much easier to deal with after I’ve had my hands in the dirt.

True, indeed. Everything is okay in the spring. It doesn’t matter than my 5-year-old just dumped my coffee all over the table because we’re outside and I love spring. It doesn’t matter that my 1-year-old had jelly all down the front of his shirt after wrestling a PB&J sandwich. He went on to play in the yard until he covered the jelly with dirt. That’s okay because it’s spring and you’re supposed to get dirty.

As kids we used to measure a day by how much dirt we got in the folds of our necks. A good day equaled lots of dirt in creases you didn’t even know you had.

I’ll be digging my new veggie patch today and planting some lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard. Nothing is as beautiful as a patch of freshly dug and then raked soil. It’s so even and perfect. Okay, so maybe the little curly heads of peas popping through the soil are even better, but I won’t see that loveliness for another 7 to 10 days, weather permitting, according to package directions.

Off I go to dig in the dirt like a happy little mole, but I leave you with these pictures of the artist book gifts I made for last weekend’s birthday parties. The little artists loved the books and I think they turned out well.

The owner of the green and orange book with cat pockets likes the Lyra Ferby pencils, which are short and fat, so I made two rows of pencil pockets. The are great colored pencils, by the way, if you haven’t tried them.

Cat artist book

The outside of this book.

Cat artist book outside

I never located any Red Sox or Phillies fabric for the pockets on the baseball artist book, but I like the way the ticking looks like an old-time baseball uniform. I’m sure that’s lost of its 5-year-old owner.

Of course, an hour before I left for the party I realized it really needed a baseball team patch on the front. A thought for the next project, and the project after, that I’ll be pondering as I dig in the dirt.

Baseball artist book outside

I love spring.

Busy as bees

Gray Horse Hair Bracelet

It’s been a busy week here at Red-Tail Designs HQ.

I finished the bracelet for my customer in Kentucky. As you can see above, it turned out looking more black than gray. I sent it out last week and by now she should be enjoying a remembrance of her horse. The 14 karat gold clasp and beads give it a bit of a glow.

Birthstone Babies

Also finished up a project for a neighbor who wanted me to create birthstone babies that matched the ones she already had. The store where she’d purchased the first 4 charms had gone out of business. With a growing brood of grandchildren, she wanted to add two more to her collection and turn her pin into a necklace.

Coffee cuffs were also on the menu this week. I experimented with some new “boy fabrics” (as I like to call them) and then restocked the local coffee shop, Cosmic Cup Coffee Co. It’s tough to find interesting fabrics for men. There’s some cute stuff for boys and sports fabrics are often a hit with men, although so far this year I can’t find any of the baseball team fabrics in cotton. I wanted to make a Mets cuff for my husband, but all I can find is fleece. Beyond sports themes, it’s often hard to find fabrics that are expressive of men that aren’t so uptight.

Skull and crossbones is a good solution. The owner of the Cosmic Cup liked his personal cuff I made for him.

Skull Coffee cuff

He’s a supported of the subversive culture who gets a kick out of pirates.

This little dog in the tea cup also cracks me up.

Tea Cup Dog Coffee Cuff

Inside Shot of Coffee Cuffs

I was a little more successful in finding fabrics for a new baby boy. He doesn’t seem like the pirate type, so I stuck with the sports theme.

Baby Bibs with matching coffee cuff

I even made a bib that matches the coffee cuff I made for his mom. She can turn the roses inside out to reveal the same fabric as the bib. I’ve been working on putting a completely different type of fabric on the inside of the cuffs so you can two looks for the price of one.

Princess BarbiesAll of these projects came in the midst of planning a princess birthday party for my now 5-year-old. I had the partygoers make regular Barbie dresses into princess-wear for their Barbies. With jewels, fabric and glitter glue at their disposal, the little princesses proceeded to load the dresses mostly with glitter. When I later found glitter glue on the toilet seat, I declared the party a success.

Just when I thought I’d catch a break from the all the parties, I realized I need presents for two parties coming up this weekend.

My latest gift for kids is an artist book with space for tablet, colored pencils and stickers.

Artist SketchbooksOpened artist sketchbooks
I have the fabrics cut, but still have to sew. Pretty easy until I get to sewing the pocket for the colored pencils. That takes a little time.

New fabrics for sketchbooks