Jewelry-Making Day 2: Soot and a Smile

At the torch with tiny wire and my nemesis the copper earring.

At the torch with tiny wire and my nemesis the copper earring.

I was back at the torch bright and early determined to leave the class with a pair of leaf earrings. I cut new patterns, sent them through the rolling machine, grinded, sanded, annealed (that’s metal-talk for heated with a torch), bended, annealed, bended again and welded the rod on.

Annealed copper leaves.

Annealed copper leaves.

Leaf cut outs and the earring goofs from Saturday.

Leaf cut outs and the earring goofs from Saturday.

Sending the leaf cutouts through the roller to get the shape.

Sending the leaf cutouts through the roller to get the shape.

That was the easy part.

See where I have that tiny little rod in my hand? I had to heat and bend that without melting it in half.

My pièce de ré·sis·tance for the weekend: the leaf copper earrings.

My pièce de résistance for the weekend: the leaf copper earrings. I liked the unpolished look, even though one has purple bands. The purple will eventually fade.

Doug Salmon, the instructor, was very up front with us on the first day: “I’m going to show you the hardest way to do things, so that from now on any other skill will be much easier to do.” He wasn’t kidding. This was hard.

Instructor Doug Salmon helps another student.

Instructor Doug Salmon helps a student.

An hour and 2 goofed earrings later, I had a fairly close match to my first earring. (Not to worry, the goofed earrings will be pendants.)

The thing about this, I realize, is that sheer determination will not yield results with this kind of work. Determination will get you to try again and mess up another 26 earrings, but only skill and learning to do it right will get you to create with this medium.

Doug is offering the next level class at his studio at Spruce Forest next month and I highly recommend his classes. He has a sense of humor, he isn’t afraid to let you burn up a bit of brass and he tells you there are more ways than his to metalsmith.

I am definitely not a stellar welder, but after this weekend I left with a some jangly jewelry, dirt under my fingernails, a bit of soot on my face and great big smile.

Birds!

Birds!1

I just returned from vacation on an island.

Birds! 6I just like to say that because it sounds like I went somewhere very exotic.

It is an exotic place in its own special way. Not exotic in the floating pool-side drinks and cabana boys style, but the opposite extreme of exotic where the cabin didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing.

There I am on the island’s rocky beach bordering Lake Champlain sewing birds.Birds! 5

After mentioning my vacation to many different people, I realized this type of experience really is “exotic,” foreign to many. I’m surprised at the number of people who have never “showered” in a basin or carried their water supply somewhere.

When you have to carry your water from a lake, then boil it before you can make coffee, do the dishes or bath, it really makes you consider energy consumption and waste in a whole new way. My dear friends who invited us to their cabin are considering different solar options for powering their cabin. I highly recommend this kind of vacation as a crash course for anyone who wants to reduce their energy consumption, go green, reduce their carbon footprint, or whatever you want to call it. Try this lifestyle for a few days, and it will make you rethink your whole household.

Surprisingly, my 5-year-old didn’t complain once that she had to put shoes on and walk with a flashlight to the toilet in the middle of the night. The lack of conveniences didn’t phase her when she had snakes to watch and water to splash in.

Truth be told, we did have cell phone service, which was helpful when we sent the men out a huntin’ to the mainland for ice and pizza to go (it was a vacation, after all). And the kids had battery operated toys to keep them entertained while we made dinner. The whole vacation was such a blast!

Before setting out to the island with–dear me!– no internet service, we did more traditional vacationing by visiting family.

Birds! 3

My nephew was baptized and I made him this bird mobile for a gift. Shall we say they’re doves to go with the baptism theme?

No matter what kind of birds they are, they are so cute, and they’re my latest crafting obsession. I downloaded the pattern from Spool Sewing blog.

So cute, so simple and a great 3-D project for beginners. Getting them to balance is tricky, but the eye hooks are key.

I’ve become so enamored with these birds, I want to make them for everyone. My nephew got the first flock, although I think his mother may have claimed them because she loves birds.

The cabin on the island got the second set. (This photo is not the best!)

Birds! 7

Through 6 hours of driving, daytime kiddie naps and lakeside resting, I stuffed and sewed birds. I even got to take my sister-in-law’s Janome sewing machine for a spin stitching them up. Sweeeeet machine!

On the island I found odd-shaped driftwood for the mobile.

These birds look like they’re talking to each other.

Birds! 4

I used awning fabrics and regular cotton for those birds, but was thinking of spraying them with Camp Dry so I can hang them outside.

Next I’m hoping to make a flock or two for home…one for my porch and one for my 2-year-olds’ room. I’ve got all the time in the world right now because mentally, I’m still on vacation.

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

Sugar On Snow

Sugar On Snow Opener

I just returned from the north, visiting my sister-in-law Kris and her family in New Hampshire.

As a fellow stay-at-home who is nursing babies and fledging business, we spent a lot of time talking about balancing family life and trying to be an adult with goals and accomplishments. The conclusion from the weekend can be summed up rather simply. Raising babies and raising a business are very similar: both are hard but rewarding, and with both you never seem to have the time to do everything you want to do.

It snowed about 10 inches while we were in New Hampshire. This is real snow, not the snow-sleet-rain stuff (affectionately referred to as a “wintry mix” by the Weather Channel) we so often get here in Pennsylvania. Nothing worse than having a “snow day” only to find no snow on the ground but an awful lot of slush or ice.

All this snow inspired a Little House on the Prairie moment as I decided to try my hand at making Sugar on Snow. This ultra-simple yumminess entails pouring boiling maple syrup over fresh snow so it hardens quickly into a taffy-like candy. If you like maple syrup as much as I do, you have to try this. The only thing better than this is slurping the syrup right out of the jug (please note: not something I’ve done, but something I’ve contemplated when clearing the table after pancakes).

I searched the Internet and found many Vermonters happy to share directions, not that you really need a recipe for this. Vermont Living provides specifics about the best temperature for optimum candy-making.

With only a meat thermometer reading to temps of 220°F at my disposal (above 230°F is the best boiling temp for the syrup), I winged it. Here are Sue’s direction for making Sugar On Snow.

Sugar on Snow Scoops 1. Pack some fresh snow into a bowl. Salad tongs make good snow scoopers

 

 

 

 

Sugar on Snow Good Boil
2. Bring the maple syrup to a rolling boil, to the point where you fear it’s going to boil over. Sugar on Snow Bad BoilI began with about 1 inch of syrup in the bottom of the pot and it boiled all the way up the sides. The picture to the left shows a good boil. The picture on the right shows the syrup that hasn’t reach a good boil yet. But never fear: if you don’t let it boil enough it just melts the snow instead of hardening and you end up with a maple syrup snow cone, which is darn good, too. You’ll know it’s not hot enough when it looks like some animal did its business in your snow.

 

Sugar on Snow Spoon

3. Without stirring, pour maple syrup over the snow directly from the pot. I scooped out the last dregs with a wooden spoon.

 

 

 

Sugar On Snow Closeup 4.Wait a few seconds for it to harden, then dig in. Yuuuuuummy!Sugar on Snow Yum Eat it right off the snow. Don’t serve it on a plate like I did here (right), because it melts onto the plate into a gooey mess if you don’t eat it fast enough.

I did try the Vermont tradition of eating a sour pickle after eating some maple taffy. Although this tastes much better than it sounds, it’s not something I need to do again.

There’s no reason we folks here in Pennsylvania can’t make sugar on snow. In fact, you can use shaved ice rather than snow. Pollution is an issue for me, however. I live in the city so the rock salt seems to get everywhere. It pains me to tell my kids not to eat the snow here, but alas, they eat the vast snowcones that are grandparents’ backyards.

In addition to satisfying a sweet tooth, I also got to satisfy a long-standing Little House on the Prairie fantasy. Laura Ingalls Wilder details the sugar on snow party in Little House in the Big Woods book. As a young girl with long braids, I too, wanted to be Laura Ingalls, or more specifically, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls on the TV show. I wished for the bonnet and petticoats and lace-up boots. I wanted to tumble down a hill of wildflowers like Carrie in the TV show introduction. So finally my wish has come true to live like Laura and experience a little colonial life. And I didn’t even have to put up with Nellie to do it.

Iris or Inkblot?

Iris Inkblot

Is it a smushed iris or Rorschach Inkblot test?

This smushed iris turned into a Rorschach test as my 4-year-old told me that it looked like a bug. Yet another Valentine’s day craft I did with the kids to create sachets for the cousins. This craft is great because it’s so simple:

arrange flowers on muslin and tape with masking tape

Placing the Flowers Tape the flowers

flip over and smash with hammer

Smash flowers Peel back

The flower pigments bleed through the muslin in neat patterns. I then outlined the flower pigments with a permanent marker.

Any craft that involves smashing rather than precision is fun for adults and kids alike!

The flower pounding idea comes from an HGTV quilting show I saw a few years ago. These directions explain how to prepare the fabric for dying, which I honestly didn’t do, so I’ll be interested to see if the flowers fade much.

After we made the flower prints, I cut and sewed them into heart-shape pillows before filling them with fresh-smelling herbs like parsley, rosemary, lavender and peppermint.

Herb station

The local health food store has a wall o’ herbs and spices in jars so you can smell them before you buy them, and then purchase a pinch or a pound. I could spend all day opening the jars and smelling the herbs. We went through a lot of mustard seed. It doesn’t have much of a scent by my little person loved the way it looked I guess, so she wanted lots. I set her up with jars and bowls and spoons and she made a huge mess mixing herbs.

Valentine Sachets

After we stuffed them with the herbs, I sewed them up and hot glued some ribbons to them. I made one for my nephew…not really a boy gift but I was at a loss. My friend Melody suggested I rename it a “stinky pillow” so boys would like it.

Finding easy-to-make crafts for boys is hard. Most books target girls and suggest you use boy-ish fabrics or colors to transform it, but they really aren’t intended for boys. Anyone know of good books out there where there is more than one craft to make for the male set?

Make It Like a 4-year-old!

Valentines 2008

Can you tell which valentines I made? My 4-year-old and I have been busy making valentines to give out at preschool. We actually create the valentines instead of buying the Dora or Transformers valentines at the store.

At this point my 4-year-old doesn’t even know you can buy pre-made valentines at the store. I’ve kept this little secret from her for two reasons: 1) Valentine-making is a great art project for the kids, something to keep them busy while I work on jewelry; and 2) I love to make valentines. Funny, since I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. My husband and I don’t do dinner, flowers or candy. We don’t even give each other cards.

But I could sit all day with scissors and red paper and make hearts.

With 20 kids in the class, that’s a lot of valentines for one little person to make. I do my part to pitch in, but I want the valentines to look like she made them. So I get to create like a 4-year-old.

Besides being just plain old fun, creating like a 4-year-old is actually a good creativity booster. No need to be perfect. Hearts can have missing parts or be lopsided. If the whole thing falls apart, put more glue on it. Now more. Now even more glue. It’s very freeing to use supplies in excess and not care if the end results with match the preconcieved notion in your head. So give it a try. In case it’s been a while since you were 4, here are some tips:

1. Put all the stickers in one spot

2. When painting, use the brightest colors you can possibly find.

3. One color is good, but 5 colors are awesome. Mix all the colors together, then paint. Who says you can’t have brown valentines?

4. Use entirely too much of everything: too much glitter, glue that covers the whole paper and seeps onto the table cloth.

5. Use enough paint to cover 10 valentines on a single heart. Let the paint run down your arm and drip on your pants. Now that’s real painting.

5. After you finish each valentine, say, “Isn’t this the most beautiful valentine you’ve ever seeeeen?”

One last tip: wear a smock and cover the table with a vinyl tablecloth. If you really get into it, things can get messy.

And, in case you were wondering, I made the valentines on the right.