Sunday, May 31, 2015

iHanna's Spring 2015 Postcard Swap: I've Got Mail!

Hello! Last week I showed off the postcards I'd made for iHanna's Spring 2015 Postcard Swap, so now it's time to show off the ones others made for me. So far 6 out of 10 have shown up in my mailbox, which is a good rate of return considering it's been about a week since the postcards were supposed to be sent out. 

Delivered from Colorado. The book text and Paris image are cool, but I especially liked the pictures of the two women. The artist said these were from a 1940 woman's magazine. Just the sort of thing I would have used! 

Didn't take a pic, but the back of the postcard was decorated in a dazzling burst of colorful markers. The artist also mentioned that she'd made an extra postcard to mail to herself. I hadn't thought of either of these ideas, but now I know for the next swap!

Sent from Maine. The pale tan on the postcard is actually birch bark. It came from from trees the artist and her family cut down to build their homestead. How cool is that? Have never used birch bark in crafting myself!

I couldn't read the postmark on the back, so all I know is that this postcard came from somewhere in the US. Nice combination of colors and images here! The spiral image is on top of book text - can't go wrong with that.

The artist that created this postcard lives in Minneapolis. It's quite complex in detail, but since the designs are somewhat subtle, this art piece lends itself to closer examination. I got a kick out of the rows of numbers, though I don't know what they came from. 

It definitely did not feel like a summer morning yesterday when I received this postcard: cool and rainy. Therefore, I appreciated this bright colors and the thought of summer that this postcard conveyed! It came from Mississippi, where undoubtedly their mornings feel more like summer. 

Last one:

This postcard has a San Diego postmark, so perhaps the use of bright colors ties in with that southern California locale. The artist explained she had made her own stamps out of foam, then added the black marker doodles and added definitions for the word "psychedelic". Very cool and colorful!

I now eagerly await the remaining four postcards. Makes a visit to the mailbox more fun than usual!



Monday, May 25, 2015

Made It: Hanging Heart Garland

Hello! While decluttering my studio recently, I unearthed a pile of fabric samples I'd purchased from an interior design store during Sidewalk Sales last summer. In the "use it rather than buy something more" spirit I've been trying to follow this year, I set aside a pile of blue and white prints to use in a project:

Aren't they just crying out to be used? Well, I thought so! These had been in a fabric sample book I'd paid a quarter for. The fabrics are sturdy, yet had an appealing softness to them; very nice quality. Who knows what they would have sold for per yard - I don't even want to think about it!

The women running the sale told me some people buy the fabric samples to use in quilting. Nothing wrong with that idea, but I had something simpler in mind - a hanging heart garland that would replicate something I'd seen in a magazine feature. 

Shortly after I'd decided to make this garland, I came across this in a thrift store:

You could say this violates my "don't buy something more" rule, as I already have heart templates in my studio. But hey, sometimes rules are made to be broken! This is a versatile pattern - three different sizes of hearts, with several different ways to change their look, such as using applique, embroidery or different fabrics per heart. 

I have to confess, I also bought the pattern out of a sense of nostalgia, as I once had a pattern set that was very similar. The above pattern dates from 1985, which is probably around the time I'd purchased mine. Ah, memories of my lost youth.

So yes, I lived through the country crafting craze of the 1980's. There was a cutesy cows/pigs/geese style, and then there was the more "refined" country-Victorian look, which I think is what the above pattern was shooting for. But when I see these patterns now, I just think how bland and boring the fabrics were, as seen here:

See what I mean by bland and boring? Nevertheless, I knew I could make something more pleasing (to me, at least), by using my blue and white fabric pieces. Since they weren't super big and I wanted to make several hearts for my garland, I used the smallest heart template. Thus, each fabric sample ended up yielding enough half-heart sections to make 12 - 3"high hearts. 

I had 12 fabric sample pieces, so to make each heart, I jumbled them up in a pile, closed my eyes, and randomly pulled out four fabrics  at a time (two each for the front and back of one heart). Such excitement, eh? It would have a been a quicker process if I'd made the fronts and backs the same, but I thought variety would be the spice of life here. 

Here's how some of the hearts turned out:

Not singing the blues over these fabrics, that's for sure! 

I strung my 12 hearts together on a gold cord, using whitish or clear beads as spacers in between them. I added a couple of pieces from a chandelier crystal (a gift from a departing friend) at the bottom of my hanging heart garland, and then it was ready to hang from our front porch:

Ta da! The garland is about three feet long. I liked how it turned out.

A close-up:

My hanging heart garland now joins my blue bird garland in hanging from our front porch. You can see that flock here.
Alas, I'm starting to run out of display room on the front porch, so if I feel the urge to craft some more hanging garlands, I'll have to put them up somewhere else!


Friday, May 22, 2015

Made It: iHanna's Spring 2015 Postcard Swap Part Two

Hello! As promised, here's the second half of the postcards I made for iHanna's Spring 2015 Postcard Swap. 

A numbers theme here. I stamped several crossed lines in olive green, then wrote numbers inside each line with pink marker. The large "1 2 3" numbers were stamped using a vintage printing set. And I used scraps from a vintage science textbook for the rectangle behind the owl and the words "change of kinetic energy" in the top right-hand corner. 

Above, this was the first postcard I made for the swap and I really liked it. I began by smudging pink paint on the background, then used a stamp I'd made to add olive green hearts. French text is behind the owl, and the other side of the postcard features a scrap of vintage wallpaper and a saying cut from a book. 

I really like the colors in that vintage wallpaper piece! 

I used a swirly-design rubber stamp in green ink to create the background, then added a stylized flower shape cut from scrapbook paper and the rubber-stamped "TODAY:" image. Above "TODAY" I wrote the date and below it, the words "laugh often" and "be creative". Maybe a simplistic message, but those are two good things to do every day!

Here, a painted pink background is accented with black lines, both stamped and drawn. The words "I am making art" are in the center, created by rubber stamps, a word tile from a vintage game, and a word from one of my husband's mid-1960's school papers. Another punched-out-hearts paint chip shows up as well, this time with the color name "Nurture Green" on it. I thought that was a nice, fitting touch. 

Last postcard:

It took awhile to get this one to work, but I think it turned out pretty good in the end. I just kept adding stuff until I thought it looked okay. I used lines and dots of paint to make the background, then added a pretty floral paper piece behind the owl. Placed yet another punched-heart paint sample piece opposite the owl but later on decided it didn't look quite right. But when I tried to take it off, I found it was glued on too well to remove. So I played around some more, adding some matching paint sample pieces at the top and bottom of the floral piece. Next, I glued on a pale pink diecut heart and green diecut flower. 

Still not quite right, so I grabbed a vintage rubber stamp with a bird image and stamped it on a piece of that vintage wallpaper:
Turned out very nice, I think! Glued that bird on the postcard and that meant I was officially done with the crafting process. 

A few details on the products I used:
  • for the postcards, I used a blank set called Strathmore Kids. I bought them for our daughter when she was a kid, thinking she could draw and write about our activities during vacations and mail the postcards to her grandparents. Alas, she was never interested in doing so, so I reclaimed the set for my own use. Glad I finally found a use for them - I gave them to our daughter at least 10 years ago!
  • I used Elmer's X-Treme school glue stick to glue the various paper images on. It worked very well. 
  • Just the same, I was concerned that images could come off during transit, so to be on the safe side I put two coats of clear Royal Coat Decoupage Finish over the artwork. Hanna, the swap organizer, did not suggest this in the swap's FAQs, but I hoped it would be okay to do so.
I'd already discussed other products I'd used, such as rubber stamps, paint (acrylic), markers, and a variety of ephemera. 

So my postcards were all made - now I had to wait for Hanna to email me with the list of 10 names and addresses.  I was quite curious as to where my creations would end up. How many foreign addresses would I get? And among the US addresses, how many were in places I'd already been to? 

When my list arrived, I learned that I had two foreign addresses: one each from Norway and South Africa. 

From the US, I received three addresses from Washington state - the same town, and it looks like there's a family and/or friend connection between the three. I was also to mail postcards to people in Texas, Alabama, Illinois, Wisconsin  and Virginia. Didn't recognize the names of several of the towns, so I looked them up. Participants are encouraged to write a short greeting on each postcard, so I tried to personalize each message by saying a little something about the areas in which the recipients reside. 

We were also instructed to write our emails on the back of our postcards so that the recipients can thank us. Hanna reminded everyone to be patient, but to contact her if the number of postcards received is on the low side - then she can contact the people involved and remind them to get their postcards out.

Well, I did my part today -I mailed my postcards. I do hope the recipients like them, and I look forward to receiving postcards in return! This was fun to do and I'm glad I signed up.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Made It: iHanna's Spring 2015 Postcard Swap Part One

Hello! While I've been plenty creative lately, I haven't been doing much in the way of paper arts. 

Then came the announcement on iHanna's Blog that a postcard swap was being launched. Participants would sign up, then create 10 postcards of original art. After the sign-up deadline, participants would then receive the names of the 10 people their postcards should be mailed to. Each participant will receive 10 postcards in turn, of course - if everyone does their part and mails out the promised postcards. 

The swap was open to people from all over the world, and in fact Hanna of iHanna's Blog is from Sweden herself.

This news came about a month ago, and I kept the email notification in my inbox while I decided if I should join the swap. I'd never done an artsy/crafty swap so I was a little nervous about it - would the recipients think my postcards were a joke? 

But then I finally decided to take the plunge and risk it. I had kicked myself a bit for not participating in the one Hanna had late fall of the previous year. I enjoy her blog and the positive, creative energy she generates, so I had faith that I could rise up to the challenge and create something that strangers might like too. 

I signed up late Monday night, about two days before the deadline. Hanna requested that the postcards be mailed out this Friday, or no later than next Monday. Well, Monday is Memorial Day here in the US, which means no postal service. So a Friday mailing it'd have to be. 

Obviously this didn't give me much time to make my postcards, but I wasn't worried. I already knew they'd be collage-style, and I've found I do collaging better when I don't overthink it. 

I began the process by going down to my studio to look over my supplies. I thought about this theme or that, until I spied a package of vintage stationery I'd purchased at a thrift store awhile back mainly for the cute owl stickers inside. And wouldn't you know it - there were exactly 10 owl stickers in that package. Perfect! The stickers are primarily pink and green, so those two colors set the tone for my postcards. 

The rest of today's post will show off half of the postcards I made, so follow along. I enjoyed making them and I hope you enjoy viewing them. 

Painted green background, pink paint accents, stamped butterfly and pale pink paint chip. The background color of the owl image looks yellowish-green in my photos but is actually more a prettier lime green.

Close-up of the butterfly, which had been stamped on a pale pink  page from a vintage recipe leaflet. One reason why I could make these postcards on short notice is that I have a stash of stamped images, painted papers left over from other projects, and other "goodies" at the ready. Thus, when a new project comes up, often it's just a matter of combining elements that I already have on hand. 

Two kinds of rubber stamps for the background, plus a hand-carved rubber stamp heart I'd made was used to create the center motif. "dream big" and the four squares in the lower right-hand corner are also stamped images. 

I thought that this "who what where when" stamp was fun to use, and filled in the squares with info pertaining to the swap. Maybe it was grandiose of me to describe myself as a "postcard artist" - but for the purpose of the swap, that's what I was!

Above, the owl is joined by green paint, a scrap of vintage wallpaper on the lower left-hand corner, a facsimile of a Victorian image above that, and bits of green-checked scrapbook paper scattered in the middle. Not really visible in the photo are the words I wrote in pink ink near the top right-hand corner: "no rules just right" - a sort of motto as I crafted my way through the postcards. I had remembered this phrase from an advertising campaign, but didn't recall whose campaign it had been. Looked it up - the answer is Outback Steakhouse. 

Here, I used a scrap of altered vintage map (below the owl sticker) and a strip of decorated duck tape (opposite side). I added a previously-stamped bird image and cut out "THE HAPPY WAY" from a vintage book. For the background, I dotted the postcard blank with pink paint and added swirls with a green marker. 

I began this card by painting the background pink, then added a strip of a green-toned paint chip that I'd previously punched hearts from. (The green hearts had been used to make "shamrocks" for a St. Patrick's Day craft project - see what I mean by having things on hand to use when a new project comes up?)I added a narrow paint chip strip for a bit more contrast to that pink background, and drew hearts around the edge to create another pattern. I also drew hearts within the punched portions of the paint chip piece.

I think I did pretty well for a first-time effort. I admit, some postcards turned out better than others, but I will also say that overall they look more colorful than what the photos indicate. So I think they're good to go!

Just as well, as I received my 10 addresses earlier today. I'll mail out my postcards tomorrow - and tomorrow I'll blog about the ones I left to show off. 

If you'd like to know more about iHanna Blog's (always worth reading, in my opinion) and the postcard swap, read this. It's obviously too late to participate in this springtime swap, but if you follow her blog, you'll get word when the next one will be.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Eats: Maple Kettle Corn

Hello! I love popcorn, perhaps because it was one of the few snacks my mom approved of when I was a kid. We'd pop enough to fill a large grocery store paper bag(I come from a big family), butter and salt the heck out of it, and then gather around the TV on a Saturday night. Fun times!

I can't put all that butter and salt on popcorn with a good conscience now, though, so I seek out recipes that are at least a bit healthier. My latest find is Maple Kettle Corn, courtesy of Nancy Baggett's The All-American Dessert Book, a gift from my husband. (Baggett actually refers to the recipe as "Kitchen Maple Kettle Corn"). I'll present the recipe first, then discuss the adaptations I made to it.

Maple Kettle Corn (adapted from The All-American Dessert Book, Nancy Baggett, author)

3 tablespoons maple syrup (cheaper grade preferred)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra vegetable oil if popping corn on the stove
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 cup popcorn kernels, or 3-3.5 ounce bag microwave popcorn

(If using microwave popcorn, avoid the kinds with extra butter or special flavorings, and omit salt from recipe.)

Pop corn according to preferred method - stove or microwave. Place popped corn in bowl large enough to stir popcorn and maple syrup coating together later.

Make maple syrup coating: in a small saucepan, stir together maple syrup, vegetable oil, sugar, and salt. Cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture boils and slightly thickens, 3-4 minutes. Immediately remove from heat. Pour quickly over the popcorn and stir vigorously until the coating is evenly distributed over it. If desired, add a little more salt to taste; stir well to incorporate. 

Yield: depends on type of popcorn used (I'll explain below in my notes)

Notes: Baggett's directions are different - she instructs one to pop corn in a pot, put the popped corn in a bowl, wipe out the pot the corn was popped in, make the coating in the pot, and stir the popcorn back into the cooked coating. Then it all goes back into the serving bowl. 

To me, it seemed easier to leave the popped corn in the serving bowl and then pour and mix the coating in the bowl. It saves a step too. And since it's such a small amount of coating, I felt it'd cook up better in a small saucepan rather than the large pan the corn would have been popped in. I'd worry that the coating would be more likely to burn in a large pan in the amount of time Baggett specifies it should be cooked.

A tip: lightly grease the serving bowl and saucepan (I use cooking oil spray) before use for easier clean-up later. 

And as for that yield - Baggett's recipe called for starting with 3/4 cup popcorn kernels, and the yield is listed as a "scant 1 1/2 quarts kettle corn". So I dutifully used that amount of popcorn kernels - and ended up with a huge amount of popcorn, at least twice that supposed 1 1/2 quarts! Needless to say, I had to double the amount of coating. Fortunately, our daughter had a friend over, so she helped us eat all that maple kettle corn. 

The brand of popcorn kernels I used is Trader Joe's Organic. Perhaps Baggett's popcorn kernels popped up smaller?

Baggett advises at the end of the recipe: "Homemade kettle corn is best when very fresh, as it loses its crispness after a few hours. But fortunately, Baggett's comment at the beginning of the recipe holds true: "It's tempting enough that nobody can stop eating until the bowl is empty". 

I have to agree with that comment, since we ate up that ultra-big bowl of it soon after it was made. I made a second batch tonight, using the single recipe of coating and 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels. It was fine:

The coating is light in color and amount, so it doesn't show up well in the photo, but you can certainly taste it: slightly salty, slightly sweet, just a tiny bit oily. Very easy and quick to make, and inexpensive, especially if popcorn kernels are used. I don't know how "healthy" this kettle corn really is, but the amount of sweeteners, vegetable oil and salt seems modest for the amount of popcorn made.

And it tastes WAY better than that greasy, salty stuff I used to eat as a kid!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Made It: Blanket Stitch Fleece Throw

Hello! A niece's open house invitation showed up in the mail yesterday, delayed several days by a misaddressing of the envelope. But we'd already been verbally informed of the early June date, so I've been working on a gift for the niece, a fleece throw:

Above, fleece in a licensed print for Grand Valley State University (GVSU), where the niece is headed in the fall.

A close-up of the stitched edge:

This is a work in progress - it can seem like it takes forever to do all the blanket stitching! I've completed one long side thus far. I'm just doing a bit a day so it doesn't get too tedious. 

This is the 11th such throw I have made thus far - they've gone to my husband, our daughter, and various younger and older relatives. The throws have been made as gifts for graduations, birthdays and Christmas, and for comforting a couple of young nieces who lost their beloved grandfather. Oh, and I made one for myself as well.

I know that fleece throws are available commercially, but if you live near a fabric store that stocks fleece in a huge variety of designs, as I do, it's fun to pick a "just-right" pattern for the recipient. 

This same fabric store, Field's Fabrics, also has a rack with free projects sheets, and this is where I'd picked up the directions for making all those fleece throws. 

To summarize the instructions, I began with a two-yard piece of fleece fabric and rounded off the four corners by cutting around a dinner plate placed at the edge of each corner. 

Next, a basting stitch in a contrasting color was sewn 5/8" from the edge; this became a guide for placement of the blanket stitching. I'm placing a blanket stitch every three stitches of the basted stitching guide,using a coordinated color of perle cotton. For the fleece throw I show off in this post, I used black thread for the stitching guide and am using white perle cotton for the blanket stitching. 

From searching the Internet, I learned there a number of ways to finish the edges of a fleece throw, from cutting a simple fringe, doing a sort of braided edge, crocheting, and more. Machine-sewn edges can be done too. 

On the Crafty website, I came across a variation on blanket-stitch edging that calls for turning up a short hem and then using blanket stitching to hold the hem in place. This technique looked like it gave a very nice finish to the fleece throwI think I'll try this method when I make #12.

You can view the Crafty tutorial here.  It has a simplified method for making the rounded edges for each corner of the throw as well. Wish I'd seen their instructions before I began working on my niece's throw. Sorry, Field's Fabrics - but I'll still buy fleece fabric from you!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Eats: Honey Glazed Snack Mix

Hello! The local tulip festival saves the biggest of its three parades for the last day of the festival. Friends who live along the parade route always invite a crowd to watch this event, called the Muzik (Music) Parade. They rope off their front lawn to reserve the seating, and all the guests have to do is show up with their own seating and a snack to share. 

Speaking of snacks, a few weeks back, in the mood for some homemade Chex Mix (I use this recipe), I bought the store-brand version of Chex in order to make that treat. 

Or at least I thought I did! Upon closer inspection when I got home, I discovered that my box of "Multi-grain Squares" was actually a knock-off of Life, a sweeter cereal than Chex. Oops! 

Well, by now I've accumulated a few cereal-based snack mix recipes, so yesterday I decided to look through them to see if I could find one that would work with those Multi-grain Squares and would serve as my contribution to the parade-viewing festivities. 

Success was mine with the following recipe, which I'd clipped from a Taste of Home magazine: (I'll give the recipe as it was written, then add my notes afterward)

Honey Glazed Snack Mix (adapted from a recipe by Lucile Cline, Wichita, Kansas)

6 cups Crispix
5 cups miniature pretzels
1  1/2 cups pecan halves
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup honey

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, combine the Crispix, pretzels and pecans. In a small saucepan, combine butter and honey. Cook and stir until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Pour over cereal mixture and mix well. 

Transfer to two greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pans. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes. Cool on wire racks. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 10 cups. 

Notes: as you can see, the recipe calls for Crispix, which is similar to Chex. But since the recipe makes a sweet rather than savory snack, I figured that the slightly sugary taste of my Life-type cereal would work just fine. 

I also changed the baking instructions, beginning with using my roasting pan instead of the two 15x10 pans specified. I did this because it's easier to stir a mixture in a roasting pan than it is in a 15x10 pan (it has steeper sides than the 15x10 pan does). 

But because using the roasting pan meant the mixture would be in a thicker layer, I raised the oven temperature to 350. I still stirred the snack mix every five minutes, as mentioned in the recipe.

I found that the mixture needed close to 30 minutes total, but I was erring on the side of caution. If the honey/butter glaze ended up a bit "wet", the finished product would be sticky. My snack mix turned out plenty dry, with a few over-browned pecans that had to be discarded, so I could have baked it for a few minutes less. 

Here's how it turned out:

It turned out great - and it was great to find a use for my grocery shopping mistake!


Friday, May 8, 2015

On The Move At The Tulip Festival

Hello! There's a lot going on at the annual tulip festival and we've been busy going around town to check out the activities. But there are many people even busier than us during the festival, such as the Dutch dancers, parade marchers and people trying to break a particular world record. So let's show what these folks have been doing!

Members of the Holland High Marching Band, appearing in yesterday's Kinder Parade. Note the wooden shoes as their footwear. I really felt sorry for these kids, for they are wearing heavy band uniforms made from black fabric. Yesterday a record high of 84 was set for the date, May 7th. 

It's called the Kinder Parade due to the custom of thousands of local schoolchildren marching in the parade while wearing Dutch costumes. While some of the kids looked sweaty as well, at least their clothing was more comfortable to wear on an unseasonably hot day. 

That boy in the red shirt is likely to grow up to be a handsome young man!

Each school has a different Dutch theme for its parade appearance. This school has a Dutch foods theme, hence the boy carrying the sign mentioning rusk, a type of dry, cracker-like bread. 

Kids carrying a maypole. In previous years the kids would stop marching a bit to do a little dance around the maypole. It may have been too hot for them to feel like dancing, or else they just didn't happen to perform the routine at our section of the parade route. 

As I'd said, thousands of kids march in the parade, but they go by pretty fast. Thus, I missed the photo op of an adult in one of the school groups. The teachers typically march in Dutch costumes, just like their students do, but this guy had on a rather loud two-piece suit: medium blue with a repeat pattern of red tulips with green leaves. I called out to him, asking where he had purchased that garment. "eBay!" was his answer.

The tulip festival parades occur on a Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, but Dutch dancing in one form or another (high school, alumni or kids) happens more than once a day, and every day but the Sunday that falls during festival time. The Dutch dance schedule keeps the participants hopping in more ways than one, especially for the high school kids who have to work around AP exams and other tests. 

At this point, the above group, from Holland High, had already been dancing several times during the festival, but they still had energy to spare last night - good for them! I'll call your attention to the young man in a black costume who's in the foreground. Although people have the option of having the costumes made by approved seamstresses, a very talented sewer I know made that costume for the dancer, her son. Costumes worn for Dutch dancing have to be inspected prior to the festival, and his passed with flying colors. Good for her!

This year there was a unique Dutch dance opportunity - an event called "Klomp the Record", which was designed as a fundraiser for a local adoption agency. The "record" in this case refers to the number of people dancing while wearing wooden shoes. In order to beat the current record, held by the folks in Pella, Iowa, at least 2,605 people needed to show up in wooden shoes, ready to perform a fairly simple, five-minute dance. 

Alas, there were too many people like me, perhaps. I was too cheap to buy wooden shoes for a one-time event, but assumed there'd be more than enough others who would participate. 

But instead, last night's head count of 1,654 fell far short. Still, on a happier note, $30,000 was raised for the adoption agency.

And it did look like those participants had a good time:

Above, the dancers are gearing up for a quick rehearsal. 

The record-breaking attempt in action. (Wooden shoes were a must, but Dutch costumes were optional for this event).

Who knows? Maybe they'll try again next year. Holland, MI is a bigger community than Pella, Iowa, so you'd think the record could be set here. 

And who knows - maybe next year I'll do like that guy in the Kinder Parade did, and buy something in advance on eBay - only instead of a loud, tulip-print suit, it'll be a pair of wooden shoes! Then, I can help if another "Klomp the Record" dance is scheduled.