Friday, January 28, 2011

Lavender-rose potpourri

For years, I tried to grow lavender. For years, I failed. Then, came a hardier variety of lavender. It was developed specifically for North American growing conditions. This munstead variety is available at the start of the planting season here -- around late May. I start it in pots on the back deck where it will get the most sun. All summer long, I water it, feed it Miracle Gro and harvest the blooms as they mature. I tie them in bundles with kitchen twine and dry them all over the kitchen. The plants bloom from around the end of June through to the end of September. At points in the summer, the house looks a little like a heralist's cottage or something out of the Cadfael series of novels. At the end of August, I transplant them from their pots to various spots in the front and back gardens. This past the summer, the plants were so huge I had no room for them, so I gave them to my friend Amanda who has a beautiful garden. She says I can still harvest from them next year.
Extracting the buds is a little like thrashing wheat.

Stir it up with a popsicle stick.
 I always wanted to make some long-wearing sachets for the linen and clothes closets, and even some natural scented dryer sachets.
Problem: I could never get the scents to last for long. Then, I read about orris root. It is a natural stabilizer made from the dried roots of iris flowers. It takes about three years to make the stuff, so it is EXPENSIVE. But, you only need a teaspoon or two to stabilize the essential oils used in the making of potpourri or sachets.
I found mine in the local natural food market, in the section where they sell things like marshmallow root and powdered soap wort. (I am not kidding -- I looked, but I didn't see any eye of newt) Anyway, 100 grams of the powder is around $7 and the cut orris root is about $11 per 100 grams.
Now, 100 grams is a lot of orris root. Most recipes for potpourri call for a teaspoon or two. I have a lot of lavender, so I figured I get 50 grams each of the cut root and the powder. The cut roots are better for sachets because of their bulk. The powder can be used in potpourri, because it disappears when mixed in with the petals, spices, leaves and what have you.
I mixed about 50 drops of essential oil of lavender into the cut roots, and 25 drops of Rose absolute oil. I stirred it together and put it into a cool swing top sealed jar I found at our bulk food store for under $3.
Next, I carefully extracted the dried buds. I do this on some paper so that I can just tip them into the jar.
I give the whole thing a little stir as I go, using a popsicle stick. (Bonus, the popsicle stick becomes pleasantly scented too. You can throw them away in the green bin and it smells nice for a change).
Once the mixture has filled the jar, seal it and put it away in a dark cool spot. It has to cure for about six weeks. Shake the jar up every now and then to make sure the scent is distributed evenly. I plan to use this batch as sachet filler when it is ready. Apparently, the scent can be recharged with additional sprinkles of essential oil as the YEARS roll on. I consider the $11 outlay on orris root money well spent!
Hmm lavender, your orris roots are showing...
This has to cure for six weeks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Minus 32!

I do love my country, honestly I do. However, what a place of extremes!
This morning -- and apparently until Tuesday -- it will not be warmer than -25 degrees Celsius. This is very cold. The air actually feels like it is burning your face. Bare skin will freeze within 15 minutes. Little kids in this country actually understand how to avoid frostbite by the time they start kindergarten.
In the summer, say July, the temperature will soar to 40 degrees Celsius for days on end.
It also bears explaining that our temperatures are never expressed in absolute terms. There are always augmenting factors.
In Ontario winters, it is all about windchill. Today's windchill drives the temperature down to -36 degrees C.
In the summer, we have the Humidex. The air in southern Ontario is quite humid because we have the cumulative effects of the Great Lakes -- and in southern Ontario it is often intense. So those 40 degree summer days will feel like 45 degrees C.
It is very cold today. The frozen earth makes for some lovely reflected light inside our warm homes. I was playing around with my camera and captured this image, which I thought I'd share.
After all, it will be about 24 weeks before we see any real roses growing in our summery gardens. Cheery thought, huh?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snowscapes, scarves and cups of tea

Sometimes, you get special requests from people who know you not only own a sewing machine, but also know how to use one.
Such was the case when my daughter sent me a photo and asked if I thought I could sew an infinity scarf. This is a scarf that can also be a cowl and a hood. It's a pretty useful thing to have in our current snow scape.
The scarf in the photo didn't look too difficult, but I had no measurements. I hunted around until I found dimensions that seemed close. I also didn't have the right fabrics -- recommendations ranged from lightweight suiting to soft rayon/spandex blends. Since I decided to do a prototype first, I figured that didn't really matter. Wrong. Fabric always matters.
It took the better part of the day to wrestle the prototype into workable submission. Really.
For all the years I have been sewing, the whole concept of this scarf seemed to be sort of unattainable. I kept making mistake after mistake, slicing away seam after seem. Eventually, I even installed my walking foot incorrectly. If you do that, no walking will take place. There's just a whole lot of bunching up under the needle. Sigh. Clearly, it was time for a cup of tea.
After the cup of tea, it all seemed so clear. Mind you, the scarf was now nearly 1/3 of its original cut width -- thanks to all the slicing -- but the prototype works as a cowl, a scarf and a hood. When I get the first "good one" done, I will post a photo of it. I might even post the prototype -- just to keep me humble. I guess it just goes to show that no matter how long one has been creating, a cup of tea is sometimes the only thing to lift the fog that sometimes gets in the way of the creative process.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Finally, I am in hot water!

Yesterday, after my little trip to the quilt store, I got home to be greeted by my boys saying,"Where's the hot water?" You know, in that tone indicating that I had perhaps stolen the hot water or something...
So, we called the energy company. It's a rental hot water tank.
Guy shows up.
Yeah, we gotta replace the tank.
When can that happen?
Tomorrow between 1 and 5 p.m.
Then, he tells me the pipes aren't right, and they have to be changed. And, we have to pay for that.
So, I simply couldn't do laundry or the dishes, or anything all day to-day. So sad. But in one hour from now, I'm back in hot water literally and figuratively. As I was loading the dishwasher, I put in my Marvin juice glass and remembered that I always had plans to cross stitch a Marvin the Martian Sweatshirt. After the dishes bound for nowhere were out of sight, I went hunting for my martian UFO. Found it right where I'd packed it away when we moved six years ago. All the parts were there, too --waste canvass, charts and threads. The shirt was purchased in 1996 and the chart in the same year. However, 14 years can slip away in the life of a hand made-maven.
Case in point: My aunt began a quilt in 1981 for her about-to-be-born very first great niece. I finished it for in time for the great niece's new baby. There is hope for almost all UFOs, lingering in work boxes around the world.
I say almost all because there are some vintage crafts that are best left to die.
Does anyone else remember making Christmas wreaths from old computer punch cards? Oh, I am dating myself, aren't I?
I was only nine at the time....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exciting results of remnant bin diving...

Today's Toronto Star features a story about making and wearing handmade things -- on the runway...whew! Now we artsy crafty types are trendy. Cool, I think. Hopefully, this won't drive up the cost of raw materials.
Speaking of raw materials, I did some remnant bin diving at our local quilt store this morning. I found some new Tilda-ish fabrics. Also, a really lovely assortment of Christmas pretty bits and pieces.
I know. I know. I was supposed to be editing and organizing. I will. Honest. Honest.
Here is a link to the article:
and a related article about learning to create:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cosy slippers

Way back in October, Sandra and I were browsing around in Chapters. We found an issue of Sew Hip, a UK magazine that has some really cool sewing patterns. In it, was an awesome pattern and instructions for making these slippers. They are lined with polar fleece and have non-slip soles. They are really quite easy, so I went on to make a dozen pairs of these for Christmas presents.
These slippers are my daughter's. I found hedgehog flannel in the remnant bin at Fabricland. Along with monkeys, she loves hedgehogs. Sooo, these became her slippers. The yohos have vintage buttons in the centre.
She loved the slippers, and I so enjoyed making them. I plan to make a pair for me, now that I have some time to myself.

Crafting in the new year...

The early days of 2011 have been busy ones for me. My niece celebrated her bat mitzvah a few days ago. This is an important rite of passage for Jewish girls turning 12. She is considered responsible for the decisions she makes and for the way she lives her life. It is similar to Confirmation in the Christian church. Our family is pretty interesting in terms of our spiritual beliefs, but we all work together, and support one another no matter how we worship.
One common thread (pardon the pun) is that I will make something to commemorate the events in our lives. So, first up, is a wall hanging for my niece. It features the word Shalom -- or peace -- in a tapestry panel. It is surrounded by star fabrics and sparkly blues. It is embellished with star buttons and hot fix crystals. I collected the materials for this wall hanging over a couple of years, including at least one trip to the Toronto Sewing and Needlework Festival, where I found the tapestry panel. They were carefully stored away until it was time to put it all together.
I also wanted to make her some special jewelery. Every young lady needs pearls, so I did a freshwater pearl necklace featuring rose blush crystals. The silver pendant and the ear rings are aurora borealis crystals.
And, every party includes loot bags. My niece's guests each took home a sleepover bag that included a night mask (from Sew Pretty Homestyle). I made 38 masks from various prints, and using Steam-A-Seam, I embellished each of them with a pink gingham daisy. In the centre of each daisy, I used a hot fix crystal to add a little bling.