How to wrap presents like you know what you’re doing.

two-wrapped-presents-bottle-branch-blog

Theoretically, I like the idea of wrapping presents perfectly, with crisp corners, perky bows, and well appointed tags and ribbons. I have an entire pinterest board devoted to pretty packages. But in practice, I haven’t always taken the time to wrap things beautifully, and I’ve been more likely to slap it all together in the final hour, with odd angles and prolific tape. But not any more.

Now that I am in the business of making pretty accoutrements of present wrapping, I have a fresh interest in the subject. And I am lucky enough to have something of a gift wrapping  expert in my family. My mother-in-law organized a charity gift wrap station through out the 1970’s and 1980’s, spending hours there cheerfully wrapping presents for others and all for a good cause. And she didn’t just wrap presents, she taught countless volunteers to wrap “the proper way.” Oh, and I can’t neglect to mention, she wraps presents for friends and family without using tape.

Here’s what it looks like to open a package wrapped without tape. So easy! So effortless! No tearing or ripping; the paper falls away like petals from a late summer rose.

Lucky for me,my mother-in-law is a generous person, who not only has graciously tolerated my slap dash wrapping efforts over the years but also recently agreed to come over and share a few of her tips for making your own pretty packages. And now I am happy to share them with you. (With her permission, of course!)

I realize all of you can probably basically wrap a present, so I’ll share with you here the two most important tips I took away from my personalized instruction:

First of all, take the time to measure both the box and the paper, and then the present practically wraps itself.

Second, never, ever twist ribbon on the bottom side of the box – its just sloppy, and makes the box wobbly. 

I’ve put each step in the form of a picture below, so you can quickly scroll and look for specific details.  If you don’t know how to twist your ribbon at the top, take a look and you’ll be glad you did! Its so easy and does make a difference.

w2measuring-tape-text

w3measurearound-text

w4measure-bottom-edge-to-bottom-edge-textw5measurepaper-textw6cut text.jpegw8-wrap-to-center-bottom-textw9-fold-textw11-tuck-corners-textw12-smooth-folds-textw13-fold-in-textw14-extr-fold-text

w16-package-wrapped-duplicatew17-now-take-ribbon-textw18-center-ribbon-with-tail-textw19-holding-center-wrap-textw20-bring-ribbon-back-to-top-textw21-twist-textw22-wrap-carefully-textw23-crossing-on-bottom-textw24-bring-ribbon-back-up-to-center-textw25-tie-it-off-textw26-make-a-bow-textw27-trim-ribbon-text

tie-on-a-tag-textwrapped-and-ready-text

So there you are! The “proper” way to wrap a present, via my mother in law. She also taught me some advanced bow making techniques, but those will have to wait until another post.

Happy wrapping!

Crafting with Nature and Beets

beets bottle branch blog

It probably won’t surprise you to know that, in my kitchen, I have a pineapple plant grown from the top of a supermarket pineapple, a motley collection of house plants, and a red oak seedling pulled from my garden with roots in tact, and now growing in a bottle of water. In short, I’m often tempted to experiment with the bits of nature that come my way, either by way of the supermarket, the garden or the greater world outside.

crafting with nature book bottle branch blog

So, when I first opened up Amy Renea’s book, Crafting with Nature, I was immediately smitten. Want to make a lavender wreath? Here’s how you do it. Want to find something to do with your bumper crop of lamb’s ears and sage? Try this! I was thrilled by the variety and volume of ideas and more than a little tempted to drop everything, and whip up a few all natural lotion bars and luscious healing whips.

growing beet tops bottle branch blog

When I flipped to the section on beets, I knew that would be the right place to start. Beets have long been one of my garden stand-bys, and I was happily surprised with some ideas I had never thought of. How had I never thought to slice off beet tops and keep them growing for baby beet greens?! Or, to boil the skins to make dye?

beet dye and beet tops bottle branch blog

I still haven’t decided what to do with the beet dye (too many choices). Maybe I’ll stick it in the freezer and use it for a frozen cranberry wreath this winter. (Another enticing idea!), but in the mean time, I’ll be happily sprinking those beet greens in smoothies and salads.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive a free copy of this book to review, but I was beyond thrilled to take a look inside and give it a try. I will undoubtedly be trying out lots of the other ideas/ recipe/ crafts in it, and in fact, I’ve aready got another one in the works. But I’ll tell you about that one in another upcoming post.

 

Embroidery News

embroidered bag bottle branch blogRemember this? If you’ve been around here a long time, you’ll recognize this piece of embroidery I made in March of 2015 and posted here. As part of my campaign to tie up loose ends this summer, I finally turned it into a finished product: a little drawstring bag to hold future embroidery projects.

finished embroidery bag for bottle branch blog

I’ve written before about how I don’t particularly love sewing. So, the irony of my sewing something to hold more future sewing projects is not lost on me. Or, as someone might say, its just “so meta.” (Who, exactly, says things like that?!)

pinwheel flower fabric samples hanging

And… remember these? In April of 2015, I posted these painted watercolor fabric designs I had printed up on Spoonflower. I chose the scattered flowers print, front and center in this photo, to use as a lining fabric.

embroidery bag ready for use bottle branch blogThe final product thrills me in a way that only handmade can, and so I’ve already lined up and started my next needlwork project: learning Sashiko. I’ve been so inspired by the lovely stiching posted by kinomi_5 on instagram, I just had to give it a try. As you can see, I’ve even bought special needles and thread. Wish me luck!

Just in time for Valentine’s day: a card giveaway!

valentine's-ish cards bottle branch blog

I’ll admit that I’m not really big on Valentine’s day. I’ve never liked the sense of forced romance, though I feel lucky to have a husband who remembers to get me flowers. Plus, I do love the colors and visuals of Valentine’s day.  Just when winter hits its bleakest, we are inundated with lots of pink and red – hearts, roses, candy. (Try not to think about the artificial coloring that lends the candy its color.)

photography project on bottle branch blog

So, I couldn’t resist taking photos to make a few valentine’s-ish cards for my etsy store. I’ve used dried and found plant materials – eucalyptus, pink pepperberries, and red crab apples and you can see my not-so-glamourous set up at my dining room table.

The resulting cards might not be likely to ignite a steamy romance, but since when did anyone expect a card to do that? I hope they’re cheerful and perky enough to brighten up your day, and perfect for platonic Valentine’s wishes.

valentine's card set by bottle branch

To keep things interesting around here, I’m going to give a set away. The winner will receive one set of six cards – three have hearts, and three do not, so they don’t all have to be used for Valentine’s day.

You don’t even have to leave a comment to enter. (Though, comments are always appreciated!) All you have to do is share this post and tag me on Facebook (tag:bottlebranch) or twitter (tag: zibpyle). Don’t forget to tag me: If you don’t, I might not know you’ve entered! And, please don’t go to my twitter account and laugh at how bad it is. (Twitter really isn’t my thing, but I’m working on that.)

I’ll pick a winner by random number drawing on Monday, January 25th, so I can get the cards mailed out well before Valentine’s day. International entries welcome! I hope you’ll enter and good luck!

New year, new projects

frost on window bottle branch blog

Hello! Happy New year! I love January, because it feels like a blank slate. With cold, cold, weather here in Boston, I’m forced inside and have a chance to explore the indoor projects that often get put on hold when there are weeds to be pulled, perennials to be moved, or flowers to be cut.

Right now, I’ve got lots of projects cooking happily in my creative kitchen, and I’d like to tell you a little about each of them.

white line wood cuts on bottle branch blog

First of all, I’ve returned to white line woodcuts and started trying out new designs. With a few tips from Lisa Houck and Amy MacGregor Radin, I’m feeling a little more confident in my execution so I’m working on some final, best prints to submit to an upcoming show. The deadline for submissions in February first, so wish me luck!

cosy blue embroidery bottle branch blog

Second, I’ve started a new embroidery piece. Life doesn’t feel complete unless I have something to stitch, especially in winter. But since I’ve been busy with other projects, I haven’t designed anything myself. Instead, I decided to buy this adorable sea captain design from Cozy Blue on etsy. It was one of the first things I ever pinned on pinterest in 2012, so I’ve been waiting a long time to give it a try.

garden planning on bottle branch blog

Third, after mooning over seed catalogues for a few weeks, I’ve just ordered flower seeds for my 2016 garden. I chose a few familiar stand-bys, like snapdragons, cosmos, and nigella. But I’ve also added china asters, sweet peas, and globe thistles. Pretty soon, my sunny windows will be filled with trays of sprouting seeds. So excited!

Finally, I’m working on new photo card designs. I am trying to bump my tiny new business along, even if I don’t have any flowers or foliage from my garden for inspiration. If you’re with me on instagram, you’ve probably seen some of them already, but I’m also planning to reveal my new cards in an upcoming post. So, stay tuned!

 

Fun Family Christmas Crafts

completed winter vignette bottle branch blog

Lest you think that all I do these days is arrange plants and flowers for photographs and promote my etsy store, let me re-assure you that regular old family holiday season is in full swing at my house. In addition to putting up our tree, stuffing an advent wreath full of greens, and un-earthing my boys’ collections of nutcrackers, we have managed to fit in a few family crafty-ish type projects: winter vignettes, gum drop trees, and cranberry garlands.

 

Winter Vignettes

playing winter vignette bottle branch blog

First, we made winter vignettes. The cynic in me feels that this is not much of a craft project, since it was little more than assembling salvaged and bought materials. But it was quite fun, and arranging and re-arranging the trees and houses might have been the best part.

supplies for winter vignette bottle branch blog

I saved a few shallow boxes and bits of styrofoam from packing materials, and then I bought some sparkly blue paper, a package of bottle brush trees, and some fake snow, all items available at your run-of-the-mill craft store .

completed and styled winter vignette bottle branch blog

We lined the boxes with sparkly paper, carved the styrofoam into hills, glued them in, along with some snow, and finally pulled the trees out of their stands and poked them into the styrofoam. As a finishing touch, my youngest went to his box of treasures and trinkets and dug out that tiny little moose. We didn’t glue him in, so now the moose roams free inside his little vignette.

Gumdrop Tree

gum drop tree 2 bottle branch blog

Second, we made a gum drop tree, a project we do every year. Some might see this project as little more than an opportunity to eat those awful spice drops, since it involves only sticking gum drops onto toothpicks and then sticking them into a styrofoam tree.

completed gum drop tree bottle branch blog

But my children love doing this and since they’ve done it many times, it doesn’t really require much supervision. Oddly enough, they don’t even really like those candies. The result is festive and cute, though ours is never nearly so perfect as one you might find on pinterest.

Cranberry Garlandscranberry and popcorn garlands bottle branch blog

The third project was a stand-by of my childhood, which I had forgotten about until I saw this post about cranberry garlands by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees. I was so excited to revisit stringing cranberries! I started stringing plain cranberries on thread and then I dug some popcorn out of the cabinet, took a look at pinterest  and decided to try stringing them together using embroidery needles and floss. These turned out to be much better for little hands.

strining popcorn and cranberries

While on pinterest, I saw a lot about how to preserve your cranberry garlands, but we did what I always did growing up – strung them up on outdoor trees – our present to the birds.

cranberry popcorn garlands bottle branch blog

That’s likely to be all the family crafting we do this year, since the remaining days will be filled with cooking, wrapping, and the excited chatter from my youngest. I probably won’t be blogging until after the new year, but in the mean time, I wish you happy holidays and I look forward to re-connecting in 2016!

P.S. I also made a few of these leafy paper snow flakes, while my children were making their own traditional paper snow flakes. Wow! It was a lot more fun than I would have guessed! If you look here you can see more examples made by others on instagram.

leafy snowflakes bottle branch blog

 

Hello, etsy store!

two tea towels bottle branch blog

Maybe I left you hanging in my last post. I showed you a silkscreen tea towel I made this summer, but I didn’t tell you what I’m going to do with it. Well, guess what?!  I finally got around to opening an Etsy store. I’ve stocked it with these seaweed towels and some new tea towels printed with an old silkscreen of wild grasses. I’ve also added a couple handprinted children’s T-shirts I made a few years ago – extras from a project I did for my children. (I even had to bribe my children to get them to model the shirts for me — photos on etsy, but not of the bribing, just the shirts.)

viking and cowboy t shirts

I hope you will go take a visit. Maybe even ‘like’ some items, ‘like’ my store, and share anything that seems exciting or interesting. I can’t promise it’s going to be a thriving hub of commerce, since my output is quite erratic. But I’m excited to have taken the step, and hope to add new and different printed items, now and again.

Confessions of a lucet owner

using a lucet

Have I told you I’m the owner of a lucet? Probably not. It’s not the kind of thing that comes up in conversation. Or blogging. Also, it’s not exactly the coolest subject. But here it is – a simple little tool used to make cording.

On a trip to colonial Williamsburg last summer, I first caught site of a lucet, alongside thread winders, knotting shuttles, and other nearly-obsolete notions. Like this 18th century ‘pocket book‘, I knew I had to give the lucet a try.

I bought mine here, and struggled with various online tutorials to figure out how to use it. (If you ever find yourself wanting to learn, I liked this tutorial.) Most recently, I used my lucet on this embroidered felt needle book.

needlebook and needles

If you’re a regular reader, the embroidery will look familiar to you. This one, I made for myself, so I could throw out the plastic bag I’ve been using to store embroidery needles.

I jumped into the project without fully planning it. In the end, I had managed to design and execute the entire needle book without considering how it would be held closed when not in use. That’s where the lucet comes in.

needlecase with button

I found a button to apply to one side and then used my lucet to make a little cord loop to go over the button. So there you go, it might be a bit frumpy and obscure, but that little lucet came in handy after all.

needlecase with needles

Tutorial: bargello needlepoint iphone case

bargello iphone case completed

Finally! I’m posting a detailed tutorial on how to make a needlepoint iphone case. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know I have a thing for hand-stitched iphone cases, and it won’t be a surprise to know I recently made yet another one.

This phone case was a present for a beloved babysitter and this time, I took photos of the process. Now, several months later, I’ve finally managed to edit the photos and string them together to make this tutorial.

If you’re here because you’re a loyal reader, friend, or possibly because you’re my mother, you are excused from wading through the rest of this post, which will consist of diagrammatic photos and pragmatic text on constructing a phone case from needlepoint canvas. (Thank you for reading! I promise to try for something more entertaining next time!)

If you’re here because you want to see how to make a phone case like this, please, read on!

1 iphone case tutorial

Start by cutting two rectangles of needlepoint canvas. I cut mine rougly 8 inches by 5 and a quarter inches. This includes extra canvas to hem the edges.  I like to use interlocking canvas, but if you want to know more about canvas types, here’s a little description of a few types of needlepoint canvas typically available in the USA.

2 iphone case tutorialCut notches in the corners and then fold over the edges, lining the holes up.

3 iphone case tutorial

Stitch down the folded edges, but be careful not to block the holes since you’ll be stitching them later.

4 iphone case tutorial

Then, stitch away with you favorite needlepoint pattern. I copied this bargello pattern from a piece I made last year: you can read more detail about this Jonathan Adler inspired pattern in my “Beginner’s Bargello” post.  I like using a bargello because you don’t really have to worry about the number of squares in the canvas, or finding an exact center to begin stitching.

5 iphone case tutorial

Make sure the patterns on the two sides work together, since they’ll be connected in the end. In this case, I made the halves mirror images of one another. But it might also be fun to have them be related but different, like same exact pattern but with the colors switched around.

6 iphone case tutorial

Once the two needlepoint canvas sides are stitched, Its time to sew the lining in. Cut two rectangles of lining material the same size as your stitched panels. (I used wool felt.) Then use regular thread to baste the lining panel to the stitched canvas along the edges. Don’t worry if this stitching is sloppy – you’ll cover it up in the end.

6.5 iphone case tutorial

The next step will be to apply binding material. I used 1″ red wool twill tape for this piece. I’ve written before about the reproduction needlework at Colonial Williamsburg, and how it inspired me to seek out natural materials. I found this wool twill tape  at William Booth, Draper, though I might also try Wooded Hamlet Designs another time.

7 iphone case tutorial

Starting with what will be the upper edges of the finished case, pin strips of binding along the edge, leaving a few inches sticking out on either end.

8 iphone case tutorial

Stitch this binding down, making sure the binding tape covers the unstitched white canvas along the edge.

9 iphone case tutorial

You can see that I wasn’t too particular about the extra length of binding. I probably could have saved a little material by allowing only an inch on either end.

10 iphone case tutorial

Next, tuck the binding ends in between the lining and needlepointed canvas. (You may have to undo a little of your earlier basting – I did.) Make sure it folds more or less symmetrically so it looks intentional, rather than haphazard. Sew the tucked end firmly in place.

needlepoint phone case tutorial

You’re almost there! Once all the ends are tucked and sewn, its time to sew the two sides together with the binding tape. First, take the two sides of the phone case and sandwich them together, with the lining inward, and needlepoint canvas on the outside. Then, you’ll need to pin the binding tape around the outside edges, covering the white canvas edges of the needlpoint. The starting end is a little bit tricky. (Shown below.)

12 iphone case tutorial

Take one end of your roll of binding tape and notch the corners. Not shown: I also ran a few stitches through the end to prevent raveling.  Pinch the two havles of the phone case tightly together and take your folded binding tape end, and wrap it around the two sides, with the notched end folded to the inside. Be sure to line the top of the folded binding tape up with the tucked corners of the top bindings. Pin that in place but don’t start stitching yet. Its super thick, as you can see, so I used a safety pin to keep it in place while I pinned arround the rest of the edges.

13 iphone case tutorial

Wrap the binding tape around the two halves of the piece, pinning it in place as you go. I used safety pins for the corners and straight pins for the sides. Repeat the same folded over end and pinning at the other top corner. (Described above.) Once its all pinned, you can stitch the binding down. Make sure your thread goes through all four layers – Needlepoint canvas, lining 1, lining 2, and needlepoint canvas 2. Also, make sure the binding edge reaches the stiched canvas edge so that the white edge of canvas doesn’t show through. It can require a firm hand, but you can do it!

14 iphone case tutorial

Now, there it is, almost done! There are lots to ways you could finish it off now, but I’m going to share what I did.

15 iphone case tutorial

I always like to have a loop for a caribiner clip, so I can clip my keys to it and clip it to my purse. I made one here with a double strip of binding tape, sewn together and then sewn into the top opening. I used a double strip because in my expereince that is the thing that wears out first, especially if you like ot have it dangling from a clip a lot.

16 open phone case

While sewing in the ring, I also sewed the opening shut at that point and a tiny bit at the other end, so the opening would not be the full length of the case. I hope that will keep a phone from falling out.

Now comes the only part I can’t remember – what I used as a closure. To hold it closed, I sewed either a few snaps or some velcro just inside the lining. Either would work just fine.

There you go, one iphone case complete. I hope you’ll give it a try!

bargello iphone case completed for pinning