Strawflower Magic

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Today, frost came and killed off the annuals in my cutting garden once and for all. It was late this year, allowing me extra time to enjoy my cosmos, zinnias, calendula, nigella, and most of all, strawflowers. 

This is the first summer I’ve grown strawflowers and they’ve been such a delight. Always a familiar flower (I remember them from my parents’ garden), I learned so much about these flowers over the course of the summer; watching a plant emerge from seed and grow into its full glory has a special kind of magic. 

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Strawflowers were no exception as I watched their strappy leaves sprout and elongate; the first flower buds cluster at the tips of the plant. I cut and hung flowers to dry, thrilled by the way they hold their color and shape, sometimes opening slightly, sometimes flexing their petals back as they dry. (Or, are they really bracts? or sepals? Must look that up!)

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I saw that strawflowers close tight on cool, damp nights and open in the morning sun, a particularly endearing habit. It was already October by the time I had the idea to capture strawflowers opening with a time-lapse video. 

A couple of notes about this video. (1) The way the plants appear to shudder at the end is my fault – I could’t resist poking the flowers in between frames to see what would happen. (2) The flickering results from the camera settings – I forgot to turn the auto white balance off, so the camera changes sometimes between frames. No, that’s not natural light variation! What can I say? It was my first time-lapse, and I am learning by doing.

Its a testament to the magic of strawflowers opening that the the effect is still mesmerizing as they open in a series of rolling petals. (Or, bracts?) When I made this time-lapse, I felt like I’d really captured the secret life of a flower and I knew I had to try again. 

And I did try. There were plenty of failures. There were camera batteries that ran out, flowers that didn’t open,and others that opened hours later than I expected. But luckily with the mild weather, I had plenty of chances to keep trying. Finally, last weekend, I had another success and managed to fix a few of the problems in my first attempt. Just in time for the frost to come this week!

So now, I’ll be cleaning up my garden and dreaming of next summer’s flowers. I know I’ll be planting more strawflowers, but I also wonder what next summer’s discoveries will be? Someone recently suggested Cardinal vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) and I am intrigued. If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

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Crafting with Nature 2: Dyeing with onion skins

onion-dyed-napkin-in-bowl-bottle-branch-blogFor my second foray into Amy Renea‘s book, Crafting with Nature, I decided to stick with the natural dyes theme, and try dyeing with onion skins. Finally! A use for all the discarded onion skins floating around in my kitchen ‘onion’ drawer.ready to dye with onion skinsSo, following the directions in the book, I gathered and boiled all the onion skins I could muster. I added a couple of plain white cotton napkins and a little cotton drawstring bag (after soaking them in warm water first) and let them boil in there for about an hour, stirring occasionally. onion skin dyed cloth 2 bottlebranch blogWhat a thrill it was to pull the fabric from the water and see how it turned out. Even better, I adore the final product. Though I was never a big fan of the color orange, I love the resulting soft, dusty semi-orange color. finished onion skin dyed cloths bottle branchThe transformation almost feels magical and I find myself dreaming of embarking on new adventures in dyeing with all kinds of found and foraged materials, like Mathilde Master. That dream lasts until I consider the array of carpooling, baseball/soccer games, and orthodontist appointments on my calendar, and the long lists of updates I have planned for my etsy shop. The less said about the former, the better, and I’ll tell you more about the latter in my next post. onion-dyed-napkins-bottle-branch-blog

Crafting with Nature and Beets

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

 

Scottish Adventures: St. Andrews and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (a final travel post)

peony and geraniumBefore the summer is over, I thought I might post a few more photos and tid-bits from our June family trip to Scotland. I’m not going to be setting the world on fire with this post, but then again, I’m pretty sure that if you wanted that kind of excitement, you wouldn’t be hanging around my blog. So here we go…

First stop: St. Andrews, Scotland, where the lucky tourist may visit a castle, a university, a catherdral, and historic golf course, all in one day. And that, my friends, is precisely what we did.

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Though technically a ruin, the castle was possibly my children’s favorite castle of our trip. While they always enjoy learning about battles between the Scots and the English (and the visitors center was amazing), they liked getting free reign in the castle itself. They clambered over all available surfaces, and they still haven’t stopped talking about the 16th century mine shaft that runs under the street, which they happily climbed through, while I did not.

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My favorite spot in St.Andrews was the University, where the landscape was groomed and ready for their graduation ceremonies, some of which were happening the very day we visited. I will not go into any history or detail we learned about the university because (a) I would embarrass myself, and (b) you’d be better off just googling it. Suffice it to say that to the American eye, it was an assemblage of picturesque courtyards, impossibly historic buildings, and there was even a bit of pomp and circumstance present to add gravitiy to our visit.

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We also visited the golf course, because my late father-in-law was an excellent golfer, and former member of the USGA who spent much time there. I can say that and not be bragging because (1) he was my husband’s father, not mine, and (2) I know next-to nothing about golf.

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Next Stop: the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

You knew there would be a garden in here somewhere, right? We spent most of a day at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, and I consider myself lucky that my family tolerates, and in fact, even enjoys visting gardens wherever we go. (Hat tip to Catherine at Knotted Cotton for advising me that it was not to be missed!)

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My children probably loved the glasshouses best. There were so many varied climates represented, and so many separate houses and spaces. We spent well over an hour exploring them all, and the Amazon water lilies (pictured above) did not fail to impress.

greenhouse orchid at royal botanic garden

We also really loved visiting the Queen Mother’s memorial garden, with a (still growing) labyrinth in the center, and the plants of different continents on in the four corners. It felt like there was something new to discover around every corner, and so, I failed to take photos because we were just having too much fun.

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Likewise, the rock gardens were filled with unexpected delight – beautiful plants nestled on rocky outcrops, sloping hills and in hidden corners. It was quite inspiration!

All in all it was a wonderful trip, though, there is no photographic record of me driving on the left side of the road, an omission which I most defnitely regret, as driving on the left felt like quite an accomplishment. I’ll just have to cross the Atlantic and get behind the wheel again soon. Consider yourself warned, my UK friends.

Good times at SoWa open market

craft fair display first time around by bottle branchI had a great time last Sunday at the SoWa Open Market in Boston, and so it seems the novelty of craft markets has not worn off.

The best part was the people. I chatted with flower lovers, photographers, print makers, gardeners, and even ran into an old friend or two. I also loved hearing from customers about favorite plants, trees, other craft fairs, and of course which card designs they preferred and more importantly, why.craft fair display close up from bottle branch

On etsy, I offer the option for customers to pick a custom set of five cards and I did the same at this weekend’s market. I put out a tray with all the individual designs. (You can see it in the middle there – if only I had chosen a greater depth of field for that photo!) Customers could rifle through all the cards, selecting favorites and creating their own set. It was really fun to see the combinations they created.

Some designs are perennial favorites, while other are loved by only a very few people. I have a special place in my heart for the customers who like some of my personal favorites which prove to be less popular, like the adorable customer who selected this autumn leaf design, now discontinued.cotinus gradient bottle branch blogSo, I’m hooked. I’m not going to be running off to markets and craft fairs every weekend, but I’ll definintely be back. In fact, I’m already scheduled to be back at SoWa on Sunday, July 31st. And next time, I’ll take some better photos. Hope to see you there!

 

May wrap up

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Happy June, my internet friends!

May is possibly the busiest month of the year. At least, for me it is, as motherhood demands blossom, and I find myself filling out camp forms, digging out summer clothing and trying to replace what no longer fits, and shuttling around to end-of-school-year presentations, recitals, parties. And all the while, my garden is also calling to me for attention.

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In my May garden, I dream big, get ambitious, and have been known to go a little crazy at the garden center.

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Thankfully, as in motherhood, there are also rewards in the May garden. My tree peonies thrill me every year, and I silently thank whichever previous owner of my house planted them.

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This year, thing were even busier, as I spruced up my etsy shop, adding a new logo, cover photo, and ‘about’ section. I even asked a talented friend to come over and take photos of me ‘working’ and added some of those. (It still makes me cringe a little to post photos of myself.)

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And now, this week, I’ve been preparing for my first appearance at a local art fair. Taking my work live and in person is something I’ve been dreading, but also, somehow feels inevitable. Why I decided to take that plunge just now, I have no idea. (If you’re local, I would love, love, love to see you there!)

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Thankfully, there have also been a few moments of calm, and more than a few cups of tea. Happy June!

Goal setting, making assignments and Big Magic

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I’m not exactly a goal setting type person, but I do like to assign myself tasks. I dream big, make plans, write lists in my trusty decomposition notebook. I never get around to doing it all – there are so, so many projects I’ve planned, needlework patterns I’ve imagined, and essays I’ve started that have fallen by the wayside.

Still, each week, I assign myself a few tasks related to my creative life and especially my blog and/or creative business. I may tell myself to write up a recently completed project, list something new for sale in my store, pick up some supplies, finish up a project, spend a half a day trying out a new and exciting idea, research alternative blogging platforms, or figure out twitter/periscope/snapchat. This act of assigning does not necessarily mean I get them all done but usually I chip away and keep things moving.

Other times, my progress grinds to a halt. I run into technical problems, or the task is tedious and I find myself avoiding it, or life just gets busy. I ran into all of these roadblocks in my latest task. My assignment was simple: list a few of my white line wood cut prints for sale in my etsy shop, and then write post about them from my blog. Easy.

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But then I had to think about pricing and it turns out, pricing hand-painted work is not easy. Etsy sternly admonishes sellers not to undervalue their work. Not only is it not good for business, it undercuts other sellers and the market as a whole. I get it. If I am selling my work at a loss just to unload it, then I am hurting artists who want to earn a living.

It takes a couple of hours to paint and print one white line wood cut print, and then there’s the cost of designing and carving the block, plus materials. That makes this work expensive.

So, being a practical dreamer, I looked around on etsy to see what other artists were doing and decided to offer digital reproductions of my white line prints, in addition to a the more expensive originals. Thus a new assignment was born: discover the best way to create digital reproductions.

bunch of white line prints for bottle branch

With a new printer and moderate experience manipulating digital images, I felt ready to tackle this assignment, though the learning curve was steep. I poured over my printer manual, researched paper types, learned a few new photoshop tricks, and printed many, many prints of my prints. (It turns out scanning and then printing does NOT give an exact copy. Not even close.)

There were many times when I complained, gritted my teeth, groaned, or just plain avoided my desk. And all the while, I listened to Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, a reflection on living a creative life. (I am a big fan of audible.com)

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Not surprisingly, I loved Big Magic – I’ve written before about flashes of creative inspiration and the joy of unfettered creativity, what Gilbert calls big magic, and I have lived through many cycles of frustration and faltering confidence (another topic she addresses.) But most importantly, Gilbert describes following your curiosity as a way to find your way to a creative life, which I read as taking on life as a series of self-assigned tasks and creative challenges. Suddenly my crazy tangents, pssion for gardening, and self-assigned tasks seem like they’re not so kooky after all. In fact, these humble adventures just might be the makings of a satisfying life.

So Big Magic was an uplifting accompaniment to my latest creative endeavour and thankfully, in the end, I came up with some pretty prints also. More about those in my next post.

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

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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.)

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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

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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!

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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!