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

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.

 

Pretty Tea Time

happy tea time april 2 bottle branch blog

I’ve written before about my love of intsagram, and year in and year out, this little free app remains a great source of creative inspiration for me. I love seeing the beautiful photos posted by so many talented instagrammers (Just a few of my favorite flower-loving instagram accounts: Janne, Julia, and Jessica.)

But also, the impetus of posting photos regularly keeps me challenged creatively. In particular, making ephemeral arrangements and vignettes has become an favorite creative exercise and I really love to take “pretty tea time” photos in the morning.

happy tea time in March from bottle branch blog

An ideal morning goes something this: walk children to school, go for a long morning walk, accompanied by either my audiobook or a friend. Fill my pockets with interesting tidbits of nature along the way.

When I get home, I make myself a cup of tea, tidy up any remaining breakfast dishes, and  empty out my pockets. As I look through my collected nature treasures, I like to arrange them in pretty patterns, and usually the pattern involves my tea cup, because, as it turns out, its a lot easier to make a pleasing arrangement when it involve a circle in the center, especially a circle filled with that magic and photogenic elixhir, green tea. (Just my unbiased opinion, of course.)

happy tea time january bottle branch blog

Pretty tea photos are a popular theme (or meme) on instagram, and there’s a whole community of tea-drinking nature lovers all over the world. (Look hereOr hereOr here.)

While I think it might be foolish to confuse instagram popularity with artistic merit or relevance, I do puzzle over what makes these sets of images so appealing. Is it that they are variations on a theme? The balance of sameness and variety?

happy tea time in february bottle branch blog

On a whim, I made some cards with a few of these “happy tea time” images, starting with a set of four photos from the winter months. They turned out so much better than I had expected. I was thinking about listing them in my etsy shop, but honestly, I’m just not sure. I might be suffering from lack of confidence or lack of conviction, but I think they are a little bit weird?! Am I crazy? Would simple prints for framing be better? A whimisical addition to kitchen decor? Or a calendar called “Happy Tea for all Seasons?” I have so many ideas!

happy tea card set from bottle branch blog

In the mean time, I’ve decided to give these away. Yes, another giveaway, but here’s the catch, its going to be an instagram giveaway. I feel like that’s only fair since that’s where they were inspired! If you’re interested, please click over to my new bottle branch instagram page (not my regular instagram account) Look for the photo above to enter. Winner will be posted there on April 10.

four happy cups of tea from bottle branch blog

Thanks so much for reading! I would love your thoughts!

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, September!

new england wild flowersHello. Its been a while. Turns out, I wasn’t kidding when I said I was going to spend a lot of time on instagram, rather than blogging. I hope you had a lovely summer. Despite my silence here, I had a wonderful summer, filled with garden puttering, flowers, plenty of beach time, and a few fun projects.

cosmos wreath

I did a little bit of silk screening, and some more white line printing.

succulent white line prints

I developed a temporary obsession with seaweed.

sea weed collage from bottle branch

I enjoyed a Japanese wood block printing class, as well as a trip to Japan. I am a lucky girl, I know.

This summer also felt transformative. I spent some time thinking about where to go with my creative endeavors, and where to go with this blog. I’m still figuring those two things out, but for now, it feels good to be back. I hope you had a wonderful summer and thanks for sticking around!

lilliput zinnias from bottle branch

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

 

 

Hello, Spoonflower!

pinwheel flower fabric samples hanging

I know. I left you hanging in my last post. Possibly even consumed with suspense. I promised to explain how this embroidery project led me to a totally different creative venture. And now, here I am, ready to divulge.

It started with Spoonflower. Do you know this custom printing website? If not, you are in for a treat. Any user can upload their own work and have it printed on a variety of fabric, wall paper, or gift wrap. Even better, anyone can browse and shop from thousands of independent, user-created designs. If you like surface design and/or textiles, Spoonflower is pure enchantment.

lattice embroidery

After dreaming, clicking and generally wasting time on Spoonflower for years, I knew a lining fabric for this embroidery was the excuse I needed to attempt fabric design. I had a definite vision for the lining fabric – delicate aqua-colored pinwheel-shaped flowers on a white background, almost an inverse of the embroidered design on the outside.

I borrowed a few books on fabric design from my local public library, painted several designs with watercolors on paper, and got to work.

watercolor fabric designs

I used photoshop to clean up my artwork and turn it into a repeating design. (A Field Guide to Fabric Design by Kimberly Kight offers an excellent tutorial on how to turn a design into a repeat, by hand or with phtoshop.) It took some time to clean up the design, orchestrate the repeat and generally fiddle around with all the details, and in the process, I gained a new appreciation for photoshop.

pinwheel flower fabric samples 1

Once I uploaded my designs onto to Spoonflower, I adjusted the scale, and then I ordered test swatches. (I chose to print on the cotton poplin fabric.) There they are, freshly laundered and pressed. Now, I just need to choose which design I will use as lining fabric for my embroidery project. For now, I’m leaning towards the scattered, random flowers, though I’d love to hear your opinions.

In the weeks since, I’ve been tinkering with my Spoonflower shop interface where all these designs are now available for anyone to order. Please go visit – I haven’t had many visitors! I’ve also been working on a few unrelated designs. To keep up the suspense, I will tell you about those designs another time.

P.S. Spoonflower also offers a color changing feature, where you can alter the color ways of a design. Of course, I had to try it! The result: a few designs originally rendered in shades of aqua, now in shades of periwinkle. In truth, I am happier with the designs in their original color. To alter the colors, I had to reduce the number of shades. Since the charm of the watercolor depends in a large part on the subtle variations of color and shade, I found these version a bit boring. But still, It was a fun exercise.

periwinkle pinwheel flower samples

Bargello pocketbook

close up modern bargello

Remember this? Last October, I stitched this bargello – a modern, multicolored, aspiring-to-be-Jonathan Adler bargello. After I posted it, I tucked it away for later, not quite sure what to so with it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a vague vision of a clutch purse type of bag, but it turns out, I don’t need a fancy needlepoint clutch. (Already have one and I’m not fancy enough to use it very often.)

Wool needlepoint pocketbook.
Wool needlepoint pocketbook from colonial williamsburg.

Only when I revisited my photos from a summer trip to colonial Williamsburg did I know why I had this idea was lodged in my brain. Look at this hand-stitched 18th century pocketbook (photo above), used by the ladies of colonial Williamsburg to store scissors, needles and other sewing notions.

That was when I knew I had to make my own 21st century version. As someone who typically throws an extra needle and a pair of scissors in the bottom of a canvas tote bag, drops her needlework on top, and then periodically struggles to untangle metal bits from thread, I found the idea of having an organized case for the small notions deeply appealing.

needlepoint bargello pocketbook

I particularly liked the idea of stitching it entirely by hand and using all natural materials, as in the 18th century, so I used wool twill tape to bind the edges, and 100% wool felt to line it. The only place I cheated was in using a lighter, thinner rayon to form the gussets that allow the pocketbook to open a bit wider. (I was hoping they would fold in more easily for closing.)

opened up sewing case

When it came time to engineer a method to keep it closed, I hemmed and hawed again. In other projects, I have used magnetic snaps or velcro. I like the convenience of both of these closures but each has their drawbacks, too. (Velcro obscures a large area of the needlework and can also snag threads if not carefully placed; Snaps sometimes open too easily.)

So, again, I consulted the work of the Williamsburg ladies and decided to try twill tape ties for closure. They are certainly not as convenient, but they leave no mark on the needlework and can always be removed and replaced with some small miracle of the 20th century like velcro.

There it is, tied up and ready to go. Now, I am excited to put this pocketbook to use and move on the new projects. The first of which might just have to be a needlecase, so I can get rid of the plastic bag I’m currently using to store my needles.

tied up needlepoint pocketbook