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.

 

Goal setting, making assignments and Big Magic

notebook for big dreams bottle branch blog

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.

white line wood cuts on bottle branch blog

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)

listening to big magic bottle branch blog

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 say the word?

faffy leaves bottle branch blog

Like many Americans, I admire much about British culture. I admit to devouring British literature, binge watching Downton Abbey, and a somewhat alarming habit of excesive ordering from Boden. Yet, I live in fear of becoming one of those kind of people who peppers her dialogue with pithy British expressions, in a flat American accent. Or worse, in a fake accent that vaguely echoes of the British Isles.

Still, I find myself closer and closer to uttering aloud a word so unfamiliar to your average American, it might as well be a foreign language. If I were to use this word in my daily life, I would likely receive a polite but blank look in response. Or worse.

crabapples and oak leaves bottle branch blog

But it is not the BBC, or all those Ian McEwan novels that have catapulted this word into my lexicon. Oh, no. I blame instagram for introducing me to the term faffing.

I have spent many (too many) hours arranging and fussing and organizing little bits of nature, flowers, and leaves,  photographing them and then posting them. And in the process, I have found my people — others who like to do the same. They are a global bunch with one thing in common: the use of the term faffing. Check out this hashtag #fridayfaffingcompetition to see what I’m talking about.

I realize the term can be used more generally to mean ineffective activity, or wasting time, but I think of it mostly in the context of ephemeral arranging, because that is where I run across it in my daily life. Only, I can’t quite bring myself to use the word without feeling pretentious.

autumn fruits and bowls bottle branch blog

My iphone voice-to-text does not recognize the term faffing, and alternately substitutes laughing, chaffing, faxing, fat thing,or fat fame – this last one is my personal favorite. Obviously, there are better substitutions I could make, though I struggle to come up with one that doesn’t make my inner teenager giggle at a double-entendre: Piddling? Messing around?

So, my dear readers, perhaps you can offer a better substitute? Or, should I bravely move forward and start dropping “faff” or “faffing” into general conversation in hopes that it will take root on this side of the Atlantic? After all, it really is a great word for one mof my favorite activities!

autumn arrangement with mums 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

Making the most of summer abundance and instagram

plum island phototaker ephpyle

Every summer, I  develop an obsession with Instagram. Last August, I found myself rising early to catch the morning light, planning family outings to picturesque locales and filling my instagram feed with landscapes.

This summer, the photography passion has returned, but instead of landscapes, I’ve been focused on flowers and gardening. I’ve been snapping photos, editing photos, posting photos and dreaming of photos of flowers, plants, gardens.

gathered bouquet ephpyle

I cannot stop thinking about how to best capture my garden flowers in bouquets…

hydrangea and ferns ephpyle

… in styled scenes…

dramatic flowers ehpyle

…in dramatic lighting…

garden puttering ephpyle

or on site, in the garden.

I am astonished at how many hours I can fritter away snapping photos of flowers and plants, dreaming up creative projects, and quite honestly it makes my head spin. I’m happy to know I’m not alone, as, photographer Kim Klassen recently posted. Kim suggested it might be the longer days. I wonder if the lush, vibrant plant growth and bright summer light stir something within us, a primal need to make the most of the abundance of summer(For me, it might also be related to my children being off at camp for a few weeks, but that’s so… practical.)

My current instagram obsession has pushed some of my other projects to the back burner, but like all true summer romances, I know it can’t last. For one thing, I’m taking a printmaking class next week. That should help shift my focus if nothing else. Until then, see you on Instagram!

stewartia blossoms ephpyle

Hello, New Year… and a December projects round up

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Hello. Happy new year!

Another December has passed, and I spent the month making things, but not posting here about anything at all, let alone creative projects.

I blame introversion: the hustle and bustle and social activity of the holiday season are too much. I’m all tapped out at the end of every December day, and I’ve got nothing, not even a single word or photo, left for the virtual world.

But I’ve missed you, my internet friends! I’m happy to be back and I’d like to share a few of the projects I made during the month of December.

I’ll start with a wreath. I made this and many more wreaths for my church’s annual Christmas Market. Every year, I plan to post about the creative frenzy of this greens workshop, but every year, I end up too tired to put the words together, so here it is, a month late. (And there, on my front door, this wreath remains and will remain, possibly until Ash Wednesday.)

less traditional wreath 2014

Next, I made an embroidered felt pouch for one of my neices, inspired by a slightly different project in Aimee Ray‘s book Doodle-Stitching. It was a chance to use pink and be girly, and I loved free stitching on the soft wool felt. In fact, loved it so much, I’ve already started some new projects… to be posted soon.

 

And finally, I painted one more silk scarf, which ended up under the tree and in the hands of one of my sisters-in-law. I’m holding back one more December project, because it comes with a story. That project and the story of my own tiny Christmas miracle will be the subject of my next post.

painted silk scarf blue green

 

Round the world blog hop

Earlier this week, I was thrilled to receive a gentle, non-binding invitation to participate in a “round the world blog hop” from Catherine at Knotted Cotton. I greatly enjoyed reading what she had to say in response to the blog hop questions, so I decided to join in. Its taken me a while to get to it, but here I am now, ready to yammer on about myself.

 Where I live or have lived.

I live in Boston, which is known for its many universities (e.g., Harvard), aggressive drivers and unconventional street lay-outs. I love it here, though I still consider myself to be an outsider, despite 18 years of living here.

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I am from further south, the rural and beautiful eastern shore of Maryland. I still miss it sometimes: flat open farmland, hot, hot summers, and the whirr of summer cicadas.

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What am I working on

After a spring needlework hiatus, I am embroidering some linen with a botanically inspired design. I am so excited to be close to finishing I almost hesitate to share it, since I will post the whole project once I am done. Here is a preview:

embroidery work in process

How my work differs from others in its genre

I’m not even sure what “my work” is since I am more of a dabbler and a hack. Needlepoint, silkscreen printing, sewing, embroidery, fabric stamping…. I love making things and I’m still just finding my way.

Why I write/create

I cannot imagine NOT making things.

How my creative process works

I keep a notebook of ideas and sketches. When I want to start a new project, I usually think about it for a few days while I’m doing other things. (Dishes, driving, brushing my teeth.) When I find a clear hour or two, I jump right in. No time for step by step plans – I’ve got four kids!

I used to try to keep notes on project steps, but I would get busy working, excited to see something come together, and I would stop writing at about step two. Having this blog helps me remember to slow down and document my process a bit more. I like having that incentive.

sketchbook

So there it is… a bit about me. Now, in the blog hop ‘rules’ its time for me to pass the torch to a few others. I’m going to follow Catherine’s example and recommend a few blogs I enjoy:  fan my flamebook nookart as it happensWeekend Doings.  I’ll also follow Anny’s example and invite any and all of you, dear readers, to pick up the blog hop torch and tell us all about yourselves and your creative process, whether it be writing, photos, or something crafty. Do share, my bloggy friends!

The tale of two pirate shirts, or, I sometimes hate my sewing machine

sewing maachine

I kind of hate my sewing machine, and yet, there are times when I just can’t stay away. For example, I might find myself spending a long Sunday sewing two small-sized pirate shirts instead of skiing like everyone else I know. I might find myself puzzling over how to fit the sleeve into the shoulder with just the right amount of puffiness, or how to cinch the cuff so my 5 year old can easily get it on and off. I might find myself looking at a kitchen table covered in scraps of unbleached muslin, newspaper patterns, bits of thread and straight pins, and wonder what was I thinking?? Why did I take this project on??

sewing debris

My mother once said that knowing how to sew can feel like a curse. When you know how to sew you see how simple and easy it can be to make something. You can imagine customizing and creating exactly what you want – color, fit, feel, functionality. You can imagine and execute any number of stunning and special projects.

Sounds like a blessing (and it is) but sewing projects take time. Lots of time. I could never possibly do all I dream up so I have to pick and choose which projects are worth it. Yes, there are probably mothers out there who manage to hand sew all their children’s clothing while also homeschooling, eschewing refined sugars, and building a home composter. But I’m over any form of competitive mothering.  I’ve settled for polyester superhero suits with stitched in muscles and dubious plastic party favors. But simply knowing the hand-made possibilities makes this settling hard to do. 

ruffle.cuff.pirate.shirt

In my household, costume collaborations always start strong, but  by the end of the project, my children have run off to play legos while I finish up. I’m fine with that – we’re not raising them to be tailors. But I sometimes wonder – wouldn’t it have been easier to just buy a flimsy scrap of polyester?

I remind myself: its the process, not the product. I know there are benefits of doing these types of projects with my children. We work together,  they exercise a few skills (pinning, cutting, sewing) and they learn something about sequencing a project (draw pattern, cut newspaper, pin it to fabric, cut fabric, etc.). Its a creative collaboration that allows my children to see and experience something more authentic and less made-in-china.

As I clean up and muse about the value of sewing projects,  a wee pirate bounds into the room, smiling and proud, brandishing his pirate sword and smoothing his fresh pirate shirt over knee breeches. Yes, our afternoon of sewing has been a success, though, next time, I might consider a less time consuming cooking project

aargh.pirate

P.S. I sat down to write a post about how to make a pirate shirt and wrote this instead. Clearly, I needed to work through my feelings about the value of sewing children’s costumes. In my next post, I’ll share some DIY instructions and what I learned about how to actually make one of these.  

EDITED 2/27/14: I’ve now posted some directions here. If I haven’t scared you off and you want to make one of these, hope my tutorial can help! 

Needlepoint and the creative process.

np.iphone.case

One of the more challenging of my late 2013 projects was a second ombre needlepoint iphone case. I posted about my first ombré phone case last August, and that post still receives traffic. I took this as a sign of interest, and so, in making a second one, I planned to take photos of the process and try a proper tutorial. (Insert a foreboding snicker here.) As it turns out, I was filled with hubris.

yarn.for.needlepoint

I started with this photo of beautiful new yarns, and planned to follow the same pattern as in my first phone case. I took notes on how to prepare the canvas and how I counted out the stitches for the bands of color.

taking.notes

Quickly, my plan and the project fell apart. These colors looked too cold and hard in the wide bands of color I’d used on my last ombré case. So I ripped them out and tried again. My next attempt was not much better. So I ripped it out again. In fact, I lost track of how many times I started over and thankfully I stopped trying to take photos of the progress too. I probably threw up my hands once or twice, but in the end I found a way to finish it.

np.iphone.case.2

I’m happy with the way it turned out, but also chastened and reminded of the tenacity, flexibility, and, of course, creativity, required to make something satisfying. There’s are reason its called the creative process.