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Sunday Walk on Pathfinder

Today was way too beautiful to spend it staying indoors. We walked.

Here are a few highlights from sights seen in the woods near our house today.

Fungi the color of Halloween

Such an intense orange color, these fungi begged to be photographed.

Oak Tree Tops

It pays to look up.

Bright berries and neon green leaves.

I don’t know the name of this shrub, but it was abundant in the flood plain.

Pond with reflected sky

I love the duckweed’s color. It’s so intense.

Great Blue Heron perched in a tree.

At the pond, there was also a snake sleeping next to the path. I didn’t take his picture.

Golden rod next to willows.

Goldenrod was the most glorious blooming plant today. It was a favorite of the bees.

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Let’s Make Pesto

Something completely different today. Fiber friends, please indulge me while I glory in seasonal produce.

During my daily walk through the back yard, I realized that the basil plants were at the perfect stage of growth to be harvested for basil pesto. They had lush, big, green leaves, without blossoms, but highly fragrant. How fortunate that I had all I needed in my pantry, including home-grown garlic dug up about six weeks ago.

After washing and spin-drying the basil leaves, I got out my well-used recipe for this delicacy. It’s from a collection published by my herb club friends in Plano, TX. This version was submitted by Gladys Denham. Begin with these items.

  • 2 c. packed fresh basil
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 1/2 chopped walnuts (I substituted cashews)
  • 1/3 c. olive oil (always use cold-pressed virgin oil)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

In blender or food processor, grind the garlic. Add the nuts and grind some more. Add a small amount of the basil and just enough olive oil so that the machine will grind the leaves. Keep adding the basil and oil until all is incorporated. Add the salt just before the final grind.

Here’s where I vary from tradition. At this point in preparing classic pesto, grated cheeses such as Parmesan and Romano are stirred into the mix. Instead, I pack the ground mixture into sterilized jars and freeze it.

Throughout the year, when I need some fresh basil for a recipe, I just thaw out a couple of tablespoons. If I am making classic pesto sauce for pasta, I will thaw the mix, add cheese and a little butter. It’s then ready to stir into hot cooked pasta.

The best part of making pesto is using the leftover bits in the blender jar as a topping for cream cheese and crackers.

What a heavenly and fragrant lunch! Today I had fresh mozzarella and Italian salami to accompany my pesto.

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A Walk in the Woods

Stellar weather today. The temperatures are in the mid 50s, with sunshine and no wind. It was a perfect afternoon for walking. We went to the Pathfinder, which winds its way through the floodplain along the river. I brought my Canon camera and got a few shots that could serve as reference photos for future drawings.

Over the river. Beautiful lines, shadows and colors.
Interesting perspective
Great reflections on the pond and fine color contrast between banks and water.
The trees in the foreground frame the shot.
Really lovely bark texture and brilliant green moss.

Back home for a cup of tea with biscuits (also known as cookies to those of us who live in the States.) The number of days with gorgeous weather this year is about over.

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And now for something completely different

The craft of felting has got to be one of the oldest uses of wool. Pretty soon after (or maybe even before) early humans had begun to keep animals for meat and milk, they discovered the warmth of fleece. Early blankets required no manipulation to create – they were just matted, shed hairs of sheep, goats and what-have-you.

We can use of the propensity of wool to felt and make whatever we want. Today I want to make some felt balls to give to my granddaughter for Christmas. She is now walking and very interested in chasing objects across the floor. I read about felting balls in a library book – sorry I don’t remember which one, or I would reference it. The designer started with a jingle bell. I went to the dollar store and bought a bag of cat toys for a dollar. I had some fleece left over from teaching fiber arts.

The tools for this project are readily available in most homes: a plastic placemat, some bubble wrap, a large bowl with a fitted lid and a squeeze of dish soap. Merino wool bats are available from craft stores for a few dollars each. I used four colors of fleece for my balls.

First, separate the fleece into thin strips, then pull the strips apart gently every four inches or so. You want to expose the loose ends of the fibers. Begin wrapping the fleece strips around the ball, overlapping and pressing the fibers down on each other. Continue until the ball is covered with about a one inch layer. Gently roll the covered ball around in your palms, loosely, until the fibers seem to be clinging. When the wool has begun to matt, it will look something like this:

The beginning stage of felting.

Make a few more balls to this point before moving on to the next step.

Add about an inch of soapy water to the bowl. Dip the felt balls into the water, then pick up each and roll it on the bubble wrap until all the fibers are pretty well mashed together. They will look something like this:

Okay, here is the fun part. Put on some lively music. Place balls in bowl with a little soapy water, snap on the lid, pick up bowl and start shaking it around like crazy. The goal is to bounce them together and keep them rolling. This process is called fulling the wool. It will take ten to fifteen minutes.

These balls are pretty well fulled.

The next step is called shocking. The soapy water is rinsed off, then balls are immersed under hot water for about a minute. After the hot water is squeezed out, the balls are immersed in cold water. A few repetitions of this step will shrink and harden the wool. Set balls aside to dry.

You can also put them in the dryer for 15 minutes on medium heat.

Here are my felt balls, ready to be wrapped up for giving:

I was delighted that the felting worked just fine over the plastic cat toys. These balls are now child-safe and ready to roll.

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Prayer Flags

Prayer Flag at Sarchu

I have long been fascinated with Tibetan prayer flags. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, which is a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe that prayers will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. This thinking makes the hanging of prayer flags both an ecumenical and a humanistic practice. And while there exists a standard color, order and shape of the pennants in traditional flags, modern fiber artists reinterpret the flags according to the artists particular craft. They make a fantastic variety of creative works decorated with applique, embroidery, quilting, beads and so on.

I direct you to begun by Vivika Hansen DeNegre in 2011. For my prayer flag project, I want to test out the dye capabilities of my Jacquard Textile paints. I learned recently that the paint can be diluted with water and used as a dye bath for fabric. My goal is to create a mottled, pastel effect. Here is what I have done so far:

Cotton muslin cut into rectangles. I tied some of them, to attempt a Shibori-like effect

Here you see the dye baths, the baths with the cloths submerged, and the cloths removed and drying. The red paint works best, the yellow second. The blue bath tinted the fabric very lightly. This might have worked better on pre-washed fabric.

I used the left-over red paint to tint a few printed pieces of fabric:

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Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!

Around here, we seem to have a coat hanger problem. They are everywhere. And, while I don’t condone her approach, Joan Crawford was right about the bad things that wire coat hangers can do to your favorite garments. Today’s post is about turning those nasty wire hangers into lovely padded hangers. As an added benefit, all the materials I am using are recycled.

Along with coat hangers, I have bubble wrap (another item that seems to accumulate, especially if your family likes shopping on-line) and a discarded shirt. You will need some masking or painter’s tape, thread, and a little bit of felt. Hopefully, these things are all on hand.

Here’s one of those bad boys.

Start with your bubble wrap. Fold it over a few times and lay the hanger on it.

Fold the upper edges down, and bring the lower end of the wrap up to meet the top. Use tape to secure the edges. Wrap the tape around several times. When finished, it will look something like this:

Don’t worry, none of the tape will show, unless you use a thin fabric.

Now the shirt. My husband got a tear in the sleeve of this one. Irreparable. I will be using fabric from the upper body, front and back. Cut off the collar and sleeves. Continue cutting the shirt around until you can open it out flat. Lay the wrapped hanger down on top of the opened shirt. Cut around the hanger, leaving at least one inch for the seams at top and bottom of hanger.

I’m afraid I didn’t get any photos of the sewing-up process – sorry. Basically, you sew the front to back at the shoulders and sides of the hanger, conforming to the hanger’s shape as best as you can. Turn, press and sew under the remaining raw edges – neckline, lower edge, and center front. I inserted a small patch of felt around the area of the hook, because there was no fabric at that location. Here is the back view of the completed cover:

I thought the label was cute, so I used the inside back of the shirt.

Close up the lower edge by stitching with the zipper foot of your machine, and you’re done! But, of course, that wasn’t good enough for me, because this is Fiber Art. I added a bit of embroidery, including the international symbol for Recycle.

Maybe if poor little Christine Crawford knew this trick, her mom wouldn’t have been so mean to her.

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For the Birds

Photo by Bill Riley

My family is passionate about birds. We feed them, we offer them water, we count them (once a year). My husband photographs them. Over and over. I suppose we would be called bird-watchers, or, if we were in GB, twitchers. To encourage our local birds, we try to keep our yard wild enough to make them comfortable. After noticing a robin stealing fibers of twine from my garden stakes to add to his nest, I thought, that’s it! I’ll start an Air BnB for the birds.

No question about what material to choose. Natural twine or jute seems to have curb appeal for these bird brains. I decided to use crochet to make this object.

The instructions are simple, which is fortunate, because the jute was challenging to work with. Chain three stitches, and form a ring by slip stitching the last chain to first. Single crochet inside the ring ten times. Next row, chain two, single crochet two stitches , then make two sc in the next stitch, continue this pattern around back to the beginning. Slip stitch last and first stitches together. Repeat this row until the base of the nest measures between 3 and 6 inches in width. It will look something like this:

Next, single crochet in each stitch all the way around, slipping stitch and chaining two stitches at the end of each round. Stop when the sides are 3 inches tall.

My nest ended up 4 inches wide by 2 and 1/2 inches tall

Where to put it? I’m told that real estate is all about location. For the birds, that means not too low, not too high, not too visible, not where the cats prowl. Fortunately, we have a row of yew trees in our side yard.

I will be pleased if a pair of our feathered visitors choose to move in.

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Growing Hemp in the U.S. – Stop, Go, Stop, Go

Photograph of Cannabis indica leaf (hemp)

The United States just legalized growing hemp. With the 2018 Farm Bill congress completely removes hemp and anything made from hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The story of how this plant, which was grown for thousands of years, found wild in most of the Northern hemisphere, and used in making rope, canvas, paper, textiles and many other items, came to be banned as a controlled substance is a long, sad tale. As you can see by looking at the photo, it is impossible to differentiate hemp from its very close cousin, Cannabis sativa – better known as marijuana. When I became interested in hemp as a source for fiber art, I was fascinated by this tale of guilt by relationship.

The negative construct begins sometime around the turn of the 20th century. Until then, hemp had been grown here and used to make rope, ship sails, textiles and paper. Soon it became the subject of a negative marketing campaign, fueled by those with economic interests in removing it as a competitor to pulp lumber in the making of paper. It was an easy smear – the fear of its wicked cousin did the trick. After the release of the movie Reefer Madness growing hemp was banned by Congress in 1937.

This was not to be the end of the story. Along comes World War II. The Department of Defense was suddenly in need of hemp, but access to it suppliers in Southeast Asia had been cut off. Along came the “Hemp for Victory” campaign, sponsored by the U.S. government. For the duration of the war, growing hemp was encouraged, and had a ready buyer in the war department. Once the war ended, the government reverted back to its old stance (For it seems the congressional ban had never really been lifted.) There’s a lot more to the story. If you care to read about it, I recommend this paper by April M. Lugenbuhl:

After experimenting with cotton and synthetic cord, I ended up choosing hemp to use in the macramé lesson for my fiber arts students. It is easier to manipulate than cotton floss, holds knots better than synthetic or cotton cords, and is not expensive. Today I will make a simple bracelet using hemp, wood beads and the square knot.

You will need about a yard of hemp cord, eight or so beads, one large bead or button, scissors, glue and a clip board. There are so many websites with excellent instructions, I feel it’s unnecessary to describe the steps here. Today I used this site:

Gosh, just the one bracelet looks kinda puny. I think multiple bracelets is the way to go with this look. Any recommendations on additional colors?

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Bent Out of Shape

We’ve all felt it. It happens at home, at work, while driving or walking. An unintended slight. A harsh word of criticism. A rude gesture flung from the window of a passing car. Generally, we are able to return to our earlier state with no visible change. Well, perhaps another minor scar on our psyches. Our treasured objects can also get “bent out of shape.” Frequently this means the end of the item. But, just like us, some of our fiber objects can be restored to their original shapes with the application of some attention, a warm bath, and a gentle massage.

This little brown sweater had an unfortunate encounter with the agitator of the washing machine. Not that I would machine wash my sweaters. But sometimes a sweater can slip in unnoticed, by clinging to other garments on the way to the laundry. Notice that the left edge has been dragged down several inches, pulling the neckline with it. The fiber content is cotton and cashmere, so there is hope that the remedy will be sufficient.

  1. Fill a sink with tepid water and add a small squirt of mild soap. I use liquid dish detergent or sometimes shampoo. Drop the garment into the water. Let it get thoroughly wet. Now, squeeze the garment, working the entire thing gently without a lot of pulling.
  2. Drain the water out. Squeeze out the excess soapy water. Draw another basin of water, also tepid. Rinse the sweater by squeezing the water through. Drain water away, squeeze out excess water.
  3. Lay the sweater on a bath towel, roll the towel up, and massage the roll for a minute or two.
  4. Unroll the towel, remove sweater to a flat space. I lay mine on the guest room bed. Gently pull the misshapen sections back into alignment. You may insert small towels into the sleeves to help with shaping.
  5. Leave alone until thoroughly dry.
There now. Feeling better, dear?

It worked. Those tiny wrinkles can be pressed out with an iron set to low.

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First day of Spring

While we were away from home, spring fully arrived. Once the daffodils open up, it’s time to think about gardening. I love spring, and I love planting. To me, it’s about beginnings. The garden offers many inspirations for working with fiber. Heck, nearly all fibrous things that I know of started out as plants!

For today’s project, I wanted to draw from the imagery of the old-timey seed packet. Here is a fairly simple example that might have been sold 70 or 80 years ago:

I really like the slightly ornate lines drawn around the edges of the packet. I’ll be turning again to the Bernina to come up with my version.

First I made a basic drawing of the center image,

traced the parts, and cut the tracing into pattern pieces. These were pinned onto red and green fabric and cut out. The backdrop is a piece of cotton bed sheet. The pieces were attached to the backdrop with fusible webbing.

That took a lot longer than I expected!

Next I used satin stitch to outline the tomato parts and secure the rough edges of the fabric. I added the label (Burts Seeds.) To render the filigreed edging of the original image, I used an embroidery stitch which resembles ivy.

All Done! A little fabric pen jazzed up the leaves.

Perhaps tomorrow I will plant some seeds from a real packet.