shirts from saris

saris
I’m always on the lookout for interesting textiles, so when my mom offered up a couple of silk saris she discovered while thrifting, it was easy to say yes. She hinted that they’d make excellent shirts, so with Christmas fast approaching, I picked out a couple of patterns and mentally prepared myself to cut into the precious fabric. I think I did alright:

sari shirt
As soon as I saw the beautiful gold-thread embroidery on the selvedge edge of the black and white sari, I knew I’d have to leave it intact on the bottom of the shirt. I love the extra weight the heavy thread adds to the delicate fabric and the tactile contrast between the silk and the cool metal. I put together a braided rope necklace to go along with it. (This was for my mom, but is modeled by my sister Bonnie with a special guest appearance by Blanca the cat.)

sari tank
Bonnie will always be associated with this mustard-yellow color in my mind, so I knew I’d be making this sari into a tank for her. I didn’t bother with a selvedge edge at the bottom of the shirt, but I cut a little square out of a differently-patterned section to make a contrasting pocket. She also got a coordinating rope necklace. Both shirts were easy to put together, but I made sure to take my time– I get nervous working with a material so dear.

Also,
– I scored this sweet card for my valentine while antiquing last month.
– Today is dreary and overcast, so I’m listening to some equally gloomy music.
– I really need a reason to make a batch of this today.

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homemade soap

homemade cold-process soapSoap making has been on the docket for years, but something’s always stopped me from getting organized enough to make a batch. There are hundreds of cold-process soap recipes on the internet, and it’s hard to know which are reliable and simple enough for a beginner. I also knew I’d need to amass a small collection of dedicated cookware, measuring cups, utensils and thermometers so I wouldn’t end up mixing pancake batter in a bowl that once had lye in it. Speaking of lye, I was nervous about working with such a potentially dangerous substance– especially considering how often I manage to spill boiling hot tea on myself (more frequently than I’d care to admit).

Nothing motivates me quite like the holiday season, so with the December deadline looming, I got to work. I used a similar base recipe for all the soaps, and subbed different liquids and additives to create each scent: goat milk, honey, & oat soap; peppermint soap; coffee soap; and beer soap. The peppermint batch was the only one I tried coloring. I’d hoped to achieve a vibrant red and white swirl, but the bright red I mixed up faded to a kind of dull brick-red, and when striped with an off-white, resulted in what Nick referred to as “bacon colors”. So, I still need a little practice coloring soap. Because I wasn’t sure my soap experiment wouldn’t be a terrific disaster, I didn’t invest in a soap mold– instead, I spent a shockingly short amount of time saving empty quart-sized cream cartons and used two for each 5 lb batch of soap. After a day or two, the soap hardened and I peeled the cardboard off. These worked pretty well in the short term, but bowed a little when they were filled, which meant my finished bars were a little wonky.

Each batch yielded 16 bars with a little trimmed off the top for testing. I used a crinkle cutter to give each bar a fancy rippled top. After the bars cured for a month, they were wrapped in paper sleeves, labeled, and handed out to family and friends.

homemade soap

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christmas gift bags

christmas gift bagAlthough I do some kind of gift basket every year, I haven’t always done a great job documenting the contents. I’m usually scrambling to finish making components and end up sending them out the door before I can even snap a photo. This year, bad time management paid off, and by the time I was done putting everything together, a lot of the recipients had left town. Most everybody is getting New Year’s treats this time around, but that means I had time to break out the camera.

This year’s gift bags include:

-Raspberry and blackberry jam
-Mushroom salt (a blend of dehydrated wild mushrooms, coarse grey sea salt, thyme, and pink peppercorns)
-Spicy brown ale mustard
-English toffee (adapted from this recipe)
-Pretzel fudge
-Sea salt caramels
-Beef and pork summer sausage (Nick’s contribution)
-Apple butter (recipe from this cookbook)
-A mediocre attempt at Sriracha (I won’t share the recipe, because it’s not even close)
-Homemade soaps (more on this later)

Because I am a crazy person, I’d actually planned on doing more than this, but came to my senses when I looked at a calendar. The rainbow of macarons has been re-slated for next year’s gift bags. Something went totally awry when I calculated how much mustard I’d need to make, and I ended up with an insane amount. If you want some mustard, let me know! I will never eat it all and I need the fridge space. In the meantime, I am putting mustard on everything.

Other news:
-If you were wondering what the most beautiful mug in the world looks like, look no further (thanks, mom and nan)!
-Finally my love of NPR and true crime is combined into one awesome podcast.
-I have seen a lot of excellent movies lately, but this is a recent favorite.

Posted on by Jessica in Food, Life, Links | 3 Comments

new things

mom's ceramics
albanian socks!
krantz cake
pip's new hideoutI’ve been keeping busy around here, finishing a few small projects before christmas-present-making goes into full swing. Here’s some of what’s been going on:

In an attempt to declutter, my mom showed up at my house with a couple boxes of old things, including a few of the ceramic pieces she made in college. Most of these vessels were a part of the landscape of my childhood, and I remember regarding them with an awe and reverence that stemmed from more than just their relative fragility. I can’t believe they’re a part of my home now.

The beautiful socks in the second photo were hand-knit by an Albanian woman, and hand-selected for me by one of my worldly friends while traveling abroad. I put them on for the photo, but they’re much too lovely and precious to actually wear. I’m going to keep them someplace I can gaze at them adoringly.

That krantz cake has been on my to-bake-list for well over a year, but the intricate-looking folds, two-day prep time, and final sugar syrup glaze made it look like too much of a feat. Allowing the dough to rest overnight seemed a bit fussy, but it serves to break up the active preparation, making this seemingly complicated confection much more manageable. The sugar syrup takes just a minute to make, and lends a glossy sheen to the finished cake. It bakes up buttery and rich, and the chocolate filling seeps out in ribbons, craggy with pecans. It’s just as delicious as it is pretty.

We discovered recently that when he’s not laying on top of my sleeping head or trying to climb my body in an attempt to perch on my shoulder, Pip is content to spend most of his time tucked away in a paper bag. His preferred mode of entrance is to run and dive inside, sliding across the hardwood floors and creating way more noise than paper should.

I’m enjoying the recent drop in temperature more than I can say. Although it’s not cold enough for boots, scarves, and oversize sweaters (my favorite temperature), it’s cool enough that I can savor a cup of tea on the porch or drive around town with my windows down, blasting this from my car speakers.

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baby things

baby thingsSome dear friends of ours are expecting, and I could not be more excited! They are awesome people who deserve equally awesome baby gifts, so I bought some soft yarn and some velvety pigskin suede and got to work.

The baby bear hat is a super quick project– I stitched the whole thing up while watching a movie. The yarn I used was a cozy acrylic/wool blend that can be put through the washer, which is a pretty important feature of any knitted baby accessory. The moccasins are based on this pattern, which is easy to adjust for different sizes of little feet. I love the scalloped edges in the original pattern, but I wanted to make something a little less girly, so I redrafted the pieces so they’d have a simple fringe edge. This tomato-red suede is so beautiful! I wish I had some shoes made out of it.

Other things:
– I’ve got this bubbling away in the oven, and it’s making my house smell incredible.
This dessert was a huge hit and made use of some red currants I couldn’t resist buying.
– Is it weird that I want to be best friends with this guy?

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Links, Sewing | 2 Comments

linen shirt and skirt

checked linenThis checked linen was purchased on a whim and for years has been stuffed, forgotten, in my fabric stash. Last week I had a few days off in a row, so I decided to put together an outfit for a party on the weekend. By some miracle, every element I needed for this shirt– from the pattern, the fabric, down to the notions– was already sitting on my shelf. I love it when that happens.

linen skirt and shirtI used this pattern for the shirt, and made a few small alterations so it would hit just below my waist. If you have a keen eye, you might notice that in spite of careful planning and meticulous stitching, I couldn’t quite manage to match the checked pattern when I sewed the side seams. I’m still pretty pleased with how close I got! The best part of this shirt is the delightfully criss-crossed back:

criss-crossed shirt backI finally wised up and realized that my love of linen is contributing to the amount of ironing I do on a regular basis, so the skirt is made of a linen/rayon blend that isn’t as quick to wrinkle and has an excellent drapability. I followed this pattern exactly.

More soon!

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raspberry jam

8 cups of raspberriesEvery summer, for a day or two, raspberries go on super sale. You can pick up a 6 oz clamshell for 99¢, and the berries are sweet, juicy, and very, very ripe. I wait for these days all year long, and I spend every one of them gorging myself on my favorite fruit. This year, that period seemed to last much longer than usual, and I found myself making extra trips to the grocery store so I could cruise through the produce section and pick up more cheap raspberries. In spite of my constant berry consumption, I ended up with towering stacks of 6 oz clamshells in my fridge, and I knew I’d have to use them up soon– before they were lost to a fuzzy blanket of white mold.

I managed to use a few cups in this cake, but it only made a small dent in my berry supply. It was time to break out the dutch oven and make some jam.

jam on the stoveIt’d been a few years since I’d last made a batch of jam, so although I didn’t follow it exactly, I referred to this recipe for instruction. The warm sugar trick is one I’ll keep in mind for all future jam-making. I ended up using about 8 cups of berries, 5 cups of sugar, and the juice of one small lemon. After a little while on the stove, the berries broke down completely, and turned into a thick, deeply scarlet syrup.

jam's doneThis is easily the best jam I’ve ever made– it was perfectly sweet, intensely fruity, and it gelled up impeccably. I ended up with six full half-pint jars and a little left over. I think I’ll hand a few out to friends and selfishly hoard the rest. Perhaps there’s a batch of linzer cookies in my future.

raspberry jamOther things:

– I got this album as an anniversary present from Nick, and it’s been playing non-stop.
This is both an effective and highly entertaining way of cleaning records. I rescued a favorite Billie Holiday album that no amount of felt-brushing could completely clean.
– I’m excited to see this movie this week!

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five down

wooden beer mug
Yesterday marks five years since I married my best friend. I’d planned an elaborate, masterfully crafted, homemade gift, but I didn’t stop to consider that my woodworking experience is limited to making canvas stretchers or that Nick is off for the entire summer, giving me no time for working on secret projects. Instead, I scoured the internet for the best wooden beer mug I could find, and settled on this one. It’s maple and mahogany, and will hold 12 ounces of delicious home brew.

smoker

One of Nick’s gifts to me was this bee smoker with a wooden bellows. I won’t get to use it until next spring when we get our hive, but in the meantime, I’m geeking out over what a cool object it is. Incidentally, I’ve discovered that my cats don’t like air blown in their faces.

The traditional sixth anniversary gift is iron, and I’m very glad to have 364 days to come up with an idea for that one. Although if they pass by as quickly as the last five years, our sixth anniversary will be here in no time! I can’t wait to find out what the coming years bring. Love you, old bean!

For past anniversaries, click: one, two, three, or four.

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spring-colored macarons

spring-colored macaronsA friend and favorite coworker of mine has recently moved on to other endeavors, and as I did the last time this happened, I took requests for her farewell treat. She had two: something with saffron, and blue, speckled, bird’s-egg macarons.

bird-egg-spotted macaronsThe bird’s-egg treatment was inspired by a newspaper article featuring coconut-laden macarons, and while I didn’t follow the recipe or present them on a cutesy faux-nest of spanish moss, I think I nailed the dark brown speckles. I used my standard recipe and flavored these with the seeds scraped from a single vanilla bean. The saffron macarons got a heaping 1/8th of a teaspoon of saffron ground up with their dry ingredients, and the green tea batch was made with a tablespoon of matcha. They were a perfect send-off for a lovely lady.

I’ve been spending my time reading in the backyard, enjoying the impossibly short flowering period of my favorite blossom, and soaking up every last second of spring, but I’ll be back with more soon.

Posted on by Jessica in Food | Leave a comment

around our house

dryer balls

 

cacti

 

compost bin

 

orange-vinegar cleaning sprayTo celebrate my reunion with our stolen camera, I snapped a few shots from around the house today. I got a few small projects completed recently, but it’s been challenging to make a dent in my to-do list without consecutive days off. It’s much too tempting to loll around the house with no agenda, like these furballs.

Although I kind of miss the romantic nature of line-drying all our laundry, I’m not sad to see the stiff socks and crunchy towels go. We’ve had a dryer for quite a few months now, and until recently, the luxury of freshly tumbled laundry (in any weather) has been enough to sustain my enthusiasm. Now that I’m inured to the idea, I figured it’s time to take it a step further and bring some dryer balls into the mix. I spent an hour or so putting together those woolen spheres in the top photo. They’ll tumble around with our drying laundry, soften it, and knock out static electricity. I followed this tutorial but used polyester fiberfill for the middle of mine. I also ended up wet felting them some by hand after they took two trips through the washer, which helped make them a little denser. Next time I run a load, I’ll put a few drops of essential oil on one of the balls, and pop it into the dryer. The question is: do I go with a typical scent, like lavender, or do I try out a weird one, like rosemary? And will it make me constantly hungry to have herbal-scented clothing?

In lieu of flowers on date night, Nick brought me the two cacti in the second photo (and an air plant which is not pictured). I love receiving plants that can keep on growing! That guy really gets me.

I finally slapped a couple coats of paint on the cedar compost bin Nick made me for valentine’s day. We’ve been tossing yard clippings and some vegetable scraps in a designated compost spot, but it’ll be nice to contain it in this lovely bin. Although bugs will find their way inside just fine, I want to pick up some red wigglers to kick-start the composting (and also because I miss having worms). The only other thing I’ll need is a tiny pitchfork for tossing and turning the bin contents, and I’ll be good to go.

I ate A LOT of oranges this winter. Since the rinds are too acidic to compost in large quantities and throwing them out seemed wasteful, I started to slip the peels into a jug of plain white vinegar. After a month or so, it turned a deep shade of orange and took on a much improved aroma. I mixed it with an equal amount of water and a few drops of lemon essential oil to make a citrus-scented cleaning spray. It smells much nicer than my usual plain vinegar and water concoction, and the lemon and orange oils contribute to its cleaning powers.

I’ll be back with more soon.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Home | 2 Comments