hand bags

hand bag

Last month, I gave my mom and sisters some hand bags. I was only thinking about how much I like hand motifs when I decided to make these, and the pun was a bonus. They’re identical in construction to the potato-printed bags from a few years ago, but were printed with hand-carved rubber stamps instead of the root vegetable variety. I used a heavy canvas so they’re extra durable, and each bag was decked out with its own zipper pocket, complete with a tiny hand charm:

zipper detailInside each pocket was a jar of skin balm made by my lovely friend Eleanor. It’s magic for dry skin, and you can pick some up here.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Sewing | 1 Comment

shaving soap

shaving soap

This year, all the dudes in my life got some shaving soap for Christmas. I’d run across a few different recipes in my research, but what really clinched the deal was finding a fragrance oil that smelled like shaving cream (which, as everyone knows, is one of the best scents on earth). I used this recipe (but subbed shea butter for the cocoa butter) and poured the soap into thrifted mugs. It got a month-long cure, during which time my dining room was filled with the essence of barbasol. I was almost sad I had to give it away, but I’ve got plans in the works to make a batch of shaving-cream-scented soap just for me.

lathered up

Each mug was paired with a badger-hair brush for working up a rich, creamy lather.

More soon.

Posted on by Jessica in Soap | 2 Comments

things lately

handwoven towels

 

new leaves

 

organizing craft supplies

 

peanut butter cookies

 

new hat

 

soap stacks

After I finally finished weaving, serging, and hemming those dishtowels, I realized I forgot to account for how much the non-mercerized cotton would shrink in the wash. As soon as I took them out of the dryer, it was clear they’d turned out absurdly small. I haven’t decided if I’ll give any away or if I’ll keep my shamefully tiny dishtowels to myself, but they provided a good weaving refresher either way.

I love it when my umbrella plant sprouts new leaves. I think I can add this one to the short list of sad, clearance houseplants I’ve impulsively bought and successfully rescued.

Recently I spent an afternoon organizing all my notions, writing utensils, and other small craft items into an old slide file. There are mounds of fabric and teetering stacks of art supplies spilling over most of the surfaces in that room, but I can find a little relief from the chaos in those well-ordered rows of pencils and string.

Those salt-flecked cookies you see above are probably the closest you can get to eating peanut butter straight from the jar (but in cookie form). I was skeptical that a flourless cookie would have very much structure, but they are plump and moist, with craggy, bronzed edges that crisp as they bake. I think the next iteration will have to contain chocolate in some form.

As soon as the temperature dropped below 70, I dug a skein of chunky yarn out of my stash and knit myself this hat with a giant pom-pom. I also bought a few yards of wool fabric so I can sew myself a new winter coat, but I think that project will have to wait until after Christmas.

Those stacks of soap were wrapped in paper, labeled, and sent off to my sister, who’s selling them at the coffee shop where she works. Two are slightly improved versions of the soaps from last year, but the third is a new cascara/chamomile blend with a lovely mild fragrance. If you are in Houston and you want to pick up a bar, you can find them here.

That’s all for now.

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finally, a loom

the loomThis loom has actually been folded-up in the corner of the dining room for a little while, waiting for a warping board. It’s a second-hand Leclerc, and I find myself describing it with feminine pronouns and wondering if I should give her a name, as one might designate a boat or a car. I was happy for the delay that warping board construction afforded, because it’s been a few years since I had to load a warp on a loom, and it’s not very much fun. My preferred method of learning new things (or re-learning, in this case) is to just wing it and analyze the outcome, but weaving is too technical– it relies so much on math and precision, and there are too many factors that affect the end result. And, let’s be real– there’s no way I’m spending three hours stringing thread through heddles on a whim.

heddles and stringLuckily, it wasn’t too hard to pick back up, and there were only a couple times I had to guess and hope for the best. I decided to start with a striped warp of unmercerized cotton, which I’m weaving into dish towels. This way, even if it’s a terrible disaster, the finished product will be functional.

future dishtowelsNow that I’m done with the tedious part, I can enjoy the process of weaving. There is something deeply comforting about its repetition, and in creating something which will be handled and put to use. It’s been nice remembering the little things I forgot I missed, like the creaky heave of the pedals and the sigh of string through the reed. I’ve barely begun, and I’m already thinking about what I’ll weave next.

Also:

– I just finished this incredible book, and I wish it never had to end.
– Can’t wait until October 23rd.
– Today is the right kind of day for a batch of this.

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six years

year six branding iron

This year’s anniversary post is a little late because it required Nick’s input. Traditionally, year six calls for an iron present, but I decided to be less literal about it. This gift is totally non-ferrous, but it’s technically an iron, so I think it counts. Nick created a design (inspired by this) and I sent it off to a company that mills solid aluminum into a brand. He can use it on handmade furniture, art crates, or whatever else strikes his fancy. We have already tested its culinary applications.

Because most of our photos together are cell phone selfies featuring cats, we decided to break out the real camera. This had the dual purpose of capturing our portrait and working through the backlog of expired film taking up room in my freezer.

year sixThanks for being mine for six sweet years, bub.

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

Posted on by Jessica in Life | 3 Comments

red, white, and blue macarons

red, white, and blue macaronsI made these macarons for a friend’s baby shower a few days ago, and it just so happened that the nautical-themed colors coincided perfectly with the July fourth holiday. Vanilla bean and red velvet are two flavors I’ve baked before, but the blueberry was a new one. I added a heaping tablespoon of blueberry powder (made by whirring some of these in a spice grinder) and each sandwich got a kiss of blueberry jam and a dollop of blue-tinted mascarpone frosting. Next time I’ll double the blueberry powder and up the jam so each bite is packed with a more intense blueberry flavor. Precisely ten minutes after I finished piping the last macaron, it dawned on me that parchment paper might be sold in sheets rather than in a roll, and it is! I don’t know how it took me so long to figure this out, but my macaron game is about to get a lot better now that I no longer have to fight the creeping edges of curly parchment. I wish I’d had this epiphany sooner!

Because these macarons served as party favors, I finally got some use out of this impulse buy from last year: macaron boxes!

macaron boxI’m always grateful to be an American, but this Independence Day is made much more poignant and meaningful after the recent and long-overdue supreme court ruling. I’m so proud to live in a country that champions equality. Happy birthday, America!

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 1 Comment

honeysuckle jelly

honeysuckle jelly
There are few things in the world that I love as much as the scent of honeysuckle. One whiff and I am seven years old, barefoot in the backyard with my brothers, pulling apart the wispy blossoms to find the single drop of nectar inside. Even if you’re not the nostalgic type, it’s impossible not to appreciate these tiny ombre flowers and the way their heady fragrance marks the end of spring. I decided to preserve this fleeting moment with a batch of honeysuckle jelly.

picking blossoms

 

basket of honeysucklesI followed this recipe, which calls for four cups of honeysuckle flowers. The vine by my house is particularly prolific, so I grabbed a basket and filled it with hundreds of the butter-yellow blossoms. The honeysuckle was then steeped in hot water, creating a really potent, aromatic infusion that’s used as the base of the jelly. I found that a lot of the delicate flavor cooked out as I boiled it to gel point, but the result is still delicious– sweet and faintly floral, with some brightness from the added lemon juice. So far, my favorite jelly application is to spread it on a piece of toast with some fresh ricotta. This batch yielded ten four ounce jars, but I have a feeling it won’t last long.

honeysuckle jelly on toast with ricotta

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 4 Comments

this and that

mirror/cat

 

vintage juice glasses

 

lemon-poppy seed soap

 

color-swirled marshmallows

Here are a few recent things not worthy of their own post:

Up top is an incredible mirror I got my mom as an early mother’s day present (and also, Pip, pretending to be majestic). It’s so precisely carved and in such intricate detail that you hardly notice what it’s reflecting. I wanted to keep it for myself, which is probably a sign it’s a wonderful gift, right?

We got an unexpected package in the mail containing eight superlative juice glasses, a belated christmas gift from some dear friends. I’ve kept two out for daily use, but the rest are tucked away safely. They’re nearly too pretty to drink from.

I made a batch of lemon-poppy seed soap a while back, and in many ways, it turned out better than I could have hoped. Completely by accident, the batch gelled, which means it’s more shiny and translucent than a normal batch of soap– a nice feature for a bar embedded with poppy seeds. Nick made me a few molds, so the soap set with perfect squared corners and straight edges, which made it much easier to cut into uniform bars. The recipe is one I concocted to use the oils leftover from the christmas soap experiment, and although it was untested and entirely made up, it resulted in a better batch than the recipe I used then. This is my new go-to soap base:

12 oz canola oil
8 oz castor oil
16 oz coconut oil (76 deg)
10 oz olive oil
4 oz shea butter
19 oz water
7.04 oz lye

To make it lemon-poppy seed, I added 1.5 oz lemon essential oil and a quarter cup of poppy seeds at trace. It’s got an excellent lather and it smells like dessert.

Nick had the genius idea to partially swirl food coloring into a batch of marshmallows, and my only regret is that nobody thought of it sooner. The ribbons of dye formed technicolor striations and made for some trippy looking s’mores.

Other things:

– I’ve made this cake twice in as many weeks, and I already have plans to make it again. It’s that good.
– My antique mall luck has been off the charts lately– I’ve had my eye out for one of these for AGES, and I finally found one.
– I’m spending every second there’s cool, breezy weather listening to mountain man with the windows open, trying to enjoy this season before the onslaught of summer heat.

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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

Posted on by Jessica in Experiments, Soap | 1 Comment