covers and wraps

covers and wraps
Somewhere on the list of things I worry about is my personal contribution of trash to the world. I try not get too fixated on it, but I can’t help feeling a tinge of guilt every time I throw away a piece of plastic. In an effort to curb my reliance on disposables, I spent a few hours recently making some reusable bowl covers and waxed cloth. They take the place of non-recyclable plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and they’re much more stylish than obsessively rinsing out lightly-used ziplocks like a depression-era grandmother.

The fabric bowl covers were pretty straightforward. I pulled some leftover linen from my fabric stash to use as the outer fabric, and some cotton broadcloth became the lining. I mostly followed these instructions (but without the vinyl) and added one step: I made sure the outer fabric was inset slightly when I sewed the pieces together. When the cover is turned right-side-out, the outer fabric overlaps the lining just a skosh, so you don’t have to worry about it peeking out.

My waxed cloth research led me to this tutorial, but I ended up changing things a bit. I found the jojoba oil didn’t contribute much, so I nixed it after the first test piece. Using that proportion of powdered pine rosin made my cloth kind of crunchy and stiff, so I scaled it way back and just went with a light sprinkling on subsequent pieces. I also thought trying to spread the wax with a paint brush was a little fiddly, and ended up using my fingers– but I’d advise against that method unless you’ve also built up a tolerance to high temperatures after years of burning your hands while cooking.

I made a couple eight inch squares, and three circles: twelve, eight, and six inches. I used about a half an ounce of beeswax and maybe a couple tablespoons of powdered pine rosin in total. The pine rosin lends a tackiness and flexibility that helps the waxed cloth cling well, but I’m not sure it’s worth the cost of buying outright– especially because it’s not usually sold in smaller than one pound units. Using just beeswax shouldn’t compromise much functionality, and it’s way simpler and cheaper.

waxed fabric process
So, to make waxed cloth:

– Cut some pieces of cloth with pinking shears (this helps prevent fraying).
– Preheat oven to 200ish degrees fahrenheit and cover a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
– Place one piece of fabric on the pan and sprinkle liberally with grated beeswax and lightly with powdered pine rosin, if using.
– Heat in oven until wax is melted, and use a brush or your fingers to distribute wax over the cloth. If necessary, sprinkle more wax and heat it again until you’ve got the coverage you like.
– Set aside to cool and repeat with remaining cloth.

In the end, my waxed cloth turned out fantastic. At room temperature it’s fairly rigid, but the heat from my hands softens it into something more malleable. It’s easy to shape it over the top of a bowl or form it into a parcel, and because it’s made of beeswax, it’s got that same sweet scent. So far, the fabric covers have been used on bowls of rising bread dough, and the waxed cloth has mostly enclosed leftover baked goods. The covers can be tossed right in with the wash, and the waxed cloth can be rinsed with soap and cold water and used again and again.

brownie in waxed fabric

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plants, etc.

air plant blossoming

 

seedlings

 

thai pepper seeds and chamomile

 

dewberry brambles

 

fig tree

I picked up a new air plant while on vacation last month, and as soon as I got home, it sprouted a dozen tiny purple blossoms. This is the best kind of souvenir.

We have finally started making some improvements to our sad, neglected yard, which means the planters Nick finished ages ago have finally been filled with soil and compost and are ready for planting. I went a little crazy ordering seeds, and got broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, and a few varieties of tomatoes and peppers. I have no idea what I’m doing, but my mom has near-magical levels of gardening abilities, so I’m hoping I passively acquired some of those skills in the same way I inherited hypertension and freckles. So far, my little seedlings are growing nicely in one of these. If everything works out, I’ll keep you updated on the state of my garden (and if not, I’ll never mention it again).

I thought I got a pack of duds when none of my thai pepper seeds sprouted, but after a little googling, it turns out that peppers are notoriously difficult to sprout from seeds. A couple sites suggested soaking the seeds in a weak glass of chamomile tea, so I’m giving that a try before I give up and buy a plant.

I found some wild dewberry brambles near my house, in the same place where honeysuckle grows in late spring and sunflowers sprout in the summer. I don’t think they’ll produce enough berries for jam, but you can bet I’ll be snacking on them as fast as they ripen. I might try to transplant one of the smaller plants to an empty corner of the backyard (I’ll just have to keep the chickens away from it).

Although I love cold weather and feel particularly cheated out of winter this year, I’ll always have a soft spot for spring. My fig tree is sprouting new leaves and the wee little beginnings of figs, my strawberry plants are loaded with blossoms and slow-growing berries, and my whole yard is verdant and lush.

More things:
– Saw this movie recently and it was devastating and beautiful.
– As per usual, finished knitting this tea cosy just in time for warm weather.
– Made this pie on national pie day, but I have no photos because we ate it so fast.

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chickens

Something happened in the interim between my last two posts, and that is that finally, at long last, we have chickens. The chicken plan has been in the works for quite a while, and like most of our home projects, happened piecemeal over a long period of time at a pace not suited to my charging ambitions.

the coop

Nick, in his limited free time, built me a beautiful chicken coop with a solar-powered, light-sensing door. Although it required a little fine-tuning and calibration, it is a life saver for two people that are not good at mornings. After the coop was complete, we ordered some easter egger chicks, and a short while later received a cheeping box full of five floofy baby birds. They’re named Charlotte, Matilda, Margaret, Petunia, and Leslie.

Although we got chickens for egg production, they are definitely pets first and livestock second. This is my first time owning birds, and I was surprised how goofy, sweet, and distinctly individual they are. They love to sit in my lap or on my shoulder, and Charlotte leaps up to perch on my arm every time I hold it up– like a falcon, only slightly less noble. They lay eggs in pastel shades of beige, blue, and green, which constantly reminds me of this easter candy. In short, I am pretty smitten with chickens, and here are the head shots to prove it:

Charlotte

 

Margaret

 

Petunia

 

Leslie

 

Matilda

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7

wool comicAugust was our seventh wedding anniversary. Although I started this yearly project with the intention of hand-making each gift, a lack of things like woodworking skills or access to a blacksmithing forge forced me to rethink that objective, and I opted to buy a few presents. But when you kind of specialize in fiber art and the traditional seventh anniversary gift is wool, you’ve really got no excuses left.

Nick has recently gotten back into comic book collecting, and keeps stacks upon stacks of those jewel-toned tomes in a long cardboard box in our closet (along with the handful of Wonder Woman comics that survived my childhood). His favorites tend toward the horror genre, and I’m sure he thought I wasn’t paying attention when he expounded on the difference in color quality between the 1950s Tales from the Crypt comics and the inferior early 90s reprints, but I was! A short time later, I had a copy of this in my hand, and a plan to remake it in wool.

wool comicIn theory, this plan was simple enough. The majority of the comic book would be constructed from wool felt, with small details embroidered in wool thread. You can meld two pieces of wool together with a process called needle felting, which involves stabbing the wool three thousand times with a tiny, hooked needle. The hook pulls together fibers from each piece of felt, and they become pretty securely attached without a single stitch or drop of glue. If you are really skilled, you may be able to complete an entire project without stabbing yourself once.

werewolf detail

 

text detailI’d always planned on making a felt version on the front cover, but when I saw the old-timey muscle man advertisement on the back, I couldn’t resist remaking that too. I ordered a giant stack of multi-colored felt and some wool embroidery thread from the only person on the internet selling it (and paid her exorbitant shipping fee). After many hours spent cutting out tiny bits of felt and embroidering minuscule stitches, I had a 100% wool comic book. It’s almost comical how often I manage to underestimate the scope and complexity of whatever project I’m working on, but this one really takes the cake. I’m not sure how many hours I spent on it, but it was worth all the effort for my favorite human.

For past anniversaries, click: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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white soap

white soap

I wanted to make this batch of soap as close to the archetype as possible: bright white, dense, and extremely cleansing. Most of the soap I’ve made has largely been comprised of liquid oils, which makes for a soft, silky bar without much longevity. Because the color of soap depends primarily on the color of the fats and oils used, the lightest I’d been able to achieve before now was a dull beige. Turns out if you want white soap, you can’t do much better than lard and coconut oil.

fats and oils

It’s certainly possible to make soap from just lard and coconut oil, but I decided to compromise some whiteness for a little extra moisturizing power by sneaking in a little castor oil. It made up for the coconut oil’s tendency to be drying, and contributed a super luxurious lather. This batch got a couple tablespoons of zinc oxide added at trace in an attempt to coax it a little whiter, but I always have trouble blending it in thoroughly and I’m not sure it did much. Of course, if I’m striving for exemplary soap, I gotta go with the most classic scent of all– so this batch got the last of my shaving cream fragrance oil.

This is the formula I went with:

34 oz lard
10.75 oz coconut oil
5.5 oz castor oil
19.10 oz water
7.10 oz sodium hydroxide
2 Tbsp zinc oxide

Because this was an experimental batch to begin with, this seemed like a good opportunity to test out a soap stamp. I sketched up a design and Nick 3D-printed it for me. After the soap cured for a day, it was sliced into 16 bars and each one got “childerhouse” pressed into the center of it. I’m really happy with this batch! Apart from the creamy, off-white color, it turned out exactly as I’d hoped. It’s less sumptuous than the soaps I’ve made in the past, but each bar lasts nearly twice as long, and the lather is just as rich.

Posted on by Jessica in Experiments, Soap | 1 Comment

recent developments

future strawberries

 

kombucha flavors

 

chocolate/matcha bundt

 

yellow silk moth

 

cat buds

In the fall, my mom gifted me several pots of strawberry plants, and because they do okay with little to no intervention, I have managed to keep them alive. They have started to produce tiny white blossoms, and if all goes well, in a month or so, they’ll be laden with strawberries. Apart from some herbs and a sad looking fennel plant, this will be the first edible thing I’ve grown, and a suitable test of my green thumb. I’m a halfway-decent plant caretaker, but I still do best with the ones that thrive on neglect, like succulents and peace lilies.

Recently, Nick and I have started brewing kombucha. It’s much less involved than I imagined, and all it requires is sweetened tea, a scoby, and a little time. A friend gave us our scoby and we it named Eunice, because that seemed fitting for something so languid and strange. We still need to tweak our recipe a bit, but our first few batches have been pretty close to perfect. I’ve been experimenting with the addition of different fruit purees, and I think the winner (by a slim margin) is raspberry.

Last week I made what was supposed to be a marbled chocolate and matcha bundt cake. In my haste to get it in the oven, I forgot to drag a butter knife through the batter– which meant it turned out more like a color-block bundt cake. I followed this recipe, stirring a few tablespoons of matcha into the white cake batter before spooning it into the pan. It’s not super sweet, which made the leftovers excellent for breakfast. If I were to make it again, it would definitely benefit from a drizzle of chocolate ganache.

I’ve started a new project which involves the use of butterflies, beetles, and moths. It turns out dead bugs are relatively inexpensive, which has made me pretty regretful about all the time I’ve wasted not having a collection of cool insects. The guy above is a yellow silk moth– and can you believe those antennae?! This project will be the closest to art-making I’ve come since graduating from college and I am really excited about it!

Lately I’ve been trying to come to terms with the fact that my beautiful green sofa is on its last leg. The corners are worn and frayed (no thanks to a certain orange cat), its striped velvet cushions have borne the brunt of several spills, and certain spots have become faded and discolored by years of sunlight. I’ll always remember how ecstatic I was to find it, and how lucky it seemed that it fit perfectly in the impossibly small living room of our second apartment. Because it’s handmade and likely one of a kind, there is little hope of finding a similar replacement (although I’ve spent a lot of time fruitlessly googling “green striped velvet upholstery fabric”). The plan is to dismantle it and refashion the usable pieces of fabric into some chair cushions, but I’ll always miss its first iteration.

Posted on by Jessica in Food, Home, Life | 2 Comments

spoon butter

spoon butter

I’ve amassed a decent collection of wooden kitchen implements– spoons, cutting boards, and a bowl or two– and as you can imagine, they receive a lot of use. When I’m in cooking mode, I’m not always mindful of how I treat them. My spoons see the worst abuse– they’re often left soaking in water, stained yellow with turmeric, their finish worn away with time and dish soap. Most are the ubiquitous bamboo spoons you can pick up at any grocery store, but my favorites were hand-carved by Nick out of fancy hardwoods, and they are the most-used and best-loved of the bunch. Luckily, I had everything I needed for some spoon butter on hand: a neutral, flavorless oil (I used sunflower oil), and beeswax.

beeswax

To make spoon butter, combine one ounce of beeswax and 4 oz by weight of a neutral oil in a double-boiler over some simmering water and heat until the beeswax is just melted. Alternatively, you can microwave in 30-second bursts until you achieve the same result. Pour the melted wax and oil into whatever container you’ll store it in (I used an old half-pint jar) and stir occasionally as it cools, until it’s creamy and semi-solid. It should keep for at least six months. To use, apply generously and buff off the excess with a clean cloth. Repeat once a month.

Here’s a dramatic before and after:

before and after

Also:

– Nothing quite like finding out your favorite living author has written three books under a pen name while you weren’t paying attention. I’m all caught up and dreading the long wait until the next one.
– I’ve got a bunch of bananas aging on the counter, awaiting their fate in a loaf of this.
– Re-watched this old favorite recently.

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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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