things made of cord

Unlike the low-tech potato-stamped bags of the last post, two of these cord baskets benefited from a bit of a technological intervention. When I told Nick I was planning on dip-dyeing some some things, he insisted on building me a machine that would do the work for me. As it turns out, it was exactly what I needed:

rope giftsThe yellow bag and the red basket both took a ride on the dyeing machine, and although it’s hard to tell with the yellow, you can see the subtle gradation of color on the red basket. The yellow bag was the first non-round cord creation of mine, and it was a bit trickier than the standard circular basket. After dyeing it, I attached a couple hand-stitched leather handles with some brass rivets:

rope bag with leather handlesI dyed the cord for the green and blue basket before I sewed it together. I like how it turned out, but next time I’ll probably soak the cord before dyeing it so that the color disperses a little more.

dyed rope basket close-upI’ll have some more handmade Christmas presents to show you soon!

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts | 4 Comments

how to print your own fabric with a potato

I’ve got a few fabric-printing techniques under my belt, each with its own drawbacks, benefits, and results. Screen printing is a good way to cleanly and uniformly print a lot of a complex design at once, but never seems to be a good option for last-minute projects because our photo-emulsion is somehow perpetually expired. It’s also a bit more complicated and involved, since there are many steps to go through to produce a good screen and then print with it accurately, so it’s not the most economical option for really simple projects. Freezer paper stencils can produce a print similar to that of a silk screen, but can only be used once– and depending on the complexity of the design, they can take a while to make. Stamping fabric to produce a design takes just a tad longer than the time you spend carving the stamp, which, if you’re using a potato, could take just a minute. Printing with stamps is not typically clean– there tend to be artifacts like smudges and drips, too much or not enough paint, and it can be hard to achieve a lot of detail. It’s this imperfection that I find charming and lovely, and that’s why I decided to stamp some fabric.

all you need to print your own fabricAll you need to to print your own fabric is something to print on, something to print with, and some ink.

- My plan was to make tote bags with a simple triangle print in three different colorways, and since I already had a lot of nice bottom weight cotton on hand, I decided to just make my own rather than drive to the store to buy blank bags. I cut out the pieces for each bag before printing them so I’d have no wasted fabric.
- You can find a myriad of excellent stamp-making options at your typical craft store, but if your design is simple and you don’t care about saving your stamp, a potato’s the way to go. It’s cheap, biodegradable, and if you mess up while carving it, you can just slice a little off and start over.
- I used a screen-printing ink I had on hand, but I’d imagine fabric paint would work too. Regular old acrylic paint might do in a pinch, but won’t hold up as well to washing and will crack and chip over time.

First, make sure whatever you’re printing on is clean and ready to go. I used this tutorial to make my tote bags, and had each piece cut and the components of each bag organized before I started. Next, carve your stamp:

potato stampSince I wanted to create a grid of triangles, I used a fabric pen with disappearing ink to draw a single line through the middle of my fabric. This ensured my first row was straight and allowed me to stamp repeating rows of pattern accurately.

potato stampingI tried dipping my potato stamp in paint, applying it with a palette knife, and painting it on with a brush; I found that the latter had the most consistent results. After I stamped the first row, I matched up the top corners of the printed triangles with the bottom corners of my stamp, and covered the entire piece of fabric.

all doneThe silk screen ink I used needs to be heat-set, so I ironed each piece for a few minutes, then sewed up my bags:

hand-printed bagsI love how they turned out, and I’ll definitely use this method again in future projects!

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Sewing | 17 Comments

painting and such

paintingI’m spending most of my time these days finishing up my commission so I can really get started on Christmas presents. It’s turning out pretty good, which is much better than I usually feel about things I make. Taking a three year break from painting hasn’t seemed to affect my skills, and it was pretty easy to pick it back up again. I may have to do a little more painting in the future.

Anyway, Christmas-present-making always means a little break from blogging, so don’t expect to hear much from me until the new year. I’m really excited about this year’s presents, so it’ll be hard to hold off posting about them.

In other news:

- Today I’m going to finish up my holiday music playlist– something I’ve had to work on in secret because I’m married to a Christmas music hater. What a humbug.
- These are so lovely, and so, so expensive.
- Can’t wait to get started on holiday treats with the help of this.

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fruits of the orange tree

box o' orangesWe came back from our Thanksgiving trip to Houston with full bellies, bags of leftovers, and a box of oranges. Nick’s aunt has an orange tree in her backyard, and when we went to visit, its branches were heavy with hundreds of the ripe fruit. Nick cut them off and plopped them in this box until I said it was heavy enough. I knew right away I’d be making some curd.

My go-to lemon curd recipe is from Joy of Cooking (minus the vanilla extract), but I knew the orange version wouldn’t be right for the fruit we picked– because the oranges were so sweet, I knew I’d want to decrease the sugar and add a little lemon juice for tang. This recipe calls for both those things, with the genius added step of reducing the orange juice for a more concentrated flavor. It’s pretty much perfect.

orange curd on a biscuitThe curd came out creamy, brilliantly golden, and not too sweet, and I have been eating it for breakfast every day on a freshly-baked biscuit. We saved a dozen or so oranges for snacking, and the rest were juiced into a gallon of the freshest OJ I’ve ever tasted. I think I’ll definitely need an orange tree of my own, someday.

juice and the fruit

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chocolate rose cake

rose cakeThis cake was for my mom-in-law’s birthday. We knew we wouldn’t be in town the day of, so we carted it the five hours from our house when we visited for Thanksgiving. It turns out five hours is exactly how long a buttercream frosting can hold up under the weight of several chocolate roses, because not a minute after we arrived, it started to fall apart. Next time, the cake’s going in the cooler.

My mom-in-law is a lady of simple tastes, so I went with the same flavors I used for the last cake. I made each rose out of modeling chocolate (also known as candy clay) and dusted the edges of the pink petals with an edible “pearl dust“. The modeling chocolate was really easy to work with, and very hard not to snack on. I found this tutorial pretty helpful, but I mostly just referred to pictures of actual roses. While every rose turned out pretty good, in hindsight I wish I’d planned their final arrangement a little more as I constructed them. I ended up sticking them to the cake with a glob of buttercream, and it looked a little weird from a few angles.

Luckily, the cake itself was really tasty, and I’m pretty sure everybody forgave me for its slight collapse and improvised rose placement. I hope it was worthy of my wonderful mom-in-law, who is one of the most loving, generous, and fiercely loyal people I know. Happy birthday, mom!

Posted on by Jessica in Experiments, Food, Links | 1 Comment

faux billy balls

faux billy balls
My little sister and her friends recently moved into a house in my old neighborhood in Houston. In lieu of a houseplant, I sent her some felt craspedia, otherwise known as billy balls. I was planning on writing up a tutorial on how I made them, but somebody already beat me to it. In addition to wet-felting, I went back with a felting needle to give them a little extra texture. And instead of floral wire, each is glued to the top of a long, thin stick. I also kept mine a little larger, for a more dramatic look.

She also got the milk glass vase and a batch of rosemary shortbread, because it’s crazy good and it travels well. I love sending packages.

Other news:
- I’ve become increasingly obsessed with cake decorating techniques. More on that later.
- I’m planning my thanksgiving dessert contribution with the help of this.
- I spent more time watching this yesterday than I should probably admit.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Links | 4 Comments

cucumber mint water

We got a few cucumbers in our csa a while back, and I knew it would be a challenge to use them all up. I like the flavor of cucumbers, but something about the texture is off-putting to me (I feel the same way about melons, sadly). They are delightful in pickle form, but with no less than three batches in our fridge right now (occupying more than a few jars), I decided against taking up more precious real estate. Two were used up in a huge and delicious batch of tzatziki, but with our greek food craving completely satiated, I had to come up with a use for the last remaining cucumber. Enter, cucumber mint water:

cucumber and mintI like plain water just fine, but it’s nice to jazz it up every now and then. In a medium-sized carafe, I muddled six or seven mint leaves, and added several slices of cucumber. I used a zester to score the side of the cucumber for extra fanciness, but of course, this is optional. You could also add slices of whatever fruit strikes your fancy– I think I’ll put a few lime slices in the next batch. The mint flavor will intensify a bit after about an hour, so make this ahead of time if you’re serving it to company. It’s not required that you drink it with your pinky out, but it’s fancy enough that you could.

cucumber mint water

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pintuck pillow

There’s a dearth of decorative pillows in my house. Don’t get me wrong– I’m not the type that likes to remove six or eight ruffled cushions from her bed before she can even lay down, but my sofa and chairs are almost all empty and could use a little something extra. This isn’t for lack of planning, though– there’s a whole shelf in my craft room dedicated to pillow forms, and several yards of fabric stashed away that at one time or another was meant to encase them. So, yesterday, I finally brought the two together.

pintuck pillowI spent an embarrassing amount of time looking at pillow patterns on the internet before I happened across this one. It looks pretty fancy, but luckily is the type of thing that appears to require much more effort than it really does. I followed this lovely tutorial and also used suede cloth– though in the mustard color that seems to find its way into every room in my house. I didn’t have a needle long enough to tuft the center, but I think I’ll go back and tuft it later. I’d recommend a slightly smaller pillow form or increasing the width of the fabric an inch or so, because it took both me and Nick each using both of our hands to cinch the ruffles closed. Completing this project has me inspired to make my way through all the pillow forms on my shelf, so check back for more soon.

pintuck pillow

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Home, Sewing | 7 Comments

autumn macarons

mac stackWe went out of town last weekend, and when we got back our thermostat read sixty-three degrees. I put on some flannel pajamas and a thick pair of socks, and I made myself a cup of tea.

Having spent my last three autumns in a place where all four seasons are fully represented, I prepared myself to expect a slow transition from Texas summer to fall. While it’s not scarf weather yet, I think I can safely say we’ve passed the choking heat of summer, and sooner than I expected.

In honor of cooler temperatures (and the approach of Nick’s favorite holiday), I baked a few batches of macarons. The vanilla bean cookies were made to contain the last bit of leftover frosting from this project. The chocolate and pumpkin show off some Halloween colors (although a recent bite of black sesame gelato has me thinking of ways to make that into a macaron, and it’d be perfect for Halloween, too). I filled the chocolate macarons with a whipped ganache, and the pumpkin ones with a spiced mascarpone filling, so each bite is like a little taste of pumpkin pie. I might sneak a few more from the fridge right now…

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 1 Comment

6 layer cake

6 layer cakeIn celebration of his first paycheck (and the fact that we didn’t go broke waiting for it), Nick requested a chocolate 6-layer cake. Since he hardly ever asks for anything except pizza and pancakes, I was happy to oblige. The chocolate butter cake and the silk meringue buttercream are both recipes from this book, and the filling is a simple chocolate mousse. I topped it with a few milk chocolate curls, which were not quite as easy to make as the youtube video promised.

I’ve made a few cakes in my day, and most have been both pretty tasty and pretty ugly. I can dedicate hours to baking and mixing up fillings and icings, but by the time I get to cake construction, I am usually in a hurry to be done and I do a rushed job. Tired of my usual “rustic” icing application, I decided to put some effort into it. I am pleased as punch with the results. I’m thinking I should invest in a lazy susan so I can achieve an even cleaner icing application, but it hasn’t been quite long enough since I’ve packed and unpacked my entire kitchen before I can add another item to the collection.

My newly discovered cake-making skills have me itching to make another– anybody got a birthday coming up?

Posted on by Jessica in Food, Life | 4 Comments