a quilt and more

all the baby thingsEven more than I like making things, I like making baby things. And when the parents-to-be are some of my favorite people, I tend to go a little overboard.

I made my first quilt last November, and although it wasn’t perfect, it turned out better than I’d anticipated. It might seem silly to describe a process with a lot of tedious cutting, piecing, and sewing as “instant gratification”, but it’s a much quicker means to an end than my usual modes of creation (like weaving or knitting). It requires a different kind of problem solving than most of my projects, and it allows for infinite creativity. I was instantly hooked.

triangle baby quiltI was eager to make another quilt, and an impending birth seemed like the perfect opportunity. My expecting friend is waiting to find out her baby’s gender, so I let the colors she’d picked for the nursery inform my fabric choices. I also drew inspiration from the triangle motif on the rug she selected, and decided to make an isosceles triangle quilt. It seems like a simple pattern, but I still referenced this tutorial before I started (a step that kept me from messing up my seam allowances). The placement of the quilt pieces was ostensibly random, but I kept contrast in mind and tried to alternate cool and warm colors. My absolute favorite part of this quilt was looking at how the different combinations of colors played off each other.

triangle detailAfter the top was finished, I backed it with a silky microfiber sheet, and quilted it in straight lines with grey thread. The sides aren’t exactly straight, and my quilting is pretty wonky in places, but I made sure the points of each triangle were exactly aligned. Sometimes partial perfection is good enough.

folded triangle baby quilt

I also made a few pairs of these leather moccasins and knit this hat in a cozy merino wool.

More soon.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Sewing | 3 Comments

new slippers

new slippersWinter in an old, uninsulated, pier-and-beam house can be downright frigid, and no matter the temperature on the thermostat, our floors are reliably ten degrees colder. My last pair of slippers made it a good six years, but were a little worn-down and ragged when I threw them out in a fit of organization (sometime much warmer than now). After a month of toughing it with nothing but socks between me and chilly hardwood floors, I finally resolved to make a pair of slippers.

I knew I’d want to use wool for its warmth and durability, and after a lot of searching, I landed on this felted slipper pattern. I also decided I’d stitch a suede sole to the bottom of each slipper. My last pair had felt bottoms, and I figured suede would offer a big improvement in traction, and might also be less likely to attract every stray cat hair on the floor of my house. I selected a couple skeins of yarn, pulled out some scrap leather, and got to work.

(When making any felted project, it’s important to select a 100% wool yarn– blends or treated wool (like superwash) won’t felt. If you’re not sure about a yarn, it’s best to knit a test swatch and run it through a hot wash cycle before you spend a lot of time knitting.)

blue insoles

I followed the pattern precisely, but added an extra step before felting: I traced the bottom of the unfelted slipper onto asymmetric graph paper and used it as a guide to knit an “insole” in a dark blue yarn. I turned each slipper inside out to stitch on the insole, making sure not to carry the yarn through to the outside of the slipper, where it would show. This serves as a little additional padding, and should be less likely to show wear than the light gray yarn I used for the outside.

After running the slippers through a hot wash cycle, they were small and a little lumpy. To form each slipper, I put on a few socks for padding and a plastic bag to keep them dry, and stretched the still-damp slipper over each foot. Before it dries, the wool is surprisingly malleable, and it doesn’t take much effort to coax it into shape. I happen to have some lasts, so I put them into the newly-formed slippers to help them keep their shape as they dried. If you don’t also happen to own esoteric shoemaking equipment, you can just ball-up some aluminum foil and wedge it into each slipper for a similar and less pretentious effect.

When the slippers were totally dry, I put one on and traced the bottom of my foot to come up with a shape for the sole. Each sole-shaped piece of leather was stitched to the bottom of each slipper with heavy-duty sewing thread, and at long last, the slippers were complete.

I don’t usually put this much effort into anything I make for myself, but I love how they turned out, and hopefully they’ll keep my toes warm for years to come.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts | 1 Comment


Nick is not easy to shop for. Not only does he not need much, the things on his wish list are typically specialized, esoteric implements that I don’t feel comfortable buying without his input. When he actually needs something I can make him, I jump at the rare opportunity.

For years, Nick has been traveling with a nylon duffel bag emblazoned with the 1992 Olympic logo that he got by saving up Kodak film upcs. Unsurprisingly, it’s not in the best shape, so he decided to search for a replacement. When he found a bag he liked, I did my best at probably-totally-unsubtly stalling the purchase, and I ordered some 10 oz. olive drab canvas.

duffel bag
This present was probably one of the most complex projects I’ve ever completed, and an exercise in patience. Sewing really thick fabric on my dinky non-commercial sewing machine was pretty touch and go, and for some sections of the bag I had to advance the needle manually to prevent it from snapping. The first package of cotton webbing I ordered was the wrong color, and when the second was too, I ended up dyeing it (twice) so it would better match the canvas. My leather working skills are not as good as I’d like, so as soon as I finished the first strap pad, I deemed it sub-par and started a second one. It was a process.

zipper pull
Traditionally, the 8th anniversary gift is bronze. I tried to find bronze notions to use on this bag, but the best I could do was antiqued brass. This wasn’t going to cut it, so I ordered some bronze sheet metal (which, incidentally, looks exactly like the brass I’ve already got) and stamped out a name plate. It should develop a patina over time and match the antiqued brass I used for the rest of the duffel bag.

name plate
In spite of the sheer number of challenges this project presented (or, perhaps, because of them), I’m pretty proud of the outcome. It’s a really well made bag that should last a long time, and most importantly, Nick loves it!

Thank you for 8 blissful years, my love!

Click here for past anniversaries: 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Posted on by Jessica in Life, Sewing | Leave a comment

perfect pickles


It’s rare (ahem, virtually unheard of) that I set out to do something and actually achieve the ideal I am striving for. I am unendingly exacting and I don’t throw out the word “perfect” lightly, but in this case, I think it’s warranted.

For years, my go-to pickle recipe involved a boiling vinegar brine. This makes a decent enough pickle, but they’re pretty acidic, and the heat from the brine cooks the cucumbers a bit, resulting in a tragic loss of crunch. I wanted something less sour, more briny and crisp, and after exhaustive research and recipe tinkering, I got it. The resulting recipe is kind of a hybrid of the vinegar pickles I was making and the half-sour pickles you’d find in a typical deli. The brine is cooled to room temperature before it’s introduced to the cucumbers, which means they stay nice and crunchy. There’s still a bite of vinegar, but not too much.

This recipe is for one quart jar’s worth, but it’s easy to scale up or down. You could use fresh dill in place of dill seed, but I find it gets weird and limp after sitting in brine, so I stick with seeds. Feel free to up the garlic for extra garlicky pickles, or toss in some hot peppers or additional crushed red pepper for a spicier version. Because these pickles aren’t made with the cleansing aid of a boiling acid and because they ferment at room temperature, there’s a bigger risk of funky bacteria growth. It’s crucial to sterilize all your jars and lids and to wash your cucumbers well.

sliced cucumbers

Perfect Pickles:

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp canning salt (or non-iodized kosher salt)
3 to 4 large pickling cucumbers
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp dill seeds
4 black peppercorns
pinch of crushed red pepper

Combine the water, vinegar, and canning salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and stir until the salt is dissolved and the brine comes to a low boil. Allow it to cool completely to room temperature. In the meantime, sterilize any jars and lids you’re using and wash and dry the pickling cucumbers thoroughly.

Whatever shape you prefer your pickles to be, make sure you remove the blossom end of your cucumbers (it releases an enzyme that keeps the pickles from staying crunchy). Cut into spears or coins, or leave whole. Add remaining ingredients to the jar and pack the cucumbers in as tight as possible so they won’t float when the brine is added– any cucumbers that are exposed to air won’t be as crunchy. Pour in the brine, leaving at least a half inch of air at the top of the jar. Let it sit at room temperature for 1-3 days or until the cucumbers are pickled to your liking (I usually try one every 24 hours or so). Once they taste right, move them to the refrigerator.

picklesI split this batch between two pint jars and added some aurora and thai chilies. They’re amazing atop a burger, but at my house they are mostly eaten straight from the jar with a fork. They’ll keep for a few months in the fridge (if they last that long).

Posted on by Jessica in Food | 2 Comments

petal-dyed yarn

petal-dyed yarnA couple weeks ago, my mom drove up from Houston with a paper bag of freshly-picked blossoms and a jar of alum, and told me we were going to dye with flowers. Although I color things occasionally with fiber-reactive dyes, I have pretty limited experience with the natural variety. Usually, plants are used to create a dye bath that tints fibers one color, but we decided to used a variety of different petals to produce a multicolor-speckled yarn. It’s a great project to try if you want to dye something without investing in a lot of materials or equipment. Here’s what you need:

Fibers: This process can be used to dye any kind of natural fibers, but animal fibers (wool and silk) produce much darker and more vibrant colors than plant fibers (cotton, hemp, etc). You can over-dye fibers that have already been colored, but usually get better results when you start with a lighter base color. Synthetic fibers (or blends containing them) will not hold dye well. I used a couple skeins of undyed, 100% alpaca yarn.

Dyes: We used the petals from a variety of flowers, but there are a ton of plants you can use to naturally dye yarn or fabric. Onion skins, cabbage, beets and turmeric are all great options that you can pick up from the grocery store. My mom brought up some flowers from her garden (marigolds, zinnias, salvia, dianthus, rock rose, begonias, and penta), but we also gathered some from around my backyard (mexican hat, coreopsis, turk’s cap, roses, dandelions, trompillo, and retama blossoms).

flowers for dyeing

Mordant: To get the pigments in your dyes to bind to fibers, you need to introduce a mordant. Without it, you may get similar results initially, but any color the fibers picked up would fade over time. The mordant we used was alum, which you can find in the spice section of most grocery stores. We also added a little cream of tartar, which helps brighten colors.

Heat: Another important step that locks in the color from your dyes is heating the fibers. One method is to steam the yarn in a basket above simmering water, but this method requires a little active participation. If you’re lucky enough to own an immersion circulator, you can put your yarn in a plastic bag and hold it at the perfect temperature in a water bath, sous-vide style. Alternatively, you could create a similar set up in a slow-cooker set on “low”. Whatever method you use, be careful with wool: heat and agitation leads to felting, and it won’t matter how lovely your dye is if you end up with one giant blob of wool.

To petal-dye yarn, the first step is to create a mordant bath. There’s a lot of differing information out there about the best mordant to fiber ratio, but here’s what we used:

1 1/2 tbsp alum
1/2 tbsp cream of tartar
1 liter water

Combine the above, and mix until the powders are dissolved. This makes enough mordant to soak a 50gr ball of yarn at a time. We let our yarn soak in the bath for about half an hour, but you can leave it for up to a day. If your yarn is wound in a skein, be sure to get out as much air as possible, so all of the fibers are well saturated with mordant. While the yarn soaks, prepare your petals. Because winding the yarn is pretty tedious, I try to get everything ready to use so that step goes a little quicker. Remove stems and leaves from your flowers and separate individual petals. Put them all in one spot so you can grab them easily.

petals on a plateAfter the yarn is done soaking, remove from the bath, squeezing out excess liquid. The yarn needs to be damp as you wind it, so reserve the mordant liquid in case it starts to dry out. Start winding the yarn into a ball, tucking petals in as you go. We found this process was easiest if the skein was in a deep bowl, so it couldn’t move around too much. The number of petals you use is up to you– I wound the yarn a few times around the ball between each addition.

petals and yarn

When you’ve finally finished winding, wrap the yarn ball in foil to keep the petals and yarn in place. If you’re steaming the yarn, put the foil ball straight into a steaming basket above a simmering pan of water, making sure that it never reaches a full boil. Cover with a lid, and refill the pan with water as necessary. To heat in a slow-cooker or with an immersion circulator, put the foil ball in a ziplock bag, releasing as much air as possible. I added a couple of butter knives to my bag to weigh it down and prevent it from floating. If using a slow-cooker, add enough water to the basin to cover the yarn, and set it on low. If you’re sous vide-ing your yarn, the ideal temperature to set the immersion circulator is around 180 degrees Fahrenheit (we already had a lamb shank going at 167, and that worked just fine). Heat the yarn for at least a couple hours, and up to 6.

When you’ve finished heating the yarn, remove the foil and allow it to cool some before unraveling it. I wound the yarn around my forearm to keep it neat as I removed petals. When all the petals have been separated, rinse the yarn under cool water for a couple minutes. Blot with a clean towel and dry flat. Marvel at the beautiful, funfetti spots!

Note about flowers: Because we were just experimenting, we used a variety of flower petals without any real expectation. Not all of the flowers we picked dyed our yarn, and some just left brown spots. If you want to test a particular blossom before you permanently color your yarn, crush a petal on a piece of yarn or cotton muslin that has soaked in the mordant bath. If it’s got a good amount of dye in it, it should leave a mark. We found marigolds and coreopsis left the best yellow and orangey spots; turk’s cap, salvia, and pink penta left peachy to hot pink marks; dianthus, mexican hats, and purple penta ranged from purple to denim-blue.

petal-dyed yarn swatch

I’m so pleased with how this yarn came out! I wasn’t expecting such vibrant, varied color from natural dyes. Although we used a lot of wildflowers and garden plants, this would also be a great way to preserve a special bouquet. Now I’ve just got to find a knitting project worthy of this lovely yarn.

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts | 5 Comments

five things





mulberries in a basket


homemade yogurt


giant leopard moth
A few weeks ago, this three-toed box turtle walked right up to our back door. Although her species is native to the area and her shell is scuffed and weathered, she seems too tame to be a wild turtle. There’s no way to tell her exact age, but she looks like a wizened old lady, so we named her accordingly– Winifred (or Winnie for short). She always seems to be smiling, and it does not bother her at all that both the cats and the chickens approach her with suspicious interest. I’m really glad she’s low maintenance, because this house is at full pet capacity.

I once tried to cultivate my own sourdough starter, and when it developed streaky orange mold on the second day, I dumped it out and gave up for seven years. Happily, my second go at it worked out just fine. I used this guide, and after trying a few different sourdough recipes, decided I like a low-hydration loaf (similar to this one) because of its regular crumb structure and sturdy slices. I can’t wait to experiment with different flours and incorporate wild yeast into other types of bread recipes. It feels like magic to create something as substantial as bread from just flour, water, and salt. I’ve been eating it every morning with a thick schmear of homemade cultured butter and a drizzle of mesquite honey.

Our mulberry tree really went crazy this year, so last week I spent some time picking berries while the chickens foraged on the fallen, over-ripe fruits on the ground. Red mulberries are pretty underwhelming in the flavor department, but they have a lovely, delicate texture and you can dress them up with a little lemon juice. I made a cobbler and some compote, and next I’ll whip up a batch of muffins with the buttermilk leftover from that cultured butter.

Recently, I’ve gotten back in the habit of making weekly batches of yogurt. It’s a little bit of work, but somehow the homemade kind tastes infinitely better than grocery store yogurt. The leftover whey makes an excellent fertilizer (especially for low-ph-loving plants), and a very welcome chicken treat. And because I will find any excuse to use up eggs, I’ve also been making orange curd to spoon into the bottom of each jar of yogurt (this batch got some of that mulberry compote, too).

Back in April, I found a spiky woolly bear caterpillar while doing yard work. I put him in a jar with a stick and some dirt, and fed him a steady diet of dandelion greens and thistle leaves. A couple weeks later, he formed a shiny black cocoon, and after what seemed like forever, he emerged as a giant leopard moth. We set him free by the back door, and after hanging around for a day, he took off into the world. I was kind of relieved to have one less creature to take care of, but I’ve just found ten black swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel, so the process begins again.

Other things:

This is a great way to use up six whole eggs and is like a weird and delicious amalgam of brownies and chocolate mousse.

– I binge-listened to this entire podcast in under 24 hours, and I wish I’d never heard it so I could listen to it again.

– After a series of mishaps and setbacks, my garden is finally on its way.

Posted on by Jessica in Chickens, Food, Gardening, Home, Life | Leave a comment

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




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.

Posted on by Jessica in Gardening, Home, Life | Leave a comment


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:










Posted on by Jessica in Chickens, Life | Leave a comment


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

Posted on by Jessica in Crafts, Life | 3 Comments