Jul 282014
 

Before the unveiling of my knitted interactive tree project, which is still in progress (yikes, the deadline looms), I’d like to share a peek at my process notes. I’m fascinated by the process that goes into people’s creative projects, and reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! reinforced the importance of sharing that process for me. Kleon also curates Think Process, Not Product: A Scrapbook of Creativity Behind-the-Scenes, a collection of images where folks share their own creative processes.

Here are the index card notes that travel in my knitting bag. The text is perhaps too cryptic even for knitters. But look: purple ink, sketches, and a pretty background!

tree-process1

Initially I was planning on five spheres for the treetop leaves. As I was knitting, I realized three spheres seem more reasonable for the interactive element. At least, that’s the direction I’m pursuing right now.

tree-process2

Unveiling what I mean by “interactive”…the tree will turn inside out into an acorn! I love toys with interactive elements that invite you to play. My friend Anna’s Mochomochi Land designs have been really inspiring for me in this regard, like Which Came First and the Sleepy Snake & Mischievous Mouse. And then there was that time I knit a snake big enough to eat a baby.

tree-process3

I started working on the acorn portion of the tree on Friday, and I was having trouble visualizing the inside-out connection of the two pieces. Drawing this rough sketch helped:

tree-process4

More to come on this project soon – crossing my fingers I can finish without losing too much sleep. The knitted piece debuts on Thursday, July 31! If you’re in the NYC area, come check it out as part of the group exhibit/performance/party PHOTOSYNTHESIZE: Creative Communion With Our Greener Teachers.

Jul 202014
 

This past week I switched gears in my knitting projects. For a little while I was swatching peacock-inspired lace patterns for a summery cardigan. Now that project is on hold while I work up a piece for a PLANTS art show my friend is curating.

Here’s a little sneak preview of what will grow up to become an interactive tree toy, if all goes well:

tree-sneak

I’m excited to design and make a project to contribute to an art exhibit. The short time frame is appealing: both motivating and a little terrifying, as I’ve gotta finish by the end of the month (yikes). I plan to write up and publish the pattern after the show.

Switching gears to kitchen craftings, wanna see some tasty pie?

cherry-cheesecake

Oh cherry cheesecake, your layers are beautiful and delicious.

My partner’s birthday was last week, and in continuing the tradition of making raw desserts for each other on special occasions, I prepared a raw cherry cheesecake. I mostly followed this recipe, while drawing some inspiration from this lemon cherry cheesecake as well.

Modifications from the first recipe: in the cherry pie layer, I used less coconut oil, added lemon juice, and substituted psyllium seed husk powder for xanthan gum since that’s what I had in the pantry.

As with most raw desserts, I store this cake in the freezer. Thaw for 15 minutes, add some sliced cherries, and devour.

cherry-cheesecake-slice

In addition to enjoying the occasional raw dessert, we drink a lot of tea in this household. I stopped by the tea shop near my work, Harney & Sons SoHo, for some oolong to add to Charles’ birthday gift. The only label indicating the type of tea was on an ugly bar code, which I simply can’t abide. So I labelled the bag using a little hand-lettering technique I’ve been practicing.

hand-lettered-tea

Basically you make the downward stroke of each letter thicker. I’m still a total newbie at this, practicing by making names pretty on the envelopes I address at work. Skillshare has several hand-lettering classes I’d like to check out.

hand-lettered-tea-closeup

For the tea drinkers out there, this Dong Ding Oolong is delicious, and re-steeps well – I’m sipping on a third steeping right now and it still has a nice flavor.

One day when Charles went to make some of the tea, he looked at the bag and asked, “Is this someone’s handwriting?” When I smiled excitedly and said yes, he studied it again and said, “Wait, is it your handwriting? It looks really cool!” Oh sweet bonus reward of crafting praise, I never tire of you.

Jul 132014
 
Hello delicious plate of picnic goodness! Tahini Seaweed Salad in the upper right corner

Hello delicious plate of picnic goodness! Tahini Seaweed Salad in the upper right corner

Having the Brooklyn Botanic Garden practically in our backyard is pretty amazing. I like to pop in for an hour on weekends with my knitting or a book and lounge in the grass under the cherry trees. And sometimes there are special events and the garden is open into the evening – and they actually allow you to bring food and picnic blankets! We invited some friends for a picturesque garden picnic and shared so much delicious food until the sun went down. The evening magic continued with a field of twinkling fireflies bidding us farewell.

I made Tahini Seaweed Salad for the occasion. This is definitely my favorite salad dressing of late, and I think it would work well in non-seaweed applications, too. Oo, like as a dipping sauce for summer rolls.

Tahini Seaweed Salad, adapted from Fresh: The Ultimate Live-Food Cookbook

Dressing
1 TB tahini
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TB total combination of coconut aminos and Bragg’s (Nama Shoyu or soy sauce would also work)
1 TB olive oil
1 tsp honey
1/8 tsp salt

Optional (use ’em if you got ’em)
a squeeze of sriracha
dash of garlic powder
splash of sesame oil

Blend ingredients in the blender to a creamy consistency, adding a splash or two of water if needed. Serves 2.

Salad
For the salad, mix up any veggies you like. I consider the following three essential:

seaweed (I use a handful of wakame, soaked a few minutes and strained)
tomatos
avocado

Beyond these, add whatever veggies and nuts you have on-hand. Typically I include kale, carrots, cucumber, and bell pepper, chopped finely, along with a handful of raw cashew pieces. If you feel like getting fancy, massage the kale with the dressing first before adding the rest of the veggies into the salad bowl.

Let me know if you give the salad a try! What’s your favorite homemade salad dressing?

Jul 032014
 

These last several weeks I’ve been working on a couple papercut projects here and there, which I find makes for relaxing, brief crafty sessions in the evenings. Sessions where I lose myself in the project with intense focus, but not for too long or my fingers turn into clawhand (still haven’t perfected a looser knife grip, clearly). Cutting away each little section of paper is extremely satisfying, and I love seeing elements of the design slowly emerge. This tree was my practice sheet from the papercut class at Brooklyn Craft Company (previously), taught by Bmorepapercuts.

papercut-tree

And here’s a sneak peak at the other papercut project. Bunnies!

papercut-gift-preview

I want to check out the Brooklyn Flea market in Fort Greene to pick up some frames, both for these papercuts and for an old embroidery project that needs a home.

In other papercraft project news, I thought I did pretty well this year getting my father’s day gifts ready on time. Bakery treats purchased, gift card ready to go… Oh wait, it’s 9pm the night before I need to mail the package to get it to North Carolina by the weekend and I *totally forgot* about the card! And as I’ve mentioned, I have, shall we say, a hard time going with a storebought card instead. Enter my nighttime crafting station:

fathers-day-card

I aimed for speed here rather than fretting over an interesting design. I did fret long enough to discover I didn’t like the contrast of either apple green or sage on the purple chevron, and went with a deep inky hue instead. The Hebrew letter stamps spell out (wait for it) father.

fathers-day-card2

I’m hoping to fit in lots of crafty time this long weekend, plus a long bike ride or two for my outdoor adventuring fix. Happy July!

Jun 202014
 

I finished stitching my foxy phone case!

cross-stitch-case

The day I wove in the very last ends, I showed the photo above to a friend on my phone. Then I remembered I was holding the actual completed case, and so I flipped the phone over to reveal the case itself. Mind blown! I’ve since had lots of fun with my serendipitous new party trick.

What would a project be without a few trials on the way to the finish line? A needle broke as I was trying to weave an end in behind other stitches. And then it was totally stuck. No amount of pushing, pulling, or cussing would make it budge. I left the needle there til the end of the project, finally resorting to jewelry pliers to get it out.

Shortly after the needle-breaking incident, my right thumbnail broke below the quick (ow). Since my technique involves my thumbnail rather than a thimble, it was much harder to push the needle through the case and practically impossible to weave in the ends. This slowed me down for a couple weeks, and I pulled out my knitting projects instead to keep my hands busy.

Here’s the inside:

cross stitch foxy case back

When I was stitching in public or sharing my work-in-progress with friends, several people suggested I sell the case. While a flattering notion, selling a finished case doesn’t feel financially feasible. All these tiny stitches take a long time, and I doubt folks would be willing to pay over $100 for a non-bulletproof phone case. Instead, I’m considering putting this project together to sell as a kit with the case, floss, and pattern.

Overall, I love this project. I’m digging the tactile contrast of soft cotton and hard futuristic gadget. And now I get to see and hold a brightly patterned fox every day!

cross-stitch-case-s

Dates worked: April 16 – June 7, 2014. I mostly stitched on this project while commuting, with occasional evening stitching as well.

DMC embroidery floss colors:
333: very dark blue violet
3849: light teal green
3843: electric blue
718: plum
318: light steel grey
3341: apricot
black
white sewing thread (4 strands for the eye)

Previously: weekend crafty roundup and cross-stitch in progress.

Jun 142014
 

Flavored simple syrup first got on my radar when I came across a booth filled with different flavors at my local  Greenmarket one weekend. Evolutionary Organics offers several varieties, including lemongrass, basil, mint, and a delicious super chai syrup.

And yet, it hadn’t occurred to me to make simple syrup myself until talking with a bartender during a mixology class – part of a glass-etching workshop at Brooklyn Craft Company. He made it sound so easy. Simple, even. (Hah.) Turns out he’s right!

I made a double batch for a friend’s birthday party: rosemary simple syrup and mint simple syrup.

simple-syrups

The steeping process: boil 1 part water and 1 part sugar til the sugar dissolves. Pour over 1 part herbs, and cover with saran wrap to trap in flavor that would otherwise escape with the steam while steeping. When the syrup has cooled, strain into a glass bottle (I used a funnel and tea brewing basket combo) and refrigerate.

In deciding what flavor syrups to infuse, I researched warm-weather cocktail ideas. That got me looking forward to experimenting with this summer cocktail recipe now that it’s finally warmed up here in NYC. Spring cocktails vaguely on the cheap taught me about the Schmallet, a wooden mallet used for crushing ice in a heavy canvas bag. And so at the party I couldn’t stop telling friends about the Schmallet and giggling midway through the awkward consonant cluster.

The mint syrup worked well with a gin, bourbon, lime, ginger ale, and seltzer blend that the party hosts concocted. Mixing rosemary syrup with bourbon was also really tasty. That base played well with St. Germain (elderflower liqueur) in one cocktail, and a splash of berry and lemon juice in another.

My friend really liked the flavored syrups. She said I’ve inspired her to cook items that usually seem out of reach – like these syrups, as well as pickles (more to come on that later) – which felt great. Spread the kitchen love!

May 312014
 

My big brother celebrated a round number birthday recently, and I wanted to make him something to commemorate the transition from one decade to the next.

You know how some people have a favorite creature or spirit animal? And sometimes you wonder whether friends and family members latched on to the one moment in time when that creature was said person’s favorite, and then it’s nothing but iterations of the same animal year after year, gift after gift? I worry I might be one of those people, having pigeonholed my brother into a love of elephants. And yet he’s always appreciative, and so the uni-creature cycle is reinforced!

Seven years ago I knit this little guy for my brother. He promptly named the elephant and sent me a (long-lost) photo of him and his ladyfriend posing with the newly-dubbed Freddie.

Knitted elephant, circa 2007

Knitted elephant before his cross-country journey, circa 2007

Since I had taken care of the fiber medium long ago, I turned to paint for this gift. I followed this tutorial for creating a watercolor elephant silhouette. Using an exacto knife, I cut around a photo of an elephant and then traced around the cut-out onto canvas. Adding ground for the elephant to stand on gave some weight to the piece.

elephant-watercolor

Pardon my lighting, and the stray dog hair…

The painting felt a little unbalanced, partly because the colors were so subtle, and partly because of the composition. What else could I add? Hmm, maybe the elephant wants to say something…

elephant-watercolor3

I printed up a few quotation bubbles with different phrases – using the Elephant font, natch. I enclosed a little packet of quotes and blue painters’ tape so my brother could change the elephant’s message at whim.

elephant-watercolor2

Things I’d try differently next time:
-Saturation. This was my first time using watercolor on canvas, so the washes came out much lighter than I anticipated. Next time I’ll use more pigment to try for a saturated effect.
-Attachment method. I’d like to try making the quote attachment a design feature. That way you could have the creature say nothing at all, but still have something of interest in that spot. Like a yellow velcro sun, or a magnet for metallic talkie bubbles. Laminating the bubbles and including a blank one with a dry erase marker would make for great reusable customization, too.

How would you attach the quotes? I’d love to hear your ideas!

elephant-watercolor-montage

Overall, this was a fun quick project, and better yet, my brother reported that he loves the piece (“did you make the whole thing yourself?”). He even took it with him on his birthday trip to Yosemite. Birthday crafting success!

May 182014
 

Ever since I realized I could make greeting cards myself, I’ve felt strange purchasing them. When I’m pressed for time, every once in a while I’ll buy a hand-crafted card. Despite the fact that I love supporting other crafters, I often feel guilty not doing it myself. The plight of DIY – we can’t make every single thing all of the time! Some days I recognize that and can let it go better than others.

I made a card for Mother’s Day using a sheet of my hand-marbled paper – my first project from this batch. I’m feeling quite precious about several of the sheets, and not ready to commit to a project (especially when there are so many options). As I looked through my small stack, the “second-pull” sheets called to me. Sometimes enough paint was left in the tray that I could pull another print, and the result was a subtle marbled pattern.

Those Hebrew alphabet stamps sure do come in handy

“Mom”: those Hebrew alphabet stamps sure do come in handy

The purple ink needed a little something extra to pop against the purple paper. Enter glitter glue! So glad I found my childhood glitter glue stash in my parents’ house and brought it back to Brooklyn.

Stamping tends to be my default medium for making greeting cards, along with the occasional collage element. I went to Paper Presentation for the first time over the winter…what an inspiring space! Definitely worth a visit if you have even the faintest interest in paper goods and crafts. I stopped by to shop for a notebook, and left with a few new stamps as well – both the oak tree and leaf below, shown on a card I made a few months ago.

Tree stamp, I want to use you on everything.

Tree stamp, I want to use you on everything.

My family has multiple birthdays in early February. While preparing a gift package for my brother this week, I thanked my winter self for having the foresight to make an extra card when I crafted that batch. Time crunch card crafting dilemma solved!

Up next, I’ll share the gift I made for my brother’s birthday – featuring watercolor and an interactive elephant.

Do you ever make your own greeting cards? What’s your medium of choice?

May 042014
 

My favorite Friday night activity is some variation on the following:

Crafty still life

Crafty still life

Candle lit, notebook out, and crafty supplies at the ready – a lovely way to end the week and start the weekend.

Rounding up where I’m at with my current crafty projects:

-I’m almost done cutting out interfacing for the Dorothy bag. Since moving to NYC and getting rid of our dining room table, I’ve yet to figure out a good setup for cutting fabric. Instead of continuing to avoid the bag project, I remembered that interfacing isn’t nearly as wide as fabric, and so less intimidating to cut. I made do on my cutting mat and sewing/crafty table, which is wonderfully long but not very deep – the 24″ axis of my mat hangs off on both sides. I picked up some heavy washers to act as pattern weights, and am digging this no-pin rotary cutting.

-My cross-stitch phone case is coming along nicely. I’m stitching daily on my commute, assuming I can get a seat or a good “standy-spot” – one where I can brace myself against the subway doors for balance and keep my hands free for stitching. Last weekend I was this far, sharing my work with a friend:

#showyourwork

#showyourwork

Now I’ve finished the fox face but for the eyes, and am on my third chevron stripe. I’ve decided to leave the black chevrons blank rather than stitching them, both to save time (ohman this grid is tiny), and for textural interest. My progress is going along faster now that I discovered I can cross stitch while watching a show (catching up on Mad Men season 5).

-In crafty dabbling news, I started an advanced papertcut project yesterday while volunteering at Brooklyn Craft Company. Some photos here. Our instructor, Annie of Bmorepapercuts, brought some of her amazing work to show us, including part of a huge piece – practically my height – cut out of Tyvek. My papercut is still very much in the early stages, since I spent lots of (too much) time customizing my design and getting the lettering right (you write it out backwards in this process). Also because I listened to my body and took frequent breaks when my hand/neck/back/shoulders starting aching. I need to learn a less claw-handed knife grip! The tip of my right index finger still feels vaguely tingly. I’m going to pick up a pack of exacto blades so I can continue this project at home.

I’ve been riding my newly-tuned-up bike more often, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in the botanic garden, most of my sweaters have been put away in exchange for shorter sleeves and the occasional bare legs, and spring looks like it’s finally here to stay. Happy May!

May 022014
 

Spring fever for me often means starting lots of new projects and not seeing anything get finished for a while. So to switch up the startitis pace, I’m digging into my personal crafty archive and sharing something I made last fall!

One perk of my job is that occasionally I can take one of the art classes we offer. After a few weeks of sitting in on a silk painting workshop, I came away with this:

Silk bonsai scarf

Design: I spent almost the entire first class thinking about the scarf design. The leaf image in our instructor’s templates was one of my favorites, and I wanted an interesting, curvy tree to go along with the leaves. After class I found a stained-glass bonsai tree image online, which I enlarged and modified – adjusting the number and size of the stained-glass panels, etc. The color scheme developed organically, with cobalt blue as the starting point.

Process: First you iron the silk scarf and stretch it onto a square frame, using clips or pins to attach it. Draw your design elements on paper in pencil, and then trace over with black marker (or use existing templates). Then draw the line-work onto the scarf using a gutta resist. Silk absorbs dye reeeeally well, so you need something to stop the dye from spreading if you want to have any defined color sections in your work. The resist creates a barrier so that the fabric will resist taking the dye. Dry the resist with a hair dryer.

Test the “French dyes” on scrap silk and mix colors as desired. To begin with, all dyes were diluted with a 50/50 alcohol/water solution. You can dilute the colors even further, but I skipped this step since I wanted highly saturated hues. Apply dyes to the scarf with paint brushes.

The instructor took students’ scarves to her studio and set the dye for us by steaming. After the silk was steam-set, I washed the scarf in cold water until the water ran clear, washed it again in warm water and mild detergent (Eucalan wool wash), and laid it flat to dry.

Silk bonsai scarf closeup

While I’m usually more drawn to wearing head-to-toe color than a solid black dress, it’s a great blank canvas for showcasing the scarf as a focal point.  I threw in some pops of ultramarine and cobalt blue, to tie it all together and because I can’t help myself. Here’s a shot of the scarf in action:

Silk bonsai scarf

How I usually wear the scarf: folded in half into a triangle and tied around the neck bandana-style

And a silly, blurry shot of me hanging out inside one of the office’s art supply closets:

silk-bonsai-closet

Materials: 21″ square 8mm silk habotai scarf, Dupont Silk Dyes and Sennelier Tinfix Design Silk Dyes

Resources: Lots at Dharma Trading Co: Silk painting techniques, and learn more about guttas and resists. Check out my instructor’s Etsy shop for silk painting inspiration: Leslie Silk Studio