February 28, 2011

Emerging from the Cold


I do believe spring is on its way! I know it is not quite March, we still have three weeks of official winter, and it is certainly cold and snowy here. The bright sun, chirping birds, and longer daylight keep me hopeful that the seasons will, indeed, change. Warmer days and green growth will reappear, even if it is a little early to be expecting spring.

This winter I have been doing a lot of behind the scenes work on Seedling Design. Many of my ideas have been circling around eco friendly and green living. I am working on adding more items that you can use to make every day green. I believe that we can all make small changes that really do add up. I hope that my one of a kind, handmade items can help everyone make small changes for a greener world.



I always feel slightly awkward using the term "green" because it can be over used and not very meaningful. I recently read this article and the note that inspired it. I discovered the idea of bright green environmentalism which makes me want to focus on items that can be vibrantly green. I want to continue crafting things that are made to last, that combine beauty, utility, and small solutions. While a reusable bag isn't an example of great innovation, I am trying to create more items that are useful everyday. But I stress that every day green doesn't have to be boring, dull or lacking in color. I am striving to make every day vibrantly green.

I intend to share more of my ideas for vibrantly green handmade living here and I'll be sending out a newsletter with shop and blog updates and more (there's a sign up form over to the right if you are interested). It will still be some weeks until I can truly welcome spring, but after all this behind the scenes work and I'm excited to have new designs and brightly colored items emerging out of winter's work.

February 25, 2011

Creative Process Interview with Marisa McClellan

 Marisa McClellan is the creator of Food In Jars, a blog filled with all kinds of ways to make, keep, eat, and use canned goods. She shares creative recipes, tips and great information about preserving, cooking, and baking. I always enjoy reading her thoughts, learning from her knowledge, and being inspired by her ideas. I am delighted that she took the time to answer my questions and share some of her thoughts on creating. 

Tell us a little bit about your work space
As a food writer, my creative work time is split fairly evenly between my kitchen and a nook in the den my husband and I share. We live in an apartment that belonged to my grandparents for its first 36 years of life, so it’s a space that is more than a little quirky and deeply familiar to me.

What goes on in there?
I spend my time in the kitchen chopping, cooking, straining and finally preserving fruits and vegetables in jars. My kitchen is all of 80 square feet, which is both a blessing and an infernal frustration. The size forces me to be organized and work a project through to completion, but I wish for a larger, more modernized space on a near-daily basis. When I’m in the den, I’m writing (or trying to). Sometimes I get distracted by my husband’s Lego collection.

What do you like about it?

My kitchen is galley-shaped. Like that configuration or not, it certainly maximizes the available space.

What would you change about it if you could?

The kitchen in our apartment has not changed significantly since the apartment was finished in 1966. Its vintage look is charming in its way, but after 45 years of use, everything is starting to fall apart. Additionally, the stove is vexing simply because of its design. It’s a model in which the oven is over the cooktop. That means when you have pots on the front two burners, it’s nearly impossible to work on the back burners without scalding yourself.

What motivates you to create?

Essentially I start to go crazy when I’m not cooking, writing or taking pictures. I do it so I don’t spend my entire life on the couch, watching myself into a reality TV-induced stupor. The fact that there’s such a practical outcome (loads of canned goods to be gifted and eaten all year) is something of a bonus.

What stalls or inhibits your creative process?

I really struggle with the shorter days of winter. I use my camera every day and when I’m leaving for work in the dark and coming home in the dark, the lack of natural light for making images of what I’ve cooked starts to eat at me.

Tell me about a project or something you have made that you really love or find really exciting.

I’m currently working on my very first cookbook and it’s been an amazing gift to have the opportunity to do it. Of course it’s not always easy going, but pushing myself to make something that’s bigger than I’ve ever done before has been a remarkable experience.

Can you talk about some things that you have learned from mistakes or failures?

One of the things I’ve learned from my failures is that I’m far more likely to fail when I’m really exhausted. Sometimes its better to let that batch of fruit get a bit over ripe than it is to force myself to the stove when I know I’m not equipped to handle it.

Do you ever have doubts about your creations or creative process? How do you keep them away?

I sometimes have doubts about the field of food writing. There are so many people who are doing it, or trying to do it, that I sometimes wonder whether it was a wise choice on my part. What makes me so special to think that I’ll be able to succeed in this area above so many others? The thing is, it’s the only work I’ve ever done in my life that felt natural and seemed to come from within me. When I remember that, I’m able to shake off the doubts (which are most often brought on by situations in which I compare myself to others) and start plugging away again.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for people who want to create more or people who are trying to earn a living from creating?
Get to know landscape before you dive in. Find a niche that works for you and do your best to comfortably occupy that space (but don’t force it). Be generous. When you start to get a little attention, do your best to shine a light on others who are doing good work in the same area. Keep learning and share what you know. 

I've been posting this series every Friday for several weeks. You can see other interview with creative women here.

February 23, 2011

This Week

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This week I am:  

Working on new bags, some colorful new items, and aprons for spring. 

Listening to podcasts. I enjoy learning things and hearing stories while I work. I especially like This American Life, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and Planet Money. Do you have any that you would suggest? For music, I've been revisiting Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine.

Reading the latest issue of The New Yorker. I also just finished The Great Gatsby for my book club. I recently, finally, got a library card so I am excited to find more good books there.

Forgetting to practice my fiddle and get outside more. 

Looking forward to finishing and launching my Seedling Design website (hopefully next week), redesigning this blog, and starting my newsletter (link to sign up for it in the side bar!)

What have you been working on, reading, listening to, forgetting or looking forward to lately?

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February 21, 2011

Whole Wheat Maple Walnut Sticky Rolls for a Lazy Sunday

maplewalnutstickyroll

Last week the air smelled of spring. I walked on the sunny side of the street, wearing only a sweater and a scarf for warmth. It was such a welcome break from temperatures frozen around zero degrees. Of course, in February, I don't expect that to last.

In the past 24 hours we have gotten at least a foot of snow, but I'm not complaining.

Sometimes I just need a break and while I wasn't planning to go anywhere or do anything on Sunday, the snow helped me feel cozy and just where I wanted to be. This is the time of the year when everyone grows sick of winter and snow, but I don't mind a little more hibernation.

I often imagine winter as the time when I will lay low, catch up on reading and the pile of other projects that I haven't worked on in the summer or fall. In reality, I am as busy as ever in winter. I don't get as much time to knit, bake, and be cozy doing very little as I would like.

To remedy this, I sometimes plan for a day to do nothing. As you know, if you are busy most of the time and don't have regular evenings and weekends off, a day with no set plans or projects to accomplish is a huge luxury. Sometimes these days off are filled with serendipitous wanderings and small adventures, but on this snowy Sunday I hardly left the house. I had magazines to read, a movie to watch and that's about it.

Occasionally I thought, Oh, I should really work on... But no, not happening today.

Though I intended to do very little, I make a batch of sticky rolls that paired perfectly with the lazy, snowy Sunday that I was trying to achieve. They are sweet, soft and decadent, but the whole wheat flour keeps them down to earth.

Sticky rolls seem like something that would be too labor intensive and take too long for a relaxed Sunday morning. Actually they fit in very well. I mixed the dough the night before, took it out of the fridge in the morning and cuddled back into bed for an hour or so. I got up again to roll out the dough and then let it rise. If you are feeling ambitious you could take a walk while the dough expands, maybe invite some friends over since this recipe makes plenty to share. Once the oven is ready it doesn't take long for them to bake. Let them cool a little while you make tea and cut up fruit (or continue relaxing in whatever way you please) and then you have breakfast for a lazy, cozy Sunday.

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Whole Wheat Maple Walnut Sticky Rolls
This recipe is adapted from Molly Katzen's Sunlight Kitchen. I use all whole wheat flour which makes for a softly textured roll with plenty of flavor. I recommend making the dough the night before so you have less to do in the morning. Also, letting the flour "soak" in the dough overnight makes it easier to digest. I've tried this with both maple sugar and brown sugar, they both work fine. You can substitute pecans instead of walnuts.

For the Dough:
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 1/3 cups whole wheat flour

For the Filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons maple sugar

For the Stickyness:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Place the warm water in a medium sized bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and let stand for about 5 minutes. Measure the yogurt into a 2 cup measure add the egg and beat to combine. Mix in the sugar and salt. Pour the contents of the measuring cup as well as the melted butter in the yeast mixture. Add2 cups of the flour, one cup at a time. Add additional flour as needed to create a smooth and soft but sticky dough. Let rise for one hour, OR refrigerate for up to 4 days until you are ready to use it.

If the dough has been refrigerated, let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. Grease two eight inch round cake pans or a baking tray and set aside. Using parchment or another non-stick surface (since the dough is so sticky you might want to spray your surface with non stick spray or grease it with butter) prepare the dough. Stretch it and spread it into approximately 10 by 16 inch rectangle. Spread the softened butter on the dough. It doesn't have to cover every single surface of the dough, but it should be evenly distributed. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle evenly on the buttered surface of the dough. Starting with one of the long ends, roll up the dough into a tight spiral and pinch the end to seal it. Let it rest while you make the stickyness.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Add the sugar and stir until is melted into the butter. Once the sugar is liquid, add the maple syrup and stir just until the mixture is uniformly combined. Remove from heat and pour into the pan or pans. Sprinkle the walnuts on top of the syrup. Gently cut the rolled dough into about 16 equal pieces and place them, spiral up, into the pans of syrup. You can lean them against each other, or keep them an inch or two apart. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise for about an hour. 

Before the hour is up, preheat the oven to 350'. Bake the sticky rolls for about 20 minutes, until they become golden brown on top and completely baked inside. Remove from the oven and place them sticky side up on a serving plate. If there is extra syrup, spoon it on top of the rolls. Let the rolls cool for at least 20 minutes before eating so you don't burn your mouth. They taste best within a few hours of baking.

February 18, 2011

Creative Process Interview with Jamie and Carmen from City Chic Country Mouse

This week we have the privilege of hearing from a creative team. Mother and daughter Carmen and Jamie are the women behind City Chic Country Mouse. They make all kinds of fun and practical items in beautiful fabrics. I wish I had an ironing board just so I could get one of their lovely covers (and maybe also for ease of ironing fabric). It's great to hear about how these ladies became a business and creative team as well as family. Be sure to check out their shop and their blog to see more. 

First, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
We are a mom and daughter shop which we named after our nicknames for each other. Carmen (Mom or "Country Mouse") and Jamie (daughter or "City Chic"). We gave each other these names based on where we live and our quirky characteristics due to our geographical locations. For example, City Chic must always drive when Country Mouse visits her in the city (traffic can be scary for a Country Mouse!). We make each other laugh frequently because of our differences.

We specialize in sewn items designed to make your household chores more cheerful, fun and lovely.  From the sewing/craft studio to the laundry and kitchen we enjoy bringing style to these everyday tasks. It all started when Country Mouse handed down a thirty year old Singer sewing machine to City Chic and falling in love with some fabric at a local fabric store. Who knew it would blossom into an unbelievably enjoyable joint venture?!?

Tell us a little bit about your work space.
City Chic and Country Mouse is a team effort, and we are each lucky enough to have our own dedicated sewing space in our homes. City Chic: my space is currently in transition from an upstairs extra bedroom and is moving to the lower level family room (this used to be known as the "man room") see photo, below. I purchased an expedit bookshelf and desk from Ikea (I think every crafter should have a big shelving system to keep organized!). This room is much larger than the bedroom, however I do wish it had a door that I could close when I have a big mess to hide (being creative can be a messy process!).
  

Country Mouse: my space is a spare bedroom in which we removed the closet rod and installed shelving for fabric (photo below).  My husband found a gorgeous antique library table and a drafting table over which we placed a countertop which works great for my cutting table. A long, narrow Ikea table holds my sewing machine and serger, allowing lots of room for extra large items like quilts. An additional Ikea shelving unit holds more fabric, books, etc. I have great natural sunlight, however there's never enough space, and I keep threatening to knock out a wall to expand into the adjoining bedroom!
  
What motivates you to create?
We find it's important to make time to get out of the studio and visit exhibits and craft shows when they're in the area. For example, we made the trip to an Apron Exhibit at a local museum when it was in town. A trip to view other creative peoples' work always helps us to refresh. It’s easy to spend all of your time sewing, but getting out and trying new things really does help bring new inspiration to the items you create.

What stalls or inhibits your creative process?
There are lots of distractions when you sew at home. There are dogs and husbands that need attention, meals to cook, and the house always needs cleaning! We try to dedicate about 1 weekend a month to get together and sew with as little distraction as possible. We plan easy meals and prepare as much of our projects ahead of time in order to make the best use of the weekend sewing marathon, as we like to call it.


  
What or who helps to support your creative work?
We are lucky to be a mother-daughter sewing team and thankful we have each other for support. When one of us gets busy with life, the other one is always ready to step up and take on more of the responsibilities for sewing and running our etsy shop.

Can you tell us about some of the lessons you have learned in the process of making?
Often we have what seems to be a great idea for a new item but after making a first sample discover it's either far too labor intensive or just doesn't rate high enough on our cuteness scale. Over time we've learned when it's best to scrap an idea and move on to something else or continue re-working a design.

Do you have any words of wisdom or suggestions for other creators?
It’s so exciting to dream of earning a living from your creations! There are lots of helpful books on the subject, two of the most recent ones on our shelf are The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin and Creative, Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco and Joy Deangdeelert Cho Here are a few things that work well for us:

Take beautiful pictures: if you sell online, your photo of your creation needs to be bright and clear. Practice taking photos in different rooms to find the best lighting. Try out different props and styling. Edit your photos (we love using Picnik).

Have a variety of income: Don’t depend on just one item that sells well for you. We try to have a cohesive variety in our shop. We also try to do a few craft shows, have a few wholesale customers, and we both still have regular jobs we go to.

Thank you so much for reading our interview and happy creating! 

Don't forget to check out more of the creative process interviews from the past several weeks here. And, as always, I would love to hear any of your thoughts on creating (or other things) in the comments!

February 14, 2011

What I love right now.


Happy Valentine's Day! I didn't bring you any chocolate or flowers, but I've been inspired by some lovely Valentine's Day blog posts to write a little bit here. Pushing aside the commercial aspect of the holiday, this is a perfect day to pause to appreciate the things in my life that I love and I hope you have a chance to do the same.

I love that the days are getting longer. I notice more daylight in the morning and evening and I can feel a slight shift in the seasons. We have had a few days of thawing here, which brings hope that spring will, eventually, arrive.

I love my sunny bright kitchen. This is one of those small things that helps me notice and appreciate the beauty of every day. Clean dishes gleaming in the rack. A pile of clean folded dish towels. The process of preparing and eating a homemade meal. Small joys.

I love that I have the opportunity to create and explore a new path with my creative work. I have been putting a lot of work into making things for Seedling Design. I am exploring new ideas and learning about everything else that it takes to start a very small business. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to makes things and to explore the possibility of making a living by creating.

I love my family. Though they are far away now, I do greatly appreciate the people who have been around for my whole life and helped me along so much. 

I love having the chance to explore new places. Although it is not always easy to be living in a new city, in a new state where I don't know a lot of people or how to get everywhere, I am glad we have a chance to see what it is like to live somewhere different. I am excited about getting to know this area of the country. I have enjoyed learning about things here and I am looking forward to exploring a lot more.

I love and appreciate my husband immensely. I don't think Valentine's Day has to be all about romance but I have to mention Ray who is simply the best. Even if it wasn't February 14, I would still have to note how grateful I am to have Ray in my life and how amazed I am by our relationship. I couldn't ask for anything better.

What are you loving today?

February 11, 2011

Creative Process Interview with Tammy Strobel

Tammy_portrait
Ready for some more Friday inspiration? Today we are lucky to hear from writer, Tammy Strobel, who blogs about simple living at Rowdy Kittens. Tammy discusses approaches to and ideas for simplifying, making positive changes, and truly connecting with others (among many of the things that she writes about). She explains things in a very approachable way, acknowledging the hopes and fears that come with following your dreams and choosing your path in life. At her site you can also find more ideas in the ebooks she has written, interesting guest posts and ideas for tiny houses. I am so glad that Tammy was able to take the time to share her thoughts on her creative process here!

First, just tell me a bit about yourself and your creative pursuits.
I love doing yoga, bike riding, drinking coffee, playing with my cats, taking photos, knitting, and my biggest love is: writing.

Tell us a little bit about your work space (this does not have to be a dedicated space, it
can be whatever space you use most often for creating)
I work in different spaces everyday. Sometimes I work at my kitchen table, the library, or in various Portland coffee shops.

Wherever I work, I’m writing in a text edit program or in 750words. Sometimes I use my notebook, but I usually use my notebook to record ideas. I’m a fast typist, so I can get easily frustrated trying to write long posts in my notebook.

I love working for myself because I can work where and when I want. I don’t have to stick to a 9-5 schedule; I wouldn’t change anything about my set-up. I love being able to walk down to a coffee shop or sit in my kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee.

What motivates you to create?
I want to help other people through my writing and writing makes me happy.

What stalls or inhibits your creative process?
I have lot of problems with my lizard brain. Seth Godin describes the lizard brain as, “the resistance. The resistance is the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise. The resistance is writer's block and putting jitters and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn't stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door.”

My lizard brain is very hard to tame and is constantly yelling at me. I tend to be harder on myself, than other people.

Right now my current fear is not being able to finish up my book proposal. My lizard brain is constantly saying, “Well, even if you finish the proposal, how do you know a publisher will pick it up? And seriously, do you really think you are a writer?”

I bring this up as example not because I want you to feel sorry for me. But for all of you to realize that everyone deals with the lizard brain. We all have fears. The trick is figuring out how to overcome those fears and keep creating.

What or who helps to support your creative work? My husband, Logan, has been a huge source of support. I don’t think I would still be writing if it weren’t for his constant encouragement.



If you are interested in reading more creative process interviews, you can find them here.

February 9, 2011

On My To Do List

Are you a list maker? How do you stay organized and on top of things? I often make piles to keep things neat. A stack of things is less distracting than having papers and books strewn across my desk. I also make lots of lists. I like having a reminder of everything that I hope to accomplish in the short term. I used to write my To Do lists on scraps of paper. More recently I've created a dedicated notebook for to do lists, thoughts, ideas and information that I need to jot down somewhere.

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I used to make the mistake of keeping these lists and important dates or events in my head. Although they usually stayed up there, I felt like I had to constantly remind myself of what I needed to do. I would become very overwhelmed. So I started writing it down. I love having a space to keep my ideas. It gets messy as I scribble down thoughts and rewrite my lists but when I need a clear space to think and work, I close the book. When I know there are things I need to get done, I open to my most recent draft of To Do and attempt to cross off and item or two.

almonds


One thing that was on my mental list for a couple of months until I finally penned it down was making nut butters. Despite my penchant for making food from scratch I hadn't really thought about making peanut or almond butter until I saw recipes here and there. It took some time for me to get around to making almond butter, but it turns out to be really simple. A few handfuls of nuts, cracked and whirred in the food processor yields a creamy spread that is perfect on toast, apples or bananas, in a sandwich or straight from the spoon.

Although I have crossed make almond butter off my list, I am sure that I will keep making it regularly. I might have to add homemade Nutella to my next to do list.

almond butter



Almond Butter
I have used both raw and roasted almonds for this nut butter, but the roasting really brings out the flavor of the almonds and I think it is much better that way.

2 cups almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

Almond oil, or other neutral oil, optional

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and roast at 350 for about 15 minutes, checking frequently to make sure that they are roasting but not burning. The skin will get darker and the meat of the almond will turn golden brown. Let cool.

Place the almonds and salt (if using) in the bowl of a food processor. It will be quite loud at first, but turn on the food processor for a minute or so. After a minute, scrape down the sides with a spatula and process for another minute. Scrape the sides again. Continue doing this for several minutes (stopping to scrape the sides regularly) until the almonds become a smooth paste. If you want a smoother, softer almond butter, you can add the oil, a teaspoon at a time, and process the paste to blend. 

2 cups of almonds yields about 3/4 of a cup of almond butter.

February 4, 2011

Creative Process Interview with Angela Flicker

Thanks to everyone who has shared feedback about this series. I am glad that you are enjoying it and hopefully gleaning useful bits and ideas for your own creative process. If you haven't had a chance to read the previous interviews you can find them here (and there is much more to come!)

Today we get to hear from Angela Flicker who is an amazing quilter and fabric artist. She also shares so much inspiration and information for all of us who are creating at her blog, The Artists' House. I am amazed by the variety of things on her blog from a quilt along, to photoshop tutorials, to interviews. I am inspired to see such a great example in what Angela has done to complement her artwork with a really vibrant blog. You can see more of her work here and here. I'm happy that she was able to share her thoughts on creating with all of us!

First, just tell me a bit about yourself and your creative pursuits.
When I was young, creative woman surrounded me. I remember wearing extravagant handmade dresses and sleeping under blankets made by loving hands. Yet, while I was surrounded by the art of sewing as a young girl, I myself didn’t start sewing until I bought a nest of my own. Naturally, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I signed up for my first quilting class as a means to make my daughter the perfect quilt, based off a design I had in my head. A short time later, as a new mother with one quilt and pattern under my belt, I found myself sketching quilt ideas constantly. When my daughter would nap, I would sew. One quilt turned into two, two to three, and soon I realized that not only did I have a gift for design, I also had found something I was truly passionate about. And so my creative pursuit is to sew everyday, to sew with my head and my heart, and hopefully learn to make a living out of this passion. 

Tell us a little bit about your work space.
When I decided to quit my day job and stay home with my daughter while starting a creative business on the side, I knew a functional and peaceful workspace was a must. We remodeled a front room in our house to create a space for me (see photos).


What goes on in there?
Everything really, computer work, sewing, drafting, packaging orders, planning, etc. The only think I rarely do in there is blog –I often do that early in the morning before my daughter wakes up, while I’m still in bed drinking my coffee.

What do you like about it/why does it work well?
The space works well because my husband and I did a lot of thinking before we designed and refinished the space. I wrote a great post about this on my blog titled, “Creating a Space that Works for You."

What would you change about it if you could?
I would make it bigger.  My family lives in the city, so homes are small –around 1000 square feet total. I feel this is a great sacrifice to make for all that the city has to offer, yet when it comes to space, I do wish I had a bit more.

What motivates you to create?
My mind is constantly shouting ideas at me, and since I can’t ignore shouting, well, it motivates me to create.

What stalls or inhibits your creative process?  Fear. When I let fear of failure sneak in, often I’m stifled by indecision. These moments are hard because in these moments my heart isn’t in my work. When this happens, I try to force myself to work through the fear. Sometimes that works. Other times I need to just take a break from sewing for a few days and often my confidence and motivation comes back.

What or who helps to support your creative work?
My husband is my biggest supporter and fan. Everyday he comes home from work and watches our daughter for a few hours so that I can have time to work. Along with that, he is always encouraging --he believes in me even when I don’t. And when my mood gets bad due to the stress, well he understands. I’m so grateful!

Tell me a little bit about your creative process – where do ideas come from? When do
you usually do your work? How does the process compare to the final product (if there is one)?
Everything, that’s the problem, haha. I’m constantly coming up with ideas of things I want to create. Every day sort of things inspire me –a walk in the park, my daughter’s hands, children’s books, magazines, my home, travel, a city sky line, and so much more. The problem is not coming up with ideas, the problem is figuring out which ideas are best to run with since there is only so much time in the day.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for people who want to create more or people who are trying to earn a living from creating?When you feel overwhelmed, go on an electronic fast. One mistake I continue to make is that I sometimes get too caught up in social media and blogging, and then I struggle to find time to create. Sometimes you need to just shut it all down and just indulge in your art since that is where the true passion usually lies.

February 3, 2011

Love to Sew: A Valentine Envelope Tutorial


I've been torn about whether to post this tutorial this week or to wait until we get closer to February 14. I hate to rush holidays but we've made it to February and I've had valentine aprons in my shop for a few weeks. I know that more often than not, holiday making can require some preparation and planning ahead. This project is quick and can be done at the last minute or as soon as you would like. These fabric envelopes have many uses, but Valentine's Day is the time for decorated cards and love notes to everyone you care about. It's good to have a project to keep you warm and cozy during this month which can be so cold and dreary.

When I was a kid, we always made a Valentine's Mailbox which we decorated with lots of pink and red and doilies. We filled with cards that we made for each other. I'm not sure if this envelope would make it through the USPS (it would be fun to try) but it is ideal for the Valentine's mailbox or hand delivery.

These envelopes are very simple and quick. There are a couple of variations which I will mention in the directions. My instructions are for machine sewing, but you could easily sew this by hand as well. As always please leave your questions in the comments or contact me directly! I definitely want you to have success with making this.

Materials:
Scissors
Fabric
Thread
Optional: a button and elastic to make a loop
                a snap or velcro

valentinetutorial1


1. Cut out two squares of fabric. For the first envelope I used 10 inch by 10 inch pieces and then made and envelops that was 7 by 7. The smaller you make it, the trickier it will be to sew it together with a machine, but if you want a really small one you can always do it by hand.

2. With the right sides (the printed sides that will eventually face out to make the front and the inside of the envelope) facing each other, sew around the edge of the fabric. Leave about two inches open and unstitched between where you start and finish sewing.

3. When you are done stitching it will look like this.

4. Gently reach into the opening and turn the fabric so the outside goes in. The printed side of the fabric will now be on the outside and there will be a small opening.

valentinetutorial2



5. Prepare to sew up the hole. Make sure that all of the corners are completely pushed out so there is no fabric bunched inside.

6. Fold in the raw edge of each side of the opening and stitch along the edge to sew up the whole. You can sew all the way along the side that had the opening as well as one adjoining side. This will make the top flap of the envelope.

7. If you want to add any stitched designs or applique to the front of the envelope this is a good time to do it. (you can also add this before you start sewing the two pieces together, after step 1)

8. There are a few options to make the envelope stay closed. You can use a button and a loop of elastic (see 19), a snap, velcro, ribbon, or you can make a little close loop following steps 8-12 (the finished loop is shown in 18). To make this close loop, cut a piece of fabric about 4 inches by 2 inches.

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9. Fold the long raw edges of the small piece of fabric into the middle and then fold the folded edges to the middle so the long cut edges are completely hidden. You can iron this flat if you wish.

10. Sew along the long open edge of the folded fabric. Then stitch along the other long edge.

11. Take the corner of your large square that has no exterior stitching on either side. Make sure the fabric you want on the outside of the envelope is facing up. Pin the small loop piece so it goes straight across the corner of the square about a half inch down from the corner point.

12. The loop piece should stick out farther than both sides of the square's corner (see 11). Fold the extra from the loop strip under the corner fabric and stitch in place. Repeat for the other end of the loop.

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13. Place the square of fabric so the corner with the loop is at the bottom and the corner that has been stitched is at the top. Fold the left and right corners in to meet each other. Fold up the bottom corner and adjust as needed to make a rectangular envelope. The top corner should come down slightly past the bottom corner.

14. Once you have figured out the best way to fold up your square, pin the left corner under the bottom corner so that the two sides meet with a slight over lap.

15. Stitch along the open edge of the pinned sides all the way to the newly formed corner of the envelope. This can be a little bit tricky with a machine, just take care to make sure that you don't catch any other fabric in your stitches. You don't have to stitch all the way to the end, but just until you have nearly reached the corner. It is easy to stitch this by hand if you want to.

16. Pin the right side as you did the left and sew that in place.

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17. Your envelope is now ready! This is what it will look like from the front.

18. If you made a close loop your envelope is finished.

19. If you prefer not to make the little close loop (shown in 18) you can sew a button to the bottom flap of the envelope and make a loop at the top corner to keep it closed. You can also use a snap, velcro, or any other method you would like.

20. Fill your envelope and send it off (I'm not sure if you can actually send it in the mail, although if it is stitched shut with address and stamp stitched on you might be able to, I'd like to try it soon!).

Happy Making!

February 1, 2011

A Birthday Treat

lemon tart

Today is the 2nd birthday of this blog! For the celebration, I brought a treat to show you and a recipe to share. The lemon tart above is the result of a little side project I started in January. Last year for Valentine's Day, Ray bought me the French Culinary Institute Pastry Book. He knew I wanted to learn more about baking so he brought home this beautiful, though heavy and vast, book. Sometime in November he asked me if I was every going to use it and I realized that it was time for me to start baking and learning. I decided to make a recipe from it each week this year.

Although I tend to prefer baking with whole grains and less sugar, I figured I would try my hand at the classic French pastries and see what I could learn. Eventually, maybe, I'll be able to adapt some of the recipes and techniques to my baking style. In the mean time I am in the tart chapter of the book. Spending a few hours each week on a new baking project is a treat in itself but I certainly don't mind the chance to indulge in a rich and delicious dessert. So far, we've been eating a couple of pieces of the tart of the week and then sending the rest to Ray's coworkers. We also started going to the rock gym this month, so I hope we will survive this weekly indulgence in better shape than before.

Thank you for joining me here and for celebrating with me! I wish I could pass you a piece of this tart, but instead I will share the recipe for the sweet and citrus-y lemon curd filling. It is a decadent spread with a complex lemon flavor that takes advantage of the citrus available this time of year. Although I don't live anywhere near a citrus tree, there are lots of lemons, oranges, grapefruits and other thick skinned, soft, acidic fruits available at the grocery store.

A few thoughts about this blog on its birthday: As a two year old, I think my blog has come a long way but I think it is just starting to walk confidently instead of crawling or taking baby steps. Of course, this blog and I still have a long way to go. There is so much more to learn about writing and photography and how best to share recipes and projects. I am in the process of redesigning this site (while I also create a site for Seedling Design) so I hope it will be better and nicer to look at once I make those changes.

The more time I have spent writing here, the more strongly I have wanted to focus on sharing ideas for homemade and handmade. I spend a lot of time making things and I really hope to inspire you to create, too. As I continue on, I would love to hear what you think and what you would like to see here in the future. I'll keep making and writing, but I hope you'll feel free to share feedback and ideas or just take a minute to say hello!

making lemon curd


Lemon Curd
Adapted from the French Culinary Institute's Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts
Aside from filling a tart shell with this curd, you could also use it as a filling for cakes and sandwich cookies or as spread on pancakes, crepes, or scones. It will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container for a week.

3 large eggs, at room temperature
5 1/3 ounces sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) plus one teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 3 lemons
6 1/3 ounces (1 stick plus 4 1/4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

To start, you will need a heatproof bowl and a saucepan large enough to hold the bowl. Fill the saucepan with water so that the bowl can rest on the pan without touching the water. Bring the water to a simmer. Place the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and zest in the heatproof bowl and whisk to combine. Add the butter and place on the saucepan, over the simmering water. Whisk to melt the butter and continue whisking to ensure even cooking. The heat should be evenly distributed on the bottom of the bowl so that nothing will burn and the eggs won't cook too quickly. Continue whisking for about seven minutes until the mixture becomes quite thick and light.

Remove from the heat and pour the curd through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl to remove the pieces of zest. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.