Friday, August 23, 2013

The Beauty of What Isn't and a Woven Pillow for the Patio

 Life continues to bounce along at break neck speed, which necessitates that any personal crafting be geared toward short, easy-to-interrupt projects.  It would be delightful to have languorous, expansive blocks of time to work, but THAT is just not happening in my world lately.  The little pillow pictured at left proved just the right Crafty Fun for when I am crazy busy, but find myself with an available five minutes here and there.  It can be picked up and put down without counting stitches or losing my place and is easily transportable.  Best part, the mindless rhythm of the weaving is very Zen and provides good pondering time.  Perfect!  It took me a month or longer to finish, but only because I worked on it so intermittently.  It could easily be completed in an afternoon.

Weaving seems to be my obsession of the moment and I was engaged in some Google Image Time Wasting when I came upon this incredibly awesome rug from the Free People Decor Blog:

Spectacular, isn't it?  You can get the instructions FREE on the Free People Blog.  They suggest making the round loom from cardboard, but I chose to make mine from wood so that it would have a longer shelf life.   I will definitely be having another go at this project as I ran into some technical difficulties that I would like to see if I can correct.   My intention was to make a Big Ole Runner for the long hallway that runs through my house....but then I started to think on it a bit.  I have five dogs.  They are finally all housebroken---even Sophie!---but we are contemplating getting our next foster rescue puppy and a rug like that would be calling out to be peed upon.  Hmmmm.

I persevered, even though I wasn't thrilled with the colorway I was using.  I was determined to use materials already on hand...rope  lying about the shop and some of the poorly spun yarn from my first efforts at spinning.  I figured if it didn't work out, I would lose only a bit of time, rather than a chunk of change.  The colorway made me want to ditch the project halfway through, but I thought of my friend Meryl, who says that "If you are not happy with your project, you are simply not finished with it yet."  Words of wisdom, for sure, and I figured that maybe I just wasn't finished.

First time efforts are always a challenge, but they are important for stretching personal boundaries, so I kept weaving...and grew happier with the colorway.   Maybe this rug was going to happen after all!

I persevered...but then I started thinking about Cooper.  He is our most anxious dog.  He was a foster rescue  that proved too damaged to be adoptable, so we decided to try to Love Him To Mental Health. is that working out for us?  You be the judge!  We adore him but he comes with challenges.  Surely, the different textures would make this just the sort of rug that Cooper would go for the next time a thunderstorm rolled though.

Hmmm....I was starting  to rethink the whole rug concept when I noticed that the textile was not going to lay flat.  Damn. This rug was simply not going to happen.  Grrrr. I put it away in frustration and one day I happened to glance at it and saw that it was a pillow.  Seriously....the edges were curling in and it was obviously a pillow....I just hadn't seen it at first.

I re-purposed an old sweatshirt to make a  pillow form. Fortunately, I am rich with pillow stuffing stuff, thanks to Cooper.  The tapestry is attached to the pillow using a simple crochet stitch.  The crochet flower center covers an unsightly pucker and a Swarovski Sew On Crystal Stone adds just a touch of sparkle. VOILA!   I love seeing it  on one of the chair just outside of my studio----I only hope that Cooper doesn't notice it!

It is funny, the tyranny of expectations can be a real downer and even blind  us to the joy of what IS.... all ya gotta do is tweak your expectations a bit.  This piece was determined to be a pillow,  so I adjusted my vision, and got something pretty cool in the end.  Different, but cool, nonetheless.

The Pillow Epiphany reminds me of the  Stevie Nicks Jacket That Wasn't .   I had fallen in love with a Shambolic Felt Jacket made by my friend Marlene Gruetter.  It was ethereal and flowing, light and airy...simply gorgeous....evocative of the sorts of costumes worn by Stevie Nicks back in the day.
I made arrangements for Marlene to come to Florida for a workshop and got ready to get all ethereal and such.  Except that it didn't work out that way.   A heavy hand with fiber and a lack of experience produced a heavier jacket than I had anticipated, so I got something else....equally wonderful but very different.  I vowed to try again another day and went about living my life.

One day a package  note, no explanation. I opened it and laughed through misty eyes.

Inside I found a Stevie Nicks Jacket...

                                                   ..... and a Tambourine.

I sure do love you, Marlene.

 Friends make the journey a whole lot more fun.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Goat Babies, Chicken Babies, and a Primitive Rug, too!

Happy Chaos has ruled the summer but I am eager to get back into a more disciplined routine since Fall Show season will soon be upon me and there is work to be done! 

I was tickled to spend a few hours with Nick Regine, AKA the "Professor of Crystal" for Create-Your-Style with Swarovski Elements.  We filmed a short "how to" video on embedding Swarovski Crystal Elements into a felt project.  Check it Out!

Nightmare of nightmares....Shortly after I returned from my visit with Nick,  I learned that Swarovski has discontinued its line of Crystal Yarn.  This is a REALLY BIG DEAL in my world because all of  my felted cuff bracelets and necklaces feature Swarovski Crystal Yarn.


You know how you feel when your favorite lipstick is discontinued?  That's how I am feeling about my crystal yarn.  The fear of not having it available is making me stingy with what remains in my stash.  What is a gal to do?

Learn to spin her own glitzy yarn, of course! 

I have been a Hand Spun Yarn Groupie and Spinner Wannabe ever since purchasing a used wheel at SAFF three years ago. I maintain a selection of beautiful hand dyed merino wool  for felt making, so spinning seemed a logical craft  to pursue.   I took one lesson and left feeling overwhelmed and uncoordinated.  I tucked the wheel in a corner where it looked lovely but did nothing further with it until this summer.   The Great Crystal Yarn Crisis forced my hand....the only way I was going to get crystal yarn was to make it myself.   Fortunately, my weekly fiber group is bursting with talented Spinners willing to share their knowledge.   Special thanks to Kelly Agrue, whose work makes me swoon.  Her patience and sense of humor helped get me over the hump, while Barry's calming influence reminds me to slow down a bit.   I  channel his words of wisdom when I start to panic and spin out of control:

  "...Don't are allowed to stop the wheel."  

So I do. 

I stop, take a deep breath, gather my wits, and begin again.   Although I have not produced quality hand spun YET, I know it is only a matter of time and practice before I get there!  My collection of poorly spun yarn has grown beyond reason; fortunately, my friend Deb brought a pillow to a guild meeting that provided just the inspiration I needed!  She used her own gorgeous hand spun yarn with some commercial yarn to weave the stunning pillow pictured.  A spectacular Swarovski Crystal stone in Crystal Volcano makes the pillow POP!  Deb gave the group a quick weaving lesson  and then gifted me with a loom of my own.  

Deb's spectacular pillow

SHAZAM!   I am hooked!  It has truly been a summer filled with wonderful opportunities for creativity.  I never thought I would enjoy weaving, but find the folk art quality of loomed rugs to be particularly appealing.  I made my first primitive rug from my poorly spun yarn --- I love the process and the look.  The rug was a bit small and somewhat crooked,  so I crocheted a trim to extend it and even things out a bit.  YUM!  It is soft and fluffy...a new favorite hangout for the pups.

Lampshade in the works

Next on the list...a crochet lamp shade featuring my own version of  Swarovski Crystal Yarn.  I  strung random crystal beads and pendants onto my plying thread and, with some trial and error,  managed to ply a bit of sparkle into the yarn.  I am finding my way and enjoying the adventure. 


Ruby meets her little girl

Ruby the Nubian Dairy Goat finally delivered her babies.  Every birth is a miracle and this one was no exception.  I happened to be in the pen when she went into labor so I got to be there for the big event---what a gift!  Despite the fact that Ruby was a bottle baby who had never been nurtured by a mama goat, she has done a splendid job with little Abner and Annabelle.  The video shows her with them moments after they were is all cuteness and sunshine---nothing gross, I promise! 

I am glad that I bucked dairy goat tradition and let Ruby mother her kids.  It has been a total win-win!  There is plenty of milk for the babies and for me... they are growing like weeds and, at seven weeks, are starting to eat hay and grain.   Poor Ruby is becoming impatient with relentless biting babies tugging at her teats.  (...and seriously, who wouldn't?)   They will be going to new homes once they are weaned.  Poor Mama has taken to running away from them when they approach  from behind so I figure that the weaning process has officially started.

We have some new chicks, too!  Remember Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen?  We had pretty much given up on her ever laying an egg, but then she surprised us.   It took her an extra year to catch up, but she is now laying teeny tiny eggs with delightful regularity.    She went broody in May and turned into a real warrior as she sat

Teeny and her babies.  She's on the lower right. 

on a clutch of eggs, daring anybody to come close.  Three healthy, regular sized, chicks hatched and, at two months old, they are already bigger than Teeny!  Despite the matter of size, she is very much the mother hen, clucking and fussing over her brood.  Should one fall behind and peep in distress----as lost little chicks so often do---she marches over and gives the straggler a loud verbal dressing down, followed by a sharp peck on the head.  She keeps her brood away from the other hens, preferring to hide under the goat barn.  She

Teeny scouts the yard to make sure it is safe to venture out.

comes out periodically to survey the yard and if it looks safe, she leads her babies out for a spin around the garden. 

Interestingly, her three chicks are more nervous and skittish than any others born here.  I am guessing that, as is often the case with humans, this nervous chicken has managed to pass her dysfunction along to the next generation.   

Thanks, Ma! 

Where is a chicken therapist when you need one?


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Recycled Sweater Cuff Bracelet Tutorial, Baby Goat Countdown, and Embracing the Gray Season

My days have been filled with Mostly Animal Stuff of late.  When you have Five Dogs, Three Goats, Thirty Chickens, and Two Cats, one finds that the day is largely spent on Critter Maintenance.  Nonetheless,  I did manage to finish a fun cuff bracelet featuring leftover bits and pieces of old felted sweaters and some beautiful Swarovski Crystal Sew On Stones and  Beads.  I was cleaning up the studio after a recent series of UpCycled Sweater Projects  left me with tiny scraps destined for the garbage can.  However, as is often the case when I am confronted by colorful Bits 'O Stuff, I had an idea.....

Penny Rugs, of course!  I have long been a fan of the humble Penny Rug, a folk art craft that originated in the 1800's.    Penny Rugs were made with wool scraps salvaged from old blankets or clothing.  Wool was pricey and every scrap was utilized by thrifty homemakers.    Coins were used as templates to make tiny fabric rounds of various sizes.  The rounds were then stacked and stitched one on top of the other onto a background piece of of cotton or wool.  Most were used as decorative accents rather than floor rugs and I have always found their primitive style very appealing.  I figured it might be fun to do a glitzy folk art cuff bracelet that paid homage to the traditional Penny Rug.

I grabbed a 2 inch brass cuff blank and cut out a rough template of black sweater felt for the front,
and a bright red piece of ultra suede for the back.  You can see that I didn't worry too much about things being perfectly precise and just left myself some wriggle room.  This is a quick and dirty project that involves almost instant gratification.  Time was short so I worked fast...loose and easy.

Once I had my basic cuff form, I started to play around with the patches.  I decided that squares would work better for my purposes than circles, so I simply cut free hand three sets of squares in three different sizes. 

I initially considered Swarovski Crystal Buttons as the only adornment, but ruled in favor of more glitz.

Hand Dyed Silk Embroidery Floss adds Color and Texture!

I stitched one of the three largest squares onto the center of the piece, then stitched the remaining two large squares on either side of the first, using a blanket stitch. Layer two went on the same way, although I alternated thread color. Ditto the third and final layer. 

An easy back stitch throughout the black background  helped bring home the Folk Art feel I adore.  I opted to use a limited color palette in Swarovski Crystal, primarily Jet.  The work I do is very colorful and sparkly, and when I make a piece that is purposefully unsophisticated, it makes sense to be a bit more subdued in my crystal choices.  Classic black was perfect for this piece...2mm jet round beads and jet crystal sequins gave it just the punch I was looking for without overwhelming the primitive thread work.

Once I had embellished as much as I was going to embellish, I attached the top piece to the red ultra suede by using a blanket stitch.  I left one  of the narrow side ends unstitched so that I could slide the brass cuff blank into place before stitching up the last few inches.   Finally, I could not resist trimming the edges with a few yards (8 to be exact) of Swarovski Crystal Yarn, also in black, so that there is just another hint of elegant sparkle at the wrist, by way of a single crochet stitch.  I love the concept and think I am going to make my next one from leather scraps.....

Big Exciting News:  Two of my Nubian goats are pregnant....well, at least we THINK they are pregnant.  Ruby is due in about six weeks, while Stella should be due in about three months.  Nubians are dairy goats and it is standard practice to remove the newborn Kids from the mother immediately upon delivery  to raise them separately.  Typically, the mother is milked by the farmer (me!) and then the Kids are fed her milk from a bottle.  Folks who Show their goats always choose to Bottle Feed because Udders are easily ruined by eager, aggressively nursing babies. The Kids are weaned by the Farmer at 8-10 weeks and then all that milk goes to the the Farmer. The babies quickly learn to see the farmer as Mom and the real mom does not experience the loss of her Kid because she was never given a chance to bond with the newborn.       Easy Peasy....? Not so sure.

Dam Raised versus Bottle Raised

There is nothing cuter than a baby goat and there is nothing much more fun than bottle feeding said

Nom! Nom! Nom!

adorable baby goat.  You will recall that I bought Stella and Ruby as babies and I loved the whole process.  I didn't wean them until well past the point of reasonableness because they were so damn cute.

Nonetheless, the closer I get to Ruby's delivery date, the more stomach achey  and queasy feeling I become..  I thought that I was just nervous about the birthing process and the possibility that I might actually need to play legitimate goat midwife, but I have been readying myself for the occasion in an effort to quell my anxiety.  Books, Videos, Vet....all covered.  Unfortunately, the unease has continued on, unabated.  I learned long ago to pay attention when I get that stomach achey, queasy feeling because it usually means that I need to re-evaluate a course of action.  It  took me longer than normal to pin point the source of it this time because I wasn't allowing myself to question the experts.
I realized after some reflection that it was the thought of separating the babies from their Mama that had my stomach in knots!  Sometimes you just have to do things differently than the experts advise and I have decided that I just don't feel good about Bottle Raising these  yet to be born Kids when they have a ready, willing and able Goat Mom on site.  I do not plan to enter my Goats into Shows so I don't care if they don't have perfect udders.  Seriously, who has perfect udders after nursing?  Not Me!

...but I digress.

I figure that Mother Nature has been in charge of this Kidding thing for longer than me and I am going to try to stick as close to that plan as possible.  I have researched and found some small dairy farmers that have experienced success with Dam raised Kids.  The babies nurse and the farmer milks daily for any left over milk so that the Mom's milk production is kept up.  Once the kids are weaned, the farmer gets all of the milk. Win-Win.   I will have to work a little harder to socialize the Kids, but it sounds sounds doable and kinda like the way nature intended, so I am game!  Not surprisingly, once I made my decision the angst I had been feeling totally disappeared.  Happy Sigh.

...and then, just in case I needed further proof of The Powerful Force that is Maternal Instinct, let me tell you about my Hen.  Back Story:  I used to think that if you had hens and you had roosters, then baby chicks would necessarily follow.  It actually hasn't been that easy!  I have had Chickens for about six years or so and have only had one  hen go broody and sit on a clutch of eggs.  The same hen has sat on nests three times.  The first two resulted in fluffy little chicks.  The latest clutch resulted in ZIP, ZERO, NADA.

Mama Hen patiently waits for the hatching that never comes.

The poor hen sat patiently on a dozen eggs for long past the 21 day incubation cycle.  The eggs were getting really, really ripe and foul smelling.  Unfortunately, every single time I tried to pull one of them out from under her, she started squawking and biting me.  Last week I was at the Feed Store getting hay and I noticed a new shipment of Day Old Chicks. .  Day Old Chicks are shipped to the feed store via airplane within hours of being born.   I bought five and hoped for the best.

They were loud and agitated for the ride home and remained that way until I scooted them under Mama Hen, at which point I heard only gentle peeping.   It was something to see...Mama was clearly a bit confused for a second

She isn't squishing them...she is protecting them!

because she hadn't noticed anything hatch, but that passed  immediately  and she quickly tucked them under her wings. No longer a bitchy biter, she is cooing and clucking and clearly in her element.  I added five more later that afternoon and she is taking care of all ten quite happily.

So...we have lots of happy moms on the farm, including Yours Truly.  Many of you were with me during the Great Mid-Life Hair Crisis of 2012  and I thank you.  You were tolerant as I whined.  You commented kindly on the many silly folicular incarnations throughout the months....I was cut and colored, highlighted/red/platinum and shades in between.  Well, I think that I have gotten it ALL out of my system to a large degree.  Yup, I am fed up with bottles and potions and maintenance and upkeep.  I am weary of spending money on hair when I could be spending it on goat treats Really Important Stuff. 

So.....I am going gray, ladies.  I am really, really doing it.  No one can believe it, but I am committed to  it.  It is really funny -- and weird -- to look in the mirror and see this old lady staring back at me.  She still has a sparkle in her eye and a big laugh, but she's old.   I mean, I knew I was getting to be a bit more...ahem...mature looking, but the gray hair really seals the deal.  The REALLY weird, and rather unexpected, part of all of this is that I am totally cool with it.  Seriously.  So bring on the next season of my life.... gray hair, arthritis, and all.

I ain't skeered......much.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Shambolic Felt, a Decadent Cookie, and the Problem with Expectations...

Every now and then I stumble across a bit of creative artistry that makes my heart beat just a bit faster, and such was the case when I ran into my friend Marlene Gruetter at SAFF last year.  I saw her Shambolic felt jacket from afar and started hyperventilating.  I think that I even heard angels singing as I ran toward the display.

Oh.  My.  God.

Marlene models her lovely Shambolic creation.

The jacket was glorious----a flowing white feminine confection.  Light, airy, and very ethereal in a "Stevie Nicks during the Fleetwood Mac Years" sort of way...and I wanted  needed to make one JUST LIKE IT.    Much of the nuno felted apparel  that I see is somewhat shapeless...heavy on MuMu, short on style.    Clearly, Marlene's work was something special.

Stevie Nicks

We chatted a bit and then parted ways, but I could not get the jacket out of my mind.  Seriously, I needed a bit of ethereal fluff in MY closet.  See, my husband recently mentioned that my attire was running a bit too "black and combat booted" for his taste.  Hmmmm....and then I remembered that he had a wicked crush on  Stevie Nicks back in the day....and THAT recollection sealed the deal.  Clearly, this jacket was meant to be!

Day 1: Kim & Deb make jacket templates

Discussions were had, arrangements were made, and last week Marlene came to Florida to teach me, and six of my creative friends, to make the jacket of our dreams.    Marlene is as cute as a button....animal lover, funny as heck, ridiculously humble, and talented beyond belief....everything I need in a house guest.   It was a whirlwind, for sure. I am a felter, so I knew that this would be somewhat physical, but even I was impressed by the physicality of the process.

Shambolic felt is a kind of like making a mosaic with silk.  The jackets are pieced together with many, many, MANY small pieces of silk fabric that are seamed together with the tiniest wisps of wool.  There is no sewing involved AT ALL; rather, the jackets were entirely felted.  On Day 1 we took some measurements and created a giant template.  We anticipated a shrinkage rate of 50%, so it was necessary to make the initial garment two times larger than what we hoped to wear.  We set about cutting and ripping pieces of silk and "fiber seaming" them together to form the back of the jacket.  Uh Oh....Marlene warned me that I was a bit heavy handed with wool placement, but I wasn't about to start over and figured that it would be interesting to see how it all played out in the end.

It was hard work but we persevered with the help of chocolate and wine.  I tried a new cookie recipe that proved to be a winner....Dark Chocolate and Caramels....what could be bad?  Day 1 ended with aching backs and big smiles.

Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies
2 sticks of Butter, softened
1 Cup of Sugar
1 Cup of Brown Sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon of Vanilla Extract 
2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 cups of Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 teaspoons of Baking Soda
4 tablespoons of Milk
1 b ag of Dark Chocolate Morsels
1 bag of Rolos Chocolate Covered Caramels
sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs and the vanilla.  Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and beat until mixed.  The mixture should be thick and difficult to manipulate at this point.  Stir in the milk and add the chocolate morsels. Refrigerate the dough for a few hours so that it will be easier to manage.   The caramel might leak through to the pan so save yourself clean up time by lining a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. 

When the dough has chilled, take a golf ball sized bit of dough and wrap it around an unwrapped candy.  The cookie will spread as it bakes, so I usually only put a dozen on each cookie sheet.  Sprinkle each cookie with a few grains of sea salt.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  The cookies will look very soft when you first take them out of the oven but they will be perfect when they cool down.

There were ten dogs in attendance for the workshop!  Fortunately, they were all well behaved!

We spent Day 2 concentrating on the front of the jacket.  Snip and Rip, Snip and Rip, seam, seam, seam...We lost one participant to a sore back, but the rest of us moved forward...snip and rip, snip and rip, seam, seam, seam....Day 2 ended with aching backs and big smiles.

Marlene's cute cropped jacket

Day 3 proved the most interesting day of all as we endeavored to make the magic happen. There were moments of panic and mini melt downs.  This was an intermediate to advanced level project and some of the participants had minimal felting experience.  Fortunately, all are good sports and Marlene used her best teacher's voice to assure everyone that we were on track, that we would love our jackets, that EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO BE OKAY.....and it was!  We rolled, manipulated, and beat our garments until they fit us the way they were meant to fit.

Every jacket started with identical materials...white silk fabric and undyed  merino wool; yet each looks so different!

Of course, because I was, indeed, very heavy handed with the wool, I did not get anything that remotely resembled Marlene's delicate jacket. I tried to tie the front "A La Marlene's" but the fabric was too thick and heavy to pull it off. Bummer. I experienced a brief second of disappointment when I realized that I wasn't going to be Stevie Nicks after all, but I knew that there would be many more jackets in my future.
I added Swarovski Hot Fix Crystals to the Lapel and incorporated Swarovski Crystal Yarn in the Fringe....YUM!
I played around with my jacket a bit more and suddenly saw what it was trying to be---more  unstructured blazer than frilly frock---and I absolutely ADORE it.  I dyed it, trimmed the lapel with Swarovski Crystal Hot Fix Elements and included some Swarovski Crystal Yarn in the fringe.  What a difference!  Several of the participants continued to refine their jackets, as well!

Lorie Honey McCombie dyed her jacket
Deb Mahoney moved her fringe to the front
Pam Beauchesne camps it up in her ethereal jacket!
Deb's lighter touch made for a spectacular drape!

It is funny....the Tyranny of Expectation can be a downer and sometimes blind us to the joy of what IS.   I may not have gotten the Stevie Nicks jacket I expected initially, but I wound up with something that exceeded my expectations...I just had to adjust my expectations a wee bit.  I have learned over the years that Wanting What I Have keeps me much more content then always Having What I Want and this was no exception. It is an interesting lesson ...and one I need to re-learn every few years, it seems!

It was an amazing experience.  We laughed, we cried, and we emerged victorious! Thank you, Marlene...the three days we shared opened a creative window for each one of us.  In fact, I am dyeing up some silk and planning three days at the felting tables next week.  After all, there is  a Stevie Nicks Jacket in my future, I just know there is!

Have an interest in Nuno Felted Apparel?  Contact Marlene to order a copy of her new Ebook on Shambolic Felt Making...The instructions are great and easy to read...C' is time to channel YOUR inner Stevie Nicks!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Rusty Springs, The Fine Art of Ball Squeezing, and The Envelope that Changed my Life.

People joke about the joys of Retail Therapy and I definitely get the joke....after all, who doesn't feel better after scoring  a pair of David Pliner boots on double markdown clearance?   I used to inhabit a world that was all about acquisition ---Power Shopping was kind of like a sport for me. My attitude toward money was a bit too cavalier because my life had been blessed with enough of it...I never went hungry and always had what I needed (and usually more!).  I had similarly situated friends and when we dropped the kidlets off at school we would  head to the mall and then Do Lunch.  Yeah, I know...weird.  Anywhoo, I was one of those idiots who figured if I had checks, then I had money. 

I shopped when we could afford it and I shopped when we couldn't afford it.   Feel free to judge me harshly...I deserve it.  My husband, a generous guy, was a good sport for a while.   He knew my demons, I knew his demons, but we love each other and endeavored to be tolerant.    However, there came a day many years ago when we experienced a period of interminable grumpiness.  Husband told me that I was "squeezing his balls" and that he "turned into an A*%# hole when someone squeezed his balls." 

Yikes!  So my SPENDING was what was causing his sour demeanor?  Good to know....

The Great Communicator handed me a copy of Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover , which has just been updated and re-released.   I became a believer.  Seriously, the book changed my life.  The idea is that you don't spend more than you can afford, period.  I know, I know....pretty obvious concept, yet it is one that many folks still don't seem to get, even in these fiscally challenging times.  Dave Ramsey's system is brilliant, simple to execute, and even EASY to stick to, as it has turned out!  I set up a series of envelopes for the stuff that I spend money on,  "hair salon," "groceries," "crafts," etc,  fill 'em with the budgeted cash, and that's that.  When the envelopes are empty, they remain empty until the next pay day.  I am very visual and find that this works for me.

We have been using the envelopes for years and the system has enabled us to reduce our debt, save for the Farm of the Future, and given me the resources to become the Crazy Neighborhood Goat Lady.   Irrelevant side note:  "Quit Squeezing My Balls" has  become part of our "love language,"  to be used when one of us is starting to step out of bounds and a funny reminder is in order.  Better than a poke in the eye, I suppose! 


Tramp Art Sewing Box

An unexpected benefit to fiscal responsibility is that it has opened a new window for me creatively.  The back story:

I have always been a  fan of Tramp Art and am forever on a quest for it when scouring flea markets and yard sales.   During the depression years, money was scarce and folks were going hungry.  Hobos would travel by rail in search of work or a hand out.  Generally these fellows were NOT the homeless you see sleeping on street corners today, many of whom suffer from mental illness and/or drug addiction.  These long ago Tramps were often regular folk who found themselves in a bad way because of circumstances beyond their control.   They were hungry so they hopped a train and went looking for food.   Those individuals who were more fortunate frequently opened their homes to these itinerant travelers, offering a hot meal and place to sleep for the night. If they were lucky, the hobos might even get a few days work, as well.   Hand carved trinkets became a way for the Hobos to acknowledge the kindness of the hostess.  Of course, the hobos did not have an envelope marked "crafts", so they worked with what they had:  a pocket knife and reclaimed wood.  Today these Tramp Art wood carvings are highly collectible.

Since committing to the envelopes, I find myself trying to make do with what I have on hand, so that my craft money can go toward goat feed, expensive yarn, or a spectacular piece of Swarovski crystal.  It is funny how little I have to sacrifice in terms of beautiful artistry if I just think outside of the box.  For example,  I wanted to make a necklace to showcase some special pieces of Swarovski Crystal and some great vintage beads from a broken Miriam Haskell piece.  It looked pretty, but something was missing...

...until I remembered the Rusty Old Spring!  While working in the yard a few months ago I found a Rusty Old Spring hidden in the dirt. The architecture and patina of it really appealed to me so I  threw it in a drawer and forgot about it...until this necklace was percolating in my brain.  I am so delighted with the results and think that the Rusty Old Spring pulls it all together.  Affordable luxury...I like it!

The Swarovski crystal is showcased by found components!


A big wooden bowl on my counter has been filled with sweet potatoes.  I had big plans for 'em when I bought 'em, but those plans never materialized and time is not on my side.  I could not bear to toss them in the garbage, especially on the same day that I have been bragging about being all thrifty and such.  So, I started peeling sweet potatoes....and was rewarded with  two Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Galettes for my freezer.  This is  a crazy easy recipe that is comprised primarily of Sweet Potatoes and Cheese....what could be bad?  Here ya go:

Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Galette

Ingredients for one Galette:
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup Gouda cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup goat cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 Tablespoons olive oil 
tart pan or spring foam pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and add chopped onions.  Cook until onions are softened, about 5 minutes.  Mix the cheese together in a bowl.  Grab another bowl and mix together the potatoes, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, onion, and thyme.  
Spray tart pan with Pam or equivalent.  Start at the outer edge and cover the bottom of the tart pan with potato slices, overlapping a bit.  Make another ring of potato slices, working toward the center, until the bottom of the pan is covered.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and then sprinkle with some cheese.  Add two more layers of potatoes, topping each layer with cheese.  Mmmm, Mmmmm...this is gonna be good!

Put pan on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil.  The tart pan will leak and make a mess, so make it easy on yourself by remembering the aluminum foil.  Bake for 35 minutes, then cover the top with a piece of foil so that the cheese doesn't totally burn.  Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until a fork can easily pierce through to the bottom.  Do not worry if the top is very brown, you want it to be kind of crunchy!   This freezes well and is DELICIOUS.

Uh Oh!  ...I just got a call from my neighbor who wanted to let me know that there were goats in her yard.  Gotta go!

Yup...they went to visit  my neighbor but at least they came running when I called!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Goat Drama, Resilient Chicken, and a Felted Heart Tutorial just in time for Valentine's Day!

Make a felted heart brooch for Valentine's Day! 
This sweet confection features Swarovski Crystal Yarn and Hand Dyed Velvet!


I have had some productive  time in the studio lately, but I gotta tell ya about my critters before we get to the Sparkle. I know, I came here for the Heart Tutorial and you shall have it!  All in good time, my pretty...

Meet Sophie.  She eats garbage.
See, it has been an unusually weird few weeks at Pat's Funny Farm.  First, one of my goats got scary sick.  Second, my  husband reached the end of his rope.  NO MORE CANINE MAYHEM! NO MORE FOSTER PUPPIES!    He requested a break from the noise, the shedding, and the expense until March.  OK, fine, I could wait until March. So what happened last week?   He sauntered home with a scruffy, hungry, flea bitten street pup, that's what happened!  The funny thing is, he loves her!  He is always the last to be smitten, but this silly thing has his heart.  He insists that we  find her a permanent home, but is doing nothing to make it happen.  This should be fun to watch. The third, and most delightful weirdness....Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen has been accepted by her peers and actually laid a Teeny Tiny Egg.  Seriously.


It started with Dolly, my milking goat.  Now, I am the first to admit that I am no Goat Expert.  I started pining for goats shortly after falling in love with poultry, so I did what I usually do....Charge Full Speed Ahead and Figure It Out as I Go Along.  The strategy has met with a modicum of success, thanks to Mama Google.


...sometimes I do not know what I do not know. and SOMETIMES that lack of knowledge can cause harm.  It is very humbling to realize that your ignorance caused someone you love to suffer unnecessarily.  Such was the case with my sweet Dolly, who has gotten thin over the last month or so.

It didn't cause major concern initially because I knew that Milking Goats are typically thin.  However, she started looking too thin, while the other goats were decidedly plump.  Her behavior had not changed, and her temperament was as congenial as ever.  Hmmmm....I decided to feed them separately to make sure Dolly was getting her fair share of the grain.  I added some high fat, high protein sunflower seeds to her regimen and continued to monitor her.

Dolly is feeling much better!
One day I noticed a slight tremor as she hopped on the milk stand.  Uh Oh. The breeder and I figured it was a Vitamin B12 deficiency, so I hightailed it to the feed store and got some into her.  She was noticeably worse the next morning---could barely stand, refused to eat---Freak Out Time!   Dr. Sarah came to the Funny Farm and figured out right away that Dolly was seriously calcium deficient.  HUH?  A lack of calcium caused THIS?  It had never crossed my mind.  The grain, alfalfa pellets, and hay that she has been getting have not been enough for her.  EEK!    It took almost two weeks, but  she is finally back to her silly self.  

It was a scary lesson, but I learned it, for sure.  No more calcium deficient goats on THIS farm!


Mutant Hen #1 with Mr. Fancy Pants, my favorite fuzzy rooster.

In another glaring case of not knowing what I did not know....I purchased two juvenile  Minorcan hens at auction and immediately put them in the coop with my youngest flock. Big mistake.  It didn't take long to realize that the Newbies were sick and I was lucky that they did not infect the entire flock.  They went into quarantine and it took several months before they recovered from the nastiness they brought with them. 

They grew healthy but they did not grow physically---the illness had permanently stunted their growth! The Teeny Tiny Mutant Hens were rejected by the other chickens and spent their days wandering around the property looking like dejected little crows.   Life went on and ultimately one became a dog toy before I discovered that there was a hole in the fence.   (Another lesson learned just a wee bit too late, but I digress...)

Life has not been easy for the remaining mutant hen.  There are three separate flocks on the homestead: The Big Ass Rooster and his Haughty Hens, Mr. Fancy Pants and the Not Quite Cool Hens, and finally, the Total Loser Hens.  Teeny Tiny couldn't find a home with any of them.  Every single rooster ignored her and even the Total Loser Hens pecked her brutally if she dared get too close. The poor thing was a really lonely critter.  It was like watching Middle School Mean Girls torment The Dork With Glasses! Ugh.  I wondered whether it had been a mistake to spend months nursing a $7.00 chicken back to life, if THIS was the life she was gonna get....

I spent extra time talking to her and feeding her special treats in a ridiculous attempt to give her some confidence and build up her Chicken Self Esteem, all to no avail.   She has dealt with her sad lot in life, but I am happy to report that we have had some interesting developments lately!

One of my juvenile roosters just appointed himself The Big Man of The Loser Group. He is reaching maturity and has the Street Cred to make some important changes.  He has granted Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen status as an official member of The Loser Group and the other hens know better than to peck her now.  She is permitted to hang at the outskirts of the flock ....never on the same perch, but at least in the same general vicinity. The rooster is very proud of his little harem and opens a Big Ol' Can of Whoop Ass on any rooster that gets too close to his gals...even Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen!  She is clearly aware that she is on his team.   They like her!  Right now they like her!  [Age Revealing Sally Field Reference]

The Teeny Tiny Mutant Hen is the one to the bottom right, near the Rooster
Yup, Teeny Tiny has finally found her place in the world.  She belongs! 

*Happy Sigh*

Another added bit of Totally Cool...after a barren year and a half she laid her very first egg!  I couldn't believe it! I had given up on that possibility a long time ago!

 For those of you whose acquaintance with poultry is limited to the packaged meaty parts found at your local grocery store, let me explain that there is a bit of ceremony involved in egg laying...the girls become very vocal and prance a bit as if to say..."LOOK AT ME!  LOOK AT WHAT I JUST DID!"   So...I looked.  Much to my surprise and delight, Teeny Tiny  was the hen doing the Happy Dance---a mutant no longer!  I ran to the nesting box and sure enough....there was a Teeny Tiny Egg laying with all of the others.  It took her an extra year, but she is now a working member of the team. Whew!

 Life has a way of finding a way, doesn't it?  *Happy Sigh*


I gravitate toward projects that are highly detailed, intricate, and time consuming.  Unfortunately, not every Crafty Gal has the time or the inclination for those sorts of endeavors and frankly, sometimes it is fun to have some instant gratification!  The heart pictured here can easily be completed in an afternoon.  Add a pin back and it becomes a brooch,a hat pin, or a component for a cuff bracelet.  Mine is destined to be a small element in a larger home decor project.

Felt making is a very forgiving craft with a great deal of room for individuality.  The directions provided reflect my technique and it works for me.  I think it will work for you.  You might have learned a different way to do things...go in peace, my sister.  There is no right/wrong way to craft.  Have fun and teach someone what you learned!  'Cause after all, it is all about spreading the crafty love....

needle felting, wet felting, bead embroidery, ribbon embroidery, and a wee bit of crochet if you wanna!

Bubble Wrap, 12 x 12 inch square
Toile netting, 12 x 12 inch square (get it from Joanne Fabrics, runs about $1.50 a yard)
Embroidery needle
Beading needle
Fireline Beading Thread
Soap solution (how to follow)
Hand Towel
Rubber Band

Note:   The Tools are available from the sources linked, and/or your favorite bead shop and/or big box craft store.

A few grams of Merino Wool
A gram or two of silk throwsters waste
A gram or two of silk top
4 inch square of hand dyed rayon velvet
A tiny bit of lace (I used a one inch square)
A tiny bit of cotton gauze (I used a 1x4 inch strip)
3.5 x 3.5 inch piece of ultrasuede
A yard or two of hand dyed silk ribbon
2 yards of Swarovski Crystal Yarn
18-24 Swarovski Crystal 2mm round beads (Article 5000)
18-24 Swarovski Crystal 3mm round pearls (Article 5810)
A few inches of Swarovski Cupchain
Assorted seed beads and nailheads
Embroidery thread

Note:  If the ingredients list looks intimidating, don't fret!  Raid your own stash and simply go where inspiration takes you!  Don't have the time or the inclination?  No worries, I can make it easy on you!  Check out my Etsy shop for the kit that includes all of the ingredients that you need to make the heart as pictured.  

The Recipe:

Part One:  Needle Felting
Place some wool on the felting foam.  Manipulate the wool into the shape of a heart by punching the needle firmly through the wool and into the foam.  These needles are wicked. sharp so do not take your eyes off of the needle for even a second.  They have tiny barbs and hurt way more coming out of your finger than they do going into your finger (and they hurt plenty going in, or so I have been told).  You will watch as the fluffs of wool take on a denser appearance with repeated needling.  [Note: I made my heart approximately 4 x 4 inches, because I wanted to wind up with a heart that was approximately 3 x 3 inches.  The wet felting process will shrink the piece by up to 30% so you should start with a piece slightly larger than you would like to see as the finished product.]  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and Out.  DO NOT LOOK AWAY!  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and out.  Gently lift the heart up and turn it over so that you can needle the back.  Lift up the heart. Do you see any bald spots?  Add some additional wool and needle it!

Look closely and you can see the needle holes....
Now for some color and texture....Cut a heart shape from the velvet.  Don't get too crazy over this part...a  heart-ish shape will suffice.  It should be slightly smaller than the wool heart.  Place the velvet on top of the wool.  Hold down one edge of the velvet with your non-dominant hand and very carefully needle the velvet into the wool.  You are working on a very small piece.  Your hands are very close together.  One hand is holding a sharp needle and the other is NOT wearing a protective glove.  Do not look away!  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and out.  The purpose of the needling is to get the velvet and the wool used to the idea that they are going to hook up.  This is an arranged marriage and the little holes you are needling will give the wool a hole through which to migrate so as to penetrate the velvet.  Yup, they will meld together and the two will become one.  Sounds kind of naughty, doesn't it?  See...Felt making is fun!

Now add a bit of lace and cotton gauze.  Put them where they tell you they want to be.  Seriously.  If you listen, your pretty pieces will talk to you.  Needle, needle, needle.  In and out, In and out.  You know the drill.  Whoo Hoo! 

Part Two:  Wet Felting:

Cover with netting

Wet it down

Your fibers should now be connected, although the bond is somewhat fragile.  If you sew, think of what you have just done as the basting stitch.  Now you need to wet felt the heart to create a permanent bond.  Place the bubble wrap on the towel, bubbles side up.  Put the heart on the bubble wrap and cover with netting.  Sprinkle warm soapy water onto the heart.  I make a soap sludge by chopping up a bar of olive oil soap and adding it to a 1/2 gallon of boiling water.  You do not need to go to that degree of trouble for this project.  Simply squirt some dish detergent (Joy, Dove, Palmolive, etc.) into a glass of warm water.  Stir and sprinkle on your heart.

Press your hand onto the soggy heart so that the water is forced to migrate through the fibers. Gently roll up the entire project, excluding the towel, into a fiberlicious jelly roll and secure the roll with a rubber band or other tie.  I used a piece of t-shirt in my scrap pile.  Slowly roll the package back and forth the width of your work surface. Short, sharp rolls are not good.  Long, meaningful rolls that extend along your arm are what we want to see.

After the first 25 rolls, the heart is misshapen

Fiberlicious Jelly Roll

Roll 25 times,  up and back counting as one roll.  Take a peak!  Fiber shrinks in the direction that it is rolled, so you will see the heart is becoming a bit misshapen and elongated. No worries!  Simply rotate the heart by a one quarter turn clockwise and roll 25 more times.  You can remove the netting by this point.  Rotate and roll two more times until the heart is back to its original position.     It should have returned to its pretty heart shape.  Note that the more you roll, the more pronounced the wrinkles that will develop in the velvet.  Feel free to use scissors to trim the piece, if needed, but make sure that you rub the cut edges against the bubble wrap to seal the fiber wound that has been created by the cut.  Rinse the heart and towel dry.  Isn't it adorable?

Part Three:  Embellishment

This is the tricky part of the tutorial because no two felted hearts are going to look identical.  It would be silly for me to direct you to place your Swarovski cup chain exactly where I placed mine.  Who cares?  Felt Making allows you to take a kit project and truly make it your own.  So, rather than make this a color by number project, I will share with you the things that I consider when I reach the embellishment stage.  It is my favorite part of the project because this is where cute becomes sublime! 

Endeavor to pull out the stops by adding a balance of texture and color. I find that placement of the first beads is usually the most difficult decision for me, so I generally just bow to the pressure and follow a natural line of the piece.  Accordingly I stitched some 3mm Swarovski crystal sequins down along the left side of the heart.  The flash of sparkle against the warm and fuzzy textile is visually gratifying to me.  Once I committed to that initial bead placement, I found that the other beads told me where they needed to go.  I know, I know!  It sounds like kind of an artsy fartsy/hippie chick sort of thing to say, but I am amazed by how often that is the way it goes.  Plus, I am kind of an artsy fartsy hippie chick. 

I wanted the brainy velvet to stand front and center, so chose to use only a sprinkling of Swarovski 2mm round beads sewn into the rivulets created by the ruching.  Swarovski crystal cupchain is easy to stitch on to any textile and because it is a linear component, it made sense to follow the line already created by the crystal sequins. The cream Swarovski pearls and seed beads made a strong statement when I added them to the top right.  I liked them but found the bright spot disconcerting until I muted the color by balancing it a bit with the addition of cream pearls to the opposite side.  Additional texture is achieved by some well placed french knots made from hand dyed silk ribbon...

...and so it went for an hour or so as I listened to the sparkle direct my hands.  Occasionally my muse went silent,  so I simply walked away for a moment to pet the dog and throw on a load of laundry.  The process works for me and I hope it will work for you.

You can call the job finished at any point, but I like to cover the ugly backside so that the stitches don't show, you know, kind of like covering your tush so the cellulite doesn't show.  I mean, really, who wants to look at that sh*t?  I took a bit of ultra suede and traced my felted heart onto it.  I then used a blanket stitch to attach the pieces together. A whip stitch would suffice, but the blanket stitch makes it easy for me to crochet a little border around the heart.  I used Swarovski yarn, which is truly a decadent treat.  My favorite is the Dorado and, although it is pricey if you want to knit a sweater, a mere two yards will turn this project into something really special.  Add a pin back to turn it into a brooch, sew it onto a card for Valentine's Day, add a jump ring and call it a pendant.  Truly, the possibilities go on and on!

Have fun and send me a picture of your creation!

Crafting is uncomplicated joy.....Pass it on!