Weekend road trip!

Vintage bright red Austin Mini

Vintage bright red Austin Mini parked in front of the boat shop on the banks of the Parker River. Wish it were mine!

We’re off on a weekend jaunt.

Unfortunately, this is not our car.

Not our kayak, either.

Boo hoo.

Hope you’re doing something fun this weekend.

There’s still a lot of summer left!


Kool-Aid dyeing is fruity fiber fun!

I filled my old ironstone tureen with butterflies of wool yarn in bright Kool Aid colors.

I filled my old ironstone tureen with butterflies of wool yarn in bright Kool-Aid colors.

Want a little homemade fiber fun before the summer is over?

Did you know you can dye wool with Kool-Aid?

We do it every summer at my weaving camp for kids. It’s easy, it’s non-toxic, and it’s very fun to experiment with the different colors you can create.

Here’s what you need:

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My color line-up of drink mixes. I used liquid mixes because they were cheaper for my small class than the big jars of powdered mix. Alas, I couldn’t find the Kool-Aid paper packets that we all remember from childhood.

* 100% wool yarn in white or off-white. Cotton won’t work.

* heat-proof bowl big enough to hold all the wool you want to dye

* small microwaveable bowls, one for every color you’d like to make

* spoons

* boiling water

* plastic wrap

* microwave

* potholders to remove bowls from the microwave

* newspaper to protect your work surface

* cold water for rinsing

* a way to hang up your wool to dry

* liquid food coloring, if you want to mix up different colors

* Kool-Aid, or any brightly colored drink mix that does contain citric acid, and that does not contain sugar. These two things are important! The citric acid is the mordant that “sets” the dye in the wool so the color won’t wash out. And you’ll be microwaving the wool till it’s very hot, so any drink mix that contains sugar is going to burn! If the label says the mix has zero calories, and the ingredients list says it contains citric acid, you’re good to go.

Ready?

First, tie the wool yarn into butterflies. The yarn has to be fairly loose in the dye bath (so a tightly wrapped ball won’t work), but you don’t want the yarn to tangle. Butterflies are the perfect solution. To make a yarn butterfly, loop the yarn in a figure-8 around the thumb and little finger of one hand. When the butterfly is as big as you want it, cut the yarn and loop the cut end around the middle of the butterfly a couple of times to hold it together. When you want to use the yarn, you just pull the starting end. Our butterflies were about a yard and a half long.

Three boring butterflies of wool yarn, about to metamorphose!

Three boring butterflies of wool yarn, about to metamorphose!

Fill the big bowl with very hot water and gently push all the butterflies into it. Don’t stir it around! Wool + hot water + agitation = FELT, and felt is forever! Just push the wool down into the water, and let it sit for at least half an hour. You want the wool to be completely saturated with water. This opens up the wool fibers so the dye can penetrate easily.

Looks like spaghetti, doesn't it? Sheep-ish spaghetti!

Looks like spaghetti in my Buffalo China cereal bowl, doesn’t it? Sheep-ish spaghetti!

When the water has cooled. gently lift each butterfly and squeeze it nearly dry. Don’t wring it.

Next, prepare your dye baths. In each of the small bowls, pour at least a cup of boiling water. Stir in the drink mix. Whether you’re using a powder or a liquid, experiment with how much mix to use to get a darker or a lighter color. Put the wool butterflies into each dye bath and use a spoon to gently push them down into the liquid. Again, don’t stir!

Clockwise from top left, I've got orange, green tea, grape, tropical punch, lemonade, and cherry. The kids pointed out that green tea is not green, and not exciting.

Clockwise from top left, I’ve got orange, green tea, grape, tropical punch, lemonade, and cherry. The kids pointed out that green tea is not green, and not exciting.

Here you may want to remind children that, although these dye baths smell nice and fruity, they aren’t for tasting. Kool-Aid dye and food coloring are obviously non-toxic, but every other fiber dye out there is either fairly toxic or horribly toxic. “Don’t taste dye!” is a good rule to hammer home.

Not happy with the color selection? You can add drops of food coloring to make different colors. We got a great kelly green by adding green food coloring to the lemonade. Just remember that you must start with some drink mix in the dye bath, since the mix contains that crucial citric acid.

Pale lemonade + a couple drops of green food coloring = what a color!

Pale lemonade + a couple drops of green food coloring = what a color!

Now for the amazing part! Tightly cover each bowl of dye and wool with plastic wrap. Poke 4 or 5 holes in the plastic with a toothpick. These are your steam vents.

This bowl of orange dye has one big hole punched in the plastic wrap, but 4 or 5 small ones work much better.

This bowl of orange dye has one big hole punched in the plastic wrap, but 4 or 5 small ones work much better.

One by one, microwave each bowl for about a minute. Watch carefully! If the wool is not completely submerged in the dye, it may start to smolder. Don’t let it do that!

Carefully remove hot bowls from the microwave and set them on your workspace. Leave the plastic wrap on. Let the bowls sit undisturbed till the dye bath has cooled completely. This will take a while, so shoo the kids out to do something else for an hour. Feed the chickens, clean their rooms, build a tree fort . . .

When the dye baths have cooled completely, the liquid in the bowls should be nearly clear. Almost all of the color will have been absorbed by the wool.

Grape-colored wool. See how the cooled dye bath is nearly colorless?

Grape-colored wool. See how the cooled dye bath is nearly colorless?

Rinse your dyed butterflies in cool water, again gently squeezing to remove excess water. Then hang them up to dry.

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Our bright butterflies drying outside in the farmyard.

Want to dye several skeins of wool the same color? Instead of using the microwave, you may need to heat the dyebath and the wool to a brief boil in a pot on your stovetop. One of my co-workers dyes her ragg-wool socks this way!

What can you do with little bits of Kool-Aid-dyed yarn? Next week I’ll show you what the kids in weaving camp made!


Simple embroidery? It’s just ducky for beginners.

Janeray’s wonderful day-of-the-week dishtowels reminded me that I’ve got some darling vintage embroidery pieces in my stash that are bound for September’s Vintage Bazaar.

I think all of them are easy enough for even a beginning stitcher to enjoy making.

Like this sweet cotton towel with a little Dutch washerwoman. Isn’t her flowered skirt adorable?

Splash! goes the water. One of our grandmas had a wringer-washer just like this.

Splash! goes the water. One of our grandmas had a wringer-washer just like this.

It’s mostly outline stitch with a dash of straight stitch thrown in. Somebody did a lovely neat job of it—look how even the stitches are.

One of her eyes is a diamond, the other is an oval, giving her a certain squinty charm. The colors are so cheerful!

One of her eyes is a diamond, the other is an oval, giving her a certain squinty charm. The colors are so cheerful!

How about this ducky farmyard scene embroidered in one corner of a cotton baby towel?

When I found this baby towel, somebody had stitched scratchy modern polyester lace all around the edges. I think it's much cuter without it!

When I found this baby towel, somebody had sewn scratchy modern polyester lace all around the edges. I think it’s much cuter without it!

You’ve got four complete ducks here, and a mere suggestion of everything else: the lines of a barn, an angle of a hill, a bit of a tree branch, a sketch of grass, and a splash of water. All in outline stitch, not the most expertly done but it’ll do.

One more: a linen hand towel, the kind you put out for guests even though guests think it’s far too nice to use.

She seems surprised to see you! Meanwhile, the fat little bluebird appears to be stealing one of the ribbons from her hat.

She seems surprised to see you! Meanwhile, the fat little bluebird appears to be stealing a ribbon from her giant hat.

Lots of backstitch and straight stitch here. The blue and yellow is very pretty together, and it looks like the yellow is variegated—see how the color shifts on her hair and at the scallop on her dress hem?

I’m going to scan all three of these designs for my sewing students to try.

If you’re a novice embroiderer, would these designs appeal to you?

 

 


Life is just a bowl . . .

Dark, sweet cherries in a vintage ironstone bowl. The cherry-print napkin isn't vintage---I got it from Crate & Barrel maybe a dozen years ago, back when they offered retro-print linens.

Dark, sweet cherries in a vintage ironstone bowl. Mmmmmm! The cherry-print napkin isn’t vintage—I got it from Crate & Barrel maybe a dozen years ago, back when they offered retro print linens.

Raise your hand if you love fresh, sweet, juicy cherries.

Great, now just keep your hand up there, I mean both hands actually, nice and high, while I, um, . . . polish off the last few cherries in this giant bag of Washington state fruit I got in the supermarket.

Yum.

[wipes chin]

Okay, you can put your hands down now.

Fresh cherries have gotta be one the of the nicest things about late summer. (Fresh native peaches have gotta be one of the other nice things!)

And while I could easily eat them out of hand by the gallon, sometimes it’s fun to do a little baking with them, too.

Except I always think that if I wanted to eat cooked cherries, I’d just crack open a can of cherry pie filling. Once you cook them, cherries lose a lot in the color and texture departments.

And what’s the point of getting your hands on fresh yummy cherries if you’re just going to turn them into boring cooked ones?

So I was surprised to find a recipe for Fresh Cherry Tart torn from an old print issue of Everyday Food in my baking binder. Surprised because I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made it yet!

This tart starts with a homemade graham-cracker crust. The middle layer is an uncooked and lightly sweetened cream cheese filling. And on top are those glorious fresh cherries, glazed with jam.

Cherries 5

I haven’t taken it out of the removable-bottom tart pan yet, but it’s still pretty yummy looking!

Not lo-cal, that’s for sure. But if you take it to a party and eat just a little slice, well, it’s not such a hideous diet-buster.

And it’s crazy-easy to make.

Even if, like me, you wreck the graham-cracker crust the first time you bake it because you forget that you used a tart pan with a removable bottom and you accidentally slide your hand underneath the removable-bottom part to move the pan.

I won’t show you a pic of the resulting crumby mess.

(Pro tip from idiot me: put the removable-bottom tart pan on a cookie sheet!)

Here's the glaze getting brushed on. Note the cookie sheet under the tart pan! Slide the whole thing---cookie sheet, tart pan and all---into the fridge to chill, and you won't have a disaster like I did!

Here’s the jam glaze getting brushed on. Note the cookie sheet under the tart pan! Slide the whole thing—cookie sheet, tart pan and all—into the fridge to chill, and you won’t have a disaster like I did!

Next time I’d make a little more graham-cracker crumbs than the recipe calls for. I didn’t think there was quite enough to create a thick bottom crust and sides to support the heavy filling.

Also next time I’ll try using the cream cheese the recipe calls for! I’d had to substitute marscapone instead, because the supermarket was weirdly sold out of cream cheese. The result was softer than I think the chilled cream-cheese filling would be. But it was nicely tangy too.

Still not out of the pan! The vintage cherries tablecloth is a beaut, isn't it?

Still not out of the pan! The vintage cherries tablecloth is a beaut, isn’t it?

I can’t actually show you a picture of my tart out of the pan because it was devoured by six people in about ten minutes.

If your tart lasts longer than that, I’d love to know about it!

The recipe for Fresh Cherry Tart is here.

Happy cherry baking!


To quilt heaven and back: Lancaster PA

Have you ever splurged on something without a single regret? Earlier this summer I found a collection of vintage quilt tops for sale on Instagram. They’d been used to cover tables at a country wedding. (Lucky, lucky bride!) The handful of photos were itty-bitty but I could see the quilt tops were made of amazing old fabric. It was a now-or-never moment. So I bought all five of them!

stash of vintage quilt tops

Look at these colors! Look at these patterns! How could I choose just one?

Fast forward a few weeks, and two friends invited me to go fabric shopping in Lancaster. I took two of the vintage quilt tops along. Yes, there’s more!


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