Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Christmas crafting recap, and a family photo

Happiest of holidays, everyone! This has been a very hand made Christmas over here. The above photo is one example. My husband Eric's mother usually asks us for a family photo, and we usually trot over to the local Target to have them take a professional one for us. This year Target isn't doing that any more, and I have a perfectly good camera anyway. So, we headed out to our favorite spot in the desert and took the photo ourselves. That is me in the top row with my two husbands, our two kids in the middle row, and my son-in-law down in front. All the kids are home for the holidays, and the house is merry and full of laughter.

So, I did the family portrait, and I updated the nature photography screensaver that I give out each year. I also made 14 of the needle felted ornaments, 4 pairs of socks (one dyed to order), 4 hand woven napkins, 1 Viking wire woven necklace, 1 triloom shawl, and 12 pairs of hand dipped candles. Whew! On top of the stuff for the Tangible Daydreams shop, that made me a very busy lady indeed. But there were smiles all around, and joy was had in the making and the receiving.

I swear I'm starting earlier for next year though.

I also say that every year.

One of these years I'll learn.

Really. I mean it.

And you all can laugh at me next year when I'm posting the same resolution once again. Because I know better. Christmas in the Arizona desert sneaks up on me every year, because the seasonal cues are just so off from what I grew up with in the Midwest. When I still have the air conditioner on in early November because it is still in the 90's F out there? Christmas crafting just doesn't occur to me. My hindbrain knows there is plenty of time. But, there really isn't.

This year for sure!!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tutorial: Hand dipped candles

So, this is what I was up to last night. I had some candle wax, wicks, and color/fragrance left over from making dip candles years ago, and Christmas is coming. I figured I could make a batch of dip candles to hand out to friends at the party Christmas afternoon/evening. I learned how to do this as a child, watching folks at the Miller-Cory House in New Jersey make them. That is a restored colonial era farm house, where my parents volunteered on the weekends. I had my own little costume and ran around the grounds, wide eyed and just soaking everything in. I remember seeing candles like this hanging in the gift shop for sale.

Now, I'm using paraffin rather than bees wax or bayberry, and raided my husband's work shop for nuts/washers for weights, but the idea of a gradual build up of wax over repeated dips is the same. Here's what I did:

paraffin wax (No, I didn't measure, I eyeballed it)
candle wicking
added color and scent if you want it. Refer to the box for amounts
(I found supplies at Michaels. Check your local craft store.)

a container to hold melted wax
a pot of water
a wide stick to hang the wicks over (I used slats from blinds)
chairs or something to support the sticks
scissors to cut the wick
hammer & chisel or screwdriver to break the wax into chunks for melting
disposable chopstick or something of the sort to poke at the melting wax if you are impatient
candy thermometer
So, put your melting pot in a pot of water, add chunks of wax, and heat things up. Keep your water warm, but not making bubbles. You are looking for a temperature of about 150F for the wax. You can check that with your candy thermometer. The melting will take awhile.
While the wax is melting, prepare your wicks. Figure out how long you want your candles to be, keeping in mind that you are limited by the height of your dipping pot. Double that number, and then add maybe 5 inches more, so you have enough to tie weights on each end, and still have enough connecting string to hang over your cooling rack. I used nuts this time for weights on the end, since they have a hole to tie through. Also, once the wax melts, you can add color/scent if you want to, using the directions on whatever product you have.
Ok, when you have liquid wax, go ahead and start dipping. Hold your wick by the center point, and dip straight down and back out. Don't dawdle in the melted wax, or the heat will melt previous layers of wax. Hang your proto-candles over your cooling rack. Don't worry too much about how straight the wicks are for this first phase. I had a dozen pairs of candles going, so I just rotated through them and had no issue with them being too hot by the time I got back to the beginning ones. But, some folks recommend having a tall bucket of cold water to dip the candles into as you work, to cool them faster.

Once you have several layers of wax on, you can straighten out your candles as you need to. Keep on dipping. This process took me several hours. As the amount of wax in your dipping pot goes down, occasionally add more chunks of the unmelted wax, and let them melt down before continuing. I also added more color as I went along, so the outside of the candles would be gradually more colored than the insides.
When your candles are as thick as you want them to be, take a scissors or knife and cut the weights off of the bottom of your candles. Dip your candles a few more times, just to smooth out the cut edges. Then, hang your candles to cool thoroughly. I hung mine on my back porch overnight while I slept, and they were fine in the morning.

I did find it was easier to get the weights out of their wax coating while the wax was still pliable.

And voila! Candles!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tutorial: Beginner Needle Felted Christmas Ornaments: Pine Trees on Balls

Merry Christmas, everyone! In my family, we often make each other hand made ornaments as gifts at the holiday times. My tree upstairs is filled with love and memories.
Yes, we have a dog gate around our tree. We have 4 dogs and 2 cats in the house. It just seems prudent. Anyway, most of my family doesn't actually read my blog unless I link to it on my Facebook page (, so I'm going to take a risk here and let you all have a peek at the needle felted pine tree ornaments I'm making for them this year.

First all, my materials:
wool roving
a wool dryer ball

needle felting needles
a bit of foam for a work surface
a needle for the yarn
needle nose pliers

You can pick up the needle felting needles, needle felting roving, and wool dryer balls off of Amazon. The needle felting needles have tiny barbs on them, which will tangle the fibers of your roving down into the wool of the dryer ball as you gently stab stab stab. You will want at least brown and green roving, though I like having a few shades of each for this project.

 So, take your dark brown roving, and pull a wisp of fibers an inch or so long out from the main mass of wool.
 Twist your brown roving into a straight line. Hmm, the focus isn't very good here. Hard to take pictures without a third hand.
 Anyway, your brown roving will look something like this.
 Take the tip of the line of dark brown, and gently tap it into position with your needle. If you look at the top of the dryer ball, you can see that I have very lightly tacked a random bit of wool into place to mark which way is up. I ended up needle felting three trees onto this ornament, and this helped me place them.
 Tack the brown of your tree trunk very lightly down the line until you get to the bottom. Then, flare out the fibers just a bit to give you a sense of the trunk spreading into roots at the base of the tree.
 Tack the base of your tree into place. You can fold the stray ends of the fiber up into the tree trunk. Double check that you are happy with the placement and length of the trunk. Since you have been tacking very lightly, you can still rip things out at this point.
 Grab a similar wisp of pine green fiber.
 Lay the fiber crosswise, centered on the top of your tree trunk. Needle it to the tree trunk with several stabs up and down the width of the green fiber.
 Now, use the tip of your needle to drag the ends of the green fibers down at an angle, and lightly tack down the end of your branches.
 Do the same on the other side of the tree.
 Grab another wisp of pine green, and add it below the batch that you just did. Again, needle it to the trunk first to anchor it, and then tack down the tips of your branches.
 Move all the way down the tree this way. This gives you the outline of your tree shape. Since everything is still just lightly tacked down, you can still move things around.
 Do you like the general outline? Then it is time to needle felt in earnest. Gently stab stab stab, following along the branches from trunk to tip and back again. Be careful to enter and exit the wool ball at the same angle, or you may snap the tip off of your needle. They are fragile. In the above picture, I've been working on the right side, and not the left, so you can see the difference.
 Ok, you have the skeleton of the tree in place. But there are obviously some bare spots. Grab some more wisps of wool, and tack them into place where you want them. Use the pine green, but maybe also some other colors mixed in as well. I've got some of the lighter green here.
 And maybe some of the various browns scattered here and there might be nice too.
 There, that looks good for me.
 Ok, time to work on the base of the tree. I took another wisp of the dark brown, and tacked its midpoint in at the base of the tree
 Then, dragged the ends of the fibers out sideways and tacked them lightly down to show the ground line.
 I grabbed some of the light brown, and tacked it in below the tree.
 And then, I filled in between the two colors with the medium brown. I left things lightly tacked down on the ground for now...
 ...and then repeated making trees in two other places on my ornament. When I had trees next to each other, I drew the ground fibers toward each other to make a continuous ground line.
 Then I needled the ground fibers firmly down in place.
 Ok, once I had three trees in place, I didn't need my top of the ornament marker any more.
 Since it was just lightly stabbed down a few times, it popped right off.
 To add a loop for hanging, you can use a straight needle if you choose to...
 But I find a curved needle a bit easier to work with. Cut a length of the yarn, thread your sewing needle, and position the yarn at the top of your ornament.
 I find it is easier to use pliers to grab the needle to actually pull the yarn through the wool dryer ball.
 Tie a knot in the top of your yarn to make a loop.
And then, on to the tree it goes!!

You can use this same general idea to add whatever pictures you want onto the dryer balls. I figure my family gets these this year, and I'll see about adding a variety of ornaments to the Etsy shop come holiday time next year. I really liked this process, and want to do more of it!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tutorial: Self striping sock yarn

Now, I am not an expert. But I hand dyed some self striping sock yarn, and I'm really pleased with how it turned out!

So, I figured I'd share what I did with you all.

Wool yarn. I used superwash sock yarn, which is less likely to felt.
Jacquard acid dyes
cotton crochet thread for ties
Dawn dish soap for washing afterwards

saran wrap
squirt bottles
measuring spoon
dust mask
warping mill (or something to measure out your yarn)
swift (Or someone to hold the hank of yarn out for you in their hands.)
ball winder (Optional. You can ball up the yarn by hand.)
tub for soaking

Note: Do not use any of the items used for dyeing for food preparation ever again.

So, the first thing I did was to wind the hank of yarn from the swift onto my warping mill. I figured that 5 yards on the mill would give me about a 10 yard repeat (as the yarn goes back and forth from end to end.) My calculations were that that length would give me about an inch pattern repeat in my socks. You'll have to swatch for your own tension and row size to get your own figures.
 I tied loose figure 8 ties every yard, from some cotton crochet thread. That helps keep things from tangling, and the cotton doesn't dye so I can find it easily later on. Don't tie these too tight, or they will block the dye from getting through to the yarn.
 I also used loose ties around each arm of the figure 8 crosses at the ends of the warping mill. This again keeps things in order, and makes it easier to replace the yarn back onto the mill when the dyeing process is done.
 Then I chained the yarn up as I took it off the warping mill. No tangles!
 I soaked the chained up yarn in a tub of water and vinegar for half an hour. I had about a cup of vinegar in here. This provides the acid for the acid dyes to bond to the fiber.
 While the yarn was soaking, I put down a layer of cling wrap onto my work surface.
 Then, I chose my colors. My client wanted green, yellow, orange, and pink, as bright as possible.
 At this point, I put on my dust mask and gloves. Then I put about a half tsp of dye into each squirt bottle, and mixed it with warm water. Once the dye powders were closed up and put back away, and my area cleaned up, I could take the dust mask back off. I don't want airborne particles in my lungs!!
 I squeezed the water gently out of my yarn, and laid it out onto my work surface.
 Then, I had fun with the squeeze bottles! I used my gloved fingers to squish the dye down into the yarn, to make sure it got all of the way through. A bit of color theory helped here. I wanted bright colors, and I know that colors across the color wheel from each other combine to make earth tones. So, I kept the green and pink/orange far away from each other.
 After dyeing, I covered everything with another layer of saran wrap.
 Then, I rolled the bundle up.
 I curled the long bundle around itself, and put it in my steamer. I steamed the packet of yarn for an hour, then let it cool overnight. The next morning, I rinsed the yarn in the sink with first a squirt of dish soap, and then plain water to rinse the soap out. You are looking to rinse until the water runs clear. It didn't take long at all this time. Then, I hung the yarn up to air dry. (I forgot to take pictures of the rinsing and drying process.)
Once the yarn was dry, I put it back onto the warping mill, and used my automatic ball winder to put the yarn into a useable form.
 All ready to go!
It worked!!! I cranked out a pair of socks on my 100 year old sock knitting machine, and just danced in my seat the whole time. I am really, really pleased with how it turned out!