Thursday, October 30, 2014

Snowman Ornament

Every year I devote all of my energy to Halloween. I spend weeks working on Halloween projects, decorating, and of course baking Bat Cookies.  Halloween, for me, signals the start of the holiday season and of course I like to get off to a good start.  The problem is that I can't sustain this pace until the holiday season is over. Usually by the time that Christmas roles around, I am so burned out from the baking, decorating and craft projects that I just want the holiday season to be over with so I can go back to working on projects at my own pace with no looming deadlines.  This year, I resolved, will be different! My yard decorations were starting to look tired and a little "ratty" so I opted not to put them out.  The whimsical witch on her flying broomstick will still hang on the front door along with my bats. La Sorciere and her friends are gracing the inside of the house with their presence. Of course Brittany is not on board with this paired down decorating, but it has allowed me time to start working on my Christmas projects. It is nice to be able to knit socks and scarves for gifts without the marathon late night knitting sessions to get them all finished the week before Christmas.

This year I want to work on some of the fun Christmas projects that always get bumped because something else more important had to be done.  Those of you who know me, know that it's not just about the gift but the presentation of the gift. I saw some little wood cut outs in the Christmas section at Michaels. The unpainted wood came in all sizes and shapes. I really liked the square shape and bought several to use a package decorations. I was inspired the snowmen in Snow Buddies Throughout the Year! bu Nancy Smith and Lynda Milligan. This is a book for making a snowman quilt block for each month of the year, but the book does not stop there. It also has ideas for painted decorative containers, appliqued sweatshirts, place mats and more. The book is still available from Amazon and other booksellers on line. My little snowman is inspired by one of the snowmen in the front of the book. The ornaments are drying on a Dry It Board. This board is a great help when painting small objects, all sides of the object can be painted at once and left on the board to dry without marring the paint. How is this possible? The board is composed of tiny, sharp tips that do not stick to the painted surface. These tips are very sharp and you must use caution when handling the board to avoid being stuck. No matter how carefully I move the board, I seem to always get stuck. It's sort of like getting stuck by a sharp needle or pin. The Dry It Board is available from on line craft retailers.

Original wooden square, and painted squares.
Finished snowman with blended fibers for texture.

Directions for Snowman Ornament:

Celebrate It Carved Ornament- available at Michaels
Liquitex Light blue, black, burnt sienna, white, deep rose acrylic paints
Liquitex Blended Fibers
Pebeo Prisme Fantasy paint-buttercup, glossy
Small flat, round and liner paintbrushes
Foam brush
Saral or graphite paper
Embossing stylus or ballpoint pen with a pointed end on the pen cap
Tracing paper
Stickles- Ice Stickles Diamond Dust-glitter glue
Martha Stewart Snowflake Border paper punch
Scrap of White card stock
Craft glue
Craft varnish or sealant- water based

1.  Remove the string from the ornament and set aside. Wipe the ornament with a damp cloth to remove any dust or residue and let it dry.

2.  Mix the light blue and white paint until the paint is the color of a blue sky. Paint the ornament on all sides with the foam brush. Lay the painted ornament on the Dry It Board and touch up any smudges.

3.  Sketch a snowman figure on a piece of tracing paper. I used tracing paper so I could see the image placement on the wood. Once the image is centered on the ornament, place a piece of saral or graphite paper under the drawing. Be careful not to shift the drawing. Use an embossing stylus or the cap of a ballpoint pen to lightly trace around the snowman.

4.  Use the flat paintbrush and white paint to fill in the shape of the snowman. Next paint the scarf and hat with the deep rose paint. Paint the carrot nose with the burnt sienna paint. After the paint has dried, use a palette knife to apply the blended fibers to the snowman; working around the carrot nose. Let the snowman dry over night.

5.  Paint over the blended fibers with white paint and let it dry and paint a pom pom on the end of the snowman's hat. Add a dab of black paint to the deep rose and shade the scarf and the hat to give them more detail.  Add a small amount of white paint to the deep rose and shade the lighter areas of the hat and scarf.
Using the round brush or the liner brush paint the eyes and the mouth with black paint and the cheeks with a light rose paint. Using the round brush, paint the Pebeo Prisme paint around the indented area on the top of the ornament. Apply 2 coats. Let each coat dry over night.

6.  Punch snowflakes from the white card stock with the snowflake border punch. Scatter the snowflakes around the top of the ornament and glue in place. Add a dot of Ice Stickles to the center of the snowflakes and to the pom pom on the hat. Set aside to dry over night.

7.  Varnish the ornament with the water based craft varnish or sealant. Let it dry and apply to more coats.

8.  Reattach the string to the top of the ornament.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Marie Antoinette Socks

I admit it, I have a sock obsession! I didn't mean to become obsessed, it just worked out that way. I started by knitting a couple of pairs of wool socks to wear during the cold winter months, but it didn't stop there. Soon I would insist on wearing only hand knit merino wool socks and spend hours searching the web for patterns. It was in one of my pattern searching frenzies that I came across sock patterns on the site.

As I scrolled down through the patterns, I came across the Marie Antoinette socks. The socks are knit from the top down with ornate, sculpted stitches and an open work beehive pattern running down the back of the leg to the heel. I must knit these socks!

When I received the pattern, I was a little intimidated by knitting from 2 different charts at the same time. I read through the entire pattern and the instructions were very clear. I have knit several of Anne Hanson's designs in the past and have always had great results, so I didn't expect anything less this time.

I grabbed my Karbonz double point needles and the String Theory BFL yarn that I purchased from the Knitting Sisters and started knitting. The instructions for the cuff were different from the usual sock cuff. The cuff is knit by using a provisional cast-on and knitting over 8 stitches and repeating the pattern until the cuff reaches the required length. The cuff ends are grafted together and the sock is knit in the round.

Marie Antoinette sock.
Beehive pattern on the back of the leg and heel.
Sculpted stitches

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Decorative Pumpkin Bowl

Wow, I can't believe that it's the middle of October and I haven't posted a Halloween project. I want to share one of my favorite projects. Halloween is always a fun event in our house. We love the "spooky" decorations, baking bat cookies and of course greeting the neighbors as they come to our door on Halloween night. Keeping in the spirit of the holiday, I wanted a decorative bowl to hold the candy bars for our guests. You probably know where this is going! I searched several stores and Halloween shops without finding a suitable container. I had seen a cute pumpkin design, in a decorative painting book, that I had wanted to paint, so I bought a large stainless steel mixing bowl at Walmart. Then it was off to Michaels for some orange, white and green craft paint, black Krylon paint and some gesso. I chose only materials that were listed non-toxic on the label.

Since this is a painted bowl it should be used only for decorative purposes.  I like to line it with plastic wrap before placing wrapped candy bars in the bowl.

Directions for Pumpkin Bowl:

Large stainless steel mixing bowl
Plaid non-toxic craft paint- black, white, orange and green
Krylon spray- paint
Delta craft varnish-non-toxic and available at JoAnn
Paint brushes- round, filbert or shader and liner
Foam brush
Transfer paper
Embossing stylus
Fine steel wool (000 steel wool)

1.  Wash and dry the bowl. Once the bowl is completely dry, go over the surface with the 000 steel wool (both inside and out).

2.  Wipe the bowl with a damp paper towel to remove any residue.

3.  Use a foam brush to apply gesso to the inside and outside of the bowl. It may need 2 coats. Let it dry between coats.

4.  Once the bowl is dry spray it inside and outside with the Krylon black paint. Use the paint in a well ventilated room. I sprayed my bowl outside. Make sure that the paint completely covers the bowl.

5.  After the paint is dry, transfer the design to the bowl using transfer paper and an embossing stylus.

6.  Block in the shape of the pumpkins, using orange paint and after the paint is dry, paint in the faces with black paint. Add details and shading to the pumpkins and paint in the vines with green paint. Once the paint is dry, add details to the vines and paint the orange flowers. After the entire piece is dry, use white paint to paint in the details and highlights. Set aside to dry.

7.  Once the paint is thoroughly dry, use a foam brush to coat the bowl with the non-toxic craft varnish. I used 3 coats, letting it dry between each coat.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

There Is Good In Everything!

Bored with just knitting socks for gifts, I wanted to knit something different.  I came across the Ninetta Neck warmer by Nina Machlin Dayton on the Webs yarn website and knew that this must be my next project. This beautiful, ruffled neck warmer is knit in Malabrigo worsted using size US 7 needles. I chose a dark, inky blue with purple undertones called Paris Night for my scarf.  The scarf pattern is easy to knit, a beginner with some knitting experience could  knit this scarf. The pattern is based on a smocked stitch which is easily mastered (the directions are very clear).

I thought the scarf would knit up quickly since it was knit using size 7 needles and worsted weight yarn. I had knit 2 rows the day that I received the yarn and put the project aside. The next day I grabbed the scarf on my way out the door. My car was having a scheduled oil change, so I thought that I would be able to knit for about an hour, not realizing how wrong I would be.  After 3 hours of knitting, the service manager came in to tell me that the oil filter was not in stock but they had sent someone to another dealership to obtain the part. After 2 more hours of knitting, the service manager told me they finally located the filter and the tech was on his way with the part. I had called the previous week to make the appointment and the dealer had 4 days to acquire the oil filter prior to my appointment but the tech who ordered the parts didn't think that my car would actually be coming in so he didn't bother to order the oil filter. Don't you just love it when service people  take it upon themselves to make decisions not based on fact while ignoring the actual data in front of them? Eight hours later, I was notified that my car was finally ready and incidentally so was my scarf. I hadn't planned to sit and knit for 8 hours straight, it just worked out that way. When I told my husband about my day he was very upset with the dealership. I told him that I just chalk it up to experience. At least I was able to finish my scarf. There is good in everything, you just have to look for it!

Finished scarf with key hole opening.

Mozart didn't want to model the scarf so I had to do a "selfie".

Friday, October 3, 2014

Remberance of Projects Past

Brittany has started an on-going post on her, Kveldulv Designs, blog that highlights past projects. These are projects that we made years ago, some we incorporated into our home decor and others (I'm sorry to say) were tucked away in the yarn cabinet. Taking my cue from Brittany, I have decided to make periodic postings of past projects to share with you.  Incidently the name for this post is inspired by Marcel Proust.

When I started quilting, my kids wanted me to make them each a quilt. I found Debbie Mumm's Bowsers and Meowsers book at a local quilt shop and decided to make them each a wall hanging size quilt to hang over their beds. Brittany chose the cat quilt and Michelle wanted the dogs. We decided to use the same fabrics in each quilt so the color scheme would match. The pattern was published in 1996 but there are a lot of copies still available-on Amazon, e-bay and other sites. The pattern is easy enough for a beginning quilter. This was only the second time that I had quilted anything.

The dog quilt was the easier of the two quilts.

Dark grey, light grey and taupe print fabrics were used for the cats.

Delicious Fried Oysters

Living in Maryland we are blessed with a variety of fresh seafood. Once again it's oyster season. Recently while having lunch, I opted for the Oyster Po Boy sandwich. I really like fried oysters but have found restaurant fried oysters disappointing. The restaurant we were dining in was upscale and very popular, so I decided to give the Oyster Po Boy another chance. Surely the chef in this restaurant would know how to fry oysters! When my sandwich arrived, it looked appetizing, fried oysters on a chiabatta roll with lettuce and tomato. I was very disappointed when I took my first bite, the sandwich didn't taste as good as it looked. The fried oysters were coated with bread crumbs and had no flavor. The breading acted as a sponge that had soaked up the oil, making the oysters soggy and greasy instead of crisp. I have come to the conclusion that although Marylander's have fresh oysters readily available they just don't know how to fry them.

It's really so simple to make delicious fried oysters. The recipe is so easy to prepare that I feel a little guilty when my husband raves about my fried oysters. So here is the "recipe".

Delicious Fried Oysters:

1 pint of Select Oysters, shucked
1-2 sleeves of Saltine Crackers- the store brands work just as well as the name brands. Don't use crackers with low salt or no salt. The salt in the crackers is your only seasoning.
1 egg
Flour-approximately 1/3 cup
Shallow dishes or pie plates

1.  Place the crackers in a food processor and pulse until all of the crackers have been ground. The crackers should have some texture and not ground to a powder. Empty the crackers in to a pie plate, or shallow dish.

2.  Put about 1/3 cup of flour in another pie plate, or shallow dish.

3.  In a small bowl, large enough to dip the oysters, whisk the egg and milk together. You want enough egg mixture to be able to dip all of the coated oysters.

4.  Place one oyster in the dish with the flour, coating the entire oyster with flour. You want a light coating of flour to help the egg mixture stick to the oyster. Next dip the flour coated oyster in the egg mixture, allowing the excess liquid to drain from the oyster before putting it the cracker crumbs. Place the oyster in the dish with the cracker crumbs and generously coat the entire oyster. Place the coated oysters on a baking tray and set aside.

5.  Repeat the process until all of the oysters have been coated with cracker crumbs. Place the baking tray in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This allows the coating to adhere to the oysters, making them easier to fry.

6.  Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan ( I use cast iron) until the oil is hot. I like to drop a couple of cracker crumbs to test the oil. If the crumbs start to sizzle and fry immediately, the oil is hot enough to fry the oysters. If your oil is not hot, the breading will act as a sponge and soak up the oil. Fry the oysters, turning once, until golden brown. Remove the oysters from the oil and drain on a paper towel covered baking rack.

Bon Appetite!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Purple Mystery Scarf

Recently, I met my friend Diana for lunch and she mentioned how much she loved the knitted gifts that I had given her. Cowls, scarves and socks, she told me that she uses them every year and that any time I need a gift I can always give her socks. Hmm! That gave me an idea! I needed a gift for my friend Cindy but couldn't think of anything. Cindy is an avid Baltimore Ravens fan. She wears purple to the office on Fridays, during football season and she has season tickets to the games. She probably gets really cold sitting in the stadium in the winter and I'm sure that she owns all of the Ravens' cold weather gear (hats, gloves, etc.). This year for Christmas, Cindy will be getting purple knits--socks and a scarf--to combat the cold weather. The great thing about the scarf is that it can also be used for occasions where she wants to show her "colors" but doesn't necessarily want a team piece with a logo.

After perusing through the volumes of commercial scarf patterns I couldn't find what I was looking for ( a worsted weight scarf with a tight weave to block the wind).  That means I am going to have to design the scarf.  I grabbed my knitting stitch dictionaries and spent the next several days choosing patterns and knitting swatches. After several days of knitting swatches, frustration finally set in. I have a beautiful merino wool (Malabrigo Worsted) but none of the patterns that I chose seem to work with the yarn. The wool is soft and luxurious and it needs a textured pattern to highlight those characteristics. Finally I decided on the Little Boxes pattern in the Knit Stitch Pattern Handbook by Melissa Leapman (available from Amazon) and was happy with the result.

Scarf in progress.

I wrapped the scarf around Mozart to show the drape.

I love everything about this scarf!  It's soft, warm, drapes well and the color is an amazing rich, deep purple. I keep telling myself that this is Cindy's scarf and I can always knit another for me.

Directions For Purple Mystery Scarf:

The Knit Stitch Pattern Handbook by Melissa Leapman (available on Amazon)- Little Boxes pattern- pg. 25
2 skeins Malabrigo Worsted in Purple Mystery-skeins are 100 grams and approximately 210 yards
Size 7 (US) Knitting needles- I used Addi Clicks Lace with a 24 inch cable
Yarn needles

1.  Cast on 36 stitches using your favorite cast-on method. I used the long tail cast-on.

2.  Follow the pattern beginning with Row 1. This is the right side of the scarf.

3.  Repeat Rows 1 to 4 of the pattern until the scarf measures approximately 70 inches or the desired length. End the pattern with Row 4 (wrong side).  I chose 70 inches because I want Cindy to be able to wrap the scarf a couple of times around her neck and then tie it for warmth. 

4.   Knit Row 1 one more time (right side) and then loosely bind off all stitches.

5.  With dark colors I like to set the dye so that the wool doesn't bleed when the garment is washed.  The thought of the color bleeding out the first time the garment is washed makes me cringe, especially when it's a gift.
To set the dye, soak the garment in 1 cup of white vinegar and luke warm water for 10 to 15 minutes. Don't use hot water or it will shrink the wool and felt it.  Gently squeeze out the excess water. Do Not Wring or Twist The Garment! 
Fill a basin with cool water and a mild detergent, preferably one made for wool knits. Soak the garment in the detergent for about 5 minutes and then gently swish it around in the water with your hands. Rinse the garment in cool water, then add 1/4 cup of vinegar  to a basin of cool water and place the garment in the basin and swish the garment around in the water to remove the final trace of soap. Gently squeeze out the water. Do Not Wring the Garment!
At this point I like to place a large bath towel on the floor (tile floor) and lay the knitted garment on the towel. Starting at end, I slowly roll the towel and the garment, pressing down with the palm of my hands to squeeze out the excess water as I roll the towel up. After the towel has been rolled, press down on the towel a few more times to remove the excess water. At this point the towel should start to feel wet. Gently unroll the towel and remove the garment and place it on a dry towel. Avoid stretching the garment during the transfer. Dry the garment away from any heat source.   

6.  Lightly steam the scarf with a steam iron to relax the yarn so that the scarf will lay flat. Hold the iron a few inches above the surface of the scarf while steaming so that the iron doesn't flatten the stitches.