Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Instant Heirloom: Embroidery by Karen Ruane

For those of you who came to know me while I was at the Hallmark magazine, it won't surprise you to learn that one of the best things that happened to me there was a renewed interest in "traditional" crafts. By that I mean all of the things that my grandmothers did—sewing, embroidery, knitting— but that I didn't know I was very interested in until relatively recently (besides quilting, which I've been doing for 8 years now). I love that when I go home to visit my parents, I can go through bins of sewing notions from my Dad's mother that are currently in our garage. I've taken ownership of many of her spools of thread, bags of buttons and rick rack and a few rolls of lace that I've started using in my own projects. And I now realize that it's important that I ask my mom to tell me stories of the needle work that her mother used to do when she worked at a bridal shop. Plus, as I continue to find comfort and great rewards from my quilting, I love knowing that it's all connected to many of the women in my family.

This brings me to today's post, which is the first in a regular series called "Instant Heirloom". (Yes, I stole that name from a page we used to have in the magazine!) In each post that falls under this heading, you'll find the work of an artist or crafter who's interpreting a traditional craft in their own way. Today, I'm so excited to share the delightful embroidery by British artist Karen Ruane. She calls herself "an obessional embroider with a passion for hand stitch" and I'm going to step aside for a moment and let you see some more of her work.

This image is from Karen's blog. As a quilter who is used to making tiny stitches, this detail and precision blows me away. The controlled movement of the stitches is seriously impressive.

Below is a hand-embroidered cotton square that you could secure in a small embroidery hoop to hang as artwork, or to work into one of your own projects. I just love the teensy flowers!

This is a hand-embroidered cotton cushion that Karen designed and executed in the style of vintage domestic linens. I love how she combined the running stitch with little loops and the larger flowers.

This is a small brooch (1.5 inches x 4.75 inches) with hand-embroidered silk and paper. Oh those flowers!!

Hand-embroidered silk beads with hand-stitched beads that would be perfect to add something special to a plain purse or sweater.

And for a bit of background on Karen, here's an excerpt of an interview she did for A Makey do:
"As a child people were always making things, my mum, my grandmothers. I began to knit and crochet aged about 12 but was put off sewing for years by my experience of needlework classes at Grammar School where the only thing we were allowed to make was a navy blue gingham pinny for domestic science. How I hated that pinny. In fact I am suprised it never gave me a life long aversion to gingham! When I had my own children I constantly made things for them and it all progressed from there I suppose."

Many of these images are from Karen's Etsy shop Contemporary Stitches, which is a great source for visual inspiration and for gift ideas. Definitely add it to your favorites!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekend Project: Cupcakes + Williams-Sonomoa Giveaway!!

This weekend I went a few towns up the Hudson River to Beacon, NY to stay with friends. We went hiking, made some wedding favors for their big day in June and I got to cook for more than just myself, which I always love. I made meatballs (a perfect-post hike meal with pasta and Roselli's sauce!) and Red Velvet cupcakes. I used a Sprinkles mix from Williams-Sonoma, which was a breeze to bake and the results were heavenly. And somehow, this was my first encounter with Red Velvet and I was extremely happy. I love the combination of the chocolately flavor, the festive red color and the buttery cream cheese frosting.

Which brings me to this week's giveaway! Williams-Sonoma has generously offered to giveaway the following products to one lucky blog reader. To enter, please post a comment about your favorite baked good—what it is, who makes it or where you buy it and/or why you love it so—by 11:59 EST Friday April 4th. One winner will be chosen at random.**

Here's what's included in the prize (that's worth nearly $82!!):
Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcake mix by Sprinkles, a very popular cupcake shop in Beverly Hills.
Daisy Crown Cupcake Pan which makes 6 huge cupcakes surrounded by five large petals. This pan is nonstick and will certainly get you baking and ready for spring!

Silicups Brights, Set of 12 silicone muffin or cupcake liners. These are reusable and spare you the fuss of having to grease your pans.

**Please make sure you post the comment using either your name or an online id (rather than posting it as an anonymous user) so I know who you are. I will post the winner first thing the morning of Monday April 7th, so you will need to check back then to see if you have won so you can email me your address. Good luck!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Inspired Image: Tiffani Taylor

Hello my name is Tiffani Taylor.

You can find me at www.TiffaniArt.com

This image comes from www.theconstantgatherer.com

It inspires me because it is reminiscent of childhood and sweeter times. It is wonderful to be greeted at your door by such a sweet bird and beautiful piece of artwork! I also love the wreaths hanging in trios or solo in any and every room of the house. Each wreath is one-of-a-kind and assembled with vintage materials by the artist.

I particularly love that the wreath is a functional piece of artwork. I love the little “hello, friend!” sign and the little flower on the bird’s head. Katie’s vintage birds with flower adornments always remind a little of Frida Kahlo and the large decorative flowers she wore in her hair…

It makes me feel hopeful and very, very happy.

The 3 words it conjures up are lovely, inspiring, and spring!

Tiffani creates lovely painted pottery and drawer pulls, as well as original paintings and notecards that feature her artwork. I first interviewed her for a story in the Hallmark Magazine and have never forgotten hearing about her studio, which overlooks her garden in Savannah. It sounded like an ideal place to be creative. Here are a few of Tiffani's products that I just love.

Charger Paris Hydrangea from a line that includes pitchers, bowls and mugs.
Sweet Plump Bird bowl. I love how Tiffani includes handwriting in her creations.
8 Folded Note cards, 2 of each (they are 5x5) are included in the set.

Make sure you check back on Monday because the weekend project that I'm planning to share with you comes with a giveaway! Hooray for lovely free things!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Q & A: Kiley of Cherry Blossom Designs

Today I'm happy to share the work and words of Kiley D. Smith, the talented lady behind Cherry Blossoms Designs. She emailed me recently to let me know about her line of sweet handmade hair accessories for little girls. And since I am in the market for some baby gifts for friends, I was instantly interested. Take a look and scroll down to read a bit about her company and to find out where she finds her inspiration.

Where do you live?

I live in a quaint little town in Virginia.

What did you do before you started Cherry Blossoms?
I graduated college in 2005 and majored in Theater and minored in English. After graduation I worked at the College as an Assistant Admissions Counselor while my husband got his Masters. We got pregnant half way through his schooling and I started Cherry Blossoms after I had my little girl {after I couldn't find anything cute, unique, or comfortable accessory-wise for her to wear}

Is this your fulltime work?
No, I am a full time mom to my daughter Ella and Cherry Blossoms is part time for me. It keeps the creative part of me working and it relaxes me after a day of laundry, diapers, and cleaning.

What's the best part about running your own business?
That I can make my own hours!

Do you have a favorite product that you've made?
Oh goodness that's a really tough question. I really love my Cluster Hydrangea adjustable headband. I like it because it adjusts to the size of your childs head {so its never too tight or too loose} I also love it because its perfect for a wedding, party, picnic, or just playing around at home.

What makes your accessories different than the ones we could buy at a mass market store?
All of my items are handmade by me, so because of that each one is unique. I also use the highest quality of artificial flowers that you can buy. They are soft to the touch and feel just like real flower petals. My hair accessories are made to stay put, grow with your child, be comfortable, adorable, unique, and elegant! All of my items have been worn and tested on my child for durability, comfort, etc. I would never put something on another child that I wouldn't put on my own.

Who inspires you?
My daughter and My husband inspire me everyday. They are both so amazing, I am so lucky to have them in my life!

What's the best part of your day?
When I get to spend time with my husband and daughter. Family means everything to me so anything we do together is the "best" part of my day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Sister's Sunflowers

So remember my lovely sister Katie? The one who was recently married? Well, she's also a very talented artist who happens to spend her days working at an environmental consulting firm in the DC area. (Amazing how some people are so able to use both right and left sides of their brains!) She shared this recent painting with me and I thought I'd share it with you both to give her a little blog love and because I think what she says about her efforts really strike a cord with so many of us who try to fit our creative pursuits into an otherwise busy life.

From Katie:
"I've been wanting to paint more - I enjoy it so much and hardly get around to doing it - there's always something else that seems to demand my attention (the wedding! everyday errands and chores!), but I decided that it's something I just need to make a priority. Also, I've been admiring the sunflowers at the supermarket around the corner for two or three weeks now, thinking about how nice it would be to paint them. I'm not usually one to buy myself fresh flowers, but the sunflowers were so vibrant that they really caught my eye. It was a grey, chilly day when I bought them, so I didn't feel bad about staying indoors to paint, especially when I could look at bright, happy flowers.

I have this idea of making a series of similar paintings and I would love to do all sunflowers. Yellow has sort of become an accent color in the apartment - remember the yellow dresser, and the yellow mixer? I've really been drawn to yellow lately. Anyway, it's nice to do an activity that is so rewarding, and so immediate. It's great seeing results right away, isn't it?"

Yes my sweet little sister, it definitely is.

Also, I would like to share that when I got home last night, the print from yesterday had arrived in the mail. I cannot properly describe how much more amazing it is in person. It has a matte finish and the size is slightly elongated, 8x12, and it's really divine. I need to get myself to a frame store stat!

Plain Jane Giveaway Winner

Is Katie! I asked that anyone who entered post a comment about what they are most looking forward to this spring and Katie said "I'm most looking forward to the mountains and sunshine. How I miss being in them!" Katie, email me your mailing info and I will get the lovely products right out to you!

And here are some more things to look forward to with the warmer weather, which should help cheer you up if you are still facing chilly weather like we are here in the NYC area.

Sarah: I am looking forward to baseball starting. :)

Heather: I am looking forward to getting in the creek water without freezing :)

Anonymous: I am really looking forward to expanding my raised bed gardens, and growing more of our own food this growing season. ( I could use the skin pampering if I am outdoors as much as I would like to be this year!)

Smiles Across Miles: I am looking forward to taking my kids to the beach!

Golden Twine: I'm most looking forward to being able to open all the windows around the house to let the fresh air and sunshine pour in.

Pat: I'm looking forward to seeing my baby grandson who will be visiting with my son and daughter-in-law from Colorado this spring! It's been a long winter waiting to see him!

Hby_grl: Feeling the warm sun on my face. There's nothing better than that.

Kathy: One thing?? I am looking forward to the warmth of the sun and no more sweaters and sweatshirts!

Anonymous: I'm looking forward to being outdoors with my three year old and using my plain jane skin care "peppermint loofah" so I can finally wear sandals after all of this cold weather!!!

Julie G: I am really looking forward to all the yummy treats and fresh veggies at the local farmer's market!

Jane: I am looking forward to having the windows up-especially at night and in the morning when I can hear all the "wildlife" outside my bedroom window!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March Print of the Month

*Today's the last day to enter to win the eco-beauty products from Plain Jane Skin Care!! Okay, now that that's out of the way, here is my indie art purchase for March, which is just so lovely. I am so taken with the color of the delicate flowers and the birds in the background, though I admit that it was a little hard to choose from the fantastic selection on the Blissful Images Too site. This one is the blossoms and birds print. So this is the fourth print that I've purchased this year and I'm just going to call it like it is—I'm ridiculously girly when it comes to my visual inspiration! Take a look at what I've gotten so far in my quest to purchase one print a month from an independent artist or photographer to fill the empty wall in my bedroom.

February: Peony No 3287 from Kari Herer

February: Live What You Love print from Hijirik Studio (yes, I bought two in Feb!)
January: Slips print from Abby Try Again

I can't wait to see what I find in April (there's a good chance it will involve flowers!). I'm really enjoying this because it's such a simple way to find and support fantastic new-to-me artists. And each of these just makes me so very happy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend Project: Quilt Planning

I went home to NJ this weekend to spend some quality time with my parents. My mom mentioned how she would love to receive one of my quilts, but since I've been and continue to be busy making quilts for big life events for friends, I know it will be a while before I get around to making her a full-sized one. So I decided that I will make her a wall hanging, which will be small enough for me to work on it when I travel. Perfect solution!

We picked out the fabric that's above, but I feel like it's missing something. I'm considering these two (see the first one here, and the second here) to incorporate into the mix.

I'm thinking that I'm going to get a yard of each of these and then use the bold one on the bottom in the first photo for the backing fabric. That way I can use it for the border as well and it won't overwhelm the rest of the fabrics. Thoughts? Do we think this will work? My next step is to decide on the pattern, though I'm going to wait until I have all of the fabric all on hand before I tackle that. Then, I'm going to show you this as I go along so you can see it in progress. I figure it will be a great way to stay motivated!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Inspired Image: Michelle Brusegaard

I just love how diverse these images have been! Michelle is an extremely talented designer and painter and she has some lovely silk-screened tea towels and napkins (among other pretty things!) in her etsy shop. They'd make a perfect housewarming or shower gift. Have a great weekend everyone! Here's more from her about this image:

Hello, my name is Michelle Brusegaard.

You can find me at

This image comes from a fabric that is currently on display at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. It’s part of the Jack Lenor Larsen on the Silk Road exhibit, and the designer is Don Wight.

It inspires me because I am fascinated with pattern and it’s origins! The exhibit is a collection of fabrics inspired by Jack Lenor Larsen’s visit to the “silk road.” This particular piece is based on cave paintings in Dunhuang, China. As a designer fabric, I just love the idea that this could have been your couch when it was in print….and that there could be so much history in your couch because of the fabric’s exquisite design.

I particularly love that in person, it’s printed on velvet, and I love velvet!

It makes me feel like making patterns! And the colors are also quite soothing, while the design is active. So I guess it makes me feel calmly active.

The 3 words it conjures up are water, modern, olives.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Giveaway and Q&A with Plain Jane Skin Care

I'm happy to announce the first giveaway in a while—a collection of natural beauty products from Plain Jane Skin Care. Dawn, the lovely woman behind the company, has generously offered a Dead Sea Mud Facial, a jar of Summer Citrus Pure Shea Butter and a Dead Sea Facial Bar. I have a container of each that I've been trying and trust me, they are a real treat! Not to mention that they are all natural, use essential oils for scents and are entirely plant-based. No funky chemicals or preservatives here!

Here's how to enter:
In honor of the looming season of sandals and strappy dresses, please post a comment naming the one thing that you're most looking forward to about the season by 11:59 PM Tuesday 3/24. Because if you win, the products will help you pamper your skin in preparation for the warmer weather.

I will announce the winner Wednesday morning (3/25), so you have to check back then in order to claim your prize. The winner will be chosen at random and if you win, you will have 48 hours to email me your mailing address. If I don't hear from the winner in that time frame, I will move on to the runner up!

And so you can get a little more information about Dawn and her company, please enjoy this Q&A.

Amy: Where do you live?

Dawn: I live in Atlanta, GA

A: How did you go from being a teacher to starting and running your own natural beauty company?
D: A few years after I left teaching to stay at home with my children, I got antsy! As they got a little bigger, I found myself with time on my hands and knew I had to get busy to save my sanity. I tried many, many businesses—recycled notebooks (which are actually coming to my website soon), growing produce, baking, jams—which were all a bust! Finally, after I got tired of buying other people’s soaps that weren’t quite what I wanted, I started making my own. As my desire for more natural products grew, so did Plain Jane.

A: What's the best part about running your own business?

D: For me, the best part is that I can work when I have time and not stick to a schedule. I don’t do well with rules.

A: If you had to choose one of your products to recommend, which one would it be?
D: That’s a tough one because I’d recommend one in each category! For a basic facial routine, I’d recommend cleansing with the Dead Sea mud bar and using the mud facial once or twice a week to clean out those pores and remove residual dirt/makeup. For body soap, I recommend cucumber and aloe and the peppermint loofah for your feet. For hair, you can’t beat my shampoo bar (which also eliminates one plastic bottle from your regime!). Finally, the avocado butter for sun damaged/mature skin is a wonderful moisturizer.

A: What makes your products different than the ones we could buy at the drug store?

D: I would challenge you to find a more natural product with fewer ingredients on any store shelf.

A: Who inspires you?

D: I have always been inspired by women running successful businesses. And fortunately, compliments from return customers continue to inspire me to do work!

A: What's the best part of your day?

D: When I climb into bed with my kids at night to tuck them in.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Two Days in New Orleans

Since I just got back from a long weekend in New Orleans, I'm skipping craft coverage today because I just have to share some highlights! I made a quick trip down on Saturday to help my friends Katherine and Jonathan tend to wedding-related tasks in preparation for their big day in October. Luckily for me, most of this involved watching Katherine get her hair and makeup trials, eating delicious food and wandering around the French Quarter. I thought I'd do a top ten list (not ranked in order because I can't choose!) of the things I enjoyed so that you can do a little midweek armchair traveling.

1.) Seeing the house above, which has been in Katherine's family for generations and is fondly referred to as "two seven", in person. It's so grand and beautiful that I'm a little embarassed by how little this photograph conveys. (It was also the house used in Benjamin Button.)
2.) Being in a place where it's not only spring, but all of the plants were completely strutting their stuff. It was so great to be surrounded by green.
3.) This po'boy from Parkway Bakery & Tavern where I had lunch with my good friend Poppy Tooker. My sandwich (shown above) was half shrimp and half oyster, dressed—which means lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo. I let Poppy order for me since she's a regular and followed her instructions about adding hot sauce. Have you ever had fried oysters? Sigh. They are so ridiculously good. Particularly when smooshed in French bread and covered with spicy mayo.
4.) The banana pudding (complete with Nilla wafers and slices of banana) that I took home from Parkway and ate later that evening. I'd forgotten how good pudding is.
5.) Cafe Au Lait. We tried to go to Cafe du Monde for beignets (sort of like a donut that's covered with 3 inches of powdered sugar) but the line was down the street. But I still had a cafe au lait and enjoyed every sip.
6.) Looking at and tasting the sweets (like the ones above) at Sucre, a shop on Magazine street. Their macaroons are featured in the current issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, but I was more interested in their chocolates. Oh and their cakes, which were all covered in edible glitter!
7.) Dinner at Adolpho's, a Creole-Italian restaurant on Frenchman Street. If you ever go, don't even look at the menu. Just ask what fish they are serving, choose one of the locals from the Gulf with Ocean sauce. It will change your life. Or at least make you question why it took you so long to get there.
8.) The fact that most of the trees on St. Charles Avenue were still filled with Mardi Gras beads.
9.) A marathon cheese tasting at St. James Cheese Company to choose cheeses for the wedding. They have impressive plans for the cheese, which I am keeping a secret for now since I don't want to steal any thunder from the actual event. (Though you can bet I will share when the time comes!)
10.) Walking around Audubon Park in a slight drizzle. The oaks are majestic and it was a lovely place to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon.

As you can tell, I am feeling very fortunate for this experience. After spending two full days in a city with such a strong sense of place and history, I couldn't help but consider the city's past and everything that the people there have gone through and marvel that they are so warm, welcoming and open. I'm so happy I have a reason to go back in a few months!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Photographs by Andrea Tese

Last Friday I went down to the Lower East Side (an entire universe away from where I live in Harlem!) to see Andrea Tese's current photography exhibit at the Heist Gallery. I immediately realized that I need to make more of an effort to see visual art in person, rather than just on my computer. It was very refreshing to be able to look at large images and notice textural details that I think I otherwise would have missed.
Andrea grew up in the city but spent her summers on the North Fork of Long Island. After taking photography as an elective in the 8th grade, she became hooked on taking pictures—even though she went to a liberal arts college at the request of her parents. After school she taught, interned with some well known photographers, but never stopped shooting on her own. The current exhibit is part of her ongoing exploration of the aftermath of experiences, which as she explained to me, is a concept that really speaks to her.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend Project: All Things Granola

One of the things I decided to do in 2009 was to make all of my own granola (which I eat a lot as you probably know by now and I apologize if this is repetitive and/or boring). I have two types that I regularly make. One is a citrusy recipe from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking and the other is one that I have improvised. It's roughly 4 cups of oats, 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, 1 cup ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup coconut oil (or canola depending on what I have) and a tsp. of vanilla. I made this version last weekend at 8 am on Saturday morning only to set off my smoke detector. I couldn't see any smoke and while I opened the windows and was fanning like a crazy person because I can only imagine how much my neighbors were cursing me, every time I stopped moving the air around, it went off again.
So, I turned off the oven. The granola had been in there for maybe 10-15 minutes and I figured that even with it turned off, it might stay warm enough to give it a nice toast. It was a long shot since it usually cooks for 45 minutes, but after about an hour, I checked it and it was PERFECT. There were big clumps (which almost never happens) and it was lightly golden brown. Pretty thrilling.
I'm not entirely convinced I can deliberately make that happen again, but I'm planning to try!

The other thing I made were the Big Sur power bars from 101 cookbooks (clearly I love Heidi's recipes!). I made them according to the recipe, but honestly, they were a little soft and I wasn't crazy about the raw taste. So after they sat for a few days, I decided to bake them. I lined a baking sheet with parchment, spread out the bars, and baked for about 45 minutes. I didn't expect them to melt into one full sheet the way they did (there is a fair amount of brown rice syrup in them), but I let them cool, and then cut them and they are amazing. You sort of have to trust that they will be okay since they are completely soft when they come out of the oven, but the flavor of them is so much better. I highly recommend them. (This image of them is from Becks & Posh.)

As you can see, I am no recipe developer, but I do feel free to reinterpret recipes as I see fit—particularly with ones I make regularly. Which is fun and makes cooking more personal. Sometimes things don't work out, but I definitely got lucky with these two!

And here are some recent blog posts that I wanted to share:
*The 12 month letterpress club at Sycamore Street Press, March Edition (via Poppytalk Handmade Artists
*Plants need companions too from Modish
*When you feel like you don't measure up from Modish biz tips (who recently added this blog to their great big list of bloggers!)
*The Crafts Dept blog from the crafty ladies over at Martha Stewart.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Inspired Image: Jan of Poppytalk

Today's Inspired Image comes from Jan, who's part of the genius team behind Poppytalk (a Canadian design blog), Poppytalk Handmade (a monthly online market of delightful handmade goods), and the new Handmade Artist (a community blog where the artists featured on Poppytalk share their latest work).

Hello, my name is Jan

You can find me at Poppytalk

This image comes from India Rose

It inspires me because it’s a new take on the rice paper lanterns.

I particularly love the patterns and fresh muted colors.

It makes me feel like summer is on it’s way!

The 3 words it conjures up are fresh, light and carefree.

I will be happily heading down to New Orleans tomorrow for a long weekend, but I've got posts scheduled to hold you over until I get back on Wednesday morning. Including Monday's, which is a weekend project where I will reveal my most-amazing-granola-making tip. It happened by accident but it's changed my entire outlook on the process. Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Custom Dresses: Lemonstory

A friend of mine sent me these lovely dresses and tops from Etsy seller Lemonstory by Kimenna (her real name is Anna) and OH, they are so my style! I love the soft, muted colors (did you know gray is very big this year?) and the detailing of the pleats and ruffles. Everything is custom-made based on your measurements and the prices (which are reasonable less for a one of a kind garment) reflect the time it takes to make each piece.
Here’s an excerpt from a featured seller interview she did over at Etsy. It gives just enough of the back story to get a feel for how Anna approaches her work.

“My name is Anna. I am 24 years old and live in Brooklyn. I attended Parsons, the New School for Design, majoring in Fashion Design. After school I worked at a fashion clothing company and also worked as a freelancer. Then I decided to make clothes with my own two hands when I found out about Etsy.”

“I named my line ‘Lemonstory’ because the color lemon usually makes me feel bright and warm when I see it. I wanted to give smiles and happiness to people who wear Lemonstory, whose styles are structured with touches of femininity and unique twists. When I make clothes I like to think about the customer opening up a package, trying on a piece and loving it forever and ever.”

Make sure you check in tomorrow to see the Inspired Image from Jan of Poppytalk.

**And, my friend over at Everyday with Rachael Ray emailed me about a contest they have going on. They are looking for readers to design a back-to-school inspired centerpiece... it can be anything, just so long as it's back-to-school-y (it's for their September issue). Click here for more information. If you need some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, you can see all of their centerpieces here. If you win, your name and the centerpiece will run in the magazine, along with the likes of fancy designers like Orla Kiely, Jonathan Adler and Vera Wang. If you're a teacher or have kids, it could be really fun to have your little ones come up with an idea to do as a fun class or after school project!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Trash to Treasure: Julie's Chair Makeover

Such a fun project to share with you today. Julie Gueraseva, who I worked with at the Hallmark magazine (check out her art direction and design work here!), did this amazing makeover. Here's how:

"I was lucky to come across this chair on the street in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. The frame was solid wood, heavy, with a nice silhouette. It seemed too interesting to end up in a trash heap somewhere and I thought that the ugly vinyl seat was begging for a face lift. I brought it home, looked at some design blogs and magazines for inspiration and eventually decided on a monochromatic color palette of black and white.

The chair frame had a thick nasty dark brown varnish. My vision was to pain the chair a gleaming white, so I knew right away the existing varnish would need to be removed. I bought some non-toxic varnish stripping gel/solvent, a few metal scrapers, sanding sheets, white paint, clear high-shine gloss and gloves at Home Depot.

Removing varnish from a chair and painting it is a lengthy process. First you cover the frame in the solvent, then after some time, scrape of the varnish and finally sand the whole frame down to a nice smooth finish. Next you lay down two coats of paint on the chair, and when it's dry finish off the with the clear gloss (optional). Be sure to do all this in a well-ventilated space, and use non-toxic materials if possible.

You can choose to reupholster the seat yourself (a fairly uncomplicated process if you have the time and patience), or take it somewhere to have it professionally done, which is what I did. I went to a fabric/reupholstery shop and took a long time to select just the right type of fabric. Then I just brought the chair in, and two weeks later I had a beautiful new seat and chair!

Take some to investigate the wealthier areas in your city or town and you just might come across a gem!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Night Owl Paper Goods

In a fit of organizing over the weekend, I found a pile of cards and stationary that I forgot I had. Among the pile were two wooden postcards from Night Owl Paper Goods, which I'd originally intended to frame as artwork. Alan Henderson and Jennifer Tatham run the stationary company which I first learned about when I visited the fantastic San Francisco store Little Otsu last year. I particularly enjoy the style of their designs which feels a bit like modern folk art and the fact that are very eco-conscious and print on sustainable yellow birch. They make a wide range of products, from these postcards and greeting cards, to journals, affordable art prints and a range of custom offerings for weddings. They even offer birch business cards, which are pretty great. I'm going to try to see if I can convince myself to send one of my postcards in the mail this week...we'll see!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weekend Project: The Prettiest Pink Bag

As I said I wanted to last week, I made myself a tote bag this weekend! Words cannot properly express how excited I am about this. Sure, I know I can sew because I make quilts, but the novelty of successfully making something I didn't realize I could is pretty amazing. Saturday was an excellent day. I managed to plan ahead and stopped into Purl Patchwork for fabric on Friday evening and miracle of all miracles, I had the tiny store all to myself! It didn't take me long to find my first fabric choice though and while was initally a little worried that this fabric from Anna Maria Horner would be too pink, I quickly decided that I was being silly—it is always a good idea to buy fabric that makes you extremely giddy. And as my friend Virginia said to me when she saw it, it's me in fabric form. Perfect! I decided to use the same fabric for the entire bag (in the original there is a contrasting bottom panel) and I really like how the pieces line up. The best thing about the fabric, in addition to it being pink, is that there is a hand painted quality to the vines. Keeping scrolling down to see some of the process shots (you can see the full instructions that I followed, apart from the handles since I wanted to be able to put this on my shoulder, here).
This was the first time I've used an online tutorial and actually followed the directions exactly and it was my first experience using fusible web. It was super easy since it was iron-on and was not a problem at all to sew through. It gives the bag a nice sturdy structure.
This was the most challenging step. I think I read the instructions for the corners about seventeen times until I started to understand it. I was very proud of myself for figuring this out, particularly after I managed to repeat the process on the lining fabric and they actually matched up!
This is the top of the bag pinned and waiting for me to add the handles and stitch. As suggested in the tutorial, I made the lining peak out a bit, which is a lovely touch.
Look at how the corner is almost perfectly lined up! I'm convinced that more than anything, the way the bottom of the bag is constructed is what makes it look like someone with far greater sewing skills than myself made it. The total cost of the bag was $11, which includes the fabric (I have a bunch leftover) and the fusible web. Other than that, it was about 5 hours of my time (I am sure that someone who had a clue as to what they were doing could make it in far less time!) and a very pleasant and rewarding way to spend a day. I also learned a very important lesson: If you want to try a craft project but aren't convinced you can do it, you should always, always, try because you might just surprise yourself!