Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our Humble Estate

So often at this time of year I meditate on the humble circumstances of my Lord Jesus's incarnation: born in a manger to a young virgin who was betrothed to a simple carpenter. This year it is the humble estate of our humanness that is coming into focus; my prayer card seems too long this advent season, as I remember family and friends who have recently been touched by death, illness, hospitalization, financial stresses, relationship difficulties, hurting children, political turmoil, and unstable living situations. My initial thought was that this is such a hard time of year to face such affliction. Then, I was reminded that this is why Jesus came to earth--and, oh, do we ever need a Savior right now! We can bear the heartaches and affliction because, Immanuel, God with us.

This advent season I had the privilege of beholding the beauty of this painting on a serendipitous visit to England's National Gallery with Artist Son, and as a family we have memorized The Magnificat:

Adoration of the Shepherds
by a pupil of Rembrandt
The National Gallery, London

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the might from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever."

Luke 1: 45-55

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That Only Took About Fifteen Years ~or~ Felted Wool Christmas Stockings for the Artist Son and Tayta

I'm guessing I'm not the only mom who has followed this (downhill) trajectory when it comes to handmade gifts for her children:

Oldest Daughter: cross-stitched Beatrix Potter alphabet quilt (that one only took about 500 hours to complete), cross-stitched birth sampler (done by friend), cross-stitched Christmas stocking
Active Son: no quilt, but he received a smaller birth sampler and a less complicated cross-stitched Christmas stocking.
Artist Son and Tayta: lots of good intentions--I still have the patterns and fabric to prove it.

Artist Son and Tayta have been making due with inexpensive store-bought Christmas stockings for many years now, but thanks to my new-ish felting hobby, they now have handmade Christmas stockings.

The reds and greens are a little hard to capture with the camera, but I'm very happy with the color combinations--the kids said they reminded them of the Jordanian flag, so these will carry more than one memory.

My inspiration and pattern supplier came from this post on Moda Bake Shop blog. I cut my strips to the same dimensions minus the seam allowances on the width: 18 inches by 2 inches narrowing to one inch.

A few variations for making these with felted wool:

My stockings aren't quilted--they are just a front and back, sewn, right sides together, turned and pressed. To piece the felted wool I butted the edge of two pieces of felted wool together and zig-zagged them.

I attached the front of the stocking to the back (cut from a solid piece of felted wool) by placing right sides together and sewing a very narrow seam (about 1/8 inch). After turning the stocking, I steam/pressed it.

The top band was made with a band of felted wool cut to 3 inches by 15 inches. I sewed the short edges together to make a continuous band, then pinned the band on the inside of the stocking, right side of band next to wrong side of stocking, sewed a very narrow seam (about 1/8 inch), turned and pressed.

I also made these a little longer by using 12 strips instead of 10. Finished dimensions: 7.5 inches across the top band, by 19 inches, measuring to the lowest point of the toe.

I plan to personalize these stockings for Artist Son and Tayta, but that requires a trip into Amman for just the right wool yarn. Hopefully that won't take me another 15 years.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Winter Beauty

Winter Crocus, Colchium Genus

Wildflower Spotting: Ajloun Nature Reserve

Monday, December 12, 2011

The New Sweet Potato Casserole

First of all, the New Sweet Potato Casserole is not a casserole at all, but it does replace our longstanding, well-loved, yea even passed down from my dear mother-in-law, traditional holiday sweet potato casserole. I felt a twinge of sentimentality and disloyalty giving up this recipe, but since one serving probably has more sugar and fat in it than a piece (or two) of sweet potato pie, the twinge quickly passed. We are moving on to healthier menus, as is my mother-in-law so I'm sure she wouldn't begrudge the new recipe.

Besides being healthier, this new recipe is so easy to make and can be adjusted to any amount of sweet potatoes you decided to roast. I have only this measly portion of roasted sweet potatoes to offer in my picture as I forgot to photograph them right away, and this is all that was left.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Olive Oil and Brown Sugar/Chipotle

Peel and cube as many sweet potatoes as you wish to roast. I make my cubes approximately 1-1.5 inches square. Place sweet potatoes in large bowl and toss with some olive oil. Sprinkle with spice mixture, tossing well to coat all the potatoes.

Below is the recipe for the spice mix and you can use as much or as little as you want, depending on the amount of potatoes you are roasting. I confess, I haven't really measured how much I've used as I've roasted disparate quantities. While the chipotle adds a pleasing, distinctive flavor, this spice mixture is great without it. Confession: on Thanksgiving I accidentally added taco seasoning instead of chipotle and everyone loved it.

Place prepared sweet potatoes on a backing sheet (or two) and roast for about 45-60 minutes about 375 degrees F. This is an estimate--I check mine and when they look like they are browning on one side I turn them carefully with a large spatula, so not to mush the soft potatoes so that they will roast/crisp evenly. Don't worry about making too many--these will disappear quickly and make great leftovers.

Spice Mix
(inspired from Donalyn's Ketchum's blog for a different recipe)
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Few Felting Tips

Since a couple of friends commenting on my last post indicated that they may be heading to the thrift stores for some wool sweater treasure hunting of their own, I thought I'd post a few things I've learned about felting sweaters in case it may be of some help. Some of this wool wisdom I've gleaned from books or websites here and there, some of it I've learned from experience. I honestly can't remember which is which--except the pillowcases, which is a great idea, just not mine.

Choosing a sweater to felt:
Not all wool felts (shrinks) to the same degree so paying attention to wool labels is the first thing that will aid you in choosing good sweaters for felting:

Machine washable wool, in my experience, will not felt. Makes sense.

A sweater doesn't necessarily have to be 100% wool to felt. I believe a minimum of 70-80% is the rule of thumb.

Favorite wools to felt: lambswool, merino wool, some angora blend sweaters are very nice if they don't shed too much. Shetland usually felts well the first time but sometimes needs the encouragement of a second wash. Some cashmere felts better than others but all cashmere is wonderful and can be used as linings, for scarfs, baby blankets, etc.

A felted sweater is one in which you can no longer discern the knit of the wool--it all blends together.

I have felted a couple of woven wool skirts (vs knitted wool sweaters) with varying degrees of success. I plan to use this wool for craft accents.

Felting wool is part science, part art. I have purchased just a few 100% wool sweaters which didn't felt well, for no apparent reason, even if I washed them twice in boiling water. Maybe a dryer would have helped at this point--I'm not sure, but I've read that a dryer can help if a sweater isn't felting well. I've also felted sweaters, a large fisherman wool sweater from Ireland comes to mind, which I wasn't sure would felt well as the weave was loose. It felted so well that it was the thickness of a paperback book! I look forward to the felted surprises I find when I open my pillowcases. I've had a few disappointments but have been able to make things even with some of those--like a sleeping pad for our cat. Confession: I have thrown a couple felting disappointments in the garbage can.

Preparing the sweater for felting: I cut off the arms of the sweater and cut down the seam of the arm so that it lays flat. If you don't do this, the wool of the sweater arm may crease in the wash. I leave the bodice intact as I haven't experienced the same creasing problem here and sometimes Tayta likes the bodice intact for particular purse patterns.

As I mentioned before, I do a batch of like colors (especially with reds which tend to bleed like crazy) and each is enclosed in an old pillowcase so that fibers don't mix. Rubber bands will have to be replaced periodically and someday when I have time I will make zippered pillowcases.

Cleaning tip: Since I am drying my sweaters outside, I take the sweaters out of the pillowcases outside, give them a few good shakes, and the pillowcases as well. Some sweaters shed a little, some a lot. Maybe a dryer would take care of all this lintiness.

I also run a bleach load with the empty pillowcases periodically, to keep my washer clean. I read that somewhere out there on the world wide web.

And just because I like doing it, I steam/press all my wool and make lovely color coordinated stacks.

A couple more sources of wool felting inspiration:

Warm Fuzzies, by Betz White

This is the other book on felting that I own and it contains a lot of fun, do-able ideas. The projects are more finished/less artsy than the ones in the Sweater Chop Shop--equally inspiring, but in a slightly different direction.

Kris, who blogs at RESWEATER is one of those artisans who has expanded my repertoire of ideas of what can be made from felted wool. Check out her blog for lots of inspiration. She also sells sweaters for felting.

Edit: Here are a few great tips from Kris: A post which discusses working with wool blends and couple more comments:

Washable wool is treated, so that it will not felt. For felting, avoid the wording "machine washable", "washable wool" or "superwash". They should say "dry clean only" or "hand wash cold". Merino wool is the most common wool that is treated to not felt.

You do not need to felt a sweater until the knit disappears to be able to cut without unraveling. I like to "lightly felt" chunky knits, so they do not get so thick that you can't work with them.

And since I've been too sick this week study much or bake, I finished my intended Christmas ornaments this weekend. One thing we do have in Mafraq is pine-cones, so all my Christmas trimmings are focused on using that beautiful element to the utmost. The head, cap and scarf are made from wool scraps--the head from a sweater that didn't felt! Inspiration was found, where else. Oh, and I modified the hat template from Martha Stewart's site, here.

Pine Cone and Wool Elf (I've added eyes with a black maker since taking this picture)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Peace, Love, and Save the Wool

It began so innocently, my obsession with felted wool, when I casually thumbed through a book my mom had checked out of the library:

Sweater Chop Shop

One Google search lead to another and I had soon amassed inspirations for dozens of felted wool projects. I was dazzled by the possibilities and ready for another bold textile endeavor, similar to my quilts from recycled denim. That was fall 2010, when I was still in the States, and soon after we returned to Jordan I began frequenting the Friday open market which specializes in used clothes from Europe and the U.S.

My good friend once referred to the used clothes market as her lily field, as in Consider the lilies of the field... But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you...Back in the day of raising small children with very few and then, expensive, imported clothes, we young mothers spent many hours at the used clothes market so as to clothe our families.

I knew that amongst the crowds, yelling hawkers, and pallets of old sweaters there were wool treasures to be found, and so the treasure hunting ensued. I purposed to spend as little money as possible so stuck to the cheaper stalls, buying my wool sweaters for approximately $.70 or $1.40 each. The fun of buying old wool sweaters to felt and repurpose (the new recycling ling0) is that they don't have to fit! I can use any sweater as long as it is made of good wool. A few especially fortuitous finds have yielded cashmere sweaters which actually do fit. My first cashmere sweaters. I found one for Dear Husband too.

I was perhaps a little enthusiastic about my wool treasures and by the end of the winter season, when the sweaters are no longer in the market, I had purchased and felted oh, about 100 sweaters--maybe a few more ? We don't own a dryer so felting the sweaters was done by placing each one in an old pillowcase (to keep fibers from mixing), secured with a strong rubber band, washed in batches of five or so in boiling water, and hung out to dry. Wool drys quickly and we have plenty of sunny winter days, so this was do-able.

Storage was a problem, sort of, so I temporarily stacked my wool (pressed and according to color) in our spare room. I can't really put my finger on exactly what I relished about this felting process, but I enjoyed it a lot and found a lot of satisfaction in gazing at and touching my colorful stacks--true confessions here. My kids thought I was a little nutty.

The purples and lavenders

the reds

and the naturals

But when I starting making things with the felted wool, my kids caught the vision. I began with a challenging project. Oldest daughter was home on her January break, thumbed through a purchased copy of the same book had set me off on felting and found something that she would dearly love me to make for her before returning to school. How could I refuse?

The design for this jumper came from The Sweater Chop Shop (link above) and was made with parts from four sweaters. The edge stitching and some of the piecing (waist band) was done by hand with DMC wool yarn. The side seams of the bodice and the skirt panels were sown by machine. (The author of the The Sweater Chop Shop, Crispina Ffrench, sells these sweater creations for a pretty penny on Etsy.)

I sent her back to school with a pair of wool mittens, lined and cuffed with cashmere:

Instructions and a pdf pattern for the mittens can be found at the Purl bee blog. Instead of knitting the cuffs, I use the ribbing of the cashmere sweater I use for the lining.

I made cashmere scarves, ruffling the edges with a simple zig-zag stitch, holding the wool taut as it went through the machine :

And more cashmere lined mittens for family and friends who live in cold places:

Next came the Kindle sleeves, so easy, inexpensive, and practical:

When Active Son was young, one of his all- time favorite toys was a cloth covered foam ball that he played with until it was falling apart. With his love for that ball as my inspiration, I made these wool covered balls for a sweet one-year old's birthday. Again, the pattern is found at the Purl bee:

Soon, Tayta got into re-purposing wool act. This jumper was a project we worked on together, loosely based on a design in The Sweater Chop Shop:

And then she was off and running on her own. Purses are her specialty. Here's one made for a young friend when a birthday present needed to be whipped up in a matter of a couple of hours:

And here is one of her favorites that she made for herself:

Now that winter is here, I have lots of projects in the works--too many, of course: more mittens, scarves, a cape for Tayta (almost finished), Christmas stockings, Christmas ornaments...What couldn't you make from felted wool? One young man we know ventured that well, you could even make a wool house--he lived in one growing up in Mongolia! Maybe next year...