Man in the Wilderness Quilt Part 2

I know it's been a while since I promised you detailed images of the embroidery/applique blocks from my "Man in the Wilderness" quilt. Life got in the way...and as it says on the tin, we're Mighty Distractible over here.

The embroidery/applique panels on this quilt are what really made it a long-haul project. Sure, I could have programmed the letters into my sewing machine and embroidered them that way, or used a machine decorative stitch to attach the applique pieces. But that's not me. I wanted the viewer to be able to see the hand in this quilt. All of those hours stitching under a lamp gave my quilt the rustic look I wanted to achieve. One more step on my way to being Ma Ingalls (but I refuse to give up my Bernina and rotary cutter!).

It's been a while now since this project was finished, and I've moved on to design other quilts. So funny, these pictures already seem like snaphots of an old friend.


Back in the (Knitted) Saddle

This past weekend it was 55 degrees outside. And I'm not talking about the middle of the night. It was 55 degrees at noon on Saturday (and Sunday). When the temperature drops 30 degrees - during what is meant to be the hottest week of summer - it's a bit of a shock to the system. I spent the majority of the day on Saturday wrapped in a blanket on the sofa, alternating between knitting, reading, and napping.

I need to make one of these
To be frank, I find it difficult to knit in the heat of summer. I do a little but it's mostly just so I can say I'm still a knitter. However, as soon as the temperature drops, I'm compelled to get some wool and pointy sticks in my hands.

On Sunday, two friends of mine and I had lunch at a local yarn shop and spent a couple of hours with like-minded folks catching up on our projects. One of these lovely ladies had never knit before taking the "beginning knitting" class that I taught a few months ago. She is my success story, having mastered knit and purl with ease and being brave enough to alter patterns to suit her fancy. Putting me to shame, she's a fast knitter as well, having cranked out two dog sweaters in the last couple of weeks - one with a hood that she "figured out" herself. I couldn't be prouder. Seriously.

And, you know she's serious because she's already building stash. LOL

My other friend was wearing a cowl that she'd knit last year. I immediately recognized it as a stitch pattern that I'd fallen in love with a few years ago. The cowl itself is fine but nothing earth-shattering so, when I learned the stitch pattern, I applied it to other things - like a hat and a scarf.

For those of you on Ravelry, you can see the project here: Democracy Gator & Hat

For those of you who aren't, the stitch pattern is super-easy. It's just:
Row 1: knit across the row
Row 2: knit one, slip one - across the row
Row 3: knit across the row
Row 4: slip one, knit one - across the row
This combination is for straight needles, knitting back and forth. If you want to do it on a circular, simply substitute a purl stitch for the knit stitch on rows 2 and 4.
I'm feeling the itch to make something new with this pattern. Could it be my first-ever sweater???

Finally, the Universe has put this pattern in front of me three times in the last few days. It's the Color Affection Shawl, available on Ravelry for about $5 US.

My friend Deidre had the pattern and some GORGEOUS yarn she's going to use for it out on her counter on Saturday morning. I immediately thought that I should make it. Then, on Saturday afternoon, while poking around on Ravelry, I stumbled on it (not remembering the name of the pattern). And, finally, on Sunday, when I went knitting with friends, the local yarn shop had a sample knitted up because they're doing a class on this pattern. So I decided not to fight the messages from beyond and I bought this lovely Italian Filatura Di Crosa super-wash wool to make it. :)

I hope the colors I picked (autumn-y red/orange/yellow/tan) do the pattern justice.

So, unless the temps go back up to 90, I think I'm back in the knitting groove. None too soon, either. It's time to start thinking about Christmas presents!

- Alex

Friday Finds: Solidago Socks

I am totally not a sock knitter. It's just not my thing. But...boy howdy!...Knitty has a FREE sock pattern out right now that could change my tune. It's called Solidago by designer Mary Jane Mucklestone and it's perfect. What do you think?

Photo courtesy of

Summer Reading

In the heat of the summer, is there anything better than lying on the sofa under a slowly turning ceiling fan with a good book? Or even a not so great book... The act of being still and reading is such a languid, hot-weather indulgence. Invariably, a nap sneaks its way into the afternoon - with book open on chest.

Some of us even enjoy this same activity outside while lying in the sun.

I say indulgence because, when you live in a place that has nine months of winter, every summer day is precious. There's a need to fill every glorious moment of sun with outdoor activity and reading is so quiet and passive that it, generally, doesn't work into the goings-on. Personally, I love to make time for lying still - especially if the day is very, very hot.

So, in that spirit, I'd like to share some recent personal favorite reads with you. Most of these are going to fall into the geeky realm as I'm not a fan of heavy drama or "chick lit". I tend to sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery novels. All of these are perfect for summer - no great commitment, easy to read, and fun. Hopefully, you'll find something in here that piques your interest. :)

- Alex

(Amazon and GoodReads work on a 5 star scale)

1. Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel: 3.5 stars Amazon; 3.5 stars GoodReads
"In the near future, America is crushed by a financial crisis and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of an Russian immigrant janitor and ardent fan of “printed, bound media artifacts” (aka books), meets Eunice Park, an impossibly cute Korean American woman with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness. Could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart?"
This is a "love it or hate it" book. I loved it for the hilarious and probably accurate look at our near future. It's a great commentary on where technology is taking us and one man's attempt to hold on to something real.
2. Ready Player One: 4.5 stars Amazon; 4.3 stars GoodReads
"It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.  

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed."
My favorite book of last year - bar none.
For anyone who lived through (and was plugged in to pop culture) in the 80's this is a must-read book.
3. Crystal Eyes: 5 stars Amazon; 4.75 stars GoodReads
"It's beem over two hundred years since the solar system was left devastated by a huge pulse of energy from the sun, the survivors of the human race eke out a fragile existence on an earth where life has been twisted by radiation and where the Solanists - a dark and brutal religious cult - hold sway.

In this savage, ignorant world, one family tries to protect their mutated daughter, a demon in the eyes of the Solanists. Their only chance lies with the enigmatic and dangerous gunslinger known as Crystal Eyes, the deadliest demon to ever travel the badlands. Only with her help will they evade the Solanist preachers who hunt for them. But Crystal Eyes has her own hunter - the greatest preacher of them all on a quest for revenge."
Basically, this is a post-apocalyptic Western. It is rolliking good fun - worthy of being made into a movie - and left me wanting a sequel (which I understand the author is in the process of writing. Squee!)
4. Carpathia: 3.7 stars on Amazon; 3.13 stars on GoodReads
"When the survivors of the Titanic are picked up by the passenger steamship Carpathia, they thought their problems were over.

But something's sleeping in the darkest recesses of the ship. Something old. Something hungry."

This is a "revised history" - so, fact wrapped in fiction. It is a heart-pounding, scary, fun exercise in imagination.
5. Enders Game: 4.6 stars on Amazon; 4.3 stars on GoodReads
Soon to be a major motion picture!

"In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. Is Ender the general that Earth needs to survive?
Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel."
The brilliance of this book (and what I'm afraid will get lost in the movie) is the subtle commentary on the psychology of war and children, family dynamics, politics and more. It's a stunningly good book that is the first in a long series. I haven't read any of the others but really enjoyed this first one.

6. Wool (Omnibus): 4.7 stars on Amazon; 4.4 stars on GoodReads
"This Omnibus Edition collects the five Wool books into a single volume.
This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside is uninhabitable, the view of it is limited, talk of it is forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside."
This is a great treatise on how an isolated society behaves - even when given a strong set of rules to follow. It's a fascinating read and compelled me to move on to the next set of books (a prequel) in the series.

Frenchie Bag Deux

It's been over a year that I've been carrying around my Frenchy Bag, and I've grown to love it more every day. All of my initial concerns about it being too loud just sort of went away...poof.

The fabric has worn like iron so it technically didn't need to be replaced yet. But, fickle girl that I am, I wanted a change. I searched around for another cute bag pattern but I didn't find anything I liked as much as the Frenchy Bag. So, why reinvent the wheel? I sewed up another one...

This time more color! Wilder pattern! Caution was completely thrown to the wind. (See, I'm totally growing as a person here.) I ended up using some fabric from my stash. Two Amy Butler fabrics (from many seasons ago) on the outside and a Liberty of London fabric for the lining.

This time I did adjust the pattern with a couple "improvements" of my own. The original pattern calls for a couple section dividers on the inside. Even though well interfaced and stiff, those dividers sort of crumpled and became useless. I got rid of those and instead added a zippered pocket.

This was achieved easily enough by adding an additional panel of well-interfaced lining with a 7" zipper. There are a surprising number of tutorials for this exact task online so I don't feel the need to add another to the mix. My favorite one was from Sew Mama Sew...follow this and you can't go wrong. This technique ended up being so simple I can totally see myself sneaking zippers in anything I am lining in the future.

This is how I adjusted the pattern to accommodate my zippered pocket:

Step 1: Sew the lining fabric with the zipper to another piece of lining fabric with 1/4" seam allowance all the way around. Both pieces should be right sides facing up.

Step 2: Lay the zipper sandwich piece right side up and place another lining panel right side down on top of it. Sew these two pieces together using the specified seam allowance leaving the top open.

And there you go, you have a lining with a zipper pocket all ready to attach to the outer bag!


PS - Old purse was washed on gentle with Doc Bronner's Sal Suds and hung dry. It looks perfect and is waiting to have it's revival one of these days!


Okay, okay...I promise I'll stop talking about San Francisco after this post.

There wasn't a lot of time on my trip out west for the crafty shopping I really wanted to do...but I was able to pay a visit to one fabric/notions store. Whoa, what a store it was!

Check out that sign!

Britex is 3 stories of AMAZING. Two floors of fabric and one floor of ribbons, trims, and buttons. I could have actually moved in the decorator fabric section and lived there for a month or so. The fabrics were that luxurious.

Velvet beauty.
I was kicking myself for not having a dress pattern in mind because the selection of dress fabric was staggering. I'm pretty sure if I lived near that store I would have a handmade wardrobe. Sure, I could order this sort of fabric online, but seeing it in person has so much more impact.

The section I spent the most time devouring was the quilters cotton. I'm currently in the throes of making a quilt for my little bear and finding something to add from my trip sounded like a great idea. Sadly, the quilter's cotton selection was really small compared to the other fabrics they carry. Still, I found a few fun prints!

My booty.

You want to know something interesting? They don't have cutting tables at Britex. When you find a fabric you want, a sales clerk comes over and tears it off the bolt. I loved it! No standing in a cutting line!

Lately, I've been sewing and sewing. The new quilt I'm making has 15 log cabin blocks and I'm powering right through them. It's amazing...when you can see your own skill level move from beginner to intermediate, you know you're on your way.


PS - Britex has an online store too!

What the Kids Are Wearing

It's not often that I attend children's birthday parties but, for some reason, I was invited to two in the same weekend recently. The first, for a newly-turned four year old, was mostly adults so the presents were particularly awesome. The best gift of the day was the "Fart Blaster" gun. I leave that to your imagination. The second party, for a newly-turned three year old, was 50/50 kids and adults so it was a bit more chaotic, but still fun.

The take-away for me was from the first party, at which there was a particularly interactive tween. He was proabably about 12 but not intimidated (or embarrased) by adults. At one point, I noticed that he was wearing a really cool bracelet and I thought, "Wow. That kid's got some style." So, me being me, I asked him about it and, as it turns out, it was made from pop tabs (soda can tabs for you eastcoasters) and embroidery thread.

My crafty brain studied it so I could get an idea of how it was threaded and I immediately started thinking of ways to make it nice enough for an adult to wear.

Here's a tutorial with my first attempt. :)

Step one... save up some pop tabs.

Step two... measure your wrist.

Step three... measure a line of pop tabs to see how many you need to get around your wrist, then double that number because this is a two-layer bracelet.

Step four... lace the tabs together with ribbon. Here's a video (it was easier than trying to capture it in photos):

Once you've laced together enough tabs to go around your wrist, here's how you finish it up:

End with a "bottom" tab as the last one you put on.

Lace the ribbon to the back of the bracelet.

Knot the ribbon on the back to secure the last tab.

Slip the ribbon back through the first tab and tie.

If you have someone in the house to help, it would look really cute with a bow instead of a knot but, you know, my dogs don't have opposable thumbs.

Check out YouTube for inspiration on how to make these even cooler. I plan to experiment some more and see what I can come up with. I think it would be interesting to thread it with different materials - like leather or hemp. I saw one vid where they'd used something stretchy to make a headband out of tabs and another where a girl made a belt... the possibilities are endless!

Happy upcycling, friends.

- Alex

Bounce (but only if you're 21+)

Wisconsin has a lot of proud traditions - most surrounding food and drink (and sports). Some are
obvious, like the Green Bay Packers. Some are lesser known outside of the Midwest, like Friday Fish Fry and brandy Old Fashioneds  sweet. Some are nearly unknown, unless you live in Wisconsin, like Cherry Bounce.

Wikipedia has a tiny entry on Cherry Bounce, which doesn't allude to the Midwestern custom at all.
Cherry Bounce is a liqueur made by infusing brandy with cherries and sugar. Some recipes will use rum, whiskey or vodka instead of brandy.
The English hamlet of Frithsden claims to have originated the Cherry Bounce.
A lane leading off the Old High Street in nearby Hemel Hempstead is named Cherry Bounce and is shown having had this name in maps dating back to the early 19th century.
That's the whole thing...

On this side of the pond, Martha Washington actually had a recipe for Cherry Bounce (which can be found online) and legend has it that George packed a canteen of it for a trip west across the Allegheny Mountains in September 1784.

With the trend in craft cocktails and the resurrection of old, classic drink recipes, Cherry Bounce is making a national comeback of sorts. A Google search yields a lot of recipes from popular and trusted sources like The Beekman Boys, Epicurious, Imbibe Magazine, and more. However, these recipes are a lot fancier than a traditional Wisconsin Bounce. They call for spicing the cherries with things like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. They also add a step that Wisconsin recipes don't bother with - macerating the cherries for a period of time before adding the alcohol.

The Wisconsin recipe is simple and calls for a total of four ingredients: tart cherries, sugar, alcohol, and time.

Tart cherries. In our state, there's yet another thing we're mighty proud of - Door County cherries (tm). Yeah... they're probably not REALLY trademarked but they should be. For truly traditional Wisconsin Bounce, Door County Montmorency pie cherries are the ones you want. Fortunately, my backyard cherry tree has Montmorencys on it and it was VERY prolific this year.

Sugar. Get a lot. Cherry Bounce is a liqueur - very thick and syrupy.

Alcohol. Like all Wisconsin cocktails, brandy is the preferred and traditional alcohol for Bounce. I'm not sure what the Wisconsin fascination is with brandy... it's too sweet for me. This is one place where the east-coaster in me takes over and I make my Bounce with bourbon. I've also seen it made with rum.

Time. So, the rule is that you put up your Cherry Bounce in early July when the Door County cherries come ripe and you let it sit until Christmas. If you're smart, you save some cherries in the freezer and put up a new batch of Bounce just before Christmas so that you have some in the early summer just before the Door County harvest happens.

Now, how you put your Bounce together is up for debate. Ask 10 Wisconsinites and you'll get 10 variations (within a small range of variables). Last year, I put up Bounce using unpitted sweet cherries because that's what I had too many of. I used bourbon and I cut the sugar back a bit. The resulting Bounce was good but not great. It wasn't enough of a liqueur (not enough sugar) and the cherry flavor was okay but not great. This year, I followed the more traditional recipe and I have great hopes for a truly excellent Christmas.

Traditional Wisconsin Cherry Bounce
makes one quart

  • Fill a 1 qt Mason jar half full with pitted, tart (pie) cherries (Montmorency)
  • Cover the cherries with 2 C white cane sugar*. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously until the cherries are coated.
  • Add 1/2 qt of brandy (or bourbon, or rum, or even vodka) to fill the jar.
  • Screw on lid tightly and shake to mix well. 
  • For the next day or so, shake the Mason jar occasionally to finish dissolving the sugar.
  • The cherries may settle a bit and it's worth opening the jar back up and adding enough pitted cherries to fill the entire jar.
 Put the jar in a cool, dark place and let it sit until Christmas.  Open and enjoy as a shot, mixed with club soda, or with hot water for a cherry toddy.

*I used a cup and a half of sugar. I simply couldn't bring myself to add that much sugar to the jar. We'll see how it turns out.

Last week, we got blueberries in our fruit CSA and my friend Kristine got really creative and made Blueberry Bounce with them. She used vodka as her liquor (which I think was a good choice for blueberries). There may soon be some jars of blue nectar curing in my closet with the red ones.

- Alex

Seeing Signs in San Francisco

As Alex mentioned last week, I was fortunate to have just attended the HOW Graphic Design Conference (this year held in San Francisco). There were so many opportunities to learn a new trick or two, but I've decided that my favorite sessions at events like this are when a seasoned or popular design professional simply discusses their body of work or creative process. Maybe it's because I've been in this business over 20 years...egad!...but I feel a kinship with other designers who feel it deep in their bones. The creatives who couldn't imagine doing anything else for a living. No matter what point in their career, those impassioned designers have the ability to make me sit up and take stock of my own creative path.

I've been back home for a week and I'm actually haunted (in a good way) by what I saw and heard in San Francisco. In order to exercise these demons, I've made some resolutions and promises to myself. Sorry to be cryptic (I hate when people are cryptic) but I'm a superstitious type. I don't want to jinx new endeavors by speaking about them too soon. You will be the first to know when things are ready to be talked about..pinky swear! Sufficed to say, I am creatively juiced up.

The other thing that got me revved up in San Francisco were the vertical vintage neon business signs EVERYWHERE. They give the city amazing character. I took picture after picture of ones that struck my fancy. Here are a few of my favorites....I hope they inspire you too!

I love having periods of intense inspiration. It refreshes my creativity and really gets me back on track. What's your source of inspiration?

(fired up designer)

Friday Finds: Strawberry Country Cake

It's finally getting hot out around here, and that means strawberry shortcake tastes extra good! Instead of the lazy usual way I make it, (sugared strawberries and whipped cream atop store-bought pound cake on individual plates) I am going to try something more home-made.

After doing some web searching, I found this great recipe from The Barefoot Contessa. I'm trying it this weekend! It doesn't look too time consuming for this lazy summer girl.

Photo courtesy of Barefoot Contessa.
Have a great weekend!


Home, Home At Last (Part Two)

If you missed part one, you can catch up here.

Finally. After 8 days in the bee condo (the cardboard nucleus box that the bees came in), my new "pets" moved into their permanent home.

The "old" pet checking out the new pets.

I picked up the bees on a Sunday. The following Thursday I was on a plane to Florida with a return on Monday. I knew that I wasn't supposed to bother the bees for about a week (most people advocate weekly hive checks) and leaving town was the best way to keep my nose out of their space. It was all I could do (and, honestly, still all I can do) to keep myself from poking at them constantly. They're infinitely fascinating and, in that first week, I just wanted to sit and watch them do their thing. Unfortunately, poking around the hive kind of stresses them out so an out-of-state trip was the best way to give them the peace they needed to settle in quietly.

While I was away, the hive I ordered arrived in one giant box - which I found on my front porch when I got home late Monday afternoon. Needless to say, I put down my suitcase, changed my clothes, and immediately unpacked the box.

In the end, after months of research, discussions with veteran beekeepers, and online searching, I went with a medium-frame Langstroth hive instead of the less-standard top-bar or Warre hives. This gave me a lot of options to purchase both locally and from the web. Most hives are made from pine and painted (on the outside). I found a place in Indiana called Legacy Apiaries that makes the most gorgeous, high-quality hives from western red cedar. They promised quality and they delivered! I adore my hive and I hope the bees will too. The crazy part is, this beautiful, cedar hive was no more expensive than a pine one...

Yes, this beehive is set up in my living room. It's empty.

After pulling out all my equipment, I fired up the smoker, donned the veil and gloves, tucked my pants into my socks (so the bees can't crawl up your leg), and I set about moving the frames from the condo to the house. Here, in photos, is my adventure:

This is the new brood box. Notice it's not made of red cedar.
The one thing that threw a wrench into my plans for the most beautiful hive ever, is that the bees came to me living on "deep frames". That means that the box I transferred them into had to be able to accommodate their frame size. My cedar hive is made up of medium boxes (they're shallower) so I had to go out and buy one deep box that sits at the bottom of the totem pole.

This is what it looks like with one deep (on the bottom) and one medium.
My tools: A smoker, a "hive tool" to separate and lift the frames, and an entrance reducer.
You can barely see it but the smoker is working!

This is what the frames look like inside the cardboard box.

Me, loosening a frame to take it out of the box.
My bees, hard at work.
This is what a frame of honey looks like. Very yellow and very heavy.
Whereas brood comb (where the babies are made) is dark brown.
Nucleus frames in the center, new frames on the outside. In the new hive!
For the most part, my first hive check and move to the new home went well. I was able to identify the work that was being done, the bees were amenable to the process, and they settled in right away. The one hitch was when, while observing one of the frames, I accidentally dropped it on the grass. The bees didn't like that much and there was a lot of high pitched buzzing and flying about. No stings though!! I stepped away, blasted them with a few puffs of smoke, and then moved the frame back into the box. I had to scoop some confused bees up off the grass but it didn't seem like any harm was done.

Three weeks later and the bees seem to be in great shape. They love their home and are busy building new comb and making more bees. Lately, they've been building new comb on the "empty" frames in the lower box and every day I see more bees exploring the upper box.

The bees permanent home, nestled in the mint.
 My goal is to build a strong hive that will live through the winter. Honey production will have to wait until next year. So far anyway, I feel like we're off to a good start. Hopefully, this will be home, sweet home for a long time to come.

- Alex