Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Project of the Month: Cross-stitch Sampler and April's Project

Sorry for the late post today, but I totally cheated on this project. It's the last day of March, so tomorrow I'm supposed to move on to something new according to my project of the month experiment. I have been so distracted by the fifty million other projects that I felt guilty about how little I'd accomplished this week, so I took some time this afternoon to work on this sampler so it looked like I'd done a little more. Total progress this month: 2 full blocks and a piece of a third (out of 12 blocks). I did fix the Anchor-to-DMC color conversion problem I mentioned last week, replacing the electric blue with a prettier light blue. The blocks pictured are for April, May and June, and I hope to one day finish this darn thing (sorry, Mom -- you'll get it eventually, I promise).

The white-on-white is quite nice (that's a dove in the center, by the way). It'll be finished out with purples and blues.

My thoughts on this project of the month idea are a little mixed so far. I intended to use it to cut down on my gigantic works-in-progress pile, but it seems to be having the opposite effect. I knew the embroidery projects I chose wouldn't be completed in just a month, but I didn't expect this one to spur three new projects, either. Nor did I expect last month's socks to inspire another knitting project. I now have two cross-stitch projects, one embroidery project and another knitting project (not counting last month's unfinished socks) just hanging out waiting to be worked on -- and that's not counting the rest of my POM bags hanging up waiting to be chosen, or April's project, which is ...

The Flutter-by Socks by Shannon Robalino. Can't see the pattern on Ravelry? Check it out here. The yarn is just Paton's Stretch Socks cotton/wool blend in Plum. The stitch pattern looks like this (couldn't find any Creative Commons licensed photos of the actual socks to share here -- boo. Mine will be CC licensed when they're finished, but that's a whole other story):

Also, don't forget to vote on yesterday's poll! I'll keep the voting open until Sunday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Poll! (and a real Sneak Peek at my Latest Bronte-Along Project)

I got my lovely springtime sampler from Fourteen Countess in the mail on Friday, and I've been pondering the very serious question of where to put it. The colors are so bright and fresh, and the stitching is insanely good, so I really want to show it off. Here are my options -- where do you think it should go?

 in the front hall

 in the corner of the living room, next to the fireplace

on the wall between the living room and dining room

 upstairs on the landing, on the wall behind my desk

 in our bedroom, above my nightstand

 in our bedroom, in the reading nook

in the guest room, above the bureau (it'll be hidden from the door a little by the yarn)

**edit: I couldn't get the darn poll to work, so just vote in the comments!**

And here's a little sneak peek at my latest Bronte-along project, since I didn't do a real sneak peek on Sunday. No details -- this one's top secret -- but if it turns out nicely, I'll be giving it away here!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sneak Peek Sunday

Not my usual sneak peek, but here's a quick look at what I've been hard at work on for the last six and a half months! Expect more nursery projects in the next few weeks, although I think most of them could easily be adapted for non-kiddo rooms. And I'm trying to figure out what to do here come June -- I've started writing some posts to be autoscheduled, and of course you'll see pictures of the little guy, but things may slow down for a bit this summer -- but not permanently, so stick around!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Spring Rolls

After the heavy comfort foods of winter, I find myself craving something crisp and fresh and full of vegetables. These delicious spring rolls, lightly broiled (not fried) and wrapped in crunchy, green lettuce fit the bill perfectly. This recipe uses bell pepper and apple rather than springy vegetables, and is more suited to late summer for people in more northern climates, here in Georgia so close to Florida it's possible to find delicious peppers in the spring. The translucent rice paper wrappers inspired my husband to dub these "ghost rolls", and whether you make them this weekend, or file it away until you can prepare it with local in-season ingredients, these ghost rolls are sure to become a family favorite. They can be made several hours ahead and kept chilled in the refrigerator, covered with a damp cloth. Serve with a clear soup and coconut rice to make a meal, or hand them around as an appetizer.

Crisp Orange-Chicken Spring Rolls
from Body + Soul magazine

1 small fresh red chili pepper, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon cooking wine
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 pound skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large apple, cored and cut into thin strips
4 green onions, green part only, cut into short, thin slivers
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
12 8-inch round dried rice-paper wrappers*
1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, washed

1. Combine chili pepper, garlic, ginger, wine, orange juice and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and marinate for 15 minutes. Drain excess liquid.

2. In a small pan, heat canola oil and saute chicken until light brown outside and no longer pink inside, about 2 minutes. Combine apple, green onions, bell pepper, rice vinegar and sesame oil in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Mix in cooked chicken.

3. Fill a medium bowl with warm water. Dip one of the wrappers in the water for 15 seconds, or until softened. Carefully transfer it to a dry work surface.

 dipping the wrapper in water

softened wrapper

4. (a)Arrange 2-3 tablespoons of the filling in an even horizontal mound near one end of the wrapper. (b)Fold the end of the wrapper over the filling, then (c)fold in the sides. (d)Continue to roll up the rice paper to form a tight cylinder. Assemble the remaining spring rolls the same way.

 fig. a

fig. b

fig. c

fig. d

5. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking oil. Arrange spring rolls in a single layer, leaving a little space between them. If you're making these ahead, now is the time to cover them with a damp cloth and place them in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook them.

6. Brush the rolls with oil. Broil the rolls until lightly browned and crisp, 8-10 minutes; check frequently to avoid burning. Use a spatula to turn the rolls over and continue to broil another 8-10 minutes. Serve each wrapped in a lettuce leaf with a dipping sauce.

Soy-Garlic-Lime Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons garlic chili paste
Juice of 1/2 lime

Whisk all ingredients together.

*Rice paper wrappers look like this:

and can sometimes be found in normal grocery stores, but usually are in either big fancy specialty stores or in tiny little Asian groceries. You can also buy them online here (I've never bought from them, so I have no idea what the company's like -- I just did a quick Google search).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

WIP Wednesday: Quilt Sampler Progress

I've managed to finish two quilt blocks (well, there's still a tiny bit of work to do on the one for April, but just a bit of green). I'm ready to move on to a new month and get away from these pastels -- April's Easter basket design is pretty and sweet, but a bit too timid for me.

Also, I've noticed this book (365 Tiny Cross Stitch Designs) seems to have been designed for Anchor floss only, and the DMC equivalents are, well, not very equivalent. See how this basket is all pale pinks and purples, then BAM! In comes electric blue? Yeah, I think that's supposed to be a pale blue (it is in the photo in the book), so I'll be redoing that little section, too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pterodactyl Stencils Now Available

Just a quick note to let you know the stencils I made for the pterodactyl dresser are now available for download. Either click here, on the image or head to the Downloads and Patterns page to get yours! Each variation is available in four different sizes. The file contains four pages with all three pterodactyl variations -- 12 pterodactyls in all! If you make something with these stencils, I'd love to see it -- leave a link in the comments, or send me an e-mail (meghan {dot} isfive {at} gmail {dot} com}).

Also, anyone have any tips for software (cheap or free -- can't justify Illustrator) to use to make these? I'm new to this whole pattern-making thing, and don't like the way my hand-drawn images scan and convert to pdfs. I'd like them to look a lot more professional. Thanks in advance!

As always, non-commercial, personal use only, attribution please. Thanks for playing fair!

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Won! Springtime Sampler @ 14 Countess

Holy crap, you guys, I won a giveaway! I never win anything. But Saturday, I opened my inbox to find an e-mail from the lovely blogger and stitcher at Fourteen Countess telling me I'd won her lovely Springtime Sampler. I'd seen it in a couple of embroidery pools on Flickr and fell in love. Anyway, isn't it sweet? I just adore the embroidery on printed fabric -- what a great idea. And the colors are beautiful. I can't wait until it arrives, and I'm already thinking about where to display it.

Here's a close-up. French knots, blanket stitch, chain stitch, satin stitch and more. So, so lovely.

If you haven't clicked over to Fourteen Countess yet, go! Her work is outstanding, and she stitches the sweetest birds.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sneak Peek Sunday

Clockwise, from top left: Ayla cotton sateen from Daisy Janie, Moorish cotton by Swanky Swell, Delilah cotton/linen remnant from Daisy Janie and Daydream organic cotton-blend upholstery weight from Swanky Swell.

I'm not sure this qualifies as a sneak peek, but I got some lovely fabric this week and had to share! I have some projects lined up for some of it, but not all. I bought it simply because it's lovely, and with nothing in mind. Trying to decide what to make with it is tortuous, as I tend to be a saver rather than a user. If I don't purchase something specifically for a project, I have an enormously difficult time sitting down and getting to work, especially with fabric and pretty paper. Once it's cut, it can't become something else. As long as it sits folded on my sewing table, or stashed in the closet, it's Schroedinger's cat -- it can be a purse and a blouse and a pillow covering all at once. But once I use it for something, there's no changing its purpose. While some things whisper their desired incarnation from the shop shelves, others hide their true natures until I start cutting -- and then I'm afraid it might be too late. But I'm working to overcome my hesitation, because with material this lovely, how could I go wrong?

Delilah here's already spoken for, as is Daydream (below). Look out for them in the next couple of weeks! Aren't they beautiful?

P.S. Happy Spring!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Apricot-Cranberry-Orange Bread

This yummy bread is a great weekend breakfast or brunch idea. Lightly toasted and served with melting butter, or just eaten fresh and hot from the oven, it's just sweet enough to satisfy without leaving you in a sugar coma. The tangy orange flavors blend well with apricots and cranberries, and it's great as a snack with a cup of tea or coffee as well. The whole grains and dried fruit give that much-needed energy boost to get through a sleepy weekday afternoon.

Apricot-Cranberry-Orange Bread
adapted from recipe

Makes 1 large loaf or 2 dozen muffins.
  • 6 oz. dried apricots, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup water, plus just enough to cover apricots
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
  • 3 1/2 cups sifted whole grain flour (white whole wheat is best)
  • 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease one 9x5-inch loaf pan.
2. Cook apricots in water in a covered medium-sized saucepan for 10-15 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain; reserve 3/4 cup liquid. Set apricots aside to cool.
3. Cream together butter and sugar. By hand, beat in egg and orange peel.
4. Sift together flour, dry milk, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with apricot liquid and orange juice. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened -- do not overmix.
5. Stir in dried fruit and nuts.
6. Pour batter into prepared pans.
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until bread springs back when lightly touched in center. Cool 5 minutes in pan. Remove from pan and completely cool on wire rack before slicing.

Make it special!
  • Decorate the top of the bread with dried fruit.
  • Substitute dried cherries for apricot and add dark chocolate chips. **note: skip step 2 and use 3/4 cup nonfat milk instead of 1/2 cup dry milk powder and 3/4 cup apricot water.
  • Add white chocolate chips.
  • Use muffin tins instead of loaf pans to make individual servings.
  • Use the sliced bread to make delicious French toast.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WIP Wednesday - Progress at Last!

Look! More stitches! I finally got out to the craft store yesterday and bought all the floss I needed for this project. That in itself was a huge accomplishment -- can I say if I had to work at Hobby Lobby the music alone would drive me insane? But check out all the bright, crazy colors for this sampler (yes, DMC 970, I'm looking directly at you), and pretend like I got more embroidery done than I really did.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jane Eyre-Inspired Embroidery

As I mentioned Sunday, the Brontë-along started by Melissa at Yummy Goods has inspired me to get out my embroidery hoops. Inspired by one of the most telling and intriguing lines in the book, I've started embroidering a handkerchief -- surely something worthy of a gentlewoman.

About a year ago, I checked out a lecture course on British Literature from the library where I worked. The lecture on Jane Eyre really stood out -- it had been years since I'd read the book, and the lecture really went beneath the surface of the swoony romance and pointed out how revolutionary and feminist Charlotte Brontë really was. Key to this argument is the line, "Reader, I married him." Not "He married me," or "We were married," but the very active, Jane-centric "I married him."* I immediately reread the book, and was struck how often Jane bucked Victorian convention. She tells Rochester she loves him before he tells her. She constantly defied straight-laced religion -- from her classic "I must keep in good health, and not die," in response to Mr. Brocklehurst's query as to how she can avoid going to hell, to her opinions about St. John Rivers' missionary zeal and her abandonment of his mission to marry a godless reprobate like Rochester (in Rivers' eyes, anyway). Putting true love before God? That was pretty daring. And then, shocker of shockers, Jane actually seriously considers running off with Rochester and being his mistress! It's why she leaves Thornfield -- she knows she can't resist him otherwise (and really, can you blame a girl?). All this -- the woman taking the lead in a courtship, putting human wants and emotions before God, frank sexuality -- in a Victorian novel. Written by a woman!

So in honor of Charlotte's modern ways, I've drawn up a little embroidery pattern. Click on the image to download, or go the "Downloads and Patterns" page. I'm using it on a handkerchief, but I'd love to see what you come up with if you use it (and of course, private non-commercial use only. Please credit Meghan Brawley of five). Oh, and for the hankie, I used an old button-down shirt of mine, an idea I got from the incomparable Kate Davies of Needled.

*Sutherland, John. "Jane Eyre and the Other Brontë," Classics of British Literature. Lecture 35. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sneak Peek Sunday

The Bronte-along over at Yummy Goods has inspired me to put away the knitting needles and pull out my embroidery. Join it! Check out the link to Yummy Goods, and follow along on Twitter (#brontealong).

Past Sneak Peek of this project

Friday, March 12, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Make the Most of Spring

I've been seeing daffodils -- my mom always says they're the first hopeful sign of spring -- for a few weeks now, and as I type this it's nearly 80 degrees outside and my doors and windows are wide open. Winter seems to finally be over, and with it most of my homebody tendencies. I no longer want to spend the days curled on the couch with a book and a cup of tea -- I want to be outside in the sunshine. So this weekend's recipe isn't something you can whip up on the stove but a recipe to end cabin fever with a dose of spring fever.

  • Go for a familiar walk and look at how much has changed in a few weeks. Are flowers blooming? Squirrels playing? Green should be creeping out everywhere.
  • Craft in public! Take your knitting or embroidery outside -- to a public park or even just your back porch.
  • Go to the theater. I love finding amateur (especially local high school) productions and concerts. Last weekend we hit a local ballet production of Peter Pan -- I was seriously impressed by the talent, and it was the most fun we've had in ages.

What other ingredients do you have to add to this weekend recipe?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WIP Wednesday: Project Gremlins

Well, progress on this month's project has fallen prey to my top 3 project gremlins (see that? 10 stitches! In ONE WEEK. That's all!).
  • not the right floss colors
  • other projects begging for attention
  • naps!
I always end up starting a cross-stitch project only to get derailed when I'm barely in by not having the right colors for the chart. One day, I swear I'm going to make a list and get all I need first. Really, I promise. This is one reason I do more free embroidery -- I can work with what I already have. I also like to work from my own designs, and I'm not there yet with cross stitch.

I also have all sorts of other projects I'm still working on. Last month's socks! A should-have-been-quick-and-easy late-winter knitting project that's not so quick (but still easy). Another cross-stitch project. Sewing for the nursery. Fifty million other ideas bouncing around in my head.

And then there's the most compelling reason of all: naps! Who wouldn't want to nap with this cutie?

What are your gremlins, and how do you deal with them?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tutorial: Embroidered Paper Magnetic Bookmarks

I've been exploring embroidering on paper and card lately (maybe because of the penpal project). A sweet person sent me an advance reader's copy of a book to review for the book blog I write for, Forever Young Adult, and I wanted to send her a little thank you when I sent the ARC back. So I took inspiration from these magnetic bookmarks I made several months ago and made this little embroidered paper bookmark. The initial tutorial for making magnetic bookmarks can be found over at CraftChi, but here's my process. You could easily skip the magnetic part and glue cardstock to the back of the embroidered paper if you want.

Embroidered Paper Bookmarks

Materials needed
  • Pretty paper (I cut mine from a Crate and Barrel catalog)
  • Index card or other cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Mod Podge or other white glue
  • Small brush
  • Thumbtack or other pin for poking holes
  • Embroidery floss
  • Small scrap of ribbon
  • Hole punch
  • Flexible sheet magnet (like the kind used for advertising)
Step 1: Cut your paper and glue it to the cardstock.

Choose the shape you want for your bookmark. I actually picked patterned plates from the catalog, so I just cut them out. Glue the patterned paper to the index card to give the paper stability. Brush a layer of glue on the back of the paper to adhere it to the cardstock, then brush another layer of glue over the top of the paper to give it a protective coating. It's easier to cut the card to match the paper after it's glued down than to try to trace your bookmark shape onto the card and cut them separately. Once the glue is dry, cut around the paper.

Step 2: Prepare your embroidery design

Using buttons or other objects to trace, or just working freehand, draw your design in light pencil on your bookmark. Take a thumbtack or other sharp poky object and punch small holes along the lines. Your glued paper will be too thick to easily puncture with a needle, so you want to prepare the holes in advance. Don't make the holes too big -- you want them a little smaller than your needle and thread, not bigger. I actually used the very tip of the pointy part of a seam ripper to poke most of my holes. I also used a hole puncher to punch a hole in the center of the circle for decoration.

 Step 3: Sew!

This is the fun part. Using different stitches, embroider your bookmark. Be careful not to tear the paper (it should be relatively stiff thanks to the cardstock and glue, though), and trim the ends neatly but don't knot the thread. You'll be gluing it down anyway.

Step 4. Assemble the bookmarks.

If you punched holes in your paper, punch holes in your magnet, too. You'll want these shapes to match.

Take a scrap of ribbon, and glue it to the back of one of your paper circles. Spread the glue all over the whole back, making sure to glue down the ends of the embroidery floss.

Glue the bookmark down to the magnet, lining up any holes. You should still only be working with one of your circles, not both. When the glue's dry enough to handle, trim away the excess magnet around your circle. Be careful not to cut any embroidery that might be on the edge of your bookmark.

Rinse, repeat with the other side.

Weight it down to let it dry, then admire your handiwork!

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