Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 Projects - Feb update

Back at the beginning of the month, I posted some of the projects I wanted to work on during the year.  One of these was a desire to improve my sewing machine skills, and another was to finally finish off a number of the UFOs (unfinished objects) / WIPs that I've had gathering dust for some time.

Well, today I made good on both of those.  This month I finally finished a cross stitch project that, embarrassingly, I worked out that I'd actually started about 2 years ago...  It was a Winnie the Pooh design called "Reflection in the Puddle", (I'm a Pooh fan), and I can definitely remember starting it at least 2 winters' ago (and I think I had the kit for a few years' before that, too)...  With some concerted sewing in the evenings over the last couple of weeks, I finally managed to finish it!

I'm never too sure what to do with these pictures when I've finished them.  I don't necessarily want to frame them and hang them on the wall, but I also don't want to fold them up and put them in a drawer for the rest of eternity either.  So I decided to make this one into a cushion, and utilise my new-found sewing machine confidence (ish) at the same time.

I found some nice fabric in one of the local craft stores (again making use of compulsory coupons), and also some cute pom-pom trim, as well as a suitably sized cushion insert.

I also found an old cross-stitch magazine that had a tiny 3-step tutorial on how to turn a particular project into an envelope cushion, and started measuring up.  It got a little more complicated than I had originally planned, as the aida (with my stitching on) wasn't quite the right height for the cushion, so effectively I had to make it into a panel between two larger pieces of fabric.  This meant the pom-pom trim probably wasn't going to work as I'd originally planned, so I'm saving it for another project.

I also slightly mis-calculated the amount of overlap I'd need on the back of the "envelope", and it only just covers the enclosure, but it works ok.  Next time I'll remember to add another few inches to my measurements!  My hems are getting a little straighter (the holes in the aida helped a bit), and I feel a bit more in control of the sewing machine, so it's all good.

And here's the finished piece!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Storm Pandora

We've got another cold snap here (dramatically named, as above).  Freezing temperatures and 6" of snow during the day on Saturday.  On Friday, temperatures dropped to lows of 1°F (-17°C), with windchills even colder.  They even put out frostbite warnings and advised against going outside with exposed skin!  The weird thing for us is the complete lack of frost, and very little ice, because it's so dry.  Just bitingly cold winds.  (And lots of static everywhere - the poor cats get electric shocks from everything they touch at the moment!)

And it's not just the North East of the US affected - the cold spell is almost country-wide, with even Texas suffering from ice and freezing rain.  Allegedly only Florida and Hawaii have escaped the icy cold.  There are lots of photos on the web of beautiful natural ice sculptures, and even Niagra Falls has almost frozen over.  Ironically, Alaska is having flood problems because they have too much rain...

Saturday started out clear and relatively mild - a sign that snow was probably due.  It started earlier than forecast too, about mid-morning, and seemed to catch a few people unawares as the roads were fairly busy.  Within half an hour it was settling on the car and the roads were slick and slippery - not fun to drive on.  There's also a strange phenomenon when driving in the (dry) snow - the wind and traffic blows it in undulating waves across the roads, which becomes almost hypnotic at times -  you have to really concentrate on the traffic ahead and not on the pretty patterns!

It continued for most of the day, and by evening there was a good 6" and the side roads were covered.  It looks very pretty across the expanse of our back yard, and is only spoilt by one set of footprints where I've left food for the birds.  Plus there are various animal tracks across the middle - probably the local cat, but I like to think it might be the racoons again!  In the evening, there was a strange half-light all night, presumably moonlight reflected from all the snow-covered surfaces.

Waking up on Sunday morning, the snow ploughs had already been out, so the roads were relatively clear again.  Sunday was a beautiful day, and surprisingly mild, even warm if you found a sunbeam to bask in.  Clearing the driveway took a concerted effort from the two of us, but at least made up for the fact that we hadn't been to the gym the day before!

I'd like to show some pretty snowy pictures from the local area, but it's just too cosy indoors to venture out very far at the moment.  Apparently there's another cold spell on the way, and things don't really start turning spring-like until at least April...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sewing Machine Projects

A few weeks ago whilst perusing Pinterest, I found some lovely pictures of an "on the go organiser" by Amber at Crazy Little Projects - I loved the bright colours and the polka dots.  And I have a thing for pockets and cubby-holes and general organisation, so this instantly appealed.  As I'd already decided that I wanted to dig out my sewing machine as part of my new year to-do's, I thought it might be a good starting project, although it looked a little bit complicated with so many pockets and layers of fabric.  And I didn't really need a separate organiser.  So instead I decided to pretty-up my boring black notebook with a fabric notebook cover. 

There are lots of tutorials on Pinterest (you can find some of them in my 2015 projects board here), and I read quite a few of them, momentarily confusing myself with their subtle differences and levels of complexity.  It all looked a bit complicated to start with, but eventually I plumped on one tutorial which looked the most straightforward - this one on WikiHow.

A quick trip to the local craft shop (with compulsory money-off coupons - they're big over here), and I found some bargain-priced pretty fabric (not quite polka dots, but close), and some iron-on interfacing.

Then I spent a good few hours playing with my sewing machine, threading cotton, winding bobbins, sewing straight(ish) lines and generally remembering how all the bits worked.  (I actually took a one-day sewing machine class last January and made a cushion cover, but hadn't really used the machine since, so was more than a little rusty).

Finally, after a little procrastination (ie tidying things), I took a deep breath and set about measuring and (eek!) cutting fabric and ironing hems, following the instructions in the tutorial very carefully.  It all seemed to go fairly straight-forwardly, and my sewing lines were more-or-less straight (I only had to unpick one of them).  I even went a little off-piste and added a handy elastic loop for my pen before I sewed it all up.  Get me!  All was fine with the side-pocket hems, but the top and bottom hems don't bear too much scrutiny, so don't look closely... 

Overall, I'm quite proud of my first sewing machine project of the year.  I don't feel quite so much that the sewing machine needle is going to rampage out of control and eat up everything I put near it.  And I have a pretty fabric book cover as proof that I can make something.  There's hope for me yet!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

10 Random Observations on Life in America So Far

1.  I still can't get used to having an outside postbox - outside, down the drive, and actually across the other side of the road and up a bit.  Small thing, but annoying when it's snowing or raining...

2.  We regularly shout at the television when they mispronounce words that we're used to (eg see below).

3.  Some words are often pronounced normally in American in a seemingly pretentious way (eg parmesan = parme-sharn; filet = fillay; herb = 'erb) (more mental shouting).

4.  I have been asked twice whether the UK is a part of England (I tend not to confuse matters further by mentioning Wales) (sorry Wales).  I've also been asked if I'm from New Zealand. And no, I've never watched Downton Abbey :-)

5.  Cadbury's chocolate over here is licensed to Hershey (*ptooey*) and does not taste the same.  Even worse, Hershey are trying to ban real Cadbury imports.  My spare suitcase will be used solely for stocking up on proper chocolate supplies when I return to the UK shortly...

 6.  When we arrived we spent ages trying to find spray-on deodorant but couldn't.  This January, spray-on deodorants are being advertised as an "exciting new thing".  Welcome to the 21st century...

7.  Main courses here are "Entrees", when in every other language, an "entrée" is a starter.  Apparently there is a slightly tedious historic reason for this:

 8.  BOGOFs are BOGOs and half price is "Half Off".

9.  21st century?  Everything is measured old-skool.  It's very frustrating.  Fabric comes in inches and yards.  Recipes are in pounds and ounces (and random cups).  Mental calculations are still needed for the weather.  For example - today's weather "morning temperatures are near 0 with windchills -10 to -20.  Winds will diminish later today.  Expect temperatures near 10 at lunchtime and a high of 16 this afternoon."  For those used to Celsius, it doesn't sound too bad, does it?  Except that its not, and it actually means it's starting out at -17°C, with windchills of -23°C to -29°C, rising to -10°C at lunchtime and then reaching a balmy high of -9°C this afternoon.  *Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr*

 10.  Despite allegedly speaking the same language, lots of people don't understand my accent....  I also find myself annunciating in a very British manner in an effort to be understood...  (#cliché)   Other times, people LOVE my accent and ask me to speak more to them.  And no, I still don't watch Downton Abbey.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Custom Makes

Back in November, I was asked to design and make some special beaded and embroidered decorations for Christmas.  As we are now well past any possible Christmas surprises, I think I can safely share them!

My cousins have two beautiful Bengal cats, and I was asked to create a tree decoration of them. 
From this very cute photo, I designed two little embroidered tree hangers.  Cross-stitched with bead embellishments.

Then there were two charity-related makes - a pink ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness, and a puzzle piece as the international autism awareness symbol.  These are both beaded designs.  I love how the colours of the puzzle piece really pop!

Then there was a sugar skull for an unusual decoration!  This was a mixture of different seed and bugle beads, and some embroidery.

And finally a dramatic blue-black sparkly spider.  He (she?) was great fun to make!

I love working on custom requests like these, and they often inspire me further into other ideas and designs. 

Is there something you'd like to see me create?  Drop me a comment and let's see where inspiration takes us!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wolf Sanctuary of PA

Back in November, on a freezing cold day, we made a trip to a wolf sanctuary, just outside Lancaster (Wolf Sanctuary of PA).  Surprisingly, when we'd mentioned it to local friends, many of them weren't aware that it even existed, so we hoped it would be worth the trip!

The sanctuary is tucked away in a large area of woodland, and has been owned by the same family for over 30 years, initially as a rescue centre for "displaced" wolves, and now increasingly as an educational centre, trying to raise awareness about the plight of wild wolves.  They currently look after over 40 wolves (grey and timberland) and wolf-hybrids in a natural environment, and are run as a charity, dependant on donations of money, time, structural materials and also food scraps and meat from nearby restaurants and homes.  (You can also adopt one of the wolves too!)

We took a daytime tour, but they also offer full moon tours once a month, which probably adds to the atmosphere, especially in the snow!  Our guide was very knowledgeable, explaining all about how the sanctuary has grown, and also introducing us to each of the wolf packs in turn.  As we started out, we were greeted by a full-on pack howl by one of the biggest packs - proper raised-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment, especially when the other packs joined in too!

So many different stories about how each of the wolves had come to the sanctuary.  Unbelievably, some had been formerly owned as pets - one was released into parkland in Philadelphia when the owner realised they could no longer look after such a wild creature.  Another was rescued as a puppy from someone who thought it would be fine to keep it as a pet in an apartment in the centre of Lancaster...  Another had developed cataracts in both eyes and was blind - in the wild he would not have survived, but at the sanctuary he knew his environment and his other pack partner so well that you wouldn't have known about his disability.

My, what big teeth you have, Grandma...
Observing the wolves up close in their natural habitats, albeit behind sturdy fences, was an amazing experience.  Learning about their individual histories, their pack culture (alphas and omegas) and their behaviours (including their love of hot dog sausages), as well as listening to the crack of bone as their powerful jaws and teeth chomped effortlessly through chicken legs, was an eye-opening privilege, and one we're bound to repeat again in the future.

Monday, February 2, 2015

2015 Projects

A blank page full of creative promise...

The word "resolution" seems so boring - usually associated with giving something up or doing something that's going to be a hard slog over an interminable amount of time.  I much prefer "projects" which have a hint of promise and excitement in them, and an end point with, hopefully, a sense of achievement.

So, after a little thought over the last month, I now have a number of "projects" I'd like to complete in 2015 - and if I write some of them here I might actually work on them!  So, in no particular order:
  • Get to know my sewing machine a little better so that I'm not afraid to use it!
  • Learn how to quilt (perhaps take a class?) (hence the sewing machine requirement);
  • Explore some other crafts that I've always wanted to try - eg paper cutting, felting...  I have started a Pinterest board of 2015 craft projects that you can follow along with!
  • Improve my beading skills and experiment more with beads and beading;
  • Explore crafts in the local area - I'm led to believe that Pennsylvania is a craft-mecca, so I need to get out there and find them (possibly in the spring when it's not snowing)!
  • Finish the huge amount of UFOs I have in my stash (mainly cross-stitch projects and some jewellery making, but also some random other bits too) (I'm aiming for one per month - hopefully I can share each one on my blog!);
  • On the back of all this creativity, I want to design and make more items for DewCatDesigns;
  • Look into local craft fairs with a view to selling (which also means making more stock);
  • Start a small veg and herb patch in our back yard (gardening can't be so different in a new country, can it?).
I miss my UK garden...
Phew!  That sounds like quite a lot, and there's a definite creative emphasis to most of them, and I may have bitten off more than I can chew.  But I've written them down now, so I'll try and check back each month to update you on what I've achieved, if anything!  There's still 11 months of the year left, so let's see what we can do... 

Do you have any exciting projects planned for this year?