Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sunflower Hand Towels

Before August is over I wanted to show a picture of these towels. We live down a dirt road way out in the county and the sunflowers are just lovely every year in late August. This year we've had more rain than usual and the sunflowers are blooming like there is no tomorrow. I love them. I have made these towels for the hope chest so that Abigail could be reminded of sunflowers and home. I put a fancy edging on one end of the towel and a simpler edging on the other end. I like both colors together.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Washing Wool

I want to share how I wash wool. I know it is a bit unusual to post here, but it keeps you all on your toes, and proves that I do creative things other than hope chest projects. It also shows how I jump from one project to another. This aspect of my personality drives some of the people close to me CRAZY! I've also been obsessed with the new smash book fad, but we won't go into that now...

I assure you that I'm still busily working on hope chest things, but I admit that I am slow to get the final bits of my projects finished - so no pictures yet. I have three kitchen sets almost finished. Abigail is turning 17 years old in a couple of weeks and I still have the big projects, like quilts, to do. Time is ticking away and I am feeling some pressure to be finished with this. Only because I know how quickly these last years go by! I don't expect she will need it anytime too soon. I just want to see it done.

I think that making the kitchen sets has been my favorite part of creating the hope chest. I love embroidery and crocheting small (read quick) things. In fact, I love quick projects period. I like to see something finished in a short time, and you know that some things just seem to drag on and get put off. I have some embroidered quilt blocks that I've been working on and off for years now. Sad, I know. I will get them done sooner or later. I think I'm not the only one with less enjoyable unfinished projects like these.

Anyway, the picture above shows my husband shearing the sheep. He shears sheep all over the countryside around here, and even travels overnight to some larger flocks. He shears mainly small, backyard flocks for hand spinners like ourselves. AND, he uses hand shears, which is another story altogether.

So, on to wool washing. Once I have the wool fleece, the next step is to separate a small portion and "pick" it to remove as much vegetable matter as possible before washing. Depending on how dirty the fleece is, this can be quite a job.

I place the portion of fleece loosely into a mesh lingerie bag.

I use three buckets, lined up in my bathtub to wash the wool. I'll just say that there are many ways to wash wool. Everyone seems to have their favorite method. Some folks just use their washing machine. Some others have a kind of set up in the backyard. Using the bathtub to soak a whole fleece  is another method I've heard of, but I don't want this very dirty water to go down the drain into the septic tank, so I use buckets and lift and carry them to pour outside.  I fill two of the three buckets with water as hot as my water heater can deliver. The hotter the water the better to melt and remove the lanolin.  Then I add a tablespoon of Dawn dish soap. Lower the soap into the water, but don't swish it. Just let it melt off the spoon and disperse into the water. Suds are harder to remove later in the rinse, so I don't make bubbles.


When the soap has melted into the water, I gently lower the bag into the bucket and leave the wool to soak. Set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes.


When the timer signals, lift the bag into the second bucket. If the wool is particularly dirty, this bucket is a second wash with just a bit more soap. Perhaps a half teaspoon, or so. If the wool isn't too dirty, this second bucket is the first rinse. You can tell how dirty the wool is by the color of the wash water. If the water is very brown, I do another wash. Because we live in a dry, windy place, I almost always have to wash twice, but maybe you won't have to. By the way, the reason I filled this bucket with water at the same time as the first bucket is because the water will cool at the same rate and be the same temperature as the first bucket. This can be important so that you don't "shock" the wool by changing the temperature of the water. If the water is significantly different, this difference in temperature may affect the way the lanolin acts and it may also cause some felting. I've not had trouble with this, but am careful still.

Sometimes I have to do a third wash. While waiting for this last wash soak, I refill the other two buckets for the rinse. I try to judge and adjust the temperature of the water so that it remains as constant as possible.

Just as the washing, I lift the bag from one rinse bucket to another and time twenty minutes for each soak. I always do at least two rinses. Sometimes I will put a half cup of vinegar into the last rinse.

After the final rinse, I lift the bag and let it drain until it isn't dripping. Then I take it outside and whirl the bag around my head to allow centrifugal force to remove as much water as can be. Stand well away from everyone you don't want to get wet!

Then I take the wool from the bag and fluff it out onto a towel. At this point I can see whether the wool is clean or if there is still lanolin clumped in it. A little lanolin doesn't bother me, as long as the dirt is gone and it feels and smells clean. The wool will always smell a little like lanolin and wet wool, but it should have a clean smell also. Let the clean wool dry in a protected place, away from the wind. My enclosed back porch is perfect since then I don't have to smell wet wool inside the house. If the wool still seems dirty, just let it dry and then repeat the wash process.

Once the wool is dry, I like to store it in a brown paper bag. This batch of wool was for Abigail's projects and it fit into a shoebox. Another cardboard box would work too. Many people store their wool in plastic totes or other containers. Paper grocery bags work well for me. Although I haven't had too much trouble with moths, I have a natural moth sachet recipe to help discourage them and try to regularly check the stored wool to make sure it isn't infested.

There are times when I wish I had a better system. It would be nice to wash more wool at one time, and I would rather not carry buckets through the house. But there are benefits to doing small batches as well, so I try to be content.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mason Jar Flower Frog

I was so pleased to run into these inexpensive flower frogs! They cleverly fit onto a mason jar. It reminds me of all the times Miss Abigail gathered field and sometimes garden flowers to bring me a bouquet. She could always find a canning jar on the shelf to stuff the flowers into. What a sweet memory! The flowers would fall to the edges though, so the bouquet looked just a little awkward. Moms don't usually care about that, but one of these flower frogs will be just the ticket to help the blooms stand more upright. I'm excited to put these into the hope chest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tutorial: Granny Square Edging

I want to show you the simple edging I've been using on my granny square dishcloths. This first picture shows the completed granny square. This pattern is Abigail's 4H granny square dishcloth, with a couple of rows of contrast colored yarn included in it. End the square and weave in the ends.

Attach contrasting colored yarn in any corner and chain three.

Put 2 dc in the corner space immediately below the ch-3.

Put a sc in the next space.

Chain 3.

In the same space, put 2 dc.

Sc in the next space.

Ch 3, 2 dc in same space. Continue across the side putting (sc, ch 3, 2 dc) in each space until you reach the corner space.

Sc in the corner space.

2 dc, ch 2, 3 dc in the same corner space.

Continue around the edge of the dishcloth, putting (sc, ch 3, 2 dc) in each space and (sc, 2 dc, ch 2, 3 dc) in each corner space. When you reach the last (technically the first) corner, put (sc, 2 dc, ch 2) in that space. Finish off with a slip stitch in the top of the original ch-3. Fasten off and weave in the ends.

That's it!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tutorial: Simple Tea Towel

Here is another simple tutorial for a handmade tea towel. Choosing to make a towel from scratch gives me control over the fabric, size and color. These factors can be important. The styles of purchased towels are sometimes not very appealing to me, and I often can't find the color I need, so I like being able to make my own. This tutorial gives directions for a very simple hemmed towel. You may already know how to do it, but just in case you don't, I'll illustrate the steps.

Start with 7/8 yard of fabric that is 100% cotton or linen. Natural fibers are more absorbent and release stains more easily. I've used a "bottom weight" cotton ticking stripe fabric. Bottom weight is thicker than a regular cotton print. The term describes fabric that is heavy enough for a skirt or pants (garments worn on the bottom.) Cut a piece of fabric 20 inches by 31 inches. This will make a finished size of 18 by 28, a common size for kitchen hand towels. Fold the long side of the fabric over 1/2-inch and press. Repeat with the other long side.

Fold the fabric over again 1/2-inch. Press and pin.

Fold and press 1/2-inch along both of the short ends of the towel.

Fold up 1-inch on each end of the towel and pin.

Sew close to the edge all the way around. The closer you can get to the edge, the more professional the towel will appear.

If you wish, attach a trim such as this pretty cotton Cluny lace. Cut a length that measures the width of the towel plus 1-inch. Measure up 1 3/4-inches from the bottom edge and align the trim with this measurement. Pin to secure it to the towel. Turn the ends under so that the trim is flush with the edge of the towel.

Sew carefully near the edges of the trim.

Press the towel and you're finished.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tutorial: Folded Fabric Hot Pads

I stumbled on a sample of these pretty folded fabric hot pads and thought they would be a perfect quick project for the hope chest. They are really easy. You'll need: 1/4 yd of color/print A, 1/4 yd of color/print B, 1/4 yd of Insul-Brite, thread to match primary fabric, 2 buttons to match, rotary cutter, ruler and mat. This is a great project to use with scraps as well, as long as they are at least 9" square. Five different fabrics would be just as cute as the co-ordinated pair I've made here.

Once you have your materials, cut 5 (8 1/2-inch) squares from each fabric and 2 (8 1/2-inch) squares from the Insul-Brite. Iron 4 squares from each fabric in half, making a total of 8 rectangles.

Now you'll make a stack. Place the square of Insul-Brite batting on the bottom. Place an 8 1/2-inch square with the right side up on top of the batting. Place one folded rectangle (A) across the top of the stack, with the cut edge to the top and the fold toward the middle. Stack a second folded rectangle (B) with the cut edge toward the right of the stack and the fold toward the middle. Place the third rectangle (A) on the stack with the cut edge to the bottom.

Place the last (fourth) rectangle (B) on the top of the stack with the cut edge facing to the left. Tuck the top of the fourth rectangle under the left edge of the first rectangle. The rectangles will appear woven together with the cut edges on the outside and the folded edges coming to a point in the center.

Pin the edges and corners well.

Make sure to pin carefully at the point where the folds come together. They shouldn't overlap.

Sew carefully all around the edge of the hot pad, using a 1/2-inch seam allowance. You can use a walking foot if you wish - I didn't.

Cut the excess fabric from the corners and trim the seams so that the corners will turn more easily.

Turn the hot pad right side out. Use a point to make sure the corners are pushed completely out.

Press the hot pad so that it lays nice and flat. Topstitch 1/2-inch around the outside edges and sew a button at the center to help secure the center folded point.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

In My Workbasket: Pillowcases & Trims

So I am always on the lookout for pretty cotton fabric to make pillowcases. The fabric has to have just the right "hand." It needs to feel good on my face and still be pretty. While I love crisp, white pillowcases, I also really like printed ones, especially ones that I have decorated with crochet edgings. I have quite a stack of prints now and have several lengths of crocheted edgings as well. Now I just have to put them together...

When I crochet an edging before I have a pillowcase for it, it is helpful to remember that there are two types of edging patterns. One type develops from one end and is crocheted to a desired length and then you stop. When I use this type of pattern, I crochet the edging to a standard length plus an inch or so. This pattern type allows some flexibility later when I'm sewing the edging to the finished pillowcase. I can just unravel a bit from the end if I need to. The other type of edging pattern is crocheted into a pre-measured foundation chain. You can see that three of the edgings in the picture are crocheted into a foundation chain. Because I made these ahead and this type of pattern requires a finished measurement, I will now have to make the pillowcase to fit the edging. That isn't a problem, in this case, but it is something to be aware of.

BTW, before you ask, I don't worry too much about whether the print matches anything else in the hope chest. I have never had a matching bed "set." All the beds in our house are covered with handmade scrappy quilts or miscellaneous blankets. It is a real farmhouse, meaning nothing matches and everything is used. But pretty is still important to me. I hope Abigail has absorbed that value to the degree that she can find use for such extra pillowcases. They will certainly match the scrappy quilts I plan to make for her hope chest.

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