Sunday, September 21, 2014

DIY organic, allergen-safe lip balm

My daughter wanted to make lip balm! After reading scads of recipes and lots of ingredient labels, here is the recipe I came up with. It is most heavily influenced by these three because of the ingredients I chose to use; you'll probably want to adjust the ratios based on your preferences and ingredients. 

the ingredients we used
My daughter is allergic to peanuts, so I looked for organic ingredients with super-clear allergen labelling. This brand of cocoa butter and coconut oil says it may contain tree nuts, but is free of peanuts, gluten, dairy, and a bunch of other things. Different people have different sensitivities and allergies; for tree nut allergies, you'd need to switch to other soft waxes and carrier oils to make the lip balm base.

Allergen-Safe Lip Balm Recipe
1-2 tsp organic beeswax (or soy wax to make it vegan) < hard wax is added to make tubes of lip balm that won't melt in your pocket or during summer heat, you can use less if you like it softer and creamier or glossier
2-3 tsp pure organic cocoa butter 
2-3 tsp organic coconut oil 
optional: a few drops (say, 6-12) of peppermint oil, or lemon oil, or almond oil, or cocoa powder, or matcha powder, or whatever other flavouring agent you desire (alcohol extracts may not mix in properly)
optional: 1 tsp organic creamed honey (liquid honey may not mix in properly)
optional: a few drops of vitamin E oil (cut open capsules) - to act as an antioxidant so it takes longer to spoil, and to promote lip healing; some people use tea tree oil instead
optional: pigment: powder from beets or cranberries, or mineral pigments (like, say, a good-quality mineral blush) (we used a locally-made organic lip gloss as our source of pigment)

If you prefer a shiny gloss instead of a waxy cream, you can reduce or skip the beeswax and use more aqueous ingredients (liquid honey or maple syrup, aloe vera, flavour extracts instead of oils, fruit juices instead of powdered pigments for colour), and change the container accordingly.

Clean and sterilize all your tools and containers:
small saucepan / stainless steel measuring cup / mason jar to melt your wax mixture in (you may want to use something only for this if you're doing it more than once), double boiler style - we used an actual double boiler
containers: food- and cosmetic-safe - we got ours at a local craft store, and ran them through the dishwasher.
a stainless-steel chopstick or whisk for stirring
a dropper/pipette (or a glass liquid measuring cup with pour spout) for transferring the balm or gloss into your containers without spillage

our base mixture melting in a double boiler
Slowly melt ingredients in a double boiler - most people melt the hard wax (beeswax) first, then add the rest of the base ingredients. Since I wanted to try more than one flavour, I melted and mixed the base (50g (one box) of the cocoa butter, then the same amounts of beeswax and coconut oil using the cocoa butter as my guide), then divided in half by pouring the melted base into a glass measuring cup before adding my optional ingredients (honey, vanilla extract and the pale pink lip gloss for a slightly shiny hint-of-tint lip gloss, and lemon flavour (lemon oil + sunflower oil) for the other half). 

Cool slightly, give it one last good stir to make sure ingredients aren't separating, and fill your chosen containers. If you need to test it, you can dip a teaspoon that you've left in the freezer into your balm at this point; if the consistency is wrong, you may want to set some aside to use as a moisturizing lotion or cuticle cream before you start adjusting proportions.

Cool the filled containers in the fridge or freezer (although ours started to solidify at room temperature). Label, if desired, and enjoy.

Our finished product after cooling at room temp for only 10 minutes

On DD's lips, the base that we added tinted lip gloss to - just a hint of tint and shimmer. Perfect!
Note: This post is part of my nonconsecutive #30DaysOfMaking Challenge.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Arleen Brown's beautiful hooked rugs

While I was home visiting family this summer, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with my maternal grandmother's sister, Arleen Brown, who is still hooking gorgeous mats in her nineties despite blindness in one eye. Aunt Arleen learned to hook from my great-grandmother while growing up near Lunenburg, and still closely adheres to the traditional South Shore Nova Scotian techniques (also described in the print edition of Rug Hooking magazine, in the Canadian Connections article about Leslie Langille's rugs)(Vol. XXV, No. 5, March/April/May 2014). Her designs are drawn onto burlap backing, the edges are turned under and crocheted to finish and hide them, and then the mat is stretched on a frame and the design is hooked right to the edge, perfectly even, with no backing showing, and straight lines used for the background. They are a technical tour-de-force.

Arleen showing us photos of her other rugs.
An antique pattern from the Eaton's catalogue that her mum had given her to hook as a young woman. She had me trace this onto red dot fabric so she can rehook it, now that the original backing has become brittle and started to shred.

Chickens are one of her favourite subjects.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Three More Weeks In Nova Scotia

We managed to squeeze in another long visit in Nova Scotia this summer. As I've written previously, our goal is to help our kids connect with their family and their roots. We spent almost all our time hangout out with our extended family this time, and the visit included a family wedding on one side and an anniversary party on the other. Now that they are older, we also wanted to give them a sense of the history of the region, so we made a side trip to Cape Breton to visit the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck and the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Solomon Gundy at Magnolia's Grill in Lunenburg - their scallops were the best I have ever tasted.
A beautiful day at Martinique Beach
Sunset reflected on a distant thunderhead at Lawrencetown Beach
The view of a glassy Bay of Fundy from my grandparents' house in Port Greville
Cape Split at low tide from the beach at Port Greville, with the help of a zoom lens
Five Islands Lighthouse Park
Five Islands at low tide and sunset. Glooscap threw these clumps of mud at Beaver.
A Cheticamp table mat in our cottage in Baddeck.
Twist, cross, twist, cross. Learning bobbin lacemaking at the Fortress of Louisbourg.

One of several period kitchen gardens at the Fortress.
Learning to trout fish at a local lake
Ferry ride across Halifax Harbour to have coffee with a friend
Supper at the Old Orchard Inn after a long day of visiting family
One last walk at Lawrencetown Beach

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Still hooked on rug hooking: a yarn mat and 'Just Marbelous'

I have many hooked rug projects, at various stages of completion, and the #30DaysOfMaking Challenge seemed like the perfect time to pull them out and really rekindle my passion for rug hooking.

(No, not latch hooking, you children of the 80s. I'm talking about the much older technique that uses a crochet-like hook to make a running loop stitch using fabric scraps cut into strips. It began as a thrift craft, and is carried on now as a textile art with multiple styles, from folk-art 'primitive' designs using wide cuts and reclaimed fabrics to meticulously-shaded 'traditional' designs using narrow cuts and specially-dyed new material.)

I. Hooking with wool yarn

Feb 14th, reverse side of a Cheticamp-style rug hooking kit using two-ply wool yarn on burlap. I bought this a couple of years back at Jennifers Of Nova Scotia as a gift for my daughter, to help her learn to hook, but it became mine when she became too frustrated with the slow pace of hooking in nearly every hole and the yarn loops pulling back out on her. We'll try again when she's a bit older. This piece was meant by the original (unnamed) designers to be a round mat to protect a table.
Feb 19th, showing all the kit pieces (except the hook, which was made by my father for me,
the hoop, and the stork scissors). As you can see, I modified the design quite a bit, in order to commemorate a whale watching trip to Brier Island, Nova Scotia - I took out the enormous seagulls and added a whale watching boat, a whale tail-lobbing, and a couple of brier rose bushes. It's a bit folkier and busier than I would like, and I'm not happy with the lighthouse (which was hooked exactly as drawn on the burlap). Hooking with such fine yarn can be tedious, because it takes longer to fill a motif than if you're using fabric strips, and the loops have a mind of their own, so the direction of your hooking is lost. The trick is to lose yourself in the moving meditation instead of overthinking it.
Finished and framed, on March 11th. Destined for a bathroom wall, I think.
II. "Just Marbelous"

Detail of "Just Marbelous", primarily wool fabric on cotton monkscloth, March 7th. This rug is my own design, inspired by my collection of antique handmade marbles, many of which we believe were childhood gifts from my dad's maternal grandfather to him, but the bulk of which were won during dad's childhood marbles bouts in New Glasgow. They're like miniature works of art glass, and made the perfect subject to challenge my skills in hooking circles, working with many widths of woolen fabric strips (mostly #3, #4, and #5 cuts), and working with multiple materials (the marbles also include spot-dyed and dip-dyed fabrics, a couple of types of yarn, and a metallic-laminated wool). The biggest challenge in it was the temptation to overpack, but the result of that was that a few of the marbles took on a domed appearance - a tripping hazard on the floor, but a pleasing effect in a wallhanging. It would also make a brilliant stash-busting project, although in my case the materials were leftovers given to me by friends from the Dartmouth branch of the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia, back when I began hooking.

The date on the rug is 1997, when I began it, and the reason it has taken me so long to finish is that the matte black wool that I chose for the background, to show off the bright colours of the marbles, is an absolute bitch to hook. Never again! It requires bright daylight for me to be able to see what I am doing properly, and a drum-tight stretch on the hooking frame (because I chose monkscloth as the backing). I have, however, found that the little purse-size OttLites can be clipped to the neckline of your shirt, at the point of a V-neck, if you need to shed a little light on the situation.

Here's a work-in-progress photo and a detail photo from July 30th. You can see by this time I'd added this year's date, which commits me to finishing this by the end of December. I'm determined to get this background finished before the short days of winter hit. So I brought it on vacation with me.

My work-in-progress cellphone shot from August 17th, while on vacation in Nova Scotia. In this photo you can really see the domes where I overpacked the loops early on in the process. Every bit of black background that I add makes the marbles pop more, which is so satisfying. Before I can complete the rug, I need to cut more #3 and #4 cut of my flat black to fill the remaining spaces. I also need to hook in a few more rows of the teal border. 

Hopefully the next time you see a photo of it here, I'll be celebrating its completion!
Note: This post is part of my #30DaysOfMaking Challenge. 30 nonconsecutive days, as it turns out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My zone 3 perennial garden

This month, I planted a perennial garden in front of the house. The curved bed had once had some annuals planted in it, and was covered in pea gravel. It had maybe an inch of topsoil on top of sticky clay, so I'll need to top-dress it with a thin layer of organic compost annually to gradually build up the soil. We added cedar edging that may or may not hold up to our harsh winters - that might be replaced with stone or faux-stone concrete edging eventually.

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Canadian Food Voice, and Wild Saskatoon Grunt

This post is my final entry of the Canadian Food Experience project (2013-2014) (also on Facebook) proposed by my friend Valerie Lugonja, who is a board member of Slow Food Edmonton, with the goal of sharing regional food experiences to clarify our Canadian culinary identity. THANK YOU, VAL! Please check out the blogs of the other participants, and watch Val's blog for ongoing quarterly roundups of Canadian Food Experience posts for phase two of the project. 

I'm not a food blogger. I'm not even a proper capital-b-Blogger with a single focus and a daily or even weekly writing practice; I write intermittently, as the mood and topic tickles my fancy, and my photography skills are indifferent at best. I write to please myself. That anyone else reads my posts is a source of constant astonishment.

So, writing monthly posts for the Canadian Food Experience challenge over the past year stretched me, in the best ways, and helped me to clarify my voice as a writer and explore my interest in the slow food movement. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Slow Textiles: Experiments in Natural Dyeing

My fascination with natural dyes continues unabated! Here are more of my experiments with immersion dyeing, bundle dyeing, and rust dyeing from the past couple of months.

I. Bundle dyeing

Quick-and-dirty bundle dyeing (aka eco-dyeing/printing, originated by the inspirational India Flint) instructions: Wet prewashed & premordanted cloth, lay out the dyeing agent (leaves or flowers), then roll the cloth around a stick or a copper pipe. Steam or boil for 60 min. Allow to dry for as long as you can stand (ideally weeks, overnight at minimum), then open the bundle.

What I actually did:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Slow Textiles: Experiments in Dyeing using Black Beans

Inspired by these blog posts found via Pinterest, I soaked black beans (no-name brand from the grocery store, 1 cup, in 8 cups of tap water) for about 24 hours at room temperature (then cooked the beans, to be added to a chili today, mmmmm). The extracted colour was much more red than blue. I added more water and some alum, to act as a co-mordant, then I dumped in my fabric. In retrospect perhaps co-mordanting was a mistake; premordanting fabric that has been properly stripped would typically give a much stronger colour.

Before dyeing: off-white bamboo-rayon socks, and 8 m/m silk habotai scarves that were previously dyed with logwood and alum mordant.
I also, inspired by this Spirit Cloth post, tied some black beans into a rayon-spandex (95%-5%) tshirt and threw it into the pot, too. Then I let everything sit at room temperature, with a plate on top to keep the fabric all underwater, overnight.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Canadian Kitchen Garden: USDA Zone 3

This weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend, which Edmontonians usually consider the beginning of the frost-free season and safe to plant seedlings, and things are finally starting to green up - so my thoughts have turned to establishing my kitchen garden. 

(September 7th update: skip to the bottom of the post for photos from the end of the season!)

happy bee on an Evans Cherry sapling in bloom at the garden centre
I grew up in Nova Scotia (USDA Zone 5ish), but all my gardening as an adult has been in Edmonton (USDA zone 3, which you can push to zone 4 in protected microclimates). The cottage-style garden I made at my last home was purely decorative, with an emphasis on peonies, iris, hostas, and daylilies. I am sorely missing the now-mature Evans Cherry tree we planted in that garden, and the gorgeous sour cherry gelato I made from its fruit. Sigh.

my little raised bed from last summer needs rebuilding already
However, two summers ago we moved house to a larger lot, and so this summer's labour of love is turning the bare bones planted by the previous owners into a proper kitchen garden.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Another Regional Canadian Food: Donald Merriam's fish chowder and Solomon Gundy

In my last regional Canadian food post, I noted that my Maritime ex-pat friends missed all manner of seafood. This one is for them: my grandfather's chowder recipe, a classic fish-and-potato chowder that is easily adapted to whatever seafood you can get fresh or frozen locally. In my case, I'm using grocery-store seafood that has been flash-frozen while fresh, because I live on the Prairies. It's not possible here to ask your fishmonger how old their stock is, and have them look at their watch.

Port Greville harbour circa 1910, via Dan LeBlanc's flikr stream. That's my grandparents' home, where my Dad grew up, with the upstairs bedroom windows open in the lower right corner.
Workers at Wagstaff & Hatfield Shipbuilding, Port Greville, Nova Scotia, probably sometime in the 1960s. My grandfather Donald Merriam is the fellow third from right in the front row, squinting at the camera. The big red house on the hill at left was built by his father. Via Dan LeBlanc's flikr stream.
My father's dad was a sailor, from a long line of merchant seamen of Planter ancestry (the New Englanders who were shipped in to settle the land after the Acadians were deported). He sailed two- and three-masted schooners along the trade routes of the Atlantic before World War Two. He served in the engine room of motor gun boats after training as a motor mechanic during the war, then applied that skill to work in a shipyard on the Parrsboro shore of the Bay of Fundy. He had very impressive blackwork tattoos from his sailing days on his forearms, gone blue and a bit blurry with age; at least one was the anchor that he would have gotten after his first Transatlantic voyage on a schooner. At the tender age of four he made me solemnly promise to never get a tattoo, because he'd always regretted having them as an adult. I also remember him taking me out on the Bay in a dory to jig for flounder once when I was a kid - he never repeated the adventure, because apparently I couldn't sit still and he was terrified that I would fall in and drown.

My grandfather in his Canadian Navy dress uniform (I think) during World War 2. I believe this was taken in London when he and my grandmother got engaged or married - there is one of her to match.
Cream-soup chowders are a landlubber's luxury. This chowder was served aboard ship on cargo schooners, where fresh milk was not available, and even adding canned milk would have been unlikely and is optional (but my mom always did, so to me, it doesn't taste right without it). The fish used would have been cured with salt and smoke and packed for the voyage, or caught fresh.

For those of you who like to compare recipes before you make your own version, my grandfather's chowder recipe is similar to this milk-based recipe from Cubits, and Chef Michael Smith's version grates the potatoes and adds white wine.

Tonight's version, made with bacon, scallops, and halibut. It tastes almost like I remember.
I'm out of summer savoury so I substituted a bit of dill.
Donald St.Clair Merriam's fish chowder 
(as told to my mother shortly after she and my father got married)

bacon (or, originally, salt pork)
white fish, filleted: cod / haddock / halibut / flounder / sole
potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced (optional)
1 stalk celery, diced (optional)
spices: summer savoury, salt and pepper to taste
1 can evaporated milk (optional)

Cook bacon, chopped up. Sautee the chopped onions in the bacon fat with bacon. Add potatoes (and carrot and celery) to the soup pot and add water immediately to cover. Bring water to boil, then turn down to medium-low. Cook covered 10 minutes, then add fish. Cook covered until fish is cooked (10 minutes per inch of fish). Add 1 can evaporated milk and spices at end. Best served with tea biscuits or scones.

My modifications:
(1) I add scallops, too, because I love them. They get sauteed in the bacon grease until cooked, then reserved, and added back into the pot just before serving.
(2) Instead of leaving the bacon in the soup pot, I prefer to cook it until crisp, reserve it, then crumble it and some dulse over the bowl when serving.
(3) My mom prefers to leave the bacon out, and sautee the chopped onions in butter instead of bacon fat, which is likely how it would have been done when brined pork was used.
(4) Sometimes, like today, I don't peel my potatoes. I thought the red skins would look pretty.

Bonus recipe! This one is exactly as written in my paternal grandmother's handwriting. I haven't tried it, and my parents don't remember him making it, but when I was a teenager, Grampie had converted a small shed into a smokehouse, so he probably made it to use up his salt-cured smoked herring. It's served as an appetizer with crackers, sometimes with cheese and another pickle. My maternal grandmother's father also made Solomon Gundy - which is emphatically not said "Solomon GRundy" like in the nursery rhyme.

Don's Solomon Gundy (pickled herring)

Cut herring into bits.
Soak overnight if salt.
Next day mix equal amounts of vinegar & sugar, enough to cover fish, in saucepan.
Add small bag of pickling spice & boil. Let cool; pour over fish after packing in bottles with layer of fish, layer of onions.

If this recipe is unclear, try this version. The history of Solomon Gundy is discussed here. You might be more familiar with Solomon Gundy as the spicy fish paste from Jamaica - same stuff, but with no sugar and more heat in the spice mix, and pureed.

This post belatedly fulfills Challenge 10 (from March) of the Canadian Food Experience project (also on Facebook) proposed by my friend Valerie Lugonja, who is a board member of Slow Food Edmonton. The project began June 7th, 2013. As we (participants) share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. Please join us. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Slow Textiles: A Toothbrush-Rug / Naalbinding Bowl

I'm figuring out how to do naalbinding! Old skool! It started with a lesson in "toothbrush rug" making from my friend Nadine, who taught herself using this great tutorial

Getting started, March 7th.
So called because the large flat needle used has been typically whittled from the handle of an old toothbrush for the past few decades, this rag-rugmaking method is actually a scaled-up rag-yarn version of a technique that predates knitting and crochet, and would have been used by my own ancestors beginning in the early medieval period when the Vikings began settling in the British Isles.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

DIY: a coated denim jacket for spring

My daughter fell hard last autumn for the coated denim available from the premium brands. It's got great texture and adds a bit of edginess to an outfit. When I took a closer look, I realized that coated denim is actually the traditional waxed cotton canvas used for waterproof outerwear by sailors and hunters - think sou'westers and field jackets - and knew this would be a simple DIY. The treatment will last best on a garment that won't need to be washed all the time, so we agreed that a classic denim trucker jacket would be better than jeans, and perfect to wear now that the weather is finally starting to warm up.

I started with a dark indigo denim jacket with classic lines we found at a thrift shop, washed well (for the obvious reasons, plus, my daughter is actually allergic to the scented detergent used by my favourite thrift shop).

Before treatment.
I looked over the DIY instructions here and here, then broke out the all-natural no-petroleum Otter Wax and a hair dryer. It's simple: rub the wax on with long, smooth strokes until the fabric goes dark, then heat with a hair dryer to make sure the wax has penetrated.

It's amazing how quickly you can see the difference in texture!
In this photo, the left front is untreated, while the right front has been coated in wax.
Otter Wax feels like a really waxy lip balm on your fingertips, and has a slight, pleasant scent.
Let the wax set for 24 hours, and you're done! Here's the finished jacket (total time investment: less than an hour, not counting the shopping time; total cost: under $30, including the bar of wax which we can use for many more projects).

I coated everything but the arms and inside collar with a thin, even coat of wax, warmed the jacket with the hottest setting on my hair dryer to help the wax sink into the denim, then left it hanging in a cool dry place to let the wax set for 24 hours.
To clean coated denim, you want to avoid the use of detergents or dry-cleaning solvents that will remove the wax finish. This means the default suggestion comes from the world of raw denim: seal it in a plastic bag and throw it in the freezer to kill bacteria. Of course, you can always repeat what we did to re-coat the denim if you wash it and the wax gets stripped off.

Note: This post is part of my #30DaysOfMaking Challenge.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The #30daysofmaking Challenge: Join me!

I'm making something - or part of something - every day, and I'm posting photos to keep myself accountable. Join me! 

The only rule is that you post photos of things you are making by hand, for 30 days, on your choice of social media, with the hashtag #30daysofmaking

This challenge is about sharing the joy of making, so you get to choose whether your 30 days are consecutive or nonconsecutive. 

You get to choose whether you'll work on a different project every day, or concentrate on a single project. 

Have fun! I look forward to seeing what you're making!

(sidebar button info for bloggers is after the jump)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The #30DaysOfMaking Challenge, and a scarf (updated)

I need a push to start finishing some of my many works-in-progress, and to get myself into the habit of spending time in my studio every day, so I've decided I'm going to set a challenge for myself that starts today (my birthday!).

I'm going to make something - or part of something - every day, and I'm going to post photos to keep myself accountable.

A daily blog post feels like it would take too much time away from the creative process, so instead I'll tweet about it, and do an occasional summary post. People already tweet (and Instagram, and Tumblr, and all that jazz) using #whatImade #whatImadetoday and #workinprogress, but I thought it would be more fun if I created a hashtag for anyone to use who'd like to try such a challenge for themselves. Hence #30DaysOfMaking. Join me! The only rule is that you post a photo daily  for 30 days with the hashtag of something you are making by hand.

(April 4th Update: I quickly realized that 30 consecutive days is too ambitious for most people, myself included. This challenge is about sharing the joy of making, not about guilt! I also made a sidebar button for anyone who wants to join in - you can get that and see the updated rules here.)

Here's what I'm making today:
The Doctor Who fan club scarf pattern from the early 80s, republished here by PBS and also discussed in minute enough detail to warm any geek's heart at

Sunday, February 2, 2014

5 tips for using Pinterest for research

So, yesterday was Social Media Breakfast Edmonton's first all-day Camp, and I was invited to give an introductory talk on Pinterest. Fun, right?

Except that the day before, one of my kids and my husband both came home sick with some evil virus, and by the time I'd finished adding the screencaps to the slides at 9pm you could fry an egg on my forehead. No SMBYEG Camp for me! Sigh. Luckily, the organizers were able to recruit gorgeous, talented, and capable Genoa to fill in for me and read my slides with only 13 hours' prep time. I hear she was magnificent. She's my hero. 

Here are my Powerpoint slides imported into Prezi, if you'd like to take a look. (The format is a bit peculiar, and I'm still figuring out how to fix the transcript, which is currently only the text on the slides in random order. Completely useless if you want to know what was actually said.)
A lot of my talk went over the standard, ubiquitous getting-started tips (set a timer! don't just repin! leave comments! try the new map feature!) ...but there was a twist. My focus in my Pinterest use is on research and trend-spotting, not marketing, so over time, I've found that some of the standard tips for bloggers and small business owners just don't apply for users like me. 

(By the way, if you are a blogger or small business owner, I suggest that you check out these great posts about setting up your account and optimizing your blog for Pinterest, and look at the Viraltag and Octopin management tools in addition to Tailwind's analysis tool. Oh and the rules for running contests on Pinterest have just changed, so read the fine print before you follow any of the advice on contests.)

So, let's pull out of my talk the 5 best tips I have for using Pinterest as a research tool and visual resource, instead of a branding and marketing tool or shopping aid.

screencap of my boards on my profile page
1. Your filing system: If your goal is zillions of followers, enormous boards with hundreds of pins are supposedly a follower-magnet - but if you are using Pinterest for research, it becomes difficult to find the pin you're looking for. So, make your categories specific. I learned this the hard way: my crafty board quickly became utterly unmanageable, so I split it up. In its place, I currently have sewing, weaving, rug hooking, felting, natural dyeing, embroidery, knitting/crochet/tatting (which will likely get split), holiday crafts, and miscellaneous crafts boards. Plus a few that are for specific projects I'm working on, and some of which are secret boards (which are marvelous for those projects-under-development that you're not ready to unveil yet).

2. Following people whose pins inspire you seems like a no-brainer, especially if you're using Pinterest to inspire your art or learn more about relatively esoteric topics - but beyond your existing connections, how do you find more people who share your taste and interests without wasting inordinate amounts of time? I do it by searching for boards on my interests, and seeing who repinned the things I pinned. I also found I needed to be selective in who I follow back, because when I followed everyone, my feed quickly got both unmanageably huge and repetitive - and visiting it felt like a chore, instead of inspiring me. Following a single board instead of a person's entire feed helps with that.

Over 4000 likes. I'm a little behind on my filing.
3. The Like Button: I tend not to repin things immediately; instead I click that little heart button, especially when I’m in the middle of doing a search related to a project. Then I go back through my likes, check the source link, make sure things are properly attributed, and repin the keepers by category onto my boards. This strategy also works for me because it keeps me from repinning certain pinners' entire feeds, and helps me focus on pinning to the boards that reflect my interests and strengths. It does mean I tend to pin lots at a time, but sporadically, so I try to do it during low-use times (like after 10pm MST) so I'm not flooding the feed. However, it runs contrary to the “add pins regularly” and “space your pins out” advice that is commonly given. Users like me need a tool that lets us flag and schedule pins from our “likes” folder! (Developers, are you listening?)

4. Pinterest's search engine is not comprehensive; it gives you a snapshot of what has been pinned recently. It also does this annoying thing where slow cooker recipes will show up when you're searching for "slow design" or "slow fashion" - which is improving but still an issue. So, it helps to be persistent, and to do consecutive searches using related terms. For example, when I was researching Viking period artifacts for the Deep Freeze lamppost cover I made with Marissa and Jasmin, I searched on "Viking" "8th 9th 10th century" "tortoise brooch" "helm" "apron dress" and so on. Each of the useful search results had been pinned to a board by someone, so I also checked out what else they had pinned to the board – and I checked the “related pins” section (scroll way down on each pin to find it). Also, search for boards. Using the board search, I found dedicated reenactors with a collection of well-researched images and links that it might have taken me months to achieve on my own using Google. (I've also used the board search to find other people interested in various aspects of the slow movement to follow.)

5. Explore Interests is a recent addition to Pinterest's toolset that's still incomplete. Here is what my preview looked like:

It works fairly well at guessing what keywords you’d be interested in based on what you have pinned recently. Not perfectly: it still gets confused by uncommon searches ("inch mat" hooked rugs, fashion brand "Alabama Chanin", and Viking "tortoise brooches" yielded car mats, Alabama, and turtles), and it doesn’t realize if you’ve done a series of related searches that it can group them (all my Viking project searches came up separately). However, as you can see, it's pretty good - and clicking each of those pictures takes you to a screen full of pins on that topic, similar to the (very useful) suggested pins that Pinterest puts in your feed based on your previous pins. I can see this feature becoming very useful for ongoing research projects, passions, and pastimes - even if it was originally designed to sell us more stuff.

I hope this is helpful!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Work-in-progress: Deep Freeze Fest lamppost cozy

Before Christmas, I submitted an application to create a lamppost cozy for the Deep Freeze Festival with some friends, which we installed this yesterday morning at the first day of the festival. We used a mixed-media approach, with a combination of dyed, sewn, hooked, luceted, embroidered, and felted motifs. If by some long shot we are chosen for prize money, it will go to this fundraising campaign to build a local makers' shared workspace (which will have a different emphasis and equipment set than the also-awesome newly-opened makerspace at Edmonton Public Library). (Update: we won first prize, *and* the people's choice award! Thanks to anyone who took the trouble to text in a vote!)

This year's festival theme is "Here Come The Vikings!", and I knew almost nothing about actual Vikings, so I spent a couple of weeks doing research and creating a pinboard of visual references to help with the design process. Despite the elapsed millennium, there are a lot of Viking-age artefacts and archaeological sites which have given us a fairly good idea how they lived, and a lively community of re-enactors committed to recreating the smallest detail of their lives with authenticity, in addition to all the myths and legends and recent Hollywood films and television series - so, there is a lot of material to draw on, including information about period textiles. Some intriguing recent research suggests that Viking women may have fought alongside men as shieldmaidens and travelled alongside men in the invasion of England, and that they were directly involved in trade, suggesting a more egalitarian relationship between the genders than previously thought. I was also fascinated with the so-called Valkyrie figures, female figures in dress similar to that reconstructed from other archaeological finds, carved on runestones or cast in metal, holding shields and either a sword or a drinking horn. I felt that these images could represent shieldmaidens, and could also be adapted to represent traders and weavers and Skadi, the goddess of winter. In the end, this piece will celebrate strong women, winter, and the creative spirit!

First draft, shieldmaiden, modified from a 9th-century Valkyrie figurine found in Suffolk. I really wanted an authentic medieval feeling to the design, at least as a starting point.
Final concept drawing, winter goddess Skadi as a shieldmaiden.
I adapted our design from the outlines of Viking-period Valkyrie figure artefacts, got some feedback from my collaborators, enlarged the final version to fit the scale of the lamp-post cover (six. feet. tall!), and then began making textile magic! Here are some photos of the process from beginning to end:

Drawing enlarged to full size to create pattern (which was transferred using interfacing as a substitute for red dot tracing fabric). Jute backing sewn to size, edges whipstitched, and some snow hooked in using wool roving. The braid is a mix of woolen fabric and yarn, made as a four-strand plait then knotted as seen in the original Valkyrie figurines.
Making lucetted square cord using a beautiful handspun yarn from another local artisan (it's Alliston Findlay's Yeti blend, so lovely to work with). This cord was used for the drinking horn, and similar cord made from a machine-spun pure wool yarn was used for the bowstring.
A length of indigo shibori I made in the surface design course I've previously described, accordion-pleated and sewn - at which point I realized it needs to become the front panel of a skirt for me.
Luckily I had another length of shibori that was much better suited to becoming an apron dress and having the entire middle section covered by a shield. The pleats at the bust really worked beautifully with the large-scale mokume at that end of the fabric. Also, this pale indigo approximates the woad thay would have used during the period in western and northern Europe. The straps and trim are grey woolen fabric that I overdyed to green using acid dyes, in a shade that is also true to period. They were eventually embroidered in a woad blue yarn from Briggs & Little.
Making progress: helm in two colours of felted woolen fabric, braid, skis, and apron dress all sewn in place.

Tearing off the paper pattern after thread-sketching the faux quilting onto the sleeve (Yes, she is m'lady Greensleeves!). This project was my first try at both applique and thread-sketching, although I've been sewing off-and-on since forever.
My final photo at home before the installation. Shield cut out by Marissa and sewn by me after her first attempt went sideways - I love the shimmer and texture that her fabric choices added. The leather boots and needle-felted hands are by Jasmin. Cheesecloth added under the the skirt edge and at the top of the apron dress to represent the linen kirtle, bow and drinking horn in place, details embroidered on apron dress, and the fur cloak is hooked in a mix of fabrics (and not quite complete, but time's up!).
Installed on Alberta Avenue for Deep Freeze Festival 2014. Brooch and beads and needle-felted-embroidered-and-button-embellished face by Jasmin. Face and hair sewn in place by Marissa.  You can also watch a Vine that Marissa made to show all angles of the completed lamp-post cover - well, almost all angles.
Photo via Marissa of our team posing with the completed lamppost cover.
I've titled this post work-in-progress, partly because I actually would still like to do more hooking and add more details to the background, despite it having already hung outside all weekend. (It was right beside one of the firepits, too, so it smells of woodsmoke!) This will probably be on permanent display in the makerspace when it opens, with the intent that people working in the space can continue to add details to it.