In Praise of Crafty Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a loomer! So . . . can someone explain how to weave?”

I am a member of several Facebook groups for weavers, where we go to ask questions and share our work. I have to admit when I see questions like the one above, from rank beginners, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and think, “Oh for heaven’s sake—go read a book! Take a class!”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself how much newbies, to any craft or skill, bring to the rest of us.

I have been a complete novice myself recently, in the craft of weaving, and I am still struggling to learn a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My weekly sewing group includes a number of newbies—new to sewing, new to quilting.

There have always been newbies but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills from others in our circle, by watching and emulating or by taking an organized class or reading—those were the only options we had.

But now the Internet gives newbies easy access to knowledgeable and helpful people so their questions are public and their lack of knowledge and understanding are on view to us all.

And, though I will always think some newbies are being presumptuous in asking others to explain a difficult process in the space of a Facebook post, I really believe that these newbies are enhancing the craft world.

Are you a newbie at something, thinking about picking up knitting needles or sitting down to a sewing machine for the first time? Trying to learn a new set of skills, like hooking a rug or soldering silver? Surrounded, it seems, by people who already know the ins and outs, know the vocabulary, seem comfortable and calm in the realm where you feel edgy and inadequate?

I want to tell you how valuable you are!

  1. You are a source of amusement

Yes, it probably sounds harsh but let’s get it out of the way first—I am amused every day by a dilemma posed by a newbie. I laugh at the stories they tell about themselves and their confusion. They use the vocabulary wrong and make mistakes of the most basic kind. I am laughing with them, not at them—I see myself in their blunders.

We had a huge laugh in our sewing group a couple years ago, when a then-novice at quiltmaking was bemoaning the fact that her sewing machine bobbin always ran out at the most inopportune time. She felt she’d just get into a rhythm and then, boom, she’d have to stop, unthread the machine, fill the bobbin, etc., etc. Another, very experienced, member of the group listened carefully and said, gently, “Well, at the beginning a project, I just fill up a bunch of bobbins, to get me through.” Stunned silence from our sweet newbie . . . and then she said, “Duh. I would never have thought of that.” And now none of the rest of us will ever forget it!

  1. You remind us of the enthusiasm and joy of starting

The excitement newbies feel is energizing. This one just got her first loom, that one bought fabric for her first quilt. They have not yet felt the slings and arrows of outrageous craft fails. They are intoxicated with possibilities—and help me remember that feeling.

  1. You give us a chance to teach and feel smart

With novices, it always seems that, no matter how little I know, there’s someone who knows less. That gives me the heady feeling of having something I can share and teach.

Just last week, I got to show a friend the basics of hand quilting. She’s a far more experienced, better quilter than I am but she’s never taken the plunge for quilting by hand. It gave me a big thrill when I could show her and watch her pick it up very quickly!

  1. You allow us to feel competent and remind us how far we’ve come

There’s nothing like a newbie to remind you how much progress you’ve made, that you’re learning and growing. When I read the questions asked by newbies, I am pleasantly surprised when I know the answers to questions that would’ve been mysteries a few months ago. I feel skilled and capable and motivated to keep learning.

  1. You ask the questions we may not be comfortable asking.

I am one of those people who loatheslooking foolish or incompetent. I hate to ask questions, to expose my ignorance. Newbies ask questions with abandon and I sit and listen carefully to the answer . . . and learn. For instance, it had never occurred to me to fill a bunch of bobbins at the start of a project  . . .

So, newbies, I say to you—keep starting new things.

Keep dreaming of being good at something that you have never tried.

Recognize the limitations of learning complex skills from Facebook posts or from one helpful friend and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

But don’t hesitate to start because the people around you seem so sure of themselves and the skills so daunting.

You are enriching the conversation by starting a new craft; you are bringing so much to the discussion.

 

 

 

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Hardanger Hijinks

There’s a new stitch-along in town.

Kathy, at Sewing, Etc., is doing tutorial on how to work hardanger.

Hardanger is a special needlework technique that combines embroidery and drawn thread work. You embroider and cut, embroider and cut, all while hyperventilating and hoping you don’t cut too much or too far.

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From Kathy’s blog–see how she’s cutting those threads? Eek.

I’ve seen a lot of hardanger in my years of selling vintage linens and am fascinated by the technique but I told Kathy I wasn’t going to participate in her stitch-along.

And then, you know, she posted the first instructions in a tutorial.

And I said, what the heck.

I whipped out some pretty blue linen I just happened to have on hand—not too fine cuz I’m new to this—and some white thread and I just took the plunge.

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It went pretty well, don’t you think?

I made two placemats then got bored with the pattern so I made two more with a different pattern.

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Then I thought, well, who wants a set of four placemats when six is within reach and I just dashed off two more in yet another different pattern.

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I’m darn good at this, huh?

And then, since I had more fabric left and I was feeling frisky, I stitched up a cute little apron.

I am the queen of hardanger.

Wait . . . why are you looking at me like that? As if you doubt me? Don’t believe me?

I can see what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Really, Kerry??”

NO!

Not really! Ha.

Of course I didn’t make these pretty things. They were part of a stash of vintage linens I got recently. According to a handwritten tag attached to them, they are Danish.

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But they are a beautiful example of the hardanger techniques. You can see how the white embroidery frames and secures the background cloth so that threads of that blue cloth can be cut and removed to create the classic look.

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So, no. I’m not joining this stitch-along. I have plenty to keep me busy and feeling stressed without adding another deadline to my life. But I’ll follow along, watching the progress made by others, and offer my pretty vintage hardanger as inspiration.

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Scrap Happy Sweets

I have so much baking to do. Many, many cookies, to please the different members of the family this holiday, and to please myself.

And my sister and husband want turtle bark, with dark chocolate, caramel, pecans and fleur de sea.

But these all have to wait. I don’t have the ingredients on hand. Oh, I have the butter and the sugar and the vanilla . . . those scraps of ingredients we all have in our kitchens.

But what can I make from those scraps, while I wait for my personal shopper (Don!) to make a trip to the grocery store?

Only possibly the best Christmas candy of all—English toffee.

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It’s 6:30 a.m. at my place and the house smells great—all buttery and caramel-y, with slight burnt overtones. 

I’ve written about my toffee before, and given the recipe I use, so I won’t go through it all again here but, if you’re looking for a culinary scrap happy project, this might be the answer.

Ingredients? Butter, sugar, water, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt, for the basic toffee. For the coating, some sort of chocolate you really like. I temper Callebaut chocolate (which, yes, I always seem to have on hand) but quality chocolate melts or chips work fine, too. 

Want nuts? What have you got lying around? Almonds, walnuts, pecans? No nuts? The toffee is so good, you won’t miss them.

Really, the biggest scrap you’ll need for making toffee is a scrap of patience, since you need to be willing to continuously stir the cooking ingredients for 20-25 minutes, the time it’ll take to reach 300 degrees F.

But it is so worth it! No scraps will make you happier than these!

So, when you’ve used up the scraps of yarn and fabric and pretty paper and glitter, wander to the pantry—and find the sweet scraps for toffee.

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ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page. She welcomes new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let Kate or Gun know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so they can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, JanKaren,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen and Connie

Advent, My Way #8

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The holiday season brings friendly gatherings. Friendly gatherings bring the need to feed people. Those people love snacks.

Snacks!

Sweet snacks are in abundance during the holidays but easy, tasty, savory snacks are more difficult, I think, especially snacks that can be made ahead and take absolutely no effort when guests arrive.

I used to just put out a bowl of mixed nuts.

Plain old mixed nuts . . . until I found this recipe, that is. This recipe takes nuts to a whole nother level, as we say at our house, a level that is exceptionally tasty, pretty addictive, not at all healthy, but totally worth the indulgence during this special season.

The recipe for Hot and Spicy Nuts comes from the good old Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. This series of Silver Palate cookbooks was all the rage in the 1980s, which you can see by the shoulder pads and that one hairdo on the cover!

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I’ve been making these spicy nuts for all those years and, even in the years when we do the absolute least for Christmas, I take the (minimal) time to make these.

Here’s the basic recipe, as it came out of the cookbook. I’ll follow with some comments.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1½ cups mixed unsalted roasted nuts
  • 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over low heat.
  • Add the remaining ingredients except the nuts and coarse salt.
  • Simmer over low heat for several minutes to combine flavors.
  • Add the nuts and stir until evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
  • Toss the nuts with the coarse salt and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

My Notes:

  • I’ve never used celery salt. I didn’t the first time and didn’t miss it so I’ve never used it.
  • Use the nuts you like. I use unsalted cashews, pecans, and peanuts that I get in the bulk section of the grocery store. I also use sesame sticks and love them!
  • Don’t bother making a single batch. Trust me and do at least double the amount.
  • The kosher salt gets added at the end. I let the nuts cool for a few minutes then put the salt into a big paper bag, add the nuts, and shake it all up.
  • Be careful about the amount of salt!! The recipe calls for a tablespoon but, even though I LOVE salt and often go looking for it, that is too much. For a doubled recipe, I use only 1.5 teaspoons.
  • Make sure the nuts have completely cooled before you sample them and judge. They need to cool to be crispy and crunchy.

Make them today, to be sure you like them. Serve them when you put up your Christmas decorations. Serve them when you take the decorations down.

Serve them when carolers come over, at the Christmas Eve soiree, and let people snack before Christmas dinner.

Serve them for every college bowl game.

Serve them on Boxing Day, just because.

They are perfect for New Year’s Eve and super-perfect for your Super Bowl football party!

I already made a bunch of these . . . and they are gone. That is unacceptable so I’ll be making more soon. Will you join me?

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Advent, My Way

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December is here, and for many people, that means one thing—Christmas.

Christmas is a complicated holiday for me.

It means little.

It means a lot.

Three sources conspire to create my mixed feelings.

First of all, I consider myself a “cultural Christian.” I’m a non-believer but I grew up in a very religious, Evangelical Protestant home, full of Christmas pageants and soaring hymns. I don’t believe in the stories but they hit me, at Christmas, on a very nostalgic, sentimental level.

Second, I am not a shopper and that means a lot of the focus of preparing for Christmas is lost on me. All my close family is the same—we don’t enjoy shopping and we buy what want we want or need when we need it. It has been years and years since we went the route of piles of Christmas presents.

Third, I live far from those close family members. The people I would want to celebrate this holiday with, who understand the holiday the way I do, all live far enough away that hours of driving and/or flying time would be involved. And no one wants to travel at Christmas.

For most of the year and most of the month of December, I’m fine with all of this. I’m all aloof and logical.

The month goes by and I don’t shop and don’t think much about decorating. I tell myself no one is going to see it but us and decorating is a lot of trouble, just to take it down again in January. We buy a wreath or two, do minimal fuss, and move on.

I don’t do special baking, although I like to bake, because we always have tons of chocolate around the house and we have friends who love to bake, and give, Christmas goodies. And if I bake cookies, we’ll just eat them!

I don’t shop because we’ve all agreed not to. Obligatory Christmas spending seems silly.

See? All aloof and logical.

But then Christmas Day comes, and I feel let down.

I tell myself it’s just another day

And yet . . . it feels like it should feel special.

I always reach Christmas Day wishing I had done a little more. Not more shopping or baking, but more to get in the mood, to remember my roots, to honor tradition, to make the end of the year feel warm and cozy and satisfying, even if the religious aspect isn’t meaningful to me.

So, this year I’m going to try to do that and focus on the advent, not of a religious event, but of a time of year that has had, and still does have, significance in my life.

I’ll be doing posts that encourage me to “think Christmas” and enjoy the mood and small projects and meaningful memories of the season.

To start this, I want to remind myself, and you, of a post I did a couple years ago. One thing we do find time for every year is the making of pomanders. To be honest, this is almost entirely my husband’s project but it is one that I love the best.

Pomanders are made with big, lovely oranges and whole cloves. The minimal time invested will provide weeks of incredible, powerful fragrance that seems the essence of the season. This is the perfect time of year to make pomanders, before all the other preparations get too overwhelming. Believe me, the pomanders will last, until Christmas and beyond!

You can find the full instructions here. We can make these together!

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By the wonders of polygenesis, my blog friend Kathy is doing a similar blog project this month. She’s taking a more spiritual approach—you can find her here.

Let Us Now Praise Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a weaver! So . . . can someone explain how to weave?”

I am a member of several Facebook groups for weavers, where we go to ask questions and share our work. I have to admit when I see questions like the one above, from rank beginners, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and think, “Oh for heaven’s sake—go read a book! Take a class!”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself how much newbies, newcomers to any craft or skill, bring to the rest of us.

I have been a complete novice myself recently, in the craft of weaving, and I am still struggling to learn a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My weekly sewing group includes a number of newbies—new to sewing, new to quilting.

Newbies have always been with us but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills in relative private, from others in our circle, by watching and emulating or by taking an organized class or reading. Those were the only options we had.

But now the Internet gives newbies easy access to knowledgeable and helpful people so their questions are public and their lack of knowledge and understanding are on view to us all.

And, though I will always think some newbies are being presumptuous in asking others to explain a difficult process in the space of a Facebook post, I really believe that these newbies are enhancing the craft world.

Are you a newbie at something, thinking about picking up knitting needles or sitting down to a sewing machine for the first time? Trying to learn a new set of skills, like hooking a rug or soldering silver? Surrounded, it seems, by people who already know the ins and outs, know the vocabulary, seem comfortable and calm in the realm where you feel edgy and inadequate?

I want to tell you how valuable you are!

  1. You are a source of amusement

Yes, it probably sounds harsh but let’s get it out of the way first—I am amused every day by a dilemma posed by a newbie. I laugh at the stories they tell about themselves and their confusion. They use the vocabulary wrong and make mistakes of the most basic kind. I am laughing with them, not at them—I see myself in their blunders.

  1. You remind us of the enthusiasm and joy of starting

The excitement newbies feel is energizing. This one just got her first loom, that one bought fabric for her first quilt. They have not yet felt the slings and arrows of outrageous craft fails. They are intoxicated with possibilities—and help me remember that feeling.

  1. You give us a chance to teach and feel smart

With novices, it always seems that, no matter how little I know, there’s someone who knows less. That gives me the heady feeling of having something I can share and teach.

  1. You allow us to feel competent and remind us how far we’ve come

There’s nothing like a newbie to remind you how much progress you’ve made, that you’re learning and growing. When I read the questions asked by newbies, I am pleasantly surprised when I know the answers to questions that would’ve been mysteries a few months ago. I feel competent and motivated to keep learning.

  1. You ask the questions we may not be comfortable asking.

I am one of those people who loathes looking foolish or incompetent. I hate to ask questions, to expose my ignorance. Newbies ask questions with abandon and I sit and listen carefully to the answer . . . and learn.

So, newbies, I say to you—keep starting new things.

Keep dreaming of being good at something that you have never tried.

Keep asking every question that pops into your mind!

Recognize the limitations of learning complex skills from Facebook posts or from one helpful friend and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

But don’t hesitate to start because the people around you seem so sure of themselves and the skills so daunting.

You are enriching the conversation by starting a new craft; you are bringing so much to the discussion.

My Pincushion Morning

I love a big, hefty project, one that takes a long time, sucks me into the process, and about which I can feel hugely satisfied when I’m done.

But sometimes, a girl just needs to start and finish something in a day. Sometimes, we all need a fun, small, manageable, creative endeavor that doesn’t involve a years-long commitment, like a yoyo quilt or a weaving project with a 6-yard warp. (Weavers—don’t laugh! Six yards is long for me!)

I made just such a project lately and it made me inordinately happy.

First, I received in the mail, late last year, a small wooden circle loom, from the kind blogger at Twill Textile Design. I spent some happy time making a small woven piece on it, using the yarn she sent and some of my own.

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I love this little cutie but it drove me crazy that I didn’t know what to DO with it! I’m a practical gal and want my crafts to be useful.

Then I was trolling around on Pinterest and I saw the idea for making a pincushion out of an old cup.

I like pincushions.

I have lots of old cups.

Cups are round at the top and about 3-4 inches in diameter.

My woven circle was 3.5 inches in diameter . . .

Hey ho!

I went online and ordered the stuff of which pincushions are made—I ordered both emery sand, the stuff that goes into the little strawberries attached to traditional pincushions, and ground walnut shells, an alternative to emery sand. Both are abrasive and meant to keep needles and pins sharp and free of rust.

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And, for one happy, (mostly) carefree morning last week, I sewed and glued and fussed and fumed until my pincushion was finished.

I chose a vintage mug made by FireKing of so-called Jadeite. My mother had one of these when I was a kid so it has nostalgic value. (I have to admit I just researched, belatedly, and learned I could probably have sold this single cup for $25-$30 . . . oh, well!)

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I like the mid-century aesthetic and sturdiness of this cup and there’s one stripe of green in my woven piece that sort of matches the green in the cup.

To make the pincushion, all I did was dig out some scraps of quilt batting I had on hand, to fill the bulk of the cup. The emery sand and walnut shells would become expensive if I was filling the whole cup with them!

I cut two circles of finely-woven muslin about a half-inch larger than my weaving. I sewed them together and left a small opening, and used my teeny funnel to fill the little bag with ground walnut shells. I tried to fill it really full. Then I finished sewing up the opening.

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I hand sewed my weaving on top of the bag of walnut shells.

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I fussed around to figure out how much batting I needed to fill the cup and, when I had it right, I used the handle of a spoon to help me tuck the weaving and pincushion bag into the cup.

Then came the part I liked least—the glue gun! I am not proficient with glue guns, though I did find one that worked here in my house. I tried to be careful but still managed to get glue on the cup, on the weaving, on the counter, on my hands. It doesn’t show up too much in any of those places . . .

The finished pincushion! Super cute, huh?

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When I got done with that part, I still had my mojo working so I dissected a tea bag and used it as a template to make my own little muslin tea bag, to fill with emery sand. Since emery sand is the traditional filler for pincushions, I wanted to have at least a little of that available for use.

The sewing on the tea bag does not represent my finest crafting hour, it’s true. I was getting impatient to finish and didn’t think things completely through. But the thing was finished in one morning, and, frankly, I quite love it!

I learned a lot so, if I ever decide to do this again, I can make changes.

  • I would try one using a cup with a saucer; I could glue the two together and give myself a little saucer/tray to hold my spool of thread, etc.
  • I would dig through my damaged vintage linens to find alternatives to the woven circle. I am always trying to find ways to use vintage bits of embroidery or crochet and it would be fun to match such things with cups from different eras.
  • I would look for braid or trim or something to add to the place where the pincushion meets the cup, to hide the glue more effectively.
  • I would not leave a spool of 100 yards of tatting thread lying around, as temptation to the kitten from Hades.

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I am pretty pumped to add pincushion maker to my list of crafty skills! Is there an easy, one-day project you’ve turned to, when the big projects get overwhelming?