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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Spring: 'Tis the Season for Trying New Things

With the arrival of spring I'm ready to lose the winter doldrums. In casting around for something to shake up my routine, I've been cruising Facebook for fun local events and Knoxville has not disappointed!

First, I discovered this amazing activity which you may or may not have heard of: yoga.

Ok, so maybe I'm the last person on the planet to jump onto that particular bandwagon, but hear me out. It's not just the yoga itself that I've fallen in love with, it's what goes along with it. Knoxville has perfected the art of combining yoga with other fun things. Like wine. And beer. And kittens.

Yoga and local wine make
for a perfect Sunday
That's right: for $5 you can do an hour-long cardio-intensive yoga session and then have a glass of wine at a local winery. Or you can do an hour long soothing yoga session and then have 2 beers at one of the local breweries. For $10 you can do yoga surrounded by adoptable rescue kittens, and the entire $10 goes to support a local animal shelter. These types of events are popping up like daisies all over the country, and I can't recommend them enough. They are good for the body as well as the soul.

Nala enjoys yoga time too!

"Wait," you might be saying. "Are we just perverting the art of yoga with all these gimmicks?"

Perhaps. But honestly it's fun and it has me doing yoga for the first time in my life and I love it. I've even found some yoga videos on YouTube that I've been using at home.

Spring also has also brought a lot of great fundraisers. Last month my husband, David, and I attended a fundraiser at my favorite local brewery for the Friends of Feral Felines organization. Two beers in, we decided to adopt a kitten. Clearly these Feral Felines folks know what's up when it comes to marketing.

The kitten's name is Simone and she is fitting in well with our little family.

Simone and Saffi

Later this month we'll be going back to the same brewery for a fundraiser for Bridge Refugee Services, an organization that provides support for refugees resettled in Knoxville. I told David we can't come home from this one with any new family members this time (but honestly I'm not going to make any promises about that).

Spring is all about renewal and I'm embracing it: new hobby, new fur-baby...who knows what else the season will bring? Check out your own cities and communities and see what spring activities are available to help you feel rejuvenated. Whether it's planting a garden, taking up a new hobby, or donating your time to a worthwhile cause, get out there and enjoy the bounty spring brings.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Failure Can Be a Good Thing

I have always had a "can do" sort of attitude regarding life. Whether it's re-screening windows or putting together a new college course, I like a challenge and I love learning new things. The internet helps, of course. All those "how to" YouTube videos are a life saver.

What I imagined I would make
Thus, when I announced to my husband earlier this week that I was going to make crepes for dinner - never having made them before - I felt reasonably confident that it wouldn't be that difficult. I pictured  a stack of delicate, even, golden brown crepes. Le Cordon Bleu would hear about them and offer me a fully funded position in their program.

In some ways I was correct (hint: it wasn't the Le Cordon Bleu part). Making crepes isn't difficult per say: the batter is simple and the cooking process is quite similar to making pancakes. However, I hadn't realized that crepe making is such an art.

Halfway through the process I decided I didn't like the recipe I had chosen and combed the internet for an alternative. I switched pans. I switched from butter to oil. I switched spatulas. I played with the amount of batter I used and the temperature of the pan. I questioned my decision to not own a single non-stick pan. Needless to say, by the time I made my last crepe in the batch I had some idea what I was doing, but they weren't going to be winning any awards.

They weren't uniform in size or thickness. Some of them were too pale, some were too dark. I filled my ragtag looking crepes with sautéed spinach, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, ricotta, and fresh rosemary. The filling process did nothing to improve the look of my crepes. They tore. They refused to fold evenly. They oozed ricotta.

The reality...

They were absolutely delicious. We avoided looking at our plates, but our tastebuds sang praise for the cooking gods. This weekend I will be making a second attempt, and this time I plan to produce at least one that doesn't look like it has been run over by a bus.

We don't talk about our failures enough, especially on social media. But the best part about failure is that it gets you one step closer to success. You can learn, you can adapt, and you can call the 5 crepes you just ate "research" rather than "gluttony."

Get out there and try something new, whether it's a new recipe or a new hobby. Share your failures and your successes with others. I am quite proud of my first batch of ugly crepes. I know it's the first step towards making something that both tastes and looks beautiful!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Small Business Solutions: Sewing Organization Board

Before I opened my Etsy shop and brought home my grandmother's sewing machine, my sewing projects were pretty limited. As such, my craft studio lacked sewing-related organization. For years my "sewing kit" consisted of an overstuffed Ziplock baggy. With a sewing-based business startup happening I needed to up my game.

I needed sewing supply storage that was both a space saver and an efficient organizing tool. Naturally, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. After typing in "sewing organization" I quickly found this little gem that was perfect for small spaces:

I stained a piece of scrap wood then taped off stripes. While I found it pretty, I didn't have the patience to create the chevron pattern so I just made two basic stripes. I also didn't have painter's tape so I used electrical tape instead, which worked just fine. Two coats of ochre colored paint later, I pulled off the tape and had some pretty nice looking straight lines! 

Taped off stripes make painting straight lines a cinch!
I layered Valspar's "La Fonda Ortiz Gold" paint over
Minwax's Red Mahogany stain.
Carefully peel off the tape once the paint dries.
The next step was to add the nails. I laid out all the sewing materials I wanted to store on my board then hammered small finishing nails in place. This was also a nice stress relieving exercise, to be honest. I made sure to angle the nails slightly upwards to ensure my thread spools wouldn't slide off. 

All that was left to do was screw the board to the wall over my sewing space (and under my last project, the DIY idea board!), hang my materials on the nails, and pat myself on the back for a job well done. 

Two screws keep the board firmly anchored to the wall
My idea board, my sewing board, and my grandmother's 1959 Singer
sewing machine keep my workspace neat and functional.

 I couldn't be happier with this Pinterest find. It took less than an hour to make from start to finish and it suits my small space perfectly. It's nice to have everything within reach as I'm making bags and it's definitely a step up from my Ziplock baggy sewing kit!

One part inspiration and two parts perspiration, isn't that the saying? Happy crafting, all!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Etsy Shop!

Hey all!

I'm very happy to report that I've opened an Etsy shop called ThirdCreek to sell my goodies! It's been a long time coming for me to move beyond creating items for friends and family to a public venue, and I couldn't be more pleased.

While I hope to expand the shop in the future, for now I'm focusing on my handmade clutches and sunglasses cases. The bags range from $15-$21 and are designed to be versatile. They can be used as clutches, evening bags, cosmetic bags, jewelry pouches, sunglasses and glasses cases...pretty much anything for which you would need a modestly sized bag! My new studio space in the mudroom has been a blessing and I will be working away this month on creating new products for the shop. I hope you'll check it out and spread the word!

Hand stitching adds personalization to each bag.

Each bag features 3 contrasting patterned fabrics and all bags, except the sunglasses cases, have metal snap closures. 

Front and interior of Nala Clutch in "Petal"

Dress your bag down for running errands or meeting
up with friends. Featured: Saffi Clutch in "Coral"
Dress your bag up for a date or other special occasion.
Featured: Saffi Clutch in "Feather/Ikat"

Sunglasses cases with personality!
Featured: "Prism" and "Tribal" Sunny Cases
No neutrals? No problem!
Shown: "Prism" Sunny Case

Friday, January 6, 2017

New Year, New Space (and a DIY Idea Board!)

It makes sense to kick of 2017 with a post about renewal and change. Therefore, this is the story of how an old kitchen table set off a chain-reaction, resulting in the creation of my first ever designated craft space.

After Christmas, David and I had hauled an old kitchen table from my mother's house back to Tennessee. My mother had purchased the table on a whim at a garage sale back when I was in elementary school. 20 years and 2 houses later it was just hanging out in the garage. I planned to refinish it to replace our drop-leaf dining table. When raised, the leaves on the drop-leaf table droop ever so slightly no matter how much my husband fiddles with the supports, and the fact the tabletop isn't perfectly flat irks him. He takes it personally that gravity defies his handyman skills. In contrast, the sturdy butcher block top of mum's old kitchen table filled his heart with joy.

After sanding down the table I painted its white base a terra cotta color (the jury is still out on whether we like it) and stained its natural maple top a warm, cinnamon-honey color to bring out the character and imperfections in the wood.

That done, I needed someplace to put our old drop-leaf dining table. Issues of levelness aside, it's a cool piece of furniture with brass-capped lion's head feet and an unusually narrow center piece, making it perfect for smaller spaces.

I had a plan. After Christmas I also brought home my grandmother's sewing machine, which she had left to me in her will. That's right! I finally have a sewing machine! Now I just needed a place to put it, and the drop-leaf table was perfect. Of course, the logical (and only available) place to set up a sewing/craft space was in the mudroom. So the drop-leaf table joined the desk, a printer-topped cabinet, armoire, large bookshelf, musical instruments, dog crates, and large cat tree in the mudroom. The room looked like an unsuccessful garage sale.

My dual office/craft space begins to take shape. The other leaf
on the table can be put up when I need more space for a project.
After much rearranging I decided to get rid of my desk. I'd purchased it off Craigslist and it was a practical but uninspiring piece made of composite wood. Instead, the drop-leaf table would double as a desk AND as my first ever designated craft/sewing space.

Of course, a space meant for creativity needs an idea board: someplace to display fabric and paint swatches, photos, design sketches, and other visual aids to get the creative juices flowing. Something like this:

Because I am me, I had some spare wood lying around. Many people don't realize that your average piece of construction lumber can be transformed into something beautiful with just a coat of stain. In this case I used one coat of Minwax stain in Red Mahogany, rubbed on with a paper towel.

Before: a plain board

After: a coat of stain brings out the wood's natural beauty
To make the board wall mountable, on the back of the board I nailed a picture hook to either end. Using two ensured the board would be stable and that I wouldn't have to balance the weight of the items I hung on the string.

For a string I wanted to use something with a little pizzaz. Several years ago my great aunt gave me a necklace made by her friend. It is a long string with clusters of beading that can be wrapped in various ways to make an artistic looking statement necklace. While my great aunt was able to wear hers beautifully, I never got the hang of mine. It always just ended up looking like a tangled mess. I hated having something so unique and beautiful just sitting in my jewelry box unused, so I decided to repurpose it. 

Using a handheld electric drill I screwed hooks into the board and zigzagged the necklace across it like a clothesline. Small nails in the center of the board help keep the string extra taut. 

Brass hooks compliment the bronze beads
and keep the string taut for hanging items
Small brass nails in the center of each
string keep the lines from sagging
I mounted the board using two screws in my new craft space. Using small binder clips I can now hang swatches of my fabrics as well as photos, sketches, craft paper samples, and other items. Having these items in plain sight means less rooting around in my storage drawers and makes it easy to see what I have on-hand.

There you have it. A chain reaction beginning with a cross country Christmas trip and ending with a DIY idea board. I'm looking forward to using my new craft space and hope to share plenty of projects with you in the New Year! Cheers!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Handmade Christmas: Artist's Smock

The problem with a crafty-type blog is this: if you are making gifts for people who are likely to read said blog, you can't write about your projects until after the gifts have been received. So now that the holidays are over I can finally share my December projects with you!

First, a little background: while I always enjoy making gifts for friends and family this year it was especially important. Two weeks before Christmas we were told our 14 year old husky, Vegonia Lou, had developed immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). Her immune system was targeting and killing her red blood cells and platelets. Although we started treatment immediately, she worsened quickly and after only 3 days had to be put to sleep. Most of our Christmas money had to be rerouted to cover vet bills, and I needed a project to keep my stress under control. A home-made Christmas was in order.

But first I had to figure out what I wanted to make.

Since retiring this past fall my mother has taken up painting. I originally wanted to buy her an artist's smock, but a quick survey of the available styles had me convinced that I should make her one instead. Most of the options were made of boring fabrics and/or were out of my price range. I searched online and found a style I liked. "I can do that," I told myself.

I decided to alter the design a bit by rounding the neckline and adding some pleating for a nice draping effect. I also wanted to add two pockets to the front and snaps on the straps at the shoulder to make it easier for my mother to get in and out of.

Plan in hand, the next step was finding fabric. I needed something medium weight and I wanted it to be colorful and fun. I wanted it to inspire my mother, not lull her to sleep in her studio. I envisioned one fabric for the main apron and a different fabric for the straps and pockets. I finally settled on these two fabrics from the clearance section. While the patterns themselves were completely different the colors and general scale were the same, which is key for pattern mixing.

As I have mentioned numerous times: I don't have a sewing machine and I don't know much about patterns or clothing construction. I was flying by the seat of my pants with a "how hard can it be?" attitude. Thankfully I remembered that some ingenious angel had invented iron-on seaming tape. It is easy to use and forms a permanent bond that is washer/dryer safe and has the added benefit of stopping fabric from fraying. This cut down dramatically on how much hand-sewing was required, making a garment-sized project much more feasible.

Nala was my enthusiastic helper
and provided moral support.
Back home with my spoils, I used myself as a model and estimated the overall sizing and strap length. Fortunately the draping nature of smocks allowed sizing to be more of a gut feeling than an exact science. I cut out the basic shape and used the seaming tape and an iron to finish the edges.

Folding the fabric in half, this
pattern only required two cuts.
Seaming tape made finishing the long edges easy while
I used hand stitching to make the straps and attach the pockets.

After adding the straps and pockets and pleating the neckline my first ever "garment" was finished! While I'm not ready to start making anything more complicated than a smock, I think it turned out rather well. Being both practical and unique, it puts the "fun" in "functional." With any luck, it will serve my mother well as she pursues her newfound love of painting!



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Creative Ideas: Stocking Stuffers

Growing up, most of my friends received socks, tighty whities, and candy in their Christmas stockings. Needless to say stockings weren't the most thrilling thing for them. In my family, though, stockings stuffers are the best part of Christmas.

My mom elevated stocking stuffer shopping to an art form. My childhood stocking always contained treasures like brightly colored gel pens, butterfly hairclips, and fruit-flavored glittery chapsticks (it was the 1990s...that was the height of pre-teen cool). As an adult, my mom makes sure that the treasures I find each year in my stocking are no less magical, though considerably less fruity smelling. After my father passed away I took over the job of filling my mother's Christmas stocking and it is a task that I cherish.

In truth the key to stocking stuffer shopping is patience: ideally it's a marathon rather than a sprint. I space out my stocking stuffer purchases throughout the year, often picking up little items during my travels. This spreads out the cost (which is key for me) while also producing a carefully curated collection of items rather than a frantic assortment of last-minute stuff.

However, with only 8 days until Christmas the time for marathons has passed and you may find yourself struggling to find last-minute stocking-friendly goodies. Before you panic and fill your loved ones' stockings with Q-tips and old Halloween candy, take a deep breath and check out this list.

I geared it specifically towards adults, but there are some child/teen friendly items too. Remember, not every stocking stuffer has to be thrilling but it should be something the recipient will actually appreciate and use.

For the foodie:
Cutting board oil: keep wooden cutting boards from cracking with mineral oil or a specially formulated cutting board oil
Silicone food savers: reduce food waste and plastic waste with these reusable gems!
Wine journal: these slim little journals help you remember what you liked or didn't like about each bottle you buy
Pretty potholder or hand towel
Fun spice blends
Fun fridge magnets or fridge poetry set

Magnetic poetry sets: use responsibly
Household items:
Home scents: mini reed diffuser, pretty plug-in, or car air vent freshener
Scented sachets for dresser drawers
Microfiber dusting mit: I keep mine in my car to battle dashboard dust
Reusable dryer balls or DIY sachets: use these instead of disposable dryer sheets to cut back on waste! Extra points if they are made in cute shapes or colors.

General items:
Notecards and/or wax stamp/seal: tis the season for thank you notes!
Essential oils: pick a classic scent like lavender or opt for a multi-scent kit (TJ Maxx often has essential oil travel kits)
Mini bottles of booze: a fun way to try new things without committing to a full bottle
Bananagrams or other small games
Collapsable reusable shopping bag
Fun sunglasses case
Night time toilet light: no more choosing between stumbling around in the dark or blinding yourself with the bathroom light when nature calls in the middle of the night!
Nocturnal relief has never been so much fun!
Sartorial items:
Shoe shine sponge
Jewelry or cufflinks/tie clip
Nail polish
Makeup: Elf brand has great cruelty free products for $1-$4 and is available at Target and Walmart
Tocca mini perfumes: I'm partial to the orange blossom inspired "Stella" scent.
Fun patterned stockings
Emergency beauty kit: buy a little pouch and fill it with mini nail files, extra earring backs, tweezers, handiwipes, and bobby pins

Support their interests! My husband's pride and joy is our record player, so this year his stocking will include record cleaner and a new record brush. Do a little research and find out what hobby accoutrements would be appropriate: guitar picks, bow rosin, valve oil, special brushes or paints, etc.

While I have included handy links for online purchase, all of these items are available at local stores as well. So forget the bland stocking items and raise the bar. Your loved ones will thank you.

Merry Christmas and happy hunting!