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I had an oh-so-consistent pattern in university. The semester would start, and fairly quickly, paper topics would start being assigned. I would get uber-excited about my paper topics – BC land claims settlements in the Agricultural Land Reserve, political undertones in Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, the legal issues surrounding pipeline development in Alberta, the role of the Gamelan in Balinese culture (yup, I had a pretty all-over-the-map university experience) – and read and think and read and think. But then I wouldn’t start writing my papers until 48 hours before they were due.

Every time I would lament the lost potential. If only I had started earlier, this could be the best paper ever. But no. I’d left it too late.

The familiar feeling started creeping into my mind at about 3am on Wednesday July 6th. The opening of 52 Projects: The Exhibit was less than 48 hours away, and I still didn’t have a single board completed. My room was covered in paper scraps. There were photos absolutely everywhere. My fingers were blistered and sore from constant glue-gun use. And I was pretty sure that Friday night would come, and people would show up to an empty gallery.

Somehow, though, that didn’t happen. With some amazing help from some extraordinary friends, Friday came, and the exhibit was up. There was even home-made food to eat! And, best of all, it was really fun!

52 Projects: The Exhibit is up at the Wise Daughters Craft Market until mid-September. Check out the hours and location and stop by to take a look!

And for anyone interested in seeing just how the exhibit was put together, from start to finish, check out the photo montage here! (hit the “slideshow” button on the top right in the new tab for the full effect!)

A million thanks to some extra special for all their help in getting the exhibit up. Specifically Chris, Karim, Mary, Danette, Ian, the Rusholme Gals and to everyone else for the love, support and encouragement!

Photo Credit: Karim Rizkallah

summer lovin’

Ahh the bliss of summer.

I write this while sitting on my front porch. There’s a robin pecking away in my vegetable garden, a breeze at my back, and in a few minutes I’ll be biking off on my trusty ride Jolene to go swing dancing. Sometimes I wonder if life could possibly be any more amazing…

Friends!

I spent last weekend doing my 5 favourite things – dancing, eating, laughing, crafting and frolicking – with some of my favourite people on earth. We celebrated the marriage of our friends J&K, we made hands down the best home-made pizza ever (word to the wise – cilantro pesto on thin crust pizza? i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e!), and we took in some incredible community events (like The Stop‘s annual Deli Duel & Clay and Paper Theatre’s Day of Delight).

After 48 hours of fun, bliss and sunshine, I convinced Brendon & Dave to help me finish off my latest project – a mosaic for the front of my dear house.

Here’s how it went…

Materials

  • Glass, tiles
  • Safety Gear (mask, eye protection, rubber gloves)
  • Hammer
  • A backing for your mosaic (e.g. a nice piece of wood, a glass vase, etc.)
  • Tile adhesive
  • Popsicle sticks (or chop sticks)
  • Cement
  • A damp rag
How To Do It
  1. First, you need to collect your “pieces” that will make your mosaic. You can always buy pre-cut pieces from craft stores like Michaels, but for me, this is pricey and way less fun. Instead, I grabbed a few old, chipped plates and picked a few extras up from Value Village.
  2. You need to be super careful when you break your plates up. It can seem like a great idea to just chuck them against a wall, but you run the risk of getting little pieces if your eyes and creating a pretty hazardous situation. In order to make sure I still had full eye-sight (etc) after, I wore eye protection, a dust mask, rubber gloves and long sleeves (believe me, those tiny little tile dust particles can get everywhere and really hurt). It looks a little silly, but is well worth it. Just embrace it, throw this on your stereo, and do a little dance!

    Safety First!

  3. Wrap your plates up in a heavy cloth or plastic bag, re-adjust your safety gear, and start smashing. It feels goooood.
  4. Next lay your pieces out on your backing (in my case, an old piece of wood from my sister’s roommate) and create your design. Don’t feel confined by tile pieces. You can just about anything – buttons, bells, stones, shells, beads – even Scrabble pieces! (Note – I started feeling weird about explicitly putting my address online through these photos, so I blacked out the street name, but trust me – the Scrabble pieces look GREAT!)
  5. Once you have your design laid out, it’s time to stick the pieces on! I spoke to some folks who mentioned that white glue works for this, but I decided to use full-on tile adhesive because I wanted my piece to be able to weather the outdoors. Using the popsicle or chop sticks, brush tile adhesive onto the back of each piece and press firmly in place.
  6. Let stand overnight to make sure the glue / adhesive dries fully.

    This time, with tile adhesive!

  7. Mix a little bit of your cement up at a time (it dries quickly!) adding just enough water to give it a creamy consistency.

    It's so creamy I almost want to eat it!

  8. With gloved hands, begin pressing the cement in between the tile pieces, pressing firmly so that it fills all the gaps between the pieces. Don’t worry if you get some on the tiles themselves – it’ll wash off.
  9. When you’re finished, use a damp cloth to wipe the excess cement off your tiles. You make want to do this a few times after the cement is dry for best results.

    Finished! (well...almost! It's still wet here, but when it dried the cement was much lighter)

Et voila! A wonderful porch-side, summer-evening project!
A wee postlude note … I realized tonight that it’s the 1 year anniversary of the start of this project. Which is also the end of my allotted 52 weeks! While I haven’t quite hit 52 projects (I’m at #44, with a few that still need to be written up and posted) I’m feeling pretty good about the year. The next post will have lots of reflections about the year that has passed, and an update of what’s coming next. Stay tuned!

Oven Mitts 101

When I was eight years old, I visited my oldest brother in Toronto.

It was a pretty big deal. I took the train all the way from Ottawa, we went to a Jays game and Kensington Market, sang Irish drinking songs while strolling down Bloor Street, and I bought a pair of green Umbro soccer shorts with my own money (trust me, it was a really big deal). I felt so grown up. So mature. So cool.

In the mix of amazing memories I have from that trip, one of the most vivid was meeting Evan’s roommate Alex. To me, Alex was (and still is) the epitome of cool. She played the guitar in a band. She talked to me like I was an adult. And she could sew a pair of jeans into the coolest looking “bum bag” I’d ever seen.

Alex has since become like a surrogate member of our family, becoming close friends with us all, and until recently lived just around the corner from my house. A few months ago, though, Alex moved to the East Coast. Before she left, she invited me over to raid her supply of fabric. It felt a little like Christmas morning – amazing colours and patterns, textures and sizes. I left with garbage bags full, which I’ve been slowly putting to good use with various projects.

One of the gems that I came home with that night was a roll of heat-resistant batting, perfect for a pair of oven mitts. So tonight, with Alex’s latest CD playing the background, I set out to make some.

Here’s how it went…

Materials

  • Cotton Fabric for the Outside
  • Fabric for the Lining
  • Heat-resistant batting
  • A Sewing Machine
  • Pencil & Scissors
  • Bias Tape or Lace
How To Do It
  1. For starters, you need a pattern. I used a great one that I found online here. Alternatively, you can trace around your hand, giving an extra inch or so for sewing and ample room to fit all hand sizes. Or, try using a pair of existing oven mitts as a guide (again, leaving extra space for the seams). 
  2. Trace and cut out: 4 cotton “outsides” (fancy patterned fabric for the outside of the mitts – 2 for the right hand, 2 for the left), 4 cotton linings (again, 2 for the right, and 2 for the left), and 4 batting middles (ditto). Depending on the thickness of the batting, and how heat-resistant you want these bad boys to be, you might want to double up and cut out eight of the batting.
  3. Each side of the mitts (you’ll make two tops and two bottoms) will be comprised of 3 layers – the lining, the batting (1-2 layers) and the top. Once you’ve got your pieces cut, lay each mitt-side in this order (right sides facing out) and pin the layers together all the way ’round.
  4. Next you want to do a quilting-like top stitch. This acts to hold all the layers tightly together. Depending on your fabric, you could choose a bold colour of thread and make a pattern, or you can do something more subtle. I decided to just meander around the material.
  5. Change to a zig-zag stitch and stitch around the edge of the whole mitt, cementing the three layers firmly in place. Don’t worry if your layers don’t perfectly match up – the seams will be hidden by the end.
  6. Repeat this whole process now for the “bottom” of your mitt (ie make a mirror-image version of the one you just made).
  7. When you’ve got both the top and bottom of your first mitt done, lay them on top of each other, right sides facing each other and pin around the edges.
  8. Using a 1/2″ seam, sew the two sides together almost all the way `round. Trim the extra away from the edges and turn right-side-out.
  9. Next, you want to create a nice edge along the bottom. This is where the bias tape, lace or other edge come into play. My suggestion is to use the bias tape, as you can make a little loop with it to hang your oven mitts up with. For instructions on sewing with bias tape, check out this little instructional video.
  10. Repeat the whole thing to make your second mitt and voila! You’re done!

Hi friends!

Ah, it feels like it has been so long.

After a glorious two weeks on the west coast (think 1500 year old redwoods, white caps pounding against the cliffsides, and a few inspirational days in both Portland and San Fran), I’m back in my cozy little abode, doing my best to stay dry.

The next project post will be coming soon, but in the meantime I wanted to let you all in on a little exciting 52 Projects spin-off that’s brewing.

I’ve mentioned Wise Daughters Craft Market before. The incredible owner, Mary, gave me the table loom, lent me the basketry book, and has overall been a source of support and inspiration all year long.

Well, a few weeks ago Mary and I sat down to talk about turning 52 Projects into an exhibit, that will run this summer in the gallery/studio space based at her store.

To say I’m flattered and totally psyched is an understatement. But before I get too far into the planning, I was hoping to get your help.

We’ve decided to display just 12 projects, and I’m having a ridiculous time choosing which to profile. I’ve created different categories, tried to think about getting a balance of quirky projects and practical ones, projects that you could take a class for and ones you can do yourself, ones that take a while and ones that are easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

But, I still am undecided.

So! I’d love your feedback. Which projects (completed and yet to be done — check out the list here) would you profile if you were turning this blog into an exhibit?

Thanks friends!

I’m on vacation.

Yup, that’s right. For the next two glorious weeks, I am practicing dolce far niente on the west coast, including a few lovely days in Vancouver with my parents, and a little roadtrip down the Oregon & California coasts with my amigo B.

Before leaving, it occured to me that I didn’t factor vacations in to 52 Projects. Given that I’m already behind (with 12 projects to finish in the next 7 weeks if I’m to keep strictly to timelines – an unlikely prospect), I began brainstorming what I could take on the road.

As I scanned the list of remaining project ideas, one immediately popped out – make a recipe by your great-grandmother! What better project to take on under the supervision of my own mom – cook and DIY-er extraordinaire!

An incredible piece of family history.

My mom, naturally, was totally on board with the idea. Her side of the family includes some

incredible family historians, providing easy access to such recipes. In fact, a few years back my Uncle Dave and Cousin Greg transcribed my great-grandmother’s recipes and self-published them as a gigantic recipe / history book.

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last few days here in Vancouver pouring over this book, marveling in the culinary changes that have taken place since my great-granny, Lydia Lush, was working away in the kitchen. I’ve laughed disgustingly at the pages of “jellied” recipes – Jellied Sandwiches, Jellied Salads, even Jellied Campbell’s soup (the only ingredients are Campbell’s soup and a package of lemon jelly powder … yikes!). I’ve poured over the chapter on “Domestic Science”, taking careful notes on how to preserve cheese, solder metal at home, remove grease spots, and properly dish up a plum pudding.

But of most interest to me are the hints of community and history found scattered across the pages. In an age where I google any recipe I want, Lydia carefully wrote each one out by hand, including notes about neighbours, social events,

My great grandmother - Lydia Lush

and new products –  Mrs Harley’s Filling for Maple Tarts (Much Liked!), Mrs Edmunds’ Marmalade, various cookie recipes from Mrs Mat, Miss Lyner, Aunt Annie, Mrs Murch and more; the emergence of products like Heinz Ketchup (1876)and Rice Krispies (1928); the inclusion of war-time & depression era recipes, that minimize the use of ingredients like milk and eggs. It really is an incredible read.

After much contemplation, this morning my mom and I decided to make pull-taffy. Alongside the notes in the book, my mom shared her own memories of making this with her own mother — and how handling the taffy helped her develop “Jarvis Fingers” (ones with so few nerves left in them that handling near-boiling taffy isn’t a problem. I do NOT have Jarvis fingers, though may have started developing them today!).

In any case, on a dreary Monday morning, this was the perfect project to work away on. For anyone looking for a sweet pick-me-up, I highly recommend trying the following…

Materials

  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • vanilla
  • big pot
  • wooden & metal spoons
  • waxed paper
  • a big tin or glass/ceramic dish
  • extra butter for greasing the above big tin or glass/ceramic dish

How to do it!

  1. Before you start anything, grease your final tin/pan really well. Give it lots of butter. This will make a big difference later.
  2. Put the sugar, vinegar and water in the pot and stir well.

    Before putting it on the boil

    Put this mixture on the stove on high heat and bring to a rolling boil.

    Minute 3 - it's almost on the boil!

    Once the mixture is on the stove, DO NOT stir anymore. Just watch it & make sure it doesn’t burn. Once it’s on the boil, you want to keep it rolling but may want to turn it down to medium heat.

    Boiling!

    Let it boil for about 10 minutes, and watch the transformation take place.

  3. Once it’s boiled for 10 minutes, add 3 tsp butter. Again, DO NOT stir, just let it do it’s thing.

    Boiling with the butter added.

    Let it keep boiling until it hairs. This may take a while. To test for “hairing”, dip a metal spoon in the mixture and lift out.

    Too drippy - not ready yet!

    If the taffy drips off the spoon, it’s not ready. But if it starts making hair-like strings, you’re set!

    Look at those hairs!

  4. Just before removing from the stove (or fire, as Lydia Lush writes), add your baking soda (which should be dissolved in a wee bit of hot water) and vanilla. This time, you can stir, but just a little.
  5. Pour the taffy into a buttered tin. You’ll see lots of evidence of the hairing here.
  6. This is the fun / painful part. The taffy will start to cool faster around the edges of your well-greased pan than in the middle, and ideally you want it to cool uniformly. So, you need to get the cooler taffy into the middle  by pulling it. Now, while this sounds straightforward, you’re basically having to put your fingers in ridiculously hot, sticky liquid. If you don’t have my mom’s Jarvis fingers, this is really painful. One way to help with this is to grease your hands up so the taffy won’t stick to your fingers as much. Please, please, please be careful with this part.

    Pulling the Taffy!

  7. Keep on lightly pulling the taffy to the centre until it is cool enough that you can hold a ball of taffy in your hands. You’ll likely want to re-grease your hands several times throughout.
  8. Now comes the real pulling. Work your taffy by pulling and twisting it over and over again, and feel the consistency change as the taffy cools and hardens. It will also change colour. Once your taffy is a golden straw-like colour, and fairly firm, you’re done.

    We didn't get many photos of this stage because you have to work fast and our fingers were covered in butter, but you get the idea.

  9. Lay out some waxed paper, and pull the taffy into long snake-like shapes, and twist it up.
  10. Let it sit until it’s hard like brittle candy, and then smash it up (using the back of a knife or just pure force!) into bite-size pieces.
  11. Enjoy – and don’t forget to brush your teeth after consuming!!!

I fully realize that last week I was bashing modern technology and talking about how out of place I sometimes feel. But today, I’m going to turn that statement right on its head.

Isn’t facebook sometimes just so incredible? I mean, sure, I can easily lose hours of my life to looking at photos of old friends who I haven’t seen since grade 3. (In fact, as I was typing this I thought of someone from grade 3, opened a new tab and spent 15 minutes looking at old photos of them. Yup, big time sink).

BUT! But, it can also be surprisingly wonderful. For example, 2 weeks ago I was scrolling through my newsfeed and there was a wee little note from the Wise Daughters Craft Market.

“This table loom available to the first person who emails me and promises to make a donation to Japan relief via charity of their choice.”

Of course, I emailed right away. From two different accounts.

Sadly, I wasn’t the lucky first respondent, but not long after, an email from Mary was in my inbox offering me a second table loom that she had kicking around. What luck!

This weekend, with a big, empty house to myself, I decided to learn how to weave. It went a little something like this…

Materials

  • A loom. If you don’t have a friend willing to give you one, you can check out this great video to learn how to make one from some slabs of wood or a big frame
  • Yarn of various colours
  • String or hemp
  • Scissors
  • A chopstick
  • A ruler (or in my case, some ruler-sized pieces of cardboard)
How to do it!
  1. To start, you need to string your loom. Starting on the bottom rung, tie your string/hemp in a double knot. Bring the yarn up away from you and over the top rung. Then bring it back towards you and under. This sounds confusing right? Basically, you want to make a series of figure eights. 
  2. I did 15 or so, then tightened up each strand, and tied it off on the bottom rung. This is your warp.
  3. A little note – you can also use yarn for your warp (as is shown in these early photos). Unfortunately, mine started to fray a lot, constantly breaking and making the weaving insanely difficult (see photo below). I then decided to switch to hemp, which worked super well. Experiment around and let me know what works for you!
  4. Another little note. You want to make sure your threads are pretty close together, and evenly spaced.
  5. Now, if you look down the side of your loom, you should see all the threads in their figure eight pattern. Insert your chopstick between the front threads and back threads, near the top of your loom and pull the chopstick down towards the bottom of the loom. This will increase the tension in each thread, and bring the X where the figure eights cross down towards the bottom of your loom. Leave your chopstick there. 
  6. The weaving itself is quite simple. Just like the woven placemats and the baskets, weaving is an in-out-in-out pattern. If you manually threaded your yarn in and out of each strand of the warp, it would take forever though. That’s where the loom comes in. Take your ruler and slide it between the front and back threads, just like you did with your chop stick. Then turn the ruler 90 degrees, so that it’s parallel with the table. This will open up a tunnel-like space between the front and back threads. Take a long piece of yarn and pull it through the tunnel, leaving a three inch tail at one end. 
  7. The next row is essentially the same technique, except you want to bring the back threads of the warp to the front and vice versa. Take your ruler and weave it through the warp, doing just this – bringing the threads at the back to the front, and forcing the front threads to go to the back.
  8. Just like last time, turn the ruler 90 degrees, opening up that tunnel and pass your piece of yarn back through the tunnel. Pull your yarn down to the bottom of your loom, so that it is right on top of the previous thread. Then turn the ruler back to being perpendicular with the table and use the rulers edge to push the stitches down close to each other.
  9. Keep repeating this pattern over and over again. You can change colours. You can create patterns. Pretty much anything is possible.
  10. The only issue with using a loom of this size is that (from what I can tell) you can only make items as large as your loom. This is why full sized looms take up whole rooms! My dreams of making a table runner aren’t going to quite come true with this, but a table runner for a doll house? A book mark? A doormat even? Those are all totally possible.
Thanks to Mary, Wise Daughters and, if course, Facebook for making this project a reality! 

Sometimes, I feel really out of place in the world.

While others are downloading apps for their iphones, jetting around the world for long-weekend vacations, and tweeting up a storm, I seem to be purposefully grounded in a different era. An era of writing letters by hand, of square-dancing on Saturday nights, of afternoon tea and quilting.

When I think of where these values and eccentricities come from, the first thing that jumps into my mind is my mom.

This is my Mom!

There are a bagillion things I could say about how amazing she is. How every Christmas, she writes close to 200 Christmas cards by hand, building community and staying lovingly in touch with people she hasn’t seen in 30 years. How she was at every flute performance I gave for 15 years, breathing in sync with me while sitting in the audience, sharing every pang of anxiety, every long-phrase, every after-performance thrill. How she’s always answered my ridiculous requests to learn to smock, knit, bake, sew, embroider, darn, quilt (the list goes on) with patience and love.

She is truly the most incredible woman that I know. And I am grateful that she raised me to value these trades & skills rather than forget them.

Last spring, about 4 months after I moved to Toronto, she came to visit. As we sat, sipping tea in my living room, she unzipped her suitcase and began pulling things out for me – photos of friends I hadn’t seen for some time that she’d printed off for me, a copy of a letter that I wrote when I was 8 that she found and thought I might get a kick out of. And then, an autoharp. An ice cream maker (that my sister eventually took). And finally … a yogurt maker!

All of the things she produced that day have brought me endless joy (I still laugh when I think about that letter, telling the

The first political letter I wrote!

government that I would busk on the street to make money to solve the budget problem). But the yogurt maker takes top prize for the most well-used. And brings me to today’s post…

How to Make Yogurt!

My Yogurt Maker!

A note before we get started. Yogurt makers are great – I love mine to bits. But they aren’t necessary. Yogurt makers keep the culture at a set temperature (slightly warmer than room temperature) in an air-tight container. This is handy, for sure, but you can also just monitor the temperature yourself and use another air-tight container.

Materials

  • 1 litre whole milk
  • Yogurt Starter (see below for details)
  • A pot
  • A candy thermometer
  • A yogurt maker, if you’re using one
How to do it!
  1. Pour 1 litre of milk into a pot and stick it on the stove. Bring it to ~85C (you want to do this over low-med heat so that it doesn’t burn or catch on the bottom) or to the boiling point.
  2. Let the milk cool to ~42-44C.
  3. When the milk has cooled, take about 1/2 cup and stir in your culture until it’s well mixed/dissolved.
  4. A note about culture! I used a 5g package of the culture shown here. This makes great yogurt. You can, however, also use the end of your last batch of yogurt (or yogurt you’ve bought from the store). About 2 Tbsp should be enough. 
  5. Add your 1/2 c. of milk with the culture back into the pot and stir well.
  6. Transfer into your containers. You want to create a little incubator for your yogurt(s) so that the bacteria can grow and flourish. If you’re using a yogurt maker, as mentioned above, it will do this for you. Each make is different, but you usually keep them plugged in for about 5-6 hours. If you’re not using a yogurt maker, you want to make sure your culture stays at about 38C. You can do this by placing your jars of yogurt (make sure they’re tightly closed) in a bath of warm water. Keep an eye on it to make sure it stays warm.
  7. After your yogurts have sat for 5-6 hours, stick ‘em in the fridge overnight to cool and set.
  8. Voila! You have yogurt! Eat and enjoy!
Once you get this down pat, you can experiment with different flavours — the possibilities are endless!
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