Friday, July 30, 2010


At the insistence of a number of people, and spurred by my own desire, I have taken it upon myself to learn how to Tat. I'm specifically working on Needle Tatting. My youngest has decided that my title as a novice Tatter (which she says sounds too much like 'tater, or potato) should be "Tattling". In her mind, the etymology is similar to gosling and has no relation to the annoying habit of children who are trying to get each other in trouble.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Tatting. After a slight snafu with really horrid needles (Don't buy the Havel brand "economy" needles!), and finding out that the folks at Michael's have no idea what tatting even is, I was able to work through the instructions for a couple beginner projects this afternoon. Romana had recommended a book called Learn Needle Tatting Step by Step, by Barbara Foster. It is very good. The author also has a website called Handy Hands that has instructions and an online catalog.

This is my first completed medallion. It measures just under 2 inches. I need to work on my tension, especially where the different sections are joined. If you want to watch a similar medallion being made, TotusMel has a video on You Tube that I found really helpful. Don't laugh, but the video is less than 8 minutes long and she demonstrates the whole medallion. It took me a full two hours to make mine.

My "tatterfly" has some issues too. (Don't worry, I already told the DD that she doesn't get to name the rest. But she thinks she's sooo funny right now.) I'll figure those out tomorrow. The butterfly is a little smaller than the medallion.

The Josephine chain is pretty easy and reminds me of  the macrame we used to do in Jr. High. I'm used to working with tiny things and embroidering for hours, but right now, my hands ache! DD saw the part in the book where it recommends covering a Christmas tree with icicles made from this chain and I think she has big plans forming. I, on the other hand, am envisioning adorable note cards, bookmarks, and funky collars for the cats (HA!), and wondering about using wire to make jewelry.
There will most certainly be more to come on this topic. I'm wondering what happens when I'm no longer a Tatt-ling. Do I become a Tatt-spert?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Speaking My Language

The last few days have been filled with processing sweet corn and scrubbing sticky corn starch off the kitchen floor. Our 8 yo (the one with the domestic yen) was such a huge help this year and I am grateful for her willing heart and her company. While we take a day to recover, here are a couple of comics to enjoy:

Mutts Laundry Funny

Zits Laundry Funny

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hardanger 101~Lesson 7~Finishing & Care

Now that we're all done stitching and the loose threads have been removed from the back of the piece, we just have two more things to do before it's ready to use.


First, you need to free it from the surrounding fabric. To do this, cut all the way around the piece, leaving an edge 2-3 threads wide. Then, with your fingers gently separate, or fluff, the remaining threads. It will then look like this:

Next, you need to carefully trim the loose threads as close to the buttonhole as you dare. I usually work on the back side of the fabric when I'm trimming. I also fold all but the section that I'm working on away from me. Only work on small sections as a time, and be mindful of where the tip and full cutting length of your scissors are at all times. As I mentioned before, some people secure the buttonhole with a sewing machine before they begin trimming, but that is optional.

This is the result. As you can see, there are tiny bits of fabric showing outside the stitches. It is more noticeable with the contrasting colors then it would be with white on white. It will also become less noticeable after you wash it.


The last thing you need to do is wash and iron your piece. This will remove any oils transferred from your skin and get rid of the wrinkles. Using a very mild soap (I just use a few drops of dish soap) in a sink of cold water, gently swish the piece until it is thoroughly wet. Since there shouldn't be any stains on it yet, there is no need to do more than swirl it in the soapy water.
Rinse it well under cold water and pat it with a clean towel (preferably the same color as your piece and lint free). Don't squeeze, twist or wring it out. Lay it flat to air dry a little. When it is still slightly damp, use an iron set on medium and a cover cloth to press it flat. Once you are finished, the piece should regain some of the stiffness that the fabric had originally.


If you take care of it, this piece should last long enough to become an heirloom. Wash it in this way each time it is necessary. Store it flat. Larger pieces should be stored flat or rolled loosely, never folded. Try to keep them out of direct sunlight (unless it's a sun catcher, like this piece!).

And now, I want to see your pictures! You can add a link to a photo of your piece, or request my email address.

Of course, today would be cloudy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hardanger 101~Lesson 6~Woven Bars and Picots

Today will be our last day of stitching on this piece. You're almost done!

There are many different filler stitches for Open or Cutwork. The most basic is Woven Bars. Since there is very little openwork on this piece, I am also going to teach you how to add Picots to your woven bars today. Picots are simple and fast, but they can turn boring sections of woven bars into something more interesting.

The Woven bars (also called wrapped bars) are marked in purple on the chart. I told you there weren't very many of them.

Using #8 Perle cotton thread and a size 26 needle, tuck your thread under on the back of the fabric and bring your needle up in the center of the 4 remaining fabric threads in one of the cut work sections--two threads on each side of the needle.


I prefer to work right to left on woven bars, but it does not matter which side you start on as the results will be the same. What does matter is which direction you will be going after you finish each wrapped bar. You always want to place your first wrap stitch on the side that you will be moving to next. For example, if the next wrapped bar that I need to do is below the one I'm starting now, then I will place my first wrap around the lower two threads of the bar. If the next wrapped bar is above, then I will wrap the top two threads first.

By doing this, when you finish the last stitch in your wrapped bar, your thread will be oriented to start the next bar correctly. It will lay nicely on the back without leaving any gaps.

Woven (Wrapped) Bars

Wrapped Bars are exactly what they sound like. From the center of the 4 threads, you will first wrap your Perle Cotton around 2 threads and bring your needle back up in the center, and then wrap the other 2 threads and return to the center. Wrap them tightly (but don't strangle them!). You will continue to do this until the bar is filled with stitches. It is as simple as that.

In the photo, I wrapped the top 2 threads first because I am going to move to the next section above when I am finished. When I pull my needle through, it will complete the first pair of wraps.

There is no prescribed number of stitches that you must do in order to fill a wrapped bar properly. This is one area where personal technique will determine how many stitches you need. Thread count, thread thickness, and the tension of your stitching all play a part. The only thing that I can recommend is that you make sure you use the same number of stitches on each bar. For me, I know that 9 stitches per bar (or 9 pairs, really) is just about perfect. Any more, and after awhile, the bars start to get pushed out of shape by the extra stitches. Any less, and the bars don't look full.

We will discuss this again later with a larger section of openwork.


To add a Picot to your woven bars, complete your wrap stitches to the center of the bar (4 pairs for me). Then, lay a loop of thread above the bars, insert you needle down through the middle of the 4 fabric threads and up through the loop. Like so:

When you pull your needle through, your thread will be sticking up through the tightened loop above the bar. Now you will complete the wrap as before, by passing your needle back up into the center. This will leave a little bump of thread on the side of the wrapped bar. Repeat on the other side, and then finish wrapping the bar normally to the end. When you complete the picot, you can use your fingernail to hold the thread in place. Also, don't pull the thread so tight that it flattens the picot. If necessary, you can use the tip of your needle to tease the picot out a little.

Once you finish all of your wrapped bars and picots, your piece will look like this:

And because you are now Finished with stitching, you can trim all of the little tails off the back of your piece!


Ta-Da! No more hairy mess.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hardanger 101~Lesson 5~Openwork Cutting

Today I am going to teach you about cutting your fabric in preparation for stitching the Openwork, or Cutwork sections. I intend to over explain it; not because it is difficult, but because it is vital that you know exactly what you are doing so that you don't ruin all of your hard work to this point. Clip one wrong thread and it's over. So, please read the entire lesson before you begin cutting on your piece.

On the chart above, the red lines identify the thread you are going to cut. The picture below will demonstrate further.

The green thread shows you exactly where you will cut. The oranges lines identify place that you should Not Ever Ever Ever cut. A simple rule of thumb is that your cuts will Always run perpendicular to the ends of your satin or buttonhole stitches. You will Never cut parallel to existing stitches. Notice the direction the green thread runs in relation to the stitches around it. If you cut on the orange lines, the satin and buttonhole will unravel and your piece will disintegrate. Have I instilled a sufficient amount of fear yet? Good. Then we can move on without the "I'm not doing this to be mean, but for your own good" speech.

When you cut the threads, you need to insert the point of your scissors under the threads you're going to cut and bring it back up to the top of the fabric, as in the picture below. You need to know where the points and the full length of the blades are before you snip the threads, so that you don't accidentally clip fabric or thread that is out of sight. You will be able to see the metal of the scissors through the holes of the fabric. Then you'll know if there is anything between them and the threads to be cut that should not be there.

Once you've done this a little bit, you'll get the hang of it. You may even wonder why I'm making such a big deal out of it (especially since I picked a piece without much cutting for your first attempt). But if you ever have to pull a lot of stitches and reweave fabric to salvage a piece, you'll understand. I've been doing this for years, and still when I'm cutting, I turn off the TV, etc, and my family knows not to even talk to me until I've released the breath I'm holding.

Once the threads are cut, you will gently pull out and discard them. I always start by pulling the shortest lengths first. In this piece, they're all short though.

This is what your piece will look like when all the cut threads have been removed. Tomorrow we'll start the Wrapped Bars and Picots.

In a future lesson, I will probably cover cutting and weaving larger open sections. These are so small they almost don't count.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hardanger 101~Lesson 4~Cable Stitch

Cable stitch is not unique to Hardanger, but it is fun to do. It is a double row of stitches that covers a lot of fabric quickly and adds a delicate look to your piece. Hopefully, this lesson will be easy for you. The Cable Stitch is highlighted in purple on the chart below. I must confess that I am tempted to add a mere smear 16 stitches to the piece so that I can complete the Cable Stitch in one continuous series instead of four short runs as they have here. However, I'll be a good girl and follow the directions...this time.

Cable Stitch is one of the few stitches that is done on a diagonal path, instead of at right angles to the threads of the fabric. Each stitch only covers two threads of fabric, but 2 is half of 4, right?
You will be using the Perle Cotton size 8 and a size 26 needle. It will be a little trickier to tuck the tails of your thread under, but you'll figure it out.

Double Cable (Which is just plain, ordinary cable stitch. Don't get intimidated by the Double.)

Come up in your starting hole (1) and go down two threads over and two above (2). Up two threads to the left (3), and down two thread over and two above (4). Up two threads below (2), and down two over and two above (5). Continue. You will always bring your needle back up in the same hole as your last completed stitch.

One thing that I did not think to mention before (and am hoping that most of you have enough experience with a needle that you already knew this, so that you won't be mad at me for the neglect) is the second half (or down stroke) of a stitch, and the first half (up stroke) of the next stitch are done simultaneously. In other words, I do not pass my needle down through the fabric, move my hand to the underside to pull it through and then pass it back up in the next hole before moving my hand back to the top side of the fabric. My hand almost always stays on the top side of the fabric. The tip of my needle goes down and immediately back up in the next hole, and I pull both through from the top of the fabric. In the photo above, you can see that the needle is in two holes at the same time. When I pull the needle through, it will complete the stitch begun in hole 4, and start the next stitch in the row below.

Turning Corners

When you have completed the last stitch in a row and need to turn a corner, bring your needle up in the hole that will complete the next stitch (even though you haven't started it yet). Then take your needle down where that stitch would begin, and bring it up at the beginning of the next stitch. Essentially, you are doing the first stitch in the row backwards, and then all of the rest of them will go forward as normal. The only difference will be that now you will be starting the top row first instead of the bottom row, as you did before the corner.


The back side of the cable stitch looks like stair steps. Note also, that the reverse side does run in the same directions as the threads of the fabrics, not diagonally like the front. Romana also mentioned that it is a series of uncrossed cross stitches, for those of you who know how to do that (I haven't a clue about cross stitch, so I'm just passing along her observation.).

I really get the feeling that I am making a simple stitch needlessly complicated. Hopefully, you'll be able to follow the pictures, if not my descriptions. Feel free to holler at me if you need me to try again with my explanation.

Triple Cable 

I am happy to announce that the Triple Cable stitch is simply two parallel lines of Double Cable, where the bottom row of one shares the same holes as the top row of the second.  In order to stitch Triple Cable, first complete your series of Double Cable. Then, starting again at the beginning, stitch a second series of Double Cable parallel to the first. Since you will be sharing holes with the first row of stitching, make sure that the threads only lay next to each other and do not cross. You will also want to be mindful that your tension is consistent for both rows.
I am including a photo, even though there is not any Triple Cable on this piece.

And here is what our piece looks like now:

We may be able to finish this piece this week!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hardanger 101~Lesson 3~Buttonhole Stitch

The other night I started thinking that if our roles were reversed, I would not want to wait an entire week for the next lesson. I would want to keep moving. So, I'm going to try to post several lessons each week--at least until we finish this first piece. The beauty of the internet is that if I start moving too fast, you can always come back to it when you're ready. Again, you might want to read through the entire lesson before beginning.

*Note: I have gone back a made a couple revisions to the last lesson, to include a few tips that I forgot. I have marked those in a different font so that you can identify the changes if you have already gone through the lesson. This will be my practice from here on out: different font, and notify you that changes have been made.

Without further blabbing...

The Buttonhole Stitch:

Buttonhole stitching is perhaps even more foundational to Hardanger than the Satin Stitch. It is how you finish the edge of your piece securely so that everything doesn't fall apart the moment you cut it from the fabric. Arguably, you could even do a piece with only this one stitch.

This is a tiny cross bookmark that I made for my youngest, using just the buttonhole stitch.

The Buttonhole Stitch is highlighted in blue on the chart.

Take a few minutes to study the chart, paying special attention to the relationship between the satin stitch that you have already finished and the buttonhole that you will be starting. By noting where the buttonhole starts, stops and turns in relation to the satin stitch, you will be able to self correct very quickly should you make a mistake. Again, this is where that Rule of Four should be cementing itself in your mind. (Romana, are you hearing The Master's drumbeat in your head yet?)

Buttonhole Stitch is very similar to the Satin Stitch, with one important difference. When you are bringing your needle up through the holes along the outside edge of the piece, you will pull it through the loop of slack thread, creating a ridge of knots around the outside edge of fabric.

Your first stitch will not appear to have the ridge. Don't worry. It will show up when you come full circle. If, like this piece, the buttonhole stitch is in small sections all the way around, then you can finish by simply taking your thread down for the final time in the same hole that you began the ridge with in the beginning. This will be the first "up" hole on the outside edge of the buttonhole stitching.
If your piece has long continuous lines of buttonhole stitching, then you can finish the series by making one final buttonhole stitch directly on top of the very first stitch, so that there are no gaps. There may be another way of doing this, but if so, I've never learned it.
Also, some people prefer to secure the buttonhole by sewing just inside the ridge before cutting the piece out. Again, we're back to the problem of not being able to carry a machine around in your purse, and so I've never done this. In spite of this neglect, my pieces have never fallen apart, even through being washed. (care instructions will come later)


There are two ways to do your buttonhole corners: Square or rounded. If you use five stitches on each corner, the look will be more blocky and square, which is the more traditional look. If you omit the middle stitch, and only use four stitches, your corners will be more rounded and feminine. I prefer the rounded corners, but for this piece I am sticking with the traditional and making the square corners.
Take a close look at the chart above. In some places, there are 4 stitches drawn and in some places there are five. The chart is very inconsistent. Choose one way and use it throughout your piece. Unless it creates a specific design element, there is no reason to go back and forth between the two on a single pattern.
If you'd like to try both just for kicks, you could do square corners around the outside of this piece, and rounded corners on the buttonhole in the center.

Here is a close up diagram of a buttonhole corner:

For rounded corners, you would eliminate stitch 3.

Joining Threads

It is very easy to end one thread and begin another with the Satin Stitch. It takes a little more forethought with the Buttonhole, for two reasons. First, you want a continuous line, so that there is no weakness in your pieces. Second, you're keeping the back in mind, right?
With buttonhole, it is best to end a thread halfway through a stitch, just after you have changed directions. I think a picture is in order, because I can see your furrowed brows from here.

I completed the series of stitches to the left, and changed directions. I will now be stitching down. When I ended my thread, I went down through the fabric, but never came back up to complete the stitch. Instead, I tucked the thread under and started a new thread. Then I came up in the hole of the last completed buttonhole stitch, passed my needle under where I left off and finally completed the stitch.

If you have sections of buttonhole stitch that are too long for one thread, you end your thread as I did here, without changing directions, but leave the last stitch a little slack. After you have started your next thread and completed several stitches, you can go back and pull the slack out using the tail of thread on the back side. You should not need to do that on this piece, however. The sections are short enough, that you should be able to plan your threads to end between sections. Just keep in mind that buttonhole eats up thread more quickly than satin stitch.

When you have completed the outside buttonhole, you can go ahead and stitch the inside buttonhole as you see it on the chart. You will be stitching clockwise now, instead of counter-clockwise as before. You will notice, there are four sections where the stitches are 8 threads wide instead of the usual 4. Stitch them the same way, but be extra mindful of your tension.

After you have finished all of the buttonhole stitch, you may go back and finish up the satin stitching that we left for later (the orange highlighted bits).
You are now finished with the size 5 thread and ready to move to the smaller stitches.
This is what it should look like now:

As you can see in the photo, and probably on your own piece, the fabric begins to get wrinkly as you work with it. Once you are finished, you will wash and iron it and all of that will be corrected. So ignore it for now.


It's getting to be quite the hairy mess on the back now, isn't it? Since I am finished with the middle, I have already trimmed a few thread tails from the center, or it would be even worse.

How are we doing so far?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hardanger 101~Lesson 2~Satin Stitch

Now that you have had a chance to gather all of your supplies together, and are eager to start, let's begin our next lesson. Today we'll talk about prepping your fabric, stitch charts and the satin stitch. In six lessons, you will have your first completed piece, which you can use as a sun catcher, or as a small doily. I would recommend that you read through the entire lesson before beginning.

Before working with your fabric and thread, it is always a good idea to wash your hands to remove any oils from your skin.

Prepping Your Fabric

The piece we will be working on has a finished size of 3 3/4 " x 3 3/4". You want a working piece of fabric that is at least an inch larger on each side than your finished piece. For your first piece, you might want a little extra margin, or a piece about 6" x 6". I always tape around the unfinished edges of the fabric with masking tape before I begin, making sure to cover 3-4 threads on both sides with the tape. This will keep your fabric from fraying as you work and provide a little stability. Since you will eventually cut it off, it will not matter. Or, if you'd rather, you can sew a running stitch around the edge with your machine. The sewing machine is not my friend, and so I prefer tape.


I am going to give you the chart for this piece, and each lesson, I will highlight the particular stitch that we are working on. Hopefully, by the end of the lessons, you will be able to stitch with ease for either charts or photographs, because sometimes charts are not available. I am also hoping to give you some basics so that you can create your own charts. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Cut several lengths of size 5 Perle Cotton thread. Keep them between 12-15 inches long. Any longer than that and the thread will become overworked and your stitches will start to look fuzzy.
For the most part, you will use a 24 gauge needle for size 5 thread, and a 26 gauge needle for size 8 thread.
To start this piece, pick a starting point that is at least 20 threads from the left side of your fabric and at least 36 threads from the top (at the red arrow. You will be stitching the highlighted green areas). Bring your thread up from the back of the fabric, and leave a tail about an inch and a half long on the back of the fabric. For the first few stitches, you are going to hold the tail with your left hand* as you stitch over the top (or bottom, depending on how you look at it) of it with your right. This will hold your stitches in place. (see picture below) You will only need to do this with the first thread in a series. After the first thread, you will simply draw the next thread under the last few completed stitches to hold it in place. Ideally, you want the tail of your thread tucked under about 4 Kloster blocks (or the equivalent), and if it changes direction, that's even better.
It is also better to end a thread at the end of a block or section of stitching, rather than in the middle. On longer stretches of stitches, it sometimes can't be helped.

That is also how you will end a thread. When you still have several inches left (or at least slightly more than the length of your needle), draw the thread back under your completed stitches (on the back of the fabric) so that about an inch and a half is tucked in. When you are passing your needle underneath the completed stitches, notice how the texture of the fabric translates through the tip of the needle to your finger. When you can feel the tip of the needle moving over the fabric, you will know that your thread is passing beneath all of the other threads, and not through them. This is an insignificant detail, since you can't see the results from either side, but if you ever have to pull a thread out, you will be thankful that you didn't create a tangled mess when you were tucking under loose ends. 
You can clip the thread shorter if you need to, but be sure to leave a piece long enough to hold onto--you'll need that later. I will include a picture of the back of the fabric when today's stitching is done.

Satin Stitch

The satin stitch is one of the foundational stitches for Hardanger, and it has several manifestations. For today, you will only need to know the Kloster blocks, but I'm pretty sure that once you can do those, you will be able to do any of the others by simply following charts. Ship's Heads are a beautiful form of satin stitching, but some people find them frustrating. You do have to be meticulous with your counting, but I don't think they are all that hard.

Kloster blocks are simply small sections of satin stitch that are five stitches over four threads of fabric and four threads wide.Come up in your starting hole (1), and go down four threads over, on the same parallel (2). Then come up directly below your starting stitch (3), and down directly below where you went down before (4). Do this until you have 5 parallel stitches. See? Easy. 5 over 4, and 4 wide.  That's a Kloster block. Now skip 4 threads and do it again, only this time, at the end bring your thread back up in the same hole as the start of the 5th stitch (5). Turn the fabric 90* and stitch another block. When you finish that block, turn the fabric back to it's original orientation and come up 4 threads to the left of the last place you went down, but on the same parallel (6). You have now successfully made a left and a right turn, and are ready to finish stitching your satin stitches with the chart. As you can see on the chart, there are four sections where you will need 13 stitches instead of 5.

Some tips:
  • Count carefully. You will pick up speed over time, as you eye becomes familiar with what the stitches "should" look like. Now is not the time for speed.
  • A majority of Hardanger stitches cover the fabric in multiples of four threads (of fabric). This is essential to many elements of the embroidery. So start pounding the number 4 into your brain. 
  • I find it easier to keep the tension and appearance of my stitches even if I turn the fabric so that I am always working in the same direction-in my case, down and counter-clockwise.
  • If you find that you thread is getting twisted, simply hold your fabric up and left the needle hang until the thread stops spinning. You will eventually learn to pass your needle on a certain side of the thread as you enter each stitch to avoid the twisting. However, this is one thing that I can't talk you through, because if differs for each person, depending on how you hold your needle. (I may yet figure out a way to take a picture to demonstrate though.)
  • The satin stitch is probably the easiest and fastest of all the stitches, but it is also the gauge you will use for many of your other stitches, which is why you do it first. It is possible to begin a piece with the buttonhole stitch, but if your satin stitch is already in place, it will be easier to catch mistakes in the other stitches quicker. Again, this goes back to your Rule of Four. I think you will understand as we go along without further explanation.
  • Tension-With all of your stitches, you want to keep the tension of your thread even. The fabric should stay as smooth as before you placed any stitches, with no puckering. And the stitches should lay flat with no sagging. Don't get frustrated if this doesn't come to you at first. Before you know it, it will be automatic.

One of your goals should be to make the back side of each piece as pretty as the front. In order to do this, you must be aware of the path your thread is going to take, even on the back. You don't want beautiful stitches on the front and wildly wandering threads on the back. Where you start and stop each thread will play into the final result. Let's examine the photo:

I am not really happy with the little section of thread highlighted in green, but I left it for demonstration purposes. When the piece is finished, that little diagonal thread will be obvious (to me, at least). And if you are working with contrasting colors of thread and fabric as I am here, it may even be visible through the fabric For the other sides, I preferred to cut a slightly longer thread and complete each side as a separate unit instead of continuing from where I left off. When I'm done, the whole thing will look cleaner. I may even go back and redo that section (Yes, I'm a little anal retentive with it comes to this stuff.) Paying attention to these seemingly insignificant details will come more naturally to you over time.
The other thing to note is how most of my thread tails point toward the middle of the piece. I did that on purpose because I don't like the tails hanging into sections where I know I will be working in the future. There are three tiny tails that hang over where I will be cutting and working wrapped bars later. I'll have to deal with them when the time comes.
You might ask why I don't just cut them off completely. I will do that when the piece is finished (just before I cut it from the rest of the fabric), but I need to be able to at least get a fingernail on the tails now. Sometimes, when you are tucking another thread under, you have to be able to hold them down, or they will pull through with the second thread.

Do you see the satin stitches highlighted in orange on the chart? This is yet another manifestation of the satin stitch, but instead of being parallel, each stitch pivots from the same corner.You will use this pivot technique on corners (buttonhole and otherwise), and also with the eyelet stitch. However, I am going to wait until the buttonhole stitch is in place before stitching that part, because it will be easier to hide the tails under the buttonhole. As you can see, thinking about the back side of your piece can determine how you go about making the front.

And so, this is what we have so far:

 *I am right-handed. Therefore, all of these instructions will be from a right-handed mindset. If you are left handed, I'm sorry. I have no idea how to instruct you and will have to assume that by now, you are used to reversing directions on your own.

**If at any time, my instructions are not perfectly clear, please let me know. I want to make this tutorial the best it can be.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

June and Jubilee

I know that you have been waiting breathlessly for the next Box of the Month picture. It looks pretty much the same as last month. Very green.
The June box was from 3 Blind Mice, so we had to make sure we didn't miss it. The day after M's bday, we hot footed it down to Princeton and picked up two boxes. Then M asked "Are we ever going to meet Shorty?" So we called him up and met at Culver's for lunch. How fun!

Several days later, Questar and I went down to Peoria to finish pulling the rest of the event boxes out of Jubilee College SP. I have not mentioned Jubilee up to this point because I'm trying to repress the memory. Let me be brief. I have never met a preserve I didn't like...until now. When I went down in May to help Hart x6 and Shorty plant for the Great Lakes Event, it was hot, slimy, sloppy, muddy, and I got my first taste of stinging nettles. Everything in that park has fangs.(Oh, and don't forget the CRUD marathon going on all day. I have to admit, it was fun saying "Oh, Crud! every time one of the runners came by when we were trying to plant.) The day was successful however, and from the reports I hear, the event was exciting. I'm sure the tornado helped.

Since I did not get to attend the event, we made an agreement that I could help pull boxes that I didn't plant so that I could stamp them and at least get to enjoy some of the amazing carvings. Which is the only thing that took me back to that park. It was drier for the most part, and I was mentally prepared for the PI, nettles, and 'squitoes. And thankfully, we had been warned about the Wild Parsnip and Giant Hogweed, so we could avoid those too. Parsnip and Hogsweed are photo-toxic plants, meaning that the oils react with UV rays and chemically burn your skin. Lovely.
We saw a number of butterflies, but other than the vulture that circled us at lunch (until I shouted that we weren't dead yet, and he went away), we did not see any other fauna in the park (the snake is from the day we planted). Maybe they don't like it there either.
Still, 18 boxes and 7-8 miles hiked isn't too shabby. The company was good too.

**The invasive, uncharitable vegetation seems to be on the rise in many places. I would highly recommend that everyone who spends time in the parks and preserves becomes familiar with plants that should be avoided. Forewarned is forearmed...know thine enemies, and all that. You can usually get reliable information from the park services or you local county extension office.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blackberry Farm

For our Fieldtrip Every Week (FEW) last week, the girls and I visited Blackberry Farm in Aurora. When DH and I were kids, it was called Pioneer Park, and we were dragged there every year like clockwork. And like most things that are done once too often "whether you like it or not", we got bored with it quickly. Remembering that, I have been reluctant to take the girls, in spite of it being less than 30 minutes away, and cheap to boot.

Waiting paid off. We could not have had a more perfect day. The weather was gorgeous, the park was not crowded and we were all in the right frame of mind to enjoy it completely (What a difference that makes!). The people who work in the various buildings dress, speak, and act in character. It was such fun to watch the girls interact with them. I'm sure we all learned more in that one day than in an entire week "in school".
The train was a huge hit as well, and J made us ride it several times. In particular, she found it hilarious when all the kids on the train would scream as we went through the tunnel.
I am also happy to report that they had a gift shop and it was delightfully affordable. That doesn't happen every day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

...By the 4th of July

Here is the picture of the field corn from yesterday. As you can see, it's a little more than knee high. Don't get lost!
Most of the sweet corn (which is pathetic this year) is even taller than M. Some of it is only knee high and it's already tasseling out. That makes it difficult to predict whether we'll get a good crop or not. Fortunately, we don't raise the sweet corn for profit. We only hope to put up enough for our family. My mouth can hardly wait. Got butter?

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Birthday

Recently, we celebrated M's 8th birthday. She has now reached the milestone of no longer needing a booster seat in the car. She is also growing up (too quickly) in other areas as well.
We like to take the girls out to dinner at a restaurant of their choice as part of our celebrations. M requested Red Lobster. However, this year, we used our parental veto powers and decided that she needed to experience the next level in dining out. We took her to Key Wester instead. It's still a pretty casual place, but the atmosphere and food quality are a significant step above Red Lobster. We had a wonderful time. If you go on Friday or Saturday night, they have someone playing the piano in the Reef Room or on the deck, and he sang Over the Rainbow for her, and then Happy Birthday a little later. That took her by surprise and made her feel self conscious and a little silly. The food was excellent too. Of course, this is a dangerous game that we played as well, since there is now no going back.

M had requested a nightstand for her birthday, along with an alarm clock and lamp to go with it. I watched for the right opportunity and was able to find a matching dresser as well, and saved 40% in the process. After opening her presents, she asked her Papa if he could help her "install" the alarm and lamp.

We created a homemade Wizard of Oz theme, and surprised her with it. Poppy plates, lollipops, Rainbow cake and all (Thanks, Aunt Miranda!) I asked everyone to wrap her gifts in green paper, and we built the Emerald City with them. Of course, having furniture to wrap really helped the effect.
Just in case you wonder how I did the cake, here are the instructions:

Mix up a white cake (you can use a mix, but I used the Betty Crocker Silver White cake recipe). Divide into six bowls (for me, each portion weighed about 7.5 ounces). Here are your color recipes:
  • Red-18 drops red food coloring
  • Orange-12 drops yellow, 4 red
  • Yellow-12 drops yellow
  • Green-12 drops green
  • Blue-12 drops blue
  • Purple-9 drops red, 6 blue
 I spread three layers in each of two 9 inch round pans. You could also use a 9x13, or make cupcakes. How particular you are about the evenness of the layers is up to you. I used a simple white buttercream for the frosting. In retrospect, the silver white cake might not be the best recipe to use with this type of cake. It tasted delicious, but mixing in all the colors caused the fluffy egg white part to get not so fluffy. The result was a yummy, but very dense and flat cake.

Happy Birthday, Daughter!