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A Handweaving Crafternoon at NYPL

This past weekend, I had the excellent fortune to attend NYPL’s Crafternoon! The topic – hand weaving –  was just one of the latest in a number of serendipitous events that seem to be pointing me in the direction of my loom, but the truth is I have been hankering to attend a Crafternoon for the last couple of years. Somehow the timing never worked out – until now.

Handmade Crafternoons are the result of the combined genius of Maura Madden, a writer and performer who started crafting parties with her friends over a decade ago and eventually wrote a book about it , and Jessica Pigza, a crafty rare-book librarian at NYPL, who was looking to expand the programming at the library.  I have admired Jessica since she partnered with Design*Sponge back in 2008 to create Design by the Book, a series of online episodes inviting various local artists to use NYPL’s vast collection of primary source material to inspire their own work.  Each episode is beautifully produced and highlights the relevance of the Library’s collection to the creative process.

Started in 2009, the NYPL Crafternoons bring the same idea to the crafting public by inviting people to participate in projects like lace-making, zine-making, stitching felt,  and book arts. Each event includes a special guest (usually an artist or “celebrity crafter” – past guests have included Ayun Halliday and Debbie Stoller, some personal favorites), a hands-on project, and a display of related resources from the Library’s collection.  Awesome, right?

So on Saturday afternoon, I made my way down to 42nd street with great anticipation.  I knew that the special guests were going to be members of the New York Guild of Handweavers and I was expecting the event to be a demonstration of how floor looms work.  With upwards of 50 guests, I wasn’t sure how a hands-on portion would be possible.  When I arrived, there were several beautiful table looms on display, along with an array of fabric samples and weaving books.

My favorite was this lovely little table loom, the Structo Artcraft.  First manufactured as a toy, I hear it is still in use at FIT to teach basic fiber classes (but that is – as of press time – still unconfirmed).

When I was done nerding out on all of the table loom models, pattern books and cloth samples, I was delighted to see tables set up with yarn and other crafting supplies, too!

And at each seat was a tiny DIY loom made of popsicle sticks, already warped and ready for use – 50 in all!

The session started with a welcome by Jessica and Maura and an introduction of New York Guild of Handweavers present  –  a group of people from all walks of life, brought together by their love of the fiber arts, as evidenced by the amazing handwoven scarves most were wearing.  The guild is the oldest in the United States, started in 1941 by Berta Frey, an occupational therapist who wrote many books on weaving.  They meet once a month during the academic year and welcome new members and novice weavers.  According to one member I spoke to, when approached with the idea of participating in a Crafternoon, the challenge was to figure out how to get people weaving themselves, rather than just holding a demonstration.  The answer was in the rigid-heddle backstrap loom made out of…. popsicle sticks! Members spent several hours constructing and warping the ingenious looms we were using, which functioned as a perfect introduction to the basic concepts of the craft.  If you are so inspired to make one yourself, the instructions are here.  After the introduction, the guild members fanned out to each table to demonstrate the use of our miniature backstrap looms.

With one end of the warp threads tied to the table and threaded through the sticks  – one color in the holes and the other in the spaces between the sticks – the other end of the warp threads were tied to my belt loop (for those sans belt loops, they had a rope you could use to tie on to your waist).  The spaces between the warp threads could be made by lifting up or pushing down the sticks – which acted as both heddle and shaft.  The first step was to spread out the warp threads tied to my waist and to do this we used two sets of chopsticks and their wrappers.  I loved the DIY and recycling aspect of this project.  One could literally make all the elements of this loom out of crap you know you have in your apartment.  Even the shuttles – used to hold the weft thread – were made out of discarded cardboard.  It took about five minutes to get up and running and was the perfect way to learn the basic tenets of how cloth is made.

There was a buzz in the room as 50 of us sat tied to the tables chatting and weaving. After awhile, I started to get curious about what everyone else was doing and untied myself to go see:

And this is what I love about weaving and fibers.  We are all working with the most basic of tools and creating such a wide variety of patterns and designs.  From here, the next step up is a basic lap loom, the kind that one of my very favorite artists, Sheila Hicks, used in the 1960’s to create a large series of small weavings that read more like paintings.

Penelope's Descendent. Sheila Hicks.

From there, you can move on to two, four, or eight-harness floor looms and the possibilities are endless!  By the end of the afternoon, I was already planning my next project and committed to using the yarn I have at home to do it.  As a lovely end-note to the event, I even won a raffle prize of two exquisite loom-woven napkins – something to aspire to when I join the Guild.  At $40/year, why wouldn’t you join such a cool organization?  Plus, I’ve always wanted to be a member of a guild.

So the Crafternoon delivered! There is something wonderful about going to the library to make something and it has inspired me to think about how I can promote the use of my own library collection in new and hands-on ways. And it was fabulous to meet Maura and Jessica, whom I had long admired through the blogosphere.  I can hardly wait for the next on on April 14th, featuring artist Noah Scalin on kickstarting your creativity through making something every day. Sign me up.  Wanna join me?

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Kitchen Cosmetics: Would you care to try our house-made, artisanal deodorant?

Let’s start from the premise that deodorant is problematic.  For one thing, the kinds that really work are filled with all sorts of things that are suspect for your health: aluminum, parabens, propylyne glycol, and random perfumes, to name a few.  It got a bad rap back in 1990 when a study was published linking the aluminum in deodorant to Alzheimer’s While the research is ultimately inconclusive, it does give one pause.

So what are the alternatives?  Well, there’s the deodorant crystal – a stone made of ammonium alum – but I’ve never found it to be effective.  And there are some good non-toxic brands on the market, my favorite being Lavanilla, but at $18 tube, I feel sort of like a loser buying it – especially now that I know how easy it is to make at home.

There are a wide array of recipes out there to help you combat the persistent quandary of the stinky armpit.  Some have few ingredients, some have several – but they all include the magical element that is baking soda: the great neutralizer.  Why is sodium bicarbonate so awesome?  You can use it to leaven your bread, scour your tub, brush your teeth, deodorize your fridge and at the end of the day, you can sprinkle it in your armpits, too!

Google DIY deodorant and you will find so many recipes you will start to get the feeling you are the only one out there not making your own.  I can assure you this is not the case, but once you start down this road it is kind of addictive (see Lemon Honey Body Butter).  One of my favorite sources for homemade cosmetic ideas is Crunchy Betty and she has a few good deodorant recipes, one that you can even put in a stick or tube (although I am too lazy for that).  The truth is, you only need a few basic ingredients and then you can embellish on your own.  The formula that I find works best is:

3 T. Coconut Oil

2T. Shea Butter

3 T. Arrowroot Powder

2 T. Baking Soda

A few drops of essential oils (eucalyptus, tea tree, etc.) – optional

Melt the Coconut Oil and the Shea Butter together in a double boiler.  Once melted, stir in the arrowroot and baking soda, mixing thoroughly.  Pour into a glass jar to cool, stirring occasionally to keep the oil from separating. It takes about 5 minutes to mix together and a few hours to cool. I find that if you put it in the fridge overnight, it solidifies nicely and you don’t need to store it in the fridge after that.  It forms a thick paste that you can apply with your fingertips.

If you want a thicker paste, you could add more arrowroot.  I think 2 T. of baking soda is enough to be effective, but using more could irritate the skin.  Same with the essential oils.  They are not necessary, but can add a nice scent.  On the other hand, tea tree oil is a little intense.  You have to play around a bit to find what works best for your skin.

So why go to the trouble to make your own deodorant when you can easily find a decent brand  on every street corner?

  1. Because you know what’s in it – no ingredients you can’t pronounce (except maybe the shea butter…)
  2. Because the ingredients are inexpensive, you can spend all the cash you save by making your own deodorant on expensive mascara (which I do not recommend going DIY on).
  3. You bypass all the packaging. Yay!
  4. Because it works!  How do I  know? Because my husband even uses it and he’s, well, a man.


More Valentine’s Inspiration

As I mentioned in my last post, I think this is the last year of the matchbox valentine for us and I need some new inspiration.  Just this morning, my college friend, the designer Kristine Bolhuis, posted this charming photo of the valentines she made with her 7 year-old son.  She writes:

In our family, Valentines are all about doilies. And that is how it was when I was growing up. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, but had been an elementary school teacher. During holidays she brought out her supplies and decorations from her teaching days. Valentines always involved doilies, and red and pink construction paper.

This year, when I asked my 7 year old boy what kind of Valentines he would like to give out, I was fully expecting him to say “Star Wars!” or “Pokemon!”. But no, his answer was “Doilies Mom! Get doilies!” And so I did.

After some searching I found nice quality doilies at a kitchen/restaurant supply store. We used a 6 inch size (made by Hoffmaster). To the usual red and pink construction paper hearts my son added some red watercolor paint, stickers, and marker drawings. He went to town on these and each one is unique. Even my 4 year old enjoyed making them for her preschool class. Between the two children, we are handing out just over 50 of these handmade Valentines this year.

I think I have found my Valentine’s Day inspiration for 2013!  I love these beautiful doilies they remind me of snowflakes and I – for one – would be happy to receive them.  They are also the perfect answer to the non-candy valentine, as requested by many teachers.  I have to say, I am coming around to this idea.  By 11:30 today, the nurse’s office called to say that my daughter had vomited and asked me to pick her up.  Worried that she had the stomach flu, I rushed to the school.  She seemed fine, no fever.  On the way out the door, she told me they were making necklaces out of fruit loops and she ate them all.  Then puked.  Nice.

Aside from our school valentine making frenzy, I managed to make some little gifts for the girls to wear to school.  Inspired by this post at Felt So Cute, I took some leftover felt and stitched up some hearts.  For my oldest daughter, I made a headband.  And for my hair-ornament-eschewing 5-year old, I made a pin that got lost in the candy-overdose frenzy.  It took about 2 hours to finish them both, but that’s because I was using the wrong needles.  This is a completely doable project.

So that is Valentine’s Day.  The girls are asleep and my husband is making lamb chops.  All is well.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Yes, it’s that time of the year when I pull out the little match boxes and origami paper that I don’t seem to ever use for its intended purpose.  For me, Valentine’s Day is all about the crafts.  And the color red. I hesitated to make the same kind of valentines this year, but I had 30 matchboxes leftover from the last go around and a fresh crop of kindergarteners, so why not?  Esmé is reading and writing this year and loved labeling all the boxes.

For my older daughter, we needed to do something a little different.  But what? I scoured the blogosphere, but in the end found these little bags that she was happy to decorate (again, the theme being unused origami paper):

The original plan was to make chocolates to fill the bags.  I did my research, purchased some heart-shaped molds and the ingredients.  How hard could it be? Probably not that hard, but mid-weekend, amidst the cutting, pasting, coloring, birthday parties and music festival, my husband gently told me that making little heart-shaped chocolates was maybe just a little insane.  I totally disagreed, but gradually came around to his point of view on Sunday evening, when we were still slogging through all the boxes and bags.  By that time, it was too late to even make cookies, so I ran to the store and came back with Hershey kisses.

I still want to try my hand at making chocolates, but perhaps a pack of 3rd graders wouldn’t be the most appreciative audience for that sort of endeavor, anyway.


The Unexpected Loom

About a week ago, I left my building to go to work, walked about 15 feet and was stopped dead in my tracks by this loom that was sitting on the sidewalk with the trash and recycling.  One of the things I both love and hate about New York is the crazy stuff that people throw out.  Back in the 90’s, over 75% of the furniture in our apartment was picked off the sidewalk -and some of it was really amazing. But this topped it all!  I picked it up and promptly went back to my apartment.  For a few minutes, I just sat there looking at it – dusty, but otherwise in perfect shape – marveling at my good fortune.

The event was startling because I had recently been thinking about whether or not to look for a loom.  It has been over 15 years since I have woven anything, but I spent many hours of my college years in the fiber arts department.  My courtship with my husband played out over the warping of a particularly large loom, and his willingness to help with the tedium of that exercise showed me that it was for real.  But in those peripatetic years post-college and beyond, there was no room for weaving.  Until now.  The sudden appearance of this beautiful object makes me feel obligated to do something with it, but what?  It’s a unique form of stress. Luckily, I still have some of the yarn from my former weaving days – having moved it from place to place hoping that it would be put to use again.

So, now I need some inspiration.  Where to start?  Why not with this incredible installation by Brazilian artist, Tatiana Blass (via TrendTablet):


DIY Holiday

I will be the first to admit that I’m not crazy about the holidays.  Sure, I enjoy a holiday gathering here and there and the lights all around Columbus Circle are pretty, but the imposed cheer can get to you – especially when it starts in early November.  My favorite thing about this time of year are the small gifts:  my colleague who makes and decorates beautiful gingerbread cookies each year, the lovely homemade candy that I wrote about in my last post, and the random and wonderful things my husband brings home from his work colleagues:  olive oil, clementines and even a fancy bottle of gin.

Between our colleagues, neighbors and teachers, there are a lot of people to remember this season and the challenge is to make something either beautiful or delicious .   Our go-to gifts are biscotti and truffles, but this year I decided to go in a different direction.  I love forcing bulbs in the winter, but since buying 50 amaryllis bulbs would exceed our budget, I decided to go with paperwhites – which are a nice reminder of spring in the middle of winter.  Paperwhite bulbs + mason jars + colorful stones = fun Saturday afternoon with our daughters.   For what child doesn’t love to put rocks in jars?

Because paperwhites don’t require chilling in order to bloom and can grow without soil, they are the perfect choice for a project like this.  Just fill the jar 3/4 full with stones, add the bulb, and secure with the jar-top:

Dress with raffia, greenery and instructions and voilà: Happy Holidays!

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Terrarium Love

The mania for terrariums began in our house last summer after I took the girls to the Museum of Art and Design to see  Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities.  Celebrating the tiny and the strange, the exhibition was divided into four themes: Apocalpytic Archeology, Dreams and Memories, Voyeurs/Provacateurs, and Unnatural Nature.  For a show that featured a large number of snow globes and dioramas, it was not exactly aimed for an audience of  small children, a point I felt acutely when trying to explain a snow-globe scene that appeared to be two people disposing of a body in a rolled-up carpet.  But generally, it was fascinating in the way that tiny things can be and has a virtual afterlife in the website, Small Realities, where you can peruse photos from the exhibition and even submit your own miniature creations.

MAD has an open studio program where they invite working artists to use their space to demonstrate their process – usually related to the exhibitions.  The day we were there, the artists in residence happened to be from Twig Terrarium.  I had long admired their work from afar and was excited to see them in action – as were the girls who couldn’t get enough of the moss.  Inspired, I paid a visit to Sprout Home  where I picked up some supplies.  Aided by Hurricane Irene which kept us indoors, we gathered up jars and rocks, hunkered down,  and set to work.

Arranging plants in small glass enclosures is a decidedly Victorian pursuit that can be traced back to Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791-1868).  A London doctor by profession, Ward had a keen interest in botany and the cultivation of ferns but found that most of his plants were not thriving in the polluted, urban environment that was London in the 1820’s.  Like all good 19th-century polymaths, he also liked to cultivate butterflies and moths and kept them in glass jars.  Quite by accident he noticed that the small bits of grass he kept in the jar with the cocoons had taken root and actually bloomed.  This discovery lead him to design the  Wardian Case, a sealed glass container that was subsequently used to ship plants back and forth between England and the colonies.   In 1842, he published On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases and soon after, every respectable Victorian home had its own Wardian case used to cultivate ferns and later, orchids.

Our approach to the terrarium is much less scientific and more about arranging things in glass containers.  We started with  rocks, acorns, and other random items of a vaguely botanical nature that we had on hand.  We collected sand and shells at the beach and – when we went upstate in the fall – we spent a glorious morning “mossing” on the hillside next to our friend’s house:

Not only did we find moss, but some amazing mushrooms, too (that we left in situ).

Our apartment is now filled with various containers of collected moss, rocks, sand, and a few plants we are hoping will take root in our little ecosystems.  Most of our terrariums are in the form of hanging globes in the windows which my youngest daughter uses as a place to arrange her various Lego people, creating tableaux that change on a daily basis and remind me of the Little Prince visiting his asteroids.

If you’re also compelled to arrange plants in jars, I recommend looking at The Fern and Mossery, a great resource for all things terrarium.


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