Friday, January 31, 2014

Britt Tip: Keeping a belt in place without loops

I love fashion. I mean LOVE. Lately I've been taking it to the nerd-girl level I once reserved for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings when I was a kid (ha! yeah, a kid). I study the Pinterest fashion board almost everyday before planning my outfit. There is so much cute outfit inspiration out on the interwebs! However, they're not always as easy to pull off as they look.

Two of my favorite things are skirts and belts. They're what I buy most at thrift stores. But most cute skirts don't have belt loops. And thank goodness for that, because I think only denim skirts should have loops. I still want to wear a belt sometimes, though, to break up my waistline and or add a color contrast.

Cuteness! (Not my photos. All rights where rights are due to the original owners.)
I have found a nifty, if not very elegant solution. My husband recently got some nice new dress shirts. You know, the kind that come all nice and folded with plastic in the collar, cardboard inside and pins everywhere. Well he left some of those pins lying around and I had a moment of divine inspiration.

These pins, which most of us would just throw away, work great to hold a belt in place on a garment that doesn't have any loops! So I hoarded a little pile of them! Of course this won't work for all clothing or all belts. And of course you can see little bits of metal on the belt (I've thought about painting a few in neutral tones using nail polish). But if you're like me - and I hope I'm not alone in this - you hate hiking up a skirt and having to re-align a belt all day.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Make a Dried Flower Keepsake & Drink Vanilla Cinnamon Black Tea

While I haven't posted anything new in months, I have been crafting and drinking tea. Planning a wedding then jumping right into the holidays afterwards is awfully distracting!

In my defense, I did have this whole big wedding-themed post planned out. Then my phone was stolen. With all the lovely process photos. Then my hard drive died, with all the lovely copies of those photos. (If you're wondering, I bought monogrammed canvas bags for my bridesmaids then dip-dyed them with RIT in colors to match their dresses).

Anyhoo, there is a little project I've been wanting to share for quite some time. It's nothing fancy, but it is an original idea and not inspired by anyone else's blog. Which makes me somewhat inappropriately proud of myself, even if this craft is pretty simple.

Have you ever gotten a bouquet of flowers that meant something extra special to you and you wish you could keep it forever? That's what this project is about. We're going to dry that sentimental bouquet and turn it into a keepsake that is seriously grandma-worthy. Because dried flowers.


I originally did this project in 2011 after catching the bouquet at my now sister-in-law's wedding. My now husband caught the garter. Actually, it was a set-up. Both items fell on the ground and no one else would pick them up. So we had to. I knew he and I were going to get married sometime in the near future, but it still felt like a special moment.

This time around I made the crafting experience even better by sipping one of my wintertime favorites: Cinnamon Vanilla Black Tea from Trader Joe's. It's only available around the holidays (look for the box with the festive lemur on it) and I generally save drinking it for the holidays only. It's more special that way. Even though it has been an unseasonably warm and dry January in San Francisco, I felt like nighttime lows in the 40s still justified some holiday coziness. The tea is great on its own, but I like it most with milk and honey. Yum!

What you will need:
a bouquet of flowers with sentimental value (or from the supermarket, if you just like flowers)
a basket, vase or other container to put the flowers in
florist foam
ribbon (or a bridal garter)
serrated knife

I found the perfect little basket you see above at Craft Market in Carson City, Nevada, when I was still living in the mountains. I got lucky that this amazing store had an entire room full of baskets, but most craft stores should have a decent selection of baskets. I have also found baskets and other inexpensive containers at thrift stores as well as discount stores like Ross. My main suggestion in choosing a container is to avoid anything that is thinner at the opening than the base, because you want to make sure you can fit the florist foam into it with ease.

Florist foam can be found at most craft stores, online, or at your local florist shop. It is usually green and is definitely a superior option to coarser white foams that can also be found in craft stores. Choose your basket or container first, so you know how big a chunk you will need.

I decided to re-use the basket and foam from the first time I did this project. Partially because I just love that little basket and partially because I'm lazy. Below is how it looked before I decided to take it apart. It went through two moves and two different climates. Still sweet, but starting to look a little tired.

The original tossing bouquet was pretty small. I found I needed a few extra flowers to fill out the basket in a pleasing way. The first time, it was late summer in the Sierras, so I was lucky enough to have some happy flowers around my yard.

This time, I went to the supermarket and bought a bouquet that had similar colors to my bridal bouquet. Your bouquet might have enough to work with, but it's nice to have the extra flowers just in case.

The first step, of course, is to dry the flowers. I knew I wanted to something with my bridal bouquet, so after I got home from the wedding I hung it upside down outside my kitchen door and pretty much forgot about it for a few months. As you can see, it was a very high-tech process.

In retrospect, I probably should have been a bit more gentle with it. Luckily, it was a pretty big bouquet, so not many of the flowers were flattened by the wall.

The best way to try flowers while maintaining their color and shape is to hand them upside down individually. NOTE: The upside down part is important. If you just lay them flat somewhere, chances are they will turn brown. While my original bouquet was already dry, I still needed to dry out my extra flowers. Before hanging the flowers, I cut the stems down somewhat and picked out any foliage I knew I wasn't going to use, such as bear grass.

The first time I did this project, I separated the bouquet and hung each flower along a window sill using pins. I approximated this method below with the push pins on my bulletin board.

I happened to have some clothespins left over from my lost bag-dyeing project, so I decided to use them to hang the extra flowers from my laundry rack. I left them there for about a week, until they looked and felt dry. You can see the difference below. It's important to let the flowers dry out completely, because you want the stems to be stiff enough to push into the florist foam.

The next step was to pull apart and sort the flowers from my dried bouquet and toss out the old, sad one. I made two piles, one for damaged or moldy (eww!) flowers and the other for the pieces I wanted to use. If you dried your bouquet whole, be patient with this part. Go slowly to avoid damaging the delicate flowers and foliage.

You will probably need to trim your chunk of florist foam to fit your chosen container. I did this using a serrated knife, trimming the corners until it dropped easily into the basket.

I was lucky that many of my lovely roses dried very nicely. I started with placing the prettiest one in the center of the foam. Then I spaced the rest evenly around it. You will most likely have to trim the dried stems to get them to match the height of your foam and container. I pushed the stems into the foam about an inch deep, to make sure they were secure. It's best to push slowly from the very bottom of the stem, where it is thickest, to avoid breaking it.

Some of the stems are bound to have leaves or extra off shoots that you will need to trim off. Carefully strip these stems with your fingers or your scissors.

Adding flowers to the foam is a creative and subjective step. There's no right or wrong, just do what you think looks nice. 

I tried to vary the levels of the flowers so that those in front were lower than those in back, creating a somewhat rounded look. I also tried to evenly space flowers of similar shapes and colors around the foam. In spaces that had gaps, I added the non-flower leafy pieces like my bay leaves and juvenile eucalyptus leaves. I attempted some symmetry, but tried not to overdo it, so that the bouquet would still look natural.

At this point I discovered that my new bouquet was a bit taller than the original one. I fixed this by shaving a sliver off the bottom of the florist foam. I used my scissors, but a serrated knife would have been easiest (especially with moister, new foam).

After plopping the bouquet back into the basket, I made a few more small adjustments. I wedged some left over flowers into any blank spaces I noticed. This was pretty difficult to get them firmly into the foam though, so I would recommend trying to eyeball this before you put your bouquet into its container.

Finally, add your ribbon (or garter) and you have a lovely little dried keepsake, ready to remind you of fond memories for years to come. I ended up hanging it near the bedroom door, so I will see it every day!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Make some embroidered kitchen art & Drink English breakfast tea

Before I get on with the post, I feel I must provide the obligatory explanation for the gap between blog posts. I've got some really good excuses! In the months since my last full post, I have moved almost 200 miles, hunted for work, started a new job and have been planning a wedding that is now just three months away. So there! Now I have justified myself to the blogosphere.


Lately I had been craving a project with a more quaint and folk-artsy flavor. Maybe it's because of the yummy descriptions of antiques and collectibles in the book I had been reading, Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, by Maureen Stanton. Whatever the reason, what better tea to enjoy with a sewing project than English breakfast?

English breakfast is by far my favorite type of tea. Since I don't drink coffee, it's the stuff that wakes me up in the morning and revives me after lunch. I drink it in the traditional English manner, with honey or sugar and a small amount of milk or cream. This is how it was first served to me by my British math tutor, Helena, and I have enjoyed the ritual of it ever since.

The two varieties I had on hand during this project are loose leaf, but I'm not opposed to using bags. Trader Joe's sells a wonderful and wildly affordable English Breakfast blend and their Irish breakfast (read: stronger) is great too. English Breakfast is a blend of several types of tea leaves, so it can vary greatly in flavor. I have found some pretty bitter supermarket brands, but also amazing packets sold in bulk to restaurants. Trial and error is the name of the game. Good old Lipton is always a surprisingly good option.

During this project, since it took several evenings, I alternated between a tin of EB from Peet's Coffee and Tea and Upton Tea's Bond Street EB (a really yummy blend of tightly rolled Ceylon and Assam leaves). During the spring and summer I try to find local honey for my tea. Since the bees make the honey using pollen from the plants that grow nearby, this can work as natural allergy prevention. Plus local honey often tastes richer and is organic! I find that Whole Foods stocks local honey varieties, but usually with a heavy price tag.

Now for the project. This project could take a little longer, since for a few of you embroidery is a totally new skill to learn. If you are new to the craft (and believe me I'm no expert) this should be a fairly simple first project for you. If you're experienced with embroidery or needle crafts, go ahead and skip ahead.

I learned embroidery (and cross-stitch) from Needlecrafts for Dummies. For most craft endeavors, I found this tried and true book series is a great place to start. However, I have noticed they aren't meticulously edited, so keep an eye out for errors in the instructions for projects. You can also often find fairly good instructions in the beginning of embroidery pattern and idea books. Many such books can be found at thrift stores for a few dollars, especially those published by Better Homes and Gardens.

Of course the internet is another wonderful resource for learning embroidery basics. Many great videos pop up if you plug "how to embroider" into YouTube. I also found a few great step-by-step explanations with pictures.

Embroidery 101 on
The only thing I disagree with is knotting the floss on the back of the work, which can be problematic if you ever want to mount your work and can also add bulk. I always work the loose end into the first few stitches as I make them, rather than making a knot.

Hand Embroidery Tutorials on
Wonderful pictures and graphics and a very well organized site, but the instructions aren't super in-depth.

Embriodery How-To on
Probably goes into a bit more detail than you need, but very thorough. Beware that Martha's site is often very slow, however, and I have encountered errors within instructions (though mostly in recipes).

What you will need:
fabric scraps
an embroidery hoop
embroidery floss
scissors (preferably small and pointy)
embroidery needle
fabric marking pencil
glue (hot if you have it)

My fabric scraps came from an old table cloth and thermal blanket I had used to turn a table into a small upholstered Ottoman. I found both for a few bucks at a thrift store. For a project like this it's better to use fabric with as little natural stretchiness as possible. (Think woven, not knit fabric).

I was lucky enough to find my hoop at a flea market on a table full of random containers of beads and other craft paraphernalia. But embroidery hoops can be found at any good craft supply store. Just make sure you look for less expensive wooden or metal hoops, because the hoop is going to become a permanent part of this project, like a picture frame. Many plastic and some metal hoops are intended for reuse.

Embroidery floss is the name used to refer to the stranded thread necessary for most embroidery projects. It is packaged very similarly to the craft string used for things like friendship bracelets, so be careful. What we want to use is six-stranded floss. The strands of the floss can be separated, allowing you to vary the thickness of your stitches. When I first started with needle crafts I bought big bag of floss in assorted colors which has been very useful. I chose the floss for this project from that bag.

In this project, I used only backstitch, one of the most basic and easy to learn embroidery stitches. If you're new to this, I definitely recommend practicing a bit before starting the project. I covered a handkerchief sized piece of fabric with wiggly stitches before ever embroidering something I wanted to keep. Of course, if you're feeling fancy, you could certainly add some more complex stitches into this project, like split-stitch, satin-stich and French knots.

I started with a sketch of the design I wanted to embroider. This is just what popped into my head and it seemed suited to the theme of this blog. But you can choose whatever you want! A cat smoking a cigar, perhaps. A bundle of cooking herbs? Why not a wine bottle and some glasses? Or maybe just your favorite quote or proverb.

Next I gathered my fabric scraps and pinched them into my little metal hoop. I used a scrap of a thermal blanket (orange) in addition to my primary fabric (blue) because my flea market hoop was a bit loose and I needed some extra bulk to make sure it would stay tight enough to work with. Plus, I kind of like the padded feel the extra fabric provided.

When putting your fabric into a hoop, you want to make sure it ends up with even tension. I start by laying my fabric over the smaller piece of the hoop, then push the larger piece firmly over it. Then I gently tug the fabric around the hoop until the embroidery surface is taught. You want an almost drum-like tension. If you dropped a penny on it, would it bounce? This particular hoop was held tight with a spring, but usually you will find yourself tightening a small washer on a screw.

Next I transferred my design to my fabric in a very old-school way. So far I haven't experimented with any fancy-pants transfer methods. I wanted a kind of free-hand look to the piece, so all I did was mark basic guide lines on the fabric to help me keep track of my design. I didn't write out any letters, which would have been too difficult with my marking pencil. Instead I drew curved lines to help my backstitched lettering stay evenly placed.

Next, I just went for it. I started with the teapot and tea cup. I didn't worry about following the guidelines exactly, just as long as everything was in the right place.

Stitching the lettering took a bit more time. It was a bit of challenge to keep all the letters to the same scale. So I will admit I pulled out and re-stitched a few stitches when a letter didn't look quite right.

Once the stitching is done, you will want to wash your piece. Always hand wash! Even if you didn't use a marking pencil, there will be a bit of dirt and oils from your hands to wash off, simply from handling the piece so much. On white fabric you can usually see this sneaky grime.

I put a small amount of laundry detergent into a sink filled with warm water then gently rubbed and swished the fabric around with my hands. Be sure to take it out of your hoop first!

Look how nice and clean it looks! And the pencil marks are gone. To dry the fabric, I rolled it up in a clean towel and squeezed gently. Then I laid it flat and put it back into the hoop while still damp. Once it was air dried, I tugged a bit more to make sure the tension was still even and the image was centered.

Then it was time for some finishing touches... completed in the kitchen of my new apartment in San Francisco!  Same trusty old thrift store dining table though. I used my small fabric scissors to trim off the fabric around the back of the hoop. I got as close as possible to the edge, which involved lots of very meticulous snipping. Make sure those scissors are sharp!

Next I whipped out my beautiful pink, polka-dot hot glue gun. I slowly glued along the back edge of the hoop. I laid it on thick to make sure there was no risk of the fabric slipping out or the hoop pieces pulling apart.

Now it was time to add one last decorative touch. I happened to have some extra ribbon on hand, so I decided to use it to hang my creation on the wall.

First I clipped off a small section of the ribbon and trimmed the ends. I like the look of ribbon with chevron ends, so I pinched my pink ribbon in half like below an cut across at an angle. The result was two identical V-shapes.

Next I got out my trust bag of craft buttons and selected some possibilities. A lot of the colors looked great, but in the end one of the white buttons fit the best. I first secured the ribbon to the hoop with a small bit of hot glue, then I did the same with the button. I made sure not to put too much glue under the button, to avoid it oozing out through the holes.

Finally it was time to hang my folksy new creation. I chose a spot in my kitchen directly above my spice rack. When the afternoon sunlight is pouring through the windows, this little decoration looks its best. And guess what? That's also the perfect time of day to enjoy a cup of tea.