Monday, February 25, 2013

Make a tree branch centerpiece & Drink chamomile citrus tea

This is the perfect project for a lazy Sunday afternoon. You know, the kind of day when you have a bunch of stuff you should do (like fold that mountain of laundry), but you've run out of procrastination ideas and you find yourself roaming the house aimlessly? This project will get you outdoors, out of that funk and hopefully get your hands dirty too.

Yesterday I was stuck at home with the dog while everyone else went skiing. I've been recovering from a terrible flu and didn't quite feel up to hitting the slopes yet. My inspiration for this project came from the blog SAS Interiors, found through Pinterest. I had been wanting to try my own version of Jenna's autumn centerpiece for months now. It may not be autumn, but I think this centerpiece can work all year long. Plus it was a good excuse to give my restless doggie a romp!

Here's what you will need:
A branch (or piece of driftwood)
A hand saw
A power drill
A spade drill bit (preferably 1 1/2")
A pencil
A ruler
Strong glue (hot if you have it)
Tea candles

As you can see from this list, this project is a bit heavier on the tool requirements than my previous posts. It is my firm belief that everyone should own a power drill and know how to use it. It makes so many home projects easier, especially hanging curtains! You can get drills with a cord attached or with a rechargeable battery pack. Both have their limitations and advantages (ie. battery life vs. mobility).

I received my corded drill from my dad as a Valentines Day gift one year, but there are plenty of places you can get one without denting your wallet too much. Thrift stores and flea markets are actually a great place to find used tools that are still in fairly good condition. I found my practically new power sander at a local thrift shop for less than $20 and I bought the spade drill bit for this project for $1 at a summer flea market down the street from my house. I considered getting a saw second hand too, but decided I wanted a nice, new, sharp one.

The first part of this project meant going for a walk and doing some exploring. I loved the childish sense of adventure this gave me! I grabbed my saw and Denali's leash and headed for the forested area down the street from my house. As Denali frolicked in the mid-winter sunshine, I began hunting for dead branches. It wasn't long before I found a dead tree with lots of promising possibilities.

I'm lucky enough to live near wilderness, but that's not necessarily a requirement of this project. The inspiration blogger found her log in a pile of tree trimmings in her neighborhood. You could even make a day of it and bring your saw on a hike or out to the beach. Just make sure that wherever you go allows for the removal of dead branches. I wouldn't advise hacking away at a live limb in a national park, for example. Keep in mind when you hunt that dry wood is much easier to work with (and more eco-friendly).

Now, back to my fallen tree. I found a nice thick branch I liked that was covered in pretty little termite patterns. Make sure you choose a branch thick enough to drill tea candle-sized holes into without it splitting or looking disproportionate. After contemplating what section to cut for a few minutes, I got to work with my saw. It's a good idea at this point to keep in mind the size of the spot you're planning to display your new rustic candle holder. I also recommend choosing a bare branch with few attached twigs or dead leaves for critters to hide in. Since it's still the dead of winter here, I was fairly confident there wasn't anything living in my selection. Also, remember that sawing requires patience and works best with strong, deliberate strokes in both directions.

Dog provided for scale.

Next, Denali and I headed home with our prize and for some much need warmth. I left my branch outside then went inside and threw the kettle on the stove. Since I've been sick lately and am still fighting a lingering cough, I decided to choose a citrus flavored tea: chamomile citrus by Mighty Leaf with a generous dollop of honey. This is the fanciest bagged tea brand I know of; their tea sachets are even made of silk! If you order tea in a nice restaurant, they often bring you a big box of Mighty Leaf packets to choose from. If you're just getting into tea, a variety pack like theirs is a great place to start exploring your tastes.

Once my throat was soothed and my hands were warm I headed for the garage with my drill, spade bit, pencil and ruler. Before starting on the drilling, I used some rough and medium grit sandpaper to smooth the raw edges of my branch. This makes it look nicer and also reduces the chance of scratching surfaces and skin. I also ran the finer grit paper along the length of the branch to eliminate any random splintery spots.

Next I experimented with placing the branch at different angles on the ground until I found the position in which it was the most stable. Then I eye-balled how many candles would look good on my branch and made four marks on it with my pencil, about nine inches apart. Choose whatever spacing and number of candles you think will work best for your piece of wood.

Now the fun part: drilling! I secured the spade bit into my drill and braced the branch with my foot. I find this kind of drilling is easiest when done from a standing position. You get more stability. Making sure the drill was straight up and down, I started with light pressure as the pointy end of the bit dug into the wood. I made each hole fairly shallow at first, then gradually deepened them until I was satisfied. My holes aren't a uniform depth, but you could certainly use a ruler to make sure yours are.

My drill bit was actually a little too small, at just 1 1/4". I definitely recommend the 1 1/2" size used by Jenna from SAS Interiors. I just ended up giving myself a little more work to get candles into my branch. More on that later.

Once I brought my newly drilled branch inside, I decided it would be a good idea to add pads to the parts that touched the table. Luckily I had some cork board material left over from another project, but you could use small felt furniture pads too. I cut out little circles of cork board and hot glued them to the four bottom points of the branch.

In order to fit the tea candles into my drilled holes, I had to trim down their sides a little. I took them out of their metal cups and took a knife to them until they were the correct diameter. You can keep the candles in the cups if you want to, but I liked the idea of the wax melting right into the wood.

Finally, I placed the finished piece on the dining table and lit the candles. It looks a bit plain by itself, but I'm planning on surrounding it with other small decorations and foliage to fit the season. Dried flowers for spring. Seashells for summer. Mini pumpkins for fall. And I can't wait to use it at Christmas!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Make an old sweater new again & Drink red lavender tea

If you have ever ruined a beloved piece of clothing with a stain, then this post is for you.

I recently washed a bright red, non-color fast garment with a regular load of laundry. Luckily, most of my clothing was not affected. There are even a few light pieces that now have a pleasant rosy tinge. But one light blue cropped sweater didn't survive. I pulled it out to find smudgy pinkish blotches all over it! I rewashed it, but they remained.

For a moment, I was utterly dismayed. This little sweater was one of my proudest thrift store finds! But then it occurred to me I might be able to save it... by dying it a darker color to hide the stain.

Now, I know this isn't an solution for all stained clothing, especially when bleach is involved. But hey, black is always a classic! I was lucky that this sweater is made from cotton and rayon fibers. If your victim is not made from a natural or dyeable fabric, sadly, your item might be a goner. But don't give up just because a blueberry tumbled down your lovely linen lilac blouse! Dyeing clothing is easier than you might think. 

(For stains on darker clothing, I would recommending using RIT's Color Remover to lighten the whole garment, then dyeing it the shade of your choice.)

Dyeing is also a great way to simply update some items in your closet. The evil,  color-bleeding garment that caused this issue was actually once a rather dull, off-white and perpetually dirty-looking shawl cardigan. And okay, maybe it had a few teas stains too. Before and after pictures from that dye adventure below (taken on an old phone, so a bit pixelated, sorry!).

The same day I mutilated my precious sweater, I picked up some navy blue RIT powder dye as well as some disposable rubber gloves from the grocery store. Oh! And some red lavender tea made by Zhena's Gypsy Tea.

I figured it would be fitting to be sipping a red tea, since the horrible little stains I had created were the same shade. Red tea actually isn't true tea at all. It is technically a tisane made from the rooibos plant that grows in southern Africa. I don't usually make the distinction between teas and tisanes, though. They're all yummy and warm!

Rooibos red teas are one of my favorite non-caffeinated tea options because they are so flavorful. And how good does sipping lavender sound? Yum! Zhena's Gypsy Tea has become a new favorite brand of mine. They have wonderfully creative flavor options and some great seasonal blends. At my local grocery store, it is actually found in the natural foods section, rather than with the other boxed teas. If you see gluten free food, kombucha and Dr. Bronner's Soap, you're in the right aisle. You can also order teas directly from their website.

Ok, back to the project.

Here's what you will need:
a poor, stained piece of clothing (or something intact that you want to update)
RIT dye in the color of your choice (I have used both liquid and powder successfully)
latex or vinyl disposable gloves 
a washing machine
a grubby towel
a 2 cup liquid measuring cup
a 1 cup dry measuring cup
optional: buttons and thread

The first thing you should do to prepare your item of clothing is to remove buttons. Buttons react differently to dye, so if you want to preserve their color, take them off and reattach them later. The buttons on this particular sweater kept popping off anyway, and I wasn't particularly fond of them, so snap go the scissors!

Next, you will want put on your gloves and open your RIT box and read the instructions printed inside (or on the side of the bottle for liquid dyes). I used the washing machine method, because I find it easiest but have had success with the more tedious stove-top method too. Be sure to read the fabric and dye preparation instructions as well as those for your selected dyeing method. I reread the instructions several times and also kept them around throughout the whole process for reference.

The first thing you will need to do is prepare your dye. This means mixing the powder with very hot water. I used an old plastic liquid measure for both measuring the water and mixing the dye. If you want to re-use your liquid measuring cup for cooking later on, I suggest you find another container for mixing the dye. To stir the dye mixture, I used an old teaspoon I found in my kitchen belonging to previous tenants. (Why is it that whenever you move into a new place there is always that one drawer the previous occupants forgot to empty?) I did all of this on a stained and grubby old towel. Dyes like this can stain grout and other surfaces, so beware!

sorry this one got a little blurry, I was mixing after all!

Next, I prepared the sweater and washing machine. I soaked the sweater in hot water in the sink, to open up the fibers and ready them to take dye. The RIT instructions call for using the hottest water setting your machine has. For me, that meant pushing the "hot-cold" button. RIT also recommends using an extended wash cycle. My rusty old machine conveniently has an "automatic presoak" setting. You can also keep an eye on the washer and manually reset the wash cycle before rinse, as suggested by the package instructions.

Once your machine has filled with water, slowly and carefully pour the dye mixture into the wash basin. (I believe there are other instructions for front-loading machines.) At some point in the instructions there is a suggestion for adding salt to the dye bath. It called for one cup, but I didn't have that much so I added a half cup of salt to the washer. Next, gently plop your soaked garment into the machine and start the cycle.

Now is the time to peel off those gloves and start enjoying that red lavender tea! I added a little bit of honey to mine. Keep an eye on your machine in case you need to reset the wash cycle.

Once the wash cycle was complete, and my mug empty, I reset the rinse cycle a few times. You can test if all the dye is out of your item by starting the rinse cycle, re-soaking it in the running water, then squeezing it. You might want to wear another pair of gloves to avoid dyeing your hands. Once the water runs clear, then your garment is ready to be dried. Note that the color will be darker at this point than when it's dry.

My dryer had trouble drying such a small item by itself, so I eventually threw in my grubby towel too. Throwing a dry towel into a wet load is a great trick for quicker drying, as long as the load isn't too big.

Finally, I pulled my new navy blue crop sweater out of the dryer. It was definitely a bit lighter than the color on the RIT box, but I just wanted the stain covered up, and that part worked like a charm. The only drawback is that the thread around the button holes was not a dyeable fiber and remained light blue. This is fairly common, but if it bothers you and you're an adept sewer, you might want to take that thread out and replace it with a color that matches your new item. It didn't bother me, since I figured that thread would be covered by buttons most of the time anyway. 

And that's the next and final step. New buttons!

A couple years ago I bought a small bag of assorted buttons from Michael's craft store. It has been immensely useful for so many projects. Of course, such a random assortment can be hit or miss. Be prepared to find a button style you love, then realize you are just one short of the number needed for your project. I went through several options in the pile below before settling on five buttons I liked. Although they aren't dark blue, I think their color works wonderfully with my new stain-free sweater!