21 Dec

Enjoying the Gifts

It feels a bit self centered to blog, once again, about my “stuff.” I’ve received, however, so many wonderful, generous things lately, and many of them because of this public forum of blogging, that I feel the best way to say thank you, is to do it here.

My table is overflowing! Somewhere in that huge pile are: threads and ribbons from my mom (the slippers are on my feet); a book*, sketchbook, more threads, and fabrics from blog friend Jeannie; an unexpected surprise — kimono fabrics from my art school friend who was cleaning out and organizing her collection; a kit of stuff to make Xmas cards from friend Therese; wonderful little piles of varied fabric bits and pieces from Jude in return for a much smaller pile of indigos I sent her; from a lovely dinner party last night — super-soft red alpaca yarn and knitting needles (do you see those dots on the mitten ends? very Fliegenpilz!) from Kate‘s mom; and a pincushion from another Kristin in return for a PIF postcard I sent her.

Gift Pile

I assure you all your gifts are very much appreciated and will all be well loved and used! Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone.

*About the book: I opened it up and immediately thought of Jude and Tonya R.

Embroidery with fabric strips

On the next page was something I think Natalya would appreciate.

Hungarian-inspired stitchery

Really, I’m not doing this just to add more links. The book just has so much. “Stitch Magic” is a wonderful book with loads of gorgeous inspirational photos, and ideas that appear to be adaptable to a wide range of personal styles and interests. As an aside, I am pleased to have been able to “meet” artists and crafters through blogging that I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to interact with (like the above ladies of whom the book reminded me). It enriches me.
Cookie gifts

I wish everyone a cozy end of the year, spent in the comfort of friends and family, enjoying the gifts — large and small, physical and intangible, given with a full heart, that we have to give each other.

17 Dec

Bringing Light

13 December was St. Lucia Day. Last year I admired Alicia’s little dolls, so when she offered kits for sale, I grabbed one right away. Sure, I could have made something similar myself, but Alicia had already done all the thinking and put everything together — perfect for someone like me who hates leaving the house, let alone shopping (although I do make exceptions for art supplies). Since my mail from the US takes a rather circuitous route, the kit didn’t arrive until St. Lucia Day itself. Oh well, the advantage of being late to the party is that we could see everyone else’s dolls in the Flickr pool and get even more inspired!

Painting Lucia dolls

My little helper did a great job with the white socks and bases, and the skin color. I outlined the hair which she filled in — making sure that we got the colors right: Lucia HAD to look like our Swedish friend Tina. We made two redheads too, just for fun. I made all the cheeks and we both shared eye and mouth duties. I did the small eye details. She varnished.

She would have loved to dress the girls, but I took advantage of school time quietness to do it myself. Bad mom. I wanted different arms than the kits. I considered adding felt “sleeves,” but once I put on the little wooden bead hands the pipe cleaner arms looked just fine. Lucia still needs a plate of Fimo saffron buns, but that might happen next year.
St. Lucia

Lucia and attendents

16 Dec

Chocolate Museum — delicious AND informative

For those following along at home, I belong to 12×12 — twelve quilt artists who are embarking on an art challenge together. Our current challenge is Chocolate! For research purposes I went to the Chocolate Museum in Köln yesterday — an odd architectural mix between 19th century factory and glass tour boat. We won’t dwell on the rather frustrating morning getting there, because I got the research I needed, and took a few photos for my fellow 12ers in case it sparks anyone else’s creativity.

The museum starts with the harvest of cocoa and many of the uses of cocoa products. Having been there before, I breezed through this section. Especially since everyone has already found this kind of information online. I must say though, that the museum was quite diligent in explaining many of the problems with cocoa production that occur so often when industrialized countries exploit the resources of developing ones. They have a small “rain forest” inside an atrium as well, which is neat if you’ve never seen an actual cocoa plant.

African boat used to transport cocoa beans in the 1950s

From the tropics, the museum moves on to the mechanics of manufacturing chocolate. Of local interest is a certain Herr Stollwerk, from Köln, who was a bit of a mechanical genius and made many improvements to the manufacturing process, at least quadrupling the output of previous machines. Stollwerk is owned by Sarotti and I assume that because it’s from Köln is the reason the museum is located here.

Older machine (I forgot it's purpose)

This stacked grinder not only processed over four times more chocolate than it’s predecessor, but took up much less space as well.

Stollwerk grinding machine

After the historic machines, one enters a glass hall filled with modern machinery. You can follow the beans through roasting, grinding, mixing, tempering, molding, etc. It is in this hall that the little chocolate bars you are given with your entry ticket are made. Start to finish. They also make some nice truffles as well.

On-site factory

At the end of the “factory” is a cocoa bean shaped chocolate fountain where a nice employee hands out wafers dipped in the chocolate. Mr. Wonka would be proud.

Chocolate on the Rhein

On display are some historic molds like this carved one,

Kölner Dom chocolate mold

and these metal ones.

Not limited to bunnies and santas

Which, leads to modern molding, like this one that looks like a carnival ride for molded chocolate. The liquid chocolate is being spun to distribute evenly in the molds and, I believe, cools/tempers at the same time.

Carnival ride for chocolate santas

Since it’s Christmas, and it was a Saturday, and maybe because there was a bajillion bus loads of tourists there, they had some extra demos as well, like this lady hand-wrapping a ginormous Lindt chocolate Santa.

Ginormous chocolate santa being wrapped

Now that we know how chocolate is made, the museum steps back in history to the “discovery” of chocolate in Mexico and South America. Again, this is stuff that can be found on the internet, so I just took a picture of a few ceremonial ceremonial Mayan cups that could have been used for chocolate.

Ceremonial Mayan cups

The next photo is blurry, but these pieces were definitely used for grinding, pouring and frothing chocolate.

Mayan chocolate accoutrements

From ancient Mexico we move on to what I had come for — the culture surrounding chocolate in the European courts.

On the acoutrements themselves:

“The pleasure of drinking chocolate — a pastime initially confined to the European royal courts — was a social activity for which even special dishware was designed. The hot chocolate drink was considered an exclusive beverage and therefore did not experience the widespread acceptance nor the popularity that coffee and tea enjoyed in Europe during the 17th century [hence comparably fewer vessels were produced for drinking chocolate].

[Those vessels that were made for chocolate were however, practical.] In the 18th century hot chocolate was a foamy beverage, and in order to prepare it, the chocolate was heated and whisked with water until the cocoa butter turned into a tasty foam on top of the liquid. Because the sides of the cup were so tall and the diameter so small, the foam was able to climb to the top leaving enough hot chocolate in the bottom. Similar practical considerations influenced the development of the chocolate pot. …the porcelain serving pots were heated to such an extent that it became necessary to attach wooden handles to them. …pots were made with a stirring hole in the lid which was usually capped with a metal seal. Hot chocolate was often times poured into deeply shaped saucers. By swirling the saucer, the hot chocolate was cooled and then subsequently drunk. Another element of curiosity relating to hot chocolate were the so called ‘en trembleuse‘ cups. These cups came in different forms…[designed with rings] to ensure stability so that the cup would not quiver when ladies of the upper class sitting in bed sipped on hot chocolate during her morning audience.”

simple Chocolate pot

“The hard working middle class claimed coffee to be a stimulant. Hot chocolate, on the other hand, earned the reputation of being the drink of those enjoying sweet idleness. Just by the fact that one was enjoying a hot beverage, a certain affluence, or at least a kind of extravagance was reflected.”

“Around the beginning of the 18th century, particularly in the German region, a distinctive secondary attribute was associated with chocolate: some medical doctors proclaimed it to act as an aphrodisiac. This belief was amorously portrayed in the artwork of the 18th century in which chocolate was incorporated into an erotic setting.”

(Sorry, no examples were given, and I didn’t want to search too deeply on line for fear of the spam that would follow.)
Eventually, through improved manufacturing processes and increases in supply and demand, chocolate made it to the masses, and into the bar forms we are familiar with today. The museum is chock full of historic packaging and advertisements.

Did you know that the Christmas sensation of 1903 was chocolate records made through a joint project of Thomas A. Edison and Stollwerk chocolate? Each chocolate record played 35 seconds of a song or story and then could be eaten!

Chocolate records

As I had hoped to, I also read some very amusing anecdotes about chocolate plus recipes for it’s medicinal use. Like stregthening your lungs with chocolate, island moss, and dried orchid root. Many of the same, and similar, in English, can be found here at the Chocolate Health Book.

Recipes for medicinal chocolate

I’m not going to share yet the one I was remembering from a previous visit as it is the basis for my 12×12 piece. However, I also liked one from Roald Amundson who was dangerously low on food during his South Pole expedition of 1929 and rationed with the following menu: a small piece of chocolate melted in hot water and two Zweiback toasts for breakfast, a cup of soup for lunch, and the hot chocolate and toast menu again for dinner. Although he admits it is not the optimal nutrition, he was astounded by the fortification the chocolate did give.

Here’s an excerpt from what one poet had to say about chocolate:

“’Twill make Old women Young and Fresh;
Create New-Motions of the Flesh,
And cause them long for you know what,
If they but Taste of Chocolate.”

By Don Diego de Vadesforte, a.k.a. Capt. James Wadsworth, in Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke.

On to “The Cult of Chocolate” where chocolate as a cultural icon and door to periods and experiences in popular life is explored. kinder Schokolade definitely says German childhood to me. Look how little it’s changed over the decades:

less sugar + more milk = healthy?

And if you looked under the beds of many European kids, you’d probably find this Überaschungseier detrius:

Surprise eggs goodies

In addition, Swiss children apparently think that lavender is a perfectly natural color for a cow (my photo wasn’t as good as going directly to the source).

And, let’s not leave out a family favorite at my house: Nutella.

Yummmmmm, Nutella

They had a box of Halloren Kugeln as well, but not the classic ones, fashioned after the buttons on Halle’s salt miners’ suits. Despite salty historic references, these creamy chocolates are delicious!

Terry, I imagine you’d love the hall of enamel signs as much as I do.

Enamel sign for Sarroti chocolates with Moor mascot

Stollwerk: inexpensive, full flavored, nutritious

Lindt-Sprüngli Swiss chocolate ad

I wanted to rip them all off the walls and take them home. The museum would do well to reproduce a half dozen of their collection as postcards — do you hear that museum directors?! I want vintage sign postcards, not more views of the Kölner Dom or little enamel signs for “Harley Parking” in the gift shop.

Speaking of the gift shop:

Gift wrapped truffles

One of my favorites, Asbach Uralt chocolates

I was a bit disappointed that most of the items in the gift shop were chocolates that I could buy at the corner store, but that’s what I get for living in a country that’s one of the world’s largest consumers of chocolate! I almost bought a book about the history of Stollwerk/Sarotti chocolate and it’s mascot, but it was in German, and I wasn’t confident I would be THAT into it after this challenge. I did come home with some eggnog-filled and mulled cider-filled chocolates and an assortment of truffles.

As a reward for reading through this essay, please go out and treat yourself to some fortification in the form of a really nice chocolate — over three centuries of chocolate history say it’s OK.

15 Dec

Herzlichen Dank!!!!!!!!

Newest addition to my Fliegenpilz sewing room

Katrin, über generous blog friend, surprised me last week with a Fliegenpilz seam ripper! She said that when she saw it she wanted to get if first because she knew I’d want one. Yup, she’s right. This is a great gift!

Katrin’s note mentioned that hopefully I wouldn’t have to use it often, but when I did, I could rip in style. This reminded me of a story quilt queen Alex Anderson once told on her podcast. She was at an event somewhere, wearing a very nice seam ripper as a pendant. A lady approached Alex and said that she (Alex) was such a good quilter that she probably never needed to use a seam ripper. Alex responded that no, she was such a good quilter because she used a seam ripper.

Over the years I too have learned to love my seam ripper. I don’t usually feel bad ripping out seams — I view it as an opportunity to make my work better. So, not only will I be ripping in style, but I will be ripping often! (In fact, I’ve already used it and the chunky handle is quite comfortable.)
Thanks Katrin. 🙂

In addition to such a thoughtful gift from Katrin, I got a few more things too. It’s my birthday today so my family sent wonderful things. I also got an incredible package from blog friend Jeannie. I know I have a “quilt mom” in Gerrie, but I think now I can say I have a very doting “quilt aunt” in Jeannie. Wow! All I can say Jeannie, is WOW! Fabric, book, goodies, wow!
Hand dyed fabric from/by Jeannie

Commenter Heidi sent me a cute little handmade dwarf to go with the snowflake girls too. He’ll be very happy here. Thank you so much Heidi!
Dwarf and chocolate stuff

The dwarf is with my loot from the chocolate museum today. I’ll post about THAT tomorrow.


14 Dec

More more Henrika

I was going to bake last Sunday, but half way through the first batch of muffins, I realized we were out of eggs and painfully low on flour. I had to wait until TS&WGH got home (after his usual Sunday four hour outing with the kids) before I could continue. OK — plan B: finish off the jumper to go with the purple Henrika dress.

Paisley jumper

She was pretty excited about it until she realized that it didn’t allow the dress to twirl so much anymore.

12 Dec

Hanging Out

I had cake and coffee the other day with Kate. Between her work and my kids’ schedules, it’s really hard to find time to get together. We met at the gallery, where she’s been artfully arranging things in their gorgeous windows.

Bourgeois Pig Window Display

I know, shameless plug for Bourgeois Pig, but I love the mood when I go there. Kate and Marcus are refining the type of art they want to represent, the boutique has beautiful things, and they have become a bit of a neighborhood fixture. There’s always friends coming and going and chatting and hanging out, eating and drinking together, listening to music, etc. Speaking of music, Marcus plans to post an interesting musical recommendation on their blog each week. I’m intrigued by his first choice, Tunng, who I had never heard of before. Next week will be live music at the gallery/boutique, which promises to be swinging!

11 Dec

How to Make a Snowflake Fairy in 20 Easy Steps

Not being one to say no to my mother, or homemade elk jerky (never had it, but the concept sounds good), I made two more snowflake fairies today, and documented the process so that others can make their own as well.

Mis en Place

Step 1: Gather your supplies. You’ll need: a wooden bead for the head (approx 3/4″ in diameter), cloth covered wire for the body and appendages, white felt, optional tulle, seed beads, a silver pipe cleaner for the wings, wool roving for the hair, black, white, red and pink paint for the face, paint brushes, glue, white thread, wire cutters, sharp scissors, and a small needle.

Step 2: Cut two pieces of wire: one 3 1/2″ long, and the other 7″ long.

Step 3: Fold the long piece in half. Using the wire cutters, bend “hands” on each end of the shorter piece. Place it over the folded wire and wrap the folded end all the way around to form the body and neck.

Step 4: Cut two pieces of felt: one 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ and the other 1″ square.

Step 5: Wrap the rectangle piece of felt around the arms and, using a ladder stitch, sew closed.

Step 6: Cut two “armhole” notches in the square felt. Wrap it around the body and sew closed. Make a few stitches over the shoulders to keep it from sliding down.

Step 7: Cut out a paper snowflake with a radius of about 2.”

Step 8: Using the paper snowflake as your template, cut a snowflake skirt out of felt. You could also skip steps 7 and 8 and use a starched crochet snowflake instead.

Step 9: Embellish snowflake as desired.

Step 10: Slip the skirt onto the fairy body feet-first…

Step 11: Sew the skirt to the body with a few small stitches.

Step 12: For the optional underskirt, cut tulle 11″ x 2 1/2.”

Step 13: Gather one long end of the tulle and sew it to the body below the snowflake.

Step 14: Slip beads onto the legs and bend “feet” at the ends.

Step 15: Bend the silver pipe cleaner into wings shape.

Step 16: Sew the wings to the back of the body (best done before you add the head, unlike in the picture).

Step 17: Put a dab of glue on the neck and slip on the head.

Step 18: Wrap the roving around your finger and make into a hairdo. You could use a felting needle to form it into shape if you’d like. Attach to head with glue. Add a few beads or other embellishments as desired.

Step 18a: She should look a lot like this now.

Step 19: Prop your fairy up in a spool of thread or a small cup and paint pink cheeks, a dot for a nose, and black eyes.

Step 20: Paint a red mouth and white highlights in the eyes.

Let dry and she’s done!

10 Dec

Holiday Crafting

Each year I try to make handmade Christmas cards to send to friends and family. It started when I was a graphic designer and had decent access to resources and it just seemed wrong not to. Now, it’s kind of a tradition. I’ve gotten the kids involved in the past, and decided that I should do the same this year.
Look -- it's got eyes and a nose!

So here’s the part where any desire to be elegant, or Martha-esque must be thrown out the window. I enlisted my child labor to randomly stamp three stars and three snowflakes in white or gold on the top half of the cards. Tap on the pad, tap on the card — straight up and down. Riiiiight. I had to fight back the control-freak in me. They did straight lines, “happy faces,” mooshy impressions, half impressions, you name it. We made extra, so I can utilize a bit of quality control, but I think it’s like my life in general — finding the balance between attractive, tidy, well-designed and modern and the reality of kid’s choice, lived-in, utilitarian and last year’s (or older) models. But really, involving the kids (and not stifling their voices) is much more important than having a product that could be published in Blueprint or on Design*Sponge.

In other crafty news, I made these drawstring bags all by myself. They house the last of the Xmas gifts that need to be mailed. I think it’s time now to get serious about the Christmas baking — we’ve eaten almost all of the sugar cookies Katja and I baked last weekend.

Felt and flannel bags