Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You're a Flower, You Are

The flower preserving experiments continue. This time I decided to try to make rose petal jam, from a recipe I found in The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea many years ago. We have a very old rosebush with dense pink blooms that smell just like perfume, so I figured it couldn't be all bad, right?

Well. It wasn't all bad. I think part of the problem may have been the fact that I don't have a kitchen scale (though I really need one; I have a lot of British cookbooks), so I have only the vaguest idea of how much a half pound of rose petals actually is. But even then, I think the 5 cups of water the recipe called for would have been excessive. Maybe not, maybe I just needed more roses. Who knows?

So I started out like I was supposed to, pulled off the petals, chopped them up, covered them with sugar and let them stand overnight for two days, because I'm lazy like that (it was perfectly fine, sugar makes a very good anaerobic barrier, if that is the word I want). When I was ready, I dissolved a little more sugar in the water and added lemon juice and the rose petals and their lovely rose scented sugar. It was immediately obvious there was way too much water, but I thought it would cook down.

It didn't, of course, not so you'd notice, and I could see after a while jam was not going to happen from this. I ladled off a quart! of the liquid, which was a pretty coral color and smelled lovely, thinking it would be a good syrup, like the lavender syrup I made a couple of months ago that turned out to be a Very Good Idea. (Lavender syrup over sliced strawberries = oh hell yes). Then I set everything aside until I could pick more roses the next day.

Which I did, and added the petals (unchopped this time) to the previous ones, and took out a couple more ladlesful of the liquid just to be on the safe side. I combined this with the syrup from the day before along with another handful of rose petals and set that to reduce and thicken a bit. 

I still had my suspicions about the jelling properties of my jam, so I threw in a tablespoon of powdered pectin for insurance. I cooked this for some indeterminate amount of time, certainly longer than the 5 minutes the recipe called for, until a little of it on a cold plate started to thicken, then poured it into my jars and sealed them.

Et voila, two half-pints of rose petal jam and a honey bear full to the eyes of rose petal syrup. (You can see my previous dandelion and violet jelly in the background.) I was very pleased with the way the color deepened the longer I cooked both the syrup and the jam, considering the roses were pink and not red. Another bonus was the somewhat candied rose petals I strained out of the syrup and later ate over Greek yogurt. How Oriental of me! (And Oriental is the word I want in this case.) They were delicious and surprisingly chewy. Definitely something to try again.

So the roses were the clear winners in the Things To Make With Flowers contest this year, unsurprisingly. The dandelion jelly was OK but not good enough to bother with, and the violet jelly is fine, but  not as intense as my jaded palate would like. I will probably try that again next year, though; Lord knows we have no shortage of violets.  

Also, I think I may concentrate more on making the flavored simple syrups, since I actually use those. They're fabulous in hot green tea or over sliced fruit or yogurt. I like the idea of jams and jellies, but in practice I hardly ever eat them, because I prefer a savory breakfast to a sweet one. Now I need to go do something with all the mint that's coming up.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


While wasting time doing "research" on Pinterest the other day, I came upon this picture of a homemade travel watercolor kit made from a mint tin, and remembered I never put up any pictures of the one that I made myself. The one above is from the blog One Golden Apple, and if I had it to do over again, I'd probably make the pans in a way more similar to the way she did hers. She pressed them into the polymer clay with the end of a tube of lip balm, while I layered thin strips of PC (with much trial and error) to make mine. And then I ended up carving out notches in mine anyway so I could fit my travel brush inside. It's always the way.

I covered the outside of mine with more PC, and fancied it up with stamped PC, faux silver leaf, and a little acrylic paint antiquing. It could use another coat of clear acrylic because the leaf is flaking in places, and I may even do that someday.

Seriously, I could look at pictures of paintboxes and other art supplies all day. That's why I always end up buying tons of crap I hardly ever use. At least I do keep my small collection of vintage paintboxes out for display, so I can see the colors.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

When Life Gives You Dandelions

Been making jelly out of wildflowers, because really, if I don't, who will? That's how I roll.
First I made dandelion jelly, because I saw a blog post on dandelion macarons, and as usual I was seduced by the lovely photography. And there was a recipe for the jelly, which seemed pretty straightforward, so what the hell.

I picked a bunch of dandelions.

I pulled off all the green stuff (the calyxes? I think so.) Mildly tedious, but I was sitting on the front porch on a beautiful spring day, so that was nice.

Then I steeped the flowers in boiling water for around 10 minutes, added sugar, lemon juice, and pectin, and let it cook down for about 700 hours, maybe a little less. Poured it into sterilized jars, and after all that ended up with 3 whole quarter pints, huzzah!

And it's not bad. It mostly tastes like lemon juice and sugar, with a certain je ne sais quoi. It's fine.

Since I had a lot of dandelions left over, I thought I'd try this recipe  for dandelion quick bread, and it wasn't bad either. Pretty much like any quick bread that doesn't have fruit or nuts or anything else more interesting in it. Toasted with the dandelion jelly it was quite acceptable, but I doubt I'd bother again. I didn't take any pictures of it, just couldn't be arsed. 

We had plenty of violets too, and they're one of my favorite flowers, even if some people think they're a weed. I don't care, I think they're beautiful, and I like violet flavored things, so again, what the hell. Picked a bunch of violets, etc, and used the same recipe I used for the dandelions.

That turned out much better, if rather faintly flavored. Your common violet just doesn't have as much scent or taste as viola odorata, which is what I understand most commercial products use. I tried growing some years ago, but they never came to anything. If I ever see any plants or seeds I'll have to try again.

I added a little creme de violette to bump up the taste a little, and 700 hours later (give or take), violet jelly! 
(I could say "Viola!" as many people seem to think "voila" is spelled, but I'll restrain myself.)

And thus, dandelion and violet jelly. A pleasant little experiment. You could try it. It's fine. (Although I did just have a rather more exciting idea of making hibiscus jelly using dried hibiscus infusion, which could be a very good thing. Or regular tea, maybe Earl Grey....)

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Some velvet ribbons I dyed today, to be used for bracelets. I like how the colors turned out, though as you can see in the fourth from the left, it's very important to keep the wet ribbons from touching. I previously made some frame-shaped slides from polymer clay and glass pearls to use on them, but I haven't taken any pictures of them yet, plus I'm still trying to decide on a closure for them. Pretty, though.

Friday, November 04, 2011

How's That Facebox Thing Work Again?

Really just a brief post so people won't be confronted with the "Sweet Baby Jesus!" title, and also I've (by which I mean Rob has) got my shop Facebook page set up.  And here's a lovely rhino I embroidered. He's for sale, too.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sweet Baby Jesus! Check Out The F***ing T-Shirt!

Pinned Image

See, this is the kind of thing I was talking about last night. That's the kind of copy I wish I could use on my Etsy stuff. Except, you know, I want to sell it. But it would be awesome. 

OK, here's my very slightly sought after post on the process of one of my t-shirt designs, from the original photo that served as the inspiration to the finished product. Currently I'm working on a series of very minimalist portraits of early punk musicians, primarily the ones from the New York scene in the mid-70s, though obviously Joe Strummer was British. The original one of these was a drawing I did many years ago of Jules Shear, from an article or maybe even an ad in Spin magazine. Jules isn't  particularly punk, I know, but it was a good drawing.

 I don't have any photos of the actual embroidery in progress, because frankly I don't find that particularly interesting. If you dig that sort of thing you can look for some of the billions of embroidery tutorials that are on the internet.

So here's the photo of Joe Strummer that's the basis for my design. I found it on Pinterest, and I liked the effect of the contrast between the smoke and the curls in his hair, though I knew I wouldn't have the smoke in my final design. 

I did some sketches and came up with this one that I didn't mind too much. Still liking the curls. 

I wanted to refine the design even further, to make it as minimalist as possible while still keeping it representative and fairly recognizable.  If I may be self-indulgently arty, (and I may, otherwise why have a damn blog?) currently I'm into making things as linear and gestural as possible. How little can I actually put down on paper and still retain the essence of whatever it is I'm drawing? (It's awful, isn't it? Soon I'll be going on about "mark-making". Someone please kill me if that happens.)

I decided to go with the design above, and then all I had to do was the embroidery, which is the fun and easy part. It's getting easier and faster all the time, which is good from a production standpoint, and makes it more relaxing and therapeutic from a mental health one. Lord knows I need all the help I can get.

Here's a closeup. I went with red and black, because the Clash, you know? Also I had a black t-shirt. All these designs are done in stem stitch, because it's nice and linear and lets me keep some of the sketch-like quality I want. I'm getting a lot better at it, too. I hardly ever have to rip anything out anymore, and if I do, it's usually because of a mistake in the design and not the quality of the stitches. 

I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. In fact, I won't mind if nobody buys this, because I'll happily wear it myself, though seriously, check out the fucking t-shirt!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Once, I Made a Good Choice

It's always refreshing (and novel) to realize that something you did in the past turned out to be a good idea. God knows it doesn't happen very often. But I've been editing photos from a batch of embroidered t-shirts I've been working on, and I'm finding it profoundly fucking tedious. Now I'm having the chance to be very grateful that I never decided to go into graphic design, as I've considered at several points in the past, usually when I was feeling conflicted and unsure about my abilities and inspiration. I can see that I'd be driven absolutely ship rat nuts if I had to spend my life "staring every morning at a hundred nearly identical photographs of moodily lit tubes of toothpaste", to quote Douglas Adams.

I still have to spend a certain amount of time staring at nearly identical photographs of moodily lit t-shirts and pieces of jewelry, but since I'm the one taking them, there are usually only a dozen or so, and I don't have to do it every day. Then there's the copy writing, which is whole different kettle of suck, and always leaves me feeling stupid and slightly unclean, though I'm finding it's getting easier. I'm learning to set aside my dignity and self-respect and compunctions, and just write some nonsensical blather so I can post the shit. If I could get away with labeling everything "Oh just buy it already, you know it's awesome", believe me, I would. (And I'm thinking that should be my tagline when I go global. Actually, I have gone global; my first sale was to someone in France, and I also had a sale to Australia.)

The actual making of stuff is the fun part, naturally, not at all like work. Embroidering or putting together something while listening to music or audiobooks and drinking tea, and then later getting real live money for what I've made is still pretty miraculous to me. Not a lot of money, but I've sold several things this month. I really dig the series of minimalist punk portraits I've been working on lately. Who knows if anybody else will like them, but I'm enjoying doing them. Above are the Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone shirts I've got completed. I've also finished a Richard Hell one for myself, though I don't know if I'll make one of those for general consumption, I'm not sure how popular it'd be. Yeah, in comparison to the unbounded popularity of everything else I've been making. (Well, the Mark Twain bacon embroidery actually was pretty popular. Gotta get another one made soonest.) It would be nice if these really did take off, because I have several other ideas for the designs. I think they'd be awesome on onesies, for a start.

Like this guy was. He's the one who went to France. (If I think about that too much it's mind-boggling.) I'm really just putting him up here to show off the sheer technical perfection of the french knot that makes his eye. I realize no one but me cares, but that is a textbook fucking example of a french knot and I think it should be noted. So it is.