Creativity 2016: Repurposing Chipped Frankoma

One of my goals for this year is to engage in more creativity, whether that is writing, sewing, baking, or anything else that involves making something. We had an unseasonably warm couple of days last week, and I took advantage of the sunny 55° weather to finish a project that had been in progress for several weeks.

A friend gave me an airplane plant (also called spider plant) last summer, and it did quite well in our screened-in porch. After the nights turned chilly, I brought the plant indoors and placed it on a high shelf in the bathroom. There is a skylight in that room (no windows, as it is in the center of the house) and is ideal for wintering over plants. Before long, that little airplane plant sprouted some babies! I picked off four of the shoots and placed them in a dish of water to root.

Some time ago, our insurance agent gave me a box full of Frankoma dishes he’d picked up at a flea market. He  remembered that I collect the pottery; how nice of him! Well, sadly, most of the coffee cups were chipped. I can’t bear to throw away any Frankoma, even if it is damaged. For example, I even bought some cracked/chipped trays at an antique store. Thankfully, the trays came with perfectly intact soup bowls, and the price was ultra cheap. We use the soup bowls as intended, and one of the chipped trays serves as a food dish for the barn cats. I used another of the trays to hold part of my plant project. There are two more chipped trays…wonder what I should do with them?

Back to those warm days last week… I thawed out the bag of potting soil (it had frozen in the barn) and then potted those baby airplane plants in some of the chipped Frankoma mugs. I am quite pleased with my little repurposing project!

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I left the baby plants on the porch to catch some warm rays before bringing back in the house. Now they add life to my sewing room and a corner of the living room.

This creative project reminds me of a comforting passage of Scripture:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.                                                                                                                     2 Corinthians 4:7

Dryer Balls

Oh my….I’ve had this project done for a couple of months now and am just now getting around to writing about it! This is a good thing, really, because now that I’ve been using the project for a while, I can give a well-tested review on the things.

Have you heard about Dryer Balls? Crafty folk everywhere are making balls from wool yarn and using them instead of fabric softener sheets while drying their laundry. The purpose behind these things is to save money (no more buying dryer sheets), be “green” (reducing waste and not adding chemicals to your laundry), eliminate static naturally, and reduce drying time. The more balls you add to the dryer, the less time it is supposed to take for your laundry to dry.

Here’s how it’s done:  Using 100% wool yard, tightly wind the yard into a ball, about the size of a baseball or larger. Tuck the end of the yarn inside the ball using a crochet hook. I was able to make two balls from each skein of yarn.

I experimented with some 100% wool sweater sleeves, also, cutting the sleeves into thin strips and winding them into balls.

It was far easier to wind the sweater strips than the yarn. If you have tendinitis or carpel tunnel, I would suggest you find someone else to wind the yarn. Several times, my hands cramped up so badly that tears leaked from my eyes. I took little breaks, but still had to hold the ball in one hand to keep it from unwinding. Owie! The down side to the sweater strips was that it was very difficult to tuck in the end. They were too big to use the crochet hook, so I used a skewer to cram them in as far as I could.

After you’ve wound up about six balls, squeeze them into an old pantyhose leg. Since I didn’t have any old pantyhose lying about, I bought one of those knee high stocking bubble balls at Walmart for 33¢. Use a piece of non-wool yarn to tie off between each ball and to tie the open end of the stocking closed. Toss the ball caterpillar in with a load of whites, washing in hot water. Dry the caterpillar with the laundry in the dryer, too. The heat will cause the wool fibers to felt, thus make a nice solid, un-unravel-able (a word according to Sheldon!) ball. It make take a few trips through the washer and dryer for this to be achieved. The balls will look like this when they are nicely felted:

The yarn balls felted much better than the sweater balls did. One of the yellow balls kept losing its last strand, no matter how many times I re-tucked it, so I finally just left it off. The sweater balls are considerably more dense than the yarn balls, so it took them longer to dry in the felting process. Their extra weight comes in handy using them now, though.

To use the Dryer Balls, simply toss them into the dryer along with your wet laundry. They will bounce around, helping to soften your clothes naturally. Yes, I was able to take a photo of my dryer in action with the door open! This dryer is almost 24 years old. The time quit working a couple of years ago, so I have to watch the clock and turn it off manually. A recent development is that it will keep running even after you open the door. That was a surprise! Now I wonder how much longer this old thing will keep plugging away…

Back to the balls — Now that I’ve been using them for a couple of months, I can tell you that:

1. They do soften laundry very nicely, without adding any slickness to towels or scents of any kind.

2. They are limited in their ability to reduce static. Towels are fine, as well as jeans, but socks stick together like cat hair on velvet.

3. They do not reduce drying time that much. Of course, if I had more than six balls, that might make a difference. Usually, my dryer takes about 45 minutes to dry a load of towels. With the Dryer Balls, it takes about 40 minutes. I still haven’t used the two skeins of yarn in the first photo above, so if my hands are feeling up to it, I’ll wind up a few more balls before dryer using season is over. (In warmer weather, most laundry gets dried on the clothes line around here.)

My ultimate opinion on wool dryer balls? They’re pretty neat! I like them a lot! If you’ve got wrists of steel or a kid who does, you really should make a batch of your own. If you don’t feel like winding your own, however, there are lots of industrious folks who sell them ready to go on Etsy.

How to Make a Crib Sheet

My little sister-in-law had a baby shower last weekend; she and my brother are expecting a little girl. I found directions on making a crib sheet in a magazine, and so that is what I decided my gift to her would be. Actually, it was very difficult to limit myself to three fabric choices at JoAnn’s! They have SO many adorable baby prints.

The original directions can be found on page 40 of the Feb/March 2013 edition of Sew-it…today magazine. I have embellished them a bit, to make it a little more clear to someone who might be doing this for the first time.

You’ll need 2 yards of 44″ wide 100% cotton fabric (do not remove selvages); trim the longest side of the rectangle to 70″. (Measure the mattress if you can, to make sure it will fit.) Cut a 9″ square from each corner. I folded my fabric in half and cut two corners at once.

Step 1:  Press short ends 1/4″ under to the wrong side. Stitch.

Step 2:  Fold the cut corner’s right sides together to form a miter (to make the sheet fitted). Stitch with a 1/4″ seam allowance. Repeat for all corners.

Folding the corner together
Corner sewn together

 (Step 2b: Press the corner seams to make sewing the edges easier later on…)

Step 3:  Center a 12″ long piece of elastic (I used 1/4″ wide elastic) on the corner seam, wrong side up.

Pin down the elastic on top of the seam.

Stretch out the elastic and pin the end down. (I stretched it the wrong way for this picture – you should stretch it to the right instead of the left. Sorry!)

Position the fabric under the sewing machine foot and carefully remove the pin without losing the place where the elastic needs to start. Drop the foot and lower the needle into the elastic & fabric. Sew a couple of stitches, backstitch and then forward again just a couple of stitches, stopping with the needle down. Hold the fabric where you have the elastic pinned at the seam with your left hand, then pull it to stretch the elastic and make it lay flat on the fabric. Grab with your right hand a few inches from the needle, holding that section stretched out, let go with your left hand and use your left hand to gently guide the fabric behind the needle as you sew. Keep doing this until you get to the end (removing the pin in the seam as you get close to it). Backstitch at the end of the elastic, too.

The stretched elastic will gather the corner.

 Repeat for all corners.

Step 4:  Press entire sheet under 1/4″ to the wrong side, including the places between the elastic, but do not press on top of the elastic itself. It will turn under pretty easily without being pressed.

Stitch a hem all the way around the sheet, beginning in a nice flat area. When you get to the elastic section at a corner, stop with the needle down and stretch the elastic to make the fabric flat, then sew.

And there you have it – a pretty crib sheet for your little one’s bed!

It took me a little while to figure things out with the first sheet I made, but after that, the other two went quick as a wink. Hopefully I’ve described the process a little better than the original directions so if you want to try making one, it’s easier for you to figure out.

Meet Betsy!

Here she is….meet Betsy, my new sewing friend!

Betsy is wearing a striped dress of unknown brand and size — I bought the dress at a yard sale for $1 and the tag had been removed. The reason Betsy is showing you a side view is so you can see the hemline. I did not realize that this was a maternity dress until I saw pictures of me wearing it! Betsy is going to help me turn this maternity dress into one with a hi-lo hemline. I’ve hesitated to buy anything hi-lo, mainly because it reminds me too much of the ’80s, but also because it is a trend, and I would rather stick to classics. But…since I paid a mere dollar for this dress, it can’t hurt to make it trendy, right?

Unlike me, Betsy had a difficult time adding bulk to her waist and hips. Singer seriously needs to make a dress form that is more sympathetic to the pear-shaped woman! Betsy’s bust was adjusted to match mine, but unless I gave her a bigger chest, she couldn’t also have a bigger waist and hips. OK, Singer…very few women are actually perfectly proportioned!!! At first I thought I would have to take Betsy back to the store and purchase a Bertha in her place (a size large/extra-large), but I knew that the smallest bust measurement Bertha could have would be at least two inches bigger than mine. Betsy and I put our heads together (ahem…well, my head and her pincushion) to come up with a solution. This is what we did:

Betsy now wears a belt made from the whacked-off bottom of a skirt I shortened last winter. I knew I saved that scrap of velvet for a reason! We decided not to worry about the hips, since I tend to wear things pretty loose over that area anyway. Hopefully she’ll be able to take the belt off one of these days, but for now, we’re both OK with it.

I Made Soap – Finally!

Waaaay back in February, I purchased oils and lye from my friend RK who buys such things in bulk (she’s a semi-professional soap maker and a beekeeper!). Last week, I finally made a batch of soap! We’d used the last bar from my previous soap-making a few weeks ago, so my friend was kind enough to sell me a half dozen of her bars to get us through until my fresh soap is ready to use. I employ the cold-process method of soap making, which means the soap must “cure” for several weeks before using. Hot-process soap can be used right away, but it’s much more difficult to get into a mold quickly enough.

The stage is set….ready to make soap!
I have used the same recipe for the past several years for my everyday soap, altering it slightly if one or more of the oils is unavailable. But it’s pretty much the same soap each time. It is a moisturizing, mild bar that suds well and smells clean and fresh. The fragrance is a combination of spearmint, jasmine, lavender and vanilla. RK has been after me to name my signature fragrance, but I have yet to think of a good name. 
Wearing my great-grandma’s smock – and safety glasses!
As I was out on the porch mixing the lye and water, my neighbor T walked thru the front gate. She didn’t know I was in the porch, so when I called out to her and she saw me with these buggy-eyed glasses on my face, she was quite startled! Poor T!  One thing I learned this time: it takes a lot longer for the lye-water to cool down in the summer. It sure goes much quicker in winter!
Looks kind of like vanilla pudding, doesn’t it?
After the melted oils and the lye-water have both come to a temp of about 100°, they are combined and mixed with an immersion blender (the MOST used tool in my kitchen! – altho this one is dedicated solely to soap making). The mixture is nearly at “trace” in the photo. Tracing is when saponification occurs – the chemical reaction that turns a dangerous substance into something helpful. It will look like thick pudding at trace. This is the point at which I usually “super-fat” my soap, adding 2 oz of melted shea butter, which makes the soap extra-moisturizing. But….I forgot to melt the shea, so had to leave it out this time. And, if you like, color can be added at this point as well. I prefer to leave my soap the natural color.
(At this point, if I were to hot-process the soap, I would continue to cook it and buzz the blender in it occasionally until it got very thick. I only did hot-process one time, and decided it was not much fun. The soap was too thick to get it all out of the pan and into the mold, so I ended up having to make balls out of what stuck to the pan. And a lot of the mixture got wasted in the process. Cold-process is simpler, easier and more efficient, I think.)
Spreading the soap in the mold.
Once the soap has traced, the fragrance/essential oils are added, then the mixture is quickly poured into the prepared mold. Depending on the recipe, you may not have much time before it becomes too stiff to spread. This recipe stays soft quite a while. 
Cutting the soap into bars.
About 24 hours later, the soap can be cut into bars. In reality, I use a straight-edge to ensure I don’t get wiggly lines, so this picture is kind of deceptive. I did not free-hand it! And I wore gloves. At this point, the soap should not be touched with bare hands, as the lye is still somewhat active and can burn the skin. Usually, once the bars are cut, they are removed from the mold and left to “cure” for 3-4 weeks. Due to the combination of oils in my recipe, however, my soap is still too soft – even after four days! – to remove. 
Why go to all this “work” to make soap when you can purchase Lever 2000 or Dial at the store for a considerably lower cost and effort? First of all, playing chemist is quite fun! Especially when you can startle your neighbor with your buggy-eyes! (Sorry, T!) Also, the stuff you buy in the store is NOT real soap. It is detergent. On me, store-bought cleansers make my skin itchy and irritated. Homemade, lye-based soap has cured my dry skin problems. I am so very glad I learned to make my own soap!

A Sewing Project from the Recent Past

Despite my intentions of posting more often, I have not done so. It’s not that I’ve been terribly busy lately, but I have been uninspired and unenthusiastic, about just about everything. I lay in bed at night, not sleeping when I should be sleeping, thinking that “tomorrow, I’m going to get on top of things”. I make all kinds of resolutions and plans in my mind, and then they all get tossed out the window in the morning, because I’m so tired and sluggish from lack of sleep. It’s a vicious cycle. And I can’t seem to jump off this crazy, rusty, squawky, lop-sided go-nowhere merry-go-round and back on the running path to health and wellness and organization and the good life.

Sigh….

I did get inspired to finish a sewing project last week. A girl I’ve been friends with since 4th grade finally had her first (by birth) child a month ago (she has three grown adopted children). This is what I made for her very special baby girl:

The bibs have velcro closures and are designed after some bibs I used for Boo when he was a baby. The burp cloths are made from a tracing my daughter made when she worked at a daycare when she was pregnant with Boo. One of the daycare babies’ mother provided these cute hand-made burp cloths that Min loved, and she wanted me to make some for her. So I made some for my friend, using that same pattern. The circles are what was left over from cutting out the bibs, layered and sewn together. They can be used as little baby wipes, face cloths, nursing pads or whatever.

Speaking of babies, we have new babies on the farm! One of our barn cats had kittens three weeks ago. She made her nest over at the neighbor’s house – actually, underneath their house! We brought them here, where they belong, and now the Mama Cat seems happy to care for her babies on our porch. Aren’t they cute???

Let’s hope this week’s warmer temperatures will improve my outlook and inspire me to get my act together. I’m sick of being stuck in this rut….

The Crafty Hausfrau

I did a “craft” project yesterday. It was extremely simple, so it’s stretching things to call it a craft, but I did adhere one object to another, so that counts, right? A long time ago, I pinned an idea on Pinterest for a magnetic Scrabble board. I wanted to make one to put on our screened-in porch, but the porch has yet to be built. So…I decided to make the magnetic letters anyway and just use them on the spare fridge in the mud room.

I dug out our ancient Scrabble game from the shed. (We used to have a game cabinet under the old stairway, but when Some Postman rebuilt the stairs, that cabinet disappeared. So we keep our games in a cardboard box out in the shed, until the storage shelves get built in the laundry room.) In that beat up game box was a baggy full of extra letter tiles I’d found at a yard sale eons ago. It’s not a complete set – there’s no J or V, and a few less other letters, but it will do. While watching TV last evening, I snipped up a sticky-backed magnet sheet and applied the pieces to the backs of the letter tiles. Then I stuck the tiles on the freezer door.

Yes, that’s Harvest Gold you’re looking at there!

I do believe this refrigerator is almost as old as me. We bought it used a long time ago, as a second fridge to keep eggs, produce and my “stashes” cold. Even though the kids have moved out…well, one is back…and theoretically we shouldn’t need two refrigerators…I’m not giving up my second one. Once the ducks begin laying eggs and we have a summer garden, I’ll need every square inch of that extra cooling space! It’s not pretty, but until we upgrade the kitchen fridge, we’ll keep this ancient Frigidaire that sounds like it’s blasting off to the moon when the compressor motor kicks on.

The first Fridge Scrabble Game has been started!

And this morning, I discovered a subliminal message in the loose letters….