Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hexagon Magnet Madness

Finally, finished and shipped!  My RATZ Swap magnets that is.  I think I greatly overestimated my handsewing speed, haha!  But I really wanted to give tiny hexagons a try after seeing this sample by Susan (chickenfoot) that just amazed me.  I mean 3/8 inch hexagons are pretty teenie tiny and they look so cute there in her hand.  (Note to self:  teenie tiny cuteness equals double the work of simple cuteness.)

So as I was stalking my partner, I happened to see that not only does she love hexagons, almost to the point of obsession, but she also had this adorable sample of more teenie tiny cuteness marked in her favorites---and so did I!  It was meant to be.  Plus after stalking researching my partner, I discovered that she is a really amazing woman with a huge heart of gold, so I figured I'd make her something special (I know, I know.  I end up doing this on all my swaps, why?  Simply because I keep getting the most amazing, inspiring swap partners!  Really.  I think my swap mamas give me their best ones.  Ones with backstories that just floor me and make me want to go to the ninth in creating something.)

Well, the description said 1/4 inch hexagons, so I printed some up and started in on cutting.  Hmm, these were looking kind of tiny, but I needed tiny, I was making magnets.  So, I pulled out my less-than-an-inch-size bag of scraps and started pulling colors for flowers and butterflies.  Then I went about basting and sewing hexagons as usual to make the shapes.  Really, not too bad.  A bit hand cramping and blinding to sew such little buggers, but the first flower done really got me going.  Here's a tip:  have really good lighting, especially when stitching black to black with black thread, lol!

Aren't they adorable?!  Am I totally crazy now--because I want to use up the rest of super tiny scraps this way!

I backed each with a color matching piece of eco felt (I didn't know if she was allergic to wool, so I didn't use wool felt--but you could) cut in the overall shape (note to self:  in the future cut the felt just a teensy bit larger than the piece so that it's easier to stitch) and blanket stitched it with two strands from a six-strand cotton floss (I like DMC, but use what you can find.)  I also stuffed the butterfly just a bit to make it a little more interesting.  I used E6000 to glue button sized magnets to the back of the felt prior to stitching the felt to the fronts so that the backing piece could lay flat while drying. 

What do you think?  Kind of some teeny tiny cuteness going on there, isn't it?!

Edited 7/3/12:  Okay, now that my partner has received these, I can tell you who she is.  My partner this round was Caryn (Caryn211) from Nebraska.  She loved them and left me a very nice compliment on my Flickr posting of this picture, totally made my day.  If you want to know how really special this woman is, just read this article that I found when I was snooping around to get ideas.  Like I said, I just keep getting the most amazing and inspiring women as partners for swaps.
Hexagon Magnet MadnessSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

Okay, I needed a break from working on these magnets for RATZ--the 1/4 inch hexagons are making me blind!  LOL!

We had a great few days of warm, sunny weather and now I have enough strawberries for jam (I usually do a triple or more recipe at a time) and well, I've got rhubarb.  Kind of meant to be, don't you think?

Look at those juicy berries all cut up--yum!

 Warning:  This is a long and detailed post, made so deliberately, so as to guide jam-making newbies along.  It really is a simple process!  (You should also know that what I call jam is actually probably a preserve because I still have some fruit chunks intact at the end--but, you can call it whatever you want!)

So here's what equipment you'll need (besides a stove top with at least two burners, you can do it with one, but its a real pain in the neck):

  • water bath canner or really big stock pot with lid (the enamel canner is usually cheaper and wider so you can fit more jars in at a time)
  • pint or half pint jars, cleaned and sterilized
  • rings and lids to fit jars, cleaned and sterilized
  • magnet stick (really helps to get the lids out of the boiling water)
  • small saucepan
  • funnel with a good sized opening
  • paper towel or other clean, lint-free cloth for wiping jar rims
  • jar tongs
  • knife--you'll be cutting the strawberries and rhubarb
  • large stock pot for cooking jam in (large batch) or for a small batch a smaller pan 
  • wooden spoon for stirring jam
  • measuring spoons and cups (I find a 2 cup or larger measuring cup is helpful)
  • a couple of towels to set hot jars on and to cover them up
  • water
Here's the ingredients (large batch):

  • 12 cups chopped ripe strawberries, chopped/cut into 1/2 inch
  • 6 cups chopped unripe strawberries, chopped/cut into 1/2 inch
  • 18 cups chopped rhubarb, chopped into piece 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 1/4 cups lemon juice
  • 24 cups sugar (more if you like your jam really sweet or if your strawberries aren't as sweet)
(I should say that this amount of ingredients takes a very large stock pot--so if you don't have one, cut the recipe in half or quarters and make smaller amounts at a time.)

I was able to get 12 pints, 13 half-pints and one 4 ounce jar out of the large batch.  There will be a slight variation depending on how generous your measurements are, how much sugar you add, etc.  But you'll be pretty close to this.  You can also use larger jars, I just like small jam jars so I can rotate more frequently, and luckily, that's what I had on hand.

Small batch ingredients:

  • 3 cups ripe chopped strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups unripe chopped strawberries (You can round this to an even 2 cups if you want.)
  • 4 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup + 1 TB lemon juice
  • 6 cups sugar (plus extra to adjust for taste)
You're probably thinking a few questions at this point, so let me head them off with some answers.  Yes, that's a long list of equipment, but once you gather it up, it really isn't that much--I just wanted to make sure those who haven't made jam before have everything on hand. 

No, there is no powdered pectin in this recipe--honest, I didn't forget it!  That's what the unripened strawberries (these are the ones that are white or barely turning a blush of red) are for...natural pectin. 

Pretty cool tip there, right?  I was a bit shy on unripe ones, so I threw in some barely ripe ones to round it out.  You can do this, but be warned, you're jam might not set up completely.
My mom always made strawberry jam with both ripe and unripe berries, never used pectin.  There are some things you need an outside pectin source for, but not strawberries.  So save it for another jam. 

Also, that seems like a lot of sugar, but it's actually half the amount that a similar Ball recipe that uses powdered pectin calls for.  That's because pectin adds a bit of tartness to the jam that must be compensated for.  Also, I don't like overly sweet jam--I'm going to all this effort for ripe yummy fruit, I want to taste it!  But, you should have extra sugar on hand in case your fruit isn't as sweet or you decide the rhubarb makes it too tart. 

Here's my rhubarb all chopped--we have a variety that never goes fully red, so we get a kind of Christmas look!

I also have, in the past, used natural sugar alternatives such as honey, stevia and fruit juice concentrate.  Each can be successful with a bit of experimentation.  Also, some people like to add some red food coloring to brighten their rhubarb preserves, I think the strawberries add enough color and who needs more dyes in their food anyway?

If you don't have a long set of time for making jam, go ahead and chop the fruit up and put it in the stock pot--don't stir.  Cover and refrigerate.  Allow to come to room temperature (approximately) prior to cooking.  (This is what I did this round.)

Jam Time

So, let's start.  The instructions will be for the large batch, but the procedure is the same for the small, just alter the measurements and times will be shorter for cooking.  Have all your equipment gathered and jars, rings and lids clean and sterile.  (To sterilize the lids, use the sauce pan with water.  Throw in the lids and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute.  Leave in the water until you are ready to add each to a jar.) 

Wash your produce off, no need to add dirt to the mix, and remove leaves and hulls.  Chop up your strawberries and measure as you go.  Jam making is not rocket science, if you have a little extra, just throw it in.  I tend to be generous with my strawberry measurements, because, well, I really love strawberries.  Throw them in the large stock pot.  (Your stove top isn't on at this point.)

That's the size of stock pot I use--and the large batch barely fits.  (Sometimes, during the boiling, I have to quick scoop some out as it expands quite a bit!)  So if you don't have one this large or bigger, do a half recipe or you'll have it over-flowing come boiling time!

Once you have everything chopped and in the stock pot, add the lemon juice and give it a good stir to mix it altogether. 

Give it a nice stir to get the fruit and lemon juice mixed.

Go ahead and turn on the stove to a medium low.  Now, add in half the sugar, two cups at a time, stirring well to dissolve and mix all the sugar.  From now on, stir frequently to help keep the sugar from scorching and to help the fruit mush up a bit.  In between stirrings, go ahead and fill your water bath canner with around 6 inches of water.

As you add the sugar and stir, the juice starts to form.  The ripe berries will start to break down to form a good base for your jam.

As you stir, the fruit will begin to break down and juice will form.  Turn the heat up to medium.  Go ahead and add the rest of the sugar, 2 cups at a time, stirring between additions.  If the jam starts bubbling a lot, just turn the heat down a bit, until you've got all the sugar in, then return it to medium.  This next part takes a bit with a large batch, but be patient because you want the rhubarb and unripe berries to cook into a softened state.  Just keep stirring!  (Music, good conversation, etc.  help to pass the time.)

You can see the foam starting to form.  Just keep stirring it back in--at this point it isn't enough to worry about.

The jam will cook down and you may see a bit of "foam" on the top, you can skim this off if it becomes a large amount.  I've found, however, that when I'm not using powdered pectin there really isn't much foam and I can just stir it back in.  I turn the heat up just past medium when I see the rhubarb start to soften.  Using a clean spoon, take a taste test (careful it's hot!) and see if you have it sweet enough.  If not, add sugar, 2 cups at a time until you like the taste. 

Bring the jam to a hard boil, stirring constantly, for at least 1 minute.  The jam will seem to expand during the boiling process, be careful not to get burned or to let the jam overflow!  (If you find that you've underestimated your stock pot size, just scoop some out into another pan.  Keep this pan heating on another burner.  You can add it back in at the end when the boiling stops.) 

After a full hard boil, this is what it looks like.  The rhubarb and some bits of strawberry will still be intact, but are very soft.  See all that light pink foam?  That's really not a lot, so just stir it back into the jam.

After a minute, turn off the heat.  Keep stirring until the jam subsides a bit.  Carefully, remove the pot from the burner to where you plan on filling the jars.  (For me, this is an easy lift/slide onto a hot pad on the counter right next to the stove--the pot is very hot and quite heavy, don't take chances with spilling.)
Now, put the water bath canner on a large burner and turn on to medium heat, so the water can begin heating up.  Get your jars, rings, lids (still in the sauce pot), funnel, magnetic stick (or tongs to fish out lids), moistened paper towel and a scoop for transferring jam to jars (I use a large measuring cup).  I also like a towel to grip the jars with when tightening on the rings, so that I don't burn my fingers.

You can just see the pan behind the jars that I'm filling.  The jam is VERY hot, so don't take a lot of chances, try not to spread out so that you're trying to move hot dripping jam across a counter to the jars--keep the jars right next to the pot and use the funnel.  (You may also want an apron because it does splash droplets sometimes.)  Also, notice that I didn't fill the jars all the way to the top.

Put the funnel in the jar and pour in jam.  Leave 1/4 to 1/2 inch headspace.  (For newbies, this just means you want to fill the jar to about 1/2 inch of the top.)  My canner is around 24 ounces and fits seven pint jars at a time, so I fill the first seven pints, carefully wipe any spills of the rims and sides, add a lid and ring (screw on finger tight, don't over tighten--it's just there to hold the lid in place and protect the rim from chipping, too tight can cause breaking).  Place in the canner.  I like to start with the center and then add jars in a balanced manner until filled.  You don't need the metal rack, but if you have one and are using it, alternating sides that you add jars can help keep it from tipping or collapsing.  (Yeah, ask me how I know.)  Leave about 1/2 inch between jars.  When the canner is full, cover with the lid and turn the stove to almost medium high.

While waiting for the water to boil, I go ahead and fill the other jars, wipe rims, add lids and rings.  These extras I place in about 4 inches of warm water (to keep the jars and jam from cooling) in other pans.  Not a lot of extra pans--stopper the sink and add some hot water, place the jars in the sink.  I started doing this a few years ago when I got tired of trying to keep things from overcooking while waiting for the chance to bottle and process them.  I've found that I can get done faster and because the jars and jam are already warmed up, I don't have to wait for water to cool down completely (or get dumped out so cool water can be put in) before adding them to the canner for processing.

Water bath loaded and going on the left.  On the right are two pans with some water on low heat.  This will keep the jars at a very warm temperature while waiting to be processed.  This allows me to finish up the bottling of jam without worrying about the jam or the jars cooling down too much.  This will lessen your chances of jars breaking during processing.

When the canner water reaches a rolling boil, allow it to boil for a full ten minutes.  After ten minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Carefully remove jars using jar tongs and place on a towel.  (I also hold a thick towel underneath while transferring them to the cooling counter, just in case the tongs were to slip.)  When all jars are on the towel, cover with another towel.  Place the next run of jars into the canner and turn the heat back on, cover and repeat the boiling process.  Just keep going until you're done. 

You can't really see it very well, but the jar on the left has processed and sealed--the lid is flat with a slight indent in the center.  The one on the right hasn't processed, so the lid is flat and if you push on the center it'll move up and down.  A sealed lid won't pop up and down when you push with a finger on the center, this is what you want.

When I start getting to the last few jars, I try to make sure that I have at least four jars in each run to keep them upright and balanced.  Allow all the jars to cool while covered with a towel.  You'll hear a popping sound every now and then--that is OKAY!**   The sound is simply the jar lid sealing, and that's a good thing!  Completely cooling takes hours, so go ahead and clean up and enjoy some free time--you made jam!!

Just a little fun in Photoshop!  Remember, it may be work, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the process and, even better, the results!

**If you have any jars that just won't seal after processing, you can do one of two things.  First option, replace the lid and reprocess.  Option two, let it cool, store in the refrigerator and enjoy.  If it's just one jar, I usually go with Option 2.  Why not?

I should note, sometimes I underestimate how much unripe berries I need or for some reason the jam just doesn't set up right (I've tried some "natural" brands of pectin that just didn't work).  No worries, just use your more liquid-y jam as a topping (like a chunky syrup) for waffles, pancakes, french toast or ice cream!  That's a mistake you won't mind living with, haha!

Strawberry Rhubarb JamSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What is provident living?

My parents always taught us to be independent--to decide for ourselves, solve our problems creatively, and to make it work (maybe that's why I like Tim Gunn, besides the lovely suits).  My dad was a public school teacher and my mom worked a business out of the home which basically means we never had a lot of money, our clothes were handmade or hand-me-down, and the latest whatever came nowhere near our olive green carpeted apartment.  Despite what to some might seem an impoverished childhood, I was a happy child with a great childhood.  Why? 

Quite simply, it comes down to the fact that my parents were actively involved in our lives and didn't let us use the lack of something to hold us back or be our excuse for quitting.  Maybe that's why I love quilting and sewing and canning.  Maybe that's why I see the work of re-purposing something (or upcycling as the trend is now called) as a challenge to my creativity and intelligence.  Garage sales and thrift shops are treasure hunts.  Dare I say it's kind of fun?

So, what's this all about?  Well, I was helping one of my sister's set up her blog, Sound the Note, where she wants to cover information and tutorials that fall under the genre of provident living.  Of course, that led to a discussion as to what that really meant.

A poster from WWII, still a good habit to follow.
We both agreed that it is a lifestyle that allows the individual or family to be self-sufficient, independent and wisely using all resources.  This could include anything from being prepared to take care of oneself during a natural disaster to recycling aluminum foil to conserve resources and energy to using dinner leftovers instead of throwing them away to cleaning up the clutter in your house to paying off debt.

You know I had to bring up the fact that quilters are a fabulous example of this lifestyle--we cut up fabrics, often from old clothing, save our scraps, and take what is a utilitarian item, a blanket, and make it into a piece of art.  And that sewers often give clothing a make-over, so that it will fit a new size or become a new, more stylish item.  (I just finished re-making a camp shirt into a blouse!)

Here's ten things I'm trying to do this year:

1.  Eat all the food on my plate--so if I can't eat that much, take less instead of wasting it.
2.  Walk to the post office and store rather than take the car (I really don't live that far away).
3.  Don't forget the fabric grocery bag--I've got a lovely new one from the Green Bag Lady.
4.  Take a smaller glass of water instead of drinking half and then pouring out the rest. 
5.  Re-make or re-purpose at least ten items of clothing for myself or others.  (2 down, 8 to go!)
6.  When possible, have my shoes re-soled instead of tossing in the trash and buying new.
7.  Make/try my own hair cleanser/conditioner and deodorant in re-usable containers.  (And it works!)
8.  Use fabric I already own for at least 60% of every quilt, craft or clothing project.
9.  Watch half the amount of television--substituting the reading of skill-based books instead.
10.  Learn two new skills. 

So what do you do to live a provident lifestyle? Or, what do you wish you knew how to do to practice provident living?
What is provident living?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A beautiful summer day...

School's out.  Summer begins.

I admit, I love having a job that works on the school year, even if I don't always love working with some of my co-workers.  I love having a Christmas break, Spring break, every Saturday and Sunday, plus federal holidays off.  Most of all, I love having the Summer off.

So, Stars and I have played outside, gardened and sewn (on my just-arrived Singer 201K, handcrank sewing machine!).  He has a new blanket and I've got a lovely crop of strawberries.  Life is pretty good. 

Stars is now 11 years old and still a crazy bunny!

Have fun this summer---and enjoy those sewing projects!  I'll be posting some tutorials soon, but right now, I'm going to eat another one of these strawberries.  Yum!
A beautiful summer day...SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fun Packages in the Mail

Well, the school year has come to a close--finally!  I love the kids, but I also love having the summer off (although the lack of a paycheck isn't quite so enjoyable)!

This year has been especially stressful as I have some mean spirited, down-right snotty co-workers to deal with who add a lot of stress to what should be a simple fun job.  Go figure.  Maybe they should get a hobby so they can occupy themselves in a more positive manner.

Anyway...after a crap-tastic week of work, I came home to some packages in the mail.  The first was a winning from the Sew Mama Sew giveaway day---some fabric, who doesn't cheer up with fabric?  I won this over on A Quilt and a Prayer blog.  Teresa is a great person and her blog is fun to check out.

I haven't decide what to make yet.  Maybe a thread catcher or a Hoop Travel Bag.  Hmm...

As if that wasn't fun enough, I also had another package.  This one actually surprised me because I wasn't expecting it at all.  It was from Alexandra408, who I had sent a quilt to in DQS12.  She had sent me a lovely Thank You package!  (And she had already thanked me in Flickr!)  Some fabric, a cute notebook (always needing those), and look at that adorable bird design she made.  It's already hanging on my wall!

The bird design is made of felt, in case you were wondering, and hand stitched.
But, the part about these packages that really made my day--the lovely notes included!  Each was so kind and thoughtful, it really touched me, especially after a long week of dealing with petty co-workers.  I admit, I'm not one to normally write long notes.  You want long, find one of my sisters.  You want short and to the point, that's me.  (Not that I don't send a good thank you note, email or message--I never skip that!  I just tend to run into writer's block when writing notes, so they tend to be short.)  These notes were from two ladies who took the time to write something extra when they didn't need to.  I'm thinking I need to be better with my note writing, because it does mean something to the person receiving it.

So thank you Teresa and Alexandra--you totally made my week!
Fun Packages in the MailSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, June 9, 2012

RATZ Swap--Key Fob

I received my key fob from the RATZ swap earlier this month (hey, it's only day 9).  My little fob came all the way from across the ocean in Norway!  That's a long way to travel!

Made for me by Synnoeve (Synnovekri), this key fob is full of hand crafted goodness.

We weren't supposed to include extras, but the fabric and ribbon were what she "wrapped" it in, sneaky girl!

This is a really cool style that is starting to show up here and there.  (I think a lot of it started from the Japanese craft books on the market these days.)  The keys actually hook to a clip that's hidden inside the key fob.  The clip pulls down through the bottom to use the keys, but then for the rest of the time you pull the wrist loop on the top and the keys are pulled up inside--no rattling around when walking or scratching up phone screens in a purse.  So simple, and yet, genius!

The reverse side is a liberated or wonky log cabin in black and white and red fabrics.  (And we all know how I love me some black and white fabric!)  There's also a small metal charm tag that says "Handmade" near the bottom, a very clever touch!  You can see the hand crocheted wrist loop cord with the adorable little fish and bell at the end.  She didn't even know how much I like the sound of little bells, coolness!

I love that the log cabin block is angled and wonky.  Also, the use of the bits of linen colored fabric in with the black and white really makes this dynamic and pulls in the crocheted lace edging and cord.

The front side is just plain gorgeous!  A hand embroidered butterfly and floral design are front and center in multi-colored floss.  Her stitching is, by the way, impeccable.  There's also a little red heart button, so cute!  And, as if all that weren't enough work put into one little key fob...there's hand crocheted lace edging along the bottom!  I can't crochet worth a thing, believe me, but I love crocheted lace, so this was just icing on the cake.

A linen fabric makes the perfect background to show off some lovely embroidery work!

Synnoeve really nailed this--embroidery, crocheted lace, little bell to hear when I walk, butterflies--she's either slightly psychic or a very good "stalker" of swap partners.  Hmm...

No more stuffing my keys into pockets creating unsightly bulges, nope!  Now, they will dangle from my wrist in style!
RATZ Swap--Key FobSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
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