Monday, December 27, 2010

My favorite holiday decoration

I am a nut about holiday decorating magazines.  I buy them all, scouring for new ideas and clever innovations.  But, I must confess (somewhat immodestly) that my "snowflake" mantle is the best thing I've seen.  Photographing it is tricky, but I've tried.  These photos do not do it justice.

Let's begin with the stockings.  I knit stockings for my family years ago but the colors just didn't translate to this house once we moved in.  The knit stockings are bright cherry red, kelly green, etc.  They looked really horrid with the Early American color scheme here.  So, they are relegated to the trunk to be given to the boys once they leave home and have mantles of their own.  I knew I wanted a blue and ivory scheme for this house.  The boys' stockings and the dog's were made by me.  Ivory wool and hand-dyed blue wool (for my blue-eyed blonde, Andrew) plus the very coolest lining printed with little boy angels.  Honestly, when I found that fabric, I was elated.  Very funky Mexican print.  Love it.

Rowland's stocking has a toy soldier, Andrew's has a snowman, and Nate's has a red-nosed reindeer.  Lance (the dog) has a Christmas tree with dog bone ornaments.

Tom's stocking and mine were both won from our town's stocking contest.  Both are made by my good friend, Brigitte.  She does the most amazing Father Christmas figures and Tom's stocking has one of these.  Fur-trimmed, even.  My stocking is a collage of vintage lace.  When you put them all together, it is exactly the look I want.  Coordinated but not matching.

Now to the mantle.  I grow a lot (A LOT) of alliums in my yard.  They are deer-resistant, come up every year, and have a great, architectural shape for the garden.  But, most people cut them down once they've bloomed.  I took the dried seed heads and spray-painted them gold.  Now they are snowflakes!  Back-lit, they are amazing to look at.

Along with the alliums are some wire snowflakes picked up at Target or wherever.  In the photo above, the wire snowflake is to the left of the allium seed head.  Amazing how something natural and something man-made can work together.

All around the snowflakes and seed heads are crystal candlesticks of varying heights.  These came from thrift stores and Ebay.  I'm going to be looking for a few taller ones in the next year.  I think the mantle needs a bit more height.  On top of the candlesticks are inverted Christmas ornaments in shades of gold, silver, and amber.  The more glitter and shine, the better.  My favorite is a perfectly plain amber glass ball. 

To the sides are several birch bark trees.  Clearance sale from Wisteria catalog which has GREAT stuff.  I think these were 75% off when I bought them and they are just the thing.  They'd be equally at home in a rustic, natural setting or any other decor.  Bulky to store, though.
The final element is the cherub.  He doesn't show up so well but he makes the whole composition.  He's carved of wood.  My mom gave him to me when she was clearing out some decorations.  One of his toes has broken off, sadly.  I make a small swag out of evergreen branches to cover the nail and the wire holding him up.  At the center of the swag is a wire snowflake grabbed from a clearance table at a local design store.

The entire thing is placed on a single rope light and some glitter mesh fabric.  I love sitting in my knitting seat because the whole mantle is there for me to see as I work.  I almost hate to put it all away when the season is over.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Another stair riser finished!

If you've been with me for awhile, you'll remember my stair risers.  I'm doing each riser in a slightly different technique.  Here's the original post:   So far, I have wool applique, lace knitting, crochet, rug hooking, penny rug, and embroidery.  This is my latest finished riser.  It's an homage to my hometown of Redlands, California.  Redlands has a lot of history including being the former orange capitol of the country.  Beautiful Victorian homes line the streets and mix with Spanish and Craftsman architecture.  It was a great place to grow up.  We had an orange grove in our backyard and, in season, my brothers and sister and I would eat at least 4 navel oranges straight from the tree.

Obviously I wanted an orange tree as the focal point.  I've used this applique technique on a couple of projects lately.  You can create a surprisingly delicate tree even with bulky wool.  The key is to take it slow.

Once you have your base fabric and your motif fabric, you very carefully base them together.
This allows you to sew without the stuff shifting all over.  You work from the back (in this case, the blue fabric) but the accent fabric is really what you're interested in.  My tree will be brown.

Once you've got it basted, draw your motif on the back and then slowly sew each line.  It's very important to use a locking stitch at the end of each line.  After sewing, it looks like this:

This is from the blue side, obviously.  Each line is stitched and locked in place.

Next you get your small, sharp scissors and very carefully, under good light, cut away the excess wool.  This takes forever, especially with a large tree like this.  Do not overdo the wine during this process.  One wrong snip and you have a mess.

For the oranges, I ordered some felt balls from Etsy.  I could have made them myself, but they are really inexpensive to buy and, frankly, I have better things to do.  The leaves are made from some boiled wool.  Actually they came from the sash tie of a boiled wool duster I got at a sale.  I knew I'd never actually tie the coat but couldn't bear to throw away the long strip of beautiful loden green wool.  That was about 5 years ago and I finally used the strip.  Never throw wool away.

I added a little embroidery to the sides just to fill in the space but the tree is really the star.  I only have three more risers to go.  I think I've been working on these for about 5 years.  I wait for inspiration to strike.  Who knows when they'll be done!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It all starts with someone giving me an idea.  Last year, my floral designer friend was working with a grapevine angel and wanted something colorful for the angel to hold in her hands.  So, I started thinking about it and this is what I came up with.  Naturally, I forgot to take pictures along the way, but I can give you the basic order of events.

As always, I start with recycled wool.  This smaller poinsettia was made from a single skirt in classic, bright red.  I sketched out 2 sizes of petals and used my rotary cutter to cut out some pairs.  this one only had 4 small and 4 big.  I've since moved to 5 and 5.  Odd numbers always look better.

The petals were sewn together and trimmed close.  Then, I ran a tight but wide zigzag down the center line of each petal.  This line becomes the channel for the wire.  I used regular floral wire that comes in long packages.  You need something pretty stiff.  This is 20 guage.  I left the wires long for the time being.
Once I had all the petals made, I made the center.  I used a piece of wool and stuffed it with some offcuts from wool or cashmere or whatever I had.  I really don't like fiberfill.  Ever.  Once it was stuffed, I took thinner floral wire and wrapped just below the stuffing.  Then I sewed some glass beads on for a bit of sparkle.

So now I have a bunch of petals and a center.  This is the trickiest part.  I take a long piece of thinner floral wire, arrange the petals around the center, and wrap around the base of all of it.  Tight.  Extra wire is used to wrap all the long ends of 20-guage wire to make a stem.  At this point the flower is closed up tight and the petals stick straight up. 

Now you want to cover the stem and the ugly wires.  I take a long strip (about 1/2 inch wide) of the same green used for the center.  I wrap it at the top first to cover the wire.  This is the only glue I used.  A dab of glue and pin hold the strip in place until you can stitch it down.  Catch a bit of a few petals as you stitch so the green strip stays in place and doesn't go sliding down the stem.  Once it's secure at the top, you just wind the strip down the stem, stitching every wrap so it is secure.  Make sure you cover the bottom of the stem as well.  You don't want to see any metal at all.

After the whole thing is stitched and secure, you can gently bend the wires outward to form the flower.  This is the time to arrange the petals as well.  I love how the wool has the velvety texture of real poinsettias. 

This bunch of poinsettias is going to my friend, Lisa, for her Christmas present.  Happily, our girlfriend Christmas get-together is not scheduled until the 21st so I got to enjoy these in  my own house for the whole season practically!  I'm hoping Lisa doesn't follow my blog.  Otherwise, the surprise is ruined.  She admired my original poinsettia last year and said that, if I ever made more, she wanted to buy some.  I never got around to it, but when I drew her name for the gift exchange, I knew what I would do.

These are a little different because I didn't have enough wool from any one skirt to make all the flowers.  I wanted a bigger flower and they actually used up quite a bit of wool.  So I cut out the petals needed and then over-dyed the entire batch with some crimson dye.  I highly recommend the Jacquard acid dyes that come in a little packet that dissolves in water.  They're meant for use in the washing machine, but I did it stovetop in my big dye stock pot.  The crimson was just the beautiful, dark red that I wanted.  I dyed the batch and then ran it all through the washer on gentle to remove the excess dye.  Make sure you run some similar colors in the load immediately following.  I stupidly ran a load of whites and ended up with pinks.  Rookie mistake.  But, the dye holds beautifully and the only acid involved is a bit of white vinegar.

Now the only question is how to wrap them!  Once you bend the wires out to form the flower, it's a pretty big package.  Merry Christmas, Lisa!