Thursday, May 30, 2013

Desert Inspiration

My trip to the southwest earlier this month was great! And so inspiring in many ways.

Right off the plane, Sheila and I went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. I've never been to Arizona in May and so I was surprised by the amount of blossom everywhere. And the cactus were in bloom too. By the way, there is a very nice new restaurant there called Gertrudes. Lunch there was a terrific way to start off our holiday.

Just at the entrance to the Gardens was this display of cactus, succulents and other plants in big pots. I saw similar things everywhere we went. Made me want a little version of this at home!

Desert Botanical Garden Phoenix
Of course, some climate variation had to be considered! Succulents (vs Cacti) seemed to be the way to go, seeing as they tolerate extreme heat and cold, and grow through times of both drought and moisture. Which sort of sums up the annual weather picture around here!

So, I rounded up some pots, dug a few 'hens and chicks' (various kinds of Sempervivum for those of you who like to know these things) out of the garden, picked up a couple of other prime specimens at my local nursery and got to work.

The only thing you really need to remember when making a planter like this is good drainage. Both the big ceramic bowls that I used have drainage holes in the bottom, and I added a thick layer of brick chips and stones. A light soil is also a good idea (although these things grow in just about anything I think). So either use special cactus soil, or mix some sand into regular potting soil. I also picked up these pot stands at Dollarama for extra drainage. And thank goodness! We've had 50-60 cm of rain over the last 24 hours!

Check out the big guy in this planter. It's almost 20 cm across. And just to its left, one of the green varietals is already sending up a bloom. These start to look very alien, very quickly.

The plants will spread so the bowls will be well filled by the end of the summer and may even need separating. 

By the way, these plants are hardy to about -30C. So I'll be able to overwinter them.

OK, so it's not the Botanical Gardens, but with a big pot of portulaca and maybe a couple of geraniums I'll have a pretty (and heat resistant) display on my hot and sunny upper deck this summer. Come on over for a drink soon!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tassel Time

The other day I was rummaging in a box for something else and found a length of 12" white flapper fringe, some green and blue ombre dyed fringe and a 9 inch long incomplete tassel that I had completely forgotten about. I seem to remember buying the fringe at Designer Fabric Outlet in Toronto and making the green tassel sometime in the last century.

I love tassels. OK, you can get on with all the jokes that come to mind. I'll wait.

Better now? Good. As I was saying, I love tassels. I love their silky strings and the way they move. I have used them as decorations on things as diverse as gifts and window blinds and I routinely use them as pendants for necklaces. I like them hanging from door handles and cupboard knobs. If I had drapes with tie backs, I'd probably use them there too. I have a shoe box full of small ones, just waiting for their call to duty.

And I like making tassels. Especially big luxurious ones. You can make these from any kind or yarn or fibre really, but my favourite material is fringe trim - the swingy stuff we all associate with 1920's dresses. This can be hard to find, but it comes in a range of colours and lengths and it seems to dye well for me.

With this in mind, I thought that I should get on and use some of this newly rediscovered trim.

Making a tassel from fringe trim:

All you need to make a tassel from this kind of fringe is a needle and thread, something to use as the hanging loop and maybe a tassel cap of some kind.

Starting with your hanging loop - which can be a bit of cording or even a string from the fringe itself - wrap a bit of the bound top edge of the fringe around it and make a few stitches to secure. Then simply wrap and stitch, wrap and stitch until you have a tassel of the desired diameter. Keep the top flat or domed, depending on how you plan on finishing the tassel.

Sewing a tassel
If you are going to be inserting the tassel into a cap, then make it just a tiny bit bigger than the cap opening, so that you get a really snug fit.

Caps can be anything from large bead caps (as I used here), to recycled and altered tops from bottles.

Finishing with a cap
Another tassel style is to give it a big 'head" as you see in the picture at the top of this page. To make this kind of tassel, simply sew the hanging loop pointing downward, then when done, reverse the tassel over itself and tie the length of it under the now enclosed top. For more volume you can always use a big wood or plastic bead inside.


I like long tassels with an ombre dye effect.  If you want to dye the fringe, you can do it before or after making the tassel. I've tried it both ways, but after seems to be a bit easier in terms of management of the material in the dye bath.

The green trim was already dyed, so for the white tassels I mixed up a cup of purple dye and and rigged up a hanger from my kitchen faucet in the deep side of the sink. The trick to ombre dying is simply taking the time to progressively remove the item from the dye. If you want to match the ombre across a number of items, be sure to keep track of the minutes for each step.

As these white and purple tassels were dyeing I felt that the top edge of the colour was a bit too defined, so I used a paint brush and plain water to soften the edge during the dye process.
Ombre Dip Dyed
Once dry, you'll likely want to iron the trim to return it to it's original silky smoothness. You can see what it looks like before and after steaming below.

Steam iron to smooth threads


Your tassel might need a little hair cut at this point. After sewing, dyeing, drying and steaming, it always seems that a few of the ends get ragged. Just give the bottom of it a trim with very sharp scissors. But take this in small steps! If you've ever trimmed your own bangs, you'll know why.

Finally, decorate your tassel. Add dangles to the fall, beads to the hanging cord, or a nice tie if you are not using a cap. The tie can be a simple or fancy as you want. Think ribbon, cording, another piece of fringe (shorter, maybe a different colour?), etc. On the green and purple tassel at the top of the page I used strands of metallic glass bugle beads that echo the colours of the threads. For the white/purple tassels I played on a theme of pearls.

Decorative Details
Now, the only thing left to do is make up the other length of blue/green.

And find a use for them all, so they don't just disappear back into a box!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Arizona Dreaming

The past weeks of sewing have made a nice little dent in the fabric stash and swelled the contents of my closet. This week I decided it was time to have a go at the bead stash. I'm heading to Sedona for a holiday soon and Arizona is on my mind.

Turquoise, red and silver always says South West to me. As you can see, I have a healthy stock of appropriate stones to pick from. And this picture was taken post-necklace.

Arizona Dreaming 2 Necklace
The necklace is actually a set of two that can be worn together. The two outside strands are joined together at about collar bone level. The inside strand is a separate piece that can be worn alone. I guess it could even be turned into a wrap bracelet if needed.

Arizona Dreaming 2 Necklace detail

Bead Specs: 

  • The antique looking 'silver' bird - and I do use that term loosely - is part of a pair of earrings that I bought on sale at Forever XX1. 
  • The sterling silver pendant with red and turquoise stones was an ebay steal for just a couple of dollars last summer. Sometimes you get lucky. 
  • The concho-esque square beads came from Michaels specifically for this necklace. 
  • The big chunks of 'coral' are fairly heavy - some kind of stone dyed to look like antique coral. They give a good effect.
  • The rest of the bits are from any number of bead store purchases over the years and across the continent. Some people collect postcards or shot glasses to remember their travels. I buy beads.  Wonder what I'll come back with this time!

I suppose this necklace should be called Arizona Dreaming II. It seems I'm quite inspired by my trips to the desert. Here's the original Arizona Dreaming necklace from 2010.

Arizona Dreaming Necklace
This first one features a great pewter pendant from the airport gift shop - of all places! It shows images drawn from regional Native American pictographs.

This necklace is my little homage to the monumental pictographic shaman sculptures of Bill Worrell, which I admired last time I was in Sedona.

The piece includes 4"long bone beads, silvery nuggets and smooth and carved black stone ovals.

Will there be an Arizona Dreaming III? We will have to wait and see. But if history is any indicator, I'd say yes!