Friday, December 27, 2013

Passport Pincushion and Christmas Cheer

I have a new project chart to release, yes on Christmas week (when ISN'T a good time for a new chart?)  It's called "Passport Pincushion" and the packet takes you through the process of making your very own Passport Pincushion.  The instructions come with full-color pictures of steps of the process as well as a page full of sampler motifs to use to create a pincushion like mine.

The beauty of the project is that you can use bits and pieces of a lot of your charts that you may already have.  You can create themed pincushions (think holidays, samplers, letters & numbers, seasons, colors, primitive, French...whatever strikes your fancy.)  The instructions include how to make the little "Stamps" to decorate your pincushion and how to affix them.  I also tips and ideas for other can see on mine that I like to include various embellishments, scraps of fabric, and even specialty stitches sewn right onto the pincushion.

You can make these pincushions any shape or size, and they can not only be used as pincushions -- make ornaments, pinkeeps, box tops, framed pieces...your project is sure to be as individual as you are. I have taught this project as a class in the past, and creative types found this to be extremely fun...and people who are more "Type A" found it challenging, but rewarding.  You have to get over the idea that it will be perfect...make it messy, make it yours.  I just hope you have fun with it.  You can purchase the chart on my Etsy site "Letters Great and Small."  I will be shipping charts to the distributors the first of the week.

Just when I thought kitten season was over, here came three more little dearhearts.  A litter of six came to the shelter the day before Christmas eve, and they saved the three in the toughest shape for me.  Little Half Pint here only weighs 8 ounces, and our vet tech did not expect me to take him, as she said he was probably near death.  He was lethargic and weak (and is half the size of the others.)  I said it wasn't fair for any creature that small to be in a cage alone at the shelter on Christmas Day, especially knowing he would probably not make it.  She was really happy that I took him home.

The good news is, that several days later (after spending a few days in my warm robe pocket), he is eating well, using the litter box, and scampering around the house.  He is not gaining weight yet, but isn't losing any, either.  While I was doing photography this morning, he found a bit of lace on the couch that he made use of as a pillow, so I couldn't resist taking a few snapshots of him.  We will have him a few months -- it will take him probably eight weeks or more to come up to weight, and I do realize that as the runt of the litter, he still is not out of the woods.  

We had a nice Christmas with my mom and dad who drove from South Carolina to spend a few days with us.  Christmas eve was time for homemade gumbo, and we had a big turkey dinner on Christmas.  I made cranberry bread, too, and peanut butter kiss cookies, as well as my grandma's crescent cookies (made with a cream cheese dough, shaped like croissants, and filled with sugar, cinnamon and chopped walnuts.)

The cats all loved playing with the leftover ribbons and boxes, and the afternoon was spent cooking and playing cards.  Time with family is what is best for Christmas.

I am ready to face 2014 with a thankful heart and a busy needle.  This year was full of changes for me, and I am ready to tackle my new challenges while devoting more time to my family and my craft.  I wish you nothing but the best for 2014.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mercy Goodehart, some pie pops and (of course) some cats

It's hard to believe the year is so quickly coming to an end -- I have dived in deep into designing, and spent a good part of this week working on a new sampler to start stitching soon (as soon as my Christmas gifts are done...I'm getting there.)  My friends Kathy and Jennifer are working on things for me, and I for them, but I'm going to have to share those projects AFTER Christmas...because they read this blog. (You're just going to have to wait, ladies!)

Mercy Goodehart design by Shakespeare's Peddler (to be stitched/released in 2014)
This will be my first big design of the new year -- I've pulled the threads and fabric, and I'm actually super-excited to start stitching on this one myself.  I've worked a lot of little secret elements into this sampler, which will come with a bit of a backstory for Mercy (she's fictitious.)  I designed the border to be more fun to stitch than the same old flower repeated again and again.  There may be some tweaking to do yet, but so far, I'm really proud of it.

Possible color palette for Mercy Goodehart
This is my color palette so far ... I will probably add an over-dyed silk or two.  I like to use at least one over-dyed (variegated) thread, because it makes the sampler look more like the real thing.  My old samplers have some neat color variations.  Too much, though, and it gets overwhelming.  I'll release an actual thread/fabric list once the design is getting ready to print.  This one will take a while, as it's big, so be patient with me.  The working title is "Mercy Goodehart."

Sampler Stocking by Carriage House Samplings
I've also been busy updating my Etsy site: Letters Great and Small.  This week, I uploaded yards, and yards of Lakeside Linens in different counts and colors, as well as a bunch of Christmas-themed charts (including a sampler stocking by Carriage House Samplings, above.)  I've got almost 300 items up already, and many, many more to go.

We had some sad news this fall -- Giblet, a cat we adopted three years ago after Thanksgiving, has been missing for some time.  She was a quirky cat -- not very nice, actually, but we loved her just the same.  We had her in and out of the vet to see if she was sick (and thus, crabby), but she was healthy.  He recommended we allow her to go inside and outside, and while that helped, she was never really one you could pick up or pet with any reliability; in fact, one year for my birthday she gave me a black eye by punching me in the face with her paw.  About four or five weeks ago, I let her out when she asked, and she has never returned.  I do wish there was more I could have done for her.  We provided her love, comfort, food, and care while we had her, and we do miss her.

Ty, the amazing, crinkly-furred, wonder cat.
In the meantime, we fell in love with one of our foster kittens.  His name is Ty, and he was brought to the shelter one afternoon by a gentleman who found him next to a dumpster by a tire shop (and so, the name "Ty.")  This man had Ty fixed and got him all of his shots, then surrendered him to me at the front counter of the shelter.  He had the most unusual fur -- kinky, curly, frizzy, and kind of a mess.  He hung out at the shelter waiting for adoption for a number of weeks.

One afternoon, I came across Ty in the euthanasia room.  He had developed ringworm (a skin fungus) right up against his eye and was slated to be put down.  I had to try to save him -- he is such a nice cat, and that generous man had put so much love and effort into him already.  After careful applications of a topical ringworm treatment (with Q-Tips and a steady hand), we were able to beat the ringworm.

But of course, by then, we had fallen in love with him.  He sleeps a lot -- he's growing (you can see he's got big feet already.)  But he is gentle, affectionate, social, and has a tail that makes me laugh (it is shaggy, very long, and looks like something you might pull out of a clogged drain.)

We think he's going to be big -- would you look at those ears and feet!
He gets along with all of our other cats, universally, and although I'd love to call him Oliver (he looks like an orphan boy -- he's got very big gold-green eyes), the name has kind of stuck.

Lolly is now available for adoption at Southern Pines Animal Shelter
Lolly went back to the shelter for adoption this week.  The poor dear was terrified to be leaving home.  I have no worries that she will find a good home.  I know not all of you keep up with my Facebook page, but little Shoe passed away a week after we got her.  I think she had been out in 40 degree temperatures by herself for too long by the time she came to the shelter, so she went downhill very quickly.  More sadness, but she did have our love and affection, if even just for seven days.

Steve attended a communication department Christmas party last weekend.  We were supposed to bring something to share, and I had seen online a few places where pie pops are the latest thing.  I picked up some long lollipop sticks at the craft store, pulled out my faithful piecrust recipe, used some blueberries I had in the freezer, and oh man, were they good!  My recipe and directions follow:

Pie crust circles waiting to become pie pops
Theresa's Magic Pie Crust:
(this will yield about 24 pie pops)
1 cup unsalted butter (COLD!)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Ice water

In your stand mixer, start by mixing together the butter, flour and salt.  As soon as the butter chunks are about the size of marbles, start drizzling in the ice water while the mixer is going.  (You want everything to be as cold as possible.)  Drizzle water until the dough just comes together, then STOP!!!!  Do not over-mix.  Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Homemade blueberry pie filling.  This made the house smell amazing.
Blueberry Pie Filling (yes, you can cheat and use store-bought)
4 cups frozen blueberries
3/4 cup white sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed into 3 Tbsp. water
1/2+ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter

Simmer blueberries on medium heat with sugar (and a splash of water, if you feel like you need it) until it's all bubbly.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture (while still simmering), and stir until the mixture thickens.  Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter.  This will make a nice healthy portion of the filling -- you could use the rest as a pancake or waffle topping, or make a smaller pie, depending on how much you use.  Pull off the stove and let cool.

Roll out your pie crust, then cut circles using an over-turned juice glass (or, if you're well-stocked, a round cookie cutter).  Lay out one layer of rounds on a cookie sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper (to prevent sticking).  Press a lollipop stick into each round (about half-way up), then spoon about a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each round.  Cut a small ventilation hole in the un-used rounds (I made V's) to prevent explosion (this is crucial...don't skip it.)  Gently lay on top of each filling-topped round, then press down tightly with your fingers all of the way around, making sure to really get that area around the stick.

Sprinkle each little pie with sugar, then bake in a 350 degree oven, until the tops of the pies start to turn golden.  These get pretty puffy and flakey.  But don't worry, the puffiness will go down as they cool.

When they're done, allow to cool, and as they do, push the lollipop stick up into each little pie as far as it will go.  They will seem really loose at first, but the sticks will become more stable as the pies cool.  I arranged them on a big platter, but I would love to find another way to display them a little more artfully.

Pie Pops ready to go feed the minglers at a Christmas party.
The partiers didn't seem to care, because they were eaten lickety-split.  In fact, one graduate student I didn't really know marched into the kitchen where I was standing with my husband just to say: "Those pies...that's the best thing I've put in my mouth all day."  Then she left.  The beauty is you can use other kinds of fruit/filling -- peach, apple, cherry, raspberry.  I think they'd even be good with a savory filling like sausage, onion, rice, get the idea (just skip the sugar sprinkles on the top).

I hope you are enjoying your December so far.  Next to October, it's one of my favorite months, and I am feeling very happy (although a little behind in my preparations.)

Best to you and yours!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

December's Kittens and December's Angel

Bane says: "What? How many days until Christmas?" He's back at the shelter now and waiting for his new home.  I hope he gets there for Christmas.  What a great gift he would make! Bane and his sister Helga spent time at our home getting bigger and better.  He's cuddly, social, and happy-go-lucky.

We had four kittens go back to the shelter this week: Bane, his sister Helga, Pickle, and Pom Pom (see my previous blog post...she was immediately adopted and went to live in Jackson.)

This is a shot of Helga when she was younger.  You can tell by her ears that she's going to be a big girl.

Pickle was a tricky kitten -- we took her in six or eight weeks ago.  She was the runt of her litter and borderline feral.  She didn't trust people and hissed and hid from us the first two weeks.  Over time, though, she became more and more trusting, loving, and happy to be held.  Now, she's very sweet, purrs loudly when she's being petted, and she's looking for her home for the holidays.

Just little Lolly is left.  A few months ago, a nice older lady brought about half a dozen kittens to the shelter.  The woman was getting ready to go to Texas for some serious medical treatments, and couldn't take care of the kittens that had been born in her yard.  She had bottle fed Lolly, and was particularly concerned for her welfare.  Since Lolly was too small to stay at the shelter, I told her I'd take her home to care for her, and I have.  Lolly is oh so nice, and we have enjoyed having her here.  Another day or two, and she'll be heading back to the shelter for adoption.

December's Angel is finished -- and I've only got one angel left to go in my Raise the Roof angels series (January).  This one was fun to stitch, and it's available for purchase in my Etsy shop Letters Great and Small.  I'm printing today and getting ready to ship charts to Norden Crafts and Hoffman Distributing.

I have purchased a number of my antique samplers from Madelena in the U.K.  This is one they've got available for purchase right now, and I absolutely love it -- the colors and composition are fabulous-o.  It would not make an ideal sampler pattern, as a lot of it is specialty stitches (the sky, the flowers, the butterflies are executed in filling stitches.)  I just thought I'd share a picture of it -- if you haven't been out to Madelena, go check them out.  They've always got around 100 samplers for sale, and even if you can't afford to buy one, they are definitely fun to look at.

Christmas is much too close for comfort, don't you think?  I'm starting to pull my gifts together (I purchase some early throughout the year), and I'm busy working on pieces for my friends Jennifer and Kathy.  The 2.0+ cheaters I bought are working great, and I am blazing through the X's.  I hope you're blazing through your X's, too!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Chart: Primitive Christmas

It's so much fun to be back designing -- this is one I finished this weekend, and am in the process of printing today.  It's called "Primitive Christmas" and is stitched in Weeks Dye Works over-dyed threads (Bark, Blue Spruce, Crimson, Gold, Guacamole, Kohl, Merlot, Mocha, Peach Fuzz, Rose Quartz, Whitewash ... yes, I did provide a DMC conversion as well.)  I used 36 count Natural Edinburgh linen by Zweigart.  The stitch count is 101 by 105.  You can purchase the chart through my Etsy site, or ask your local needlework shop to get it from Hoffman Distributing or Norden Crafts.

I finished mine as a box top lid using a $4.29 paper mache box from Hobby Lobby.  Three colors of paint, some basic crafting supplies, et voila!  An inexpensive finishing technique.  I have included finishing instructions in with the pattern, for those of you who are feeling craft.  It probably took me 90 minutes to paint the box and do all of the finishing.

The bad news for me that came along with stitching this piece is that I've had to upgrade to 2.0+ cheater glasses to see the linen.  I went at least 5 months without stitching one X this year, and I feel like the time away from making my eyes work really hard has left them weakened.  Yes, I will probably need to go see the optometrist.  Drat!

This is the only decent picture I could get of Pom Pom before I had to take her back to the shelter yesterday.  Yes, she's gorgeous.  She had ringworm on the top of her head a few weeks ago, and I knew I had to take her home to get her better.  She is probably the, um, daftest kitten we've ever hosted, but also one of the very sweetest.  Lots and lots of kisses, a very swishy tail, and oh, so bumbling.  She never could jump onto something without either falling off of it or having to scratch and claw her way up after a less-than-ideal attempt.  But she never lets that stop her -- she purrs all of the time, loves people, loves other cats, and really, has just the most endearing (simple) personality.

In fact, I'd put her in the same intelligence category as our dear Zero (this is Zero when he was about the same age as Pom Pom.)  Not a lot going on upstairs ... but we love him to pieces.

Now that it's finally December, I'm getting into the mood for Christmas decorating.  And as I was sitting here, I looked up and to the right and saw my Jane Pattison reproduction.  It's one of those samplers that doesn't scream Christmas, but with the colors and pine bough border, it is one that you could definitely hang this time of year (or all year!)

To me, this area of the sampler really has a "Blackbird Designs" feel to it, don't you think?  I think it's those partially-finished bird, and the wonkiness of the motifs (I love things that aren't centered and perfect.)

You can purchase this chart on my Etsy site, Letters Great and Small at for just $15.00 plus shipping.

Keep watching my blog and Etsy site -- I am going to be releasing pieces with greater frequency, and I could not be happier about that.