Better: Adding a simple flower to a tiny bag for a big statement

Red-Bag--better-with-flowerAbove you can see our little red bag dressed with a single Camellia flower. I love this look. Simple, big statement, quick knit. If you’d like to knit this flower yourself, you can buy the pattern now. To make the flower as pictured, I used a size 6 needle and a single strand of worsted weight yarn. 5 larger petals (as written) and then 4 – 5 smaller petals.

Check back tomorrow for another “Better” dressing idea for this little bag.

We’ll save the Best for later this week!

Good, Better, Best . . . Dressing a little bag for business cards

Sometimes I don’t have time to go back to a particular bag and dress it the way I would like. I tend to like little bags that are crusty with beads and flowers and ribbon in swirls. Such ornamentation takes time. And, well, for the knitter looking at my bag, such ornamentation might be a bit off-putting or intimidating.

But ornamentation need not be intimidating or time-consuming. My aim with Good, Better, Best is to show how easy it can be to turn a bag from “It’s nice,” into “I love it!” into positively “WOW!”

Here is a picture of a cute little bag that is perfect for business cards or those tiny fold up into nothing glasses that fit in a tiny case. Right now, it’s fine. It’s good.

naked-red-bagTomorrow, I’ll show you better. . .

 

 

 

 

Beguiling Golden Finches, Part 1

I have a series of bird feeders that I can see from my kitchen window. This year, I am concentrating on luring Goldfinches to these feeders. I have, according to the FAQ I recently read about attracting them, done everything right: I have a feeder specifically for Goldfinches that has a bright yellow top and is full of nyjer, a feeder of black sunflower seeds, a feeder of “Finch Supreme” mix, a water source that I keep free of ice . . . but no Goldfinches.

likely-Goldfinch-AmericanThere was one the other morning and I was so excited, creeping toward the kitchen window to get a better look, no sudden moves to catch its attention and scare it away. It ignored the Nyjer (is the seed too old?). It lept from the fence to the big hook that holds the feeder. It tested the Finch Supreme mix but seemed unimpressed. It lept back to the fence and hopped down to the hardy Jasmine vine, worked its way along the vine toward the big ceramic pot that holds my mosquito fish and is heated to the point that it steams like a dragon’s nostril on cold mornings. There is even a water lily sending up leaves to the surface. Earlier in the season it held two frogs that would cool their backs in the frigid air. I hope they left for their soil cocoons when we turned off the heater during cool days that stayed above freezing.

The Goldfinch lept to the lip of the pot and looked down at the water as if to say, “How am I going to manage to drink from this?!” but it quickly figured things out and It worked its way around the lip of the pot to the place where the black cord goes into the pot and down into the water to the pond heater. It hopped to the cord and inched its way down to the surface of the water, took a drink. A second drink. Then off it flew with a thrum of its wings.

I whisper, “Bring your friends . . .”

But the feeders are lonely of Goldfinches. Throngs of sparrows fight over the Finch mix, Cardinals and Jays like the sunflower seeds. My Nyjer must be past its day. How do they know without tasting? “At least taste,” I think to myself. Maybe they do when I’m not looking.

My friend Beth say she has “mobs” of Goldfinches. Never has the word mob sounded so lovely to me. I want mobs of Goldfinches, too.

I think of those stacks of knitted yellow sunflowers I’ve got from the days of working on the book of knitted flowers, Noni Flowers.

I get to thinking. Would a Goldfinch be beguiled by a knitted sunflower? And in the middle of Winter?

Let’s see. . .

I’ve got my plan. Join me here next week for a plan update.

Noni Q&A: Beaded Hearts on Heart on My Sleeve

2-Hearts-2Noni’s Heart on My Sleeve, is embellished with beaded hearts . . .they are beautiful, but took a bit of trial and error before I hit upon the right technique for getting a solidly beaded heart that was a pretty shape.

I rejected a bunch of lop-sided hearts (all of which got undone) before we came up with a plan for beautiful hearts every time.

Find a clean, well-lit place to work, of course: Lay down a piece of clean paper or other material on your work surface – when beads are involved, sometimes it’s nice to put down a towel so if beads go astray they don’t roll everywhere.

Gather Your Materials: No. 8 seed beads, a small dish in which to keep them, a beading needle, nylon beading thread, your almost finished bag, and scissors or thread nippers.

Decide on the Location for a Beaded Heart:  or, if you can’t decide, just pick some place with abandon. Start on the inside with your double-strand of thread knotted on the end.

Zinnia-HeartFirst, Outline The Heart with Thread:

Outline-the-Heart-with-threadAs you can see above, I used a modified running stitch. A backwards running stitch will also work. I use the outline to guide the beading process.

Second, Outline The Heart with Beads:

You can see above that I have started to follow the thread outline with beads. I go all the way around then decide how much of the heart to fill in. Sometimes, I only filled in part of the heart.

Christmas-Red-HeartFill the Heart With Beads:

hearts-at-the-bottom-of-the-bag

I have not scientific method for this process, save I keep traveling through the felt until I get the tip of the needle out again, put a bead on the needle, and then go back into the felt (rather than all the way through–in this way, I can stay working on the outside of the bag), catch a bit of the felt, and out comes the needle somewhere else ready for another bead. i do not feel that I must start at the bottom and fill in from the bottom up or the inside out or the outside in. My only concern is that I stay inside the lines.

Questions?  Post them here and I will answer in the comments or add to this blog posting.

Best Apple Pie Ever, if I do say so myself . . .

Best-Pie-Donei don’t know what the weather is like where you live. . . but where I live it’s COOOOOLD! And when the weather gets cold, I make apple pie. The pie above is a picture of the Christmas apple pie I made with my Dad in Maine. It was . . . delicious!

You see, old fashioned apple pie has a rather legendary status in my family. And I have been perfecting my version for a long time now. In the last few years I’ve hit upon a pie everyone who tastes it loves, every-single-time.

If you want a step by step with precise measurements, I’m sorry I can’t do that, because, simply, that’s not how I make pie. What I can say is that I started with recipes (I have a whole shelf of books on pie) and then started to play around. My apple pie is never exactly the same and that’s what makes it an adventure. Here’s what I do:

 

Prepare the Pie Dough

I confess that I got my secret ingredient from a recipe in Cooks Illustrated. I won’t include their recipe here as I’m a great lover and ardent respecter of copyright law.  But their basic recipe is pretty much the same as every basic crust recipe I’ve ever made.

So, follow your favorite pie crust recipe to the letter and make it a double so you can make both the bottom crust and either a lattice or full top. I personally prefer an all butter crust, so I don’t mess around with lard or oil: only 100% sweet cream butter for me. Once you’ve got the butter cut until the flower and butter mixture resembles course corn meal, you can add the cold cold water like you always do and then, here’s the secret, add the same amount of vodka. It does not activate the gluten in the flour so you get the most amazing flake, almost like puff pastry. The extra liquid makes the dough more workable without over-activating the mechanism that holds the crust together. Too much water and crust is too tough, too little and the crust will shatter.

I put half the dough in one piece of plastic wrap and the other half in a second piece of plastic wrap. I shape the dough quickly into a rough ball and then flatten to a thick disc almost a personal pan pizza dough shape. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and put in the freezer to store for a while, or, at the very least, put in the fridge for a couple of hours before rolling out.

 

Prepare the Oven

Preheat the Oven to 425 degrees.

Put a metal cookie sheet in the oven with a big piece of parchment paper on it. I put the cookie sheet in at the start of the pre-heating process so the sheet will be really hot when the pie pan goes on it. The function here is to get the crust cooking from the bottom up so that the crust is beautifully crisp even on the bottom.

 

Prepare the Filling

While the oven is heating up, start preparing the filling.

What Kind of Apples?

I like sweet crispy apples. My favorites:  Honey Crisp. Pink Ladies are in close second.

How Many Apples?

I get out my pie pan. Fill the pie pan with Honey Crisp or Pink Ladies apples in a single layer for big apples and add just one extra apple if you want a really big pie. This plan works no matter how big or small the pie pan is.

Apples-in-pie-pansPeel and core. I use a peeler that also cores and slices the apple. I cut each slice into thirds. If you don’t have such a gadget, peel by hand, cut the entire apple into thirds or quarters (and core at the same time) and then cut each section into pieces that are about a quarter of an inch thick or slightly thinner. Next, I put a little citric acid over my cut apples to keep them looking pretty and fresh. A little lemon juice or Fruit Fresh does the trick.

And now the fun starts. Here’s my basic philosophy: If it tastes good in the bowl, it will taste good in the pie. Go for fabulous but a little less sweet than you want the finished product to be. Never fails.

What to Add to the Apples?

Sugar. I use a cup measure and start with about a cup and a half rough. Then I sweeten to taste (but not yet).

Mix-in-the-sugar-etcSpices. A shake or two of Cinnamon, a pinch of dried Ginger, Clove. A scrape of Nutmeg. I use a fresh Nutmeg with a tiny little scrapper. A generous splash of good, real Vanilla.

Fresh-Nutmeg-2Spirits. And now, drum roll please, add a shot or two of excellent Bourbon. I have been known to use delicious brandy or even just good ole Maker’s Mark Whiskey (welll, like the very last time I made pie).

MakersmarkMix until the sugar starts to pull the juice from the apples. Now taste and taste often! Not sweet enough? Add a bit more sugar a bit at a time until it is almost, but not quite, sweet enough . . . That means it’s perfect. Dust with a bit of flour or corn starch to thicken the juice during cooking. Maybe 3 or so tablespoons, roughly. Taste again. If you are smiling, and love it, it’s going to be amazing. Stir thoroughly and set aside with the big spoon just sitting there loving where it is because you’ll mix it one more time before pouring into the pie shell (don’t forget).

 

Prepare the Crust

If frozen, the dough will need to rest on the counter for a while until it is workable.
If in the fridge, it might still need a few minutes on the counter. I have hit upon the method of starting the rolling out process by rolling around the edge first–this works well to keep the edges from splitting too much.

If a full top crust, cut some slits to let the steam escape. I prefer a lattice top most of the time, so I score with the top side of a regular kitchen knife and then put together while it is on top of the pie. I then sprinkle the top with water and then drizzle granulated sugar all over the top – don’t go wild, of course. Just enough to make it glisten and add a bit more sweetness to the top crust.

Then the crimp. I have to say, this is possibly my favorite part. If you have not already done so, study crimps, pick one, and then make it your own. Here are some ideas from simple to fancy:

piecrusts

I am teaching my son to make pie (he is 7 right now) and he has not yet developed his own crimp, but definitely his own “look.” The little pie here is one he made all by himself! And it was delicious!

Crimp

More crimp ideas:

101144029.jpg.rendition.p rope-pie-crust-s3-medium_new BraidWhat you want is everyone who sees your pie to say is, “O, this must be one of your pies! I can tell from the crimp!”

Best-Pie-Before-PictureStart in the oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or more depending on the size of the pie and the amount of apples:  bigger pie full of apples, better make it 30 minutes.

Baking-in-a-325-ovenAfter that, turn the temperature down to 325 and bake the rest of the way. If the crust starts getting too brown, just put a piece of aluminum foil on top or just where it is getting too dark (sometimes on the outer crust/crimp) – this will protect the crust while it finishes cooking. The pie is done when a nice golden brown and the juices are thick, a bit darker, and at a slow bubble. This means the juice has boiled and activated that thickener you put in.

Almost-DoneRemove and let it cool on a rack.

Then, have at it!

Best-Pie-DoneHmmm. Delicious!

Noni Q&A: Turnlocks 101

Bettie-Boop-resizedI have had a number of inquiries as to the best way to put a turnlock in a felted bag. In fact, in a workshop last year some of the participants chided me for not having done a video or blog tutorial on this subject. I took the pictures below at that workshop as we were working through the steps. So, thank you to the participants in the bag finishing workshops at Ann Marie’s shop Yarn Diva. What follows is a step by step explanation of the method I taught in that bag finishing workshop, and the same method use in the bags I make myself.

First, gather your materials: The turnlock flap can either be the flap of a bag – the Dinner Party Backstage, for example, could sport a turnlock instead of a fancy magnetic snap – or a narrow flap made specifically for the turnlock – this is the case here.

Materials-List-CompleteYou will also need newspaper to protect your work surface, a damp paper towel for clean-up, a bottle of fabric glue or Locktight Superglue, specifically the Extra Time Control formula (sorry, not pictured!), a pen to mark the turnlock flap, a small screw driver, scissors. and, of course, the turnlock itself.

Step 1: Place the turnlock

First, you should place the turnlock in the center of the turnlock flap. You may want to measure with a tape measure to make sure it is where you want it.

Measure twice, cut once.Measure Twice, Cut Once.

Step 2: Mark The Spot for the Lock

I recommend using a black pen or Sharpie to mark the location of the turnlock on the front or back of the turnlock flap. While we show it on the front of the flap here, it may be better to mark up the back just in case you need to revise the placement.

Mark the spot where the turnlock will sit with a black pen or Sharpie.

Mark-the-spot1aMark-the-spot2Step 3: Cut Out the Marked Space

Now you will need to cut the felt, so be very careful and deliberate. The image will you have drawn on the back of the turnlock flap will be just slightly smaller than the actual hole needs to be. Cut to that marked size and then slowly shave a milimeter at a time until the lock housing fits through the cut out without any buckling or tightness.

Cutting-out-the-spotStep 4: Apply Glue to the Turnlock Front

The turnlock will be held in place best if it is glued in place. First, apply your fabric glue or Superglue to the “front” of the turnlock housing as shown below.

Put-glue-on-the-back-of-the-turnlockAbout this much glue.  Be thorough but conservative. It is not necessary to take the glue all the way to the edge of the turnlock face because then it may show on the felt – not a good look.

About-this-much-glueStep 5: Glue the Turnlock Flap In Place on the Lock Face

Put the front (right) side of the turnlock flap down on the wrong side of the turnlock face. Press in place with your fingers for a good stick.

Put-the-flap-down-on-the-turnlockStep 6: Apply Glue to The Back of the Turnlock Flap

In order for the flap to be thoroughly held in place in the turnlock housing, apply glue to the cut edge of the felt once the front side is face down on the turnlock front housing.

Put-glue-on-the-backside,-tooAbout this much glue. Again, too much and it will be a difficult mess.

About-this-much-Glue2Step 7: Put the back of the turnlock housing wrong side down on the newly glued surface and press in place. Line up the holes for the screws with the screw housing.

Put-the-turnlock-back-on-over-the-glueUse your little screw driver to tighten the screws.

Screw-those-super-tiny-screws-tightStep 8: Clean-up turnlock with damp paper towel.

Use the damp paper towel you have at the ready to clean-up any glue that got squeezed out and then polish the exposed metal front and back of the lock until shiny and free of glue.

Looks-greatStep 9: Lock the lock and Press Prongs Through Bag.

Before you put the turnlock flap on the bag itself, lock the lock and then position the flap on the bag. Only at this point do I actually baste the flap itself in place on the bag.

Once the flap is basted in place and the flap itself allows to fall to its resting place on the front of the bag (with all parts of the turnlock on the flap–that is, the lock, too), press the prongs of the turnlock “lock” into the bag (so that the prongs are now on the inside of the bag) where you want the lock to sit.

Next, unlock the lock and, holding just the lock itself, press the lock prongs the rest of the way through the bag front. Put the little metal sleeve on the prongs and press the prongs toward the center to secure.

With the lock still unlocked, now you can rivet or sew the turnlock flap in place permanently.

This part of the process is finished!

Still have questions? Ask them in the comments section below and I will answer either in the comments or another blog posting.

Hearts on My Sleeve: Seasonal Favorite Now in Crochet!

Hearts-on-My-SleeveJust in time for American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day: Noni’s  . . . Heart on My Sleeve Bag is available in knit from Noni and a Noni version of the bag is now available in the popular book edited by Laura Zander of Jimmy Beans:  Crochet Red

CrochetRed_BookCover_HiRes For the crochet version of this design, I teamed up with Janet Brani to translate the knitted bag into crochet. I love the resulting tiny purse, perfect for Valentines Day, for any fancy party, or (picture this) in white or in an ensemble of brights for a Bride and Bridesmaids.

CrochetRed_BeadedFeltedBag_NoraBellows_JanetBrani_HiResIn next week’s Noni Q&A, I will be exploring how to do the hand-beading and make beautiful beaded hearts or other images (almost like applique) on felt, but get your bag started now and you’ll be ready to follow along with my step-by-step tutorial in next Friday’s blog. You can purchase Crochet Red for the crochet bag or buy the pdf for the knit version of the pattern by clicking here. Call me at the studio or write to me to order your hardware kit and yarn.

For those who are interested in the ways this sweet little bag can be used for occasions other than St. Valentine’s Day, consider this lovely version of the bag:

Hearts-on-My-Sleeve-with-FlowersHere, I used the Hearts on My Sleeve instructions as written, but I also made cherry blossoms and the cherry blossom leaves from Noni Flowers.

Noni-Flowers-Book-cover-finalSpecifically, I used the flower instructions on page 43 and leaf instructions found on page 152 with the information about the project Cherry Blossom Pauper’s Purse.

Paupers-Purse2

Paupers-PurseAs you can see, the Pauper’s Purse was not a felted bag but worked in Tilli Tomas Plie and Beaded Plie. Nevertheless, the instructions for the knitted leaves and flowers need no adjustment for the wool/felted versions. After the blossoms and leaves are felted and beaded, the results are delicate and romantic in true-to-life shades. They would be dramatic and daring if the flowers were red and the leaves black. Subdued if worked all in shades of grey and white and black.

Check back on Jan 31 for more in the Noni Q&A and share your own versions of this bag on the Noni Designs Facebook page and/or ideas here in the comments.