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Archive for the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Category

Full rack

I am not a gourmet cook by any stretch of the imagination. But, I do like to try new recipes. I’m constantly being bombarded by mouthwatering recipes, streaming over Facebook, or beckoning me from the pages of a magazine. And I succumb…

This invariably leads to me having to buy a new spice or condiment to make the new dish. If I were asked to name my greatest strength and my worst fault, I think the answers would be the same. I am organized. Not quite to the OCD level of organized, but maybe not so far off.

I like things to be arranged alphabetically whenever possible. And spices lend themselves to that very well. Except when you accumulate so many that they wind up all over the kitchen.

My very first spice rack was a gift from my dear Road Warrior, on our very first Christmas together, 40 years ago. It held 18 bottles of spice and it served me well for several years.

Old spice rack

Then I had a couple of racks that sat on the kitchen counter that held an additional 24 bottles. Plus there were two 2 tier lazy susans in the cupboard above the microwave that stored who knows how many more bottles. Each spice cabinet was alphabetically arranged, but I could never remember which cabinet was hiding the particular spice that I needed. And I always had to drag out the ladder to see what was lurking in the top cupboard.

I’ve been pondering on a better system for a couple of years. It seems like all the spice racks on the market assume that 12-18 spices is all you should ever need. (At present, I have a total of 63 bottles of different spices). I soon realized that I was going to have to be creative and come up with a design of my own. I scoured the internet for ideas, and took a bit here and a bit there and finally found all the pieces I needed to make my perfect spice system.

One thing I wanted to eliminate was the backup spice bottle. You know, you’ve got this spice rack with its own decorative bottles. So you’re getting low on cinnamon, you buy a jar and dump it in the decorative bottle, and you still have a quarter of a jar left in the ugly grocery store tin, so you put it in the cupboard till you need more. So you’ve now got duplicates on top of the 63 original spices.

Yikes!

So I found these wonderful 6 oz. bottles that will hold just the right amount. Actually, I first saw these bottles at Target. This is what they sell their own brand of spices in. After Googling awhile, I finally located them. They are called French Square Bottles.

4 bottles

The shelves are actually photo ledges. Google to the rescue again. And I used a clear glossy label and my own llama logo to create the name tags.
I actually have a little room for expansion, so for right now, there is just enough room to display photos of the real spices in my life….my pups…. Mayzie and Bayley.

photoSONY DSC

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plate of cookies

It’s not too late to make an extra special Christmas gift for your doggie friends. Bayley and Mayzie want to share the recipe for their favorite cookie.

Mayzie and Bayley dressed as "Sandy Paws"

Mayzie and Bayley dress as “Sandy Paws”

To make these treats, I press their paw into each cookie.

Paw Print Cookie

Just kidding. But they did serve as models for me to make the paw print press.

cookie press

cookie press 2

I used Sculpey Polymer clay to form the cookie press. This clay is available in any hobby store, easy to work with and then just hardens in your oven.

Dogs love these cookies. We made up several batches to give to all our doggie friends for Christmas presents. They do have wheat flour and corn meal in them, so if your dogs have any sensitivity to these ingredients, then you might want to use a different recipe.

THE RECIPE — Makes about 7 dozen

INGREDIENTS

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups quick cooking oatmeal
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon brewer’s yeast
½ cup dry milk powder
3 tsp beef bouillon granules
3 cups water

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine white flour, whole wheat flour, oatmeal, cornmeal, garlic powder, brewer’s yeast and instant milk. Stir in 2 cups water. Mix the ingredients well using your hands. The dough should be very stiff. Gradually mix in the remaining 1 cup water to make a bread-dough consistency.

3. Form dough into balls and press with the bottom of a drinking glass. or roll out to a ¼ to ½ inch thickness on a floured board and cut with a cookie cutter. Place the biscuits on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake the cookies 45 minutes, turn oven off completely but do not remove the biscuits. Let the biscuits sit in the oven overnight or for 8 hours. Store biscuits in an air-tight container.

So here we go. Let’s make some Paw Print Cookies.

These cookies cool in the oven overnight or for 8 hours, so it’s a good idea to start making these in the evening.

Start by combining all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

dry ingredients

I found that when using the paw print press, the oatmeal gave too much texture to the dough and the pressed paw print wasn’t all that clear. So I ran the oatmeal through a food processor to grind it up a bit.

Whole oatmeal

Whole oatmeal

ground oatmeal

ground oatmeal

Don’t grind it as fine as flour. It should still have some texture to it.

As for the brewer’s yeast, you don’t have to add it if you don’t want to, but it is purported to have a lot of health benefits for dogs, from a shinier coat, less shedding, enhanced immune system, and a flea preventative. When I went to the health food store to buy it, it was only available in a huge tin, but the sales person showed me a product made just for dogs called “Pet Guard yeast and garlic powder”. I use 2 tablespoons of this powder rather that the 1 tablespoon brewer’s yeast and 1 tablespoon garlic powder. And you can sprinkle this on the food everyday for added benefits.

PetGuard

Once you have all the dry ingredients in the bowl, stir them up well.

Now add the 2 cups of water and start squishing.

mixing dough

This is a great way to get out some of that holiday frustration that you’ve been holding in. The dough is very stiff and my hands get really tired before the dough is finally mixed. Start gradually adding the remaining cup of water until all the flour is incorporated.

Roll the dough into little balls, about the size of a walnut.

balled dough

These cookies are not going to spread or rise, so you can place them close together. Just allow enough room for pressing them flat.

I use the bottom of a glass to flatten the balls to a thickness between ¼ inch and ½ inch. Then I press each cookie with the paw print press.

flattened dough

If you don’t have a paw press, you can leave the cookies just like this. Or you can roll the dough out to the same thickness and cut with a cookie cutter. I have a 3½ inch dog bone cutter that I sometimes use.

bone cookie cutter

Put the cookies in the 300 degree oven and cook for 45 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the cookies inside overnight. They will still be soft at the end of the baking time, but by morning, they will be hard and crunchy, just the way your pup will like them.
plate of cookies

R-R-R-Ruff Ruff (Yum Yum)

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Step by Step Tutorial on How to Build Your Own Box with PVC Pipe

Blowing out a fleece

After owning llamas for 11 years, I am finally starting to get interested in producing things with their wonderful fiber. Up until last year, we had been sending all of our fiber to mills that would process it from the fleece into a finished product, such as socks, rugs, scarves, and mittens.

I decided last year to have my llama fiber spun into yarn so that I could learn to make things myself. I have really enjoyed working with the yarn from my very own llamas. It is so soothing to feel its softness slip between my fingers as the intertwining loops grow into a finished creation.

I’m still very new to this process, but one thing I have learned is that there is a definite cost benefit to taking the extra time to prepare your fiber before sending it to a mill, or before processing it yourself if you are clever enough to be a spinner. When the mill receives your fleeces, the fees are initially based on the incoming weight. By the time it is processed into yarn, you can lose up to 50% of your initial weight if you haven’t cleaned it up a bit beforehand.

I’m only talking about llama and alpaca fiber here, as sheep wool contains lanolin, and requires additional steps, which I’m not going to go into. Before shearing, we carefully blow out our llamas to remove vegetation and dirt.

Blowing out the dust

Blowing out the dust

How llamas get so dirty in the first place

How llamas get so dirty in the first place

Then we brush them to further remove vm (vegetable matter). But even so, there will be junk that remains stuck in their hair. Then there are the inevitable second cuts, the small pieces of short fleece remaining in the fiber, caused by shearing the same area twice. All this waste will be processed out, but adds to your incoming weight.

Now— an easy way to clean up that fleece right off the animal, the Fiber Blow Out Box. (It’s still best to clean the fiber as well as you can while it is still on the animal). Just put your shorn fleece into the box and blow it with a Circuiteer high speed blower, or a leaf blower will do. This allows the fleece to tumble and separate so that the dust, trash, and short fibers are blown out of the mesh of the box.

blowing the dust out of the fiber--off of the llama.

blowing the dust out of the fiber–off of the llama.

I saw a version of a fiber blow out box at a recent llama conference and came up with a simple and inexpensive way to make one myself. I’ve been using PVC a lot lately in building agility equipment for my Goldendoodle pup, Bayley. PVC is lightweight, inexpensive, and very easy to work with. I’m not a “tool girl” and I only need one tool to make most anything with PVC.

PVC cutter. This one cost about $10.

PVC cutter. This one cost about $10.

These are the instructions for making your own blow out box. It will take a couple of hours and will cost less than $30 in materials. The finished size is 24” x 34”.
It is important to be accurate when cutting and gluing, making sure each pipe is fully seated in its connector, and your squares are as true as you can make them.

TOOLS
PVC cutter
Sharpie marking pen
Measuring tape

MATERIALS

You will need three 10′ lengths and one 5′ length of ¾” Schedule 40 PVC pipe. All of the connectors are for ¾” pipe. I designed the box with these measurements to minimize waste. If you cut one piece of 10′ pipe into four 22″ pieces, you will have 32″ left over for your side pieces. The fourth piece of 32″ pipe will be cut from the 5′ section.

All the pre-cut pieces, ready to be assembled

All the pre-cut pieces, ready to be assembled

1. 90-degree slip connectors (4)
2. 3-way corner fitting connector (8)
3. 22” pipe sections (12)
4. 32” pipe sections (4)
5. ½” plastic hardware cloth (36” by 15′)
6. White cable ties (8″ long) (100)
7. White Cable ties for door hinge (12″ long) (4)
8. Glue (see comments below)
9. Two 10″ mini bungee cords

ASSEMBLY

Let’s start with the 24” end squares. There will be 3. One square will serve as your opening door.

2 end squares and the door panel

2 end squares and the door panel

Start by gluing four 22” sections to four 3-way corner fittings. Once your square is assembled, place it on a flat surface and adjust so that it lays flat.

24" end square with 3 way corner fittings

24″ end square with 3 way corner fittings

A NOTE ABOUT GLUE
I don’t recommend using the PVC glue that is sold in the plumbing section. This stuff bonds IMMEDIATELY and does not allow for any readjustment that will be necessary to make sure all of your angles are true. Since this doesn’t have to meet a water pressure test, I have found that a plastic epoxy works wonderfully. This glue sets up in from 10 to 20 minutes, allowing you to tweak the joints once they are assembled.

Plastic welder

Plastic welder

Make the second end square the same way. Then make the door square using four 22” sections and the four 90-degree connectors.

Square for opening door with 90 degree corner fittings

Square for opening door with 90 degree corner fittings

Place one of the end squares flat on the floor, and stick one of the 32” sections in each joint gluing as you go. Then place the top end square in place and glue, pressing firmly to assure the pieces are fully seated.

Your box frame is now complete and ready to be wrapped in the plastic hardware cloth.

Cut the plastic netting to 9′. This will be too long, but we will cut it to size once it is attached to the frame. Lay the netting out on a flat surface and place the box on top so that one end of the box is aligned with the edge of the net. You want the net to be the exact width of the box, so go ahead and cut the net to the correct width. It should be 34″ wide.

Place one of the end squares on the remaining net and cut two pieces. They should be 24″ square.
My advice, measure the net to the frames before cutting it. There could be variations in the dimensions of your box.

Laying out the netting

Laying out the netting

Now line up one edge of the box with the 34″ edge of the plastic net.

Position frame along edge of netting

Position frame along edge of netting

Attach the net to the PVC pipe with the 8″ cable ties. I put 3 on each pipe, pulling the net tightly as you wrap it around. Once the net is secured, go back and put a couple more ties on each rail and trim off the tails. You can get an idea of what we did in this photo.

Initial wrap with 3 cable ties on each rail

Initial wrap with 3 cable ties on each rail

Finished wrap with 5 cable ties on each rail

Finished wrap with 5 cable ties on each rail

Attach the net to one of the square ends, but leave the other end open. This will be your door opening.

Then attach the net to the square that you made with the 90 degree corner connectors.

Attach net to door square

Attach net to door square

Now you are ready to attach the door to the box. For hinges you will use the 12″ cable ties. Connect one side of the door panel to a top rail of the open end of the box. 3 ties should be enough, and don’t tighten them down too much. You want the door to swing easily but not be too loose.

Use 12 inch cable ties to attach the door.

Use 12 inch cable ties to attach the door.


The door should swing easily.

The door should swing easily.

To secure the door, use the two 10” mini bungee cords. It’s quick and easy to “lock” and open the door to load your fiber.

Bungee latches

Bungee latches

Now you’re ready to try it out.

Load one fleece at a time. You want the fibers to be able to separate and move around as you are blowing it out.

Blow Out Box with 1 Raw Llama Fleece

Blow Out Box with 1 Raw Llama Fleece

Use a circuiteer high speed blower or a leaf blower and blow air into the box. There will be a lot of dust flying, but it doesn’t show in the photos.

blow out 1

Keep rotating the box and blowing up under the fiber to keep it moving. When you don’t see any more dust, (it’ll take about 5 minutes or so), it’s done.

blowing out fiber

blow out

You fiber should now look clean and fluffy.

Fluffy fleece

Fluffy fleece

You may find some remaining longer pieces of grass and hay that is still in the fiber. The longer stuff won’t be blown out of the small holes in the net. This stuff you will have to pick out by hand.

Long hay pieces may remain.

Long hay pieces may remain.

In the future we’ll try to make sure our floor is clean when we shear. I know what happened here. We had a hay bag by the shute to keep the llamas entertained while we sheared, and they dropped pieces of hay into the cut fiber on the floor.

Shearing Santiago

Shearing Santiago

As I said earlier, it is much easier to clean the fiber while it is still on the llama. Time spent on this step is not wasted. This blow out box will not clean a filthy fleece. It will merely remove any dust, dirt, small second cuts, and bits of vegetable matter that may remain in a relatively clean fleece. You might want to use a 1 inch plastic hardward cloth, but I was afraid of losing too much of the good fiber.

Please let me know if you decide to build one of the boxes. You might come up with even better ideas that I would love to hear about.

Next, I’m going to run this fleece through a drum carder to make it into batts that I can use for my needle felting and wet felting projects. I’ll let you know how that comes out.

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Ever wish you could dye your own yarn to get the variegated color effect? Well I just learned how to do one method, and I’m going to share it with you here.

Knotted Skein

What you will need:
Large bowl
White vinegar
Food coloring
Saran Wrap
Small cups for mixing dye
Large syringe
Large pie plate for microwaving yarn
Towel

There are many types of dyes, but chemical dyes can be hazardous and have to be used very carefully. Food coloring, on the other hand, though it may sound like kindergarten, is very safe and offers up some amazing results. You can buy the McCormick’s liquid colors in the supermarket, but I like to use the cake decorators gel paste colors because they come in many different colors.

First of all, food color dye will only work on protein/animal fibers. You will want to buy wool yarn. I am overdyeing my llama yarn which is heather brown.

There are a few basic components necessary for dyeing:
• Colorant. I’m going to talk about food coloring here. McCormick’s can be bought in the grocery store, in the traditional primary colors and a neon set. The gel/paste colors can be bought at most hobby/craft stores or on Amazon.
• Acid. In this case, vinegar. The acid opens up the fibers and makes the color stick. The more vinegar, the brighter the color and the faster that it sets.
• Water. I’m using my tap water, which comes from our well. If you have a lot of minerals in your water, you can opt to buy distilled water.
• Heat. Some methods call for using the stove, a crockpot, or the oven. I am using the microwave for this technique.

You will need to have your yarn in a skein. My fiber mill processed my yarn in skeins, so easy peasy. If you buy yarn at the craft store, it will probably come in a roll (sorry, I don’t know the proper name for this bundle). You will need to unroll it and make a skein. One technique is to place two kitchen chairs back to back at the desired distance and unroll the yarn, wrapping it around the backs of the chairs. Or wrap it around the back of a recliner, whatever works. My skeins stretched out are about 26 inches. You want to make your skeins a manageable length for laying out on your work surface.

skein measurement

Once you have the yarn wrapped into your skein, you will want to tie the two loose ends together. Trim as necessary. Then tie some waste yarn around the skein every 15 inches or so to keep the yarn from tangling when you are rinsing it. Don’t tie it so tight that you tie-dye your yarn.

Okay! We are ready to start dyeing. This has the potential to be messy, so find a work surface that you can’t ruin. I use my Formica counter top. At any rate, it’s best to cover your surface with a sheet of plastic like an old shower curtain to avoid staining anything. Same for your hands. Wear plastic gloves if you don’t want your fingers to turn funky colors.

First we need to soak the yarn in a solution of vinegar water. I use 6 cups of lukewarm water and 2 TBSP white distilled vinegar. The yarn needs to soak a minimum of 1 hour, and preferably overnight.

Yarn soaking

I use a large serving bowl. But notice how some of the yarn wants to float. To make sure that all the fiber stays submerged, I place a smaller bowl on top to press the yarn down into the water.

Yarn Soaking

Meanwhile, you can mix up your colors.

I’m going to use two colors for this yarn, but since I’m overdyeing an already brownish yarn, I’m going to end up with three colors. The colors I am using are red and purple. This is not an exacting science, so feel free to play around. I am using beakers and syringes to mix my dyes. I like the 150 ml beakers since I don’t need to mix up a large quantity of dye, and the syringes work well for sucking up the dye and controlling where I place it. Besides, I had plenty of syringes on hand for the llamas. You can buy syringes at any farm supply store. You can also use a squirt bottle. I would think a turkey baster would be too messy.

150 ml beakers

syringes

I use ¼ cup water with about 6 small squirts of the gel dye. Mix well to dissolve. Use warm water when using gel or paste dyes to help them dissolve.

The colors I am using are gel food colorings by Spectrum in Super Red and Violet.

gel dye

You can get a feel for the color and intensity by dipping a fork into the dye mix and blotting it on a paper towel.

fork test

I then use my syringes to draw up the dye.

dyes in syringes

When you are ready to take the yarn out of the vinegar bath, gently squeeze the water out. You don’t want it dripping wet, but you don’t want it bone dry either.

Lay Saran Wrap in an oval the size of your skein and lay out the skein on top of the Saran Wrap.

skein on saran wrap

I’m going to apply the dye in about 4 inch sections, starting with the red dye. I then am leaving a 4 inch space of the natural color yarn. Then applying the violet dye to a four inch section and leaving a 4 inch space of the natural color yarn ,etc. until I have gone all around the skein.

applying dye

Make sure that you saturate the yarn with the dye. Turn the section of yarn over and squirt color on the bottom. Use your fingers to mash the yarn to make sure the color gets all the way through.

This is what the skein looks like when I’ve applied the dye.

skein with wet dye

Notice that the colors look very muted. I was surprised at how much they brightened up after heating the yarn and then especially after the yarn was dry.
Now you want to wrap the cellophane around the yarn like a snake, sealing it the best way you can.

wrapped yarn

Place the yarn in the largest microwave safe dish that will fit in your microwave. Try not to think about how much this looks like the entrails of some animal.

Yarn in plate

Heat the yarn in the microwave at full power for about 5 minutes. Remove the plate from the microwave and let the yarn cool until it is cool enough to handle.

Rinse and Dry
Unwrap the yarn and rinse carefully in the sink or in a bowl of water with a small amount of mild detergent.

Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.

I like to add a little hair conditioner in the final rinse. It makes the yarn super soft. And it smells nice, too.

Gently press out as much water as you can. Wrap the yarn in a towel and press to remove more water. Then lay flat on a dry towel to dry completely.

I was completely amazed at how beautiful the colors came out when the yarn was dry.

dyed skein

This is what the yarn looks like as it is being knitted into a scarf.

knitted up

I can’t wait to experiment with more colors.

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Luv Birds-Original needle felted scupture

Perfect topper for an Easter Basket

Twin Creeks Etsy Shop

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Spot

Remember the fun we had as children taking a ride in a little red wagon? Reminiscent of those treasured times, I’m introducing a new line of needle felted animals. Each unique little animal is taking a joy ride in a precious 3 1/2 inch x 2 1/2 inch rustic metal wagon and the series is called the “Wagon Tails”. Each animal is lovingly felted of 100 percent natural fibers, to include llama, alpaca, wool, and mohair. I have these cute little animals for sale on my Etsy shop. To view the current listings and prices, please visit my shop at tcllamas Etsy Shop.

Barney Bear

Baylie the Goldendoodle

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Yea!! I’ve just knitted my first llama scarf. Your initial reaction might be, “llamas are already wearing a heavy fur coat, what do they need a scarf for?” Silly you. These are scarves made from the llama fiber. Over the 10 years that we’ve had our llamas, we’ve sent their fiber out to mills to have it processed and made into product. We sell these items in our barn gift shop, mainly to our customers that come for a llama trek. They really love the idea of taking home a souvenir of their llama experience that is made from the fiber of “their llama”. In the past, we have done socks, rugs, scarves and mittens. We have been very pleased with all of these products with the exception of the mittens. These and the scarves were done by a small independent mill. We had about a dozen pair of mittens made, most in ladies size small, and about 5 pair in mens size large. The smaller mittens were acceptable and we sold them, but the large ones were ridiculously misshapen. We found them to be highly humorous, and we kept one pair as a memento. They never fail to send us into peals of laughter every time we look at them. And for that, I guess they were worth the money. The mill owner, however, failed to see the humor, or our point for that matter, and insisted that his knitters had done a superbly professional job, and there could be no fault found in the mittens. He angrily assured me that HE would have no problem selling those mittens. So I took him up on is offer, and told him that he was more than welcome to them.

But back to the scarves. Of all the items that we have had made over the years, the one thing that we wanted to sell again was scarves. But we had had such harsh treatment from the scarf and mitten guy that we didn’t want to do business with him again. I searched in vain all over the web for a mill that would process the wool and make scarves and found nothing. We needed the scarves to be machine knitted in order for them to be affordable enough for us to resell them and make a small profit. To have someone hand knit scarves would be prohibitively expensive.

I am not crafty with yarn and needles. When I was an impoverished college student back in the 70’s, a good friend taught me how to knit a basic stitch so that I could make a birthday scarf for my then boyfriend, my now husband. It must have not turned out too bad, in spite of the fact that the scarf started out 10 inches wide and grew to be 14 inches wide. He married me anyway, and still wears the scarf when he’s plowing snow. Shortly after we married I tried my hand at crochet and made an afghan with granny squares. It, too, turned out well, but I didn’t enjoy the process. I was much more into macramé, crewel, embroidery, even had a stint with stained glass. But yarn wasn’t my bag.

Failing to find an outside source to make scarves for me, I decided last winter to send a year’s worth of our llama fiber to a mill to be made into yarn, and I would learn to knit and make my own scarves. There is a recent revival of an ancient craft known as loom knitting. This is done on a loom that consists of 2 parallel lines of pins. Each pin functions as a knitting needle. The unique thing about the loom is that it makes a double knit fabric. There is no wrong side. If you look on the inside of a sweater, you will see the back side with the purl stitching, and all the knots and loose ends. None of this shows with the knitting loom because all of that is hidden on the inside of the fabric.

I dropped off my fiber in January, and was told that it would probably be 8 months before the yarn was ready. I had plenty of time to experiment with my new loom, so I started making scarves with store bought yarn. Unexpectedly, the llama yarn was ready for pickup in May, so I got right to work on the prototype llama scarf. The yarn is a product of the combination of all my llamas’ fiber, ranging in colors from white to brown to black. The result is a lovely shade of heather brown. After many hours later, I am proud to say that I have completed my first llama scarf. I’m right pleased with the result. I have enough yarn to make about a dozen and a half scarves. The real test will be whether I have the stick-to-itiveness to get them all done.

Authentic Knitting Board

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