"What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what is behind a windowpane."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sculpting with Wool

To think, I spent the first 39 out of 40 years of my life never knowing it was possible to sculpt with wool! Because I love you, I want to save you from my same fate. Let me share with you a secret....it can be done! And it's got a name. They call it........"Needle Felting".

Browsing through Etsy.com around this time last year, I came across the sweetest little elf ornaments made out of wool. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how they were made. Finally, I emailed the artists asking for their secret. They graciously shared with me all their knowledge and know-how.

Needle felting is actually an ancient Japanese pasttime. First, take a clump of wool that's been cleaned and carded. Then, using a tiny barbed needle, continously jab it into the wool until it literally felts. Because the needle is barbed, it grabs hold of the wool and pulls it tightly together. The more the wool is poked, the tighter it becomes, allowing it to be sculpted just like clay. Imagine my surprise!

What I love best about needle felting is the feel of the soft, warm wool in my hands as I create. Even the smell of the fresh wool makes me want to go lie in a bed of daisies. Hey, just call me a silly romantic.

Although I was very intimidated to try needle felting, it beckoned me every day until I finally gave in. I surprised myself by how quickly I learned and went straight to felting people. I used mostly alpaca wool to sculpt the bodies.

Creating the clothes was a completely different process. At first, I bought wool squares, then I realized I could make them myself. After purchasing 100% wool suits at the local thrift store, I put them in the washer for a few cycles and then the dryer. Presto-chango! Felt was born! I then had the fabric needed to create clothing. Here are a few of my first felted figures:

I've now moved on from needle felting faces to sculpting them with clay. Lately, my passion has been combining mediums and this is no exception.

If you would like to try needle felting, feel free to email me with any questions or advice. I must warn you though, it can be highly addicting!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Generosity of Another

Have you ever tried Freecycle.com? If not, I highly recommend looking into it. Basically, it's a site where people offer things for free they would otherwise donate or throw away. People can also ask for things as well. The whole concept is to keep things out of landfills, decrease more buying, and help others in search of specific items.

While in a constant state of decluttering, we've given away lots of things on this site and it makes us feel good knowing we've helped others. When it comes to me asking for vintage laces, I haven't been so lucky....until a few days ago! Look what a very generous woman sent me in the mail!

Anne, whom I got to know through various emails, went so out of the way for me, it literally brought tears to my eyes. First, she spent a couple weeks going through boxes looking for trims she thought I could use. A few weeks later, she completely surprised me with an email telling me she was visiting her Mother-in-Law in New England, and had a "TON" of laces for me. She wasn't kidding! I've got every kind of lace imaginable here. Some are so old and scrumptious, I hate to even use them. It was so much fun combining her stash with my already growing collection.

Wanting to show my genuine appreciation, I sent Anne a hand-made Victorian angel. She stands just about 6 inches tall and is made of wool and old laces. Her face is molded from an antique bisque doll head dug up from the ruins of doll factories that were bombed during WWII! It's got that great turn-of-the-century look and dates between 1850-1910.


I also wanted to send Anne's Mother-in-Law a thank you for all her great old findings and sent along an extra little Victorian child for her.

From what Anne told me, her Mother-in-Law was thrilled to give her beloved collection to someone who would truly appreciate it. In return, I'm just as thrilled knowing they appreciate the little Victorian dolls.

Isn't it the BEST when everyone winds up happy?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mary's Sweetheart Dance

While waiting for Mary's Girl Scout Father-Daughter Sweetheart Dance, we decided to take a few pictures. The last picture with Mary at the table is a sneak peek of how her Enchanted Fairy Garden party is looking.

The Easter Bunny's Comin' to Town Today!

Here's Hopin'
He's Hippidy-Hoppin' your way!

It was so much fun bringing the Easter Bunny to life! Last Saturday, I bought this hand-carved Easter Bunny, who was in need of some serious TLC. (For pictures of what he looked like when I bought him, just scroll down two posts to see.)

I'd say the part I liked best about this project was the detail work. I just love details! It's what sets something apart from all the rest. While painting him, I knew I wanted to add something special to his clothing, but what? The striped pants and polka-dot tie added whimsy, but I wanted to add more without all the colors clashing. Then it came to me to paint very faint roses along the bottom and up the back of his jacket (thank you Muse!) I had never painted roses before so I was pleasantly surprised with the results. For an old-fashioned appearance, I brushed on an antiquing gel.

Now that the painting was complete, something seemed missing. Time to start mixing mediums! I chose three fabric-covered yellow buttons to adorn his vest. Because the buttons are vintage, they complemented the aged look of his clothing. Next, I picked several glittered Easter eggs I recently purchased at Michaels. I loved the sparkle and size of the eggs, but when I hung them in his hands, they looked too bare. Out came my hat box full of old laces! I found the perfect delicate trims to decorate the tiny eggs. Adding tiny paper flowers completed the look I was hoping to achieve. Creating a small bouquet of vintage white flowers satisfied my desire for details.

Finally, with the advice of some woodcarver friends, I found a way to add whiskers. By drilling small holes and gluing in bristles of a large paint brush, I was able to give this Easter Bunny more dimension, rather than simply painting on the whiskers.

Thank you God, for all the gifts of creativity. While others may have rejected this bunny because of its obvious flaw in the wood, I knew he was a diamond in the rough!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


No, I'm not referring to something you'd find on the menu at your favorite Japanese restaurant! Wabi-Sabi is of Japanese origin that celebrates the imperfections in life. It is Wabi, the "humble," alongside Sabi, "the beauty of the natural progression of time." Rather than pursuing perfection, it brings appreciation to the simple, unaffected beauty of things as they are, such as the cracked pot, the beaten up chest of drawers, and the rusty old wagon, once a beloved toy, that now sits in your garden as a planter for Spring flowers.

Being a Folk Artist who also has tendencies to be a perfectionist, I sometimes have trouble honoring the concept of Wabi-Sabi. In my zeal to make the "perfect" piece, I lose sight of the very feel I'm trying to evoke from it. It's the simplicity and natural charm of Folk Art that make it so pleasing. When I create, I WANT my art to look time-worn and home-made, imperfections just add to its character. I want you to want to touch it! Run your hand over the soft, warm wool. Feel the notches in the carved wood. Check out the distressed crackled finish and feel the smooth vintage buttons between your fingers. That's what makes the piece "perfect" in my eyes.

To me, Wabi-Sabi and Folk Art go hand-in-hand. Both honor the character and beauty of everyday life. The next time I find the perfectionist in me stealing my joy, I'll close my eyes and say, "Wabi-Sabi". Not only do I respect its meaning, but it's so much fun to say out loud! Try it, you'll see what I mean. Oh, just try it. You know you want to!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gentlemen, We Can Rebuild Him....

...We have the technology. We can make him better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster. Well, maybe not faster, but definitely prettier!

So, I'm strolling along an antique shop the other day, minding my own business, when suddenly, this hand-carved, wooden Easter Bunny catches my eye. He stands about two feet tall and is a solid little fellow. Picking him up, I noticed a long crack darting straight down his torso. "What a shame," I said out loud to no one in particular, and put him back down. An older woman who worked there heard me and came over. I discussed with her how I liked the Easter Bunny, but not the crack down his front. To make a short story shorter, I bought him for $16 instead of $20, knowing I could fix him.

When I got home, I ran down to our handy-dandy basement and came up with wood filler. It was a beautiful day out so while the kids played in the yard and Ted burned branches, I sat on the porch repairing my new little friend. Later, I sanded and primed him with Gesso. Now is the fun part - choosing how I want to paint and decorate him. But, that's another story!

She Likes Me, She REALLY Likes Me!

Last night, I received a mystery package from Aunt Candy! OOOOh, it was scrumptious! Half of me couldn't wait to dive in, while the other half wanted to take my time and slowly go through its contents. Then I told the first half to take a hike and I dove.

Inside were all kinds of little treasures any folk artist would love. There was a pile of "Country Sampler" magazines that I look forward to snuggling up with on these cold rainy days. Funky vintage jewelry and bags of pretty pearls will add sparkle to my work.

The abundance of fabric and old linens will come in handy when ma teaches me to sew this summer. Admittedly, she tried teaching me a few years ago, but I gave up in frustration when my thread kept getting tangled in the machine. It's ironic. I work with big dangerous power tools that could put me in the ER in the wink of an eye, yet its the sewing machine that scares me.

Thanks for all the goodies Candy!

A Present for My Sister

Yesterday, my sister called and asked if I knew where I could find an Easter Tree. I hadn't seen any, but suggested the typical craft stores. She said she had already checked, but couldn't find any. Later, Ted and I took the kids to "The Barn", our favorite thrift store. While browsing, I came across a small, but cute Easter Tree. It needed plenty of attention, but it radiated potential.

After 45 minutes of untangling branches and tiny ornaments, I decided to give the tree a face-lift. First, I freshened it up by rewrapping its branches in crisp white floral tape. This also made the tree much more sturdy. Next, I embellished the branches with new materials giving the tree a whole new look. Glittered Easter eggs, tiny flowers, and pink glittered balls really make the tree *pop*. At the base, I added two little bunnies with smaller eggs and a few more flowers. This not only added more visual appeal, but stopped the tree from falling over to one side! Finally, the tree was crowned with even more pink and white flowers.

Kathleen doesn't know she's getting the tree yet, but from what I hear, she reads my Blog regularly so will probably be surprised sometime tomorrow. I hope she likes it, but if not, I know the perfect place for it in my bedroom!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Shopping in My Own Basement Again!

Researching Fairy-themed parties on the internet has been lots of fun the past few days. I especially like the idea of the girls using tiny little glasses filled with "nectar" or "Fairy Fizz" (fruit-punch or pink lemonade), instead of plain old paper cups. I checked out my favorite haunts to see if I could find some of these, but nothing turned up. That's when it dawned on me that I'm married to Ted, and like his Grandfather before, Ted is the family........collector.

So, with great optimism and anticipation, I ventured to the basement, in search of the perfect pixie glasses. First I spotted Ted's shot-glass collection. Hmmmm...tiny, just the right size for little fairy hands, but no, I better pass. Next, I spotted some chunky green glasses. The color went well with the "woodsy" feel I was going for, but they weren't quite what I had in mind. Then I saw them, delicate glasses, perfect for tiny hands. Carefully examining them, I knew these were the ones. I also found some very pretty quartz crystals that would add a mystical touch to the table. I'd say my journey into the basement was a success!

On another note, buried in a large barrel I discovered an old round box that would look so pretty covered in toile fabric. But that's another story!

Right Time, Right Place!

After dropping off a truck-load of donations this afternoon, I of course, then had to browse the store to see what treasures awaited! Nothing caught my fancy and I was actually a bit relieved. Walking out of the store, I spotted a huge box with a sign written, "FREE" on it. Peeking inside, I came across 11 grapevine cornucopias! Ordinarily, I would have kept walking; instead, I walked off with the entire box!

Mary turns seven in a few weeks and since it's the first time she's ever invited friends over, I want to make it extra special. She's having an Enchanted Fairy Garden theme so I've been gathering all sorts of natural materials. One of the events will be a Fairy Treasure Hunt. The girls can use the cornucopias to gather all their spoils. They'll also make great goodie bags. Don't you just love being in the right place at the right time?!

The Wonders of Nature

While visiting some old cemetaries the other day, Ted took these pictures. I wonder how this happened?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's All in the Details

I just love turning something blah into something bold. It's just the little details that can make all the difference.

Here we have a faux chocolate Easter Bunny I bought at my favorite thrift store. A week earlier, I had seen it, picked it up, and put it back down. What made me change my mind only days later? This time I saw its potential. Like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, all it needed was a little love.

I brought it home and opened up my stash of laces and trims (now found in an old hat box from a millinery store long since closed.) Vintage millinery flowers here, delicate pink and white trim there, cheap little painted Easter eggs "upcycled" using gorgeous glitter and - Voila! - from bland to beautiful!

Peter Cottontail now proudly sits on top of Mom's mantel along with all her other Easter "delectables", as she calls them. I think I'm going to miss the little bugger.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

As the saying goes, "Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day!"

Happy Birthday to my sister, Kathleen! A very proud Irish father got his first little girl on this very day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Everything's Goin' My Way

I'm so excited about this, I can barely sit still enough to type! OK....deep breath....3...2...1...here goes. For months, Mary's been asking for a birthday party so we're going to let her have one and invite friends from school. Two days ago, we chose the theme, "Enchanted Fairy Garden." Since then, my mind's been going a mile a minute, researching ideas and coming up with decorations that won't break the bank.

Yesterday, I came home from the Dollar Store with $40 worth of supplies including flowers, pin-wheels, bubbles, and even fairy wings! Then, I went to my stash in the basement and found all sorts of little treasures that have been waiting in bins to be used, including pink and lavender sparkly butterfly ribbons. Even the glittery pink and red heart picks that I used for the Valentine party can now be recreated into fairy wands for the girls.

Today....oohhhhh today....was the creme de la creme! Visiting my favorite thrift store, a converted old barn that the workers there keep clean, organized and well-stocked, I was completely bedazzled by all the Spring and Easter goodies they had for sale. I grabbed all kinds of knick-knacks that would fit in perfect with our theme.

Old porcelain dishes decorated with flowers, a robin's egg candy dish shaped like a butterfly, a dish shaped like a leaf, a big pink bow, watering can, basket with blue gingham lining, a sparkly white angel (or fairy in this case) and this really cute little ballerina figurine are just some of the things I picked up.

The BEST part was the surprise that was waiting for me upstairs. A gorgeous white canopy, embellished with ivy, birds, flowers, butterflies, and a huge yellow dragon fly was hanging right there in front of me! I couldn't believe it. It's absolutely PERFECT for the party! I decided to hang it up in the curved entrance way between the Dining Room and Living Room so it will act as a mystical porthole from one room to the other. After the girls decorate their wings, make wands, and crowns of flowers on top of their heads, I'll have them step into the netting as little girls, don their outfits and come out the other side as fairies. That's where we'll give them their official Fairy Name.

There's so much do. Even though I've got a few weeks to plan, the urge to get moving is overwhelming. Once an idea comes to me, I practically get tunnel-vision until it's all over.

In a world so full of chaos, I'm so grateful to God for giving me the gift of creativity. I love that He uses my eyes, my hands, and my heart to touch the lives of others.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary

Waking up this morning, I was surprised that it was not only really late, but I also had a bad sore throat and still had to get both kids up, dressed, fed, and walked to the bus stop in less than an hour. Ordinarily, I would have felt very rushed and frustrated trying to get out the door. Maybe it's because I'm not feeling well, but instead of "frenzying" (to coin a word from my brother, Mike), but I stayed calm and everything got done just the same.

We headed out for the bus stop on time and we even walked slower than usual. While walking, I looked up and saw something I never before noticed. It was nothing unusual or even exciting, but it grabbed my attention as if someone had just placed a Monet in front of my eyes. It was just a huge barren tree, completely void of leaves and snow. Its dark brown trunk and branches set against the steamed-milk colored sky was picture perfect. Clusters of smaller branches all webbed out to each other forming what resembled an enormous monochromatic crazy-quilt in the sky.

I read recently a quote that has become one of my favorites, "Search for the Sacred in the Ordinary." Without realizing it at the time, that's just what I did this morning.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ted's Aunt Candy, and a very good friend of mine, just sent this picture of her husband, Dane, sleigh-riding on their farm in Western, PA. One of these winters, I've GOT to get out there!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lookie What I Got

Look what arrived in the mail today! When I opened the mailbox, I was almost knocked over by the aroma of cinnamon apple and Hazelnut potpourri.

Although it's still March and most likely we'll get hit with more snow, I've already jump-started spring cleaning. I just can't wait for more sun! Today was 57 degrees, warm with a cool breeze. It was a perfect day to open the windows and let fresh air in. I'm really getting excited about being able to cast off the bulky winter wardrobe for lighter, cooler clothes. It also means the flowers Ted planted will soon be filling our home with the sweet smell of spring.

Until then, we'll just bundle up, drink hot cocoa by the crackling fire, and enjoy the scent of cinnamon apple and Hazelnut. Wait....why was I in such a hurry for spring again?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Honor of St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is coming up fast, which inspired me to "go green" and try something new.

Recently, I discovered Victorian cones and decided I love them and have to have them. My first attempt making them was at Mary's Valentine's Party. I had all the girls make them out of scrapbook paper, decorate them, and fill them with candy. Some of the girls decided to turn them upside-down and make princess hats out of them instead, ahhhhh little creative minds at work!

So, with St. Patrick's Day in mind, I thought it was a great opportunity (or excuse) to forego laundry and stretch my comfort zone by delving into a whole new project. Like most of the projects I start, I hated it at first and wanted to throw it right in the garbage. Persistence paid off though, and I'm very happy with the results.

The cone is made from green and white toile fabric. If you click on the pictures, you'll see up close that the theme of this fabric is old nursery rhymes such as "The Little Old Lady Who Lived In a Shoe" and "Humpty Dumpy". The top is decorated with antique lace, rick-rack, and buttons. The bottom is covered with a wooden ball that I covered in green glitter. It still looked like it needed something, so back to the basement I went in search for that special something. Finally, I decided to cover the whole cone with glitter and mica flakes.

It's now hanging on our kitchen door and I smile every time I look at it. Making your home scrumptious doesn't have to be expensive. It's all in the little details.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Let Them Eat Funnel Cake

All the world loves a funnel cake. Maybe it's because of the memories it brings back from childhood. How excited we were when the carnival opened during those hot summer months. Hearing the screams of the people on the rides, playing the games hoping to win a stuffed animal, and the smell....that heavenly smell of those deep-fried funnel cakes sprinkled in sweet powdered sugar! And if you knew what was good for you, you'd wait until after the rides to have one.

I have other reasons for loving funnel cakes, not just the fond memories of the carnival. I grew up on them. Call me one of the lucky ones! During the summer, especially, ma would sometimes even make them for breakfast. Throughout the years, I realized how unique it was to make funnel cakes at home. When people realize I fry my own, they're always surprised. Their eyes widen and a look of total amazement comes across their faces. Then I pity them for only enjoying a good funnel cake once, maybe twice a year - and having to go to a carnival to get one!

So my friends, to show you how much I love you, I'm going to teach you how to make a funnel cake. But let me forewarn you: once you realize how easy and inexpensive they are to make, you'll cringe at the thought of spending $5.00 next time you see them at the carnival.

Ready? Here goes:

2 Cups Milk
2 Cups Flour
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Baking Powder

Now, all you have to do is:

1. Mix all ingredients above into a batter.
2. Heat oil on a skillet.
3. Once oil is hot, take a big spoon and lightly pour the batter in a circular motion around and around, criss-crossing like a spider's web. The thinner the circle, the crispier the cake.
4. Once the funnel cake starts browning, flip it over and let that side brown.
5. Drain on a paper towel.
6. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and indulge.

You no longer need to wait for the summer to enjoy this sweet sensation. We just had them last night for dinner and although it felt like I had lead in my stomach for a few hours afterwards, it was well worth the trip down memory lane.

"Bon Appetit!"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Gram's Tin Picnic Basket

Ever since Valentine's Day, I've been on a search for "All Things Pretty". Pretty, to me, can be anything from delicate Victorian rhinestone brooches to primitive tattered quilts. It's not even so much a look sometimes, but a feel. I loooove the smell and feel of soft warm wool that I use when needlefelting. At the same time, the touch of Butternut or Basswood instantly calms me. I know other artists feel the same way when something as simple as a piece of vintage lace evokes feelings of peaceful, more simpler times.

While looking for nice containers to hold my most precious embellishments, I suddenly remembered an old tin picnic basket up in the attic that used to belong to Ted's grandmother. I knew it'd come in handy someday and hoped to store some of my best fabrics inside. When I opened it - another fun surprise! Vintage tinkertoys and old wooden spools! Since I recently started carving vintage spools, this was an even greater surprise. It's going to take some cleaning though. This was up in her attic for years and everything is covered in soot.

And to think, all this time I spent thrift shopping and treasure hunting, all I really had to do was take a stroll through my own attic!