Monday, March 31, 2014

Of Petrichor and Amortentia

Petrichor - the smell of dust after the rain. Yeah, I admit I hadn't heard the word until "The Doctor's Wife," an episode of Doctor Who where it was used as part of a psychic password. The idea of a psychic password based on scent is really ingenious, much like the Amortentia potion from Harry Potter that smells differently to each person based on what they find attractive. There's really no shortage of blogs, websites, forums, articles, and books out there about the power of scent, so I'm going to focus mostly on my own experiences here.

taken from my front porch after a summer rain
I've long been aware of the power of certain scents. I have both asthma and migraines that are triggered by most perfumes and chemical smells, so I spent a lot of my young adult life discovering which scents were okay for me, and which would cause blinding pain or extreme coughing fits. Those latter ones I still like to stay away from. Still, there are so many lovely scents, and they do trigger some powerful feelings at times. I'm sure many people have this reaction, but the smell of freshly baked bread makes me feel at home no matter where I am. Citrus-y smells always make me smile and feel more cheerful.
herbed Italian bread - I really should make this again soon
The smell of the rain - that one is harder to put into words. It relaxes and energizes me. It calms and excites me. It soothes my soul and stirs my spirit. I associate it with all things Mother Nature, and creation, possibility. Petrichor is only one scent associated with rain, but I love them all. The freshness of it, the ozone from storms, even the days when it's been raining so long that you can't smell anything but "soggy" don't seem that bad to me.

Over time, I learned that the more natural the scent, the more likely I'd be okay with it, and as I got a bit older and more aware of environmental issues, I quickly learned I preferred the natural products in most cases. I guess this is what led me to using essential oils. I think my first time consciously using aromatherapy was around 2000, maybe 2001. I had learned that peppermint oil could help with headaches. I would mix a drop of it with a dab of unscented lotion and rub it on my forehead when I felt the ache coming on. It was kind of amazing. Eventually, I decided to add some lavender oil to help with relaxation, and over time, it evolved into my "Clear Head" oil blend which we still use around the house all the time. It helps with headaches and mild congestion.
Clear Head Oil Blend
It's really kind of incredible what scents can do for us emotionally and mentally. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that they could help physically, too. I started studying herbalism and aromatherapy, even looking into certification a few times. I amassed quite a collection of dried herbs and essential oils, carrier/base oils, vegetable/plant butters, and more. I started out by reading several sources from certified aromatherapists, and received a most excellent reference book from my friend Koren. When I had a problem, like a blister or sore throat, I played around with several combinations and trials based on recipes recommended in the book or on a couple select websites.
I ended up turning this blend into a spray as well. It's very relaxing.
Of course, like all my "recipes," they start off as suggestions, and then the creative switch in my brain flips and suddenly I know I need to add a little more of this, or I wonder if I should try some of that instead. Ultimately, I discovered there are things I prefer not to make. I'm not fond of making body butters, though I did get some good reviews from them while I had them. Now I stick mostly to the bath teas, rooms sprays, and oil blends, plus the occasional custom order here and there.


I still learn something new about it all the time, and try out different oils for different things here at home. Between the herbs and oils and all the different applications possible, there's a lot to experiment with, and that's half the fun of Making anything.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bella's First Quilt

My baby cousin Ella, first quilt I made completely alone

Baby Quilts - is there anything more awesome to Make? They're adorable, and relatively quick, and have endless possibilities, and they're fantastic gifts for the new baby and parents, they show love for a new person, and there's always a charity, hospital, shelter, or NICU that can take them as donations as well. I've made a number of baby quilts over the past eight years, but today I want to tell you about the very first one.

Shortly after I learned to quilt with a little hand-stitched potholder at a resort in the Smoky mountains, I learned that a couple dear friends of mine were expecting their first child. I knew several other members of our mutual community were also crafty, so I posed the idea that we join together to make a quilt for this baby. 

Dot's Quilt - A Community Gift
We had a color pallet based on a request by the parents - red/orange/yellow. We had several willing participants. We even had a couple people with actual quilting experience! (Yeah, sometimes I jump right into projects and figure them out as I go.) Unlike Ella's quilt, which was a simple nine-patch, I went with the "please contribute your choice of quilt block at x inches square" option.

        that middle square is a pocket for teeth & tooth fairy gifts       tote bags are always handy when you have kids!
I got quite the collection of quilt squares - more than I could possibly use in a baby quilt - which allowed us to make it a full crib-size quilt, and give a coordinating tote bag and tooth-fairy pillow. Some of the people involved had never done any quilt piecing before, but they were willing to jump in with both feet and learn on the fly with me so we could present our friends with this bunch of love.

Of course, no matter how lovely the finished product was, there's a story in the process we went through to get there. You see, most every "how to quilt" blog or website will tell a newbie quilter to prewash all their fabrics. Well, I read on one of these sites that if you don't prewash, then once you layer and quilt, the fabric will shrink and the batting won't and - well, it made it sound like that would completely ruin the quilt (turns out it won't, but it will give it a slightly more "wrinkled" look). I decided I would prewash the front and the back before I quilted it all together.

Thankfully I learned my lesson before future quilts, like this one for my niece, Lucy
I ended up calling my dear friend and quilter, Kade, and honestly I'm amazed she could understand what I was saying because I was crying so hard about how I had ruined the quilt. You see, with nothing to reinforce all those seams both within and between the blocks, some of them came undone. Worse yet, some of the fabric raveled. A lot. What came out of the washer, well, I wish I had a photo of it to show you, but I was so distraught at the time I couldn't bear the thought of photographic evidence of my royal sized screw-up. It was a tangled mess of partially connected quilt blocks and lots of knotted threads.

Kade was awesome, and when we had a chance to get together so she could perform triage on the quilt top, she helped me get it back together and suggested the sneaky addition of extra fabric for those places that frayed. See these black bits that beautifully coordinate with the embroidery details? Yeah, that's where we fixed the holes. I felt especially sad about those blocks being the most damaged because they were so special with their messages and extra detail. They'd been an obvious choice for the four corners of the quilt (and I was floored to discover that my friend Love had never does this before!) Still, thanks to some creative thinking and a skilled quilter sharing some of her secrets and experience, it all came out in the end and as you can see, it became a beautiful quilt!

The child in question is now about to turn eight, and I still see and hear stories of both she and her nearly six-year-old sister sleeping and playing with this quilt. As a toddler, it was declared "her favorite" and every time I see it, I think of all the love and hopes and dreams for her that went into every stitch of it. Some of the participants watched as the hand stitching was done along the binding, and learned enough to do some of it themselves, even if that was all they could do. But each and every bit of it was done with the express intent of sending love and happiness to the recipient, and that's the magic of handmade items. That's the wonderful thing about crafting, and it's just more wonderful when applied to babies. Because... babies. :D

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How I knitted a picture from my brain...

Once upon a time, I looked at a tam pattern on Ravlery. I can't remember which one, but it was the first time I understood the construction of a knitted tam, and suddenly, I had a picture in my head and I knew I needed to duplicate it in yarn.

I'd only done a few colorwork projects but I felt pretty sure I could combine that with the basic tam pattern and make it work. I had some beautiful hand-dyed yarn in a colorway very appropriately called "Elemental" that had been calling to me for a color work pattern. I'd searched around and ordered some creamy-colored fingering weight to go with it.

Yes, that's a bunch of math and factors on that page under the yarn. Turns out I really can use math after high school! I worked out that I wanted to have the dragonfly repeat eight times, and the gauge times the size of the tam gave me the number of stitches I would need.

I worked out the design of the dragonfly on some graph paper, then transferred it to an excel chart, but before I could actually knit these dragonflies, I needed something for the brim. I charted out some small, repeating patterns (there was more math involved) and I finally got to work!

I was thrilled that the edging patterns turned out well, and not long after the above photo, I was finally starting the dragonflies heads. I remember doing a little happy dance for myself when I got to that point in the charts. I was so excited to see this come to life! It's that feeling of creation, of bringing something out of your imagination and into reality, that's what really drives me to Make things. I'm realizing more and more that I feel better and more alive on days that I do something creative, even if it's a little thing. Working on this tam, though, that was a thing that was both little and big at the same time. I was making this whole new pattern (and at the time, I had only found one other tam pattern using fingering weight and stranded color work) be an actual, wearable object, but I was also just doing a little knitting every day. 

As the images grew and I could make out the shapes and see that it was working, I got more and more excited. I also began to notice how even just one row of knitting, seemingly such a small thing, was enough to add to the design, to give a hint of wings, or to add to the lacy effect within the wings, or - as in the above photo - to show the first hints of the second wing. Not long after those second wings, it was time to decrease, and before I knew it, my first design was complete.

I almost decided to leave it like that, beanie shaped instead of tam shaped, but I ultimately decided that tams look better on me. Into the water it went, and then stretched over a plate to dry.

Remember those edging designs? Here's how they turned out...

And then you can see how it looks when worn...

And for those with smaller heads, here's a version with only 7 dragonflies instead of 8

That last one - the smaller sized one - it was knitted by someone else. I actually had a handful of fabulous people who tested the pattern for me on Ravelry, and it was only thanks to them, and a wonderful graphic designer friend, that I was able to take this whole thing and not only create a physical hat, but also a hat pattern .pdf that I could sell. 

I remember when I first posted it in my Ravelry shop, and how I thought it would be completely awesome if someone actually bought it! And then, someone did! And someone else! And another! I couldn't help my moment of "they like it! they really like it!" It's now available in my Etsy shop as well.

I've currently got another tam pattern in progress, and even had some yarn custom dyed for it! I don't want to say much about it yet, because I'm still a bit worried it will turn out looking horrid, but I promise to post with lots of pictures once I've got it done!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I'm Bella. I Make stuff.

I've pondered this "first blog post" for far longer than I care to admit, wondering if it should be about a specific project, or set some sort of goals for the blog, or follow a certain format that I would use in every post. (Seriously, I claimed this url back in December. It's honestly a bit ridiculous how much I debate these kinds of things internally.) Anyway, I've ultimately decided that I would take the swimming approach to this - dive in and hope I figure it out. At least if I don't "figure it out" in this case, it'll just result in yet another dead blog out there in the internet world.

So, I'm Bella. It's a name I chose, to remind me to see the beauty in everything and everyone. Like the Doctor says, "The name you choose, it's like a promise you make." (The Name of the Doctor)

I like to make things. I don't limit myself (okay, I wouldn't know how to limit myself if I had to) to one or two types of creation; I prefer to use any and all means available to me. In fact, one of my very favorite quotes ever is “Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.” from Joss Whedon. (yes, you might be picking up the fact that I'm also a TV/Film junkie)

Sometimes I Make things in the kitchen - I love to cook, and many of my favorite recipes still have some throwback to the meals my mom taught me as a child. I often cook for community gatherings, spiritual events, celebrations, etc., and my friends and family call me a "kitchen witch," a title I was honored to have bestowed upon me by some very wonderful friends and some very skilled kitchen witches in our community.

Sometimes I Make things with sticks and string - I learned how to knit in early 2005, started knitting "backwards" as soon as my teacher left my apartment, but was still creating knitted works. Eventually, I re-learned how to knit the "right" way (there's much more story behind this, but I'm willing to bet most of the people who'd care, were living it with me) and also discovered that I knew how to crochet. I don't think I learned it, and I don't remember anyone showing me, I just picked up a hook and started crocheting.

Sometimes I Make bigger things out of little pieces of fabric - I learned how to quilt in the fall of 2005 during a family vacation to East Tennessee. We were spending a timeshare week at a mountain resort, and I took a quilting class. I was the only student, but for about $25 or so, I got 2 hours of instruction on how to piece a block (hand stitching) and layer, quilt, and bind a potholder. I now teach quilting classes at the local Joann's.

Sometimes I Make things with my sewing machine - Yeah, I do a lot of my quilting on the machine, too, but this is different. I sew... most anything that comes to mind or is requested by a paying customer. I've done curtains, purses, tote bags, clothes, roman shades, altar cloths, ritual robes, Halloween and cosplay/convention costume pieces and accessories, clothing alterations, custom pajamas, and more.


Sometimes I Make pictures with thread - I like to embroider and cross stitch. I've done much more of the latter and am currently practicing several embroidery stitches to learn more. In some ways, I'd love to have an embroidery machine, but for other things, I just don't think a machine has the right... feel. I'd love to do more with cross stitch, like landscapes or something. I'd like to try needlepoint sometime, the stuff that looks almost like a tapestry or something.


Sometimes I Make jewelry - I first started jewelry-making back in 1999-2000ish. I used to make a LOT of jewelry, even set up a little "business," did a few craft shows, some custom orders, some sales to co-workers. Eventually I decided that I prefer making custom pieces with someone specific in mind or for a commission, but I just can't give up my love of beads completely.

Sometimes I Make things with everything! I recently did seven multi-media collages including fabric, cards, jewelry, beads, embroidery, ribbon, shells, and all sorts of other objects, and I hope to eventually do a post (or a few posts) about them, especially once I manage to finish the 8th one in the series. (I'm saving photos of those for that future post)

Sometimes I Make things with words - I've been a writer for as long as I can remember (maybe longer, considering my memory loss when I was ten), which is really part of the reason for this blog. Oh sure, I want to show off the pictures of my projects, and I'd love to gather a little interest in my work and get a few sales or custom orders from it, but also, I just like to write, and I love to talk about my projects, so what better way to combine all my loves?

Sometimes I Make things with herbs and oils - After several years of casual interest and aromatherapy use, I spent a couple years in intense self-directed herbalism and aromatherapy study, and I now regularly use (and make to sell) all natural herbal bath soaks, herb & rice/flax filled pillows, aromatherapy oils and sprays, and sometimes custom orders in these categories as well.

So, that's the things I Make. When I'm not Making something, I'm reading, watching movies and TV shows, listening to music (and dancing around to it if no one is watching), decluttering my home and garage, spending time in various social setting with my amazing family and friends, and continuing the study into who I am. Welcome to my blog!