Saturday, April 30, 2011

How To: Easy Fabric Flowers

Spring has finally arrived in Seattle.  Thank heavens!  It's been the most miserably long stretch of wet, cold, windy weather I can remember for a long time.  In honor of Spring (and Mother's Day coming up next week), here's a tutorial for making some really cute and easy fabric flowers.  

I have an absurd amount of leftover fabric from various unfinished and partially finished projects, and wanted to find a good use for it.  My mom also gave me her stash (drawer) of surplus shish kabob skewers, which totaled over 600.  We like grilling shish kabob, but it would take us years to use them, voila!  Beautiful and festive fabric flowers for spring that fit nicely in a vase and are easily arranged in a bouquet.

You'll need:  colorful fabric (I used quilting cotton),  felt squares, pom poms, craft glue, wooden skewers, needle, regular or embroidery thread, hot glue & scented oil (optional).

Start by using craft glue to attach the pom poms to the sharp end of the wooden skewers.  I did this the night before the rest of the project, so that they had time to dry.  The hot glue would work fine too, but has a tendency to get stuck in places you don't really want and makes for a messier look, which is why I went with the craft glue instead.

Cut strips of fabric that are 4 inches wide and between 12 and 16 inches long.  The longer strips will make a fuller flower, so it really just depends on the look you're going for.

Fold over the fabric so that the "outside" is on the outside.  You can press it with an iron, if you want a sharp look, but I prefer a more puffy petal, so I left my fabric un-pressed.

Using your needle and thread (with a knot on the end) make an easy straight stitch along the rough edge of the fabric, catching both edges.  This stitch gets completely covered during the process of assembling the flower, so it really doesn't need to be too uniform or perfect.  This makes it a great project for kids because they can practice sewing a a straight stitch and make a beautiful gather, regardless of skill.  My 4 year old daughter had a blast making these with me!

Gather the fabric by pushing it down the thread and knot the other end of the thread, like this.

Cut a small Pac-Man shaped piece of felt fabric, grab your shish ka-pom-pom, and get ready to assemble the flower.

Place a small amount of hot glue at one end of the fabric, on or near the threaded gather.  Lay the pom pom end of the skewer on the hot glue and press the fabric around it to secure the skewer in place.  Then run a longer line of the hot glue along the threaded gather.

Begin to roll the "petals" of the flower around the skewer.  I applied a couple of inches of hot glue at a time, not the entire length of fabric, because I didn't want the glue to cool and harden before I had time to roll and pinch the fabric in place.

Secure the base of the flower bud while the glue is still warm and somewhat malleable.  You can do a little adjusting of the blossom shape at this point.

Now take your little Pac-Man piece of felt and apply a line of hot glue to the middle.  Then apply the felt to the bottom of the blossom, covering the rough edge.

Add more hot glue to the felt and wrap it all the way around the base of the blossom, holding it in place with your finger while the glue cools.

The final touch is to add 3-4 drops of scented oil (essential oil or fragrance oil) to the pom pom.  The flowers will smell wonderful, won't wilt and will brighten even the darkest corner...or deary Seattle day.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fun Soap Facts: Weddings

Here's an interesting little tidbit that I read recently:

In the 1500s, June weddings were the most common because people typically took their annual bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June (relatively speaking). However, June is a whole month later and they were still pretty ripe, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide their odor. This is what started the modern day custom of a bride carrying a bouquet of flowers ... and also the (welcomed) custom of bathing more often than once a year!

After further research, it seems that this great story is only that...a story.  Here is a bit of additional information that is quite interesting on the topic-The Bad Old Days: Weddings & Hygiene

Friday, April 22, 2011

Low-Cost, Natural Skincare

image courtesy of  Tack-O-Rama

Over the years my morning and evening skincare routines have gradually evolved. That’s partly because of age and becoming a parent, partly because of what I’ve learned about ingredients, and partly because of negative reactions I’ve had to certain products. I never considered myself to be someone who had “sensitive skin”, but I’ve found that many of the drugstore moisturizers and skin cleansers that I’ve used over the years have either been too drying or have actually made my skin break out. That’s actually one of the reasons I began making my own soap…I prefer knowing exactly what’s in the product, and the easiest way to be confident about that is to make it yourself.

I have a friend named Deanna (a fellow parent at my kids’ school) who is an environmental advocate, author and wildly successful blogger on her site Crunchy Chicken. She often writes about the skincare items that she uses, and it’s inspired me to try some new things myself. I’ve been in this trial and error stage for over a year now and am finally feeling pretty good about what I’ve come up with, on many levels. What I use now is truly all-natural, makes my skin feel clean and smooth, is very moisturizing, and is really inexpensive. So…I thought you readers might like to hear about it!

Here’s what I do:
In the morning, when I shower, I run my face under the hot water for a minute to open up my pores and flush out dirt and oil, then I use a soft washcloth and one of my soaps to gently scrub away any impurities.

I also wash my hair with the same bar soap, or sometimes Dr. Bronner’s pure castile liquid soap. I keep that on hand because my daughters prefer using a liquid for washing their hair, rather than bar soap. After my hair is washed, I use a very diluted vinegar rinse (1 part apple cider vinegar to 10 parts water).  This washes away any soap residue that may remain and closes the hair cuticle, which makes the hair more shiny and smooth. I rinse that out at the end of the shower.

Before I exit the shower I use a little bit (smaller than a dime) of green tea infused hemp oil on my face and neck. When I first buy the hemp oil, I take several tablespoons of green tea leaves and let them sit in the oil for several days, then strain them back out to store the oil. Green tea is a natural antioxidant, and helps to maintain elasticity in the skin, as well as many other topical benefits.

I began using hemp oil after lots of trial and error with other natural oils and moisturizers. I started with regular “all-natural” skin creams that I bought at the store, and they always clogged my pores. Then I tried a variety of whole oils like coconut, sweet almond and wheat germ. They all caused problems on my face eventually, though I recommend them on the rest of the body. I finally settled on hemp oil because it has the lowest comedogenic rating of all of them and is extremely high in nutrients. It also fights inflammation and is a great anti-oxidant in its own right.

I put the oil on my skin when I’m still in the shower and my face is still wet. I gently dab it around my face and neck. I then take the warm, rinsed (now soap-free) washcloth and wring out as much of the water as possible and gently dab off any extra oil with it. I let my face air dry after that. My skin is soft, totally clean and well moisturized. Once I’m out of the shower I dab a few drops more of the hemp oil under my eyes (but not too close) and let it soak its way into the delicate skin there. Any excess gets wiped off with a tissue before I put on makeup.

At bedtime I use a similar system, minus the shower. The key is to apply the oil when your skin is clean, warm and still wet with water. It seems to trap in moisture well, while still keeping the pores open and not leaving a greasy layer because the skin absorbs the light oil so quickly. I’m careful not to let it get into my hair though, as it really weighs it down and makes it greasy. This whole system has been working great for me and costs next to nothing. It makes me look years younger too…see?  ;-)

I’d love to know if you’ve tried any of these methods or have something that you think works even better!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Flying S

I’ve had folks ask me a number of different times about my company and blog logo and “What’s up with the little horns on the Ss?”  Those little horns are actually wings, and this is their story:

In the late 1930s, my grandparents became ranchers in Idaho.  The family had lived in several different places in the West and Midwest over two generations.  They had started out in Minnesota, homesteaded in Montana, and spent time running a livery stable in Zilla, Washington. 
My grandparents on their wedding day.
My grandfather John Engwald Sylte, who was the eldest of five sons, once traveled by train through northern Idaho during the tail end of the Dust Bowl years.  He was enticed by the surroundings where the lush green of the Selkirk Mountains met the open grassy space of the Rathdrum Prairie.   

My great grandparents and their five sons, with my grandfather in the middle.

He had been a soldier in the US Cavalry in Montana and loved horses and working with animals, in general.  He and my grandmother settled the family in Idaho and started the ranch that I later grew up on.

My grandfather (& buffalo) at Fort Meade, Montana.  

At that time, all ranches had a livestock brand.  It was a way of identifying which animals belonged to you, as well as a way to deter theft…or just make sure that your cows didn’t get mixed in with the neighbors’ if your fence went down in a storm.  They are a mark recorded by the state livestock agency.   

I would love to know exactly how my grandparents settled on our particular brand, since there were so many possible variations and combinations to choose from at the time.  Brands in many ways resemble hieroglyphics with (sometimes strange) combinations of letters, numbers and symbols that become more “readable” as you get used to them.  My grandparents had a shotgun rack in their front sitting room where they displayed all of the brands of friends and neighbors.  I remember sitting there on their smooth naugahyde davenport, staring at the marks and trying to decipher each of the symbols, with the smell of my grandmother’s chicken and dumpling soup hanging in the air.

What they came up with is called the “Flying S”.  Since the family name is Sylte, the S part is pretty obvious.  I think that adding the wings to the top of the S was a nice touch and seems appropriate, given my grandfather’s tendency to dream big and help foster a love of adventure and inventiveness in future generations. The risk-taking has mostly served us well, despite some noteworthy episodes worthy of Icarus.  For many years, the cattle on the ranch all carried the mark on their haunches, and it can still be found all around the ranch on gates, signs and other less predictable locations. 

I have now spent many years living away from the ranch.  Even though my business is not located in Idaho and has nothing at all to do with cattle or ranching, I carry the spirit and history of it all with me as I go about my life.  So there you go…they’re not horns, they’re wings.