Tuesday, December 31, 2013

design/spring's second annual gingerbread competition

I missed out on participating again this year, but next year I'm totally entering some type of crazy gingerbread construction into Design/Spring's 3rd Annual Gingerbread Competition. The architecture runs the gamut from traditional to avant garde. Here are a few samples from the early hours of the competition this year, as the entries began to arrive.

Hershey bar solar array! Rice cake water cistern!

A trio from the family competition.

Nice piping on this one, from the dangling icicles to the trees and wreaths.

Fully iced lighthouse, complete with a photo of the inspiration structure.

Another lighthouse with gingerbread tourists and marine life.

There's even a gingerbread boy buried in the sugar sand in the lower right hand corner.

Graham crackers with licorice roof.

Love this gingerbread multi-story building with sugar glass shards on the roof and the dyed coconut/gumdrop flower/cookie stepping stone landscaping.

And to contrast it, a traditional village of tiny houses.

Despite missing the competition, I did sit down with my kiddo to decorate a gingerbread house of our own. We used a kit from Wilton so we could get right to the fun part (bonus: some stores start putting their Christmas items on clearance right before the holiday; we picked up this kit for $5).

If we do one of these next year, I'll try to remember that there are two colors of icing included, but only one decorating bag. We ended up with an interesting combination of "snow" and "grass", kinda like after the snow from that storm started to melt a few weeks back.

So, did your family get in on the gingerbread fun this year? Anyone have a preschooler who actually uses more candy to decorate than to eat? Tell me all about it.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 27, 2013

wine labels for home vintners (mean hermit edition)

My "spirited" family is full of home brewers and vintners, a hobby many seem to have inherited from my grandpa. Late in life he developed an interest in making his own alcoholic concoctions; if you knew him, you know this was just one of the quirky and amazing things about him from a field of thousands.

This year my aunt and uncle made both wine and beer, and phoned in to ask me to do a little run of wine labels like I did a while back. I riffed off of the "Mean Old Hermit" sign that has hung on the gate of their rural property since time immemorial. This is what I came up with (the names here have been redacted for privacy):

A Google search turned up an old 1920s (copyright free) image of an old bootlegger simultaneously smoking a pipe, brandishing weapons and holding a liquor bottle. Perfect. I wasn't there to see my aunt and uncle open the package, but they tell me there was much laughter.

To make the two-toned sketched image, I used a very fine-lined drawing tool in Illustrator and, with my pen/stylus and drawing tablet in a separate layer, I drew over the highlights. When I was done, I dropped in the black background and added typography (fonts are 1942 Report, Rustic Regular {from Dover}, and Cavalcade).

Once I'd printed them out on label paper using my ink jet (because the local print shop took five days to return my e-mail), I gilded the 2012 using a gold paint pen and sprayed the labels with Mod Podge acrylic spray. I let them dry and air out for a couple of days before cutting them apart and packaging them up.

A note: I've been told by my aunt that labeling is done according to the year of the grapes, so 2012, not 2013, is the correct vintage in this case. The wine aged for a year before being given out as gifts.

I call the wine "house red" on the labels because the grape vines grow on the front of their house. Not accurate by wine industry standards, but not an issue for their friends and family.

I hope if you're a beginning Adobe Illustrator user, you can make sense of the above description of my process (specifically the part where I sketched over the image highlights). If not, and you're interested in learning more, drop me a note and let me know if I can make things clearer. Please remember to respect my copyrighted work (anything on this blog), but feel free to use any methods as a springboard for your own designs.

And if you want wine or beer labels of your own but don't want to learn a new program to design some, I freelance! Just contact me and I can work you up some wine labels of your very own for a really reasonable rate. Better yet, after an initial design fee, I can even send you digital files for five years worth of dated labels to print from.

Thanks for reading! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

hey paul, paul bunyan

In Portland's Kenton neighborhood is a 31-foot Paul Bunyan statue that I've mentioned before here. Inspired by our travels this past year, I decided to start a new series of kitchen towel calendars based on landmarks and attractions of Oregon, and I picked the Portland Paul Bunyan as the 2014 feature.

I worked the design in several parts on watercolor paper using watercolor pencils, then combined the images in Photoshop and finished up the layout and typography in Illustrator.

I was so excited when the fabric arrived from Spoonflower. I'd never ordered their linen / cotton canvas before; I'm pretty impressed with the quality of the fabric and the printing. Perfect for this year's Christmas boxes.

I finished off the backs with some grosgrain ribbon corner hangers and a 3/8-inch hem.

I'm really happy with how the towel calendars (or "towelendars") turned out, and I'll definitely be planning the next in the series for 2015. 

Here's one in its pretty wrapper (printed on brown paper sack that I've inked with a wood grain pattern).

If you're interested in having one of your own, you can order the fabric from my Spoonflower shop whenever you're ready. One towel prints to a 1/4 yard of linen / cotton canvas, or get a full yard for four towels. I'll update here, too, when I get these listed ready-made in my Etsy shop.

Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

chevron wedding quilt (part one)

I'm a bit in over my depth here, having never completed a queen-sized quilt. But I'm making progress.

Here are the square patches, each stitched from two triangles of grey/yellow/black/white fabric.

Most of the fabric was used on the tables at my sister's wedding reception, with some filler from the fabric store in the same color range.

After I'd used up all of my fabric making blocks, I made a chart in Illustrator to work out the pattern. I counted my patches and made a simple replica of each one, grouping, copying, and pasting the right number of copies before arranging them in a simple chevron pattern.

Much easier than trying to find a wide, clean, preschooler-free space to lay everything out, believe it or not. I'm using shaded overlays to keep track of which areas I've already completed: the white shaded areas on the left are completed; the grey shaded area is stitched into short rows, waiting to be assembled to finish that section.

The blocks are coming together. Instead of long strips, I sewed the first 2/3 of the top in nine- or twelve-block sections and then sewed the sections together. The hope was that I'd keep the corners well-aligned this way, but you can tell from the photos that despite my careful ironing, trimming and sewing, there are still some "off" corners. I'm trying not to obsess over it, with limited success.

The good news is that with the prep work done, the the sewing is going quickly. The bad news is that I have no idea at all how to stitch all the layers together on something so large, and still keep the wrinkles at bay. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.

This careful measuring, ironing, trimming, etc. is very different from the way I usually work with my hands. This is more like graphic design, where I treasure rulers and rules. So it's a switch, but I'm enjoying it, I think.

Wish me luck with the finishing stages!

Monday, December 16, 2013

it's not you, it's me

Very short "Dear John" letters to the things I didn't bring home this week:

Dear Pink Trunk / Toolbox:
I promise, if I had a place for you . . .

. . . and I wasn't so afraid of your adorable-but-lead-filled pink paint . . .

. . . I'd take you home with me. You have that look everyone's trying to copy with chalk paint and faux rust, but baby, you're the real deal. 

Sadly, my kiddo might decide those paint chips look like candy and so, for us, this must be good-bye.

Dear Giant Letters with Neon Tubing Inside:
I would try to tell you how awesome I think you are, but I was never as good with words as you. 

Dear Orange Metal Tool Organizer:
Your orange paint is gorgeous; you are gorgeous. But I admit I find the fact you pack heat (even if it is only a sander) to be the teensiest bit off-puting.

Dear Thingamabob:
I love a little mystery and I think you'd make a great lamp, but I just don't feel like I really know you.

Are you a pressure cooker? A boiler? I just can't gauge.

Dear Cabinets That Would Make the Perfect Play Kitchen:
Stay alive; I will find you.

Linking up to:

Junkin' Joe at the Cottage Market

Thursday, December 12, 2013


You may have heard: we got a truckload of snow in my neck of the woods: close to eight inches, and record-low temperatures. So. Cold.

Day one, with snow falling hard:

Out for a walk. These days I always wonder, "will he remember this?" He's at that age. Snow melts, but memories start to stick.

The strangest thing about the snow is the way light acts in the middle of the night. I took this photo at 10 p.m. Everything is reflected. (That's another way the snow is like little kids, by the way.)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

sweet potato donuts

A friend pinned this recipe for pumpkin donuts on Pinterest the other day; we messed with the recipe a bit to make a smaller batch of sweet potato donuts for breakfast one morning during crazy snow weather. So good. I'm glad I didn't make a larger batch because we would have eaten all those, too.

Martha was right; I'm no expert. But we've made these twice now and they've been awesome both times, so that's cool, right? Here's the modified recipe we used to make these. Let me know if you try them!

Six Small Sweet Potato Donuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees f. Set your silicone donut/savarin pan to the side, or grease your donut pan.

In mixer bowl, mix together 2Tbsp + 2tsp vegetable oil (1/6 cup) with one large egg and 1/2 cup white sugar.

Add 1/2 cup pureed sweet potato, 1tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg. Next up: 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder, and a scant 2/3 cup  all-purpose flour. Blend till well-combined.

Distribute evenly between the six wells in your pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven, then let pan rest a few minutes before loosening edges and gently prying loose (while pan is upside down). 

While still warm, gently shake or cover each with cinnamon sugar. Best eaten right away, while still fresh from the oven.

Thanks for eating reading!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

the mammoths are back

Packaged up in time for Christmas! The mammoth sunflower seeds I wrote about back in September are back, this time in some little seed packets I printed up.

Designed in Adobe Illustrator, printed with an inkjet printer on charcoal drawing paper and stitched on two sides.

The design work isn't flawless here, but by the time I realized I should have left more space at the top of the envelope, I'd printed the entire run. Which means next year's packets, lesson learned, are going to be impeccable.

The backs are printed with the planting history including family, date, and location that the seeds were grown. We'll save seeds from the biggest flower heads next year and pass those on. Maybe eventually we'll have some real monsters on our hands. 

Sealed up with paper tape from Target and ready to go in this year's gift boxes for the family!

If you want to read about the huge sunflowers we grew this summer, you can read more here!

And just in case you landed here while looking for a story about the cloning of wooly mammoths from frozen DNA, this one's for you