Monday, April 28, 2014

Gourmet Pop Review 2

I've tried another round of special pops, purchased from World Market!  Click on to find out more about them.

Salted Caramel Root Beer by Cicero Beverage Co:  I didn't care for this one very much, but that is because it tasted very creamy - like cream soda.  I don't like cream soda, so I am naturally biased against this beverage and can't give a balanced assessment of it.  Matt liked it, though.  If you want something that is an interesting twist on a cream soda, try this and let me know what you think!

Old Town Rootbeer:  This was a pleasant root beer.  Nothing incredibly special, but I certainly enjoyed it.  I would drink it again.

Anchor Ginger Root Beer:  I really, really liked this one, and definitely plan on buying it again.  It starts off tasting like a well-balanced root beer, and then it sneaks in a little punch of ginger after a few seconds.  I found the combination to be very interesting!

Joia Lime Hibiscus & Clove:  This was another fascinating one!  I very much enjoyed this take on a citrus beverage.  It's in the lemonade family, as it's main flavor is lime, but the other flavors in it made it much more than your regular lemonade/limeade.  I will also be buying this one again in the future, for when I'm in the mood for a flavorful citrus drink.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lining My Dress

I got a gorgeous dress many years ago in Mexico.  It's a sort of infinity dress, where I can re-tie the neckline in several different ways.  There is one problem with the dress: the cut of the dress makes wearing a bra with it very difficult, and the dress is too thin to wear without one.  For a couple years, I would wear a strapless bra, and then safety pin the back of the dress to the bra.  When that bra wore out, I kept the dress, thinking I would figure out a way to make it work.*  I finally fixed the problem a few weeks ago, by adding a simple lining to the top of the dress.

Here is the original dress, knotted in pretty much the only way I wear the dress.  As you can see, the lack of straps and low cut of the back makes it hard to wear a bra with this.

First, I opened up the top and then I pinned it roughly in place where the knot usually is tied.

I then marked all the way around the top of the dress with pins, and removed the dress from the dress form (how many more times can I say dress in one sentence?).

I measured around the line from the front to the center back, to get a rough idea of how much fabric to cut.

I took two pieces of a thick brown knit fabric that were long enough, and pinned them to the dress form along the lines.  Then I pinned the front and back where I might sew them.  

Since I knew the back piece would be sewn (but was uncertain how the front would come together underneath the keyhole neckline), I sewed that seam first, then paused to try it on the dress.  After it was pinned, I cut off a bunch of the fabric so that it would hang how I wanted it to (the extra fabric was heavy and pulling on it).  I just roughly cut it so it was the same length all the way around - enough length to cover my chest, essentially.

I sewed it with a simple zigzag stitch along the top of the dress.  Then I tried the dress on, and the top was warping under the weight of the knit, so I added a straight stitch along the bottom of the dress's neckband.  That stabilized it enough that it lies nice and flat again! The picture below shows how my stitches weren't exactly straight, but it's hard to tell unless you get really close.  

I forgot to take a picture, but I did end up finishing the front by sewing it to the edge of the keyhole neckline, with a short seam straight down below that, where the fabric naturally wanted to go.

Voila!  I can wear my dress again!  I've already gotten many compliments on it in the last few weeks.  It's wonderful.  The heavy knit fabric has just enough stretch that it lightly hugs my body so the dress can flow around it, and adds the lining necessary to avoid social bra-less faux pas.  Yay!  ~Kell

*You totally read that in Tim Gunn's voice, right?
Continue Reading...

Monday, April 21, 2014


I've finally tried my hand at making underwear.  For obvious reasons, I'm not going to be modeling anything I made in this post - you'll just have to trust me that it fits well.  :)  I do want to share what I've learned, though!

The basic process (explained more thoroughly in many, many tutorials across the web):  I made a pattern by tracing an existing pair of underwear on scrap paper.  There are three pieces - a back piece, a front piece, and an extra lining piece for the crotch region.

After sewing the three pieces together, I bound the edges.  Now, all the internet tutorials say to use something called fold-over elastic (FOE).  This is elastic that has a groove in the middle of it, so that it folds easily in half along its length.  I'd never used FOE and didn't have any.  I like to make things with materials I have on hand if I can, so I started by using knits to bind the edges, similar to how I make tank tops.  (Favorite tank top tutorial.)

Above and below, you can see the three pairs I made using knits to bind the edges.  It kind of works.  The seams got really wavy because of stretching the binding as I sewed it, though the waves are not noticeable when the underwear is on.  The orange knit in particular, though, really stretched out and sags, which is neither comfortable nor attractive.

After the touch-and-go nature of trying to use knit bindings, I decided to bite the bullet and buy some FOE.  First I just went to local JoAnn fabrics and bought a 7 yard package of black 1 inch FOE.  Sewing this on was such a dream and worked so well that I looked up how to buy more online.  Look at all the pretty elastic...

Sewing FOE is so incredibly easy.  After figuring out how long to make the different bindings, I cut them and sewed the edges to make loops.  Then I pinned it, stretching the fabric evenly along the elastic binding.  It took a little finagling, but it worked well.

And then the dreamy part is next: just fold over and zoom along, sewing the other half down.  No pinning, no stretching, no finagling... just zooming.

Different pair from the previous photo.

Pattern:  Self-made.  It took a few tries to make it fit exactly how I wanted to, but now I've got a pattern that's really easy to use.
Fabric:  Old t-shirts!  I had a stack of old t-shirts that didn't fit me anymore, but I really liked the design on them.  Those designs got incorporated into new pretty underwear!
Notions:  1" Fold-Over Elastic
Hours:  Once I figured out the pattern and was using FOE, each pair took under an hour to make.  There were a couple solid days involved in the first three pairs of underwear and making the pattern and fiddling with knit bindings.
Will you make it again?  Probably!  Underwear wears out with time, after all.
Total cost:  The fabric was all free, because it was made from old t-shirts. The FOE from JoAnn's was about $13 for 2-3 pairs worth (I haven't measured to see if I have quite enough for a third pair, but there's a lot left over).  So those two pairs were ~$6-7 each.  The other FOE was $0.67/yard, 3 yards/pair (with leftovers!), $3.57 shipping for the lot - altogether, $13.67 for five pairs of underwear, or $2.74 each.  Good price for me!
Final thoughts:  Fold-over elastic is wonderful!!!  I want to use this for so many things now.  I'm really interested to see if I can make simple sports bras (the kind for general wear, not the super-supportive kind actually for sports) using t-shirt material and FOE.  Back to this project, though - I love the results, but I actually don't like making these very much.  It's a solid half hour of work to sew on the FOE to each pair of underwear.  That doesn't sound like much, but it's boooooooring.  There's nothing new or innovative about it, and I already know what the result will look like.  Sewing bindings onto projects has always been one of my least favorite sewing activities - one of the few I actually see as a chore.  That said, it's so useful to be able to make my own underwear that are so cheap, quick to make, and fit well with cute designs that I will almost certainly be using this again in the future.

Yay fun underwear and recyling old clothing!  Two of the pairs aren't pictured, because they aren't quite finished - I got too bored to finish them on the same day as the rest of these.  They'll be done soon, though!  ~Kelly
Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tanning a Deer Hide: Part 2

The other class I taught at Northwoods Community College was about tanning (tawing) my first deer hide.  I threw together the notes from the main website I used, along with links to other sources I'd found.  This was very much a "learn my mistakes along with me" class. 

Before I get to how the class went, I need to go over all the steps leading up to it.  For the first leg of this journey, read Tanning a Deer Hide: Part 1.  I'm mostly following the steps from this forum post.  In part 1, I had reached step 4: the last step in applying the chemicals to the hide.  Now, it's all about cleaning, drying, and stretching.

Five: Fish out the hide and let it drain over a stick into the bucket. At this stage opinion varies as to whether you should rinse the hide or not- the dilemma is that if you do you wash out some of the pickle, but if you don't the hide can be a bit stiff and salty feeling. Personally, I do give it a quick wash with a spot of detergent, but nothing too drastic, and I don't let the hides get wet again after they are finished. If you need a silky hair side, then I would say wash at this stage, but pay extra attention to the final stages of the process.
 Here is what the pickle (the chemical mix used to tan a hide) looked like when I was done:

And here's a couple pictures of the wet hide in my bathtub, right after wringing most of the pickle out of it and giving it a quick wash with laundry detergent.

The forum post tells me step 6 is to go over the hide and try to peel off any remaining membrane.  At this stage, I just couldn't tell what the membrane actually was, so I wasn't able to do this very well.  On another site, I read that you want the fur side to be dry, and the skin side to be damp but not wet (cool to the touch), before the hide really starts getting stretched.  So in order to dry the fur side, I laid the hide out, skin-side-down, on a table, and applied fans to it.

I fluffed the hide up with a fork, and then actually used my cat brush on it, which worked pretty well.  I kept getting a lot of hair out of the hide.  Also, the fur side is still kind of salty - I wish I had washed it more thoroughly, but I was worried about rinsing out the pickle.  Other articles say that they rinse their furs pretty thoroughly after taking them out of the pickle and that it's fine.  Next time, I would definitely take some more time to really work at the fur side and get more salt out of the hide.

As the hide dried, most of the underside stayed good and damp.  The edges, though, started to stiffen, as you can see in the picture below.

You can see the color change from the dry (white) part to the damp (grey) part.

To mitigate this, I tucked the problem edges underneath, and continued to dry the fur side.  It took about two full days with fans blowing on the fur for it to dry.

My class was mostly about following step seven of the tawing process, and talking through what I had learned.
Seven: The hide should be almost but not quite dry for this stage- if it has been in a frame and gone board-like, lightly spray it with water to allow you to work it. You need to start stretching the hide. If its on a frame use a rounded stick or a wooden spoon and lean into the hide, pushing the leather against the tension provided by the frame to stretch and manipulate the leather. If you are doing this without a frame, get a few friends to help and play tug of war with the hide, try sitting with your feet touching and hold an edge each then stretch and pull. You'll know its working because the stiff, greyish surface will become softer and whiter and often considerably bigger. This can be very strenuous!
As the class went on, I learned more and more about the mistakes I had made, and how I would do it differently next time.  First off, the notes are correct: stretching the hides by hand is very, very strenuous, hard on your hands, and takes many hours.  We stretched and worked the hide for about an hour, and it was barely changed.  Not only that, but once the hide dried (a few of the edge pieces were dry), I could tell that I had gotten none of that membrane off of the hide when I scraped it - it was fairly easy to tell and peel up some of it (pictures in the next post).  Peeling the hide at this stage is not something I would recommend doing - it takes many, many hours of gripping and peeling off tiny pieces, because it does not just come off in a big sheet.

The day before I taught this class, I found a video of someone scraping a hide.  This enhanced my understanding of this like no words on a page could, because he actually showed what the membrane will look like as you're scraping the hide.  Also, if (probably when, who am I kidding) I do this again, I will almost certainly be getting a fleshing knife, and building myself a simple frame to stretch this hide on.  I can't imagine what I would have to do to bribe friends into stretching a hide for the many strenuous hours it would take to do this properly without a frame.  

In order to keep the hide damp while transporting it (from home to class, and then back home, and then for several days while my mother visited), I kept it in a plastic garbage bag.  It worked really well.

And that's where I'm going to end this post.  I'm still slowly working on the hide - peeling bits of dried membrane off, and I might try to work oil into it to soften it some - so the next (and probably final) post about this experiment probably won't be up for a little while.  But I'll let everyone know how it turned out when I have the final result!  ~Kell/Birke
Continue Reading...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Classes at Northwoods Community College

I taught three classes at Northwoods Community College just over a week ago.

The leather tooling class went really well, and I completely forgot to take any pictures.  I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly paced the class was, and how much I was able to move around and help all the students with questions.  The handout, like all my handouts, is linked to in the SCA tab on this website - scroll down to the classes section!  I had nine students in this class, and everyone seemed like they learned something.

I did take a couple pictures of the Advanced Inkle Weaving Techniques class, which had three students.  I warped two looms for this class: one for basketweave/baltic pick-up, and one for basic stripes pick-up, so students could see the difference.  I also brought my stash of pick-up weaves that I've done, along with some other forms of advanced inkle weaving (tubular weaving, brocade, and double-warp weaving).

In my handout for the class, I stated that the weft thread color should match the background color of your weave, so that it blends in when you drop warp threads beneath it.  One of my students made the brilliant observation that you could deliberately use a contrasting weft thread to create a different pattern effect entirely.  I have now tried this, and it is really beautiful!

The blue horizontal lines are my weft thread showing through where I dropped the silver threads to the other side.  I am so very excited about this - it allows for a lot more pattern variability than I even had before.  I haven't even finished these weave yet, I was so excited to share a photo of it.

I will be updating my handout for this class soon - I need to add this contrasting weft example!

I also learned another new technique from the wonderful weaver Bryn.  She weaves beads into her inkle weaving by pre-stringing them onto a warp strand!  Above is the gorgeous beaded inkle weaving she did for the Baroness of Northwoods (attached to her gown).

I haven't tried this yet, but for anyone interested, here are her additional comments:  Don't use beads that are too large/heavy, as they can snap the warp threads.  Leave slack in the warp thread with the beads, as it will need the extra length to go up and through the beads.  This is potentially a period way of making beaded designs - it's impossible to tell from portraits whether the beads were hand-sewn to the garment, or woven into the trim.  Weaving them in like this also has the additional strength that if one beads breaks off, the others won't all fall off, too, as the weave will secure them (unlike just sewing them to the gown with a long running stitch, for example).

She didn't mention this, but I also imagine that you want to make the beaded warp thread to be a non-heddle thread - I can't imagine getting the beads through a heddle easily.  So keep that in mind when designing beaded patterns.

That's all for now!  I will be posting more soon about tanning the deer hide (and how that class went).  ~Birke
Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Leather Bead

That would be leather dye all over my hand.
Someone I know asked for SCAdians (SCA-people) to make beads for her daughter's 18th birthday.  I believe the results were strung up like Viking beads on a dress.  Knowing the daughter, I really wanted to make something for her.  My problem: I don't do anything with beads.  It's one of the few crafts I am not interested in learning (making lace and beading: I think they are really cool, but just not my aesthetic).  

My solution: I stitched a leather bead together!  I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures, but I didn't notice how blurry they were until I'd already given away the bead.  I'm quite pleased with the results.

Also, I just figured out how to put two images on the same line in Blogger posts, by reading the HTML and understanding what divs are.  Blogger apparently makes a separate div for each photo, and then puts the photo inside the div.  I simply cut the coding for the second image and pasted it inside the first photo's div, right after the code for the first image.  Then I deleted the second (now empty) div.

Bwahahaha.  Using my coding knowledge already!  Yay.  ~Kell
Continue Reading...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Custom Knife Sheath

Here is a custom leather knife sheath I made as a prize for Grand Tournament, an SCA event last November.  The knife was made by another accomplished leatherworker and blacksmith of our Barony, who asked me to make the sheath as part of a joint prize.  

Reminder: I take custom leather commissions!  If you have an idea for a project, let me know and we'll discuss prices and design.  :)

I started by thoroughly soaking the leather in water, getting it soft and stretchy.  I then stretched it over the knife, and marked with a pencil where to cut the edges.  The outline cut out, I pounded stitching holes in with a stitch punch (similar to this) and laced it tight with saddle stitch.

I sewed an extra sliver of leather in the bottom half of the knife, where the blade rests.  This is to help prevent the knife from cutting through the stitches over time.

After stitching, I slid the knife into the sheath.  The leather is still really wet and stretchy at this point, and the knife is fit very snugly in the sheath.  As it dries, the leather shrinks and forms itself permanently to the shape of the knife.  This makes the fit very tight - the knife doesn't need a tie on it to keep it in, as you have to give it a good tug to make the sheath release it.  The only downside to this is that it rusts the blade, so you need to re-polish the knife after the leather is dry.

I made the handle by braiding leather thongs through two holes in the top of the sheath.  As you can see in the picture above, though, the knife ran along the lacing as it was sheathed, and it was already starting to cut through the lacing.  To prevent this, I took another small scrap of leather and superglued it over the lacing to protect it (see below).  It will take much longer for the knife to cut all the way through that (at which point, the loop handle would be remade).

And hey - there's the maker's mark I showed you in my pyrography post!  Sneakily burned into the inside of the sheath.

Here's a close up of the the handle.  I braided the leather and then folded the braid back upon itself.  The end was sewn to beginning of the braid and wrapped with artificial sinew to give it a solid base with no ends showing.

Finished knife sheath!  This took me a couple hours of cutting and sewing, along with shaping the edge with an edge slicker and making the loop handle.  I don't remember precisely how long it took, but probably between 3 and 5 hours (not counting the time to dry the leather).  Next time I make a sheath, I will pay closer attention to how I am going to make the handle before I cut out the leather.  I don't want to have the issue again of the blade potentially cutting through important lacing over time.  All in all, I'm proud of how it turned out.  It fits the knife better than a glove.

Let me know if you have any custom leather work you want done.  :)  ~Kelly/Birke
Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

North Woods Community College is this weekend!!!

Hey, all -

Have you ever wanted to learn cool crafts from enthusiastic people for practically no investment?  Things like leatherworking, or weaving, or all the food you can make from milk, or blacksmithing, or how to make a medieval German apron dress?  (The list of possibilities is endless.)  You should join the SCA!  The Society for Creative Anachronism is an amazing nonprofit organization that's kind of like the Renaissance Festival, but better, because you're not performing but actively participating.  Part of this participation is taking all the amazing classes that other people teach for free (sometimes with a small fee to cover materials and handouts, but that's it).

This weekend (in two days!!!!) I am teaching at one such event, called the North Woods Community College (the name is a play off of another type of event in our Kingdom, called the Royal University of the Midrealm).  I am teaching three classes there, and you should come check it out!  Even if my particular classes don't interest you, here's the class schedule so you can check out something else!

My classes:

Leather Tooling Basics
1-2 pm

Learn how to bring a simple design to life by tooling it into leather! Class open to all ages who feel comfortable handling a swivel knife (or having an adult help them with that step). Limit 5 for hands-on portion; unlimited for listening and handout. Materials cost: $2 (will get to keep leather, but not tools). Handout: free

Tanning a Deer Hide (Alum Tawing)
2-4 pm (open drop-in session)

Drop in between 2-4 pm for any length of time to help me stretch the deer hide I just finished tanning, and learn how to tan a hide at home with a process called alum tawing. The last step is playing tug-of-war with the hide to stretch it as finishes drying. For all ages!

Advanced Inkle Weaving Techniques
4-5 pm

Learn at least two pick-up techniques for inkle weaving! Inkle weaving can be so much more than just passing the shuttle back and forth. Knowledge of basic inkle weaving required. 10 handouts; unlimited listening. Handout cost: $2

My plan is to post more comprehensively about these classes over the next couple weeks - I want this to be an open resource for people who have taken my classes (and anybody else!) to come back to for information.  I am both excited and nervous about teaching (it's my first time teaching SCA classes, except for a hands-on fencing class I did in February.  Ah!).  Hope to see everyone on Saturday!  Come learn cool things and help me stretch my hide - I can't do it by myself!  ~Birke
Continue Reading...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Blog Layout Updating

My blog is quite ugly at the moment, and has been for a long time (since I gave up wrestling with the templates sometime a year or two ago).  I have slowly been working towards fixing this.  

Over the past couple months, I've re-learned basic HTML and CSS through a website called Codecademy ("Code Academy").  This past week, I started learning how Blogger's XML script is written (feels like learning another entire coding language to this novice, which in a way it kind of is).  

I've already started to tweak some visual elements on the site, and this is only going to continue happening!  This blog needs a huge makeover, as I want it to be a website I'm proud to show off to people interested in my leatherworking, and to use as a resource for SCA stuff (now that I'm teaching classes and people might be interested in the information I'm offering).  My hope is that this site will look awesomely nerdy and professional in the not-so-distant future.

So if the blog layout/look starts to fluxuate wildly, you know why.  :)
Continue Reading...


Follow The Author