Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Victorian Lace Photo Frame

This is the summer of lace work... I love how such a complex look can come from tiny needles, thin thread, and simple stitches.  Everything just combines into a beautiful piece.

I've done doilies before, so crocheting with a 1.7 mm hook and lace thread wasn't a big problem, but doilies, while intricate, lack dimensionality.  Then I discovered Irish Lace Crochet, a craft developed by poor, nineteenth century Irish women.  Unlike normal lace crochet work, Irish Lace Crochet is a combination of motifs and meshing.  You make the motifs first and then connect everything together with a crochet mesh.  It began in the mid-nineteen century as a great (inexpensive, portable) way to mimic expensive Venetian lace that only the wealthy could afford.  The really complicated ones look absolutely gorgeous.  Here's a nice Irish lady describing how it's done:

I'm not exactly talented enough to handle the crochet mesh for these designs... so that's something to work on, but what I love about Irish crochet is that the motifs can create more dimensionality, because they're worked on a "padding cord."  The cord is used to give weight and tension to the motif, so it can be manipulated before adding the mesh.  The result is more realistic looking flowers, vines, leaves, etc.  Here's my first time working with the padding cord:

A leaf motif, being worked around the padding cord

The motifs I used were from several old pattern books from the late nineteenth / early 20th century available here.  You can really see how modern patterns "spoon feed" us; it's often a language battle with the older ones:  "Make six times over a single cord foundation 1 plain on the 1st and 2nd and 2 plain on the 3rd of the stitches placed on the hind-loop of the stitches beneath; 1 single on the 1st plain, 1 chain."  Anyway, I perservered through and provisionally sewed my motifs onto cloth for working the mesh.... which I later decided to be just a simple (and crude) needle (Battenberg-esque) lace.

The purpose of the Irish Lace/Needle Lace project design came from one of the old pattern books:  a Victorian "frame."  Luckily, I have this bizarre hobby of collecting old photos of people I don't know, people I find interesting... wherever I find them.  So I headed down to the local antique store to see who I could find.  She is wearing a nice lace collar, which brings the lace theme more completely.  At first the non-straight meshing got on my nerves, but I think in the end I prefer the more "handmade" look.  And here it is, a nice way to revive some old photos:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summer Baking 5: Shaker Lemon Pie

In contrast to some of my previous summer baking challenges, this one required absolute simplicity.  Patience to let lemons mellow in the heat of the summer sun and tenderize with sugar, and then to add to them only three additional ingredients: a small amount of sugar, four eggs, and a pinch of salt.  The result was a Shaker Lemon Pie.

The Shakers are a religious group, whose numbers can be counted on one hand... as prophesied by their early leader Mother Ann Lee.  Shaker simplicity is calming for me; I would love to own a Victorian house with an interior of Shaker design.  For more about the Shakers, I recommend an older, but wonderful documentary by PBS.  Here's Sister Mildred singing:

I had heard about Shaker Lemon Pie... apparently my grandmother made a variation of it, but I don't remember it.  Online reviews of the recipes were surprisingly scathing at times.  Why would anyone make a lemon pie if they don't like lemons?!  I ended up with a recipe from epicurious and some beautiful organic lemons from Just Local Foods.  It's not for the faint of lemon-hearted... and even then I'd recommend enjoying it warm with some ice cream.

Lemons sliced as thinly as possible

All that is needed for a Shaker Lemon Pie
Ready for the oven

Fresh from the oven

Warm lemony goodness

Friday, July 5, 2013

Summer lace

I've been silent on the stitchery side of things.  My baking challenges and weekly festivals are taking up my down time, and since this summer is nearly all lacework, there's nothing new to report, because this takes an insane amount of time to do.  I even have two afghans to finish, but they're snoozing in a corner of my living room.  I know, I know... lace?  But I love it; it's so small and delicate.  I think it's because lace requires all of my concentration for finger maneuvering that I can't really think of anything else... just be in the moment... me and my lace... maybe even some good cold beer.

The days are nicer now and I'm really enjoying sitting on my balcony watching new flower buds come up each day and having the chickadees and hummingbirds fly around me.  I'm working on Estonian lace (knit) and Irish lace (crochet and needle lace) at the moment, so I'll post pics of those finished things soon.  Here are three more modern doilies that I've finished and are hanging above my dining table.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer baking 4: Blueberry muffins

Many people who know me, know that my favorite poem is What I Learned From My Mother.  It's about having something to offer people who mean a lot to you: a cake, a touch, a flower, or just yourself... it's what bonds friends together, reminds them how special they are to you.  This morning I got a message that a friend was coming over at 11 for a short visit... it's in my programming to always have something to offer... but two hours to make something?!  How about muffins?

Believe it or not, I've never made muffins.  In fact, I've only had a muffin tin for a few months... and only purchased one because I was making popovers to accompany a Sunday roast for friends.  Browneyed baker said that they're her favorite, so I decided to give them a whirl... they were simple, moist and delicious!

Fresh out of the oven

Lots of blueberries!