Mail art

A few weeks ago I spent an enjoyable afternoon at one of my favourite galleries, the Victoria Emerging Art Gallery, taking part in a mail art workshop. Being a long time pen pal, and a fan of snail mail and handmade envelopes and stationery, of course I had to sign up for this!

There was a table full of beautiful papers and ephemera as well as scissors, glue, stamps and other tools, including a sewing machine (I do love sewing on paper) and a typewriter. After an introduction by Kaitlyn Patience we spent a couple of hours of cutting, pasting, embossing, sewing, etc… accompanied by the nostalgic thunk-thunk of the typewriter. Isn’t it a beauty?

I also discovered a new gadget I MUST have, a great little combination cutter/embosser. I tell you, I nearly heard angels singing the first time I used it!

It was fun to spend a couple of hours just playing around with paper. I hadn’t been feeling terribly creative that day, and decided to go with no expectations and just see what developed. It was a reminder that it’s important to make time for “play”… not worrying about the finished product, just enjoying the process and the materials you’re using. I left with the beginnings of a card and a couple of envelopes… the card I will finish, the envelopes I plan to re-construct into something else.

Kaitlyn was also hosting a mail art contest with a “secret admirer” theme. The submissions will be featured on her blog soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone came up with! In the meantime here is a peek at my entry:

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Tealights

On Saturday I went to the Victoria Tea Festival, and what a fun and inspiring afternoon it was! In addition to the many different teas to taste and tasty treats to sample, there were some creative vendors displaying tea-related jewellery, mosaics, Christmas tree ornaments, cards and more.

One lovely exhibitor was Maxine Munson, who had a table full of teacup candles that I wanted to show you.

Maxine started making the candles last summer. “I had three weddings to attend,” she says, “and I saw the idea on a blog and thought the candles would make a great wedding gift. The packaging and decorating was so much fun and really well received.”

Maxine’s candles are well made, and I love that she sprinkles petals and lavender into the wax… they look like tea leaves!

A dedicated thrift shopper, she goes straight to the china and usually can’t leave a store without a few cute teacups. “Eventually I had so many I decided to sell them at some Christmas craft fairs. I then met some people who told me about the tea festival and the rest was history. I had a lot of fun this past weekend and met a lot of interesting people who share my love for vintage teacups.”

So many different teacups… it would be hard to choose, don’t you think?

Maxine’s main focus is makeup and hairstyling, but her candles are currently available at the Hive Salon on Cormorant Street in Victoria, BC and will soon also be available on her Facebook page.

Pumpkin Tea Biscuits

Today I did some baking for my book group, which has been reading “Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand. I can see why the book has received so many accolades; it’s wonderful… and it goes beyond the story of a horse, it’s the context of the 1930s and the lives of all the characters involved that make it such an interesting read. I can’t really add anything new to what’s already been said about the book but will just say that if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

If you’re familiar with the story of Seabiscuit you may recall that his stable mate was a palomino horse named Pumpkin. What could be more fitting to bake, then, than Pumpkin Tea Biscuits! I made them for my book group, even though none of the other members will actually be able to taste them… we have an online group with “virtual meetings.” It’s the thought that counts, right?

I ended up combining a couple of different scone and biscuit recipes to come up with my Pumpkin Tea Biscuits, and they turned out beautifully. The glaze is optional, but makes these a lovely sweet treat with a cup of tea.

Pumpkin Tea Biscuits

Preheat oven to 425 F (if you have a convection oven, set it to 400)

Toast 1/3 cup chopped pecans in a dry pan, and set aside. (This is my favourite part… I love the smell and flavour of toasted pecans and use them whenever I can!)

Mix together in a large bowl:

2 cups flour
4 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Cut in 1/2 cup butter, and set aside. (I used to do this with two knives but I finally have a food processor, which does the job a hundred times better, in a matter of seconds)

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup half-and-half or light cream
1 large egg
2 tbsp. honey

I used some amazing Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey that our Australian friends brought us. It’s got a unique flavour, and I love the label, too.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and add the pecans.

Form the dough into a ball, but don’t over-mix it. Put it on a lightly floured surface and knead it just a few times. It’s important not to over-work biscuit dough.

Cut triangles with a knife, or cut out circles with a round cutter or a glass. If you use a cutter, do as my mum always said and push it straight in and lift it out, don’t twist it. This helps the biscuits come out flaky.

Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 12 – 14 minutes or until the biscuits start to turn light brown. Cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze, mix together:

1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp. milk
I added about 1/4 tsp. of Penzey’s Apple Pie Spice. You could also use some nutmeg and cinnamon.

Drizzle the glaze over the biscuits, and enjoy!

Yummy!

Software tester by day, in her off hours Jo-Anne is a creative baking ninja! (talk about multi-talented: she also has a black belt in kickboxing and Shotokan karate and a brown belt in Yoshukai karate) She recently opened her own catering business, Yummy Yume (yummy – English for delicious, and yume, pronounced “you may” – Japanese for dream).

Jo-Anne is one of my co-workers, and when she experiments with new recipes or techniques, like the two-tone waves of blue and silver frosting on the cupcake shown below, she sometimes brings them to the office for us to sample.

How would you describe what you do?
I take seemingly boring ingredients, add some creative magic and transform them into dreamy confections.

How long have you been interested in baking and cooking?
Since I was 7 and I realized that you didn’t have to follow the exact package directions on KD and Mr. Noodles.

Toasted marshmallow on Belgian chocolate with malt icing

Was there anything in particular that got you interested in the first place?
Wok with Yan Can – I used to watch that show all the time.

What has been the most challenging part of starting your own catering business?
Finding enough counter space – I am limited by my own kitchen right now, so I will have to do renos or find another kitchen.

These lemon cupcakes topped with guitar cookies were a hit at Mike's birthday party last year!

What is your favourite utensil or tool to work with?
I just got a bamix for Christmas – this is awesome! I can make homogenized sauces and velvety soups in seconds. I also love my double sided silicon spatula – it’s great on my non-stick pans.

What are your favourite flavours?
I love the spicy, earthy medicinal flavours of cinnamon and cardamom. Something about those flavours is very comforting. I also love the tangy taste and smells of citrus.

Peanut butter bacon cupcake with maple buttercream

What inspires you?
I am inspired by the foods and flavours of other cultures. When I travel, I only eat food from that culture.

What’s one of your creations that you are particularly proud of?
That’s a tough one. I’d say it’s a toss up between the Black Swan cupcake (a cupcake complete with a pair of black swan’s wings) and the Thomas the Train goes to Candy Land cake (a cake I made for my nephew with limited equipment).

Cupcake inspired by the film "Black Swan" for an Oscars-viewing party last year

What is something you haven’t tried yet, but would like to?
I would really like to try making French macaroons and different flavoured cream puffs.

When are you going to bring more cupcakes to the office?
You know you are my QA department!

All non-watermarked mouth-watering photos courtesy of Jo-Anne Redublo

Mug shot

Here’s a picture I made tonight on my iPad. I used the Sketchbook Pro app and Photoshop. I love Sketchbook Pro! I’m really only just discovering all that it can do.

I touched up the final image a bit in Photoshop, but the majority of it was done with Sketchbook Pro. The lined paper background is from here. This was actually my second attempt; the first time I neglected to save, the app crashed, and I lost my drawing… my own fault, there’d been an update waiting to be installed for (ahem) quite a while and I hadn’t got around to it. I updated the app, but before I started again I played around a bit first. I figured out a better way to use the colour picker and practised blending with the airbrush tool, so the beauty of my mistake was that my picture turned out better the second time, and I learned a few things in the process. Gotta love it when that happens!

ooOOooOOooOOoo

Things are brewing on Pennello Lane…. in a few days I will introducing you to another creative woman, and I hope to be able to feature a few more within the next couple of weeks. They work with very different materials but are all creative talents who love what they do, which is always inspiring. Stay tuned!

Embellished jute bags

I want to show you a cute project made by my niece, Robin Jones.  This girl has talent, she’s always making things and comes up with some great ideas. For this project, she took some inexpensive jute bags and added her own embellishments to personalize them. The woven grid of the bags works perfectly for counted cross stitch.

She did up several different bags as Christmas gifts. This one is mine, I love it!

I like the pretty, traditional image on the rustic background… it’s in my favourite colour, too!

Here’s a sweet little owl on another bag.

If cross-stitch isn’t your thing, you can apply other embellishments that you make or buy. Robin crocheted some pansies…

…and sewed them to a large tote. A lovely gift for her grandma.

Adding stitching or embellishments to a jute bag…  a clever and inexpensive way to make a personalized gift!

Christmas silhouettes

This next holiday project was inspired by something I saw on the Nate Berkus show, in which a couple of DIYers each received a crate full of crafting supplies and had two days to completely decorate a room. When I saw the reindeer painting one of them made I really liked the simplicity of the red and white design, and I had to make one myself.

Here’s mine:

You can watch a video of the show here. (Can you imagine how much fun it would be to get one of those crates full of goodies?!) The reindeer painting is about 3/4 of the way through.

I referred to some photos of reindeer, then got out my sketchbook and drew one the size I wanted. (If you don’t want to draw your own, you can find an image you like and enlarge it on a photocopier.)

I painted a 12″ x 24″ stretched canvas with red acrylic paint. Instead of leaving it simply red and white, I decided to rub a little black gesso around the edges for a little added interest and texture. Then I transferred my drawing onto the canvas and painted the reindeer white. As a finishing touch I painted the edges of the canvas with metallic silver paint.

I had another canvas the same size, so I made a partridge too.

Together they add a pop of red and a hint of Christmas!

Retro Stocking

In our home, we are big fans of mid-century modern design. When it comes to Christmas, though, most of the decorations that are available are fairly traditional. I’ve kept an eye out the last couple of years for stockings that would fit our style, but have never found any, so this year I decided to make some.

Referring to these glasses (our prized set made up of eBay and second hand shop finds) for inspiration:

I cut two stocking-shaped pieces of grey felt, then some retro shapes from red and white felt, and sewed them on.

As a finishing touch I embroidered some atomic star shapes before sewing the front and back stocking pieces together.

Another one in red, with white and gray shapes, and we have a pretty cool pair of midcentury stockings!

This post is linked to Today’s CreativeMade by You Monday and the DIY Show-off

Hanging paper ornaments

Next in my series of inexpensive Christmas decorations… these paper ornaments.

I loved the shape of these when I came across a photo of them the other day… they have a midcentury feel to them, don’t you think? There are many images and tutorials online for these… here’s one at Design Sponge.

I had some red and turquoise paper, but wanted to add some shine. I couldn’t find any silver paper like the image I had in my head, but I did find a large bow at Michael’s made of flexible plastic, with one side completely covered in silver glitter. I took it apart, cut it into strips, and it worked perfectly…. aside from the fact that there was glitter everywhere! (as a good friend of mine always says, “glitter is NOT our friend!”) I don’t usually use glitter, but every now and then you just need a little sparkle.

I cut strips of paper 1″ wide, then cut the centre strip to the height I wanted the ornament to be. Cut the next two strips in a different colour, approximately 2″ longer than the first, and the last two (outside) strips about 2″ longer than those. I didn’t measure, though. Line up the ends and staple together, then line up the other ends – letting the outer strips curve into shape – and staple.

A cluster of them hung above our dining table was a festive addition for our Christmas party last weekend. You really can’t get much simpler or cheaper, but they are actually rather effective. Some of our guests remembered making these when they were kids and found them quite nostalgic!

Magazine Trees

Christmas is coming! Are you creating any homemade decorations this year? I am, mostly from paper or things I already had around the house. First up: some cute Christmas trees made from magazines. The instructions are on Martha Stewart’s web site.

Instead of recycling those old magazines, upcycle a few into Christmas trees! These are so easy, kids could make them… but I like their simplicity. I made one from a magazine and two from an old paperback book.

The instructions in Martha’s video say to do the first fold on every page, then the second fold on every page, etc. Instead, I did all three folds on each page, as I went. This way, when you get to the third fold where you’re tucking the corner under, you can make a crease by pressing it against the pages below, which makes it easier to get a clean fold and it’s much less fussy.

Also, the instructions say to use spray adhesive for attaching glitter to the trees. If you don’t have spray adhesive, a glue stick will work too. Just hold the folded edges together, and lightly run a gluestick along them. Then open out the tree again, place it on a plate or sheet of newspaper and sprinkle with glitter.

I found a package of silver stars from IKEA in a kitchen drawer (meant for decorating the stem of a wineglass) so I attached one to the top of each tree. Such a simple craft, but you know…. they look quite pretty lined up on our bookcase, with soft Christmas lights catching the silver sparkle.