Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I love when inspiration strikes. Or in this case, when it shows up in my inbox.

Kathleen Cubley over at Knitting Daily blogs today about her experience working with silk stainless steel yarn. Her inspiration to try out the yarn came from (surprise!) the fall issue of Interweave Knits, of which the Knitting Daily blog is affiliated. The project is the Hoarfrost Mobius, designed by Annie Modesitt, and made using a new yarn from Lion Brand's LB Collection, Wool Stainless Steel. It is beautiful, although I could never pull off the "mobius over my head ethereal beauty" look the model's got going on.

I have been intrigued by the idea of this yarn since I first saw a few jewelry projects using it earlier this year. They came out of the book "Elements of Style: Knit & Crochet Jewelry with Wire, Fiber, Felt & Beads" by Rosemary Hill. The yarn Hill used, Habu Silk Stainless steel, is gorgeous, but hard to find. And frankly, I was a little intimidated to try it out. But Cubley says I have no reason to be:
I know—when you think "stainless" you don't think "yarn." If you're like me, you think "refrigerator."

But it's really an amazing yarn; you really wouldn't know it's stainless steel unless you pinch it—it keeps the pinch. But it also straightens out beautifully. It's a unique yarn—and not at all scary when you're working with it—that you really have to try in order to appreciate.
I love the idea of combining the flexible hold of wire with the feel and drape of silk or wool. I already have a bunch of ideas I'd love to try out with it.

Now if I could only find the inspiration to finish the projects I've already started (Clapotis, I'm looking at you...)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jammin' on the one

I'm not sure who the masochist is that came up with the idea of jam. Don't get me wrong - homemade jam is, well, awesome. But I just can't imagine the person who, in the middle of the summer, saw a berry harvest and, wiping the sweat off their brow, thought, "Hmm, I think I'll take these berries and heat them until I have a hot boiling pot of sugar and fruit - but I'll want to stand over said hot boiling pot stirring it the entire time. And then, I'll put the insanely superheated result in some hot jars and then put those jars into a vat of boiling water." Getting the theme here? That being said, I guess I'm a masochist. I love me some jam, and I've discovered I love making it.

My first experience at making jam came late this spring after a trip to Trax Farms in Washington County, where we headed out to the fields to pick our own strawberries. If you haven't done a berry picking trip with your kids before, go. The sight of your kids picking those berries, looking around to see if anyone's watching, then sneaking them into their mouths, is worth any complaints you hear from them on the walk to and from the field. Despite the sampling, we ended up with pounds and pounds of strawberries. I hated seeing them go to waste, and - as much as my husband would disagree - there are only so many baked goods one can make with strawberries. So I figured I'd try to make jam. The result was 9 half pint jars of some seriously good strawberry jam, and, surprisingly, it wasn't all that difficult to do.

This time, it was blueberry jam, with fresh blueberries the kids and I picked at Soergel's Orchards. A fair warning - blueberry jam requires a massive amount of berries... all right, 2.5 pounds, but more than my kids were in the mood to pick. They're my babies, not day laborers, so off we went inside Soergel's market to augment our own berries with a few extras.

After the kids were asleep (I did mention the hot boiling vat of sugar and fruit, right?), I set to work. The recipe is easy:

Blueberry Jam
(adapted from Ball Pectin recipe insert)

2.5 lbs (about 4 cups) crushed blueberries
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 package Ball original fruit pectin
4 cups sugar

1. Combine crushed berries and lemon juice in large saucepan. Gradually stir in fruit pectin, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
2. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Return to a full rolling boil, and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and skim foam if needed. Recipe says you'll get 6 half pint (8 oz.) jars, but I got 7.

That's it for the jam. Really. The canning is also fairly simple. I follow the instructions that come with the pectin, using my big pasta pot instead of a canner and it hasn't failed me yet. I won't lie - you'll be sweaty. But yummy blueberry goodness is well worth it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

From yarn to wire

When I first started knitting, I came across Knitty Gritty, a television show devoted to modern hipster knitting projects. Of course, I once saw a knitted tissue box cover on there, so "modern" and "hipster" are relative terms. But there was one episode I ended up saving on my DVR for months (and likely deleted to make room for yet another Imagination Movers) about wire knitting. I wasn't crazy about the projects they had done, but the idea intrigued me. I wasn't quite there yet with my own knitting, and not quite ready to take on the challenge. About a year ago, though, I thought why not? I bought some beading wire, a string of cheap beads, grabbed my knitting needles and set to work.

Massive fail.

I had the wire wrong, the needle size and type wrong. About 3 hours, one jumbled mess of wire and beads and two gouged bamboo needles later (RIP my lovely Chiao Goos - alas wood needles and wire do not mix), I threw everything back into the store bag and shoved it in the bottom of my stash box.

Then on a lark, I took the bag out and brought it with me on a weekend crafting retreat. A good friend (thanks Jenn E!)taught me how to crochet, and something clicked. I crocheted a granny square, then I took out the wire and beads and the lone hook I had and made a necklace. The wire took on a whole new form when it was crocheted in a simple chain rather than knit - light, airy, flexible, a perfect base for whatever I wanted to string on to the wire. I knew I had found something new to love.

Since that first necklace, I've moved on to other necklaces and bracelets, trying different styles, different type of wire and different beads. As if the thrill of new yarn wasn't enough (Yes, that really is the kind of geek I am. New yarn THRILLS me.), now there's a whole new section to ooh and ahh over.

Above is one of my favorite pieces I've made so far. It's fairly simple - craft wire crocheted with these little Czech glass beads I picked up at Crystal Bead Bazaar in Lawrenceville. What an awesome store. But that's a subject for another post.

And this weekend I made a big leap - I actually gifted my first piece of jewelry. Granted, it was to my sister, who I think by law has to like everything I make for her, but I think she really did like it. It was a cuff bracelet, crocheted with the same black wire, mother of pearl coin beads and little silvery gray pearls.
I was really pleased with how it turned out, and, of course, completely forgot to photograph the finished piece. Instead, here's the bracelet I wore this weekend - smokey quartz colored wire with fire polished glass beads.

Tonight or tomorrow I'll be making something completely different - blueberry jam. Can't wait to share that with you... the photos, that is. The jam is all mine. Until then...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Something new

I have been staring at this blank form for what seems like forever. I wanted my first blog post to be witty and clever. I wanted it to tell you all about me in a way that doesn't seem like I'm trying too hard or that I'm trying to come off as something I'm not. I want the perfect first blog post. And because of that, I've stared at an empty blank post form for days. Well, not just staring. Typing a few things, then deeming it not good enough, too quirky, not quirky enough... you get the idea. Instead of just starting, I get wrapped up in the details of starting, wanting that first try, that first effort, to be perfect. This is the story of most of my endeavors.

I remember when I worked as a reporter, staring at that blank screen, willing the perfect lede (newspaper speak for a story's first sentence) to come to me so that I could write the rest of the words I already had banging around in my brain. People would tell me to just start writing, then go back to the lede. But I can't. It's just not how my brain works - I need that jumping off point. That first sentence was and still is the hardest. But once it's there, it's like opening the flood gates, everything just pours out of me. It's just getting there, getting that perfect start so I can move on... that's the challenge.

But it's time for something new. My days of writing ledes and editing copy full time are long behind me, replaced with days spent playing princesses, exploring new playgrounds, potty training, building block towers and baking cupcakes. In between, I've been exploring my own interests and hobbies, and surprisingly, they haven't involved writing. I have found that I love working with my hands, and even more so, I love MAKING: simply the act of working to create something tangible. I learned to knit a few years ago, and a few months ago, I learned to crochet. From there, I've gotten into knitting and crocheting with wire, which has turned out some really cool pieces of jewelry. If I can get over my fear of failure, you might be seeing some of it on Etsy. Until then, I'll be talking about them here.

So here it is: Maggi Makes. It's a chance to explore writing again and to share some of what I've been up to -- knitting, crochet, baking, cooking, making. This is my new endeavor, and here's my jumping off point - I'm ready to take the leap.