Sunday, February 16, 2014

Favorite Fabrics: Osnaburg

Do you have a favorite fabric type? It could be a sturdy twill, an airy charmeuse, or a crisp voile... or if could even be one of those in-between fabrics, whose name you're uncertain of. You know, that special fabric you picked up that sits in your stash, waiting patiently for the day that you shout "Eureka!" and run to the sewing machine with a genius idea appropriate only for it.

I have several fabrics that I just love; some are officially named varieties, and some are those vague treasures. One of my absolute favorites to play with, however, is Osnaburg!

Osnaburg is a utilitarian fabric that may conjure images of work aprons and early peasant clothing, and with good reason! It was originally made from rough flax and jute, and it is a course, natural fabric perfect for the grungy grimy needs of all factory workers! Nowadays it is made primarily from cotton, but because it is still woven of a coursely spun, slubby fibers, spaced widely in their reed, it still retains the same aesthetic that it had when made from the original fibers.

The name "Osnaburg" comes from "Osnabrück", which is the name of the German city (though it's technically part of Saxony, culturally speaking). The fabric was originally made in Germany, but by the 18th century it had become a staple in the Scottish textile mills and was sold as a low-lint utility fabric used for facings, course under garments and lower class clothing (think factory workers and work-house prisoners). It was also used in The States to make the primary clothes of slave workers, due to it's sturdy and low-maintenance nature.

While bumbling around the internet the other day, searching for linen sources, I happened across a wonderful blog post at The Split Stitch, discussing the use of osnaburg as a linen alternative. I've been doing this for years, and this is probably the main reason I love osnaburg so much (it runs roughly $4 a yard, instead of linen's $15 a yard!) but I thought I'd share the post since it was very well written.

I use osnaburg for lightweight canvas bags, and it makes a great course medium for block printing. It would also make an excellent fabric for aprons, dish towels and even pillow covers. Because of its linen-look and soft hand, it also makes great skirts and it takes dye well (assuming you pre-wash well enough to get the factory goo out of it!)

I'm currently designing a new pattern that I intend to mock up using some of my osnaburg stash, so I'll be sure to post the finished results when I have them!

Have you ever used Osnaburg for anything? Do you have a fabric you prefer to work with?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vintage Color Palettes: 1916 Winter/Spring Fashion

Hi there! Emily, again. 

This is the second post in a series of entries showcasing some of the color palettes I use when I am designing/daydreaming. It's fascinating to look at a series of images from the same year and see the similarities in colors.

This set comes from 1916, smack dab in the middle of WWI. You can see that, other than the fashion couture dresses on the ends, many of these dresses are all considerably more simplistic in their trimming than the entry I posted from post-war 1919. The dominant colors in many of the dresses I found from 1916 were blues and pale apricots, as I've depicted below.

The dresses on either end of the graphic are both designed by "Lucile", an English designer of high fashion also known as Lady Duff-Gordon. She is known for developing the "fashion parade" or a sort of early fashion show, and her highly trimmed dresses are really a sight to behold, even just via computer. (She also survived the Titanic sinking, and was booked for the MS Lusitania on its last, disastrous trip as well, but cancelled due to illness! Yikes!)

Be sure to check back soon for more vintage color palettes, as well as all sorts of fun here at Seven Magpies!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recipe Time! Vintage Soda Fountain Black Cow

Here in the north, the winter doldrums are upon us! I think this time of year all Michiganders struggle at least a little bit. We struggle with smiles and courtesies, with grey days, snow shoveling and just not being able to shake the desire to sleep all day long. Whether it's from a lack of vitamin D, a poor sleep schedule or just plain missing the gay days of summer, struggle certainly seems to permeate many of our lives. 

So how do I beat the winter blues? Often I don't, actually. I spend a good deal of time grouching about, whining about not being able to get my hands in the earth. Sometimes, though, I remember that a great way to get through the blues is to simply indulge in things that make you go "Mmmm..." and "Ahhhhhh..." and during the winter these things are most often found in the form of food and drink!

Have you ever had an brown cow? It's kind of a strange name, but they're really delicious! 

A brown cow is kind of like a chocolatey root beer float, but without the ice cream. I am a firm believer that ice cream is to be enjoyed only when wind chills are above -15ºF, and lately they haven't been.

Brown cows first came about at the height of the drugstore soda fountain rise in The States, in the late 19th century. Can you imagine scuffing into town down the long dusty roads to snag a brown cow at the local pharmacy? I can just see the stools neatly lined up beside the wooden bar top, now. Thick soda glasses, or even utilitarian metal ones, being stirred with a glass pharmacists stirrer and sipped from with paper straws. 

Picturing stuff like that really makes me smile... Before the soda fountain, the only sweet drinks really available were ciders. (Unfortunately, the growth of the soda industry meant the apple industry hit some seriously hard times at the beginning of the 20th century.. more on that another time!)

So...  I wouldn't use just any root beer for this drink. I'd insist on one that's complex with deep and subtle spices. I had a glass of root beer at the WAB in Ferndale the other day and it was strongly scented with anise. It was also served over ice, which is a serious pet peeve of mine since it severely dilutes the root beer and many of the spices used in good root beer are most complex and tasty at room temperature. Anyway, I digress... Some of my favorite bottled rootbeers are Boylan and Virgil's. They're both a bit dryer than your typical commercial root beer, and they both use natural ingredients.
Some people make their brown cows without chocolate, and some make them with loads. I prefer just a bit of chocolate in mine, and this last time I was without chocolate sauce and didn't feel like making any from scratch so I opted for the more tame version of the brown cow. Maybe we can call it a brown heifer (heh. homesteading jokes...) 

Alright, here's the way I make my Black Cow Sodas:
  • I take 6 oz (half bottle or so) high quality root beer (cane sugar is your friend!)

To which I add:
  • 1/3 cup high fat milk (vitamin D milk, whole milk, raw milk, unhomogenized milk, cream top milk... go for quality, again! You'll thank yourself later...)
  • 1/3 cup sparkling or seltzer water (if you leave this out, your brown cow will be considerably bolder flavored, but will lack some of the prickly carbonation)
  • A squirt of your favorite chocolate syrup (quality, quality, quality... I've included a recipe, below)

Now, at the risk of coming off like a total snob (as if I haven't already), drink this classic baby from a glass, not a plastic cup. The crisp edge of glass helps the bubbles break and is a far more enjoyable way to drink it. 

If you want to make this really something special, try making your own chocolate syrup to enjoy in your brown cow. It's really quite easy... in a sauce pan over medium heat simply stir together: 1/2 cup cane sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa powder and 1/2 cup water, as well as 1/4 tsp salt and (if you like) a few drops of vanilla extract. Stir it for 5 minutes over medium heat, until it begins to thicken a smidge and then allow it to cool. If it isn't thick enough for your liking, simply place it over heat again and stir another 5 minutes or so. It's that easy! 

Now, I've just stumbled across this recipe for DIY root beer, where you're fermenting herbs and spices and sugar with ale yeast. This sounds like a spectacular spring project and I can't wait to give it a go! I'll be sure to post how it goes, here, and then I'll have my very own 100% made-from-scratch brown cow! (Of course, it'd be better if I were milking the cow myself... have I gone too far? LOL!)

Please note that there are several recipes out there that state a "brown cow" is actually a cola float. The name seems to really apply to any brown soda that you put a dairy product in, but this is what I've always called a brown cow!


xoxo Emily

Friday, February 7, 2014

Recipe Time! Coconut Oil Chocolate Hearts for Valentine's Day

While this is really not vintage, it's also really delicious, and the fact that it has NO processed sugars, No dairy (and no egg or gluten, either!) makes it a great choice for high-allergy homes and classrooms.

As we draw nearer and nearer to February 14th, I know I'm generally the kind of gal to start panicking about what would make last minute Valentines gifts. These work great for classrooms, book groups, victory clubs, salsa nights... pretty much any time you want to hand out a super delicious treat without spending hour slaving over a difficult recipe! They're definitely not just a Valentine's day treat, either! I have been keeping these on hand since I am supposed to be eliminating processed sugar from my diet. Chocolate craving? No problemo! In fact, if you look at the original web site where I got the recipe, you can see that coconut oil can actually curb all sorts of craving because of its affect on your metabolism! These are good for you. It's science

The recipe is simple, though as in most tutorials I post I would like to suggest experimenting a bit. When I followed the original recipe, I got great results, but two batches later I have found a recipe that works better for me and my tastes. The original recipe is a bit sweet for my taste (I used local honey). It also didn't mention all the great things you can do to change the flavors of your chocolates! 

So anyway, I'll get to it, here. Taking into account my alterations, you will need:
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil (Don't panic! This is solid at room temperature! You can get this in most grocery stores in the health food section,)
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder (preferably organic and fair trade)
  • 1/2 cup local honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Optional: 1 tsp extract or liqueur of choice (I have tried vanilla, hazelnut and peppermint, all with great results!)
  • Optional: Additional powdered flavorings including fleur de sel, fennel pollen, cayenne pepper, guajillo pepper, ground culinary lavander, powdered coffee, etc. 
Alright, this is super easy, folks. Ya ready?

Melt coconut oil over very low heat on the stove. Then add remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth. 

Allow to cool until consistency is a bit thicker, still whisking. When the liquid is thick, but still pourable, pour slowly onto a sheet of parchment paper (I folded the edges of mine up, just in case the melted chocolate decided to run) and allow to cool. While cooling, you can sprinkle it with any spices/salts that you wish to try. 

Once cooled, you can cut your chocolate into various shapes with cookie cutters, or you can simply cut it or tear it into chunks. This is a soft chocolate, due to the coconut oil, but it is still delicious! I will be trying this with cacao butter in the future to see if I can get a chocolate bar that has that awesome *snap* that I love so much.

Package these individually for a great Valentine's gift, or just munch away at them! These store best in the fridge or freezer, since coconut oil melts at roughly 78º. Also, I feel like I should warn you... if you have children or other messy eaters, this melts quickly in the hand and can be messy! 

xoxo Emily

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Crafting: Making your own Duck Tape Hat Block

As a followup to my post on Making Your Own Dress Form, I've decided to share how I made my own duck tape hat block. Now, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that this isn't nearly as durable as a regular hat block, and because of the duck tape it isn't appropriate for hot applications or steaming (though now I'm starting to think up ways to make it work!) but it will work as a sort of dress-form-for-your-head if you intend to make stitched hats like I do!

I made my hat block using pretty much the same basics as my dress form. The hard thing for me was getting the actual oval shape of my head right. I have a very large head (size 7 5/8) and so using one of those foam heads from the craft store just isn't a viable option for me. My head is also very oval-shaped, so those people who start with round objects like bowls and tupperware - I commend you, but your methods just won't work for me.

You will need:

  • A roll of duck tape
  • plastic wrap or a plastic bag of some sort
  • sturdy wire
  • cardboard
  • strong glue
  • sturdy filling of some sort (taxidermy pine, pine shavings, firmly crumpled bits of paper... use your best MacGyver skills, here!)

First: The way I got the shape was by using armature wire and shaping it snugly and comfortably around my head. Armature wire is a lightweight wire used in sculpture and you can get it in all sizes. You could probably also use a simple piece of craft wire if you're careful, but I had this lying around and really wanted to make sure the shape was appropriate. This is for use as a template.

Second: Trace the oval/circle of your wire onto at least four sheets of cardboard and cut them out. Take all of these pieces of cardboard except one, align them and glue them together to make one über-sturdy oval. Mark the front of the oval with a bold marker of some sort so you can align it correctly later. Keep the one cardboard oval separate, as it will help you fill your duck tape shell later.
(If you want to make a longer hat form like I did, trace this oval as many times as you are willing to and make yourself a tall stack of glued cardboard. This will add sturdiness to your hat block later on, and give you some vertical space to work.)

Third: Carefully fit your head with plastic wrap. You don't want it to be bulky at all.

Fourth: Take a piece of duck tape and wrap it firmly around your forehead to the back of your head. Try to keep it level with the ground (not sloped) and from shifting around. I actually used a bit of tape to tape it to my forehead so it wouldn't move.

Fifth: Using carefully placed strips of duck tape, it's time to cover the rest of your head. I can't stress enough how important it is not to get folds or crinkles, since we are adding to the actual circumference of your head. Try to follow the natural curve of your skull.

Sixth: Once your head is covered in two smooth layers of duck tape, you can remove the shell from your head. It is fragile and will dent/warp if you fiddle with it too much at this point, so be careful!

Seventh: Place your duck tape shell in a large bowl (larger than the shell, so it doesn't have to be warped to be placed inside) and carefully begin to fill it with your filling. You want to pack your filling into the curve without damaging it, so be very careful as you're doing this to pay attention to how the duck tape shell is pressing into the bottom of the bowl. When it is pretty much full, you can manipulate the shape a bit if it has warped.

Eighth: Once your shell is as full as you can get it without warping it, tape your cardboard oval over the bottom of the shell, leaving at least one area untaped. Use this little untaped area to wedge additional filling in, making the shell more and more firm. Again, try not to warp your shell. You can use a pencil or dowel to reach in and shape any areas where the filling is uneven.

Ninth: Once you are happy with the firmness of your shell, tape your additional oval stack to the bottom of the shell and, again being sure to avoid wrinkles or folds, carefully cover the entire thing with one more layer of duct tape.

Et, Voila! 

Now, this hat block isn't particularly durable. In fact, I really should be calling it a "hat form" instead of hat block, to harken back to its similarities to my dress form... Still, if you intend to make stitched or pieced hats of any kind, this is a great inexpensive alternative to a wooden hat form! 

This is a draped mockup of a hat that I simply pinned to the block. It allows me to see how the fabric will act on the curves of a head without using my more expensive fabric. This duck tape block is really coming in handy! It's much easier than sewing the mockup using trial-and-error, and much less painful than if I were to pin the mockup directly to my head!  (Just kidding folks!)

Have you made your own hat block? Share your results in the comments section! 

xoxo Emily

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Uncommon Valentine: Build a Miniature Cabinet of Curiosities for Your Special Someone

This year for Valentine's Day I've decided to revisit a project that I did years ago. While I was in college I briefly worked at the local art supply store with my then-boyfriend-now-husband (he worked there long before I did - that's actually how we met, sort of). Working at the Art Attack was a great experience. While waiting for the occasional student to wander in I would sit, surrounded by materials and supplies, and daydream about all of the wonderful things I could make.

Then, once a week, a group of artsy friends and I would meet after work on a Thursday evening to create/draw/illustrate/make whatever we fancied. Jeremy and I still do this to this day, Thursday evenings, with a very small group of friends, though Art Attack has been gone for years now (that was a sad, sad day).

At some point I started building boxes out of cardboard or foamcore and covering them in decorative papers. It wasn't long after that when I realized I could create small paper cutout dioramas in these boxes, and then I set out to make an entire series of them. Many of them have been lost over the years, and I gave some of my favorites away, but this year I would love to revisit them and to show you how they are made so that you can share them with your loved ones as three dimensional Valentines!

Anyway, before you get started you've got to gather some things. I usually flip through some old clipart books (Dover is great!) or look through my boxes of vintage papers and magazines. If you haven't got access to this sort of thing you can always find it readily available online! Find more images than you think you'll need. It's always fun to have options. I also like to look around for actual objects to use. A rooster feather, a seed pod, vintage fabric, an interesting bit of string – small things like this are perfect to use to embellish your cabinet. The differences in texture will make a much more interesting visual experience!

Since this is going to be a Valentine, you could collect things that you know your significant other will like. You could even brainstorm on a piece of paper about the person the cabinet is for... Some of the words I came up with were: skulls, fish scales, mermaid, mermonk, etc. Obviously I am not gearing my Valentine for the average bear.

I'm going to do a much more traditional Valentine style for my tutorial box, but I'll post a picture of the finished Valentine for my husband as well so you can see what I came up with.

You will need:
  • Thick Cardboard or Foamcore (I prefer foamcore!)
  • A strong liquid glue (archival, if possible!)
  • Flexible and lightweight decorative paper and/or paint (tissue paper or lightweight handmade papers work well for this - nothing too stiff!)
  • Images/objects of Curiosity (feathers, string, sticks, dowel rods, paper cutouts, stamps, leaves, seed pods, etc. Try browsing your local craft store's scrapbooking aisle!)
  • Cutting tools: Scissors, X-acto knife, Box cutter (be careful with these things!)
  • Cutting mat (or some surface you can cut on)
  • Your Imagination!

Before we get started, let me mention that I seem to have lost the photos from my box making day! I'm going to do some searching and get them up as soon as possible. Sorry, folks!

Step One: Decide on the dimensions of your box and cut out the pieces.
This will either require some serious math, or some whimsical eyeballing. I like to start off with math for the back (base) of the box and then just eyeball the sides by laying them out along the back piece. This is also when you decide how deep to make your box. If it's not deep enough, you won't be able to "set" things on your shelf. If it's too deep, it will be difficult to put paper over. Once you've decided on how big you want the box to be you can add shelves or compartments by gluing in additional bits of cardboard. The joints don't have to be 100% perfect, but they should be close enough that they glue soundly. 

Step Two: Glue the box pieces together.
Take your time and glue the four sides onto your box. If things seem like they're slipping around a lot, I like to let my glue dry a bit and get "tacky" before really expecting the sides to stick. Let these dry firmly (patience, young Padawan). If you have shelves and you plan to cover them in decorative paper you may want to cover them before attaching them since it will likely be easier.

You can also use an existing box for this and save yourself the trouble! I still have a sort of Curiosity Cabinet that my cousin made years ago out of Swan Brand matchboxes! 


Step Three: Cover (or paint) your box.
Covering your box with paper is the hardest part of this project. If you prefer to paint the box, I totally understand. I've done some painted, myself! I love to use metallic paints for this.)
In order to cover the box I've made thus far, I am tracing around it to create a paper shape to envelop the exterior of the box. For the interior I am using a paper that is very lightweight and easy to mold into crevices and corners. The interior can be tough, but the easiest way I've found to do it is to cut a strip of paper that is the width of the interior and long enough to be pressed up against the sides. 


I then cut two smaller strips that are the height of the interior and glue those to the remaining exposed areas. This takes some finesse, but what I've found is that you can just kind of wing it a bit and push and shove the papers around until they're in place. Carefully spread a thin layer of glue over the entire area that you intend to cover. Make sure the glue is thin and even, or you may get bubbles or bleed through.


I also wrap my "shelf" pieces in glued decorative paper at this point, and firmly glue them into place. You could probably also use a spray adhesive to do this part, if you happen to have it around. It's great stuff for delicate paper layering!

Step Four: Prepare your Curiosities!
This is the most fun of all of the steps, in my opinion! Prepare the objects that you want to showcase in your box. This could mean gluing a hat on a paper dog, painting a seed pod metallic gold, or writing out your favorite quote in a loopy script. 

Go with whatever strikes your fancy! This is the time to be adventurous and imaginative. Be BOLD! Curiosity Cabinets were private collections of things that fascinated their owners. Keep that "fascination" in mind!

Step Five: Mount your Curiosities.

If your curiosities are three dimensional objects, simply find a way to glue them into your shelves. A dollop of good adhesive will hold small objects to your shelves without letting them rattle around. If your box is cardboard or foamcore you can even use pins to pin your objects into place similar to an insect specimen case.


When I use flat paper pictures in my boxes, I like to create little "supports" to ensure that they won't get bent or tilted once they're glued in. You can also use these supports to give the illusion that they're floating in space. Glue a small dowel or a piece of cardboard to the back of your flat picture and then put a drop of glue on the other end. Let this glue set up and become tacky before installing your picture, as you don't want it to smear around on the back of your box! Once it is tacky, simply glue it where you want it to be!

You can also use various methods to add depth to your box. I've used dowel rods to give the appearance of cage bars, and I've even used string to add a bit of dangly movement. Seriously, folks. Let your imagination run wild!

Step Six: Enjoy, and Repeat!


Voila! You have your own little Cabinet of Curiosity to give to your loved one. But why stop at just one? Once you start making these, you'll realize how wonderful it is to showcase little bits of beautiful and bizarre! Make another!


Ah, and here is the final Wunderkammer I made for my husband!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Crafting: A Valentine's Pincushion Bracelet

Hiya! It's approaching that time of year, again... You either dread it, or you love it... or you're like me and you remain fairly indifferent to it. Valentine's Day!

Still, despite my indifference, this is a great excuse to work on cute projects that are shaped like hearts. I was working on draping a blouse the other day and the constant turn-bend-turn-pin motions were making me seasick. Obviously I needed a pincushion bracelet! 

You can make this one of two ways. In my photographs, I show you how I made mine with little pleats in the polkadotted fabric to make it poof out extra. If you find this too tedious, you can simply sew the inlaid fabric in flat and it will still poof up enough to make a fine pin cushion. 

First, you're going to want to sketch yourself a nice plump heart shape on a piece of paper. You can find heart graphics online, or draw your own. I cut mine out and folded it in half to make sure it was symmetrical before I used it. 

Once you have a heart you're happy with, cut it out, pin it to your fabric and cut out one heart from your inlay fabric and two hearts from your felt. I used wool felt for my project, but synthetic felt works just fine (perhaps even better, honestly). 

Then, fold one of your felt hearts in half and cut out a smaller heart shape to create a window.

The next part is the most difficult, in my opinion. If you want the inlay to "poof" out, you need to pin small pleats along the edge. I did three pleats along each edge of the heart, making six pleats total. This takes some careful pinning! Once the pleats themselves are pinned, you're going to pin the inlay fabric into the felt window heart that you've made. 

Now... before you start to panic, let me tell you that YES, it going to look a bit like the guy from Hellraiser for a while. There are more pins than fabric on this poor thing! Still, this is one of those instants in sewing and crafting where you have to take a deep breath and look a little closer. Are all of your edges pinned to the window edge? Is nothing gaping? Good. Continue. (Breathe...)

You're going to sew – slowly – with your sewing machine (or by hand!) once around your felt window edge. If you go quickly, you're more likely to bunch fabric, hit a pin or get lost in your own stitches (seriously folks, it happens). Once you've gone around once, pull out your pins and check your work. I used very tiny stitches here and I'm not particularly happy with it. I should've used more standard stitches, but I thought I'd see what happened. Live and learn. 

If at this point you see that you have a spot where you missed the inlay edge or have made a mistake, you're in luck! If you're using contrasting thread, you can simply re-pin the area that's giving you trouble and do a second time around, all the while telling yourself that it's a decorative edge. 

Next you're going to cut two or three strips from your felt that are long enough to go around your wrists and pin them flat together so their edges are even. Also cut your velcro pieces and lay them out on your band (remember, the go on opposite sides of the band! I had a derpy moment and stitched them to the same side of the band. Heehee.) Stitch a couple of times across them (be creative here!) to create a more sturdy felt wrist band. While you're doing this, stitch your velcro into place as well. 

Once you're happy with the stitching on your band, place and pin it over the rear heart and stitch it in place. 

Finally, stitch the window heart onto the rear heart and leave a small section open so you can stuff it (another totally derpy moment here - I stitched mine closed! I admit it, I was watching Doctor Who and got distracted...). You can stuff this with pretty much anything... I used torn up quilt batting scraps, but you can you fabric, wool, dog hair, dryer lint... Haha. This is another chance to be creative!

Once the heart is stuffed full, pin it closed, finish the edge, and stick some pins in it! Ya know, while this is totally adorable and heart-shaped, I'm beginning to see a bit of irony in the whole giving-someone-a-heart-to-stick-pins-in thing. Ah well! Enjoy!

xoxo Emily