Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Plan Your Summer Garden Now

I stand at my window on a cool, damp January day, beginning the important first step of gardening: planning. At the moment, the garden beds harbor perennial plants storing up moisture and energy for the next year's growth. The lawn is bright green with a weedy annual grass that will die with the first hint of temperatures over 80 degrees. Weeds are dominating both the lawn and garden beds.

Later this winter, I will undertake a major yard renovation, removing the lawn and some of the shrubs in my very small yard and replacing them with drought-tolerant California native plantings. Paths will lead back to a spot to sit and read under the shade of our sweet gum trees, and beyond to the garden beds of vegetables and fruit trees.

Even with most of the work ahead of me, I'm planning how all this will look now, because late winter is the perfect time to carefully decide what will be growing in our gardens this year.

Even if you aren't facing major yard work, the catalogs arriving in the mail are a signal to think about this year's gardens. Without a plan, we will buy too many seeds, plant at the wrong times, and increase the chance of failure even before Mother Nature get her hands into our garden.

What Goes Into a Garden Plan?

  1. How much space you have to work with. For all of us this, is a finite number, and the major control on planting. Measure the space and try to map it out on graph paper.

  2. What you already have planted. Mark off the space for bulbs and bushes, drip irrigation, anything that's not moving/movable in your plan.

  3. When things happen. A bush that flowers in May (like lilac) needs to be visible then. However, if it then becomes simply a mass of green leaves, note to plant something exciting in front of or next to it, to provide interest during the rest of the summer.

  4. Your safe planting dates. When can you start planting cold-hardy varieties? When is your first/last frost date? Know your growing zones.

  5. Now start dreaming...

I see grasses blowing in my bay-influenced breeze, sturdy bushes providing shelter for the birds, and crunchy gravel paths. In the edible garden, blueberries will be added, kale will be repeated. Will there be a place for some cleome somewhere?

Others Planning Their Gardens:

Julee Dunekacke is starting her southern garden already by planting onions, mustard, garlic and radishes.

Lara DeHaven, a Southeast Texas gardener, doesn't follow the local trend of planting mid-February, preferring to hold her planting until March, thus avoiding the chance of a late freeze.

Stephanie Langford talked seeds: knowing days to maturity, characteristics and features, planting both early and late varieties to spread out the harvest, and sometimes planning yield of vegetables.

Joyful Stars has decided to experiment with hay bale gardening this year. I'll admit this is a technique I always wanted to try myself. I'll keep an eye on her progress through the summer.

Seed Savers Exchange talked edible landscaping.

Eat. Drink. Better. wrote important tips for fighting cabin fever by planning the garden.

I also blog at: Weight for Deb and BlogHer on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

National Embroidery Month

Along with hearts, groundhogs and dead presidents, February is a month to celebrate embroidery. Here are some pointers to tempt you into picking up needle and thread and making your mark on fabric.

Close-up of Embroidered Napkin Bag

Embroidery has existed for centuries as a method of adding decoration to both clothing and household goods with needle and either thread or yarn. Occasionally beads, mirrors, or pieces of metal or bone are also used to vary the texture, reflective quality, or shape of the piece. Traditional patterns of flowers, animals, or symbols existed in different communities, almost as a way of identifying the wearers with their locale. Hi! I'm Dutch -- you can tell by the tulips on the hem of the skirt.

In its simplest form, embroidery starts when we draw or trace a simple outline pattern onto fabric, then stitch over these lines with a back stitch, which creates a solid line in thread. The most common current version of this would be popular redwork. Katie Aaberg shares some cute and simple examples of redwork that she will incorporate into a baby quilt.

NOT that back stitch embroidery has to be this plain -- though it's always this simple. Check out Jenny Hart's awesome collection of alternative embroidery designs at Sublime Stitching. From skulls to takeout food to artists' series -- oh my! I love the modern edge to her patterns paired with such a classic stitch form. Don't you?

Stepping up the difficulty scale just a bit, we move from redwork to blackwork. Blackwork again uses simple stitches -- a running stitch, a double running stitch, or, again, a back stitch -- worked evenly over threads. Because of its even-patterned nature, the important thing when doing blackwork is to carefully choose a background fabric with a even weave, such as linen. Britain's Embroiderers Guild has a charming blackwork project using a variety of threads to create foreground, background, movement, and depth.

From simple back stitch and running stitch, you can move on to buttonhole stitch, straight stitch, French knots, and the Lazy Daisy. You can consult YouTube for lots of great, simple videos that demonstrate embroidery stitches.

Once you get a handle on just a couple of these stitches, you may begin to see the whole world in patterns, repeats, knots, lines, texture. Everything can be rendered into embroidery.

My favorite form is an idea from Embroidery Guild's online project resources: Encrusted Calico. (In Britain what we Yanks call muslin, they call calico.) Encasing simple items such as beads, plastic rings, or metal washers between two layers of muslin/calico, then playing with layers of stitches on top provides a rich and wonderfully textured surface. I've used these playful pieces as small purses, pockets and pins.

What others are saying about National Embroidery Month:

The City Sage created a montage of Etsy makers who embroider.

Needles and Words declared that as part of National Embroidery Month, Saturday, 2/20/10 was another Stitch In Public day, though apparently a number of chapters of the Embroidery Guild chose to celebrate this on the first Saturday of the month.

Crossposted at BlogHer

Marie Grace thinks a the celebration is great -- it's given her an excuse to embroider for a whole month.

Sheri at cafemom shared several of her favorite links to projects.

Intrigued and want even more? Check out Sharon B's PinTangle for a great collection of patterns, stitches, and ideas for incorporating stitching into your life.

photo credit from debra roby's flickr stream.

I also blog at: Weight for Deb and BlogHer on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Mystery of the Swedish Olympic Team Hats: Crochet in the Social Media Age

crossposted at BlogHer

The buzz started even before the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics ended. Who crocheted the hats some members of the Swedish team wore as they entered the event?

Olympics - Opening Ceremony

The first close-up analysis led to one question. Were these hats truly crocheted, or might they have been knit? By Saturday morning, those in the know were convinced that YES, these were crocheted hats. Why this is important: Crochet cannot be done by machine. If the Swedish team received crocheted hats, someone sat and made them all by hand.

The name of this creator -- and ideally, her story -- became as important a quest as finding a pair of the souvenir Vancouver 2010 red Olympic mittens. (I have not yet found a pattern for making these but I expect that to show up any day now, too!)

For me, the search was led by Crochet Me's Kim Werker -- who used the power of Twitter to reach out to crafters, journalists, Swedes, the world. Another one of the frenzied searchers, Elizabeth Drouillard of Things Bright, said:

Based on Internet chatter, I've found that I'm not the only crocheter to geek out over the Swedish toques. Apparently we all did. Everywhere. Through the magic that is the Internet, I think I found the maker of the hats on a Swedish daily newspaper site, because they love them as much as I do over here. Warning: Google and link madness to follow.

For a brief while, it was hoped that Catherine Andersson, shown crocheting the hat in this video, was the maker. But Swedish-speaking twitterer @bagatell reported that the video was just a news story about how easy these hats are to make.

The next step in the search was a sighting on the Swedish craft blog MiMejd. Run the blog through Google Translator and discover that Ninna and Ida found the directions in a newspaper and posted a copy of the picture on their blog. Within days of the post, their readership (normally 60 a day) jumped to the point that the new visitors crashed their blog. Last Friday, they shared their results in recreating the hat. The translating is not perfect, but they report:

The debate has raged here on the blog as to whether the "real OS-cap" is wood poles or fixed mesh, on nedtagen are made in one or both. Some who have followed the pattern has been thought that the cap has been cruelly good others have testified that it has become so ugly, that it was ready for sopnedkastet directly.

On Tuesday, Kim Werker blogged what is likely the end of the search for the creators in Super Sleuthing Success! Swedish Hats Story:

The designer of the hats, and of the entire line of Olympics clothing for the Swedish Olympics team, is Eva Christensson. The hats were crocheted in China, and she didn't indicate any more information than that.

If you'd like your own Swedish Team Hat, Crafty Peach has quickly recreated the pattern and published it for us all to use, substituting an easily available yarn. As she explains on Ravelry:

I hesitate to call myself a designer ... all I did was copy the great hat the Swedish Olympic Team wore in the Parade of Nations!

This is my version of the Swedish Olympic Team's hat from the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. I used Red Heart Super Saver in the colors Light Periwinkle, Bright Yellow, Black, and White.

The original yarn -- DROPS Eskimo -- is a Norwegian-made thick wool yarn, which crochets these hats up quickly. However, some are reporting that the weight of the yarn is complicating the construction, leading Bagatell to declare her hat more appropriately used as a cowl.

**UPDATE**  Kim Werker had a chance to speak with Eva Christensson on Tuesday.  Check Yet More About Those Swedish Hats at Crochet Me for all the news. One piece of puzzle was answered in a way that is a bit satisfying: Why were the hats made in a China:

The original team hats were made by Chinese company Li Ning Sport Goods Ltd, which is the clothing sponsor for the Swedish Olympic team. Eva indicated the sponsorship relationship when I asked why the hats were made in China rather than by Swedish crocheters.

So there we have it. A worldwide crochet fad is well underway, thanks to a friendly sportswear designer who knows how cool crochet is, a hat that isn't available in stores, and a community of enthusiastic crocheters who won't stop till they have a hat of their own.

I also blog at: Weight for Deb and BlogHer on Wednesdays and Saturdays.