Heart Felt

Heart Felt

♥♥♥  Happy Valentine’s Day!  ♥♥♥

small-felted-heartsWho needs candy – too sweet, goes right to the hips – when you can give a Valentine that will last forever? I made these needle felted “Sweethearts” (also known as conversation hearts, or “Love Hearts” in the UK) as a gift for my mother. Fourteen little hearts for February 14!

Did you know that the real Sweethearts candy – those pastel confections printed with messages such as ‘Be Mine’, ‘All Yours’ and ‘Kiss Me’ – aren’t available in North America this year? This is due to the recent bankruptcy of the Massachusetts-based manufacturer which had been making about 8 billion of the hearts every year since 1901. Fortunately, rights to the candy have been acquired by a company that promises to re-introduce Sweethearts in the next year or two.



The origin of conversation candies goes way back to Shakespeare, who mentions “kissing-comfits” in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Comfits were molded sugar paste squares flavoured with musk, orris powder and ambergris. They were chewed to freshen the breath, but they also contained a secret: tiny slips of paper printed with mottoes asking for a kiss!

In America, comfits became “cockles”: scallop-shaped candies containing a paper message. In the mid-1800s, “conversation candies” or “motto lozenges” began being exchanged at weddings and parties. Messages were now machine-stamped in red dye directly on the sugar paste, asking rather racy questions such as ‘How do you flirt?’ or ‘Do you polka?’ One might be asked to ‘Send a lock of hair by return mail’! Sweethearts even made it into the beloved novel Anne of Green Gables when Anne receives one that says ‘You are sweet’.

needle-felted-sweet-heartsWell, you certainly wouldn’t want to eat my version of Sweethearts! Each is made of soft Corriedale wool roving in colours with luscious names such as Lavender, Lemon, Cupcake, Grape Jelly, Raspberry and Lime – pastels I chose to replicate the candy we all remember from childhood.

I used a heart-shaped plastic cookie cutter as the “mold”, stuffing it generously with roving before starting to felt. When the heart was fairly firm, about 75% done, I popped it out of the cutter and cleaned up the edges with my needle, working the halves of the heart equally to keep the contours symmetrical. Each heart is about 1” (2.5 cm).

felted-valentine-sweet-heartsI found a dollar store package of linen bags patterned with roses – perfect to present these tiny valentines as a heartfelt gift.

Wooly Winter Blues

Wooly Winter Blues

blue-needle-felted-bowlAnother needle felted bowl – they’re so much fun, I can’t stop making them!

This one is the “Agate” bowl, named for the random striations of storm grey and two shades of turquoise which remind me of my favourite stone (see second photo). I almost called it the “Labradorite” bowl, as these colours can also be found in the gemstone with the intriguing blue-grey flash (first and third photos).

felted-blue-bowlI returned to using styrofoam forms to get a nice, uniform shape. I started off layering pieces of roving around the bottom of a foam coffee cup to get the desired base size, then switched to a 2.5” (6.4 cm) ball to build up the curving sides and the inwardly-rolling rim.

small-blue-felted-bowlThe pretty colours in their overlapping layers didn’t need any other ornamentation, although shiny glass beads would make this bowl even more gemmy. The Agate bijoux bowl is 3” diameter x 2” high x 0.4” thick (7.6 cm x 5 cm x 1 cm).

Window into February

Window into February

frosty-window-landscapeIn late January and early February, we suffered a nasty cold spell. For about two weeks, daytime temperatures plummeted to a brutal -22°C (-8°F) or more, with a windchill of -37°C, and even colder temperatures at night. We also broke a ten-year snowstorm record, accumulating 33 cm (13 inches) in one night. While other places endure far worse weather on a regular basis, this is pretty extreme here in moderate southern Ontario, and it made going about daily life a challenge.

January-window-frostOn one of those mornings – a day off, thankfully – I awoke to brilliant blue and sunny skies (still frigidly cold, to be sure) and windows painted with a lacework of frost ferns. How perfect, thought I, for this month’s installment of Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up: Windows!

morning-frost-on-windowAlthough I’ve seen fancier designs elsewhere, we rarely get this kind of frost on our windows, so of course I had to take some photos. The darker images were due to a balcony overhang; I like the dramatic effect. I can see dreamy, misted landscapes and wintry forests etched in ice. Jack Frost’s talented handiwork!

freezing-rain-on-windowAnd here is this morning’s view, as today we are in the grips of a freezing rain and ice storm!

Felt of the Forest

Felt of the Forest

needle-felted-sherwood-bowlThere’s something about a container – a bowl, box, basket, coffret or chest – that is just so appealing. And when that container is small, it becomes even more intriguing (because good things always come in small packages). What tiny treasures does it conceal? What secrets could be stashed within?

As I learn needle felting, I’m beginning to think that bowls and other containers may be my favourite item to make. Take this diminutive “Sherwood” treasure bowl, for example. (See my first bowl, “Ocean Jewels”, here.) Those are just my first two; there are so many ways to make and decorate felted containers, I want to try them all!

felted-bowl-with-seed-beadsUsing five different colours of green wool roving to evoke a lush forest, I felted the bowl freehand instead of using a foam ball as a form, starting flat and overlapping and alternating small chunks of each colour in an ever-increasing, spiraling circle. I shaped the bowl as I went, cupping it in my hand to coax it along and adding more roving wherever the walls were too thin. This method might take longer than using a form, but at least I didn’t have to spend time picking out a million bits of shredded styrofoam!

The bowl, which is 3” in diameter and 1.5” high, is studded inside and out with glass seed beads in subtle woodland hues: spring green, umber, golden yellow, autumnal orange, brook blue and azure sky. The beads are sewn on with clear nylon beading filament which completely disappears within the felt and serves a second purpose of adding more stabilization.

To me, this little treasure bowl represents a leafy bower deep in Sherwood Forest where the gems of the Sheriff of Nottingham, pilfered brazenly by the rogue Robin Hood, lie cleverly cached. Zounds!needle-felted-sherwood-forest-bowl

Taking a Stab at Needle Felting

Taking a Stab at Needle Felting

I’ve been wanting to try needle felting for some time, so I was excited to take my first “stab” at it a few days ago. If you’re unfamiliar with this art form, needle – or dry – felting involves shaping small bits of carded sheep’s wool (roving) by poking it with a special needle. As you jab repeatedly, the needle’s tiny barbs hook on to individual strands and gradually tangle the wool fibres together, shaping them and making them denser as you work.

needle-felted-beehiveIt doesn’t take long to create balls, ovals, cylinders, etc., which hold their shape firmly but give slightly when you squeeze them. You can build more complex structures (a figure or the body of an animal, for example) by felting one component to another; the idea is to not use glue or thread. I decided to try a beehive for my first project. I approached it purely as a learning experience as I got used to handling the needle, how to create shapes and contours, what it feels like when you’ve reached that ideal firm-but-springy stage, and how to apply details.

needle-felted-bee-on-beehiveThe beehive – which is not as domed as I would have liked (I now know how to do it better) – has its own resident bee, attached firmly to the surface underneath with a few jabs of the needle. I’m quite happy with how the bee turned out! The door and flowers (there are blue ones at the back, not shown) are “needled” or pushed in so they’re flush with the surface of the hive. This piece took me hours, but I learned a lot from it, so my next two projects worked up more quickly.

needle-felted-toadstool-in-bottleThis tiny toadstool-in-a-bottle is about two inches high and nests in a clump of “soil” and some mossy grass – roving which I left mostly unfelted. Mushrooms are a lot of fun to make; I’ve got another larger project in mind which I think the faeries and snails will love!

needle-felted-mushroomAfter carefully pushing the toadstool into the vial, which is about 3.5 inches tall, I corked the bottle then added an acorn cap, and tied on a bit of twine for the final touch.

Needle felting requires some kind of pad underneath while you’re working. Those needles will often jab right through your piece, so you need to protect your work surface – and the needles, which are very thin and delicate and can break easily. The pad is also helpful for rolling your pieces on, to speed up the felting and shaping process. Foam blocks or a cleaning sponge are popular, but I chose to making my own by sewing a 6” x 6” muslin-lined linen pillow filled with rice (shown above). This makes a firm yet forgiving surface, and it cost me nothing, as I already had the materials on hand.

I quickly found that needle felting is addictive. It does take patience, but it’s an ideal craft to relax with on an afternoon or evening; you can do it in front of the TV – as long as you don’t take your eyes off the needle when you’re working – the needles are extremely sharp! I highly recommend some silicone, rubber or leather finger guards as protection from those painful – and inevitable – jabs.

needle-felted-trinket-bowlMy third project was the small “Ocean Jewels” ring or trinket bowl. I mingled sea colours – marine blue, purple, dark and light greens – and formed the basic shape around a styrofoam ball. That’s great for getting a relatively uniform shape, but styrofoam will start to disintegrate the longer you work it, and I ended up with tiny white bits which needed to be picked out of the felted wool with tweezers. Even more time-consuming than felting! The next bowl I do will be completely freeform. (Who needs perfection, anyway?) Once I was happy with the shape and size of the bowl (3.5” diameter), I used nylon beading thread to sew an encrustation of jewel-toned glass beads around the rim.

needle-felted-ocean-jewels-bowlI’m already working on another project and have ordered a batch of luscious roving colours – can’t wait for them to arrive! Expect to see more felting projects here. I hope you enjoy learning along with me – and that you won’t say “Baa humbug” to it all!

DIY Rescue Salve

DIY Rescue Salve

diy-healing-skin-salveThis pleasant-smelling, easy-to-make all-purpose salve requires only a few basic ingredients and helps soothe common complaints such as dry, itchy winter skin or minor cuts, scrapes and other owies. I like to rub it into rough elbows and my cuticles and fingertips to protect against the painful cracks so common at this time of year – much-needed rescue from cruel winter weather!

The shea butter, coconut oil and sweet almond oil in this salve leave the skin feeling instantly soft and smooth. The lavender essential oil lends just the right amount of fragrance; plus, lavender is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory and is thought to help heal wounds, reduce scarring, and act as a pain reliever. The aromatherapy benefits alone are a good reason to include lavender essential oil in this salve. (Note that lavender can be an allergen to some folks; you could substitute rose oil for skin-soothing benefits.)

The small amount of beeswax (which adds hardness to a preparation) relative to the larger quantities of oils and shea butter gives this salve a light, soft consistency that’s very easy to rub in and doesn’t feel too greasy.

This recipe makes about 100 mL (3.4 fl. oz.). I filled the 50 mL and two 20 mL jars shown here and still had a little left over. (Note that this recipe is too soft to work in a lip balm tube.) Keep a jar at home, one in your purse and one at the office, or give away as gifts!

natural-skin-salveGillyflower’s All Natural Rescue Salve

In a Pyrex measuring cup inside a double boiler filled with a couple inches of water, melt together over medium heat, stirring occasionally:

1 tbsp beeswax, chopped in small pieces (or use pellets)
1 tbsp deodorized shea butter (you can use raw unrefined, but it will give your salve a more noticeable, nuttier smell)
1/8 cup coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature)
1/4 cup sweet almond oil

Remove double boiler from heat and let sit for 5 minutes (adding essential oils to a very hot mixture may denature them). Stir in 10 drops of lavender essential oil. Remove measuring cup from double boiler and wipe any moisture from the outside to prevent water from getting into the salve. Pour immediately into small glass jars or tins. Lay a paper towel over the tops of the jars (to prevent dust, etc. getting into your mixture) and let solidify overnight before adding lids.

homemade-rescue-salveI made simple labels using Word and printed them on cardstock (top of large jar) and paper (smaller jars). As I often give my homemade goodies to family and friends, I like to list all the ingredients. Including the product size is also helpful in case I’m asked for a refill. 🙂

Wishing you happy winter skin!

Snow Magick

Snow Magick

winter-snow-sceneOne Christmas Eve when I was a kid, we had a deep snowfall just in time for the Big Day. After dark, our family took a walk around the neighbourhood to admire the holiday lights. On every tree and shrub, puffs of fluffy white icing were illuminated from within, creating a wondrous fairyland of softly glowing, ethereal colour and light. I don’t recall such a perfect and perfectly-timed snowfall happening since, so it stays in my memory as a truly charmed experience.

In this part of the world – and probably in many, many others – we don’t get the snowfalls we used to. Oh yes, we still get a couple of good wallops a year, but you can no longer count on snow for Christmas – or for much of the winter. I can usually get away with wearing shoes or sneakers (and a light jacket; my friends and family think I’m crazy) all season long!

I love snow. I used to ski on it and make angels in it. I adore watching the gentle drift of a silent snowfall on a lazy afternoon, and the crunch it makes underfoot is delightful. I admire how snow muffles sound in a sleeping forest, and the colours of a shadowed snowdrift are many: pale blue, lavender, indigo, slate. I look at snow closely to pick out the miracle of one-of-a-kind flakes. I’ve been known to collect and bottle snow as a magickal winter talisman.

snow-algonquin-parkSnow Spirits
Water and snow possess feminine energy and are associated with healing, cleansing, purification and transformation. Snow is the insulating blanket of winter’s dark slumber which inevitably gives way to light, fertility and new life. This could be the reason so many ancient winter deities are female.

Boreas is the Greek god of the cold north wind (hence: boreal) and the bringer of winter. His daughter, Chione, is the goddess of snow.

Hulda, Hlodyn or Frau Holle is a Scandinavian/Germanic woodland winter spirit whose feast day is December 25. Sometimes appearing as a young, fertile maiden and sometimes as a toothless crone, she holds dominion over the coldest, darkest months. Her symbols are the evergreens which appear around Yule, including holly and mistletoe, and she is associated with women and the domestic tasks performed around the hearth in winter such as spinning, weaving and sewing. Her connection with snow comes from Norse mythology; snow is said to be the white feathers which fall to earth when Hulda shakes out her mattress.

Morana is the Slavic goddess of winter and death. When she arrives in the guise of an ugly hag, she is greeted with fear. (For those who aren’t afraid, however, she takes the form of a beautiful young girl.) Her departure at the spring equinox is still celebrated with song, processions and feasting.

ice-crystals-on-frozen-pondSnow, like water, is considered yin, or feminine, in Japan. The Yuki-onna is a terrifying, mountain-dwelling female snow spirit whose pale, almost translucent skin and white kimono allow her to blend into the wintry landscape. Able to transform into a cloud of mist and float across the snow, she preys upon hapless travelers with her icy breath, or leads them astray to tumble down valley slopes. She also tries, through the use of various tricks, to steal children away into the snowy night.

In Gaelic mythology, the Cailleach is a weather deity who rules the land between Samhain (October 31-November 1) and Beltane (May 1). A hag whose staff freezes the ground, she is known as the bringer of storms. On February 1, when the land is still deep in snow, the Cailleach ventures out to gather firewood. If the day is fine, it means she’s able to collect lots of wood to keep her warm, so the winter will last longer. If the day is foul, she’s still asleep and unable to find wood, meaning spring will soon arrive. (This legend is probably the origin of Groundhog Day.)

red-berries-in-snowHarnessing Snow Power
The conditions in which snow is collected are thought to affect its qualities: a raging blizzard gives it high energy and power; a gentle snowfall imbues a quiet, peaceful calm. Whether kept frozen or left to melt, snow water is a powerful element. Here are a few ways to use snow’s power:

• Be a kid again and make a snow angel. When the seasonal blues are getting you down, bundle up, get outside and snow angel the heck out of Mean Ol’ Man (or Woman) Winter!
• Draw a sigil in the snow anywhere you wish to evoke power or mark your intent; a symbol drawn in melting snow helps banish or release negativity.
• Before driving in dangerous winter conditions, sketch a safe travel bindrune on your car’s frosty windshield.
• A snowman is an oversized poppet – a doll-like symbol that can protect your home. Build one in your garden, at the border of your property or near your front door as a household guardian. (Don’t forget to dress him up!) Even a tiny one set on a fence or wall is a magickal way to harness snow’s sheltering power.
• Freeze a negative thought, emotion or situation in its tracks by writing its name in the snow.
• Pack up frustration, stress or worry into a snowball and throw it far away! (Just don’t aim at anyone.)
• Make a snölykta, a traditional Scandinavian snow lantern – a pyramid of snowballs into which a light is inserted.
• Symbolically cleanse your body or wake it up with a rubbing of fresh-fallen snow (brrr!).
• Take a walk in the woods during a gentle snowfall or after a storm. In the quiet tranquility, listen carefully to what the whispering trees have to tell you. I always take a pocket of wild bird seed with me for our winged friends; feeding birds from the hand is a beautiful experience!
snow-quartz-crystal• If you don’t have access to snow, carry or wear a piece of snow quartz. This milky white quartz with microscopic water bubbles is associated with dispelling negativity and destroying boundaries, improving clarity of mind, and fulfilling hopes and dreams. With its soft, feminine energy and yin-yang balancing properties, snow quartz is said to help thaw icy relationships.

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