Pretending it’s Spring with a Feather Bouquet

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So.  If you’re anywhere in the world that has been experiencing winter this year, you know that it pretty much has universally sucked.  In Ottawa, and Canada in general, we just got wind that winter isn’t ending anytime soon.  In fact, the forecast is so depressing that our country’s senior government meteorologist has gone into hiding.  I kid you not.

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So I’m doing what I do every year and going into denial.  I’m going to pretend it’s spring with a pretty fake bouquet in my front hall.

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I picked up a bag of feathers from Value Village for $1.99 about two weeks ago.  Inside the bag were four packages of craft feathers from White Rose, which was a craft supply store similar to Michael’s that went out of business when I was a teenager.

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Three packs of white chicken feathers and one pack of dyed chicken/other bird feathers.

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Also, holy smokes feathers are staticky.

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I didn’t want an all white bouquet with accents of brown, so I decided to dye the feathers to suit my mood.  I’ll leave the ones that are already coloured for something else.

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Find a dye-proof container (usually a glass bowl), and drop in 4 cups hot water, 2 teaspoons white vinegar, and lots of food colouring in the colour of your choice.  I went with red, purple, and orange.

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Jam those feathers in and squish them down.  You want to bedraggle them as much as possible.  You can un-bedraggle (undraggle?) them later once they’re dried.

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Leave them in the dye baths for 5 to 15 minutes.  The longer you leave them in, the darker they will get.

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I picked plastic bins for my dye batches because I could cover them when I left them unsupervised.  I suspect if you have small grabby children this might come in handy.

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Pull the feathers out of the dye baths and set them to dry for several hours on a paper towel.  Just a warning that until the feathers are completely dry, they will still stain things with food colouring, so be careful where you set them.

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I thought that the orange batch was doing better than the other two, and I later found out why.  In the orange batch, you can see that I only have two of these long feathers with the rounded tips.  All the other ones have the flat tips.

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In the red/pink, the proportion of long round ones is higher.  For some reason these round ones are more waterproof (I’m sure someone who knows more about feathers knows why but I don’t really care).

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The purple batch had the most round feathers of them all, and so came out the palest overall.

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But I wanted variety, so variety I got. And I also dyed my fingers quite well.

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Once they’re dry you can fluff them out again.

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Then I took a spool of thread and got to winding the feathers together at the stems, one by one, starting with the smaller ones in the centre.

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I added larger and larger ones as I kept going, eventually tying off the “bloom” with lots of thread left over.

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One down, several more to go …

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This is definitely a job you will want to do while watching or listening to something else.

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When I finished, I took a branch I found in the park and used the loose thread to wind the feather bundle to the thread.

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All finished.

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The Pie thinks the pink ones turned out the best, with the colour gradient, but I’m partial to the orange ones.

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Rusty’s Diamond Cake

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It was Rusty’s birthday on the 4th and we cooked up a plan for a really epic baseball-themed cake.  The cake recipe itself came from Delish, because I needed a three layer cake in order to have enough batter to fill my 16″ pan.  As it stands, the batter was so good that I’m keeping the page bookmarked so I can actually follow the recipe at another time.

First thing’s first: preheat your oven to 350°F and then butter your cake pan.  This is my 16″ round pan. I got it at a cake store when I made the Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake.  Once you’ve buttered it, line the bottom with parchment paper and butter that, too.

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Now, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together 1 cup softened butter and 3 cups packed brown sugar until they’re as fluffy as humanly possible.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together 4 large eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

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Add the eggs to the butter and beat until it’s all incorporated.  Scrape the bowl down and give it a good beating for about a minute.

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In yet another bowl, sift together 3/4 cups cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon baking soda, and 3 cups flour.  Or you could whisk it with a fork, which is obviously what I did.  It’s all lies, what I tell you.  All of it.  LIES.

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Grab 1 1/2 cups sour cream and alternate adding that with the flour to the batter until they’re all gone.

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Finally, while mixing, slowly add in 1 1/2 cups hot water to the mix.

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Smooth your batter into your cake pan and bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  For some reason I don’t understand, a giant cake takes just as long to bake as three little ones.  Let the cake cool almost all the way in the pan before tipping it out onto a cooling rack.

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While that’s doing its thing, you can whip up some icing.  Despite the ill-fated nature of Rusty’s birthday cake last year, we have found that the icing recipe for that thing is the best one out there.  Because of the size of this cake, I doubled it, and only had a little left over.

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So.  In a bowl, cream together 2 250g packages plain cream cheese (room temperature — very important) and 2 cups butter.

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Then, bit by bit, and using a flour shield if you’ve got one, add in 6 cups icing sugar.

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Beat that until it’s all mixed and lovely.  Add more sugar if necessary.

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I scooped out a small amount of plain icing to use in drawing bases and baselines.

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Another chunk I dyed astroturf green with some gel food colouring (this stuff will give you the bright colours that are lacking with traditional liquid food colouring, which you can see in the background of the first photo).

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And then another hunk I coloured brown with some gel food colouring and a touch of red liquid stuff, to emulate the clay.

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Then I took a look at my cake.  I cut off two “corners” to form the shape traditionally associated with a baseball field.

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Then I traced a bit of a design with the back of a knife to indicate where the infield went, and crumb coated the sides of the cake with brown icing. Later on, when I had extra icing, I piped more brown around the edges to finish it off.

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I shoved the icing into Ziploc bags and cut off the corners to do my piping, because all my cake decorating stuff is still in storage.  Here is the initial layout of the clay infield.

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After smoothing it out (I “raked” it later with a fork), I started on the grass, which I wasn’t going to flatten.  I wanted it to look like it had been groomed.

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Continuing with the outfield.

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Then the infield and pitcher’s mound, which is raised (by dint of extra icing).

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Here I took a break to sample my wares.

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With the Pie’s instruction, I drew on the bases and base lines.  They’re not accurate (because I’m not good at listening and the Pie isn’t good at giving useful instructions), but it’s a cake.  Sue me.  This is the view from home plate.

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The Pie insisted on adding that plastic baseball.  Rusty loved (and ate) the whole thing.  Except the baseball. I hope.

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Practical Alcoholism: Cutting Glass Bottles

Cutting Glass

This was actually a project that Cait came up with as a guest post eons ago.  Obviously, she took too long to do it, I got impatient, and now I’m going to go ahead and do it myself.  Because that’s what I do.  I do it myself.  It’s kind of the point of this here blog.

The City of St. John’s has just this past year instituted a city-wide curbside recycling program.  Yes, we are about twenty years behind the times on this one, but we’re making progress.  What the city does not recycle, however, is glass.  I’m not entirely sure I understand why, but that’s the way it is.  We previously employed a private recycling plant that would take absolutely everything, including glass, but they of course disappeared once recycling became free.  As a result we’ve now started tailoring our grocery shopping to buying items that come in cans and plastic containers, rather than glass.  But some of that stuff sticks around.  I re-use glass jars as much as I can, especially when it comes to the contents of my spice cabinet.  Even so, we still have a lot of glass that goes in the garbage.  And let me tell you, for a girl who has spent the last 25 years of her life recycling, it feels some weird, b’y, to chuck glass in the trash.

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So how can we re-use it some more?  You can only deal with so many spare bottles and jars lying around.  Their function is practical but limited.  So let’s create some other sorts of vessels from these things by learning to cut glass.

I purchased Ephrem’s Deluxe Bottle Cutting Kit from Artistry In Glass, based in London, Ontario, for you Canadian shoppers.

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This kit has been around, pretty much unaltered, since the seventies.  In fact I don’t think they’ve ever bothered to change the photographs in the little projects book that comes with it.  But why mess with something that works so well, right?

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You need some glass for this project.  Anything that is round, really, with smooth sides will work for you.  Bottles, jars.  You name it.  The reason I bought the “deluxe” kit as opposed to the regular kit is because it comes with an adapter so you can work on the curved parts of bottle necks and stuff, instead of just the straight sides. But I haven’t gotten to that skill level yet.

In any case, you’ll need to clean and dry your glass thoroughly first.  This means soaking off the labels and rinsing the containers out well.  If you can’t get some of the glue off the glass, try peanut butter.  It works really well, I promise.

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So now I’m all set.  With my little kit at the ready, I wanted to make sure I did this right.

I watched the video about how to do it the way the cutting kit company tells you to in the instructions, with a candle and an ice cube.

And then I watched another video about a slightly easier and more efficient way to do it with boiling and cold water.  I will show you both.

This is the result of my first attempt to cut beer bottles.  As you can see, it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad, either.  I needed more practice.  You are not going to succeed at this on your first try either, so make sure you have lots of practice glass around before you start getting into the stuff you actually want to use.

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Beer bottles are the best to practice on, because generally beer is cheaper than the more expensive wines that come in the nice bottles.  Plus you can get several tries in if you buy a six-pack.  The other bonus of practicing on beer bottles is beer glass is thinner and more prone to shattering (unlike jars of preserves, beer is cold-canned, and the bottles are not designed for temperature shock).  So because the bottles break easier, you have to be more careful in your practice.

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Scoring the Glass:

So this is how you do it.

The kit has all sorts of knobs and screws that you need to adjust first so the cutter is perpendicular to the cutting surface.  This is important. Follow the directions and diagrams in the kit carefully.

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Now, exerting firm, even pressure (you don’t have to press very hard either) and without stopping, roll the bottle or jar under your hands.  You will hear the cutter making horrible gravelly noises as you do this.  It is scoring the glass.  Keep going all the way around, until you hear a distinct click.  This is you hitting your original score mark.  Now you can stop.  Don’t score over the same spot twice.

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If you don’t hit your original score mark, then you’ve messed up that particular cut.  I do this often.  I guess the pressure from my hands is uneven or something so the cutter and the bottle don’t stay where they are supposed to.  This is where the practice comes in. Also make sure all your screws are tightened all the way so stuff doesn’t shift.

Once you’ve got your cut, you can start shocking the glass.  We want to do this slowly and evenly.

Water Shocking Method:

I put a towel in the bottom of my sink, just to provide a bit of a cushion should some glass happen to drop. It will also catch the hundreds of tiny flakes of glass that fall off your bottles, so make sure to wash it thoroughly afterwards.

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I have one jug of water in the fridge, the other boiling away on the stove.

Starting with boiling water, slowly pour a small stream over your score mark.  Turn the bottle so you get all sides of it.  Keep going until you can feel the bottle warm in your hands.

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Now, pour on the cold water in the same way.  You’ll start to hear some cracking — that’s the glass breaking along its score line.

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Keep going, alternating boiling and cold water.  There will be more cracking.  Don’t try to force the two parts of your bottle apart.  If they’re going to come apart they will do so on their own.  Just keep alternating your water and it will eventually happen.

You can see here how I etched lines in parallel rings on this jar.

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And then this is how it fell apart.

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They didn’t fall apart completely evenly, but as I was only seeing if cutting multiple lines at once was even possible (as the book and the ‘net both tell you to do them one at a time), I wasn’t paying that much attention to my scoring.

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Fire and Ice Method:

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For argument’s sake, I also did the candle method as espoused by the kit itself.

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Carefully hold the bottle just above a candle flame, so the flame nearly touches your score mark.  Rotate the bottle slowly to evenly heat all the way around.

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When the bottle is heated, take an ice cube to the score lines and rub it all the way around.

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You will find that you have to do more repetitions for this method, but it’s slightly more accurate.  Because the bottle is more gently treated your cuts will open straighter more times than not.

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Of course, if you’re cutting rings, like I was here, the fire and ice method is very slow, as you have to do each ring individually.  The water shock method is much better for cutting rings, but I would use the fire and ice method for the lips of drinking glasses and the like, where a completely straight edge is important.

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Finishing:

When you have finally achieved an edge on glass that you like, you will need to grind down the edges, because this is broken glass — it’s super sharp.

The kit comes with this silicon carbide powder, which you can pour on a sheet of glass that you don’t need to use for anything else, add a drop of water, and rub away until all the sharp edges on the glass are gone.

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It’s a little messy though.  I prefer emery cloth, which is basically fine sandpaper, just the silicon carbide powder is glued to a sheet of paper.  You can still add a few drops of water to it (this keeps the glass dust down), and grind away!

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Make sure to get the inside edges as well as the outside edge.

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You can always dip a small piece of paper in water and sand down the inside by hand.

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So my first successful efforts of today produced this lovely wee glass.

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Which I filled with juice.  And which I plan to later etch and give to someone.

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And these rings, which I will be making into another gift for someone else.  They’re not perfect, but they’re not bad.

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Stay tuned for some gift ideas and things you can do with your upcycled cut-glass projects!

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