BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Festival of Lights

Hannukah without a menorah is like Christmas without a tree; It still inevitably happens, but it doesn’t feel quite right, like listening to carols that are somewhat off-key. Holidays without family, though… Now that’s not a holiday at all, nothing more special than any other random date on the calendar. Even if they’re certifiable, if the grand dinner always comes out unpalatable, if the best gift they come up with is a pair of toe socks, all that matters is that they care enough to get together into one big dysfunctional group and put forth their best wishes for the season. Sure, I’ve been known to skip out on the party early on in the evening, but that doesn’t mean I dread it. Hannukah is in fact my very favorite holiday, as I’m sure much of the population can relate with. Watching loved ones’ eyes light up when they open your handmade gifts, their smiles spreading all the way into their hearts… Those are the moments that make the drudgery endured throughout the other 364 days of the year worth enduring. I’m still looking forward to those picture-perfect scenes when winter break releases my fellow students and I from the grip of classes and exams… But for now, for the whole of Hannukah, there will be their the symbolic candelabra nor the cheerful company. Stuck in a college dorm where candles, even unlit, are strictly forbidden, with parents that are half-way around the globe on some tropical cruse… Well, where’s the holiday cheer in that?

Blindsided by a holiday that comes far too early this year, there was no time to prepare, and little that could be done in the first place. On this first evening of Hannukah that quickly approaches as the sunlight already begins to wane so early in the afternoon, the loneliness is a tangible weight, crushing my chest and pressing down on my heart. I know, no one wants to hear about depression in the midst of so much merriment, but bear with me here- There is a light at the end of the tunnel. In this case, the light doesn’t actually glow or even get hot, but it does warm my spirits out of an icy state.

As a child, of course I would love the gifts, but presents would come and go- What I remember most vividly was our tradition of “lighting” a felt menorah. A giant, fuzzy, 2-D shape cut out of royal blue felt by my crafty mother, it would invariably hang in our picture window, shining for us on the inside and also visible to passersby on the streets. Stuck to the glass with a dab of rubber cement, it got so much use that eventually the adhesive absorbed into the fabric, and it would stick all on its own, no new glue required. It was a ritual that even I, the youngest, could participate in, whereas the use of real matches was terrifying even to me for many years. (I can only imagine how my parents felt!) Even after we moved and left that lovely picture window behind us, some creative maneuvering and strategic folds brought the huge felt menorah back, now slightly wrinkled from age and creased where it crossed over the various panes of glass in this smaller window.

So now, many miles away from home and many more miles away from my parents, I’ve found comfort in the continuation of this ritual, crafting my very own mini-menorah out of felt this year. It’s not nearly as impressive as the original, and it doesn’t allow this holiday’s shortcomings to be completely forgotten… But at least if feels a little bit more like Hannukah, not just another cold December evening.

Happy first night of Hannukah to those who celebrate it- May your candles glow brightly, in reality or in spirit.


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Easy As Miniature Pie

Thanks to the wonderful response generated by my little tea party post, I thought I might show my appreciation by sharing how to make the centerpiece of that tiny gathering: The pie. I’m sure that just about anyone could figure it out on their own just by looking at the pictures, but for those reluctant to venture into any craft without a crystal clear idea of the procedure, this one’s for you.

To start out with, all you need is a scrap of beige felt, a bottle cap, a bunch of beads, and some glue. For the beads, no need to get fancy with glass or ceramic- Just think bright and colorful! Cheap plastic is perfect for such an application, and so are plenty of different sizes like I have shown in this one. Let’s pretend I was going for a “mixed berry” look, instead of just running out of one uniform size. When it comes to the glue, I might suggest a combination of both standard white glue and crazy glue for different steps, but either one is a-okay to use for the whole thing- You just need to be either very patient, or work very quickly!

First, cut your beige felt into a circle that measures between 1 1/4 inches – 1 3/8 inches in diameter. Check how it fits inside your bottle cap to determine what works best. You don’t want it to hang over the edge, but it’s fine if it comes up a little bit short. Once it’s cut to the right size, use your white glue to coat one side of the fabric, and press it firmly into the bottom of the cap. Make sure that it’s centered and even, and use your fingernails to fill the edges as well. Let that dry for about 15 minutes maybe (I didn’t really time it) and then liberally brush the bottom of the “crust” with your crazy glue. Quickly fit the larger beads into the bottom in one layer, and fill in any gaps with the smaller ones. Once those have adhered, go ahead and brush the tops of those beads with more crazy glue, and arrange your remaining beads on those so that it mounds up higher in the center, or however it looks pleasing to you.

Simple, right? And even if you aren’t into miniatures, this adorable pie would make a sweet little magnet, button, or brooch!


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Tea Time

Back in early October when I first learned of the Vegan Pal Swap, I have to admit I was rather reluctant to join. I know, vegan foods and crafts; It was perfect for me and I truly did want to join… But it’s so much work, and I already had so much on my plate at the time. With a little cajoling and convincing, I threw up my arms and accepted the fact that I didn’t really have a choice in joining the swap. Before long the partners were announced, and how excited was I to be paired with Michelle! Having read her blog since before mine was even in existence, it was quite a treat to learn more about her personally.

…And then the honeymoon period ended. Time was slowly ticking away, and I soon found myself in a pinch not only to figure out what to make, but to get it out there before the deadline. Since I am notorious for procrastinating given half a chance, I wanted to get my bundle of vegan love out there with time to spare… But the window of opportunity was closing fast. An amazing bit of luck came my way on a thrifty venture one afternoon when I just happened to find an unpainted teapot, and I knew exactly what to craft.

I NEVER, and I mean NEVER paint. Years ago I attempted to color a single canvas with simple acrylic paint… and I’m still embarrassed that I didn’t burn it immediately after completion. Of course, none of this occurred to me in the thrift store because the teapot was so perfect, it was destiny, right? At home, it sat alone on top of protective newspaper, surrounded by the brand new paints and brushes, just waiting for a little kindly attention.

How I loathed that teapot. Why would it expect me to devote hours to it when I couldn’t even stand being in the same room as someone else in the act of painting? What a horrible, half-baked idea this was. There was no way to go back either, with the days falling away like the grains of sand in an hour glass, never to be heard of again.

I couldn’t undo this terrible transgression and I accepted that, so there was nothing to do but suck it up and face this piece of porcelain hell. Sitting with brushes poised, I hesitated still, but figuring there was nothing left to do, I hastily slopped on a base coat in a cheerful lime green. Good enough, I supposed. The real pain would be the details.

While there is truth in that statement, it certainly wasn’t the death of me. I was actually impressed with how much my bunnies looked like… Well… Bunnies! Coming from the person who NEVER paints, it wasn’t half bad! To fit the swap a little better, I figured that animals and berries are the perfect “vegan” themed pattern out there, seeing as I have yet to meet a vegan who doesn’t love both.

Finally, the deed was done, and all I needed was to paint the very top of the lid so that it resembled a strawberry – It was the exact shape after all!

The rest of what I sent off wasn’t so interesting, and therefore has few photos in which to document it. Lacking sufficient funds for anything else really amazing, I poked through my mothers old vintage sewing patterns and selected two to share, since it seemed to be a common passion. At the last minute, I cooked up a big batch of vegan fudge, adding in a few generous dollops of raspberry jam to up the ante a little bit. [Unfortunately there were some packing issues with the fudge, which I’m still so sorry about! Argh, next time I’ll make some food that’s easier to send through the mail – I didn’t really consider that when I was brainstorming for the swap!]

Oh, and at the last minute I threw in a simple crocheted bunny magnet. Nothing to write home about, but I though its silliness was a nice touch to soften an otherwise serious package.

I feel like my end of the swap still left much to be desired, so I’m really sorry that I couldn’t come up with anything else for you, Michelle. Maybe next time I’ll atleast remember that I NEVER paint, and therefore won’t waste most of a month attempting it again.


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Instant Halloween

In true procrasinator’s fashion, I managed to put off decorating for Halloween until it was just nearly too late. I doubt that anyone’s quite as behind as I am, but if you find yourself in the same predicament, I highly suggest simple little accents like these bright and cheerful faux-pumpkins.

Dead easy and dirt cheap, too. All you need are various sizes of styrofoam spheres and scraps of orange crepe paper. First, cut a small, rounded indentation on both the top and bottom using an exact-o knife. Grab your glue of choice (I suggest a hot glue because it dries so quickly) and place then end of a thin length of colored paper in a dollop of the adhesive in the top indent. Measure visually to see how long it needs to be to reach the bottom, cut, and attach to the opposite end. Repeat over and over until you get all the way around your sphere. The stems are simply made from old paper bag handles, cut short and fanned out slightly at the bottom.

These things are so basic, with proper supervision they could probably be great projects for younger kids. You could even go the extra mile and draw faces on them if you’d like.

It may be a bit late to post these for Halloween, but hey, pumpkins are still appropriate for Thanksgiving, so maybe they’re actually early in that sense!


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A World Preserved In Resin…

With spring in full bloom just weeks ago, I pounced upon the opportunity and snagged a whole basket of flowers, only just awakened from their long winter's rest. While the season is still producing numerous types of lovely vegitation, I tend to think that the explosion of color is more reserved for May, as we begin to edge into the real summery weather of June. So I carefully lay out my bounty on paper towels and left them between the pages of my mother's old textbook on Shakespear. Seeing as it weighed enough to sink a small ship, I figured that it could press my flowers fairly efficently.

Of course, I forgot about them instantly. They could have been used maybe a week later, but it's taken me until just these past few days to convert them to craft. It's not a new technique – I've made many others, but with different materials – But I think that pressed flowers make very elegant, but fun magnets.

I find that I'm constantly in need of more magnets, as they're either knocked off the fridge or they simply fall off of their own accord. You can really never have too many, and if you somehow go wild and over-produce, they make wonderful gifts. Although I'd like to keep them… I have a feeling that this set will also be hoarded, to become adornment for the fridge of one of my loved ones, instead.

I couldn't even begin to guess what type of flowers these all are, but the one in the magnet above made my favorite magnet, so I thought they deserved a bit of a spotlight. Some people go crazy about getting all of those little bubbles out, (You can see all around them) but I think it adds personallity and texture. There are plenty of other things to worry about – Resin should not be one of them.

It's really an awesome medium that I hope to explore further in the future, and if you've never played around with it before, I highly suggest it.

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