Posted on March 7, 2017
As I have mentioned multiple times before, taking classes and learning new skills is one of my favorite things. In just the past year I have learned or taken classes for pearl knotting, flower crown making, basket weaving, calligraphy, sewing, butter making, knitting, and sushi making. I feel like a nonfelonious Martha Stewart.
I’ve wanted to cross soap making off of the list for a long time, but it has been difficult to find a class that was hands-on rather than demonstration only. You learn a lot more (and have more fun) when you get to do things yourself. Fortunately, I found a class at Three Creeks Farm where not only could I get my hands dirty, but I could design my own soap.
We started with mixing the lye. This was the only part of the process we didn’t get to do on our own and our instructor, Seth, did it for us. Lye can be very dangerous and can burn your skin, blind you, and even kill you if ingested. Once it is combined with water it almost instantly reaches 180 degrees and therefore should not be handled indelicately. However, it is a vital part of soap making as its chemical reaction with the oils is what produces a solid soap (a process called “saponification”).
The first step was deciding what to put in our soap. I opted for coconut lemongrass for the fragrance oil, ground oatmeal and buckwheat for exfoliants, and a little bit of clover honey just for fun. Everything requires very exact measurements. After all, science.
Once we selected our special ingredients (and set them aside to use later) we started to mix our oils. Our soap included 7 oz of olive oil, 6 oz of coconut oil (yum), and 1 oz of canola oil.
Once the oils were mixed it was time to put on my sexy safety goggles and add the lye and water to the oil mixture.
The lye tends to sink to the bottom of the oil, so I gave it a quick swish before mixing it.
To thicken the mixture and help it along its journey to magnificent soapiness, we used an immersion blender to save time. It did not take long for the consistency of the oil and lye to start to change and become custard-like.
Then it was time to add the fragrance, oatmeal, buckwheat, and clover honey.
After some more blending, I poured the mix into a one pound mold where the soap began to harden over the next few hours. I was supposed to wait a week before removing the soap from the mold . . . I waited approximately 24 hours. I have never been accused of being patient. Fortunately it turned out ok.
I wanted a soap that was earthy, but sweet, and with a nice texture. I think I accomplished that. I still need to wait 2-3 weeks for the soap to cure through the saponification process before I can actually use it. (Waiting will be torture). Until then, every time I walk by the soap I pick it up and smell it. Mmmm!
Three Creeks Farm has an array of interesting class offerings including blacksmithing. Plus, they have a farm filled with alpacas, llamas, fainting goats, sheep, pigs, peacocks, guineafowl, and a very large mastiff named Hugo that you can pet and snuggle on . . . so you know I’ll be back.
Posted on December 19, 2016
Knitting a scarf has been one of the most arduous experiences of my life. Not law school. Not the bar exam. Not the Tennessee Vols’ 2016 football season. Knitting a stupid scarf. Why? Because the yarn never, ever ends. Just when you think that you are nearing the end of your project, the yarn ball just keeps on going. There were times I honestly questioned whether the yarn was reproducing and creating more baby yarn for the sole purpose of mocking me.
I started my scarf the Tuesday before Thanksgiving thinking I would have a fun little weekend project. Perhaps my hopes were unrealistically raised by being told one skein of yarn would magically transform into a fully knitted scarf with about 5 hours of work. Wrong.
I spent days and days working on the scarf. Part of me wishes I timed it so I knew just how much I invested in the process. Part of me is glad I don’t know the answer to that question.
I took a class at Craft South to get me started with my first project. I am really glad I took a course because I had Jenn, the instructor, there to give me guidance as I went along and got into trouble. I think I would have become too frustrated with the process if I started on my own and did not know how to fix my mistakes.
After a bit of hard work I finally finished. I went through the entire skein and ended up with a scarf that is taller than me. I finished it just in time for Nashville’s first first “snow” of the season and I am sure it will keep me warm and toasty on my New Years ski trip.
I know I seem rather annoyed by the process in this post, but it is really all in jest because I actually loved my knitting class and the finished project. And, believe it or not, I will probably keep knitting. Now that my expectations have been properly lowered, I am ready to forge ahead and try another project. It is actually a pretty great thing to do to quiet your mind, keep yourself busy while watching TV, or enjoy on a ‘knitting date’ with a friend.
Posted on October 18, 2016
I have always had terrible handwriting. It is so bad that often even I can’t read it and it prompted someone to once ask, “didn’t anyone teach you to write like a girl?” Given that, I didn’t really expect calligraphy to be my calling, but total lack of skill has never stopped me.
Calligraphy requires a special pen called an “oblique.” Oblique calligraphy pens are used because they have a protruding flange (the gold piece sticking out on the side) that forces your nib to write at the correct 45-degree angle. A nib, which is inserted at the end of the oblique, is the part of the pen that actually touches the ink to the paper. Every few letters you have to dip the nib in an ink well. It really made me feel for Thomas Jefferson but also made me think that I don’t have enough feathered quills in my life.
I took a class with Molly Margaret, the owner of Esque Script Calligraphy at Paper and Ink Arts. We had four hours of instruction in which she took the time to demonstrate and let us practice the basic technique and strokes as well as each lowercase and capital letter. It was an incredibly intricate and time consuming process which I found I don’t really have the patience or attention span for.
However, it was an interesting class and I always enjoy exploring a new skill. Molly was kind enough to write out the name of the blog for me since her writing looks significantly better than my initial attempts at calligraphy. Unfortunately, in my rush to run off to Sunday brunch I smudged the ink before it fully dried. Oops!
Posted on June 20, 2016
If you are itching for something new and crafty to do, I highly recommend a basket weaving class. In just a few hours you can create something completely unique.
I went to Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary for my class with basket weaver Janet Lanier. Owl’s Hill is an 160-acre nature and animal preserve in Brentwood, Tennessee. I didn’t have time to explore the property, but I did see a beautiful deer grazing right outside of the window as I made my basket. It was a very peaceful afternoon.
We started out with a wooden handle and the spokes that would make the frame of the basket.
The base of the basket was formed by interweaving the wooden spokes.
Once the base was formed, round reed was woven through the spokes to secure the frame. The wooden reed had to be kept wet to make it flexible and easy to manipulate without breaking.
I decided to add in a little color to the basket, so every few rows I added maroon reed and seagrass. Seagrass is actually a grass that is hand twisted into cord.
The alternating over-under weaving process was repeated until I reached the desired height. Or, more accurately, I ran out of time and had to make it to a hair appointment.
Eventually the shorter spokes at the bottom were trimmed and tucked into the weave to finish the bottom of the basket.
The top of the basket was finished with half round weed lining the rim and smaller reed was wrapped through the open holes in the basket. To get it a little extra flair, I added some of the maroon seagrass to the top.
Voilà! A completed wine basket! It took a few hours and a little hard work, but I am pretty happy with the final product. Plus, I am now ready for life on the prairie. I can’t wait to return to Owl’s Hill for another class or for when I have some time to explore.
Posted on March 17, 2016
A few months ago I took a metal stamping jewelry class. I really enjoyed my experience, so when I saw a class on pearl knotting I thought it would be a fun way to spend a few hours. Chandler Williams, a local jewelry designer, hosted the class at The University School of Nashville. (USN has a ton of fun evening classes, so check out their offerings if you live nearby).
Pearl knotting is the practice of making jewelry by hand tying thread knots between beads on a necklace or bracket. It is a pretty simple process, and you only need a few supplies: pearls (any size will do, but if you want a 20-inch stand you’ll need 65-70 6mm pearls), 2 clam shell knot covers, a clasp and jump ring, natural silk bead cord (size 4, .60mm), and some G-S Hypo Cement glue.
Before I started I neurotically laid out my pearls so the necklace would be symmetrical and the best and largest pearls would be in the front. I never miss an opportunity to be obnoxiously organized.
You begin by tying a knot at the end of the string and placing one of the clam shell knot covers at the base. The clasp is then attached and you have a start to your necklace.
The knotting process can be pretty tedious. It took almost 2 hours to do a 20-inch necklace, but I enjoyed it. There was something calming about focusing on the knots. It took some concentration to avoid mistakes of having the knots too large or far apart. I was able to use the time to clear my mind and only focus on what was in front of me.
Each time I tied a knot I used a corsage pin to move the knot as close to the pearl in front of it as possible. Then, I used the next pearl in line to tighten it. I repeated these steps approximately 70 times. The process was pretty mistake-free, except for when I got distracted by work texts and started getting the string tangled around itself.
Voila! After a little bit of effort the necklace was done! It ended up being a lot easier than I thought. I really enjoyed the class. There was something zen and relaxing about focusing on the knotting and not being distracted by the world around me (well, except temporarily by work).
Posted on August 31, 2015
This weekend, much to my surprise, I experienced one of my favorite New Things yet. I signed up for a jewelry making class because it seemed like an interesting way to kill a Saturday morning. However, I did not expect to enjoy it so much. Paige Barbee, a local jewelry artisan, held a class on metal stamping jewelry in which we made a bracelet and necklace.
Everything we needed was set up for us when we arrived. Among the supplies set out were a practice metal plate, a letter punch set, a hammer, a steel bench block, pliers, alcohol wipes, and the brass we’d use to create the jewelry.
We started by practicing with the stamps. This was definitely necessary. It took me a few tries to really get the method down. My first few attempts were not only sideways, but the stamp kept bouncing around with every hit of the hammer. Paige mentioned that it helped to press the letter stamp into the metal plate, which netted much better results. It also took a few tries to hit the stamp so that the full letter appeared on the plate. If you hit the stamp at an angle, only part of the letter would appear. Practicing also made me realize I really needed to focus on what I was doing because I picked up the letter “T” instead of “L” twice.
I sent my best friend photos after the class; she is always very uplifting and encouraging. This was our exchange:
Jill: Whoa!!! Bad ass!!!!!! I thought it was going to be something with beads like a child could make!
Me: Well, that would be appropriate for my motor skill level. Look at the 4th row of letters on the practice plate. That is how I started out.
Jill: The practice ones look like they were done drunk.
Once I got the hang of the stamps, and did a practice run with the phrase I wanted on the bracelet, I taped the brass down and marked out the spacing of the letters.
I chose the phrase “Wild as a Mink,” which if you are a Tennessee fan, you know it is a line from the song Rocky Top. Rocky Top is played incessantly at UT sporting events and is the bane of everyone else in the SEC.
We also made necklaces using the same procedures. Because I had less room to work with I just used my initials, but others used their anniversary date or created gifts for their friends. I was really happy how they both turned out.
To make the letters dark, we used black sharpies to scribble over the letters and then wiped the excess ink away with the alcohol wipe. It really made the letters pop. Once the letters were finished, it was time to bend the bracelet into shape with a bracelet bending bar.
All that was left was to put the o-rings on a necklace, which Paige helped with.
As much as I enjoyed the class, I thought it would be a one time thing and I did not foresee myself making jewelry on my own. However, after writing this post, I am seriously considering buying some supplies to make gifts for my friends. If nothing else, I will definitely take more classes in the future.
At the end of class, Paige mentioned that it was her first time teaching. I was blown away because it was so well set up and her instructions were so clear. I hope she does more so she can continue to share her gift. (Hint hint Paige, have more awesome classes, please! I’ll bring friends next time.)