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A Great Day!

May 31, 2012

Thirty well wishers showed up at The Cottage to help Barb celebrate Hill Country Cottage Gardener’s first year anniversary.

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Didn’t the cake from Pennington’s in San Marcos depict the cottage beautifully?

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Claire Day, who works with Barb in the cottage, was the #1 hostess.

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The Chamber of Commerce arranged for the ribbon cutting, which was great fun!

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Folks chatted & browsed through the gardens, the cottage, and the greenhouse, where the artwork of three participants in an intermediate mosaic workshop was displayed.

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It was a great day – I got a little carried away…

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Thank you to everyone who participated!!

The Simple Dishcloth

March 21, 2012

Many years ago, a friend of one of my daughters showed me how to knit Grandma’s Dishcloth. It is a simple pattern that Teresa’s friend knew by heart so she wrote the directions out and showed me how to get started.

All you need is some cotton yarn and 2 medium-sized knitting needles (size US 7 or 9) from Walmart or Hobby Lobby (get bamboo rather than metal). I like variegated yarn for this pattern but a solid color will do fine. Just make sure it is COTTON. Essentially, all you do is start in one corner and knit on the diagonal, increasing each row until halfway and then decreasing each row, which ends up making a square (the pattern is below). Even if you have never knitted before, I know you can knit this simple dishcloth—the links in the pattern below will take you to tutorials, which are almost as good as having a daughter’s friend show you.

Directions for Grandma’s Dishcloth

Cast on 3 stitches

Knit 1, yarn over, knit to end of row.

Keep doing this until you have 40 stitches on the needle. Then:

Knit 1, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to the last 3 stitches; knit 2 together, knit 1.

When you reach 3 stitches, bind off.

I loved knitting these dishcloths and I made tons of them. Then, years later when visiting another daughter in England, Patti insisted that I knit something more interesting than Grandma’s Dishcloth. With her help, I made these adorable fingerless gloves, called Fetching.

Since then I have made many things, including a lace throw. But lately, I’ve returned to my knitting roots—the simple dishcloth. Not Grandma’s Dishcloth, but other ones. In my knitting workshop, I teach participants how to knit these four dishcloths:

As you can see, I love color, but I also love to play with design. For example, by using 2 colors instead of one, almost any pattern that has a 4-row pattern can be made more interesting. A good example is the Double Bump Dishcloth by Missy Angus. I used 2 colors and came up with what I call Spiky, Stripy Dishcloth.

Here’s another Spiky, Stripy:

If you don’t know how to knit, find a friend who does and ask her (or him) to teach you. Or, get some needles and yarn, and get started with Grandma’s Dishcloth above. I know you can do it.

What’s a Wildlife Waterer?

March 4, 2012

One of my favorite mosaics these days is the wildlife waterer: a pot saucer with a mosaic in the bottom that shines through when the saucer is filled with water. I call this small one Lady of the Leaves:

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The “lady” and the leaves are ceramic tiles—cottage tiles—that I shaped, painted, and fired twice here at the Hill Country Cottage (aka Barb’s Cottage). The tiles are surrounded with tempered glass and clear epoxy grout. Here is a large waterer filled with magnolia cottage tiles that are surrounded with regular grout:

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Wildlife Waterers are a great way to care for the birds and squirrels in your yard while adding unique garden art to your patio. But, why call it a waterer? That’s not even a word, is it? Yes it is! When I got chickens, I went to Callahan’s General Store  http://callahansgeneralstore.com/ in Austin to get all the things my girls would need, including a feeder and a waterer. That’s right, a waterer. I had never heard the word before (and spell check still hasn’t heard of it), but “waterer” is the perfect counterpart for “feeder.” Here’s a feeder:

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And here’s a waterer:

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The first waterer I made was for my daughter, Michele. The mosaic in the bottom of this one is made of ceramic wall tiles that I cut on a wet saw.

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After making Michele’s waterer I wanted one for myself, one with a Texas motif that would go with the boots I already had on the patio. I created a traditional mosaic made of vitreous tiles with millefiori for the blooms. My friend Lydia loved it and made an offer I couldn’t refuse, so it is now on her beautiful patio.

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Lydia also bought one I made out of a broken Talavera pot I picked up at Gardenville http://www.garden-ville.com/ in San Marcos, TX.

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Today, I use cottage tiles almost exclusively for my waterers. Most of them are made up of flowers, with a critter of some sort thrown in. Here is a small one featuring a red turtle that I finished recently:

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If you want to make a wildlife waterer, be on the lookout for the tutorial I’m making, which I will be posting soon. Or, if you want to buy one, just contact me (Barb@HillCountryCottageGardener) or stop by It’s About Thyme Garden Center in Austin later this month (3/12) http://www.itsaboutthyme.com/contact.html. It’s About Thyme will also be carrying my Cottage Pots, which are a whole ‘nother story.

Creating Beauty

February 7, 2012

“Beauty is as beauty does.” This was one of my mother’s favorite sayings–she had a million! I heard this one often growing up in the ‘50s, whenever she didn’t like what I was doing. If I wanted to be beautiful (like MM?), then I’d better “straighten up & fly right” (another one of her favorites).

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There is great wisdom in the idea that our outer surroundings are a reflection of our inner selves. But as a pragmatist, I’m more interested in the reverse: how our inner selves reflect our environment. Most of us are more consciously aware of our environment than our inner selves, so let’s create beauty in our gardens and our homes and expect that inner beauty will follow.

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If you are not already on Pinterest, you need to get on the waiting list today.  Or, if you have a friend—or a daughter—who is already a Pinner, she can give you an invitation that allows immediate entry.

Once on Pinterest, you can discover a world of beauty, and many other things as well. And you don’t only have access to other people’s beautiful discoveries, but you also get the links to blogs and websites that often explain how to achieve the look you like.

 Here are a few great finds that I discovered this week (click image for link):

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 Who doesn’t love beauty?

Queen of Puddings

February 4, 2012

When you keep chickens for eggs, you need to have a lot of recipes that call for eggs.

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These are “the girls” at the Hill Country Cottage Gardens in the spring of 2011–Dottie & Hattie, Prissy & Sissy. Sadly, we lost Dottie, the hen on the far left, during the 2011 summer drought. But even three hens lay quite a few eggs (an average of two a day), so, in addition to giving eggs to friends and participants in workshops here at The Cottage, I make pudding fairly often.

I got one of my favorite pudding recipes when visiting my daughter Patti in England years ago. She whipped up a pudding that I fell in love with: Jamie Oliver’s King of Puddings.

I have been playing with Jamie’s recipe for years. For example, I use lemon curd for the jam. I also omit the bread crumbs and add cream cheese to the egg mixture, an idea I got from the Food Network show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” My recipe is called Queen of Puddings.

Queen of Puddings

5 eggs (separate 3 of them)

3 cups Half & Half 

½ cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 tsp rind, grated

6 oz cream cheese, room temp

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 egg whites

1 tsp cream of tartar

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup water

About ½ lemon curd (you could use plum, apricot or any jam)

2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and butter the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Avoid getting butter on the sides of the dish—you want the egg whites to stick there.

Put the Half & Half, ½ cup sugar, lemon rind, & salt into a heavy saucepan and heat to scalding. Stir until sugar is dissolved & remove from heat. Let cool slightly & strain to remove lemon rind. Put on a kettle of water to boil—you’ll need it later.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add egg yolks, one at a time while beating. Scrape beaters & then whole eggs, one at a time.

While stirring the egg mixture, ladle in a scoop of the strained, cooled Half & Half mixture, tempering the eggs. Ladle in several more scoops before combining the two mixtures. Add vanilla and mix well.

Pour custard into the buttered baking dish, and place into a larger dish. Pour boiling water into the larger pan and carefully put into the oven. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until set at the edges. Begin making the meringue right before the pudding is done.

In a heavy saucepan, heat ¼ cup water and ¼ cup sugar, stirring, until boiling. Lower heat and continue cooking, without stirring, as most of the water cooks away. Set the sugar syrup aside. Whisk the egg whites until beginning to stiffen with an electric mixer. Add cream of tartar, and continue beating. Very slowly add the sugar syrup. Beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside while you spread the lemon curd (directions below).

Remove custard from the oven and raise the temperature to 425.

Gently warm the lemon curd (or other jam) in the microwave with the 2 tablespoons of water, and drizzle onto top of the pudding. Pile the meringue over the jam, spreading to seal the edges. Bake another 5-6 minutes in the hot oven, until the meringue is lightly browned.

Yummmm.

Edelweiss, Edelweiss

January 30, 2012

I like to  name all of my art. Not only does it help me organize the pieces but it also personalizes them, and sometimes I come up with a great name. For example, my first piece to sell on Etsy was a tiny porcelain bird that I named Little Bird, Little Bird, the title of a song from Man of LaMancha.

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Since many of my projects have a flower as the centerpiece, songs with the name of a flower in the title are fertile ground for me. Here’s a piece I call Tulip Time, an old song by the Andrew Sisters.

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I have another piece in the works that has two tulips. I plan to call it Tiptoe through the Tulips (Tiny Tim). Can’t wait.

Many of my porcelain flowers are produced with push molds that I get on Etsy, and one of my favorites is a flower I had never seen before. It looks like a star, so I started calling it “star flower.” Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Meanwhile, when I was googling not long ago, I came across a list of songs with flower names in the titles and one of those songs was “Edelweiss, Edelweiss,” the charming song from The Sound of Music. I love the song, and wanted to see what an edelweiss looked like. I was amazed when Google Images produced a white, star-shaped flower. My star flower!

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The edelweiss grows in the Alps in Austria, and just as the song says, it is small. And white. Only white. Luckily, in the world of art, there are no boundaries because I have made edelweiss in many colors. Here are just a few of my favorites:

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In addition to wall art, I use my flowers along with hearts, small lizards, and turtles, as well as other shapes, in my cottage pots:

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If you would like to purchase an authentic rendition of an edelweiss (a white one!), you should see the set of cottage tiles I put in my etsy shop just this morning!

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Cottage Cross tutorial

January 28, 2012

This tutorial illustrates the steps I go through when making a Cottage Cross, like Blue Bayou. Sadly, I didn’t think to take a photo of the plate before I cut it—oops. It was given to me by a friend who got it at an estate sale and was very old, and gorgeous, with a very delicate border. I knew the moment I saw it that it would make a beautiful cross. The name, Blue Bayou, came to me before I even started cutting.

ImageDesigning the cross is great fun. The plate sets the tone, of course, but then tiles for the sides and a centerpiece must be decided upon. I can usually find either vitreous tiles or stained glass (I stock ¾” squares) on hand that will match. I make my own porcelain centerpieces, so I may have a flower on hand that is just right. If not, I need to get one started, custom-made to match the plate. I also choose paper to finish the back of the cross. I have a book of Damask faux wallpaper ($19.95 at Hobby Lobby) that almost always has just the look & color I need.

Image I use ¾” MDF board cut to the size and shape I need. This is one of my favorite shapes because I think it shows off the border and the centerpiece well. The size is 9” x 6.”

I nip the border first in order to make sure I can get enough pieces to cover the outside edges out of one plate, one of the signatures of Cottage Crosses. Cutting the border first also lets me know if I have enough border tiles to miter the corners, my preference. However, the border is not the first thing glued to the base; it is just the first thing I cut. I lay the pieces out on a template to save time when I’m ready to glue. Notice I have mitered all the corners, which is not hard to do—just cut two pieces at opposite angles.

ImageWhile in nipping mode, I go ahead and cut the colored pieces out of the plate for the background of the cross. I save all of the pieces that do not have (much) color, in case I need them in the design.

I glue the sides first. On this piece, I cut the vitreous tiles in half instead of using whole tiles. I like to spread a thing layer of Mastic along one side at a time, placing the tiles as I go. Be sure to get the corner pieces a little beyond the edge so they will butt up against the adjacent corner piece. I set the piece facedown for about 5 minutes before gluing the next side.

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After the side tiles are set, I glue the border, let it set, and then the centerpiece.

ImageOnce the centerpiece is set, I glue the background pieces and wait 24 hours before grouting. For this cross, I mixed White grout with Vintage White grout (1/1 ratio). Once the grout is set, I polish the cross and use spray adhesive to cover the back with the wallpaper and add a D-ring hook.

ImageAnother cross to add to my collection on Etsy at Barb’s Cottage.