Archive | June, 2011

Soda Jerk

19 Jun
Seltzer water can be an expensive and wasteful addiction. And for what, water and carbon dioxide? So I set off in search of a homemade fix.
There are a number of options out there. Starting from the most awesome, albeit unreal option: seeking out Walter the Seltzer Man, among the last of a dying breed of seltzer delivery men, delivering the finest seltzer in antique glass bottles (same as his father before him and his grandfather before that).
If we’re being practical, however, you’ve got your Soda Stream and your iSi: counter-top appliances that cost anywhere from $75 to $175 and require canisters of carbon dioxide. Over time, depending on the extent of your seltzer habit, they will pay themselves off, and if convenience is what you want, this is the route for you.
But then there is the most inexpensive, least wasteful, and neatest way to do it: capturing the CO2 that yeast emits when it eats! Harnessing nature! Working with microscopic creatures to cooperatively build a beautiful beverage!
You can buy a system at My Pop Soda Shoppe for $75 (or on Ebay, maybe for less), or build your own for pennies. I purchased mine not realizing how incredibly simple it would be to build. All you would need is seven 2-liter plastic bottles, some plastic tubing and fittings, a couple clamps, and a pressure gauge.
Five of the bottles act as tanks to hold the carbon dioxide, one is a reactor tank in which you brew the yeast, and the last is your soda bottle.
In the reactor bottle, mix 1 package of yeast (or 1/2 cup of sourdough starter), 1 cup sugar, and enough warm water to fill the bottle to be about 3/4 full. Give it a good, thorough shake (with an extra, stand-alone cap), and attach it to your system.

Within a couple days your pressure gauge should reach 30psi, and you can start bubbling!
This video pretty much says it all. However, I do find that I sometimes need to open the bottle a couple times during carbonation to let the air out, allowing for more carbon dioxide to flow in. 
I usually drink the carbonated water straight, or with a wedge of lime. But there are a million possibilities… if you like drinking soda, experiment with different types of sugars, fruit juices, extracts (vanilla, mint, orange, almond, etc.), fresh herbs, teas, milks, however the spirit moves you.
Bottoms up!




15 Jun
My double-handed DUBL HANDI is doubly handy.

When I started getting involved in the folk music scene, I came equipped only with my voice. But, oh! I wanted more. So I built this baby. And oh how I love my DUBL HANDI.
Playing washboard is fun and easy (as far as instruments go); a real crowd pleaser. And if jamming is your scene, a roomful of strings always appreciates a little percussion.
Unlike most instruments, your washboard is your own creation. It doesn’t come pre-assembled. 
Antique washboards are a-plenty on Ebay; I bought mine for a measly $10. The smaller lingerie/travel size boards, like my DUBL HANDI, make for a more easily portable instrument and a daintier style, but the larger boards are ideal for someone who wants all the bells and whistles (literally).
I made a neck strap with just some cotton string and a couple screw eyes.
If you want a shorter strap, you may need to attach a clip on one end so you can get in and out of it. I’ve also seen outfits with two shoulder straps, especially on bigger, more extensive boards. In fact, some people don’t use straps at all and play it across their lap or between their legs. There’s no one right way; it’s all about building an instrument that fits your own needs.
I use thimbles on my fingers for playing, some people use finger picks, ribs, brushes, you name it, someone’s tried it! If you opt for thimbles, be sure they fit nice and snug on each finger. You don’t want them flying off as you play! Bring a thimble with you when you’re shopping for bells so that you can evaluate their timbre before purchasing. They don’t even need to be actual bells; they can be anything you like the sound of: tin cans, metal cups, cymbals, pots and pans, etc. As for how to attach them, every item is different, and most need a little finagling. If your board is an antique, just be gentle, so as not to split the wood.
Now you play! Start out by simply finding the basic rhythm within a tune; don’t try anything fancy until you feel confident with the basics. The washboard is quite loud and can be abrasive if played poorly. Especially if you’re playing with a small group, keep it light. The best way to learn is by sitting in with a group and just playing. I’ve found practicing by myself or with recorded music to be relatively fruitless, but by all means, try it. If you’re in Brooklyn, check out the jams at Sunny’s in Red Hook, the Brooklyn Rod and Gun Club in Williamsburg, the Folk Society‘s events in various locations, or discover your own! If you’re elsewhere, find your local folk society for ideas.
Now for some of my favorite washboard digs…

And new:
Happy tappin’!

To Bead or Not to Bead, that is the Question.

12 Jun
In March of 2006 I found myself in one of the most incredible markets you’ve ever seen. Every Tuesday in Koforidua, Ghana, West Africa, the town square is a bustling bead market. And with an exchange rate of 9,500 cedis to the dollar, I was sitting pretty. I passed through Koforidua three times during my six-month stay in Ghana, and loaded up with just about as many beads as I could carry each time. Needless to say, I came home with a lot of beads. And now, five years later, I’m still sitting on hundreds, if not thousands, of sick beads. And for five years I’ve been intending to do something with them.
We also visited one of the bead “factories”, if you can call an open-air community of bead-crafters a factory. Most of the beads are made from recycled glass bottles, which are pulverized, melted, colored, and poured into molds.
Bottles awaiting their transformation
Cleaning the finished beads
Well, I finally did it. I taught myself to bead properly, and I’ve been pumping these babies out like nothing else.
A Lesson in Basic Beading Techniques
What You Need:
Jump ring
Nylon-coated bead stringing wire, available at any bead-crafting shop
Crimp beads
Needle-nose pliers
Wire cutters 

From top left: jump rings, crimp beads, lobster-claw clasps

Cut yourself a length of the nylon-coated bead stringing wire, about the length you want your necklace or bracelet to be, plus about 5 inches. If you can, it’s easiest to start by attaching your clasp to one end of the wire; you’ll be less likely to accidentally lose beads you’ve strung. But for symmetrical necklaces, you may need to start from the center and build outwards. No matter when you attach your clasp, this is how it’s done:
Slide a crimp bead onto the wire, followed by your clasp. String the end of the wire back through the crimp bead and flatten it with your needle nose pliers. Tuck the tail through an inch or so of beads and cut off any excess.
Boom. Necklace. Easy as pie!
Contact me or visit my Etsy shop to purchase my designs, all featuring the fabulous beads I brought back from Ghana!


Feathers in Your Hair

10 Jun
At the age of twelve I received a Christmas gift of two feathery hair doo-dads. “Thank you,” I said to the gift-givers, friends of my parents. “What a lame present,” I thought to myself. I didn’t wear them much, but they hung around in my possessions for nearly ten years before I fully realized their potential. I made a slight alteration, replacing the hair tie with a barrette so that I could clip it in my hair the way I wanted to, and started to wear it often. After dozens of complements, a number from subway strangers, I thought, “Maybe there’s a market for this?” So I’m giving it a shot!
They’re really simple to make!
What You Need
Leather or suede lace
Your beads must have holes appropriately sized to fit snugly over two strands of your laces.
Thread the lace onto your barrette and fasten in place by sliding a bead up both strands of lace. Fasten your feathers to the lace by sliding a bead onto one strand of lace and fitting your feathers’ stems into the eye of the bead until snug.
I’ve made all of my one-of-a-kind feather hair clips with authentic West African recycled-glass beads that I’ve had laying around since my 2006 trip to Ghana, and I’m selling them on my brand spankin’ new Etsy Shop. Check them out, or contact me if you are interested in purchasing one!



Upholster This!

3 Jun
So this is where we left off:
Dainty garden, luxurious lawn, and a mismatched junk store find in need of some help.
The upholstery: bleak and faded
The paint: chipped and flaking
The wood: rotten.
I found the winning fabric, coordinating vintage oil cloth prints, at one of the city’s best fiber craft havens, the Brooklyn General Store. I brought home a quart of red rust-proof paint to match my fabrics, and as for the wood, I’m lucky enough to have a carpenter for a father.
Reupholstering old furniture can be anywhere from astonishingly simple to frustratingly complex, depending on the piece. My patio chairs are of the astonishingly simple variety, but you can figure out how to reupholster virtually any piece by removing its current covering while taking care to notice how it was done.
The following steps can be applied to just about any chair with an upholstered seat and/or back on a metal or wooden frame.
What you’ll need:

Batting or foam, if needed
Staple gun
Steel-cut tacks
Upholstery tack remover, if needed

First, disassemble the chair. At this point I sanded and painted the frames.

Remove the upholstery. Staples can be removed with a staple remover or a flathead screwdriver. For steel-cut tacks, you may be able to pry them out with the back of a hammer or a screwdriver, but ideally you would use an upholstery tack remover, specially designed for the task. If your chair is old and/or well-loved, you will want to replenish the seat/back padding with new batting or foam. 
For the front of your seat or back, cut a piece of fabric that is approximately the shape of the piece, with an allowance for the thickness of the piece plus an inch.
Cut your back piece at this point, too. Were it a seat, you would use a plain, inexpensive fabric, most commonly black broadcloth, since it’s hardly seen. In this case, however, it is the seat back, so I will use my oilcloth. The back piece will be smaller than your front piece: trace the wood shape onto the back of the fabric and add a 1/2″ seam allowance.

Covering the front of your piece is much like stretching a canvas. Every time you plunge a staple, you must be pulling your fabric taught at that point. Staple two points opposite each other (if your piece is rectangular, your points should be the centers of opposite sides, not corners); staple the two perpendicular opposite points so that your four staples make a diamond. Pulling your fabric taught, place a staple halfway in between each of these staples. 
At this point, straight edges will lie flat and taught, but curves will buckle and bunch. For curves, snip into your seam allowance, just up to the edge, and overlap and staple the fabric at your snip so that it lays flat.
Inside back, finished

Front, finished

To finish the back, take your prepared piece of fabric, and snip into the seam allowance, just up to your pencil line and no further, around any curves (which in my case, is all there is).

Place the fabric right side out on the back of your piece, carefully aligning it in the proper position. Fold under the seam allowance as you go, nailing it with your steel-cut tacks in the same pattern you used to staple the front. Don’t forget to keep stretching it taught!

Back, finished

All that’s left to do now is reassemble your chair and marvel!

Here’s to summer and all the beautiful memories yet to be made in our garden in the sky!