Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

Best wishes to this grand old nation from all our friends red, white, and blue ...

... and all our summer seaside celebrators, too!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New Thaumatrope Designs

The quaint paper thaumatrope of the 1800's seemed like magic to children who watched the two spinning pictures become a harmonious one. Like the bird-and-cage combination, our thaumatrope images draw on the tradition of two matching objects, but with a subject twist that modern kids (and kids at heart) will find appealing.

Our all-new Circus sheet depicts miniatures scenes from the Big Top, including a highwire act, trapeze artists, and a clown with a car. Our new Action sheet depicts a motorcyclist jumping barrels, King Kong atop a skyscraper, and a stunt skydiver doing tricks as a sopwith camel plane sails through the air.

Assembling thaumatropes is easy, with several online articles for making your own, including step-by-step articles with free designs HERE, as well as a traditional thaumatrope pattern and history HERE from Wikipedia.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Ghost Cat Returns

Cordwood Cabin's favorite kitty returns ... only this time for all-year-round fun. The inquisitive white Ghost Cat reappears as a digitally-designed paper doll in our Etsy shop. His tailored costumes are included on the printed sheet, four items ranging from a sailor suit to a spooky costume.

Both doll and outfits are ready to be cut out and displayed, with directions for cutting the slots in the Cat's hats (use an x-acto knife for best results) and corresponding accessories (such as a sword and rubber ducky).

Visit the paper Ghost Cat HERE to see the original cutie kitty from our "Haunted Hollows" series.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stars-and-Stripes Sam

Decked out for a summer picnic in a coat worthy of the barbershop quartet serenading the crowds, Uncle Sam is ready for the Fourth of July.

Red stars decorate the dark blue fabric; hand-drawn features peer from inside a frame of painted white whiskers. A bamboo skewer transforms him into a simple stick puppet ready for display in a Fourth of July centerpiece or propped in an old-fashioned crock or canister.

Sam is joining the summer crowd in our Etsy shop -- see them HERE in Cordwood Cabin's "Cabin Crafts" lineup.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Old Sailor's Dreams

His ship but a memory, his days of glory now golden stories, the Old Sailor scans the shore with his spyglass in search of long-ago pirate ships, epic battle scenes, and the occasional siting of lost treasure washing ashore.

The spyglass in his arms is made of rolled paper painted with golden trim. Loose, bendable wires in his arms help him pose majestically with the telescope cradled in his hold.

A wooden stand fashioned with a sand-and-shore motif is included; the Old Sailor's bamboo skewer pole is removable for an alternative means of display if desired.

See him HERE in our Etsy shop as part of our all-new summer lineup!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Fiji Mermaid

A prim and painted figure of old, the Fiji mermaid appears in bright colors and faded fabrics in honor of P.T. Barnum's celebrated sideshow humbug.

Her raggedy hair is made from strips of fabric, her face hand-drawn. Her primitive make-do knots and stitches close the back of her mertail and add scales to her fishy lower half.

The Fiji Mermaid emerges from the sea to appear in Cordwood Cabin's Etsy summer shop HERE.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Old Lady Liberty

Our most faded and primitive Lady Liberty yet! Cut from raggedy muslin and sewn together with extra knots and make-do patches, Lady Liberty's hand-drawn face is faded beneath the drawn black curls which frame it.

Simple stripes run jaggedly down her faded white blouse; white stars are faintly visible on the raggedy strips of blue that help form her skirts.

See her HERE in our Etsy shop summer lineup!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making Paper Tags

Old paper dolls, vintage cards, and other forgotten ephemera make great options for decorative gift tags to adorn presents. Even cutouts from old paper doll book covers and coloring book images make great choices; playing cards and even samples of sewing patterns are perfect for thematic gift packages.

Some of Cordwood Cabin's artists and other online writers have published articles on creating unique gift tags for birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Clicke HERE and HERE for a wide array of ideas and HERE for unique patterns involving vintage paper and craft materials, as well as recommendations for paper doll gift tags, including the celebrated Dolly Dingle images so popular in paper doll reproductions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Figureheads

No, not the kind that head companies, corporations, or centralized government, but the kind fastened on the front of ships in the long-ago era of sailing the high seas for profit and adventure.

Perhaps the book-turned-film story The Eyes of the Amarylis explains it best, but the ship's figurehead holds a certain amount of fascination as a piece of art. From the rough trident-wielding figure dredged from the depths in a Nancy Drew novel to the weatherbeaten but lovely lady in Master and Commander, I can't help but envy the skill that creates these works of art -- and wish I possessed a little of it myself.

Sotheby's auctions and other high-end antique sales include figureheads, many in the form of busts or reduced to parts by age and retirement (often the figurehead was made with removable parts, to prevent storms and battles from breaking off limbs or decorations). View this recent bust, complete with large crack, fetching a sizeable price; for even the damage of weather and age cannot erase the elaborate detail in her gown and features, as well as the expressive nature of her face.

Modern carvers reproduce some of the most popular designs, including the ever-present mermaid, the "Jenny Lind" images which graced the fronts of ships, and a few unusual choices (soldiers, mythic figures, even gentlemen) which are seldom immortalized in romantic reminiscience on the art form. While their work is not inexpensive, the reason why is apparent when one surveys the obvious effort put into each block of wood. Some are elegant, some are comic, some are downright bawdy -- but the beauty of a handcarved image, the detail in the face of these antique figures, is unmistakeably charming.

While company-made reproductions are often available in resin or fiberglass, true romantics will always prefer the wood -- for the sheer knowledge that age, weather, and experience will leave their prints in the grain of the wood and the paint peeling from the surface -- or at least could, if they could bear to let it out of doors.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Jessie Wilcox Smith

For Christmas, someone gave me a reprinted edition of Mother Goose rhymes featuring the brilliant illustrations of Jessie Wilcox Smith. A premiere children's artist and illustrator in the 1800's, Smith created scenes of charm, color, and simply brilliant detail for some of literature's most famous stories. From fairy tales to magazine covers, her career produced hundreds of extraordinary designs.

My first -- and favorite -- brush with her work was Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. The 1940's and 1920's edition are still hanging about in the house, complete with the unforgettable illustrations for "The Land of Counterpane" and "Bed by Day" among others. Smith's pen sketched out black and white illustrations and bold color images for The Water Babies, At the Back of the North Wind, Heidi, as well as classic fairy stories such as Cinderella and Red Riding Hood.

Like Parrish, Wyeth, and other celebrated illustrators, her work was varied in terms of design and publishing source -- some wonderful examples are included in the Little Big Book illustrated series today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Kaleidoscopes

Shredded crayon, colored glass, elaborate lenses: any number of things form the charm and beauty of a kaleidoscope. The ever-changing images draw us to gaze into the depths, marveling as children -- transfixed as adults, even. From cheap plastic toys to expensive heirloom pieces, they survived the mainstream toy market while others models have faded away.

Some artists devise their own, using kaleidoscopes made with removable turning ends for color and pattern variety. Sizing cardboard end tubes to fit, equipped with plastic end caps and transparent tissue to allow the light to filger and the mirrors to distort the images. Color confetti, marbleized tissue, and other resources create the patterns and images for distortion.

The challenge of creating a new endpiece for a kaleidoscope is worth the trouble for artists fascinated by unique projects. For others, the charm of a simple plastic toy with a firmly-attached endpiece for turning will be more than enough to please.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Printable Doll Patterns: The Age of Digital Design

Today, patterns for dolls and doll clothing are readily available online, with free and for-purchase designs delivered with the click of a mouse. Many are public domain reprints of vintage patterns from some of the top companies in the business, adding a touch of nostalgia to the modern industry.

But for many artists, the paper pattern is still the beloved choice. The feel of soft tissue designs, newspaper cutouts, and old-fashioned paper packets is as much a part of the sewing experience as scissors snipping through fabric layers. Even the option of digital doesn't tempt them away from the retail pattern racks or yard sale treasures from long-ago collections.

Many digital designers try to recreate the details of the paper pattern as much as possible: including original cover art, instructions, and other images from vintage packets. Transforming the paper medium into digital files and CD-ROM images helps keep the preserve the images and make the artwork available for an audience beyond collectors -- even if the traditional paper ensemble is less available.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Wooden Christmas Ornaments

And not just any wooden Christmas ornaments, but an old-fashioned set turned into playthings long ago -- no doubt my grandmother having purchased them from a catalog or department store lot, then rethinking her Christmas tree in later years. We made up elaborate stories about those ornaments: the boy with the blue jacket and orange ball was a prince, the little girl in pink angel costume his younger sister. The green-painted woman with her fierce little stare and gold star was the witch; the funny upright cow the comic relief of the party.

Over the years, they wore out and disappeared, prompting me to look for a similar set online -- and discover just how wildly collectible these little guys had become. Inspired by wooden ornaments of German make, they ranged from sophisiticated, brightly-colored artisan pieces to dime-store miniatures like the ones I remembered best. Lot after lot on Ebay vanished for high prices; and even after I acquired a set, a few extras needed "made over" to resemble the originals from my childhood.

A little paint, a little glue, and a little TLC for long years in storage transformed them into an impressive collection of wee wooden folk for a vintage-style tree.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sculpting Things

Among my new year's resolutions is an artist's resolve to keep practicing projects I took up the previous year -- this includes the art of sculpting with paper mache, something I made a habit of doing every few months last year. The first attempt (made two years ago now) was a rough and extra-large version of the Nativity for an outdoor manger scene. The second, a small version of a ship's figurehead, was too narrow. The third, a larger ship's figurehead in the form of a bust, was much more successful.

Last Christmas, a box full of paper mache birds with wings stretched in flight and rough-shaped bodies of tropical breeds, all for a future holiday tree display.

One of Izannah Walker's Sculpted Dolls

Since then, I've sculpted a doll's head and limbs in a sort of rough Izannah Walker style; and drawn up sketches for busts resembling classic marble and vintage ceramics. The key is patience and time -- especially since the hobby requires coating the living room in newspaper and vinyl tablecloths, mixing large portions of flour paste and newspaper (plus boiling for a smooth and elaborate project). For some reason I keep to the floor instead of sensibly sitting at the table for these things.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jane Eyre-ness

The internet is abuzz with word on the all-new film version of Jane Eyre in progress -- featuring Dame Judi Dench among its cast members. For a story already catching its breath from a stint on the stages of Broadway and a popular Masterpiece Theater adaptation, the hype surrounding the film's details almost rivals the most popular lady novelist of screen and volume as of late, the lively Jane Austen.

Catch up with the latest details HERE and celebrate the popularity of Charlotte Bronte's gothic romance alongside its oh-so-famous literary cousins.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pastry Party

Nothing makes the mouth water like fresh-baked pastries -- even the most simple draws longing from observers with a sweet tooth. Fans of Rosemary & Thyme remember the tantalizing raspberry pastries featured in "They Understood Me in Paris" -- but for me, the thought of a simple buttery crust with almond slices and a sweet glaze is more than enough at the moment.

A simple pastry dough will let you make all sorts of sweet treats, perfect for putting together a platter for a breakfast party. Martha Stewart features several tempting recipes, including a few for simple pastry doughs -- in comparison to the sometimes-complicated grand, buttery folds of delicate French recipes.

It's hard to choose a favorite, but in a word: cream cheese strawberry bear claws. Unbeatably good when you're craving the sweetest and semi-elaborate of the pastry world.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Canning Jars

Not just any jars, mind you: jars with character and potential, even if their years of use are long behind them. The traditional Mason jar, the Ball and Atlas brands are filled with personality. Colored glass and creative designs, such a delicate circle, a shamrock image, even a simple star create a charming package for making dry mixes for gifts or holding novelty handsoaps for display.

We keeps dozens on hand of any kind for jellymaking, preserves, and canning; but others, with a more special appearance, are confined to display purposes. A shelf in the kitchen is crowded with pale blue glass and clear glass with beautiful embellishments. Used for containing dried herbs or displaying wild flowers -- any means of showing off their beautiful form.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Taking a Little Break

Well, it's been awhile since a new post appeared on this page, largely due to the number of "spring chores" to keep us
busy. First, the garden, second, the new orchard, third, the "maintenance" made necessary by property expansion (including a little clearing work to remove tangled dead branches to make room for a nut grove).Add Image

In between, not as many artistic endeavors have taken place, although a few new glass balloon ornaments were sketched out ... and a few new ideas for the 2011 Christmas line were discussed. Halloween, of course, is always a must, but the ideas for it are somewhat special, requiring a lot more thought than a traditional Uncle Sam for Fourth of July.

We've also made plans to develop a few recipes inspired by some of our favorite seasonal and holiday treats, as well as launch a few new surprises, so this year promises to be busy!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Showers of Valentines for You

April showers bring May flowers ... but what does a shower of Love bring in February? Only fans of Valentine's Day know for sure. Best wishes from the Cabin for all the romantics at heart this special holiday!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

It's Marley's Ghost!

Up next on the drawing board? A new depiction of A Christmas Carol, which has long needed a variation from our original (and somewhat spooky) designs.

These new dolls will be diminutive pocket prims, similar to the Wonderland set designed last year, with a slightly cuter appeal than the spooky image of our original infamous Jacob Marley and Co. Visit the slide show below for photos of the original Marley who inspired our sculpted "A Christmas Carol" series a few short years ago.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Few of our Favorite Things: Peck-Gandre's Paper Dolls

These I absolutely LOVE with a capital everything, and collect on any occasion I can. Both Peck-Gandre and Peck-Aubry's editions are worth seeking out and getting more expensive as they pass into the realms of collector's items.

The elegant Snow White and Cinderella are among my favorites, but I have yet to find one that isn't colorful, delicate, classical, and imaginative in its depiction of traditional fairy tales. Classic children's novels are also covered, including The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. Be on the lookout for variations between the two partnerships -- for instance, two different Goldilocks editions, each a beautiful depiction of the story.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Must-Try for Next Holiday Season

The tradition of Christmas cake has long faded into the shadows with holiday ghost stories and Twelfth Night parties. The beauty and delicacy of an old-fashioned cake recipe, however, can't be beaten by even the most tempting of gingerbread men.

This is melt-in-your-mouth Marmalade Cake is a queen among elaborate home recipes and holiday desserts. Its preparation time and list of ingredients (not to mention minor expense) limits it to special occasions, but a slice from its chilled layers well repays the effort involved.
Three layers of orange cake sandwiched together with maramalade glaze, topped with whipped cream instead of icing. The recipe is taken from Jan Karon's Mitford cookbook (which includes other temptations as well). See a standard version of this Mitford delicacy HERE and add this sweet treat to your recipe books.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Martha Stewart's Cookbooks

This is a MUST for kitchen lovers, culinary amateurs, and cooks everywhere (especially those who are kindred spirits with arts and crafts). Even if you never make a dish from its vast resources, simply reading about them will make your mouth water ...

The Christmas edition is a standard in our house, but the all-year-round edition is fast becoming a new favorite. Venture outside the generic menu with item-specific cookbooks from Martha Media, including the cupcakes volume and the classic pies and tarts (don't skimp -- order both the new and the old edition, which contains both rustic and elaborate desserts made from simple ingredients).

Friday, January 21, 2011


This January, the cabin lost one of its most-familiar furry friends. Rowdy, whose picture graced the newsletter button and various posts, passed away shortly after the New Year from chronic feline asthma. Despite treatment, both age and underlying conditions made any recovery difficult.

An artist with a keen eye for paint and paper mache, Rowdy became an enthusiastic outdoorsman later in life. He preferred curling up in the garden and sunning himself, as well as hunting grasshoppers and moths. An avid critic of gardening, he freely participated in watching others weed flower beds and sow seeds. Despite less-than-perfect health, this spry Siamese mix still managed moments of kittenish play, bounding through the house and chasing his beloved ping-pong ball and feather toy ... not to mention his favorite cabin kitty and mother-figure Sabrina.

He will be much missed by family, his house companions George and Ginger, and his arch-enemy from the outdoors, Poppy the Cat -- with whom he spent many an hour on the lookout for unknown cats sneaking in by the back garden fence. Alas, his last goal of catching his own bird remained to the last.

Farewell, old friend.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

We've got a short list of ideas on what the next year holds for the Cabin in terms of homestead improvements ... of course, the challenge is actually carrying them out (especially in these tough economic times). Drum roll, please ....

1) The Greenhouse: yes, we've wanted this in the past ... and got as far as revamping the potting shed. But now we're talking an actual structure of glass, capable of wintertime flowers, small exotic trees, and veggies for the off-season. We've got the glass, now all we need is time and willpower. We want at least a sketch and a piece of property selected, if not an actual frame in the works...

2) The Smokehouse: we've been talking about this one for years, too. The ability to cure hams, make bacon, and even experiment with beef or venison using the techniques of our ancestors (and some modern food safety measures made since the good ol' days). For the pride of doing it ourselves, as well as some tasty results.

3) The Drying House: The little stone building and wood-burning stove are just waiting for a few finishing steps to be a haven for drying flowers, fruit, and other small items. Right now, it just serves as a stone wall for propping up chicory stalks. But soon, maybe it will actually get a little tin roof and an actual drying space framed up.

4) The Orchard: Fruit and nut trees desperately need replanted after the harsh ice storm of a few years ago. Now that the ground has been cleared of stumps, we're ready for the new trees to be installed. From cherry and apple to pear and plum, we're weighing all the different kinds of fruit and nut trees that promise long-term harvests.

5) Tree Lots: We've been meaning to clear a little space for cultivating some trees, especially light, fast-growing woods meant for crafts, like basswood. Plus some ornamental favorites, like maples and Osage orange shrubs for landscaping and whimsy.

6) The Junk Pile: Everybody has one, but ours includes a small outdoor lot which houses leftover fencing and scrap metal. It was originally meant as a temporary storage site full of odds and ends with useful or creative appeal ... but it's time to weed out some of the less useful items and store the others for future use.

That's it for now -- although I'm sure we'll think of other things to add by the first of the year. Hopefully, we'll have some actual progress to report before the next round of New Year's Resolution are made.