Jun 022018
 

It’s funny how a jar filled with sequins can evoke memories. When I completed several greeting card projects last year that included sequin-filled shaker windows, I was reminded of the time not long after we married, when my husband was stationed at Coronado’s naval base in southern California and I worked part-time at a local store called Cora Mart, located on Orange Avenue.

Cora Mart, which closed its doors in 1996 after more than 30 years of business, was an old-fashioned general store where you could find anything you needed except groceries. There were probably fewer than half a dozen aisles in the store, but their shelves and unpainted pegboards were well-stocked. Cora Mart was like a miniature department store without the frills. There were no display windows, no air conditioning, and no carpeted floors. The linoleum tile floors were cracked and faded, and the register counter at the front of the store was crowded with candy, gum and baseball cards. Needless to say, this was not the age of bar codes, so if a product wasn’t marked with a price, you’d ask a fellow clerk who might or might not know where to look it up—or you’d simply make up a reasonable price on the spot.

At the back of the store you’d find fertilizer, weed killer and garden tools, hardware, hammers and other implements. Another aisle sported storybooks, games, puzzles, toys, baby clothes and diapers. There was a household section stocked with towels and wash cloths, pots and pans, dishes, kitchen gadgets, stain removers and a smorgasbord of household cleaners. Another area was geared toward home dec—lamps, clocks, picture frames and doilies. And then there was the drugstore section with its first aid supplies, aspirin, wart remover and Pepto Bismol lookalikes. My favorite aisle, of course, included fabrics, buttons, rick rack and lace trims, sewing notions and craft supplies.

Among those craft supplies was the most beautiful collection of sequins I have ever seen. Sure, you’d find round or faceted sequins and star-shaped ones, but I recall shiny slivers of plastic shaped like tiny crescent moons, leaves, wreaths, pine trees, flowers, butterflies, birds and so much more. When I crafted my shaker card windows and filled them with sequins, I wished for more than circles or stars.

This afternoon I decided that it might be fun to make my own sequins. Equipped with a Die-namics Sequins die, some leftover Oil of Olay packaging in gold and silver plastic, as well as some Elizabeth Craft Designs Shimmer Sheets in such yummy shades as Australian Opal Gemstone, Pink Iris, Blue Iris and Imperial Garnet Gemstone, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

My first roll of the die through my Big Shot crackled and crinkled like a champ, but the results were less than spectacular. I think more than half of the sequins cracked and flew off into multiple directions, but what was left could still be used for shaker windows or card embellishments, as long as you weren’t planning on sewing them into place. The die couldn’t seem to punch holes through the sequins, at least not consistently. I suppose I could have punched holes one sequin at a time with a paper piercer or sewing needle, but the word that comes to mind is labor-intensive.

Then I tried the Shimmer Sheets, and these were less of a failure, probably because they were thinner than the plastic packaging and were actually designed to be cut with craft dies. I’m not sure the sequin die I used was designed to cut Mylar, however. In fact, the die packaging reads, “Die-namics will cut through: card stock, thin chipboard, ¼” cork, felt, acetate, sticky-back canvas, fabric, denim, sandpaper, 2 mm craft foam, wood veneer paper, photo magnet sheets, and MORE.” Acetate seems like Mylar, but you’ll notice that Mylar was not on the list. Many of my sequins were missing center holes, and I struggled to remove the Mylar film from the die shapes. Hmmm, I thought, I think I know why people purchase sequins instead of making their own.

On the other hand, if you watch a video titled DIY Paper Sequins on thefrugalcrafter channel, you’ll see that Lindsay Weirich gets good results with a hole punch, paper piercer, wooden dowel and shiny card stock. Who knew?

My handmade sequin-making experiment, however, made me wonder how industrial sequins are made. Certainly, I can’t beat the speed at which the sequins are punched in the short video shown below:

According to Smithsonian’s A History of Sequins from King Tut to the King of Pop, written by Emily Spivack, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 revealed gold discs sewn on his garments, suggesting wealth. The intent, presumably, was to prepare him for a financially-secure afterlife. These gold discs were likely an early version of sequins, a word whose origins go back to the Arabic word “sikka,” which means coin or minting die. Over the ages, writes Spivack, coins or precious metal discs continued to be sewn onto garments. Even Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by them, and in his day, women wore dresses called gamurra that had metal discs sewn onto them. One of da Vinci’s many sketches was a diagram for a sequin-producing machine, although the machine itself was never built. In the 1400s, gold coins sewn onto garments in Venice were called “zecchino.”

Yesterday’s metal discs are today’s plastic sequins, spangles, paillettes or diamantes—each looking somewhat different. Sequins typically have a center hole, while spangles have a hole at the top. Paillettes are large and flat, and diamantes are artificial, glittery or ornamental gems. What they share in common is that they can be sewn onto garments, shoes, bags and other accessories.

A Brief History of Sequins points out that the coins originally sewn on garments were heavy and eventually migrated to shiny, lighter-weight gelatin discs in the 1930s that had a tendency to dissolve when exposed to heat. The gelatin itself came from animal carcasses, according to 5 Sparkling Facts About Sequins, and was rolled into sheets from which the sequin shapes were cut out. Sometimes the pattern of the dissolved sequins on the garments of a dancing couple told a story, which explains the then-popular phrase, “missing sequins could tell tales.” A Brief History of Sequins explains that the non-gelatin version of sequins came about, also in the 1930s, when Herbert Lieberman, in partnership with Eastman Kodak, created sequins from acetate stock. In the 1950s, when Dupont invented Mylar, the fragile acetate sequins were coated with Mylar, which made them more durable. Today sequins are usually made from plastic.

I began this post, reminiscing about the variety of sequins I was able to purchase in the late 70s and early 80s. Today you’ll usually find round, star or heart-shaped sequins at your local Joann’s, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby or Walmart stores. Looking for something outside the norm? You will probably need to shop online, although fortunately you don’t have to look overseas. The alphabetical list below is not an endorsement of any particular site; it simply represents a starting point for more unique sequins. When searching for such sequins, it’s helpful to look under “shapes.”

If there is a shop where you have discovered interesting sequins, please share your information in the comments below.

© 2018 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Share
Jan 082017
 

We visited my mother-in-law over New Year’s weekend in Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, where we celebrated her 84th birthday. If you’re unfamiliar with Rib Mountain, it is known for its ski slopes on Granite Peak (originally called Rib Mountain) and its ice fishing on Lake Wausau. We knew we had arrived in northern Wisconsin when we stopped for gas in Cadott, halfway between Rib Mountain and the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. Hanging from pegboards in the shop aisles were retractable ice picks for pulling yourself out of holes in the ice (should you fall in), as well as ice tip-ups (flags) that pop up to tell you when you’ve hooked a fish.

Located near Wausau about an hour away from the home of the Green Bay Packers in north central Wisconsin, Rib Mountain is a beautiful area studded with forests and lakes, hiking paths, and snowmobile trails. Winters are long and cold, so you learn to dress for the weather. When we arrived at John’s mother’s house, the wind chill factor was -17 degrees. Needless to say, the weather is always a topic of conversation in northern Wisconsin. Before we returned to Iowa, we pulled out our iPhones to check the weather app. Roads close during blizzards when there are whiteout conditions, or when the roads are completely ice-covered. Checking the forecast won’t change the weather, but it prevents you from getting stuck.

This photo of my mother-in-law and me was shot half a dozen years ago in December, up on Granite Peak in the town of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin.

Snow showers were forecast in the vicinity of Minneapolis, the edges of which we normally cross on our way home. To avoid the prospect of icy roads, we headed straight south on Interstate 39 from north central Wisconsin. This added about an hour to our usual seven-hour drive home, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that the road less traveled often yields unexpected surprises. That’s when we saw it—the unexpected, that is—in Windsor, Wisconsin as we stopped for gas. Across the street was a tiny building topped by a jaunty mouse.

That washed-out sky told us that either rain or show showers were behind us, further north.

Who could resist The Mousehouse Cheesehaus, especially in Wisconsin, the Land of Cheese, where Green Bay Packer fans are fondly referred to as Cheeseheads? Besides, it was dinnertime and we knew we’d find something tasty inside. While our orders for ham and chicken salad sandwiches were being filled, John and I browsed the aisles. In the cold case we discovered a Swiss & Almond Cheddar Cheese Spread. A second stop at the sausage tasting counter netted us a 1-1/2 pound log of Old Wisconsin Beef Summer Sausage. As we rounded the corner, a glass case with 23 different homemade fudges caught our eye. Buying four squares of fudge and getting two free ones was a no-brainer. It was tough to narrow down our choices to Chocolate Walnut, Rocky Road and Dark Chocolate Caramel Toffee, but we got the job done. If you’re diabetic, they even offer two types of fudge made with sucrose-free chocolate.

After we returned home, we visited the Web site for The Mousehouse, and discovered that it has garnered various awards. The Swiss & Almond Cheddar Cheese spread, for example, which uses a white cheddar base, earned 1st place in the 2011 U.S. Cheese Championship. The summer sausage logs are hand-tied and made in what is called the “old style Wisconsin tradition.” I’m not sure what that means, but I can tell you it tastes much better than my grocery store’s summer sausage!

The cheeses that you buy at The Mousehouse are purchased from 19 different cheese-making factories in Wisconsin, each with its own specialty. What makes these cheeses so special is that many of them are crafted by Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers, a distinction earned by only 51 cheesemaker artisans in the state. The title is earned by graduating from a three-year apprenticeship program administered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Center for Dairy Research, whose standards are more rigorous than any other cheesemaker certification program in the nation. Veteran cheesemakers can enter the program only if they have a minimum of 10 years of cheese-making experience. Five of those years must be in the specialization of up to two different cheeses, which is the maximum number of cheeses in which an artisan can be certified each time he or she enters the three-year program. During that time, candidates take required courses in cheese technology, artisanship, grading and quality assurance. They select from a set of elective courses that include applied dairy chemistry, water and waste management, and whey and whey utilization. Finally, apprentice cheesemaker artisans submit samples of cheese for taste and consistency evaluations, and pass a final written exam.

The tradition of cheese-making in Wisconsin goes back more than 160 years, when Europeans first arrived in America and sought the best environmental conditions for crafting cheese. They found it in Wisconsin’s pastures and limestone-filtered waters, perfect for the cows whose milk begins the process of cheese-making. You can learn about The Art of Cheesemaking in the fascinating 12-minute-or-so video shown below, produced by the University of Wisconsin Extension Office.

Making unplanned stops when you travel definitely produces surprising discoveries. You can bet we’ll visit The Mousehouse in the future, either in person or online.

© 2017 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Share
Dec 292016
 

The week the Christmas tree gets taken down always feels anticlimactic to me, especially after the excitement that precedes its decorating. Because our tree is decorated with both our own family’s ornaments and those of my late parents, each decoration marks a moment in time: our son’s birth, his earliest handmade ornaments, a favorite storybook character, family members’ hobbies, the first Christmas we visited our parents after being married, my father’s love of flying. It’s fun, too, to add new ornaments to the tree, especially when they are handmade, but also purchased ones that carry a special meaning.

Our own tree still stands in front of the living room window, and probably will stay up for another full week before we remove the ornaments and put the tree away. Where I work, however, the trees in the atrium are coming down every day this week. Yes, trees. Earlier this month, 10 groups of employees—mostly different departments—were represented in a Parade of Trees decorating competition that challenged employees’ creativity. Bottlebrush tree trophies were presented at the annual holiday party for the Most Unique Tree, Best Themed Tree, Best Traditional Tree and Best Overall Tree—and each one was special in its own way.

Although not officially part of the Parade of Trees, the corporate tree in the lounge near the main entrance of the building drew everyone’s eyes.

The atrium was lined with five trees on each side. You can see a Parade of Trees banner hanging from the walking bridge that crosses the atrium.

My department decided it would focus on a traditional-themed tree, so my contribution was handmade paper ornaments, some of which are shown below.

Although the awards have already been presented, at the end of this post you can vote for your favorite tree. Unofficially, I have nicknamed each one, so I hope that doesn’t sway your opinion one way or the other. Here we go!

Tree #1 – O Starry Night

Tree #2 – Naughty & Nice

Tree #3 – Protecting Livelihoods & Futures

Tree #4 – Cookies & Milk for Santa

Tree #5 – Surfin’ Santa

Tree #6 – Hot Toasty Fingers & Toes

Tree #7 – Better Homes & Gardens

Tree #8 – Football Fantasy

Tree #9 – True Heroes

Tree #10 – Santa’s Workshop

Let me know in the comments below what your favorite tree is.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Share