February 20, 2012
by tartella
1 Comment

design: creative brainstorming

my sister and i are getting ready to start designing our new line of products. we’re hoping to get away for a few days and spend some serious time putting pen to paper and coming up with designs that encapsulate all the random bits and ideas that have been floating around for months (almost a year, in fact!). but, before we head off to a (hopefully warmer) locale, we need to spend some time making sure we are on the same page. while we have spent a lot of time thinking about the themes and inspiration for this line, most of it has been on our own, or in brief conversations in between working on here-and-now projects. so, before we invest time and money on the actual design process, i thought i would be helpful to have a creative brainstorming session, to flush out our different ideas, make sure that our inspiration theme has enough ‘legs’ to support a line of diverse products, and that we are still as inspired by that theme as we were when we first started.

now, we’ve had brainstorming sessions before, but i’ve never actually prepared for them- in any real sense, anyways. that’s probably the reason we’ve never left one with a unified vision, decision, or firm idea of ‘what comes next.’ before scheduling this next one, i decided to do a little research (ie, googling) to see how i could ensure that this session is both creative and focused, and inspires a great design session to follow.

i’ve narrowed my findings down to a few key points.* most of this seems straightforward, no-duh kind of information. but at the same time, it is helpful for me to think through these steps ahead of time, both from a mental and logistical standpoint- things like determining who’s in charge, or having the right materials (whiteboard, quiet space) are important to square away BEFORE you start the session, not during. and determining when we are breaking for coffee (and for how long) is especially important for people like us. you’ve no idea the afternoons we’ve frittered away attempting to get real work done in a busy coffee house- what sounds lovely in theory is not always the best in practice.

START WITH A FOCUSED OBJECTIVE- this [written] objective should be focused; making it clear to everyone what the goal of the session is. Never set-up a brainstorming session without one (or even attend one, for that matter- although don’t tell your boss or manager that I said that!). A session or meeting without a clear objective is bound to be a waste of everyone’s time. It might also be helpful for the objective writer to keep the acronym for SMART goals in mind (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) to ensure that the objective is something that the team will actually be able to accomplish by the end of the session. If it’s not, then maybe multiple sessions (which means multiple objective statements) are warranted.

DETERMINE THE TEAM- first, ensure that there is one leader in charge of organizing the session (including prep work like creating and disseminating the focus statement ahead of time!), as well as people familiar with (and invested in) the project. It is also a good idea to include a few people that don’t know anything about the project, but are part of the target audience. As long as they are also imaginative, they can also add new ideas to the session, and sometimes their distance from the project allows them to not get mired in the details. One article I read made this point especially clear for me: “Bringing someone in who actually thinks more like an end user than a designer will give you an inside track into a normal person’s brain. Designers often have a strong, unwavering tendency to design for other designers instead of every day people.” While it’s good to have a range of people, you also don’t want too many people in the room, or the session can easily spin out of control. You also don’t want ‘negative nellies’ in the room, either- don’t invite them or make sure they are clear on the intention of the session (open, creative brainstorming- no criticism!) in advance.

PREPARE FOR THE SESSION- while much of this will fall on the leader’s shoulders, it’s important that everyone invited is aware of the focus statement and any pertinent background information (especially if you are inviting any ‘outsiders’), and the date, location and time (including the length of the session- it should have a designated end time) of the meeting. It might also help to give participants some inspiring sites or resources to check out in advance- there’s no harm in jump-starting the creative brainstorming ahead of time!  See below for some resources that I often troll to get my creative juices flowing…

The leader will want to make sure that the location of the meeting is conducive to both the size and the focus of the group. There should be plenty of space to write or post ideas (plus tape or push pins to add new ideas or move them around in groupings)- plus paper, post-its and markers and pens for individuals to sketch or note ideas as they come. The space should also be quiet and free from distraction (it might be a good idea for people to turn off their cell phones during the session, too…if you can convince them, that is!)- maybe even someplace new that invites creativity purely by it’s location. You may also want to bring some idea starters to the session, in case the discussion every lags or lacks energy/creativity. There are plenty of sites and books with activities that are designed to get creativity flowing. A lot of them might seem a bit odd or forced with our small and intimate team, but I’m planning on bringing a lot of visual jump-starters, like magazines, design books, and a laptop with pre-bookmarked sites.

LEADING THE SESSION- start out the meeting with a brief restatement of the focus of the session, as well as some guidelines. The original author of the term and technique of ‘brainstorming,’ Alex Osborne, offered these four: 1) don’t allow criticism; 2) encourage wild ideas; 3) go for quantity; and 4) combine and/or improve on others’ ideas. You might also want to include rules like: ‘Don’t censor yourself,’ particularly if you have some shier or less-confident people in the group; or ‘Stay focused on the stated topic,’ if you have a slightly (or not-so-slightly) rambunctious group that often goes off the rails.

Once started, the team leader should help manage the conversation (according to the focus and guidelines you’ve chosen), without controlling it. Make sure to guide the conversation back to the focus when it strays (which it’s bound to, especially if the team is throwing out some truly wild ideas- that’s good! Just make sure to always bring it back to the original focus.), and encourage ideas from everyone in the group. Every idea, good or bad, wild or mundane, should be briefly discussed or sketched out. And, ensure that neither you (the leader and moderator) or any of the participants are criticizing or judging ideas as they are presented. If all the ideas seem especially tame, limited or similar, the leader may want to encourage wild ideas by taking away constraints (“What if money were no option?”; “What if we had no deadline”; “What if…?”). Also remind the group that (at least initially), the goal is diversity of thought- and lots of it! Go back to those guidelines of Osborne’s, if needed.

Make sure to take time-checks along the way, allowing for adequate breaks and keeping the end goal in site. It might be helpful at a pre-designated point to take stock of all the posted ideas and review them. You should be able to toss out and/or combine ideas before moving on. Encourage piggy-backing when ideas are similar or have overlapping elements to create even stronger ideas. Incorporating ‘stopping-points’ into the session also help participants to come back rejuvenated and ready to throw out new (and maybe even better!) ideas.

Before you wind down the session or start to trim down your ideas, have the group step back (physically and mentally) and survey all the ideas that you have posted around the room. Then discuss ways to either combine and extend ideas or to take elements of some ideas to make new, stronger ideas. This is where post-its, tape or tacks come in handy, so that you can physically move around ideas (or elements of ideas) as the conversation takes place. Some snippets or entire ideas might move around many times before finding the best fit (or dropping off the board completely).

AFTER THE SESSION- the leader should send out a follow-up to the team, summarizing the end result of the session, as well as specific action items for moving onto the next phase of the project, which should be to provide an outlet for the ideas the team has generated (developing design samples, in our case). Make sure there are deliverable dates and ‘owners’ attached to each item. There’s nothing worse than great ideas being stuck in a notebook and never being implemented. Actually, there is… seeing someone else implement them instead!

Now that I’ve outlined what a good brainstorming session means for me, it’s time to create my objective statement and schedule the meeting!


* Here are some of the pages that I drew from to come up with my key points for designing and leading a creative brainstorming session:





Other ideas for inspiration before, during and after a creative brainstorming session:

Checking out the TED website- a trove of inspirational talks… I could spend all day on this site!

Spend some time checking out the IDEO site… their labs section is particularly fun and inspiring!

Design*Sponge is always a great place to see what is hot in the design and home products industry.

Get outside and take a walk… fresh air is a great way to break a creative block!

Go somewhere new. Although I have made changes in my office space to make it more open, and conducive to sessions like this, I’ve also found that new spaces often foster more creativity. Looking at new surroundings, away from your normal distractions, you are more apt to think outside of the box. This can apply to both the brainstorming session, but also to preparatory work as well as follow-up meetings. Mix it up and you might end up with new [surrounding-inspired] ideas!



February 6, 2012
by tartella

food: brownies américain

I just finished reading The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  B. caught me laughing out loud more than once, and I even caught him reading the chapter on coffee (if only to gather information for argument that I’m addicted to the stuff) and chortling himself a time or two.

Although not altogether complimentary of Parisians and their oftentimes bureaucratic approach to life (except when it comes to waiting in lines, and picking up after their dogs, and looking for a loo, etc, where they decidedly play loosey-goosey with the rules), he’s also detailed what he loves about Paris (and most of that involves food!) and why he’s still there.

The book is interspersed with tons of recipes that I’m itching to make, but I decided to start with his final recipe of the book- Dulce de Leche Brownies (although I’ve dubbed them Brownies Américain in our house, since these are the treats that most endear him to French adversaries in a variety of sticky situations). B. loves brownies, so this seemed a perfect way to endear myself to my own household as well!

Rather than re-type the recipe, I’ll just send you to David’s blog where he’s posted his recipe for Dulce de Leche Brownies. His blog is a continuation of the casual, honest and funny writing style that I experienced in the book, so it’s been added to my roster of sites to check out weekly. Although my brownies didn’t come out quite as dense as those pictured on his blog (my overzealous mixing, or the addition of the optional nuts may have something to do with that), and I certainly didn’t get my dulce de leche ‘pockets’ to be as pretty, the brownie was delicious.  And that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?


January 19, 2012
by tartella

design: a blank slate

new year, new ideas- and, i’m trying to figure out where to put them!  online, i’ve started using evernote more regularly for my online note-taking and finding it’s a pretty cool (and free!) tool that synchs seamlessly between my desktop and iphone. but, my office can quickly become a choatic mess of papers and inspiration pieces strewn over my desk, floor, chair, etc. i wanted a clean space where i could showcase, organize, and keep visible new ideas or colorways that i am working with.

enter: the new homasote board in my office.  this project was practically a year in the making (ordered the board in april of last year after months of searching where to find it!), and i’m so excited that it’s finally up and ready to use!

this large space is a great opportunity to be able to visually lay out inspirations, new ideas, etc, on something other than my office floor!  besides my usual procrastination issues, this really was a rather large-scale project- both in size and steps.  just getting the board wasn’t easy- as not many places offer this type of homasote board (often found in architecture offices and small galleries). i finally contacted the sales rep for my area, who directed me to Menard’s with specific instructions of what desk to go to (good thing- Menard’s is cavernous!). upon ordering, i realized that the boards can’t be precut, so i also had to arrange for them to be delivered to my home.  once wrangled into our basement (sometimes having an unfinished basement is convenient), i had to figure out how to cut the enormous 8′ x 5′ board into something more manageable, and how to cover the not very attractive greyish-beige natural finish. here’s a sketch of the steps that took my board from basement to studio wall:

  • i eventually decided decided on a 6′ x 3 3/4′ size for the final board size, and cut it down by running a box cutter with a new edge through the board multiple times until cut through.  i changed the razor a few times to ensure a sharp edge and kept moving a large cutting mat underneath to the new section that i was cutting (more to save my razor edge than the basement’s cement floor).  a metal ruler helped keep the cutter in line and from straying towards my fingers.  other cutters might work as well, but keep in mind that homasote is compressed fiberboard, and the paper layers can become jagged if not cut with very sharp tools!
  • after cutting the board down to size, i decided that a few coats of white paint were the easiest way to go, and would provide a fresh and clean backdrop for an inspiration/work board.  others have covered theirs with fabric or designs (the link below includes fabric coated images), and if this was going in a kids room or guest room, i say go for it.  from a work perspective, though, i didn’t want the backdrop to compete with the images!
  • painted and dried, the board then spent a few months being shifted around from place to place, while i tried to figure out the best way to hang it- and to find free time to get an extra pair of hands to help me… this is NOT a one-person job!
  • last sunday we finally found the time to go to home depot, get the necessary supplies (a new stud finder, appropriate screws and plaster anchors and finishing washers) and hang it up in my office.  with a board this size, this is DEFINITELY a 2-person job (and a third wouldn’t have been turned away!).  i really followed the steps of the Shiso Mama blog for figuring out exactly how to hang this beauty*.  i skipped the fabric covering steps, and focused on using the stud finder to locate our studs.  based on where the studs are, versus where i wanted the board positioned, we used a combination of 4 screws into studs and 4 screws into anchors.
  • using a level, we marked out where we wanted the board to be.  this included a lot of one of us holding the board to the wall, while the other inspected from a distance or used the level to make marks.  then, based on where the wall studs are, we marked out 4 spots for screws on the board.  we added an additional 4 spots for anchor screws, because i wanted the four corners screwed down (all that hanging out in the basement had made the corners slightly bowed out).  we then put the anchors into the wall, measuring accurately to coordinate with where those 4 spots were on the board.
  • then, one of us held the board in place (be prepared to sweat and strain!) while the other carefully screwed the board to the wall in the premarked spots.  we screwed the anchors first, since those need to screw accurately into the pre-placed anchors.  you have a little bit of lee-way with the studs, since they are generally 1.5″ wide.
  • after some straining, cursing and careful screwing (insert joke here), the board was up, and i now have a blank slate for all of my 2012 ideas!

* the steps where i deviated from Shiso Mama was NOT pre-drilling of the holes into the board, and using anchor screws as well as stud screws.  we decided to mark out the places we wanted to drill on the board with an ‘X’ and then drill into board and wall at the same time.  this is a little risky when drilling into anchors (as the anchors need to be drilled into the wall first), so it’s important that the measuring on the wall and the board is done with precision.  we used a high ladder to be able to look from above and see that the screw was going into the pre-drilled anchors.  it definitely helped to have an engineering-math-type helping with this part… i might have been a little ‘looser’ with measurements, which would not have yielded such even and level results!

Here’s to loads of creativity in 2012!


Ella Tart

December 7, 2011
by tartella

food: ella tart

Ella Tart

I lost a dear friend this fall, my cat Ella. While I don’t quite consider my pets ‘children,’ there is no question that they are very important parts of my life. Since I work from home, they are my constant companions all day long, from the initial ‘wake-up call’ (cats kneading your chest is far more effective than any alarm clock I’ve ever had!) to the evening walk with the dog, our routines give structure and comfort to my day.

Ella came into our lives in 1998, from a local shelter.  After spending the first few days holed up in our apartment front closet, she decided that we WERE worthy of her love and attention after all, and deigned to come out. Since then, there’s been no doubt that she was the head of our household, even when WE deigned to bring home a dog. The dog quickly learned what we already knew- it just took a few claws to the face for her to figure it out…don’t mess with Ella.

Ella also figured into my business, Tartella.  I did not name the company after her, per se, but her name was in a list of words that I liked. Combined with one of my favorite baked goods, it was the clear favorite of all the names I came up with.

In her honor, and to get even more mileage out of the combination of Ella + Tart, I decided to come up with a new tart recipe in her honor. I dragged out all the apple tart recipes that I have used in the past, and cobbled together a new recipe, using what I thought were the best, or most intriguing, elements of each.  It’s in the oven right now, so I have yet to taste the results…I’ll wait to post until I think it’s picture perfect!


(makes 1 10″x14″ tart)

Crust Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups flour

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) COLD unsalted butter

1 Tbs. granulated sugar

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt

3 Tbs. ice water, or more as needed

1 tsp. lemon juice


Apple Tart Ingredients

4 Tbs. butter

1/8 cup dried, edible lavender buds

2 granny smith apples

2 macintosh apples

1/3 cup sugar

Optional Tart Topping

1/4 cup apricot jelly or jam (i love the peach apricot jam from sarabeth’s in ny!)

1 Tbs. Calvados (apple brandy), rum, or water


- put the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. stir to combine and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

- cut the butter (from the Crust Ingredients list) into 1/2 inch cubes, then add to the COLD flour mixture and toss until each cube of butter is coated with the flour mixture. use a pastry blender or your hands (or a food processor, if you prefer) to cut the butter into the flour, until the ingredients become crumbly, and the butter pieces are slightly smaller than peas.

- stir the ice water and lemon juice into the dough, using a fork to mix. if necessary, add more ice water until the dough is shaggy and holds together when squeezed in the palm of your hand.

- dump the pastry onto a lightly floured surface and press down and forward onto sections of the dough, to distribute the butter pieces. gather the sections together and create a ball. flatten the pastry out into a disk approximately 1 inch thick. wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour (overnight is fine, too!).

- melt butter (from Tart Ingredients list) in a small pot over med-hi heat. remove pot from heat and add lavendar buds, swirling to combine. cover pot and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes.

- preheat the oven to 400˚.

- line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

- roll out the dough slightly larger than 10×14″. using a ruler and knife, trim the edges. place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

- peel the apples and cut then in half (from stem to core). remove the stems and cores with a paring knife. slice the apples cross-wise into 1/4″ thick slices, and put the slices into a bowl. (note: i leave out the end slices, for more uniform slices- they also make great snacks while baking…better than eating dough!)

- warm lavender butter again and strain through a fine sieve into the bowl of apples, pressing lavender with the back of a spoon to extract as much as possible-discard the lavender buds. carefully mix the apples to ensure the slices are coated with the lavender butter (try not to break the slices!).

- place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making rows on each side until the pastry is covered with apple slices. fill in any remaining gaps with individual slices or ‘mini-rows.’ (see image below, note that I do not actually call for the ‘dots’ of butter on top in this recipe, since I think the apple slices are coated with enough butter for baking)

Ella Tart Process

- sprinkle tart with 1/3 cup sugar and place in preheated oven.

- bake for 45 mins to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. rotate the pan once during baking. the apple juices and butter may burn on the pan a bit, but the tart will be fine!

- take the tart out of the oven, and slide the paper and tart onto a rack. allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

- OPTIONAL: meanwhile, heat the apricot jam or jelly with the calvados, and brush the apples and pastry crust with the mixture. loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn’t stick to the paper. allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature. Note: from a flavor perspective, this tart doesn’t NEED this top layer, but I do like the glazed look that the jam gives to the tart…your call!


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There are a few key elements that I used to make this tart in Ella’s honor- one, the shape. I actually prefer free-form, rustic tarts. But, Ella was a bit of a princess and ruled with an iron fist. So, I kept these edges tight and clean. Also, the lavender infused butter was a nod to a cat that loved summer above all, spending hours in the backyard with me, tucked behind my herb garden (the rosemary bush seemed to be her favorite, but I thought that lavender and apple was a better combo!) while I gardened. I miss her dearly, but baking this tart every once in a while seems a good (and sweet!) way of keeping her memory with me.



November 17, 2011
by tartella
1 Comment

help for the holidays

**this is a little bit of a detour from my usual design and food related posts, but have been doing a lot of thinking about this and thought it would be nice info to share!**

We have lots of work to do to be ready for our upcoming holiday show as well as holiday on-line shopping, so we are always on the lookout for tips and ideas for keeping the holiday season light and lovely (we hate to miss out on all the fun!).  Here are some of the ideas we’ve found and plan to implement…starting n-o-w.  We checked out sites like The Happiness ProjectMayo ClinicMartha Stewart and used our past experiences to find solutions to some of our top holiday ‘issues’:

- get enough SLEEP and EXERCISE.  trying to manage work, family & household to-do’s is best done on a full tank.  this is easier said than done for us, so we started a new pattern on 11/1, (while things were relatively sane) vs. waiting for the explosion of work & social commitments to take hold (aka now).

PREPARE as much as possible in advance.  is it possible that there will be a constant stream of friends and family through your house between Thanksgiving and the New Year? There are tons of doughs and treats that can be made ahead and frozen, so that all you need to do is defrost, slice and bake (these crackers from Ina Garten are a favorite in our household for an impromptu tea or cocktail visit).  Even simple store-bought sugar cookie dough can be decorated and embellished before baking to convince guests that you made it from scratch.

- tackle to do’s in GOOD COMPANY. chances are, your friends have some of the same things on their list.  and, chances are, a few of them could be done together over a bottle of wine or mugs of hot cider. why address holiday cards in front of a movie (although that can be fun, too!), when you can do it with a few friends? (just be sure the wine doesn’t cause you to address Aunt Helga’s card to Uncle John!)

- make things EASIER. i got away from online shopping (too, too many things tempted me!), but i’ve decided to take up the habit again for the holiday season…the idea of gifts coming right to my door ready to wrap and gift is too simple to resist (at Tartella, we’ll be offering FREE SHIPPING for all US and Canada orders from our Etsy shop from Dec. 5-11th, to make shopping easier and cheaper!). so, what will make things easier for you this holiday season?

EAT WELL not excessively. for me that means holding out for my true holiday favorites (most holiday cookies don’t actually do it for me, but there are a few family favorites that are positively swoon-worthy), and skip the rest.  and, never go to a holiday party on an empty stomach!  i’ve stashed a few granola bars in my purse, backpack and glove compartment to make sure that i don’t have an excuse to make pumpkin spice lattes and leftover pie my breakfast, lunch or dinner, either…

- and, most importantly, BE REALISTIC!  while it is tempting to be Martha or  (at least for some of us), is that how you want to spend your holidays?  if it is, great!  if not, do what’s most important to you and move everything else off your list.

enjoy the holidays!

November 3, 2011
by tartella

design: the last of the letterpress newspapers

The Saguache Crescent


Call it coincidence.  Call it fate.  Or, maybe just dumb luck.  But when B. and I stopped in a sleepy little ranching town in southwestern Colorado last week, we were hoping for a decent lunch.  What we got was much, much more.  Because the town of Saguache (pronounced Su-watch), Colorado is full of a cast of characters, and we were lucky enough to meet a few.  After a simple, but delightful diner lunch (tomatoes AND jalepenõs on grilled cheese? yes, please!), we walked over to one of only a few places occupied and/or open on their small main street.  Run by a former Manhattanite, R. schooled us on the ‘industry’ (he laughed when B. used that word to ask what the main source of income is in these parts) and inhabitants of this scenic little town.  Hint: Cows play a starring role in the economy.  Seeing stars in B.’s eyes, he also cautioned that it might not be the best place for a couple of mid-30′s city folk to relocate, unless we were willing for big changes, not the least of upping the age of our social circle by a few decades… and, diminishing the size of it quite significantly.  The 500+ population of Saguache would be quite a change from metropolitan Chicago.  When R. asked what we did, though, he got stars in his eyes when I mentioned that I did some letterpress printing in addition to graphic design.  “Immediately after leaving here,” he said, “walk over to the bright building kiddie corner from here.  I won’t tell you more.  Just go- you’ll be amazed.”

Who could resist a mysterious deployment like that?  We walked over to the little yellow shop (I actually had noticed ‘PRESS’ signs in the window on our way to the diner and was already planning a walk by, but I don’t know if I would have walked right in).  Bells chiming as we opened the door, we were greeted by the two biggest Linotype machines I’ve ever seen.  Ok, I’ve never actually seen ANY Linotype machines in person before, but these were certainly bigger than I’d envisioned.  And, with hot lead cauldrons and gas pipes coming out the sides, they were more than a little intimidating.  The owner, Dean Coombs, is a third-generation newspaperman and uses these machines (plus a printing press in the back of the overflowing shop) to typeset and print one of only two remaining newspapers to be produced in this way (the other one, he mentioned, was also in CO, but I can’t remember the name of the town…didn’t know I should bring a notepad and camera with me to lunch!*).

Dean offered us a tour of his overflowing shop, full of lead slugs, metal type and an assortment of letterpress printers and parts, including the 1897 electric Lee Flatbed Press in the very back that he uses to print the paper. Each two-sided broadsheet is hand-fed one at a time into the printer.  Printing this way is time consuming, as any printer knows, and the thought of setting and printing for a two-sided paper each week makes my back ache.  Dean mentioned that some estimates of the time that it takes were also under-estimated in articles about him online (but, of course, I can’t remember how long he said it actually takes to print them!  Again, the lack of a notepad…).

The newspaper is by subscription only, and goes out to about 700 households every week, mostly the residents of Saguache, I assume, since people bring in their own articles and announcements for print directly to The Saguache Crescent.  Dean, after all, is a newspaper printer not an editor.  He reluctantly will help with wording, but clearly prefers that people bring in their own article or snippet written, proofed and ready to be typeset.  Something that Dean didn’t mention, but that I found online after our visit is that he only prints ‘good news,’ a rule that his mother settled on many moons ago.  Enough bad news can be found everywhere else, but not at The Saguache Crescent!


*MORE INFORMATION on The Saguache Crescent and the Linotype:

I found this slideshow that features a number of images of Dean and the inside of The Saguache Crescent, and explains some of the process of typesetting a newspaper in this time-forgotten way.

For more detailed information on the Linotype machine itself (I needed a primer on how the slugs are actually created after visiting the shop), see this link, or check out Wikipedia.


October 11, 2011
by tartella
1 Comment

design: DIY tea towel curtains

I’m still in the process of making my pantry a ‘baker’s paradise,’ albeit slow (but continual!) progress. One of these steps forward was the addition of curtains to the window in my walk-in pantry. As much as I love sunlight, this is not the place I want it streaming in! My sister helped make my vision a reality, and we kept it super-simple and economical by using my supply of ‘burnt crust’ Tartella tea towels as the fabric for the curtains, and coordinating bright bias tape for ‘finishing.’



This is a great way to retire old tea towels or showcase a new favorite (but, you must be ok with cutting it up)! The relatively thin quality of flour sack tea towels gives you privacy without blocking all the sunlight. This easy project requires only tea towels, basic sewing machine skills, thread and a pair of scissors.  Add any embellishments you want; here’s how we made ours:

1) Select as many tea towels as you need to cover your window. (We used 3 28″ square towels for a small pantry window.) Cut each one into equal quarters in whichever direction gives you the best coverage, or based on pattern. For example, if it is a longer window you may want to cut widthwise. (We cut lengthwise.)

2) Lay out your pieces in a large rectangle- this will be your curtain, so have fun with it! Go for a pattern or mix randomly.

3) Pin and sew together your blocks however you have laid them out. If you want two curtains that come together in the center it may be easiest to sew one giant curtain first and then cut the center seam. (Note that this method creates a rather ‘rugged’ backside.  I don’t mind it, but if your window is prominent from the outside, you may want to consider attaching plain cotton curtain lining fabric on the opposite side of the top seam for a clean look both inside and out! Remember to also hem and press the three other sides of the lining before pinning and sewing to the curtain. )

4) Sew a channel on the top of the curtain to fit whatever curtain rod you are going to use -OR- sew 2 equal lengths of bias tape (or a cotton ribbon) at equal distances on the backside of the top seam.  You can then tie these over a rod, cafe-curtain style.  But, make sure to sew on enough pairs of tape/ribbon (and equidistant!) so that the curtain hangs evenly (and without too much sagging) from the rod.

5) For added polish; instead of hemming the outer edges, consider covering them with double fold bias tape in a fun color. This was our approach, and it really made the curtains pop!


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hang up and ENJOY!


September 23, 2011
by tartella

design: meltdown cars

my sister likes vintage things, including old cars. my sister’s boyfriend builds/revamps/paints old cars.  of course, A. might be just as likely to date R. if he didn’t do those things, but it does seem to add a complementary vibe to their relationship.  myself and B., on the other hand; we don’t know a lot about cars (new or old). so, this summer, when we visited the Meltdown Drag Races in Byron, Illinois, we weren’t sure what to expect. but, when we entered the gates and saw the smoke emanating from the track, and the gate checker handed us earplugs, well, we got the idea. these were drag races, pure and simple– one long track with a traffic-light-inspired rev-up and starting signal. i was expecting to see some wicked art on the cars (in part, because I’d seen some of R’s work on a few in advance), but I wasn’t  expecting to be so taken with the typography on the vehicles. some of it was very professionally applied, some not so much, but all in line with the style and era of the car. there were fonts that included fading and gradients and details that we might associate with some of the artistic graffiti of the 1970′s- today. in fact, i think some of these cars + my recent viewing of Exit Though the Gift Shop are inspiring me to try some of my own hand-lettering!


while i wasn’t able to standing being right next to the track (even with plugs, the decibels were sure to cause damage), i was able to snap pictures of some of my favorite ‘car fonts’:






September 17, 2011
by tartella
1 Comment

food: cocktail hour


*note: i wasn’t able to post my drink recipe last Friday as promised, so this week’s a two-fer.  since i was going to post my {current} favorite cocktail last week, i decided to add a snack to make this the perfect way to start your friday!

it’s been a long couple of weeks in our household.  between preparing for Renegade Craft Fair (thanks to everyone that stopped by- a great weekend in weather + spirit!), both B. and I starting new classes, and the general chaos that surrounds our lives, this household has become quite a pit of despair… visually, at least.  although lack of sleep and high stress levels have also contributed to more than a few snarky comments between me and B., and even between me and the animals (hey, i’m home alone with them a lot!).  so, before we head into another weekend full of commitments, to-do lists and activities, i wanted to take a moment to relax and compare notes from the week and pat ourselves on the back for what we have accomplished.  and, what better way to share a moment than over food and drinks?  none, I say!

so, I’m firing up the oven as we speak to put these tasty crackers into the oven… they should be ready in time for B. to get home.  they are from one of my favorite chefs for delicious & refined (yet fairly uncomplicated) recipes that are excellent for easy entertaining- Ina Garten.



(makes 24 crackers)

1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

- in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for 1 minute.  with the mixer on low speed, add the Parmesan, thyme, salt and pepper and combine.

- with the mixer still on low, add the flour and combine until the mixture is in large crumbles, about 1 minute.  if the dough is too dry, add 1 tsp. water.

- dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 9-inch log.  wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days.

- meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚.

- cut the log into 3/8-inch-thick rounds with a small, sharp knife and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

- bake for 22 minutes, until very lightly browned.  rotate the pan once during baking.  cool and serve at room temperature.

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these crackers are wonderful, but snacks are only half of the cocktail hour experience- and, most might say the lesser part.  cocktail hours mean cocktails, and while these can take on any range of spirits and mixers, i most enjoy the less syrupy-sweet and more herbaceous varieties.  gin is my favorite spirit, and lately Hendricks gin has been my favorite brand- a little more subtle than some of the more stalwart gin brands, an infusion of rose petals and cucumber lends a lovely note that makes it a good candidate for lighter cocktails or even on the rocks.  (i stay away from using it in anything heavily flavored or syrup-ed, as this just seems a waste!).  below is a gin cocktail that i’ve been drinking all summer and seeing how i probably only have a little longer to enjoy the fresh mint growing in my backyard, this seems a perfect time to share!


(makes 2 drinks)

1 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

2 oz. simple syrup (see below for recipe)

4 sprigs mint, plus more for garnish

3 oz. gin

2 oz. ginger beer

- combine lime juice, simple syrup, and mint in a mixing glass and muddle well.

- add gin, ginger beer, and ice- and shake well.

- strain into an ice-filled highball (or lowball) glass.  garnish with mint and serve!

* i originally took and adapted this recipe from GQ’s August 2008 issue, but you can find variations of it in any cocktail recipe guide or at your favorite local hangout (that serves more than PBR and peanuts, of course)!

simple syrup: heat 1 part sugar with 1 part water in a pan until the sugar is dissolved.  go ahead and make more than you need, since the left over syrup can be refrigerated in a closed container and kept for weeks.

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bake, muddle and ENJOY…



September 7, 2011
by tartella

design: tea towels of lucienne day

photos by: the sweet and tart


last summer i visited the Textile Museum in Washington, DC to see the exhibit: “Art by the Yard: Women Design Mid-Century Britain”.  it was a fascinating exhibit, featuring works by Lucienne Day, Jacqueline Groag and Marian Mahler, all influenced by artists like Alexander Calder and Joan Miro, and all designing in the mid 1900′s.  they brought good, contemporary design to the masses in the form of textiles, from bolts of home decor fabrics destined for curtains, upholstery, and throw pillows, to simple kitchen linens like a tea towel.  a small room in the exhibit was devoted to the tea towels of Lucienne Day.  given that i’m in the tea towel business* myself, i was instantly charmed by the whimsical humor and light sketch touch that came through in her illustrations.

from the exhibit:

“A tea towel is a linen cloth to be used for drying fine dishes and cutlery, covering warm food to prevent heat loss, or covering a tea tray before serving guests.  In the 1950′s tea towels were a lighthearted reflection of a homemaker’s decorating taste.  In England, tea towels remain so popular that they often are sold as souvenirs and gift items.  Lucienne Day enjoyed the cheerful subjects and simple format of tea towels and took pleasure in the freedom of designing them without the concern of the repeat pattern…”

* i’m constantly asked what a tea towel really IS, and so it was nice to see that i was on the right track, at least.  although, it does appear that original tea towels were exclusively linen (to ensure that the drying of tea time dishes and china was a lint free affair), while mine are of the 100% cotton variety.

tea towels were a fun side note to this exhibit of textile design, but what was more impressive was the broader idea of bringing GOOD, contemporary design to the masses.  these women seemed to be following the tenets of William Morris’ “art for the people” and the belief that everything in a household (even the tea towels!) should be functional, beautiful and well-designed.  while William Morris also believed in the craftmanship of the product, the mass production of Lucienne Day’s work with Heal’s Fabrics of England allowed more consumers to display her designs in their homes.  and perhaps this is what i am most interested in… what is the role of the craftsman in today’s consumer world?  companies like Target have contracted traditional artisans and mass produced their designs… other mass producers have co-opted them, producing lines in China for a fraction of what artisans are selling them for online and in small boutiques.  at the same time, the DIY movement in our country is stronger than ever, promoting artisan skills.  when is mass okay (ie, bringing GOOD design to the masses who otherwise couldn’t afford direct artisan goods)?  when is it corrupting the value of true hand-made, originally designed work?


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