April 5, 2014

Freezer Paper Stencils and Other Gift Ideas

 Making gifts is one of my all-time favorite hobbies.  So when a birthday, Christmas, or wedding or baby shower comes around, I get excited coming up with ideas to suit the occasion. I usually take it as an excuse to learn a new sewing trick or go look at pretty fabric. That way, I can justify my crafting obsession and make a personalized gift.

Here's a few things to consider when coming up with a gift idea.
First, is there something you know the recipient needs but wouldn't necessarily spend money on themselves?

Second, what hobbies or interests does the receiver have? Gardeners might appreciate some chalkboard seed markers or vintage bird-feeder. Readers who drive a lot might like an audio book from their favorite author. If you know someone who loves throwing parties, handmade bunting or napkins are fun. You could compile energizing tunes for someone who loves to bust out the music while exercising.  If your recipient loves organic products, you could make soy or beeswax candles with lavender or grapefruit essential oils, or natural soaps.

Offering acts of service are awesome, especially when the budget is tight. I know as a busy momma of four, I deeply appreciate all the help in the yard, scrubbed floors, and home cooked meals we've received.

Another thing to keep in mind when coming up with gift ideas are some of your favorite things you enjoy wearing or using. For example, my sister gave me a cute headband with a print she saw that "looked like Jessica." Scarves are another favorite I've received.

One last thing. You know how when you're talking on the phone or hanging out together, people mention what they are trying to find or things they want. Keep tabs. Last June, when she came out to visit, my friend mentioned how much she liked my blue mason jars, but she wished they came in green  for a kitchen soap dispenser. When I was putting together her birthday present, I found one and snatched it.

 I just finished her gift and it's ready to send off in the mail today (if I can manage to get to the post office before closing time.) Em, if you see this post, stop reading this until you've opened your package. She's a talented writer and exceptional cook, so this is what I came up with:

Two kitchen towels, a soap dispenser and two knit potholders. The potholders were simple, just something I've never made. Working with two strands of yarn in different colors on size 7 needles made them thicker. 

I also picked up some of my favorite kitchen towels and stenciled this vintage typewriter onto the white one. It's easy to do, it just takes a little time cutting the image out of freezer paper with an exacto knife. 
Once you've cut the image out, iron the freezer paper to your fabric using a lower heat setting, with the shiny side of the paper down. It will adhere to the fabric. Lay your materials on a newspaper in case any paint bleeds through. Then, using your sponge brush, dab the fabric paint directly onto the stencil cutout.  Once it's dry, peel off the freezer paper, turn the fabric right side down, and iron the fabric, preferably on an old rag or something you don't care about, to set the paint. 

 Happy Birthday Em! 

March 15, 2014

"Spoiled" Vacations

 I don't remember staying in a hotel until I was maybe thirteen. Our vacations were always spent tent camping for two weeks every August. One week at the mountains for dad and a week at the beach for mom. And I loved every minute of it, except being cold in the night and not wanting to emerge from under the covers in the morning. I remember waking to the sound of crackling fire and a kerosene stove, which, I knew was warming water for hot chocolate. Dad was always up first getting things ready for us to warm ourselves by the fire before we went exploring.

I haven't given up tenting it, not yet. It gets harder with babies in a sleeping bag and trying not to wake the entire campsite, but it's so worth it. I want the kids to grow up with that experience. But that's not to say I don't appreciate what a nice indoor vacation has to offer, especially during the winter months when we could not otherwise venture out.
 We just spent several days at one of our favorite vacation spots in Washington. On the drive to Port Townsend, as we crossed a beautiful bridge over the Puget Sound, I saw my first whale. It was incredible. 

 This was the view from my window. I went to sleep with the stars reflecting on the still water at night. There was even a shooting star bidding me goodnight and the sound of water lapping on the shore just a few steps from my room greeting me in the morning. 

  This fellow was just outside our front door. I wish I had a better zoom on my camera!

We combed the beach for shells, crabs, and other treasures. We made friends with seagulls. We watched for seals.

And headed back to the room to read and knit. 

It was relaxing and beautiful and peaceful. Now, our next major family vacation will be spent in a tent. Maybe not as relaxing now that I am on the parent end of things, responsible for all the packing, but definitely worth it.

March 7, 2014

How to Make an Inverted Pleat

 My Addy loves pockets. So does Lucy, who has an eye for small details and usually fills her pockets with sparkles or other tiny objects she finds when she's out and about. I had them in mind when I was designing the pocket for this skirt. I wanted to mimic the look of the petals on tulips, so I went with an inverted pleat.

To make an inverted pleat, measure the width of the item, with the fabric right side up. Mark the center point. In this case, my unfinished pocket was 8 in. wide, so I marked it at 4 in.

On either side of that middle point, mark 3 separate points at equal distances from the middle mark. Since my middle mark was at the four, I marked my pocket at 1,2, and 3 on the left, and 5,6,and 7 on the right. In other words, each mark was one inch away from the other to make equal distances from the middle mark.

Next step. Find the middle of the three marks on the left or right of the middle mark. It doesn't matter which side. For my pocket, since I started on the right, I found the 6 in. mark. Pinch the fabric in your fingers and pull it to the center mark. 

Now repeat on the other side. You should have something resembling this. 

  There should be three layers of fabric on each side (bottom, middle, and top.) 

Pin it as needed and sew within the seam allowance. For the pocket, because I needed a finished top seam, I folded it twice toward the wrong side of the fabric (about 1/4 in. folds) and pressed before sewing.

And there you have it. An inverted pleat on a pocket ready to fill with sprigs of rosemary from the garden or seashells on the beach. 

February 17, 2014

How to Knit a Small Yarn-Over Buttonhole

 It's been awhile since I've knit a buttonhole, so I needed a refresher's course. There are lots of ways to make them, for all sorts of purposes, and if you are following a pattern, it will tell you which is needed. I'm making a teething bib for a shower, inspired by a beautiful set of bibs a friend sent me when Evie was born. I'm using a yarn-over button hole. It's super simple, so even if you are teaching yourself to knit (like myself), it's super easy. Once you reach the place in your row where you need a buttonhole, knit two together. If you are following a pattern, it's probably abbreviated "k2tog." 

Knit 2 stitches together

 To yarn over, all you have to do is move the string from the back of your work to the front. 

 Then, continue knitting to the end of the row. When you turn your work, knit all the stitches. 

 And that's it! Another job well done.

February 6, 2014


 It began this morning at the breakfast table. If you looked closely you could see falling snowflakes every few seconds or so. By the time we started school, it was steadily coming down. When we woke up from our nap, there was at least an inch. And still it continues to fall. I love it. It's beautiful and peaceful. Thankfully, we are all safe and warm. I watch the snow piling on the trees and I remember college days in Ohio where snow was a permanent feature on the lawn during the winter. Here, it is a rare and well received occurrence.   

 I had to suit up and play in it.  Besides, I needed to thaw the hummingbird feeder and rescue the poor little fellas. St. Francis would be proud. 

And now, after thawing out my fingers, I'm ready to get back to work.

It's a gift I'm trying to finish by Valentine's Day.  I'll show you the new technique I'm going to learn once I complete the final stitches. 

January 27, 2014

Catching Up

 We were recently away on a business trip, and I read an article about getting rid of 100 things over a weekend. When I got home we had beautiful, sunny weather that clearly showed all the clutter that has accumulated in our home following the holidays and sick days, I thought, "I need to try that."
 It was kind of exciting raiding all the closets, bedrooms, and kitchen and ruthlessly eliminating things from our stash. If your husband is a pack rat, you might want to start while he's at work. Just make sure you don't take anything too important without asking. I'm just sayin'. In the course of one afternoon, I filled a large box and four paper bags to donate. It felt awwweSOME!!! Totally worth the effort.

 If you need a little boost, pour yourself a yummy cup of strong tea and get to work. Still not motivated? Start with one room, one closet, or one drawer. Or fill a box. Set a time limit. Once you get going, it's sort of addicting. 
For me, the incentive was getting the indoors in order, so that in spring I can focus on a garage sale to clear the garage and spend some serious time in the yard. 

January 17, 2014

Soup's On

 Can anyone tell me what purpose the bay leaf serves in cooking? I've tried making soups and sauces with and without, and not noticed a difference. Maybe I don't have a refined palette, I don't know. 

 I'm sorry about the follow-up for the d.i.y gift idea. In the world of sewing, things don't always turn out like you planned. That was the case, anyway, with the tutu I made for Lucy following our trip to "The Nutcracker." I'll have to give that another go soon. 

 In the meantime, I couldn't come empty handed. Here's an easy soup recipe we make all the time around here. During the last week we have had pretty much every variety of the flu bug, and with our appetite slowly returning, we needed chicken soup. My hubby surprised us with a roasted chicken from Costco. Costco makes a good roasted chicken. We save all the extra meat, stick it in the fridge, and then add all the drippings and bones in a pot with about 2 inches of water. Simmer that on low heat for at least an hour or two, cool, and then save the broth. (Side note: you can add veggies, like onion, garlic cloves, celery and carrots with seasonings, but you don't have to.) It keeps well several days in the fridge, or you can freeze it for a couple months.

 Tonight, with runny nose and watery eyes, I chopped an onion, few stalks of celery, and three carrots.  I like to add at least 3 cloves minced garlic.  I let those cook in my pot with olive oil on low for about 4 minutes. Next, I grab out my broth and add that to my simmering veggies, along with some salt, pepper, that mysterious bay leaf, and a couple tablespoons of Italian seasoning (but not before I rub them between the palm of my hands to release some of their flavor.) If it's bland I add a little spoonful of our "Better than Bouillon Chicken Base."

If you have fresh herbs, you can alternatively add some fresh parsley, thyme, and oregano. Whatever you like. Cover, and let it sit tight on low heat until the veggies are tender. While you're waiting on that, cut up the leftover chicken. Toss that in a few minutes before the soup's ready to eat. 

In tonight's soup, I added a potato I needed to use. We've added zucchini, leftover rice, quinoa, or other veggies you might have lying around. Some veggies, like zucchini, you add it later than the other veggies, about ten minutes before serving.
With dinner, we enjoyed this foggy view outside, tucked under a cozy blanket and a box of quickly disappearing kleenex near at hand. Truth be told, I've had kleenex stuffed in my nose practically all day to keep my eye from tearing. Pretty glamorous, I know.  The soup is a great starter, but if know any cold medicines safe for nursing mothers, please, let me know.