Valentine’s Day

14 02 2012

If you know me, you know I’m a little bah-humbugish about all these so called “holidays”.  Before I had kids, I ignored them completely, buying candy for Halloween just to head off any potential eggings (and failing, I might add), and ignoring Valentine’s day completely, along with St. Patrick’s day, cinco de mayo…you get the idea.  I give you this line from Wikipedia, the source of all easy-to-find knowledge: “No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of either of these martyrs [Saint Valentine].”  There were 2 (or maybe 3) Saint Valentines, and none of them related to love, marriage, or anything of the sort.  And yet we must buy cards, chocolate, flowers, jewelry?  I always found it so pointless.  But once the kids are old enough, it becomes inevitable.  At school, they had parties yesterday (for BB) and today (for LB), kids hand out valentines, heart-shaped crafts are made, little girls are decked out in pink, red, and heart-emblazoned outfits.  BB has already decided that this whole valentine business must be for girls, because they like pink.  Astute or prejudiced?

Well, we had to do valentines, so valentines we did.  I searched Pinterest for some good boy-ish ones, since BB’s class is all boys.  I found this awesome one on stitch/craft, printed it out, added the glow bracelets we had left over from Halloween (I bought them as non-candy alternatives; you can guess how popular they were), and voila!


Super-cool, and very easy!  And wow, BB’s handwriting looks just like his mom’s, haha!  No, my writing is ever so slightly more legible.  He’ll get there.  I also volunteered to make cookies, because I’m masochistic like that. 


“Please, give me the job that’s the most work!”  I’m often the last one at drop off and pick up, which means I’m often the last one to sign up for the party supplies list.  Anyway, I was going to do cutout cookies, but decided at the last minute to inaugurate my cookie press, which I’ve had for ages and never used.  Not bad, eh?  It was easier than rolling cookies, but not by a lot. 

Today I made some very, very last-minute valentines for LB.  I found some cute printables here on one charming party, edited the jpg to be just one image, made a table in Word, copied and here it is:

valentine screenshot

I cut them out and stuck them on fruit flats, and there you go, a valentine fit for a 2-year-old who only cares about the fruit flat.  I managed to confiscate all candy after each child had 1 lollipop.  Not too bad. 

Now I had met the minimum holiday requirements.  And yet, I felt like I should do more.  I blame this entirely on Pinterest, which makes it look like everyone does special holiday-themed meals.  (And also handmade valentines.  For anyone whose children are not old enough for this nonsense, or who doesn’t have children period, let me give you a reality check: ours were the only handmade ones in the lot.  So making lovely handcrafted valentines is definitely not a requirement.  Not that ours were lovely; they were very basic and utilitarian in that they used up things I needed to get rid of.  Anyway.)  For breakfast, I added a small heart made of jam to our usual peanut butter and banana oatmeal. 


For lunch I brought along some of these wonderful pretzel turtles that I first saw on facebook (thanks Mandy!), then looked up (where else) on Pinterest.  No picture, but if you like turtles (the chocolate, caramel, and pecan kind), check out that link!  Yummmm!  They were really easy.  I made some for LB’s teacher, and some extra for us.  Then for dinner I made pizza, and just for kicks, and because I had beet powder lying around that I need to use up (who doesn’t?), I made pink pizza dough.  I made 2 little heart-shaped pizzas, and let the boys top them themselves.  They loved it!




They even (gasp!) ate toppings on the pizza!  Red pepper, to be precise.  It was pretty exciting.  Finish it off with a flourless chocolate cake, and call it a day!


What became of Christmas – a very belated post

12 02 2012

January found our advent tree looking like this:


Look closely and you will see that time stopped for us on December 22nd, when family rolled into town.  Follow that with a trip out of town and a bout of illness, and I’ve been away from the computer for a while!  So here is a quick rundown of what I managed to put together as far as handmade gifts.  For my sister, I made another buttercup bag:

IMG_0171 I was so happy with how it came out, and I think she was too!  The t-shirt flower is just attached with a pin, so it can be changed out if wanted.  The strap was an old belt; the lining an old shirt… I am making a slow but steady dent in my “to recycle” pile of old clothing.  Another one to add to that score: a scarf for my mom!

IMG_0048 I didn’t get a picture before I gave it to her, but here it is in action, on Christmas morning!  I made it using this tutorial, from an old cashmere sweater that she had given me to make into pants for the boys.  :)  Well, LB won’t wear “fuzzy pants”, so I found a different use for it!  If I find the time, I might just have to make one for myself….

For LB, I was running out of time, but I quickly put together an apron for him.  Not just any apron, this is an apron that matches mine and BB’s; it signifies his promotion to bona fide kitchen assistant!  He was, well, not overwhelmed when he opened it.  Not as exciting as the huge and wonderful toys he received.  But when the commotion died down, he was thrilled to don his apron and “do cooking”, as he calls it. 

IMG_5223 As an aside, the very first sewing pattern I ever bought was for an apron.  I can’t believe I spent the money on it!  I’ve made 3 now with no pattern, and it’s super easy.  The only thing I did differently for LB’s was make the neck band of elastic.  Toddler heads are so big!  Now we all have a matchy-matchy set of green linen aprons.  Yay!

For BB, I also didn’t have much time to make something, but I knew a LOT of lego was in our future, so I made a lego sack

IMG_0085 Not a great picture of it, but you can see the idea.  Toss the legos on the sack (the white circle), pull the strings, and voila!  The legos are contained in a sack.  It’s too bad I don’t have a picture of the outside; it’s a very cute flannel print with monsters.  The one thing I did differently than the tutorial was to put 2 buttonholes on each side, so that the rope can’t get pulled inside the casing.  It’s working out very well to contain the explosion of legos so far!

So, that’s a brief update from the domestic front.  If I have a chance, I have several other (more recent) projects to post!

Oats three ways

23 01 2012

It’s been a while since I wrote about cooking, and you might not sense it from reading this blog, but cooking is obviously what I do the most of, since we have to eat, and it’s something I really enjoy.  Too much, probably.  I have definitely gotten lost in a cookbook only to discover that it’s getting late and I haven’t actually made anything!  I got “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” for Christmas and have really enjoyed reading it.  Before that, it was “Nourishing Traditions” (and just for fun, I read “Eating Animals” on my iPod—back to back, these two books are the very definition of cognitive dissonance).  It’s been a lot of reading, and I thought I would share just one idea that has made breakfasts much simpler around here.  (If you’re interested, this is from Nourishing Traditions, although Foer would probably approve too, since it doesn’t involve any factory-farmed animals.)

At night, I soak about 1.5 cups of steel-cut oats in about 3-4 cups of water (I rinse them first).  In the morning, boil 1-2 cups water in a big pot and dump in the soaked oats.  Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Soaking overnight reduces the cooking time, but more than that, it make the nutrients in the oats more available.  (Supposedly.  For someone more knowledgeable about this, I direct you here.  There are lots of online sources, sometimes contradictory, on the topic of soaking grains.)  So that’s day 1!  Oatmeal.  We like to add in mashed banana/peanut butter, or applesauce/cinnamon, or blueberries/yogurt…there are lots of possibilities!

There should be a lot left over (if like me, you are feeding 1 adult and 2 small kids).  So, the next day, just to avoid having oatmeal over and over, we mix it up a bit and make oatcakes.  The recipe in the NT book is so simple: 1 cup leftover oatmeal and 1 egg.  I found that adding a mashed banana adds a bit of sweetness, and I like to add blueberries too.  Then just fry them up on the griddle!  They need to be small or they don’t flip well, so I make lots of little oatcakes.  Very easy, and very popular with the kids!


Then if there is still more oatmeal (there always is), I found a recipe for muffins that I thought came out really well.  Actually, this search for a muffin recipe came out of a crazy desire to not throw away uneaten oatmeal.  BB usually loves oatmeal, but we all have our off days, and one day I was faced with essentially a whole bowl of blueberry oatmeal to throw out. 


So sad!  I tried several recipes, but found that I liked this one the best.  So get your little helper to don his new apron (that’s right, LB has been promoted to kitchen assistant!), and mix up a batch of muffins, either from leftover breakfast, or straight from the stash of cooked oatmeal left over from the start of the week. 


He added the blueberries one…by…one.  He really was having fun!


We also make some peanut butter bars (found here) that are a great snack!  I have to say, I liked it as is, but I also changed it up a bit; I think it’s a great base recipe that is easily tweaked.  So there you have it; oatmeal, oatcakes, muffins…three days of breakfast from a humble pot of oats!


9 01 2012

Made by Rae is hosting a series of interviews about knits, and she invited all us small-time folk to play along, so I thought I would join in!  These interviews are called (if you can’t guess from the title):

Haha!  I am just a self-taught seamstress, but I’ve learned a lot about knits as I go.  Most shirts I would buy to wear, either for me or the kids, are made of knits, so it makes sense to sew clothes from knits too.  I’ve made some shirts from wovens, but they are definitely not the ones I reach for first.  Knits are comfy, conform to your shape better without being too tight here and too baggy there… just all around a great kind of fabric to use for clothes.  So here you go:

1.  Did you ever fear knits?

No.  I was too inexperienced to know any better.  I was feeling like I had mastered diaper sewing (which is how I got into sewing in the first place), so I bought some knit fabric (online), and a shirt pattern (also online), and just went for it.  If you are familiar with knits, you might get a kick out of the fact that it was a rib knit and MAN! did I tear my hair out over that project.  I was more timid afterwards.


(This is the fabric, but I don’t have a picture of the original shirt.)

2.  If so, do you remember a specific turning point?

Well, once I got a serger, working with knits became a lot easier.  Using that same pattern, I can put together a shirt pretty quickly and with minimal swearing.  Mine was not that expensive, and if you’re halfway serious about sewing, a serger is a wonderful thing to have.  (More on this later.)

(My first serged t-shirts.  Not great, but not bad.)

3.  What types of projects do you typically sew with knits?

Well, all kinds of clothing, I guess.  Mostly shirts, but knits also make nice lightweight pants and shorts for kids.  I bought most of my knits intending to make fitted diapers, so there’s also that.


(Trainers—if undies weren’t so cheap to buy, I’d make those too.)

4.  Do you prefer sewing with knits or sewing with wovens?

Wovens, frankly.  Knits deserve their reputation.  They are stretchy and annoying to work with.  In comparison, wovens just slide like buttah under that presser foot, no problemo.  That said, I’ve made clothes with wovens and with knits and there’s no contest.  They may be harder to work with, but they are worth the effort if the result is something you will actually wear.  But I love sewing with wovens; they come in more varieties and it’s so fun to make a bag or a potholder… I’m just crazy like that.

2011 06 June3 (Left: knit shirt.  Right: woven shirt.  The woven is tight in the armpits and makes me look pregnant.  Which one would you wear?  It was easier to sew, though.)

5.  Do you have a favorite type of knit (jersey, interlock, rib, etc.)?

Probably jersey.  It’s lightweight and stretchy, yet not as super-ridiculously-stretchy as a rib knit.  It’s not that hard to sew.  Interlock is nice too, but is kind of heavyweight (IMO) for clothing.  But then, my kids get hot easily (and then walk around with their shirts tucked up in the armpits, and nobody wants to see that).  The blue shirt above is made from a jersey sheet.  There is a reason why t-shirts, the best form of clothing ever invented, are made from jersey!

02 February

(Jersey hoodie made from old t-shirts.)

6.  Where do you usually buy your knits?

Looking back at my projects, I would say it’s a healthy mix of upcycled fabric (from my closet or from a thrift shop), some junk from Wal-mart, and some that I got online.  I’ve only bought from Nature’s Fabrics, a store that was a yahoo group and started out as diaper fabrics.  Well, they have a lot of that but also a lot of knits, because people make diapers from knits with cute prints.  They also have a lot of boy prints, which is awesome because they are hard to find.  (It was hard to even look at that link, because I am strictly no-buy right now.)


(A shirt made from my Wal-Mart junk.)

7.  Any hints for buying knits online?

Not really, sorry.  The best I could say is learn well what jersey, interlock, and rib knit are, and their weights, then you’ll have a better idea of what is being sold.  I hate buying without being able to see and feel, so I don’t do it much.

8.  What brand/model machine do you use primarily for sewing knits?

I have a Brother XR-7700 that I got as a gift.  It works fine, I guess?  I don’t have much to compare it to.  It has a lot of stitches I never use, but it does have a stretch stitch that is handy for working with knits.

9.  Do you use a serger?  More/less/same amount as your machine when sewing with knits?

I do use a serger; I have the ever-popular Brother 1034-D (el cheapo) serger.  I did use it almost exclusively at first when sewing with knits.  It essentially has a walking foot, which is what makes knits feed through so evenly.  Once I got a machine with a walking foot, I often just use that and leave the seams unfinished.  It doesn’t look as nice, but personally, I think it’s more comfortable.  I still use the serger to attach cuffs or neck ribbing.  It’s just better for that.

(Shirt made with exposed serging—one thing that is fun to do with a serger.)

10.  What’s your default setting on your machine (stitch type/length/width)?

I can’t tell you exactly (because I don’t know, not because it’s a proprietary secret), but Cal Patch’s book recommended using a slight zig-zag, in other words, a stitch that is long and narrow, so it almost looks straight, but still has some give.  So for the seams, I would use a zig-zag stitch, probably about 2.0-2.5 long (not a long stitch, but longer than usual for a zig-zag) and about 1.0 wide or less.  For a hem, or attaching binding, I usually use a stretch straight stitch, which is best explained here on Omi Creates. (BTW, that tutorial is great just for learning how to do a binding, which is a great finish for necklines, cuffs, hems… it’s a very versatile finishing technique for knits!)


(Another onesie made using that tutorial… too cute!)

11.  Walking foot, yay or nay?

YAY!  You cannot sew knits without it.  Just trust me.  It feeds the fabric through without stretching it…without one you have to go through this sorcery of stabilizers, spray starch, millions of pins… and yet none of that worked for me.  Get a walking foot if you don’t have one.  Now.  Stop reading and go shopping.


(PJ’s made with waffle-type thermal knit.  Don’t even think about using this fabric without a serger or a walking foot.  You will be reduced to tears.  Or maniacal laughter.)

12.  Double needle: your thoughts. 

Too much work.  I mean, it looks nice, I did it once, but it’s too much work.  I often think I will use it for hemming or for topstitching the neckline, but I just don’t want to bother to load another bobbin with matching thread, swap out the needle, etc., when I am so close to the end.

(Bottom left: you can see the twin needle at work.  Looks good, eh?)

13.  Do you have any tips or tricks for sewing with knits that you’ve found helpful?

First, get a walking foot.  After that, pretty much all you have to do is remember to not stretch your fabric while you sew.  If it’s a big project, keep it on the table so it doesn’t pull under its own weight.


(Hoodie made using binding a la 90-minute shirt.  Using binding that encases the edge of your garment (hem, sleeve, etc.) is a nice way to keep the knit from stretching because it doesn’t actually come in contact with either the presser foot or the feed dogs, so distortion is minimized.  Wow, that sounds geeky.)

14.  Anything else you want to say about knits?

That pretty well sums it up!  They are tricky at first, but if you try jersey first (100% cotton, none of this spandex stuff), or interlock, you’ll find it’s not so bad, and then you can move on to the more stretchy stuff (rib knit, thermal, spandex blends).  Sadly, nice prints are notoriously hard to come by, especially for adults.  Upcycling is usually the only way to find decent prints.  It’s so sad to walk into a store and see walls brimming with quilting cottons, but in knits you get to choose from puppies and fire trucks.  Ultimately though, for clothes, I’d say it’s knits all the way!  Hope you find some tips from this fun series!  I know I’m feeling inspired (after the holiday madness) to try out some new patterns.


(Little does he know how silly he looks.  Isn’t it fun to make clothes for your kids?)

So check out the rest of the KNIT-erviews, and see if you get inspired to make something new!

Advent activities: making ornaments

12 12 2011

We are well underway with our list of advent activities!  Frankly, I’ve not been super on top of things and instead of having the next day’s book and activity ready, I often find myself in the morning hastily wrapping up a book and trying to decide which activity fits into our schedule.  Last night we drove around to look at Christmas lights, which is something the kids really enjoy and is so easy compared to anything else. You just strap ‘em in and drive around, listening to Christmas music and their “oohs” and “aahs.”  If you are in the vicinity of West Henrietta, we went to see this house, and I thought it was impressive for an amateur display.  It’s not Disneyland, but it’s good to have a destination when you’re out looking at lights. 

Anyway, looking back on what I took pictures of so far, we have mostly been making decorations.  First there were the felt ornaments that I bought last year after Christmas on clearance and re-discovered on December 1st.  Score!  Fun and easy. 



Even LB wanted in on the glue-and-stick action.  For him, I put dabs of craft glue on the tree, and he stuck the “gems” on.  BB did the whole thing himself. 

Then one day we were going to make birdfeeders and I still hadn’t quite worked out the logistics of it, so I decided to do it by threading cereal onto yarn.  Educational, because LB is learning his colors, and good for developing fine motor skills.  I am deeply, deeply sorry to the birds and those who love them that we set out this kind of crap for them.  I don’t want my kids eating it either.  If it makes anything better, neither the birds nor the squirrels have recognized it as food, so it’s still hanging outside as a colorful garland.  Which is fine. 


And last but not least, we made salt dough ornaments.  Looking around the web, I found the recipe was consistently 1 part salt, 1 part water, 2 parts flour.  So we mixed:

  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 c. flour

and this gave us a nice dough and a good quantity.  We made about a dozen ornaments.  It was a little sticky so I floured the surface we worked on.  We rolled out the dough pretty thin, maybe 1/8” to 1/4”, then cut out trees, gingerbread men, and circles.  I wanted to do a tree like this one on Pinterest only to find that it was a LIE.  If you click through, it is not made of salt dough, it’s ceramic, and all the other cool thumbprint things on Pinterest are made of clay, bronze, etc.  Well, let me tell you that salt dough does not take detailed impressions well.  We did some fingerprints but these are sort of cookie-ish and so they puff a little, thereby destroying the imprints.  By far the nicest ones, I thought, were the ones we stamped and then baked. 


Before baking, I used a straw to make a hole at the top for a ribbon.  Then, I baked them at 250F for about 2 hours, and I did flip them about halfway.  When they cooled, we painted them.  You can see in the middle my thumbprint tree; it sort of worked, but BB’s (yellow) print is bigger than my print (orange).  I painted the black cord, but I think a sharpie might have been a better idea.  I did a thumbprint reindeer too, with BB’s name and the year.  I don’t know if we’ll keep them, but it would be a cute keepsake.  He insists it’s a moose, though.   These are my 2 favorite:


Inspired by this pin, which is absolutely all over the place on Pinterest. 

And to think, we still have some more ornament crafts lined up!  BB says he thinks our tree is the most beautiful tree in the whole world.  I find that so sweet; proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because in reality, it is a scrawny fake tree from Big Lots with very sparse decoration.  It is our own Charlie Brown tree, beautiful only because we love it. 

Buttercup Bag

9 12 2011

I finally tried out the free buttercup bag pattern over at Made by Rae!  It’s been on my to-try list for ages.  I actually don’t have much in the way of cute quilting cotton, but I’m thinking of making one (or a few) for Christmas gifts, so I had to make a practice one for myself, right?  Field test it a bit?  🙂



I bought a remnant of brocade on a whim years ago, and used suedecloth for the lining.  I have a ton of it from my diaper-making days.  It came together pretty quickly, and I think it looks super cute, but am I alone in thinking it needs some interfacing?  As written, it’s made with quilting cotton for the outer and inner, and even with the thicker fabrics I used, it’s very floppy.  But, you don’t notice it much while you’re holding it, just when you set it down. 

“But you already have a purse,” says my husband.  “Hahahahaha!”  I say.  Now I have 2. 

Wrapping with fabric

2 12 2011

Yesterday we unpacked all our Christmas decorations, and lo an behold, I had bought a bunch of stuff on clearance last year after Christmas that I had forgotten about completely!  Sadly, this included a gingerbread house, so we won’t be making our own this year, but truth be told, I’m not that heartbroken about it.  I have everything I need in a box!  Waiting in the laundry room!  It’s like an early Christmas present.  Anyway, I also had some fabric; last year I had this plan of making reusable gift bags that we could use to wrap gifts.  But today I had this even better idea, so simple, yet I haven’t seen it out there (I’m sure it is somewhere, but I haven’t come across it), so I’m sharing it here.  Instead of a bag, I made a square (well, it came out 20” x 21”, but it’s pretty close) of fabric with serged edges (No serger?  Hemming would work just fine.)  Then I scrounged up a ribbon to go with it. 


Now, I’m planning to do a book a day, and thankfully the order from Scholastic arrived yesterday, so we are set!  I feel like the wrapping is probably pretty self-explanatory but I put together some instructions so you can see how it works. 

2011 12 December

Basically, just put the book on the square (diagonally), fold in 2 sides, fold up the bottom and the top, tucking in any extra fabric.  Slip the ribbon underneath, center it, bring the sides up and twist in the center.  At this point, flip it over, then bring in the sides and tie a bow.  Done!  The ribbon holds the wrapping in place really well.  After today I will put out a new book under the tree every night, so that we can read it in the morning.  Better late than never, eh?

I think I will make a bunch of squares in different sizes for wrapping gifts this year.  I realize that this is more pricey than wrapping paper, but thinking of all the paper that’s thrown out on December 25th makes me cringe, so at least there will be a little less paper trash around here this year.  And, it’s possible that if they are used year after year, they will pay off in the long run  Now I’m not sure how Santa will wrap his gifts this year…