Sewn Gifts for Little Heart Warriors

Because our LO was born with a congenital heart defect, we have spent a lot of time in hospitals both here at UVA and Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH).  Over the last year, we have met so many amazing heart parents that are giving everything they have to support and love their little heart warriors.  And the kids?  They are some of the strongest fighters I have ever seen.  These families are the definition of courage and grace.  So, as the holiday season approached, I knew that I wanted to try and do something that might bring a little joy to all of the BCH and UVA families that will be spending it in the hospital.  Unfortunately, illnesses don’t observe holidays.  And DH and I know from experience how lonely and depressing spending a holiday in the hospital can be.

I had just made a bunch of pairs of knit leggings for LO (because she is super tall for her weight) from an awesome Brindille & Twig pattern, when the light bulb came on.

IMG_6685.jpg

Brindille & Twig Leggings for LO

UVA and BCH both struggle every time LO is admitted to find something for her to wear.  The hospital gowns that they usually provide us are HUGE, (picture me in Andre the Giant’s clothes), and they don’t keep her legs from getting cold.  It seemed like a no-brainer.  Both of these hospitals could use leggings for their pediatric patients.  Then, I also remembered how there were limited things for LO to chew on there when she was teething and figured they could use some teething toys too.  So, at 2am (because that’s always when I do my best work), I started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to purchase fabric for leggings, teething toys, and teething bibs.

I. was. shocked.  I set the goal originally at $1,000 and it was met in less than 2 hours.  So, I changed the goal to $2,000, and it was fulfilled by 24 hours.  I sat crying in front of my computer as I witnessed the amazing generosity and love from family, friends, and friends of friends.  It was humbling.  It was also time to run to JoAnn’s.  My husband jokes that I’m having a lesbian affair with a woman names JoAnn because of how often I am there.  Whatever.  A girl’s got to craft.  After some serious waiting in line at JoAnn’s, I had my fabric!

IMG_6699.jpg

JoAnn’s has quite a nice selection of knits these days.

Now, it was onto the tedious process of creating a pattern for each of the legging sizes.  I needed something a little thicker than paper because I planned to use my rotary cutter to cut out all of the leggings.  Hello, beautiful manilla folder.   With a little tape, they worked beautifully.  Sorry for the bad picture.  We’ve lived in our house for almost two years with no window treatments.  Don’t judge.

IMG_6701.jpg

After the patterns were cut, I faced a large game of “fabric Jenga” trying to figure out how to place each one to minimize fabric waste.  After some trial and error, I think I figured out several layouts that will work.  I also decided that I could further cut down on the waste by cutting out some cute baby hats from a Coral + Co pattern with the larger pieces.

img_6702

Fabric Jenga

Several hours of serious wrist action, yielded a huge stack of 60 leggings. Whew!  And crap.  Crap, that is a lot of sewing.

IMG_6712.jpg

Stacks and stacks of leggings!

So, I leave you with this……..

The family is nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of iPad pros dance in their heads.
And me with my wine, and Juki, and rom coms galore,
Will just settle in to sew, and sew, and sew some more.

IMG_6715.jpgimg_6713

A Purse for All Seasons?

My mother (“God bless her”, as we say in the South) has been known to either carry a beat-up purse from the late 70’s or to stuff a cheap plastic purse so full of receipts, tissues, mints, and other sundries that it moments from bursting at the seams.  Seeing as everyone else in my family had been the recipient of a leather bag from me, it was her time.  So, for Christmas I began exploring purse options for her.  The challenge?  Making her a purse that she would be able to carry with her in every season.  A handbag so well-rounded that it could be her partner in crime indefinitely.  Challenge accepted!

I began sketching up concept ideas and finally settled on a nice medium sized bag with pockets on the sides.  My inspiration was the Jolie bag from Adeleshop.  On to picking the leather.  I knew she needed something classic, either brown or black.  I picked a nice warm brown from my leather stash and began getting it done.  As always, I used a ticking for my lining fabric.

img_3894

Don’t you just love those clips?  They are essential when sewing with leather!

My roadblock came (and there is ALWAYS one in every project) when I went to find a zipper.  I could not find a zipper, Riri or YKK, that worked with the color of this bag.  I spent some long hours on hold.  Tears were shed.  I thought about switching to a snap closure.  Eventually, I decided to DIY-dye my own!  So, I bought a longer-than-I-needed white cotton metal zipper and several shades of Rit dye (brown, tan, orange, red) and began mixing the different dyes, in varying amounts (which I was careful to record in order to recreate),  into plastic cups.  Then, I snipped off small pieces of the zipper and placed one in each cup.  I think I had six different mixes going.  I wish I had taken pictures of this process.  I truly looked like a mad scientist.  I figured one would have to work.  Sure enough!  One of the mixes came out looking exactly like the red-brown of the bag.  So, if you ever need a zipper of a special color, it is possible to dye your way to triumph!

img_4846

Coming along!  Just needs a strap!

img_4847

Gotta have lots of internal organization, and boy do I love ticking!

Now, because I had promised my mother this purse last Christmas and was a year late (welcome to “Jen Time”), I decided I had better up the ante and make her some accessories as a kind of “look how pretty this checkbook cover is, no your purse isn’t a year late” kind of thing.  So, I whipped up a tissue holder, checkbook cover, and makeup bag in complementary fabrics.  Now, the big test.  Often, we give our parents gifts that will replace an outdated or even falling apart object, only to find gift sitting in a closet with them still using the broken one.  Was this to be the fate of my purse?  Hell no!  My mom has used her purse every day since I gave it to her.  She likes it so much, she has now asked me for one in black!  Winning!  I’m just happy that I gave her something that she treasures and that is worthy of the love, patience, and support she’s shown me over the years.  Love you mom!

img_5360

img_5359

img_5361

Who doesn’t love a matching accessory?

 

 

2nd Day of Craftmas: Coffee Cozy Tutorial

Well, sadly, we have a man down as of this week.  Minneapolis finally took it’s toll on my DIYnamic other half .  Despite having the best (and cutest) Sorel boots available, black ice is a cruel master.  Down she went, and in the process, fractured her elbow.  Needless to say, this will take a toll on our “12 Days of Craftmas” grand ideas.  However, I will soldier on and try my best to pick up the slack in Jaryn’s absence.  I can’t promise that I’ll get all 12 posts in — as I have many partially finished Christmas gifts.  Story of my life.  But, we’ll do the best we can and just enjoy the holiday season, eh?

Our second easy and inexpensive DIY Christmas gift is — drumroll, please — the lovable and very versatile and felt coffee cozy!  My friend Sarah-Henning came down this weekend to celebrate my birthday and we definitely felt the crafting spirit move us (ha! Get it?).  So, a quick trip to the craft stores and we were all set to get cozy.  (Another one!  So, punny today.)  All you’ll need for this project is a pack of felt (very cheap at JoAnn’s or Michaels — and now they even have textured felt!  Fun!), various thread, fabric glue, scissors, buttons, thin elastic, and your imagination!  First, you’ll need to decide what types of things you’d like for your coffee cozy decoration.  Here are a few of mine before they were glued/stitched down.

Felt Mustache

Felt Mustache

Zombie Coffee Cozy

Felt Zombie

Here is my mustache and Honey Badger template, if you’d like to whet your whistle with those first.  (Sorry, I didn’t have time to actually do them up nice in Illustrator.)  If you aren’t an artist or just some inspiration, print some pictures and just use them as traceable guides.  Cut out all of your small pieces.  I used a thin Sharpie to trace everything on the back of the felt in order to be able to cut with clean lines.  Use Ziplocs to keep each set of images’ pieces together.you’ll need to cut out a template for your cozy.

Next, you’ll choose your background colors for the cozy.  The main cozy consists of two pieces of felt, the top panel being slightly smaller than the bottom panel.  Here is my template, if you’d like to use mine.  Once you have all your felt pieces cut out, you can begin to glue your decorations to the top panel of the main cozy.  The glue we used is Beacon Fabri-Tac.  It’s much like hot glue without the need for electricity.  It dries very quickly and is super durable.  Just be careful of the “tails” that form as you pull the bottle away.

Once you have all your decorations glued down, and have given them time to dry, you’ll need to do any decorative stitching.  For example, I had to do some embroidery stitching on my sock monkey.

Stitching my sock monkey accents.

Stitching my sock monkey accents.

Next, it’s time to stitch the elastic loops onto the right end of the cozy between the top and bottom panels.  You really want to make sure that your stitching is catching the elastic.  I used the shortest stitch length I have on my Featherweight and went back and forth about four times.

Stitching the elastic loops onto the end of the cozy

Stitching the elastic loops onto the end of the cozy

You can also hand stitch this, if you don’t have a sewing machine.  Next, you ‘ll need to either glue or machine stitch the top panel to the back panel.  I used my sewing machine and a the longest stitch setting, backstitching at the ends.

Stitching the coffee cozy panels.

Stitching the coffee cozy panels.

Trim all the threads and then pick out your two decorative buttons.  This is a great opportunity to use up some of those single buttons you have sitting in a drawer, as mismatched buttons are just as cute!  Hand stitch your two buttons onto the left end.

Sew your buttons onto your cozy.

Sew your buttons onto your cozy.

Voila, you’re done!  Make as many as you can think of decorations for!  If you’re like Sarah-Henning and I, you’ll have trouble falling asleep because you’ll keep thinking of cute decorations for your next cozy.

Sock monkey and old microphone coffee cozy

Sock monkey and old microphone coffee cozy

Honey Badger and bicycle coffee cozy

Honey Badger and bicycle coffee cozy

Owl and zombie coffee cozy

Owl and zombie coffee cozy

Power On and mustache coffee cozy

Power On and mustache coffee cozy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee cozies galore!

Coffee cozies galore!

More cozies!

More cozies!

 

Last cozies!

Even more cozies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only thing left to do, is to figure out your presentation.  If you’re giving them to co-workers, slap a gift tag on them and you’re done.  Sarah-Henning came up with the winner gift tag slogan….”Hope your Christmas is good to the last drop!”  If you’re giving them to friends or family, you might consider purchasing a mug, some coffee beans, and/or a coffee gift card to go with your lovely cozy.  So versatile!  If you decide to “get cozy,” please post some pics, we’d love to see them!

Dishing up the “Comfort Slouchy”, with a side of apology.

Ok, I know.  It’s been a long time.  I’m SO sorry, dear readers!  Just when you thought I might actually have one or two good ideas, I disappear.  I really have no excuse.  It just all happened so fast.  August 23rd dawned, and before I could duck, school up and hit me like a mac truck.  And sadly, the blog got tossed to the back burner.  The beginning of the school year is always such a rough time for me.  I’m exhausted when I get home because I’ve lost my teaching stamina over the summer and I have little free time because I’m starting with a whole batch of fresh, un-molded minds.  But, I’m happy to announce that things have now settled down and I’m back in the saddle again.

Image

My sad, “won’t you please forgive me” face.

You’re probably thinking that for this, my grand re-entrance, I have something really special for you.  You know, to make up for the last two months in which I completely and selfishly ignored you.  Well, you’d be wrong.  If I were a better, more organized, and less sleep-dependent person, It would be a totally different story.  Instead, today, I’m re-testing the crafting waters with only my metaphorical big toe.  And while I cannot deliver you silver bells and golden whistles today, I can assure you that as the holidays draw near, I am again amassing my crafty strength.  I made myself a new lab coat for the start of school, several new skirts, and two leather bags.  Posts forthcoming!  I also have a lot of DIY ideas for the holidays that I’m going to blog about in my “12 Crafty Days of Christmas” (throughout December) series to help motivate me to get everything done on time and to hopefully give you some ideas for wonderful, homemade presents for your loved ones.  So, please stay tuned!

So what do I have for you today, you ask?  Well, while it’s not Mt. Craftmore, I am pretty proud of it.  I would like to present the first thing that I have EVER knitted out of my own handspun angora yarn (50% Merino, 50% angora — from my rabbit Sweet Pea to be exact).

Image

Comfort Slouchy, in effect!

Image

Image

I call this hat my “Comfort Slouchy” because I plan to wear it….well, everyday.  It’s warm, comfortable, and wonderfully soft.  I feel like a have a cloud on my head.  And, It’s just starting to develop the fantastic halo that is characteristic of angora yarn.  I’m sure as time goes on it will get even more fuzzy.

Image

Angora “halo” is blooming.

I made it using the beginnings of the pattern It All Comes Together on Ravelry.  But, there was a slight error in the chart for the crown decreases, so I just did my own thing when I got to that point.  (Note:  the wonderful author of the pattern sent me the updated chart soon after.  So nice!)  Overall, I’m wonderfully happy with it.  With my next handspun skein, I plan to make a (somewhat) matching cowl.  I’m trying to decide between the Stockholm Scarf, Big Herringbone Cowl, and A Noble Cowl patterns on Ravelry.  I’m so undecided.  Do you think I have to match my hat with a lacey-type pattern?  What are your thoughts?

Ok, thanks again for hanging in there with me.  I know that I have a lot to make up for.  And, I’m going to make you proud.  Really, I am.  And speaking of slacking….I’m not the only one who’s been absent around here.  I want you to make a note of which one of us came back to you first.   It was me.  I came back for you.  Not Jaryn.  Remember that.  Clearly, I love you more……and I win.

See, you really can’t trust Jaryn. Clearly, she consorts with rodents.

I hope everyone’s been having a fantastically, wonderful Fall.  Here’s to a craftastic holiday season!

Jen

Key Lime Pie Cake

I know it goes against girl code, but I don’t love chocolate. Some chocolate is ok, I just don’t crave it like some people. Given the choice between a chocolate or fruit dessert, I’ll always go for the fruit choice. I also tend to like cake more than pies. Cakes come with frosting, which I have a serious weakness for.

My friend and I hosted a University of Texas picnic last weekend. I signed up to make a dessert and wanted to make something summery since the weather here has been fantastic and we planned to grill on the back patio at our apartment complex. I came across a picture for this  Key Lime Pie Cake recipe during one of the many hours I spend on Pinterest and pinned it because I like tackling any cake recipe that has multiple components. The finished result was delicious. The curd is really nice a tangy and is offset nicely by a fluffy white cake. I didn’t love the frosting, but it was tasty. I think I might experiment with a regular buttercream if I make this cake again. The graham cracker crumbs are a nice addition and really do make the cake taste like a key lime pie. Everyone at the picnic was very impressed that I’d made the cake, which to me is the sign of a job well done.

Key Lime Pie Cake

 

This cake has several components and is best tackled a day ahead of serving it.

Key Lime Curd

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of 1 limes
1/2 cup Key Lime juice
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

Directions

Add all ingredients except butter to a saucepan over Low heat. Whisk to combine. Add butter. Continue whisking gently but constantly, heating slowly, until curd thickens and reaches 160°F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from heat.

For the smoothest curd, pour through a fine mesh strainer. Transfer to a storage container. Cover and refrigerate overnight before use. Curd keeps up to 1 week in the fridge.

Lime Scented White Cake

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 2 9-inch cakes

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk ( you can make buttermilk substitute using milk and lemon juice)
4 large egg whites
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
zest of 1 lime
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray.

Whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In another bowl, measure out buttermilk, then whisk in egg whites and lime juice.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugar and zest on low until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 buttermilk mixture. Continue alternating dry and wet ingredients (ending with dry ingredients), beating just to incorporate each new addition. Once all ingredients are added, beat on medium speed for 2 minutes to aerate the batter.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Can be made ahead. If making ahead, wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and place in a zip top bag. Can be stored at room temperature for a day, or frozen for several weeks.

Graham Cracker Crumble

Ingredients

6 graham crackers
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Preheat over to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.

Break graham crackers into quarters and pulse in a food processor until reduced to fine crumbs. Add salt and brown sugar. With processor running, pour in melted butter. Pulse until mixture resembles wet sand.

Dump mixture onto prepared pan and press mixture firmly to form a flat ‘crust’. Bake at 350°F for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and crumble into pieces with a fork. Return to oven and bake 2 more minutes. Cool completely. Can be made ahead and stored in an air-tight zip top bag until needed.

Lime Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Makes about 5 cups, or enough to frost a 9-inch layer cake

Ingredients

6 large fresh egg whites
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-Tablespoon cubes
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon key lime juice
lime zest
Pinch of salt

Directions

Fill medium saucepan with about an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Add egg whites and sugar to the metal bowl of a stand mixer. Set bowl over simmering water and whisk constantly until sugar has dissolved and mixture reads 140°F on an instant read thermometer.

Attach bowl to stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until a glossy white meringue with stiff peaks forms and the bowl no longer feels warm to the touch (about 10-15 minutes). Switch to the paddle attachment. Beating on medium-low speed, add butter one piece at a time, letting each piece incorporate before adding the next. Once all butter is incorporated, scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula. Continue beating for 10-15 minutes until smooth.

Once smooth, add vanilla, lime juice, salt and zest. Beat until smooth.

(If at any point your buttercream looks curdled or soupy – don’t panic ! If it looks curdled, just keep beating. It will come together. If you’ve been beating it for 15 minutes and it’s still soupy, pop the whole bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes, then continue beating. Repeat as much as necessary until you get a smooth buttercream.)

To Assemble:
Place one layer of the cake on a cake pedestal or serving platter. Top with half of the key lime curd. Don’t spread the curd all the way to the edge of the cake. Using a pastry bag, pipe swirls around the entire bottom layer. This will keep your curd in place and make frosting the cake a lot easier. Place the next layer of cake on top. Frost the edges of the cake with your buttercream. Don’t frost the top of your cake. Add the rest of the lime curd to the top of the cake. Using your pastry bag, pipe swirls or rosets around the edge of the cake.  Place your cake pedestal on a cookie sheet or piece of parchment paper. Using your hands, push handfuls of your graham cracker crumbs along the outside of the cake. I had enough extra frosting that I piped swirls around the bottom of the cake as well. To garnish the top of the cake take a lime slice and cut through half of it to twist it. Place on top of cake. Wow your friends 🙂

Seared Scallops over Cauliflower Puree with Wilted Spinach and Roasted Asparagus

I’m a pretty competitive person, I freely admit it. This causes me to make bets with people quite often. I had some pictures that I wanted the guy I’ve been dating to help me hang up in my living room. He told me we’d need picture wire. I live pretty close to a CVS and he suggested we just run to CVS and pick up some. Not so fast my friend, CVS isn’t going to have picture wire I told him. He persisted that he thought they would. To which I replied, “wanna make a bet?” Hands were shook and off to CVS we went. Along the way we determined that the payoff would be whoever lost had to cook dinner for the other person. I was fully prepared to bask in winner’s glory. When we got to CVS he walked straight to the home section and plucked a box containing picture wire off the rack. I was flummoxed. Who knew drugstores carried picture wire? He later told me smugly that he would have bet me $5 million dollars he was so sure. Punk. Alas, my pictures were hung and I made him a very tasty dinner to settle our bet.

 

Seared Scallops over Cauliflower Puree with Wilted Spinach and Roasted Asparagus

Cauliflower Puree

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower (about 3 lbs.), cut into florets

2 Yukon gold potatoes (about 8 ounces), peeled and diced

kosher salt and fresh pepper

1/2 cup of butter

1/2-1 cup of half and half or fresh cream

Directions

Set up a collapsible steamer over a pot of water. Toss the cauliflower and potato and put in the steamer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and steam the potatoes and cauliflower until completely tender, about 15 minutes stove top. Cool slightly. Puree the vegetables using a blender or food processor, in batches if needed,  with butter and a couple tablespoons of cream, until smooth and creamy. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

Meanwhile, cook 4 strips of bacon in the mircrowave, for about 4 minutes until the bacon is crispy. Chop up into small pieces and reserve.  Save your bacon drippings for your spinach.

Roasted Asparagus

1 lb. of asparagus

salt and pepper

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp of olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the bottom ends of the asparagus and give them a good wash.

2. Lay the asparagus spears out in a single layer in a baking dish or a foil-covered roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil over the spears, roll the asparagus back and forth until they are all covered with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle with minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Roll the asparagus around so that the ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. Place pan in oven and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned and tender when pierced with a fork. Drizzle with a little fresh lemon juice before serving.

Seared Scallops

1. Since I live in the midwest, fresh scallops are hard to come by. Most of the ones found in the grocery stores have been frozen before and are soaked in a liquid that keeps them looking white.  They need to be rinsed thoroughly  and patted dry.   Season both sides with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet on high heat. Add 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tbsp of butter to the pan.

3. Add your scallops, making sure not to crowd the pan, which lowers the pan’s temperature.

4. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side until they have a golden caramelized color. Be careful not to overcook them because once you take them off the heat they will continue to cook.

Wilted Spinach

Add your leftover bacon grease,from cooking the bacon earlier, to a pan over medium heat. Add in a bunch of spinach and season with salt and pepper. Once the spinach wilts, take off the heat.

 

To assemble: 

Add a generous portion of cauliflower puree on the plate. Top with wilted spinach and asparagus. Then add your seared scallops. Garnish by sprinkling your chopped bacon over the top. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handbags Galore!

As you know, I love making handbags.  In fact, I’m in the beginning stages of getting an Etsy storefront up so that I can begin selling my handbags and angora creations.  (So, if you like any of the bags below and want one of your own, let me know.  They make great gifts!  Wink, wink.)  Anyhoo, I’m constantly looking for reasons to craft a handbag.  Luckily, my friend Gwen just recently celebrated her birthday.  Unfortunately, she’s had quite a trying summer dealing with dental visits and a sprained ankle.  Therefore, I really wanted to make her something special.  I decided to whip her up a cute Buttercup Bag (Made by Rae) in a gray IKEA fabric that I think has a cool, urban feel with a muted, lavender lining.

Gwen’s Birthday Bag!

One of the things I’ve changed from the original pattern, is to add a much larger, divided pocket to the lining.  I’m a BIG fan of organization in handbags.  I need a lot of pockets and dividers to keep everything straight.

In addition to the bag, I also surprised Gwen with her finished skirt, made from a Simplicity pattern.  Isn’t she cute?  I just love sewing for friends.

Gwen, in her new duds.

I also needed to make a “thank you” present for my friend, Jill’s, mom who helped us out tremendously by driving our sick lab back and forth from our vet to the emergency vet while we were frantically trying to get home from the beach.  Needless to say, she was a lifesaver!  Jill mentioned that one of her favorite colors is blue.  So, I used a beautiful, royal blue IKEA fabric paired with a bright red lining fabric for her Buttercup Bag.  I decided not to do the button flab embellishment on her bag, and instead, added a line of white bias binding.  I think it turned out really well.

Carol’s Bag

Buttercaup bag….now with more pockets!

Last but not least, I decided I needed a new overnight bag for my trip up to D.C. to visit my friend, Alia.  (See….any excuse to make a bag and I’ll take it.)  I had really been wanting to make the Amy Butler Cosmo Bag from her book Style Stitches – check!  Here are the fabrics I picked out:

My favorite fabric for this bag, though, was a blue and white houndstooth that I decided to use as the inner part of the pockets.  Who doesn’t love a pop of houndstooth?

Pop of houndstooth in the pockets

I love the way this bag turned out and the fabric colors just scream summer to me.  Overall, I’m fairly happy with the bag, though, if I made it again I would give it a bit more structure and some more internal organization.  But, it served it’s purpose well and a good time was had by all in D.C.!

Amy Butler Cosmo Bag

Side pocket

 

Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the careful oversight of my OCD border collie, Sadie.  Doesn’t she look crazy?  Yup, that’s my girl.  Stay tuned for my next post — summer skirts!

Crazy Sadie

 

 

 

Spinning Jenni’s Fiber Adventures

This year, for the first time, I managed to make it to the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival, a.k.a. “A Fiber Lovers Paradise.”  It. Was. Amazing.  There were sheep, and alpacas, and goats, and rabbits.  It was a veritable petting zoo, which you know I’m all about.  Todd had to keep a close eye on me, as I was casing all the alpaca stands trying to figure out how shove a cria in my pocket to take home with us.  Here were a few of my favorite furry friends:

Baaaaaaaahhh!

And then, you could look in any direction and see glorious fiber and yarn.  In fact, there was so much fiber goodness that it was a little overwhelming.  I simply couldn’t choose between all the yarns.  They were all so beautiful.  So, I decided to stick with my game plan of buying my first whole sheep fleece.

For those of you uninitiated to the world of fiber, buying your first fleece is akin to entering the Tour de France as a young rider.  It’s exciting, daunting, and very scary.  Since I’ve never purchased a whole fleece before, I really had no idea what I was looking for.  I know……shocking, right?  There were hundreds of trash bags full of shorn sheep fleeces to dig through.  I wish I’d been smart enough to get a picture.  I was quickly reaching “sheep fleece saturation point.”  So, lacking in any formal knowledge, I did what I do when picking a wine — choose based on aesthetics.  I was able to narrow down my choices because I wanted a white fleece so that I could blend it with my angora rabbit wool.  Then, I just looked at the names of the sheep and let my fingers be my guide.  I settled on four pounds of the softest wool I’ve ever had the pleasure of groping.  My fleece is from a lovely little Cormo sheep named Lillian.  (Each fleece comes with a label telling you the weight, sheep’s name, and farm that it came from.)  Here is my bounty:

Four pounds of Lillian the Sheep

The first step towards turning raw sheep into wonderful yarn is a very long washing process.   You have to get out all the lanolin (natural oil), dirt, vegetable matter, and other nastiness that I won’t explain, but you know…… The tips of Lillian’s wool was especially dirty, so before washing it, I clipped those off.

Clip the tips

Ready for the wash

You have to be very careful when washing wool.  If you’re not careful with the temperature changes and agitation, you can end up with felt, which probably some of you are familiar with if you’ve ever put a wool sweater in a dryer and ended up with a baby cardigan.  Doh!  One thing that helps, is putting wool into lingerie bags.  So, after clipping in they went.

Packed into lingerie bags

Since the plan was to blend this Cormo with my angora, I wasn’t too concerned with preserving the lock structure the wool.  That meant I could use the washing machine instead of large tubs.  Each batch of wool was given three separate, 30-minute soaks in hot water and laundry detergent.  At the end of each 30-minutes, I’d put the wool through a short spin cycle to remove as much dirty water from it as possible.

Wool in the washing machine

The fourth soak was in clean, lukewarm water to rinse out any remaining soap.  Then, I spread out the wool on sweater racks to dry.

Drying wool

Washing an entire fleece is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you.  You have to commit.  It is a LONG process.  I have now finished, four loads of Lillian, and I still probably have two more loads to go.  Ugh.  Yes, I purchased Lillian in May.  Yes, it is now July.  Touch of the ADD, what can I say?  But, the effort has been so worth it — I now have a HUGE plastic bin full of heavenly, cloud-light, soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom, wool.

Big box o’ fluff

What am I going to do with all of this, you might ask?  My plan is to eventually spin it into a bulky wool that I can use to make the sweater Cameron Diaz wears in “The Holiday.”  I love this sweater!  I’ll probably have it done by 2035.

Washing all of that fiber has inspired me to get some spinning done.  Since I have a bit of a backlog with my angora, the mission was to use up as much as possible.  I started with a small skein for my mom that was 50% alpaca and 50% angora.  The picture’s color is a little washed out — it’s actually lavender.  I think she plans to make something for my niece with it.

Then, I spun up a skein of angora, silk, and merino in baby blue on my spindle while we were at the beach.  And this week, I spun up a 50/50 skein of angora and merino wool on my wheel.  I was really, really pleased with the latter.  My ability to keep a consistent thickness of yarn is definitely improving.  There is definitely still a variation, but it’s less apparent.

After winding both of these skeins into balls, I started knitting up the “It All Comes Together” slouchy hat with a twisted stitch rib in the 50/50 mix.  While you can see the diameter variation, I think it still looks okay.  Look at the halo starting to form — so soft!

With the remaining 50/50 and the blue, I plan to knit up the Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat from Ravelry:

Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat on Ravelry

It’s been so nice to crank up the AC and pretend that it’s snowing outside instead of this nasty 100 degree weather we’ve been having.  Hopefully, it’ll start to cool down soon and I can really start picturing fall and wearing all these wonderful knit garments!

 

 

 

The Knit Diaries: My Striped Maxi

The quest to become up close and personal with my serger continues, in the next installment of The Knit Diaries – a maxi skirt.  So, I’m not going to lie, when I realized that the maxi skirt was “in” this spring, I had to actually look up what a maxi skirt was.  Let me just say, wikipedia totally schooled me on my skirt lore.  Who knew there was so much I didn’t know abut skirts?  Dirndl, and Prairie and Scooter skirts, oh my!  I know, I know…..for a sewer, I’m terribly fashion illiterate.  What I quickly realized was that a maxi skirt is just a fancy way of saying a long, A-line skirt.  And since, A-line skirts are about the only type of skirt that looks good on me, I was psyched.  So, after hunting around on Pinterest for awhile for some inspiration (see the lovely skirt below), I knew that a striped maxi was exactly how I wanted to delve into this wild and wonderful world of long hemlines.

Striped Maxi inspiration

I have a maxi dress from last season, which I used (sort of) as a template to get that nice A-line shape for my front and back panel.  When cutting, I made sure to leave a lot of fabric (without the A-line slant) at the top so that I could figure out a waistline for my skirt.

Cutting a front and back panel

Once I had my two panels cut, I serged down both side seams.  Then, I thought more about the waistband.  I decided to try a shirred waistband for my maxi.  Why shirring, you may ask?   Well, I wanted to learn the technique, it’s a pretty easy way of creating a waistband, and I like the look.  What’s even better?  All you need to have to ‘get your shirr on’ is some elastic thread, which I happened to have scored a lot of in a flea market find, and a sewing machine.

Elastic thread

I put the elastic thread in the bobbin and regular thread up top in my machine.  I adjusted the stitch length to a basting stitch and I was ready to go.  I folded the top of my skirt in on itself to the inside to create 4-inch waistband – which at this point just looked like a double layer of fabric at the top.  I pinned around the circumference to hold that slippery knit fabric in place.

Waistband

I began stitching at the edge of the waistband and continued all the way around the top.  As I stitched, I began to see the elastic bobbin thread cause the fabric feeding out to begin to slightly gather. (See below.)

First row of shirring

After finishing the first row, I quickly realized that I’d better take care of securing the open edge of the waistband (on the inside of my skirt) before the waistband got too gathered.  So, I set up my serger to do a coverstitch and did a wide coverstitch at the very bottom edge of the waistband.  Then, I continued to stitch shirring rows (spaced about every 1/2 inch from one another) down my waistband.  I had to be careful to stretch out my fabric as I was shirring it just enough so that it would lay flat as it went under the presser foot, but not enough so that the elastic only brought the knit  fabric back to neutral and didn’t really gather it after it was stitched.

Rows of shirring

When I was finished with the waistband, I had 8 shirred rows.  My waistband now has great stretch and is super comfy! The only thing left to do to finish my skirt was hem it. So, I put it on and made a note of where I wanted to hem it.  Then, using the stripes as a guide, I used a wide coverstitch to put in the hem.  My maxi skirt was ready to wear out on the town…..or at least to my side yard for some pictures until later tonight!  🙂

My striped maxi, and Sadie peeking around the corner to oversee.

My striped maxi

Sour Cream and Onion Kale Chips

Sorry for the small hiatus in blogging, readers.  We headed down to the beach at the beginning of last week and I thought, “I’m going to blog like the wind. This whole trip is going to be great for increasing my creative output.”  The best laid plans, eh?  We got a midweek call from our house sitter that our chocolate lab mix was critically ill.   After several days is doggie ICU and close to $2,000 later, we still aren’t sure what happened and what her prognosis is.  Behaviorally she seems back to her normal self, but after another blood panel today, she still has a really low albumin level (protein in the blood that is super important).  We go back on Thursday.  If, it’s still low then, it’ll be time to panic.  And I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when someone I love is sick is google it, which is a horrible mistake. You just scare the crap out of yourself and feel even more worried than you did to begin with.  Bad Google!

Needless to say, I haven’t gotten much crafting accomplished since Beanie got sick.  I’d like to say that I’m not a worrier.  But, man oh man, I haven’t been able to think of much else or do much else besides love on her this week.  I mean, look at that face!

The Beaner looking sad

Since she isn’t very happy or comfortable in my craft room, I’ve been sticking to the kitchen so that we can hang out together.  So, first thing I did was can some peach jam from the 10 lbs. of peaches we picked up from the beach.  It’s Todd’s favorite.  Hopefully, I’ve been able to recreate the batch I first made two years ago, which he still claims  is “epic.”

New peach jam

Upon getting home, I also had to make the rounds and spend some time with the rabbits and chickens to make sure everyone else was doing okay.  The rabbits are all doing fine, especially since they all got haircuts before we left for the beach.  (I had to have something to spin!).  The chickens were so prolific, that I had to make several batches of challah bread in order to use up the surplus of eggs.  My recipe comes from the book, “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”, which has definitely changed my life.  If you don’t own this book, rush right out and buy it this minute.  It will change your whole outlook on making homemade bread.

Challah Bread

My last chore upon getting home was to check the garden.  Amidst all the weeds, there was quite a bounty to pick.  Our berry bushes are finally getting going.

The first blackberries and raspberries of the season.

So many things are beginning to bolt and many more just need to be re-sown.  I’m definitely going to need to devote a whole day to garden triage this week.  One of the things that is going gangbusters is my kale.  While this might seem wonderful, right now it just seems like a chore, what with Bean sick.  Since, I haven’t really felt like cooking anything elaborate, I decided to try to make some kale chips.  I had seen a recipe earlier in the year by a vegan chef and remembered the basic ingredients.  I just went from there.  As a testament to the tastiness of these chips, let me say that Todd does not like kale.  However, after coaxing him into giving one a try, he had scarfed down a huge handful.  These chips are tangy, crispy, and yet melt-in-your-mouth.  They are also surprisingly satisfying.  So, if you also have an overabundance of kale, give them a try!

Sour Cream & Onion Kale Chips:

1 1/2 cups of lightly salted cashews, soaked for 3 hours

3 Tbsp of lemon juice

1 1/2 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp of dried, minced onion

1 large bunch of kale, cut into 3-inch pieces

1/2 tsp of kosher salt

2/3 cup of water

Add all of the ingredients, save the kale, to a food processor and process until the mixture has the consistency of salad dressing.  Then, toss the dressing with the kale, making sure you coat all of the leaves as consistently as possible.  Place the coated kale onto food dehydrator trays, or baking sheets, and dry until the leaves are thoroughly crispy.  (This took about 4 hours in my old-school food dehydrator).  I’d dry them at about 150-170 degrees in an oven.  Just make sure you monitor them often!  Then, put them in a bowl, pop in a good movie, and enjoy your healthy and delicious snack!

Sour Cream & Onion Kale Chips