During the summer of 1998 I worked at a summer camp — not as a counselor or any of those roles one might someday remember fondly. I was the Dining Hall Steward.
What’s that, you ask?
It’s the person who makes meals run smoothly by calming hundreds of screaming kids and introducing each menu item. On a microphone. As a 17-year-old with angst, braces and zero confidence, this wasn’t an ideal situation.
Between meals I would spend my time prepping dinners for cabins going on overnights. I washed potatoes and packed aluminum foil for hobo dinners; made sure everyone had plenty of marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers for s’mores; and wrote notes to the cabin groups with cooking instructions and well-wishes for a lovely evening in the woods. These notes were the one connection I felt like I had to the counselors who were nearly my age and who I imagined to be my friends if only I weren’t so terrified of every single one of them. So instead of getting to know these counselors through conversation, I would carefully craft each letter on these notes. I hoped so much that my handwriting would convey something to them — maybe make them think I was more than just the girl in the kitchen, someone delightful and interesting. It never worked (surprise!).
Years later, though, when I met my now husband I realized that that summer working on my handwriting had paid off. A week after we first met I wrote him a check for something. Upon looking at it he said, “I’m going to have trouble cashing this. Your handwriting.” And that’s pretty much when I knew I’d found my person.
All this reminiscing to say I love letters. And even though I rarely write without a keyboard anymore and I created nothing handwritten over the holidays, I had fun focusing on letters this Christmas.
First a recycled sweater stocking to round out a set for our friends who had a new addition.
Then initial ornaments for my sister and her boyfriend to celebrate their first Christmas in their first apartment in a new state. They are made from a sweater and decorated with French knots.
Finally, I created a fabric letter collection for my two-year-old niece who is off the charts with smarts. Made from fabric scrap on the front and old t-shirts on the back, they represent the entire alphabet with a few extra vowels thrown in. They are all collected in a handy little matching bag fit for her to carry around.
Luckily I’m past the point of feeling like my personality can be reflected solely through letters, but there’s something really satisfying about creating freehand letters for projects, even if they are nothing fancy. Hopefully putting chalk to fabric put me on the path to put pen to paper in 2015 so I can reclaim that handwriting I worked so hard for nearly 20 years ago.
What gifts did you create this year?
My sewing machine has been on a shelf since I made the McCall’s 6442 jacket in January, and my blog has basically been on the shelf since then too. But when the temperature fell below 50 degrees earlier this month I got out some yarn and knitting needles (my crafting gateway drug), and the sewing machine soon followed.
This past week my niece celebrated her second birthday and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to create a super simple and sweet gift. Several years ago I saw a post on Amanda Blake Soule’s blog about a princess and the pea set she and her daughter had made together. It really charmed me and has lingered in my mind since that time as a great gift for a little girl.
I loved Hans Christian Andersen’s, The Princess and the Pea growing up. Scratch that, I remember loving the story, but really think I just loved the idea of mattresses stacked high. I’ve always been a champion napper and a sucker for layers of comforters filled with down. However, reading through the story after I bought the book this week (which is nearly impossible to find anywhere in Indianapolis), I realized that the prince has ridiculous standards for a wife, his mom — the Queen — won’t allow him to “lower” himself by marrying anyone but a princess and the princess is definitely not the caliber of girl anyone should strive to be. I mean, if a pea keeps you up all night you probably aren’t going very far in life. Consider that, Princess Polly. But by the time I actually read the story, the gift was made (all but the princess) and I decided I’ll just spend the rest of my niece’s life providing her examples of empowered women. I will not make her a Donna Reed outfit next birthday, promise.
The set comes with nine mattresses made with scrap fabric on the front with recycled t-shirts on the back. Each measures about 6″x9″ and has a little bit of fiber fill inside, which is kept in place by some straight lines of quilting.
Mattresses piled so high clearly need to be accessed by a ladder, which my husband was happy to create using twigs from the back yard. He also created our little double-sided princess (using the book illustrations by Dubravka Kolanovic) who has eyes wide open on one side and eyes closed on the other. I wanted to make a fabric doll to go with the set initially, but soon realized that I didn’t want to get my niece into Voodoo at such a young age (because that princess was going to look like one scary spell-casting doll).
I made a tiny pea using a bit of fiberfill with green thread wound around and stitched through. I’m a little concerned about it being a choking hazard, but maybe her mom and dad can put the pea in a safe place until she’s old enough to play with it properly. In the meantime she can stack and pack the mattresses away in the bag I made. My mom let me know that stacking and organizing is one of her favorite activities these days.
The mattresses, ladder, princess and the pea all fit in a customized little tote bag with pockets on the front. It too was made with scrap fabric and scrap leather. The thread, as with all my projects, came from my great grandma’s stash that was passed to my grandma, and then to me.
Projects like this are so much fun. Quick, collaborative, successful and resourceful. I almost feel confident enough to start on a bigger sewing project soon.
This summer we were strolling through downtown Nashville, TN on a nearly 100 degree day seeking shade and an escape from the competing music blasting from each bar. That’s when we turned down a small street and saw PUB 5 with closed doors and no music at all – just a soccer game playing in the background and mostly empty tables. It was the perfect space to settle in, get some drinks and read through the exhibit brochure I’d just picked up at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts exploring Maira Kalman’s Elements of Style. I love Strunk & White’s writing style guide anyway, but Kalman’s whimsical illustrations make it an adventure, not just a reference book. You should check it out.
But back to the restaurant, what I ordered and the reason for this post.
All the Tennessee biscuits and road trip snacks had caught up with me so I just wanted a simple salad. What I got was so much more. This apricot kale salad uses a tangy apricot vinaigrette that is lightly massaged into the kale. This simple salad would stand alone, but then it’s topped with dried apricots and Parmesan cheese. It became our summer go-to after I learned to recreate it. And it was a perfect summer for this salad because our garden actually produced. The kale was in full force through June and I was so sad when I harvested the last of our spring crop. Now that the summer heat has faded, our fall crop of kale is growing again and I’m eagerly anticipating all the fresh kale salads we’ll soon have again.
You can make this salad with any type of kale, but soft curly blue baby kale, cut fresh from your garden, is really the way to go if you can.
Apricot Kale Salad
- 5 fresh apricots, pitted
- 2 Tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 2 Tablespoons honey
1. Mix all dressing ingredients together in food processor or blender until smooth.
2. Store in airtight container in refrigerator until ready to use. Lasts approximately a week.
(Salads are an imperfect creation. Everyone likes different amounts of dressing and toppings so use the amounts below as very flexible guidelines to make the salad that best suits you.)
- About 10 heaping cups of kale, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly toss the kale in 1/4 cup of apricot dressing. Gently massage until the leaves wilt slightly. If you need more dressing, go for it.
2. After the leaves are evenly coated with dressing to your liking, top with the dried apricots and cheese, toss then serve.
** This amount of salad is good for dinner with friends. If making for one or two people you might want to make a little less. The salad can be kept in the refrigerator, but the kale will continue to wilt and you’ll get a fair amount of liquid in the container making for some juicy salad leftovers. Not bad, but not the best thing ever.
February wrecks me every year, but this year it destroyed me. My friend and I joked about my existential crisis of 2014, but our joke wasn’t too far from the truth. It’s hard to know that spring will arrive and I’ll feel better soon when I’m busy questioning my own existence. But crisis or not, I found the perfect cocktail to combat the February gloom.
Clementine-infused vodka from Svedka made its way straight from the shelf and into my shopping basket when I saw its bright orange exterior at Target one evening. This vodka, paired with grapefruit juice and a salted rim, makes for a really nice drink to sip on cold evenings. Plus, this drink makes good use of the Himalayan pink salt I got for Christmas. In a moment of panic I nearly poured my jar of it under my car tires one morning when I was stuck in my parking spot with no one to push me out. Luckily, before I could waste this precious kitchen commodity, I called my husband and he convinced me that using my car’s floor mats would be much more effective in gaining traction. It wasn’t. I still had to call our friend and neighbor to bail me out (thanks, Andrew), but at least I didn’t waste my lovely salt on what would have surely failed. It turns out that salt on the rim is much better than salt under the tires.
Salt in the Wound
– 2 parts clementine-infused vodka
– 2 parts fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
Pour over ice in a salt-rimmed glass.
Drink and enjoy with the knowledge that winter doesn’t last forever.
I had so much fun making the first Oliver + S Family Reunion dress that I just had to make another. This one turned out to be less fun, but that’s because I’m kind of an idiot and didn’t realize that a bent needle was the root of all my sewing machine woes until too late. That said, my tiny buddy Coraline has a new dress. And it’s pretty sweet, especially the fabric. It’s called Fireflies Mineral and is from Teagan White’s new line, Fort Firefly for Birch Organics. Check out all her awesome here. I would happily buy nearly any of these fabrics. They make me enormously happy.
Models and sketches on the front of patterns from conventional pattern makers (McCall’s, Butterick, Simplicity, etc.) are notoriously comical. Seldom have I found a pattern and thought, “That’s something I must make!” Take McCall’s 6442, for instance.Take it all in, but focus especially on those boots. And the steely gaze from the girl on the right. I’m sure the jacket is just fine, but it gets lost in everything else.
But this fall I was reading What I Wore, the blog of Bloomington fashion blogger, Jessica Quirk, and saw McCall’s 6442 made up by a real person who knows how to put an outfit together. I fell immediately in love with it – the fit, the colors, the whole look. It seemed the perfect jacket for fall, and so I immediately set out to make it…and now, four months later, it’s finally done.
Clearly there were some bumps along the way. They weren’t insurmountable by any means, but my motivation skipped and faltered every time I encountered a setback. So, instead of ripping out a sleeve and sewing it back on right away, I’d rip out a sleeve and set everything on the dining table for a month while I anticipated my next move. For me, anticipation usually means the death of a project. Thankfully I’d invested enough money in the fabric and enough time in cutting everything out that I didn’t let myself stop.
I used the Eclectic Voyager Fabric in Aztec Dark Green from Jo-Ann’s. This was the first pattern I’ve made with a fabric that features such a large pattern, and I managed to cut the pieces out so that fabric pattern aligned. Each pattern piece was finished with my serger before I sewed it together so that the interior could remain unlined. Using leather scraps, I created loops to hold the (unusually long) belt in place.
All in all, the fit is nice even though my mannequin isn’t quite filling out the body as it should. Too many trips to NYC has made her wire frame a little wonky. But on our third day of being snowed in, I’m doing you a huge favor by only showing you this jacket on the mannequin. Me modeling it would be as sad as the image on the front of the pattern, ensuring that none of you would ever want to attempt this pattern either.
Am I being overcritical, or do McCall’s and the rest of the mainstream pattern makers really need to step up their game if they are going to entice you to buy their patterns?
Normally Christmas brings with it a flurry of crafting. I usually can be found huddled over my sewing machine for weeks leading up to the day as I try to perfect something for each family member. This year that didn’t happen, and I have a feeling no one minded but me. While making gifts for everyone might be fun, I’m not sure that receiving these handmade gifts always is. The very first Christmas I endeavored to make hand-crafted goods resulted in scarves and hats knit in a drastically wrong gauge. These unpleasantly stiff accessories could stand on their own and looked worn out before they ever were tried on due to my sweaty hands clumsily pilling the cheap, acrylic yarn with each too-tight stitch. However, much to their credit, my family embraced them. And then the next year my mom and sister embraced the shawl and t-shirt sewn with uneven stitches and unfinished hems because I didn’t understand how to work with knit fabrics. And then the next year…
But this year no one had to suffer my gifts except for my niece. Toddlers don’t really need or want for anything so they are the perfect recipients of hand-crafted gifts. First up: hand puppets.
My sister and I set aside a few hours one weekend before Christmas to work on some gifts for our niece. My sister wanted to make some hand-puppets for her, and knew she wanted them to be funky, felt and shaped like animals. The key to our crafting sessions is to have some idea of what we want, but not to have any ideas set in stone (because of the inevitable disappointment when what we envisioned doesn’t turn out). We made the pattern up as we went and definitely learned what not to do when working with felt (Seams on the outside, guys). The cotton fabric is fused to interfacing for reinforcement and is sewn directly to the felt. The edges are left raw, so I’m sure these will not be puppets handed down from generation to generation. But they’ll work for now. And they are fun!
Next up: a lamb.
For whatever reason, I wanted desperately to make a stuffed giraffe for my niece. However, when I tried to make a pattern for one, it ended up looking like the All Terrain Armored Transport from Star Wars (with a long neck). I’m pretty sure I could have salvaged it, but one failure was enough for me for the night. Instead, I set out to find a new project. As I was sifting through my supplies, I found a pattern for a tiny lamb. I have no idea where the original pattern came from, but it’s pretty perfect and was fun to put together. It’s made from white fleece and is hand-stitched using the whip stitch, which gives it a really nice, round shape.
When my niece opened it, she clutched it to her chest, gently kissed its face…. then her eyes got really wide, she shook with excitement and then tried to bite its face off. So, you know — it got half the reaction I was looking for.
How did your Christmas crafting go?
Lately I have been awful about working on projects. I started a jacket a month ago. It has been sitting on our dining room table in a stack of pieces all that time. I’ll put a sleeve on, and then take a sleeve off. I’ll top-stitch a hem, and then rip it all out. It’s just not coming together in the way I’d like and so sewing seems like an intrusion on my time instead of a fun little escape.
But we hosted a little Thanksgiving dinner for our friends this weekend and the night before everyone came over I realized that our new table, though wonderful, does not wipe down easily. At first I was going to make placemats to help combat drips, but realized that with a full meal to prepare the next day, seven placemats was too big a project to begin at 10pm the night before. So I made coasters. And I said “screw it” to perfection. So now I have eight really imperfect coasters that I whipped up in an hour, and am finally feeling a bit more encouraged that sewing can be fun, not tedious.
Using a 3×3 inch square glass coaster as my guide, I cut out 8 felt squares and 8 pieces of the pink floral fabric used for the top of each coaster. I placed the fabric squares on top of the felt squares, then pinned them to the green/blue fabric I used for the back of the coasters. I didn’t even take time to cut out the squares for the backs of the coaster and instead pinned all the fabric and felt squares to the backing fabric, leaving approximately 1 inch around each. This extra inch is folded up and becomes the binding. If you want to make coasters, it probably would be a good idea to actually cut the backing fabric out (4″x4″) before pinning the top fabric and felt to the back fabric. It might make things quicker in the long run (and a little more precise).
With all of the squares pinned in place, I randomly stitched a few lines across each square to hold all the fabric layers together. Then I cut out each square, cutting the backing approximately 1 inch larger (4″x4″) than the top fabric and felt layer. Since I did all this without measuring, sometimes I had an even extra inch, sometimes I didn’t. No big deal. I just had some uneven binding around the edges.
To form the binding around the edge of each coaster, I folded the backing fabric in to meet the edge of the top fabric, then folded it in again, encasing the raw edge with the excess fabric from the bottom of the coaster. I only finger pressed the fabric and half-attempted to make mitered corners. Bothering to get the iron out would have helped the end result on these coasters, too. But it didn’t really enter my mind. In fact, I can’t emphasize how little I thought about anything in the making of these coasters. But you know what? They were quick to pull together and did the trick. No drips. And they are kind of sweet in all their imperfection. What do you think?
Do you need perfection when you make something, or do you embrace those little imperfections as charming?
I’ve never made pin tucks. I’ve never made button holes. In fact, I tend to steer clear of anything the least bit fussy. But when I was looking for a dress pattern to make for my niece for her first birthday, I landed on the Family Reunion dress from Oliver + S and kind of fell in love. The fine people at Crimson Tate assured me that I could handle the two scissor level of difficulty (out of four) and so I walked away with pattern in hand as well as some really great fabric from Birch Organics, designed by Jay-Cyn. And you know what? I totally was able to handle the two scissor level of difficulty. You know what else? Crimson Tate now has an online store so you can shop there too. (And I highly recommend you do.)
Once I finally got started, this dress came together really nicely. In fact, it came together so nicely that I stopped every 10 minutes to show it to my husband, excitedly pointing out that “It looks like a real dress!” He would patiently agree and congratulate me on the fact that the dress I was making from a set pattern did, in fact, look like a dress. The pattern is easy to understand and comes together with a clean finish. Everything on this dress, inside and out, is perfectly charming. There are some more interior shots of the dress in my Flickr feed in case you want to see the genius that is Oliver + S pattern writing.
The front has a little button placket, and the sleeves are gently gathered.
The back buttons all the way up. And making button holes, as it turns out, isn’t hard at all.
I really am in love with this dress, but what I think I’m even more in love with is the fact that the spool of thread I used for this dress came from the collection of thread passed down from my great-grandmother, to my grandmother to me. This thread couldn’t have matched more perfectly and I like to think that years ago Great Grandma Mullendore found this perfect coral thread for Harper’s dress and put it in her collection so that we could collaborate on this project today, even though she’s been gone so long.
I guess Harper’s first birthday was a celebration of firsts for everyone. Not only did I tackle some new and “scary” sewing stuff, but I also met the challenge of making themed cupcakes for her birthday bash. I make cupcakes, but I’m from the school of cake + frosting = delicious. I’ve never set out to really decorate something that anyone looks at twice. However, my mom requested some ladybug cupcakes for the party and so I called up my friend Patti, the Carbivore, who gave me some pointers. Some fondant, some patience and a few hours later we had some appropriately themed cupcakes.
It’s probably not a hobby I’ll take up, but it was a fun way to spend a few hours on a cold October day.
Happy Birthday, Harper!
Related Post: Easy Bunting Baby Quilt
Two years ago, after a particularly uncomfortable dinner we hosted with eight people smashed around our small table built for four, we decided we wanted a great big salvaged wood table. We looked at styles we liked, developed plans for the perfect table, got chairs as gifts from our parents to go around said table, and then set out to look for wood. And that’s kind of when our momentum fizzled. Finding the wood we needed was going to be a challenge. I mean, we haven’t been searching for it non-stop for the past two years, but we’ve been keeping our eyes open. So it was with great joy we happened upon Wabash Lumber about a month ago and headed out on a two-hour drive to get our wood.
Salvaged wood is not straight. It’s not clean. It can make your head swim when trying to find the right pieces that will work together for the perfect table. But eventually we found two 13′ 2×10 boards and a 2×4 that seemed could work together, and we wrangled them into our car and headed home. I was coming into this project with no real grasp of how to execute it and so a lot of it was up to my husband to figure out. Luckily he had some old furniture-making knowledge from college to fall back on. And he used this knowledge to help me understand what we were doing and pull off a really great project. He’s multi-talented and pretty swell.
Jack was really excited about the new wood. The boards pictured below are pre-scrubbed. I used a course plastic bristle brush and some water with a dot of wood soap in it to clean them thoroughly once we moved the project outside.
So, first off, after playing with the way the boards worked together, we decided to split the 2×4 and create two 2×2’s to run along either side of the center 2″x10″ board. Then we moved everything outside and started cleaning, splitting, planing and fitting it all together. Wood, in all stages, is a beautiful thing.
We didn’t plane everything perfectly so there are a few small gaps between boards. Initially my husband considered using joining discs to attach all the pieces, but eventually settled on using a pocket hole jig that a generous co-worker lent us. The 2x2s are screwed directly into the outer boards, then the outer planks are attached to the center board using the jig. Below is a side view of how the jig works.
Although the table top seemed pretty sturdy once it was all screwed together, we wanted to add extra stability, and so added steel straps to the bottom. A friend drilled the holes and cut the straps down for us using his equipment. This whole process made us super thankful for our friends who shared their knowledge, their muscle and their enthusiasm for the project as I wasn’t always super helpful, especially when things didn’t seem to be going by-the-book. The image below is the bottom of the table after everything had been screwed into place, but before we’d measured, cut and drilled the three straps along the bottom.
We had been working with unevenly cut boards throughout the process until this point, and so once we got the table top as flat as possible and had affixed all the boards together, we cut the ends off evenly. Then we banged up the freshly cut edges with garden implements and other tools to try to make these edges as roughed up as the rest of the table. Then we sanded down any splintery edges on the rest of the table and on the bench before oiling with Watco Danish Oil. We opted for oil rather than poly because we wanted the wood to be protected, but wanted to preserve the more rustic look.
We tested out the finish last night when we had large dinner with my family. Our table top was covered in lots of large glasses of iced tea, sweating onto the wood and drips of salsa and ice cream, but this morning it seemed no worse for the wear. The oil will require upkeep, but seems to be doing the job.
After the table top and bench had been oiled and then dried, we brought everything inside to affix to the steel pipe base built with pieces you can find at your local hardware store. The table top, measuring 75.5″x32″, sits on the 60″x28″ base. It stands 30.5″ high and the bench stands 18″ high. We now have a full dining room set that seats up to 10 and we kind of love it. It’s so nice to finally have a place everyone can sit around for hours as we eat and talk.
Some folks have asked us about the table and bench details, and so here’s the run down on parts and pieces that you would need if you were to embark on a project like this. The parts included below will make a table and a bench.
1″ black Steel Flange (For feet and affixing to table and bench top): 22 @ 5.54 = $121.88
1″x60″ black steel nipple (For the long X cross bars): 2 @13.29 = $26.58
1″x4″ black steel nipple (For the table legs): 4 @ 1.29 = $5.16
1″x18″ black steel nipple (For the table legs): 4 @ 4.86 = $19.44
1″x10″ black steel nipple (For the horizontal supports on top and bottom, both ends of the table): 4 @ 4.75 = $19.00
1″x12″ black steel nipple (Four for the horizontal supports on top and bottom, both ends of the table. Six for the bench legs.): 10 @ 5.55 = $40.90
1″ black steel tee (For joining all the legs and the cross bars of the table base): 12 @ 2.09 = $25.08
1″ close black steel nipple (For joining the tees to the flanges at the top of the table base): 4 @ .89 = 3.56
1″x2″ black steel nipple (for bench legs): 6 @ .98 = $5.88
1″ black steel coupling (to attach 1″x2″ nipple to 1″x12″ nipple for the bench legs): 6 @ 1.49 = $8.94
50 count packet of 2.5″ pocket screws = $5.47
Quart of Watco oil = $15.96
Salvaged lumber = $235
3 feet 3/16″x2″ weldable flat steel straps (for additional support): 3 @ 7.77 = 21.81
18 count 1/4″ flat washers (salvaged wood is uneven so you’ll need to use a few of these to even things out when you attach the flanges to the wood in some cases) = $1.98
Grand total: $546.63 (before tax and minus any other incidentals like tools you may not be able to borrow from friends). It’s about the price we would pay for a store-bought table and seating, but it’s also larger than a lot of the stuff out there, and is made with real wood. I think a lot of people see self-made things as a means of saving money, but we see it more as getting exactly what we want. And this is just that — exactly what we want.