I feel like January should be recorded, not by days or weeks or projects accomplished, but simply by cups of tea consumed by me. That’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve been fighting the gloom wrapped in a blanket, drinking tea and writing grants. I’ve taken some breaks to make some pasta. Okay. Actually, I’ve taken some breaks to make lots of pasta: spaghetti, fettuccine, lasagna and even soba noodles.
And just when the gloom seems too overwhelming to ward off with tea or pasta-making alone, I have some daifuku mochi, which in my experience is a no fail way to bring a bit of sunshine into the day.
What’s your go-to for warding off the January gloom?
I’m the first to admit I’m a very bad consumer. If I think I can make something I will avoid buying it, even when it makes a lot more sense to just spend the money. But I’m stubborn. Earlier this month I hosted a baby shower and, even though we were working on the house up to the last-minute, I decided that I was going to make as many of the items I could for one of the shower games. You’ll be proud that I decided against making the onesie or even attempting to make a bottle, but I did decide the bib, the hat and the baby booties were fair game, even though I had no patterns on hand for any of them.
Thanks to the Internet and this size chart from Bev’s Country Cottage, I was able to draft some basic patterns and whip up some baby items just in time for the shower.
First up is this little bib. The front is echino laminate fabric and the back is made from two layers of an old t-shirt. The neck closes with a strip of Velcro cut into a circle and machine stitched to the bib. It measures approximately 8″ wide by 10″ long. It turned out to be pretty precious even though it took me two attempts to figure out the best construction. You might note the needle holes left over from attempt number one. Some fabrics are less forgiving than others.
Next is this little hat made from a knit fabric that has been in my stash for years, but that I’ve never found a project for. It can be styled by tying each ear into a separate knot or tying the two ears as above, which is what I prefer. The interior is seamed with my serger and the hem is finished with a zigzag stitch on my sewing machine. It was surprisingly simple to pull together. After I do a test fitting of it on an actual child, I may end up solidifying a pattern for it. Same with the bib.
The baby booties are another story. With 1/2 hour before my co-hosts were to arrive I was creating a simple baby booty pattern which is clearly easier said than done without a baby foot nearby for scale. As my co-hosts arrived I was still sewing and eventually decided that the semblance of a booty (a single, unfinished booty with raw edges) I’d created was good enough for our purposes. No body seemed to notice.
And while we’re on baby projects, I’ll just throw in the stuffed owl I made for my niece this Christmas. Made with fabric scraps that I used for her quilt, an old sweater and some leftover Minky fabric it came together quite nicely. Funny what a fat oval with points drawn onto it can turn into with just a little embellishment.
What simple projects have you been up to?
I have a thing about zippers. And it’s more than just a thing, it’s pure disdain. But this echino laminate sat in my fabric stash for years, waiting for the perfect project. And it turns out all reasonable contenders for the perfect project involved zippers. So with Christmas nearing and my younger sister having commented more than once on this neat fabric, I decided a little zippered pouch for her was in store.
It was a simple project made from a 9″ zipper and four 9″x”6 rectangles (2 exterior fabric pieces and 2 lining pieces) sewn together with the bottom corners squared off to create depth. Maybe it was a little too simple. After sewing the zipper in place with no problem I felt like such a champion that I finished up the rest of the clutch, snapped some pictures, then wrapped it up and presented it to my sister on Christmas.
Christmas evening she unwrapped it, smiled and then tried to open it. And then she tried again and again…. and again. It opened eventually, but just not easily. In my rush to mark a zippered project off my list, I had skipped some crucial steps — steps that I know, but just didn’t think about. Steps like top stitching along the zipper to keep the interior fabric away from the zipper teeth. I’d kind of like to blame this problem on the zipper, but I can’t. This one is all on me.
Luckily, I think I have just enough fabric left to make a functioning replacement for my sister. In the meantime she can at least look at it. This echino laminate is lovely, at least.
What have been some of your gift making and gift giving failures?
I used to work in an office building in downtown Indianapolis, nestled among restaurants and coffee shops. Nordstrom Café was on one side of me and the Omni Severin coffee and sweets counter was on the other. I usually grabbed a coffee and a muffin from one of these places before getting settled in each morning. Or I’d grab a scone. Or a croissant. Maybe I’d grab an afternoon treat too. It got a little out of control.
After I started working from home I managed to kick my muffin habit and replaced ridiculous quantities of caffeine and sugar with things my body actually needed. And I’d love to say that now all I eat are organic salads and raw broccoli, but that’s never going to happen. Sometimes a girl just needs a muffin. And so after much searching and experimenting I came up with a recipe that we find kind of awesome. If we aren’t grabbing a hard-boiled egg for breakfast, we’re grabbing one of these Spelt & Honey Banana muffins.
This recipe is a result of trying to make banana bread healthier without tasting healthy. I think it’s a winner.
Spelt & Honey Banana Muffins
- 1/3 cup applesauce (I use homemade applesauce, puréed with no sugar added)
- 1/2 cup honey (I use local raw honey)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 3 bananas, mashed thoroughly
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup of walnuts
- 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a muffin tin and set aside.
2. Mix applesauce, honey, vanilla, eggs and bananas together thoroughly. Then mix in spelt flour, salt and baking soda until ingredients are well incorporated.
3. Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips. Then drop mixture into a heavily greased muffin tin.
4. Bake 28 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool on rack.
One of my best friends lives about 200 miles away so we make a point each year to get together a few times for marathon weekends of crafting, baking and just catching up. On one of our weekends she showed up with a screen printing kit she’d found for me at Michael’s for one cent. She presented it to me proudly, and then we laughed, confused by this little cardboard contraption. Its flimsy packaging also served as the processing box and it came with some small screens, a light bulb and some fabric paint. Obviously, even if I used it and it didn’t work at all, this one cent gadget was a steal.
We weren’t able to experiment with the kit during our weekend, but I broke it out the weekend before Christmas as I put together the last of my gifts. It only worked on my first attempt (and even then, not perfectly), but I can’t complain. For a one cent product, it actually provided me with one more success than I’d imagined I’d have, and I ended up with a gift for my brother’s girlfriend.
The quote is, of course, from the song Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. The fonts are Eccentric STD and Lullaby, which is a free font for personal use by Gravual which you can find at dafont.com.
With the first pillow complete I tried to make some more screens, but all my other attempts failed. I think the first 30 minute screen burn used all the juice in my little light bulb. Luckily I always have plenty of fabric on hand for when my planned projects fail, and so my mother-in-law and Grandma received pieced pillows instead, which seemed to go over just as well.
The pillows are 16″x16″ with envelope backs in a contrast fabric. The backs are lined with interfacing, the stitching is reinforced at the opening, and the raw edges from the piecing on the front is covered on the interior with muslin that is held in place by stitching in the ditch between each front piece.
They came together painlessly and made for cuddly little packages under the tree.
When you craft for the holidays do you make multiples or do you make totally unique gifts for everyone on your list each year?
I have a knack for going overboard on house projects before hosting parties. I come by it honestly though; it turns out I have my dad’s bone structure and my mom’s vision for perfection.
Over the weekend I hosted a baby shower, and in the week leading up to it all I saw was the dust in our home, chipped paint, dings in the doorways and scratches on the floor. In preparation we buffed and refinished the polyurethane on our hardwood floors that was starting to wear thin. We dusted the base boards and washed the walls. We moved all the furniture out of the house, then back in one piece at a time. We sanded and repainted end tables and a kitchen prep table, and refinished an old chair in need of repair. We worked right up until people arrived for the shower, not because we truly needed to, but because we were on a roll.
After the shower ended I finally took the time to stop and just look at our home. Nothing had been completely transformed, but somehow I’d stopped focusing on what earlier I’d seen as imperfections. The dings in the doorways and the scratches in the floors all faded into the overall character of our 90-year-old home. Sun bounced off the walls instead of illuminating things I didn’t want to see. I’m not big on celebrating the New Year in any grand fashion, but getting our house ready in preparation for this shower, as unintentional as it was, seems to have been the perfect way to ring in 2013.
I know I’m a little late on this, but here’s wishing you all a fresh start for the New Year.
This summer I walked into our sweet local fabric store and walked out with a yard of Melody Miller’s Ruby Star Spring 2011 fabric. Its rich colors and texture drew me in and my first thought was, “I must make a skirt.” But upon bringing it home I realized it was much more “art” and much less apparel fabric, at least for me. Clearly there a people who can make and wear amazing clothing made from Melody Miller prints, but I’m not one. Do you get seduced by fabric too?
Anyway, this fabric sat washed, ironed and ready to go for months waiting for the perfect project. Then in an organizing fit I threw it into the living room and realized it matched the room perfectly. And so a pillow was born. Not sure why I didn’t think to make one sooner.
The fabric as a whole is lovely, but I wanted to break it up a bit. I pieced together the front (above), setting the bee illustration, which I love, off-center. I didn’t do anything to the back of the pillow and let the fabric do its own thing. It’s just so cool that leaving it alone might just be the best way to showcase it.
It’s nice to have a new pillow in the rotation since each of ours show six years of wear and tear and dog drool. We don’t revamp things as often as we should, but I’m working on it.
Who are some of your favorite fabric designers?
Our dear little dog is not the most socially adept creature. Even though we rescued him at a really young age he had a rough enough start to make him slightly neurotic. Plus, he lives with us, two slightly wacky people, which probably doesn’t help matters.
When he was younger we tried all we could to make him at home with other people and other dogs. Puppy socialization and training classes at the Humane Society helped a little. Then we searched for a doggy daycare we could take him to run off some of his energy we couldn’t quite drain him of on nightly walks. We also needed him learn how to function better in new environments.
For the past three years Jack has been going to Tender Loving Pets Doggy Daycare in downtown Indianapolis and it’s amazing how good it’s been for him. Everyone who works there knows exactly how to deal with him and there really is nowhere else Jack would like to be. He greets everyone there like they are his best friend, putting his paws on their shoulders and licking vigorously. This is the reaction only we’d seen before and it’s so nice that his comfort zone has expanded to include new people.
These people know dogs so well and for most of them dogs aren’t just their day job; dogs are their life. Many of them are involved in Every Dog Counts Rescue, an all breeds, all needs rescue & transport team. They do good work and don’t make money doing it. All money they raise goes to vet bills so when they asked me to make a bag for their silent auction I was happy to.
This 5″x9″ quilted wristlet clutch was made with a variety of fabric from Crimson Tate. This is my first attempt at piecing anything together in this way. It was inspired by a tutorial at Oh Fransson! on making quilted patchwork panels for a structured bag. It’s certainly not as lovely as her finished products, but it was a fun learning process. I didn’t quite know where to start so I just began cutting strips and sewing them down. Next time I’ll plan a bit before beginning, but what I think is best about this type of project is its flexibility. You can start with a bunch of tiny pieces, have no real plan and end up with a sweet little surprise.
It’s currently open for bids through December 9, 2012. I’m not expecting the sales of it to make any dent in the organization’s vet bills, but at least it prompted me to learn how to do something new and allowed me to work with some lovely fabrics. Plus, it was a good team-building experience for Jack and me.
For me pumpkin pie has always fallen to the bottom of the list of things I desire. It’s kind of mushy and bland, as though the pumpkin has gone straight from a can and into the pie crust. It’s always something I skip over at holidays because there is ultimately a showier dessert that grabs my attention. But when I saw pie pumpkins were part of our recent weekly produce delivery I didn’t swap mine out for a head of broccoli as I normally would. Instead I thought, “Maybe a real pumpkin pie will change my mind.” And it did. I suddenly came to understand how pumpkin pie became a holiday staple in the first place.
This pie is smooth and light, like a silk pie. It’s not dense or dominated by any particular flavor. The cream, the pumpkin and the spice play perfectly to make it a gourmet holiday treat.
Real Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Make filling for one 9″ pie
- 2 cups of pumpkin purée from a pie pumpkin
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs plus one egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
- 1.25 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- Pinch of allspice
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2 Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Beat the eggs together and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir in the pumpkin purée. Finally, stir in cream. Whisk rapidly until well incorporated.
4. Pour into pie shell (recipe below) and bake at 425°F for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes reduce the temperature to 350°F, baking 40-50 additional minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours.
Makes two 9″ crusts
- 2.5 Cups of Flour
- 1 Cup of chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
- Dash of salt
- 1/2 Cup of ice water
1. In a food processor mix flour, butter and salt until well incorporated. The mixture should be very fine crumbles.
2. After well mixed transfer flour/butter mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Add the ice water and mix together until stiff dough forms. (I use my hands.)
3. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or until ready to use
The beginning of November marked one year since I left my job and wandered into the world of making it on my own.
I gave up eight years of forward momentum in an organization, building a program and building my career all just to start at zero again. I was fine with the idea of making less money, but I didn’t think about the impact moving away from a conventional career would have on my ego.
Somehow, even a year later, I’m feeling guilty about keeping a slower pace. I fill a full-time schedule with income-producing writing or production projects each week, but it’s nothing compared with the 50+ hours I used to work, plus events, a 10-day Festival and being firmly connected to my computer every night and each weekend. Now I have my nights and weekends back and, while I love every minute of them, I also fret about spending free time relaxing and enjoying what I have. Part of me still feels like I should be kept occupied each moment by someone or something else. I spent so many years confusing my success in life with my success at work that this year, though a welcome change of pace, has kind of battered my emotions. I’m learning lots of things about who I am and I don’t love everything about me.
But with a really successful year of grant writing behind me and brand new knowledge about the fashion industry, I’m not ready to let my bruised ego force me back into the conventional path. As I embark on year two there are a lot of new, great projects I’m already looking forward to. And I’m placing renewed focus on finding my place so I can live well in it.
The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.
This photo was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains this October on the first fall vacation I’ve been able to take in eight years. That’s peace.