Cross-stitch and Embroidery, General Sewing

Tangled Up in Blue

When I signed up for the 2019 edition of the Colour in a Box Swap on Craftster, my mind danced with possibilities. I had done it a couple of years ago, when it was the Sunshine in a Box Swap, but everything was in sunny shades of orange and yellow. This time, I had limitless options. I chose pink as my colour, and couldn’t wait to see what bright hue my partner had picked. Ooh, or maybe that would be hues, plural! When I saw her colour was navy, I was temporarily flummoxed.

It’s so dark. Wasn’t that akin to sending a big box of gloom?

Still, if navy was what she wanted, navy was what she was going to get, and I scanned her Pinterest for ideas (gleaning a few Christmas ornament how-to’s along the way), until I hit a pocket of beachy Pins. Something sea-y would work well! A quick trip to Michaels later, I had two packages of iron-on embroidery transfers and a set of blank, navy-striped tea towels.

I’m pretty sure the lighthouse design is bigger, but it went more quickly than the beach chair one did. Weird.

Close-ups:

I kept things super-simple, and used a basic backstitch to outline everything. Partway through the first one, I panicked – although I knew I was using navy thread, it looked almost black. (Though this clearly didn’t panic me enough to stop stitching and switch colours. Go figure.) It must have just been a trick of the light, because when my partner received her package and posted pictures, the lines were definitely navy. *whew*

I also made her the Poochie bag we all know and love from a couple of posts back:

I stuffed the bag with some navy goodies: blueberry-scented votive candles, a tin of blueberry mints, some washi tape, navy gel pens…

I couldn’t wait to see how she ran with my request for pink, and I wasn’t disappointed!

I can’t knit, and so I’m in utter awe of the cabling on the hat. The texture…oooh! (The unicorn lights, of course, went straight to work with me to brighten up my cube.)

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

The cake is a lie. (And so were the cookies, cupcakes, etc.)

A confession: for years, I thought that all recipes everywhere were part of a giant conspiracy theory to prevent others from replicating the originator’s success. Who were these weirdos baking cookies at 375 for 10 minutes? The only thing that was a recipe for was failure, and burned cookies galore. Now, admittedly, I knew for years that my oven ran hot, thanks to an oven thermometer (the best six bucks I ever spent!) as recommended by Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. If I wanted 350, I set it for 325. I also adjusted baking times downward, because the times called for in recipes were generally far too long, and although you can certainly add to baking time once something’s in the oven, you cannot take it away. It was a system that served me well for oh, ages and ages.

Sometime in January or February, I gradually came to the realization that all was not well with the oven. The 25-degree window I had come to know and tolerate was failing me. If the dial was set for 325, I was seeing 375; if I cranked it down to 300, I got 315 or so. What I didn’t quite twig to for a while was that I now had the kitchen-appliance equivalent of a traditional Greek song: it would start at a manageable tempo (or temperature) before stepping on the metaphorical gas to the point where your feet can’t keep up or putting frozen “chicken” strips in for longer than ten minutes required one person to fan the smoke alarm to keep it from going off and one to hold the back door of the house open to clear out the resulting haze.

New stove? Oh, yes, new stove. Only now, recipes looked like a foreign language to me. Is that really 350, or just “bake in a moderate oven”, like old-time recipe books like to say? When I finally screwed up my courage to take the plunge and try baking something, it made sense to try a recipe I’ve baked dozens of times before, right? Instead, I tried my hand at a new-to-me variety of mini cheesecakes. The chocolate-peanut butter people in my life won this round.

I compared making cheesecake to a baking trust fall before, but I’m honestly not sure which time was more stressful: when the oven was running even hotter than I realized and I didn’t know what I was doing, or when I was worried that somehow the new oven wouldn’t run hot enough.

I shouldn’t have worried, because these came out beautifully. In fact, I suspect the ones I made for my mom’s birthday got just a tiny bit overdone – this batch was smooth, creamy, and not the least bit dense.

Rather than make the chocolate whipped cream called for in the recipe, I used my remaining 4 oz. of cream cheese to make a half-batch of the cream cheese-whipped cream frosting from the pumpkin spice latte cupcakes I made last fall, sifting in 1/4 cup of cocoa before beating the cream cheese. It generated the perfect amount to pipe generous-but-not-mountainous swirls on top of each cheesecake, with enough left over for my taste testers to lick out the bowl and not fight over it. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and I think I have the perfect Father’s Day dessert figured out.

Thanks for looking – and remember, always use your oven thermometer! πŸ™‚

General Sewing

I’m Half Joe Camel and a Third Fonzarelli

Way back, when I was first dipping my toes into that great pool that is Etsy, I found some fabric from a purveyor of kawaii textiles that I just had to have. I don’t remember how closely I read the listing before adding it to my cart and waiting impatiently for my package to arrive from Japan.

When it did arrive, the package’s contents were just as lovely as they had looked online, only…much smaller than anticipated. I was not and am not a quilter, and had never heard of a fat quarter, and it was inconceivable (“I don’t think you know what ‘inconceivable’ means.” – Ed.) that someone should sell fabric in less than a metre cut. I had no idea what to make with an 18″ x 22″ piece of fabric – though admittedly, I don’t think I had a project in mind for a metre, either – and into my stash it went.

Fast-forward ten years (I know!), and suddenly every store is charging 5Β’ for a plastic bag. I’m honestly not bothered by being charged a nickel, and as long as plastic bags are reused or disposed of properly, I don’t believe they’re the environmental bogeyman that everyone makes them out to be. (Edit: I found this, which confirms my theories at least partly.) But some stores’ (looking at you, Michaels) are made so cheaply that anything sharper than a cotton ball will cause them to tear so that they can’t be reused. And who wants to lug around one of those family-sized reusable bags from a grocery store when you’re just heading to the drugstore for dental floss and conditioner?

While browsing through files on my computer, I stumbled on a PDF that I had downloaded from the Happy Zombie probably around the time that I bought that abnormally tiny cut of fabric. This so-called “Poochie Bag” looked like the perfect way to use it. Honestly, if I hadn’t had to go out and buy coordinating fabric for the lining and handles, it would have been the perfect destashing project.

Except I didn’t make this a “true” Poochie Bag because…no pooch. Doing that would have relegated that lovely Cyrillic lettering to he bottom of the bag, and I didn’t buy this on whim and then sit on it for ten years just to do that. I still wanted to try the milk-carton corners, though, and decided to make one for my mom’s birthday.

Not only did it hold all of her other birthday swag admirably, she’s gotten a ton of use out of it since for all those small purchases. I picked three coordinating fat quarters (aha!) from Michaels, and was pretty pleased with the results.

So pleased, in fact, that I decided my partner in the Colour in a Box Swap on Craftster needed one in her chosen colour, too.

I love the lining fabric!

After three of these, I think I’m poochie-d out for a little bit. But they’re a great quick project, and I may have to revisit them for Christmas gift-giving.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

The Cheesecake Factory Has Nothing on Me

With my mom’s birthday approaching, I knew I had to find the perfect birthday cake recipe. There’s nothing wrong with an old standby (excuse me, classic), but then there’s no anticipation, no element of surprise. In the course of my regular web-browsing, I rediscovered the mini cheesecakes on Life, Love, and Sugar. She does like cheesecake…and that would certainly be a surprise. I was sold, but then the tough part came: deciding which variety to make.

Fortunately, this proved to have a rather elegant solution. Since each recipe calls for 12 oz. of cream cheese, and since cream cheese is sold in 8 oz. bricks, I decided to appeal to the lowest common denominator (ha!) and make two different kinds. I decided on chocolate Bailey’s (because the birthday girl loves her some chocolate) and cherry almond (because the baker loves her some cherries).

Did I mention that I had never made a baked cheesecake before? Is there a better time to try a brand-new, possibly-fussy dessert than for an actual occasion, with no back-up plan?

*crickets*

I was actually excited when the chocolate ones cracked a little bit: I know that while one does not normally want one’s cheesecake to crack, cracking is a thing that cheesecakes sometimes do, which told me I must be on the right track. Because gaaah, these things stressed me out. If I had been making a cake-cake or cupcakes, I could have jabbed a toothpick in the centre to check for doneness, touched it/them gently to see if it/they sprung back, all that good stuff. Cheesecake relies on sight and blind faith. It’s like a baking trust fall, and that makes me uneasy like you wouldn’t believe.

Once I had satisfied myself that these were more or less solid and baked through, and they had had time to cool completely, I tackled the flavoured (and occasionally boozy) whipped creams for garnish.

I had a lazy moment and didn’t really want to add two piping bags to my growing pile of dishes, so I snipped a corner off two sandwich baggies and dropped my piping tips in. They worked far better than I had thought they might, and cleanup was insanely easy. But just in case you think I’m completely lazy…

I made honest-to-goodness chocolate curls!

The birthday girl specifically requested no candles (sigh).

They passed their second-to-last test: they released from their paper liners with no trouble at all. It was the sigh of relief heard around the world.

(The combination plate is a venerable tradition around these parts. πŸ˜‰ )

The birthday girl loved her unique dessert – and I may have inadvertently created some heightened expectations. That’s okay; after these turned out so well, I’m looking forward to experimenting with flavours.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

Other Crafts

Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr…

When I adopted my oldest from the local humane society, they lined her carrier with what I think was once a pillowcase (essentially, a nondescript piece of flannelette-like material) for the ride home to ward off the January chill. When I adopted my second, they tucked into her little cardboard carrier a small afghan made of six blue-and-pink granny squares. I’ve still got the cat, and her “baby blankie”, and the blankie gets treated with kid gloves on laundry day: gentle cycle, lay flat to dry.

It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that when I got it in my head that I wanted to learn how to crochet, I practiced the basics by crocheting simple squares to be sewn into blankets for the humane society. I don’t exactly work on them tirelessly, but it’s proven to be something to occupy my hands while I watch TV or talk on the phone, and over the past while I’ve managed to churn out six:

In approximate chronological order:

Unlike the others, which are made of a worsted-weight yarn, this giant granny square is made from a baby yarn and it’s so soft:

I was really excited about this one! It gave me a chance to try some different techniques, and provided wonderful justification for keeping back issues of Bust magazine:

Hopefully these will help some other kitty settle into his or her furever home.

And yes, my cat still sleeps with hers:

Thanks for looking – and remember: adopt, don’t shop! πŸ™‚

craftmas, Cross-stitch and Embroidery

On the fourth day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a whirlwind tour of Germany! (Cheaper than a plane ticket, and more fun than lost luggage and boorish seatmates.)

Yes, it’s January, but as far as I’m concerned it’s still the holiday season – so here’s the final installment of Craftmas 2018! Superstition says that whatever you’re doing as the clock strikes midnight on January 1 is a harbinger of what you’ll be doing that year. I was asleep at the time, but this is still pretty darned close…my way of starting off 2019 with a bang.

One of my nearest and dearest is of German descent, and when I saw “Pretty Little Berlin” by Satsuma Street, I knew I had to stitch it for him. He’s actually been there, albeit when there was still a wall down the centre, and this seemed like a fun way to document his travels.

This was such a fun stitch! The pattern didn’t include the city name – I charted that myself and added it in – but it did include a handy guide to the spots included in the piece, and I can now pick out, say, the Brandenburg Gate or the Television Tower (which I had previously thought of as only das große, spitze GebΓ€ude) from a photograph. It’s always a good day if I can say I’ve learned something!

I framed it in a 9″ square shadowbox. I had originally contemplated painting the frame yellow to match the train and the Beetle, but I think the white offers a contemporary sleekness.

Because I’m kind of weird, I took pictures of my progress and turned them into a stop-motion video:

(Make sure your sound is on!)

The lucky recipient was really pleased with the finished product – and as for me, I’m just glad to be finished stitching it.

As always, thank you for looking, and for hanging out with me all year. Cheers to a great 2019! πŸ™‚

craftmas, Cross-stitch and Embroidery

On the third day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a pretty little Kokeshi!

I’ve long held a theory that, when it comes to gift-giving, the seemingly most random collection of items is immediately elevated if they share a common theme. You would normally never gift-wrap a package of microwave popcorn, but paired with a bag of Twizzlers and some jujubes, it becomes part of “A Night at the Movies”.

So what do a hand soap from Bath and Body Works, a scented candle, and some chocolates have in common? If one is Japanese cherry blossom-scented, one is Japanese plum-scented, and one is mandarin orange-flavoured, you’ve got the makings of Japan in a box. (Note: Yes, “mandarin” is typically associated with China, but Japan grows them, too. I looked it up.)

This was the cheaper-than-a-plane-ticket gift I decided on for my aunt, who used to travel quite a bit before she got married, had a kid, and basically stopped having fun of any kind. In fact, when I was really young, she had traveled to Japan and the Philippines, so this really seemed like an appropriate choice.

Years and years ago, Cross Stitcher magazine had featured a pattern for three Kokeshi dolls, to be stitched on red fabric which was then sewn onto a plain black tote bag as a decorative panel. The idea of having a finished stitched piece bouncing around unprotected, suffering the wear and tear that a tote bag typically will, seems like a waste of stitching. But there was nothing preventing me from choosing just one to stitch and finishing it in a slightly more conventional way.

I chose the green because her open-concept living room/kitchen area features green quite heavily. The frame was acquired for only a few dollars, but the glossy black compliments the design perfectly. And does that red fabric ever pop!

Thanks for looking – Merry Christmas! πŸ™‚