General Sewing

Don’t panic and always carry a towel

Towel Day is still a few weeks away, but if you’re looking for a more travel-friendly option that hooks conveniently onto belt loops, backpack straps, etc., I’ve got your back. I’ve talked about making this kind of hanging hand towel before, but this time I have a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process, if you’re feeling crafty and want to try it yourself.

I started by cutting out my “topper” from my fabric of choice. I came up with (using that term very loosely) the pattern by tracing around an existing towel-top I already had.

As with most sewing projects, you want to start with your right sides together before sewing your seam. The wide (bottom) part gets left open, but you’ll sew up one side, around the peak, and down the other side.

To make it easier and less bulky when it’s time to turn these right side out, I snipped off the very tip of my point. You could also trim the seam allowance all the way around if you’re concerned, but I’ve never had a problem with it.

Et voilà! These will need to be ironed to make those edges nice and crisp. While you’re at it, fold the raw edge to the inside slightly and press it into place, too (probably 1 cm or so – just enough that you’ll be able to catch the edges when you sew it all together. I just eyeball it, because it’s pretty hard to screw these up. If these are going to be hanging as a set, you might want to work on them side-by-side to ensure you’re shortening them by the same amount).

On to the towel part! Normally, I take a single hand towel and cut it in half, but I couldn’t find a hand towel in the colour I wanted, so I opted for two facecloths instead. They’re a bit shorter side-to-side than a hand towel half would be, but work well. (Not pictured: me hacking off the thick hem at the edge that’s going to go inside my topper, because no way was my sewing machine going to get through all that.)

Fold your towel (facecloth) into thirds-ish so that it looks like it will fit inside the opening of your topper. A hand towel half would have had more overlap in the middle. Clearly, I tried to test-fit this before realizing I’d need to get rid of the one hem.

Hey, look, it fits! There’s just a little bit of extra space at the end of my topper, and that’s OK. If you’ve got more than just a little bit, try tugging on your folds gently to make your towel fill the space better. Because these were going to be hanging up as a set, I used the lines on my towel to gauge how much I had inside the topper and how much would hang down, and tried to keep both towels even. If you’re making a single one, go crazy! Well, within reason. I probably had about 2 or 3 cm of my towel up inside the topper to make sure it all got sewn together and there was no risk of it tearing out if someone were to give it a good yank. This is probably a good time to mention that if you like one side of your topper better than the other – maybe it’s got a cooler pattern placement or whatnot – figure that out now, and make that your front. I’m pretty equal-opportunity about my veggies, so however I grabbed it is how it got positioned.

Good choice making that the front, WittyChild! So many pretty colours… I sewed close enough to the folded edge of my topper that I wouldn’t have a big ol’ fabric flap flapping around and flipping up on me, but far enough away from the folded edge that both the front and back got “caught”, and I didn’t have that delightful experience of the front looking fiiiiiine while the back had a big gap where the fabric didn’t get sewn to the towel (or vice versa). If you folded up your raw edge evenly back when you were ironing all the things, you’ll be thanking yourself now. I don’t pin this into place before I start sewing; I just take it slow. Fine, I did try pinning the towel not pictured above, and broke a sewing machine needle when it hit one of the pins. There’s something to be said for my lazy-girl approach.

It’s time to add your buttons! I was so excited when I found these perfect orange specimens in my stash, but now think that I might have bought them with this project in mind and forgotten about them. Still! I knew I wanted my buttonhole to be near the point to allow maximum folding-over capability in case I found myself with a particularly chunky cupboard door handle at some point, and so I positioned my button where I wanted that buttonhole and then used a marking pencil (sewing pencil? Tailor’s pencil?) to mark where the top and bottom of the button are to determine how long the buttonhole needs to be.

Of course, if I had been just a little less excited about the buttons’ shiny orange-ness, I might have noticed that the card they came on had a handy measuring guide. Spoiler alert: my folksy home-remedy way of sizing worked perfectly here, too, since my buttons weren’t thick or irregularly-shaped.

It’s weird to think that buttonholes are just a series of glorified zig-zag stitches. If you don’t have a buttonhole function on your sewing machine or simply hate adding them to projects (I myself loathe sewing buttons on, but love making buttonholes. Somewhere, my sewing soul mate is out there, the one who hates the buttonhole function but loves sewing those suckers on), you could always use what the fabric store cheerfully calls “hook and loop tape”, but be it known that this stuff will eventually lose its grippy power and cause your towels to fall to the floor at the slightest provocation, such as staring at them too intently, and that’s just impractical and a little unsanitary.

Oh my stars and garters, cutting the buttonhole open once you’ve sewn it is the single most satisfying part of this whole project. It almost makes sewing on the buttons worth it.

After folding my point down to about where I’d want it, I used that marking pencil through the buttonhole to mark where my button is going to sit.

I might not like sewing them on, but I am endlessly pleased by the fact that the thread matches so well.

And there they are, ready to decorate, cheer, and dry! I keep both of them on door/drawer handles close to the kitchen sink for easy access when I need one, but they also work well on oven doors, dishwasher handles…

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Other Crafts

Easter greetings that are quick like a…well, you know

I’ve gotten myself hooked up with a few different snail-mail groups over the last several years. Who doesn’t like getting a bit of mail that’s not a bill or a solicitation for money? I wanted to make a few notecards to send out in anticipation of Easter, but I’m not the single most artistic person out there (read: I can’t draw or paint).

Last year, when I was still essentially scared of playing around with the Silhouette Cameo cutting machine, I had downloaded a file of three bunnies shaped like…well, like those marshmallow candies that are everywhere at this time of year, and with the wording “Hanging With My Peeps”. My friend and I cut out a few repeats of the pattern out of heat-transfer vinyl and made tea towels. I thought about using the file again, but didn’t want to mess around with getting the lettering on straight. Mind you, the bunnies were cute on their own…

I wound up cutting out six sets of the three bunnies. When I resized the file so that they’d fit on the blank notecards I bought, I discovered they’d fit perfectly on sheets of this glittery cardstock I’ve had for probably the last 15 years. I bought it because it was sparkly and pretty, and then had no idea what to do with it. Also, that much pattern can be a bit much in one big chunk, but in smaller shapes? It works!

Once they were all cut out, I took the plunge and started shuffling them around to see how any three given patterns looked side-by-side-by-side. I have a hard time with being random, and this takes every ounce of self-uncontrol that I have in me.

Once I was satisfied with my groupings, I glued them down on my card blanks:

I elected to colour in their eyes and noses just to give them a bit of definition.

And there we have it: quick, simple Easter cards!

I did use a cutting machine for my bunnies, but I think this could be achieved with a bit of patient tracing and cutting with scissors…although if I were doing that I’d probably not bother trying to neatly cut eyes and noses. I used a plain UHU glue stick to affix them, nothing fancy. And they were a great way to use up smallish pieces of paper that might not have gotten used otherwise.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Other Crafts

It’s not always silent

Happy National Grammar Day! If you’ve been reading me for a while, you likely know I have a bit of a fixation on grammar. And spelling. And language. Nothing aggrieves me more than getting a mass email at work from “You’re Social Committee”.

I’ve marked this occasion (I’m loath to call it a holiday) in the past by flying my language-freak flag with a tea towel, and one fun if amateurish t-shirt. I shouldn’t be so hard on the shirt, actually. Despite its clearly homemade vibe, it doubles as a nod to The Simpsons and still makes me laugh. A few weeks ago, I found the perfect design to try my hand at another shirt, and kept my fingers crossed that the execution would work as well as the idea.

I started out with a plain maroon t-shirt from Michaels, and some silvery heat transfer vinyl, and got the design ready to cut on my Silhouette cutting machine. (A note: this picture is the most accurate representation of the shirt’s colour. Don’t ask me what happened in the later pictures.)

This is the back side of my cut. See the outlines of the letters?

A confession: it took me two tries to get this cut out properly. When I initially adjusted my cut settings for “heat transfer vinyl, metallic”, it cut straight through the vinyl and the plastic carrier sheet. When I adjusted them to “heat transfer vinyl, smooth”, it didn’t cut quite all the way through the vinyl on the first pass, and I had to feed it back into the machine for a second go.

While I was weeding the excess vinyl from my design, I discovered that if I pulled/stretched it too much, it sprang back on itself like curly ribbon – you can see a little bit of that above. Between my cutting issues and weeding issues, I should have realized how finicky this stuff was going to be.

Did I mention that this metallic vinyl was finicky? After following the application instructions, I still found that parts of it really, really liked hanging on to the plastic carrier sheet and were reluctant to adhere to the shirt (although an extra taste of my heat press solved that). It’s a bit hard to see in this shot, but the serif on the bottom of the “r” in “your” positively refused to join the rest of the letter, and the serif on the bottom of “I” folded over upon itself. Finicky.

Although the instructions advise to wait 24 hours before laundering my newly festooned garment, and it’s been several times that, I’m still convinced this (finicky, finicky) stuff will all slide off the first time I wash it. But I have pictures now to prove that, however briefly, I had an almost-professional looking grammar shirt.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Just like Grandma used to make…

I’m not kidding, guys. The bake I’m sharing today is my grandmother’s recipe. I can’t share the actual recipe here under penalty of haunting, but here’s one that’s relatively similar. Just, you know, not as good (of course). 😉

These were the sugar cookies I remember growing up, and they’re different than most. I was…pretty old…before I realized that when most people say “sugar cookie” they mean some weird, buttery cutouts decorated to the nines with icing that’s very pretty but makes my teeth hurt to look at it. The cookies I knew used Crisco, giving them a beautiful, neutral flavour; they were sprinkled with coloured sugar before baking, giving them a pleasing crunch. They’re never too sweet, but sparkle prettily on a plate. When I was a kid, my mom used to get out her shaped cookie cutters at Christmas and enlist her helpers to sprinkle sugar in artistic and realistic designs – but when I got older, I learned they taste just as good cut out in plain circles with a little red-white-green sugar on top for colour.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I got the idea to cut them out into heart shapes and use a variety of coloured sugars to try and recreate a conversation heart aesthetic. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve got a bit of a thing for conversation hearts.

And look at them, sparkling prettily!

The big cookie cutter was bigger than I realized, so I soon switched to an antique one (with a wooden handle and all!) to churn out some smaller cookies.

“But wait!” I hear you say, “What’s conversational about these?”

I did prepare a batch of bright-pink royal icing, ready to pipe all sorts of sweet and snarky sentiments, but…it wasn’t to be. I used a recipe from a pretty well-known baking blogger, and although it came together perfectly – and stiffly – in the bowl, it was a mess on the cookies. It might be OK for flooding the entire surface with icing, but not for detailed work. Would I use that recipe again?

About the only positive thing I can say, besides the fact that it dried glossy and gorgeous just like the recipe said, is that it might be handy for people who are bashful about declaring their feelings and don’t want to put themselves out there too much:

“‘Be mine’? No, that says, uh, ‘Mr. Mint’.”

So while I did not wind up with my bevy of conversation hearts, I did wind up with a really delicious batch of sugar cookies to show for it, which is a victory in my books.

Thanks for looking – Happy Valentine’s Day!

baking

Twice as good as uno cotto…

When I was a young ‘un, I understood that “biscotti” meant “a rather hard, crisp cookie found in hipster coffee shops”. While that definition wasn’t necessarily wrong, it didn’t tell the whole story, and it wasn’t until many years later that my language-loving self learned that it came from the Italian for “twice cooked”. “Bi” = “two”; “cotti” = “baked”.

The twice-baked nature of biscotti makes them a little fussier than just making a drop cookie, but when I found myself craving a very specific flavour combination a couple of weeks ago, I knew it was going to demand those crispy edges, that texture. I managed to find the recipe I used the last time I made them (about, oh, four jobs ago) and altered it to suit my needs: about 2 Tbsp orange zest grated into the batter, and 1/2 cup chopped pistachios instead of the chopped cherries called for.

It’s hard to tell from the picture above, but that bowl smelled of orange zest and almond extract at that point and was making the whole kitchen smell good.

Once the chocolate chips and pistachios were mixed in, I shaped the dough into two loaves for the first bake (prima cottura?) After the loaves were slightly golden and set, they cooled off for ten minutes before slicing diagonally into 1/2″ slices.

I had…issues…with the slicing part. While I admit that I did not have a ruler handy to ensure perfect 1/2″ intervals, the recipe didn’t exactly tell me what kind of angle I was supposed to use. If I tried to cut them thin-ish (i.e. 1/2″-ish), they’d be so thin that they’d break and crumble; if I cut them thicker, they’d…break and crumble, but also be really thick. No way was I getting the projected 18 slices out of the first loaf. On the second loaf, I thought I was smart when I started by cutting it in half, thinking it would be easier to sub-divide each half into 9 slices. Oh, how wrong I was.

Once the loaves were hacked into as many viable slices as possible, in they went for their second bake. The recipe specifies “cut edge down”, as though there are a bunch of home bakers out there who try to balance them on edge. After 8-10 minutes on one side, and then flipped for 5 more minutes, they were a delightful golden brown colour.

They weren’t going to be winning any beauty contests, but don’t judge a book by its cover: my test audience loved these. They had a much more sophisticated flavour combination than your garden-variety chocolate chip cookie and provided a nice palate reset after weeks of rich holiday baking. I have no idea how to get around my slicing issues (but am open to suggestions!) but haven’t counted this recipe out yet.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Other Crafts

I have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile

Other subject lines that were considered for this post:

"I've got garlic in my soul."
Rejected because: As an individual of Ukrainian descent, of course I have garlic in my soul.  Heart, soul, genes - you name it, it's there.  If I still ate meat, I'd probably be working my way through a coil of kubasa from Tenderloin Meats as I type this.

"I wouldn't touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole."
Rejected because: In these fourth-wave days of aerosolized droplets, this actually sounds like sound public-health advice.  Thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot poles: when two metres just isn't enough.

Back when Craftster still roamed the interwebs, one of the members posted a picture of this same scarf she had made for herself, along with a bit of a rant how, as soon as she posted it on social media, everybody and his brother dogpiled on her: “Can you make me one? I neeeeeed it!” Several duplicates later, she was sick of the yarn colours and didn’t want to see the darned thing again, when all she had originally wanted was something cute to wear to a holiday party.

My crochet skills at the time were pretty rudimentary and I wouldn’t have dared attempt this for myself back then, but I’ve gained a bit of confidence and really wanted to try it this year. I didn’t include it as a Craftmas post because a) this was for myself, and not a gift, and b) I didn’t have it finished by the 25th. But who cares? It’s still warm and cute!

It’s folded in half in the picture above – the bottom half (not seen) is solid red, and altogether it measures 138 cm in length. I didn’t take a lot of in-progress shots because it worked up fairly quickly and there wasn’t a lot to be said. It’s done in Corner-to-Corner (C2C) crochet, which means that instead of working in either horizontal or vertical rows (depending on your perspective), you work it on the diagonal.

Like this:

See how that one side is much longer than the other? There are lots of great tutorials for it online, so I won’t attempt to elaborate further except to say that if I can do it, anyone can. The way you work “squares” of stitches at 90-degree angles to one another makes for a lovely soft and squishy texture.

The eyes and nose are crocheted, too, and then sewn on, and the mouth was free-hand sewn on. I was going for his devious, plotting smirk.

(I promised my model anonymity in the form of decapitation.)

Even though Christmas is over, I’m still going to wear him until the weather warms up – hopefully he’s recognizable by the general public.

Thanks for looking – Happy New Year! 🙂

craftmas, Other Crafts

On the third day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a sparkly bauble for the tree.

It happened like this: my friend was trying to think of something he could give his immediate team at work for Christmas that wasn’t just a three-pack of Lindt chocolate or something else that had been done before. I saw a tutorial to make glitter-filled ornaments, and that pretty much settled the matter. (Are you noticing a theme in this year’s Craftmas posts yet? Hint: it’s glitter! I swear that was unintentional.)

We started out with a container of 80mm disc ornaments from our friendly neighbourhood craft store and removed the cap from the top of each…

Mike McEwen’s Beijing dreams will go unfulfilled, sadly…

…poured a bit of Polycrylic (we had to venture a bit further afield for this; the big box store next to the friendly neighbourhood craft store charged twice as much for half the amount) into each one and swirled it around to coat, before inverting the ornaments in an egg carton to drain the last few drops out…

…and then went wild with glitter! We poured some into each Polycrylic-coated ornament using a funnel, and then shook/swirled it around to coat the entire inside before emptying the excess glitter back into its container.

We didn’t stop there, though. We used the cutting machine to cut everyone’s name out of permanent adhesive vinyl, plus “2021” for the back of each one and a few snowflakes for good measure, and then set to work personalizing each one.

Of course, we had to remove the excess vinyl (“weed”) first:

I made a couple for my neighbours, but he was a machine putting together the ones for his coworkers!

We even had a bit of pop-culture fun with these:

All in all, these were a really fun project to put together. We have almost an entire can of Polycrylic left over, so I suspect there will be more sparkle in the future.

Thanks for looking – Merry Christmas! 🙂

craftmas, Cross-stitch and Embroidery

On the second day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: some hoops for the wall (or the tree)!

This is indeed serendipitous timing: I downloaded the patterns for these hoops exactly one year ago (based on the “printed” date at the bottom of the pages). Someone on Lettuce Craft had stitched one of the designs, and I absolutely loved the typography. I immediately went off to download a digital copy of the magazine they were from (the November 2020 issue of Cross Stitcher, if anyone’s interested) even though I knew there was no way they were happening last year, not with 10 days to go before Christmas.

This year, however, I started early to make sure they’d be done. Although I loved the typography, I didn’t love the original colour scheme – the yellow-green looked so wishy-washy – and so I chose my own colours for a bolder, simpler look.

The holly berries were supposed to be red cross-stitches, but I had some beads on hand that worked perfectly. The gold metallic accents were my substitution, too, and worth the frustration of working with metallic thread.

I framed the finished pieces in 4″ wooden hoops that I sprayed with glitter spray paint – it’s not a solid, disco-ball kind of glitter, but adds a bit of shimmer to the plain wood. It also carried the theme of the iridescent fabric, which doesn’t show well in the above pictures. But take a gander at this progress shot:

What a beaut, huh?

My other moment of inspiration in making these: because stitching on pieces of fabric that are too small to fit in a hoop or frame properly is the worst, I cut one large piece and marked off thirds, then centered a design in each third.

My mom laid claim to two of these as soon as they were done, and the third went to a friend. No matter where they hang, though, I hope they spread some holiday cheer.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

craftmas, Other Crafts

On the first day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a card to spread greetings merry!

When my friend and I first made our foray into the world of cutting machines last year, we didn’t realize their full potential. I made a couple of Schitts Creek-themed masks using heat transfer vinyl (HTV), and we experimented with HTV on tea towels, but…how many vinyl-ed tea towels or whimsical pop culture masks does anyone really need? As such, the Silhouette sat largely untouched until I discovered that by upgrading my software to a paid (ahem!) version, I could open and cut SVG files rather than importing only PNG or Silhouette-formatted ones.

After making the haunted house box card and pumpkin banner for the Halloween Spooktacular Swap, I was feeling good about my paper-crafting abilities and scanned SVGcuts.com for something cute and Christmassy. I wasn’t disappointed.

I liked the elegance and (relative) simplicity of the Rooftops Box Card, and decided it was perfect to send to my aunt and uncle.

It creates such a neat effect with just four shades of cardstock.

A better angle to show the dimension (I used 3D foam squares to affix Santa’s sleigh):

And just for good measure, a close-up of the glittery snow I added before assembling:

There may or may not have been glitter all over everything, including my pants, by the time I was done.

I also decided to try my hand at North Pole Rudolph. This one was part of a larger set, and didn’t have an instructional video so I was left studying the product image carefully and trying to make mine look like hers. I think (?) I succeeded.

More glitter on this one, too, but what’s Christmas without at least a little bit of glitter? The designer had used a red adhesive gem for his nose, but I had mini pompoms, so that’s what I used. I hope it stays on until it arrives at its destination!

It’s a little hard to tell from the picture above, but this is a tri-fold card:

(The colours are truer in the first shot, but this proves that it can actually stand up.)

It just dawned on me that I didn’t take pictures of the back of either card, but be it known that I stamped a festive message on each one. They went out in the mail yesterday, so should be ready to spread good cheer in just a matter of days.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Schlemiel, schlimazel…schmoo?

I admit that I had to look this up – as a kid, I thought they were just nonsense words – but the schlemiel and schlimazel that Laverne and Shirley sang about at the start of the opening credits may be explained thusly: a schlemiel is a bit of an awkward and clumsy individual, the type who’s always spilling his hot soup; a schlimazel is the poor guy upon whom that spilled soup lands.

But a schmoo (or shmoo)? What you’ve got there is a delicious cake!

Full disclosure: although I live in the land of the schmoo torte, I’ve never tried it. The local grocery store bakeries don’t make it, and schlepping to specialty bakeries isn’t normally my thing. I had a pretty good idea of what went into one, though, and when I had occasion to bake a birthday dessert recently, I wanted to try my own twist on this classic. According to Wikipedia, it’s commonly made with angel food cake or sponge cake as the base; any recipes I found online, however, called for chopped pecans to be folded into the batter or else ground pecans, and that sounded too rich for my taste. Also, I’m not a fan of angel food cake. I know it’s supposed to be a virtuous dessert choice with its reduced fat content and light texture, but whenever I have it I feel like I’m chewing on a kitchen sponge. So, I went with an old standby:

Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. If you’ve been following my culinary adventures for a while, you’ll know that although I make a mean chocolate cupcake from scratch, a vanilla cupcake that’s as light, moist, and flavourful as my chocolate ones has been an ongoing search. These ones bake up perfectly.

I might need lessons in filling my liners evenly…

I let those cool completely…OK, overnight…and then made this cream cheese whipped cream to fill and frost them. Yes, fill and frost. Hey, just because I wasn’t incorporating pecans into the batter, didn’t mean these wouldn’t be decadent as all get-out! (What, you thought I was going to use the frosting from the box?)

My cupcake corer is probably my favourite little kitchen gadget, and this is why. I made the full batch of the whipped cream, and I’m so glad I did. These golden babies were filled to the gills.

This whipped cream is seriously the best. It’s not overly sweet, but the cream cheese keeps it stable so that it holds its shape and doesn’t separate, and gives it a nice flavour while it’s at it.

Immediately before serving, I drizzled caramel sauce generously over those creamy white peaks and sprinkled chopped pecans over top.

The birthday boy (and everybody else) loved them, even those who aren’t normally fans of vanilla – always a bonus!

Thanks for looking! 🙂