craftmas, General Sewing

On the third day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a scarf for the pep rally!

Even though my friend Ricky* defected to Toronto 15+ years ago, and I see him once a year if I’m lucky, I still try to find the perfect Christmas gift to send every year. In this case, “perfect” translates loosely to “not totally impersonal, not ridiculously expensive, and not a bear to ship in terms of either packaging logistics or postage costs”. I don’t ask for much, do I?

A couple of years ago, I put together a Batman starter kit (mini Bat Signal plus some socks, soap, and mints all featuring the caped crusader’s likeness), and last year it was a box of local goodies that he wouldn’t be able to get in the Big Smoke. With everything that’s been going on this year, I opted for something nostalgic to remind him of those carefree high school days. *pause for laughter* Or at least something in our school colours.

I’ve actually made this scarf twice before, but this was my first time making it according to the original instructions and not trying to shoehorn in an extra colour. Based on a tutorial from the dearly departed Craftster, the premise is simple: choose two colours of fleece (A and B); cut eighteen 4″ by 6″ rectangles and four 6″ squares out of colour A; cut twenty 4″ by 6″ rectangles out of colour B; use nine, two, and ten of each kind of cutout to form each side of the scarf and then sew the two sides together for double-layer warmth.

I sincerely thought that cutting out all those rectangles was the most annoying/time-consuming part of this (admittedly simple) project – and then I remembered that every time you sew two of them together, you have to tie off the thread ends at both ends of the seam. Every time. For 2+10+9-1 seams per side.

To be fair, tying off the thread ends isn’t difficult or as prone to causing hand cramps as marathon fleece-cutting, but it’s the start-and-stop (especially if you leave them all until the end) that makes them a pain. By the time I was doing the second side of my scarf, I got smart, and tied my threads while I was on a conference call – it kept my hands busy, but wasn’t so distracting that I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on.

I think this should ward off the Toronto chill, no?

There was a time when I would have wrapped that scarf all around my model’s head to preserve anonymity or else digitally alter the photo up to and including decapitation; but darned if a co-ordinating mask doesn’t do the trick.

And sure, the scarf is nice and wouldn’t look out of place at the homecoming game (assuming we had a football team, which we did not), but it needed a little something extra to really complete the theme.

Perfect, right? It had the blue-and-gold scheme, and we both spent four years with the same English teacher who spent those years drilling into our heads such gems as the eight (nine? Ten? Google seems to be very divided on this) parts of speech. I think all of my grammatical neuroses can be traced back to that classroom.

In some miracle of modern postal service, his parcel arrived with a week to spare before Christmas, and I hope he’ll be able to get some use out of both, lockdown or no.

Thanks for looking….go Sabres!! 🙂

*Not his real name, but a nickname given by that same English teacher.

craftmas, General Sewing, Other Crafts

On the second day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a flock of sheep for the tree!

Back in the days of Craftster (RIP), I participated in the Sweat Shoppe Ornament Swap a couple of times. Basically, you’d create three or six ornaments – usually similar if not actual clones of one another – and be partnered up with three or six people to swap one for one. It was really kind of lovely because you could get your ornaments made well ahead of time and then just wait for your partners’ information. Craftster’s successor, Lettucecraft, is still in its infancy and the swap process has been a little different, and there was no SSOS this year.

Being me, I had already found a pattern I had wanted to use, and wound up making a few anyway.

I added some miniature 1:12 (I think?) lights that weren’t called for in the pattern, but took these from just being sheep to actually being Christmas sheep, and therein lies the difference.

These were really simple to make! My first one came to life during a conference call that required nothing from me apart from confirming my presence during roll call and answering the icebreaker question, and I completed the next two over a few evening phone calls with friends.

When I started making these, I couldn’t decide whether their overall vibe was “Fleece Navidad” or “Baaaaa Humbug”, but my “focus group” overwhelmingly preferred the former.

I call them a flock of sheep at the top of this post, but pity the poor collie who has to herd them: they wound up with (or are in the process of making their way to) friends in three different countries.

If the SSOS ever comes back, I might have to revisit these little guys. Love ’em!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

craftmas, Other Crafts

On the first day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a calendar to count down daily.

The saga of this advent calendar started almost a year ago. A few days after Christmas – not Boxing Day; I’m not insane – Mr. Gummi Bear and I hit the streets to check out a few stores. He wanted to look for some jeans, and after a fruitless search for a pair that fit properly, and a life-regenerating coffee at a Starbucks that was tucked away in an out-of-the-way Sobeys, we found ourselves in a scrapbooking store. I was looking for some stickers to send a swap partner, and thought they might have a bigger selection than Michaels.

Near the front of the store, they had a table of Christmassy supplies marked down by 50%, and even though I’m not a papercrafter per se, I wandered over to see what they had. The advent calendar kit jumped out at me. It comes with everything! And it’s half-off! “I’ve got a whole year to put this together!” I crowed, tossing it in my basket. It was going to become a much-loved heirloom, I could feel it in my bones.

Shortly after it arrived home, it got set aside and forgotten about until early November.

When the latest restrictions on gatherings came into effect, and it became apparent that our weekend carousing (read: getting takeout and watching Netflix at his place) was going to be stymied, I thought this might be a fun way to keep a piece of me around (sort of) as December wore on.

It really did come with everything. All of the little pieces for the pockets were cut out and pre-scored for folding, and (bonus!) even came packaged in the right order so I wouldn’t have to sort them out later.

The kit didn’t include instructions for what to do with the tags, so I opted for the corny, bad Dad-joke route.

The most tedious part, probably, was cutting 6″ lengths of baker’s twine for each of the 25 tags. If you look really closely, you can see the “25” not looking super-firmly attached to the pocket – I don’t know what kind of adhesive their stickers had, but it wasn’t great, and I wound up touching up a few with my gluestick to make sure they would hold.

All laid out and ready to be packaged up and given to the lucky recipient.

There was about 11.5 feet of baker’s twine left over once all the tags were tied, and I left it all as one length so he could decide for himself whether he wanted one long row of pockets, or a 12-13 split, or 5 rows of 5, whatever he wanted.

He opted for a single length, and even found some complimentary cutouts of Christmas lights to add to the ambience.

OK, so it might not become one for the generations, but it’s (almost) a way to be together apart, and a fun way to start the holiday season.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, only slightly gorier

I’m not going to bore everyone with a bunch of backstory and details, except to say that I made these for a recent birthday (the last small-bubble get-together before the latest lockdown). The birthday boy loves gummi bears (really loves them), and when I saw something like this on Pinterest, I knew I had to make them. The best part is, they’re so simple that you don’t really need to have a webpage open to follow along.

Without further ado…

Step one: Bake cupcakes. Any kind will do, but I did chocolate just because. Make or buy some chocolate frosting, and frost each cupcake with a thin-ish schmear using an offset spatula. You want to have frosting left over.

Step two: Tint your remaining frosting with black gel colour. You don’t have to get it black-black, but something vaguely dark grey would be good. We want to make these cupcakes look like barbeques, and this darkened frosting is going to be used for your grill. If you don’t trust your freehand drawing skills, trace the lines using a toothpick first so that you’ve got something to use as a guide.

Step three: This is the fun part! Grab some bamboo skewers – the ones I used are longer than a standard toothpick but shorter than the kind you actually barbeque with – and force those gummi bears onto them. Don’t listen to their little squeals. I used two different sizes because when I was at Bulk Barn I couldn’t decide which size would look more to-scale on a cupcake, but you do you.

Step four: Lay your skewered bears across your “grills” and hope people don’t think you’re macabre.

I put my very first skewer in rainbow order because that’s how my mind works and I have problems with randomness…but I tried to live large and let go for the others.

These went over really well – the birthday boy loved them, which meant it was easier to send some home with him later on so I didn’t wind up eating them all.

I think these could be fun for a summer birthday as well, or a backyard cookout.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery

Creepy? Nah. Kooky? Sure!

It’s no secret that I love Satsuma Street design, like this one and this one. This year, I bought Mister Cat after ogling it for what feels like ages. On Etsy, you can buy either the PDF pattern or the kit; I bought the kit from 123Stitch since I already had an order going.

What I liked:

  • it’s a Halloween cat, duh
  • her designs are always so colourful and fun
  • the kit came with black perforated paper, so I didn’t have to buy a whole package of it

What I didn’t like:

  • the black perforated paper was a bit of a pain to see (like black aida cloth, so no surprise there)
  • I ran short of three – count ’em, three – colours of the threads included. I am not a novice stitcher who has no idea how to get the most out of her materials, and I didn’t have to unpick and waste any thread, so WTH, people? One, I might understand, but three?

And because I’m a masochistic weirdo, I documented my progress in a series of photographs and turned them into a stop-motion video:

I’m pretty happy with how he came out, despite my issues with the kit. I might have to leave him out year-round just to enjoy him.

Thanks for looking – Happy Halloween! 🙂

cooking

Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere…

Pop quiz: What’s this?

Is it:

a) a really slapdash Green Man Halloween costume?

b) a rejected prototype for the Angry Sun from the Super Mario franchise?

c) my very first piece of kindergarten artwork?

Actually, it’s d) the start of something really fun. Take a look!

Last year, the employees from the west side of our floor had a bit of a Halloween party and didn’t invite the east-siders. I discovered it by accident when I went to file something and walked into a table covered in sharable finger food. When I ran into one of the west side denizens later on in the shared kitchenette, she bade me come over and grab something to eat. That’s where I first encountered Rice Krispies treats in the shape of pumpkins, and I’ve had to wait a whole year for them to be seasonally appropriate again.

I used this recipe, and started by cutting two pieces of green Twizzlers (from the rainbow pack) into 1″ pieces, like you see above. I’m glad I cut the full 16, because that’s exactly how many pumpkins I got, not the 12 the recipe indicates. They’re watermelon-flavoured, which is normally not something I’d go for but which is less gross than it sounds, especially in small quantities like this.

I really dug the tie-dye aesthetic the marshmallow got when I added my red and yellow food colour – if I thought it would stay swirled and separate, I’d try making a batch in a different colour, but even if I hadn’t dutifully blended these to a solid orange beforehand, stirring in the cereal would have done the job.

Every recipe I’ve seen for these recommends greasing up your hands with butter or oil before rolling each pumpkin (or donning food-handling gloves, which boast Teflon-esque properties), and oh, that is one step you don’t want to mess around with. I think I managed to form my first two with one coating of oil, but after that stray pieces of cereal began to stick. A few seconds oiling your hands will save a ton of frustration later on.

Rather than wait until I had rolled all of my pumpkins before adding stems, I created a little indent on each one with my thumb as I went along, and found it much easier to get the licorice in while the mixture was still soft.

And there you have it! These were really quick and easy to make, and taste great. So far, they’re proving to be a hit with anyone who’s tried one.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Like Bert and Ernie…Bogie and Bacall…

I’ve been trying to behave. While everyone and their grandmother is Instagramming homemade sourdough or who-knows-what, I’ve been squelching my urge to bake, because how many cookies do I need to eat, seriously? I’m not saying I miss going into the office, but I miss having an outlet for all that baking.

I had to give in, though, when I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Cupcakes were required, and immediately. How could I say “No” to chocolate and peanut butter? Besides, I reasoned, I could share these with my parents – there was no way my dad was going to complain about that combination.

I started out with my usual chocolate cupcake recipe, which I can almost make in my sleep. How good are they? The cat thought she needed to try them.

Why, kitty, why???

The frosting recipe was simple enough to follow, but made a way bigger batch than I’d usually use. Naturally this meant I had to go nuts piling it on, right? I mean, if I’m going to bake something utterly unnecessary, I might as well go whole-hog.

It was also really stiff, and I realized after piping the first couple that I should have added a touch more milk to it in order to soften it up. Normally, I hold a cupcake in one hand and rotate it as I pipe with the other; this stuff was a two-hand job. My hands were shaking so badly trying to get enough pressure on the piping bag that a casual observer might have thought I have some sort of neurological problem.

Despite the stiffness, the frosting wasn’t at all dry or hard, even after a couple of days. And its firmness may have been beneficial when one of them toppled off its plate onto the floor; it flattened a little bit but didn’t make a huge mess the way a softer frosting would have. In any case, they went over really well and were the perfect excuse to bake something.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery

The Mandala(?) Effect

Did you know that Darth Vader never uttered the words “Luke, I am your father”? And that Humphrey Bogart’s Rick didn’t actually tell the piano player to “Play it again, Sam”? If you’re swearing up and down right now that those are the right lines, darn it – and maybe you also remember reading Berenstein Bears books as a kid – you’re likely experiencing the Mandela Effect. It’s a psychological phenomenon in which large numbers of people share the same false memory, and so named after the false memory many people share of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s (he didn’t, as you might have suspected). This article provides some great examples – as a psych major, I love how weirdly fallible the human memory is.

What does any of that have to do with this project? Nothing, really, except for a common misspelling of near-homophones. Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary. A mandala is a geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism.

Guess which one I recently stitched up for the Hoopless Hoopla swap on Lettucecraft?

My partner mentioned she’d like something featuring blue, pink, and/or gold, and had listed mandalas as one of her themes, and it felt like a perfect dovetailing of aesthetics. When I set about searching for a design, I inadvertently saved the same one twice, which I took as a sign that it was the one.

I don’t know who designed this, but isn’t it gorgeous? When I looked at it, my eye automatically divided it into three sections, and I decided an ombre effect would suit it perfectly.

I used DMC shades 3843, 3845, and 3846, the latter of which used a huuuuuge amount because I neglected to account for the fact that each successive “ring” would be so much larger than the last. I had enough, but boy, was I kicking myself for picking a design with such an intricate outer circle.

(And honestly, despite my griping, it’s not that big: only five inches across.)

Some gold seed beads added a touch of elegance and brought the design up to the next level. I agonized over the beads longer than I should have, and tried about ten different iterations of seed beads vs. E beads vs. both, but in the end decided to keep them small and subtle.

I was pleased with how this came out and hoped that my partner would like it, too (spoiler alert: she did). But I positively squealed at the cuteness of what she sent me:

Isn’t that lovely? I love the elegance of blackwork, and those tiny pops of red in the flowers positively make this.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Other Crafts

Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov

Some time ago, I was sorting through some of the…ahem…treasures I’ve managed to accumulate over the course of my so far brief and unexciting life. When I came across a key, I knew immediately that it had belonged to my first car. That car has long since gone to that great scrap heap in the sky, and the key had no practical value to me, but I couldn’t just throw it away. No, I had to memorialize it somehow! What to do? Wear it as a pendant? Turn it into a super-confusing keychain (“But what’s this one for?!”)? I set it aside for further rumination.

Oh my gosh, I loved that car! I paid for him myself, and promptly named him Humbert (yes, after that Humbert), because when you’re all of 21, what’s cooler than having a dirty old white car named after a dirty old white man? (I now know the answer is “Probably anything”, but I didn’t get out much.) Suddenly, I had my own transportation to and from university and my summer job. I could play designated driver for the cute guys I worked with. I could be ridiculously puerile and go joy-riding with my cousin, driving past my crush’s house and hoping no one saw us! All the possibilities!

He had cheap vinyl seats which I promptly covered with cheap red-and-black polyester seat covers, upon which I spilled at least one Caramel Coretto, probably more. He had a sunroof that I could open with one hand; closing it thusly when rain came out of nowhere, however, eluded me, and I recall a few wet drives down major thoroughfares, trying to steer with my knees so I could use both hands to wrestle it shut. His white paint made him the ideal canvas for painting peace signs and rikki-tikki flowers in watercolour on his rear column.

In short, he was perfect.

When I was in Michaels back in the spring, I was lucky enough to stumble across 40% off shadowboxes. Further rummaging yielded a picture of me perched on his hood, and because I’m sappy, I finished the whole thing off with a couple of dimensional stickers.

The red fuzzy dice really classed him up, no?

The finished shrine is currently occupying space on the kitchen table until I can figure out where to hang it. However, I’m feeling rather self-satisfied at having actually done something with my sentimental detritus for a change.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery

From the vault: A Lively Tune

This past Thursday, I happened to find myself on someone else’s blog (also hosted by WordPress) and I saw a notification alert in the upper right-hand side of my screen. When I clicked on it, a message popped up congratulating me on my 12-year anniversary of running this blog. Well, then. The date didn’t even occur to me in the days leading up to it, and I didn’t (and don’t) have some sort of special anniversary post planned.

Instead, submitted for your approval, I have two long-finished, never-posted projects.

First up: A Lively Tune by Louise Gregoire Originals. This one j-u-u-ust got framed this winter (pre-quarantining).

The eagle-eyed among you will notice this was actually completed back in 2016 – that’s how long it took for a frame to be decided on – but I started it probably 15 years earlier. It was one of those projects that kept getting put aside because something else took priority. When I studied Ukrainian in university, we watched a National Film Board production called “Teach Me to Dance” (Navche meni tantsjuvate), and every time I picked this up to work on it, that was what crossed my mind and not the actual name of the design. The boy with his wind instrument (surely not a clarinet) seems secondary to the two who are dancing.

Finding a frame took ages. When it was finally decided that yes, this should be framed, it was discovered that a standard 8″ x 10″ was going to be a fraction too small, and cut off some of the background. But lo, Michaels had an 8 1/2″ x 11″ frame that let everything show without a ton of extra blank space.

My mom decided that it needed to go in the hallway, across from another Ukrainian-themed piece I stitched.

This one is a bit *cough*a lot*cough* older: a sampler featuring the Ukrainian alphabet. I designed it myself to hang in my grandfather’s room in the seniors’ home, modifying a Roman alphabet I found in a design book, and adding a few little bits of traditional design for interest. We used to have to recite that in class, and while it’s one thing to be four or five and reciting your A-B-C’s in kindergarten, it’s quite another to be 19 and stumbling over your ah-beh-veh’s. In any case, after he passed away, we got it back, and it’s now hanging in my parents’ hallway.

(Fun fact: the “soft sign” – the very last character, at the far right of the bottom row – doesn’t actually have a capital version. It’s not a letter per se, but a way to modify sounds the other letters make. I’m not really sure why I gave it its own capital. Symmetry, probably.)

Thanks for looking! 🙂