Saturday, December 6, 2008

Personal Triumph Booties!

This past fall, I decided the time had come to tackle a knitting project All By Myself. I had done scarves, hats, potholders, a blanket, socks....but in each project, I either had the friend who taught me to knit, my Knitting Guru, who entered the picture a few months later, or You Tube videos to show me what to do. I decided I wanted to try to tackle a project just by following a pattern, and see if I could do it without any help.

I chose booties, thinking that they couldn't be much harder than socks. I did go to my Knitting Guru to ask for a pattern that she thought was do-able by an amateur, such as myself. She gave me two great patterns, and although the one I decided to do had a mathematical problem in it (the directions for each row didn't match up with the number of stitches in each row) I figured a way to get around that and knitted up five lovely pairs of booties. A couple of them had little holes around the ankle where you can string a ribbon, and although it was very cute, I thought it was also totally impractical. (I am not the type of mom who would spend any time tying and re-tying ribbons around my baby's kicking ankles.) So I modified the pattern yet again and came up with this bootie that I really liked. I knitted six pairs in various colors...they were pretty quick to make, and I wasn't sure what sex my sister's baby was going to be so I wanted to be prepared! Since my nephew turned out to be a boy (as nephews often do) I sent a couple of the boy pairs up to Wisconsin this weekend. I gave away two of the girlie pairs to friend's babies, but I still have this one multi-colored pink pair left. Anyone know a baby girl with about an infant size 3 foot who needs some warm booties this winter?
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Hot Air Balloon Centerpieces

As you saw in Ruby's nursery curtains, I have a hot air/flying machines theme going in her room. I decided to extend that theme to her baby shower this past summer before her arrival. I know, I know - you aren't supposed to be in charge of your own shower decor or theme, but my mom lives pretty far out of town, and she had already thrown me one shower at her house. So I decided that the more I could have done by the time she got here just one or two days before the shower, the less she would have to do and the more we could just visit together, have fun, and eat. The eating was especially important to me in my last month of pregnancy.

I bought some potted flowers. I think these were called "firewitch cheddar pinks" or something like that. I'd be lying if I said the name alone didn't appeal to me. But I wanted to get perennials so that people would get a more lasting take-home item. I got some unisex-looking baby fabric from the clearance section of Joann Fabrics, some unpainted napkin rings, and several 8" styrofoam balls. By the way, are you aware how much those balls cost?! After looking around for quite awhile on the internet, I actually felt that Joann had the best prices on them. If you get the next size up, there is a huge price jump of like $10. So I decided that the $3.99 eight-inch balls would be perfect!

I wrapped the fabric around a ball, then pulled it through the napkin ring. Then I took scissors and kind of hacked away at the bottom until all the fabric was trimmed away. I pushed a kabob skewer (you know, the kind you get at the regular grocery store) up through the center. The sharp end was perfect for that. Then I stuck it down into the plant. Then I cut up a regular white plastic party tablecloth to cover the container that the plants came in. I tied curling ribbon around the base to secure that on. Next, we tied ribbon on by going under the bottom, up to the top and crossing it over, and then taping it down to the bottom so it didn't move (you could also start at the top, cross under the bottom, and then tie at the top so you can curl the ends). Ma had made cute little buntings from leftover streamers (from the other shower with my aunties and cousins) and brought those with her to tape onto the sides. You just cut a circle, put a slit in it to the center, and accordion it until it is a half circle. Then you repeat with a smaller circle.

We put one centerpiece on each table with some confetti, then tied a small ribbon under one of the chairs. Then we announced that the person who got the ribbon under his or her chair won the centerpiece. I was proud and happy when people actually seemed happy to have won...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weird Shirt

Last year, Chris and I went to a Weird Al concert in Milwaukee: the GREATEST CONCERT OF MY LIFE. (And no, it wasn't my first concert.) I knew we were sitting in the front row (yeah, NOT easy to score if you are familiar with the screaming hoards of nerdball Al maniacs), so I had to represent. A t-shirt was necessary to let Al know that I'd been with him since the beginning: third grade, when I first snotted to the tune of "Another One Rides the Bus." But many weeks of browsing Ebay yielded nothing in my size. But who needs your size when you have skillz? I got a size large shirt and customized it.

I used the book "Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-Shirt." I chose one that was ruched on the sides. First, I got a shirt that I already had and knew fit well to use as a template. Then I traced a bit larger than that to figure in seam allowances, and a few inches longer so that it could be gathered.

In this design, you cut strips to use as the ruching cord. Then you sew the seam allowances to the outside, and sew them down so that they form tubes to thread the cord through. You weave the cord up one side and out under the arm, then down through the other tube. Then you tie them at the bottom on either side. White trash-a-licious.

The neck holes and the arm holes can stay unfinished, because you're using jersey knit, which won't unravel (the whole book is really based on this principle.) I cut a slit in the top, and sewed a small piece of extended elastic at the bust for a nice little gather. The shirt came out really well, and the evening was a total success, except for the time Al looked right at me and I was singing the WRONG WORDS. He pointed at me, like, "NOW sing that line!" one line later. Doh! I'm sorry Al! I love you!

Incidentally, I didn't post these pictures last year in part because I was afraid they MADE ME LOOK FAT. Um, yeah. And now? I just look at them late at night and allow a single tear to trickle slowly down my cheek.

When this shirt fits again, I'll know the pregnancy weight is off!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More advanced knitting maneuvers

I learned how to knit last winter. I mastered scarves and potholders early on. Once someone showed me how to "knit in the round" and do increase and decreases stitches, I realized hats weren't too hard either. I got very brave last spring and, with the help of some videos off of You Tube, figured out how to make socks (they're pretty similar to hats until you get to the heel...that's when those fantastic You Tube videos come in handy!)

But the final frontier for me was making an actual piece of clothing. Not just accessories like scarves and socks, but something that was solely responsible for keeping me from getting arrested for nudity on the street. I really want to make a sweater that I can wear, but I figured it was better to start out small. Make all my mistakes on a baby-size sweater so I could hone my technique before moving on to an adult size. But lo and behold, my first attempt turned out pretty well! I still have to find a clip or snap of some kind to attach so the sweater can be worn closed, but besides that it's done!

This sweater is actually knit flat, starting at the bottom of the back. As you go, you knit the sleeves, then bind off the neck and finish one side of the front. After you get down to that side's hem, you pick up stitches on the other side of the neck, finish that sleeve and then knit the other side of the front. (That probably doesn't make much sense, but I swear it's a very easy way to knit a sweater.) So when you're done knitting, you still have to stitch up each side and underarm seam before it's actually wearable. Next project: a Nicole-size sweater!
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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I built some sh*t

So, I was really flattered when Gina invited me to be a contributor to this blog; then I got some sort of creative block. A year and a half later, I finally have something to share.

I live in what was a really drab (Navajo white paint and cheap gray carpet) apartment when I first moved in. Slowly but surely, thanks to cheap rent (and rent control) and real estate prices, I've been motivated to make some minor improvements.

The last bastion of ugliness was my kitchen; the scope of the project was so overwhelming I didn't know where to begin. Finally, I took the plunge and signed up for woodshop class through the adult education program in my area. I proceeded to build a new cabinet for one wall in my kitchen, strip, sand and repaint all the existing cabinet frames, and build all new doors and drawers for them.

Why do this, especially when I rent? Well, due to the aforementioned cheap rent and high cost of owning, I knew I was going to be here for a while, and why live in ugliness when you don't have to? Secondly, it cost me less than an additional month's rent to redo the kitchen and when you take a gander below, I think you'll understand why it was so worth it.

So, with no further ado, I present to you, my kitchen (oh, and if you click the little callout symbol on the lower left of the embedded show, you'll see the captions for the pictures - and I think if you click on the slide show itself you can go to a full-size version of the pictures...):

Monday, September 1, 2008

I! Have Made! Paint!

First of all, let me point out the elephant in the room. I have painted the whole upper level of our house while pregnant. (I only intended to do the nursery, but then I just couldn't stop). Sometimes I get the reaction, "Oh, you can't do that!!" but I did a much research as I could on the subject on my own, and haven't found any real evidence that modern paints have ever done any damage to an unborn child. There are lots of women on the message boards that I frequent who said that their doctors were okay with it, and some that endured and participated in enough renovation that they were sure their baby would be born "with a brush in his hand..." I also received the go-ahead from my doctor, as long as I had proper ventilation in the room, and took breaks. I stopped short of the basement (our TV and rec area) because I couldn't keep that area as open, and because by then I was just too freaking big to get up and down my little step ladder safely. Or at all. I hate stairs right now. I used low-VOC paint (many of them are now, but I used Benjamin Moore), and when it came to our bedroom, I painted it just before we left town for a long weekend at Ma's, so that we wouldn't be sleeping in a freshly painted area. Anyhow, that was my choice and I was personally comfortable with it. I'm very glad of it right now, because all this painting is something I just wouldn't want to address with a new infant. Also, I feel much cozier in my house now (much more like a home).

I've been very happy with how all the paint colors have turned out in our house. I used subtle, almost pastel colors everywhere, except for one chocolate brown wall in our dining room. That's why I was dismayed when the "Withered Moss" color I chose for the hallway looked to be a very, very dark green when I painted a test-swatch on the wall. The original color is the one on the far right. Chris said it looked like "Orc Green." He's nerdy, but he was right.

green paint swatches

I had been too much of a doofus to buy a sample size, of course, so what could I do with this big gallon of dark, yet intense, camo-green paint? I started to experiment on a hand-palette, like you would with a mixed drink: one part this, two or three parts that... My first mix is the one you see on the left. Too brown. The mix I ended up with was three parts orc green, one part white (I actually used trim paint), and just a drop of light brown. I re-created it, approximately, in the same proportions using an empty can of the light brown paint (figuring that the brown coating the can was enough of that color) and adding the green and white. I brought it back to the hardware store, so that they could use their high-powered shaker thing and I'd get a good mix.

The finished result is the one you see in the middle. Just right! We call this one "Uruk-hai": modified, and stronger. Dorks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nursery Valances

All right, time for me to tend to posting to this blog again. I've been baaaad about posting, but I've been good about doing stuff and taking pictures. I just gotta get on the stick now and post!

If you've been to my house, you've already seen these valances. I know, because as soon as you came in, I hauled your ass into the future nursery and showed them to you first thing. I am really proud of these, and I don't mind sayin' it.

I didn't have a pattern, but I figured valances (or curtain panels) are really just rectangles. I used my giant three-panel Olfa self-healing rotary cutting mat (with the dual-quad exhaust pipes). I can't recommend this thing enough. I don't quilt at all, and I still use it all the time. You can cut on it without gouging your table, and the measurements printed on it help you cut a straight line of whatever size you need. It doesn't retain any cutting marks, either (hence the self-healing part). Also, the clips that come with it are replaced for free through Olfa's web site customer service. I emailed and said that I lost mine in our move, and they sent four in the mail pronto.

What I don't recommend is getting in a hurry, and mowing over the tip of your ring finger with the rotary cutter, because it will come clean off, fingernail and all. And yet, the cutters are so sharp, it will heal before you know it! (That's one clean cut).

I decided to do tab attachments. I had a bolt of hot air balloon fabric that I'd bought years ago for $3 (I'd been intending to make a dress out of it), and I found a stripe that matched it in color. I just sort of eyeballed everything and wrote down the finished dimensions that I wanted (I ripped some measurements off of a set of rod-and-pocket store-bought valances I already had), and then added the seam allowance measurements in. I cut panels of interfacing (I used heavy fusible interfacing because I wanted some body to the valances and some opacity, but for curtain panels I'd probably use something lighter-weight) in the finished sizes that I wanted the three panels in. That way, when wrapping fabric around them, they would all come out the same size even if the seam allowances were a little different. I marked out a line on the interfacing where the seam between the stripe panel and the fabric panel should hit at the same spot. Again, that way each one would have stripey panels the same size as one another.

I decided to do the stripe vertically across the bottom panel, and horizontally across the tabs. To run the balloon and stripe patterns the way I wanted, each valance had to have two panels of fabric, sewn together vertically. I sewed the hot air panels together first, then the stripes, then sewed the double stripe panel to the double hot air balloon panel (they match up better that way). Then I attached the fabric to the interfacing, hemmed the sides, and used a blind-hem stitch across the bottom and the top. I used Stitch Witchery to attach a grosgrain ribbon across the seam between the stripe and the pattern fabric.

For the tab valances, I spaced them out where I wanted them first, then clipped interfacing in the finished size that I wanted. I fused them to the fabric, cut them out, and hemmed them around the edges. By the time I did 27 of these, I was going a little crazy, especially since everything has to be ironed along the way. (Though if you know me, and you know why I had to have exactly 3 panels and 27 tabs, you knew I was already crazy). I pinned them on each panel, measuring the same distance down for each (the mat was great here again), and then sewed them on.

I alternated two kinds of buttons across the tabs, mostly because I didn't buy enough of one kind, but I like the finished look. Since the buttons were just decorative, I used a Buttoneer, which was a little tempermental, but I still think it took a lot less time than sewing on each button. This tool may not attach a button sufficiently for heavy use on a pair of pants, but it works great for decorative uses like this.

Overall, the project came off problem-free (except for the bit of my finger that accidentally ended up down my disposal - YUCK) and they set the theme ("Flying Machines") for the whole nursery. I can't believe I made them, really. I was very proud when my Ma said, "You remind me so much of your father." And I said, why? And she said, "Because you're so precise, and you iron things to an absolute knife's edge." Yeaahhh. A dream project for someone who would only sew straight lines, if she could.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Crafty? No. Arty? Maybe. Hopkins? Definitely

I'm usually working on a ton of projects all the time, but for some reason I feel like they'll seem out of place on this blog. Well screw it, I know this isn't going to fit in very well but I'll tell you about it anyway.

There is this town called Hopkin's Park. I've never actually been there before, but I know it has a bad reputation. Maybe that reputation is earned, maybe it is just because the population is predominantly black. Maybe a little bit of both. In any case, I accidentally ended up there with a couple of friends while driving aimlessly through the country looking for things to take pictures of. Not long after reaching the proper city of Hopkins a guy (a black guy) offered a piece of advice, "Knock on people's doors to see if they are home before taking pictures of their property." This advice seemed reasonable enough, though the property I was photographing was clearly abandoned. A few minutes later he came along again with some more advice, "I said, knock on doors or else I'm going to put a cap in your ass." personally, I interpreted this advice as "Get out of Hopkins" and proceeded to do so.

Before long however, a county sheriff driving past decided he should offer up some advice as well. He turned out to be a middle school pal of my passenger and so he gave the kind of advice that I was already acting upon, rather than the kind of advice which costs me court fees and fines.

The secondary point of this story is to tell you that I took a series of pictures that day of which I'm proud. I think you should look at them. They are available for viewing at

The primary point of this story is to tell you that there are websites on the internet, to which you can upload your photographs and then receive a softcover or hardcover book which can be used as a gift or as a selfish keepsake that you keep for your own sake. I tried out a couple of these services. I wasn't happy with the design process or the print quality of the books produced by Another guy looked at the book and thought it was fine., on the other hand, has a nice looking site and the design interface is pretty easy to operate. I haven't received a physical book from them yet, but most reviews of the print quality seem to be pretty positive. Both of these companies allow you to offer up your new book for sale to the public from their websites. So make a good book and get filthy. I'm working on a fat photo-book about Abraham Lincoln. When it is done, it is going to be so freaking awesome. Seriously.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Linen Napkins

So for the past couple years, our family has been trying to make some changes. We're trying to be more conscious of the things we buy and use, and just the way we do things in general. A lot of it would fall under "being more green". Some of it would be under the heading of "healthier lifestyle" and some of it is "being less wasteful."

Today's post is a combination of the "green" and "less wasteful" parts of our plan.

We've been on the paper recycling bandwagon since the beginning of this mission. We designated the cabinet under our kitchen sink as our paper recycling headquarters, and try to divert all paper and cardboard from the garbage cans and put it there instead. Recently, Jason remarked that we're still using paper napkins, and wanted to know why I still buy those, even though I've put a ban on the buying of all paper plates and disposable cups and silverware. I didn't have a good answer for that, other than "One thing at a time, Man!"

My latest change was getting us to all consistently use reusable water bottles & thermoses instead of plastic water bottles and juice boxes. Besides not being thrilled about the water bottles I purchased, that mission has been pretty much accomplished (especially since I don't leave us much of an option since I stopped buying the bottled water and juice boxes!) So I agreed that we could take on a new challenge, and it might as well be using linen napkins instead of paper.

I priced linen napkins at WalMart while I was there yesterday and the decent-looking ones are about $2.50 a piece. You can get cheapie ones for $1 each, but I just wasn't feeling the red-and-white-pizza-hut-table-top look of them. I figured the "greenest" and cheapest way to get a bunch of linen napkins would be for me to go through the fabric scraps I have in the basement and use those to make my own. So that's just what I did.

A minute of internet research told me that typical fabric napkins are either 12, 14 or 17 inch squares, but that they can really be just about any size you want. I wasn't too worried about having matching sets (we already have a fancy-schmancy set for special occasions) so I just grabbed any fabric that looked remotely appropriate and started cutting squares. I made them 16 inches if the fabric scrap was big enough (so the finished napkin is about 14 inches square) but I had a few scraps from a quilt I made for Maya that will turn out to only be about 10 inches (which will be a perfect napkin for our 5-year-old's lap! There's not much to making these...just cut, iron in the sides (I double-folded each side so there were no raw edges showing), then stitch all around the square. I double stitched each edge, so there's a line of stitches all around the very edge, then another row of stiches maybe 1/8 of an inch inside the first line. I thought that might help the edges lay nicer after they are washed, especially since I have no intention of ever ironing these bad boys.

We used them at dinner tonight, and I must say, it felt like quite a luxury to have linen napkins and a regular old Sunday night dinner! I know this one isn't going to save us a ton of money (I think those $2.50 packs of 250 napkins lasted us at least a month and a half each) but I think it'll be another good example for our kids of using what you have, and not wasting things.
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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Forever Midwest

This is a silly self-portrait I took of myself this summer wearing my new favorite t-shirt my sister got has a map of the US with the midwest highlighted and says: "The Midwest! It's in the Middle!" :)

Materials include: Scenic Route and My Minds Eye patterned paper, Creative Imaginations Journaling notebook, Love, Elsie epoxy and letter stickers, Sassafrass Lass Owl stamps, and lots of labels and other random stuff. :)

The journaling is: What is it about the midwest and the people from it? We may not seems as hip or exotic as the coasts---but I think there's nothing like midwesterners for their sense of humor or strength of character. Sturdy stock. I'm proud of my hometown, Kankakee---that I went to Southeast Missouri State and Western Illinois universities and that I still live "in the middle!"


This is one of those pages where I was just goofing around and having fun with my supplies...the sentiment is true though and I thought my fellow midwesterners might enjoy....