Monday, August 10, 2009

Kitchen Curtains

I made kitchen curtains!

The first one is a valance, exactly like the nursery valances that I made for Ruby's room, only I didn't use the button decorations on the tab tops, and I used the apple and pear material instead of the hot air balloon material. (Same material as Nicole's pillowcase dress! I had bought it already; I'm totally NOT A COPYCAT-ER.)

kitchen curtains

Then I made one for the back door at my husband's request, because he is convinced that any number of peeping Toms are randomly jumping our back fence, getting onto our deck, and peering into the back door to take a good look at the blank wall that faces it. They MUST be deterred.

kitchen curtains

I attempted to drill a hole into the door before realizing that it's a steel door. Enter the Magna Rod: a fairly strong magnetic rod that needs no drilling. Don't buy cheaper varieties. The magnet is not as good, and the plastic is cheaper and will shatter if it falls to your granite floor. Ask me how I know that.

kitchen curtains

I sewed a very long tab onto the inside of the curtain (which is just a long strip with tubes sewed at either end), and wrapped it around when I gathered it up. Then I marked it where I wanted it, and sewed the end. Then I sewed on a button where I had marked it, and a button-hole on the tab.

This last picture is one that I took with all of the dirty dishes still in the sink. Don't judge me. (Now you know what I have to let go in order to get a sewing project done!)

kitchen curtains

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Simple Table Runner

My Ma's mother-in-law is more than 90 years old, and she still lives by herself (with some assistance). When I got married, she gave me a stack of these awesome trivet hot-pads that she crocheted. Being that I don't have that skill, and that I love bright colors, I adored them.

But I wanted to make them "shine" just a bit more than setting them under a pot now and then, or using them as washcloths. So I set them on a diagonal, and stitched them together by hand with embroidery floss. Now they are a very pretty table runner, or a nice feature on my buffet when guests come over with hot food.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Super Yum

I made a dinner a few nights ago that was lovely enough that I thought I'd share the recipe here.

The pasta dish started with roasted garlic pasta that we bought fresh at the farmer's market. I have no idea if that makes any difference in the taste, but the pasta was definitely more flavorful than your average package of Barilla Linguine. So for what it's worth, that's what we used.

1 lb. Roasted Garlic Pasta
1 1/2 lbs. fresh asparagus, cut diagonally (we skimped because our grocery store doesn't have scales in the produce section, and I'm bad at guessing what 1 1/2 lbs. of asparagus looks like.)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 oz. prosciutto, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese

Boil the asparagus for 5 minutes. Remove from water, throw in a little salt, then add the pasta. Cook pasta for 8-10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the water, then drain the pasta.

In a large skillet, heat oil & add onion & garlic - cook 3 minutes. Add prosciutto and vinegar, cook 1 minute. Add asparagus, pasta, 1/2 cup reserved pasta water, red pepper flakes and salt. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.
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Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's a com-Post!

Ok, Gina, I finally got out to that compost bin last night! Here's all I know:

There are not many things that I love more than passing on a good tip. And this is the best gardening tip I ever got from my friend Sarah, who has a yard around a newly constructed house (which means yucky clay soil) in which everything grows like it's the tropics. For a few years I quizzed her about her fertilizing & feeding habits. I wanted to know how often she watered and how she pruned. But after a while, I finally figured out the difference between her garden and mine: she had been using compost!

At first, composting sounded like a lot of work, and I wasn't terribly interested in having a large bin of rotting food and plants anywhere near my house. My grandpa (who has grown many a garden in his day) told me I was asking for a pest problem. But I decided that if Sarah could do it, I'd give it a try, too. I mean, I didn't notice a horrible smell and an army of mice or raccoons in her yard.

So I bought a bin on-line. That was only after going to every garden and home-improvement store in our area only to be told that they don't sell compost bins. What can I say, it's Central Illinois and we're kinda behind the times down here. This is a listing for my type, but I swear I payed way less than that 3 years ago. I've also seen announcements in the paper these last couple summers about an environmental organization that comes to the Peoria mall one day each summer and sells bins for super-cheap. Also, if you have a big yard, you could just make a pile somewhere and compost that way (although I don't know if that would increase your chances of inviting pests). You could even cut the bottom out of a garbage can, drill holes in the sides and use that. But I do love my bin because of the sliding door on the bottom that allows me to get ready compost out before the stuff at the top of the bin is broken down.

I know there are "recipes" for composting, but if you just follow the general rule of "not too much of any one thing at a time" you should be fine. Here's a link to an on-line list of what things are/are not compostable. For us, our main ingredients are garden waste (like weeds that haven't gone to seed yet, flower stems from flowers that have bloomed and faded, and errant grass that was growing in the wrong place), kitchen scraps (we keep a big bowl in the fridge and dump produce & grain scraps in there until the bowl fills up every few days, then we take it out to the bin...and no, we don't do that in the dead of winter), and dry leaves and grass clippings. Those are basically the 3 categories of stuff that you can compost, and you just have to remember to always bury your kitchen scraps, and stir up the whole mixture every few days. If you do start to notice a smell (normally, it should just kinda smell like dirt) that means you've put too much of one thing in there and you need to break it up with other ingredients.

I think this is our 3rd or 4th year of doing this now, and I've never noticed an ant or mouse near the bin, much less anything scarier. The bin is outside my son's window and we're a family that has the windows open in the summer in all but the very hottest couple weeks of the year, and I have almost never noticed a bad smell wafting into his room. So if you want free, nutritious plant food, or if you just want to produce less garbage (once we started composting our food scraps and recycling all paper trash, we got our family of 4 down to one plastic bag of garbage a week that we set out for collection) this is a really great, and fairly easy way to do it!
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Diaper Cakes

I told my brother over the phone that I was making a diaper cake, and he said, "That... Is the most disgusting thing I've ever heard in my life." (And for someone who rented every horror movie that was available at Video 102 in the eighties over six times each, that's saying something.) No doubt he envisioned the SNL skit in which Kristen Wiig cooks up "edible Pampers" as a recycling solution. But no, as I'm sure the two people who read and contribute to this blog are aware, diaper cakes are not for eating. They're for smiles! And also, pooping on.

When Ruby was first born, I did my Gina thing of trying to "getting ahead" and be a prepared, good mommy. So I bought the giant cases of diapers because they are less expensive, not realizing that what I'd given birth to was Giant Baby, who would rapidly outgrow each size in a week or two, pick them up and look at me as if to say, "Can I eat these, or what?" So I ended up with lots of extra teeny diapers that will not so much as cover one of her thunderous little thighs. And then I Googled "diaper cakes," and ended up with this video on YouTube. I knew lots of people locally that were having babies, so I decided it would be a good way to give gifts.

The video was very helpful, though I'm not sure the numbers that she gives for each layer are what I ended up with. You can use any size diaper, and as a tip, the pampers newborn ones give you a totally white cake, while some of the Huggies give you a patterned one. I used 66 total for each cake, with a center of eight in each layer. The middle layer has 20 total, with 8 in the center and 12 outside that, and the bottom layer has the 8, then the 12, then another 18 around that. Here is my general list of supplies:

about 66 diapers (if you have a couple less, you can insert presents inside the cake)
a 14" cake round, or other base, such as a wrapped box flap, cake pedestal, or books
a roll of ribbon (Joann has some on clearance, usually)
wooden cake dowels (one bag does several cakes, and these are necessary)
tulle netting (one roll, again, does several cakes. I got lavender because it is neutral) or cellophane wrap
assorted rubber bands (these are available at Target)
various stuffed animal toppers, outfits, blankets, whatever

So, what you do first is sit in front of "Biggest Loser: Couples," and roll up the diapers, open end first. I'm a little obsessive and I fold the sides in a bit so that I get a roll with flat ends, and they stack better. Center the bands on each diaper, and then gather eight together, with one in the center and seven around it. Put a larger rubber band around that. Do that three times, then build the middle and lower layers around two of those. Turn all the diaper seams to the inside. Stack the layers and push two dowels down through them. This really works well to stabilize the cake. If they stick up above your cake a bit, no worries, just pop a topper up there. Put the cake on your base, tie the tulle across your cake one way, put the topper on, and tie another tulle ribbon across the stuffed animal or topper's "lap."

You can also take out some of the diapers and put surprise gifts inside the cake. (The Mustela products work really well for this, because they are cylindrical, and fill the center on two of the layers.) Or, you can roll an outfit and tie it with a rubber band, etc.

I was making a cake for my friend Jenny, when I realized that I had enough for two. Our brand new next door neighbor had just had a baby boy two days before that, so I tested out my first one on them. I used leftover blanket quilt binding for the ribbon around each layer (this hides the rubber bands), and wrapped a box flap in foil for the base. (It can be square, as long as it is smaller than the cake). This one is all white, and I didn't even need to make a second trip to the store! I delivered it with a giant pan of manicotti, and I think I made some new friends.

The second one I made was the one that I spent a little more, for my friend Jenny. She had a circus theme to her shower, and I had so much fun making this one. I got a circus receiving blanket on Ebay, as well as Wilton circus cake toppers, an "M" for the baby's name (Milo), and an outfit for the monkey. I doubled the ribbon for that circus look (the bows are all made with hot glue, not actually tied. And everything is hot glued to itself, never to the diapers). I put the blanket on top of a plastic cake pedestal, and the cake on top of that. I tied the monkey's hands together around the cake, and stuck the "M" in between them.

I was going for Kong scaling the cake, but I asked Chris if he thought it looked like the monkey was humping the cake. He said, "Oh, I hope so."

The third cake I made was for my friend Beata, who had a safari-themed shower. I got the animals on sale after Valentine's Day, although the dollar store has some good little topper animals, too. I stuck two books together with Zots (removable sticky dots) so that the books aren't hurt, and used that as the base. I also put Mustela shampoo in this one.

I found the ribbon on sale. I hope I don't sound cheap - but the idea is that the diapers and the baby supplies are really the gift - you don't want to spend too much decorating the cake.

Maybe it is really "suburban mom" of me, but I have lots of fun making these. I used all my extra diapers, and then some!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pillowcase Chic


You'll be in style during the current depression wearing a cute little dress made out of a pillowcase! The one I made earlier today was actually just made from regular fabric, but the dress is based on the idea on the "pillowcase dress". I'm just gonna link that phrase to a blog I found giving instructions on this dress, because I just don't feel like typing that much tonight. But suffice it to say, if you've done much sewing before, you can probably figure out how to make this little project, even without instructions.

Instead of instructions, I'll just give you the quick story of how I came to make this dress. You see, it appears that I am the only person under the age of 65 in this town that knows how to use a sewing machine. So when friends of mine see something they like, some of them think to themselves, "I wonder if Nicole could make that?" A friend of mine was looking at a photography blog a while back from a really great photographer in our area, and she came across this post. She thought the dress that the baby had on was adorable and asked if she could commission a similar dress from me for her 3-year-old. It looked like a simple design, so I said I'd give it a try. I was describing it to my sister and she said, "Oh, that sounds like a pillowcase dress." I googled that and came up with all sorts of instructions confirming that the way I had planned to make it would work out just fine. So that's why the dress looks crazy short on my daughter - it was actually made for a little girl two years younger than her.

I guess this can be my "depression back-up plan". If we need some extra cash, I'll whip up a batch of dresses to go sell on the street corner!
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Your Fake Album

Here's the useless thing I've been doing and you can do it too!
Go to Wiipedia and select a random article. Then, pick a random quote from The Quotations Page. Next, find an image by exploring Flickr's most interesting pages. When you put them all together you have a fake band name, a fake album title and a fake record cover. It's fun and totally pointless.
King Vulture
I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. -Joan Didion
Image by 4123

House Call
Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. -Mark Twain
Image by Superbomba

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bringing My Dining Room Out of the 90s

Or out of the 70s? I don't know....exactly when was beige fabric printed with small music notes and square dancing calls ("Do-si-do!" "Promenade your partner!") hip? The story of how our dining room set came to be ours is kind of an odd one, so I'll give you the short version: It's 1998, we just got married 2 months ago, and we're moving into our very own home! It's the start of the school year, and I mention our new house to one of my co-workers because I know we live in his neighborhood. He's a very nice man in his mid-50s, and he says, "Do you guys need any furniture? We're cleaning out my mom's house because she just died. Come on over after school and you can take a look at what we have left."

Since I have a personal policy of never turning down a guy's dead mom's furniture, we drive out to her house after school that day. He gives us his mom's dining room set, a twin bed, a giant ladder, a dehumidifier, and probably a couple other things I'm forgetting. He won't take any money for it, so to show him my gratitude, I bake him an apple pie next day. He smiles and thanks me, then puts it on the table in the teacher's lounge to share...later someone told me it was because he'll go into anaphylactic shock from one of the pie ingredients (was there nuts in the pie? I can't remember what he was allergic to.) So anyway, kinda an odd way to aquire furniture, but it's served us well!

The chair seats, however were totally worn out when we got it. I set out immediately to find fabric to recover them. And for some reason, I liked the beige square dancing stuff. (In my defense, the words are very faint and you wouldn't necessarily take the time to read them if you were just sitting down to eat!)

A couple weeks ago, I was out at Hobby Lobby and saw some fabric I just loved. I stood there trying to figure out what I should make with it. It was a heavier cotton fabric and I decided it would be just the thing for our dining room chairs. Partially because our chairs were getting so ghetto again from years of use, and partially because the colors were perfect. Our dining room sits right between our kitchen, which has walls same color as the blue in this fabric, and our family room, which has a lot of espresso brown furniture. So this was the perfect fabric to tie it all together.

I feel a little silly explaining how to recover a chair, because it really is pretty self-explanatory, but since this is a craft blog, I'll go for it.

First, unscrew the chair seat from the frame, then pry out the old staples. Take off the old fabric and toss it, but you might save the old padding and just put new stuff on top of it for a little extra fluff.
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Cover the chair with a few layers of padding. I used about 4 or 5 layers of quilt batting, but there's probably a variety of battings, foams & padding stuff that you could find at any craft place to use for this. Just depends on how smushy you want the seat to be.

Cut a piece of fabric slightly larger than the seat, lay in all on top of each other, they break out the staple gun! I like to put a few staples on the sides across from one another before I move on to the two remaining sides. It keeps the fabric nice & straight, and it's easier to do the corners when the middle is already stapled down.

When you're all stapled, trim the fabric so you can see the holes that the chair screws are going to fit back into. Plop the top back on the chair (I find it helps to have all the screws slightly screwed up through the top of the chair so you can make sure the pad is situated properly over all 4 holes before you go screwing it all back together), and go to town!

Now I need to get to work on a tablecloth to cover up the old, scratched up table top!
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Littlest Print Exchange

I'm not sure if anybody around here makes artwork in editions, or if you know anyone that does, but I thought I'd take a chance and tell you about a new project that I started today. It is a juried print exchange (in which I am the juror) and it goes like this: Submit an online portfolio of some of your artwork. If your work fits into the group, you make an edition of fifty 3.5" x 3.5" prints and send them to me. I sort them out into portfolios containing one print from each of the fifty participants. Each participant is then sent one complete portfolio. I'm planning a fancy package to house the prints. At the end, you can buy a bunch of tiny frames from Ikea or Dollar General and cover your walls with awesome artwork. I'm mostly interested in printmaking disciplines like relief prints, intaglios, silk screens, or lithography, but I'm also excited about digital prints or photographs. Anyway, think about it and check out the Littlest Print Blog if you might be interested.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two Silly Projects

After finishing a Very Big Knitting Project (a sweater that took me a month to complete) I needed a couple of quick instant-gratification-type projects. A "palate cleanser" if you will. I also didn't want anything I'd have to put much thought into color/type of yarn. In fact, this first project was originally going to be something that I used leftover odds & ends from past projects, until I realized that the sizes (and washability) of the various leftovers were so different, I wasn't sure how it would all come together. So I spent the $3 and bought two skeins of "peaches & cream" 100% cotton yarn to work with.

This first project is, obviously, a SWIFFER COVER (try not to be too jealous). When I showed it to a friend, she said, "Oh, I just use a dishrag on mine." Hmm...well, that would have been quite brilliant if I had figured it out. But then I might not have seen the need for this knitted swiffer cover. And I wouldn't have felt nearly as fancy while I swiff.

Quick & Easy project two was knitting cuffs onto dish gloves. Theoretically, the cuffs are supposed to catch that water that runs down your arms & into your gloves when you accidentally lift your hands out of the water at the wrong angle. I haven't tested them yet, so I'll have to report back about whether they work. But in the meantime, I'll feel much cuter than usual as I wash dishes. (It may even motivate me to stop sticking every giant pan I use in the dishwasher!)
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The Shelf

I don't know if this qualifies as something I made, since it is a "found item." And I don't know if it qualifies as a "found item" since I had my stepfather pry it off a hearth in someone else's home with a crowbar. But it sure was a project!

old hearth shelf

This shelf came from an old house that has since been burnt to the ground. It stood on my grandfather's property in southern Illinois, on one of his fields. He had purchased the land from the Hawf family, and came to own the old house. It was in serious disrepair, and only squatters had lived there recently (or meth addicts, if you like.) The house was so old you could see through it; it had no plumbing (just an outhouse), and a potbelly stove heated the place. We went through it and salvaged what was left, then it was burned, and my mom built her new house where it stood.

I fell in love with the hearth shelf, and my stepfather pried it loose for me. He flattened the rusty nails on the back. I didn't change a thing on it. I just scrubbed it down with a bucket of soapy water on their front lawn and let it dry in the sun. Then, when I finally hauled it up here, I was just faced with how to hang it up.

old hearth shelf

First, I attempted to drill through it, mark the holes, and screw it into drywall anchors. That was a miserable failure, and nearly led to divorce. The wood was so incredibly thick and sturdy, and it took forever outside in the hot sun to drill through it. Then, because the wall in our spare bedroom turned out to be more plaster than drywall, I only succeeded in putting several large holes in it. I patched them, repainted over it, and tried again. I finally succeeded in mounting a couple 200-lb. hanging hooks, and mounting hooks to the back of the shelf, and simply hanging it up like a large picture.

old hearth shelf

I love the old decals along it. It has held up very well, and I have to say it was almost worth all the work of dragging it up here, washing it, and mounting it while pregnant and crying hormonally. Almost. Just don't look at the wall behind it... It needs to be sanded down and repainted one more time!!