Tuesday, October 30, 2012

All clear

mucking about

Well, it has been four days (and counting) of endless cold drizzle, but I think we can safely say that Hurricane Sandy passed us by completely.  Whew!

We aren't letting the drizzle stop us from getting out and enjoying ourselves.  I'm working on ingraining our family with the Scandinavian saying, "There is no bad weather, just bad clothing."  If properly geared up, cold drizzle is no problem at all!  On Sunday, we put our mantra to work and went for a long walk in the woods.

traversing the raging river

mushroom discovery

I look forward to walking through the seasons, noticing the changes together.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh the weather outside ain't frightful...yet

First day using the woodstove!

Thinking of all our friends and family in the path of Hurricane Sandy and her colossal mess.  We are hanging out on the fringe.  The woodstove is keeping us toasty. Broccoli cheddar soup and chicken pot pie have been prepped.  I baked pumpkin muffins and chocolate quinoa cake for snacking.  Oh yes, and I bought many a bottle of red wine, just in case.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween decoration

With my realization that Christmas is exactly two months away (eep!) came the realization that Halloween is less than a week away.  For the first time in a long time, we are in a country where this fact actually matters, and I needed to spring into action!

After stretching some fake spiderwebs around the front of the house and securing in place a large, non-creepy spider (my girls are small after all), I moved onto crafting.  At the start of the year, I offered to provide decorations for my daughter's second grade classroom.  I had seen cheesecloth ghosts on Pinterest last year, so today I gave it a go.

Cheesecloth ghostie in progress

I was unable to find "liquid starch" as specified in the directions.  No one seemed to carry it.  I did, however, find heavy duty spray starch in the laundry aisle of the grocery story, so I sprayed that liberally and hoped for the best.  Check it out:


These are the coolest!  I can't wait to make more.  As I only have one soda bottle to work with as a support during drying, I shopped around for ideas.  My neighbor sent over a box of swag from her garden shed that I will try out.  Another idea is to place a ball of foil atop a paper towel roll for smaller ghosts.  We'll see how I go.  I hope to have plenty of these for the classroom...and some for our house too!

Catching up (?)

Recently, a mom at school said to me that she felt like she was finally starting to get a handle on September...just as she realized it is nearly the end of October.  Not the right time to point out (as someone else did to me) that Christmas is now exactly two months away!  What?  How does the year hit the speed track every September?  Do I get a free pass since I did an international move this year?  I finally feel the dust settling from the move as the kids settle into their school routines, and now it's holiday time!  Oh dear.  Moving on...

We've been enjoying Indian Summer in Pittsburgh this week.  After borderline wintry weather off and on for a few weeks, this week turned into a warm weather marvel.  Today, the anticipated high is in the 80s!  I'm enjoying the windows and doors being open all day, the dinners outside again, the playing in the yard for hours...because we know it will be gone again rather soon (and may not be back for months!).  Alas, Halloween night is predicted to be rather cold and wet.  Somehow I'm not sure the kids will care.

It's hard to get into the spirit of fall and decorating for Halloween when it feels like summer outside, but that doesn't mean we can't bake up some delicious fall flavors, right?  Two days ago, Stephanie and I wanted a donut treat and no suitable donut treats could be found in our usual spots.  Naturally, we had to bake our own!  I tried out this recipe for baked apple cider donuts.


 I have a mini-donut pan, so there was plenty of leftover batter to make a ton of mini-muffins too, which we also iced with the apple cider glaze.  I would offer you some, but we polished off the lot before bedtime that night!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday fun time

This weekend, Hubby bought the cats an enclosed litter box to avoid the litter spray everywhere and took their old one away.  They don't like it.  Ask me how I learned this.

This morning, we had a regular car service appointment that should have lasted an hour and a half.  When they finished, the service guy took the car to the detailing people for a good cleaning as part of the service.  Then, he went to lunch, after he accidentally put the keys in his pocket.  That was an all-morning adventure!

Some days are like that, and I'm rolling with it.  Feeling pretty good, actually.  Of course, watching something funny always help give a lift, so here you go...

Or you could watch the Saturday Night Live presidential debate clip here.
Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A new shirt for Stephanie

Look at this cutie wearing an outfit of mama-mades!

Wearing an outfit of mama-mades!

Today, I finally finished pattern n from Happy Handmade Vol 2.

Happy Handmade Vol 2, pattern n

This may be the most darling thing I have ever sewn.  The fabric is a buttery-soft corduroy, so it feels as wonderful as it looks (or at least, we think so).  I really like this pattern.  The top is loose and flowing without being baggy.  The gathers at the neck and below the button band and the ruffle at each sleeve are gorgeous details.  I used a piece of lace to cover the gathers, and I found some sweet love-heart buttons to finish it.

Happy Handmade Vol 2, pattern n (details)

Full of excitement about my latest creation, I was fully prepared for it to be rejected by my discerning little fashionista.  Not so!  She loves it!  Off came the top she was wearing and now she won't take this one off (hooray!).  It even matches the pants I made.

Happy Handmade Vol 2, patterns n and o

And most importantly, the outfit stands up to actual life, which is really the whole point.

mama-made action shot

Friday, October 19, 2012

Autumn aglow

Autumn colour aglow

This morning, the sun broke past the hill and lit this tree afire.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Monday, October 15, 2012

KCWC Weekend

Despite Meg urging everyone not to fall off the KCWC wagon just because the weekend started, I fell off the KCWC wagon because the weekend started.  Taking an hour just to sew all on my own out much desired of family time after Hubby's week away...not so obvious.  But the beautiful part is that I missed it.  I was surprised.  I have tried and failed at KCWC's past, but I definitely devoted well over 7 hours last week to this challenge.  I have three complete garments, one spare lining and a top in progress to show for it.  I don't think I'll commit to weekend sewing just yet, but I may try to stick with the 1-hour per day a bit longer.  While I'm in the groove, it is so exciting to see finished results that I and the girls love and need.

Besides, the sewing space is already a huge mess anyway.

Friday, October 12, 2012

KCWC Day 5: The cozy corduroy spree continues

I woke up this morning thinking of how I had "completed" the turquoise pants after my girl had gone to bed, but they didn't feel complete.  They could use a lining, so I spent about 30 minutes sewing a flannel pair of pants following the same pattern.  I have had this Anna Maria Horner flannel for a long time.  I had intended it for pyjamas, but that never happened.  While it seems silly to "waste" it as a hidden lining, it seems sillier not to use it, so here it is as pants:

Flannel pants to line the corduroy pair #kcwc

Then, it was time for the seam ripper.  I needed to rip the waistband and the hems of the corduroy trousers to add the lining.

Ripping seams (please oh please no damage...) #kcwc

I couldn't do it.  On my very first go with the seam ripper, the metal went through the fabric and made a hole, so I wimped out.  The turquoise pair is cute and fine as it is, so I'll just have to buy more corduroy and make a new pair to line.

My remaining 30-plus minutes were devoted to cutting the pieces for pattern n out of the softest (and quite possibly the cutest!) corduroy I have ever touched.  It is "Get it Together!" pinwale corduroy in "flock of birds", purchased here.  I want to make it into baby blankets, it is so soft.

Softest, sweetest corduroy, possibly ever #kcwc

Before getting started this time, I took time to study the diagrams.  Bias tape from the fabric is required at the neckline, and I was trying to figure out the dimensions.  So satisfying when I decoded it!  The pattern calls for a strip of fabric cut on the bias, 3cm x 50 cm.  Fold and press it so one side is 0.7cm (doubled) and the other is 0.8cm (doubled).  The 0.7cm side will be on the outside of the shirt.  I also see the top of each piece needs no seam allowance (as it will be covered in the bias binding).

Studying layout and seam details for pattern n, Happy Handmade Vol 2

You can also see at the bottom of the diagram that the fabric should be 120cm wide.  Mine is 108cm.  That made a big difference in how much total fabric is required.  I fudged it to get bias binding out of my yard, and even then I made a measuring mistake so I may have to cut into a second yard to finish.  Le sigh.  But that's for tomorrow...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Turquoise corduroy with sparkle

Stephanie happily wore her owl pants today, so I knew the pattern was a keeper.  This second pair of pants whipped up much more quickly than the first.  I think the hardest part was figuring out how to copy the pattern with the missing and added seam allowances (and that's not bad at all once you know what you're doing).  Since that part was already tackled, this second pair was a breeze.  It probably took me more than an hour (I didn't have a solid hour chunk today, so I'm not sure how many minutes added up here and there), but not much more than that.  No pockets this time, as requested.

Turquoise corduroy pants #kcwc

Pattern:  pattern o from Happy Handmade Vol 2
Fabric: turquoise corduroy with silver sparkle from Joann's Fabrics, selected by Stephanie

I would really like to line these, but as that might make them warmer than autumn requires, I will let them rest for now.  I want to move on to tops.  I have two delicious-feeling, light-weight corduroys in adorable patterns that want to become tops.  I have my eye on pattern n from Happy Handmade Vol 2.

  Happy Handmade Vol 2, patterns n and o #kcwc

 Let's hope it works out!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The journey to owl pants

I knew that unless I wanted today to be a repeat of yesterday's spectacular failure to sew, I would have to sew while Ellie was at school and Stephanie was home with me.  This plan came with a strong warning that read something like, "Do not try this at home."  When Ellie is here, she and Stephanie play beautifully (most of the time) or at least keep each other company.  When Ellie is at school, it's all on me to keep that energetic 4 year old fulfilled.  Today, I let her watch a video while I sewed.  Of course, I'm cautious and slow and the video was short (just over 30 minutes), so that didn't last.  She wanted her pants, so she asked if she could sew with me.  She wanted to do the pins.  She wanted to lift and lower the presser foot.  She wanted to hold the fabric all by herself as it ran through the machine.  When she tired of this, she decided to entertain the cats who are not normally allowed in my sewing space.  As I sewed (with my back turned, alas!), she opened up the plastic bags holding my carefully, twice-measured-and-cut patterns and gave said pattern pieces to the cats for playthings.  Those will now be thrice-measured-and-cut pieces.  Woo-hoo!  Meanwhile, I notice the top seams don't line up when it's time to make the waistband.  Is this a problem?  Not if I cut  off, it's not!

uneven top pieces...oops

On the upside, we now have a completed pair of some stinkin' cute owl pants, if I do say so myself.

owl pants

The wide legs combined with the orange and brown colouring of the owls against the dark blue corduroy gives the trousers a quirky retro look I don't find at all objectionable.  I really like the cut and fit.  I was able to use a 1" elastic waistband for comfort, and there is a good 1.5" hem at the cuff, allowing for growth.  The wide legs are probably wider than we like, but they will be good when I attempt to line future pairs.

  owl pants

 I feel very full of myself about the cuteness and professionalism of the pockets, so naturally Stephanie doesn't want them.  She rightfully pointed out that she doesn't keep her hands behind her and she doesn't "collect things to put on my bottom" (fair enough).

  owl pants

She also wants to know if another pair is ready yet because she needs more, this time in turquoise and without pockets.
Now would be good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

KCWC: Day 2 or 3 or whatever

I started sewing for KCWC over the weekend because it was damp and super-duper cold and the girls just wanted to stay inside, playing together magically for hours (during which time I prepped and cut and sewed and planned).  Technically, I need not have started until Monday. So if you do the math, as of today, technically day 2, I'm way ahead of where I need to be in the challenge, which is a good thing since I'm not going to sew today (oops).

To distract you from my failure to follow-through, please enjoy this awesome video, courtesy of my darling friend Meghan.  You might want to have a strip of paper handy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

KCWC Day 2: Pattern drafting

I had thought to sew pants from Dana's pattern, but I just wasn't sure how to adapt the sizing (wasn't I just saying yesterday I needed to trust myself more? so much for that!).  Meg of elsie marley has made countless pairs of pants from Happy Handmade Vol 2, pattern O.  Those seem very simple, look great and are available in multiple sizes, so I decided to try those.  I still plan to follow Dana's instructions (it's a great pants tutorial!).

Not being able to read Japanese isn't a big problem.  Most of the directions are pictorial anyway.  The most important tip I've read on other blogs is be sure to add a seam allowance to your pattern (there's a good tutorial about this here).  The tip I didn't read but learned the hard way is notice the little numbers indicated on the fabric layout image.  Those little numbers are specific seam allowance in centimetres.  For these pants, I needed to add an extra 5cm hem and 3.5cm waistband.

  adding seam allowances to my Japanese patterns

The fabric I cut is a meter of navy corduroy with baby owls purchased last year at Spotlight for less than $7. This pattern in size 110 with pockets used all of that.  I will need maybe 1.5 meters to make pants for my older girl.

Alas, with all of the tracing and drafting and cutting and repeating (when I made the seam allowance error), I more than used up my sewing time today without actually starting to sew.  Tomorrow!

Purple plaid flannel tunic thingy

She needs pants and long-sleeved shirts.  Obviously, first up would be a purple plaid flannel tunic with sleeves that stop at her elbows.  Ahem.

purple plaid flannel dress

Trying to enlist kidlet in the KCWC fun, I took Stephanie with me to Joann's fabric store to buy a new cutting mat and some corduroy for her pants.  As we walked along the aisles of fabric, she grabbed and admired many, but few so fervently as this super-soft purple plaid flannel.  To me, flannel screams "PJs!" or "Lumberjack!", but to her, it screamed "Soft and Warm!"  Fair enough.

Because I'm too cautious to wing it, I used the chic chic dress pattern for the measurements, but you don't really need a pattern; there is a fantastic tutorial here.  I used the directions in that tutorial rather than what came with the pattern.  Next time, I will trust myself more (and use the tutorial for the whole thing).  My reliance on the pattern meant I didn't actually measure my kiddo; thus, the sleeves hit her elbows rather than her wrists (sigh).

This dress is so very easy, though mine was more a comedy of errors.  At the time we purchased the fabric, I had an image in mind but no pattern or measurements, so I bought a yard...not really enough to fit the pattern, which I only really discovered after cutting one big piece out of it.  I fudged the rest to use the fabric I had rather than buy more purple plaid flannel.  No two pieces are quite the same.  Fortunately, for this dress, it doesn't really matter.  Whew.

To keep it from being too borderline-pajama, I added two pockets on the front: simple rectangles with a light blue velvet ribbon trim from my stash.

purple plaid flannel dress

Soft and Warm!  Happy kiddo (with cold forearms, alas)!

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Some of the many projects swimming in my brain these days involve sewing clothing for the girls.  This will be our first cold winter in quite a long while, and we simply aren't geared up for it.  We need warm pants and tops (long johns, coats, snow pants, boots...).  For most of that, I'll need to make some purchases, but I haven't found quite what I wanted as far as pants and tops go, especially for Stephanie.  Both of my girls are long and lean, meaning even the pants with the adjustable waist bands end up getting cinched so tightly they aren't comfortable.  We just want simple things in cute fabrics; why is that so challenging?  Oh wait, I have a sewing machine...

Patterns patterns patterns #kcwc

The week Meg of elsie marley is hosting the Kids Clothes Week Challenge (KCWC).  The challenge is to commit at least one hour each day to sewing clothes for children.

Like many moms who sew, I have great intentions (and a ridiculous stash to prove it), but I don't make or take the time to follow through.  Honestly, I find the sewing process a bit daunting.  It's like origami: each step has to be done precisely or the end result won't look right.  First, you prepare your fabric and trace the pattern.  Then, you cut out the pattern.  Then, you cut out your fabric.  Only then may you sew (itself a multistep process involving lots of ironing).  What I find difficult is I rarely have the luxury to flow from start to finish in one go.  Most often, it's start, stop and put it all away, days (weeks?) pass, get the pieces back out again, try to figure out what you were doing, resume, stop, put it all away...and just thinking about this stops me before I begin.

Fabric I couldn't resist #kcwc

The KCWC respects this process (and frustration).  It's just one hour per day for one week.  You can count any or all of the steps as your committed hour.  If you pick simple projects, you might even finish more than one!  I'm hoping to make a couple of pairs of simple elastic waist pants* and maybe even a top or two.  Want to join us?  Sign up by commenting here.  There's a whole dedicated community Pinterest board here.

*I have made pants from this pattern before, but in case you are needing inspiration, Meg invited guests to share variations on that pattern in the week leading up to KCWC.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fall color

Hello, my name is Jennifer. I am a compulsive leaf collector.

Hi.  My name is Jennifer, and I am a compulsive leaf collector.
How could I not be? After years without fall color, we are experiencing this:

 fall color

fall color

red (on green) carpet

Stephanie and I went on a leaf collecting walk today.  We filled our basket before we even reached the end of our street.  Our plan?  To press and dry these leaves, then preserve and reignite their colors by coating them with Mod Podge, inspired by this post on Artful Parent.  I'm considering sewing them together to create a leaf garland for the living room, but it is entirely possible they will make their way to other destinations.  We simply cannot allow all this beauty to go to waste.

leaf collecting walk

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Struck down

Ever heard the saying "Man plans and God laughs"?

I returned from my trip sleepy but refreshed, happy and inspired.  My head was filled with stories longing to be recorded, tales needing to be shared and oh so many projects to be pursued.

But in reality, that hasn't happened (or at least not yet).

Since last Wednesday night, we've been fighting various germ incursions here on the Home Front, including our first ever dance with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease.  Yippee!

Hand, foot and mouth

The best I can tell you is it's not that bad in the grand scheme.  Yes, it is highly contagious and a bit gross, but it usually only lasts a week and doesn't typically develop into anything else (like strep can).  The hardest part is watching your wee ones suffer with terrible itchiness (or worse, nasty sore throat from sores in the mouth) and not having any treatment to offer (it's a virus, so it will go away on its own; no antibiotic will help, though you can manage fever and sore throat as you usually would).

worn out

A proven home remedy for itchiness: oatmeal bath
Add 1 or 2 cups of finely ground oatmeal to a warm bath and soak in that for at least 30 minutes. I had oat flour in the house, but you can achieve this by pureeing uncooked oatmeal in a good blender.  At first, this seems really strange, but I can attest a kid got into the oatmeal bath in pain, moaning and crying, totally uncooperative and generally annoyed at murky bathwater, and got out happy as a clam and not itching in the slightest.  What more recommendation do you need?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Home again

Slim Goodies

Fresh back from a brief but wonderful weekend in New Orleans (I went for the annual Muses brunch).
A weekend with friends in New Orleans is so very good for the soul.
And for the tummy.  Oh, the food.  Yes, ma'am.

I am feeling refreshed and inspired, but not particularly invigorated after 2 nights in a row of less than 5 hours sleep (ahem)(that would be New Orleans done properly, folks).  In the coming days, I am hoping to put at least some of my inspiration into action.

How was your weekend?