Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pattern: Doggy Duvet

This is Daisy, my cute-as-a-button hound(ish) dog. She's spoiled rotten, and when she decided she loved her boyfriend Jake-the-Lab's pillow bed, I had to make her one of her very own.

When I made the bed, I was scared of putting in zippers. After making my jumper, I'm not quite so scared -- I just call it a healthy respect. So Daisy's bed is a pillow with an easily removable duvet-style cover that buttons rather than zips.

I don't have a photo tutorial because I made this a while ago, but I did work out the pattern on an index card before I made the bed, so I do have instructions (click to enlarge and ignore the bad algebra unless you want to change the dimensions).

Materials: ~1 yd. fleece or flannel, ~1.5 yd. heavy fabric (upholstery fabric, canvas or the like)
5-6 buttons
1 30x30 pillow (you can sew one out of muslin and stuff it with fabric scraps, polyfill or even packing peanuts)

Seam allowance is .75"

You will be cutting 7 pieces -- 4 bands (A-D), 1 fuzzy top (the piece marked "fleece") and 2 back pieces (E and F).
They're labeled on the diagram.

A-F are from the upholstery fabric. Fleece is, well, from the fleece (or flannel or anything else fuzzy and snuggly).
A-D -- cut strips that measure 31.5"x4.5". Bevel the ends 45 degrees (as shown in diagram).
E -- 22.75"x31.75"
F -- 12.75"x31.75"
Fleece -- 25.5"x25.5"

This will make a 30"x30" square pillow cover.

Step 1: Pin and sew bands A and B to fleece, then sew all 3 pieces together.
Step 2: Repeat for C and D. Press seams open.

Step 3. Fold the long side of piece E on dotted line (2 inches from edge); pin and sew. Sew a straight stitch every 1/4" from the edge to the seam for reinforcing (as shown below). Repeat for piece F.

Step 4: Make buttonholes along this reinforced edge of E (the bigger of the 2 pieces). Sew buttons on F to match up with buttonholes on E.

Step 5: Button the two pieces together and pin for more stability. Pin this piece to the front (right sides together). Sew all 4 sides closed. Press seams open, unbutton and turn inside out. Place pillow inside.

Cute, huh? I think I used a fabric from that red-haired woman from Trading Spaces -- she made a line for Hancock's Fabrics, and I scored tons of it in different patterns from the discount table a couple of years ago.

Bonus picture entitled Why Daisy's not allowed to have stuffy toys (or: the unfortunate demise of Frank):

And a picture of Jake-the-wonder-lab with Daisy:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sweet cream

One of my favorite things about our trip to Italy in January was breakfast in our room in Naples. With one phone call to the front desk and an awkward conversation in Italglish, a little tray of pastry, coffee and milk would magically appear at our door. I like to duplicate this experience at home with my cute stovetop espresso maker, but I need a ceramic creamer to make it perfect.

I got this cute little guy from Goodwill last week for a project I'm working on, and it inspired me to search out a creamer for myself on Etsy.

There were so many adorable pieces, it's hard to choose! Check out these great finds for yourself.

Singing the blues
1. Biscayne from peacockmodern2. Modern Atomic from VintageEye3. Aqua and white from ladiesandgentlemen4. Mid-century modern from SnappySnippets5. Turquoise creamer from karapegg6. Robin's egg blue from ilovevintagestuff

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ribbit, ribbit

Hear that, friends? That's the sound of my glove project being frogged (partially, anyway). Man, Barbie was right -- math class is tough. The pattern I'm working from has the gloves knitted flat, and I'm trying to figure out how to knit them in the round so I don't have to do any sewing. I thought I was so smart, and was using the Knitty pattern Cigar to modernize the thumb gusset as I worked, but with all the calculations between adjusting gauge and making sure the 2x2 seed stitch pattern my gloves call for didn't get off track, I ended up with the thumb and the pinky in the wrong place. Curse you, arithmetic! I ripped it out all the way back to the wristband, and I'm sticking to the original pattern from now on (but it's still on a circular -- no way am I giving a pair of gloves with seams in the fingers to a guy who rips the tags out of all his shirts).

Potato experiment

I was reorganizing my cupboard the other day, and found a couple of potatoes that were definitely beyond edible. As I was getting ready to toss them in the compost pile and hope they'd eventually break down, I suddenly thought, "Hey, maybe I could plant these!" So I broke out my favorite gardening book and got to work. I figure, if they grow, great! If they don't, I've not lost anything.

I broke the sprouts off the potatoes, then cut them into pieces, making sure each piece had at least one eye, then back in the pantry they went for 2 days to let the cuts dry.

Since potatoes are root vegetables, they need lots of underground space. To make this happen, but still allow the vine to be above ground, they need to be planted in hills, and as they grow so does the mound. They're great for container gardens, and some people plant them in old tires to help contain the dirt. I'm using a cardboard box -- it'll break down in the soil eventually, but in the meantime it'll make a great enclosure.*

Bury the potatoes 3 inches deep, then cover the plant with soil as it grows.

*This would work as a biodegradable compost bin, too. Make sure you remove all the tape and packing labels.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roly-poly embroidery floss organizer

For years I've been stuffing my embroidery floss in a tiny little plastic makeup case from junior high (remember Caboodles?). It didn't work very well - my growing collection made it nearly impossible to close the darn thing, I had to dump it all out to find a color and the little paper cuffs with the color number kept slipping off the skeins and getting lost. My mom stores hers on cards in a 3-ring binder, but that's too bulky for me. So when my mom got a new sewing machine and was looking for a project, we got together and designed this custom floss roll based on knitting needle rolls.

I unwound the skeins, cut to 30-inch lengths, then used a D3 (3.25) crochet hook to thread through the grommet holes. I used non-permanent blue marking pen to mark the numbers.

It even has little pockets for my scissors and needles! The needle one is padded so I can use it as a pincushion, too. Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hello, friends!

My favorite part of every afternoon is walking down the street to check the mail. I don't even mind getting bills; I'm only disappointed when the box is empty. I love the anticipation -- what wonders are hidden inside that dour, gray metal box? I love how mailbox keys are smaller and cuter than other keys. I really love the excitement of opening my small mailbox to find another key waiting for me, because it means I have a package! If I could buy everything online and never have to go to a store again I would, and not just because I hate shopping so much I'd rather make my own bread -- or donuts (true story) -- than go out and buy them. I'd do it just to have lovely boxes and envelopes waiting for me at the mailbox or on my front porch.

I get even more excited to get packages from friends, especially my friend Olivia, who always sends cool trinkets she picks up on her world travels, like my embroidered felt yurt tea cozy from Kyrgyzstan. My mom used to scheme and plot for weeks when sending me college care packages -- that must be what started my love affair. So when I had the chance to help a friend put together a little cheer-me-up box for another friend whose husband has been in the hospital, I got really excited.

The fun part of planning this type of surprise box is finding things with meaning. Melissa loves jokes -- the cornier, the better -- so we put in a joke book. She also often greets people with, "Hey, friend!" and I remembered seeing a lovely handpainted notecard from Happy Day Studio on Indiefixx, so I ordered it and a set of notecards (and an adorable card for myself)-- those were the best part of the package.

The rest of the package included a bunch of comic books, a blank journal, the Firefly DVDs I'd borrowed from Melissa before they moved, a hair clip I made and a tea towel I designed and embroidered for their new home. I wish I'd taken better photos before mailing the package, but oh well.

I have a package to put in the mail to my husband tomorrow. Gathering the goodies is the easy part, but getting to the post office is what always slows me down. Domestic mail's easy with Click-n-Ship, but international requires those customs forms and a trip to the post office, so Chris's package (Girl Scout cookies, shaving cream, the frog puppet, candy, a card, an alarm clock and batteries) has been sitting by the front door for 2 months waiting to go out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

She's got a great personality...

My husband can now reply, "Well, she makes her own clothes," when asked what I'm like. (You know the old joke about the ugly blind date, "Is she pretty?" "Well, she's got a great personality." "But what's she look like?" "She makes her own clothes ...")

I made this jumper this week from Simplicity 2848. The fabric is a beautiful 100% Italian wool I picked up in Dallas (I have enough left over for a skirt, and another 3.5 yards in a brownish-charcoal-and-blue pinstripe for a pencil skirt and vest a la Cameron's suits on House, M.D.). I'm a little wary that it looks a lot like a school uniform, but I think as long as I stay away from short-sleeve white shirts underneath (like the one in the picture) it's ok. And it has pockets.

I felt a little like Mrs. Quimby in one of the Ramona books (Beezus and Ramona?) where she uses scotch tape to fix the hem on Beezus's skirt and Beezus is mortified (as usual) -- I was in a hurry to finish the dress so I could wear it to work, and I didn't have time to sew the armhole interfacing in place, so out came the scotch tape. Thanks for the tip, Beverly Cleary!

Closeup of the pleated front:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Potato gnocchi with Swiss chard and garlic

Tonight's dinner came from Jeanne Lemlin's book Simple Vegetarian Pleasures, a great cookbook filled with flexible, easy, flavorful recipes. Lemlin's detailed recipes are clear and easy to follow, and she provides helpful notes with each recipe, giving ingredient substitutions and serving tips. She also includes sections with time-saving tips (what to buy fresh, what can be bought frozen) and explains the ins and outs of some of her more exotic ingredients (such as Tamari vs. regular soy sauce, just what to do with tofu and what is tempeh?). This is a vegetarian cookbook for vegetarians, nonvegetarians, for the veg-curious and for bi-vourous households (many of the recipes can be tossed with grilled chicken or shrimp to satisfy meat eaters so busy cooks don't have to make two meals). Good recipes for kids, too. This is my favorite of Lemlin's cookbooks; it's definitely not vegan, though -- there's lots and lots of cheese.

Anyway, here's the recipe for this satisfying and colorful 10-minute dinner, which I made with the chard I picked up this weekend from Greener Visions Farms.

Potato gnocchi with Swiss chard and garlic
1 pound Swiss chard (weight with stems)
3 tbs olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 t salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound frozen potato gnocchi (I used dried)
2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil.
Meanwhile, chop the stems off the chard. Rinse the stems under cold running water to rid them of any sand. Chop them into 1/2-inch pieces and set them aside. Wash the greens by dunking them in a large bowl of cold water. Remove the leaves, then dump out the water. Repeat until there is no sandy sediment in the water. Drain the greens. Gather the leaves into bunches and slice them into 1/2-inch wide strips.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook 1 minute. Add the chard stems and leaves with just the water that clings to them. Toss with the garlic, then cover the pan. Cook, tossing occasionally, just until the chard is wilteed, about 3 miutes. Season with the salt and pepper.
Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water. Cook according to the package directions, probably about 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly, then mix into the chard. Sprinkle on the cheese, toss, and serve.

What to do with all that bread?

I really like baking my own bread -- it's simple and tastes wonderful -- but most recipes make 2 loaves, and how am I supposed to eat 2 loaves of bread? I could freeze one, which is what I did this week, but last week I was left with 8 or 9 slices of going-stale bread.

There are a few times stale bread beats fresh:

French toast (use only the egg yolk for milder flavor -- thanks Cooks Illustrated)

Homemade bread crumbs (add a clove or two of garlic and the parsley leftover from the bunch you had to buy for that recipe that only calls for 4 sprigs, and you have seasoned bread crumbs)

Bread-and-butter pudding
8 slices bread
1/2 c sugar
2 cans evaporated skim milk (a great-tasting, fat-free alternative to cream or half-and-half)
2 eggs
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 1/4 t vanilla

Preaheat the oven to 350 F. Break the bread into 3- or 4-inch chunks, and place in large bowl with sugar. Whisk together milk, egg and spices, then pour over bread and sugar mixture. Let stand for 10 minutes or so.

Pour mixture into an oven-proof dish and place the dish in a baking pan of water. This will help the pudding cook evenly. Bake for 45-60 minutes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I finally got to make a trip to my semi-local farm Saturday and pick up some greens for the week and plants for my vegetable garden. My garden is always a haphazard affair -- I usually begin with the best intentions, planning it out and working hard for a month or so before getting distracted and forgetting to water/spray/fertilize and everything falls into ruin. Last year, ants ate all my cucumbers and most of my canteloupe, my okra seeds never grew, the landscape company that edges along the back fence severed a couple of my black-eyed pea vines and my bell peppers all succumbed to fungus. But my tomato plants rallied and produced well into November, and I did manage one delicious canteloupe and quite a few sweet green peppers. My basil flourished, and my rosemary and sage are still going strong.

This year, I'm vowing to do better, but it's still rather experimental. Last week, I dug up the remnants of last summer's garden, and raked in compost from my compost pile. I found green beans still on the dead vines, so I'm soaking them today and will plant them tomorrow.

The place I bought my plants yesterday only had tomato, bell pepper and squash, so I bought 3 tomato, 2 pepper and 1 squash (I don't even really like squash that much). Those should work out ok -- I staked my bell pepper plants and put cardboard cuffs around the stems to protect them from bugs, which is a lesson I learned too late last summer.

I didn't do anything different to my tomato plants -- just plucked all but the top leaves and planted them sideways in a deep trench for stronger roots like my grandmother taught me.

I'm starting the okra, green beans and black-eyed peas in a cardboard egg carton instead of straight in the ground to see if I get seedlings this time. I've already mixed up a batch of neem py to keep the ants at bay, and have a bottle of garrett juice ready for fertilizing.

I've been using a great book, You Grow, Girl! by Gayla Trail as my guide. That's where I learned to make a simple root irrigation system out of old soda bottles and how to battle pests without chemicals. Trail's book includes recipes for insecticides and fertilizers, as well as bath products, tea and freezing and preserving tips for your veggies. The book is great for all sizes of garden, from an apartment fire escape container garden to a large backyard garden, and it's perfect for gardeners who prefer DIY to buying premade.

You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening by Gayla Trail.
Simon & Schuster, New York: 2005
208 p.; col. ill., photos.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy spring!

It's spring! Here in Texas, that means we only have a month or so of warm-but-not-stifling weather before the temps shoot up to boil. I've been sick this week, and I'm just now feeling human again, so put a couple of ginger-lemon tea bags in a jar of water and brewed sun tea while I took advantage of the 80-degree weather this afternoon to hang out on my front porch.

Later in the season the mosquitoes, flies and heat will keep me away. I love my little outdoor living room, with the recycled soda bottle rug and the porch swing, and the nice, bright sun made working on my glove project a little easier.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Grocery challenge -- bread

I ran out of bread this week, and while I could justify buying it because it's a staple (like milk), I was too lazy to change out of my sweats and leave the house today. Too lazy to go to the store, but not too lazy to bake my own bread instead. Man, I must really hate grocery shopping. I haven't even bought vegetables, so my challenge last week was kind of a disaster. I did make cornbread and have broccoli and black-eyed peas from the freezer for a few meals, but I also ordered pizza last night, had dinner with a friend on Friday and took leftovers from her house home. I want to visit my local farm stand, but they're only open on Saturdays until 1, and I've worked Saturdays the last two weekends. This coming Saturday, I'm excited to head out to their market and pick up fresh greens and -- this is the most exciting part for me -- tomato and other plants for my summer vegetable garden! I guess that also means I'll have to work on digging out last year's plants and working compost into the bed this week.

Anyway, I used the whole wheat bread recipe from the flour package (Hodgson Mill) -- minus the added gluten, since I didn't have any. It turned out excellent, especially with peach jam I made last summer. I'm not up to making my own butter yet, a la this post from Pink of Perfection, but that too may come.

Basic Whole Wheat Bread
2 c warm water
2 (1/4-oz) packages active dry yeast
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. wheat gluten*
3 c whole wheat graham flour
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
3 c unbleached, unbromated white bread flour

Put water in a large bowl. Add yeast, stir to dissolve. Add brown sugar, gluten* and whole wheat flour. Beat well, about 200 strokes. Let yeast develop for about 10 minutes. Add oil and salt; mix thoroughly. Add 2 cups of bread flour; beat well. Work in enough of the remaining bread flour to form a soft dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 6-8 minutes (or use a stand mixer with a bread hook), or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place about one hour, or until doubled in bulk
Punch down dough. Divide dough into two equal pieces and form each piece into a loaf. Place in greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled.

While dough is rising, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake loaves about 35 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Bread is done when it slides easily from the pan and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool on wire racks.

*If you don't use added gluten, make sure you knead the dough a lot to form enough gluten. In a stand mixer, the dough will wrap around the hook like a rope and start whacking against the side of the bowl when it's done (it's not quite there in the photo).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Glove love

I am officially in love with gloves. I made a pair of fingerless mitts for my dad for Christmas, then tackled cables (so fun!) with Fetching from Knitty.

For my newest project, I found a vintage British World War II glove pattern on the Victoria and Albert Museum's website, and I'm customizing it for my husband. He requested a pair of trigger finger gloves -- he wants the right index finger to fold back so he can wear them at work. He doesn't like the fingerless kind because, well, his fingers get cold. So I'm putting a horizontal buttonhole in the index finger.

I haven't gotten very far on the project, obviously. Teeny tiny yarn and teeny tiny needles will make this slow going, and teeny tiny black yarn in a poorly lit house is hard on my eyes. I need one of those miner-style headlamps to wear while knitting at night!

Brr ... button mug cozies *pattern update*

It's cold and rainy here, and it's a bit of a shock after having weeks of sunny, 80-degree weather. I've been drinking more tea and staying inside curled up on the couch with my dog, a blanket and a book (The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig is my current one). I have a couple of mugs with no handles (because I dropped 'em), so I made up these felted crochet mug cozies. They're made to be adjustable, so the straps have velcro on them (just the poky bit, since the fuzzy felted wool works for the fuzzy part, and it looks nicer not to have visible velcro). They have straps so I can use them on mugs with handles, as modeled.

The blue one is best for a straight-sided mug because it's mostly a rectangle. The pink one is good for bowl-shaped mugs (or bowls!).

Bernat felting wool in gardenia and meadow, and some old buttons (mine came from my grandmother's stash) - less than 1 skein each.
Size K10.5/6.5mm hook

blue mug cozy (for straight-sided mugs):
ch 60*
rows 1-12: sc 60
strap: ch 18
rows 1-4: sc 18
felt the pieces separately.
after felting, wrap around mug and pin together to dry.
once it's dry, sew the hook side of hook-n-loop tape to one end of the strap on the wrong side. sew the other end of the strap (wrong side) to one end of the cozy (right side). make sure the hook tape's on the backside of the strap so it'll grab the cozy when you wrap it around the mug. you don't need to use the loop (soft) half of the velcro because the hooks can grab the felted material. this way the velcro stays invisible and the cozy is adjustable.
embellish with buttons.

pink mug cozy (for bowl-shaped mugs):
ch 60
rows 1-5: hdc 60
row 6: chain 4, *skip 2, tr in next st, cross back and tr in previous st, ch 1, repeat from * to end, ending with tr
strap: ch 18
rows 1-4: sc 18
follow felting and assembly instructions for the blue cozy.

*you can adjust the number of chains for the length of cozy you want. just measure your mug, add 2-3 inches for felting and use your gauge to decide the number of stitches required. because the pieces are felted, you can easily just keep felting until the cozy is the right size.

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