Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The 2011 Cake Review

I like baking for people. It makes me happy to see them happy, and home baked treats are always more wholesome than the store bought equivalents. I've baked quite a bit this year, including several recipes found on the web, and even though they didn't all turn out as well as I'd hoped, they were all eaten and well appreciated. The three cakes that I am including here were the standout favourites.

MC's favourite

This is a coffee cake with a layer of streusel in the middle. It is based on Martha Stewart's Coffee Cake Muffins recipe. I had made this several time as muffins, and got rave reviews every time. The problem with the muffins is that thy are extremely time consuming to make (but always worth it). For the cake, I just followed the same process using a bunt pan instead of muffin tins. It takes a lot less time when you don't have to divide the batter and streusel into 24 parts. There was exactly the right amount of batter for a cake this size, and was just as moist and delicious as the muffin size. The only hard part here was getting the cake out of the pan and turning it right side up without ruining the streusel topping.

Sam's Favourite

This is an apple torte from the family cookbook lovingly put together by Sam's mom. The crust layer is baked first, and then topped with a thin layer of cheesecake and plenty of sliced apples with cinnamon and almonds. Just to give you an idea of how popular this cake was, I should point out that the one in the photo disappeared completely in about 20 minutes between four people. I made this cake three times in 2011, twice with apples, and once as a plain cheesecake with with raspberry coulis for my dad's birthday. The youngest of my brothers remarked that "the crust doesn't suck" like the graham cracker crust in most cheesecakes, and coming from a fourteen year old boy, I'll take that as high praise!

Sigmund's Favourite

This is a chocolate cake made with beer using Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Stout Cake recipe. It's not that I'm completely cat obsessed or anything, but it seems worth mentioning that Sigmund went completely crazy for this cake. He usually ignores baked goods, but stole a large piece of this cake from my plate. Iit was gone before I could take it away, as well as any crumbs he was able to find afterwards. We chose Young's Double Chocolate Stout for baking, and bought a few extra to drink. The cake was very very moist and not overly sweet. We really enjoyed the slight coffee taste of the ganache as well. The leftovers stayed moist until we finished the cake a few days later.

So all in all, it was a good year for cakes at my place. There will no doubt be more cake experimentation in 2012

Monday, 28 November 2011

Primary Patchwork Quilt Assembly

This weekend was the third of the quilting classes that I signed up for at Earthly Goods. The objective of this weekend-long course was to take the traditional blocks that we made last month and turn them into a completed quilt top with either a straight or diagonal design.

Before class, I had to choose the final design that I wanted to try, which would dictate how much fabric I would need to buy. I had originally been leaning towards a straight set, where the blocks are in rows horizontally and vertically. It seemed so neat and tidy. The Earthly Goods staff convinced me to go with a diagonal set instead, because it was more difficult and would give me the opportunity to learn so much more. I can never resist more learning, so I went with that.

When we last left off, (here) I had made nine 12.5 inch square blocks, which looked like this:

For the next step, I needed three additional fabrics which would compliment my blocks. A lot of quilters hate to work with black, but that definite isn't the case for me. I chose to go with the same red fabric for the border that I had used in creating my blocks, for a quilt that would be predominantly black and red. Here is my own personal Vanna White modelling the fabrics I selected:

For the alternate squares: Just Color from Studio E in 'Onyx'
For the border: Fruitcake by Basic Grey for Moda
For the quilt back: Tessuto by Yolanda Fundora in 'Mink'

Over 14 hours of intensive sewing, I cut all of the black setting triangles and alternate blocks, and then assembled the blocks into strips diagonally, starting with the upper left corner. Once all the strips were sewn together, I trimmed the large assembled piece to a perfect 1/4 inch seam all the way around and sewed on the red border, leaving the corners open. The last step was to miter the corners by folding the quilt in half diagonally and sewing down the middle of each corner. The final size is 5 feet square. I can't believe how well it turned out!

The class covered the basting step as well, but my quilt was somewhat complex so I didn't get it finished in time for basting in class. Our instructor had some great pointers and I feel confident that I can do a competent job of it once my quilt back is pieced.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Urban Knitting: Fire Hydrant Sweater

I've seen some urban knitting around Ottawa, usually on trees and road signs, and have always wanted to give it a try. I knit the 'sweater' for this project a while ago (it's actually more of a corset), but hadn't found a suitable object to try it on. This week, I sized up the fire hydrant at the end of my block and decided to give it a try

The knit piece is just a square, but I left holes about two inches apart on both sides to lace it up.

Just a knitted square
Side detail

I also made a lace out of some red wool so that it would stick out against the black.

Twelve feet of braided wool roving
Then I set about trying to put this little sweater on the hydrant. Wow, was that ever a lot harder than I had expected. After 20 minutes of squatting in the snow, I got it laced halfway up.  It was windy out there, and things were flying everywhere. I hadn't marked the middle of my lace, so I ended up running out on one side. When I tried to fix that, I couldn't tell anymore which part of the lace was which, and I was just pulling at random and making it worse. By then I was frozen and sore from squatting, so I decided to go back home and plan things out a little better.

I laced up the sweater all the way at home. Sigmund couldn't have been more happy to help.

With the sweater laced up, all I had to do was slide it over the top of the hydrant and then tighten up the laces. There was far more traffic than usual all of a sudden, and people were slowing down to see what I was doing. Oi!

This time, it all worked out, and the result is a cozy looking hydrant for people to walk by and maybe even talk about. This is the city's property, so I will be removing this project shortly. I'm just glad it turned out to be so cute!

I would also like to reassure everyone that I did make sure the little sweater could in no way interfere with the functionality of the fire hydrant in case of emergency. Compromising the accessibility of an active fire fighting device would be completely unacceptable.

I knit several of these little sweaters in different sizes, so you can look forward to seeing more of my urban knitting installations as the winter progresses.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Pattern for a Table Runner

This weekend is the second installment of my Primary Patchwork course. We'll be taking the blocks that we made during the last class (here) and turning them into an actual blanket top. Can't wait! I started out with enough fabric to make 12 blocks, but in order to keep it manageable and get most of it done in class I've decided to make it slightly smaller.

This means that I've got a bunch of leftover fabric to work with, and it occurred to me that I know two people who could use a fun music themed table runner. If you recognize the bright red fabric I selected for this project, then this table runner might just be for you!

The fabrics I'll be using

This is the first quilt that I actually design from scratch, and I'm expecting a steep learning curve. I used Paint to draw it out in detail so that I would have a pattern to follow for cutting and piecing everything together. I'm not ready to reveal what the full design looks like quite yet, but this will give you an idea.

This is the basic pattern.

To start, I made a whole load of little 3.5" squares that have one red side and one black or white side. I would have taken a picture of all the squares laid out, but Sigmund tried to help and all of a sudden it was catmageddon so this is all I managed to get.

The overall pattern combines all of these into 12 larger blocks, which are based on the 'Colorado Variation' to a basic pinwheel. 

One block from the pattern
Same block made from the actual fabric 

I've learned a ton from this project already, such as the importance of properly counting how many pieces will be required before you cut them out (I was short 8 pieces when it finally came time to lay them all out). And also the importance of planning which way to press your seams ahead of time (I'm having to re-press 50% of them the other way as I put the pieces together). And most importantly the importance of not doing the math in your head (I came up 3/8" short on the striped pieces and had to recut them all). I'm sure there are many more valuable learning experiences to come before I get to the end of this project. 

Chances are that I'll be focusing on the blanket project for the next little while following my class, but everything for this table runner is cut out and ready to be assembled when the blanket is done. I'm really looking forward to seeing it come together.

**Edit: For more details and pictures of the completed table runner, see the follow-up post here.**

Monday, 21 November 2011

Memories of Summer Salad

I came across these pictures I took this summer of a delicious market salad, and it instantly made me feel better about the crazy cold outside. I thought I would share this recipe so that we can all start getting excited for the upcoming spring. Everything on this plate is from Ottawa's Byward Market.

The lovely ladies who lived in our house before we moved here had planted a small garden out back and thanks to them we had fresh vegetables all summer. Next spring I want to plant a garden of my own, and grow all of the fixins for making this awesome salad whenever I want. I'm especially excited for a raspberry bush.

To make two portions of this salad you need:
     - romaine lettuce
     - raspberries
     - a dozen pattypan squash, cut into quarters and roasted with olive oil and sea salt
     - one cucumber
     - feta cheese
     - cashew chunks

For the vinaigrette, combine equal quantities of:
     - balsamic vinegar
     - apple cider vinegar
     - apple juice
     - olive oil
     - mushed up raspberries (I used the berries that were not pretty enough to go into the salad)


Friday, 18 November 2011

Baby Wipes and Cream Holder

I've made a few of these baby wipes holders for new moms, to help with on-the-go organization. Seems like a good idea for keeping the diaper changing necessities together, and making them easy to find in a diaper bag. It holds a pack of travel wipes and one small tin of diaper rash cream. I made this latest one for my awesome new nephew. There are so many fun prints to choose from when making baby stuff.

I didn't get the chance to take photos while I was making this one, since I sewed a good part of it on a plane. (I was actually slightly nervous going through airport security with a sewing needle in my bag, and wouldn't have been able to finish my project if they had taken it away. Luckily everything went smoothly.) Next time I will definitely take some pictures of the assembly and post the information on how to make your own. These are easy to make, and extremely cute.

The hardest part is usually finding a travel size tin of diaper rash cream. For some reason they don't sell these individually, you have to buy the whole travel kit just to get the cream. Then you're stuck with a box of soaps, shampoos, powder, and breast pads. Anyone know where I might get a small tin of the cream on its own?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Dressmaker Mannequin Jewelry Holder

Even though we've been settled in to the new house for two months now, there are still a lot of small things that need doing. Today, I cut the paper and moving tape off my dress form and unwrapped all of my jewelry, which was stashed inside my vintage 80's peanut butter jar piggy bank.

This was the perfect excuse to take pictures of the cute mini dress form I made this week using the pattern from the DIY Dish How to Make a Dress Form Mannequin Pincushion tutorial. When I watched this video, I wanted to start sewing one right that second. In the end, I had to wait a week until I went to the library to print the pattern, but as soon as I got home I started cutting pieces. I went to two vintage stores looking for a candle holder to use as a base, but all of their candle holders were exppensive and very very tacky (iron roosters and such). I bought this base at the Army & Navy store for $5 instead. Score!
This is the miniature version
Here they are together, sans jewelry
The finished product
I attached all of my necklaces, bracelets and pins to the wire dress form for easy storage and display. She can now live on top of my dresser and help me choose accessories when I get dressed up.

Speaking of dress forms, I've had my eye on this fabric for a long time now. I hope to find an excuse to buy it before the stock runs out.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Felt Bear Mask Tutorial + Pattern

A few months ago, I made this mask for a mask themed birthday party. I had originally thought that it would be easy to find a pattern online to make an adult bear mask, but it turns that either no one has thought of this yet, or very few adults are interested in wearing cute animal masks (sounds hard to believe, I know.) I thought I would right this by showing you all how to make one.

Consider how much fun it would be for your little one if you read them a story about a bear while wearing a soft cuddly bear mask.

I designed this to fit 3 basic requirements: 1) it had to be soft and comfortable, 2) it couldn't get in the way of drinking, 3) I had to be able to wear my glasses over it.

I started out by folding a piece of paper in half and drawing an approximate shape, which I then copied onto a new sheet and cut out to see how it would fit. When I decided what adjustments needed to be made, I went back to my original template and drew in the changes, followed by another paper cut-out. Drawing only half the mask on my master template, ensured that both sides would be perfectly symmetrical when I cut it out.

Paper template, with many
layers of adjustments
The final cut-out, I think this was the 4th version

You can download the pattern HERE to make your own mask using the instructions below.

What you will need:
- Two squares of felt for the main part of the mask. 'Eco felt' made from recycled bottles is great but should be avoided for this project because it is not as sturdy and not as soft
- Felt scraps of a different colour for inside the ears
- An elastic (or two strips of fabric) for putting the mask on
- Thread for sewing it all together.


Step 1: Pin the pattern to both layers of felt and cut around it

Step 2: Before you cut out the eyes of your mask, put the paper template up to your face and make sure the eye holes are in the right place for you. If they aren't, adjust the size and position until you can see clearly.

Step 3: Measure the elastic so that it goes around your head comfortably from one edge of your mask to the other. It should be tight enough to keep the mask on, but it shouldn't be pulling.

Step 4: Cut the elastic to the length you chose, adding 1/2 inch extra on each side to attach it to the mask.

Step 5: To create a template for inside the ears, cut out the ears on the paper pattern following the line and trim the round part until it fits nicely inside your mask's ears. Using that template, cut out two small felt bits of another colour. (You really only need to use one paper ear template for this - just flip it upside down and it will fit the opposite ear).

Here is what you will have at this point.
Two layers of felt for the mask, an elastic and two small bits of felt that fit inside the ears.

Step 6: Insert 1/2 inch of the elastic between your two layers of felt on each side and pin in place. The place where you should attach the elastic is marked on the pattern with two short lines.

Step 7: Sew all the way around your mask, both layers, 1/4 inch from the edge. Be very careful not to sew over your elastic except in the 2 places where you want to attach it!
Do not sew around the eye holes (I tried this, it didn't look very good).

Step 8: Attach the inside of the ears by sewing around them with a small zigzag stitch.

You're done!
Here it is, your finished mask!
Time to wear it and go be awesome.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. If you make a mask using this pattern, I'd love to see it! Let me know in the comments and/or upload your photos to Flickr.

Monday, 14 November 2011

From the Internets: Scoodies

The worst is finally here. I knew it would eventually happen, and everyone has told me that it isn't so bad, but I just thought I'd have more time. That's right, it's winter in Edmonton.
We've had snow for three days, and it's cold. I hear the temperature is still in the teens in Ottawa *sigh*. On the bright side, there are two white-tailed jackrabbits living in our back yard. Here is one foraging for treats (I left them some bread). 

In honour of this sharp sudden arrival of winter, and to keep my mind off the cold, I thought I'd share one of my favourite winter projects from the past, the scoodie!

If you search Flickr, you will see hundreds of interpretations of this internet classic. As far as I know, the concept originates from this awesome tutorial on the idietutes blog.

I made two of these out of thick cotton fabric and black fleece. The brown one is the first I made, butI realized that the hood was slightly too big. I revised the pattern for my second try, which is the white plaid one. It turned out great and I like to wear it over my toque on windy winter days.

If I had to do it over again, I would make the scarf part an inch wider, and about one foot shorter on either side. I would also use fleece material that is less stretchy. This black fabric annoyed me so much that the rest of it is currently piled up at the bottom of a kitty bed. I never want to sew with it again. In fact, I've had quite a few frustrating experiences with synthetic stretch fabrics, and I now stay away from anything stretchy that isn't cotton jersey.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

From the Internets: Making a Pillbox Hat

I am a hat fanatic. I can never resist an opportunity to make a new hat. Last year, I was invited to a Mad Men theme party (I've never actually seen the show) and realized that this was the perfect opportunity to create and show off a one of a kind retro hat.

After going through all of the pillbox hat tutorials I could find online, I chose How-to make a Pill(ar) Box by Laura aka Trudy4Life. The hat from this tutorial had exactly the look I wanted. Other advantages to this design are that it's rigid and won't lose its shape, and the elastic strap is easier to deal with than any of the other options I saw, which involved holding the hat in place with bobby pins or barrettes.

Using my glue gun and some cardboard support pieces cut from an empty cola carton, I created this little beauty:

The hat itself is made of red denim, which I got for free at a garage sale from a wonderful older woman who could no longer sew. She gave me several yards of this stuff and I've used it for many things over the years. The ribbon was the handle from a shopping bag. I cut the ends at an angle and used a tiny bit of nail polish to seal them so that they wouldn't fray. The button came from my big tin of buttons which once belonged to my grandmother.

I love this hat and am on the lookout for any excuse to wear it again.

If you like it as much as I do, I encourage you to make one. It's quick and retro chic, and doesn't require any sewing. Here are a few other photos to convince you. 


Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chevron Mug Rug

For a while there, mug rugs were every crafter's favourite thing. So many bloggers had designed and made their own amazing little quilt, that I decided I had to make one too. Considering that I was completely new to quilting at the time, I think it turned out better than anyone could have expected!
Cookies were made using this recipe from Bakerella, with added Skor bits.
They are phenomenal.
At the time, I didn't have any of the right tools for the job (no rotary cutter, no grid ruler, no walking foot for my sewing machine) but I didn't let that stop me. What I did have was plenty of scrap fabric and poly batting left over from earlier projects. I used graph paper to create a triangle template, and then pinned the paper to my fabric and cut out each piece one by one. I really wish it had occurred to me to cut out squares and stitch them together down the middle instead of sewing each half square triangle separately, but that's just one of the wonderful things I learned from this project.

Once all of triangles were sewn into what looked surprisingly like a proper rectangle, I basted the 3 layers together and machine quilted a line 1/4" on each side of the chevrons to accentuate the pattern. I didn't know at the time that I needed a walking foot on my sewing machine to do this properly, but luckily my batting was thin and I used lots of pins.

Small as it is, it still took me two attempts to bind this project. I had originally pieced together a 2" strip of the green fabric, and I sewed it all the way around the front of the mug rug before I realized that there was no way it would be wide enough to reach around to the back. I really liked the green binding, and tried hard to make it work because I didn't have any more scraps of that fabric. In the end, I had no choice but give up on it and cut a new 2.5" wide binding from another fabric. I used the same pink as for the backing. I think it looks pretty cute for a first try.

By the time I had finished this project, I knew that I wanted to try some more involved quilting. At about the same time, we got the news that we would be moving out West, and after all, how can one be a good prairie girl if they don't join a quilting guild?

Friday, 11 November 2011

Houndstooth Turtles Mini Quilt

This is a project that I've been working on over the past month or so, and while it's not quite finished, I just couldn't wait to show it off. The pink and green fabrics are scraps from some previous baby shower gift projects. 

I started out by cutting my solid squares, and then made a long tube with one strip of green and one strip of pink on each side that I cut at a 45 degree angle to get alternating squares. This turned out to be a mistake, because I soon realized that my stripey squares were quite a bit bigger than my solid squares, and I didn't have enough leftover fabric to re-cut them. Oops!


Once all of the blocks were assembled I gave the quilt a trim, and luckily the overall pattern worked out just fine. You might notice that the pink hounds' ears turned out a little bit bigger than the green ones after trimming, but that's just fine with me! The pink is meant to be the focus anyway. I picked some cute little teddy bears to use for the back, but then I decided that it needed something more funky, and that's when I got the idea for turtles.

I cut some circles and triangles out of scraps of brown and green felt, and hand embroidered a spiral on each big circle to give it that turtle shell feel. I then added some black felt eyes to the green circles, and settled down to do some hand applique while rewatching season 7 of Buffy. Many, many episodes later, I've got a completed quilt top! Here it is:

The batting and binding are already cut out, but I can't get started on the quilting since the free motion foot that I ordered for my sewing machine hasn't arrived yet. This will be my first attempt at free motion quilting and I'm very much looking forward to it. The final result should be posted soon enough.