Friday, February 26, 2010


I didn't post yesterday because I completely forgot I even had a Diary! Bizarre. Just as well really because I didn't procrastinate at all - I spent the whole day doing stuff that had to be done. And today will be much the same, because what has to be done is right under my nose.

Or my feet, to be precise:

Yep, it's practically March and we're just now getting the first real snow of winter. Time to shovel!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Heart-o-meter week 4

February is almost gone, and with it the sort of midwinter misery that only seasonal chocolate can alleviate, but let's take one last look anyway at my favourite love tunes on YouTube:

The Love Shack:
Arbitrarily-timed view count for February 23, 2010: 1,006,401, up from 969,404 last week

Affairs of the Heart:
Arbitrarily-timed view count for February 23, 2010: 7, 890, up from 7,795 last week

I know I shouldn't be surprised that The Love Shack wins, but I really did think that post-Valentine's wistfulness, related to dwindling chocolate supplies, would drive more than 95 people toward Affairs of the Heart. Maybe it drove them out the door to buy more sweets, instead?

A young friend and I listened to Affairs of the Heart together recently and discussed what it might possibly be about. I asked what feelings you get when you listen to it.

"Joy," my friend said.

"The joy of love?" I asked.

"The joy of being alive," my friend told me. And I have to agree. I guess the video just needs more dancing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Embroidering things

Embroidering: it's what writers are supposed do, right?

Maybe not literally but... I can't help it! I really like blanket stitch!

Yep. I actually enjoy taking out a length of embroidery satin and threading a needle and painstakingly working my way across an unfinished edge of something or other at what I hope will be (and never is) regular intervals. Since I finished the 2009 Christmas Mitten Extravaganza, I find myself sewing things out of felted wool leftovers pretty much for an excuse to do more of it. It's kinda like meditation except you have something to hold in your hand and look at afterward.

My favourite shade is a bright salmon pink I found in a discount pile at the local fabric chain store. It's a weird colour but surprisingly matchy for a lot of my felted sweaters and the projects emerging from them.

Like for example the bottom of a pair of sleeves I turned into fingerless gloves last month:

The colours are perfect together, yes? And the gloves - so useful in a house with no insulation.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How to make a child-sized art bag

Last week I made a birthday gift for friend turning 6; she's a very hip 6, so I thought another bag of art supplies was in order. This time I did a messenger style bag and, since the supplies included fabric markers, I decided to include a part she could draw on.

First though, I had to cut out pieces. In the main fabric, cut:

1 strip 5" x 39.5", for the strap

1 piece 10" (or 12") x 26", for the bag

2 pieces 6.5" x 10" each, for interior pockets.

And then - pull out a freshly ironed man's shirt, in my case acquired after the collar and cuffs had gotten a bit too worn for wear. The object of your interest: the buttony stuff down the front.

Line up the 10" (or 12") end of the bag piece against three of the buttonholes - this is easier if you've already cut off the collar - and when they are centred, snip into the buttonhole band at each end to mark the place.

Then lift the buttonhole fold a little to cut neatly along the underside of it.

After that, turn to the button band and cut between the buttons such that you have a clean run of 2 buttons on three different pieces - because mistakes happen, and you know that child is going to need backup canvasses. I cut mine about 6" long.

And then you're off to the sewing machine.

Folding right side to right side, turn over the tops of the bag and pockets twice, as narrow as you can, to hide the cut edge. Then press them and stitch them down.

Also right side to right side, run a seam down the length of the strap, turn it inside out, press it, and fold the ends up inside the strap before pressing them as well.

And finally, fold each of the pocket pieces wrong side to wrong side, stitch a 1/8" seam down each of their sides, fold them back so that the right sides face the right sides, and stitch a 1/4" seam to hide that cut edge.

Here is a summary of those steps:

Pin the pockets to the top of the wrong sides of the bag piece, and at the same time pin the buttonhole strip (preferably the side with the raw edge where it was cut from the shirt) along the right side of one of them and topstitch those into place. Stitch only the top of the buttonhole band; leave the bottom open so it's easier to use.

Had I planned the sizing better on my bag, I might not have had to fold in the ends of the strap so they were out of the way of the buttonholes before I stitched them down, ahem. This is where the 12" wide bag piece comes in handy.

Now the clever part: Take those button band pieces and fold in the sides and bottom, double, on the button side of the fabric. Press, pin, and stitch down.

Especially if you do the 12" width, you can fit in quite a few nice art things.

Your last step is to tuck two of the white squares into one of the pockets with a note explaining how to use the fabric markers to customize the bag, and then button the third onto the front of the bag - buttons facing inward.

I love this bag and I really think I need one in my size, don't you?

Friday, February 19, 2010

When water meets winter

My neighbour's outside tap burst the other day, right after they left town for a bit. Guess what happens when you get Niagara Falls spraying against your house overnight in subzero temperatures?

And you don't want to know what icicles formed a few inches from the tap when the water's primary obstacle froze big enough to block it from the my wall. (well, you do, but I didn't get a picture of that.) Suffice it to say it took their plumbers an hour or so to chip down the resulting ice sculpture.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A party waiting to happen

I completely forgot to tell you about my haul from last week's outing:

Yes, I did! I did find at last a supply of my favourite hot chocolate! plus a supply of my new favourite triple chocolate pecan toffee bark thing that is just... mmph. Fabulush.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Heart-o-meter week 3

Now that Valentine's Day (though hopefully not Valentine-related chocolate supplies) has passed, let's see how my favourite love tunes are doing with their YouTube views:

The Love Shack:
Arbitrarily-timed view count for February 17, 2010: 969,404, up from 930,743 last week

Affairs of the Heart:
Arbitrarily-timed view count for February 17, 2010: 7,795, up from 7,683 last week

Yep, the Love Shack is still leading.

You know it's the chocolate driving this week, right? All that sugar - people just want to dance it off. Me included!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sewing a knitting kit

Oh how I wish I had taken step-by-step photos and measurements of this gift made for my knitting group swap, because I would like to make another for myself. I'm sure I will get around to that eventually. Maybe after I finish the short story collection - ha! Ahahahahahahaha Ha!

Sides: aching.

What I can tell you is that the kit is tall enough to accommodate a 6" tall needle gauge ruler, and wide enough for a pair of small scissors beside a pen, and also that I used iron-on interfacing on the wrong side of the outer fabric to keep the cover nice and crisp.

See? Doesn't it look nice and crisp?

Inside, it's kind of a book... of needles. Pages two and three: ruler and tape measure (that's what that is just peeping out of the pocket on the right.)

Pages four and five: pen and Post-It notes for making revisions to a pattern.

Pages six and seven: scissors and darning needles, plus a place for stitch markers.

I used new fabric for the cover, fabric from an upcycled IKEA pillowcase for the liner and pockets, and felted wool from a Land's End boiled wool jacket for the inside pages. It was, after all, a Valentine's swap; it didn't feel right not to include lots of red.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How to make a felted wool pillow

Somebody very special to me had a birthday this month. Naturally, she already has everything - except a felted wool pillow. So that is what I made her, and here is how.

First, you need a wool sweater that, once felted, fits over the pillow form you bought or rediscovered as the real first step. I chose a very soft sweater in cream, so it would feel and look nice anywhere she wanted to put it. It had a few moth holes in it, but nothing I couldn't hide.

Then you need to make it square - first by cutting off the arms and neck,

and then by piecing sleeve patches over the curves left by the arms and neck.

(See how the pieces got skewed in the felting process? They don't line up, which posed a problem when it came to the button band. More details on that later.)

This brings us to the 'if you can't hide it, focus on it' part of our program. We are dealing with moth holes and giant ovals that just look weird. Solution? Flowers.

A lot of flowers.

All cut from one of the sleeves, by the way. Once they're pinned you can hand- or, in my case, machine-stitch them down:

and find matching buttons. Around this time I also stitched down the corners of one side of the bottom of the pillow, a nice finish that didn't work because of the skewing problem, as you'll see shortly. I had to rip that stitching out.

Then it's buttonhole city - measuring for them and pinning to mark where to cut them open with a ripper:

I used the pins that ran perpendicular to the buttonhole to help me line up the buttons when I sewed them onto the other side:

You could probably leave the buttonholes unfinished, but I didn't want to. I also didn't have any matching embroidery thread, so I had to settle for the same sewing thread I'd used to stitch the pieces together:

Sewing thread is so fine I feared it would be way too much work, but it wasn't any trouble at all.

What gave me greater trouble was the skewed fabric - in the end I had to rip open the seam at one side of the button band and whipstitch hems for the front and back of the pillow to ensure the band didn't pull when the pillow was closed. This is the other side, pictured here - it neatly tucks under in the exact line I had stitched and ripped out:

And then - you can sit down and relax with a nice book and some cookies!

Friday, February 12, 2010

How to make paper valentines

I've had some fun lately raiding my (home) office stationery cupboard for plain index cards and a few sheets each of red and white printer paper for my annual valentine-making fest.

First, of course, I cut some hearts.

This year I didn't mess up the heart shapes on the first cut, so I decided to incorporate some of the sheets I'd cut from, after matching them to the length of the index cards or to another strip of contrasting paper.

Having open heart-shaped gaps means you can put a word in each one to make a messsage.

I think I'm almost ready for Sunday, but I'd better brush up on the ol' calligraphy skills!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Apple of my eye

I've really slacked off on baking this winter, which is weird for me, so yesterday I got out the gear for apple muffins. I use a pretty basic recipe and replace 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of oatmeal, and - done.

I've made them so much the last few years that a couple of Christmases back I was treated to this handy tool:

I pretty much only use it for grating apples, but it's been worth every penny of that other person's money in time saved and enjoyment gained.

Another tool bonus this time around:

First. Time. Ever. that all the muffins fell out of my stoneware pan without leaving some essential body part behind. It's officially seasoned, folks!

Still, the best part of muffin baking is the aftermath. On a cold snowy grey day, this is a pretty nice treat, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Heart-o-meter week 2

Time to see how two of my favourite love tunes are doing over on YouTube:

The Love Shack:
Arbitrarily-timed view count for February 10, 2010: 930,743, up from 895,524 last week

Affairs of the Heart:
Arbitrarily-timed view count for February 10, 2010: 7,683, up from 7,567 last week

And, still in first place, it's The Love Shack!

I think what's making up the big jump in viewership there are people stuck in offices and needing a pick-me-up. Probably at about 10:47 somebody is saying Hey! Dance Break! and turning up the volume on his or her computer so everybody can get up and pump their fists to The Love Shack.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Marshmallow day

Today will either shape up into something interesting, or sit there like a blob while I decide what to do with it for so long that suddenly it's over anyway.

I know that there will be a fair amount of pondering the process of grieving, because there has been a fair amount of that every day since I read an article in The New Yorker on the subject. Do you think grieving was more effective when people did it collectively - and personally, not at a distance as with celebrities - wearing black, having noisy wakes, or otherwise being with the primary recipients of the force of the blow?

I'm not so sure. Collective grief is a comfort, but I also feel that however social we are as a species we are also quite solitary, and grief is buried so deep anyway it would be difficult for others to touch it. To say nothing of how long grief lasts - a lifetime, for many. Nobody wants to hang around long enough for that to pass, not even the person who's grieving. Maybe especially that person.

While I'm pondering all that I will be eating some of this:

It's bread with pecans and dried cherries (among other fruits) baked in - fabulous when plain, possibly more fabulous toasted with cream cheese.

And I will be thinking more possible craft projects with old sheets I wish I had some of... h'mmm, maybe a trip to the thrift store is in order? because of this thought-provoking bit of Tiny Happy.

Maybe I will go to a Posh Shopping Neighbourhood to see if I can find some Ghirardelli milk chocolate hot chocolate mix, which is no longer stocked where I live.

Or maybe I will take some long naps, and imagine I'm sleeping on a big marshmallow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How to make sachet Valentines

I'm not sure what put this idea into my head (probably panic over having so much writing inspiration last week - how horrible if I were to put in a whole hour on my short stories) but I've been obsessed with sewing a lot of Valentines with leftovers from my Christmas felted wool sweater extravaganza.

On the weekend I decided to go for it.

Materials needed:
felted sweater scraps
loose-woven cotton
dried lavender
thread, scissors, pins, and an occasional chocolate

Step 1: make some patterns.

Actually I didn't do this first - I cut some rectangles and squares freehand right into the fabric. Then I thought some circles and hearts would be nice, forgetting how much harder it is to sew curves than straight lines, and made patterns with the top of a glass and typical fold-the-paper-in-two hearts. After that I got overconfident and cut some hearts freehand, too. After an hour or so I noticed I had the makings of 11 sachets and had to stop myself, it's that addictive.

Step 2: pin the patterns and cut them out.

I realize you don't need an illustration of this. This picture is here for me, so I can show off how nicely I matched up the pins. I might mention here though that the fact that you're cutting out hearts or sewing hearts onto whatever you did cut out means that red doesn't need to be involved. And size doesn't matter either. You can use pretty much any old scraps of felted wool and make somebody happy.

Step 3: cut out little squares from muslin in sizes a little smaller than the sachets they will fill.

I use the word muslin loosely: this is just some light cotton I got in a huge bolt from a discount bin at IKEA maybe 15 years ago and still haven't gotten to the end of. You could use any fabric loosely enough woven to let scent out, or you could just fill the felted wool pockets directly after stitching them most of the way shut. If you want to get fancy, you could cut the muslin shapes with the same patterns you used for the sachets, too! H'mmm, wish I'd thought of that yesterday.

Step 4: stitch any mini hearts you're using onto the larger sachets.

You have to peer at the back of this picture to see what I'm talking about; sorry - there's a better shot of what I mean a few steps down.

The ridiculously large heart in front is a slightly different design, destined to be a hanging sachet with the help of a strip cut from the cream sweater, folded into a loop, and stitched in later. If you're doing a really big one like that, you might want to add a little stuffing to the tops of the heart so the lavender pocket doesn't stick out like an entire chocolate Cupid eaten on an empty stomach.

Step 5: stitch up the muslin pockets and fill them with dried lavender.

You may notice that this sample was sewn on all four sides, with just a little opening left in the middle of one of them. This was a really bad idea. What you want to do is sew three sides, fill the thing, and then fold the open end inward so you can pin it and stitch it. That way, you won't have to cut a little trenchy spoon out of a straw to cram the lavender buds in there, three at a time. Ahem.

Step 6: pin the muslin shut as though you were sensible and sewed the thing up three sides in the first place, and sew it closed.

This is also the better shot of the heart applique. Adorable, yes? I think I need to make more of the red on grey ones.

Step 7: is really three steps: tuck in the pouch, pin the sachet, and topstitch it closed.

Yes, the stitching will show. But any mistakes just add to the homemade charm, don't you think?

Friday, February 5, 2010

How to make a walker's carry-all

A friend who had an accident over the holiday has graduated to a lightweight walker and, some days, a cane or two - good news! unless she needs to carry something.

So I made her a little bag yesterday, something she can sling across her body and fill up with odds and ends. Here's how to make one yourself:

First, cut two 20" x 20" squares of fabric (or any other size that suits you.) If you're lucky enough to have fabric that looks nice on both sides - a tea towel maybe, or pieces from a big felted wool sweater - you only need one square.

Next, put the right sides together and stitch all the way around, leaving a gap through which to pull the right side back out again.

Note: creating all these extra layers will come back to bite you if you have a very dull sewing needle and/or use recycled fabric you've accidentally left a seam in. But I am proof you can get away with loving the fabric in those old IKEA pillowcases enough to miss that one seam and being too lazy to dig through the sewing box for a new needle.

When you have the right side out,

tuck in the unstitched gap and iron it, along with the rest of the square, flat.

Do not worry if you have an unseemly line left over from your potentially repurposed fabric's previous life, or stabbed yourself and bled on the fabric, or discover too late some other disfigurement, such as this faded fold line:

Simply set that side of the square face down, then fold the bottom of the fabric up almost in two.

Then fold the upper front part down a little, like you're turning the top of a sheet down over a blanket.

Fold the lot over sideways, right side to right side,

and stitch down the side opening from top to bottom. (yes, this is the bitey part.)

Celebrate victory by ironing the pouch flat so that there is a nice pressing line down the side opposite the seam.

When you are done bathing your wounds, cut a strip of fabric about 47" long. The wider you cut it, the easier it will be to work with later. I do not recommend anything less than 4.5" wide (shown here) unless you enjoy turning 47" of shoestring inside out. 6" is probably smart.

Folding it right side to right side to make a very long strip, stitch the length of the strap reasonably close to the edge but not so much so that it will open and fray during use. Then turn it right side out again. A long dowel may assist in reducing the madness-inducing potential of this exercise. Then press it flat so that the seam runs down the centre of one side. Fold up the unbound ends enough to be caught by a row of stitching and press those, too.

Using the pressing and seam lines of the pouch as a guide, centre the ends of the straps immediately above the folded top of the lower pouch opening.

Stitch the overlapping area with as much reinforcement as you can stand.

Then stitch a seam straight across the bottom of the pouch, closing the centre pocket.

Note: especially if you are lucky enough to have a free-arm machine, you may wish to run a seam along the unsewn side of the bag before stitching up the bottom, to separate the shorter front and back pouches from each other; in this version, things could potentially travel from the front pocket to the back.

Et voila! A lightweight three-pocket messenger pouch, big enough for such essentials as a portable phone with pen and paper, or reading material and cookies.