Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sewing: Patriotic Pillowcase Dresses


I wanted to make some quick outfits for the girls to wear to Fourth of July celebrations this year. Last year I made some dresses from Portabello Pixie patterns, which turned out beautifully, but I was literally finishing them while the celebratory BBQ was beginning. This year I decided I would make some simple pillowcase dresses--less time intensive and more playful for the casual celebrations too. So I went on a fabric hunt and wasn't finding anything that seemed patriotic but not too cliche. Then I found this fabulous anchor scarf panel! It's Bar Harbor by Minick & Simpson for Moda Fabrics. I love this nautical pattern! I love the cadet blue and off white coloring. I thought it would be so perfect for a pillowcase dress with some red accents. And it is!

So here are Audrey and Scarlett in their Patriotic Pillowcase dresses:


I used a red cotton for the tie and added a ruffle to Audrey's dress. Not only do I think the ruffle is darling, but it adds some length to the dress--she is getting so tall! I left the ruffle off of Scarlett's dress as it was plenty long on her. I think the dress is so cute and fun with and without the ruffle--can't wait for them to wear these to our BBQs this weekend.

Here's the tutorial for making these dresses in a size 4 and a size 2, with and without ruffle (click to read more after the jump):

Friday, June 25, 2010

Painting: Hollyhocks

I took the photos from which to paint these hollyhocks almost a year ago on a neighborhood walk. I have never chosen flowers as the subject of a painting, but when I started painting again a few years ago I was excited about tackling new subjects. And, this particular one made it to my nesting list. Not exactly baby apparel I know, but this painting was something I had in mind for Scarlett's room and I am desperate to get some things finished for her so she does not become the forgotten middle child when her little sister arrives!

So, hooray! I finished the painting! Every painting is instructive (my sister and I talk about "laps in the pool") and this one was a bit surprising too. I actually roughed in the layout last December and thought I could finish it in a couple hours. I thought it shouldn't be that difficult because it was just flowers--not a portrait or anything. 

Well, turns out that flowers are much more complex than I realized. I invested many more hours. But I also am more fond of this painting than I thought. I was thinking of it as "decorator" painting to fill a spot in a room as opposed to a serious composition but I like how it turned out! And I also really like it in Scarlett's room. A bunch of vibrant pink hollyhocks is about as girly as it gets--fun for my little girl's room.

This painting is 20x16--a much more comfortable scale. The flowers are about life size, which I love to do.

I wasn't sure about framing... I wanted something with more of a cottage than a formal feel. I ended up buying a pretty basic frame with a strange black and brown finish on sale at Michael's and using a can of Krylon to paint it robin's egg blue ("Blue Ocean Breeze" actually). I think it works. And it was a great price! And, it was instant DIY gratification.

I have a couple other things in mind for Scarlett's walls. This went smoothly enough that I'm motivated! I'll get her room finished yet.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sewing: Paisley and Cabbage Roses Classic Dress


I am a "finisher." I try and enjoy the process, and honestly do, but whatever I am engaged in is mostly about getting something finished. Because then it can be used and enjoyed, and more importantly, I have the satisfaction of having accomplished something! Add that to nesting and it gets a little crazy! I realized I have about ten weeks until this new little babe arrives and a long list of things I want to do, which I haven't started. How much can I get done? Can I finish one thing a week? Maybe. Depends what it is I guess, but ten things sounds like a really great amount. I'm off to a good start this week. I just finished this dress for Audrey (I know I said "nesting" but it's not all about the new baby--too many fun ideas for the two girls who are already here) and I have a painting nearly finished! Can't believe that one because it's been six months since I lifted the brush...

So this is a dress I have been thinking about sewing for Audrey for some time. I bought the fabric over a year ago at Joann. It's "Rambling Rose" by Donna Wilder for Fabric Traditions. I think it is such a classic print. I love the pink and brown and yellow--the yellow saves it from being too cliche I think. The pattern is Vogue V7819, although I altered it by substituting covered buttons instead of the called for zipper and I added piping around the neck, arms and waist. Gives it a more classic feel I think. It was more than a bit tricky to figure out those modifications because this dress is fully lined. I cut out the pieces and basically ditched the instructions and managed to work it out.

Sometimes the simplest of shapes look the best on young girls. I love the bohemian and boutique looks but when I put Audrey in something like this I think it is so feminine and doesn't compete with the effortless beauty of her little girlhood.  I was thinking of the beautiful, classic dresses from Papo d'Anjo. They are beautifully made as well--I was lucky to receive one for Audrey when she was born and I loved the attention to details---the dress was fully lined, with tiny rickrack trim and not a thread out of place.

I was thinking of this dress I made last year for Scarlett and these dresses here when I made this one for Audrey:

Audrey's is fully lined too. Love it! It's worth the extra work because it hangs so nicely, isn't at all transparent, and it's as pretty inside as it is out (which is what my mother used to say about nice little girls and young women, and same could be said of Audrey).

This dress also has a substantial hem--about four inches. Which means Audrey could wear it another year or maybe two if I let out the length. Of course, it may be that she doesn't get the chance because I will have finished something else for her to wear, but she'll have two younger sisters to catch the hand-me-downs.

Here she is, in our own rambling roses. I'll have her wear this dress Sunday for Father's Day. Maybe we can snap a few photos of the Dad with his two daughters as we did last year.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Party: "Fiesta Forty" Birthday Party

Well, we did it! We used my fortieth birthday as the excuse to host a party we'd been thinking about for a few years, with street taco vending, live Mexican music, good friends and family and lots of bright decorations (well, it's probably not accurate to use "we" for that one...). Here is the report on my FIESTA FORTY! starting with a photo of my little Scarlett in her fiesta skirt and blouse (Audrey wore a similar set) and me in my maternity Mexican peasant blouse--hooray for variety in pregnancy wear! It was fun to dress the part for this party.

As you can see, I jumped on the tissue paper pop-pom bandwagon for this party. Loved the idea of brightly colored clusters of these hanging from the trees. I used a mixture of rounded and pointed petal poms in bright pink, turquoise, yellow, white and orange.

We set up guest tables in our backyard topped with chartreuse green table covers, then yellow paper cloths hand-cut to resemble Papel Picado banners, then my oilcloth Fiesta Tablecloths, and finally the Fiesta Flower Bouquets I had been making in the wee hours these past weeks. So fun to see these ideas come together. I typically don't like using paper but it seemed the right thing for this casual fiesta--plus I love the Mexican paper crafting traditions of banners, flowers and tissue covered pinatas.

The serving tables were set with yellow table skirts, white hand-cut paper tablecloths, and over sized yellow tissue Papel Picado banners. 

I wish I'd taken better photos of the banners because they turned out really fun and were a big part of the original concept for this party, including the invitations

I used a different variety of paper flower bouquets on the serving tables. It was so much fun iterating on this theme! On one table I had over-sized arrangements with a mix of rounded and pointy "blooms" in 36" tall vases. (I used dinner napkins to make these blooms and long dowels purchased at a craft store.)

On another serving table I made tight, low arrangements of pointy blooms in bright pink with one yellow accent flower. Had I not had a deadline it would have been fun to keep experimenting!

Other serving table details included delicious Jarritos sodas in lime, mandarin, mango, guava and mandarin. These are good and so sweet so one needs a party as an excuse to drink them! We served "Mexican Coke" (the stuff made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup--yum!), and the requisite Diet Coke and water as well but the Jarritos were the first to go! (I love the bright turquoise metal bottle openers I found at a local restaurant supply and tied to the drink coolers.)

We used tinfoil takeout containers lined with brightly color napkins, metal baskets lined with napkins for the utensils, and lucky me, IKEA had straws in all the right colors. 

But the food is the real story! It was the real deal: carnitas, carne asada and pollo street tacos with grilled onions and pico de gallo (catered by a great local authentic restaurant); chips, my husband's guacamole and a variety of salsas; my Fiesta Salad; and  churros made-to-order (the only way to eat them) with chocolate or sweetened condensed milk to top. 

And, of course, birthday cake! I made Tres Leches Cake, four of them actually (recipe below). I topped each with a bright pink flower (of course) and ten candles--a bit less overwhelming to spread them out in tens rather than have forty on one cake!

I loved the idea of the guests ordering just what they wanted and moving around from taco tent to serving tables while visiting. It worked perfectly! So much fun! It wouldn't have been a party without the people. I love the chance to bring together family and friends from different stages in my life. I was lucky to have friends at the party from high school in addition to those I've made more recently.

We had two guitarists playing Ranchero music--they were so great, played a good variety at the right volume, and really added to the fiesta flavor.

The weather was a minor miracle given the amount of rain and cold we've had lately. Thank goodness as we really didn't have a backup plan! It was so beautiful outside and just the right temperature. 

Can't think of a better way to celebrate! And thank goodness I had some help blowing out the candles! (Wish you could hear our friend, Charlie, playing his guitar and singing ¡Feliz cumpleaños a !")

Now that our big parties are finished for a while I can move on to that nesting list I have barely scratched yet. I'm looking forward to creating some things without big deadlines, well, except for the obvious one!



I found this recipe for Tres Leches Cake in Child Magazine a few years ago. It was never available online and I can't find it now. Wish I had written down the name of the woman who submitted it to their cake recipe contest to give her due credit--it's such a great, easy recipe. Nice spongy cake holds up well to all the leche. My firm opinion is that anything with this much sweetened condensed milk is good!

Tres Leches Cake (Child Magazine Cake Contest Winner)
Serve: 12
Prep Time: 15 minutes (plus an hour to set)
Cooking time: 45 minutes

  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 4 tsp. vanilla

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 4 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. Separate the eggs. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy. Add sugar gradually. Mix in egg yolks one at a time.  Combine flour and baking powder. Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients mixing thoroughly between additions. Add vanilla and mix well.

2. Pour mixture into a greased 9” square cake pan, and bake for 40-45 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes in pan.

3. Remove cake from pan and place onto a platter. Make holes in top of cake with a fork.  Combine glaze ingredients in a large bowl. Pour over the cooled cake, and let it sit for about an hour.

4. Using an electric mixer, whip cream with sugar and vanilla at high speed until soft peaks form. Spread over top and sides of cake.

This is great served cold or room temperature.
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