Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sewing: Minky Ultimate Couch Blanket (How-to)

I didn't get to much on my handmade list for Christmas this year, but I did make a blanket for my husband. He's a bit tough to buy for so I was excited and relieved to come up with this idea for him: the ultimate couch blanket. 

I know it looks simply like a beautiful, plush, minky blanket in a generous size (72" long and about 60" wide), and it is! But there is more...

It has a large pocket on one side for tucking your feet! Is it just me or is this what everyone needs? Don't you hate the awkward flapping of the blanket as you try to tuck it under your feet while lounging on the couch? I thought the pocket was the answer.  My girls agreed. Of course it is more like a sleeping bag pouch for their size--maybe a gift idea for them next year.

I didn't do a tutorial for this but I will explain how I made it so you can make one too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

FYI: It's a Merry Christmas

I have always loved Christmas. I have loved it's true meaning--a baby born in Bethlehem. And I have loved all the well-meaning accompaniments too, the occassion to give generously to family and friends and to share with strangers, the music, smiling at fellow shoppers, even the hub-bub of the mall with your list and a limited time to check it all off.
It has certainly changed over the years...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cooking: Puffy Oven Pancake

Dana invited me to share a "Sweets and Treats" recipe on MADE for her Christmas countdown this month and now I'm sharing it here with you: Puffy Oven Pancake. It's not just for breakfast!

My family lived in Germany when I was small and picked up so many of their great traditions, especially those associated with Christmas. While we fell out of practice with some of them over the years, one remained pretty constant: what my mother would call "puffy oven pancake." Many of you may recognize it as "german pancake" but I use my mother's name for it when I make it for my girls.

Traditionally served for breakfast I've found it's a real crowd pleaser for dinner too! And so perfect for a holiday brunch with friends. The ingredients are those you always have on hand (eggs, flour, milk, butter and a little vanilla) and there are a lot of possibilites for toppings to suit all your picky eaters. Be sure to time the baking so that you can pull it out of the oven for all to admire in its peak puffiness, as it quickly subsides.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Crochet: Sedge Stitch Cowl (Tutorial for Waverly)

Still working on Christmas gifts? I am with you! I have been guilty of working on gifts (hats one year, scarves the next) as the guests were arriving! I just can't resist the idea of having a little something handmade for everyone.

Well, this Sedge Stitch Cowl makes that compulsion possible. You could make it in a few short hours! Make a couple in one evening!

It's one-size-fits-all, so you don't have to worry about sizing. Just pick your favorite color of yarn. It's the perfect stocking stuffer.

I designed the pattern for this cowl to share for Waverly's 12 Bloggers of Christmas series. I'm so excited to be participating with this great list of creative women. All sorts of holiday inspiration...

I used the Waverly for Bernat yarn in "Gypsy Gold" for this project (did you know they now have yarn?). While in the past I haven't been much of a "yellow" person, it has been growing on me the past couple years! I want it in my garden now, used a bit of it for a recent birthday party, and I think if it's in a strong shade like this I could even get away with wearing it.

The sedge stitch has such a great texture. Using two strands together makes the work go quickly!  And gives the stitch pattern even more depth. The cowl is very snuggly, but still soft and lightweight. Have I sold you yet?

I would wear it all day over a t-shirt or even a crisp shirt, or over a lightweight sweater, or throw it on with my coat. Guess I'll have to make one for myself too!

Click to read more for the pattern and tutorial.

And visit Waverly's Facebook page to enter to win two $100 JoAnn gift cards!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sewing: Christmas Clothes for Audrey and Tess

When I designed the Couture Skirt for Audrey earlier this year I chose a blush-colored wool but couldn't help thinking about all the other possibilities, including a natural linen (one of the fabrics I've been sewing a lot with lately--see here and here for instance).

Perhaps an odd choice for the colder months but I think it works, don't you? Perhaps it was the burlap-and-red-and-white-for-Christmas, which started floating around in my brain last year, that inspired this combination. Whatever inspired it, I think natural materials, such as this linen and the twine used for my crochet snowflakes, are beautiful for the holidays. And their neutral shades are so great as a foil for a bold red and white check!

So Audrey's Christmas outfit consists of a linen Couture Skirt (pattern here) and her Winnie-The-Pooh-inspired sailor (middy) shirt. I love seeing this shirt dressed up with the skirt. It's so versatile! I made it with a double layer of cotton shirting hoping to add a bit of warmth, but in truth Audrey wasn't comfortable for very long. After a few minutes of us trying to get her excited about our family photo she headed for the car. But this just may be my favorite photo from the day--she looks so independent and determined and as if she is striking out on a real adventure! Seems a scene I would imagine while reading an Isak Dinesen story.

And what about little Tess? She will be wearing a combination of some of the things I've made for her lately: the rick rack trimmed crisscross smock, and her ruffler shirt and red-and-white gingham skirt from the Once Upon a Thread sewing.

I actually had this little ensemble in mind for Tess when I made the smock for her. It's been fun to be working on the mix here for a few months now. And it means these pieces have already been worn more than on Christmas Day. Beautiful and practical. It might be a first!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cooking: Cranberry Pudding for Christmas

My mother used to make this cranberry pudding every Christmas, well at least since about the time I was in junior high school. We would do a progressive dinner with some close family friends right before Christmas and this was always the dessert my mother chose to serve. Warm out of the oven with a substantial puddle of caramel sauce it is pretty hard to beat! Especially on a frosty night.

My mother devised this recipe, I'm guessing by improvising on another one, and it must have been shared a lot because it showed up in a locally produced cookbook a few years ago. Or perhaps someone else was onto this combination of ingredients. Either way, yum!

I love another reason to buy cranberries this time of year. Sometimes I buy a few extra bags and freeze them to thaw later and make this. It works!

Here's the how-to:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sewing: Scarlett's Christmas Dress

Oh, the Christmas dresses. I love to sew them! And every year I vow to start earlier the next. I guess I succeeded this year somewhat because they are finished--but it felt a bit late for the purpose of a Christmas card photo. Oh well. There's always next year!

Early or late, I think this dress for Scarlett is just right! I love it on her. I think the princess seaming and fit-and-flare suits her. The collar--peter pan in front and sailor in the back--is too perfect! I also love all those buttons, which I finished sewing on after the photos. It's a story...

The tailored look seems just right for Miss Scarlett who is all about being in charge right now.

The pattern is a another vintage find (I find most of them on Etsy). Isn't it darling? It's a coat pattern, and a size two, so there was a bit of adjustment involved, including overall lengthening, taking in some seams, keeping the armholes a bit higher, and adding more buttons. 

It's made with more of the red-and-white gingham I've fallen in love with. I actually started out with the dress for Scarlett's birthday but then decided to do something more casual, thinking this would be perfect to save for Christmas.

All the cute details took time of course. And time has been scarce. But hopefully this is a dress that will be worn by more than one girl. That is if my covered buttons hold up. I've been disappointed to find a couple of them popping off their shanks on other dresses I've made. Such a bummer! Any ideas?

Scarlett was the best sport of the bunch for our Christmas card photo shoot, which was the usual comedy. Maybe it was the new dress.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crochet: Twine Snowflakes

Call it "theme and variation" but after a bit of experimentation I think I've found what these crochet snowflakes were meant for: cotton twine. I absolutely love them made out of this material! They look so rich--like linen or hemp or flax--yet so humble. And this is a perfect shade of "natural."

I just used regular hardware store twine (which I actually bought at the grocery store), this pattern, a J-hook, and a little more patience than working with yarn.

I made five to start with and am making a garland by stringing them on the twine. (I used a tapestry needle to weave the twine through the middles and then back across the tops so they don't flop over.)

But I also thought they would look fabulous appliqued on an angora pillow--wouldn't they?

And definitely as a present-topper, especially with some burlap.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sewing: Clothing Inspired by A. A. Milne and E.H. Shepard

Did you see Katy's Once Upon a Thread series? Such a great idea. I love combining two of my "loves": children's books and sewing. In case you missed my book-inspired creations I'm sharing them here today, including a tutorial for a darling red boiled wool jacket for baby. Need a quick solution for a just-in-time holiday photo?

The classic A.A. Milne stories weren't so much a part of my childhood, but part of the child within me, which was as he intended it if you believe what is written about the genesis of these beloved books. I didn't read them growing up but I loved the idea of them as childhood books when I was a young adult. I bought the first set of Winnie-The-Pooh books when I was on a heady trip to London fifteen years ago. I was having success in my job as an advertising account executive, was lucky enough to be on a European business trip (stayed in the Savoy on top of it all!!) and had a few hours to spend at Harrods where I, among other things including eating in their food court, perused their children's book section. I was unmarried, and a long way away from having children as it would turn out, but that didn't stop me from packing home a small suitcase of children's books including "Winnie-The-Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner."

These editions were published by Methuen Children's Books, the original publisher (Methuen & Co. Ltd.) of the Alan Alexander Milne books beginning with "Winnie-The-Pooh" in October of 1926. The illustrator, Ernest H. Shepard colored, or should I say, "coloured," his original line drawings fifty years later and these are the images I have admired for years for their freshness, informality, and animation.They bring the stories to life so beautifully! 

Despite all the advantages of contemporary animated versions of Pooh (including more stories for Pooh fans--A.A. Milne stopped writing the Christopher Robin stories to protect his son from the publicity of it all), I prefer the texture of these illustrations. There is something about their "scratchiness" that I find endearing!

And, since this series is all about sewing, which for me means all about sewing clothes, let's talk about the clothes! There are so many inspiring images here for anyone who loves classic children's clothes. I mean, really! I would love to sew up every piece in Christopher Robin's wardrobe! I love the blue and white plaid ensembles, and the red and white!

I love his crisp white and loosely fitted shirts. And with shorts? And wellies? How can you resist?

He has a great collection of hats too.

And I love that he ventures out in these darling "play clothes" no matter what the weather. There is such an authenticity of childhood in these books. My girls too can't wait to run outdoors in any weather whether they are attired appropriately or not.

And then there are the animal friends. They have their own great wardrobes and I especially love Pooh's little red jacket. A bit shrunken, so perhaps I'll refer to it as a shrug. The fit in these original drawings just makes me giggle! It's a bit stretched across the chest and won't fit over Pooh's belly. Wide at the neck. Much more interesting than the plain red t-shirts, which are often substituted for his uniform.

I could keep sewing and sewing out of these books...but I started with a Winnie-The-Pooh boiled wool shrug for my baby. Such a great layering piece for cooler weather. I love boiled wool and have been wanting to sew with it. And since it is cooler, I made her a couple layers to go underneath: a crisp white shirt and a red gingham skirt. 

It was a rather blustery day in our Hundred Acre Wood, but that didn't stop Tess from venturing out on an Expedition!

It may not have been as much fun for Piglet however, as he was carried around without the benefit of his shirt or scarf.

And the only time Tess would hold still was while swinging, so we did.

Tut-tut, the next day it looked like rain. But then it snowed.

Which meant it was time for a big black umbrella, and boots. Audrey, my Christopher Robin, braved the weather, which really wasn't all that cold, in her own crisp white shirt and red and white checked shorts, to take her little bear out for a walk.

I love the relationship between Christopher Robin and all of his friends in these stories. Such loyalty and teamwork and a shared sense of adventure! Qualities we should never outgrow.

"Christopher Robin's" red gingham shorts were sewn by tracing a pair of her elastic waist pants. Her shirt was sewn from this vintage pattern:

"Winnie-The-Pooh's" blouse was from this Whole Grain Baby pattern (I lengthened the sleeves and added the ruffles to them). I made the skirt by gathering a length of gingham leftover from some other sewing. And the Winnie-The-Pooh shrug is a pattern I drafted to share with you--it is based on a little jacket worn by our own stuffed Pooh.

Click to view the tutorial. UPDATE: The Winnie Shrug pattern is here in sizes 3 months to 10!

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