Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Folklore Bag From One Yard Wonders

Yet another discovery I can thank the blogging community for. After seeing enough glowing reviews of and wonderful results from One Yard Wonders I finally got it through to my tiny little brain that it must be a fantastic sewing resource. After a quick cost-benefit analysis I could tell I'd get my money's worth. It helps that they somehow kept the price so low while compiling 101 creative projects in an attractive and well-bound book.

While many of the projects caught my eye, I was most comfortable sewing bags so I skipped straight to that section of the book. The Folklore Bag is now one of my favorite bags to make. It looks more complicated than it actually is to sew and results in the perfect-sized bag for ferrying around the necessities with enough room left for a book (which I consider to be a necessity as well). I've made them as gifts, made them for myself, and plan to make many more.

Birthday present for my mom

A few tips on making the Folklore Bag:
  • Be sure to check the publisher's website for errata before attempting any of the book's projects.

  • Interfacing the straps makes the bag feel sturdier and more professional. For additional stability you might want to try interfacing the lining as well.

  • The interior pocket's a little dinky. Try playing with the dimensions, make it longer for two pockets, or, if you're feeling extra brave, make it into a zippered pocket.

  • I've had success making this bag with any type of fabric. Just remember that interfacing is your friend when using quilting and other lightweight fabric. I even made one (the bat bag pictured above) using a re-purposed t-shirt so I used a stiffer broadcloth as the lining to compensate.

  • Get creative and use a contrasting/coordinating fabric for the lining and/or the upper band. Embellish yours with decorative trim, buttons, or flowers. The pattern's so clean and simple that anything goes!

How Not to Sew an Attractive Summer Top

Who needs the hassle and expense of waiting around for Simplicity patterns to go on sale when a free online pattern will work just as well? Yes, I was once that deluded and naive. And then I tried this Spring Ruffle Top Tutorial.

Photo from Made by Rae

See how easy and breezy she makes it look? With just a few measurements and some quick calculations you too can add a lovely top to your wardrobe. Assuming you enjoy looking like you're pregnant with Jabba the Hutt when in reality you've made the effort to lose 80 pounds and want to actually look like it. Oh how I wish I'd had the foresight to take a "before" picture so you could see how horribly misshapen this top made me look. In hindsight I should have been alarmed by the number of sewers proclaiming this to be a wonderful maternity shirt. I still can't quite figure out why mine doesn't look as good as the model's so I shall assume that, as always, it's my darn hips that ruin everything for me. Maybe this is the sort of top that doesn't work well on curvy girls. All I know is that it took me hours of ripped and re-sewn seams and a lot of haphazard sewing to whip this darn thing into shape so it's vaguely wearable by my standards.

Things I like about the top:
  • The instructions are easy to follow with step-by-step photos.

  • Takes very little time to make if you're actually happy with the results.

  • The straps are wide enough to cover everything.

  • Much of it is customizable. It's easy to omit things like the icky and girly ruffles and things like the pockets that remind me of something my mom would wear.

Things I do not like about the top:
  • The fact that it makes even this child look like she's pregnant and has apparently given her the concomitant back pain.

Photo from Mle BB

Unfortunately I cut into some of my favorite Ikea fabric that I was hoarding for the top band, which I deeply regret now. The main fabric was something I bought with a 50% off Jo-Ann coupon so no big loss there even though I do like the design a lot. I got so frustrated that I put this project away for a few weeks until I felt I could face it again. In an effort to salvage the top I tried exaggerating the curve in the shaping step (step 9), which made the top too tight in some areas so those seams had to be ripped out. Several times, in fact, since I kept thinking I could make it work with some adjustment. I tried removing some of the pleats and spaced out the back pleats a little differently, which helped a bit but didn't fully fix the problem. Finally I wound up sewing almost all the way down the front pleats to bring the fabric in a little more and give the top some shape. Sadly this is the best I could do. I'm sure I'll wear this top once in a while but it certainly won't be my first pick from the closet.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Silhouette Craft Cutter Giveaway

Now's probably a good time to mention that another of the reasons I was so keen to start my own blog is so I can shamelessly exploit it for extra entries into various online contests. The contest du jour is a nifty Silhouette craft cutter at Southern Hospitality that can do fancy things like this:

Check it out. But don't enter because that would decrease my own chances of winning and where would that leave us?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ode to The Pioneer Woman, Cherry Chocolate Malt Cupcake Style

I have many things to thank The Pioneer Woman for: My go-to recipe for cinnamon rolls that invokes awe from all those who taste them, clear and helpful photography tips, hair care and makeup advice for those of us who fall squarely into the category of tomboy, and those 15 pounds I can't shake as a result of following her butter-laden recipe tutorials. But what I should probably thank her for the most is creating Tasty Kitchen, a vivid and engaging site for her readers to exchange thousands of recipes. What a resource this has become for me! I've even added a few recipes myself even though, as discussed in the previous post, it's rare for me to come up with my own concoctions. I felt guilty taking advantage of all of the recipes on there without contributing anything myself.

I have discovered everything from surprisingly good cranberry meatballs to stuffed French toast (see above) so delectable you'll need years of therapy to come to grips with the fact that nothing else you eat will ever be that good. I browse the site frequently and bookmark every recipe that features a pretty picture and a butter-to-sugar ratio of 1:1. Many times those recipes sit in my recipe box for months, alone and unloved, before I finally get around to trying them. Some are still lonesomely awaiting my return. But the one I spotted on Friday was printed out immediately and went home with me that very evening. After compiling the necessary supplies I whipped up a second batch of cupcakes that Sunday. I may not have needed to produce 24 cupcakes in one weekend but there was no way I was going to wait another minute to try these.

The Noshery's Cherry Chocolate Malt Cupcakes let me use some of that malted milk powder that had been sitting in my cupboard waiting for the right baking inspiration to come along. With the addition of cherries this recipe stood out and catapulted to the top of the pile of malted milk cupcake recipes I'd been collecting. I had to make a few substitutions to use up some ingredients I already had on hand. For starters I only had plain malted milk powder, not chocolate, but I made no additions to the recipe to compensate and still wound up with plenty of chocolate flavor. I also used a bunch of cherry pie filling juice (more like a gel) that had been taking up space in my freezer for two months. Freezer space is at a premium in my house what with the cartons of ice cream, gifts from Omaha Steak, and dismembered drifters vying for space in there so it was high time for that stuff to go. (Note to the authorities and readers who may not know me personally: That bit about the drifters was totally a joke. Do not be afraid of my pathetic attempts at humor. I'm really a perfectly normal, well-adjusted person. Aside from the parts of me that are German, of course.) Because the cherry pie juice didn't quite measure one cup and because I wanted the cherry chunks advertised in the description I chopped up a few canned whole Bing cherries from my supply until it leveled out at one cup.

I was a bit concerned about the lack of leavening in the recipe and worried I'd missed a step, but it turns out that omission is precisely what lends the cupcakes the almost indescribable texture that The Noshery limned in her intro. "Dense and heavy, yet incredibly soft and moist" might seem an incongruous description but those words pretty much cover it. My only disappointment was in how much the cupcakes fell once they were removed from the oven for cooling. Some wound up falling to about half the size of the cupcake well but I know some people who would be grateful for the smaller portion when eating something so rich and dense.

I was once again befuddled by the lack of an ingredient in the frosting; this time it was the omission of sugar. Because I'm a sugar fiend I simply could not wrap my mind around the concept of not pouring in cup after cup of powdered sugar. I dug out a few of my untested malted frosting recipes and adjusted The Noshery's version accordingly. This included the addition of some melted semi-sweet chocolate both to give it a more ganache-like feel and to make up for my using plain malted milk powder. I omitted the heavy cream since the mixture was already too runny and gradually added powdered sugar until it all came together and tasted sweet enough for my palate. Even then it was still fairly fluid but with a sticky texture that helped hold it all together. The end result is a uniquely-flavored cupcake with a rich chocolate taste. The crumbled malt balls on top round out the equation with a delicious crunch. I'm sure I'll be making something like this again.

Strawberry Lime Cupcakes

I'm not much of an improviser. It must be the German in me who prefers to strictly follow the rules. Besides, I've found that fussy little things like recipes usually turn out best when the instructions are followed to a T. There's not much room for creativity in my kitchen!

That said, I was clearly feeling especially brave this weekend. That and I lacked the necessary oranges to make this Orange Sour Cream Cake from Baking Bites. I did, however, have an abundance of strawberries and limes that needed to be eaten before I leave for vacation. While tossing them into a nice fruit salad would have been a reasonable and much healthier option, I instead improvised (eek!) and made a few adjustments to the recipe to suit the fruit supply at hand. And you know what? It actually worked! Perhaps this marks the end of an era, an era where I was afraid to experiment or deviate from the written recipe by as little as a single teaspoon. I guess now that I have a little experience under my belt I can afford to take a few risks. I too can conquer the world of creative cupcakery!

This was also my first experiment with Swiss meringue buttercream. I've heard/read its virtues extolled with glowing praise as a far superior alternative to traditional American buttercream, the type made up primarily of butter and powdered sugar. Turns out I prefer my frosting to be sweet, which the Swiss meringue definitely was not. I wound up adding powdered sugar at the end both for taste and to thicken the mixture as I added more and more lime juice for flavor. Not sure I'll bother making it again as it leaves me with a bunch of unwanted egg yolks and requires a lot more time to make, but since I'm still searching for THE buttercream frosting recipe I may keep experimenting with Swiss meringue and traditional buttercream hybrids.

Strawberry Lime Cupcakes with Lime Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1-½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoons salt
½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cups sugar
1 tablespoon lime zest
2 whole large eggs
½ cups plain yogurt
Juice from ½ lime plus enough pureed strawberries to total 1/2 cup

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 cupcake wells with liners.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

3) In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and lime zest until light in color.

4) Add in eggs one at a time, and beat mixture until smooth and well combined.

5) Mix in one third of the flour mixture, followed by the yogurt. Mix in another third of the flour mixture, followed by the strawberry puree. Stir in all remaining flour, mixing until no streaks of dry ingredients remain.

6) Spoon into prepared liners. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Swiss Meringue Lime Buttercream
Adapted from Crispy Waffle

3 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp lime zest
Juice from 1 lime
Powdered sugar

1) Combine the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer. Bring a large pan of water to simmer, making sure that the water is at the same height as the egg whites in your stainless bowl. Set the bowl in the pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Be careful to not curdle the egg whites– simply remove the bowl from the heat for a bit if it feels like that’s happening. Also, you’ll know when it’s getting close to 140 degrees; the mixture will be getting ultra foamy, like the top of a latte.

2) Remove the bowl to your stand mixer and beat on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture holds glossy, marshmallowy peaks. Remove the meringue to another bowl.

3) In the standing mixer, beat half the butter and one-third of the meringue until well combined. Continue to add the remaining two-thirds of the meringue a dollop at a time. The mixture may look scarily curdled at this point; adding the remaining butter a tablespoon at a time will smooth things out. (Basically, just keep adding a bit of butter at a time until the curdling corrects itself.)

4) With the mixer on low, add the lime zest and lime juice and mix until well combined. Begin to pour in powdered sugar in small increments until the frosting reaches the desired consistency and sweetness.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Simplicity 4076

Sew, Mama, Sew's Make It, Wear It! Challenge couldn't have come at a better time. I'd just gotten brave enough to make my first article of clothing in May so I was on a roll by the time June came around. As much as I like having the chance of winning a prize, what I've enjoyed most has been seeing other people's submissions. One that caught my eye was Corvus Tristis' Simplicity 4076 tank top. I've been looking for a simple tank pattern with a little flair and even better that this one could be sewn in just one morning. I'd actually passed this pattern in the book a month ago and wrote it off as looking too '90s but she makes it look fresh and modern. Glad she opened my eyes to the possibilities.

Jo-Ann's Simplicity pattern sale happened to coincide with a 50% off clearance fabric sale so I nabbed both the pattern and the fabric for less than $5. Imagine how pleased I was when I got the pattern open to discover that I only needed to cut these three pieces for view F:

Of course I neglected to notice that the amount of fabric listed on the back of the pattern was for 60" fabric and what I'd bought was closer to 45". Oops. As a result I barely had enough and had to strategically position the pattern pieces to make it work. I'd planned to make it a few inches longer than the pattern called for since it seems short from the envelope drawings and my torso is a little longer than average, but because of my mistake I wasn't able to do that this time around. A pity because I think mine could use the extra length.

Sewing it up was pretty simple and straightforward. The twist effect is a neat little design achieved by threading one side's strap and upper bodice piece through an opening in the other side.

Hard to describe; easy to do.

My only complaints (aside from the length, which is more of a personal preference) are that my bra likes to play peekaboo over the top when the tank slips around just right and that I couldn't get the back neckline to lie flat. This could be due to my inexperience with sewing knits and it's not bad enough to put me off of wearing the shirt, but it's something I'm hoping to correct the next time around.

Despite how simple this pattern is I'm not sure it'll become my go-to tank top. Something about the high neckline in the back and the short length makes me feel like it's something an older, more conservative person who isn't up on current fashion would wear (Hi, Mama!). Once I have a little more experience sewing clothes I'm hoping I can adjust this and the other Simplicity top pattern I've tried so the back's a little lower. I don't do all that work with the free weights for nothing, after all!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Easy Peasy Domesticated Skirt

I'll admit it; I'm an instant gratification kind of sewer. As much as I try to force myself to not rush and to carefully finish off every raw seam the allure of being able to wear something new the next day usually wins out. Funny, I'm not like that in any other aspect of my life and this is clearly not a product of my German heritage as both my mom and grandmother have great patience and attention to detail when it comes to sewing. I've simply given up trying to fight it and have learned to live with this one flaw. Fortunately it's my one and only flaw. Just don't ask my husband to confirm that!

I've been stuck in a sewing-related spiral of shame and misery ever since what was supposed to be a quick and easy weekend project turned into a frenzy of re-sewn seams that had to be ripped out again and again. Still the darn shirt refused to have anything resembling a flattering shape and I lack the experience to know how to fix that. While I rarely interrupt a project before it's done, I happily ditched that one for now because something much better came along. Something that most likely would not make me look like I'm trying to cover up the consequences of consuming two anniversary cakes last week.

Enter the delightfully simple Domesticated Skirt!

I never remember what circuitous route I’ve taken to discover a new blog or pattern but somehow I found my way to Sew a Straight Line's tutorial for her Domesticated Skirt. Boy, am I glad I did. I immediately fell in love with the possibilities. The underskirt peeping through is a delightful detail that appealed to my color coordinating tendencies. One of my favorite things to do is scour the fabric store for just the right coordinating fabrics. If I'm being good I'll start with one from my stash so I'm not tempted to blow all of our grocery budget on more fabric. While I'm not much of a skirt wearer there are occasions when I want to spruce myself up a bit and pretend to be the girl that I actually am while staying true to my casual, devil-may-care style of dress. This skirt certainly fits the bill.

I wasn't taken with this cream and blue fabric when I bought it, rather I was trying to fill out my stash and this was the least unattractive option in the clearance section. At the time that was reason enough for me. I quickly became attached to it once I dug it out of my closet with this specific project in mind, however. Not only do the colors work really well together and the design looks like something a name brand designer would come up with, it's also better quality fabric than most of the stuff I buy at Jo-Ann. That's something I came to appreciate while considering the see through possibilities of the skirt. A quick search in the quilting fabric section of Jo-Ann resulted in a near perfect match. Polka dots aren't usually my thing but the blues work so well together. Even better that I got to use my 50% off coupon! Those coupons are what keep me going back to Jo-Ann time and again.

Based on one sewer's version of the skirt I went the easy way out (instant gratification, remember?) and replaced the bias tape with a three-yard spool of ribbon. Yup, it was also from Jo-Ann using yet another 50% off coupon. I suspect the gals who work there are getting tired of seeing me every day. However, this substitution wasn't all due to laziness. I think the ribbon gives the skirt a measure of sophistication. Looks just like something you'd expect to find for sale in a boutique. If I'd had enough ribbon left I would have done the hemline with ribbon as seen below but it took the entire three yards just for the waist and ties.

I should probably point out that I goofed when cutting the fabric. This was totally my own fault and not a flaw in the instructions at all. Let's just say I should know better than to try to do math and cut fabric late at night when I'm tired. I wasn't ready to give up on the fabric after I'd become so attached to it and could already picture the final product in my mind. I wound up cutting the waist too small and had to splice some of the scraps on each end, but somehow I think it turned out ok. In fact, I almost like the effect. After a little over an hour of sewing I had a new skirt. That's the sort of time frame I can appreciate.

I apologize for the quality of the pictures. One day I'll master the art of self photography.

It's reversible to boot! That's almost like having two skirts in one. I'll definitely revisit this pattern again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Made by Rae Buttercup Bag

My first proper post should rightly be about the very blog that got me back into sewing and initiated me into the blogging community of sewers in the first place. Some time last year I stumbled across this easy but stylish purse pattern for the Buttercup Bag from Made By Rae. She makes it look so simple! In typical Lina fashion, I did some online research and was so inspired by the beautiful versions everyone had come up with that I figured I too could give it a try. After a trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics and a search for just the right coordinating fabric at J & O Fabrics I whipped up two of them in no time.

Clearly the work of a beginner as I was reviving my long lost sewing skills that reached their acme over ten years ago when I used to sew scrunchies for my friends as a teen, but I was thrilled to discover how easy it was to make something so useful and customized to my tastes. It was a great way to ease me back into the world of sewing. This started me down the dangerous path of searching for more and more purse patterns so I could make bags in exactly the size, style, and color of my choice.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this pattern not only because it's free (music to my frugal little ears) but also because it's hard to mess up yet results in an elegant-looking bag. Albeit one that's a bit small for my needs. I've since experimented with enlarging the pattern on a copier 125% and reinforcing the entire thing with interfacing, which does result in a more professional-looking purse that makes for a perfect gift, just like the ones pictured below. If you're on the fence about trying this pattern I say go for it!

Be sure to check out the extensive Flickr group for inspiration and to see all of the creative variations everyone's come up with. Cheers!

Welcome, One and All!

Yes, this is yet another random blog dedicated to the womanly arts of sewing and baking. While I don't actually expect anyone outside of my small circle of friends and family to read this blog a girl can dream. However, I believe in keeping my dreams realistic and achievable (ever the pragmatic German), so at best I'm hoping this will be another resource for those who, like me, want as much information as possible before embarking on a project. I spend a lot of time browsing pictures and reading blogs of those who have boldly gone before me once I have my heart set on a certain sewing pattern, recipe, or crafting project. I'm grateful for all of the information out there but sometimes wish I could find more. This is my way of chiming in and adding my experiences in the hopes of helping those in the crafting and baking communities. Maybe I'll even inspire a few readers to try something entirely new!