Feeling the Pressure

All right, I’ll confess. I ordered pizza for the family for dinner last night. It wasn’t even particularly nice pizza, just cheap, chain fast food. After working on costumes all day, and working out, and dealing with the kids, I just didn’t have any inclination to cook. I know, I know, that’s not like me most of the time, but we all have our off days.

And it’s all because currently my cutting table looks like this:

Although Mom has been doing most of the cutting. We are doing a couple of cosplays together this year for Ottawa ComicCon (it’s a multi-generational thing in our house), so we’re working on our costumes together as well.

My basement couch looks like this:

Completely covered in what I hope are all of the materials for five (I must be insane) costumes that I have to have completed by this time next month. I mean, it’s no ridiculously large dragon, but it’s still a lot of work. And, as my husband is quick to point out, I do this to myself every. Single. Year.

I’ve been spending most of my time sitting here at the sewing table. At least one vest is almost done… But after pricking myself pretty nastily with a very sharp pin, I deemed that it was time to give it up for the night and start again with fresh eyes in the morning.

Best wishes to everyone who’s in con crunch mode right now!

Teacup Pin Cushion Tutorial

My kids are learning to sew, so I thought that it was time that they had pincushions of their own. I’ve seen teacup pin cushions around at flea markets and craft fairs, so I thought we’d make a go of whipping up some of our own. They’re really easy and right up the kids’ alwy, patience-wise.

Teacup Pin Cushion

Materials:
– 1 teacup (saucer optional)
– 1 square of cotton or cotton-blend fabric, about 3X as wide as the teacup’s top
– polyester fiberfill
– thread

Supplies Needed:
– fabric scissors
– needle
– hot glue gun & glue
– pins

1. It all starts with a teacup — but none of Grandma’s fine china! We bought ours for about $2.00 at a local charity thrift shoppe. If you’re not into tea, a coffee or espresso cup works well, or an egg cup, or even a sake glass. We even made one using a miniature terracotta pot (picked up for about $0.75 at a gardening supply store). Basically, it has to be an opaque container that you like the looks of that’s about the size of an old teacup, or smaller. You will also need to pick out a piece of coordinating fabric that’s about three times as wide as the mouth of your vessel.

1.B. OPTIONAL STEP: If you’re very crafty, you can embroider a design on your fabric at this stage.

2. Using a pair of fabric scissors, cut your fabric into a circle about three times as wide as the opening of your teacup. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since this end will be hidden inside the bottom of the cup where nobody will ever see it.

3. Using a running stitch, stitch around the outside edge of the circle, about 1cm from the edge. Use a sturdy thread, but don’t worry about the colour, since this will be hidden as well. Tie a knot at each end of the thread, but do not stitch that knot into the fabric.

4. Making sure that the fabric is inside-right, pull the thread taut to gather the fabric, but do not tie a knot. This will make a little pouch.

5. Stuff the pouch firmly with fiberfill.

6. Draw the thread as taut as possible and tie it off securely. This will create a small cushion.

7. Stuff the cushion into the teacup, making sure that the end with the stitching and the gathering is at the bottom of the cup.

8. Affix the cushion inside the cup using hot glue. I found that I got the neatest results by pushing the fabric down below the edge of the cup, and then running a bead of hot glue quickly about 0.5cm lower than the edge of the cup. Then I carefully released pressure on the cushion until it sat at the height I wanted, holding it in place while the glue dried. Otherwise, the cushion kept trying to puff much too far out of the cup.

9.B. OPTIONAL STEP: Using hot glue or by sewing, decorate the pin cushion. You can add a border of ribbon or trim around the edge of the cup to conceal the glue. Buttons, lace, small pompoms, googly eyes, felt cutouts, silk flowers… If you’re so inclined, this is a great time to be creative.

And that’s really all there is to it!

As for our last March Break craft, Thing 2 went with a more contemporary look.

Whereas I made mine in a little flower pot. I created the floral element by sticking sewing pins through little fabric flowers bought in a confetti-like pack from the dollar store.

And Thing 1 used the fabric flowers slightly differently, pinning them into place with her pincushion’s pins.

Crumpets and Tea

Back in my old blog I posted all kinds of patterns I had designed, and I’ve been trying to slowly re-post them on this blog so that they can go back into circulation. So here’s en embroidery pattern that I designed back in 2014:

I would have taken new and better pictures, but I gave them away as gifts ages ago!

My younger brother is a huge fan of the 1995 movie Tank Girl. I mean, I loved that movie, but his fandom by far surpasses mine. I am all in favour of sarcastic embroidery, especially when it can be combined with practical objects. (This idea of pretty and practical is not new to me.) It’s not very often that I get a chance to embroider something for my brother –- he’s not generally a huge fan of embroidered items in general, and is often difficult to find gifts for. So for his birthday in 2014 I made him Tank Girl kitchen towels. The quotes are all from the interrogation scene.

These are commercially-made, 100% cotton tea towels (labeled as “premium flour sack tea towels” by Cantina), which I bought at $12.99 for a four-pack at Home Outfitters. They are 61cm X 91cm. I don’t think those specific ones in specific are available any more, but it’s possible to find something similar with a quick Internet search. Each towel that embroidered is actually two: one for the front, and another sewn onto the back to cover the wrong side of the embroidery. I chose the stitching colours of brown and brick red based on my brother’s preferences, trying to be fairly neutral so as to match his kitchen decor.

I also cross-stitched a coordinating fingertip towel for his bathroom, starting with a towel with an Aida fabric panel built in. They are available at most crafting supply stores (or online), and generally cost around $5.00.

So here are the patterns:


Click through for extremely large versions of these images which you can print to scale.

For the tea towels, I ran them through the washer and dryer a couple of times to shrink the fabric. I learned the hard way years ago to do this as it keeps the design from shrinking at a different speed than the stitching — which really sucks when you spent this much time working on something! It’s not as big of a deal with a mounted piece, but something like a towel is going to be washed over and over again. To transfer the pattern onto fabric, I printed them out to the proper scale to fit on my towels, then set the design underneath the fabric and used an embroidery transfer pen with the kind of ink that disappears when you wet it to trace the pattern onto the fabric. Then when I was done stitching, I just washed out the pen marks.

The cross-stitch pattern was transferred via the standard counting method instead of inking in the pattern first. I won’t go into the details of how to do counted cross-stitch here, but there are loads of resources online to teach you how, including a bunch of YouTube videos if you’re a visual learner like me.

You’re welcome to use these patterns I designed for personal, educational, or small business use! And if you do, please send me a picture. I’d love to see your work.

Busy Night

I had a billion and one things to accomplish yesterday evening, most of which I can’t even write about because they had to do with Christmas gifts for people that I know read this blog. One thing I can mention is that I did get the chance to put the last finishing touches on the Frankensteined gaming PC (made with excess parts graciously donated by our friends) that my husband and I are giving Thing 1 for Christmas. She doesn’t have Internet access yet, so here I can sigh with relief here about having at least one major gift out of the way.

Dinner was a quick one, since I can only do so many things at once, and for a change the kitchen was not calling me. I wanted to eat at least somewhat healthily, so I made up some soft tacos with a pre-packaged spice mix. Well, I say “made up”, but mostly I just prepped all of the ingredients and set them out on the table so that everyone could fill their own tacos. I fixed mine up with spiced ground beef, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and lactose-free cheddar. Also available on the table were sour cream (which I prefer over mayo, but can’t eat), homemade blender salsa canned earlier this year, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Dinner out of the way, I went on to work on some Christmas crafts. I whipped up my first-ever circle skirt for Thing 1 — which is even easier for a kid than for an adult since there aren’t any seams! A friend of mine recommended the following resources to me, which were invaluable:

Make a circle skirt without a pattern by Costuming Diary
Circle Skirt (and a follow-up instructional video by Made Everyday
The Best Way to Sew Bias Tape by Positively Splendid

I combined the techniques because I wasn’t working with a serger, and because I wanted a finished waistband edge but I also wanted the cute red elastic to show. This skirt will be worn later in the week when the girls go get their pictures taken with Santa. I still have to make a second, smaller one for Thing 2. Hopefully I can make the time tomorrow.

In every spare minute, I’m knitting away on cloths to be given as gifts. I think of this colourway as “Evil Minion“. This is either the last or second-last one, depending on how much yarn I am left with. After that, it’s time to start on knitted owls for my girls’ Guiding leaders.

As we do every year, we have had a guest in our house starting December 1st. Candy Cane will stay until December 25th, at which point she will be whisked back to the North Pole where she will stay until next holiday season. Here she is unpacking all of her copious outfits. I know some people find The Elf on the Shelf kind of creepy, but my kids really love her and look forward to her annual arrival. We’ve never made a big deal of the “reporting back to Santa” aspect of the Elves at our house, so my kids just see her as another piece of Christmas magic.

Last-Minute Costume Revealed

Much to my surprise, we all managed to complete our costumes in time for Ottawa Comiccon: Holiday Edition over the weekend. My friends got some really great shots of our group, but they will have to wait until tomorrow because I spent way too long wrestling with the compatibility of unfamiliar camera RAW formats to finish going through them all. It was also my very first time trying to get edit photos of lightsabers so they look like they’re glowing.

The snowy weather provided a perfect backdrop to our group picture:


Photo by Ian Walton.

Left to right, that’s Darth Kristoff (with Olaf on his back), Darth Sven, Jedi Elsa, and me on the far right as Jedi Anna. Yes, we did do a Disney’s Frozen/Star Wars mashup.

I can definitely say that we had a lot of fun wearing these costumes, even for a con as small as the holiday one (which, let’s be honest, is more of a marketplace and less of a con). After all the work I put into this costume, I am determined to wear it on at least one other occasion, though!

Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

I’m still working away on that last-minute costume. I got so caught up in the process that I stayed up until almost 2:00am without even realizing it! I had absolutely no intention of staying up too late. When I get into problem-solving mode, I hate to stop when I’m on a roll. If I’d been super-frustrated, I would probably have stopped earlier (although there was a large seam that I “sewed” without realizing that the bobbin had run out).

I couldn’t find my meter stick, so I did end up using a wooden prop sword in order to trace a long, straight line on my fabric. My father pointed out afterward that I could have just called and borrowed his, but the sword was only a few feet away from where I was sewing, and it worked out fine!

November 15th is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, so I made a dinner entirely out of what I had around the house. This had nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been so engrossed in costume construction that I haven’t gone out to do groceries, I swear. I went with one of the simplest clean-out-the-fridge dishes: stir fry. I cooked up the veggies I had on hand (celery, zucchini, and frozen peas), scrambled in some egg, threw in some cooked rice and shrimp, and gave it all a good drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce while I cooked it all together for a few minutes. My husband asked for seconds, which I figure means it wasn’t half bad.

After the kids went to bed, I wanted to treat myself to some banana bread, which is pretty much my favourite quick bread. I even had some bananas I’d frozen before they went bad that I needed to use up, so the timing was perfect. I’d seen a Tasty video for 6 Desserts To Make In Your Microwave, so I thought I’d give their individual microwave banana bread a shot. Sadly, as with the microwave oatmeal bread I made a while back, I was disappointed. The more I try it, the less I think that microwaves can be used for half-decent baking.

First of all, there was a recipe in the YouTube transcription of the recipe. If you watch the video, the ingredients include 3 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tsp baking powder, but the recipe under the video calls for 3 Tbsp brown sugar and then another 1/2 tsp brown sugar, with no baking powder. Luckily I noticed that there was no rising agent before I started cooking, but by then I’d already added the extra 1/2 tsp brown sugar, too.

Once the banana bread was cooked, I found it to be largely tasteless. I found that interesting, because it contains basically the same ingredients as the more traditional banana bread in the Joy of Cooking; what really differentiates the two, other than size, is the cooking method. I think that because the Tasty version is made so quickly in the microwave, instead of cooking for an hour or more in the oven, it doesn’t have a chance to develop its flavour, which probably mostly comes from the crust. Microwave cooking, in general, doesn’t create proper crusts. Also, I found the consistency of the microwave banana bread to be less like a quick bread and more like a sponge or a pudding. I cooked it for an extra 30 seconds over the recommended time and tested it with a cake tester for doneness, so I know it was definitely cooked all the way through. Even so, the consistency was more like microwave scrambled eggs than like bread.

Of course, opinions may vary, and you may like banana bread made this way. I think that I will stick to baking in the oven from now on, except perhaps for the occasional experiment.

Progress

I had planned on spending all day yesterday working on my costume, but a power outage until after noon made that highly problematic. I couldn’t even cut out pattern or fabric pieces, since that requires a large, flat surface, and the only spot like that in my house was my basement floor — where there was no power for lights.

Luckily, I had a good portion of the rest of the day to work on the costume, and some progress was made. I am happy to say that at least one element of the costume is complete. I did have to take a break to cook and eat dinner, though.

I didn’t want to make something that took hours of prep work, since I should have been spending that time sewing. I still had one enormous zucchini left to cook (my friends, overloaded with their harvest, kept bringing me more), so I made a big batch of baked Panko zucchini sticks. Normally I wouldn’t peel the zucchini, but this time I did because the squash was huge and old, so the skin was very tough. For meat, I chopped up some chicken, coated it in Golden Dragon Thick Teriyaki Sauce, and fried it up on the stove while the zucchini baked. It all turned out quite well, and it was found acceptable by my friend who came over in the evening to work on her own costume. We were up until well past midnight sewing, and we’re not done yet!