Shirts, Soup and Students

I just wanted to give a shoutout to my flute students– as I was reminded today, they’re such a wonderfully creative group of kids! And not just with music…
This isn’t actually from today– it was part of a Christmas gift that one of my long-time students gave me this past year. I’m not sure if she or her mom did this one, because they’re both kind of crafty, but I love this thing. It’s basically just a little cardstock sleeve for a pack of post-its, held closed by a little teeny piece of velcro. I love the play on words with the music stamp, of course. And I’m trying to protect it in my bag as much as possible, because I seriously want to keep using this thing once the post-its are gone!

This is what made me think to blog about them– I teach once a week after school at a private school in the area, and they’ve been on spring break for the last two weeks. One of my girls went to Flordia over her break, and she came in today and announced she had a present for me. So I opened it up to find this– a handmade necklace of a seashell on braided embroidery floss. She immediately said I didn’t have to keep it as a necklace if I just wanted the shell, but as I told her, I love seashell necklaces so this is perfect. (Tried it on and it’s a good length, too, so I’m definitely keeping this as is!)

I figured while I’m at it, I’ll also share one of my favorite soup recipes. I love this because it’s easy and rich and has a bunch of vegetables in a way that I don’t mind eating them (I do try to eat healthy, but seriously lack a natural inclination to eat veggies!) I adapted this from a recipe in a make-ahead-and-freeze cookbook that my mom brought home for me once (I’m chronically in need of things I can just make and stick in the freezer for when I get home from teaching and I’m starving and/or have limited time to eat before teaching again.) So without further ado…

Beef Barley Vegetable Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lb beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized cubes (and I cut off as much fat as I can too)
1 bell pepper, chopped (I like the red ones, but you can do whatever color you like best)
1 c. carrots, chopped (or you could probably use the pre-chopped frozen ones)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4 beef boullion cubes (I actually use this beef boullion paste stuff in a jar instead– sooooo much better than the powder stuff!)
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
2/3 c. uncooked barley
1 c. frozen green beans
1 c. frozen corn

In a medium soup pot, heat oil. Brown the beef stew meat over high heat and remove with a slotted spoon. Turn heat down to medium, then saute the bell peppers and carrots in the soup pot just until tender. Return meat to soup pot. Add 5 1/2 c. water, thyme, bay leaf and beef boullion; simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Add tomatoes (with juice), barley, green beans and corn, then simmer for another 25 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

The original recipe called for chopped onion too, but I’m not a fan of onion so I replaced that with the carrots. You could add them though, just saute them with the pepper. I also cut back on the original amount of tomatoes and had to add more water than it called for. Seriously, you could probably add whatever veggies you want. It’s a very thick, hearty soup, and freezes great, and is perfect for a quick meal (once it defrosts) on a yucky, cold, wet day like this that makes me think that weather that’s warm enough to allow me to wear my recent sewing projects is never going to get here!

Speaking of sewing, I started sewing on my adaptation of BurdaStyle’s Azalea dress yesterday afternoon. I’m making mine as a tunic top, so I eliminated the underdress (the drapey top stuff is thick enough to not be see-through, and if I’m going to be wearing this as a summer top I don’t want an extra layer that close to my skin! Not with Mid-Atlantic humidity!) and shortened it a good bit. It’s been a pretty easy sew so far– the thing that took me the longest was the zipper, and that’s because I’m trying a new technique to do lapped zippers instead of a center one in the side seam. (Not definite yet, but there’s a chance I might be teaching a friend’s daughter how to sew with patterns– the mom can sew, and the girl has her own machine and can make simple things like quilts and pillows, but she really wants to learn how to make clothes. So my friend said she doesn’t know how to use patterns very well, and I offered to help out. If that’s the case, I want to see if this type of zipper is easier than the centered ones, because I remember when I was a kid, zippers were the most frustrating thing to sew ever. Sometimes they still are. And the lapped ones look nicer anyway. Not that I’m going to let her start with zippers, mind you, but you know it’s only a matter of time before she wants something that involves one.)

Anyway, I’m nearly done with the tunic already– still have to finish the yoke (ran out of time and bobbin thread around the same time) and then hem it. And then I have to make a belt, because it looks like a serious maternity top without it. I saw one in Threads that looked interesting– a bias-cut tied one that hugs curves very well, which might be perfect to cinch it. But I need to see how much fabric I have to deal with, because I decided that I wanted to make a shrug out of the yoke/belt fabric as well (since I’m an ice queen and get ridiculously cold in over-air conditioned spaces. Which, around here, is pretty much any building that’s not my house. Plus then I can wear it sooner, because that will make it good for spring as well.) I don’t have a pattern for the shrug– my plan for now is to stick the Azalea on my dummy and drape something with kimono-like sleeves and see if I like it. And if I don’t, it’s off to dig through the pattern stash.

But first, off to actually sew!

Edit, 9:57 PM: Oh, this could be bad. I sewed the wrong straps together, so the armholes are in the front and back instead of the sides. And I did some major trimming/corner chopping. Oh, I hope this is fixable without redoing the entire yoke….

Oh baby!

After a rather nightmarish trip to Babies ‘R Us to buy a shower gift this afternoon, I’m determined to avoid that place as long as I possibly can. I hate the combination of their registry system and the layout of their store more than words can describe right now. That being the case, that puts me in a new crafty dilemma.

I have two friends who are currently expecting (well, a lot more than that, actually, but this one specifically concerns two of them.) The first woman is one I’ve known for several years from my Bible study– she’s going to have her fourth child in about a month or so. I got invited to a joint baby shower for her and three other women from church who are all pregnant with their second children, but I can’t go because I don’t get done teaching until after it starts. I still feel like I should give her something though. Out of the four of them, she’s the only one I feel like I’m close enough to put the time into making something, plus she’s crafty too so she’d probably appreciate it more. But since it is her fourth, and her third girl, I’m not sure what she would actually need at this point (unless I just made something little so the girl could have something new of her own.)

The other is my best friend from high school, whom I’ve kept in touch with and still see a couple times a year, when she and her husband come out here to visit her family. She’ll be having her second child around the end of the summer. And I definitely want to make her something, but I don’t know if she’ll be having a boy or girl (and she’s not planning on finding out until he or she is born), so I’d have to make her something gender-neutral.

Not being a mom myself, or anywhere close to being a mom, or even someone who spent very much time babysitting as a teenager, I’m finding myself at a current loss for ideas, despite the number of people I know who have kids. (I’ll admit it… since most of the moms I know apparently forgot how to converse about topics other than their kids, I’ve developed a rather bad habit of zoning out once the kiddie talk starts. Probably not the best thing to do… I guess it’s just a single girl survival tactic.) So consider this a general plea for help…any ideas?

Friday Favorites, Episode 3

Good morning, and welcome to my weekly tour around the crafty blogosphere! (I feel like such a tour guide typing that… oh well.) It’s kind of funny– nearly everything I found this week consisted of turning stuff that would otherwise get trashed into fun crafts. So I guess this is the Almost-Green Edition.

1. This week’s first item is technically from BurdaStyle, but this time I saw it first at KOTI*KOTI, one of my recent acquaintances from there. As those of you who have been reading this for awhile have probably figured out, I have a weakness for Asianinspired things, and this kimono-style jacket is no exception. The fun thing about finding it at Koti’s blog is that she was the original designer–several months ago, they had a call for members to submit designs for their “Alice in Workingland” contest, and she was one of the winners, so at this post you can see her original design and the results after BurdaStyle adapted it for a pattern.

2. Over at Nest, this week’s show for was on DIY lighting, so there’s a neat tutorial about how to re-cover crappy old lampshades to make them fun. Or at least match your room better. Yay recycling! (I have to admit that, when I saw the “freeze frame” on the video before starting it, I was hoping they’d also show how to make those paper lanterns, since I love those things–again, my Asian-inspired thing. But no such luck. She did give several sources for them, though, and showed how to hang them.)

3. Behind the Seams gave a review on these Jalie patterns. I’d never heard of the brand before, I have no idea how they are to sew, but they look like really good knitwear patterns. Might have to check these out at some point, once I master (or, um, even attempt) knits on my serger.

4. Karyn at Trail Mix Designs made some magnets out of Scrabble Tiles. Simple and easy, but oh so fun, because I’ll admit it, I’m one of those kids who never grew up. Plus I couldn’t help laughing at her comment about only having crappy letters, because that’s what happens to me every time I play Scrabble, either in real life or the Facebook version!

5. Crafting a Green World had a doozy of a post this week– several links worth mentioning. The first is this “Dress of Many Scraps“, in which a girl decided to design an outfit solely for the purpose of using up her scraps (a problem I can definitely relate to.) The results were just amazing, it reminds me of something that would be seen on Project Runway (if the designer had way more time to execute her design.) Another fun thing on there was this bottle lamp kit from RePlayGround— basically, they supply the wiring, you supply the empty glass bottles, and then you end up with a funky recycled lamp. They also have some fun DIY directions on the site, like making a glass bottle into a beaded vase and ransom-note-looking magnetic poetry tiles.

Fun with embossing powder

I worked some more on those little journaling booklets for my road trip album tonight. I liked the buttons, but it still needed a little something. I have to admit that I was pretty much snooping around for travel-related scrapbook supplies as soon as I knew the trip was definite. I’m generally not one to buy embellishments, though, unless it’s something that I can use for multiple things. Like I got some letter rubber stamps in a font I really liked, but thought would be versatile enough for use for multiple things. I guess I prefer to invest my money in things I can get a lot of use out of, like tools, and I’d rather make my own embellishments out of stuff that I already have when I can. (Which is why things generally take me so long, but it does save me money. Except when I blow it all on patterned paper, which is my scrapbook kryptonite.)

Anyway, one of the other items I got was a compass rubber stamp, which I am hoping could also be used for multiple applications. So I figured this would be a good one to use it for. I wanted something subtle, so I decided to do the stamping with watermark ink (it’s clear, just leaves a slightly darker mark on paper) and clear embossing powder. And the blue thing is my heat gun, since I found it on sale at Joann’s once and all my previous attempts to do stuff like this had been with a hairdryer. Which works, sort of, but it takes forever and it doesn’t always actually work. This makes it soooooo much easier! Even though I sort of melted part of my bedroom carpet the first time I tried it. (I didn’t think it was that hot! Even so, I went to the ceramic-tiled kitchen this time.)

This stuff is really easy to use, actually. You just stamp your paper as desired with ink that doesn’t dry terribly quickly (feline supervision optional)…

Pour on the embossing powder, thickly enough to make sure the whole design is coated….
…and shake off the excess (make sure you shake it good, because any powder left on there will melt!) I liked doing this over the cardboard– the crease where it had been bent into a box made it really easy to pour the leftovers back into the embossing powder container.
Then you take your heat gun (or hairdryer turned to high, in a pinch) and hold it a few inches over the design.
(The feline supervisor wasn’t sure what to make of this part.)
See that dark blotch in the middle of the compass? That’s the heat gun melting the powder. It’s really cool to watch, actually– you hold it there for a couple seconds and nothing happens, and then suddenly it all starts melting at once, and if you move it around, it just spreads out. It happens pretty quickly with the heat gun, not so much with a hairdryer. But you only want to hold it there just until it melts, because it is possible to overdo it.
And voila! A subtle touch to these little booklets.
They’re going to need a slight bit of work when the time comes to actually put them in the album, perhaps… the Perfect Pearls writing was starting to smear a little already, so I went over those with a gold metallic marker, as well as wrote the days on the rest of them with that. But that’s not as visible (or as nice a color gold) as the Perfect Pearls stuff, so what I’ll probably end up doing is going over the pen with the Perfect Pearls just before putting them in.
A slightly funny story about the rubber stamp embossing…my introduction to this was back in junior high. One of my friend’s moms was hosting a rubber stamp party, and she invited me along with my mom– I think partially so Kristy would have someone to hang out with, but also because I already had a reputation as a crafty girl. So we got to play around with embossing ink and powders with the stamps, which was fun. Then at the end of the night, the woman who was selling the rubber stamp supplies asked if we had any questions about the technique. Knowing my dad wasn’t going to let me use his heat gun all the time (his stuff is hard to find anyway), I guess I was either trying to think outside the box, or just thinking out loud (which can be dangerous, since my mouth doesn’t always quite get the “shut up” signal from my brain in time), but I asked her if the embossing could be done in the microwave. She was a bit taken aback by that, but supposed that it was possible. Kristy thought that was hilarious, enough so to write “Can you microwave that?” to me several years later in her senior blurb in our yearbooks (since I went to a small school, all of the seniors got a “blurb” in which they could write whatever they wanted, usually consisting of inside jokes with friends or favorite quotes, along with their picture.) I never tested the microwave thing out, though.

all sorts of crafty mischief

Since I have three days of projects to catch up on.

Item #1, completed Saturday night:

Yeah, that’s right, another ATC. This one is colored pencil and charcoal on watercolor paper, and loosely based on one of the photos that I took out west this past summer. I think I might do another similar one because I wasn’t actually looking at the picture when I drew the tree, and I think I could get it closer. The tree silhouette was really fun to draw anyway. I still need to fix the charcoal, but other than that it’s done.

Item #2, completed yesterday:

Does the fabric look familiar? I took a picture of it and used it for my banner. 😀 Anyway, this is my blouse from New Look 6407, and I’m rather pleased with how it turned out. Though I think if I were doing it again, I’d make the ties longer, because once it was on the only way I could tie them was in a simple knot. No clever names for this blouse yet– I’ll work on coming up with a half-witted one, at least, for the sidebar.

Also showing a pic of the inside here, because I’m so happy with how finished it looks in there! Plus this is the best job I’ve done with the new serger so far.

Item #3, still not completed but I worked on it tonight….

These little booklets are for my road trip album, specifically for the journaling. I had to assemble the last two albums tonight, and I’ve been sewing buttons on to act as closures. Only 4/16 done so far. (My mom’s thrilled that I’m using up all these buttons from her stash. The covers are 2-sided mulberry paper, and they’re bound with hemp.
And I’m using this stuff called Perfect Pearls to put the writing on– it’s basically this clear pen and these powders that you brush on that has resins in it to bind it to whatever’s in the pen. (Same stuff I’ve used on this scrapbook page.) Adds a nice shimmery touch.

Mmmm… fake Asian food

Two posts in one day… don’t you all feel so lucky? ^_^

Anyway, since I do believe good cooking is an art form, and Lydia so often inspires me with her yummy-looking food posts, thought I’d stick one of my own culinary experiments in here.

Besides my craftiness, I’m also doing the 101 things in 1001 days project, though a slightly modified version (added about 80 extra days– since I started it on my birthday, I thought a fitting end date would be the eve of my 30th birthday. In theory, I’m hoping that working on this will help me feel like I didn’t waste the end of my 20s, even if one of my worst fears comes true and I’m still single by then. *shudders at the thought*) I wanted to add fun goals too, so there are several on there pertaining to craftiness, but that’s not what this post is about. What this post IS about is me wanting to learn to eat with chopsticks.

Even though my heritage is almost as white as they come (minus a bit Jewish and possibly a bit Native American), I really like Asian cultures. I’m most familiar with Chinese and Korean, since I’ve had several flute students who are either first-generation Americans from those two countries, or who moved here from there themselves along with their families. One of these students (who is actually on hiatus this semester) moved here from China with her mom– her dad is still living in China for work reasons, apparently, but they go back to China every summer to be with the rest of their family. I often ended up teaching her at her house, since she lives very close to a few other students I commute to, and whenever she could, her mom insisted on feeding me. So through them, I got introduced to real Chinese food– egg drop soup, moon cakes, and these to-die-for pork dumplings. I really want to learn how to make those so I can ensure a healthy version, because I have serious cravings for them. But in the meantime, I was happy to discover they have them at Trader Joe’s. (Then why do I need to learn to make them, you ask? Because the closest TJ’s, unfortunately, is about a 40-60 minute drive from here, depending on traffic. So I don’t get up there very often.)

So, anyway, I think that eating with chopsticks looks fun. So I bought a pair of them on my way home from teaching this afternoon (a simple bamboo pair with a twist near the top to make them fun!) Therefore, I needed food to try them on, and came up with this…

I can’t take credit for the dumplings, because they’re the aforementioned TJ’s brand ones. But the “lo mein” on the side was mine. I’ve often wished I could just cook things without recipes, and it was a total experiment, but it turned out pretty good. It was easy too. All I did was cut up some red bell pepper and carrot, threw in some frozen peas, and sauteed that in some canola oil while I cooked some broken-in-half spaghetti. When the veggies were a little tender, I threw in some sesame seeds, and then about a minute later, some garlic hoisin sauce that we had around here. Then I drained the spaghetti and threw that in too, and voila, instant side dish.
(Also, for the record, I’ve been eating this while I’ve been writing this. I almost made it to the end with the chopsticks… I had to cave and get a fork to scoop up the peas, because they didn’t pick up as nicely as the rest of it. I’m proud of being able to use them on the noodles though!)

Friday Favorites, Episode 2

Lots of fun goodies this week!

1. The Little Fabric Flower Box at Creative Kismet. It’s fun, it’s funky, and the colors are really cheerful. That, and the way she describes how she just had to make it really makes me smile.

2. Sharon’s “season transition” skirt. Style-wise, it’s a very simple skirt in a rather neutral color (more suited to winter), but the applique makes it so much more interesting and gives it a more spring-like feel. (I’ll admit it, I love it when adults don’t shy away from clothes that are embellished in a fun way!)

3. Secret Pocket Easter Eggs at Sew, Mama, Sew! I have absolutely no reason to make one, but I think they’re adorable. Plus they’d be a great way to use up scraps, they’d look more fun in an Easter basket than the plastic ones, and they’re also better for the environment and more young kid-friendly than the plastic ones.

4. Also found through Sew, Mama, Sew! was this tutorial for cd coasters at Scrapdash. I’ve definitely used unwanted cds as coasters before, but they didn’t look nearly this classy. Looks like they’d be really simple to make, too. (Though I think I’m still going to hang onto my pile of old AOL cds that I kept for crafting purposes for now… for years, I’ve really wanted to use pieces of old cds to mosaic a tabletop or something. That idea’s indefinitely on hold until I actually have somewhere to put a table though, so if I ever have a need for more coasters or a quick gift idea for someone with a house, definitely going back to this one.)

5. This wrapped wire necklace at Crafty Daisies. You’d never be able to guess what the silver ring inside the wire is– just an ordinary washer (like the type you get at the hardware store!) I’ve been wanting to expand my jewelry-making repertoire to wire anyway (pretty much the only way I can work in metals with affordable supplies), and this looks like it would be a good project to try for it.

6. Not new to me– this last one, from Angry Chicken, is purely for nostalgia value. My friends and I used to pass notes in class that were folded all cool like this back in late elementary/junior high school.

Well, that wraps it up for this week. Happy spring/Good Friday, all!

Chop chop!

Even though it’s only about 10 minutes until the official start of spring, it seems like winter, Delaware-style, is wanting to linger around. It has gotten a little warmer, thankfully, but it’s been kind of rainy for the last few days. (Typical February/March weather around here– cold and rainy.) So it’s putting me in the mood for happy warm-weather clothes.
Now that I’m done with the Kaylee, moving on to that lovely piece of cotton voile I got during my trip to NYC’s Fashion Week. After much deliberation, looking through my pattern stash, and getting some input from my mom, decided to go with a blouse instead of a tunic. It’ll be pretty sheer, but I can wear a cami underneath easily enough. So this is going to be view D of New Look 6407. This is it all laid out (not quite the way the pattern called for– it seemed like it would work fine without having to fold it two different ways for the selvages). And I got it cut out, along with the interfacing, and all the dots and such marked with thread. So it’s all ready to start sewing, hopefully tomorrow.
This fabric may also become the basis for my yet-to-be-made new banner. It’s just so happy and springy and happens to have all three of my favorite colors to wear (blue, green and brown)!

Kaylee Tunic, and ATC #3

First off, thanks to those of you who offered pointers for my banner dilemma. (Especially that Blogger for Dummies site– as you can see, now I don’t have to limit my “finished projects” because I have scroll buttons!! Sorry…. too many times hearing Strong Bad’s “Scroll Buttons” email song on Homestar Runner, heh heh.) Anyway, I will have a spiffy banner up at some point. But first I need to take a picture for it. Which means either I need to clean up my sewing area, or I need to wait for happy springy things to take pictures of. Either way, it could be awhile since winter decided to dig its heels in for one last go at us, and I happen to enjoy making crafty messes far more than cleaning them up.

I finished up with my “Kaylee” tunic yesterday. I’m rather pleased with it, actually, despite the fact that the fabric was a pain to work with because it snagged so easily. I do need to figure out how to get a crisper edge on the lower hems (I guess I didn’t have enough heat when I pressed it), but I think it definitely has the look of Kaylee’s jacket without being an exact copy– more wearable for every day. And when I tried it on, it felt like it’s going to be a comfy shirt to wear–a bit of a looser fit than I usually go for, but if the seams were any tighter I wouldn’t be able to raise my arms. So hopefully the long darts and the length will be slimming enough for me.
I also did the third of my “Crane Wife” Decemberists ATCs tonight. This time the text is from “Crane Wife 3”. A little messy on the one side since I originally drew the line too far over, but I really like the crane. I started on another ATC tonight too, this time a magazine collage one, but I’m not going to show it until it’s done.

Bored with Blogger Layouts

Not really craft-related, but it is creative, so….

Spring’s almost here. It’s finally starting to get to the point where my fingers aren’t icicles all the time. And the grass is starting to get some color to it. I actually saw flowers the other day when I was driving to work in the university town. So I think it’s time to change the look of this blog some.

Only thing is, I have no clue how to do it.

Really, I just want one of those nifty banners. I’d like to change the colors too, but I know how to do that part at least. Could any of you more html-savvy people point me to something that might help? Like, you know, “Blog-banner-making for Dummies” or something? (It’s not so much actually making the banner as getting it to actually appear on the blog, really.)