Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Burda Crafts

This page is from the January 2010 edition of Burda. Here is the caption: "Mouse Trap If the cat's away, the (soft toy) mice will play! You merely have to hand-sew together all these cuddly creatures (from IKEA) to create a comfortable cushion!"
I was truly speechless when I saw it. I have been trying to keep an open mind when it comes to Burda's craft section. Maybe they like stuff like this in Europe. Maybe it goes along with the proliferation of chairs that are strictly for looking at , not sitting on, that pop up in every photo of a European- decorated room I've ever seen.
I am not saying that most American crafts are all that great. Check out the craft section at Wal-Mart - you know what I mean, puffy paint snowmen tote bags, glittery Santa faces that you can buy and sew to your finest sweat shirt, large rhinestones you can put on the back pockets of your jeans (we all want attention focused there!), yards and yards of American flag fabric for only $1.99 a yard, and let's not forget the ever-popular foam visors you can buy and embellish yourself! (Don't even get me started on visors!) In fact, let's face it - there are a lot of crafty but misguided people out there. The main purpose of crafting is to make yourself happy. I may shudder at what you've made, but if you like it and it makes you happy, I won't say a word.
But I have some words for you, Burda. Two words, but they need some explanation.
The first word is UNCOMFORTABLE. Who wants to sit on a cushion made out of a bunch of cheap, lumpy stuffed mice? Sit down in a hurry and get stabbed by a plastic eyeball! Or is this one of those fancy European chairs that is for looking at, not sitting in?
This question brings me to my next word for you, Burda, and that word is: DISTURBING.
A chair covered in stuffed mice is disturbing. Mice are disturbing. (If you want to see grownups scream, send a mouse. They'll be talking about it for days, putting it up on their Facebook, having nightmares about it...) Mice tails are disturbing. Little beady mice eyes are disturbing. If this is one of those "looking" chairs, you are way off the mark. No one wants to look at this!
The new motto for the Burda Craft section should be "Burda Craft - Always Good For A Laugh."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

World's Best Molasses Cookies

I made 4 dozen of these cookies the day before yesterday, as well as a few dozen other kinds. This is all that is left of the molasses cookies. The recipe was given to me by my friend Sandy, who is also my husband's boss at the shelter he works at.
Sandy's cookies, especially the molasses cookies, are legendary. People are thrilled if she gives them a tin full of them as a wedding present. I don't know if it is the large amount of spices in the cookies, or the 3/4 cup of molasses, or the satisfying crunch of the sugar coating, but there is no doubt that these cookies are addicting. Since addicting cookies and Christmas go together, I thought I'd share the recipe here.

Sandy's Molasses Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together in a large bowl until fluffy:

3 sticks butter, softened
2 eggs
3/4 cup molasses, dark if possible
1 3/4 cup dark brown sugar

Whisk together in another bowl:

4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Dump the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and mix well. Pour about 1 cup of granulated sugar into a bowl or plate.
With moistened hands, roll the dough into 1 1/2 inch balls. Roll the balls in the sugar, coating completely. Put 12 of the balls onto a cookie sheet, press down slightly on each ball, and bake for 8 - 12 minutes until crackly and slightly underdone. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on cookie racks.
This recipe makes about 48 cookies.


New Kitchen

This is a photo of our old kitchen. We share it with 14 other families. It is about 13 feet by 12 feet, and had a lot of problems. The main problems were lack of counter space and lack of cleanliness. We wanted to redo it, but there are as many definitions of "nice kitchen" as there are families who use the kitchen, and things ground to a halt. Eventually, I got my gumption up and got things moving.

First we ripped everything out, discovering some interesting critters in the process. Let's not linger on this...
Then came time to close the holes and start the beautification process.

A new floor was the biggest and best investment we made. We got this from Tile Outlet and settled on deep red grout. It looks even better in person.

Then we painted, installed much better lighting, put in new stainless steel counters and a new refrigerator and stove. After the photo was taken, we also put in a new range hood.
I helped with the painting and planning, and other people helped when they could, but the lion's share of the work was done by my Canadian neighbor (who only cooks popcorn- go figure). We're hoping to get the backsplash in sometime in January.
Until then, the cookies are rolling in like a Christmas avalanche!
So, maybe I should title my blog "Gen Sews - When She Can."

Decorating for Christmas

We decorated for Christmas last week, and I finally framed this series of prints from an old magazine from the 50's. This one is my favorite. I think it is the way the sky looks striped, and the colors.

This is our 8 1/2 foot tree. It smells wonderful! We let the boys decorate as far up as they can reach, and then I do the top with the fragile ornaments. Last year, my younger son was big into organizing, so he put all of the same ornaments together in stripes. (He was 5 at the time, and we began planning his life as an accountant then.)I made the boys their traditional Christmas jammies out of penguin fabric and put them under the tree until Christmas Eve.

The big box shown here is my super-secret gift, a Kitchenaid stand mixer I've been wanting for a few years now. I can't wait to open it and get cooking!

The best decoration of all, my handsome husband! Behind him are the birthday flowers he bought me yesterday. So, we are ready for the holidays. Once December 26th comes, I'll get back to sewing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Skirt

I made this skirt a few weeks ago, and it was too big.
Way too big. It is from the September 2009 BWOF (the number is 131, and I originally made the size 42.) I don't really approve of big pockets on my skirts, so I left them out. Without pockets and belt loops, this was a really easy skirt to make.
But I seem to have the problem of always making my skirts too large, and this time there was some drama involved. I decided to wear it on a Sunday to Church, and discovered about half an hour before we had to leave that it was not going to stay up. So, being the determined woman that I am, I got out a needle and thread and made the darts bigger, opened the waistband, and did a major taking in operation. I took in about 2 inches total in the darts and went off to Church. It kind of developed that "home made look" through the whole process. I like my clothes to look like someone skilled and highly paid made them, not a frantic mother-of-two trying to get out the door.
So, since I finished that jacket, I once again whipped out my trusty seam ripper and got down to business. Here is what the inside looked like before:
Once I ripped it apart, I took in 1/2 inch on each seam, for 2 inches total, serged the seams, re-hemmed it, and put the whole thing together again.

Here is the final result:
Now I am off to help cook for about 500 people because a friend of mine is getting married today. This has been a very busy October.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Plaid Jacket

Well, it's fall in Chicago. And this is not one of those sunny, warm falls we have gotten used to. (A few years ago, the roses started blooming in December because of the weird warm weather.) So, I realized I had been wearing the same jackets and sweaters since I was pregnant with my youngest son. Does this mean that I pick classic styles that last a long time, or that I am in a fashion rut and need an intervention?

I found this in the October Burda, and I decided to make it. It has a hood and 3/4 length sleeves.

The pattern looked easy (famous last words).
I found a great plaid at Vogue and bought it before realizing that it is a stretch fabric, which meant I had to fuse it to other, non-stretchy fabric.

Here's a close up of it and the flannel from my stash that I ended up lining the jacket with:

I lengthened the sleeves and ditched the fake fur collar. This turned out to be the longest I have ever sewed anything except for a wedding dress for a friend of mine. I ended up making up my own directions because I couldn't make the given directions work. They weren't really bad, so much as evil and incomprehensible. I had to rip out almost every seam at least once.
Here is a portrait of the tool that saved my bacon on this project, the lowly seam ripper:

My room was covered with nests of red thread and snippets of fabric. My kids were living on apples and t.v. The extent of my conversation with them was "Be careful, the iron is on!" (My husband was off on a paintball trip, so there was no one to make me see sense. ) After a blur of sewing and cutting and ripping seams out, trying on and re adjusting, I am finished!
Here is the front:

Here is the back:

Now I can toss all of those old jackets and be toasty warm in whatever weather this crazy city decides to send our way. Chicago is not known for playing nice, but I am prepared!

Somewhere in the mayhem, my youngest son managed to lose another tooth. Once I remember his name, I'll make sure the tooth fairy visits him.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bob Dylan

OK, quick random rant this morning. My husband took the camera to camp, so I have no photos, but here goes:
1. Bob Dylan is releasing a Christmas album, the proceeds of which will go to charity. Great.
a. Can you imagine his voice wheezing "Drummer Boy"? I really like his music - a taste I must enjoy on the sly when my husband is not around - and I think he's a genius. But I don't think I will be able to hear him singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" without laughing.
b. The statement they wrote for him to announce the release sounds so unlike him, it's comical! They should have had him do his own. Even if totally unrecognizable as a plug for the group the album will benefit, it would have been BOB DYLAN, and people would have tried to figure out what on earth he was talking about!

2. Bob is working on a deal to be the voice on a car GPS. Can you imagine hearing that voice for hours on end on a road trip? Wouldn't you wonder if he would get you lost on purpose to help you come to an epiphany of some sort? And, what if he was being ironic, and when he said "Go straight" he meant "Do a u-turn to save yourself from the giant cliff ahead of you"?

For me, music is all about the lyrics, and Bob Dylan is a master. He shouldn't waste his time on songs with lyrics like, "We'll sing a love song as we go along, walking in a winter wonderland."

Come on.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Burda !!!!!

Yesterday I went to Vogue Fabrics, and checked at a magazine store up there for Burda, since Amazon said I wouldn't be getting my Burda subscription until October 1st. Well, they do carry it up there, but hadn't gotten the latest edition yet. Sadly, I went to Vogue, bought some fabric, and came home. At home, this was waiting in my mailbox:

Woooo Hoooo!
I scoured it for ideas, and decided to make this skirt in a dark denim, without the pockets. I traced it, added seam allowances, and cut out the fabric around 10 p.m. last night. (Fingers crossed that I traced the right size...)

I also want to make this jacket.
It is August in Chicago, and we should be sweltering in 100+ heat and 90 % humidity, but it's in the 60's and I'm wearing wool slippers and a long sleeved shirt! Hence the fascination with jacket patterns, I guess.

I also had to show this:

I love how non-English speakers can make their English perfectly correct, but somehow wrong. It cracked me up!

So.... Burda, thanks for coming! I look forward to all of your issues and I plan on making a "suitable outfit for a pleasant evening" very soon!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Birthday Bags

Last week was my son's birthday. He turned 9, which seems like a milestone- we're halfway done! I have a feeling the next 9 years will be somewhat trickier than the past 9, but hopefully cleaner. He's off to camp soon, and so I decided to sew him a camp bag for his toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. I figure he will probably not actually USE the toothbrush or toothpaste, but we mothers comfort ourselves by gamely sending things along in case our children are magically transformed into sanitary people when we are not around. Right.
Anyway, it is a basic box bag pattern, and it opens really wide in case he needs to get at some personal hygiene products in a hurry. (Because he will surely be thinking about keeping his teeth and armpits sweet smelling at camp!)

The next bag I made is for my friend and neighbor who has a birthday Wednesday. Where do I even start describing her? She is the fittest, tidiest person I have ever known, and not real into frills. She commented on another of these purses I'd made and I thought I should jump at the chance to make her something. The colors match her favorite Keens. The nice thing about this purse is that the wide gusset makes it hold tons of stuff. (What impressed my friend the most was when the owner of the other purse spent all day shopping, and at the end of the day whipped out a Diet Coke from it. It holds A LOT.)
So, that's some of what I've been sewing lately, and now I'm off to the library to pick up a craft book that's waiting for me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Waiting For Burda

Oh Burda, where art thou?
Here is what I'm up to as I wait for Burda to send me their magazine:

1. Watching my window box grow. Pretty but boring, and yet soothing in a way.

2. Making yogurt.

3. Making yogurt cheese. Wow, this is good! Put some plain yogurt in a strainer lined with a coffee filter over a bowl to catch the whey. Leave it, covered, in the fridge overnight. Amazing.
Here's a close up.
4. Make hummus.Here's the recipe, stolen freely from America's Test Kitchen and changed a bit:
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 Tablespoons water
3 Tablespoons lemon juice from a lemon
2 Tablespoons tahini
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 small clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press

Put it all on a food processor and process until super creamy. 1/4 cup has 100 calories and 5 g of fat, as well as 3 g. of fiber. But honestly, it's the taste and texture that I love.

So, until Burda gets here, I will keep cooking. Good thing their patterns are multi-sized!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Recent Projects or How Many Shirts Does One Girl Need?

I have made 4 shirts so far out of the knits I got at Vogue last month. I am pretty happy with them, because they don't immediately jump out at you as "homemade." They aren't very fancy either, but mostly I was trying to make things I could wear in the heat. Then, Chicago's temperatures dropped to the 60's, so maybe I should have made them earlier...

I made two of each, in different colors. I copied the one with sleeves from a Gap one I had that was falling apart, and the red one is from a Vogue pattern by Issey Miyake. I lengthened the red one an inch, and took it in because I was already making the smallest size. I like how it turned out because it's an interesting tank, not an "I've given up on the world" tank.
My photographer is six years old, hence the strained expression on my face. ("Am I even IN this picture?" I was asking myself.) Also, I had just finished my run, so I am not normally this red in the face.

Honestly, I am not a fan of sewing with knits. I have all of the ballpoint needles you could ask for, but the way this stuff rolls up after you cut it is ridiculous. It's like trying to sew around a slinky.

In other news, I've been making more yogurt, and the boys have been lapping it up like starving kittens.
I also got a subscription to Burda, but have been informed by Amazon that my very very expensive magazine may not actually ship until October. October is a long way away. You'd think spending that much money would get you a wee bit of speedy delivery, but until then I'll have to settle for other things, like making hummus and cleaning. Hooray.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bushnell Living Part II

Here is what I love about having my family in Bushnell:

The boys get to do all of the messy, dirty things out there that we can't do in Chicago, like get hugely muddy. A couple of years ago, we were in Bushnell and I heard a lot of bickering so I went outside to find that my youngest son was lying spread-eagled on a huge pile of dirt in our front yard. I asked them what was wrong and they both yelled angrily, "This is my dirt!" Dirt is a rare commodity in concrete-covered Chicago, and they didn't want to share the precious stuff.
Aaaah, the riches of dirt. Aren't they cute with their "tough guy" faces on?

Next, we have the boys catching a frog. This has been a big year for frogs, with all of the flooding, and the boys catch frogs and feed them flies. (The day this was taken, we had ethereal lighting, thanks to a lot of misty clouds which made the sunlight especially orange.) Notice the head lamp on my youngest son. We tend to be a gadget family.

These last photos sum it all up. We can relax as a family. Here is my oldest son doing the hula hoop and later balancing some stuff on his head. At home it is easy to be too busy to do this type of slow- paced nothingness. But when we do, we find that it is just what we needed. Batteries recharged, we can get back to our "normal" life with a lot more energy.

Bushnell Living Part I

Here is a list of things that make me happy in Bushnell:

First, there is the view. We have our cabins right next to a lake surrounded by trees, and we love hearing the birds all day long.

Secondly, there is the way that the honeysuckle I planted two years ago has begun to take over everything. The flowers on it are very sweetly scented, and although the deer around here eat it mercilessly (along with all of my hostas...), it keeps on going strong.

Lastly, this is the view out the screen door of our bedroom. Holding the door open are my favorite rubber boots ( just great for muddy years like this one!) and the view out the door is wonderful. But most of all, the breeze we get when this door is open means we have very little use for our air conditioner. With two kids running in and out, this means I don't have to spend all day yelling, "Shut the door!" and can concentrate on the finer things in life, like baking cookies. Molasses cookies. Mmmmm.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Vogue Fabrics

What do you do on a rainy day in Chicago in June? Go to Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, of course!
They had some fantastic sales going today, like Denim for $2.99 a yard, but I was mostly shopping for stuff to make some cute t-shirts, a couple of other summer shirts, and a dress.

Here's what I found:

For t-shirts:

For a dress:

Cotton lawn for other summer shirts:

I always forget how cheap Vogue is, and how huge their rooms of beautiful fabrics are. And really, Evanston isn't that far away, it's just really easy to get lost in. (We have a family tradition of becoming totally lost up there, probably because their streets aren't on a perfect grid, like the rest of Chicago. The Chicago fire helped enormously with street layouts...)
Now I'm off to cut out some shirts to go with my pile of new jeans !
I love you, Vogue Fabrics! May your cutting scissors never dull !

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Monster Pillows

Doesn't every kid need a friendly monster pillow?

We have made our fair share of them, and tomorrow is a birthday party for two of the friendliest little guys we know, brothers, so we decided they need their own friendly monster pillows.

Designing them is a lot of fun, because there are almost no rules. Here is what my design looked like in paper:

Friendly monsters have hearts, and these friendly monsters needed frogs on theirs:

I wanted them bright, and what's brighter than vibrating colors, like this blue and red together?

Here they are, all sewn up and ready for my youngest son to wrap them in miles of wrapping paper and scotch tape: