Thursday, December 22, 2011

a handmade gift bow

Every now and then I notice again how hip crafting has become and am washed over with regret that my mom didn't live to see this day. I had a mom who made things all the time—partly from frugality, it's true, but also because she had a busy mind and liked to do things. She led our Bluebird and Camp Fire clubs and thus, coached numerous kids through years of creative projects. She made our clothes until we grew old enough to object. And she always had some type of handwork project going. She would have loved the explosion of handmaking that has developed with the web.

I feel this even more acutely at this time of year because I've inherited many of Mom's homemade ornaments and Christmas decor. This pinecone and nut wreath is one of my favorites, as I can remember her making it—not with a glue gun, but with grey linoleum paste slapped on with a trowel. (She would have loved glue guns!)
Mom also made her own gift bows. She had some kind of a jig that one threaded ribbon through. My clumsy child hands never mastered it, but I do remember the principle and put it to use this year.

Most of the seasonal advertising inserts are printed on glossy paper with predominantly red ink. So I cut them into 1" strips (with a $10 paper cutter—Mom would have loved paper cutters!) and taped them together as needed.
Start by turning the paper around like a little cone. You can tape it in place if you like.
Make another cone in the exact same way (flipping the paper strip under, not over). The points will not be exactly opposite each other, but will be slightly offset. This allows you to continue the pattern around, much like drawing with a Spirograph.
Continue around until you have created a full rotation, then staple the piece in the center and cut off any excess. This bow is made with five points, but you may have more or less, depending on how big your bow is and how sharply you wrap.
Make your second piece slightly smaller and place it at a slight rotation to the first. Staple it all together and cut a third strip to make the center loop. For my 4" diameter bow, I cut a 3" long strip.
Tape the loop in the center, and stick the bow to your package with another piece of tape. This is the package wrapped in the previous post. Not too fancy, but it was quick and used nothing but the contents of this morning's delivery.

japanese-style gift wrapping

I always loved the Japanese way of wrapping things. Once you get the hang of it, it's actually faster than the more conventional method used in the US. It also uses paper more efficiently and can be done with a single piece of tape. With all this going for it, I don't understand why it hasn't caught on in the same way, say, that the furoshiki has.

I apologize for the crude blocking on the box—it's actually my husband's Christmas gift and I didn't want him to see it. Also, for the record: no one in Japan would ever wrap in old newspaper.

Start with your gift placed at an angle—you'll be wrapping corner-to-corner. (This method can be applied to any object of any shape, but it's easiest to understand with a box.) For ease of discussion, I'm going to label the corners north, south, east and west.
Bring the south corner over the top.
Then pinch the top of the paper on the west side, as if making hospital corners on a bedsheet. Crease it sharply and fold it onto the top of the box.
The camera is now looking on from the southwest side. Push the paper on the west side in, and bring the west corner over the top. You can tape it down at this point if you like.
Repeat with the east side of the paper.
At this point, you have a sort of envelope with the flap open, and this is the one place it gets a little tricky: you are going to fold in both sides at once. I hope the photo is self-explanatory, but basically you push both sides inward as you simultaneously lift the north corner up and over the top. Crease the folds against the side of the box and tape. (Once you get the hang of things, this will be the only piece of tape you need.)
And that's it! Gift wrapping that takes 60 seconds and one piece of tape—what's not to like? :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

satsuma lamp

Tonight is winter solstice, the darkest night of the year and the perfect time for lighting a simple lamp.

This idea has been around for awhile—I think it first appeared here as a Clementine Candle. Typically it is halved and a star-shaped vent is cut into the lid like so:
However, D and I are partial to satsumas, having spent many winters in Japan where consuming a 200-yen bag of mikan over the course of an evening is its own special joy. I also found that the vent quickly blackened and didn't look that great, so here is my resulting modification.

First you have to know that the stem end is going to sit down, as it has the long pith that serves as a wick.
Score your satsuma about 1/3 way down and carefully peel that away. Then pull the fruit out, have a little snack and—here's the critical step—go to bed. In my experiments, I found that shells which were left to dry overnight burned brighter. So I recommend letting it sit for at least a few hours.
a dried satsuma shell
Place your satsuma rind in a holder of your choice. I used a wooden tea saucer and some pebbles because they were at hand.

Now all you have to do is add about a tablespoon of olive oil (other oils might work, but olive oil is particularly clean burning) and light the wick. This tiny little lamp will burn through dinner, dessert, and even a glass of wine and a game of cards afterwards. As I write this, mine have been going for over three hours.
You can also dress it up. I added some fragrant oil from the kids' soapmaking days and for good measure, cut the orange into petal shapes. I think a few of these would make a pretty centerpiece, or could even line up as a kind of menorah.
Here's to finding some brightness in your dark nights. Happy Solstice.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

star quilt: finished at last

It's done. C slept under his sparkly stars last night.

You'd think I'd be elated about having one less project nagging at me, but I only feel a sort of tired relief—like when you've been in labor for hours and the baby is finally there, small and wet and wrinkled. Sure, you're happy, but you also can't help wondering: after all that effort, well, shouldn't it be a little more...attractive?

The free motion quilting turned out to be a bear. I finally gave up on the Singer and took out a newish (90's) Pfaff that had been passed to me when its owner died. This modern machine had several advantages over the vintage Singer:

1. electronic control, which allowed sewing at an even, steady speed.
2. an integrated walking foot, which made it easy to feed through the layers of the quilt.
3. a free motion foot calibrated specifically for it, rather than a generic aftermarket version.
4. needle stop in the down position (oh, how I love this feature now).

On the other hand, it had less space under the arm than my old machine, and it sat several inches above the table, forcing the quilt to go over it like a bump—not the easist way to sew a big project like this.

This is the best set up I could come up with: the quilt spreading out over two plastic folding tables, foot control against a weighted cooler so it wouldn't slide around, and me sitting on a barstool in order to gain a little elevation. But I still wished for a bigger machine surface to be able to freely move that quilt in all directions.
On the very last day, it occurred to me to search online for some product that might help. I found this. Too late for this quilt, but maybe not for the next.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

more christmas stockings

What is it with the little stockings? I have no idea. I actually made these last year but with the knit and felted versions already posted, it seemed too much to post yet another variation on the theme.

They're as fast and easy as possible: cut out of felt (in one case, a felted sweater) with pinking shears and sewn around the edges. They could be filled with tiny candy canes and hung on a tree. I played around with adding numbers for advent calendars, too.
It got me thinking about family stockings. Ours are made from old jeans and prequilted fabric, because the first Christmas D and I spent as a married couple found us in Singapore with only a treadle sewing machine and some castoff clothing to work with. I had rudimentary sewing skills at best but thought of these as temporary placeholders until I had better ones.

With each baby came a new denim stocking: jeans are always available, and it was easier to add one stocking than to redo all of them. But by now I was thinking about knitting Christmas stockings someday.

By the time "someday" came around, however, the boys had already grown used to their funky blue stockings and didn't want anything else. It turns out they were especially fond of the little pocket in front.

But apparently I still think about stockings. A lot. Stockings are fun—they conjure up the feeling of waking up on Christmas morning, the surprise of digging down and pulling something up, and the pleasure of seeing our family names hanging side by side on the...well, we don't have a fireplace, so ours are on a bookcase.

And stockings are such a perfect canvas for customizing. You can make them from anything, in any colors, with any embellishment, any size or shape—just look at what comes up on flickr, for example. I guess I've always been partial to wool myself, which is why I keep coming up with tiny wool stockings. But ours are denim, and I guess always will be.
Do you hang stockings this time of year and if so, what is their story?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

white christmas quiz answers

Answers to this quiz.

1. Holiday Inn

2. longing to be up north

3. Fred Astaire or Donald O'Connor. Astaire turned down the role. O'Connor was under contract to make Francis the Talking Mule films and had caught a disease from his mule co-star.

4. Brown v. Board of Education

5. The Nutcracker ballet, which opened in February (!) of that year

6. The film opens on Christmas Eve, 1944, somewhere in the European theatre of WWII

7. Playing Around

8. Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the Our Gang comedies

9. Rosemary Clooney. (Singer Trudy Stevens sang most of Vera Ellen's songs in the movie, but Rosemary Clooney sang both parts in the Sisters number.)

10. 21 inches. Ellen suffered from anorexia, which caused her health problems later in life.

11. Pine Tree, Vermont

12. to count her blessings

13. George Chakiris won the 1961 Academy Award for playing Bernardo in West Side Story.

14. Casablanca

15. Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmations

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

making a santa hat

This was one of those quick-and-easy projects that somehow gets out of hand, like when you think you might quickly scoot the bookcase to the other side of the room but first have to remove the books, of course, and 4 hours later find yourself reorganizing your entire library, making 8 separate bags for all the places and people you plant to pass some of the extras to. And then, since the bookcase is now empty, you realize you may as well sand it down and paint it the color you'd always planned…but um, now the curtains clash with the new color and must be replaced.

Does this ever happen to you? Please tell me it does.


C has a large head which can't fit into any of our Santa hats. He asked me to make him one, and I agreed. An hourlong project, I figured.

The fabric store didn't have the red fur he requested, but it did have all its "soft and fluffy fabrics" (yes, I believe that is the tailor's term) discounted 50%. So I brought some home and started cutting.

Then I noticed that the red fabric was kind of floppy. I thought I might add a little something to give it heft and spied some leftover cotton batting on the sewing shelf. And then I realized that C, once one of those children who was seriously disturbed by seams, was even at 18 not going to like having a bulky one touching his head. I decided to make the batting into a lining. (Why at this point I didn't switch to a more suitable fabric is beyond me. I blame my fuzzy, congested head.)

I had also neglected to get a pom-pom and realized that none of the white yarn I had was going to work with the creamy, textured fur of the brim. Thank goodness for the internet.

The entire project ended up being only mildly more involved than sewing the fur-trimmed cone I'd originally envisioned; but you know how it is when you're revising the project along the way instead of planning it well in the first place. Maybe you run into the dinner hour, have to clear everything from the kitchen table and set it up again after the dishes are done…and perhaps the son who wanted the hat also decides he needs his long hair shaved down to stubs that very night—10 pm!—and since the last time you shaved his head was 9 years ago, the clippers are rusty and an impromptu trip to town must be made for a new pair. And it turns out you've forgotten how to use clippers, anyway, so must make several ungainly passes before you get the hang of it.

This is how a one-hour project ends up lasting till midnight. 

But maybe you can learn from my ineptitude and make your Santa hat in 30 minutes—it really shouldn't take much longer than that. Below is exactly how I made it, with notes of what I'd do differently next time in italics:

materials and tools

Red cap fabric 2/3 yard
White trim fabric 1/4 yard
lining fabric, same as red cap fabric
(note: in retrospect, I think 1/2 yd of red is plenty for most hats. C has that large diameter head and I was going for proportion. And 1/4 yd of trim fabric felt a little tight—I might get 3/8 yd of that. It depends on your preference, of course. Also, while scrap batting worked fine for the lining, I regret that I didn't think to use a real fabric rather than what is essentially needle-punched cotton fluff.)
stuffing for the pom-pom
(I used scrap fabric but would have preferred a lighter-weight polyester stuffing if I'd had it)
hot glue/glue gun

I used a machine, but this could easily be handsewn. Seams are arbitrarily 1/2" wide. Also, I apologize for my photos, which were taken in the poor artificial light of our house. As it got darker, the photo color became harsher and more contrasty, but I hope you can at least see the steps.


1. Measure your head. Remember to measure it both around the crown and as the hat will be worn (from the nape of the neck to the forehead) and choose the larger measurement. You can either use a measuring tape or the trim fabric itself. C's head measures 24" but when we wrapped the fur around to see what felt comfortable, he found he actually liked it being 26" around.
2. Cut trim fabric to to width, adding 1/2" seam allowance to each end. The height will be determined by the yardage you have, although you may certainly want to square it up. In this photo, my trim fabric is the 9" (1/4 yd) folded in half to 4-1/2" high. It is then folded in half across, with a 13-1/2" width cut. With 1/2" wide seam, that will make 26" diameter band for the trim.
3. Pin right sides together, and sew the raw edge of the trim. Turn it right side out. (Another amendment: I see that what I did here was double the fabric, fold it again, and sew 4 thicknesses together. It would have been far easier to open the fabric up to its full height, sew right sides together, and then fold the wrong sides together. You end up with the same shape for much less headache.)
4.  Fold your red fabric in half with the selvedge running along the length, and cut a hat shape from your red fabric. The base should be the same width as your trim, and the height is roughly the height of your yardage, or whatever looks right. You can see I was just winging it here, but it only needs to sit on the head and flop over so anything pointy will work. I chose not to make a symmetrical cone in favor of maximizing the stretch of the knit. That means the hat opening runs perpendicular to the selvedge and the point runs off a little to the side (so that there is only one seam). If you are using a furry or napped fabric, as I was here, remember to run the nap in the direction you want it before cutting.
5. Fold with right sides together and stitch the cut edge closed. Pinning helps with a soft or slippery fabric. Turn right side out.
6. Cut and stitch the lining fabric the same as for the red cap. Next, with the lining wrong side out and the cap right side out, slip the cap into the lining, matching up the two seams. Right sides should be facing each other.
showing the opening on the left
pulling the hat through the opening
white lining needs to be pushed into the red cap
7. Stitch the opening of the cap closed, leaving a 2" gap to turn. Then pull the hat right side out. You'll end up with the lining opposite the cap. Just push it in, poke it gently from the inside with a knitting needle or chopstick to define the point, and iron if necessary. If you are a stickler, you can handstitch the opening closed again, but I didn't do this since it all gets caught up in the trim, anyway.
trim: folded edge is up, raw edges are down
trim inside hat, ready to be stitched
8. Attach the lining in the same way. With the hat red side out, and the trim folded side down, slip the trim into the hat and pin around the edges.

9. Now you will legitimately have 4 thicknesses of fabric to sew through. I set the machine to the maximum stitch length and lightened the pressure foot a little. And then sewed very slowly. If your foot gets caught in the fur, as mine sometimes did, just backstitch aways, smooth the fur down, and stitch forward again.
10. The raw seam will be on the outside of the hat, like so.
trim folded up to cover raw seam
11. But when you fold the trim up, it will cover the seam. Sew it closed with a simple slipstitch.

12. The pom-pom: in this wonderful age of idea sharing, I still feel strongly about attribution so want to point you to  this video where I found the ingenious way of making a pom-pom to match the brim. Just cut a circle of fabric (this shows 9", but I ended up cutting it down to 7"), take a running stitch along the perimeter, and draw it closed around the fill of your choice: chopped up fabric scraps, as shown in the video and which I used here, or (preferably) some kind of light polyfiber stuffing that you have sitting around.
13. Trim down the ends of your gathered ball, and hot glue it to the point of the cap. I actually sewed the pom-pom to the cap before gluing it, as you can see above, using the gathering thread and taking the needle down through the point of the cap and lining.
14. That's it. Here's the finished hat with the seam at the back. Now that I think about it, that shape works really well for the sloping line from forehead to back of head.

In any case, it fits C's big head and he loves it. And since he chose to remove his hair in the dead of winter, I'm doubly glad that the hat is lined and seamless.
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