Wee little shoes

I do feel slightly sad whenever I celebrate Christmas away from my family, but Christmas around here did go well. The kids behaved. The Christmas dinner that I cooked was the closest that I have ever come to my mum's standard (even my husband said it was great, which is, well, a rare comment when it comes to my cooking...). All my worries about my Christmas cake tasting like pure alcohol were unfounded (2 weeks ago, it did smell rather strongly of sherry...). My husband didn't even try it. Americans seem to be convinced that all fruit cakes are awful, no matter how much you try to persuade them that they can be moist and delicious. It's probably not a good thing that I have already finished it, is it? and the mince pies. and the chocolates...

My husband went all out this year and gave me a digital camera. He has managed to forget about Christmas in the past, so normally it's just a nice surprise if he remembers. So, there goes my excuse for being slow to post things on the blog. I guess I should just come clean now and tell you that I am a procrastinator, so that you keep your expectations low...
I do have a few things to show you, though: Itty bitty wee shoes. The theme wasn't planned - I must just have a subconscious leaning towards small footwear.

In the past few years I could never find time in the run up to Christmas to make any ornaments and this year was no different (excluding those that my kids have made). This year, however, I decided that there's still plenty of time left before the 12 days of Christmas are over and the decorations must come down. Here's what I've been making:

Wee ice skates:
Apparently these are an old idea, but I first saw them on the Montessori by Hand blog at http://montessoribyhand.blogspot.com/2007/11/paper-clip-ice-skates.html.

Wee elf clogs: I found this pattern on the Allsorts blog at http://allsorts.typepad.com/allsorts/2007/11/ears-to-your-el.html. I added a loop so that they can be hung on the tree, too. My daughter, K, found one and tried putting it on her foot and stretched it, so I decided to stretch the other to match it. They looked better before...

And wee 'suede' booties:
Pattern by Candi Jenson found at http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/na_knitting/article/0,2025,DIY_14141_3148516,00.html. Ok, so that description should be singular. Confession #2: I started these ages ago, but chickened out of giving them as a baby shower gift (I worry about giving home made gifts) and put the solitary bootee to the side. I've only just started knitting the second one, although I don't know what I'll use them for. I'm using a different yarn to the one that is recommended and it is bloomin' awkward to knit with... Ok, I had better go and cook some dinner. I hope that you all enjoyed the holidays too and that the New year is a great one for you. Take care.

Barns, Bags, Blankets, Books and, well, not much else

SewMamaSew (http://www.sewmamasew.com/blog2/) is a great source for tutorials and inspiration. They had gift ideas posted daily in November - which is far too late for people like me, who need to time to get up the courage to start a project (really), but it is appreciated and bookmarked for future use. They are doing a meme right now and are asking people to answer some questions, so here goes with my answers:

Do you have a favorite gift that you love to give?
Nope. I try to cater the gifts to the individuals as much as possible. Probably the only gifts that I have made several times over are crocheted baby blankets or personalised softie books (see previous entry below) for new babies.

If you’re making gifts this year, what are you making? (Post photos if you have some!) I don't do many home made gifts, as I'm just a beginner at this sewing / knitting / crocheting lark and I'm not sure how much they would be appreciated by my family and in-laws etc. This Christmas I did make that softie book for a new member of my family in England and this bag for my son's preschool teacher, to hold the card he made and the wee box of English chocolates that we're giving her:

I used the clutch pattern in Bend the Rules Sewing (by Amy Karol). Here's a picture showing the lining:

My kids are my main victims, though, as they're too young to complain. The fabric barn up top is my main gift for my 2 year old daughter this year. I forgot how slow I am at hand sewing, but it's finally finished. Well, I had planned on doing some things to the interior, but that will have to wait until after Christmas...It's actually fabric - and batting - covered wood, so hopefully it will hold up to my kids' play. The front unbuttons, so that K can play with her animals on a mat area in front. Here's the view from above, just promise me that you won't enlarge it to have a look at my stitches - the deadline was fast approaching and panic was starting to set in...As for my son, I found a great wooden tool set for him during our trip to the UK, so I'll probably just wait until after Christmas to make him the few little gifts that I had planned. I'm making a softie book tomorrow for a friend to give to her cousin and there's only a few days left after that. I might just use them for tidying and relaxing (unlikely, but it sounds good).
Do you have any good stories about handcrafted gifts you've given or received? My kids have had some lovely knitted and crocheted baby blankets given to them, which will always be treasured. One of the reasons that I taught myself to crochet and knit was so that future generations will have someone to make blankets for them.
My dad used to often make things out of wood for us when we were children: my brothers were given a fort and a train set up, while I was given a farm and a doll house. My parents still have them for their grandchildren to play with.
Do you have any great gift compilation ideas (a grouping of gifts just perfect for certain recipients?) No, I've only done compilations for baby showers.
Name one thing on your personal wish list. Apart from peace and goodwill for all, you mean? A digital camera would be nice - but hopefully my husband knows that he shouldn't get one 'til I've done the research. I've saved up my birthday money for a couple of years, so just the promise that he will drive me to camera shops to shop around, without complaining, would be a great gift.
Do you make and sell things that would make fantastic gifts? (Link) Nope - maybe one day.

Are you still there? Sorry, this was a long post. There's also a section on traditions in the meme, but I think that I answered most of those questions a couple of posts ago, in my post on traditions, and anyone who has tried my cooking will probably tell you that you don't need any recipe ideas from me!

Take care of yourselves - and I'll wish you a Merry Christmas now, in case I don't stop by before then. I need to buy some food, do some gift wrapping and get this house looking a bit presentable. Not too long a to-do list, but then you can't see the mess my house is in...

Personalised soft fabric books

It was only when I started to write this post that I realised that I have no idea what this type of book is called. Hopefully you know what I mean by soft fabric book.

After all that, here's a little personalised soft fabric book that I made for an undercover spy:
(sorry about the photos: there was rare rainfall in California and white on white just wasn't a good choice on a cloudy day).

Ok, ok, so the blurring and black bars are just a result of my paranoia about putting stuff on the internet again and he is not an undercover spy. Yet.
Anyway, I wanted to add a small personal gift in addition to the outfit that the little lad in question is getting for Christmas. There are pictures of him, his mum, dad, brother and house for him to look at in the book. I first made one of these for my son when he was a baby (in the days BSM - before sewing machine) and have since made a couple for some little babes that I know.
This should give you a better idea of the cover (and the following pictures are the cover of the last book I made and one of its pages):


Until I moved to California, my Christmases were spent like so:
::Christmas shopping in a beautifully lit up High Street on dark cold evenings, wrapped up in a warm coat, scarf and gloves
::Opening advent calendar doors daily
::Dad and I decorating the tree
::Meeting up with my friends on Christmas Eve before meeting our parents and going to Midnight Mass together
::Dad whispering 'Happy Christmas' the moment midnight struck
::Visiting my grandparents' graves behind the church after the service
::Waking up Christmas morning and annoying my family by being too slow at eating my breakfast (I can't help it, honest).
::Everyone gathering to give and receive gifts.
::Visiting my Aunt who lives down the street.
::Returning home for Christmas dinner (roast turkey, roast potatoes, gravy, carrots, peas, parsnips, cranberry sauce, sage and onion stuffing balls and Yorkshire puddings... all while wearing the paper hats from our crackers, of course).
::Queen's speech
::Dessert (Christmas pud or Christmas cake)
::Family party, with all the cousins, aunts, uncles etc. playing games, quizzes and card games for pennies until the early hours (with mince pies, Christmas cake, sausage rolls, sandwiches, scones, trifle and lots of other delicious food).
::Days and days of lovely turkey leftovers

So it's been a little unsettling to move to a State where there is an ice cream truck driving down your street in mid-December (really). The sun is shining, there are no lights strung across the streets, there are no Christmas Carolers going door to door, the family affair is a low key meal and any traditional food is made by me (and usually only enjoyed by me, as my in-laws don't seem to like it). Hardest of all: my family are not here to share it with me.
I have also had to get over the guilt of opening presents a day early (that's when my in-laws celebrate), but that's another story.

Still, despite my in-laws' reluctance to enjoy an English-style Christmas, my children are not going to escape unscathed. There may be no chance of a white Christmas around here, but they will get a Christmas dinner, Christmas cake and mince pies each Christmas (even if they are nowhere near as good as mum's - hmmm, maybe that explains my in-laws' reaction...). They will have an advent calendar and playing games as a family on Christmas will be encouraged. We will never go to the movies on Christmas Day. The Queen's speech will probably have to go, though (sorry).

I'm also trying to introduce some new traditions for them. Each Christmas they have been forced into child labour, I mean, they enjoy making Christmas decorations. They have a small tree just for their decorations, but I can't wait until there are enough to cover the main tree. Here's a sampling of what they have made so far this year:
J made one of these at preschool last year and I liked it so much, that I got him to make several more. This year, J got to practice his counting, by making different width stripes on each cane, and 2 year old K got in on the act and churned out just as many as J (The red and white striped ones are J's, the green and white striped ones are K's and the red and clear ones are last year's).
Let me know if you can think of some American style traditions that I can start with my kids.
PS. The pottery Christmas tree in the top photo were made last year - the one pictured was made by K.

Still breathing

Sorry - I went a bit quiet on you, didn't I? Just a combo of Thanksgiving, illness, parties, family, friends and lots of errands. I'm trying to meet the deadline for putting together a parcel for England. My mum's birthday is fast approaching, so I'm hoping that I will get everything finished in time to put the Christmas things in with her birthday present. It's mainly writing letters and cards, which is surprisingly difficult with kids hanging off your arm.

I have already printed off some photo cards, though. Here's this year's effort:
Sorry for the blurring and wiggliness, but I'm a little nervous about putting some things on the internet. You'd never guess that the photo prior to the one of them hugging was one of K raising her hand, about to smack the already flinching J. That would probably have been more true to life, but it didn't really fit in with the sentiment of this being the Season of Peace and Goodwill...

Hopefully by the next time that I post, I'll have finished some gifts and photographed them to show you (one of the advantages to being weird about putting personal information on the 'net, is that no one that I'm making presents for reads this blog...).

Take care all.

It's all gone pear-shaped

My apple pincushion was originally inspired by a pear pincushion (seen here: http://mypiccalilli.blogspot.com/2007/02/pear-shaped.html), so I decided to try my hand at making a pear pincushion, too. So, here's the pear pincushion tutorial: it's made in exactly the same way as the apple pincushion (instructions found here: http://uklassinus.blogspot.com/2007/11/apple-pin-cushion-tutorial.html) except that you omit the part about creating an indent in the top. The template for the pear:
Now, the apple is a more forgiving shape, as it appears more realistic if it's a little uneven. The above template was just quickly hand drawn with a dying pen around the paper template I had made to make my pear. I think that the pear turns out best when the template is symetrical, so it may be best to fold the template in half and trim off any uneven bits, so that both halves are the same - and then be careful to follow the lines when sewing it up.
PS. I've set up a flickr group for anyone who wants to post their version of anything on my blog at http://www.flickr.com/groups/lil_d/pool/. If you make one of these pincushions, please do post - I'd love to see how they turn out.

Apple pin cushion tutorial

This would be what my mother would call the 'blind leading the blind', but I have had a few people ask me about how to make the apple pin cushion, so here's the template I made up:

Print off the template after enlarging / reducing it to the size you desire. Trace around the template onto six fabric scraps and cut them out, leaving a small seam allowance. Make sure that you keep the fabric pieces all facing the same way up, with the wider end being towards the top. Putting the right sides of the fabric together, sew piece 1 and 2 together along the one edge. Then sew a piece 3 onto the unsewn edge of piece 2 (right sides together again).

If you turn it right sides out it will look like half a sphere:

Repeat this with pieces 4, 5 and 6, so you have 2 half spheres.
To make the stalk, cut out a narrow strip of brown felt and roll it up tightly, sewing it closed with small stitches to prevent it from unrolling. I leave a small part at the base of the stalk unsewn, to make it easier to sew this to the main part of the apple.

Sew the felt stalk onto the wider end of one of the half spheres, leaving a long loose thread trailing out the bottom. Sew the two half spheres together, leaving a small gap by the base on the final side for turning. Turn the apple right side out through the gap, then stuff. Make sure the loose thread from the stalk is still trailing out the bottom of the apple. Hand sew the gap closed, then pull of the loose thread to create an indent in the sphere (so that it looks apple shaped) and attach the loose thread to the base once you have it at the tension you desire. I then like to sew a tiny scrap of felt onto the bottom to resemble the bit on the bottom of an apple and to also cover up all of the knotted off threads. Voila.
Clear as mud?
PS. This is a very forgiving shape as it often appears more realistic if the end result is a bit on the wonky side...
PPS. Just posted the tutorial for a pear pincushion here: http://uklassinus.blogspot.com/2007/11/its-all-gone-pear-shaped.html
PPPS. I've set up a flickr group for anyone who wants to post their version of anything on my blog at http://www.flickr.com/groups/lil_d/pool/. If you make one of these pincushions, please do post - I'd love to see how they turn out.

Medieval times

Good thing #1: Halloween costumes only have to last a couple of days at most, so they can be pretty much flung together quickly and easily (I just keep my fingers crossed that no one will sneak a peak at the loose threads and runaway stitches that lie beneath...)

Good thing #2: My kids are young enough that I can steer them towards costume ideas that aren't way beyond my very-much-just-a-beginner skills

Good thing #3: It hasn't occurred to my kids that the store bought costumes are probably way cooler and won't be met with blank looks when they go door-to-door (yes, last year my daughter was told what a cute rabbit she was. She was supposed to be a dog. Luckily she was too young to know that anyway...)

So without further ado, here's this year's attempt at costumes: a Knight and a Maiden (she's not ladylike enough to qualify for a lady, I'm afraid...)

Knight costume: was an old (stained) curtain, a bit of red felt, a plastic sword given to J in England and a ball of grey wool. The grey knitted sleeves and (detachable!) hood are supposed to look like chain mail. Don't laugh. If you knew how slow I am at knitting, you'd be making polite comments about how you had mistaken them for the real thing, or other such blarney...

As for the maiden, well, her outfit was blatantly copied from, I mean, greatly inspired by

K was originally going to be another knight. Or a horse (I'm sure the poor girl will get revenge on her pink/frill/glitter-phobic mum by demanding to be a fairy princess every year when she's old enough). Anyway, I then came across GoingSewCrazy's creation and that seemed to be the perfect costume to go with a knight.

Unfortunately I didn't have the Ottobre pattern or any other dress pattern, for that matter, so this was more a result of me making it up as I went along and, well, it shows.

Still, I have now made a dress for the first time and sewn in a zipper for the first time (I have since found a tutorial for sewing in a zipper and it turns out there is a lot easier way of doing this. One day I will think to do a web search for tutorials first. In the meantime, maybe I should look at the scary looking metal things that came with the sewing machine and see if any of them answer to 'zipper foot').

Anyway, a bit of grey green moleskin fabric from the clearance rack, coupled with the leg of one of my holey pairs of trousers and a bit of pink ribbon and Bob's your uncle.
I think I'll throw in random weird British sayings more often, just to keep you on your toes.


Hello again.

The problem with not having a digital camera is that I do not have much new to show you right now. The kids' Halloween costumes are pretty much finished, but have not been photographed. I swore that I had taken a picture of some of the summer tops that I had made for K, but when I got the film back, I found that it was not so. There's stripes on the photos I took with my ancient SLR, so I need to retake them. The photos I did take with the point and shoot before I left have turned out kind of funny colour-wise. Take this picture of the blanket I crocheted for my nephew: the blanket is green, the border is beige and the 2 stripes are actually dark brown. Not that you can tell that from this photo. Still, they weren't my first choice for yarn colours anyway, but my local yarn shop's supplies were severely depleted...

So, more oldies it is. Here's a pic of my first sewing attempt. It's a kimono top made for my son out of one of my husband's old t-shirts while I was pregnant (using Martha Stewart's baby kimono pattern). It's hand sewn as I didn't have a sewing machine back then so I really hope that you can't enlarge this photo...
This was sewing attempt #2 (same pattern):
My husband spent the money I had earmarked for a new camera on fixing our sprinkler system while we were away (he has a completely different priority system to me...), but the good news is that my dad has loaned me his old film camera. When the ash clears I'll take some photos for you. Spare a thought for our local firefighters.

edit: I called these tops kimono tops, as that is what Martha Stewart's pattern is called, but a lady named Wendy let me know that the term Qipao is a more accurat description of this style of top. To find them on Marth Stewart's ever changing site, you'll have to search under kimono, though.

England (and Wales)

I warned you about the grey skies...
Ps. Did you see Thomas?


I'm back. Needless to say I had a great time: it was absolutely wonderful seeing everyone again. My niece and nephews are all such great kids and immediately welcomed my two into their play. I am terrible at keeping in touch with people, but it felt like no time had passed at all when I was chatting away with my friends and family. My friends had travelled from all corners of the UK to say hello and it truly reminded me just how good a friend they all are to me. Note to self: call and write more often.

I have photos to show you (lots of grey skies), but that will have to wait. I still haven't finished the laundry, the house is a mess and I've got 2 Halloween costumes to make. I'm as slow at knitting as I am at crocheting and I dopily decided to knit part of one costume. Wish me luck.

It's summertime and the weather is hot

I'm just peeking my head around the door and saying a quick hello ~ we're off to England in a couple of days and I'm busy getting things ready. I can not wait! It's been far too long since my last visit home.

Here's a picture of one of the summer tops that I made for my daughter. I wanted to make several cheap and cheerful tops, as she has so many clothes currently living on top of the washing machine awaiting stain treatments (can anyone recommend a good laundry stain remover??). So here's my own plain and simple pattern:
The best part about it is that one can be knocked out in an evening and it uses up very little material (this one is made out of a quilting quarter). This is my practice version. It looks so crumpled, as my daughter had to do a lot of playing before she'd slow down enough for me to take a couple of pics (see blurry shot on the left...). The photos of the other version are sitting on a film waiting to be developed, sorry.
Talking of photos, yep, these were just taken on my ancient point and shoot. Looks like I won't be getting a new camera 'til after our trip. Darn..
Let me know if you want to know more details on how to make one of these - they really are a doddle (translation for the Americans: "Doddle - Something that is a doddle is a cinch, it's easy").

Waiting for winter

It's hot, hot, hot here today. I'm a winter person: I'm simply not designed to take this heat. Plus my hair needs only the slightest hint of humidity (or perspiration) to start springing random nutty curls and frizz. Not pretty... I would have some pictures of nice airy summer tops for you if my husband had been willing to take me to get my films developed, but... well, he wasn't. So here's some pictures of a winter coat instead. nb. My daughter doesn't believe in standing still for pictures...

I know, I know, it's too hot to even look at photos of a winter coat, but they are kind of relevent to the present. I suddenly realised that K might need a coat in England, but I've been dithering: is it a bad idea to start an involved project when I've still got lots to do before the trip? I'm really hoping that K hasn't grown too much, so I can make her another coat like this for this coming winter out of the leftover material.
Anyway, about the coat: I love this material with all its subtle colours - found on clearance at Jo~ann's. Unfortunately there wasn't much left (please let there be enough to squeeze out another bigger coat). It immediately reminded me of my winter coat that I had as a child. The pattern is Simplicity 4712 B, but I got rid of the pleat in the back and replaced it with a seam and a slit at the bottom (kind of visible in the middle pic above). I also didn't do the puffy sleeves either. This was my first attempt at following a pattern, so it was a little nerve-wracking, to say the least. K liked the end result, though.