Happy Christmas

I thought that I had better wish you and yours a Happy Christmas now, what with with it being the day before Christmas Eve and I have still yet to ice the Christmas cake and finish my son's present (and see the Christmas lights, finish tidying the house, do the laundry, etc. etc.).
The problem with sewing presents for the kids is that once school is out, all sewing must done after bedtime if I want to keep it a surprise, so it's been a few late nights this week. I have the feeling that once I've had a decent night's sleep, I'll look at the stitching in horror, but still... Anyway, I had a chance to snap a few pics in today's gloomy light while the kids were out. I've got a few more arrow loops and what have you to add, but you can get the general idea:
The back wall folds down (kind of like the fabric dollhouse), so that you can access the inside better.
As for my daughter, I made her a wee puppet theatre:
I got to play around with the power tools for this one, but it was still just a simple project. Her room has lots of red and white stuff, so the polka dot curtains were an easy choice.
Best of all, it doesn't take up too much room..
My feed reader chose this week to lose half of my feeds, so my blog reading has ground to a halt. I might just try google reader at this point, as I'm not too keen on the new interface being offered anyway. Who one earth picks the week before Christmas to mess around with my stuff, anyway??? Hopefully I'll find my old feeds in the New Year - plus all the ones it kept refusing to find throughout the years. Do drop me a comment if it's been a while since I stopped by your blog. I've lost so many blogs thanks to that bloomin' feed reader...
Time to go and finish the castle. I hope that you all enjoy your holiday. Ours will be fairly quiet by British standards, but we'll be seeing the in-laws and I'll do my best not to mope about and feel homesick. I miss my family and friends a lot at this time of year. Still, I will be subjecting my family to my version of the traditional Christmas dinner, even though it will be on Boxing Day. It's not as good as mum's but I refuse to go without it. I've got some Christmas crackers so they won't escape the paper hat wearing, even if we are on the other side of the world...
Translation of the day:
UK English: Boxing Day = public holiday on the day after Christmas (December 26th). So we have 2 days of family parties over there.

'Tis the season #5: beeswax sheet candles tutorial

My house looks like a bomb has hit it, but I'm almost ready for Christmas now. Parcels are on their way to England, there's one present left to buy, just a couple of handmade presents to put the finishing touches to and the Christmas cake is made (but not yet iced). I no longer feel like striking the people that had already sent me Christmas cards in the first week of December off my Christmas card list...

For teacher gifts, my kids made these beeswax candles. They are ever so easy, if you want to give it a try.

You need:

- beeswax sheets (I bought mine here, but you can find them at some craft stores, candle supply stores or some health food stores)

- wick (I used 1/0 square waxed wick)

The sheets that we used were 16" x 8". To make 2" tall votive candles, I cut them into 16" x 2" strips. Next I warmed them up slightly with a hairdryer, to make them a little more pliable, as my husband is still trying to maintain Arctic-like conditions in our house. Then I handed them over to my 5 year old.

First lay the wick across one end of the strip of wax. We leave extra wick hanging out of both sides, so that we can choose whichever side is neater to be the top of the candle. Gently bend the wax around the wick and push it down to secure the wick in place:

Roll the wax around the wick fairly firmly, keeping the edges even. Try to keep the roll as round as possible - you can push the wax in a little to reshape it as you go, but do this before the last roll, so that you do not ruin the honeycomb texture of the sheet.

When you get to the end, press the end edge of the strip down firmly against the candle to secure it. Chose which end is to be the top of the candle and trim the wick to 1/4" at the top and trim the excess wick off the bottom. You're all done.

A bit of ribbon, some French-seamed drawstring bags, a wee box of English chocolates from the Import store and homemade cards for the teachers and we were done. Then I put in some money to the class gift of a gift card or two, as our teachers need a lot more spoiling than that...

I don't go too crazy over trying to make handmade gifts for Christmas - I'm never too sure if people appreciate them or not. I tend to only make gifts either when I can't find what I am looking for in a store or when I think that I can make a better version than what I have seen in stores. Still, not everyone escapes with a store-bought gift. I've made a couple more reversible totes:

and attempted a gathered clutch using this tutorial.

You can only see half of the gathers in this picture - I should have angled it the other way - but, while the tutorial was fine, this was one of those projects that just did not go as planned. My sewing machine starting having funny spells with the tension. I should probably confess that I gave it a slight tap in frustration. That's when the light went out and it stopped working. Oh, the guilt - and the horror... After a few minutes of praying and apologising to my machine, followed by begging it to work again, I noticed that I had kicked the plug out of the socket...

It was one of those days. Earlier in the day an elderly chap had rolled his car into the back of mine while I was stopped at the traffic light (rather worryingly he mentioned that that 'kept happening lately' - and his driver license does not expire for another 5 years, when he's in his 90s....). Still, after unpicking a few seams and re-threading the machine, I got a gathered clutch finished and it does what it was intended to do: hold a bar of chocolate...

Ok, I had better get going and finish the kid's presents. I promise that I'll be nicer to my sewing machine, too.

Translation of the day:

UK English: Christmas cake = a rich, dark, MOIST fruitcake, covered with marzipan and royal icing, eaten at Christmas. It is nothing like the dry re-gifted fruitcake of American jokes, but my American in-laws still refuse to try it, so I usually get about half the cake to myself. That's not a bad thing - one of the advantages of living over here...

'Tis the season #4: Not too Tutu tutorial

Do you remember this tutu? The not-so-flouncy-as-a-knotted-tutu version of a tutu? Well, the daughters of those lasses that asked for a tutorial may well have packed their bags and disappeared off to college by now, but I made some more tutus this week, so I have finally got around to writing down the instructions for you...
For approx. a 2 - 6 year old child: here goes...
You will need:
- to ask yourself why on earth you are not just making the really easy knotted version instead
- no, seriously...
- 1 ½ yards white tulle
- 2 yards of coloured tulle
- a strip of fabric for the waistband measuring 26" by 4"
- elastic for the waistband
- scissors, needle and thread
- safety pin
- iron
1. Fold the strip of waistband fabric in half lengthwise (along line A in diagram) and iron in the crease
2. Fold the bottom edge (D) up to that crease (line A) and iron in the crease (line B)
3. Fold the top edge (E) down to line A and iron in the crease (line C)
You have now made your waistband. Set it aside.

4. This is the fiddly part that will have you wishing that you had just made a knotted version instead. Fold the white tulle in half lengthwise, then fold each half into thirds, accordion style, as shown:
See, tulle is really annoying to fold. Now the knotted version is starting to look rather appealing, isn't it? Still, the fiddly part is over now.
5. Pin along the top edge, then sew 2 lines of basting stitches between ¼" and ½" from the top edge.
6. Knot the two threads together at one end, then ease the tulle along the basting threads towards the knot, gathering it together, until the top edge measures 24". Knot the other end of the two threads to secure it and set aside.
7. Cut the coloured tulle in half lengthwise, discard one half, then fold the other half into thirds lengthwise.
8. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the coloured tulle.
9. Lay the white tulle over the coloured tulle, lining up the top gathered edges and overlapping the side ends by an inch or two (so that when the waistband is later joined, the edges of the tulle are staggered). Open the waistband fabric up and lay it right side down on top of the tulle, lining up top edge E with the top edge of the tulle and pin. There should be a slight overhang at either end. Starting an inch or two in (X) from the side edge of the tulle (S), sew along crease C until you are an inch or two from the other edge of the tulle (Y)
10. As you would with bias tape, fold the waistband up (along crease C) over the edge of the tulle, refold at crease (crease B) and pin it to the side with the coloured tulle.
11. Join the two side edges, so that the waistband forms a circle, overlapping the edges of the tulle and the waistband by an inch or two, and pin so that the the top edges of the tulle are secured within the waistband.
12. Hand stitch the outside of the waistband (along crease B) to the side with the coloured tulle and along the overlap of the waistband, leaving a 2" gap for the elastic.
13. Hook a safety pin to one end of the elastic and slide it through the waistband. Holding the ends of the elastic together, pull until the waist of the tutu is the desired size, then sew the ends of the elastic together.
14. Hand stitch the 2" gap closed.
15. Wonder why one earth you didn't just do the no-sew knotted version...
Still, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the school uniform... Don't tell my daughter, but she's getting one identical to the red one up top. This purple one is destined for a 2 year old, so the waist is a little smaller.
Scrooge has let me put the Christmas tree up at last. I've found myself making a few more ornaments, even though I really do not have the time. I can't remember where I first saw the yarn-wrapped cone trees idea, but I found the cones that I had squirreled away months ago and dug out the yarn scraps basket:
Then I came across this felt dove ornament tutorial and out came the felt scraps basket. A few other felt strips ornaments were added into the mix:
That is the point when I realised that I had better hurry up if I plan on presents making it back to England in time for Christmas. Hopefully it will be a productive weekend...
Ok, off to bed - it's time I got some kip.
Translation of the day:
UK English: kip = sleep in US English