Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer Star Cookies

In honor of Memorial Day, I made some star shaped cookies.

They didn't turn out like I was picturing them in my head.  They rarely do.  And I don't know which design I like best.  What do you think?
Firework stripes, random dots, symmetric dots

The best part was that my son wanted to help decorate!  He said, "You make this look easy, Mom, but it's not really." 

But I think his cookies turned out the best.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Altered Tank Top for Summer!

I am continually frustrated when shopping for shirts these days.  The shirt is either too low-cut so that I have to wear a tank top for modesty on top, OR, it's not long enough and I have to wear a tank top for modesty on bottom!  And summer is just too hot to be wearing multiple layers of clothing.

A few years ago, I saw some cute altered tank tops at a craft fair and thought I should try making one.  If I made my own shirt, I could make sure it covered everything! 

I went through a few trial-and-error phases where I got very aquainted with my seam ripper but, in the end, I got it to work and I produced a shirt that I could actually wear in public. I'd never had a sewing lesson in my life, so if I could do this, so can you!  Here's a tutorial so you can give it a try.

Step 1: Go buy a tank top and two chunks of coordinating material. I went to Walmart where I got the tank on clearance for $4 and 1/2 yard of two kinds of clearance material for $1 each. Plus thread. (Total of $6 + the thread which I still have bunches of for another use.)
Step 2: Cut the tank top into strips. I put my tank on, and used a disappearing ink fabric marker to mark where I wanted to make my first cut. Then I cut the middle part of the tank into two rings that are 3 inches high. I was totally making this up as I went, by the way.
Step 3: Cut your fabrics to size. You'll need a front and a back panel of the same size. (I used the floral print for this part, but you could mix it up with multiple patterns if you want.) The panels ended up being 18 inches long (because I bought 1/2 yard of fabric) and slightly less wide than my tank top. Then you'll need two side panels of the other fabric. (I used the pink circle print for this but, again, you could go crazy with additional patterns here.) These you cut into a trapezoid shape that is 18" long. Mine were 3" wide at the top and 11" wide at the bottom. I made these measurements up. The top measurement was enough to make sure that, once I had sewn all 4 panels together, it would be the same size around as the tank top. The bottom measurement was a lot wider because I have big hips and this shirt has to fit over them.
Step 4: Sew the 4 panels together. Basic stuff - right sides together, straight seams. You end up with a long strip of fabric.
Step 5: Deal with the ruffle. I found working with the tank top material to be quite challenging because it was stretchy. But I took my two rings cut from the original tank top, cut one seam off from each and then sewed it all together to make one big long skinny strip of material. Then I hemmed one side up to make the finished bottom edge of the ruffle. (This was a major pain because of the stretchiness.) Once you get your long strip with a finished edge, you attach it to that strip of panels that you made in Step 4. Because the ruffle strip is longer than the middle-of-the-shirt part, you make little gathers in the ruffle strip as you pin it on, right sides together. Then sew it on. Sorry I forgot to take a picture at this point, because my instructions are probably not making sense.

Step 6: Take your middle panels with the ruffle sewed on, fold it in half with right sides together, and sew that seam. Now it looks like a skirt with no waistband.
Step 7: Attach this to the tank top. It took me a while to figure out how to put the right sides together to be able to do this part, so that the seam would end up inside the shirt. Hopefully the picture will be explanatory. Also, take care that you don't sew the thing closed at this point.

Step 8: Put on your new shirt!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The First Cookies I Ever Baked

My love of baking started when I was a girl and my mom let me lick the cookie dough off the beaters.  As I got older, she let me "help" when she made cookies and, eventually, I was allowed to make cookies by myself with the condition that I clean up the kitchen afterwards.

I'm about to reveal Mom's recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  It's actually available online in several places, so I guess it's not really a big secret.  But every time I make these cookies I get asked for the recipe because they are so chewy and yummy and delicious.  Want to know the secret ingredient?  Ok, but don't tell anyone.  It's Jello pudding mix.  Seriously.  You can squint at the recipe in the picture below, or just click on this link: chocolate chip cookie recipe

Every time I get out this recipe and bake those cookies we used to make together, I can hear Mom's voice in my head as she patiently taught me all the baking tricks that aren't written on the recipe card.

Remember to turn on the oven first so it is preheated by the time you are done making the dough!

It's a good idea to gather all the ingredients to make sure you have enough of everything.  You don't want to get part way through the recipe and discover you don't have any eggs.

Step 1:  Mix flour and baking soda and set aside.

Scoop the flour into the measuring cup until it's over-full.  Then tap it gently a couple times with the straight edge of a butter knife so the flour settles.  Then scrape across the top of the measuring cup with the knife so you have exactly 1 cup of flour.

When you dump the flour into the bowl, try to dump it along one edge of the bowl.  Dump the next cup of flour along the opposite edge.  See how you can see 2 distinct mounds of flour?  That helps when you get interrupted while measuring and you lose track of how many cups of flour you've added already.  You can just count the mounds. (I can't tell you how many times that little gem of advice has saved me!)

Step 2: Combine butter, sugars, vanilla and pudding mix in a large bowl.  Beat until creamy.

Measure the granulated sugar just like you did the flour.  But the brown sugar, you pack that into the measuring cup just like you're making a sand castle.  When you dump it out, it should stay in the shape of the measuring cup.

Step 3:  Beat in eggs.

Tap the egg against the edge of the bowl.  Then insert your two thumbs into the crack and pull them apart.  (I wonder how many eggshells she had to fish out of the dough as she was teaching me this technique!)

Step 4: Gradually add flour mixture.

It says "gradually" because if you add all the flour at once and turn on your mixer, you'll have flour all over your kitchen.  (Did she find this out the hard way, or did she just take her mother's word for it?  I know I've learned this lesson the hard way. That's probably why kitchen cleanup was a requirement whenever I asked to bake...)

Step 5:  Stir in chips and nuts.

Forget the nuts.  Just add the chocolate chips!

Step 6:  Drop by rounded teaspoon about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.

Using a teaspoon will help you make all the cookies the same size which is important so they all take the same amount of time to bake.

Make sure you don't put the cookie dough blobs too close together because they spread in the oven and you'll end up with one big, giant cookie!

Step 7:  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

When a recipe gives you a range of baking times, always set the timer for the lowest time listed.  Check to see if they're done and, if not, keep an eye on them so they don't burn.

These cookies are so delicious and gooey.  The secret ingredient of pudding mix really makes them unforgettable.  You bake them until you can see brown around the edges, but the top/middle still looks raw.  Let them cool a bit on the cookie sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack, otherwise they'll just mush.  They taste good warm, but taste even better the next day.  Especially to those people who like cookie dough just as much as they like cookies.

So, thank you, Mom for teaching me how to bake. I am now passing this knowledge on to my sons. Although they are mostly at the I-just-want-to-lick-the-beater stage.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Making a Kindle Clutch

My mom got a Kindle for Christmas, so I decided to try to make her a clutch case for Mother's Day.

Here's how I did it:

1.  Make a pattern.  I placed my Kindle (which is the same as my mom's) on some tracing paper over my cutting board.  I cut the tracing paper to be about one inch bigger than my Kindle on all sides.  The pattern turned out to be about 7 inches tall and 10 inches wide.  Then I cut another piece of tracing paper that was 7x10.  I folded that one in half (the hamburger way - not the hot dog way) and cut it at an angle to make sort of a triangle.  This will be the pattern for the flap.

2.  Cut your fabric.  I used burgundy corduroy for the main fabric, green cotton for the lining, and a patterned corduroy for the flap.  Using the 7x10 pattern, cut 2 each of the main fabric, the lining fabric, and some cotton batting.  Using the triangle pattern, cut 2 of the flap fabric and one of the cotton batting.

3.  Attach batting to main fabric.  Layer the cotton batting to the wrong side of each piece of main fabric and sew a few lines across the fabric to quilt them together.  (I'm not very fancy, so I used straight lines perpendicular to the corduroy.)

4.  Make the flap.  Layer the 2 pieces for the flap, right sides together, with the cotton batting on top.  Stitch around 3 sides of the flap.  (You won't stitch on the "bottom" of the triangle -- this unfinished edge will be where you join the flap to the clutch.) Turn right side out, and topstitch around the 3 sides.

5.  Sew the front & back together.  Layer the two main fabric pieces right sides together.   Sew around 3 sides of these pieces.  The side that you don't sew will eventually be the opening of the case.  (I didn't take a picture of this step until I had turned the main fabric right side out again.)

Sew the front & back of the lining together. Layer the two lining pieces right sides together.  Sew around the 3 sides, but leave an opening for turning later.

6. Get ready to sew the whole case together.  Turn the main fabric right side out.  Pin (or baste) the flap onto the main fabric, lining up the unfinished edges.  (Just don't pin or baste the case opening closed!)

Insert the main fabric into the lining fabric (which is still inside out) so that the right side of the main fabric is together with the right side of the lining.  The top flap piece will be sandwiched between the main fabric and the lining piece.  Line up all your unfinished edges as best you can.

Now. This is important.  Don't sew your clutch closed!  Open up the clutch and insert your sewing machine in between the two layers of cotton batting that are sewn to the main fabric. Then sew all around what will be the opening of the case.

7.  Flip right side out using the opening you left in the lining.  Then stuff the lining down inside the main fabric and there you have it.  A Kindle clutch. 

8.  Finish as desired.  I left mine like this, but you could top stitch around all the outside edges.  And you can add something to keep the flap closed like a button or snap or Velcro or whatever.  My mom has arthritis in her hands, so I didn't add any closures.

I hope this tutorial was clear and easy and it inspires you to create something!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Box of Sunshine for my Grandma

My grandmother is a practical woman.  She's 91 years old and she doesn't *need* any gifts for Mother's Day.  In fact, she gets a little miffed when people spend money on her.  Well sorry, Grandma.  You are the best grandma ever, and I'm sending you a gift.  But I made sure it's practical.

I'm sending my grandma a box of sunshine.  This idea has been burning up Pinterest lately and I think it's adorable.  The concept is simple:  fill a box with yellow things and include a tag saying that you're sending some sunshine.

I got my tag from  (You can never be too sure with the internet, but the "box of sunshine" idea may have started here, too.  I try to give credit where credit is due, but sometimes it's hard to find the original!)

My boys and I searched the aisles of Target to find yellow things and here's what we came up with:
  • Kleenex box
  • Travel size Kleenex
  • Burt's Bees bar of soap
  • Antibacterial hand soap
  • Zone bar (chocolate peanut butter flavor)
  • Sunflower seed packet
  • Butterscotch disks candy
  • Butterfinger candy bar
  • Peanut M&M's (I know she likes almond better, but peanut had a yellow bag!)
  • Splenda Flavors for Coffee
  • Lemon scented wipes from the "Dollar Spot"
  • Travel size Wet Ones
See? Practical stuff.  She can't complain about that.

Then I made her a sunshine-yellow card and attached the fabric peony I made earlier.  (See this post for the peony instructions.)

I packaged it all up in a box with some yellow tissue paper and paper-punched sunshines.  How could you not be happy if you received this box in the mail?

Happy Mother's Day, Grandma.  You are such an inspiration to me.