Apr 222011

Two years ago, I started the tradition of making Easter dresses for my girls.  At that time, I had a bunch of leftover white satin.  I invented a pattern on the fly and my tiny girls looked like little angels.  The dresses came out so well, helped me get rid of excess fabric that would otherwise be thrown out or donated, cost nothing and exercised my creativity that I decided to try again the next year.  I didn’t have any traditional Easter fabrics last year so one daughter was in a Victorian-style dress made from leftover yellow satin lining with white puffy sleeves from scraps of white linen and the other daughter in a dolman-sleeve khaki knit dress with a red fabric rose.  Again, they were unique dresses and I had a lot of fun making them while continuing to get rid of excess fabric.  (My husband calls this uncluttering very, very, very slowly.)

Since today is Earth Day where we all focus on the tenets of reduce, reuse, recycle, I wanted to share the results of this year’s dresses.

This year, my oldest daughter made a request.  “Mom, I want you to knit me something.”  she said.  I had not done very much knitting recently but this request reignited my interest.  In keeping with my Easter decluttering tradition, however, I decided to use yarns that I already had on hand.  I settled on some large cones of cotton yarn that have been sitting around for years!  I had four colors: red, blue, yellow and white.  Since I had to make two dresses, I needed a pattern that would work up quickly.  I found a great free pattern on the Lion Brand Yarn website for a simple knit sundress with pockets.  The pockets sold my daughter.

The pattern worked up very quickly and was really simple.  I made one dress red with yellow accents and the other blue with white accents.  After all the knitting was done, however, I discovered with horror that the dress would not fit over my daughter’s head!  it was too tight.  So, I made a little adjustment to one of the side straps to make it into a button tab.  Voila!  Problem solved.

For the second dress, I altered the neck shaping to start earlier so that I didn’t run into this problem and didn’t need the tab shoulder.

At this point, the dresses were done and were really cute, but they needed a little something to make them look more like Easter dresses.  Easter dresses generally have pinks and pastels.  My primary colors were a bit bold.  So, I did some thinking and again took a clue from my daughters who were thrilled with all the spring flowers coming up in the yard.  Knitted flowers!

There are a million patterns out there for yarn flowers.  A few are knitted, like the red rose above that came from Nicki Epstein’s wonderful book, Knitting Over the Edge.  But the really extraordinary (and quite frankly a little silly) flowers are crocheted.   The blue pansy above, the white “bluebell” below and daffodils came from Flower Garden Afghans by Carol Alexander.  Knitting purists may shudder at the combination of knit and crochet in these dresses but my girls LOVE the results.

Since the flowers are a bit over the top, I put all the flowers on safety pins so they can be removed if we want a plainer look or for washing.

It was a bit hard for my oldest daughter to wait for her dress to be done and she became impatient wanting to know why I wasn’t finished yet.  But she was a very willing model.

My other model was unavailable due to naptime so we present her dress below.

It was a ton of fun making the dresses and the look on my girl’s faces was worth all the effort!  At this point, I still had quite a bit of yarn left.

What to do with all the excess?  Read on for phase two!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Feb 142011

With a houseful of girls, Valentine’s Day is a big deal at our house.  It is the most frilly, girly holiday there is.  Making crafts with hearts, lace, glue, glitter and markers is right up our alley.   Last year, I took a homemade approach and shared my recycled crayon valentine project.  This year we went with a prepackaged approach.

We happened to be in Michael’s in early January for some errand when the Valentine’s Day craft supplies had just arrived.  My 5-year old zeroed right in on the foam sticker selection.  We found some really cute make-your-own Valentine teddy bears where all the foam pieces were pre-cut and self-adhesive.  They came in a pack of 12  bears for about $5.

When we got home from the store, my young art enthusiast wanted to get started on them right away.  She sat for an hour dutifully making all the valentines all by herself.  This was a fantastic craft for this age group because it was entirely self-created.  I did not need to help with anything at all.

The downside of a prepackaged craft is that it doesn’t allow for much creativity.  Well, you might think that (as I did) but that underestimates the creative powers of children.

“Mom, now I am going to make a Valentine’s rabbit.”

“Ok, great!” I said, not looking up from what I was doing but curious as to how she was going to make a rabbit out of a teddy bear shape.

“Look, mom!  It’s done!”

She proudly showed me her work, in which she discovered that if you turned the teddy bear shape upside down and used the bear’s legs as “ears” it did make a convincing rabbit shape!  It was a moment that would make Martha Stewart proud.

We found some Dove heart-shaped chocolates that were the perfect fit for the heart on the bears (and rabbits) and taped them on.  She wrote her name in Sharpie on the animals’ arms and added some small drawings too for a personalized touch.

After weeks of asking when Valentine’s Day would ever come, she took great pride in delivering the valentines she made herself to her preschool class this morning.

Yesterday, Michael’s offered a free Valentine making session for children that we attended and had great fun using punches, glitter glue and markers to create unique valentine art.  We also wanted to take advantage of Michael’s 60% off foam valentine craft kits to stock up for next year.  Sadly, the store was almost completely denuded of anything valentine-related.  All the valentine shelves were bare.  There was hardly a heart-shaped anything to be found. An elementary school teacher was lamenting what craft she would do with her class the next day and the Michael’s staff was helping her come up with alternatives.

So, if you love Valentine’s Day like we do, next year, put it on your calendar to check out Michael’s Valentine’s Day supplies in mid-January!    Also, if you intend to do any crafting for St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) or Easter (April 24), you might be interested to know that Michael’s has its stock in now for these holidays!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers!  Wishing you lots of love and happiness throughout the year!

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Aug 272010

When money is tight for a fashionable woman, she just has to find new ways to be resourceful. The movie classic example is Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, making a dress out of curtains to feign wealth and attempt to impress Rhett Butler to loan her money to save her home. You can watch the clip here.

Most of us when we think about making a wearable clothing item out of something else, picture a result similar to Carol Burnett’s parody, Went with the Wind.

Recently I did my own clothing recycling experiment. I just cleaned out our linen closet and discarded numerous blankets. There is a limit to how many blankets a person needs and we were way over. So, when my daughter received a “Knot-A-Quilt” craft kit as a gift, I thought it was a darling idea but I just didn’t want or need another blanket. Could I repurpose it for something we did need . . . fall wardrobe items?

The Knot-A-Quilt kit requires no sewing. You just tie the fringed edges of adjacent squares together in knots. I liked the bright colors and fringed ends and thought it would make some adorable dresses for my little girls.

The first item I made from the quilt squares was completely no sew. I made a jumper with criss-cross straps. I used 8 squares for the main body of the dress, tying them into a tube, then I used 16 squares for a ruffled edge along the bottom, tying two of the ruffle fringes to every one of the dress fringes. For each strap, I then used two squares tied along one side and then connected each end of the strap to the dress by tying 3 fringes of the strap to every 1 of the dress.

My daughter wore the dress to preschool this morning. It really turned heads!

“Did you make that?”

was the first question everyone asked. My daughter’s teacher then added:

“You know, not everyone can get away with that look.”

which I am not sure if I should interpret as “Good for you, it worked!” or “She really shouldn’t be wearing that.”

The preschool teachers, who are all a very creative and crafty bunch, were really fascinated by the concept of this outfit.

For my littlest one, I made a “tutu” version with four squares connected into a tube for the main skirt and 8 squares for the ruffle. Again for the ruffle, I tied two of the ruffle fringes to each one of the main skirt. The final product did require a little sewing. I folded the top fringe of the skirt down ½ inch. (I folded so that the fringe was showing on the front but you could also fold it to the inside.) I ran a line of stitching, excluding the knotted junctions between squares and threaded 1/2 inch elastic through the casing, sewing the elastic together to finish it off.

I still have a few squares left over and might experiment with either a scarf or hats. This could be a really fun no-sew clothing project for children. Boys could make shorts or funky pajama pants. The knotting was a bit too much for my 4-year old and a child would probably need to be able to tie shoes to do this project on their own, so maybe for age 7 and up.

Despite the fashion risk I think we will wear the blanket outfits again. These pieces will add a much needed punch of color and fun to the drab winter months and the fleece material will keep them warm to boot.

One of the most incredible clothing recyclers I have seen, however, is the Internet phenomenon, Giannina Lezcano, otherwise known as Giannyl. Giannyl resides in Paraguay and speaks both English and Spanish. She makes these wonderful videos, however, where, with no words and just some positive music and a few pantomimed gestures, she shows you how she transforms her clothes or makes wonderful but simple garments from fabric. Her tagline is “Do it yourself has never been so sexy.” And she’s right!

Here she is transforming a pair of old jeans into a miniskirt.

And here she is transforming a winter staple, the turtleneck, into a summer tube top.

And not all of the projects are sexy-oriented. Here is a cute dress for little girls made out of a pillowcase.

I love Giannyl! I get so much inspiration from her projects. Any creative sewer would do well to subscribe to her blog feed or fan her on Facebook.

Have you ever recycled a garment? What were the results? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 312010

As a bonus post for the month, I wanted to share a recipe I tried this month at a special lunch with a good friend.

While reading Leigh’s blog, (which I can’t remember how I first stumbled across, but is a wonderful read about family life in South Africa), she mentioned a classic South African dessert, milk tart. The picture looked yummy so I thought it would be a fun experiment.

I am not much of a cook and did not realize that this recipe is a smidge more complicated than it first appears until I was right in the middle of making it! The basic idea is that you mix together milk, sugar, eggs, cornstarch and flour over heat until it forms a custard! Whoever created this dessert is quite a genius. This was my first exposure to using cornstarch in this way and it was amazing. As you are stirring vigorously, the mixture starts out as thin milk, then you blink and it looks like cream, blink again and you have pudding/custard! Awesome!

I am cross-tagging this recipe as a Ruly Kids post. It is not necessarily an easy recipe but it would be a fun experiment for an older child or teen. You could win the science fair explaining the chemical reaction that goes on with the cornstarch.

The finished dessert is thick like cheesecake but creamy like pudding. It has a very mild vanilla/cinnamon flavor. If you like bolder flavors, make sure you pick a flavorful cookie for the crust. The traditional recipe calls for a South African cookie called “Tennis biscuits” with a coconut flavor. I couldn’t find any coconut-flavored cookies in my grocery store so I went with an almond-spice cookie.

The milk tart is so mild in flavor you could really experiment with the flavors. A chocolate cookie base might be yummy and I wonder if you could somehow make a chocolate milk tart filling. A citrus flavor like lime or lemon might also be yummy or you could add some liqueur.

One other note . . . due to my lack of culinary presentation skills, the finished product didn’t look all that appetizing in the baking dish. However, once it was sliced it looked gorgeous. If anyone has any tips on presentation, please share!

AMERICANIZED MILK TART
Recipe adapted from Hulett’s Sugars

Serves: about 9 (filling was enough to fill a 9” square pan about 1” high)

Ingredients

9 oz package Archway Windmill cookies (or cookie of your choice), crushed
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 cups whole milk
cinnamon stick
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup granulated sugar, depending on personal taste (I used 1/3 cup in my first attempt and would probably increase to 1/2 cup next time as I like my desserts sweet)
2 eggs
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons butter
Cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Crush the cookies and combine with the melted butter. Press into a pie pan. (Or, if you are like me and don’t own a pie pan, you can press it into the bottom of a square baking dish).
  2. Heat the milk with the cinnamon stick until just under the boiling point.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs with the sugar, then add cornstarch and flour.
  4. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture stirring rapidly (be careful here as if the milk is too hot or you add to much at once you could end up with scrambled eggs).
  5. Return the mixture to the heat and stir with a hand wisk as fast as you can continuously. (If you don’t stir quickly enough, you could end up with lumps.) This is when the very cool transformation from milk to cream to pudding occurs. The mixture gets thick very quickly and you need the momentum from the rapid stirring to be able to keep stirring as the mixture thickens.
  6. Once you have a very thick pudding-like consistency, take the mixture off the heat and add the vanilla extract and butter. Stir well until the butter is melted.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared crumb crust and sprinkle generously with cinnamon and sugar.

I am not sure if you can serve it right away. I would probably let it set up in the fridge for at least a few hours. I refrigerated my tart overnight and it didn’t seem to harm the flavor.

Since we are talking about money this month, I thought I would mention that this recipe is relatively budget-friendly. It costs about $5.00 to purchase the ingredients you might not have readily available (cookies, whole milk).

I hope you try the milk tart. If you do, please comment with your results!

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Feb 122010

Due to the recent snowstorms, my daughter’s preschool valentine party was canceled but I wanted to share the valentines we made (and will probably still distribute next week).  The idea came from Family Fun.

This is a great craft project because it is 1) easy, 2) recycles old crayon bits and other craft materials that you might otherwise throw away and 3) is a great opportunity to teach a small amount of science.

CRAYON VALENTINE HEARTS

Materials:

  • silicon heart-shaped mold
  • old crayons
  • foam sheets (you could also use paper)
  • paste or glue
  • ribbon and needle or double-sided tape
  • Sharpie permanent marker

Directions:

  1. Clean our your crayon bucket and locate all the broken or dull crayons or the colors you just have too many of.  In our case, we seem to pick up a lot of crayons from restaurants where they hand them out with all the children’s menus.
  2. Peel the paper wrappers off the crayons and break them into small pieces.

  3. Put a variety of colors in each heart mold.

  4. Put the crayon molds on a baking sheet and put in the oven at 250 degrees for about 10 minutes.  This is a great time to talk about the concept of “melting” with your child (which is actually harder to explain than you might think).  Peek in periodically to check on the progress.
  5. When the crayons are completely liquid, take them out of the oven to cool.

  6. Cut two sizes of squares out of the foam sheets.  Mine were about 2.5 inches for the inner smaller square and 4 inches for the outer larger square.  You can also use paper or other materials.  In our case, we had foam on hand to use up and the foam is more indestructible if your child (like mine) wants to give each valentine a thorough test drive before handing it out.
  7. Have your child paste the smaller square on the larger square.  We have found that Yes! paste in a jar with a brush is easier for a preschooler to manage than squeeze bottles of glue or glue sticks.

  8. When the crayons have fully cooled, unmold them.  The silicon trays make them easy to peel away.
  9. Thread a large needle with ribbon and sew the hearts in place.  I experimented with a variety of stitching patterns but never came up with the “perfect” way to secure the hearts.  Alternatively, you could try attaching them with double-sided tape.  I knew tape was not going to stand up to the handling of my preschooler so that is why I sewed them in place.
  10. Write a valentine message with a Sharpie permanent marker around the edge of the foam.


Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Feb 102010

Another 6 inches of snow fell last night! We still cannot find a snow shovel anywhere to replace our broken one. Necessity being the mother of invention, we repurposed a large push broom as our snow clearing device, sweeping away the snowflakes as they came down last night. It was quite fun, actually. You have to stay on top of the accumulation to make this strategy work. There we were out in the dark brooming the driveway. At the beginning of the storm, the flakes were falling so quickly, by the time we got to the end of the driveway it was time to broom the top again. We worried that if another 17 inches fell we would not be able to keep up the effort. Fortunately, the snow started to taper.

We ventured out yesterday before the storm to have a good Thai lunch and go to the grocery store. I had to laugh when we went down the baking aisle and found the brownie mixes decimated! Apparently chocolate is fueling the Fredericksburg storm recovery.

The brownie mix shelf at our local grocery store before another blizzard.

My four year old was helping with the “essential” grocery shopping and grabbed (in order): a bottle of sprinkles, a box of devils food cake mix and two bags of chocolate chips! She has been a good sport during the storm so I gave in to her impulses and added a bag of marshmallows. We went home to make “cakes.”

This was an impromptu project and is intended to be more of a children’s cooking experiment than a gourmet recipe but it turned out kind of cute so I thought I would share as a bonus post today.

2010 BLIZZARD CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

1 Devil’s Food cake mix (or flavor of your choice)
Eggs, oil and water (or whatever the package directs)
chocolate chips
marshmallows
sprinkles
paper cupcake liners

Directions:

  1. Prepare cake mix according to package directions.
  2. Line cupcake trays with paper baking cups (or if you forgot to buy them, like we did, grease and flour the pans). Pour mix into cupcake trays.
  3. Bake according to package guidelines.
  4. When done, take cupcakes out, put a few chocolate chips on top and return cupcakes to the oven for about 2 minutes to melt the chocolate.
  5. Spread the chocolate “frosting” and add marshmallows. (The marshmallows have a hard time staying put.) Put the cupcakes back in the oven for another two minutes to melt the marshmallows just a bit and make them stick.
  6. Add sprinkles and enjoy!
Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
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