Archive for March, 2011

My New Favourite Sewing Tool

If you’ve been sewing for a while, and especially if you have been sewing dolls and toys, you probably already know about this handy-dandy gadget.

But I didn’t.

Until now I have turned all of those little arms and legs and tails with my own two hands (and sometimes a pin, a chopstick, and even an elaborate elastic system I had set up which included sewing the elastic inside the tube and then removing it after it was turned.)   I am sure if you added up all the time I have spent trying to turn things right side out it would add up to hours.

But no more. 

When I was working on the dolls last week-end I came across this tube of tools among my grandmother’s things.

This discovery has changed my life (my sewing life anyway.)  Watch how this works:

Start with an unturned appendage.  (Please don’t be offended by my ugly and stained ironing board cover…I reallly need to make myself a new one!)

Insert a hollow plastic tube right up to the end.

Then take a solid wooden stick and poke it into the tube from the other side.

Push the stick down into the hollow tube while pulling the fabric up and over. 

Ta da!  A right-side out leg!   In only a few seconds! 

This little kit includes three sizes for tubes of all shapes. 

If you sew dolls or toys at all, you need one.  Trust me.  It’s that awesome. (and we will just ignore the fact that it has been sitting unnoticed on the top of my sewing shelves for over a year, probably smirking at me while I struggled needlessly with turning each arm and leg. The important thing is that I have found it now, right?)

What’s your favourite sewing tool?

Read Full Post »

Dolls for Little Girls

Thank you to all of you who commented on my last post.  If you haven’t yet, there is still time to respond and be entered into the giveaway too! 

I wasn’t planning on being absent from the blog all week, but between having several projects on the go at the moment (including this one which is almost finished!!) and catching a terrible head cold, the week seemed to run away from me.

But despite the busyness and the stuffed sinuses I took time out yesterday to make a pair of dolls. 

Every year my woman’s group takes on the project of helping out families with young children in our city who are in need.  Usually we take a baby shower approach and gather up hundreds of items and package them into gift bags and let the early intervention workers decide who needs what and when.  This year the workers gave us lists specific to the families that they work with.

I was lucky enough to get to shop for books and toys for two little girls who have next to nothing.   On top of which we were told that these families rarely get gifts of any kind.

And what better gift is there than a handmade gift?

  Ruby Lou is for the older of the two girls.  You might remember her from here and her pattern can be found at Sew Much Ado.   I’ve always wanted to make another and this was the perfect opportunity.  I found it much easier this second time, helped by the-most-wonderful-tool-ever-known-to-doll- makers-that-I-wish-I-had-known-about-ages-ago tube turner (it deserves a post of its own).  I even made her a little flannel blankie in case her new playmate wants to tuck her in at night.

I still remember the flannel nightie my grandmother made me out of this same fabric when I was 11 years old!  I love that pretty yellow. 

For the toddler, I made this Black Apple Doll.  There are no little pieces or parts on this little lady so I thought she would do well in little hands (and maybe be a doll she can grow into.)  The Black Apple pattern was easy to follow, but I think next time I will make her arms and legs a bit fatter – if I add seam allowances to the current pattern pieces I think that will make it about right. 

I hope these little ladies get lots of loving in their new home!

For more doll inspiration check out the Black Apple website.  Just being there makes me wish I had more girls to sew for.

Read Full Post »

When I started this blog, a year and a half and 250 posts ago, I was writing mostly for me.  I had been a writer once, walking around with ink-stained fingers, beginning my days with pen and paper in hand, watching life go by and turning what I saw and felt into stories and poetry.  And then I launched into the “working world”  and let 8 years go by only exercising my skills when writing progress reports, newsletters, and summer camp brochures (but they were superbly well-written brochures, rest assured!) 🙂 

So I started this blog to have a reason to write every day (or at least a few times a week.)  I approached these pages when I felt like it, and posted whatever happened to be on my mind (or on my camera) at the time. 

But then I started to get to know all of you.  I am still awed, amazed and incredibly thankful for all of you who come here to read these words I put down.  You are true blessings in my life and I find more and more that as I write, I think of you.  “What would she like to hear about?”  “I wonder if they know about this?”

And I wonder too, about those of you who drop in but never say a word.  You are mysteries to me in that I know nothing about you, but I wonder about you too.   I wonder what you like to read about, and what you come here looking for.

I am starting to become more intentional about this little blog of mine.  And I have big dreams for the future, what I might like it to become.

But I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.

And so, I am asking for your help.  Would you be honest with me? 

  • What would you like to see on this blog? 
  • What do you wish I wrote more about? 
  • What do you wish I wrote less about? 
  • What kind of posts are your favourites? 
  • Any wild and crazy ideas for me for future posts?  (or simple and mundane ideas, I’ll take those too!) 
  • If I did some kind of sew-along/quilt-along/cook-along/garden-along would you be interested in participating? 
  • Any wishes I can grant? (as in “I really wish there was a blog that talked about…”  or “I wish there was a tutorial for…”  or “I wish Andi would teach me how to….”)  I won’t promise I can grant them, but I’d love to hear them!

 I really and truly want to know what you think.  And don’t feel you have to answer all of the questions, and if you have something else to say, feel free to add that too! 

And just as a thank-you, anyone who comments on this post will be entered to win something handmade by me.  I’m not sure what it is yet, but I promise it will be something nice (maybe something from the shop, or something custom-made just for you?)  I’ll announce the winner April 2nd, but feel free to leave a comment here even after that date. 

Thanks for your help!

Read Full Post »

Garden Planning

This is the view outside my back door today.

Although it still looks a little wintery, it is  a huge change from the view only a week or so ago.

I take great encouragement from the fact that I can actually see the deck boards. 

Spring is coming.

Which means that garden planting is only a few months away, and seed starting is only a few weeks away.

It’s time to pull out the seed catalogues!

I must admit that this is one of my favourite parts about gardening, this winter dreaming when I get to imagine all of the wonderful things I will grow this year.  (and in my dreams there are no weeds, deer or blight!)

So, if you are a newbie gardener, or just curious, here is how we go about planning our garden.

1.  Find a good seed company.  You can buy standard vegetable seeds at many hardware stores, but with a seed company you are going to get to choose from a wider variety of stock, hopefully have heirloom and organic seed to choose from, and if you find a local seed company, you will find plants that will do well in your area.   The number of seed companies out there can sometimes be overwhelming, if you aren’t sure where to begin, ask a fellow gardener where they purchase their seeds.  Mapple farm is our number one choice, because they are local and only sell what they grow, so we know that the plants will do well in our weather and short growing season.     

2.  If you aren’t planning on growing fields of veggies, find someone to share seeds with.  You can only fit so many plants in a certain area, and although it can be tempting to plant all of the seeds in the packet, it truly is a recipe for disaster.  Which means that you often have lots of seeds leftover.  Last year we discovered the solution to this problem when we began seed sharing with some of our garden-growing family.  We each buy half of the seeds we will grow, and then divvy up the seeds between us.  It keeps costs down, lets us grow a greater variety of plants, and there are less seeds to try and keep for next year (and hope they still sprout.)

3.  Thumb your way through the seed catalogues and dream, dream, dream!  This is the point in the process when I decide I’m going to grow 5 varieties of tomatoes, 2 kinds of turnip, and an heirloom perennial onion.

4.  Come back to reality and determine how many plants you can grow in the space that you have.  Plants need room.  If they don’t have enough room they can crowd each other out, or become diseased (ask me how I know.)  On the other hand, you don’t need to stress out and do a sheet of calculations to determine what will fit.  Use the planting guidelines in the seed catalogues to figure out about how much room each plant will take, and then only order what you can reasonably fit in your garden.   This is the point in the process where I cut tomato varieties down to 3 and cut out the turnips altogether.  But I keep the onions, because you have to grow something fun and funky in your garden!

5.  Order your seed and then check the mailbox every day patiently await their arrival.

And while you wait you can imagine your summer garden, full of beautiful plants and tasty things to eat.

Have you started your garden plan?  What will you be growing this year?

Read Full Post »

Recipe: Honey Drop Cakes   Source: New Royal Cook Book  Date: 1922

I decided to take a break from the 1940s and explore some of the other cookbooks my great-grandmother left behind.

She has many books that were put out by baking powder companies but I chose this one because it looked like one of the oldest. 

Printed in 1922.

In a section entitled “Cookies and Small Cakes” a recipe for “Honey Drop Cakes” caught my eye as I am always looking for recipes that substitute honey for more refined sweeteners.

Here is the original recipe.

I am not sure what “greased individual tins” would look like.  Did they have a special “small cake” pan in the 1920s?  Or, if I greased my muffin tin, would I get little round cakes?  Motivated by simplicity (with all of the positivity I try to muster around washing dishes, I haven’t been able to convince myself that I like washing muffin tins!)  I decided to go with the drop method instead.

The end result was definitely more cookie than cake, (maybe a cake-like cookie?)  but oh so good!  They kept well in a cookie tin for as long as they lasted (which wasn’t long since hubby loved them too.)

I then made a second version, taking out the sugar and adding some yummy add-ins.  They came out looking completely different, but got rave reviews.

Here are my two variations.

Honey Drop Cakes (original)

Cream 1/3 cup softened butter, add 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup honey, a beaten egg yolk (save the white for later!) and 1/2 tablespoon  lemon juice.  Mix well. 

Add in 1 1/2 cups whole white flour and 1 1/2 tsp baking powder.

In a small bowl, beat egg white.  (The recipe didn’t state how much to beat the white, so I stopped when it was white and foamy.)

Fold the egg white into the batter.

Drop far apart on greased baking sheet.   I found I could fit 8 on mine with enough room for spreading.

Bake at 400 degrees for 8 – 10 minutes.  (The original recipe says to cook in a hot oven for 10 – 15 minutes.  My first batch was burnt by 10 minutes so I turned the oven down to 375 and they were still done before 10 minutes had passed, so keep your eye on them the first time.)

They are a rather plain cookie (or cake?) but that sweet honey taste gives them a nice flavour.  You could even switch things up by using different types of honey.  Or, you could try my second variation.

Lemon Cranberry Nut Honey Drop Cakes

  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice
  •  zest from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups whole white flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup each dried cranberries and chopped walnuts

Combine the batter as outlined for the original recipe, adding the lemon zest in with the juice, and folding in the cranberries and walnuts before the egg white.  Cook on greased pans at 375 for 8 – 10 minutes, or until done.


Read Full Post »

Pretty in Pink

One of the things that I love most about custom sewing projects is that it allows me to create things I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do otherwise. 

This week I am designing a baby’s room, which is something I will probably never get to do for myself. 

Check out the beautiful palette of pinks this mama picked out:

I am in little girl heaven! 

The fabric on the bottom is actually a set of curtains her friend made and passed on to her.

We thrifted the fabric to make the crib skirt for the baby’s room.

This is an in-progress shot of sewing together the crib skirt. 

She also had me design the crib quilt.  Using the palette of pinks she picked out and her request for flowers and butterflies, this is what I came up with:

The pale pink will be the colour of the curtains, and those little blocks on the side?  That is going to be a matching doll quilt! 

Borders, quilting, and curtains still to come, I am up to my elbows in pink and loving it! 

“Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”    Harvey MacKay’s quote is a truth for me today!

How about you, what is it that YOU love to do?

Read Full Post »

Doing What You Were Meant to Do

Hubby has this framed picture in his office.  It’s a picture of him, sitting at a desk, with the name of his own engineering company posted as a sign over his head. 

He drew it when he was 13.

His parents saved it and presented it to him just after we were married and he decided to leave his job and start his own company. 

It was a sign that he was truly doing what he was meant to do, what he had dreamed of doing when he was younger (even if he didn’t remember it!)

 I had a similar moment this week.   Nothing quite as profound as hubby’s, but a gentle nod that yes, here I am, week after week, doing what I have always loved to do.

It came in the form of these.


When I was young both sets of grandparents spent the winter in Florida.  Several times my parents took us there for a week to visit them.  These are the journals I kept (on the request of my teachers) during those visits.

And here is the part that made me laugh right out loud.  Look at this entry:

Yes, that’s right.  My elementary school former-self was a food blogger years before she knew such a thing existed!

And then there is this one from when I was even younger.

Three years later, my writing has improved, but my topic has stayed the same.

I am sure we did something else other than eat on our trips to Florida, but you wouldn’t know it from reading this journal.

This one in particular makes me giggle. 

Who could imagine paying 14.99 for steak and “other stuff”!!!  🙂

Have you had one of those moments?  A reminder that you are on the right path, doing what you were meant to do?  If you have children, have you seen it in them?  Those little snippets of  passion that makes you wonder….hmmm…is this what they will be doing when they grow up?

Read Full Post »

Source: Victory Economy Bulletin No. 10  Date: 1940s

Here is another no-sugar war-time recipe.  One of the reasons I am enjoying these recipes so much is the absence of refined sugars.  I decided last year to try to use natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc.) as much as possible in my baking and have been editing recipes ever since.  It’s nice when the work is already done for me! 🙂

These muffins are super-easy and really tasty.  The molasses makes them just sweet enough, and I also added raisins to mine (because what are bran muffins without raisins?)  I think they would also be really yummy with chopped dates, or maybe even diced apple!

Here is the original recipe:

Other than my add-ins, I made no changes to the recipe, but I should have reduced the cooking time to 15 minutes.  At 15 minutes I could smell them cooking, which usually means it is time to take them out, but for some reason the left-side of my brain took over with its adherence to rules (see here?  this recipe says 20 minutes, better leave them in!) and I ended up with slightly blackened (but still edible) muffins.  However, if they are yummy overcooked (albeit, a little dry), I can’t wait to try them when they have been cooked for the right amount of time!

Cook’s note:  if they look done and smell done, trust your intuition and take them out of the oven!

Bran and ‘Lasses Muffins

Combine 2 cups bran, 1/2 cup molasses and 1 1 /3 cup milk in  a bowl and let it sit for 15 minutes.   While you are waiting, turn on the oven to 400 degrees, beat an egg, and grease your muffin tins.

Stir in beaten egg.

Combine 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp baking soda.  I also added 1/2 cup raisins to this batch and next time I might add 3/4 cup, or one of the other add-ins I mentioned above. 

Add flour mixture to bran mixture and stir until combined.  The mixture will be wet, but somewhat cumbly. 

Fill 12 muffins cups and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until done.

Turn onto a wire rack to cool. 

Or enjoy them hot right out of the pan! 🙂

Read Full Post »

An Apron for a Teacher

“Take chances, make mistakes and get messy!”  Ms. Frizzle of “Magic School Bus” fame likes to say.  Although I don’t own a bus with magical powers, and I try to stay away from themed outfits, Ms. Frizzle and I share a very similar educational philosophy – children learn better when they are right in the thick of things, experiencing and learning for themselves.

And so, my classroom can be a messy place. 

I have a huge white lab coat that I often wear that has been splattered with a rainbow of colours and decorated with rainbow coloured buttons (ok…so maybe sometimes Ms Frizzle and I dress in a similar fashion), but it can be hot to wear and I don’t always need full-body coverage. 

So when Abby of Sew much Ado asked me to test her Mommy and Mia Apron Pattern, I knew exactly what I was going to make the apron for.

And I already had the perfect fabric.

Meet my new teaching apron!

And the cute bow at the back.

The pattern was really easy to follow and I am super-happy with the finished product!  She has so many diagrams and explains everything so clearly that a seasoned sewer could probably whip one up in a few hours and a confident beginner could probably tackle it too.  The pattern also includes girls sizes so that matching aprons can be made for moms and daughters – too cute!

The pattern is currently available in PDF format on the Sew Much Ado web-site and will soon be available as a paper pattern.  Abby also created the wonderful Ruby Lou doll pattern which I made last year.   

Now I think I need to come up with something wonderfully messy to do when my students come back to school next Monday…..  🙂

Read Full Post »

I love my freezer.  It is the storage centre for much of our garden produce.  It is the holding place for homemade chicken stock and a wide variety of soups and sauces which I like to make in bulk.  It is the place that my green tomato mincemeat and peach jam call home. 

It can also be a bit of a puzzle.

And I love puzzles, but when it comes to trying to decide by smell and frozen texture which jar is tomato sauce and which jar is tomato soup,  it is not one of my favourites.  (especially when I guess wrong….)

This could be solved, of course, if I labelled the jars before I stored them in the freezer.  But the labels I have around the house seem to stick, and not come off, even after repeated washings (which only adds to the puzzle when a jar that is definitely not chicken stock has a label on it which reads “chicken stock, 2 cups).   

I am sure someone makes beautiful freezer labels that are easily removed during washing, but I never think to look for them until it is too late, and the jars are sitting on the counter ready to go into the freezer. 

I know what you’re thinking – stop writing this blog post right now and go and get yourself some labels!  Which I may still do, but hubby has devised the perfect solution in the meantime:

Yep.  That’s a scrap piece of paper and an elastic, and it has changed my world.  Smart man, my hubby!  🙂

Does anyone else have this label problem?  How do you organize your freezer?

Read Full Post »