Sunday, August 11, 2013

Truly Handy Handicrafts

Useful Crafts

I am not a fan of crafty things that serve no other purpose than to look pretty sitting somewhere.  Let's face it, I do not have a knack for the crafty things, so it wouldn't really bring any greatness to my decor.  Really.  It looks monstrous, and it collects dust.  However, I keep thinking I ought to be able to do these awesome craft things because all the other women can and I do have two x chromosomes after all.  So why shouldn't I have, if in some deep unknown crevice, a gene that says I can make cute things?  So I look for the useful crafts.  Serving a purpose AND looking cute?  What's not to like about THAT?

Imagine my interest when it was announced that there would be an opportunity to make first-aid kits out of hot pads and zip-top bags.  Chance to try my hand at craftiness?  Check.  Useful?  Check.  Something I would actually use?  Check.  Man, we were on a roll.  I nearly came to a screeching halt when I had to accept that working on said project included the use of a sewing machine.  I have a long-standing and irrevocable fear of those things.  The whirring sound is like the motor to open the gates of some dark abyss, the needle a silent predator in hunt of my fingers.  But I have made attempts at this before and wouldn't be undone by this little machine.

Stepping it up a Notch

Recently I have talked to a neighbor and her family about embroidery.  I am always puzzled about embroidery.  Am I the only one who thinks of Jane Austen's heroines when embroidery comes up in the conversation?  It may be in less frequent use than the Latin language.  I find that to be oddly daring, to try something that has fallen out of common practice.  Beautifying something that is otherwise simple could be quite satisfying.  So, I determined to try my hand at embroidery... on the very hot pad to be used for my awesome first aid kit.

What I Did 

I looked up ideas for how to do embroidery online to get some tips.  By suggestion, I found a font I liked and printed out the letter "B" in a size that I liked.  I then traced this, in pen, on the material.  I tried pencil so it wouldn't show, but the pencil was too hard to see.  I decided a pen would be acceptable if I stitched over it.  Then I selected a color of thread I liked and an embroidery needle and was set to begin this trek.  I did simple stitches of varying lengths to fill in the letter "B".  I noticed that the curves were harder to make, while maintaining the same angle of the stitches throughout the whole letter.  In fact, I abandoned trying to keep the same angle after a while.  After I filled in the letter, I picked a darker blue to do the outline, and used a chain stitch (which I learned through an online tutorial) to bring more depth to the initial.  I found this website to be helpful and informative:

What You Might Do Differently 

You may choose actual embroidery floss instead of standard thread.  You might also choose to practice on something besides what is intended to be the final project.  You may wish to follow the online advice of getting ditto paper (or whatever it's called) to trace your letter onto your stitching area.  This is less tricky than tracing it in pen since you place this sheet between your printed letter and the cloth.  Also, please note that you may wish to stitch differently than how you are inclined to write a letter.  You may work on a letter "B", for example, in top half/bottom half style rather than the stick and then the two bumps.

What Next

Once I had my "B" nicely stitched onto the pot holder, I was then ready to add the zip-top bags.  I used an extra long pot holder, with regular sandwich-sized bags. I used 10 bags. I was taught to use double-sided sticky tape to hold the bags in place while sewing.  The sewing machine was less impressed by this awesomeness, not being a fan of the stickiness.  In the future, I would use the sticky tape outside of my sewing area to hold the bags in place.  The bags went with the bottoms towards the middle of the pot holder.  I find it difficult to explain the alternating pattern of how I layered the bags.  Let's say that below is how the pot holder is sitting. (The "O" is the loop of the pot holder, used for hanging.)

[  |  ]o

I would place one bag with the zip-top side facing to the right (or the loop), the next facing towards the left (or the bottom of the pot holder).  The next towards the loop, then towards the left, etc.  I did this until all my bags were layered, with about a half-inch overlap.  Then I sewed a straight line (indicated by the line in my above snazzy drawing) right across where the zip-top bags were overlapping.  I put a ribbon over the overlapping portion of the bags and sewed again.  I felt like this gave the bags a little added support.

There are a couple of ways to determine how to close the first aid kit.  One is to sew a large button on the opposite side of the pot holder loop, and then put the loop over the button to hold it closed.  I chose, instead, to sew a ribbon onto the side opposite the loop.  To close the kit, I simply tie the ribbon through the loop.  

Assembly of the Kit

This is the easiest part.  Put into it the things you want to have on hand in case of an emergency.  Keep in mind any allergies you, your family or friends may have.  For example, my kit had latex-free band-aids in case of a latex allergy.  I had butterfly sutures in the kit as well.  Not all of my kit was entirely cuts and scratches related, however.  I did have hard candy and cough drops, in case they would be needed, as well as change and a needle and thread and buttons.  This is a kit for a commonly carried backpack, so I wanted things in it that would be used.  I typed out everything that went inside my kit and put this in one of the handy bags, too, to help keep track of the kit contents.

And this is the finished product.

Pretty? Maybe not.  Useful?  Definitely.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Finding Perfection in Quilting

For those of you who don't know, I am afraid of a sewing machine.  It has a needle.  It is electrically powered.  I am sure that I am going to have a Sleeping Beauty experience with a sewing machine someday, except that my fingers will be sewed into the cloth and no amount of awesome kisses will save me from the  trauma.

That being the case, I still have this crazy need to know how to do things like crocheting, sewing, quilting, embroidering... skills to make things at home.  Just in case.  It's impressive how this sensation helps to override my lack of rationale with regard to a sewing machine.

The sisters in my ladies group at church are making quilting squares, and several who have skills offered to help those that do not.  I zoomed through my first square one evening with great alacrity, and about 0 precision.  It was okay, at best.  Then, one dear sister offered to help me at her own house.  I went.  I got one-on-one time.  We decided to make a simplified pinwheel square, using a new method.

I set to work picking out two fabrics that would compliment each other well.  I ended up with two patterned fabrics, which I feared would look to busy, but I was assured that they would not.  The tie between the two was a wine/burgundy color that was an accent in one and the foundation of the other.

The fabric was ironed to smooth it out.  We cut out two identical squares of 11 inches each and laid these face to face.  This placed the whiter/bottom side on the outside.  Then I sewed all four sides with a 1/4" seam.  This is harder than it sounds, if you recall my fear of sewing machines.  (They go so quickly!!)  A side had to be ripped out.  Twice.  This is where having a teacher was an asset to me, because I am a bit lazy and I think, "whatever, it's close enough."

Once the two pieces were correctly sewn together, I cut corner to corner in two diagonal lines, thus leaving 4 triangles instead of a square.  The triangles were isosceles, with the long side sewn and the two identical length sides open.  The triangles were each opened up to make a square with one light side and one dark side (one triangle of the lighter material sewn to one triangle of the darker material.)  These were ironed, from the light color towards the dark color.

At this point I was repeatedly reminded to handle the fabric carefully so it didn't ravel, since we'd cut it on the bias.  This was hard for me.  I thought I WASN'T pulling the material, when in fact I WAS.  I think it's still going to take me a while to get the hang of that.

After the pieces were ironed, we laid them out to see the pinwheel pattern, alternating the light and dark colors.  This gave us what the square would look like, once sewn together.  In quilting squares, you sew in strips, so we would have two strips for this square.  These two strips were taken to the sewing machine and sewn with a 1/4" seam also.  We discovered that I had sewn the wrong side on one of the strips, so it had to be pulled out and done again.  Then, when the two strips were appropriately sewn together, we sewed the strips together also.

And viola!  It made a quilting square.  But we were not yet done with the task at hand.  The square was taken to the cutting table, and "squared."  Here, trimming takes place to make sure the square is, in truth, a square and not in name only.  This required math skills (to find the halfway point and measure outward.  This was done, the four sides were trimmed, and then, viola! VIOLA!! a completed quilting square.

My points all met up in the center, as they should.  The points also all met up at each corner of the larger square.  It was, essentially, perfect.  There may be many things I do not do well.  However, for one moment, I could relish in pure perfection.

But I couldn't take a picture.  I lost my camera.  That is a tragedy, I know, but here is an idea of what the square looks like, from a picture I found online.

You may now proceed to congratulate me.  Profusely.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Braided Spaghetti Bread

You ever look into your pantry and wonder what to make for dinner, and think, "oh, not the same old thing all over again?" I do. I get bored with food easily.

 My cool sister-in-law-ish once made a braided spaghetti bread and told me about it. I thought it sounded kind of weird, but just think of the awesome convenience of garlic bread and spaghetti TOGETHER! Not to mention the fun. Go talk to people about it, and see their facial reactions. That makes it even more fun.

 I decided to try it out for myself, being an unrepentant lover of carbohydrates and breads. I had spaghetti on hand, but I wanted to use bowtie pasta instead. I liked how it looked, I like that it's small. So, technically, "braided spaghetti bread" is something of a misnomer. I'm okay with that. Check it out!


 Doesn't it look delicious? It may not be healthy, but it is entirely plant-based. I made my dough using flour, oil, salt and yeast. I let it rise, rolled it out into a rough rectangle, and filled it with my pasta and sauce. The bread I made just may be a post unto itself, as it was also an adventure.

 For the pasta sauce, I sauteed a finely chopped purple onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic minced and a large can of crushed tomatoes. Then I finely chopped 8 oz. if button mushrooms and one 15-oz. can of black olives. These I mixed into the sauce, and let continue to simmer. Season as you wish. I use salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper and maybe some Italian seasonings. I poured the sauce over cooked noodles and stirred and let it set for a while. Once the dough was rolled out, I placed large (over-stuffed) portions of pasta in the center. Then, I cut slits in the dough on either side, from the edge to about an inch from where the pasta was. I cut as many one the one side as on the other. I tucked the top and the bottom of the dough over the pasta, then "braided" the dough strips all the way down. I put garlic salt in oil and brushed the top of the braided bread with it. This went into a 325 oven for 25 minutes.

It was totally fun to make, and really tasty. I loved it so much I made more just about two weeks later. On the repeat experience, since I was cooking for meat eaters, I did layer some cheese over the pasta before I braided the bread. Delightful.

 On a recent similar experience with spaghetti, we did not have any normal bread to make garlic bread. We did have hamburger buns, which were toasted in the oven with garlic salt and butter. So we made spaghetti burgers! Even though it's silly and probably a bit more messy, it is so much fun to try. Both of these different takes on a "boring" spaghetti dinner will get raves at home! Try them!