Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cultural Food Giveaway!!!!!!

First, Happy New Year, all!

Next, to kick off the new year I am doing something I've 
never done before (so I'll try not to botch it up).

Welcome to my first giveaway!!!!!
I am giving away cultural food!!!!!

(Crickets chirping)

I thought there would be a tad more enthusiasm out there.
Perhaps an explanation?

This being a quiet week after all the festivities of November
and December, I made myself head down to the sewing room
for some tidy-up because, frankly, it is an embarrassing mess.
About 5 minutes into the task, I recognized the odd, twitchy
sensation in my fingers that usually accompanies a new,
insane project idea. So I abandoned the cleanup and 
contributed further to the sewing table chaos 
by cutting and sewing

a pineapple tart

and a couple of (stifling snickers) Prosperity Donuts

Oh (wiping tears), I haven't had
a good laugh like that in a while.

For the unfamiliar, Chinese New Year (CNY) is around
the corner. In fact, it's almost exactly a month after Christmas
this year, which was a month after Thanksgiving. Us bicultural
folks got a bad deal this year- three major holidays with
major food, in a row. I remember feeling extremely relieved
when Christmas was over, thinking I could twiddle my
thumbs for the next two months or so before I needed to call
mum on the phone and ask her when CNY is this year. Then
I accidentally discovered it was in January! Bah. The leftover
Christmas goodies are still unfinished and yet the CNY baking
must begin. If that's not excessive, I don't know what is.

Anyway, CNY always makes me think of home (my other
home, I mean) and because I am so unnatural at it, I also
try and act cultural. This means suddenly wearing brocade
and other Chinese suits, attempting to practise some of
the greetings that we spout during the New Year and
stocking up on oranges (California navels, though, not
mandarins). Also, thinking of Singapore and food makes
me chuckle when I remember the penchant of the food
merchants to modify (being conservative here) completely
harmless dishes to reflect local tastes. We're not talking
spicy-vs-non-spicy, here. I'm thinking of cheeseburgers
with rendang sauce and pizza with mayonnaise and squid.
And CNY, with its celebration of all things red and auspicious,
seems to bring out the most creative in the competition.

So here is my entry: the Prosperity Donut -
a deep-fried mantou-dough with pineapple frosting
and prosperity sprinkles- you know, all those lucky colors.

But what is prosperity, really, unless it is given away, right?

So I am giving away the Prosperity Donut AND the pineapple
tart to one lucky person who leaves a comment to this post.
Tell me what you have in your fridge, what your new year
resolutions are, whom you're dating, how you found this
blog, what car you drive, what your favorite crafting medium
is, what you think of the new HDB guidelines (I'm joking),
whatever- make me smile! I am very used to sending stuff
overseas, so anyone whose mailing address is written in
English can enter- you don't have to live in the US.
All I ask is that you leave your name and a valid 
email address (to block spam) in your comment so I 
can contact you if you win. Obviously if you're a 
childhood friend, feel free to use your secret nickname!
I'll close entries at midnight this Saturday
(i.e. 2 pm Sunday, Singapore time) and do a random-number
draw on Sunday. I can't promise that the food 
will arrive by CNY but I'll try.
And in the unlikely event that there are more than 20
comments, I will give away a second Prosperity Donut and
a Normal Donut (see this post for what I mean by Normal).
I may be culturally-deficient but I know this much: stuff
must be given in pairs during the new year!

So spread the word and start thinking of trivia to tell me!

I'm not going back to the sewing table for a while now, 
though. Given today's wicked distraction, it's too dangerous.
There's some real baking to be done.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Epilogue: The Best Things I've Ever Made

So I've been sewing a lot and I've made all kinds of crazy stuff.
Next year I'll probably do it all again,
just with different crazy stuff.

The best things I've made so far?

Here they are:
Their names are Jenna, Emily and Kate.

Just keeping things in perspective, folks.
It doesn't get any better than this.

Happy New Year!

Dress-up Box - The Mess Therein

The girls got their Dress-up Box when we returned from
spending Christmas with the in-laws. Emily was a little
confused at first and wondered what it was, especially since
I didn't even wrap it (waste of paper!) Jenna decided she
liked the store-bought career hats most. Kate's favorite
was the spongy red clown nose, which she immediately bit.
Emily quite enjoyed dressing her sisters up. Overall, I think
it is safe to say that they quite like it.

More importantly, everything fits!

Here's Emily as a redhead

The Box itself, incidentally, is just an ornament storage tub
from Target for less than $10. What I liked about it was it's
flip-top cover - a bit like a chest but stackable.

We've let it sit in a corner of the living room for now.
The girls, especially Emily, dig into it during the day,
and in the evening, its contents get piled back into it.

Like their old dress-up box.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Donut Shop On-The-Go

Earlier in the summer, I became obsessed with this project
for the girls' Christmas present. I'd always liked the idea of
playing storekeeper of any kind, which was the motivation
behind their cardboard donut shop/candy emporium/
general store
. I noticed, though, that they liked the delivery
aspect of vending - they enjoyed taking orders and then
delivering whatever we wanted on little plates or (in cases of
take-out) paper bags, pushing their grocery carts or strollers
from patron to patron.

So the portable donut seller idea was born- it reminded me
a bit of crackerjacks and peanut vendors at sporting events.

You know - the kind with the little hats

and paper bags

and little pouches for holding money;

little vendors like this one:

So this little vendor model got a sneak preview of the tray

and its accessories

which, in my typical manic way, I made three sets of
two of which got sent away to other little vendors for Christmas.

What were their wares?

Well, donuts, of course -

but sewn, not fried

so they have zero calories

and still come in many flavors.

But first, credit where it is due: I first chanced upon this post
on Skip To My Lou in the summer and thought I must sew one
of her donuts with her pattern. I couldn't stop at just one,
naturally, so I cut out enough pieces for almost forty, put them
in a small storage box with embroidery floss and began
hand-stitching the "sprinkles". This became my spare-moments
project - the one I reached for while nursing Kate on the
swing on the deck in the summer, curled up on the sofa after
the kids were in bed at nights, on long car trips to visit
out-of-town family and in waiting rooms at the doctor,
dentist and (less often) hair-stylist.

Initially, they were all meant to be identical

but, inspired by the seasonal colors of real donuts in our
local supermarket bakery, they diversified to represent some
of the different holidays and seasons we celebrate.

Valentines' Day: pink frosting on vanilla

Easter/Spring: vanilla frosting on chocolate

Independence Day



and classic all-season
chocolate frosting on coffee with sugar drizzle and
a lone mocha on vanilla with chocolate sprinkles.

Three dozen donuts and six months later,
they were all sorted into their trays

and, with assembly instructions,

packed into bakery boxes
and sent on their way -

but only after passing rather stringent quality control tests
by the littlest of all donut vendors:
Don't worry, the donuts were confiscated
before she could actually eat any.

A thoroughly fun project but long. Took even longer than
the Dress-Up Box did. And challenging in parts - the tray,
for instance, was fabric over flexible plastic board. I'd
considered cardboard but it bent easily and wouldn't stand
washing. So I cut up a new Ikea flexible chopping board and,
apart from being a little heavier than I'd imagined, it worked 
well. The sewing machine and I wrestled with the corners a 
fair bit but we made it without breaking any needles!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dress-up Box: Tippytoes

The last item to go in the Box before we shut the lid 
and wrap it up: ballet slippers!

For little and little-r feet.

In different colors.

In satin and fleece and felt and knit and whatever other 
fabrics were left over from earlier projects.

Not difficult to make at all, but takes a little visualizing 
in one's head because of the layers involved. The first pair 
was slow because it was experimental and because I 
drafted my own pattern and had to keep measuring and 
adjusting. And I had to sneak one shoe onto Emily's foot 
during her nap to check the fit. But after that, each shoe 
took about a half hour to make - so an hour for the pair. 

Want to make your own? Here's the pattern - one for my 
4-year old (size 11-12) and the other for the 2-year old 
(size 7).  Note: with all my patterns, this one does not 
include seam allowances - you just cut around it a little 
bigger as you wish. Some folks like 1/2", some 1/4". 
Pick what you're used to.

Much as it is a straightforward project, there are many steps, 
and I went overboard with the pictures this time to explain. 
Also, the secret is in the cutting - and the positioning of the 
pattern on the fabric. Unless you are using a stretchy fabric 
for every layer, you'll end up with a shoe that is rigid and 
uncomfortable. If you make it looser to accommodate for 
movement, it might fall right off the foot. Keeping all that in 
mind for the slippers I was sewing for my kids, I decided to 
use the different fabrics' natural stretch (or not) to advantage.

  • If you use fleece (which is nice because it is naturally puffy and helps the shoe hold its shape),lay the pattern along the stretch, meaning the shoe should stretch from toe to heel and not side-to-side. We want the wearer to elongate the shoe when it is worn, which causes the shoe also to hug the sides of the foot.
  • If you use satin (which I added to the pink and black pairs above the fleece layer), lay the pattern along the bias so that the shoe can stretch toe-to-heel and side-to-side.
  • If you use 4-way knit (which is nice for the lining because it isn't bulky and yet stretches), cut it straight (i.e. not on the bias)
  • If you use 2-way knit, cut it like the fleece.
  • If you use terrycloth (I tried it for the lining on the larger pink shoe): cut it like the satin.
For ONE shoe, you will need:
  • One outer upper (the U-shaped rainbow-colored piece) - I used fleece.
  • One inner upper (the U-shaped blue piece) - I used knit.
  • One outer sole (the white piece) - I used wool felt.
  • One inner sole (the blue piece) - I used fleece.
  • One piece of batting cut a little bigger than the sole.
  • A length of thick elastic string - the kind that holds a pair of shoes together when you buy them at Target is perfect - about 16" long.
  • A small safety pin
  • Pinking shears (optional but very useful)

Step 1
Fold the two upper pieces lengthwise, right sides facing, and sew along the heel line.

Step 2
  • Open up both pieces.
  • Pin both pieces right sides facing, and sew along the foot opening (where you'd insert your foot). 

Doesn't matter whether which side faces up, as long as the right sides are together. Here's another angle to show the fleece side:

Step 3
Pink the edges close to the stitches.

Step 4
Turn inside out so the right side of the seam faces out and the raw edges are hidden between the layers:

Step 5
Pin the outer sole at the toe and heel as shown. The right side of the sole should face the right side of the fleece, but the wool felt has no right or wrong side, so it doesn't matter.

Step 6
Attach the sole to the upper, being careful to push the lining layer out of the way and
tuck the fleece edge to fit the sole edge as you sew. Sound confusing? This is because the fleece piece is deliberately cut a little bigger than the sole, to accomodate for the 3-dimensional foot that will wear the shoe. This is obvious in the above picture. I found it useful to use an unpicker to move the fleece layer along in tiny gathers as I sewed. Less lazy people would actually baste, which I recommend if you have the time.

So here, in spite of the fleece piece being so much bigger than the felt piece, it has been made to fit.

Step 7
Pink the edge close to the stitches.

Side view of above picture. 

Step 8
Turn the shoe right side out and tuck the lining in. It looks almost finished!

Step 9
This step is to sew a little channel for the elastic thread around the opening. So sew about a quarter inch from the edge, leaving about an inch at the heel open to thread the elastic in:

Step 10
Thread the elastic in (I had to lift the lining layer to do this).

Step 11
This is really the only annoying part of sewing the slipper. You'll need to decide how snug this opening will be. Use your child's foot to test it out, or find another pair of shoes in the house that fit well. I did the latter, and found that a good final circumference was 11" for the 4-year old and 9.5" for the 2-year old. Tie a knot, trim the excess elastic and tuck the knot into the channel/casing.

The final circumference will not look very puckered at all - which is good because you don't want to cut the circulation off in the poor child's foot when the shoe is worn. It is just a teeny bit stretchy for the hug.

Sew up the open 1" at the heel.

Step 12
Sew the inner sole (fleece) to the batting. Sew as close to the edge as you can.

Step 13
Trim away the excess batting.

Step 14
Turn the shoe inside out again, with the lining facing up

Step 15
Pin the inner sole-and-batting to the lining layer, as in Step 5.

Step 16
Pulling apart the two halves of the shoe to avoid stitching on the colorful fleece layer accidentally, 

sew the blue lining to the inner sole-and-batting. As in step 6, tuck and tease the slightly-bigger lining piece to fit the slightly-smaller sole. 
Leave about 2" at the toe open for turning. Remember to backstitch when you start and end.

Step 17
Pink the edges close to the stitching, except at the opening. Don't trim the opening because you will need some seam allowance for folding in later.

Step 18
Turn entire shoe right side out through the opening. With the lining on the outside, and pushing away the fleece layer (it will all bunch up inside!) from the opening,

Step 19
tuck the exposed edges of the opening in and sew the opening shut. Sew only the lining and inner sole-and-batting layers! I used a zig zag stitch but a straight stitch works too.

Turn the shoe right side out and arrange lining neatly around the inside of the shoe, especially in the toe area where it tends to bunch. Done!

Make another side for a pair and put them on little dancing 
feet. Jenna, my secret model, asked me, "You turn on some 
music, mom?" to which I regretfully explained that she would 
get the shoes to keep at Christmas. 

I omitted this for the rainbow slippers because they were 
already such an assault on the eye, but you could add a 
small bow to the fronts of the plain shoes.

So these 6 pairs of ballet slippers will join the 
other multicolored inhabitants of the Box. 

They are the last hand-made items to go in the Box (for now) 
but I have also put in some store-bought accessories like 
hair extensions, wigs, boas, a couple of career hats and a 
clown nose. Other ideas that didn't make it to the Box for 
lack of time included a mermaid tail, some career coats 
(firefighter, for instance), fancy hats, animal suits, a 
clown costume and boots. Another time, perhaps.

I hope you enjoyed following along with this project. 
I thought I would be sad when it was finally over but I 
am relieved - not as much fun as I thought, sneaking around 
trying to avoid the Small Ones and sewing at nights. 

I have just one more project to post before the new year. 
This was the original handmade Christmas gift for the girls 
and it formed in my mind in the summer before the 
Dress-Up Box came along and monopolized occupied 
all my sane moments.    

I leave you with a picture of an early stage in its production: 

Merry Christmas, all!