Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hedging and Lying

Emily caught me sneaking out to the deck, trying to take a picture of a Chicken-part, in whatever dim sunlight we have today.

"What's that? Is it that surf-board thing you're making? Is it a chicken (drat drat drat drat drat)? What is it, mom? Is it a tree? (yes, yes, yes, yes, yes)"

Muttered some evasive garbage at her (there may or may not have been a small white lie within) and she thankfully ran off.

It is getting hard to keep secrets around the house nowadays since the kids started not napping. Sewing an entire Christmas present, for instance, is going to be a joke.

(And yes, I have sewed one new chicken-part today. Had to resort to candy to do it. I break out the Secret Weapon at home sometimes. When things get dire. Abysmally-slow Chicken-making counts as "dire".)

Monday, September 28, 2009


For the faithful, patient, wonderful readers of this blog who have been crying fowl:

I promise- I am not doing this to tease you. This is really as far as I've gotten with Chicken. Honest. Sewing has been very slow-going the past few days. Also am at a minor impasse because I am needing (but not finding) a small rectangle (like 5" x 1") of rust colored fabric in knit. The fabric stores have not been helpful. So as of tonight I will do without it and (ick) improvise.

Went shopping in Target for more fall clothes for the children. And shoes. "You can't sew tennis shoes and you know it", was how I made peace with myself.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fall Clothes?

Went shopping today for fall clothes for Emily. School has begun and she needs a new wardrobe of non-shorts, non-skorts, non-Tshirts that will take her through the cold months. There are times when I'm in the stores and ask myself, "They're only charging $8 for this? Why do I even bother to sew? The fabric alone will probably cost more." Today, though, the selection was uninspiring. The dresses, especially. So I might have to put Chicken aside for some jumpers and fall-type outfits sooner than I had intended. At least before Halloween, when the real clothes-making begins.

The Strawberry+Chocolate+Vanilla Collection

Very silly, I know. And even though I tried to
it with chocolate, it's still... pink.


This was a belated birthday present for Emily.
It started innocently enough, but escalated into pure
madness. You might be familiar with the process: you take
a straightforward project, and then start adding more
features, and then ask yourself, at the height of that
feverish, heart-palpitating, hand-trembling burst of
adrenaline, "Hey......I wonder if (insert new technique)
can be done here. Hm."

So here's how it all went out of control.

Emily needed a backpack for school, so I thought I'd
make her one (three weeks after school started, I mean).

Not hard, backpacks.

Especially if you have bought enough backpacks to
know they come in standard shapes and sizes

and have standard features like zippers
and padded shoulder straps

and maybe a pocket or two.

But then I thought I'd set myself a (on hindsight) dumb
challenge: to try and make it without any raw edges
and no bias tape on the inside like commercial
either. Everything tucked in.
Sewn wrong side in and turned right side out.

And because Emily sometimes brings home wet artwork,
it also had to be lined with ripstop nylon. Ready, set, go!

Sometimes I am more foolish than usual.

OK, backpack done. Most of my hair still on my
head, too. Off to school, then, Emily. Whee.

What's next.... let's see...... oh, cosmetic case!

To contain those tubes of lipgloss and maddening little
claw-like hairclips and miniscule barrettes and hair ties
that somehow end up in Kate's little hands
on their way to her mouth.

Same rules. But no ripstop nylon this time -plastic canvas!
Because we've got a real glass mirror to support (didn't
know where to buy plastic. Anyone know?)!

Let's up the daftness factor several notches - fit a zipper
around a curved oval (read: bias cut, therefore vairy, vairy
stretchyyyyyyyyy) on one side and straight body on
the other. And put piping everywhere!

Verdict: wonky zipper. It works but it's not pretty.

Insanity levels dangerously high now. Practically impervious
to reason/ psychiatric help/counseling. I blame all that
overexposure to pink, of course. So obviously, the
next one to try is a duffle bag.

Same rules.

Verdict: Wonky corners. And lots and lots of
seam-ripping. But I think I can now sew piping around
cars, houses, tractors, jet planes......

So, Dr Freud, sir, that's my story.

Do I like the outcome?
Yeah, I think. I might even borrow that duffle from Emily
to use myself sometime. Like when she's not packed for

What did I learn?
Apart from the fact that I have no upper limit on lunacy?
Three things:
  1. I love my sewing machine. It was well worth forgoing the extra embroidery stitches model for this heavy-duty workhorse.
  2. Yes, any number of compartments and zippers can be added with the turn-everything-out-through-a-hole-in-the-lining technique.
  3. What a Mobius strip feels like when it's having a bad day.

Would I do it again?
Please, someone, hit me on the head, hard.
I have a chicken to make.

P.S. I actually did start a tutorial/pattern. Gave up in the very early stages. Couldn't with a clear conscience invite anyone to try this. Some day maybe I'll do a pattern for the cosmetic case without all the silly rules.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Hello Kitty Party

Some photos from the Hello Kitty birthday party several weekends ago. Only Emily among our three girls has a birthday in the warm part of the year, so we tried to keep as much of the party outdoors as we could.

The kids arrived on our deck and picked a little dress on a cardboard hanger to embellish.

We set out buttons, ric-rac and other trims, adhesive gems, glue and fabric markers. The cardboard hanger helped keep glue and ink from soaking through to the other side of the dress.

When they were done, the hangers were returned to the wire line to dry.

During the weeks before the party, Emily theme-ified ordinary paper bags, blowouts and paper cups with Hello Kitty stickers. Food was pizza, crudites and dip, pink (of course) lemonade, iced water

and those cookies.

A small tower of chocolate cupcakes

with white chocolate Hello Kitty toppers. These were made the same way as the Maisy ones here.

Prizes for games - HK pencils and HK strawberry cream-dipped cookie sticks (better known as Pocky). The third basket contains the bows and flowers for the softies which we put in the goody bags to match the dresses the girls picked earlier.

The games - first was the classic pin-the-bow-on-Hello-Kitty, made from the side of a cardboard box. Emily happily colored the bows - we made two because she couldn't decide between red and pink.
Check out the lovely banner made by my sister-in-law for Kate's birthday earlier this spring. I made a (unmatching) banner with Emily's name and re-used it for this party.

Unbeknownst to me, this same lovely sister-in-law made another EMILY one which arrived in the post after the party, and which matched the rest of the banner perfectly!

The second game was musical chairs, played on the grass with cardboard circles decorated with paper pawprints. Emily and Jenna made these with me. We love any reason to use cardboard!

Here's our old friend: the papier mache pinata.

After diligently ensuring that it would be strong enough to hold all that candy, I suddenly became terrified that it would never break and we'd be there whacking away till nightfall. I am pleased to report, however, that it fell apart perfectly, thanks to some very good slugging by the kids.

While the kids were swinging away, Grandma was commissioned to hide the 10 Hello Kitties all over the backyard. When the kids had collected all the candy from the fallen pinata, they were sent on a treasure hunt, each to claim her own Hello Kitty. Since they had no idea they would be searching for a softie, one little guest squatted by the side of our house and tentatively dug a finger in the mulch! She was quickly redirected to a white face peeking out from a fork in a tree.

So 8 of the 10 Hello Kitties have left for better homes in the kids' goody bags (or in their arms). Two remain with Emily and Jenna.

Kate got Kathy, HK's friend (who still has no clothes):

Fun. Fun to watch the kids hugging their white softies at the end of the party. Fun to watch Emily and her friends enjoy each other. Fun to visit with the parents who came. Fun to have grandparents and good friends helping out. Fun to have the kids just play in our backyard as if the summer would never end.

I think, though, that we had even more fun preparing for this party. I got to sew, play with cardboard, use my piping nozzles and bake. I love that Emily got to be so involved in every part of it, so that she really felt like it was her party, not just something her parents organized for her (although that might have been easier and less messy). She learned new skills - like piping with a piping bag and nozzle and working with papier mache. Jenna and Kate also helped, and Jenna has declared she wants a "blue Hello Kitty party" in November. Help. But since she changes her mind every few days, it might be Strawberry Shortcake or Angelina Ballerina by the time her birthday actually arrives.

I leave you with a last Hello Kitty momento: this gorgeous scarf crocheted by the supremely talented Karin, whose three little girls were Emily's guests.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Other Birthday Cake

Generally, I don't make birthday cakes. I haven't got it in me to plan it all out and layer it like building blocks and then ice it and do fondant stuff. I'd much rather bake pies and pastries. Dave usually gets a pie of some sort for his birthday. When I was little, my aunt would make fabulous cakes for our birthdays - the kind with little while royal icing fences, teeny little washing lines, green sugar for grass and all manner of amazing details. We loved them.

And then I became a teenager. At one of my teenage birthdays, mum asked me what sort of cake I'd like and I told her "sugee (semolina), plain, no decoration." She was incredulous, but she made it to order and (because she couldn't help herself) put some silk flowers and one of my small softies on top. Sugee cakes........ mmmmmm, rich, buttery, crumbly, almondy.... frosting would have just completely ruined it.

Then, as fate would have it, I became a mother. And got introduced to the world of Sheet Cakes With Dora/Backyardigans/Disney Princesses on it. Very odd. But children loved them! And Emily would flip through the sample book in the supermarket bakery and solemnly shortlist all the cakes with pink and/or ponies/princesses on them) for her birthday. I'd hiss in her ear, "But they're plastic, darling!" and she'd whisper back, "But they're colorful! I like them!"

The day of her Hello Kitty party came and went and I was very pleased to have gotten away with only cupcakes. The next day we were going to celebrate her birthday with family, and I realized there needed to be another edible confection upon which to prop candles for blowing out. Found this interesting video and thought it would be fun to try this cake:

So two Better Crocker (or maybe one was a Duncan Hines or Pillsbury, I disremember) boxed mixes and goodness knows how many canisters of frosting later, Emily had a slightly lopsided pink princess castle cake.
Sadly (and quite obviously), I misplaced my icing spatula so had to make do with a regular butter knife. I like to imagine that this castle was built by underpaid workers who had an excess of cement and no actual bricks. And personalized by a sign-maker with no spatial sense at all. What is the cake equivalent of a seam-ripper? I needed one while constructing this.
Got to use my star nozzle to fill in the awkward intersections and seams. Am a maniac with my star nozzle. Star nozzles are like applique - great for covering holes and ugly bits.

From a distance, it looks rather charming.

Piping lettering vertically is not very fun. But Emily thought it was nice. And it's all about trying new things. Will I ever venture into fondant territory? Dunno. First, though, I want to make a sugee cake from scratch. I mean, a cake can be made to look like a work of art, but can it come close to tasting like sugee? Must have priorities.