Sunday, October 26, 2008

Holiday Gifts: Luxury Pillowcases

The nice thing about making gifts yourself is that you can take something practical, like a pillowcase, and turn it into something luxurious, or personalized or even a work of art. It doesn't take much money, and only just a little time.
Pillowcases can be made out of cute themed quilting cottons, like these that I made for my nephew:
Or they can be made of of soft cuddly flannel:

or you can make them out of silk, like the ones I am working on now. Silk is not much more expensive than good flannel or high quality quilting cottons. I ordered mine from Ann at Gorgeous Fabrics (not affiliated, just a happy customer)
I think Habotai or Charmeuse makes nice pillowcases. You don't need much and it makes a fabulous impression. If you looked at the prices of nice silk pillowcases in stores you would faint dead away. I read somewhere that silk pillowcases are supposed to prevent wrinkles. I don't know if that's true, but it can't hurt!

Imagine all the possibilities here. You can make custom designed pillowcases for kids that they will like so much they won't sleep with anything else. With printable fabric or transfers thrown into the mix, you could even put family pictures, pets or kids drawings on them.
Here is a brief description with dimensions for your convenience:

Standard pillow measurements:
Regular 20"x26"
Queen 20"x30"
King 20" x 36:

Fabric requirements for ONE pillow: (based on 42" wide fabric)
Main pillow std/queen 3/4 yard king 1 yard
cuff 3/8 yard
contrasting trim 1/8 yard

Supplies besides fabric:
rotary cutter and mat
sewing machine of course


Std queen king
Body cut one piece 22" x42" 26"x42" 32"x 42"
Cuff 10" x42" 10"x42" 10"x42"
contrast trim 1 1/2" x42 1 1/2"x42" 1 1/2"x42"

I do everything flat first - sew your contrast trim piece to the pillow body. You can sew it as a contrast band like my flannel cases above, or you can do my flange variation, where I folded the contrast piece in half wrong sides together and then sewed to the pillow body, like flat piping. This looks very nice. You can also do eyelet here, or lace, or other trim. Then sew on the cuff piece to the contrast piece. Right sides together. Now you fold the whole thing in half right sides together. You'll have a 21" x 22" rectangle if it's a standard case. There is a long fold on one side and a seam at the bottom and one side. Match your contrast and cuff seams at the sides. Sew the sides. For silk pillows it's nice to do French seams. I trim and zig zag, but you can also use your serger. Press. Fold the cuff edge down half an inch and press then fold in half so it covers the raw edges inside - wrong sides together. Sew down, covering all raw edges. You can use a contrast color thread, or matching. A decorative stitch looks nice too. Press case and you're done! It's also nice to package this gift with lavender sachet if you are giving to grownups, or fun pajamas for either kids or grown ups. Everyone in our family enjoys home made gifts, so it's fun to make unusual things for them every year.
Happy Sewing!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October Baking

Yikes! You've been asked to bring something to the office potluck or Thanksgiving Party. What to bring that's different yet familiar? I adapted this recipe from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook (which has lots of good stuff in it)

Halloween Pumpkin Cake

Preheat your oven to 350 before you start so it has time to get hot. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch pan, or two 9" cake pans or 1 tube cake or bundt cake pan

1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar ( I like dark brown, but use what you have)
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 can 15ounces pumpkin puree

Mix all the wet ingredients together in a large bowl,they will look very goopy. This is normal. In another bowl blend together

2 1/2 cups flour (or do what I do and use 1 cip white whole wheat and 1 1/2 cups reg flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg ( I grate mine fresh)
1/4 teaspoon allspice
( or you could add all of these spices up and use pumpkin pie spice, if you have some handy)
Whisk all of the dry ingredients together then blend in the wet ingredients
Pour into the prepared pan or pans. Bake about 30-35 mins for layers, 35-40 for the sheet and 45-55 minutes for the tube. Of course you check ten minutes before it is supposed to be done. Just to be sure.
I glazed mine with cinnamon buttercream glaze, which I invented that very minute.
I mixed about 1 cup and a half of powdered sugar with a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of melted butter and enough milk or cream to make it glazey. I spread this over the top so it would drip attracively down the sides. There have been no complaints

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Perfect Gift

I don't know when it started or who started it, but ever since I can remember, our whole family has always conspired together to get "the perfect gift" for each other. The perfect gift is that ineffable "something" that the recipient may not even know that they wanted, but when they get it, it's like love at first sight. You know when you give one and you definitely know when you get one. We think about this all year and conspire in small groups, discussing options.
The perfect gift is not necessarily expensive, even though jewelry stores would like men to think so. It can be that Italian cashmere scarf that you have always wanted, or it could be an old picture of your mother all dressed up in a formal gown from before you were born. Whatever it is, it's something that just feels right.
All year we collect information, somewhat like the NSA only more benign, observing preferences. Does someone want to go to Italy? Love chocolate, lime bars, snickerdoodles? Hawaiian shirts, cheesy horror movies, long historical novels, football? All of these things and more are noted, filed and discussed.
You won't always find one every year. Like the a night blooming cereus, it is rare and special.
This year, so far, I've made a few gifts already. I've made some cute themed pillowcases, baggage tags and I'm working on some specially designed table runners. None of these might be "perfect", but I think they are pretty nice.
These Pinup girl pillow cases are for my nephew who is in college.
Click on the pictures for a close up. With these and some snickerdoodles, a few gift cards for food and a book or two and he's a happy man.
Here's a baseball themed one for someone:

I may give this with a couple tickets to a game, a bag of peanuts and a baseball cap. You just have to use your imagination!
I'm still conferring with my co-conspirators about what else we will get that will be the perfect gifts, but in the meantime we've got pajamas, cookies, baggage tags and pillowcases. I hope you have lots of good ideas for perfect gifts too, and that someone is thinking about one for you.
Happy Sewing!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Holiday Gifts:Fabric Gift Bags

Quilting Arts Magazine Gifts featured fabric gift bags as one of the projects, and gave a recipe for making them. They looked so easy and cute, in my hubris I jumped right in and immediately made one incorrectly. As Mr. Hunting Creek says, when all else fails, read the directions.

Basically these are really lined pillowcases with boxed corners masquerading as gift bags, if that makes any sense. You can make them any size, out of any themed fabric and embellish accordingly. My wine bottle bag is made with 2 contrasting pieces of fabric 11"x14", sew each one in a tube with the top left open, and on one, leave a 4" area open for turning. Box the bottom corners by matching the seam to the bottom center and sew a triangle about one inch in. (Like you'd do with a pillow or purse bottom.) Sew the two tubes together at the top, right sides together. This was a tight fit on my machine, even with the free arm. Then turn right right out and sew up the hole. Make a cuff at the top and fill up with gifties. The wine bottle size could also hold maple syrup, liqueur, or any other long skinny things like biscotti wrapped in plastic
My little fat leprechaun bag was made because at first I did not follow the directions(because I didn't READ them. I assumed that I would just know how to make them.) and sewed two 11"x14" bags together first, so instead of a tall skinny bag I have a fat one. But that's ok. It will hold a pound of great coffee, fancy cocoa or candies. Plus it looks cute.
The nice thing about fabric gift bags is that they are reusable, you can use any fabric, not just Christmas fabric, and since we can make rectangles any size, they could hold any size gift. Perfect for lumpy or odd shaped gifts. You can tell the recipient to please feel free to reuse, regift and pass it on. It's not easy being green, but the more we try, the easier it will be.
Happy Sewing!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Comfort Food: Pear Cake

My daughter's Italian boyfriend calls this Torta di Pera, and we call it Pear Cake. He loves American Food.(The only thing we made that he didn't like was Yorkshire Pudding, but hey - that's English!) He eats American Desserts with enthusiasm, especially the warm fruity ones. I had some ripe pears in my bowl, so I made one today for our dessert. It's very easy to make and I think you'll like it too.

Pear Cake ( adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine Raspberry Peach Cake, Sept 2006)
Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9x2 inch round cake pan
Mix together
1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Set aside.
In mixing bowl or food processor, mix
6 tablespoons butter ( I have used salted and unsalted and no one can tell the difference)
1 cup granulated sugar ( I have also used 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla ( I make my own, see below)
2/3 cup plain yogurt ( you could also use sour cream or buttermilk, they are interchangeable)
2 sliced ripe pears
Cinnamon sugar
Mix the butter and sugar, add eggs, vanilla and yogurt. Sometimes I add a little lemon brandy too (see below), add flour mixture. Scrape into cake pan. Top with the sliced pears. I make a pinwheel design and sprinkle everything with cinnamon sugar.
Bake about 40-45 minutes, until tester comes out clean
Eat with ice cream, or as my family does, in a bowl with milk.

Lemon Brandy
I make this to add as a flavoring
Take a clean half pint jar, and next time you need to squeeze a lemon, peel the zest off, beat it up a little and place it in the jar. About two lemons worth is good. Cover the lemon peels with brandy. Steep for a month and use in yellow cake, gingerbread and other baked goods that would like being flavored with lemon brandy. I also use it to sprinkle on apples for apple pie or apple crisp.

I don't need to tell you how to make cinnamon sugar, do I? I keep a jar of this on my counter next to the coffee pot. When my kids were small they insisted on cinnamon toast so often I just made it by the batch, and we always have some one hand. I make mine with Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon. Treat yourself and get some, it's wonderful.

Holiday Gifts: Baggage Tags Part Two

I have had so much fun making baggage tags that I think I have enough for everyone on my gift list. I will use them as stocking stuffers and also as recyclable gift tags, so they do double duty by being green as well.
I had a couple emails asking for a little more explanation, so I took a picture of an unconstructed baggage tag.

I placed the fast2fuse interfacing in the center of my fabric piece. I fold up the edges of the fabric and fuse, then stitch with a decorative stitch. Then I sew on the Quilter's Vinyl sleeve on one of the sides. After that I make the strap. You could also use cord or ribbon. I fold the two raw edges of the long sides of the 2"x14" strip to the center of the strip then fold again so the raw edges meet and I have a long strip with the raw edges inside. I sew this, the place it with the ends in between the two sides, sew all around the edges and that's all there is to it.
Here are a few more completed ones:

Aren't they cute? Everyone who has seen them, loves them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Holiday Gifts: Baggage Tags

This weekend I was reading my new copy of Quilting Arts Gifts and I saw the baggage tags pattern and thought, hey those are cute. I had some scraps of fast2fuse from another project and some glue so I made one (it took about 5 minutes). These are so easy, I dare you to make just one.
You only need small amounts of fabric, so these are perfect to use up those pretty scraps that you hate to throw away. I used Fast2Fuse for the interfacing but you could also use Timtex or Peltex or another stiff interfacing. I used my Quilter's Vinyl for the clear sleeves on top. A yard will make a lot of tags!
The first one I made I followed their directions, but since I always think I know better, I changed them to suit myself. The author used glue to attach her fabric to the interfacing before she sewed the two sides together, but I didn't want to fuss with glue, so I cut my fabric slightly larger all the way around and used a decorative stitch and pretty thread to sew them on instead. Then I used the decorative thread to sew on the vinyl window. Voila! Easy, cute, takes 5 minutes to make: what's not to love?

My daughter says that we could use them as gift tags too, on wine bottles and gift baskets and as part of a themed gift. We are also thinking of using printable fabric to make these with pictures and names for custom gifts. After we make those I'll take pictures. I realized I am now addicted to making these because they provide almost instant gratification, they are inexpensive, they make a fun gift for coworkers, and a super stocking stuffer.

To make a baggage tag, you'll need:
Fabric glue ( I dispensed with this after the 1st one, but of course you can certainly use their method. Just call me a Maverick ;)
Two fabric pieces, cut 5 x 6 1/2 ish ( I made mine larger than their instructions)
One piece cut 2" x 14" for the strap
stiff interfacing ( you can cut any size, I decided 3 1/2" x 5" worked for me, but of course you can make yours bigger, smaller, longer ...depending on what you need them for)
Quilters vinyl cut 2 1/2" X 4"ish ( I took a business card and made sure it fit. You can see how scientific and exact I am.)
I sewed the two fabrics to the interfacing, attached the vinyl window to one side, inserted the strap in between the two sides, sewed them together: done!
Silk, brocade, embroidery stitchouts, extra quilt squares - all of these would be awesome as a tag! You could embellish with paints, paintstiks, trim...whatever strikes your fancy.
I made myself a kit, and cut about twenty interfacing rectangles, vinyl pieces, assorted fabric scraps and strips and sat and played. Everyone is getting these this year as part of their present (Dad, forget you read this)
The Quilting Arts Gifts has other projects I want to try - next up, the reversible wine gift bag.
Happy Sewing!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tag I'm It

Cathy at HemminandHummin has tagged me and I'm supposed to reveal seven random facts about myself. Here goes:

I once ran the Trailways Bus Station in San Juan Capistrano. Talk about a job where you meet interesting people...I could write a book about that job.
After we graduated from college, Mr. Hunting Creek and I both worked in Maui at the Maui Airport, managing the National Car Rental Office there. We met Chuck Norris! We saw humpback whales! And to tell the truth, I was happy to get off that island when we left to go back to California for grad school.
When I was working at a firm in Washington DC, I was introduced to Jerry Springer. I didn't know he was THAT Jerry Springer, and I asked him if he was ever mistaken for the famous one. He laughed and said, very politely, yes, all the time. Afterwards I found out that he WAS the famous one! Oops!
I met my husband at freshman orientation at UC Irvine - at a Toga Party.
When I was getting my teaching credential, we had to do student teaching in all sorts of situations. I taught in some rough areas, and years afterwards, big scary rough looking guys would come up and say Hi Teacher! when I was at the mall. They were really very nice kids...they just LOOKED tough.
When I was little, I used to design clothes for my Barbies. Didn't lots of great American Designers start that way?
And I really do read cookbooks in well as everything else. Bed is the best place for reading, especially since the kids and Mr. Hunting Creek LOVE scary movies and I hate them. So I go read in the bedroom and listen to music so I can't hear any part of their scary movie du jour.
I'm supposed to list my favorite blog places, but I don't want to leave anyone out by accident; I'll be like the Governor of Alaska and answer as I please instead.(She did, and why can't I?) I'll list my seven favorite places that I've been: San Francisco, Berkeley, Rome, Kyoto, Florence, Kuala Lumpur and New York.
I hope you all have a sunny and wonderful weekend.
Happy Sewing!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Current Projects

This morning my daughter told me she wanted a pair of silk pajamas. She picked out this fabric from Gorgeous Fabrics and now all we have to do order the silk and decide which pattern. She rarely asks for anything, so we will add that to our Holiday Project list. While we decide on what pattern, I am working on my Thanksgiving Table Runner Project. We are having Thanksgiving at my house this year after a long break (my sister has had it at her house for several years, while I did Christmas). So this year we swapped, since she and Bill are traveling that week. My daughter and I were talking about decorations and our menu, because of course we like to show off a little bit. My sister always decorates the table beautifully and has a fabulous multi course meal planned, so we can't do any less. (not that we are competitive, mind you. Oh NO) We were brainstorming menu ideas and table decor and we came up with an idea for a Thanksgiving Table Runner that had all of our pictures on it and things that we were thankful for. We are gathering the pictures for that now. (and for our super top secret Christmas project that we will not be discussing YET) This is a good opportnity to test out the new Photo Fabric Play book we just got in as well. I'll use EQ Printables Fabric for the pictures, (they have the best print quality, IMHO) and autumn colored fabric for the runner. We'll use paintstiks and leaf rubbings to embellish, and also some Angelina as well.(I might use real leaves for the rubbings too) I'll test out some designs and ideas this weekend and see what I like. The nice thing about making a table runner is that it is normally about 13-15inches wide and 40-50 inches long, so it isn't too big to finish in a couple weekends, leaving me plenty of time to decide what the actual dinner will involve. My daughter wants to get a Virginia locally raised free range turkey, and we'll also have a ham, and pumpkin pie, and apple tart, but the rest of the menu is free form and subject to change. Of course my son always wants exactly what we had the year before, and the year before THAT, but my daughter and I like to sneak some new stuff in every year.
You have to be both sneaky and respectful about traditions, I think. Yes, make that same old corn bread stuffing, but also maybe try a new vegetable or dessert every year. Same with sewing; I love to try new techniques and fabrics whenever I do a new project to stretch my abilities a little bit.
After such stressful news in the papers and on TV this week, I'm thankful that I can sew something nice for my family and make this small corner of the planet a little bit nicer, and not think about all that other stuff for a while. Aren't you glad that you sew?