Friday, February 27, 2009

Project #57 - Egg Shell Garden

I am dying for spring. I'm ready for it. I have a hyacinth on my desk and an outfit picked out for the first real warm day. I'm ready for winter to be over so I can clean the debris out the garden and start planting. But that bastard groundhog was right and it's going to snow again this weekend. No! More!

It's too early to start seeds for outdoor planting; there's always at least one more freeze the first week of April. I'm getting so desperate for some sort of green that I decided to plant a late spring indoor garden today so I'll at least have some seedlings to look at by next week. Oh, and because we're in the season of Lent I'll do a little egg themed garden. Also, we have a lot of eggs and Clark is getting a little irritated because I keep forgetting and buying more.

Plus, eggs are excellent for planting. I always add some to the soil for extra calcium, so at planting time I'll just crush the shells enough to let the roots grow out. Each plant will automatically have its own all natural fertilizer.

These eggs are the best. They come from a local farm owned by the parents of a friend. All of the chickens are very happy (I've met them!) and eat bugs and fall asleep on the driveway. Plus, some of them lay actual blue eggs. I didn't know chickens could do that until I saw it with my own two eyes.

To get an egg shell ready for planting poke a hole in the bottom and a larger hole in the top. You can do this with a heavy duty pin, or a fork tine. Shake the egg over a bowl and save the insides for omlettes or flan or panna cotta. Clean out the insides and puncture the membrane to get it out of the way.

Take an ordinary pair of kitchen scissors and cut the top opening wider. I didn't know that it was possible to cut an eggshell with scissors before today, but I tried it on a hunch and it worked!

After that I let the shells dry a bit and then I filled each with seed starter soil.

The flags are made of masking tape and sections of wooden skewers. The skewers are $1 for 100 and handy for all kids of craft projects so I always have a pack on hand. (I use them to unclog glue tubes and for sculpting fimo) You can find them in the kitchen section of places like Target or Wal-Mart.

Please grow quickly!

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posted by Alison 2/27/2009 09:19:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Project #56 - Pattern-free Cotton Petticoat

I don't know why I haven't worn underskirts all of my life. It's probably because most of the slips I wore as a child were either made of sweaty polyester or itchy nylon ruffles. The underskirts make and wear today are made of comfy cotton and keep the wind from cutting through me when I wear skirts or dresses on milder winter and early spring days. I've used them to give my skirts extra poof and to cushion my fanny on long plane rides. In short, I love them and hope to have dozens in lots of different colors one day. Right now, I only have two, so this is the perfect project for Make-A-Skirt Thursday.

The benefit of making this kind of petticoat is that you can easily customize it to your needs. They can be any length, any color or any volume. I like to make my petticoats with three ruffles and in at least two layers. Today I'm using unbleached 36" muslin because it's cheap and I have a lot of it. My double layered underskirt took a total of a little over 4.5 yards of the stuff.

Essentially, each ruffle is made of a number of rectangles of fabric, each of a uniform height. I determine the height based of the distance between my waist and wherever I want the hem to hit on my leg, adding in an inch for each ruffle to account for seams. 21 inches is the distance from my waist to my knee, so I'll be cutting rectangles 8 inches in height. I like to select the number of rectangles in each ruffle following a piece of the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8...), that way you get volume with a natural curve that isn't out of control, and of course because Math, I love it! My last skirt was made of 45 inch fabric so the top ruffle was one 8" by 45" rectangle, the second ruffle was two and the bottom was made of three rectangles. Today's skirt is 2,3 then 5 rectangles, which for a two layer skirt means cutting 20 8" by 36" rectangles.

Next, I sewed each ruffle together into a ring. I finished my edges with my serger so that it could go in the washing machine; using a zig-zag stitch is also an option.

I then took one of my middle, 3 rectangle pieces and sewed a line of 3.5 mm stitches for gathering, matching it to a smaller 2 rectangle piece. I then stitched them together, right sides together. I did the same for one of my 5 rectangle pieces, gathering and then stitching to the 3 rectangle piece.

I repeated for the second layer, giving me two very wide skirts.

I then sewed one layer to the other, like sides together and pressed the seam evenly. I turned the skirt and added a row of stitching half an inch down from the seam connecting the two layers. Leave an inch or so open. This will be the casing for my elastic. I've always been hard on skirts with elastic because they remind me of sweatpants, but it will be nice to have things I could still wear if I end up gaining some weight. Anyway, slip your elastic into the casing and sew the ends together. Sew up your 1-inch gap and you're done!

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posted by Alison 2/26/2009 09:52:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Project #55 - Color Perfect Pitch Tester

I like to think that I have perfect pitch when it comes to color. The same way that someone with perfect musical pitch can hear a note and play a matching tone, I can usually look at something, remember the color and then I'm able to match it perfectly later. It comes in handy when I need to find matching fabric and I don't have a sample with me.

Or maybe I just think I have a good color memory and I'm getting lucky at the fabric store. I decided to create a little flash applet to test that idea.

Below is the code I used. I'm new to AS 3.0, so reuse with caution.

var cardArray:Array = new Array(card_1, card_2, card_3, card_4,< card_5, card_6, card_7, card_8);
var correct = Math.floor(Math.random()*8);

var big_box_color = Math.random()*0xFFFFFF;
change_color(color_button.color_bar, big_box_color);

color_button.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, get_color);

function get_color(e:MouseEvent):void {
change_color(color_button, 0x000000);

var count = 0;
for each (var card:MovieClip in cardArray) {
if (count == correct) {
change_color(card, big_box_color);
card.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_right);
else {
change_color(card, Math.random()*0xFFFFFF);
card.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_wrong);

function reset():void {
correct = Math.floor(Math.random()*8);
big_box_color = Math.random()*0xFFFFFF;

function set_click_right(e:MouseEvent):void {
change_color(color_button, big_box_color);
var count = 0;
for each (var card:MovieClip in cardArray) {
card.removeEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_right, false);
card.removeEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_wrong, false);
change_color(card, 0xCCCCCC);

function set_click_wrong(e:MouseEvent):void {

function change_color(card:MovieClip, next_color):void {
var colorTransform:ColorTransform = card.transform.colorTransform;
colorTransform.color = next_color;
card.transform.colorTransform = colorTransform;

I've done pretty well so far, but most of the time the colors are so different that it's not really much of a challenge. I'm planning on making another version that will have trickier color combinations and better statistics.

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posted by Alison 2/25/2009 11:11:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Project #54 - Pop-Up Cutout Scene

I usually work with bright colors whenever possible, but sometimes it's a nice change to stick with one neutral tone for a project. I suppose I might save this pop-up scene for when someone I really like moves and throws a housewarming party. I could even slip in a gift card under the lawn.

All of the pieces, like this house, have some extra cardstock at the bottom to help them standing up. Also, instead of using a straight crease at the point where the house meets its its horizontal half, I made a slightly convex fold. This helps the figure to stand up when the box is opened and saves me the trouble of attaching everything to the lid of the tin. They all stand up on their own.

I like having graph paper to help me plan illustrations, so I used graph index cards to help me sketch out each cutout. I sketched out each tree before cutting them out with my craft knife. I'm a little tree obsessed lately, so I've been looking for excuses to add them to a project. These trees are a little bare, but that's how they look in early spring when the tulips arrive. Right? I can't remember.

I'm left handed, so I cut out the branches left to right and remove the excess cardstock piece by piece.

The entire scene folds neatly into a Harrogate toffee tin. The toffee itself wasn't very good, all sugar and no butter. I have a hard time forgiving sub par toffee, but the nifty packaging kind of makes up for it.

Each of the pieces was slotted into a card cut to fit the bottom of the tin. This keeps the scene looking neat and spare. Plus, using the slots meant that I could put together the whole piece without glue. That means that I'll be able to switch out the figures if I think of something better.

The details:

The scene from the back

A view from the side

The trees in the front yard

A closer look at the windows

A doggie!

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posted by Alison 2/24/2009 10:28:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, February 23, 2009

Project #53 - Spiral Bound Lotería Notebook

Spiral binding is one of the most useful services possible ev-AH from a copy shop, and most people don't know about it. The whole process takes about 5 minutes and $2-$3 if you catch the copy shop during a slow period.

Clark even took in one of his guitar books and had it rebound so that it would stay open without a music stand. He's a big Bonnie Pink fan.

Given a choice, I use only spiral bound notebooks because that they lay flat. Books with sewn or glued binding are jerks that will close and lose your place the second they are left alone. Plus, I can remove pages without damaging the binding, though I only do so with much reluctance and frowning. I usually give people the stink eye if they ask for a piece of scrap paper from my precious spiral research notebook. I started keeping a few blank post-it notes on the last few pages so that I could keep my remaining paper mooching friends; they are otherwise good people.

I designed this notebook specifically for drawing with markers, so instead of regular paper I used 6" by 9" index cards to prevent multi-page ink bleeds.

The game boards used in Lotería are fun to look at, and are made of some pretty sturdy cardstock, making them ideal for covers. They're just slightly larger than the index cards, so they're perfect without any cutting.

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posted by Alison 2/23/2009 10:18:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Project #52 - Bra Strap Thingy

Clark and I have lived a largely commercial free existence ever since we switched to using a DVR. However, sometimes one or two ads will sneak through when I'm not paying attention or watching live TV. One of the more memorable ones is for a product called the strap perfect. This product, unlike a blanket with sleeves, addresses a problem I actually have in my life, and that is the problem of wanting to wear a bra with a fancy top without having my straps sticking out.

I'm a little too cheap to spend money on something like this, especially when I can make my own out of a plastic bowl that I got for free with my last soup order from Chinese takeout.

I drew out the design specially with the type of plastic I planned to use in mind. It would probably need a little more stabilization than something cast molded to purpose. I reused some screen printed flyers for a art event. Recycling!

I drew and cut out two different designs to see which would work better for this project. The one with wider, more stable curves won.

Next, I experimented with two kinds of plastic. The first came from a whipped topping bowl, and it was softer and easy to cut out, but it bent a little under the force of the straps.

The second try was with a disc cut from a soup bowl that came with an order of wonton soup. The bowl itself was a little curved on the bottom, but it was much stronger and more rigid than the lid. It didn't cut as prettily, but there were no ragged pieces and it held up without bending.

My bra strap thingy in action.


posted by Alison 2/22/2009 10:50:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Project #51 - Winter Wool Dress

Today I attended a chili cook-off organized by some friends. It's been too cold to wear most of my dresses, so I made a fiery red wool dress that would do a better job at holding up to the winter chill. Plus, I could hope that the color would match any chili that I spilled on it. The hemline is a little shorter than usual, but it's a party dress, right?

The pattern is 5260, but I exchanged the neckline facings for a narrow hem, and changed the V-neck for a scoop-neck. The fabric is a wool knit from Fabric Mart. The wool is high quality so the dress itself is not itchy, even if you go without a slip.

Clark's chili took second place out of 9 chilies, so congratulations to him!

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posted by Alison 2/21/2009 10:27:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, February 20, 2009

Project #50 - Context Free Art

I've been playing with a wonderful graphics rendering engine called Context Free Art. Instead of drawing images by hand this program takes programmed rules and uses them to render figures of amazing elegance and beauty. The rules are even written in a Context Free Design Grammar, which warms my computational linguist heart.

Wikipedia has a pretty good article on CFGs here. In summary, a CFG is made up of a series of production rules. The left hand side of the rule a series of one or more terminals [usually letters or words when applied to natural languages] and/or a non-terminal [a.k.a. the right-hand side of a rule]. When a non-terminals are rewritten without regard for the rule they came from, hence 'context-free'. That explanation probably made no sense, so ignore me and read the Wikipedia article.

Best of all, there program is free and will work on almost any computer. Even underpowered my mini laptop tore through complex images with little delay.

There are even free examples that come with the program for those who feel daunted by the abstract looking commands. The tree above comes as one of the examples, though I tweaked the shading.

Here are two images that I put together after playing with CFA for a few minutes, plus the rules required to render them.

startshape COILS
rule COILS {
4*{r 90}COIL_CIRCLE {}

COIL_CIRCLE { s .85 r -35 y -0.5 x 0.75}

startshape COILS

rule COILS {
5* {r 75} COIL_CIRCLE {}

COIL_CIRCLE { s .99 r 20 b 0.01 y -0.9 x 0.5 }

This stuff is perfect for backgrounds on cards or invitations, especially for math nerds.

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posted by Alison 2/20/2009 07:38:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Project #49 - Number Skirt

Arg. I didn't quite finish today's project, so Make-A-Skirt Thursday will probably turn into Make-A-Skirt Friday morning. I head wasn't quite in the game so I ended up ripping out more seams than usual. Puh.

The pattern is view A McCall's 5591. I really like how this pattern doesn't use much fabric, but it still delivers a full skirt with pockets, and pockets are my favorite. I lengthened the skirt in lieu of the hem band, but it still used less than 1.5 meters of fabric.

I still need to insert a zipper, iron it, and hem it, but I'm too achy from picking out misplaced stitches (and cursing about breaking my good seam ripper) to finish before going to bed.

The fabric is from Yuzawaya in Kamata. Clark and his former host mom made faces when I showed it to them, but I knew from the second I bought it that I would make it into a skirt. It's a cute fabric...hmm...maybe too cute. Women can still wear stuff like the this if they're under 30, right?

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posted by Alison 2/19/2009 11:35:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Project #48 - Fake Poop

My brother-in-law Jon bought us a copy of What's Your Poo Telling You? for Christmas. You can probably guess what this book is about from the title. Jon went through some rough medical times last October and a copy of this little book would have saved him a few blood transfusions by helping him recognize an upper GI bleed. Truly, WIYPTY is really worth it for the illustrations alone. It's been sitting on our coffee table for a few months, and every time friends visit poop ends up as a topic of conversation. Some people like to share.

I got the idea to make my own fake poop and it was almost as if I couldn't not make it.

I rolled out little balls of Fimo polymer clay and stuck them together to give them the right shape. Usually, this is the point where I would look up a picture of whatever I was making so that I could have something to work from. However, the internet is too powerful for this topic and I'm scared of what I would have seared to my eyeballs. Instead, I used the power of my imagination.

I added a few little lumps of transparent clay on one side to get some texture, but I'm not sure I like the effect. (Update: it looks much better with a coat of gloss!)

I sealed it in Mod Podge to get the right sheen. So, that means that I spent 20 minutes this evening carefully stippling a fake turd with a sponge brush so that the texture would be juuust right. Nobel Prize, please!

The Mod Podge isn't quite dry, but it will have all night to cure as it sits on my husband's car seat.

*Update* Clark's reaction: "Actually, that scared the heck out of me this morning until I saw the glaze and immediately associated it with you. Then I laughed about it. So whatever you were trying to accomplish, you succeeded."

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posted by Alison 2/18/2009 10:45:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Project #47 - Stuffed Bunny

I was a little stumped about what to make today. I racked my brain on my drive from work, at dinner, and during the drive to my house. I had some ideas, but nothing that I really felt like doing. I ended up rooting through my office and flipping through my Japanese craft books until I found something that I could live with.

This book of stuffed animal patterns won by a mile.

There were many, many sickeningly cute animals to choose from. Ultimately, I adapted a pattern for a dog into a bunny pattern. Though I enjoy cats and dogs I love bunnies just a little but more. They munch things so carefully (cute!) and they won't bark at my friends.

This is my bunny from the back. I had some issues with the fabric unraveling, so I might make my next one with felt.

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posted by Alison 2/17/2009 11:14:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, February 16, 2009

Project #46 - Abraham Lincoln Spoon Holder

Today is President's Day and Abraham Lincoln just had his 200th birthday. There was no day off for me today, but I decided to celebrate by making my own Abraham Lincoln, one that would be able to help out at work or in the kitchen, or sit on my computer monitor and hold on to my only pencil.

I shaped his arms by placing a measuring cup in place while the figurine was cooking.

I do really admire Abraham Lincoln, but James A. Garfield is my favorite president despite being assassinated after only four months in office. I've been trying to learn a little about all of the presidents, but some are easier to get to know than others. I I can't remember anything about Rutherford B. Hayes other than that he was from Ohio and not keen on civil rights. I can name all of the presidents, but not quite in order and there's nothing like a good anecdote to help me remember someone. Research!

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posted by Alison 2/16/2009 10:31:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Project #45 - Tostones and a Lotería Card

I spent most of my free time cleaning today (not that I got very far), so I made two quick things rather than doing something more elaborate with my Sunday.

We also spent part of the day visiting friends for a make-up baby shower. I'm not a fan of store-bought greeting cards (My mom, however, will spend hours in the card aisle finding just the right one), so I put together a quick card for the occasion. I have a stack of cardstock cut to an appropriate greeting card size, so I just grab a sheet of that whenever I need a thank you card, a birthday card or a just-'cause card.

On Saturday, Clark and I had a Valentine's Day lunch in the Strip District and I picked up a stack of Lotería cards from one of the few Latin food shops in Pittsburgh. The card on the front was chosen because Papa-to-be is in a band.

I also picked up a plantain from the same shop. Plantains are a real wonder food. Ripe yellow ones can be baked into sweet maduors and green ones can be sliced thinly into chips (mariquitas) or sliced thickly into tostones.

Tostones are basically squished green plantains. It doesn't sound like a good idea on paper, but they are a marvelous, savory, crispy side dish eaten frequently in Cuban cuisine. First you take a hard, green plantain and peel it (which is a pain in the ass when they aren't ripened). Be careful of the peel because it will leave a black residue on your fingers. However, a good orange peeler will save you some trouble. Slice the plantain into 1 inch cylinders.

Cover the bottom of a pan with olive oil and apply medium-high heat. Drop in the plantain pieces carefully after the oil is hot. Move them with a spatula after a few seconds to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Flip after about 30 seconds. The cooked side should be bright yellow. I also like to roll the plantain pieces around to get the sides cooked.

Let the lightly cooked plantain pieces cool on a paper towel. When they are cool enough to handle place one at a time them between two plates and squish until they're about half an inch thick. Drop each squished plantain back into the oil (adding more if the bottom of the pan is no longer covered). Let them cook until each side is lightly browned around the edges. Serve immediately.

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posted by Alison 2/15/2009 11:39:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Project #44 - 20 Minute Baby Bib

I missed a baby shower a few weeks ago for a friend due to a crazy work schedule, so Clark and I will visit the expecting couple tomorrow for a make-up shower. I thought it would be fun to bring a few handmade bibs in addition to our store-bought gifts.

I used this free pattern, and cut out two pieces, one for the front and one for the back. Next, I stitched them together, right sides together and leaving the neck seam open. I then serged off the excess seam allowance.

I turned the bib, and basted the neck seam shut. Lastly, I sewed about 20 inches of double fold bias tape over the neck seam and sewed along the ties to keep them folded in place.

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posted by Alison 2/14/2009 07:59:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, February 13, 2009

Project #43 - Gift Box

I bought a book at Kinokuniya in New York that has hundreds of 3-D packaging forms, covering lots of shapes and purposes. I think it's one of the best book investments I've ever made. I put together one of the forms as packaging for the boxer shorts that I'm going to give my husband for Valentines Day.

I'll be using some green cardstock that I screen printed with a decorative pattern. After resizing the patterns from the CD included with the book, I printed it on the back of the cardstock.

I used a craft knife to cut out the box and a bone folder to crease along the folds. Ordinary Elmer's glue is what holds the box together.

I glued in a cut-up sandwich bag to form the transparent window. After everything dried I wedged Clark's boxer shorts into place.

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posted by Alison 2/13/2009 10:56:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Project #42 - Valentine's Day Outfit

So instead of making just a skirt ('cause it's Make-A-Skirt Thursday[!]) I made a whole outfit today. And now I am sitting on the couch and sagging over because I've been sewing since I got home. I even made a very sloppy and unusable crinoline, but by that point I'd already make a shirt and a skirt and I was tired and more interested in doing it quickly rather than doing it well. Next time I will quit earlier and have a whole extra hour to watch trashy TV and fantasize about Moravian sugar cake.

Sadly, I won't be able to wear this tomorrow without a cardigan, an underskirt and a pair of boots. This is because I live at a dumb latitude.

The skirt from Vogue 2988 and the shirt is from Simplicity 3835. I'm contemplating cutting out my clothes for Saturday, but going to bed is sounding much better.

Also, I made and ate a bowl of avocado with chirashi rice. It's a five minute meal if you have a automatic rice cooker.

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posted by Alison 2/12/2009 11:38:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Project #41 - Black Beans Cuban Style

Black beans and rice are a staple of Cuban cooking. They're the one Cuban dish that I can make just as well as my mother or my abuela, so I like making them when we host Wednesday night dinners.

I forgot to take a picture of today's dish until it was mostly eaten. Oops.

Ingredients: (serves 3-4)

  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • ~1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 red or green pepper, diced
  • 1/8 cup mojo criollo marinade, or vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
I forgot to buy an onion, so we're just going to pretend that I diced one and fried it in the olive oil on high heat. Add the garlic just as the onion starts to brown a little. Cook until the garlic smell fills the kitchen and the garlic is slightly brown.

Add your can of beans liquid and all. Toss in the diced pepper, the bay leaf and the marinade. Stir and let simmer uncovered on medium heat. I like my black beans to be kind of saucy, so I let the liquid reduce for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the beans from burning to the bottom of the pot. Discard the Bay leaf. Serve immediately or keep on low heat until the rest of dinner is done.

We served the beans over rice and with tacos and the flan I made yesterday. The flan got extra good overnight. The vanilla bean seeds had extra time to work their magic and the night in the fridge melted the sticky caramelized sugar into tasty tasty syrup. I was super happy when our dinner guests each had seconds. Last time that didn't happen so much.

Okay, so this has been three days in a row of food posts, but I'll be back on the crafty side of things by tomorrow. That's because I'll have two days to assemble what I'll be wearing for Valentine's Day Eve and V Day itself. Unfortunately, it's going to be much colder than today, so I'll be shelving the flirty dresses I had planned in favor of more casual separates with more layering power.

Here is the fabric palette I'm considering:

(From left to right: red tulle, lightweight khaki twill, numbered heavy-weight cotton, red Kona cotton, burgundy Kona cotton, purple silk organza)

I think I know what I'm going to make for Friday dinner with friends at the Red Lobster (cheddar biscuits!), but I'm not sure if I'll have time to get ready for Saturday. I know that Valentine's Day is a silly holiday, but I'll take any excuse to make a new outfit.

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posted by Alison 2/11/2009 11:21:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Project #40 - Vanilla Bean Flan

Mmmm...flan. We're going to be hosting dinner for our friends, so I'm making flan a day ahead of time.


  • 1 and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean OR 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a deep pan of water. Your flan will sit in this bath while it cooks, so make sure the container is wide enough for the your pie pan.

Caramelize the sugar in a pan. Wait until the sugar turns uniformly brown and then pour it immediately into a pie pan, or some other ceramic. I've used metal cooking containers before, but lined with foil, but glass or ceramic heats more evenly. I'm using two containers today so I can have my own flan a little early.

Pour the evaporated milk into a separate pan. Slice open the vanilla bean, remove the seeds and add them to the evaporated milk. Heat gently, do not boil. If you're using vanilla extract there is no need to heat.

Let the mixture cool and stir in the sweetened condensed milk. Crack the eggs into a bowl and scramble them. Add a few tablespoons of the milk mixture to temper the eggs just in case the mixture isn't quite room temperature. Whisk the eggs vigorously into the pot and keep going until the mixture is uniform (you'll still see the vanilla flecks).

Pour the contents of the pot over the caramelized sugar and place your pie pan into the bath in the oven. Cook for 35 minutes and then let the flan cool in the oven. When it is cool you can either refrigerate it for later or flip it over onto a plate and serve.


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posted by Alison 2/10/2009 08:30:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, February 09, 2009

Project #39 - Garlic Mashed Potatoes

This weekend Clark did the laundry, cooked dinner twice and did the dishes. In contrast, I did a fat goose-egg of chores and instead spent a few hours at work and the rest of the weekend on crafts. He never complains, but I would totally pitch a monkey if the situation were reversed, which is further proof that I am the asshole half of this marriage.

To make up for my laxness I made dinner and a batch of my garlic mashed potatoes, one of my husband's favorites. The best part is that he forgets about them and then gets all happy when finally get around to making some. Okay, so I don't cook that much.


  • 1.5 pound bag of Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • 2 TBSP Minced Garlic
  • 2 TBSP Sour Cream
  • 2 IBSP Butter
  • 1/4 cup Milk
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Parsley Flakes (optional)

1. Peel your potatoes and cut them into chunks. I like to leave a little skin on for texture.
2. Cover them with water, add the garlic, and boil for 20-30 minutes until they're soft.

3. Drain the potatoes and put them back in the pot, saving as much garlic as you can.
4. Add your remaining ingredients, minus the parsley, and pulverize the mixture with a potato masher until creamy.
5. Sprinkle with parsley and enjoy.

For the rest of the meal I made spiced pork chops and steamed veggies flavored with roasted ground sesame seeds. Sesame seeds will pop like pop corn and fly out of the pan when they're roasted, so either cover the pan or stay far away and and get burned by a few when you finally get the nerve to turn off the stove. Guess which one I did this evening!

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posted by Alison 2/09/2009 10:12:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tokyo Fabric Finds: Okadaya and Cottonfield

Cottonfield (Kichijoji) - As the name indicates this store is dedicated exclusively to cotton fabrics and is a good destination if you're into quilting. This place was also more expensive than Tomato, but it has a fine selection of 50cm by 55cm pieces if you just want a little for a quilt, craft project, or just to hold and look at because you can't afford the whole yard. There are a splendid selection of American cotton fabrics, including some Alexander Henry pieces that I had struggled in vain to find in the right color in the United States.

This store is a little out of the way, but I managed to find it without too much wandering around based on vague directions ("a block from the PARCO store").

Okadaya (Shinjuku) - I think this place is my second favorite in Tokyo. It also has multiple thematic stories, though the best fabric can be found on the first floor and on the discount card tables outside. (Half price knits? Woo!) This is also a good place for quirky notions and patches. The eighth (?) floor has a rich selection of sewing and crafting books, which I recommend even to people who don't read Japanese because there are always lots of pictures for inspiration and the diagrams aren't too hard to figure out.

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posted by Alison 2/09/2009 06:55:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Project #38 - Waldo Apron and Apron Pattern

I didn't buy too much fabric in New York. I'm still working my way through my substantial stash from Tokyo and prices at most of the fabric shops were high enough to thwart my usual fabric gorging. One place that had reasonable prices was the New York Fabric Warehouse at 406 Broadway just outside of Chinatown. Most of the fabrics available were the type of low quality, high ugliness level fabric that one would find in any fabric store bargain bin. However, standing on end in a corner was an enormous roll of Where's Waldo fabric with a border print and scenes from the book series.

Clark and I love Waldo, so I was willing to overlook the fact that the material was a cotton-polyester blend. Polyester is a no-no for comfy clothes, so I would have to use my 1.5 yard cut on something else. Most of the scene panels will be turned into novelty cushions, but I'll use the rest of the fabric into an apron to take advantage of the fun border print.

I have a few patterns for aprons, but I always feel a little silly buying them when they are easy to draft from scratch. My apron pattern is essentially two rectangles, one larger than the other, and two skinny rectangles for the straps.

First, create narrow hems along the sides and bottom of the lower apron rectangle and finish the top edge. I used a serger, but a strong zigzag stitch will work, too. Next, narrow hem the smaller upper apron rectangle on each side and finish the bottom edge the same as the lower rectangle. The top edge will be encased by the upper strap, so don't worry about it.

Add a two rows of 3.5 mm stitching to the top edge of the lower rectangle and gather the fabric until it's the same width as the upper rectangle. Stitch the two pieces together.

Now it is time to stitch the waist strap together. Fold the strap in half, right sides together, and stitch, forming a long, narrow tube. Leave a four inch gap in the stitching near the middle. Sew up the ends of the tube. Trim and turn, pulling everything through the gap.

Iron the strap flat and topstitch it to the apron, covering the seam between the upper and lower apron.

Stitch the remaining strap to the top edge of the apron, right sides together. Double the strap over on itself, covering the exposed seam allowance. Iron into place and then top-stitch the strap into place.

Apron accomplished!

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posted by Alison 2/08/2009 08:43:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Project #37- A Picture File

I learned the practice of keeping a picture file from my High School Art teacher, Mr. Putnam. There wasn't internet available for students to look up reference images, so instead he kept his classroom stocked with big piles of National Geographic Magazines. Students who wanted to draw a tiger or an airplane or a tree would flip through issues until they found just the right image. The best part was that we were allowed to rip out whatever pages we wanted and keep them in our own personal picture file folder.

By my senior year of high school I was really interested in collages and spent lots of extra time pouring through the magazine stack in search of interesting subjects and textures. Eventually, I'd amassed a substantial portfolio that I kept with me at all times. Each of my friends got an impromptu mini-collage when I signed their yearbooks.

My picture file today is a much smaller affair, but I still like cutting things out and gluing them into letters, cards and my research notebook.

I still like using National Geographic magazines for my picture file needs. The paper is thick and sturdy; the subject matter is broad; and fresh copies can be purchased at almost any yard sale for 10 cents a piece.

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posted by Alison 2/07/2009 10:24:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tokyo Fabric Finds: Yuzawaya

Yuzawaya (Kamata) - This complex is so big that the buildings have to be numbered. However, they are all within a block or two of Kamata station. The prices here aren't quite as good as Tomato, but there were quite a few cute cotton canvas prints available that I couldn't find elsewhere. The notions building is also worth a trip just for the fantastic array of exotic gadgets and trims.

Yuzawaya (Kichijoji) - There is less stuff here than at the Kamata complex, but it had some fabric patterns and colors I couldn't find in Kamata. In fact, the selection felt a little less picked over. There is also a lot of Shinzi Katoh stuff on the first floor. I really regret not buying one of the amazing, colorful aluminum water bottles on display. This place is easy to get to on the Keio line from Shibuya and only takes about 20 minutes if you get on the limited express. There is an entrance to the store right in the station.

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posted by Alison 2/07/2009 04:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Fabric Finds: Tomato Nippori

I have a lot of fabric. I have so much fabric that it's starting to get out of control. I sew around 30 yards a month, but the stack keeps growing, mostly because there is so much great stuff out there that it's hard not to want to have it all. Especially, when every cut of fabric is a potential future skirt, bag or dress. I swear to myself that I'm going to use it all eventually, but I think I'm going to be one of those old ladies who die and leave behind a house where three of the rooms are filled with fabric and the garage is stuffed with buttons and zippers. That actually sounds kind of nice just thinking about it.

Most of my current stash came from my last trip to Japan, a country that appreciates natural fibers and quirky patterns. I have little bits of these fabrics in a notebook that a carry around for color matching. I like to flip through it if I'm bored and think about all of the stuff I'll be able to make. I'll be posting bits of this collection to make an online version, breaking them up by origin so that anyone reading these posts will be able to find some for themselves.

First up is Tomato Nippori.

A review of Tomato Nippori (from one of my Metafilter posts):
I think Tomato is the supreme master of fabric stores in Tokyo. It has the best selection and the best prices for Tokyo. There are a few separate store fronts, so it's best to look around before buying. One shop functions as a giant discount bin, and ohmygoodness, it has great stuff for as little as 100 yen per meter. Just be careful to note that Tomato is cash only.

The main building has multiple stories and even and entire floor for knits! Knits, the bastard stepchild of American Fabric stores! Seriously, I can never find patterned knits or anything above t-shirt quality, but this store has an entire floor dedicated to this stuff. In the two weeks since I've been home I made three knit dresses just because I was so happy with the selection.

Anyway, there are lots of fantastic cotton prints that can be found on three separate floors and on the first floor there is almost an entire wall of chirimen by the meter.

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posted by Alison 2/07/2009 02:33:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, February 06, 2009

Project #36 - Washi Masking Tape Sticker

I accepted an invitation to spend tonight carousing with my girlfriends, so I came home and paced from room to room for about 20 minutes looking for something that I could make quickly before going out for the rest of the evening. Eventually, I just started grabbing random things and piling them on the dining room table hoping that something would click. I'm only 1/10th of the way through the year, so it's trouble if it's February and I'm already stumped. Plus, Clark had a few friends over a the time for chili, so I had an audience to watch me mumble to myself while I picked through craft supplies.

Luckily, something clicked and I got the idea to use some of my washi-paper masking tape and a stencil to make a custom sticker. Total time from start to finish was about 10 minutes, which left plenty of time to toddle down to the bar for $2 Margarita night.

I used a stencil that I've had on hand for at least two years now, and that stencil was based on a sketch that is now going on 5 years. The initial idea for the female profile sketch came from looking at the Girl Scout symbol. "Be Prepared." Good advice.

First, I layered enough pieces of tape to cover my stencil on a plastic cutting board.. I used a cutting board to because it's be an easy surface to peel the sticker off of and no one would really notice a few extra cuts.

Next, I traced around my stencil in pencil and then lightly erased the pencil line to make is less conspicuous.

Craft knives are one of the tools that I always keep handy. I used my sharpest one to cut along the lines.

I carefully peeled away the excess pieces of tape, leaving my sticker on the board. I carefully peeled it up, occasionally slipping my craft knife under the tape to loosen stubborn pieces. Lastly, I put my sticker on one of my new Muji notebooks.

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posted by Alison 2/06/2009 08:32:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Project #35 - Boxer Shorts

Do you know about the Boyfriend Sweater Curse, the one that portends a certain breakup if you make a sweater for someone you're just dating? I've learned that such a dire prediction does not extend to boxer shorts, especially if you sew them instead of knitting them. I made two pairs for Clark before we got engaged and he wore them until the elastic split out of the waistbands and they literally disintegrated in the wash.

I'm planning on making him a few new pairs for Valentine's Day. Nothing says love like homemade underwear, right? He's lost a few pounds in the last month, so he could use some new things fitted to his new size. I'm doing this today instead of my usual Thursday skirt because this is the one day of the week where I know he won't be home before 10:00.

I used my trusty copy of Simplicity 9499 to make today's boxers. This pattern has patterns for pajama pants, boxers, and t-shirts, so it's good to have on hand for...I dunno...emergency sleepovers. It has sizes for men and boys, so it's fun for the whole family.

I always serge the edges of my pattern pieces before stitching. They hold up to more washings that way.

I won't be able to fit the boxers to his waist until Valentine's Day so I left in a little extra elastic that I'll snip later.

The fabric for one of the pairs of boxer shorts is kind of weird. It's the Shinkansen (a.k.a. the Bullet Train) as dressed up as a pirate. It's bizarre, but a the way that makes me want to buy more. Sanrio knows what it is doing.

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posted by Alison 2/05/2009 10:19:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Project #34 - Capacitor Barrettes

Okay, I haven't made any progress in learning how to use capacitors without shocking myself. I still think they're pretty, so I'm going to continue to use up my supply by gluing them to things. Today, I'm going to glue them to some barrettes because that is about the girliest thing possible to do with them other than gluing them to a tampon case. (Future project?!) I already have a million barrettes of various persuasions, so these two are going to find a new home.

I'm also using epoxy for the first time. Usually, I would use silicon glue, but it doesn't always work so well with the smooth sides of electrolytic capacitors. Epoxy is my mechanic dad's glue of choice for heavy duty jobs. When I broke my car mirror, he glued it back on with a generous coating and it hasn't budged since, not even on the highway. Perhaps the same magic will work for these pretty hair things.

My tube of epoxy for this project looks a little less heavy-duty than the glob holding my car mirror in place, but it seems to do the trick, especially when it comes to gluing myself to various household objects. The applicator also mixes the glue and activator at the tip so there isn't any need for the usual hand mixing.

I always groom my capacitors carefully for this kind of task by clipping off all protruding wires as far as I can and folding in whatever bits are left. Then I just glue them to a barrette in whatever order pleases me.

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posted by Alison 2/04/2009 11:27:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Project #33 - Penguin Cake Toppers

I've made penguins like this at least a few dozen times now. They're one of the things that I have no problem selling in my Etsy shop and they're pretty fun to make. I also had a whole flock of them on my own wedding cake. Today's set is the largest so far. I made them for someone who requested penguins of a certain height.

These penguins are easy if you want to make a set for yourself. Just start with two spheres of polymer clay, one about four times as big as the other. Shape the larger sphere into the body by rolling it and narrowing a little bit at the top. Now, stick the head to the body; it doesn't take much to make polymer clay bond, so you can add it without scoring or pressing too hard. Next, roll out two spheres of equal size for the wings. For penguins 3.5 inches tall I used two marble sized pieces. I flattened them both into wings and attached them to the side by pressing gently.

I always take a few minutes at this point and wash my hands. The black clay will usually stick to you and make the beak and tummy look dingy. No matter what I do I always leave a slight residue, but it's much better after soap and water.

Next, I rolled out a ball about half the size of a marble and flattened it into an oval to make the white tummy. I pressed this to the body taking care to press the edges into the penguin body.

Last is the beak. If you press your thumb, pointer finger and middle finger together you'll get a natural three-sided pyramid shape. I just press a marble sized clay into the space created by my three fingers to form the beak. After I pressed the beak to the head (I like to angle them so the penguins are looking at each other), I used a ball point pen and simply poked in two dots for the eyes.

Following the directions on the polymer clay, I baked the figurines for 30 minutes. Done!

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posted by Alison 2/03/2009 11:48:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, February 02, 2009

Project #32 - Leafy Barrette

There are all sorts of shopping experiences that are one of a kind in New York, especially for those who are always in the lookout for unique crafting items. One of my favorites is Metalliferous, a purveyor of all things that are both metal and crafty. It's a favorite of jewelry makers.

The store is located on the second floor of a building just off Times Square. Inside is a wonderland of metal items, all arranged from floor to ceiling in plastic bins. There is a dizzying array of metal chains and cords, jump-rings and doodads. I'm mostly in it for the doo-dads. I grabbed a bunch of metal leaves and I'm kicking myself for not emptying out the whole section. I also renewed my supply of metal alligator barrettes.

There is a particular way of shopping at Metalliferous that can be a little confusing. Just go ahead and step behind the counter to the stock room, that's where the good stuff is and any customer can go there. Be sure to grab a permanent marker on your way in, you'll put what you want to buy in a little baggie and you'll need to write the quantity and price on the bag itself. This store operates on the honors system. You can also write down the stock number if you want to re-order from the catalog later.

I made a barrette from two of my purchases, a brass leaf and an alligator clip.

I didn't have any sandpaper in our hotel room, so I scored both pieces with a pin from my sewing kit so that the glue would have a better chance of holding.

Why didn't I buy more of these?!

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posted by Alison 2/02/2009 11:40:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Project #31 - Stuffed Bird of Tackiness

This morning I walked from the Lower East Side and across the Brooklyn Bridge with Clark and rejoiced in the sunshine and luxurious non-freezing temperatures. On the other side we met up with friends for brunch. Afterwards, Clark and I went our separate ways. Clark returned to Manhattan to visit high-end stereo stores. I met up with my friend Laura and attended the Church of Craft at Etsy Labs.

I really miss the Pittsburgh Church of Craft, so I was really happy to visit its still existing cousin. The Brooklyn chapter is a lot more laid back than the Pittsburgh version; instead of having an organized craft lesson everyone just does their own thing. The rooms dedicated to the meeting had lots of supplies, especially generous helpings of fabric scraps and buckets of buttons. Everyone was pretty laid back and welcoming. I could see myself visiting this place weekly if I were a new transplant to New York. Plus, it's no charge to use the facilities and there were free cookies. Score!

I wasn't quite sure what I was going to make until I sat down. I rifled through the fabric scraps and decided to make a stuffed bird. There were multiple sewing machines free to use and in a rare fit of foresight, I brought my portable sewing kit, so I didn't need to search around for thread.

There are only a few pieces that you'll need to make your own bird. You'll need to cut out two pieces for the body, two for the tail, four leaf-shaped pieces for the wings and a piece for the beak, a bit of stuffing, and two buttons for eyes. Laura picked through a cereal box sized container to find the right two eyes for this little guy.

First, sew the body together, leaving openings for the beak and tail. Next, sew the beak piece into a cone and then insert it, being careful to tuck under raw edges. Hand stitch the beak in place. Stuff the bird, filling out the beak and body.

Stitch the tail pieces together, right sides together and leaving the side that will be attached to the bird open. Turn. Insert the tail in place, tucking in raw edges and hand stitch.

Position the eyes on either side of the head and sew them into place. Next, sew the wings, right sides together and leaving a little opening where the wings will be attached to the bird. Turn. Topstitch. Tuck the raw edges of the opening in and stitch the wings to the bird. C'est Fini!

The dimensions weren't perfect, but not bad considering that I was without my proofed bird pattern. I finished almost the whole thing at Etsy Labs and then sewed the wings into place while watching the Super Bowl with Clark. (Yay, Steelers!)

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posted by Alison 2/01/2009 10:18:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

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