Monday, June 25, 2012

Fabric Basics

I have a love for fabric.  The colors and textures appeal to me on many levels.  I can spend hours at the fabric store looking at different patterns and feeling the luxurious fibers.  While there are many, many things to know about fabric, when first starting out, you need to know a few basics.

Most fabrics you work with will either be woven or knit together.  A woven fabric seems like a basic grid of threads woven together in perpendicular patterns.  This fabric here is a loosely woven fabric; you can even see the weave easily with the naked eye.

Knit fabrics are stretchier, and people often find working with knit considerably more tricky.  The picture above shows the pattern in which knits are woven.  It's the loopy weave that lets the fabric stretch in multiple directions.  You will want to know the difference between a knit and a woven fabric when choosing fabric for project as they behave differently.

Most projects and patterns will reference the "right side" and the "wrong side" of the fabric.  Many fabrics will have one side of the fabric that has much richer color, and is the side meant to show in a project.  The other side I often think of as the back of the fabric: the side that is meant to be hidden.

The final piece of basic information you need (in my opinion) about fabrics is what is meant when talking about grain or bias.  The grain is the direction that the fabric is woven.  Bias is a 45 degree angle from the grain.  Fabric holds its shape when sewn based on the grain, and stretches when sewn according to the bias.

I am lucky enough to have a mother that is a walking encyclopedia of fabric information, who has taught me all about fabrics, but for those of you who don't have a mother like mine, I recommend purchasing Fabrics A to Z by Dana Willard (author of Made).  She is one of my all-time favorite bloggers, and wrote an incredible reference book that is small enough to fit in your purse, so you can take it with you to the fabric store.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sewing Lessons {An Introduction}

A few months ago, one of my cousins was visiting from the east coast.  We talked about sewing, and she lamented that she didn't even know where to start.  It got me thinking about how people learn to sew.  

For me, I had/have a wonderful mother who taught me how to sew first by hand, then by machine.  It started with sewing clothes and blankets for my American Girl doll, and progressed into sewing my prom dresses.  Before we go any further, laugh if you must, but please understand that I graduated in 2001, and the styles of my dresses reflect that time period.

This first dress, my mom was mostly responsible for sewing.  I helped her, and watched to learn.  My mom should have been a pro because the dress came out beautifully!  I felt like a princess at the prom that year.  You can laugh at Adam's bleached 90's hair--I often do.

The second dress I wanted to make myself.  My mom helped me find the fabric I wanted, and the pattern.  Being the difficult person that I am, I wanted the top of one dress, and the bottom of another.  I was between sizes, so after I made the bodice (top) out of muslin as a test, I used a smaller seam allowance to make the pattern slightly bigger.  

My world came crashing down after I sewed the skirt and was ready to attach it to the bodice.  It was the week of prom.  I had forgotten to use a smaller seam allowance on the skirt, which was a real tragedy.  The skirt pattern consisted of three layers: a liner, a base satin layer, and a top sheer layer.  Each layer was seven panels.  When I realized all the time it took me to cut and sew those twenty one pieces together, had been wasted I burst into tears.  Luckily, my mother was calm enough to talk me "off the ledge" and told me that if I would use the seam ripper to remove the stitches, she would sew the pieces back together for me with the adjusted seam allowance.  My mother was a much faster and more accurate seamstress than I was, so her help made all the difference.  We were able to finish the dress in time for "Cinderella to attend the ball."

This last prom dress, I made myself.  For those of you who didn't attend high school at the turn of the millennium, this dress was inspired by Bianca's prom dress in 10 Thing I Hate About You.  Look it up--I think I made a pretty good likeness.  My mom was still there to answer any questions I had along the way, but she had already taught me so much that I was ready to construct this dress almost completely on my own.

Yes, if you were wondering, I did wear rhinestone tattoo jewelry on my neck, arm, and face for this prom.  You are right--I was totally hip!

My sewing now rarely consists of making anything this fancy and intricate, but the skills required to make a prom dress are many of the same skills required to sew much more simple projects.  Next week, I will cover some basic background information necessary for the beginning sewer.  Over the next few weeks, I will share 10 sewing projects for beginners.  The skills you learn making these projects will give you a basis for the more complicated projects I share on this blog.

So get ready for some sewing fun!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Carrot Cake Favorite

Most of the cakes I make are variations of my basic cake recipe, but this recipe I adapted from my fan-favorite zucchini cake.  Just so you know--I am going to do some shameless bragging about this recipe.  Feel free to skip the rest of this self-gratuitous paragraph.  This is one of the best cakes, and hands down the best carrot cake, I have ever tasted.  As many of you know, Adam is not generally a fan of sweets, but he snuck a cupcake and a mini cupcake before I could take pictures.  This cake pleased everyone from the ninety-five-year-old Grandma, whose birthday we celebrated, all the way down to the toddlers.

Ok.  I'm done now.  Let's get to the recipe.

Cake Ingredients
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 Cup vegetable oil
  • 3 Cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 Cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 Cup black (I'm not sure what these are called) raisins
  • 1 Cup crushed walnuts

Frosting Ingredients
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) butter - this makes a more buttery cream cheese frosting; if you really like cream cheese, use just one stick of butter
  • 2-3 Cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla

Mix and Bake (for tips on baking see this post)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into medium mixing bowl
  3. Combine brown sugar and dry mixture in large mixing bowl--mix well
  4. Beat together the eggs and oil in the small mixing bowl
  5. Add egg and oil mixture to large mixing bowl--add vanilla while mixing these ingredients together (DO NOT OVER-MIX)
  6. Your batter at this point will be sort of stiff and sticky like a dough
  7. Add carrots, raisins, and nuts, and mix until dispersed--the batter becomes much more moist and like a batter
  8. Spray pan with baking spray, and pour batter into pan (use spatula to scrape out mixing bowl)
  9. Bake at 325 degrees F for 50 minutes (cupcakes take much less time: about 12-15 minutes for minis and 18-22 for regular)
  10. Place pan on cooling rack for 15 minutes
  11. Turn cake out onto rack to finish cooling

Mix Frosting (for frosting tips see this post)
  1. After putting cake in oven, remove cream cheese and butter from fridge to soften 
  2. Cream together butter and cream cheese
  3. Add powdered sugar to frosting mixture and mix well; add enough sugar so that it tastes delicious and is stiff enough to hold whatever shape you are going for
  4. Mix vanilla into frosting
  5. When cake is cool, stack, frost, and decorate

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brooke's Wedding Blanket

One of my favorite gifts to give for a wedding is this wedding blanket.  I lucked out right at Christmas time this year and found these throw blankets at K-Mart for less than $20, which is way cheaper than buying the fake fur and minky fabric out of which these are made.  One side is the soft and slinky minky fabric, but the other is like a fake sheep's wool.

I bought three and planned on saving them for future weddings, but I couldn't help myself.  Adam and I now have two of them on our couches because they are so soft and comfy.  The third I used for my sister's wedding.  All I had to do was rip out the seam in the corner to separate the top and bottom fabrics, embroider, and resew the seam right up.  It was quick and easy, and made this gorgeous blanket.  My sister and her husband said it is their favorite blanket to cuddle under.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sesame Street Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for a first birthday party last spring.  I couldn't believe how fun and easy these were to whip up.

If you have been reading along for a while, you will know that I already prefer to buy my frosting from the bakery at King Soopers (Kroger stores).  The frosting is less expensive to make than buttercream, is perfectly white, doesn't need refrigeration, has a great consistency, and has a great flavor.  The time saved is also a bonus.

The morning I was making these, I was really running late on time, and I found out that the bakery will sell the colored frosting as well as white.  The colored frosting is more expensive, but the amount of food coloring required to get these rich colors probably about equals the extra cost (I haven't actually done the math, but this past year I have been more short on time than money, so I am willing to go with my estimate).

Here's what you'll need:

  • cupcakes (I used my basic recipe)
  • red frosting for Elmo
  • blue frosting for Cookie Monster
  • white frosting for eyes
  • black frosting for eyes and mouth (I used the stuff from the shelf that comes in a can with attachable tips) ***I would probably use black fondant cut into shapes in the future***
  • 3 piping bags (one for red, one for blue, one for white)
  • star piping tip
  • large circle piping tip
  • orange jelly beans (M&M's might work as well)
  • mini chocolate chip cookies
For Cookie Monster:
  1. Start with a plain cupcake.
  2. Cut your mini cookies in half.  They don't need to be exact.
  3. Use the star tip in a piping bag to frost the cupcakes.  You should pipe in a back and forth motion from the center to the outside, moving around the cupcake, to create the furry look.  This is not an exact science; in fact, the more random you make it, the better it looks.
  4. Use the circle tip in a piping bag to make large dots of white frosting for the base of the eyes.
  5. Use the circle tip of the black frosting to make smaller dots on the eyes.  Cookie Monster's eyes should both be looking different directions (often each looking out).  ***I would use small black fondant circles next time***
  6. Stick a cookie half in for the mouth.  It's ok if there are crumbs around the mouth; Cookie Monster is a messy eater.
For Elmo:
  1. Start with a plain cupcake (this isn't its own step because it wouldn't have looked as good in the collage-ha ha). Use the star tip in a piping bag to frost the cupcakes.  You should pipe in a back and forth motion from the center to the outside, moving around the cupcake, to create the furry look.   This is not an exact science; in fact, the more random you make it, the better it looks.
  2. Use the circle tip in a piping bag to make large dots of white frosting for the base of the eyes.
  3. Use the circle tip of the black frosting to make smaller dots on the eyes and the curve of the mouth.  ***I would use small black fondant circles and black fondant crescents next time***
  4. Stick a jelly bean in for the nose.  I poked the long side in to create a circle nose instead of an oval--the oval looked more like Gonzo's nose.
Mini Cupcake Variation - I made these cute mini cupcakes with the extra batter and supplies; you know I am a sucker for mini cupcakes.  The basic technique is the same, but you use a smaller chunk of cookie for Cookie Monster's mouth, and cut the jelly bean in half for Elmo's nose.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Steve and Judy's Surprise Wedding Cake

Last month my father-in-law got married, and I made this wedding cake for the occasion.  It was a simple, but delicious, white chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting.  I used my basic cake recipe, and the frosting techniques found here.  Since I didn't cover this cake with fondant, after I frosted each tier, I wet the spatula to smooth the frosting.  I used a medium round tip to make the pearl border at the bottom of each tier.

The flowers are colored fondant.  To make these, roll out the fondant to about 1/8 inch thick, then cut with a flower shaped cutter.  Place the flowers on a sponge and press in the middle of the flower with a small dowel (I used the back of a small paint brush) to give the flowers dimension.  Let the flowers dry overnight.  Use a small dot of frosting to glue each flower to the cake.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you...there's something else you might want to know about this cake.  Just one part of the surprise.  Are you ready?  Can you guess what the secret is???

It's only 6 inches tall!  Steve and Judy got married in Estes Park without a reception, so Adam and I brought them this cake as a surprise.  I had so much fun making this tiny cake.  I used a 6 inch pan, a 4 inch pan, and a 2 inch pan.  Seriously, how cute is this cake?

So the question is...could you tell?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Craft Tutorials Page "Complete"

As promised earlier this week, I have been working on updating my index pages.  I bring to you today, drum roll please...

This page should have the links to all but the most recent craft posts.  If you don't see what you are looking for, email me; I will try to post something helpful.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Spray Paint Shirt

Teaching high school, I see lots of puffy-paint shirts the students make for various sports and activities.  While the puffy-paint shirts can be fun, they take forever to dry, and sometimes take a long time to make.

A couple years ago, I came up with this idea for a quick way to make team shirts that would dry quickly as well.  They are fun to make for team-bonding, or could be fun for a party activity.

Here's what you will need:
  • spray paint
  • t-shirt(s)
  • cardboard letter cutouts (I found mine in the craft aisle at Walmart)
  • a flat surface (and maybe a drop cloth, tarp, or newspaper if you don't want paint all over)
First, lay out your t-shirt.  Try to get out all wrinkles and get as flat as possible.  The more flat your shirt is, the better your letters will turn out.  You may notice that I have some seepage of paint around the wrinkle.

Place your letter cutouts on the shirt.  I have used both the letters themselves and the outlines before.  Remember that if you use the letters themselves, it will create the negative space to look like the letters; this leaves less of the shirt its original color.  If you use the letter outlines, it will color the letters and outline the rectangles the color of the paint; I think this creates a more bold look.

Spray over the letters until the shirt reaches the desired color.  You don't want to spray too heavy, or it will leave the shirt crusty, and can bleed through. 

Pull off the cardboard and let dry.  After about 20-30 minutes, they should be dry to the touch, and you can move them.

Tips & Tricks
  • The thinner the cardboard you use, the more quickly it will get wet and warp.  I recommend trying to do all of your shirts at once, and throwing out the used letters.
  • I have used the kid's craft foam to cut letters and different shapes before.  This also works well, but is more work up front.  These also do not last for too many uses before warping.
  • Spray in a well-ventilated area.
  • Spray paint travels.  Be sure that you spray in an area where it will not matter if the paint molecules attach themselves nearby.
  • Let one side of the shirt dry completely before spraying the other side.
  • I wash and dry mine like any other t-shirt.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cupcake Toppers in ... 1 - 2 - 3

I have to confess that I am generally not a fan of cupcake toppers.  It is the snobby cake decorator in me that wants everything on a cake (or cupcake) to be edible.  Last year, when the craze for cupcake toppers hit, I was less than thrilled.  I like to expend creative energy on edible decorations.

However, I finally gave in.  Last August, my niece and nephew had a superhero birthday party.  They wanted cupcakes with "the little toothpick things" as the 3/4 year old described them.  I was walking down the kids craft aisle of the craft store, when I saw these foam stickers, and...BAM I knew what I was going to do.  I grabbed a bag of the stars, a paint pen, and headed to the checkout.

When I got home, I couldn't wait to get started.  I used the white paint pen, and a fine black sharpie to write on the foam stars.  I wrote superhero words like "bam," "pow," and "zap."  I also added a few "happy birthday's" and many letter "m's" for their names.  The stars already came with that fantastic border, so no other decoration necessary.  When I was done, I had a pile of stickers that looked like this:

To construct the topper all I had to do was pull the back off the foam stickers, and place a toothpick between two stickers (sticky sides together).

Stick in a cupcake, and you are ready to go!  How easy was that?  I used the "Grasshopper" (mint chocolate) cupcakes from this post, and chocolate cupcakes with strawberry icing.