Thursday, January 05, 2012


This post is pretty link heavy - I tried to embed images from the web as a link, but they seem to be protected. If anyone has any advice on what I'm doing wrong, I'm all ears! Meanwhile, I hope you click through, there's a lot of great stuff :)

My Mom taught me to crochet when I was little, but I had not done it in probably 20 years, when I decided to pick it up again this past summer. This time my teacher was blog tutorials and YouTube videos. I think I got back into crochet because of amigurumi, which I had seen all over the internet and was in love with. That and I talked to an 11 year-old girl who had contributed to the crochet coral reef and "makes them all the time", NBD. If an 11 year-old can do it, so can I.

Amigurumi is the Japanese art of making [really freaking adorablecrocheted stuffed toys and other objects. You crochet in the round, using single crochet (small gaps help keep the stuffing from sneaking out) and mostly just increase or decrease to create the shape desired. Each piece is crocheted separately, stuffed, and then sewn together.

You can do this, whether you already know how to crochet or not. It's not as hard as it looks! I actually find crocheting in the round easier than in rows, and more fun. Changing colors gets a little tricky however - I still haven't figured out the best way to get a smooth transition. And if I tried to write my own pattern at this point, something seriously deranged would probably result. Maybe some day!

I wanted to make a stuffed animal for my friend Angela's son's first birthday in July, and chose this giraffe pattern from Etsy. There are plenty of free online patterns, but I have found that the ones you pay for are generally better - explained more clearly, have instructive photos, and are just nicer looking. This one was only $6, which I found reasonable. There is a really cute, free giraffe pattern from Lion Brand that I recommend you try too. Lion Brand is a fantastic website for tutorials and tons of great patterns for knitting and crochet - check it out.

I love animal amigurumis the best, and particularly ones that are basically caricatures: outsized heads/arms/legs, wrong proportions, anatomically incorrect creatures of pure deliciousness. Some are just hilarious. Of course you can crochet anything you set your mind to, including cupcakes, decorative gourds, carrots, an acorn, cacti in a pot, you get the idea. And while I admire the technique and artistry involved in these creations (truly, it's amazing), I don't have as much interest in making them, because really, what do you do with a plate of crocheted cookies? Luckily I have friends with mini humans running around, so there's an excuse to make stuffed toys for them.

You can also knit amigurumis, and they are pretty awesome. However, I think crochet is more suited to making the incredibly intricate and realistic shapes that are possible with crochet. One day I'll learn to knit again - there are some great patterns out there.

More on technique, and my experience with making my own amigurumi, on the next post.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year's Resolution: blog more.

Well, blog at all. Because, July, people. July was the last time I posted here. I've actually been really busy being crafty, and have been taking the photos for the making of future posts. I've tried to write; it just didn't happen.

So! Now I'm going to make it happen. Since I started this blog a year ago today, it's probably fitting that now is when I get back in to it. My major accomplishments of the last 6 months were relearning to crochet, and learning to do block printing with homemade stamps. In crochet, I made 3 amigurumis, have been working on an afghan using granny squares, and made a secret santa present for a friend that I can't talk about until I give it to her sometime this week.

Here's a sneak peek at my first crochet adventure, finished in early August:

His name is Shmoo.

And in the interest of spontaneity and brevity, that's it for today. More in a day or two, promise!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Puzzle Ball, Part 3

Remember when I ended this post with the words "Part 3 to come in a day or two"? Yea, that was on March 6. Oops.

The family that I gave this puzzle ball to moved to Miami yesterday (sad face), so I guess that is motivating me to write the last installment of this project. Once all 12 segments were stuffed and closed, I pinned them together, like so:

I used some pretty marigold embroidery thread to sew each set of four corners together.

Should I tell you how long I stood in the variety store with my swatches of fabric, contemplating what color thread I should use? Maybe not.

My two puzzle balls hung out together for a few days.

And I'm happy to report that little Shivam (now 10 months old) seemed totally enthralled with his new toy when I gave it to him in April (mostly he showed his appreciation by covering it with drool).

This blog would totally be way more popular if there were pictures of infants on it (I don't know about everyone else, but if you have children, and take good pictures of them being cute, I'm probably reading your blog. I'm easy like that.).

Babies, babiesbabies, BABIES! Shazaam, 20 extra followers.

And, okay, there is a really cute photo of Shiv with the puzzle ball, but I'm not putting someone else's baby's face on the internet, sorry. So, just imagine, if you will, the little man crouched near my opened dishwasher, stolen spoon (clean, I swear!) in one hand/mouth (who needs store bought toys when you have cutlery and tupperware), puzzle ball in the other, big brown eyes, curly black hair, and non-stop smiles.

If it helps, here are some tiny baby shoes to keep you happy.

I know right? Adorbs. I cannot believe they won't be back for three whole years.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Little Boxes

Part of my job is to cover the switchboard operator on her breaks, which amounts to about 45 minutes of the day. My coworker's computer is a dinosaur (let's face it, so are most of the computers in the office), so playing on the interwebs isn't worth it. Sometimes I bring work with me, but lately things have been pretty slow, so I'm not going to lie, mostly I doodle. And lately, I make boxes.

There's a great little tutorial here, for making gift boxes out of starched fabric, but since office supplies were in abundance, paper it is.

The creases in the paper are useful as guides for decorating (pens and highlighters mostly). Where I used lined notepaper, I followed that too.

For a while I had a bit of a Russian doll thing going, with boxes inside boxes inside boxes. It was interesting to figure out exactly how much smaller the next square of paper needed to be to fit snugly in.

Who knew that folding paper would be so addictive? I guess it helps that they're teeny tiny (that smallest one above fits on the end of your pinky), and I do love everything miniature.

No idea what I'll use these for, but for now I continue to make a box or two every morning at 10:30, and every afternoon at 3:30.

I promise I'm very productive at all other times of the day...

Well, except maybe when Pinterest starts calling my name.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Waiting for the Button

Nearly three months ago (that's how long this post has been sitting in my drafts, oops) I began a small sewing project, again from my current favorite sewing book. Since I started re-learning to sew, I've been borrowing many of my mom's supplies - pins, thread, scissors, pincushion, you name it, she has it.  She has a classic strawberry pincushion, used for decades. And she's happy to let me continue to use it. But I need one of my own.

I cut folded strips of fabric, and using the template from the back of the book, cut out each segment.

This would be the layout:

Since there are 8 different panels to the pincushion, I chose four coordinating fabrics (you'll recognize one from this project), with actually only two patterns, each with two colorways. I really like how it pulls it all together, and the green and orange are appropriately springy (let's ignore the fact that it's no longer spring).

I did all the sewing on the machine, and was able to iron each seam flat, both of which make for lovely evenness, no puckers.

Sewing curved seams is, well, a challenge. But it turned out okay!
Sewed, turned inside out, stuffed, and closed up. Not the most pleasing shape, though...

The golden yellow embroidery thread, above and below, really improved the look. Each time I pulled the needle through, I squeezed the center down so there was a nice depression, giving it a plumper, curvier look.
Much better.
It also leaves room for a button.

Let's talk about buttons.

I don't know about you, but I think buttons are pretty great. My mom has a sizeable button collection, dwarfed however by the jars and jars that my grandmother keeps. There seems to be so much history behind each button. What garment it was on (or was kept as a spare for), who wore it, how it was manufactured. And there is so much variation - style, shape, what it's made of, color, size, age.

Can someone say vintage?
You could, if you were so inclined (and equal parts bored), spend an hour one Saturday sorting buttons.

You could sort them by color.
You could find all the cloth covered ones, love these.
There are a lot of white ones.
Gold, ceramic, wood.
The very biggest.
And the very smallest.
(Not buttons.)
You might want to stop yourself before you sort them into two versus four holes. Not that I like sorting things or whatever, not at all.

You know what you could do next? Spend entirely too much time auditioning buttons for the center of your pincushion. Because you have to find the right one. The perfect button. There is only one! 

Then you will remember that there is no perfect button, but simply a button you like. It's a button that likes your pincushion. And the pincushion likes it.

But maybe there's still something missing...

Aah, there it is.
For next time?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

From Seed to Table in Seven Weeks

My blog is not dead, I swear. Honestly the last few weeks have been all about the garden for me. It's all consuming. No sewing or crocheting for me. Spring has swept me away. I spend my evenings after work watering, transplanting, and sometimes, just staring at my plants. Did I really just write that? I don't talk to them or anything. Okay maybe once or twice. There's so much I want to share (and too many photos), so lets just look at one veggie for today.

Radishes. Crisp and peppery, and maybe a little misunderstood. They are supposed to be good for beginning gardeners, so I gave it a go. Mid March I planted the seeds in a large pot outside, and covered it with saran wrap to keep the soil moist and warm (when you put your finger under the plastic it's like a little sauna in there). About two weeks later they sprouted:

Cute, right? They look like little clam shells or some such thing. And the little red bit at the top of the root will be the radish right? Let's hope so.

Growing fast, at two days later. Promising, but tasty salad fixings seem a long way off.

Later, going strong. Note the two distinct leaf types. Little gardening lesson: The first leaves of a seedling are called cotyledon leaves, or "nurse" leaves. They look nothing like the leaves that will come later, which are the "true" leaves.

Chock full. They look crowded to me, but I planted the seeds at the final spacing recommended, of just an inch, so I didn't have to have to thin seedlings.

Get ready. Here we go:

That happened. One day I looked and, oh! They're radishes! They're really radishes! I mean, I know that's what the seed packet said. And I generally provided the essentials: soil, water, sun. Seeds = plants. But, omg. They're really radishes.

I still can't quite believe it.

The variety is called Cherry Belle, and you harvest them at about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. I mostly put them into salads (or just straight in my mouth), but I came across an article that claimed that the classic (and French, lah di dah) way to eat them is with a thin piece of cold butter between slices of radish, and dipped in salt. I wasn't sure. I don't even really like unmelted butter (like, when it comes with the bread at a restaurant, and it won't spread evenly, and the bread tears, gah -  it just doesn't quite do it for me). I did try it, and it was tasty, but I didn't fall over and die from bliss or anything. To each his own. Upon further food blog research, I pan fried the last few, with thyme, (melted) butter, and salt and pepper. Which, let me just say, wow. How have I never had cooked radishes before? Clearly my life was dismally empty until that fateful, glorious meal.

I grew my own food! In a pot on my deck! It tasted good. Worth.the.effort.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow

When you cook your own food, you are creating. You're contributing to a story that is uniquely YOU. And perhaps, the loved ones who enjoy the meal with you. Sure, going to Chipotle has a story (a delicious one), and that's nice and all (they use local, ethically raised/grown ingredients, btw), but I'm not really in that story, except as a consumer. And I don't want to just consume, I want to create, to contribute. (That's kind of the point of this blog, after all.)

So I'm trying to take it one step further, by growing my own food. Last summer I got into gardening, and it was pretty much the best thing ever. It was my therapy. Every afternoon I would come home from work, put my bag down, and go straight outside for a half an hour. I watered my plants, stared at them, smelling the herbs, pinching off dead leaves, and honestly just loving those plants. Oh and occasionally I would harvest a modest yield of tomatoes, bell peppers, mint, parsley, cilantro, and basil. I don't actually get much sun (7 hours in the sunniest spot), but growing tomatoes was still surprisingly rewarding.

My living situation right now means that there is not much space that belongs to just me, and these plants were MINE. I got to decide what to do with them, where to put them, how to care for them. I was responsible for their survival. I felt pride, and a sense of mastery, when I brought a few leaves of mint inside to add to a berry smoothie.

One big lesson from last year was: start earlier. About two weeks ago I realized it might be time to begin thinking about what I want to grow. So exciting. A crazy idea came to me that I should try growing from seed. This method has a few advantages: it's cheaper, you can get a wider variety of "breeds", ie random purple heirloom tomatos, yellow carrots, whatever. And also, you know, you can say, "See? See this huge plant, laden with fruit/vegetables/deliciousness/nutrition? I planted the seed."

I'm getting all goosebumpy just typing that.

I can't quite figure out how to write what it is about starting from scratch that grabs me so. I could get up on my farm-to-table foodie soapbox, and talk about getting closer to the source of our food, understanding and respecting it, and participating in the process. I could talk about local (check) and organic (check check) and fresh!, and nutrition (checkity check check). And it would all be true. So at the heart of what I believe, and what I want for myself and my potential children.

But there's something more. It has to do with fresh air. The smell of turned earth. The joy of seeing a slowly unfurling, bright green new leaf. The blush of red on a green tomato that is just beginning to ripen.

Maybe I'm just a nature kind of girl. Because it's REAL. More real than much of things in our modern world. More real than TV, or someone else's vacation photos on Facebook, or all those thoughts of what you imagine your life will be when you finally make it, whatever that means. Gardening gives you a chance to live fully in the present moment, telling the murky past and the uncertain future to quit tapping you on the shoulder, saying, "pay attention to me!" Go away now, I say, I'm tending my plants.

All that said, last week I seeded tomatoes, basil, lettuce, parsley, and cilantro.

I read about it online, got briefly overwhelmed, and managed to cover every south facing window sill with pots, all covered in plastic wrap to keep my little babies warm and the soil evenly moist. It would be a long wait - 14-21 days til germination for some! Sometimes my desire for instant gratification is a little hard to ignore. Plus I let myself get seized by the panicky thought that, what.if.nothing.grows? What if I used the wrong soil? What if I watered it too much/too little? What if there wasn't enough sun? So I raced out like a crazy woman and bought seedlings, so that just in case life did not find a way, I wouldn't have wasted 3 weeks of the growing season.

Well, someone really should have told me about garden centers. You know, candy stores for adults? That place you go, and like shopping when you're hungry, leave with so much more than you planned on buying. Arugula (seeds and seedlings), lettuce (all those mesclun varieties are so tempting), radish seeds, rosemary, and a freaking strawberry plant... You guys, it's a really good thing I had a gift certificate.

And then the next day I went to another garden store to get more potting soil, and came home with carrot, spring onion, and Carnival Mix bell pepper seeds.

I need help.

But then. THEN! Something happened. Something to justify all my manic-overdoing-biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew-my-home-looks-like-a-hothouse nutty behavior. I came home, pulled away the plastic wrap, and there they were. Tomato sprouts/seedlings/whatever you call thems! About 1 inch tall (how did they grow that fast, I swear there was nothing yesterday?)

I literally squealed, sang my way to the the other windows, and discovered basil! Dozens of little basil babies, poking their heads up with two of the most adorable leaves you ever saw.

There is so much pesto in my future.

The very next day, a tiny dot of green in the lettuce pot. The mint and chives are coming back from last year (very hardy), and rain all week has meant happy little plants crowding the deck. Happiness is being a gardener.