Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Buttery Baking Powder Biscuits

I recently had a revelation: When I think I'm craving fried chicken, what I'm really craving is the beautiful biscuit that comes with my chicken. I'm generally not a good biscuit-maker (think hockey puck). But I was determined to come up with a good, foolproof biscuit recipe that I could make at home. From the All Recipes (as in allrecipes.com) Cookbook, I found a good basic recipe, J.P.'s Big Daddy Biscuits. Then I modified it to my tastes as follows:

2 c. all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 Tbsp. salt (or 1 1/2 tsp.)
1 Tbsp. sugar
6 Tbsp. butter
1 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 425. I start by putting 1 stick of butter in the freezer. Then I mix together the dry ingredients and measure out the milk (don't add the milk yet!). Using a box grater, I grate the chilled butter directly into the bowl of dry ingredients. I stir it around to coat the grated butter with flour. Then I add about 3/4 of the milk, stir, and add more until I have a relatively moist, slightly sticky dough. I generously flour my countertop, then turn the dough out of the bowl. With floured hands, I just pat the dough into a rectangle. I eyeball it to make sure I can get roughly 5-6 biscuits out of the rectangle. Using a floured cutter, I cut out the biscuits. I press together the remaining dough into a rough biscuit, trying not to handle the dough too much. Using a non-stick cooking mat, I bake the biscuits on a sheet pan until they are golden brown on top, about 12-15 minutes.

I love eating these buttery biscuits with honey or jam and (shame, shame) even more butter. So good. They are a quick and easy bread to accompany any meal. I hope you'll bake up a batch. Be creative and enjoy!

Happy Belated Halloween!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cheesemaking with Merryl Winstein!

I've been looking at this class for two years, and I finally decided that I would take it as a little graduation treat for myself. Merryl lives in Webster Groves, MO, but that shouldn't stop out-of-towners from taking the class. We had a student drive from Mississippi and two from Kansas to learn about cheesemaking. Webster Groves City ordinances allow residents to keep a limited number of certain animals on their property, so she has her own little herd of milking goats! Merryl teaches cheese classes out of her house, giving the lessons a sort of informal, comfortable feel. First, we learned about milking the goats and properly handling the raw milk. For example, if the milk isn't going to be made into cheese immediately, it should be cooled relatively quickly to prevent the natural bacteria from turning too much lactose to acid (which will make the milk sour and the resulting cheese icky).


Stirring the Curd

I took Merryl's all day class, so we made lots of cheese. Fresh chevre, camembert, swiss, cheddar, and ricotta from the whey of the cheddar. We learned lots of techniques and interesting facts. Like, who would have guessed that cheddar cheese takes a huge amount of time to make (lots of stirring of the curds), but camembert and brie are simple to make? We discussed the appropriate times at which to add bacterial culture (if needed) and rennet. Then we learned what the curd should look and feel like when it's ready to cut. Camembert and other "bloomy rind" cheeses are molded once they have properly coagulated. The curds for cheddar and swiss had to be cut into small pieces and stirred before they were molded and pressed. The cheese press for the cheddar was simple, but clever; Merryl uses a jug filled with water as a weight and moves it along the pressing arm to vary the pounds of pressure. The pressed cheeses are turned occasionally as the whey drains from them. When the cheddar it pressed, it gradually smoothes out. In the photo, the cheese was being unwrapped, turned, and replaced in the mold. The individual curds were still visible.

This was a great class and I recommend that everyone give cheesemaking a try. It definitely gives you an appreciation for the amount of work that went into something that seems so simple. I'll never think of a grilled cheese sandwhich the same way! Merryl is hoping to have a book about cheesemaking published soon, so keep an eye out for it. For more information about Merryl Winstein's cheesemaking classes, visit her website at http://www.cheesemakingclass.com/ Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2011

My Salad Du Jour

All this time with no posts and then I come back with a salad?  I know, I know.  But this really is a good salad.  I love this time of year at the Soulard Market.  Good greens, asparagus, homegrown beans.  And, of course, Baetje Farms goat cheese.  For those readers in Missouri, I highly recommend that you try this cheese.  Here's the basics:

Washed, chopped greens (I used a mix of red and green leaf lettuce, but this would be fantastic with spinach)
Sliced strawberries
Sliced almonds, toasted
Leftover chicken breast, thinly sliced
Goat cheese, crumbled
Balsamic vinaigrette (2 parts extra virgin olive oil, 1 part good balsamic vinegar, freshly ground black pepper)

This would be great with mesclun mix (or really any greens).  Try oranges or dried cranberries instead of strawberries.  Try pecans, walnuts, or pistachios instead of almonds.  Throw in some poppyseeds.  Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coffee Sleeve

Just a quick post today because I am still trying to crank out my final paper of law school.  My coffee-addicted, Seattle native friend celebrated her birthday this weekend, so I sewed a quick coffee sleeve for her as a gift.  The process was pretty similar to the Iron Craft coffee sleeve I did earlier this year, although I used cotton fabric with a layer of interfacing inside.  Also, instead of creating a sleeve with ties on it to accommodate a mug handle, I stitched the sleeve closed (like a cuff). 
To do so, once I had stitched the long sides (the top and bottom of the sleeve) and turned it rightside out, I folded the edges of one end under--like you would to create a hem on the bottom of a skirt.  Then I slipped the other end inside and topstitched over it, creating a closed cuff with no raw edges. 
I also embroidered Jane's name on the sleeve using a backstitch and hotglued a tag inside.  Sans the embroidery, the project took about 20 minutes.  The perfect study break.  Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Quest to Eat More Vegetables and Garlicky Mushroom Barley Soup

I want to preface this post by saying that I do not intend to become a vegan (I love cheese too much) or a vegetarian (bacon, enough said).  It is also important to me to continue supporting my local growers who raise high quality meat and poultry in a responsible, sustainable manner.*  So, here's the big issue: I had always believed that a 'real meal' has to include some sort of meat--a concept that is, I think, familiar to a lot of Americans.  For months, I have been purchasing Missouri Grass Fed Beef (locally raised, fully pastured beef) and poultry/eggs from a local grower, but I was still buying the same amount that I always had.  I realized, though, that as much as I love the meat and poultry I've been buying, it wouldn't be possible for everyone to eat sustainably-raised meat without modifying our levels of demand.  The system of large-scale meat production exists because we, as Americans, demand so much meat; we can't change the methods of meat production without lessening our demand.  Also, although I have been fortunate to find products that are not really more expensive than their conventionally-raised counterparts, for some people buying sustainably-raised meat in high quantities might be cost prohibitive, so it would be necessary to eat less of it.  The more I read and write and talk about food, the more I realize that I could do more to practice the ideals that I am preaching about.  As such, I am going to make an effort to modify my own demand for meat and make my diet more vegetable-based, especially during the spring and summer when more locally grown veggies are available.  I'm also going to try to post a new vegetable heavy recipe every week.  Additionally, I'm trying to avoid heavily refined starches and sugars, so I'll try to emphasize whole grains in the recipes.  They won't necessarily be completely vegetarian or vegan, but I'll try to include directions for substitutes for readers with more restricted diets.  This week, I have been doing some serious cookbook perusing.  I'm a fan of Mark Bittman, and I checked out his book How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian Cooking.  He had a soup recipe entitled Boiled Water, and I decided to use that as the base of a mushroom barley soup that loosely followed his recipe.  I've changed the proportions of ingredients slightly.  Here's what I did:

Broth:
4 c. water
8 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt
Pepper

Soup:
1/2 lb. mushrooms (I used a mix of button and shiitake), thickly sliced
1/2 onion, sliced or diced
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
1/4 c. pearled barley (not whole barley)
Small pat of butter (could use olive oil to make it vegan)
Parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

I made the broth first by peeling the 8 cloves of garlic and boiling them in the water with the bay leaf, salt, and pepper.  I turned it to a simmer while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.  I added the sliced carrot, barley, and a generous pinch of salt to the broth, brought it up to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer.  While the barley and carrots were simmering, I sauteed the onions in the butter over medium heat for several minutes.  I let them start to caramelize, then added the mushrooms.  I continued cooking the onions and mushrooms together until the mushrooms started to get some color but before they lost too much liquid.  After the barley had been cooking for about 25 minutes, I added the onion/mushroom mixture to the soup.  I let it all simmer together for another 15 minutes or so, until the barley was the texture I desired.  I removed the bay leaf and whole garlic cloves, added some parsley and salt to taste, then ate!  This soup also reheated very well the next day--nothing eases the pain of 30 pages of casebook reading like a bowl of hearty soup!

I love the way Mark Bittman's cookbooks are written.  They are perfect for experimental cooks because the recipes themselves are often basic, but conducive to being modified to suit one's tastes.  Normally I would use chicken stock in a soup like this (as any regular reader knows, I love homemade stock), but by combining two of the recipes from Vegetarian Cooking, I was able to make a completely satisfying vegetarian soup.  You could add any vegetables you had on hand to this soup.  If you weren't concerned about meat, you could of course throw in some chicken or maybe even smoked sausage.  Be creative and enjoy!
 
*For an interesting discussion of what it means (and does not mean) to call a food system sustainable, see Katherine Gustafson's article here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

All-Day [Slouchy] Beret

So, I've had a slouchy beret pattern in my Ravelry queue for about a year.  It wasn't until my friend started knitting the same pattern that I really got motivated to make my own . . . and realized I can't knit the same hat as her.  I went back through Ravelry and found Debbie Stoller's All-Day Beret.  The pattern is free from stitchnationyarn.com.  The hat had an open, funky knit pattern that I loved and a great slouchy fit.  The pattern recommends using 1 ball of Debbie Stoller's Bamboo Ewe yarn.  Instead, I purchased 1 ball of Debbie Stoller's Alpaca Love (hey, it was on clearance in a deep wine color).  Unfortunately, I wasn't thinking about the fact that a ball of Bamboo Ewe is significantly longer than one of Alpaca Love (177 yds. vs. 131 yds.).  As such, I had to get a little creative in the finishing. 

The pattern is easy to work and creates a reversible fabric (shown with WS out).  Once I had worked about 7 1/2" in the pattern, though, I realized that I was not going to have enough yarn.  So, I started decreasing rapidly at that point.  I followed the pattern for the decrease rows and sort of skipped the rows in between.  This gave the top of the hat a slighty pin-cushiony look that I actually really like.  Because I had to decrease the depth of my hat, it doesn't have as much slouch as the original pattern would have created.  I have a relatively small head and short neck, though, so the limited slouch doesn't bother me.  Overall, great pattern and great yarn.  There are plenty of other free patterns at stitchnationyarn.com.  Take a browse and give one a try.  Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Iron Craft Challenge 11: Singin' in my Rain Boots -- Boot Liners

Spring is springing in St. Louis and that means rain.  And every time it rains, I inevitably fall in love with the rubber rain boots I see women sporting around town.  Until recently, however, I resisted the temptation to buy a pair for a couple of reasons: 1) Too many colors and designs . . . it's impossible for me to commit to just one; 2) the taller, closer-fitting boots I love can be really expensive and my husband would rather have food and car insurance than a wife in cute boots.  I saw some solid gray, fleece boot liners at Target over the winter, though, and realized that this could provide a variety of colors and patterns without buying multiple pairs of boots.  I purchased some anti-pill fleece and the cheapest, most sensible pair of black boots I could find.  This week's Iron Craft challenge (to make something in green), gave me the perfect opportunity to try out my plan.

Each pair of boot liners took about 1/2 yd. of fleece (I wear a size 6 or 6 1/2 shoe).  I began by making a pattern for the boot liner on a brown paper bag.  I traced around my foot, leaving ample seam allowance (probably about 3/4" all around).  The rest of the pattern explanation might be a little confusing, so please see the picture with the pieces shown in blue.  I cut out the tracing of my foot and folded it in half lengthwise.  With the piece folded in half, I trimmed it to make the foot symmetrical, so I could use the same pattern for both feet.  I wanted to make sure that there was enough space for the arch of my foot, so I added a triangle on each side of the foot pattern (in the photo, the toe end of this piece is at the lower left and the heel is on the upper right).  Using the boots themselves as a guide for the proper height, I cut a slighty trapezoidal piece for the heel/back of the leg of the boot liner (this is the pattern piece on the far left side of the picture).  This piece was wide enough at the base to follow the curve of the heel of the foot.  Then I drew a piece that mirrored the curve of the toe end of the foot pattern (top right of photo), but would be long enough to be sewn along the long side of the triangle and then meet the long side of the heel piece.

First I sewed the toe end of the liner (see photo).  Then I attached the heel piece to the liner.  Where the long side of the heel piece met the back side of the triangle, I stitched it upward.  At the top point of the triangle, I continued stitching the heel piece to the long side of the toe piece.  I turned the top edge of the liner over about 1/2" and stitched around it.  When the liner was stitched together, I zigzag stitched over the seams to reinforce them, especially at the heel.

Keeping the seams to the outside, I slipped my foot into the liner.  I put my foot into the boot and folded the top of the liner over to create a cuff.  Through sheer luck, these liners fit perfectly--they are tight enough to my actual feet that they don't bunch up in my boots, but in the leg they are a little roomier to allow for my skinny jeans.  I'm pretty sure I couldn't manage that again if I tried, but luckily I still have the pattern I made.  These liners have allowed me to add a little sass to my $20 utilitarian barnyard boots.  I have purchased patterned fabric to make cuffs for my next pair.  There are endless varieties for these liners.  They are also super warm.  I hope you'll consider making your own boot liners and add a little life to your rain boots for just a few bucks.  Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Iron Craft Challenge 10: Fat Quarter Zipper Wristlet/Party Purse!

This week's Iron Craft challenge was to create something using a single fat quarter (other non-fabric materials allowed).  I didn't have any fat quarters on hand, but since they measure about 18" x 22", I made sure the amount of fabric I used did not exceed that.  I have been thinking a lot about law school graduation (by which I mean obsessing), and I plan on having a good time on graduation night.  Dancing, drinking, karaoke-ing?  Who knows, but I decided a tight-strapped wristlet is essential if all of my necessities (ID, cash, cards, phone . . .) are going to make it home with me at the end of the night.  Like mittens on a string, I figure the wristlet will keep my stuff together while my mind is otherwise occupied.

I started with some of my husband's old dress pants (out of the same stash I made my draft dodgers out of).  I cut four rectangles, each 4 3/4" x 6 1/2", and stabilized two of them with interfacing.  I rounded the bottom corners of each rectangle.  I sewed the two stabilized piece together, wrong sides facing out; I stitched along one short side, along the bottom and up the other side, leaving the top open.  I repeated the process with the other pair of rectangles.  I turned the stablilized layer rightside out, then tucked the other layer inside.  I used seam tape to finish the raw top edge.  Using a small, silver belt buckle I bought as part of a lot in a thrift store, I created a leather strap.

It took me a while to decide on the adornment for the outside.  I thought about some sort of flower (although I didn't want to break the Iron Craft rules by using more fabric) or maybe some buttons.  I wanted something more dramatic, though--I'm only going to graduate from law school once, after all.  I love the look of the zipper details that I've been seeing on the necklines of dresses and shirts.  I bought a heavy duty jacket zipper with silvery teeth and unzipped it before starting.  I basically just curled, looped, and folded the zipper until I got a shape that I liked, then hand-stitched it.  I made the entire zipper detail before attaching it to the purse.  I tacked it into place with hot glue, then stitched it down.  I haven't decided on a closure for the top of the purse, but I'm leaning toward a simple invisible zipper.

I love the way this wristlet turned out and I can't wait to use it.  This process could also be used to make a camera case, small makeup bag, or a coin purse.  Also, the zipper detail could be slapped on about anything (shirt, cuff, headband?).  Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Iron Craft challenge 9: Customized Locavore Notebook

This week's Iron Craft challenge was to create something inspired by a movie.  I love movies--lots of movies--so it was difficult for me to narrow down my selection.  Films inspire me to make things all the time; I can't watch a BBC production of a Jane Austen novel without wanting to take up embroidery.  I dreamed of pies for days after watching the movie Waitress for the first time.  For this challenge, though, I really tried to think about a movie that has inspired me in a more meaningful way.  Almost two years ago, I saw Food, Inc. on PBS.  It's one of the only films that has actually changed my life.  I have always loved food, cooking and eating it, but I just didn't give a lot of thought to how it is produced.  After seeing Food, Inc., I was inspired to learn more about the people growing my food, and the impact such production has on human health and our environment.  I started thinking about ways that my legal education could relate to food systems; I am in the middle of a year-long writing project on farm-to-school programs that integrate local food into school meals (and the ways that law can support such programs).  Through this process of becoming more a conscientious consumer, I have found farms, markets, shops, and restaurants that produce and sell the food I want to eat.  As a result, I have purses full of scraps of paper with phone numbers and business names hastily scrawled on them.  Tidbits passed along by friends.  Random business cards and pamphlets.  News clippings.  So, I decided it was time to create a better way to organize them.

I started with a basic composition notebook.  I used spray adhesive to attach a partial map of Michigan (which I hope to soon consider 'local' once again).  I wrote two phrases on the cover and drew a heart around Genesee County--home.  I used the same letter stamps I purchased for the zombie Valentines (see previous post) to stamp my notebook divider phrases (food, farms, shops, notes) on blue card stock.  I cut them out and folded them in half so that they could sandwich a piece of notebook paper in the fold.  I used packaging tape to attach the tabs on the appropriate pages.  I also stamped food categories (beef, poultry, dairy, eggs, berries, greens) on the cardstock and glued these to the cover of my notebook, a reminder of the broad array of food that we can get from within 100 miles of our homes.  Once I was satisfied with their placement, I covered the front of the notebook with clear contact paper.

I used spray adhesive to cover the first page of each section with cardstock. Then I attached an envelope to the cardstock to hold any brochures, fliers, business cards, or scraps of paper I still find necessary.  I also figured that if I carry the notebook with me, I can jot myself notes about local producers and stick them in the appropriate envelope until I have time to check them out.  Within the "food," "farms," and "shops" sections, I stamped letters (from a-z) on the tops of the pages so I could easily find the alphabetized entries.  I figured the last section, "notes," would be a place to write down the simple recipes people share at the market or promising food leads I may want to follow up on.  I'm so excited to start filling out my notebook!  It's so easy to turn a basic, cheap composition notebook into something to suit your needs.  Redecorating a room?  You could have sections for paint colors, fabrics, flooring, contractors.  Planning an event?  Need one place for family recipes?  I hope you'll make a personalized notebook to help organize your special project.  Be creative and enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Zombies on Etsy!

I have set up an Etsy shop to sell my zombie cards.  I decided to sell them as a set of 3 notecards (rather than postcards), with three designs.  They say: i love you to pieces, eat your heart out, and i love you to death.  My Etsy shop is called MyPursuitofCraft and here is a link to the cards: http://www.etsy.com/listing/67356362/s6-zombie-valentines

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Iron Craft Challenge 5: Zombie Valentines

This week's Iron Craft challenge was to make some sort of Valentine's Day treat to give to someone else.  My husband and I have never really celebrated Valentine's Day and the traditional holiday paraphernalia makes us gag a little.  Really, how many cherubs and roses can a person be expected to stomach?  I wanted to fully embrace this challenge and have some fun with it, though, so I decided to make Valentine's Day postcards-- sweet, creepy, slightly morbid postcards.  And before you begin speculate that we don't have a loving relationship, let me just say that true love is not asking any questions when you come home after a long day at work and your wife asks you to pose like a zombie while she takes pictures.  I've been dying (no pun intended) to try block printing or stamp carving.  I've had a thin sheet of linoleum mounted on a 4x6 wooden block sitting in my desk drawer for the longest time, but I was having trouble committing to a design to carve on it.  Bingo!  Nothing says love like memorializing your zombie husband in carved linoleum.

I used Gloria Page's excellent book Art Stamping Workshop as a guide for this project.  I seriously love this book and highly recommend it to anyone who's thinking about hand-carving stamps.  Anyway, I started by uploading the pictures I took to my computer and selected the best one.  I used my computer's photo editing program to make the image black and white.  I played with the contrast and highlights to try to get as much bright white and black blacks as possible, with fewer gray areas.  I printed the photo and traced over the outline with a black inkpen.  Then I traced the image onto a clean sheet of paper and used a pencil to fill the picture in.  I tried to simplify the image while maintaining something that would still have a dramatic black/white contrast when turned into a stamp.  Granted, I took a little artistic license, but ultimately Jeff conceded that it still looked like him.  Interestingly, strangers frequently tell Jeff that he looks like Jason Segel, so if you've ever wondered what he would look like as a victim of the zombie apocalypse . . . .  When I was finished with my pencil drawing, I put it graphite side down onto the block and rubbed it vigorously to transfer the image. 
The transfer was very light, so I filled in a little with the pencil directly on the block.  I drew the design in a way that any linoleum that was not marked would be removed.  Also, I drew the image exactly as I wanted it; it reversed when I transferred it to the block, then it reversed back to the original during printing.

I used my Speedball linoleum cutter to carve out the image.  I used a No. 2 V blade to carve most of the body and face.  I used a larger V blade to remove the background material.  It was pretty delicate work on the sides of the body and the fingers, where I just wanted a dark outline to be printed.  When my image was completely carved, I did a test print.  I used a rubber brayer to apply black printing ink to my block.  I found that the prints came out MUCH cleaner if I left the inked block facing up on the table and pressed the paper onto it.  After I did a test print, I could see areas that needed to be carved down a little more.  When it was how I wanted, I printed 4x6 postcards with my image.  It took me a few prints to get a feel for the right amount of ink to apply and how much pressure was necessary to transfer a complete image.  When my postcards were dry, I stamped a phrase on the face of each postcard.  Phrases included: I love you to death, Eat your heart out, I love you to pieces, and I want your body.  I am not well-practiced (meaning not practiced at all) at using letter stamps and it was probably the most difficult part of the whole process for me.  I used a red marker to add a little color to the wounds, heart, and mouth of my zombie prints.

My cards are a little sloppy, but I like that they definitely look like they were printed from a hand-carved block.  And, I was pleasantly suprised to find that the carving was actually a lot easier and more fun than I anticipated.  The blocks are pretty inexpensive (I think my 4x6 block was $2.99).  For anyone who has ever bought commercial stamps, carving your own is clearly a deal!  No matter what medium you choose, I hope you'll try carving your own stamps.  And of course, happy early Valentine's Day.  Be creative and enjoy!

P.S.: Thanks to my friends at Wash U for your help with the zombie love phrases (Jane, Tyler, Elizabeth).

Update: Due to the interest in these cards I received on Flickr, I am hoping to have sets of 6 on sale on Etsy within a day or two.  I'll update again when it happens.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fitting a Sloppy Sweatshirt

When I was in high school, my aunt and uncle gave me a sweatshirt to commemorate my Bob Marley phase (I'm still in it, by the way).  I always loved the design and super soft lining of the hoodie, but it was a boys' XL and it was so baggy that I felt a little self conscious wearing it in public (think Bob Marley bowling ball).  Also, I don't like wearing shirts that come right up to my neck--like crew necks--but I couldn't cut a split in the neck of the sweatshirt like I do with all my other ones without destroying Bob's image.  So I decided to turn it into a sort of fitted, boatneck sweatshirt.

I started by carefully removing the ribbed waistband and cuffs from the bottom of the shirt and sleeves, respectively.  Then I cut off the hood, leaving as much room above the printed image as possible.  I wanted the shirt to have baseball-tee sleeves so I wasn't terribly careful in removing the sleeves since I would be re-cutting them rather dramatically.  Once the sleeves were off, I took in the side seams until the shirt had the fit I wanted--still a little loose, so I could wear a shirt underneath, but fitted enough to get rid of the distinctly spherical shape it gave me before.  With the shirt taken in, I started the process of reattaching the sleeves. 
 First I cleaned up the neckline, making sure it was symmetrical.  I didn't necessarily have the final neckline I wanted, but it needed to be the same on both sides before I could set the sleeves.  I cut each side of the shirt on a diagonal line extending from the armpit to the neckline.  Then I positioned the sleeve under this diagonal line with the top corner of the sleeve resting at the neckline, and rotated the sleeve as needed to get the bottom of the sleeve to just meet the armpit end of the diagonal line.  Once the angle of the sleeve was just right, I used the cut along the shirt as a guide to cut the sleeve on a diagonal as well.  This made 3/4 length baseball-tee sleeves.  I attached the sleeves, then cut the neckline to my desired shape.

With a few more adjustments, taking in seams here and there, I was ready to finish the shirt.  I sewed the ribbed material back on the the bottom of the sweatshirt and the cuffs.  Then I finished the neckline so the raw edge wasn't exposed.  I'm so excited to be comfortable in my Bob Marley sweatshirt; I only wish this had occurred to me a few years ago!  I have a sloppy zip-up hoodie that I might try something similar with.  It's so satisfying (and cost effective) to create like-new clothes out of what's already in my closet.  Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Iron Craft Challenge 4: My Robo Mug Cozy

This week's Iron Craft challenge was to create a drink sleeve like the one you get with your morning latte.  I don't drink coffee, though, and if I did I would probably be too cheap to pay the premium to buy one at a coffee shop.  I do, however, love making hot chocolate at home.  My favorite mug is tall and thin, not unlike the 20 oz. coffee cups you buy, but it has a handle.  An oddly-placed handle.  I decided to make a mug cozy that would fit my mug, crazy handle and all.  I have been thinking about embroidery lately and, having never done it, decided this would be a great project to get my feet wet on.  I had some leftover black linen that I thought would be relatively easy to stitch on.  I bought a wooden embroidery hoop, some silvery thread, and a white fabric marking pen.

First I created a paper pattern of a sleeve using measurements posted by the Iron Craft creators online.  Then I traced the outline of the sleeve onto the linen.  The fabric marking pen, even with white ink on black fabric, is hard to see, so I really had to work on this in good light.  I drew my robot design inside the sleeve outline (really, who doesn't love robots?) and tightened the fabric into the hoop.  I used the backstitch to embroider my design, with French knots at the robot's joints and on the sides and top of his head.  I did have to cut out some of my work when the stitching went awry and re-embroider it, but once I got the hang of the backstitch it actually went pretty quickly.  It took me a bit longer to be able to make an acceptable French knot, but I eventually figured that out, too.  Once the embroidery was done, I cut out the top layer of my sleeve, following the lines I had already traced onto the fabric.

I used the linen as a template to cut out a lining layer from a scrap of wool fabric.  I repeated the process on a piece of backing fabric leftover from the suit pants I used for my last Iron Craft project (draft dodger).  I stacked them as follows: backing fabric (rightside down) on top of embroidered piece (rightside up, facing backing fabric) with the lining fabric on the bottom.  Then, using my machine, I stitched along the top and bottom of all three pieces, leaving the ends free.  I flipped the layers between the backing fabric and embroidered piece, turning it rightsides out with the lining in the middle.  I cut four lengths of ribbon and, turning the ends under like the hem of a sleeve, I placed the ribbons in and topstitched over the ends (see photo).

This was actually a pretty quick project, aside from the embroidery.  With printed fabric, no embroidery necessary, this cozy could be made in an hour.  Also, if you do drink coffee/tea/cocoa out of handleless cups or mugs, you could sew the ends of the sleeve together and wouldn't even need closures--the sleeve would just slip onto your cup like the cardboard ones used at coffee shops.  This would be so easy to keep in a purse or bag so you could slip it onto your cup every morning and save a little bit of paper from the trash.  Although I have been intimidated by embroidery, the basic backdstitch was much easier than I anticipated.  It's actually sort of relaxing work--you can just zone out and stitch.  Hopefully I'll find the time for more embroidered projects in the near future.  And of course, I hope you'll give it a try, too.  Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Iron Craft Challenge 2: Dress Pants Draft Dodger

If any regular readers have been wondering what the new icon in the sidebar is all about, let me explain.  I've signed up for a weekly craft challenge called the Iron Craft (see the blog at http://theironcraft.blogspot.com/).  Every week, the organizers post a new challenge for the crafters to complete.  Then the entrants upload pictures of their completed projects to a Flickr group and the Iron Craft creators round up the projects on their blog.  There aren't any winners or losers (so not a lot of pressure), but I figured it would be a great way to connect with like-minded crafters.  I found out about The Iron Craft too late to complete the first challenge of the year, but here is my project for week 2.  Challenge 2 was to create a draft dodger or door snake.  Perfect for us because, while our apartment may be many things, well-insulated it is not.

My husband provided me with the perfect material for a fabric project: a stack of old suit pants.  I started by salvaging any buttons, snaps, and zippers from the pants.  Then I ripped them apart at the seams--literally.  Our living room window is 60" wide and it is super drafty.  I decided to make two draft blockers, each about 30" long.  I planned to make a piece of fabric 72" by 12" by creating 6 strips of fabric 2" wide and 72" long.  I cut a total of 12 strips of fabric 18" long, 2" wide and 18 strips of fabric 12" long, 2" wide.  Each of the 72" long strips was comprised of two 18" strips and three 12" strips. I laid the pieces out on the floor, varying them so that strips of the same color and length weren't directly next to each other.  I began stitching together the pieces that comprised the 72" lengths.  Once I had six strips, each 72" long, I pressed the seams along them open (see photo).  Then I sewed the six strips together, making sure that I maintained the order I intended.  When I was finished, I pressed the entire piece.

I folded the fabric in half, hamburger style, and pressed in a crease.  Then I cut along the crease, making the two rectangles of fabric that would become my draft dodger tubes.  Beginning with the first rectangle, I folded one short edge under about 1/4" and sewed along it.  I repeated this on the other end.  Then I folded the rectangle in half (hot dog), right side inside.  I stitched along the open edges, leaving about 1.5" at each end unstitched.  I pressed this seam open, also pressing the unstitched seam allowance to each side (as if I were going to put a zipper in it).  Then I stitched down the seam allowance on each side.  This created a finished opening for the ends of the ribbon drawstring to come out on either side.  I cut a length of ribbon for the drawstring and folded the end of the draft dodger down over it.  Then I stitched along the open edge, enclosing the ribbon in a tube.  I did the same on the opposite end.  I turned the tube rightside out and added three buttons to one end, just for a little snazz.  I repeated this process for the other rectangle.

Once my two tubes were complete, I cinched the drawstring at one end of each tube.  Then I filled them with the remaining scraps of fabric; I figured wool-blend pants would make decent insulation.  At some point, I might make plain sleeves to fit inside these covers and fill them with rice, fish gravel, or dried beans.  For now, though, pants scraps will work just fine.  I love looking at other crafters' entries for this challenge, seeing how others interpreted the task.  And if you have drafty windows or doors, I hope you'll consider using whatever materials you have at your disposal to make your home a little more energy efficient.  Be creative and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Metal Clay Ring Part 2: Firing and Finishing

Once my ring was completely dry and sanded smooth, it was time to fire it.  There are several options for firing metal clay pieces; the best option depends on the size of the piece and the type of clay used.  It is possible to fire an item over the flame of a gas burner, but this only works when the piece is small enough to be fully within the heat of the flame.  This could be the flame of a gas stove or a propane-fueled camping burner.  If you are making the initial investment in metal clay, this is the least expensive option for a firing implement.  I was concerned that my ring might be too big for this method (and I also don't have a gas burner).  Jewelry kilns are quite expensive, so that wasn't an option.  My friend Anne has a propane torch, however, and she agreed to help me fire my ring.

In the last post I described how I made sure the ring was smooth and completely dry before firing.  We placed the ring on a fire brick and lit the torch.  Anne adjusted the flame until it was the appropriate temperature.  It should be a medium flame, mostly blue with a yellow tip.  Then we started firing the ring--Anne worked the torch while I worked the camera--probably the most sensible arrangement if Anne didn't want her building burned down.  She kept the flame moving over the ring to make sure it heated evenly.  At first the ring smoked and even flared up as the organic binder burned off.  As she continued to fire it, the ring began to glow.  Once the ring was entirely glowing orange, we started timing.  The timing depends on the size of the piece.  Metal clay should be torch fired for at least 1 minute and up to 2 1/2 minutes.  Because the band of my ring was a little thick, we fired it for just over 2 minutes.  The appearance of the ring doesn't change too much during firing, except that is noticeably smaller.  If the piece starts to look silvery, it is probably close to overheating.  If it starts to lose its shape, it is melting.

Once the ring is fired, it needs to be cooled.  According to Magical Metal Clay Jewelry, my primary resource for this project, the fired piece can rest for 20 minutes or be quenched in water.  My ring still looked a little like clay once it was fired, chalky white over the whole surface (see photo top right).  Once it was cool, I started the process of finishing the ring.  First I used a wire bristle brush to remove the white residue from the ring.  Once the ring was brushed, it had a soft, silvery look (see photo bottom right).  One book I read suggested only using a wire brush while the metal clay piece was in soapy water to immediately remove any metal filings from the brush itself.  I didn't bother with this, however, because I still intended to sand the ring.  I also used my files to gently smooth out any sharp edges and bumps on the ring.  I tried to use the files sparingly because I didn't want to remove too much material from the piece.  Once the ring was brushed and filed, I sanded the band with 400 grit sandpaper, then moved on to increasingly fine grits (800 then 1200).  At each stage of sanding, you will initially feel some resistance.  As you continue sanding, it will feel smoother and smoother until there is no resistance.  Then it is time to switch to a finer grit of sandpaper.  When I was finished sanding, I used an agate tipped burnishing tool to rub the surface of the ring in the loops where it was difficult to maneuver the sandpaper.  Burnishing is basically rubbing the surface of the metal, with a fair amount of pressure, to bring out the shine.  After the ring was sanded and burnished, it had a beautiful shine.  I used a little silver polish to clean any residue from the surface.

For a first attempt at metal clay, I am really happy with my ring.  Sure, it's a little rough, and not perfectly round.  I was really encouraged by how it turned out, though, and I am already brainstorming new projects.  My husband wants a tie bar, and maybe some cuff links.  My mom has already asked if I need to know her ring size.  Even if you are hesitant to make the investment of time and money to do metal clay work at home, I hope you will consider taking a metal clay class because it is really amazing stuff.  Be creative and enjoy!

PS: Even if you never work in metal clay, I highly recommend that you check out some of the books available on the subject, especially Metal Clay Beads by Barbara Becker Simon.  These books really illustrate the incredible effects that can be achieved by well-practiced metal clay artists.