Sunday, December 7, 2014

Guilt-Free Creamy Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip

Looking for something that tastes like an indulgence but isn't packed with an exorbitant amount of fat and calories? This is it. I'm a total sucker for spinach artichoke dip. I've been on such a kick for it lately, I think I've tried every version available in town. Unfortunately, restaurant versions can easily contain 80-90 grams of fat and thousands of calories for an appetizer portion. Ugh. Diet fail.

Have no fear, though--with a few simple substitutions, my version contains less than 100 calories and 6 grams of fat per 1/4 c. serving. It is quick and easy to prepare and could easily be modified to suit your own tastes. One of the main ingredients, the Greek yogurt/cream cheese blend, is a product I hadn't noticed before and bought on a whim. I'm so happy I tried it in this recipe--it's much lower in fat than traditional cream cheese, but has a more "restauranty" dip flavor than just using Greek yogurt (I tried . . .). Many recipes use mayo (or a mix of mayonnaise and sour cream), but I'm not a huge fan of mayo so I just went with straight sour cream. Worked like a charm!

Guilt-Free Creamy Spinach Artichoke Dip
Makes 16 1/4 c. Servings

1 8 oz. block Greek Cream Cheese and Greek Yogurt Blend
1 16 oz. container Reduced Fat Sour Cream
1 10 oz. package Frozen Chopped Spinach
1 14 oz. can Quartered Artichoke Hearts in Brine
1/3 c. Shredded Parmesan Cheese
2/3 c. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese, divided (1/3 c. to mix in, 1/3 c. on top)
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
Pepper to taste
Dash Hot Sauce

Preheat oven to 400° F
Thaw spinach completely in microwave (I did mine on 30 second intervals for a total of 2 minutes or so). Dump thawed spinach into the center of a non-fuzzy dish towel (this might stain, don't use your heirloom tea towels) or several layers of paper towel. Squeeze as much liquid from the spinach as possible. Chop the spinach to break up long, stringy stems.
Drain artichoke hearts and roughly chop them.
Put the block of cream cheese into a microwave-proof bowl. I like to use my large 8 cup glass measuring cup. Microwave until cheese is softened enough to stir, about 1 1/2- 2 minutes.
Mix artichoke hearts, spinach, sour cream, salt, garlic, pepper, hot sauce, Parmesan cheese, and 1/3 c. mozzarella cheese in with cream cheese until well blended.
Spread into a buttered casserole dish and top with remaining 1/3 c. cheese
Bake 20-25 minutes, then broil for a couple more until the cheese is golden.
Serve with tortilla chips, pita, pretzel crisps, veggie sticks . . . whatever your heart desires!

Nutrition per 1/4 c. serving (calculated using
Calories: 93, Fat: 6 g., Sodium: 233 mg., Carb: 5 g., Fiber: 1 g., Protein: 5 g.

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 (calculated with Weight Watchers Points Plus calculator using the above information. If anyone uses recipe builder and gets a different result, please let me know in the comments)

I can tell you from personal experience that this dip reheats very well. It would also be a great make-ahead dish for a holiday party--throw it together the night before and bake it the day of. Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, December 1, 2014

4 x 8 Christmas Card 2014 Freebie Template

I decided to try something a little different this year. I designed the above image for our 2014 Christmas cards, but I also made a blank version to post as a freebie! Just follow the link below to access it.

Christmas Card Template in Google Drive

I was in a sort of Dickensian mood this Christmas, so I used my beloved to create a card that was in this vein. To use the template yourself, download the image and open it in your favorite photo editing program (ahem, Import your family photo as an overlay, add it to your work, then drag it into place. Easy!

Use a text tool to fill in your name or greeting in the ribbon. Add to the design if you want! Reindeer? Ok! Sprigs of holly? Why the heck not!?!

Once you've got your image looking good, save it to your computer (I like saving in .png format). I have my cards printed through Vistaprint because they allow you to upload your own image to a blank 4 x 8 rather than using one of their pre-set designs. If you're not up to designing a whole card from scratch in the holiday rush, I hope you'll consider letting me help you along with this template. Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

DIY Freezer to Oven Cookies: Freeze Cookie Dough Now, Bake Later

Every year of my 20s, I've tried to get better at holiday prepping. The Christmas season is like the Olympics for DIYers--it's a distance race (or sprint, if you're a procrastinator) of handmade gifts, made-from-scratch meals, and do-it-yourself decorations. It's exhausting. The older I get, though, the more I want to spend my time enjoying the holiday, not just surviving it.

One of my goals this year is to do as much as possible ahead of time. I've been researching homemade ready-to-bake cookies that I can make now and freeze until Christmas. This post will detail the method for freezing the cookie dough. I'll include the recipe for the All Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies pictured above in a later post.

I actually found this post from Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn after I froze my dough. I'll be explaining the method for drop cookies, but if you're interested in freezing rolled or slice and bake cookies, check out the link above.

Freezing Cookie Dough for Drop Cookies:
You'll Need:
1 batch of your favorite cookie dough, chilled to make it easier to work with (I used chocolate chip)
Sheet pan that will fit in your freezer
Parchment paper or baking mat
Teaspoon or small scoop
2 large zip top bags
Permanent marker
1. Let cookie dough chill in the refrigerator while you prep other
2. Line sheet pan with parchment paper
3. Write type of cookie, date, and baking directions (see below) on one zip top freezer bag
4. Use spoon or scoop to shape cookies. I use a heaping teaspoon's worth of dough for each cookie and roll it into a ball between my palms
5. Drop cookies onto prepared sheet pan making sure they do not touch.
6. Slide sheet pan into freezer, being sure not to tip the pan. The cookies should not touch as they freeze.
7. Allow cookie dough to freeze for at least 6 hours.
8. Once cookies are frozen, place balls in freezer bag, press out air, and seal top. I like to place this bag inside a second freezer bag, just for extra protection.

Baking Cookies from Frozen Dough:
I highly recommend baking a small test batch to test the temperature and time. Generally cookies will be baked as called for in the recipe with an added 1-2 minutes of cooking time. The cookies pictured here, however, do not contain any shortening--they're all butter. The original recipe called for a cooking temperature of 375 degrees. When I baked my first batch (only 5 cookies), they were too dark at the edges and on the bottom before the centers were close to set. I ended up dropping the temperature to 350 degrees and adding a minute of cooking time. Perfect!

I'm very excited about the prospect of having my baking prep done early. If you freeze cookies or cookie dough, I'd love to read your tips and tricks in the comments below! Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

DIY Original Star Trek Tunic

I will fully admit that I am a Star Wars girl. I vaguely remember my parents watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid, but I've never really watched any of the iterations of the show on my own. Until a few months ago, that is. On the advice of a friend, I marathoned the first season of the original series and completely loved it. I reference it in casual conversation and find myself watching this scene from The Cable Guy over and over again:

I knew I wanted to make the classic tunic for Halloween (confession: I just wanted to wear it around the house). Regular readers of this blog know that I am NOT a pattern maker. The thought of taking all of my measurements and committing them to paper makes me feel physically ill. Commercial patterns seem ridiculously complicated to me--on an intellectual level I know they aren't, but pulling all of those thin little pieces of tissue paper from the envelope makes me kind of sweaty and nervous.

Materials and Tools:
1 1/2 - 2 yards of stretch knit fabric (I used a poly rayon blend in a cherry red color. I only needed 1 1/2 yards, but I am only 5' 2")
1/8 yard stretch black fabric
Gold lame (enough for a patch)
Gold trim (I used almost a yard to put one Lt. stripe on each sleeve cuff)
Thread to match main fabric color
Black puff paint or black thread for zigzag stitching
Long-sleeved t-shirt that fits well to use as a pattern for tunic
Bathing suit bottom or underwear to use as a pattern for briefs

First I doubled my fabric with enough overlap to cut out the body of the tunic. I used my t-shirt as a pattern, leaving about a 1/4" allowance around. I followed the seam where the sleeves are inset. This provided basically one half of a tank top. Using that piece as a pattern, I cut a second one. This gave me a front and back.

Placing right sides together, I sewed the side seams and the shoulders with a 1/4" seam allowance. Once the tank top was sewn together, I cut the neckline with a slight scoop (I used stills from the show as a reference).

Through trial and--admittedly--some error, I placed darts at the bustline from the sleeves and from the bustline straight down to the waist. While wearing the tank, I marked with chalk where the gaps at the sleeve hole were. It was too loose on my waist area, so I created darts there as well. I ended up extending the vertical darts all the way up to the shoulders, but that was really for looks.

Once the tank top fit the way I wanted, I cut the sleeves. I used the long-sleeved t-shirt as a guide for the length and width of the sleeve. I used the arm hole of my new tank top as a pattern for the end of the sleeve that would be inset into the body of the tunic.

I sewed the long seam of each sleeve then set them into the body. With the tank top and the sleeve both inside out, I pinned the sleeve to the arm opening in the tank. When I sew this seam, I always start in the armpit because if there's any bunchiness or imperfection when I am finished I'd rather it be in the pit than on top of my shoulder.

For the skirt, I basically cut two long rectangles. The rectangles were scientifically measured as follows: Half the bottom circumference of the tank top + 3 inches. The bottom halves of the Star Trek tunics are almost like wrap skirts (or skorts!), so the 3 inches on each end gave ample fabric for overlap.

Ok, this part takes a little imagination. You have two layers of fabric that will overlap and be sewn along the bottom edge of the shirt you've made--one rectangle will run in one direction, to cover your right hip, the other will run in the other direction, to cover your left hip. There will be a flap in the front and the back where they overlap. The first thing I did was sew under the short sides of the rectangles to finish these edges. Alright. Pay close attention here. The shirt is right side out. Place one rectangle against the shirt with the right side facing in, toward the body of the shirt. The finished end of the rectangle should line up with the vertical dart on your right-hand side. Line the bottom edges of rectangle and shirt. Pin together around the shirt until you run out of rectangle. This first rectangle will be the one that is outermost on the tunic. Flip your creation back over. Place the second rectangle so that the finished edge lines up with the left-hand vertical seam. Pin it around the other half of the tunic.

Sew around the bottom with a generous 1/4" seam allowance. Try on your tunic. I ended up taking in the sides because it flared a bit too much for me. Then I marked the skirt for desired length. I like how short Lt. Uhura's tunic is (she's always flashing a bit of briefs underneath her uniform), so I cut mine pretty short.

To finish the tunic, I hemmed the bottom edges of the skirt rectangles and the cuffs of the sleeves. I sewed gold trim around each cuff. For the neckline, I love the asymmetrical trim in the tunics from the series. This is a double bonus because you don't have to be particular when you sew the black trim on. I made it narrower at the shoulders and thicker in the front with the thickest part over my left boob. I cut a badge out of gold lame, stitched it to the tunic, then outlined it with black puff paint. I also painted on the support staff decal in the center of the badge.

I used my favorite bathing suit bottom as a pattern for a pair of briefs to wear under my tunic. I put a wide waistband along the top edge of the briefs.

I am absolutely in love with my Star Trek uniform. I wore it out on Halloween and got a "live long and prosper" from a fellow bar-goer. Even if you never make this particular outfit, I hope the takeaway here is that making a costume doesn't have to seem impossible. You don't need to spend a fortune on an outfit for conventions, theme parties, etc. With basic sewing skills and determination you can make one! Be creative and enjoy!  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween 2014: DIY Original Star Trek Female Crewmember Costume

Happy Halloween, Readers! For all of you Trekkies out there looking to make a female crewmember uniform for next Halloween, a con, or sitting around the house just feeling awesome (yes ... that's exactly what I've been doing), I'll have a tutorial up soon.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Free Printable Patriotic Pinwheel Template

Happy Fourth of July! To celebrate, it's freebie time! Today I wanted to share a printable pinwheel that I created to embrace the patriotic spirit of this holiday. These pinwheels are a quick, easy way to add a little fun to your Independence Day picnic table. This is my first time using DocStoc to embed a PDF into a blog post, so please comment if you have trouble with it.

Printable PDF (see below)
Length of dowel or a pencil
Glue stick

Patriotic Pinwheel.pdf

Download and print the pinwheel. Cut around the perimeter of the full image. Fold the rectangle in half along the line separating the stripe pattern from the blue/starred portion, with the printed sides facing out. Crease the fold well. Use a glue stick to adhere the two halves together. I don't recommend using white school glue for this because it will wrinkle your paper and it's easy to get too much glue with the squeeze bottle.

After folding/gluing, you'll be left with a square that is printed with red and white stripes on one side and blue with white stars on the other. Once the glue has dried, cut along the diagonal dashed lines on the blue side. Don't cut all the way to the middle! Only cut as far as the dashes go.

Fold alternating corners toward the center, making sure the corners overlap slightly in the center. You can secure each point with a tiny swipe of glue in the center. Pierce the center of the folded pinwheel with the pushpin, making sure to go through all layers. Work the pin around to enlarge the hole so that the pinwheel will spin freely--this is the key to a successful pinwheel! Push the end of the tack into the pencil eraser or tap it into the end of the dowel. Voila!

Stick that baby into the nearest Mason jar and use it to adorn your table. Or run wild around your yard with it--I'm not judging. Be creative and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Banana Chocolate Chia Seed Muffins

Breakfast win! With three bananas rapidly turning black on my counter, it seemed like the perfect time to experiment on a replacement for my beloved morning bagel.

I started with Daphne Oz's recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Banana Flax Muffins as a guide. But I didn't have any flax or wheat germ. Substitution time! Through a happy accident, I also realized that I could cut the coconut oil and increase the applesauce.

Chocolate Banana Chia Seed Muffins
Makes 12
Wet Ingredients:
1/4 c. coconut oil, microwaved briefly until just starting to melt, plus more for greasing muffin tin
1/4 c. brown sugar
3 very ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/4 c. applesauce
1/4 c. water
Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. whole wheat white flour (I recommend King Arthur brand flour)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. chia seeds (you could used ground here, but I used whole. They have a texture similar to poppy seeds)
1/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare standard, 12 cup muffin tin by rubbing cups with coconut oil or prepare with paper liners.
Cream oil and sugar in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add bananas to mixer and beat until smooth. Beat in remaining wet ingredients.
Whisk dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Stir in wet mixture until incorporated.
Divide batter between 12 muffin cups. They should each be about 3/4 full.
Bake muffins 15-18 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs clinging.

Nutrition facts per muffin: 199 calories, 9 g. fat, 29 g. carb, 3 g. fiber, 12 g. sugar, 5 g. protein (per nutrition facts calculator). For those following Weight Watchers Points Plus, this calculated to 6 points plus per muffin.

These muffins are so yummy, if somewhat unconventional. I hope you'll try them, or Daphne Oz's original recipe with flax and wheat germ. Be creative and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dollar Store Frames Redone: High-Impact, Low-Cost Photography Display

Our downstairs half bath is . . . .a challenge. Regular readers know that I've been trying to convert, cover, and cope with a lot of dated decor in our house. The powder room on the first floor came complete with a goldenrod-colored sink sitting atop a homemade plywood base. Yikes.

Until we're ready to replace the sink, my strategy has been to distract visitors from its hideousness. On one wall, I displayed a rustic wood and metal piece of wall art I had painted white. On the opposite wall, I put up three floating shelves. One for towels, one for a candle or small vase of flowers, and one for . . . . What, exactly?

I decided to create a photo display. Two problems: 1) I didn't have any photos that seemed worthy of display, and 2) I didn't have any frames. Much like throw pillows and quilts, frames are crazy expensive! I finally broke down and bought some at a department store, but I felt so bad about the cost that I decided to take them back. Then, on a chance trip to the Dollar Tree, I found the cheapest, ugliest frames. But they had potential. And they only cost a dollar apiece. A coat of silver spray paint left over from a previous project and they were good to go!

For the photos themselves, I decided to peruse my old SD card. It holds pictures from our four years living in St. Louis. I found lots of blurry images of my niece as a baby, far away shots of my husband and me posing in front of landmarks, and too-dark photos of various craft projects for this blog. Amidst the rubbish, though, I did find a few promising images. I finally settled on the three below. The angel is a statue in the Missouri Botanical Garden (I think), the rafters are in the Reading Room in the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, and the rocks are at the shore of Lake Michigan. I used Picassa to edit the photos and ordered prints online from Walgreen's. With a coupon code I retrieved from their website, the total for my photos was $4.09. Combined with the cost of the frames, my project totaled less than $8. Not bad at all!

If you are considering putting together a photo display or gallery wall, look through your own pictures first! You might find a few gems. Be creative and enjoy!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Summer Window Boxes

The weather was too nice to spend the day inside, so I decided to spruce up the front of the house by planting in our window boxes. Silver Mound, Vinca Vine, Sweet Potato Vine, and Red Geraniums for a pop of color. What are you planting this year? Be creative and enjoy!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

I'm not usually a pasta salad fan. I love pasta, I eat salad, but they don't go together in my mind. I must admit, however, that I am a complete and total sucker for beautiful food. Fresh, colorful vegetables, creamy mozzarella, tangy, red vinaigrette? Yes, please. I'm so ready for the vibrant, pretty food of summer--this pasta salad is my way to kick off the season. This isn't the traditional, Italian dressing laden pasta salad that most of us probably grew up with. This salad is more about the vegetables for me and less about the dressing.

16 oz. short pasta (I used Gigli or Campanelle), cooked al dente and drained
16 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
8-12 oz. fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into pieces
8-10 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, quartered then sliced thickly
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
Olive oil
2 jarred roasted red peppers, sliced
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cubed
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. good quality red wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt/pepper (use a generous pinch of salt)
1/2-1 tsp. brown mustard (whole grain or spicy brown)
Handful of fresh, chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Toss prepared vegetables (mushrooms, fresh asparagus, grape tomatoes, red onion, artichoke hearts) with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast approximately 20 minutes, depending on the size of your dice/slices
Cook pasta according to package directions in well-salted water, drain
Combine 1/2 c. olive oil, 1/4 c. vinegar, shallot, sugar, salt/pepper to taste, mustard, parsley in a mason jar. Shake until well-combined
Toss roasted vegetables, red peppers, pasta, and vinaigrette
Once salad has cooled to room temperature, stir in cubed mozzarella
Eat at room temperature or allow to chill

I ate this salad two meals a day for three straight days, and it just got better each day. This recipe could easily be modified according to your tastes; use the vegetables that look best at your market. Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Crafts of Kindness 3: Wildlife Rescue Nests

Spoiler alert: adorableness ahead! Spring is finally, FINALLY prying Michigan loose from winter's cold dead fingers, and the change of season inspired this Crafts of Kindness post. While it's fun to see newborn animals in their natural homes with their parents at this time of year, not all of spring's new arrivals will be so lucky. Animal Rescues often take in orphaned baby bunnies and birds in addition to the usual domesticated animals like cats and dogs.

(Please forgive the plastic Easter eggs I used for scale in the first picture. I was sans baby animals to use as models.)

Bev's Country Cottage has put the word out that several wildlife rescues are requesting crocheted or knitted nests for their animals. I knit one today, following the pattern listed on the Bev's Country Cottage website for a knitted nest. It is imperative that the nests be tightly knit and able to hold their shape. To achieve this result, I knit my nest with two strands of worsted weight yarn held together. Although the pattern calls for size 5 double pointed needles, I worked on circular needles using the magic loop method.

The pattern that follows is reprinted from the Virginia Beach SPCA Wildlife Program:

On size 5 dpn’s cast on 54 stitches (dividing up into 18 sts/needle) [or using the magic loop method on size 5 circulars]. Work in knit (stockingette is automatic on dpn’s) stitch for approximately 3 inches. Begin decreasing for the crown as follows:
Next row: *K 7, k 2 tog* repeat to end
Next row: *K 6, k 2 tog* repeat to end
Next row: *K 5, k 2 tog* repeat to end
Nest row: *K 4, k 2 tog* repeat to end
Next row: *K 3, k 2 tog* repeat to end
Next row: *K 2, k 2 tog* repeat to end
Next row: *K 1, k 2 tog* repeat to end
Clip of yarn leaving a tail of about 6 inches.
Using yarn needle, slide yarn needle under all stitches on needles, and draw tight to close up the end. Knot

Once your nests are finished, check with your local wildlife rescues and animal shelters to see if they would be able to use your handiwork. If not, these location are definitely in need of nests:

Virginia Beach SPCA Wildlife Program
Attn: Wildlife
3040 Holland Rd.
Virginia Beach, VA 23453

Wildlife Response, Inc.
Attn: Deborah Hoover-Powers
PO Box 2904
Chesapeake, VA 23327

Wild Baby Rescue
Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
14 Grouse Mountain Rd.
Blairstown, NJ 07825
Nests- Hope Davis

These little nests are quick to knit--I finished mine in just a few hours and I'm not a particularly fast knitter. Added bonus: baby animals aren't choosy about color coordination, so it's a great stash-buster for all of your oddball leftover yarn. This would also be an excellent undertaking for a knit or crochet group. Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Easy to Sew Removable Throw Pillow Covers

Here's a first-time homeowner confession: I find the price of throw pillows shocking. Throw pillows are in the category of household accessories that I like the look of but never purchased because of their ridonkulous price tags (I'm looking at you, too, rugs and quilts). Then, during one glorious trip to IKEA, I found the Fjadrar pillow form. A generous 20" square, duck-feather filled, and only $5.99!!

I found this gray and white Robert Allen home decor fabric clearanced out for $7 per yard at Jo-Ann. I bought two yards. At 54" wide, this was enough to make covers for two 20 square inch pillows. I really did not want to put a zipper into my pillow covers, but I did want them to be removable for washing. After a search of my beloved interwebs, I found this tutorial from Cottage Magpie. I followed her tutorial, except that I did not use trim and I increased the overlap of my back pieces. Below, I assume that you have already done any necessary washing/treatment to your fabric before beginning. If you're unsure about how to pretreat fabric for sewing, check out this awesome post from Craftsy.

Materials and tools:
Two 20" pillow forms
Two yards of 54" wide home decor/upholstery fabric
Coordinating thread
Sewing machine (or the patience to hand stitch)
Shears or rotary cutter
Straight pins

The front side of each pillowcase is a single square. The back is made of two overlapping rectangles. This creates a permanent slit in the back that allows for removing (and replacing) the pillow. 

1. Cut the pieces. The square front of each pillowcase should be the size of the pillow form plus one inch. For a 20" sq pillow form, you should cut a 21" square of fabric. To determine the size of the 2 rectangles for the back of the pillowcase, the width remains the same (21" for our pillow). The length should be 1/2 of the length of the front + 3.5". For our pillow, it would be 1/2 x 21" = 10.5" + 3.5" = 14". You'll need two of these rectangles. To recap, for each pillowcase you should have three pieces: one 21" square and two 14" x 21" rectangles.

2. Finish one long edge of each rectangle. To make sure the exposed edges of the slit on the back of your pillow are exposed, make a double fold hem along a 21" edge on each rectangle (basically fold the edge over, then fold it over again and topstitch). For those unsure of how to create a double fold hem, follow the link in the previous sentence or watch this YouTube video. Easy and clean!

3. Press the pieces. Don't be like me and wait until the end! Really you should press your fabric before you begin cutting, but I have to admit that I'm often too anxious to start and therefore skip this step. 

4. Position the fabric as shown in the photo, wrong sides together. Pin the edges using straight pins. Stitch around the perimeter using a 1/2" seam allowance. I like to backstitch a few times over the finished edges of the rectangular pieces, just to make sure they are extra secure when removing and inserting the pillows.

5. Zig-zag or serge the raw edges. I don't have a serger, so I zig-zagged. This step is optional, but it helps make sure the cut edges don't fray. I also trimmed the corners to eliminate some of the bulk from the seam allowance.

6. Turn the pillowcase right side out and use the tip of your shears on the inside to make crisp corners.

7. Cover your pillow form and enjoy!

I am hoping these pillows will soften (literally and figuratively) our decor and add some much-needed personality to our home. If your textiles are worn or outdated, I hope you'll consider DIYing your own throw pillows. It's definitely worth the effort. Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Super Bulky Dropped Stitch Cowl

So, I made a giant cowl. I apparently missed out on the magic scarf knitting trend. The scarf is made by knitting a short length, then intentionally dropping stitches when binding off. I've been loving chunky knit cowls lately and decided to see if this technique would translate. Spoiler alert: it totally does! And the pattern is embarrassingly simple--the only real trick is binding off.

Super Bulky Dropped Stitch Cowl:
About 200 yards of super bulky yarn (I used about 2.5 skeins of Lion Brand Hometown USA in Dallas Gray)
Size 15 needles (I knit this flat, then stitched the ends together)

Gauge: The gauge isn't so important for this project. I eyeballed it

CO 59 stitches using long tail cast on.
Knit 14"-16" in garter stitch.

Binding off:
It's important to bind off very loosely to maintain the width while accounting for the dropped stitches.
K2. Pass first knit stitch over the second.
Drop the third stitch.
K1. Pass the first stitch on the needle over the second.
Drop the next stitch.
K1. Pass stitch over.
Drop the next stitch.
Repeat this pattern until only 1 stitch remains. (the row should end with dropped stitch, knit, knit)
Break yarn and pull tail through last stitch.
Weave in ends.

Gripping the bound-off edge tightly, stretch the piece to rip the dropped stitches all the way to cast-on edge. This takes a fair bit of work. The finished rectangle will be significantly longer than your original knit piece (mine was about double). Using leftover yarn, I stitched the cast-on and bound-off edges. I folded the resulting tube over three times. This gives it the super chunk! If you wanted a little less bulk, you could cast on fewer stitches. Just make sure you use: a number divisible by 3 + 2 more stitches.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Crafts of Kindness 2: Chemo Caps

Escargot pattern and photo by Veronica Parsons

The subzero temperatures that have plagued my beloved home-state for the past month have everyone thinking about one thing: keeping warm. Two of my aunts have gone through treatment for cancer, and both had trouble battling the feeling of cold. They were also incredibly thankful for the hats they received while they went through chemotherapy.

This week, I'd like to talk about some guidelines for donated hats, and highlight a few organizations that collect and distribute chemo caps.

A few things to consider when making caps:
Yarn: your fiber should be as soft as possible. Keep in mind that some yarns, especially wool, can irritate already-sensitive skin.
Pattern: avoid especially lacy patterns with large holes. The idea is to maximize warmth and comfort while staying fashionable.
Allergies/Sensitivities: because chemotherapy patients are already susceptible to illness, avoid anything that might exacerbate existing allergies or sensitivities (smoke, pet hair, etc.)

Where to donate:
Local Hospitals: I love the idea of keeping my charitable crafting projects within my community. I plan to donate my hats to the Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute in Flint, Michigan. Check with local hospitals, cancer support groups, or outreach organizations to find places to donate your work locally.

Crochet for Cancer: According to the organization's website, Crochet for Cancer, Inc. is a Christian volunteer based non-profit that donates handmade chemo caps to cancer centers for patients coping with hair loss due to chemotherapy. You can contact a local chapter of Crochet for Cancer to donate your caps--they will distribute them. Crochet for Cancer, Inc's website is also a great resource for knit and crochet cap patterns and crocheting tutorials.

Knots of Love: This organization provides hand-knit and crochet caps for cancer patients and others facing life-threatening illnesses. Their donation guidelines are a bit more rigid than Crochet for Cancer. They provide a list of accepted yarns and ask that caps be crafted from one of these options. For more information about their donation guidelines, please see their website here.

Hats are great stash-busting, instant gratification projects. Please consider donating one to someone in need. Be creative and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Waxed Canvas Messenger Bag (For When I am a Relic Hunter)

It's pretty common knowledge that the key to being a world adventurer and relic hunter is not an overpriced degree in Ancient Civilizations and Biblical Studies from an overrated university; it is, in fact, the perfect bag. See above for photographic evidence (Indiana Jones, Sydney Fox!). How else will you carry your texts, maps, weapons, survival necessities, and (of course) the priceless artifacts you have bravely recovered? Phone charger? Check. Leather whip? Check. Holy grail? Check.

I made myself a canvas bag during my not-so-short-lived phase of wanting to become a world traveler and rescuer of obscure relics. I didn't have time to become fourth-semester proficient in an ancient language, but I did have time to sew this bag. I had been researching waxed canvas online for some time, but the price tags of my favorite Moop bags led me to the conclusion that I had better learn to topstitch and wax canvas if I wanted one.

I watched a lot of tutorials about waxing canvas. Most instruct you to mix paraffin wax, beeswax, and turpentine. I wasn't crazy about the idea of putting turpentine on my lovingly-constructed bag--I was especially nervous about the smell. Eventually, I found instructions for waxing canvas using a mixture of only paraffin and beeswax. I decided to give it a try.

I mixed equal parts of each wax in a bowl over a simmer pot of water. I used 8 oz of each, but I probably could have gotten away with 4 oz. of each. Wax is highly flammable! It must be melted with caution (hence the double boiler)!! I spread craft paper on my work surface before I began. I used a very inexpensive brush for this project, as it isn't really usable afterward. Once my wax was completely melted, I brushed it onto the bag, trying not to coat it too heavily. Then I used a heat gun on the low heat setting to impregnate the fabric with the wax. I tried to wipe off any excess wax that remained on the surface. This was a time-consuming process. I worked in sections, waxing, then heating. The finished bag was quite stiff--much heavier than the original canvas. I decided to distress the bag a little by throwing it in the dryer with some tennis shoes, using the air dry setting.

I am in love with this bag. I'm not sure how it will hold up in the summer heat (it's ten below outside as I write this), so check back in the summer for an update. Even if I never have an adventurous life, this bag will carry my mundane stuff around like a champ. And I'll feel awesome wearing it :) Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Crafts of Kindness 1: Cards for Cam

Cards for Cam first came to my attention when a Facebook friend shared the group's page. She knows the family personally, and has been trying to raise awareness on behalf of Cameron Corder's family and friends. When I initially conceived of this series, Cards for Cam was not in existence. Army Sergeant First Class Cameron Corder was serving in Afghanistan as a Flight Medic, while his wife and two young daughters remained in Michigan. Unfortunately, SFC Corder suffered an injury while assisting in the rescue of an injured Marine in August. His condition gradually worsened in the following months; in December, he was flown to Germany to undergo surgery. I won't presume to describe the Corder family's struggles over the past few weeks. The following is an excerpt from the Cards for Cam Facebook page, explaining what prompted the creation of the group:

A wonderful family has had their lives changed forever. For the past 6 months Bethany Corder has been holding down the fort at home while her husband, Sergeant First Class Cameron Corder, has been serving over in Afghanistan.

Bethany received word that on Saturday, December 21st, her husband had been injured. Cameron is an Aviation Medic in Afghanistan and was working on an injured Marine when his injury happened. He suffered a devastating spinal injury and has no feeling from the waist down. Doctors have informed him that he may never regain feeling because the nerve roots were so badly damaged. He was flown to Frankfort, Germany where he is receiving treatment.

Cameron and Bethany have returned to the States--the injured soldier is now recovering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

The group's founders have asked that well-wishers send cards of support and encouragement to Cameron as he embarks on his journey of recovery. According to this MLive article, Bethany Corder has requested “anything to lift him up and let him know that he’s OK the way he is and everyone loves him exactly the same. . . .He’s thinking his life is over and it’s not. He just needs something to look forward to, definitely. Please keep the well wishes coming.” Please send cards to:

Cards for Cam

176 Apollo Circle
Flushing, MI 48433

Anyone wishing to make a monetary contribution to the family can include a check made payable to Bethany Corder. 

The card in the photograph above is one I designed in honor of Cameron Corder. The full image is below. Please take a few moments to jot a few words of encouragement to this deserving family. Be kind to one another!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Crafts of Kindness: A New Undertaking

I had to make a trip to the post office on December 30th to mail a package that I had (predictably) pushed to the side during the holiday scramble. When I walked into the building, there were three employees behind the counter and one customer in line. By the time I selected an appropriate envelope and wrote the recipient's address on it, there was one employee behind the counter and about half of the city in line. So I took my place at the end and waited. And waited. And fidgeted. And checked my phone. And grew increasingly impatient. As I neared the front of the line, a young woman rushed into the post office, skidding to a halt when she saw the line. Everyone, myself included, watched her. She stared dismally at the queue, studied the two slim envelopes in her hand, then reluctantly took her place.

The customer ahead of the anxious woman was one of those genial people who have that rare ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. She had been maintaining friendly chatter with those around her, and immediately engaged the young woman. As they spoke, the young woman grew increasingly nervous about the long wait--she clearly had somewhere to be. The friendly stranger held out her hand and said, "I'll mail your letters." There were plenty of witnesses in the post office--little chance that she had some sinister intention for the mail. The rushed customer protested at first, then acquiesced but offered some cash for the postage, but the kind woman waved it away. She said, "Things are tough. We all need to take care of one another."

Her words struck me. Of all of the people in the post office, why was she the only one who offered to help that woman? Why hadn't I? It was such a simple gesture, but I'm sure that, in that moment, it meant the world to the recipient. A few days earlier, I had read this blog post from Aunt Peaches. It really made me think about how much I overvalue my own kind acts, and often overlook the kindnesses I receive. The blog from Aunt Peaches and the incident in the post office brought to mind a project I had been working on earlier in the year.

Over the summer, I had fallen into a major funk--I slipped into a cycle of being consumed with my own problems, then hating myself for being so self-absorbed. It's easy at times like these for me to lose a sense of connection. When I was ready to re-engage with the world, it occurred to me that crafting might serve as both an outlet for me and a way to help others.

So, after that lengthy and rather personal background, here's my plan: every two weeks I will post about a non-profit or charitable organization that seeks donations of handcrafted items. I plan to complete a project for each group, and hopefully recruit a few friends to do the same. I will add here that there is a robust debate in crafting circles about the utility of charity crafting. Some bloggers argue strongly against the practice, feeling that it results in well-meaning, but ultimately useless items being given to those in need rather than the thing they need most: money. In some instances, I see the logic of this argument. In the face of a natural disaster that destroys homes and belongings, sometimes leaving people seriously injured or dead, perhaps making a monetary donation to a relief organization is the best thing you can do to help. BUT, when an organization specifically solicits homemade items, I assume that the organization is in the best position to judge what it needs, not me. If handmade beads or knitted hats will further their goals, who am I to say otherwise?

I also want to reiterate that this year-long project intended to be a guilt trip--maybe just a reminder to myself and my readers that a small act of kindness (or craft of kindness!) can go a long way toward improving someone's day. Maybe make someone's life a tiny bit easier. Maybe remind someone that they're not alone. I'd like this experiment to show that crafting can--and should--foster connection. Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sweater Upcycled to Winter Hat: Beanie Tutorial

Last year I thrifted an angora sweater bearing an--umm, interesting?--print. Someone had kindly felted it for me (I imagine this is what landed the sweater in the thrift store to begin with). I thought it would make cool mittens, but I wanted to find a way to use the large, striped turtleneck. What better than a beanie to go with mittens?

I looked for patterns online, but decided in the end to just do some improvising. I cut the turtleneck off of the sweater, creating a tube of fabric, and slipped it over my head to make sure it would fit. I noted how much excess fabric stuck out above my head and used this estimate as a guide when I did my cutting. I folded the tube in half vertically, then in half vertically again. Starting about 2 1/2" down, I cut the top of the folded fabric to a point. When the fabric was unfolded, the cut created 8 points and looked like a striped crown.

I flipped the tube inside out and sewed the edges of the pointed ends together (see photo below). That was pretty much it! This was a surprisingly quick project. I decided that the hat needed a little extra something, so I made a quick pom pom from coordinating yarn. Here's my lovely sister wearing her new hat:

I'm thinking that the striped cuffs of the sleeves would make excellent cuffs for mittens, and I'll use that crazy print for the bodies of the mittens. Thrift store racks are overflowing with sweaters that their previous owners accidentally washed in hot water or threw into the dryer. They make for fantastic crafting! Felted sweaters can be cut and sewn just like any other fabric without fear of unraveling. Keep an eye out for them. Be creative and enjoy!