Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Holidays 2015

Happy Holidays 2015 from Unlikelynest! Hope you all are having a great time with family and friends!

Just for fun, here are a few of the silly ones...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

An Advent Calendar

I had the sudden urge from nowhere to make an advent calendar this year.

My family never made a big deal about advent, so my experience with advent calendars came from my favorite aunt, who sent me a paper advent calendar every year. They were fantastic, fabulous constructions with little windows and tiny prizes and candies. To this day I have no idea where she got them (If you're reading this, this is me asking!).

So I guess I didn't know what to expect when I popped the question into google. It turns out there are tons of creative ideas out there on how to celebrate advent.

We don't have a lot of space, and I wanted something easy that wouldn't cost a lot, so I ended up making a version of Martha Stewart's Matchbox Advent Calendar. I bought 3 packs of matchboxes (it turns out my local grocery store still sells them!) and dug up a bottle of white glue.

This isn't the most lovely rendition possible of this idea, but I needed to get it done quickly- I had about 10 minutes of peace and if I didn't get it done then, it wasn't going to happen. The drawing was done with my daughters washable markers and the draw handles are duct tape. The sides and back are wrapped with wrapping paper.  

Then the question was... what to put inside the little drawers?

The obvious suggestions of stickers or candy or little dollar store items didn't really appeal to me. I don't really want to encourage commercialism in celebrating advent-- I wanted the calendar to really be about being together and doing things together to get ready for Christmas.

Once again the internet came to my rescue, another mom who made a similar matchbox suggested simply putting prompts on paper. This resonated with me, so I made my own set of prompts (my list starts at 5 because that's when I got the advent calendar done by!):

5 Decorate with lights

6 Make a Christmas Craft

7 Cut out paper snowflakes

8 Find a special present and open it

9 Special treat: Hot cocoa and marshmallows

10 Build a fort and have dinner in it

11 Make popcorn and watch a movie

12 Make a card for someone and mail it

13 Make a gift for grandma and grandpa

14 Make a pinecone bird feeder

15 Find a special present and open it

16 Make cookies from freezer dough

17 Have breakfast for dinner

18 Watch a movie

19 Make Christmas Cookies

20 Go downtown and look at lights

21 Make salt dough ornaments

22 Make a card for someone

23 Wrap a present for someone else

So far it has been wonderful! Little Bug looks forward to it every day, and is excited to do the suggested activity. In fact, we are having a hard time explaining why she can only open one drawer each day. On my part, things are timed to happen on days that it seems likely we'll be excited about doing what is in the calendar--the days I know I'll be home late have simple treats on them, and the big projects are on weekend days. 

While it is extra work for me, it is good to have the prompt to encourage us to do something fun. For example, I doubt I would have come home and just wanted to "built a fort and eat dinner in it," but it was super fun, and we ended up playing games, reading, and going to sleep in it too!

The "special presents" are little things that I have made for her. I'll post about them in another post.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Natural Food Dye for Iced Cookies

Once, a friend of mine invited me to a cookie exchange. What a lovely idea... everyone makes their favorite recipes, and by the end of the afternoon, everyone goes home with a variety of different types of cookies.

I made the mistake of asking what was in people's cookies. Alas, I didn't get invited back, which is probably for the best!

Among the worst offenders was the canned frosting that people were smearing on their cookies. Kids were gleefully licking it off their fingers. That makes me cringe, I can't even watch! I can only assume that people are ignorant about what is in that stuff.

Using natural, minimally processed ingredients in the foods I cook is important to me. I never use hydrogenated oils, and I try to use whole grains and real flavorings. My family doesn't have allergies, so I use things like flour, milk and eggs. I compromise a little bit when baking, which I don't do very often-- I usually use King Arthur's unbleached white flour (sometimes white wheat, or a combo) and white sugar.

For anyone out there reading, it is really easy to make your own cookie icing. My favorite is royal icing, which I make with powdered egg whites for safety reasons (our local Michaels carries powdered meringue) Actually, it would be even better to make it from real pasteurized eggs... I belatedly read the label on the powdered eggs, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there are preservatives and "artificial flavoring" in them. In any case, I use this recipe from Martha Stewart. I'll work on getting real pasteurized eggs for a future rendition. I still think this recipe is miles better than canned frosting made with hydrogenated oil and filled with preservatives, artificial color and artificial flavor.

Note... if you are making this icing for natural dyes, it might be useful to reduce the amount of liquid. The reason for this is that even though you want to make the dye as concentrated as possible, you might need to add more, and therefore more liquid, than you would normally add with a commercial dye. I didn't do this, and some of our icings were a bit runnier than I would have preferred. Next time!

This year, it occurred to me that perhaps it was time to wean myself off of artificial food dyes. I'm a little more ambivalent on these... it seems to me like you generally use so little that it that how could it be harmful. But the thought of my daughter licking her fingers as she gleefully iced cookies spurred me on. Also, it was super easy and fun to dye eggs with natural dyes, so how hard could it be to do the same with cookie icing? Not that hard, it turns out!

Top, Left to Right: Red Cabbage with Baking Soda, Spirulina with Tumeric, Beet Juice. Bottom Row: Cranberries, Red Cabbage with Vitamin C.

The most successful red was obtained from cranberries! I used about 1 cup of berries and boiled them for about 15-20 minutes. I don't know if the next step was necessary (I might have been just able to use the juice from boiling the berries), but I pureed the fruit in the blender with the liquid from boiling, then strained it with a coffee filter. I then reduced the resulting liquid to about an ounce. It turned the royal icing a lovely deep magenta, pretty believable as red.

Spirulina + tumeric

Green came from powdered spirulina, which was available from the bulk section of our natural grocery. I bought a tablespoon or so for about a dollar. I used only about a teaspoon to color this icing. Since the green seemed a little dark, I added some tumeric to brighten it.

Red Cabbage + Baking Soda

This lovely pale blue came from red cabbage, made basic by the addition of baking soda. I boiled half a cabbage, then removed the cabbage and reduce the liquid down to about 1/4 of a cup. I then split the juice into three jars for further experimentation.

Red Cabbage juice, three ways: left, with baking soda. Center, unaltered. Right, with vitamin C (acidic).
 To get blue, I added baking soda just until I got the color to change. It was a pale baby blue in the icing. When it dried, it looked more aqua.

Red Cabbage + Vitamin C

The above purple is the beet juice with vitamin C added (acidic).


The least impressive was the beets, which made a pale pink! I boiled one beet in about 2 cups of water, then reduced the liquid down to 1 ounce. Perhaps I needed more beets? Little Bug, who loves pink, was delighted!

Little Bug sampled all of the icings, and found them all yummy!

We put all of the icings into squeeze bottles (from Michaels). Silly me, I only had 4... so we also had to use some cake decorating bags and tips.

Little Bug really got into it this year!

Oh, and the chocolate rolled cookie recipe that we used is this one... it is the best. Very easy to handle-- Little Bug rolled them out herself. And it is totally yummy. This is from LilaLoa... check out her website for more details. I noticed she also posted a link to a gluten free version of this recipe!

1 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup cocoa
3 or 3 1/2 cups flour

Cream butter, shortening and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add baking powder and salt and mix again. Stir in the cocoa until well blended. Add flour 1 cup at a time. IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE COOKIES RIGHT AWAY, ADD 3 1/2 cups flour. If you are going to "chill" the dough, or just wait for another day to make your cookies, STOP AT 3 cups. It will be totally soft and look all wrong, and you will want to ignore me completely and add more flour, but I'm telling you -- DON'T DO IT. Practice self-restraint. You will be glad you did, and I will be proud of you. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Bake at 375 F for 6 1/2 minutes. (I roll my cookies 3/16" thick.)


Monday, December 7, 2015

Shades of Gray Wrap: Papercut Coppelia in Cashmere Knit

As soon as the cold weather hits, all I want to make is cozy sweaters! 

I've sewn all sorts of wool knits- merino, felted wools, angora, etc, and I love the warmth, breathability, and texture of wool of all sorts. I am pretty sensitive, and I generally wear my wools with a long sleeve rayon or cotton top or shrug, or in rare cases I make a lined sweater. The one exception is cashmere, which I love wearing right next to my skin, and it is oh-so-cozy and warm. I once found a fabulous piece of cashmere knit (on that I made into a cozy wrap that I wear all the time. In fact, I'm wearing holes in it, and it is looking a bit ragged, but I wear it all the time anyway.

I've been on the hunt for another piece of cashmere knit fabric, but it is oh-so-rare. Especially the really good stuff, in my favorite winter colors-- black and gray! Then, I was in the thrift store seeking items to refashion, and wandered into the sweater section just in case there was any cashmere to be found... and struck gold. Or cashmere.

I found two sweaters in shades of gray, and I knew almost immediately that I wanted to make a Papercut Coppelia wrap with them. I've made a Coppelia once before, with a merino knit, and I wear it pretty frequently. It was one of the first indie patterns I every purchased... I have a real soft spot for wraps. There is something about a cashmere knit that seems like it would be fabulous as a slim wrap.

Previously I made a Medium, but this time I traced the Large. I thought it would give me a little more room with the bulkier knit, and quite honestly, I'm a bit larger than I was when I made my first Coppelia. But I sort of screwed up the back piece and cut the Medium with it. I tried to compensate by making the seam allowances narrower, and I think between that and the forgiving nature of the knit, the fit is pretty okay.

I decided to make the wrap tie at the side, so one tie is longer than the other. 

I should have taken before pictures, but I'm not so good at that, I just jump right in. The lighter gray sweater was a women's XL, so I made the back and one of the front pieces with it, and managed to get a sleeve by pieces together the scraps. I managed to line up both the back and front pieces with the bottom edge of the sweater so that I could incorporate the ribbing, and for the sleeve, I sewed a saved piece of ribbing back onto the sleeve.

This is a closeup of the front bottom edge of the sweater. The ribbing on the bottom. I used the ribbing from the original sweater as the hem of my sweater, and left the right edge unfinished. The ribbing that makes up the neckline and continues to make the ties is topstitched with a double needle.

In this pic you can see some of the crazy piecing I did to get the raglan sleeve. I used a zigzag stitch to join the pieces, than topstitched the seam allowances down with a zig zag. 

The darker gray sweater was a very small sweater, probably slightly shrunken in the wash also, so I barely managed to eek out the front piece and most of a sleeve. But I still managed to line up the front piece with the bottom of the sweater, so once again I used the finished edge of the original sweater.

After cutting the main pieces of the pattern, I had a pile of tiny, tiny scraps, so I was back at the thrift store hunting for something to make the neck band and ties with. I found a gray angora blend sweater that had a thick band of ribbing at the waist. I had intended fold over the neckline as called for in the Papercut pattern, but after sewing on one edge, I liked the extra width.

I borrowed a tag from one of the repurposed sweaters to designate the very special fiber content!

Since the ribbing was finished on the unattached side, I decided to just leave it like that. I also used some ribbing from the angora sweater to finish the dark gray sleeve, making what looks like an oversized cuff from part of the sleeve.

I can wear the wrap either way-- dark side out, or light side out. Either way, I tie it at the right side. Initially I made both straps long enough to tie in front, but I prefer it tied at the side, so I took the extension off of one of the straps, it was dragging on the floor.

I love my new sweater, so very cozy! I almost had it done for my birthday, but refashioning definitely takes a bit longer than just working with yardage. So I'm going to just give myself an extension and call this my birthday sweater.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Dress for a Little Bug- MADE First Day Dress

There are so many cute holiday dresses out there for little girls, so in the past I've just bought her something lovely. But this year I really wanted to make something unique for my special Little Bug.

I used my TNT pattern for her... MADE's First Day Dress. I know I'm a bit stuck in a rut (Leopard Dress, Purple Party Dress), but I just love the classic, simple pattern and the circle skirt.

I was quite stuck on what fabric to use. I knew I wanted velvet for the bodice, and something really special for the skirt. Browsing my favorite online stores wasn't inspiring me, and the prices were not attractive, especially since I only really needed a yard for the skirt, and 1/2 a yard for the bodice. Everything at my local Joanne's just seemed so plasticy, and their velvet either felt cheap or was very expensive.

Then I had the idea to see what I could find at the local thrift store. This turned out to be the golden idea! Why do manufacturers have access to such a range of fabrics that don't seem to be available to us home sewists? I found another girls dress with a beautiful, thick, stretchy velvet that was perfect for the bodice, and a women's shirt with a very unique "burnout" pattern. It is probably some sort of poly mix but it feels very cottony to the touch, and the pattern is so unique... holiday without being cliche. I also used some rayon bemberg from my stash for lining the skirt, and tulle from Joannes for the built in "petticoat."

When I sewed it up and called Little Bug over for a first fitting, she burst into tears. TEARS, I tell you. All because the skirt did not touch the ground. Sigh. Arguments about how nice a shorter dress would be for dancing fell on deaf ears. So, guess what... the tulle petticoat ended up being a bit longer than I had anticipated. Even so, we had a bit of an argument about it... it is apparently not long enough yet! But I calmly explained that it would not be a good thing for all of that nice white tulle to be dragging on the floor, and I may have won that argument for the time being. Just maybe.

For a little girl that attends Waldorf school and watches no TV (she hasn't seen a single Disney princess movie yet)... that princess thing is in the blood of some little girls, and mine has it very strongly!

Anyhow, here are some construction details, for anyone who is interested. Sorry there are no pics of the original thrifted garments, forgot about that detail. But the hardest part was definitely piecing together the semi-circle skirt out of the shirt. I decided seaming was just part of the design, and just sewed the seam allowances down in sort of a lazy flat-fell. This was similar to how the original shirt was constructed, except their seams are surged. I didn't apply any additional finish since the fabric doesn't seam to fray very much.

Cutting the velvet bodice was easy. The original garment was princess-seamed, so I centered the seams as best I could. The bust seams don't fall right on the bust, but I think that isn't so bad of a thing on a little girl dress. For the neckline, I just turned over the edge and stitched with a double needle. No closure was needed since the fabric is stretchy. The sleeves were improvised... I used the already hemmed bottom of the dress, then just added a bit of a gather at the top.

The rayon bemberg lining is sewn separately, but attached to the bodice like an underlining. At first I attached the lining to enclose the waist seam, and realized it looked terrible because then the waist seam showed through the red burnout fabric-- doh! So I unpicked and attached the two skirt pieces to the bodice as if they were a single layer. The waist seam shows on the inside, but oh well! I considered enclosing all of the inside seams in seam tape but then I came to my senses and just left well enough alone.

The tulle is gathered and attached to the rayon bemberg lining. There are two yards of it, folded in quarters, so it is rather poofy. Sort of a good thing, since it was not my intention to make a floor length gown, and it needs the extra poof to help maintain the profile of the skirt.

I still prefer my original design idea, where the tulle would stick out a couple inches... but alas, I'm not the one in control here anymore! If she is happy, we are all happy. And I think she is... she didn't want to take the dress off, I could only convince her to take it off before bed by talking about how wrinkled it would get, so she put it next to her in the bed so it would be there when she woke up. 

Velvet (thrifted)= $2
Red Burnout fabric (thifted)=$3
Tulle= $2
Bemberg (stash, so sort of free, but I know how much I paid for it)= $6
Total Cost= $13

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ice Blue Fleece Bunting-Snowsuit

I have been doing rather a lot of self-less sewing. Although, as my husband points out, sewing for your kids is almost like sewing for yourself-- there is such a personal joy at seeing things you have made on these little people that you love so dearly. 

So, my latest sewing make is an ice-blue fleece bunting for Little Lion. I actually thought long and hard before embarking on this project... really, I would have been happy to find one pre-made! I've made one before, and I know how long it took me, and the result was only so-so. I really thought Lion would fit into his 0-3 month Patagonia bunting for another season-- I know that sounds crazy, but Lilly fit into hers for two years, Patagonia leaves lots of growing room. Alas, his legs are so long that I was feeling bad stuffing him into a fleece where his little feet were always straining at the ends.

We also have an 18 month Patagonia snowsuit, so I was using that in the meantime, but there are no attached booties. I tried all manner of socks and boots. Forget about socks, he just wiggles out of those. I bought a new pair of Robeez shoes, since those were the ones that worked for Little Bug, but even those were iffy on his feet. I made a pair of bungee corded booties (I have yet to blog them) after an innovative style that also worked for Little Bug, but again, they kept coming off his little feet. People would come after me in supermarkets or I'd be running back seeking the lost boot... it got tiresome. I suppose I could go for all out tights, but they would frustrate him as soon as he was inside and wanted to crawl (he likes to use his feet for extra purchase when crawling).

I trawled the local used kids clothes stores and the internet in search of a nice fleece bunting with attached footsies. I admit to being a bit picky about such stuff... I like quality fleece, I hate the cheap thin pill-y stuff. I love the Patagonia buntings, but I couldn't find one in his size that was new on sale, and the ebay ones in his size were either very pink, or had histories I deemed suspect.

Of course at this point, I'm thinking how hard can it really be to make one? Heh-heh. The Rainshed had some gorgeous ice-blue Malden Mills fleece on sale, and I ordered some... and then I was committed to the project!

I think I also had it in my mind to redeem myself from my last mostly failed attempt to make a baby bunting. That was a long time ago, before Little Bug was born, and I was new to sewing. I just made up a pattern based on a onesie and pictures of fleece buntings on the internet. It took me forever, and we're talking about back when I actually could sew uninterrupted for hours at a time! I was super proud of my handiwork, but I made one big mistake... the torso length was rather short, especially for a cloth-diaper baby. Little Bug wore it only once or twice when she was newborn before it no longer fit.

This time I had a couple of nice Patagonia bunting/like things to look at for examples, years more sewing experience, and an actual baby to try it on. I mostly used the 18-month snowsuit as a pattern, tracing carefully using pins to mark seams. Since I really need a 6-12 month size, I shortened the arms and legs by a couple of inches after I was done tracing the pattern.

The bunting came together relatively quickly, my biggest problem is that I have only tiny slots of time in which to sew. I really enjoyed the process... now that I have a better understanding of construction, it is pretty easy to figure out and rewarding when it all comes together.

To reduce bulk, I did fake flatlocking of the seams whenever possible. My machine doesn't have a lot of fancy stitches, but it worked fine to first sew the seam, then zig zag over the seam with the seam allowance open, then trim the remaining seam allowances. I used the widest zigzag my machine had with the stitches set fairly close.

To create the zipper guard, I used a single unhemmed piece of fleece, and used a piece of grosgrain ribbon (also from The Rainshed) directly under the zipper teeth. This is probably not really necessary, but it looks nice (and it is how it was done on the Patagonia bunting that Little Lion outgrew).

I used a bit of striped spandex for binding. I bought it from Peak Fabrics to make a top for myself, but it just matched so perfectly with the ice-blue fleece. I used it to bind the arms and legs, and also the top of the attached mittens on the sleeves and feet. I also put a bit around the seam where the hood attaches to the body, a detail borrowed from the Patagonia bunting and something I've seen on other RTW hoodies.

I incorporated the details that make the fit on the Patagonia bunting so nice.. the wide raglan sleeves that are so easy to sneak little baby arms into, the three-piece hood, and the generous gusseted crotch.

Oddly, neither of the Patagonia pieces that I have use a two-way separating zipper. The fleece has a rather complicated system that allow the piece to be zipped into a true bunting (like a little baby bag) but I didn't need all that. But it might be nice in some circumstances to be able to do a diaper change without totally undressing the baby, and the two-way zipper down one leg allows you to do this.

After trying the partially finished suit on Leo for a day, I decided the legs were too short, so I added two inches of length to the legs. This was after I had already installed the zipper, so I had to add an extension of the zipper guard to block drafts, and a piece of velcro to act as a closure.

It of course has built in mittens for the hands and the feet- these are really practical for keeping a baby cozy. These are super simple, just flaps of fleece on the back of the suit that you can flip over the hand and arm openings.

I added elastic in the hood, and just cinched it a bit on the sides, following the model of the Patagonia bunting.

Little Lion has been wearing it since before I finished it. I just feel good having something warm and cozy to put him in on chilly mornings!