Sunday, December 21, 2014

I’ve got a Secret… Fat Quarter Folding Totes

I’ve got a Secret… Fat Quarter Folding Totes:    

Now, during the holiday hiatus of many shows, the Game Show Network has old reruns of I've Got A Secret and What’s My Line.  They aren't THAT old… I've Got A Secret is the “new” version of the show, with Steve Allen hosting, and the one I watched was from 1961.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 50 years since that show originally aired!  In the fall of 1961, I became a mother.  My firstborn child was born on 9-11… and that date now has a completely different memory attached to it, since the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York.  Times have changed so much since the 1960’s… hairstyles, clothing fashions... when women wore undergarments that drastically changed their body shapes!  Waists were cinched in, girdles held tummies flat, and bras were uplifting and transformed breasts into pointed objects… and remember nylon stockings with garter belts?  No wonder it took us so long to get dressed. Women wore dresses in the 60’s.  Now, it’s unique to see a woman in a dress, in this era of comfortable pants and elastic waists that expand as our waistlines grow.  Men’s lapels were wide, and so were their ties.  Today, as I brushed my curls out, I realized that my hairstyle now is much the same as it was in 1960 in my graduation photo.  The ratted hair and beehive hairdos came later, when I was busy raising toddlers and had little time for worrying about following fashion.  I've got a secret of my own… the “Real” me is that 19 year old young woman hiding inside me, that no one knows about or sees… but me. 

Recently, I found this website: and saw her tutorial for the fold-up tote bag.  (Check out her tutorials… she has some other cute ideas!)  I thought I could make it from fat quarters… I have a lot of "mystery box" fat quarters that don’t fit well into my quilting ideas, but they make cute and colorful bibs and other small projects.  I incorporated some changes for my own tutorial that make it even more to my liking!
This tote takes about 5 minutes to do the serging and about 30 minutes to sew the rest of the bag,  This does not count cutting the pieces, however.  By sewing several at once, the time per bag can be lessened a bit, if you do them assembly-line fashion.  Now, bear in mind that I have slowed down in my old age!  You may be able to make one faster than I can!
Each tote takes two fat quarters:  one for the main part and one for the band and straps.  Ironing the fat quarters before cutting is advisable, as the folds may prevent accurate cutting.  If you have a serger, it works great for joining the pieces, since the bag is not lined.  Alternately, French seams will also look neat on the inside of the bag, or you can zig-zag the seam to enclose it.   Cut off all selvages.  Fat quarters vary a bit in size; some are 18” x 21” and some are 18” x 22”.  Cut the main color fat quarter to measure 16” x 22” (or 21”).  Cut two pieces from the main color, 16 by 11,  or 16” x 10-1/2”, if the fat quarter measures 18” X 21”.  16” is going to be the width of the tote.   The smaller measurement will be the height of the main part of the tote.
Next, cut the bands and straps from the contrasting fat quarter.  With the fabric doubled, cut two strips 4” x 22” for the straps.  There should be 10” x 22” remaining.  Lay it flat on the cutting board and cut it 16” long, or the same length as the width of the body of the tote bag, so the result is a piece 10” x 16”.  Cut it into two 5”x 16” pieces.  This is for the band at the top of the main color.

Cut a 6” length of round elastic.  This will be for the closure.  Position the two ends of the elastic at the top center of the main color on the front of the bag, forming a loop, and stitch across it several times to secure it well.  When the band is joined to the main color, the elastic loop will be between the two pieces.
Join the band to the main body, front and back.  There are now two pieces, approximately 16” x 1 6”.  Press this seam down and stitch it in place a scant ¼” from the seam so the seam allowance is secured on the inside.  Join front to back on both sides and across the bottom.   Again, if you don’t serge the seams, edge them with a zig-zag stitch or do a French seam to prevent them from raveling.

Serge (or fold under ¼”) the top of the bag.  Fold under about 3/4” to the inside.  Stitch along the bottom of the fold and again near the top of the bag so that the folded portion is stitched down on the top and bottom. 
Straps:  Press each 4” x 22” strip in half, wrong sides together.  Open out, wrong side up, and press each edge in to meet the middle fold.  Fold in half again, enclosing the raw edges.  The strap will be comprised of four thicknesses of fabric. Stitch along both long sides, close to the edge. Turn under about 1/2” on each end of the straps and stitch in place. (See photo at right.)

Mark about 3” in from each side of the bag for the strap position.  Pin to the bag at the 3” mark, about 3/4” down from the top edge of the bag.  Double check to make sure the strap isn’t twisted before sewing.  Sew the strap to the top of the bag  across the top, down each side, and across the bottom, in a box shape, then sew corner to corner, an “X” in the center of the box.  Repeat with the other three ends of the straps.  If you wish, you may put some stabilizer on the wrong side of the bag for extra stability, but it isn't necessary to do so.

Sew a button to the band, about 3” up from the elastic loop.  I had fun rummaging through my button basket to find the right buttons for my bags.
If you wish to box the bottom, turn the bag inside out.  Fold the corner so that it forms a triangle, placing the side seam over the bottom seam.  Sew across the triangle, about 2” from the point.  I backstitched at the beginning and end so the stitching would not pull out.  This “triangle” may be cut off and the seam serged, but it isn’t necessary to do that.  Turn right side out.  The bag is finished!

With the little piece left over after cutting the contrast color, a pocket could be sewn on the front or back… or on the inside, if you prefer.  I sewed two pieces together, leaving a space for turning, and turned right side out and pressed.  Position the pocket about 2” down from the elastic loop, and topstitch the pocket to the main fabric of the tote,
making sure to stitch the place you left open to turn the pocket in the seam.  Backstitch at the top edges to secure the pocket.  It works best to sew the pocket to the main part of the bag before joining the side seams, but it can be done after if you are careful to keep everything straight, taking care not to catch any unwanted parts in your seam!  The two layers makes the pocket a bit sturdier.  A Velcro strip can be sewn to the pocket and bag at the top to close the pocket, if desired, or it can be closed with a button and buttonhole... or just left open.   Depending on the size of the pocket, it can hold a cell phone, keys, library card, or credit card. 
I have left some of the bags at 18” wide, but then I add another contrasting band between the main body and the band, which requires additional fabric.  In most cases, a jelly roll strip (2-1/2”) works well.

Large Tote: Cut 2 pieces of main fabric, each 10-1/2” or 11” x 18”, depending on how wide the fat quarter is. 

From one 2-1/2” contrasting strip to use between band and main body, cut 2 pieces, each 2-1/2” x 18”.
Cut the straps the same as for the smaller tote.
Cut the bands 5” x 18”. 
Sew the tote bag the same as in the first example. The only difference is that it will be wider and a bit longer.  The boxed bottom is made the same way, but it can be a wider “box” by sewing 3” from the point of the triangle, if desired.  Larger variations are shown at the right.

To fold the bag, lay the bag flat and fold each side in at the point where the straps are attached.  Fold the straps down.  Roll, beginning at the bottom, and at the top, secure the roll with the button and elastic loop.  It is small and can easily fit in a purse or the glove compartment of your vehicle, ready for a time when you need a bag to put things in, such as a trip to the library. ends of the straps.
Variations and Pitfalls:
It works best to fold both ends in, leaving a slight space between them when making the straps.  This allows for easier folding the final fold when the two edges aren’t actually meeting or overlapping.  One of the most difficult things was pressing  these narrow pieces with steam and not burning my fingers with the steam, so take care!  It doesn't matter if  you sew your strap to the right or left of your mark…just be consistent with all of the straps.  It was easier to sew the straps on with the bag inside-out.  It was easier to stitch the top and band seams with the bag right-side out, stitching on the wrong side of the bag.  Take care when sewing the straps to the top of the bag… it is almost easier to sew another bag than to rip one out that’s sewn on the wrong spot!  That happened to me on the THIRTEENTH bag!  No wonder #13 has a reputation for bad luck.   Here are a few variations on the basic bag. 
This is a good way to use up those bright prints and gaudy colors that don’t fit well into a quilt.  Wild colors are great in this tote!  They look bright and cheerful… a fun project to gift to a friend. It can be used as a gift bag, and can be utilized as a tote bag when the gifts are removed.  Use your imagination and have fun!

About 10 years ago, I divided up my buttons and gave each of my girls a container of them, along with a fitted-out sewing basket of their own… but I still have a little basket of buttons left.  There are strands of elastic thread and big-eyed needles in the basket, as well, from my children and after that, my grandchildren, toddlers who sat in my sewing room and strung buttons to make necklaces and bracelets, while I sewed.  I think some of the buttons are probably over 50 years old, so they can probably be considered antiques.  Antiques, bit not junk… I’m glad I collected them from dresses, blouses, shirts, jackets, etc.  The useable fabric from those articles of clothing was cut up and sewn into new things, but not until the buttons were removed and strung together to be used on something new.  So many memories reside with the buttons in the basket… memories that have little meaning to anyone but me.  Perhaps it's time for these buttons to decorate someone else’s life… I hope when the bag has reached the end of its life, the button will continue its journey on another cherished item!  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Banners and Family Fun

My five children had Advent Candy Banners when they were little, made of felt with decorative Christmas ribbon down the center and yarn ties down both sides to tie the candy to the banner. 
I thought it would be a fun project for the grandchildren to make, since we will all be together for Thanksgiving, I dug out some pretty upholstery-weight fabric
from my stash, bought to use as accents for tote bags and purses some years ago…. It’s antique gold chenille with subtle purple highlights and a lot of texture.  I cut the banners 12” by 27”, and since the fabric was 54” wide, I got two from each 12” pass.  I sewed the rectangle into a tube, right sides together.  I turned it right side out and pressed it well.  I folded it right sides together on the bottom edge , and sewed across the four layers… make sure your sewing machine will handle heavy fabrics in multiple layers, or use a lighter weight fabric with some interfacing to stiffen it if your machine will not handle heavy jobs.
Trim that seam and turn it right side out, and it will form a point, like it did in the table runner tutorial.  Stitch across the open top of the point on the backside.  Stitch the open end closed, just sewing through both layers in about a ½” seam.  
Choose a jelly roll fabric or cut your own 2-1/2” strips for the center decoration.  I cut mine in half, so they are about 20” to 22” long. 
Fold in half the long way, right sides together, and stitch across the bottom, again forming a point when you turn it right side out.  Press under ¼” on both long sides and pin it to the banner you made from upholstery.  I found out the hard way that I needed to situate the point of the decorative strip ABOVE the triangle forming the point on the banner, as it is just too thick to sew through without making your machine work too hard. 

Topstitch along both sides, around the point and across the top of the decorative strip.  I did not turn the top under, because the poem will cover that part.  Fold the top of the banner to the backside, making about a 3” rod pocket.  Topstitch through all layers. 
Mark both sides of the center strip with magic marker dots, so you know where to sew the 24 lengths of yarn for the candy ties.  My marks were about 1-1/2" apart.   Cut the yarn in 12” segments, and take one stitch to anchor it to the banner, then knot it twice, forming a square knot.  Sherri, Ava and I sewed the yarn ties on.   Attach a bell on the bottom point of the banner.  Insert a dowel or twig through the casing at the top of   Griffin cut our twigs from bushes bordering the yard in back, and they worked great!  Bella, Ava, and my sister, Sherri, added decorative bows on the bottom made of various things. You may add additional decorations, if you choose.  Print the following poem out on card stock paper and glue that to another piece of heavyweight cardstock or thin cardboard using rubber cement.  Glue the cardstock to the top of the banner with a good craft glue.   Attach a 12” length of Jute, cord, or raffia to each end of the twig to hang the banner. We put a dab of craft glue on the place where the jute cord was knotted on the twig to ensure it stays put.  The photo below, right, shows many of the banners completed, waiting for the yarn ties, bell, and hanger.  Maddie printed off the poems for us and cut them to size.
December first ‘til Christmas
Is the longest time of year.
It seems as though old Santa Claus
Never will appear.
How many days until Christmas?
It's mighty hard to count.
So this little candy banner
Will show you the amount.
Untie a candy every day
When Sandman casts his spell
And Christmas Eve will be here
By the time you reach the bell.

Your Advent Candy Banner is now complete and ready for you to tie on wrapped candy pieces.  The banner should follow your child into adulthood, and perhaps someday will be used by your grandchild.

My grandchildren and the two little great-grands had a lot of fun choosing their candy… the littlest ones needed help tying them to the banner.  I had an assortment of wrapped candy, dum-dums, and fun-sized candy bars.  Little Charlotte was so funny… hers was mostly cookies and cream chocolate bars!   She very seriously told us they were her favorite. 

While everyone was busy doing their thing, after Bella finished her banner, she painted henna art on everyone who wanted it… from little Lucas to the adults.  She is an excellent Henna Artist, and everyone had a lot of fun getting their own Henna tattoo.  In this photo, she is painting the henna on her Auntie April, Mark's wife, and the finished tattoo is shown on the right.  
It was a wonderful holiday, filled with a lot of laughter.            
It’s a joy to me, as a mother, to see how much fun my five children have together as adults.  Sherri commented to me at one point, “We’ve got some really good kids!”  And I agree wholeheartedly.  Everyone is busy leading their own lives, but when we come together, there is Love.  And that is the greatest gift my children can give me.
Now, midway to Christmas, the children should be half way to the bell.  I hope the memory of this first Christmas making their Advent Banners will be something they will remember for a very long time.  I hope your holiday season is also sweetened with the love of friends and family! 

Happy Holidays from our house to yours!  I hope the New Year brings all good things your way. 
In the words of one of our favorite yuletide songs... We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Porketta and Angels We Call Sister

Porketta and Angels We Call Sisters:
Note:  This is late getting posted, due to a problem with my computer.  It went to the tech hospital and the Geek Squad made it all well again… so pretend you are back in Thanksgiving mode, please!

Once upon a time there was a young woman, all of 14 years old, who had two younger sisters.  Then came daughter number 4!  This young woman loved the baby sister almost as much as if she were her own babe.  As the baby grew, so did the young woman.  When the baby was 4 years old, the big sister got married… young by today’s standards, but it was not unusual for young women of 18 to be married in the Midwest in 1960.  A year later, she had a baby of her own, but her little sister was still special to her, and the little sister sometimes spent weekends with her.  They sewed doll clothes and she cooked the little sister’s favorite foods, like waffles and spinach… not served together, of course, and she taught her little sister many things she knew.  As time passed and they both grew older, they still were close.  They shared laughter and tears as they traveled separate paths, and the little sister began to teach her big sister many things.  She taught her to make jewelry, and how to make collages formed from bits of things too precious to throw away, lovely works of art that decorated her walls.  She taught her new recipes, and still they laughed together and shared the sacred moments of their lives. 

This week, that little sister came to her big sister’s home to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family.  She and her husband have no children, so she shares the children and grandchildren of her older sisters.  Tonight, my two sons who do not live here in Cincinnati will arrive with their families, and all five of my children and their families will be together again.  I am so very happy my baby sister was able to come and be with us, getting to know the grandchildren she shares and renewing bonds with my children.   I have been cleaning and preparing my house for visitors… 26 in my immediate family will be here on Thanksgiving, if everyone comes.  I still hadn't gotten the beds changed or my refrigerator cleaned out.  A dear friend told me that perhaps an angel or two would show up to help finish everything.  And, Priss, you were right!  My sweet sister changed the beds AND cleaned my refrigerator.  Not cleaned, as I would have cleaned it… tossing old leftovers out... she took EVERYTHING out, including even the door shelves.  She tossed things that were lab specimens, as my children call them, and washed all the shelves and the inside of the refrigerator!  I had a pork loin in the refrigerator that I said I wanted to make into a porketta, and she promptly replied that she makes porketta all the time!  For those of you who didn't grow up on the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota, the melting pot of nationalities and immigrants, a porketta is a pork roast that is butterflied and seasoned with onion, garlic, fennel, salt and pepper.  It is a traditional food on the Iron Range, and served especially at holidays and special occasions.  It’s delicious served hot or cold in sandwiches. 
Little Sister, also known as Sherri, laid the pork roast on my cutting board, deftly sliced into it with a knife and spread it out on the cutting board.   
She then diced up a large onion and sprinkled that over the pork.  Next came the minced garlic… 2 to 4 Tablespoons, according to taste.  Finally, she sprinkled Fennel seed (we used ground Fennel this time) over everything, then salt and pepper liberally.  
Next, she rolled it up like a jelly roll and tied it together with cotton worsted weight yarn… the closest thing I have to string.

She salted and peppered the outside and added a bit more fennel, and put the onion and garlic bits that had escaped over the top of the roast.  Then she triple-bagged it (porketta has a very strong scent that permeates everything in the refrigerator), and it is in the meat drawer of the spotlessly clean refrigerator, waiting to be roasted.  It will provide sandwiches for the multitudes in my home over the weekend.  (Addendum:  the porketta was cooked to perfection in my Halogen roaster, and smelled delicious!) 

While Sherri was busy putting things back in the refrigerator, I was busy with a project of my own.  I am making Advent Candy Banners.  I’ll put up another blog SOON with photos of our banners made the day after Thanksgiving this year.

I am thankful for my family.  My sister and my children helped me do much of the prep work for Thanksgiving dinner, as well as the clean-up.  The turkey will be put to bake in the morning. I will make dinner rolls… then it is just a matter of putting everything into the oven to bake.  I’ll assemble the stuffing and bake it separately from the turkey.  My youngest son peeled and diced parsnips, turnips rutabaga, carrots, and sweet potatoes and put them in a roasting pan, ready for the seasoning before baking.  My sister made a crockpot of red and white rice and lentils with curry that is smelling delicious.  I made ribbon jello, dreamsicle salad and a lime/pistachio/cottage cheese salad.  I have a huge bowl of diced pineapple and oranges, a couple of pans of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and a big crockpot of “fruit soup” (a Finnish tradition) for breakfast.   And don’t you dare tell me there aren't angels among us, because one is sleeping in the room above me as I write this, and I call her “SISTER”!

Update:  I didn't hear my alarm go off Thanksgiving morning, and awoke an hour too late... but the aroma of turkey roasting was in the air!  My youngest son had set HIS alarm, and he put the turkey on at the right time, and diced all the celery, onions, and even some mushrooms for the dressing.  I don't usually put mushrooms in mine, but I know he's a very experienced cook, so I tossed them in.  When he got up, he told me he sliced the mushrooms in the hope that I would make coddled eggs with mushrooms for breakfast!  He didn't get them that morning, but I did make him coddled eggs the next day.  And, of course, Quentin got his cheese omelet.  I notice the grandchildren are starting traditions of their own.  (Smile!)

If you are fortunate enough to have a sister, perhaps these quotes will have some special meaning for you, as they do for me:

One's sister is a part of one's essential self; an eternal presence of one's heart and soul and memory.
                                                                ...Susan Cahill, American Writer

You can't think how I depend on you, and when you're not there, the colour goes out of my life.
                                                                 ...Virginia Woolf, English Writer

A sibling may be the sole keeper of one's core identity, the only person with the keys to one's unfettered, more fundamental self.      ...Marian Sandmaier, 20th Century American Writer

Loving a sister is an unconditional, narcissistic, and complicated devotion that approximates a mother's love... sisters are inescapably connected, shaped by the same two parents, the same trove of memory and experience.            ...Mary Bruno, 20th Century American Writer

We are sisters. We will always be sisters.  Our differences may never go away but neither, for me, will our song.                       ...Nancy Kelton, 20th Century American Writer

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Crocheted Top Dish Towels

Crocheted Top Dish Towels:
Christmas is just 5 weeks away!  This year, I THOUGHT I had a “jump” on it by ordering a lot of gifts online and beginning my handwork projects in October.  I seem to have a major problem… one which I realize I’ve had all of my life.  No matter how early I start, I always think of other things to add, and with 5 children, their spouses, and 10 grandchildren and now several step-grands and great-grands, I try to keep things even.  If I give more to one, I need to give more to the rest, as well.  My family continues to grow and the gift list expands right along with it.  I am blessed to have a large, loving family… but I need to figure out how I can cope with the gift issue logically and practically.  Most importantly, I need to regulate MYSELF!  I knit dishcloths and crochet net scrubbies year round while I am “resting” or watching television, so one of the items I give every year is a box that includes some handmade dishcloths, scrubbies and hanging terrycloth towels with crocheted tops, to hang on an oven door handle.  They are easy to make, fairly inexpensive, and very useful. 
Find the dishcloth instructions here: 
Find the crocheted nylon net scrubbies here:
Here is the pattern for my crocheted top on the dishtowels:
Crocheted ruffle top towel:
Size F or G crochet hook, depending on how tightly you crochet.  Gauge isn't important with this pattern, but it shouldn't be too loose.
4-ply Knitting Worsted Weight Yarn
Hand Towel (I use terry cloth)
SC = Single Crochet
DC = Double Crochet
CH = Chain
SK = Skip
STS = Stitches
Fold towel in half, wrong sides together.  I find it helpful to sew a zigzag
stitch along the edge of the fold, to keep it evenly in place while I work with the towel.  Punch holes approximately ¼” apart along folded edge of towel, using a sharp object like an awl.  I can only punch about 4 holes at a time without them closing up again, so this step takes the longest.  Single crochet in each hole across towel,
approximately 50 STS.  It really doesn’t matter if you have more, as you will decrease down to the correct number on Row 6.

Row 1:  Chain 1.  SC in top of each SC across towel.  CH 2. Turn.
Row 2: DC in top of each SC across.  CH 2.  Turn.
Row 3: DC in top of first DC. (2 DC made). *Sk 1 DC, DC in top of next 2 DC.  Repeat from * across row.  CH 2. Turn.
Row 4: DC in top of every other DC across row.  Ch 2.  Turn.
Row 5: DC in top of every other DC across row, decreasing evenly across row.  Ch2. Turn.
Row 6: DC in top of every DC, decreasing evenly across row to end with 8 sts.  Ch 2. Turn.
Row 7-8: DC in top of each DC across.  Ch 2. Turn.
Row 9:  DC in top of first 3 D.  Ch 2, SK 2 DC, DC in remaining 3 DC.  Ch 2. Turn.
Row 10-15: DC in each of 8 sts across row.  Ch 2. Turn.
Row 16: 2 DC in top of each DC.  Ch 2.  Turn.
Row 17: 3 DC in top of each DC.  Fasten off. 
Edging: SC evenly around all crocheted area of towel, beginning at one side and going up each side, around ruffle, and down the remaining side.  Fasten off.  Put ruffle through buttonhole formed with Row 9.
I’m busy wrapping gifts and putting them into big boxes, according to which family they are for.  Everyone will be here for Thanksgiving, and I don’t want them to see the gifts unwrapped in boxes in my dining room, which is my “storage” room!  The Minnesota children will take their gifts home with them, but the Michigan contingent will probably come down to celebrate at some point, probably shortly after Christmas, so all of us in the Cincinnati area will celebrate together then.  Holidays celebrated on a specific day don’t mean as much as when my family can gather together… then it is my favorite holiday, whatever day that happens to be! 

A few weeks ago, my youngest son came down from Michigan to spend a few days with me and do some of the things on my honey-do list.  His Cincinnati siblings all came over to visit and help with various projects throughout the weekend.  I love the spouses my children chose, and love their children… but it was a selfish delight to have four of my children together and see how wonderfully they relate to each other as adults.  We laughed and reminisced, and it was my first Christmas gift this year… and one that could never be boxed and wrapped!  My yard is raked and
Should have taken a before picture of this 40+ year-old rocker with chipped/worn paint.   Now it's an awesome blank slate of Norwegian green for possible rosmaling in the future.
mowed, a new faucet assembly adorns my kitchen sink, the garbage disposal works once again, all of my clocks are set to the correct time, light bulbs replaced, an old wooden rocker repainted and sitting proudly in my family room… and probably other things I’ve forgotten to mention.  When my dear husband was dying, he gave my children instructions on how to “take care” of me when he was gone, and I’m sure he looks down proudly to see how they do just that.  At this time of Thanksgiving, I truly give thanks for the blessing of my family and my friends, many of whom have become my “adopted” family.  We will gather at my home for dinner on Thanksgiving with everyone bringing part of the “feast”, and the other grandparents and extended family who are able will join us… my children have continued the traditions they grew up with, and there is always room for one more at the table, no matter what the occasion! 


Feather Angels and Beaded Stilettos

Feather Angels and  Beaded Stilettos:

November is my paternal grandmother’s birthday month.  She has been gone for over 20 years, but she left an indelible imprint on the lives of all who came into contact with her.  She was generous with everyone, although she had meager means and did manual labor her whole life, working as a cook in a restaurant, a lineworker in a cannery, and in later life my father and his brothers built her and their father a small building that became a Home Bakery.  They got up at 2:00 every morning to begin the baking.  Grandpa baked the bread… huge loaves of white bread rose majestically in pans lined up under tea towels every day and he alternated wheat and rye bread every other day.  I can still picture him with the paper cap covering his head as he stood kneading the dough by hand on the long wooden table, often humming a tune as he worked.  Grandma made raised doughnuts and cinnamon rolls every day, light as air, and made “fried cake doughnuts” and cookies several times a week.  My mother took orders for pies and cakes and helped by making those.  Grandma Charlotte was my angel my whole life, probably one of the only people I ever felt loved me unconditionally.  She wept with me when I cried, rejoiced in my accomplishments, and taught me not only to cook, bake, crochet and sew, but also was a role model for how I lived my life.  When I began to date, she gave me advice:  boys will try to put their hands inside your blouse, but don’t let them!  She taught me to be frugal, and was very stern about turning the lights out whenever I left a room, and not using more than a couple of inches of water to bathe in, so as not to be wasteful.  My first teachings about God came from her lips, as I sat on the floor curled up against her knee, while she stroked my hair and told me the ageless stories.  She had eleven grandchildren, and every one of us felt we were her favorite!  Her hugs were warm and plentiful, and she always said, “I love you”.  She loved to have us line up and sing for her, and when she died, we all sang at her funeral, the last gift we could give her.  Grandma Charlotte and Grandpa Charlie taught us how to be grandparents, perhaps the greatest legacy they left for us. 

She made simple foods, like corn chowder from milk and creamed corn, macaroni covered in tomato juice with bacon on top then baked until the bacon was crisp, baked beans... and always pancakes, which Grandpa ate topped with a combination of salt pork grease and syrup.  Here’s her pancake recipe.

Grandma’s Easy Pancakes (everything is in twos!):
2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons baking powder
2 cups milk (if you use buttermilk or soured milk, add a teaspoon of baking soda)
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients so that the dry ingredients are just incorporated into the liquids; no need to overmix.  Bake on a hot griddle (medium heat) sprayed with cooking spray or spread with a little bacon grease until bubbles form and they begin to start to look dry around the edges, then flip and cook the other side.  Do not overcook them.  Left over batter can be refrigerated, or you can bake up all the pancakes and reheat them in a toaster oven or toaster.   My grandkids love when I make shapes, like Mickey Mouse and ducks… sometimes we need to use our imagination, as pancake batter doesn’t always present the easiest artistic medium to work with!

Every year, I make a Christmas ornament for each of my children and grandchildren.  It’s a tradition my mother started many years ago, and I’ve continued it with my family.  This year, I saw an angel made of butterfly charms with a body of feathers and pearl beads for the head.  Mine are a bit different from the tutorial I saw, but I got the feathers and charms from Amazon, and used E6000 epoxy, as she recommended.  My pearls are cultured pearls I got from Fire Mountain, but they are probably available through any craft stores in less expensive glass pearls. 

Here is a photo of my angels, and the address of the  Domestic Diva’s website where I got the idea.
The Domestic Diva has a wealth of free tutorials, so check her site out when you want some ideas!  She has one of the best sites I’ve visited, giving lists where she buys the needed supplies for projects.

The holidays are here, and I’ve been busy making gifts for friends and family.  One of the other beaded items I made was from an idea on Bonnie Hunter’s website, Quiltville. 

Mary used turkey lacers for her beaded stilettos, but I wanted something a little longer.  I found a set of double-pointed 6” sock needles at Walmart online for around $6, with 5 needles in each size from 000 to 001, twenty needles to a package.  I used mostly lamp-worked beads, but included some cloisonné, porcelain, and metal beads, also.  I glued them with the E6000 epoxy.  Here’s a photo of my completed stilettos.  The main thing I had to be aware of is to choose beads with holes large enough to fit on the knitting needles.

I have also been sewing some snack mats and matching napkins to give with mugs and assorted teas and drink mixes for the grandchildren, according to their ages and
preferences(tutorial on one of my prior blogs... you can use the search function to find it).  I didn't plan ahead to make mats to match the mugs I bought, but if you have time to do that, it would be really special.

Winter has surprised us here in Cincinnati much earlier than is the norm.  I woke yesterday to over 4" of snow on the table on my deck.  The first snowfall always looks beautiful, but I'm not ready for winter yet!  Here's the view from my deck.
The leaves hadn't even all fallen yet!  My youngest sister is flying in next week to spend Thanksgiving with me.  Since she and her husband do not have children, she shares my children and grandchildren, even though she is only five years older than my oldest son!  Everyone will be here for this holiday, which doesn’t happen very often.  I’m over the moon excited to have all the chicks back in the nest!  I have some ideas of projects to work on with the grandchildren... one might be making Advent Candy Banners, like my children had when they were small.   I hope your holiday season will bring you as much joy as I am feeling.  And may your angels awaken your own memories of the happy times you’ve shared with loved ones.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gluten-Free Popovers and Speedy Half-Square Triangles

I’m a creature of habit.  I like what’s familiar… familiar appliances in my home, familiar surroundings… even familiar people.  When I cook something on my stovetop, I know there is a “hot spot” on one side of the burner, even though I can see the red all the way around under the ceramic stove top.  Someone coming in to cook on my stove wouldn’t know that… just as they might not know it takes a long time for the hot water to reach the faucet and which telephone has the old battery and cannot be put on speaker without disconnecting the call.  In this world where everything has become disposable, I appreciate my old things.  I don’t want to buy new just because something may have a quirky way of working… I understand the idiosyncrasies of my home, and perhaps they just mirror their owner.  

My friends know me and love me, in spite of my idiosyncrasies.  They are familiar to me, as I am to them, and that is comforting in my old age.  Too often, people assume they know us, and we don’t always feel the need to correct them. They might think they know me, but may not know which chair is the one I find most comfortable, or how I like my coffee, or what time I get up in the morning.  The older I get, the more I appreciate what is familiar.  My children, busy with their "new" families, don’t know the thoughts that ramble through the night, keeping me from sleep.  My old friends understand my thoughts, for they have the same thoughts…  thoughts that come from living long and learning much about ourselves.  They have wept the same tears and hold the same laughter in the corners of their memory.  As we age and learn, we gain a realization of how much there is we do not know.  My 5-year old granddaughter recently was tested in school to see if she should be advanced a grade.  She told the teachers they didn’t need to test her, because she already knows she is the smartest child in school.  She is, indeed, smart… she is in the 99th percentile of her age group.  But even she will find as she grows in maturity that she will never know everything, and with that comes the awareness that no matter how intelligent we are, we never stop learning and the Universe presents questions that we may never know the answers to. 

I’ve been quilting and sewing for well over 50 years, but there are still many things I am learning… it’s an ongoing process.  I have advanced from laying cardboard templates on fabric, drawing around them, adding a seam allowance and cutting around them with scissors... to rotary cutting and strip piecing… from a simple straight-stitch machine to those that have a myriad of decorative stitches and even a machine embroidery module on one!  Sergers speed up the process of sewing pajamas for my grandchildren with seams that look professional and won’t easily pull out.  Television shows featuring quilting and sewing, as well as internet videos, demonstrate many different methods and tools that simplify our task.  Recently I watched an older episode of “Quilt In A Day”, with Eleanor Burns teaching methods to speed up the quilting process, and she demonstrated how to make eight 2-1/2” half-square triangles at a time from two 6” squares of contrasting fabric, when piecing her Rosebud pattern.  Of course, I had to try it, being a fan of easy half-square triangles! 

I decided to make a Crown of Thorns block.  Cutting strips that are 6” wide with my June Tailor Shape Cut ruler is a snap.  Those strips are cut into 6” lengths, as well, yielding 6" squares.  Several layers of fabric can be cut in one cutting.  Using the same ruler, I also cut 2-1/2” strips each of the light and dark fabrics.  One block, which finishes at 10”, takes 16 half-square triangles, 4 dark 2-1/2” squares, and 5 light 2-1/2” squares.  If the quilt is only in two colors, the center strip of light and dark squares could easily be strip pieced and then cut into 2-1/2” lengths, but if you are making a scrappy quilt, it is probably best to cut the squares individually and chain-piece them. 

Place one dark 6” square right sides together with one light  6” square.
On the wrong side of the lighter square, draw a diagonal line both ways. 
I use a ruler that is ½” wide,
and match the center line on the ruler with the diagonal corners.  Mark on both sides of the ruler to have a line to sew on.
The ruler comes in a set of three lengths, and I use it often.  It's one of my favorite tools.

Sew on all four lines, making an “X” across the square.
There will be ½” between the lines both ways.

I did put two pins in the squares to hold them in place while I sewed.

Cut square in half vertically and horizontally.

It works best if you have a rotating mat for this step.  Alternatively, you can use a small mat that can easily be turned.
You have cut your square into four equal 3” square pieces.

Cut between the sewn lines on each diagonal, cutting each of the 3” squares in half diagonally.  Each one will be a perfect  2-1/2” half-square triangle, and it only took a few minutes to make all eight! 
There are a myriad of patterns that utilize half-square triangles, and now they can easily be made from only two 6” squares of fabric, eight at a time!  Thank you, Eleanor.  You have simplified quilting for so many people through the years.
Lay the triangles out on your ironing board, dark side up, and set the seams by pressing on your sewing line.  Then flip the dark half of the triangle up and press from the front.  The seam will automatically be pressed to the dark side. 

The eight completed half-square triangles are shown at the right.
This Crown of Thorns block is also called a Single Wedding Ring.  It has been on my “wish list” for over 40 years, but I never wanted to tackle all those half-square triangles (16 of them in each block) until I saw Eleanor’s version.  

The Crown of Thorns layout is shown on the left, and there is an alternate layout on the right, creating a totally different look.  There are many other layouts, I'm sure.
Here is the completed Crown of Thorns block, which was made very quickly using these streamlined methods, and will be a 10" finished block.  I pressed the seams on each strip in alternate directions so that they nested together.  I did pin the intersections, but in my hurry to finish my blog, some of the corners do not meet perfectly.  This doesn't bother me... it usually is not noticed once the quilting is done.  This is another lesson I've learned... don't sweat the small stuff!  Most often, they really don't seem that important in the final analysis.  Press your block from the right side, and trim it, if you feel it's necessary. 
One of my old, familiar friends (Thanks, Priss!) recently introduced me to some specialty gluten-free flours.  My grandson is intolerant to gluten, so I’ve been experimenting with some of the recipes she shared with me.  Here is one of my favorite flour mixes, and a recipe for Popovers that are simply delicious.  Of course, they are best if slathered with butter… isn’t everything? 

Four Flour Mix:
2 cups Garfava bean flour
1 cup Sorghum flour
3 cups Cornstarch
1 cup Tapioca flour
Mix the flours well and store in a covered container or Ziploc bag.

Gluten-Free Popovers:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the muffin pan in the oven to heat while you are making the batter.
Combine the following dry ingredients in a food processor or blender. (I think the Food Processor works best):
2 cups flour mix
1/2 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
2 Tablespoons Almond meal or Pecan Meal
1 teaspoon salt
Add the following wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  You may need to scrape down the sides a few times to blend everything well.  I just zap it for a minute or two in the food processor to blend the batter well.
2 cups milk, heated to room temperature… NOT HOT
4 eggs, added to milk to warm them slightly
Remove hot muffin tins from the oven.
Spray muffin tins liberally with butter-flavored spray.  I used the large muffin tins for this, so got 6 from a batch.  A regular sized muffin tin would make 12 Popovers.   Pour batter into muffin pans.  They will be pretty full, but don’t worry… they won’t run over. 
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on your oven.  Popovers will puff up and look golden brown.  Remove from muffin tins and let them cool on a baking rack so they don't get soggy.
They can be reheated in a 375 degree oven for 5 minutes, if you feel the need to have them warm.  Can fill with chicken salad or other filling of your choice.  This batch can be made in 12 large muffin tins instead of 6, and be flatter to make good sandwich buns.
Option: For Cinnamon Breakfast Buns, add ¼ cup sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.  Make as for regular Popovers. 
I neglected to take a photo of the Popovers... they look good enough to eat, however... take my word for it! 
I couldn’t find the flours in my local supermarket, so I’ve been ordering then online… they are sold on several websites, including WalMart and Amazon.  Check your favorite stores for availability and the best prices.  If you have loved ones who are not able to eat regular wheat products, this is a good start.  Gluten-free bread in the store is not exactly delicious!  I find that the gluten-free products do not cause me to feel as tired as wheat products do, so that is a plus for me.  They do raise my glucose, however, just as regular wheat products do.  Another note… it may create some digestive disturbance for a day or two, until your body adjusts to the new products, but it passes soon.

My family room is strewn with fabric, my kitchen table is piled high with various packages of specialty flours, and in these areas I feel as wealthy as a queen!  I’m becoming adept at ordering many things I need online, even many groceries, and I discovered I can send flat-rate packages by priority mail and I can arrange for pick-up at my front door, so Quentin’s box of flour mixes and recipes are on the way to Minnesota, along with some fresh bread and Popovers.  There is even a price reduction over going to the Post Office in person.  I learn something new every day!  I am blessed to still have the sight to sew and the hands to bake.  Old age is not what I expected… but it sure beats the alternative!