Nov 22

Impersonal gifts – the ones you give to teachers, party hostesses, coworkers, your local mail carrier or UPS driver… you want them to be cheap per piece, easy enough to make in an assembly line style, and impressive enough to get your message across (“Thank You!” or “I appreciate what you do!”). Generally, anything you can assemble from raw ingredients (cooking or otherwise) are going to be your best bets. Something like bath salts, pumpkin bread, homemade candy, or a quick and easy craft.

Here are some ideas:

Those should get you started! Share your good ideas — what are you planning to make this year?

Dec 9

Today my (almost) 2 and 3 year old and I made our first batch of holiday cookies. I say “first” but it might also be the last. Baking cookies with kiddos can take it out of you!

We made Raspberry Window Shortbreads from Sunset Magazine. It uses their Butter Shortbread recipe – what’s not to like about butter, sugar, and flour? The recipe was simple, but we did have to mix it for a LONG time (like ten minutes) to get the dough to transform from crumbs into slightly stickier crumbs! The recipe calls for chilling the dough for 30 minutes, so while we did that, we made a second batch of gingerbread dough. All of these recipes are new to us!

The raspberry window shortbreads are so pretty, and they taste great! We only made a very small pan of them (both boys were going wild at that point, plus the baby was crying. I had to power through the last five minutes). When I finish the batch (by MYSELF, later), I am going to make the rest of them the smaller cookie size shown here (about 2″) and make sure I roll the dough out thin enough. They’re rich!

Ingredients

  • 2  cups  flour
  • 1  cup  cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  tablespoons  coarse sugar (sometimes called sparkling sugar)*

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Put flour, butter, granulated sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until blended, then increase to medium and mix until dough is no longer crumbly and just comes together. Form into disk, and chill 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough 1/8 in. thick. Use a selection of 1½-in. decorative cutters to cut as many shapes as you can, making sure you have an equal number of each shape to form a top and a bottom, and rerolling scraps as needed.

Arrange cookies 1 in. apart on baking sheets. Use a variety of smaller cutters to remove center from half of cookies (the tops). Chill on sheets 15 minutes; then bake until light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Spread each whole cookie with about 1/2 tsp. raspberry preserves. Sprinkle powdered sugar over cut-out cookie tops, or glaze them with a mixture of 1 cup powdered sugar and 21/2 tsp. milk. Set tops on jam-topped bottoms. Makes 26.

(From Sunset Magazine)

Baking with toddlers and preschoolers is always kind of stressful, even if you make an effort not to worry about things like flour on the floor and more dough going into mouths than onto the cookie sheet. I always plan for us to make a mess when we bake, but the real problem I’ve found is that the process is just too long when you have helpers, and their best behavior begins to wane about 45 minutes into the process (just as the sugar rush from licking the spoon begins to take effect).

Here are my suggestions for having fun while baking with toddlers:

  1. Make it an event. I put on fun music, make sure everyone has an apron, and make a big (fun) deal about washing hands/getting ready to bake.
  2. Know that you are going to make a mess. Knowing before you begin is key to allowing the mess to happen without frustration. If you tell yourself you won’t worry about a mess before a mess happens, things will be less stressful for you.
  3. Let the child help as much as possible. If you have more than one child, let them take turns measuring (or split the measurements: if you need 2 cups of flour, let each of them measure one, etc.). Let the child get ingredients or utensils out, if they are able.
  4. Plan for it to take at least twice as long as it would without kids!
  5. Consider splitting it into two activities for two different days: The mixing of the cookie dough the first day, and the rolling and making of the cookies the second day. If you do this, you might want to sneak a small pan into the oven while your kids finish playing with the dough mixing, so they can get a reward for their hard work (like eating copious amounts of raw dough isn’t enough!). If you are going to decorate the cookies, you might want to add a third day in there. Yay, a whole week’s worth of activities!
Nov 16

Some of my real life crafty friends (and some I just admire from afar) have put together an awesome eBook with six great crafty ornament projects just in time for your holiday crafting. You can make most (or all) of these with stuff from your stash, so the only thing you’ll have to pony up for (only $12) is the cost of the eBook, and 15% of the proceeds from this book go directly to Project Linus, a charity project that is very close to my heart, since blankets are some of my favorite things of all time to make and give. The mission of Project Linus is:

To provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.”

To provide a rewarding and fun service opportunity for interested individuals and groups in local communities, for the benefit of children.

Order the eBook here: Crafty Tree Trimmings eBook. It’s only 12 bucks and will be emailed to you instantly, so no waiting! Also, each author is receiving payment for her participation in this project, so you can feel really good about supporting some of the best independent craft designers around! In a time where book publishers are paying pittances, and magazines are going out of business, and websites are also feeling the pinch, you can feel really good about your role in compensating these designers for their hard work!

Authors of the book:

The photos are beautiful, the layout (by Zapata) is awesome, and the instructions are clear and easy to understand. The projects are interesting and unique. So, get going!

Jan 16

Inspired by a post at Fresh Picked Whimsy, my sister and I organized a “secret” activity for the family on Christmas Eve. We had some hardwood blocks for another project* that we prepared by painting a plain color with acrylic paint.

We then gathered acrylic paints, paint brushes, paper plates (to use as individual palettes), and set up tables to give each person in the family a workspace. We also had a couple of big mirrors for people to use for reference.

We let people choose their blocks one by one, then everyone got down to work. Some people used the computer to take a picture of themselves to refer to. Everyone was pretty into it as soon as they found out what we were doing. The guys ended up taking the longest on their portraits.

I love seeing how people interpret their own appearance – the features they choose to emphasize, the details they have to include to make an authentic portrait.

(2nd from the left): For me, I had to include my white eyebrows (how do you paint that?) and the multiple colors I used on my hair draw attention to it to symbolize the way I see my real hair – I love my hair color and I feel like it’s my signature feature. Of course, I didn’t think of that when I was painting it, but once it was painted, I realized why it came out that way!

It was a really fantastic family activity, and we all had a great time! I highly recommend it!

*encaustic wax painting

Dec 30

stocking-lew

I made a couple things “for me” during this holiday break. First, I made two stockings for my sons, who have been without personalized stockings since they each were born. I made these red corduroy with cream corduroy cuff jobbies for them to go with the ones I made for my husband and myself years ago. I wisely thought ahead and got a metric ton of both corduroys in case of offspring. I still have enough left for maybe five more kids, so I think we’ll be covered for any future children’s stockings. Or maybe by then I’ll want a different style of stocking!

stocking

I thought the cropping on this photo was funny, since my 2 year-old was trying to reach into the frame as I shot the picture.

I used a super-narrow zig zag stitch on the sewing machine to make the “embroidered” names. I wrote the names on the fabric in pencil and then sewed over them. Straight lines look awesome, but the curves gave me a bit of a challenge (see the “S” above). Also, the “W” was a little weird, but oh well!

Since I was just using an idea out of my head to make the stockings, I didn’t have the specifics that a pattern would have provided (although while I was sewing I was imagining what markings I would put on a pattern if I drafted it, and the instructions to accompany the pattern). I think I made the stockings needlessly complicated, when I could have done a super simple lined stocking with no real-working cuff, and it would have taken me about twenty minutes.

I did some fancy-dancy stuff with the cuffs, which turned out fine when all was done. Since the cuff was going to be turned over when displayed, but had to be sewn on inside the stocking, I remembered to put the name-part of the cuff upside down, attached to the lining. But I had a few hilarious mishaps with the placement of the fabric loop at the top of the stocking.  Basically, the fabric loop ended up: 1) underneath the cuff once it was turned over, then 2) on the toe-side of the cuff (not good for hanging! like one of those “what’s wrong with this picture?” 4th grade puzzles), and then 3.) sewed to the lining and looking a little funky, but passable since it took me so much time to correct my first two mistakes.

Anyway, it was fun. I love making things with no pattern. I know it’s weird but I really like it. It’s a sudoku-like challenge for my brain.

stocking-inside

Here’s the lining fabric from my Christmas fabric stash. I think it’s pretty cute! Too bad you will never see it!

tablerunner-front

I also made this quilting-inspired table runner from some of my stash fabrics and some of the cream corduroy. I have almost no holiday decorations, so I wanted to start building my arsenal. I love the way this turned out. LOVE the red topstitching, too!

tablerunner

The reverse side is more of the stash fabrics string-pieced together. I love it!

I had a great time crafting for myself. I almost never make things with myself in mind. I think my New Years’ Craftolution will be to make more things for myself. I am working on black and white granny squares to make into an afghan for myself. I should be done sometime this year! I have about fifty squares, but I need about a hundred or so more! Plus assembling them.

Dec 29

advent-detail2

My family tries to exchange primarily handmade gifts whenever possible. We’ve found that it has helped us focus on what Christmas is really about and get away from feeling trapped by all the consumerism that surrounds the holidays. I love to see what my parents and siblings come up with to give each year, and I enjoy plotting and planning my own handmade gifts. It’s also interesting to see which ideas are hits (duct tape wallets), and which are misses (the homely crochet-altered t-shirt I made for my mom this year – she actually laughed in my face when she opened it. Strangely, it entertained me rather than offended me.)

advent-nativity

I hit the jackpot this year with a great advent calendar my mom made for me. It’s a nativity scene theme, and is really cute! I’m sure we will get decades of enjoyment out of this gift!

portlandtea

My sister made these adorable little packets that are filled with her own blends of loose tea. She sewed sturdy gift wrap into bags, and then sealed them with buttons and added a custom label to each. I LOVE the packets – so creative and cute!

wrap-spool

My sister also got lots of mileage out of trinkets received in the Sampler, by attaching them to gifts as gift tags and baubles. I love this handspun yarn on a spool… I’m so sorry, I didn’t get a photo of who the sample is from, and this gift wasn’t for me!

lootbag-e

One of my handmade gifts to everyone were monogrammed loot bags. I made about eight of them the day before Christmas Eve, and seriously, the entire project took me two hours or less to sew. I assembly-lined the whole thing (cut everything at the same time, sewed all the monogrammed letters on the corduroy, sewed up the bags, etc.) and it was amazing how quickly the whole thing came together. Oh, and I got to burn through some of my stash fabric! I bought a whole bunch of holiday/winter fabric several years ago when it was on super-sale. It felt SO GOOD to use some of it up!!

lootbag-applique

The loot bags were also very useful for everyone to put their Christmas swag into. You know how all that little stocking stuff gets all over the place! In my imagination, everyone will put the loot bags in their Christmas boxes (or their stockings?) to use for next year, so I hope it comes true! Or, if they want to keep them out to use all year, that would also be fine! (Not that I attach any strings to gifts I give – do what you want with them, or not, y’all!)

tractorsheets

My mom was so nice to fulfill a gift request I made: to make two crib sheets, two pillowcases, and two curtains for the boys’ room. She complied and used some adorable construction vehicle fabric.

tractorcurtains

Now I just need to paint a mural on the wall, and they’ll be all set!

What did you make or receive this year?

Dec 23

christmascrafting

I’ve been at my parents’ house all weekend. This was unplanned! We meant to come up for Friday afternoon and spend the night and drive back on Saturday, but it has been so snowy here that it’s not safe to drive home. We heard that our house was without power and water, so the choice was easy – stay here through Christmas!

lewev-stockings

The first couple days I did a bit of crafting. I made stockings for my boys, and a holiday table runner from a stash of holiday fabric I’ve had for like five years. I only made the tiniest dent in my holiday fabric stash. Hmm, maybe I’ll have to add something to my New Year’s Resolutions list about using it up this year! (Excuse the cruddy photography! I don’t have all my standard equipment).

krumkakes

My sister and I made two batches of Norwegian cookies: sandkakes and krumkakes (shown here). I made some chewy toffee, and I am in the middle of my first-ever batch of penuche right now (I’m in the cooling down phase before the stir-it-for-ten-minutes phase).

smokingman

My mom has a WHOLE BUNCH of international Christmas decorations. This is a “smoking man” from Germany. You light incense and it looks like he is smoking. He appears to be a toy peddler. I love the little toys hanging from strings in his hands!

So, that’s me this weekend. I have been fairly craft-free, electing instead to loaf around and watch movies. Ahh, vacationy!

Dec 18

These are nothing near as exciting as the chenille stem wonderment that’s going on over at Craftypod, but here are some ten second pipecleaner ornaments for you to make. Or, more probably, for your kiddos to make! This would be a great scout or classroom project. Or, these could make cute package tie-ons.

What you need:

  • Cookie Cutters
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Ribbon (optional)

To make:

Bend a pipecleaner along the edges of a cookie cutter, paying special attention to each crease and corner of the cookie cutter. When you have bent around all edges of cookie cutter, fasten ends of pipecleaner together to finish shape. Tweak the shape of the ornament, if needed.

You have to hold the pipecleaner with both hands simultaneously while doing this, but I was taking a photo

You have to hold the pipecleaner with both hands simultaneously while doing this, but I was taking a photo

If your cookie cutter’s sides are longer than one pipecleaner, you will want to start by bending two pipecleaners together (leave a loop at the top, if desired, as in the star ornament shown in the photo at the top of the page).

I think it could be cool to do a couple pipecleaners twisted together to make a sturdier frame, and then wrap some fabric or ribbon around the pipecleaners (wrap-style) to make it a little less, uh, tacky-lookin’.

Dec 16

I’ve heard of using fused plastic for making bags, but I haven’t found a lot of great ways to make it pretty. Well, Crafting A Green World just posted this genius tutorial on using plastic baggies and filling them with pretty stuff, fusing them, and making them into pretty ornaments.

Check it out! I’m loving this idea, and she made it seem so simple!

Dec 8

When I was a kid, my parents made pancakes for us in the shape of our initials, or Mickey mouse. How about these fun holiday pancakes to bring cheer to your Christmas breakfast?

For Santa:

Make pancakes, then use one as face. Cut hat out of another pancake.

Cut a mini marshmallow in half for whites of eyes, and lay on pancake sticky side up. Affix the marshmallows to the pancake with a dab of syrup. Put brown mini M&Ms on marshmallows for pupils. Dab syrup and place red M&M for nose.

Cut mini marshmallow almost in half and spread out for mustache. Place craisin on pancake for lip, and put mustache over craisin.

Spread cream cheese around face for beard base. Place marshmallows on top of cream cheese (I tried this without the cream cheese, but it seemed like WAY too many marshmallows! Sugar overload!) You could also use whipped cream for his beard.

Spread jam on hat and place a row of marshmallows for brim of hat and pom-pom of hat.

For Rudolph:

Make pancakes, then use one as face (I chose one that was a little, ahem, overdone. It looked brown like a reindeer!) Cut antlers out of another pancake. You can either freehand-cut them, or use a cookie cutter. I used an oak leaf-shaped cookie cutter. You could use a flower cutter, and cut it in half, etc. Just use your imagination.

Cut a mini marshmallow in half for whites of eyes, and lay on pancake sticky side up. You can affix the marshmallows to the pancake with a dab of syrup if you want. Put brown mini M&Ms on marshmallows for pupils. Dab syrup on bottom of pancake and place red M&M for nose. Easy!

You could also substitute raisins and a craisin for the pupils and nose.

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