Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Gift for a Gift

Many months ago, Robb and I received a wonderful early wedding present: a gift card to buy fabric at Purl Soho. Sigh...

The gift was from Melanie, which she spontaneously decided had to happen after a phone conversation we had one day where I told her about my dream of having handmade napkins at my wedding. More specifically, I asked if she had heard anything about Purl having a moving sale, because my wedding budget was getting a little tight. (At the time, Purl was packing up to move from their tiny beloved little shops on Sullivan Street to the glorious behemoth shop they've now opened on Broome.) She said she'd give Joelle a call to find out, and then promptly called up the shop and ordered up a gift card for me and Robb to buy our napkin fabric.

When I did finally manage to make my way into the shop, I thought that choosing fabric would be the hardest thing on the planet. Almost every fabric that Purl stocks is tip-top gorgeous. Cute, bright, fresh. It just makes you feel good to look at it all together. But when I walked in, my eye immediately went to the left wall, three shelves up, where I found Denyse Schmidt's Hope Valley range. But which colors and prints to choose?? I wanted them all! I left the shop without buying a thing, befuddled as to how one can even begin to narrow down her options within such a pretty range.

When I told Melanie about my predicament--that there were just too many options--she very nonchalantly informed me that she had a fat quarter stack of every color and print in the Hope Valley range in her office. Marveling at the fact that Melanie is apparently some kind of magician, I took the stack home so that Robb and I could play with the options. We finally settled on the floral prints in every color.

For such a wonderful wonderful gift, I decided that Melanie needed to be thanked with a gift. While flipping through Joelle's Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts one day, I spotted the pincushion and couldn't believe my luck. What better way to showcase the eight floral fabrics in one tiny, bright little package? And Melanie loves to hand-sew! And doesn't she need a pretty little pincushion?

I got to work right away. And let me tell you, Joelle doesn't lie--it's quick to make, and it really does belong in the "2-4 hour gift" chapter. I snipped out the leaf-shaped pieces from some spare fabric and sewed each one together (attempting to keep the points straight). Once the pieces are attached and turned right-side out, it makes this sad, deflated-looking hacky sack. But a few good handfuls of stuffing, and you've got yourself quite a rotund little pincushion!

The book advises you to loop embroidery floss around the pincushion seams in order to make a nice, uniform shape. Unfortunately, my seams were so sloppy that I needed something a little thicker to cover them up--that's why you'll find Rowan's All-Seasons Cotton yarn delineating the sections in mine. A little chunkier than floss, but better than sloppy seams any day of the week.

Once I spend a little time making a gift for someone, I find it impossible to just shove it in a gift bag and hand it off. So to wrap it up, I grabbed one of the leftover wedding napkins (washed, of course!), and did a little improvised furoshiki.

First, I laid out the napkin in a diamond shape with the cushion in the middle. Then I folded in the corners to meet the cushion.

Next I folder over each side of the napkin.

I then folded up the bottom, folded the top into a point, and pressed it down envelope style.

Since I didn't have a card on hand, but I DO have a sewing machine, I zigzag stitched around a piece of cardstock with hot pink thread...
Wrote a big note of gratitude, and pinned it on top.

Voila! And that's what I call a gift for a gift.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This and This and This

For the last few days I've been asking myself, what did you do this summer? Because for me, in a weird way, summer really only started on July 31, the day that Robb and I returned from our honeymoon. All of the time before that was spent in a strange nether-daze called "holy %&*@, I'm getting married!" where you are aware that the sun is shining and barbecues are happening, but all you are REALLY doing is thinking about your wedding budget or if you remembered to remind your mom to order the white citronella candles, NOT the yellow ones, and that they must be votives not tea lights.

And so, now that we're back and enjoying this latter half of post-wedding summer, I flipped through my photos and wanted to do a show-and-tell. Starting with this lovely photo of corn off the cob that I roasted half to death until it was charred and sweet and perfect for salsa. This, by the way, is what you do when you buy 15 ears of corn for a barbecue and forget to cook them. You save them and make roasted corn salsa and roasted corn guacamole for the barbecue that someone else is throwing the following weekend. Here's the tomato we used to tie the salsa together. Just one tomato = a giant vat of salsa (to use a technical term, of course).

And here it is sliced up all pretty like. Almost like a nectarine, no?

The same day we baked some Moroccan flatbread, which starts out as three packets of dry yeast in one cup of water. A science experiment no doubt.

After mixing it up with bread flour, cumin, coriander, and mashed up chickpeas, the bread is baked right on the oven rack at 450 degrees. They come out hot and chewy and looking oddly look like giant chocolate chip cookies. Jamie Oliver tells me in his recipe that you can cook these suckers right on a barbecue grill. This is officially on my "before summer is over" to-do list.

As explored in a previous post, we discovered the giantest cucumber I ever did see. Though what I didn't tell you was that we took it to Robb's bar whereupon most of the clientele posed with the cucumber photo-booth style.

Then Robb cut it up for the bar to share, dipped in none other than a big bowl of skanky ranch dressing. We only made it through half of the cucumber. Rumor has it that one of Robb's friends took the remaining half home to "scare his girlfriend." I have refrained from asking any other questions about what he meant by that.

Robb's peppers have played an integral role in our summer cooking, which I like to think of as our "spicy season." Here we've diced up some mild tangerine dream peppers with some hot salsa delights.

And then cooked them down with tomatoes from the garden and black beans to make a super killer pot of chili. Note to self: cut the cherry tomatoes in half before putting them in the pot (otherwise they become little flavorless heat bombs.)

And since I've been back at work, I've been editing a book that covers all possible areas of DIY life, from crafts to cooking to starting your own business to beauty. So it is no surprise that while editing the beauty chapter, I became very inspired by how to do a DIY bouffant. Here is my first stab at one, attempted without a rat (a piece of phoney hair used to make the "bump" at the crown of the head) or any hairspray. I think my attempt looks more like a hair hat comb-over than a bouffant.

But it's only my first try. Expect to see more and bigger bouffants from here through the end of summer. I just think they look so nice with summer dresses!

Very importantly, we finally made it to Coney Island. How can a whole Brooklyn summer pass without at least one Saturday spent at Coney?

And, as we all know, no trip to Coney is complete without wasting away a few hours at Beer Island. For those who've never been, Beer Island is basically a parking lot filled with sand where one can go buy beer. They also have a pretty killer jukebox. (And as we also know, no trip to Beer Island is complete without somebody getting pushed out of their chair and falling into the sand.)

Slowly but surely I'm finding things to do with the oodles of glorious fabric left over from our wedding. What on earth will this become? We'll find out, now won't we...

Soon enough I'll pick up my knitting needles to finish the not one but three projects I currently have going. Let's see if I'll be able to remember which row I left off on in the various stitch patterns.

As for tonight? I do believe I'm going to take a stab at this kneadless bread recipe that my coworker Dervla swears by:
(She says her parents make something like two loaves of this a day, which leads me to believe that it is pretty tasty.)

And I'd also like to go camping. And play croquet in the park. And bake a pie. And go to Playland. THEN, I will have officially had a full summer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wee Wonderfuls...Where Are They Now?

Friends and fellow crafters, I'm so excited to blog about our newest STC Craft book to hit stores! Wee Wonderfuls is a collection of doll patterns from Hillary Lang that I had the honor of working on last fall/winter. As I carefully read the pages, I found myself with a sudden unmistakable urge to make just about everything in the book. It was coming up on Christmas, so handmade gifts were going to happen no matter what. I asked myself, why not make these little stuffed dolls for my parents and big sister? I mean, who says a grown man won't love a striped, stuffed giraffe?

And that's precisely where we'll start. Wes, the Baby Giraffe! (Ahem...pardon the quality of the book photos here...I didn't want to bug our design department to acquire nice jpegs of photos from the book so instead have captured them using PhotoBooth on my Mac. Trust me, it goes with the theme of this blog post...amateur photography at its finest!) I was so smitten with the baby giraffe that I decided to make one for my dad in a retro print with wide yellow, orange and brown stripes. A friend aptly noted that the giraffe was made in "70's stewardess uniform fabric." I like that! Hopefully Dad does too.

So I asked my family to send me photos of the creatures I created since I didn't get to photograph them adequately before I gave them away. Plus I was curious about their new homes! So it was much to my surprise today when I received this photo from my dad showing that Wes, the Baby Giraffe apparently lives inside of a junk drawer. I actually have no idea what's going on here! Why is there a punch bowl filled with antique glasses? And so many old knives? Can you even spot the giraffe? (There were actually better photos of the giraffe than this one, but I was just amazed by the "styling" choices in this shot and had to share.)

Next up was the topsy-turvy doll (which Hillary has named Margot). This one was such a challenge! A topsy-turvy doll is essentially a two-headed doll--you flip up the skirt on one of the dolls, and beneath (like where you would expect her legs to be) is the other doll's head! And on the reverse of one doll's dress is the other doll's dress! Amazing, right? I wanted to wow mom with an extra-challenging construction, so I knew this one would be for her.

Here is my own rendition of Margot (alongside Wes, the Baby Giraffe in his cart!). This side of the topsy-turvy doll is the "pretty" side. She has a nice up-do, created by weaving yarn in and out of her head and then twisting her braids into neat little buns. Her dress has that sweet little green ruffle at the bottom, and her expression is just a little bit coquettish. I love her!

And then there's the other side...she turned out a little, well...homely. And her face is just the teensiest bit lumpy. Her's was the first side on which I attempted to add the hair. I learned the hard way that, when sewing on the hair, you need to pull the needle from the center of the head out to the edges...not from the outside edges toward the center. When you do the latter, it warps the shape of her face and gives it a slight Jay Leno effect. It's okay, though...that's what the other "pretty" side of the topsy-turvy doll is for!

Finally, there was Bjorn Bjornson, the button-joint teddy bear! I am absolutely madly in love with bears, so knew I had to take on at least one of the teddy bear projects in the book. And who better to give it to than my sister, who dutifully buys me a bear calendar every year?

Here's the photo that Erin took of the bear on her camera phone. (At this point, I didn't even think it was worth it for her to send me a real photo as it might look too good compared to the other photos in this post.) To mix it up a bit, I used a pink heathered tweed for the bear's body instead of the white polar fur shown in the book. I know, I know, it gives the bear kind of a piggie effect. Especially with those little beady eyes and its tight, rotund belly. But I adore how his arms and legs swivel on their button joints so that he can put his hands to his mouth as though surprised, or have a seat on Erin's couch (as he's doing here).

All in all, they were an odd crop of characters, but everyone was delighted! As Hillary says in the introduction to her book, "there is a toy for every member of your family and circle of friends, boys and girls of all ages--nobody's left out." I couldn't find that to be more true!

As for the quality of my toy-making skills, I must say that I'm sort of in love with their quirks. And I love how much I learned in the process! So now I must quote Hillary once more as she sagely points out the real spirit of toy-making: "You'll find there is a lot of wiggle room when making toys: uneven seams, wonky embroidery, lumpy stuffing....still cute. With handmade toys, imperfection is part of the charm."

Once again, I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Shockingly Large Cucumbers!

So I got married! You probably all know that and are bored to tears with pictures of what we made and what it looked like and all of that. So as my first blog post back after our blessed event, I thought I would avoid the obvious and instead write about the terrifyingly HUGE cucumber that I found in our yard when we got back from our honeymoon.

When I first discovered this cucumber, I was so shocked that I gasped a little bit. The experience was not unlike walking in on a stranger in the bathroom. At first I dropped the group of leaves covering the cucumber and walked away...I do believe that I actually felt embarrassed. And then, of course, I immediately rushed back and plucked the thing from its vine. I woke Robb up from a nap and said "there's something very important I have to show you," and from the dim light where Robb was sleeping you could see him make out the cucumber's silhouette and mutter something along the lines of "sweet Jesus." Measuring in at 18" and weighing just over three pounds, I knew a photo series had to happen. I first photographed it with this quarter, but realizing you could barely see the quarter in the photo, I instead held it next to a bottle of wine.

Then to really get my point across, I put the cucumber next to Darth Vader.

And a passport...

And an Ipod...

And finally I put some goggles on him, though that really had nothing to do with demonstrating the cucumber's size.

That's right, the fruits of the garden have begun! And the first of the crop is absolutely scrumptious. The cucumbers, despite their bloated size, are surprisingly crisp and tasty and not watery at all. The cherry tomatoes come in varying degrees of sweetness and color, and the first of the heirlooms are pink and pretty. (I took a photo of one of the big rainbows cut open, but it just looked like a dripping slimy heart...I spared you all my gross amateur photography. Be glad!)

While we were away on our honeymoon, cousin/Best Man Tara and her lovely love Steve came over and took care of our garden. And my, what a job they did! The state of the garden when we returned was that of absolute wild lushness. That mass in the back of the photo above is where the tomato plants fell over from the sheer weight of the tomatoes. They are now strewn across the lawn, begging to be staked. And if you look very hard on the right, you can see a bit of where the concrete walkway used to be.

This is what we are calling the ivy monster. Here's a note to people who are just learning how to garden: if you see ivy-shaped leaves growing in your flower patch, you may be tempted to say "oh, pretty!" and let them grow. Know that if you do that, you will wind up with an ivy monster not unlike ours. Only these very persistent Moroccan rudbeckia flowers were able to find an opening to the sun, thereby winning the war against the ivy. What happened to all of the other flowers? Well, we may never know. Next to the rudbeckia is the broccoli that never produced broccoli. It looks happy, though!

As a point of contrast, I felt compelled to show a photo from my coworker Natalie's garden. (In a cucumber-related tangent, I must point out that she just got married to Bob McClure of McClure's pickles...which in my opinion is like marrying into pickle royalty. Who cares about Grace Kelly marrying the Prince of Monaco? My friend is married to the guy who makes the best pickles in Brooklyn!) And with that point of interest behind us, I can't help but admire the order and sanity of Natalie and Bob's backyard container garden. They've grown all vine plants on trellises so that the plant can grow up one side and come down the other. Brilliant, right? Next year (as I say every year), I'm going to have a very smart and neat garden just like this one. Thanks for the inspiration, Natalie!