Friday, December 31, 2010

The ups and downs of gift giving

Today I read a post about handmade gift giving by Manda at Treefall and it got me thinking about what a minefield gift giving can be, and in particular giving presents you've made by hand.

Manda pointed out that some people don't see the value in handmade because it didn't 'cost' anything, and that some people feel cheated out of a store bought present. She's right that everyone has their own stories of disappointment or success. For me one that hurt was a friend giving me a flat, unexcited 'thanks' for a baby journal I'd given her for her newborn, and never mentioned the journal again. I'd spent weeks collecting nursery rhymes to put in it, hand illustrating the nursery rhymes and binding it by hand. Maybe she didn't like it, maybe she thought it was store bought or maybe it just wasn't very good ;-) This friend had always bought me expensive presents in the past, so much so that I felt I couldn't compete. But this hurt because I thought she missed the fact that I spent the time and effort on it because of what she, and her new baby, meant to me. I don't think people hand make presents expecting extra thanks, but we do hope people 'get it' - that we do it because they mean something to us.

On the other hand, a couple of years ago I gave a friend a little handmade decoration for her tree and she said she almost cried when she opened it because she was so touched by it. See, she got it. Over the years I'm sure I have accidently upset people with my reactions to gifts at times, and I've also given some gifts that I felt weren't quite right. Situations where I'd thought and thought about what to get but just couldn't seem to think of something they'd really like and settled for second best. It's a hard thing to get right, don't you think?

Happily this year I felt my gifts were good enough to give away this year (as Manda did), and people did seem to get it. Over the next week or so I want to show you some of the things that were exchanged over the holiday period.

Have a lovely new year's eve everyone, and best of luck for 2011. Thanks for coming here and reading my ramblings in my first year of blogging. Without you I'd just be talking to myself :-)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ho ho ho

Hi there, just popping in to say Merry Christmas to everyone.

Finally my Christmas craft frenzy is over (phew!). I must admit that this is only because we've left home to go spend Christmas with family - I'm sure if I was still there I'd be on that sewing machine til midnight again tonight! But I'm knackered from last week's efforts, so thank goodness for enforced crafting breaks!

I hope you enjoy the holiday season, get to recharge your batteries and join me back here after Christmas for more crafting frenzies and (hopefully) creative inspiration :-)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Big girl dress

Here's the dress I made my big girl for my brother's wedding recently. It's the Peekaboo Dress pattern by Bettsy Kingston. When my girl first saw a picture of the dress she loved it, I think mainly because of the way the petticoat underskirt makes it flare out. At first I bought a beautiful (and expensive) cotton print fabric featuring little owls and branches. But I think she (I!) was after something a little more dressy and special. It's not everyday a girl gets to dress up! So the cotton has been put in the stash for another day...

So we next bought a fabric with a little more of a party feel. The dress is a simple high waisted style, fully lined, with a full skirt. With or without the petticoat it has a lovely drape and makes a girl want to twirl and twirl, apparently (rather than stand still for your mum to photograph you in it)!

I thought the dress needed some decoration so I made this huge flower to sit on the side of her waist. Through making a couple of other flowers I worked out a simple method of gathering strips of fabric and sewing them onto a circle. I used a few different fabrics to give it texture and link the dress and petticoat visually. In my typical fashion I finished this about an hour before she needed to wear it - pretty stressful and silly of me, but as I'd squeezed other projects into every other available time slot that's all that was left!

I made a separate petticoat to go underneath (the pattern has instructions for an attached or detached petticoat). It was fun to make but the instructions lost me a bit (must have needed an extra coffee that day!) so I just did what I thought would work. It's not as poufy as the pic on the pattern but still did the job, thought maybe I should have attached it to the dress because my girl kept talking it off and putting it back on during the reception.

And as the evening wore on the petticoat became a lion's mane. Roarrr!!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Alternative xmas tree - AKA a stick

Thank you for your lovely comments in my last post about my dress, I really appreciate them. I wish Blogger had a decent comment reply system. Surely it's not that hard to let bloggers reply to an individual comment?!! Or maybe I'm missing something.

On the Christmas decoration front, we added an 'alternative tree' to our few decorations on the weekend. It came about as we decided not to get a real tree this year because we're away for quite a bit of December, and particularly the Christmas week. We were going to borrow a plastic one from my mum and then didn't have space in the car to bring it back to Sydney. So... an opportunity for some craft arose (squeezing that opportunity in anywhere :-)

Inspired by several things I'd seen lately, the kids and I drove around parks until we found a good fallen branch from a gum tree, took it home and spray painted it silver. The girls found out how addictive spray painting can be "I want to paint everything silver mama!!"

We then each chose a few favourite decorations from the box and and threaded them on. The Mr helped me hang the stick on some string and hooks from the picture rails, I added some little fairy lights and we were done.

Each year I love opening the decorations box and remembering all the lovely things we've been collecting over the years. Opening each tissue papered package is like a little surprise :-)

It's nice to have a bit of Christmas bling around. I've been loving seeing what sort of decorating people do to their houses, both in person and on blogs. I hope you're enjoying some festive decorating too.

Friday, December 17, 2010


For anyone wondering how the dress I made for my brother's wedding turned out, here are a few pics. I didn't get any pics of myself in it at the wedding (the afternoon itself was pretty crazy with all 3 kids running around), so these are taken back at home by my 5 year old :-)

It's a simple sort of asian style that I thought needed a strong print, and the Alexander Henry print worked for it. Though it would be good if the fabric had a little stretch to it so it was more comfortable to wear. I did look for a woven with a slight stretch but couldn't find anything nice.

A couple of details like the vents in the sleeves and the side splits helped take away a bit of the simpleness (if you know what I mean) and made it more comfortable.

And I got to wear some of my favourite earrings as shown in the top pic, little origami cranes (bought at a shop in Newtown), which was a nice link back to the table decorations I made. Or maybe origami is just one of my latest obsessions :-)

I'm also planning to do a post on the dress I made for my big girl. I just need to take a few more pics, at least she will be a much less shy model than me :-)

Have a lovely weekend everyone! 8 days til Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Double-up baking

My thoughts have turned to baking today as I start to get into the festive baking mood, finally. Top of my list is going to be some crispy thin biscotti to have with coffee on Christmas morning, but for today, this first day of holidays for the kids, we have made:

Two loaves of cinnamon bread, one for my lovely friend who recently gave me a huge bag of flour. Recipe the same as this one but instead of the individual rolls, lately I've been making it into one big snail shape and baking til very brown. That's the butter and sugar caramelising on the outside - it's worth a little scorching slightly to make sure the inside is cooked all the way through to avoid the dreaded doughy-stodge syndrome! The base is all crispy with sugar and butter and the inside squidgy and soft.

Also two loaves of banana bread with the addition of a handful of raspberries. One loaf for us and one the freezer, as it freezes really well.

Hope you're feeling cooking inspired too as we hurtle towards the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oven mitts - off the gift list

Recently I finally got around to making an oven mitt to match the aprons I made a while ago. The state of the only oven mitt in the house was pretty dreadful but I think I found the thought of making a new pair a bit daunting. However I wanted to make them as presents so thought I'd make one as a test run.

Taking pointers from tutorials like this one, first I traced a pattern from my existing dying oven mitt, then cut out 2 in the blue and green fabric for the outside, 2 in a white linen/cotton blend for the inside, and 2 in heat-proof batting. I sandwiched a piece of that between outer and inner pieces of fabric then machine stitched through the layers.

Even though I do a lot of sewing, I have never tried to make a quilt - it's sitting as an idea in the back of my mind but I haven't been brave enough to attempt it. But this kind of mini-quilting-like sewing was really fun, and I thought even the inside looked kinda cool...

Anyway... I then did the same to the other pieces, overlocked (serged) the 2 finished panels together, turned them inside out and bound the bottom edge in a scrap of green linen I had lying around. Binding is not my favourite sewing technique because I find it hard (impossible) to get just right, though I love the way it looks when it's done well.

It turned out OK and has a mate sitting half finished (ready for 'Half finished Projects January' :-) And it performs its duty well, but was a bit of a pain to make really, so it's off the xmas gift list, at least until next year when I've maybe had more practice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Origami star boxes

What is it that is so satisfying about origami, I wonder? Maybe it's the concept of making something 3D from something flat. I particularly find making box or cup shapes fun as they can actually hold something.

I made these classic origami star boxes for my brother's wedding on the weekend as a table decoration/take-home gift (I'll show you my dress and the big girl's this week). And as I can never remember the folding instructions from one time I make them to the next, I used these online instructions.

Each one was made from an A5 size sheet of metallic paper trimmed to a 148mm square. I sat up the night before the wedding making 43 of them, and though it started off slow I got quicker as I went and was not too bleary-eyed the next morning :-)

A piece of metallic silver tissue paper was placed into each and then a chocolate placed in the centre. They make a pretty little decoration and are fun to make if you are looking for a satisfying project.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Indoor hopscotch

I've had extremely limited internet access this week and I've got to say that I feel extremely disconnected from the world without it!! It's one thing choosing to lie low or have a break, but when it's enforced, now that's hard!

Plenty of things are being made late at night this week but I can't show you anything, hopefully next week that will change though...

In the meantime, I've been meaning to post on this indoor hopscotch game for a while now. I made it last Christmas for the girls. I think I had as much fun making it as they do playing with it, as is often the case :-)

My inspiration came from this fabulous book Cool spaces for kids. First I got a huge rectangle of hessian (burlap?), backed it in non-slip backing and bound the edges with calico.

Then I painted on the numbers and lines, made some little beanbags for tossing and a matching bag to hold it all in.

I hope you've had a good week, see you Monday (hopefully) with some new pics, technology pending ;-)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Covetted kids playroom furniture

In my dream house I would have a big dedicated playroom for the kids with all sorts of interactive things to play with and inspire creative play. It would be a place where they could just chill out or bring their friends to. Of course this would also give me some time to chat to the parents over a coffee and homemade snack, which is one of my favourite things!

Here are some dream items I'd have in that dream space...

Me&U upholstered indoor swing chair hung by wire from the ceiling. Design by Busk+Hertzog

Grand Prix decorative rocking chair

Donut pouf

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not drowning, waving

Actually, make that drowning...

Well, I think I've topped my record lately in the "set yourself too many tasks, fail miserably and fall into a heap" stakes. Of course, setting yourself lots of tasks isn't a problem if you've actually got enough time to execute them... which I did have a while ago but haven't had lately. Just to let myself off the hook slightly though, having the Mr away all last week did set me back a bit. After parenting solo one school kid and two cranky toddlers I was just too knackered to stay up crafting, sewing or blogging and most nights fell into bed and dragged myself out again the next morning, having been joined in bed by anywhere between one and three little buddies sometime through the night.

So on my list of things to do by about now was (she takes a deep breath):
- Sewing myself a dress. From scratch. No pattern.
- Sewing my big girl a dress including petticoat & decorative flower (see 'next up on my sewing machine' over on the right)
- Finishing the hand printed Christmas paper & tags
- Buying and making various gifts for family & friends for our early Christmas celebrations (more on this later when it's not a secret :-)
- Making a birthday gift for a friend

Hmm. Some of them are almost done, but others are nowhere near done, and I'm going to have to come up with alternative solutions or just accept that life's not prefect. I've given myself a serious talking to and decided that my new year's resolution will be to do less projects and give each the time they need to be done well rather than raced through.

Anyway... let me show you something I have been able to do a little on...

I finally decided on the style of dress to make for my brother's wedding, then agonised over the fabric - went to my favourite fabric shop hoping to find some Japanese Echino light weight cotton in one of their beautiful prints. But they didn't have any and nothing else jumped out at me. So after wasting my precious child-free couple of hours I headed home feeling defeated and deflated. Out of precious fabric shop browsing time, I trawled the net and finally decided on the Alexander Henry "Imperial Kiku" from Kelani Fabrics.

As the dress is such a simple design I felt that the fabric needed lots of personality. I made a 'muslin' to check on my pattern in a solid purple colour which looked pretty boring. I have drafted the pattern myself after taking pointers from "Design-it-yourself clothes", so we'll see if it's a total disaster or not!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Homemade decorations

With the kids getting excited about Christmas coming we've been digging out a few favourite decorations from storage before we go into full decorating mode, including these red glass candle holders and string of pretty lights on balsa wood circles from Ikea. And we've also made a few homemade decorations lately.

Inspired by the projects in this newsletter, and many others on all those great craft blogs out there, last week we made our first handmade advent calendar.

We stamped the Christmas tree (getting tired of that one!) onto the fronts of small envelopes, then stamped the date, added some fine red glitter, put a small peg onto each one then hung them on a length of string. I suddenly realised late last night that it was the last day of the month and at least one small person would be very excited about opening the first one this morning. It was my job to fill them and I found this the only non-fun part of the activity. I couldn't think of anything to put in them apart from lollies and chocolates, which would have been fine with the kids of course, but not so fine with me. I already feel like I spend a considerable amount of time listening to repeated requests for treats. Does anyone have any ideas? Maybe a handwritten note promising some sort of activity? Hmm, sounds like too much prep and follow up. Oh dear, I can see the lollies now...

I'm hoping advent calendar making will turn into an annual event, as it was fun making it with my big girl (the littlies are too little to tackle this one), and maybe next year's can be more purposeful and less sweet!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Flower love

I don't think of myself as a particularly patriotic Australian, but then I think about how much I love our wildlife, our landscapes, our scenery, and especially our lovely flowers... and I guess I kinda am.

Not traditionally thought of as 'pretty' as English Cottage garden flowers are, ours tend to be unusual, striking and sometimes quite odd looking. I have raved about them previously, so will restrain myself this time :-) But I did want to show you these Grevilleas, glorious in their shape and colours, which range from the delicate soft pale yellow through to blushing pink and bold bright red.

And all are found on our walk to school. Ahh.

PS. I'm solo parenting this week so might be quite quiet on the crafting & blogging front. No speed sewing for me this week!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Half finished projects

While recently trying to get onto my projects that are quite pressing now (all needing to be done in a couple of weeks) I stumbled upon one of the many half-finished projects I have hanging around.

With both the littlies miraculously napping at the same time I knew I had a small window to get something done. But doing a small part of a big project just didn't suit my mood. I needed something that would give me an instant gratification fix, possibly as an antidote to the incredibly stressful and frustrating time I've been having with my two toddlers lately... if I could achieve something then maybe the day wouldn't feel like a total mess, know what I mean?

Anyway, down in my sewing area, two embroideries I'd done in winter jumped out at me, crying out to be finished. Back then I'd put a woolen cardigan from an op shop in a hot wash in the machine to see what would happen - either it would felt well and shink and fit me better... or not. I figured I had nothing to lose as it was unflattering as it was. Well, it did felt but it mainly shrank vertically so ended up too short in length. I decided to cut it up into a bolero, and with the remaining corners I did these embroideries with the intention of making brooches.

The red one represents Australian flowering gum (show you a pic of the real thing when our tree flowers soon!). And the yellow is just an organic shape like a fern frond unfolding.

I took them and cut around them, cut some backing from a scrap of black wool felt, and pulled out a couple of bits of wadding to sandwich in between to give them a bit of structure.

Then I machine stitched around them and hand sewed safety pins on to the backs.

It was pretty satisfying as far as instant gratification goes, though the brooches are really more suited to winter clothing so probably won't be worn for a while yet. But, that's not the point... they're finished! Yay!

It did make me think too, yet again, about how many half finished projects I have lying around that I'd love to have finished. So I've decided to declare January my "Half-finished projects month". Do you have any of these around? Maybe a half knitted scarf, a pair of trousers waiting to be hemmed, patches to be sewn on etc? Why don't you join me in getting all those little projects done and out of the way. Imagine the feeling of satisfaction we'll have :-)
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