Friday, December 12, 2014

Evening light on fruit

Christmas fruit
[not a dirty mirror with those specks, just a 100-year-old one!]

I have found that a cheap and easy way to decorate for Christmas is to use mostly natural objects... extra greenery cut from our tree, pinecones, dehydrated citrus slices, and a bowl of seasonal fruit. I set this basket, lined with a green plaid scarf, out on the sideboard of our built-in china cabinet, and filled it with apples, pears, pomegranates, grapefruit, oranges, and clementines. The amount and type of fruit varies as we eat our way through it, but it makes a festive focal point out of something we have on hand, anyway!

Friday, December 5, 2014

December whirling in

There's a prevailing thought that you shouldn't even THINK about Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but I have come to realize that when you are a homemaker in charge of decorating and festivities, that attitude is Bunk. Hopefully each year I will do better, but I often end up scrambling around, trying to get things pulled together post-Thanksgiving (or whenever we return from our travels -- this year, it was Nov. 30).

Christmas stockings

At least in one area, I am way ahead of the game -- stockings. I've been wanting to pull together some coordinated family stockings, but as is typical, I couldn't find anything store-bought that I really liked. So last August, I finally made some! Yes, August. I did NOT want to be doing Christmas sewing in December.

Christmas stockings

I used quilting cottons from Moda's "Lumiere de Noel" line by French General, which is a few years old and very hard to find. I finally found some yardage from a few small online quilting shops. I don't know how many more stockings we may need in future for more children, so I ordered some extra prints just in case! I have stripes and plaids for boys and florals for girls.

Christmas stockings

I made up my own pattern, which is just a simple and classic stocking shape, with a cuff for names. The stockings are lined with an off-white twill and the cuffs are made from a linen-like cotton, both from Walmart, of all places. I hand-embroidered the names onto the cuffs, using an alphabet lifted from one of my English embroidery books (it is copied from an alphabet on a sampler made by one of the Brontë sisters). The "linen" wasn't quite fine enough to do counted cross-stitch, so I traced each name onto freezer paper, centered and ironed it onto each cuff, and then embroidered over my guide. After 1/2 of the cross stitch was done (all the stitches on one diagonal), I carefully tore away the freezer paper with my fingers and tweezers, then finished the cross-stitches.

Christmas stockings

I really love the way they turned out, and I am THRILLED to have them done before the Christmas season started! They definitely pass my home decor test: "Is this something that would be found in an English country home?" ;-)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Birthday boy

birthday cake!

Before November becomes a distant memory, let me make mention of Edmund's 5th birthday! This year, his birthday fell on the day before Thanksgiving. We traveled cross-country to be with my brother and his family for the holiday, so it was special for Edmund to be in a new place and with a special playmate (his cousin) for the day. I had thought we might go out to a bounce house or gym in the Big City for a special treat, but the kids were having so much fun just playing at home, we scrapped that plan. Why add to the stress of bundling everyone out the door on the day before a big holiday when the birthday boy just wants to play at home?

Edmund requested the same cake from last year -- Hershey's "Especially Dark" Chocolate Cake topped with "Especially Dark" frosting and raspberries. I accidentally made the frosting a bit thin, so it's not sticking as well as it should in this picture. This year he wanted a "helicopter cake" so my mom found a little toy helicopter to put inside a landing pad of raspberries and candles. This cake is rich! But oh so yummy when served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to give a little extra sweetness to the dark chocolate.

birthday cake!
[Edmund in his new special PJs from great-grandma]

Friday, November 14, 2014

Notes from a novice quilter

Last month, I finished up my first twin-sized quilt! Here it is in all its wonky glory:

Scrap quilt

This is a scrap quilt in the truest sense of the word. Honest-to-goodness scraps, recycled -- some old shirts of Douglas' and my dad's, an old pillowcase, sewing project scraps, etc. It was backed with an old sheet. The only thing I paid for was the batting, which I think was about six bucks at Walmart.

This was a "learn by experience" project for me, so I didn't want to spend a lot of money on it. I'm quite comfortable in the realm of garment sewing, but quilting is a whole different world. I had to Google a lot of things as I went along. :) I'm writing down some things I learned, for any other complete novices out there reading this. (And if you are more experienced and see a correction or addition that needs to be made to my list, please let me know in the comments!)
  • Use a rotary cutter as much as possible. Don't cut out your squares or shapes by hand if you can use a rotary cutter instead!
  • When you are piecing your quilt top, set your stitch length a little smaller. I set mine at 2.
  • Utilize chain piecing.
  • No need to press seams open. Press them to one side or the other.
  • I hand-basted this quilt together using a plain ol' needle and thread, because I was using what I had, but it was fairly time-consuming and cumbersome. Next time I would probably spring for some basting spray -- I haven't used any before, but I'm guessing it would be easier and faster.
  • When quilting with my walking foot, I set my stitch length a bit longer, at 3.
  • I decided to "stitch in the ditch" because I thought that it would be easy. Nope. It's actually pretty tricky!
  • I used this method to machine bind my quilt. It was adequate, but there were some spots on the back that didn't get "caught" by the stitching. Perhaps I should have pinned more. I wonder if using basting tape would help? I just couldn't face all that hand-stitching!
  • Last but not least... quilting takes a long time. It is a big project. Only embark on a quilt if you love the fabrics and design (even though I usually love scrap quilts, I am pretty "meh" about this one).
Right now, the quilt is on Edmund's bed, as he really needed a warm quilt! It's serving its purpose. I told the kids they can drag it around, make tents with it, etc. I don't mind if it gets dirty and well-used. Now that I've got a little experience under my belt, I have some more ideas and plan to make two more twin-sized quilts for the big kids. Looking forward to learning more as I go along!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A flatcap for Edmund

I recently ordered Sew Liberated's "Huck Finn" Cap pattern and had a chance to make it up for Edmund with some wool left over from an early sewing project. I've long had a penchant for flatcaps, but I've never made one myself or even examined a store-bought one closely, so I had no idea how they were put together. It was interesting to learn!


Have I mentioned how much I love sewing with wool? It is by far my favorite fabric. It does exactly what I want when I'm pressing and pinning! I love the look and feel, too. The fabric that I used is very, very soft; not scratchy at all. The weave is a mixture of brown and gray, so the look of the fabric is nicely neutral. I used coordinating left over polyester lining fabric for the lining.


The pattern went together fairly well, although I had a few head-scratching moments. I'm still a little puzzled about the sweatband -- the pattern calls for it to be cut on the bias, presumably so that it can be eased around the circular hat, but then the interfacing applied to the sweatband effectively prevents any "easing" from happening. I looked at the interior of a vintage 1920s flatcap that belonged to my great-great uncle and the sweatband does look more tidy. The vintage cap also had a stabilizer under the sweatband, but it looked almost more like a stretchy buckram. I'm sure there's something better than modern fusible interfacing that I could use next time, but I don't know what that would be. :) Ah well, as the problem is mostly just aesthetic, and is hidden whenever the cap is worn, I won't worry about it too much.


I wasn't sure if Edmund would like the cap or want to wear it very much, but so far he's been wearing it pretty much nonstop! It helps that he likes to pretend to be "Luther" (flatcap-wearing mouse from the "Theo" series). He's been very careful not to lose the hat and at bedtime, he put it on his bed so that he will know right where it is tomorrow morning. I love that he loves it!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mason & Hamlin

Mason & Hamlin

Our piano-less home now has a piano again... Douglas has a beautiful black Kawai grand piano that he bought in his single days, but it resides at his studio. I've missed hearing him play when he's at home. We found this FREE 1922 Mason & Hamlin upright piano on Craigslist in a town nearby, just the brand and year that Douglas wanted (he was looking for pre-1929, when the company merged with Aeolian and subsequently went down in quality). Isn't God good? We're getting it tuned later this week. I can't wait to start up the home concerts again!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

And we're off!

[first day of school]

Just like that, we started our "official" homeschooling at the beginning of the month. I'm doing three subjects with Edmund right now -- Bible, reading/phonics, and math/numbers. For Bible, we read a chapter each day, work on memorizing one verse each week, and learn a new hymn or psalm each month (Lavinia does this with us and enjoys it, too). For reading, I am using "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and reading various books aloud, as time permits (right now we are on "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder, having already finished the first two books in the series earlier in the year). I haven't quite gotten my act together for math yet (planning to order a workbook at some point), but I've had him do some counting and sorting activities and practice writing numbers.

He thinks it is all simply wonderful.