Happy Christmas

I thought that I had better wish you and yours a Happy Christmas now, what with with it being the day before Christmas Eve and I have still yet to ice the Christmas cake and finish my son's present (and see the Christmas lights, finish tidying the house, do the laundry, etc. etc.).
The problem with sewing presents for the kids is that once school is out, all sewing must done after bedtime if I want to keep it a surprise, so it's been a few late nights this week. I have the feeling that once I've had a decent night's sleep, I'll look at the stitching in horror, but still... Anyway, I had a chance to snap a few pics in today's gloomy light while the kids were out. I've got a few more arrow loops and what have you to add, but you can get the general idea:
The back wall folds down (kind of like the fabric dollhouse), so that you can access the inside better.
As for my daughter, I made her a wee puppet theatre:
I got to play around with the power tools for this one, but it was still just a simple project. Her room has lots of red and white stuff, so the polka dot curtains were an easy choice.
Best of all, it doesn't take up too much room..
My feed reader chose this week to lose half of my feeds, so my blog reading has ground to a halt. I might just try google reader at this point, as I'm not too keen on the new interface being offered anyway. Who one earth picks the week before Christmas to mess around with my stuff, anyway??? Hopefully I'll find my old feeds in the New Year - plus all the ones it kept refusing to find throughout the years. Do drop me a comment if it's been a while since I stopped by your blog. I've lost so many blogs thanks to that bloomin' feed reader...
Time to go and finish the castle. I hope that you all enjoy your holiday. Ours will be fairly quiet by British standards, but we'll be seeing the in-laws and I'll do my best not to mope about and feel homesick. I miss my family and friends a lot at this time of year. Still, I will be subjecting my family to my version of the traditional Christmas dinner, even though it will be on Boxing Day. It's not as good as mum's but I refuse to go without it. I've got some Christmas crackers so they won't escape the paper hat wearing, even if we are on the other side of the world...
Translation of the day:
UK English: Boxing Day = public holiday on the day after Christmas (December 26th). So we have 2 days of family parties over there.

'Tis the season #5: beeswax sheet candles tutorial

My house looks like a bomb has hit it, but I'm almost ready for Christmas now. Parcels are on their way to England, there's one present left to buy, just a couple of handmade presents to put the finishing touches to and the Christmas cake is made (but not yet iced). I no longer feel like striking the people that had already sent me Christmas cards in the first week of December off my Christmas card list...

For teacher gifts, my kids made these beeswax candles. They are ever so easy, if you want to give it a try.

You need:

- beeswax sheets (I bought mine here, but you can find them at some craft stores, candle supply stores or some health food stores)

- wick (I used 1/0 square waxed wick)

The sheets that we used were 16" x 8". To make 2" tall votive candles, I cut them into 16" x 2" strips. Next I warmed them up slightly with a hairdryer, to make them a little more pliable, as my husband is still trying to maintain Arctic-like conditions in our house. Then I handed them over to my 5 year old.

First lay the wick across one end of the strip of wax. We leave extra wick hanging out of both sides, so that we can choose whichever side is neater to be the top of the candle. Gently bend the wax around the wick and push it down to secure the wick in place:

Roll the wax around the wick fairly firmly, keeping the edges even. Try to keep the roll as round as possible - you can push the wax in a little to reshape it as you go, but do this before the last roll, so that you do not ruin the honeycomb texture of the sheet.

When you get to the end, press the end edge of the strip down firmly against the candle to secure it. Chose which end is to be the top of the candle and trim the wick to 1/4" at the top and trim the excess wick off the bottom. You're all done.

A bit of ribbon, some French-seamed drawstring bags, a wee box of English chocolates from the Import store and homemade cards for the teachers and we were done. Then I put in some money to the class gift of a gift card or two, as our teachers need a lot more spoiling than that...

I don't go too crazy over trying to make handmade gifts for Christmas - I'm never too sure if people appreciate them or not. I tend to only make gifts either when I can't find what I am looking for in a store or when I think that I can make a better version than what I have seen in stores. Still, not everyone escapes with a store-bought gift. I've made a couple more reversible totes:

and attempted a gathered clutch using this tutorial.

You can only see half of the gathers in this picture - I should have angled it the other way - but, while the tutorial was fine, this was one of those projects that just did not go as planned. My sewing machine starting having funny spells with the tension. I should probably confess that I gave it a slight tap in frustration. That's when the light went out and it stopped working. Oh, the guilt - and the horror... After a few minutes of praying and apologising to my machine, followed by begging it to work again, I noticed that I had kicked the plug out of the socket...

It was one of those days. Earlier in the day an elderly chap had rolled his car into the back of mine while I was stopped at the traffic light (rather worryingly he mentioned that that 'kept happening lately' - and his driver license does not expire for another 5 years, when he's in his 90s....). Still, after unpicking a few seams and re-threading the machine, I got a gathered clutch finished and it does what it was intended to do: hold a bar of chocolate...

Ok, I had better get going and finish the kid's presents. I promise that I'll be nicer to my sewing machine, too.

Translation of the day:

UK English: Christmas cake = a rich, dark, MOIST fruitcake, covered with marzipan and royal icing, eaten at Christmas. It is nothing like the dry re-gifted fruitcake of American jokes, but my American in-laws still refuse to try it, so I usually get about half the cake to myself. That's not a bad thing - one of the advantages of living over here...

'Tis the season #4: Not too Tutu tutorial

Do you remember this tutu? The not-so-flouncy-as-a-knotted-tutu version of a tutu? Well, the daughters of those lasses that asked for a tutorial may well have packed their bags and disappeared off to college by now, but I made some more tutus this week, so I have finally got around to writing down the instructions for you...
For approx. a 2 - 6 year old child: here goes...
You will need:
- to ask yourself why on earth you are not just making the really easy knotted version instead
- no, seriously...
- 1 ½ yards white tulle
- 2 yards of coloured tulle
- a strip of fabric for the waistband measuring 26" by 4"
- elastic for the waistband
- scissors, needle and thread
- safety pin
- iron
1. Fold the strip of waistband fabric in half lengthwise (along line A in diagram) and iron in the crease
2. Fold the bottom edge (D) up to that crease (line A) and iron in the crease (line B)
3. Fold the top edge (E) down to line A and iron in the crease (line C)
You have now made your waistband. Set it aside.

4. This is the fiddly part that will have you wishing that you had just made a knotted version instead. Fold the white tulle in half lengthwise, then fold each half into thirds, accordion style, as shown:
See, tulle is really annoying to fold. Now the knotted version is starting to look rather appealing, isn't it? Still, the fiddly part is over now.
5. Pin along the top edge, then sew 2 lines of basting stitches between ¼" and ½" from the top edge.
6. Knot the two threads together at one end, then ease the tulle along the basting threads towards the knot, gathering it together, until the top edge measures 24". Knot the other end of the two threads to secure it and set aside.
7. Cut the coloured tulle in half lengthwise, discard one half, then fold the other half into thirds lengthwise.
8. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the coloured tulle.
9. Lay the white tulle over the coloured tulle, lining up the top gathered edges and overlapping the side ends by an inch or two (so that when the waistband is later joined, the edges of the tulle are staggered). Open the waistband fabric up and lay it right side down on top of the tulle, lining up top edge E with the top edge of the tulle and pin. There should be a slight overhang at either end. Starting an inch or two in (X) from the side edge of the tulle (S), sew along crease C until you are an inch or two from the other edge of the tulle (Y)
10. As you would with bias tape, fold the waistband up (along crease C) over the edge of the tulle, refold at crease (crease B) and pin it to the side with the coloured tulle.
11. Join the two side edges, so that the waistband forms a circle, overlapping the edges of the tulle and the waistband by an inch or two, and pin so that the the top edges of the tulle are secured within the waistband.
12. Hand stitch the outside of the waistband (along crease B) to the side with the coloured tulle and along the overlap of the waistband, leaving a 2" gap for the elastic.
13. Hook a safety pin to one end of the elastic and slide it through the waistband. Holding the ends of the elastic together, pull until the waist of the tutu is the desired size, then sew the ends of the elastic together.
14. Hand stitch the 2" gap closed.
15. Wonder why one earth you didn't just do the no-sew knotted version...
Still, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the school uniform... Don't tell my daughter, but she's getting one identical to the red one up top. This purple one is destined for a 2 year old, so the waist is a little smaller.
Scrooge has let me put the Christmas tree up at last. I've found myself making a few more ornaments, even though I really do not have the time. I can't remember where I first saw the yarn-wrapped cone trees idea, but I found the cones that I had squirreled away months ago and dug out the yarn scraps basket:
Then I came across this felt dove ornament tutorial and out came the felt scraps basket. A few other felt strips ornaments were added into the mix:
That is the point when I realised that I had better hurry up if I plan on presents making it back to England in time for Christmas. Hopefully it will be a productive weekend...
Ok, off to bed - it's time I got some kip.
Translation of the day:
UK English: kip = sleep in US English

'Tis the season #3: Button garland tutorial

I hope that those who celebrate it had a happy Thanksgiving. We had a lovely meal at someone else's house, which made me extra thankful, as our dining room is currently decorated with random test patches of colour. We've since picked the colour that we want, just still haven't found the motivation to actually start painting yet...
I have been knitting, though. Now, some of my friends and family know that I have a blog, but I'm pretty sure that none of them actually follow it, so hopefully these posts won't be ruining any surprises. This one is for a lass who I always associate with this colour green, so I couldn't pass up this soft and cosy yarn. I used my pattern found here, casting on 300 stitches for this one (Ravely page here).
My kids had the week off school, so it seemed like the perfect time for our annual forced child labour event: Christmas decoration making. We've got enough homemade decorations to fill the tree now. I liked their button wreaths so much that I had them churn out a few more for me:
It turns out that I have rather a lot of buttons around here, as I had enough left over to make this wee garland:
Not a very Christmas-y staged photo, but the Scrooge of the house hadn't let me put up the Christmas decorations at that point...
If you're interested in making your own button garland, you'll need:
sequins (5mm or 8mm)
teeny rocaille (seed) 10/0 beads
fishing line or thread
26 gauge floral wire (optional) - I used the floral wire, so that I can shape the garland if needed.
1. Cut 3 strands of the floral wire slightly longer than the desired length for the garland, then braid them together loosely, tying off the ends.
2. Tie a length of the fishing line to the wire braid, then thread on each button / sequin combo tightly as follows: thread the fishing line through a space in the wire braid, then through a button hole, then through the sequin hole, then pass it through the bead and thread it back through the sequin, then thread it through the other button hole and down through the wire braid:
Hopefully this doodle is clear enough for you to work out what on earth I am talking about.
3. Repeat step 2 until your garland reaches the desired length.
The sequins really catch the light. nb. Those seed beads are very fiddly, so this probably isn't a project for young 'uns. I think that I'm going to be finding mislaid beads around the house for many months to come...
Translations of the Day:
UK English: parky = cool, cold, chilly in US English
UK English: nippy = cool, cold, chilly in US English
UK English: Baltic = cold, chilly in US English
I'm wearing my ski jacket indoors as Scrooge is also controlling the thermostat, so those are the first British words that came to mind...
As in, although it's pretty mild outside, it's a wee bit parky in here. It's rather nippy first thing and bloomin' Baltic by night....
(sorry about all the gloomy pictures - the weather has been rather murky this week).

'Tis the season #2: Chocolate biscuit gateau

A few of you asked me for this recipe, so here goes: This one was taught to me by a friend when we were teenagers and most of our culinary efforts leaned towards the dessert end of the spectrum. I heard mention that someone successfully sued a company for making them overweight, so I had better add the disclaimer that large quantities of this gateau will most likely add to your waistline...
Now, hopefully you're remembering that what the English call biscuits are called cookies by the Americans, or this recipe could take an unplanned turn...
You will need:
8oz / 225g plain chocolate
8oz / 225g butter
1oz / 25g caster sugar
2 beaten eggs
8oz / 225g digestive biscuits
For those of you saying, 'huh?', today's Translation of the Day:
UK English: Caster sugar = superfine sugar / baker's sugar in US English
UK English: Digestive biscuits, or sweetmeal biscuits are a semi-sweet biscuit. The internet suggests substituting graham crackers - I haven't tried that, but I imagine that would be ok in this recipe, even though they taste different. You can find digestives in the US at import stores like Cost Plus World Market and also at specialty British import stores, though.
Grease a 6" cake tin (with a detachable base).
Break up the digestive biscuits into small pieces and put to the side.
Break up the chocolate and put it in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water to melt.
Melt the butter gently in another pan.
Beat the eggs with the caster sugar, then add the melted butter, pouring it in a steady stream while beating continuously.
Now blend in the melted chocolate.
Folded the biscuit pieces into the chocolate mixture.
Turn the chocolate mixture into the cake tin and chill over night in the fridge.
To serve, stand the cake tin on a smaller can and push the tin carefully down onto the table, leaving the base with the gateau on the can. Slide the gateau onto a serving plate.
Maya had a post about being brave, which made me feel a little guilty about hiding behind my sunglasses on my blog. So here's a slightly blurry picture from a few weeks back, when I was testing the camera's self-timer. Split ends, no make-up as usual and weird lighting making it look like my nose is uneven, but this is me...
I really should get my hair cut.
Take care.

'Tis the season #1: Granny in a Flap Hat tutorial

50 days left until Christmas! Time to concentrate on giving, methinks. In the upcoming weeks I plan on sharing some of the things that I'll be giving as gifts this year and I also want to share a few gifts with you, such as a couple of tutorials etc. I won't get all ambitious, as I do have 3 and a half rooms to paint in the upcoming weeks, so keep your expectations low...

First up, do you remember this hat?
I've been meaning to write up the pattern for it since, um, last April. I was noting down the pattern as I was teaching a friend how to crochet it. We worked on it while we were at the park with our kids each week. Then her lad inconsiderately knocked his head badly and was barred from the park for a couple of months. He's fine, but my pattern writing ground to a halt.
With winter rapidly approaching, I thought that it might be time to finish it. So I made another hat. Meanwhile the temperature soared to 100 degrees. In November. Can it really be a coincidence that every time I make this hat we have a heat wave?Sunglasses indoors = cover for the awful dark circles under my eyes. These hats do look less daft when worn with winter clothes...I am a slow crocheter and I can make one of these in an evening, so they are quick work.
To make a child size hat, use smaller hooks as follows: I instead of J, J instead of K, K instead of L). Ravelry link here.
scraps of yarn: worsted or bulky
US size J 10 hook (6.00mm)
US size K 10.5 hook (6.50mm)

US size L 11 hook (8.00mm)
Yarn needle to weave in any loose ends
ABBREVIATIONS USED (nb. I'm using the American stitch terms):
ch = chain
sc = single crochet
dc = double crochet
cl = cluster

sp = space
yo = yarn over
rep = repeat

join = join with slip stitch
beg cl = first cluster stitch of a row: ch 2, then, keeping last loop of each dc on hook, 2 dc in sp, yo and draw through all loops on hook to make cluster
cl = keeping last loop of each dc on hook, 3dc in sp, yo and draw through all loops on hook to make cluster

Using hook J
Ch 6, join to form ring (I use magic adjustable ring for this)
Round 1. In ring: beg cl, *ch 3, cl, rep from *5 times, ch 3, join in top beg cl [6 clusters]
Round 2. In ch 3 sp of previous round: beg cl, ch 3, cl, ch 3, *in next sp cl, ch 3, cl, ch 3, rep from * 5 times, join in top beg cl [12 clusters]
Round 3. In ch 3 sp: beg cl, ch 3, cl, ch 3, *in next sp cl, ch3; in next sp cl, ch 3; in next sp cl, ch 3, cl, ch 3, rep from * until end of round and join in top beg cl =16 clusters
Round 4. In ch 3 sp: ch 2, 2 dc, ch 1, *in next sp 3 dc, ch 1, rep from * 15 times
Change to K hook
Round 5. In ch 1 sp: ch 2, 2 dc, 1 ch, * 3 dc, 1 ch, rep from * 15 times
Rounds 6 - 8. rep round 5
Change to L hook
Rounds 9 - 14. rep round 5
EAR FLAP (worked back and forth in rows):
Row 1: ch 2, 2 dc in sp, ch 1, 3 dc in next sp, ch 1, 3 dc in next sp, turn
Row 2: ch 3, 3 dc in sp, ch 1, 3 dc in next sp, ch 1, 1 dc in last dc of previous row, turn
Row 3: ch 3, 3dc in middle sp, ch 1, 1 dc in last dc of previous row
Join yarn 5 sp along brim from 1st ear flap and make in same way as 1st ear flap
sc around edge of hat, including along the edges of the ear flaps. When reach tip of ear flaps: ch 2, 2 dc in sp, ch 1, 2 dc in next sp, ch 2 and rejoin edge, continue to sc around rest of hat
Cut 6 1 yard strips of yarn, thread them through the base of the ear flaps and braid together, securing the ends with a knot.
Repeat on other side. Done.
Let me know if I've made any mistakes. I haven't been getting enough sleep and it's been a while since I've followed a crochet pattern, so I'm a little rusty on the abbreviations.
No translation of the day today: it's past my bedtime...

Shiver me timbers!

Yep, it's that time of year again: When seams and hems look awful, because I am not going to spend ages on something that is only for one night. That doesn't stop my kids from demanding extra details that they've seen in the flyers from the costume stores, mind. They don't get everything they ask for, though. Pirates can wear bandannas instead of tricorn hats, for starters....
I'm hoping that you could tell that they are going to be pirates for this year's Halloween...
Their cousin is, too. She's getting a black shirt, sash and red / white spotted jagged edge skirt, as per her hand-drawn design:
I finished these a week ago. I'm a little worried to find that I haven't been procrastinating as usual.
Actually, I've been going around humming Christmas carols. I've even made a Christmas decoration or two. I think it might be my coping mechanism for California's pathetic attempt at Autumn. I've seen one tree so far that has realised that it should be shedding some leaves...
So, I'm skipping Autumn and moving on straight to Christmas.
While almost on the subject of shopping (don't worry, I'm only at the thinking stage for actual Christmas presents), I was happy to see that Bread and Buttons had decided to open up her etsy shop again. She is a lovely lady and finds the cutest fabrics. These pictures taken on a gloomy day do not do justice to these hair clips and bands that I have bought for my daughter:
Arrrggghhh, it's late! Time to weigh anchor. Take care all.