Thursday, November 15, 2012

T-Shirt into Baby Gown

I've been saving my husband's worn out Soylent Green t-shirt for a long long time, just waiting to find some way to reuse it.  I found a baby gown tutorial from
because every baby needs a Soylent Green shirt, right?

Ha ha ha I'm so excited to try this on a baby!  The tutorial was simple and easy, and except for the whole "sewing knit fabric is hard" issues, I didn't have any problems.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Featured Fish Costume

My son's halloween fish costume was featured over at Lasso the Moon today.
Head on over to check it out!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Crock Pot Apple Butter for Canning

Last year some friends enlightened me to the fact that there is an orchard about 5 miles away from our house that lets you pick apples for only 40 cents a pound (a real steal around here).  My new-ish tradition is using those fresh apples to make apple butter and apple sauce every fall.  This is the week that I went last year, so I gave the orchard a call to make sure they were open, only to have the owner tell me that the apples were almost done for the year!  He said because of the drought and super-hot temps this summer, the apples ripened early.  The only kind left was Empire, which he assured me would be good for applesauce, and Blushing Gold which is a long-lasting variety.  So that's what I got.

My two-year-old and I waded through rows of goat's head thorns (note to self, don't wear flip-flops next time) to pick through the mostly rotten apples and find enough to make applesauce.  I found 24 lbs worth and took them home.

For canning I always follow the National Center for Home Food Preservation's recipes, because, frankly, I am scared I'll kill my family with botulism if I follow the ones on un-official websites.
Here is a link to their Apple Butter recipe.  I use it with my slow cooker.  If you don't know what apple butter tastes like, I say it's like a spiced apple jam that tastes a lot like apple cider.  I like it on toast or even on a PB&J sandwich.

First, if you have a fruit strainer or food mill, just core and cut up your apples, leaving the peels on.  If you don't have a strainer, peel the apples, and then core and cut them.  I just wash my apples, chop them with one of those tools that cuts them into wedges and removes the core, and put them into the crock pot.  The recipe calls for 8 lbs of apples, and that fills my 6.5 QT crock pot as full as you can possibly fill it without apples falling out.  The lid won't fit at first, which is fine because they shrink up as they cook.  After an hour or so you should be able to close the lid. 

 Add the two cups of apple cider and two cups of white vinegar, as directed, and set your crock pot on low for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally or as long as it takes for the apples to be soft and cooked through.  You could try the high setting if you want to shorten cooking time.

The apples should be thoroughly soft, and your house will smell divine.  I asked my husband when he got home from work if he could smell the vinegar, and he said no, he could only smell the cooking apples.

Now it's time to sauce the apples.  I have  an awesome mother-in-law that gave me this KitchenAid accessory, the fruit and vegetable strainer.  This thing is pretty expensive, but if you happen to find one at a good price at a garage sale or something, they are so nice to have.  It removes any peels and stems or seeds that are in your batch, and leaves you with yummy apple sauce.

This is how much applesauce it made.  I think I got more last year.  I should have filled the crock pot just a bit more I think.
 Take the apple sauce and put it back into the crock pot.  Add the spices (cloves and cinnamon), according to the NCHFP recipe, and the sugar (wow that's a lot of sugar!) to the pot and stir.  Set it on low again for about two more hours, or until it is thick enough that you can "spoon a small quantity onto a plate. When a rim of liquid does not separate around the edge of the butter, it is ready for canning."  To help the moisture cook off while it thickens in the crock pot, I used two metal campfire skewers to create a big gap all around the lid.  Keeping the lid on this way prevents splatters and lets the moisture out.  You can try a couple of butter knives or bamboo skewers instead, or just leave the lid on skewed sideways, or just leave it off, whatever you like.  I stirred it every once in a while to prevent burning.  At this point you can put it through a blender or use an immersion blender to make it even smoother.  I don't do that though.

Then it's ready to process.  Follow safe canning procedures.  This usually makes 7 pints for me.

Yum-o.  I love apple butter.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Luffa Update: Mid-August

This has been one of the hottest if not the hottest summer on record in the mid-west.  Temps have gotten as high as 115 F, and we had several weeks with little to no rain and temps in the 100s every day.  To keep the luffa alive, I watered every day or every other day.  The one I grew on the south side of my fence seems to be doing the best.
 All of the fruit from this plant is growing on vines that poked through to the north side of the fence (picture above), which I found interesting.  This one is almost as big as a baseball bat.
 Here's what this plant looks like on the south side of that same fence.  There are plenty of leaves and many flowers, but no fruit on this side.
 This plant suffered and the leaves withered from one day when I forgot to water in 100 degree temps.  It does have one luffa fruit/gourd growing on it, and it was the first plant to start fruiting.  It is growing on the north facing side of a fence.

And one final update:  We got an early snowfall in October that killed all of the leaves on the plant.  I had about 20 luffa, but only 3 of them were ripe enough to peel well and remove the sponge easily.  If I had just a few more weeks before that first snow, I might have gotten 20 sponges from 2 plants.

See the other posts about my attempt to grow luffa in USDA zone 5:
Sprouting seeds
Plants in May

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Playing with Water Marbles

Water marbles are often used in flower arranging.  They are a kind of plastic bead that absorbs water, and I've read they are similar to the material that contact lenses are made out of.  They come as tiny pellets, and when you soak them in water they expand.  They are lots of fun to play with!

*Safety disclaimer- clearly these are a choking hazard, so if your kids aren't old enough to play with regular marbles, don't let them play with these either.  They do fall apart if they are played with roughly.  They are non-toxic.  Funny story- my husband knows this for sure because he swallowed one on accident!  We put just one in a glass cup on the counter top with some water so we could watch it expand.  A few hours later, my husband grabbed the glass of water and drank it, thinking it was his glass from earlier.  He didn't even notice that he swallowed one, and they are a bit slippery so I guess that's understandable.

I bought ours from  In addition to marble sized beads, they have many other shapes as well.  To hydrate your water beads, you let them soak in distilled water overnight.  My kids had fun watching them slowly change from tiny pebbles to big marbles. 

We threw them in a big storage tote so they could play without losing them.  They bounce really well and they slip and slide around too.

They played for a long time today.

When you're done, I've read that you can wash them with some dish soap and store them hydrated in plastic bag for the next time.  I tried it though, and they got icky a few days later. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pool / Beach Bag Tutorial

I purchased a mesh laundry bag to re-purpose into laundry room sink lint filters for my washing machine, and while I was cutting it apart I had an idea.  This would make a really handy beach or pool bag.  So I put one together and since I was super bored today, I also made a tutorial.

All you need is...
The laundry bag measured 22" x 34" and cost about $1.50.  I think I've seen these types of bags at the dollar store too, but I don't have one near me.

The fabric was some kind of heavy weight home decor or maybe even outdoor fabric that I've had in my craft room for a while.  The yellow print is from the Laurie Smith Collection 2004 and it's called "Zig Zag."  I had 1 1/2 yards of it, but I didn't use it all.  If you don't mind the straps being stitched together from smaller pieces, you could probably make this bag from 3/4 of a yard or less.

First, lay out your mesh bag and decide how deep you want your bag to be.  Cinch up the drawstring top and lay it on the floor.  You want to leave the cinched up portion so that your finished bag still has the drawstring for a closure.  I removed the bottom six inches of the laundry bag.  This left me with 18 inches between the bottom and the bag and the beginning of the cinched up portion.

Next, cut off the seams on the sides of the bag all the way up to the beginning of the cinched portion (along the dotted line in the picture above).  I cut off about 1/2 an inch on each side.

To make the bottom of the bag, take your decorator fabric and cut out two pieces that are as wide as your mesh and 6 1/2 inches tall.  For mine, the measurement was 21" x 6 1/2".
Turn under one of the long ends 1/4 inch twice on each piece of fabric, press, and stitch.  Then set them aside.

Next for the upper horizontal straps that become the top of the bag, you need to cut two pieces of fabric that are as wide as your mesh, and three inches tall.  For me that was 21" x 3".

To make these strips into the top straps, you turn under both of the long ends 1/4 inch, and then fold them lengthwise and press. 

Pin them to hold them together and set them aside.

Lastly for the handles you need two very long strips of fabric.  Since I already had 1 1/2 yards, I just cut these from my long length of fabric.  If you have less fabric, piece together enough to make two handle pieces that measure 3" x 56".

Press them the same way that you pressed the horizontal straps, turning under both long edges and then folding in half the long way.
Then take these long handle pieces to the sewing machine.  Sew down the length, close to the edge all the way down the open end of both handle pieces.  This is the way I prefer to make handles.  I find sewing right sides together and then turning the whole tube inside out to be really frustrating, but if you prefer you can make them that way instead.

At this point, these are all of the pieces you should have.

Now it's time to assemble the bag.

Lay the handle down where you would like it to be and pin it to the top layer of the mesh only.  Lay the horizontal strap on and also pin to the top layer of mesh only.
Lay one bottom piece on the mesh and pin.  Make sure it covers the bottom of your handle straps.
 Then sew these pieces to the top layer of mesh along these red dotted lines.  Sew an x inside of the red square boxes to give the handles extra strength.

Then turn it over and do the same to the other side of the mesh bag.  This is what is looks like opened up:

Now place right sides together, and pin along the bottom and both sides of the bag, all the way up to the original seam of the mesh bag.  Sew along the sides and bottom (the red dots in this picture).  Make sure to line up the horizontal top strap and the edges of the bottom fabric.

Lastly, box the two bottom corners.  To do that you fold your corners like this (with the bag still inside-out).  I measured 3 inches from the corner and drew a line.
 Sew along that line...
and then cut the corners off.  I used pinking shears to keep fraying down.

Turn the bag right side out and you're done.  I put two beach towels and some sunscreen in there and there was plenty of room for more (floaties, sandals, Frisbees, food, whatever).  The drawstring keeps it all contained.  It's perfect for some summer fun.

**As always, this tutorial is for non-profit personal use only please.  Make your own, make one for a friend, but don't make them to sell.**

Monday, June 4, 2012

Newborn Dress

I had a baby niece born this morning.  Luckily I had finished her present last night.  I've got to put it in the mail today.  I made a dress, matching diaper cover, and headband.  The dress is from this tutorial.  The only changes I made were adding the ribbon and buttons, and sewing the sleeves in a different way than the tutorial suggests.

Happy Birthday Emma!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Growings Luffa, May Update

 Well, I finally got brave and planted the luffa in the yard.  I was so scared that the harsh hot dry early summer weather we've been having would kill it and I'd have to wait a whole year to try this again.    I planted the first one in the first week of May, and kept the other one in the house until around May 15th, just in case we had a late frost.  By then it had started flowering in the pot in my house, so I wanted to get it outside.

They are along my wood fence, and I tied a nylon string to the boards to give the luffa something more to hold on to until it gets big enough to grab onto the wood.

It seems to be doing great.  Some kind of bug has chewed up some of the lower leaves a little bit.  It's probably the same thing that took a taste of my garden's broccoli leaves.  It has survived a huge wind storm that we had a few days ago.  The wind was strong enough to rip my neighbor's screen door off of the hinges.  The wind/dust storm pulled it off of the string entirely, but I twisted it back up and it's still alive.

The luffa flowers are  prettier than I was expecting.  It looks like an ornamental climbing vine with all of the pretty blooms.

You can see the tiny ants that are attracted to the little green structures along the vine.  They produce tiny droplets of nectar.

The rest of the garden is growing nicely as well.  We finished up the sweet pea trellis.  We used the cedar 2x4s from the previous garden bed, and I found some decorative wooden corner brackets at Menards to give it more stability.  It is attached to the wooden frame of the garden bed with Spax screws.

To read more about my luffa growing experiment, see my April post.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Office Chair and Living Room Makeover

We've had this office chair for about seven years now.  It was a five dollar DI find (DI is a store like Goodwill).  It's a very sturdy chair- all metal and wood.   I imagine it was someone's really nice office chair in about...oh 1991 or so. 


They probably made it to match computers back when they looked like this.  See how the blue cushion complements the shading of the power button?  It's symbolic.  Really I have no idea if that's even the power button...

 For years we've put up with it because it is very functional, but I've been working on redecorating my basement living room.  The blue didn't match at all, so it was time for a recover.

I found this chevron fabric at Hobby Lobby when I was in a larger town last weekend.  I bought 1-1/2 yards of it, and it was just enough for the chair.  I used some foam I had around to replace the seat foam.  It was harder to do than I hoped.  There was a sale on staples in 1991, so they used all of them on this chair, I'm sure.  I ended up cutting the blue fabric off the seat instead of removing them all.  I also couldn't figure out how to take the back off, so it has a slipcover instead.  That will come in handy next time something is spilled on the back of the chair.

But all in all I'm happy with it.  It matches my new green living room much better.

Remember my living room?  This is what it looked like shortly after we moved in.  The previous owner had most of the walls in the house painted this shade of brown.  They also left us this old brown couch.


Here's what it looks like now.
The main colors are green, orange, grey, black, and light purple.  I tried to find a paint color that I liked that also coordinated with the red curtains, but I just couldn't.  I went with Glidden's color "Prairie Sage," but I had it matched to Dutch Boy paint because I like it better.  I think some day we'll switch to a grey couch, but for now I like having a couch that the kids can jump on and make forts out of without me worrying about it.