Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sewing and soil

First batch finished. Little Lady is already wearing some of them and while she doesn't want to stand still for a picture she does like wearing them and they thankfully fit well.

For Little Lady:
I also made a t-shirt and pants in both the green and what looks like spotty blue but is actually little blue flowers - green set are in the wash and she's wearing the blue flowers ones right now.

For Little Sir:
My favourites are the animal ones in the middle. He's still in his all-in-ones to sleep for now so I only made him one pair of pants. Still got 9 more sets to do but they're going much quicker now.

And in the middle of all this sewing I managed to do a little gardening today. Something has decapitated virtually all my vegetable seedlings which is really disheartening since I spent a year working organic material into the soil which was a solid slab of clay and that's no exaggeration. One metre down and counting and I was still slicing clay off to get it out of the ground. One thing that has grown and not been eaten however is my grandmothers oregano. Legendary stuff this and in our family like liquid gold because it is the most pungent, flavoursome oregano plant ever. I've tried buying oregano plants in the past and they just can't compare to my Grandma's plant. She had to let her stash die off because she can't tend it anymore and now that mum has killed her plant, I'm the sole guardian of this treasure. In my house it is THE herb to use on steak, a little in scrambled eggs sprinkled with Bulgarian feta, on fried mushrooms with garlic, and in my awesome meatballs in homemade spaghetti sauce, in fact anything to do with tomatoes at all. Looks like a weed in this pic but I love it. Culinary heaven.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Pyjama Sweat Shop

It's been a steep but thankfully speedy learning curve, this sewing actual clothing thing. My babies can't wear polyester and do you know how many 100% cotton pyjamas are out there for little ones, reasonably priced ones that is? I'm a Target girl not Country Road. 10 pairs? 2 pairs? None, nadda, ziltch. I haven't been able to find any at all. Everything is a polyester blend which means my 2 monkeys will sweat and itch and break out in eczema after just one night wearing them. So I opened (temporarily) my own little sweat shop. Thankyou Spotlight for your recent sales which made it all so much cheaper. Now if I could just win that $20,000 which I have been faithfully presenting my VIP card for for years now I'd be eternally grateful. Imagine all the fabric I could buy with that!! But I digress. Pyjamas.

I couldn't find any patterns I liked online, free or otherwise, and even less when flipping thru the pattern catalogues at Spotlight (as usual- are you starting to see a pattern here? Now you know why I so egotistically called my blog/scrapbook M-A's Designs. I'm very rarely happy with other peoples designs, constantly chopping and changing, and brainstorming my own). So knocked up my own based on the kiddies t-shirts and trackies/shorts which I know a lot of other people have done so that's nothing new. I adjusted lengths, widths, sleeves, waists and necklines to give a more comfy fit for sleeping in and then spent 3 days cutting out them all out.

This and this were an enormous help for a newbie trying to figure out how to do the neckline binding and this for general sewing tips on how to sew a t-shirt. I had already read that pants are sewn front and back first then inside leg as a single seam so just winged it. Note to self: used an 80/12 jersey needle which worked really well on the knit ribbed and cotton interlock fabrics. And tho it's all knit fabric I broke out my new overlocker anyway to neaten all seams before top-stitching anything that needed hemming or reinforcing like the shoulder and crotch. I'm now onto day three of sewing them together and should have half of them finished today. In all I will have made 9 pairs of pants, 19 pairs of shorts, 10 tanks tops, and 21 t-shirts. If my models are willing to stand still for 2 seconds I'll try to post pics of some of the finished pieces once they're done.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Little Lady's Adjustable Apron

My little miss loves to 'help' me in the kitchen. Washing the dishes usually involves pouring water from one cup or bowl into the next but she usually winds up absolutely soaked. Cooking means baking peanut butter biscuits or crumbing chicken and it's incredible how much flour she can embed into her clothes. Solution - an apron that will repel water and food. There are loads of patterns available but I wanted one longer and wider, particularly across the chest. Frankly I just can't leave alone when it comes to following someone elses pattern. I also wanted an apron that would grow with her so I drafted my own pattern of one that completely covers her chest and wraps around her sides with loops at the waist and very long shoulder straps to create an adjustable apron.
I used a cotton print layered under thin PCV with some double fold binding made from the same print material to hold it together and finish the edges.

I added a pocket this morning which helps hold the layers together. It looks huge on her but she's defnately covered. And she loves it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Christchurch earthquake quilts

Deb from Works in Progress is putting together a few charity quilts for some families who lost their homes in the recent Christchurch earthquake. I've been hoping that I can steal some time away to make a couple for her as when we had the Black Saturday fires back in Feb 2009 I felt quite useless that I wasn't able to offer the same help to all those people who lost everything, especially since the fires came within 30kms of my home. So here's my little contribution:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The New Emma Quilt

I finished the original Emma quilt a while ago and have been working on the matching changemat which has stalled again because I'm not sure how I want to tie it up. I bound both with a crazy patch binding to match the crazy blocks. Took some time sewing the binding together before I could add it to the quilt but I'm really happy with how it ended up.

 It was quilted in straight lines of alternating green and orange thread. Not so easy to see with this pic but you get the idea.

And then I decided that it was a bit too gender neutral for pretty little Emma and she's probably sitting up by now so a small floor quilt won't be as useful as it would have if I'd finished and given it to her when she was born so she could lay on it and play. And really who needs an excuse to start another quilt.

Then Kelli posted this and I fell in love with the Freckled Whimsy Charm Pack Quilt. I played around with the layout a little and came up with this

which I'm planning to do with this

It'll be my first attempt at half square triangles but KarrieLyne's instructions are really clear and easy so I'm not expecting any dramas...famous last words no doubt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pretty in Pink Girly Twirly Skirt

Reading through some of the EB girls blogs a while back I came across this cute little girls twirly skirt made out of a massive circle of fabric and some elastic and with my limited experience sewing clothing I figured it shouldn't be too difficult to try. I used some pink star fabric that I picked up in a clearance at Big W of all places which was too light to be suitable for quilting since it was a little see-through. I measured the waist and length off an existing skirt and used it more as a guildline rather than actual measurements (read: I added an inch or 2 here and there and figured it was better to be too big than too small as I could always cut it back).

Short(ish) version, I cut the circle and folded the waistband to create a casing which I threaded elastic through, and then finished off the hem properly and tried it on the little one. She loved it and it was a little too long but I wasn't allowed to take it off at that stage to fix the length. I did notice that while it fell exactly as I wanted it still was quite see through so when I finally snaffled it back I decided to glam it up a bit by adding a ruffled layer of tulle which had it's own ruffled layer of tulle attached midway down. Then with some of the left over fabric I cut 2 long rectangles (couldn't tell you how long, just as big as I could get out of the remaining material), sewed them at both ends to create one wide tube and gathered the top of this too.

I put all three layers, (ie original skirt with the waistband unpicked, tulle, tube gathered skirt) together with another strip that would become the waistband, and sewed them all together. I then folded over the new wasteband to the right side and sewed it down and finished off the waistband by topstitching the very top. Threaded through elastic again and this is what I had....

The response...."E don't wuck it". Translated: "E don't like it" (she refers to herself in the third person and can't pronounce her name properly so E it is.) So it sat in her draw for about a week until she decided today that she just had to wear it.

Yeah, it's a little big but that's not a bad thing since she can wear it for a while yet. And the blue socks and 'stwipy leggins' apparently make the outfit. Ahh, she wucks it again and I am complete.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bibs for self feeding

Little Sir hasn’t let me feed him anything other than yogurt and cereal for a couple of months now. Very independent eater which he loves and so do I as it frees me to organise Little Lady’s meals and my own so that we can all sit down to eat together. However, the mess is quite astounding, particularly since Little Lady was such a neat self feeder by comparison. I have a mountain of teatowels that I use to tuck around his belly and over his legs to catch the worst of it but he’s loves playing peek-a-boo with them and typically has no interest in having his clothes changed after each meal. So I needed something less removable to cover him with.
I had a rough pattern that I’d taken from a similar bib I was given as a gift when Little Lady was born. The only thing I really kept was the raglan sleeves – I changed the length and width of the sleeves and body and back fastening. The first one I made was a little short (the grey on the left) so I adjusted the length and also added a second layer if flannel to the body to help protect his clothes from more liquidy foods like custards and yoghurts. Once I had the measurements correct I made 4 more in varying colours. Oh, and they’re just made of jersey as I wanted something soft with a bit of give and it was on sale at the time.

They fasten at the back with velcro and wrap slightly around his sides. How this child winds up with food in his armpits I’ll never know. Talent, I guess.

The wrists are elasticised which was a learning curve for me. Initially I was sewing the hem and threading elastic through, sewing the ends of the elastic together then sewing shut the gap in the hem but with such tiny little wrists it was a real pain and very fiddly. In the end I cut a length of elastic just long enough to wrap around his wrist and stretched it while sewing it with a zigzag stitch to the seam allowance of the cuff, then folded over the cuff hem and sewed that down before sewing the inner arm seam. Just thinking about it now tho, next time I’ll zigzag the elastic on, sew the inner arm seam then fold the cuff hem and sew, that way there is less bulk to irritate his wrists where the seams meet…. just rambling to myself.

I finished off the edges with some bias binding - my first attempt and I think I did a pretty good job.

Finished and ready for mess.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My work space

Tho it may look like a squished, cramped corner of chaos, this is my little slice of sanity.


The ironing board doubles as my design table and cutting surface and my entire stash of fabric lives in a clear box on the floor behind me.

For now it'll do because the biggest advantage it has is that it's right in the middle of the action that is my kitchen/family room where my two little monkeys play. But when they're older, look out! Big plans for big renovations. Sigh. Ah, one day....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I must, I must, I must increase my.....skill

Free motion quilting - I need practice. Lots of practice. My first attempt was just hideous. Lots of knots, bunching and pulling, the other side was just awful. I'm lucky I didn't break anything. So rather than waste the effort, I'm going to make something useful while I practice.

Placemats for our dinner table. I'm going to try stipling first then as I get better I'll try some free motion designs to quilt them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


It's so close to being done - it's staring at me, quilted and full of pins. Course it's been like that for a week lounging over the back of my couch. I'll get there, it's just you ever get that feeling once you've finished something like "Oh, it's done then. What no more? Oh, OK. Shame, I was quite enjoying it." That's how this quilt makes me feel. I've really enjoyed putting it together, I love looking at the bright colours. So here's the quilt top. I tried something different with the binding but you won't get to see it until it finishes staring at me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nicola's Baby Quilt - finished and delivered

Lots of crafting going on at the moment. I finished Nicola's quilt a month ago and was finally able to give it to her 2 weeks ago.

With wider, shorter sleeves for the rope and bound again - just waiting for the rope.

Finished front...

...finished back...

...and tassles. They're attached by wrapping in and around the rope and looped over a colour matched button so they can come off when the quilt needs to be thrown into the washing machine.

I've also been working on Emma's baby quilt. Just need to finish binding it and then I have an idea for a matching change mat. Remaking Lincoln's quilt and the baby playmat for a venture I'm hoping to get off the ground with my sister. Knitting little slippers for Little Lady who is just chewing through them right now (my carpet is ridiculously hard on socks and slippers). Finally sewed the velcro on Little Sir's long sleeved bib which is a little short for what I had mind so more of these to come. Lots to do. Aahhh it feels good to be useful.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nicola's Baby Quilt - almost there...

This has been picked up, put down, sewn and unpicked more times that I can count and the baby it's intended for is now 5 months old. The design started out as a crazy block quilt similar to Lincoln's baby quilt then became a reversible quilt that converts into a bag, 2 elements I've never tried before. As usual I'm not following any sort of pattern so lots of improvising along the way. Enough blabbing - pic time.

The blue and pink pieces are for Nicola's quilt, the orange and green for another baby quilt next on my list of quilts to make.
This was the original layout for a rectangular quilt before I realised I had boo-boo-ed, got creative and changed things around. For some bizzare reason the blue homespun I used on these blocks wasn't the one I had originally picked out. This blue was too dark and not aqua enough to go with the backing I had chosen so at this point I put the quilt down not happy to continue with it as is. Had a chat to hubby (fabulous sounding board and my greatest supporter - I'm always amazed at how I can chat to him about a topic he has absolutely no interest in, ie quilting, and he answers and provides suggestions as though it's his passion too). So as tedious as it was the blue had to go - unpick, unpick, unpick... 31 blocks. Sigh. Cut replacement pieces and resew 31 blocks with the right blue. By this time I wasn't happy with the layout and since the baby's birth had come and gone and this gift was now going to be late I figured, what the hey, lets do something different.
A screen shot of my plan of the hexagonal quilt front. I actually used powerpoint to create the image as until recently I didn't have any drawing programs.
Piecing the blocks and sashing together. I really like the woven effect of the sashing when it's done this way and the challenge to remember what needs to be sewn to what first to achieve it. If you're not sure what I mean, have a look at the sashing on the design image above.  
The back design. I had planned to use a pink and blue ballerina print as the backing but when I changed the design the quilt became wider than I was planning and I wasn't going to have enough ballerina print so the plain backing became a reversible quilt side with plain pink and blue homepsun added in. I thought of quilting this by stippling or some other free motion design but I haven't learnt how to do that yet and wanting to finish this gift, good old faithful 'in the ditch' it was. That meant fiddling around lining up the blocks on the back (which were slightly wider to account for the sashing between blocks on the front) with the blocks on the front. Here's a shot of how the back stitching came out:
I then wanted to add sleeves along each of the edges to thread a rope through so it could be gathered into a bag. Sewed them in when attaching the binding and then hand finished the binding. Threaded the rope through to find that it wouldn't gather because the sleeves were too narrow and way too long. More sighing. Unpick, unpick, unpick. And this is where I'm at now:
Lotsa pins, gotta iron and resew the much shorter sleeves, ie loops, and then reattach the binding and add the rope. BUT it is almost finished!!! Yay!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No excuses....

I have photos, I have finished projects (well one at least) and loads of UFO's, yet I don't have time to drink a cup of tea while it is still hot let alone post. Poor excuse, I know.

I have finished the booster cushion custom made to fit my dining chairs. I wanted to move Little Lady out of the high chair before Little Sir needed it so she didn't feel like she was getting booted out of her chair because of him - it became a necessity so it got done. The covers I had planned to make to slip over it are still sitting near my machine waiting to be sewn. Quick pics:

I bought some upholstery sponge from Clark Rubber and used my trusty scalpel blade from my Uni dissecting kit to cut it to shape. Like my stencil? Empty nappy boxes are used for all sorts of things in my house.

I made it from some rubber backed curtain lining I had left over from making all my drapes. I added a strap with a Velcro end and a ring for attaching to the chair to limit movement when Little Lady squirms around - the cushion that is, not Little Miss Wriggle Pants.

And fitted to the chair. Anal I know but I wanted a snug fit against the back of the chair so Little Lady could scoot right back into it and have cushion under her toosh the whole way.

I'm still quilting Nicola's quilt tho at the rate I'm going she'll get it at her 21st! Gorgeous little thing is 5 months old now and I've changed the layout and design so many times that I could have made it 3 times over by now. It's now destined to be a hexagonal double-sided quilt that gathers to form a bag.

Emma's quilt hasn't progressed past having the crazy blocks sewn. She's around 3 months old now. Slack Mary-Anne, slack!

And I've been obsessively devouring Kellie Wulfsohn's blog Don't Look Now which has inspired me to rethink my whole attitude towards quilting my quilts. She produces such delicious pieces in wonderfully vibrant colours and uses free motion quilting the way I believe it should be used - to enhance a quilt and not detract from the blocks its designed to show off. So many beautiful patchwork quilts get lost in the obsession with quilting the eyeballs out of it. Not so with Kellie's work - simply stunning! Go check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Elmo Birthday Cake

My baby girl had a birthday recently and knowing that I've got lots more birthday cake making opportunities to come, I decided to do it right and find a buttercake recipe that tasted great with a wonderful soft texture yet was firm enough to hold together when I cut it to bits molding it to make car cakes or princess castles.

I found a bunch of basic buttercake recipes online and after looking through them all settled on 2 recipes which were very different and started baking.

Recipe #1
2 eggs
125g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups self-raising flour
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence

Recipe #2
1/2 cup custard powder
2 cups self-raising flour
2 cups caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup milk
250g butter, softened
4 eggs

Since I was just testing at this stage I halved all recipe ingredients and baked them in loaf tins so they would both fit in the oven at the same time on the same shelf. Experiment #1 produced 2 cakes, both very dark on the outside. Recipe #1 gave a pale yellow inside which was firm - great for cutting, slicing and dicing, in fact perfect for molding pieces into a specified shape however....tasted very bland and dry. Recipe #2 gave a beautifully moist delicious cake which was so tender and light the slice broke in half as I was cutting it - not at all ideal for shaping a cake but boy did it taste good! This cake also took 10 mins longer to bake which produced a thicker crust so not only did the recipe need tweeking but also the baking conditions. Onto experiment #2.

First adjusting the recipe. Flour and sugar were fine, custard powder made #2 taste great to it would stay, and something in the middle for the butter. Also I switched to vanilla extract for a richer flavour and reduced the oven temp to try and bake the cake without over cooking the crust so much.

Experiment #2 produced just what I was after, a moist light yummy scrummy cake that was firm enough to cut and mold in to shape. The outside was still dark and the middle of the top of the cake had a big crack in it but I knew I could fix this by adjusting the baking conditions slightly again.

I'd been baking every few days over the week leading up to the birthday party so knew that I could refridgerate the cake but I'd have to let it come to room temp before serving it otherwise it'd have a stale texture. I could also just leave it covered at room temp if baked the day before the party but then I couldn't put cream in it before icing it as the cream would go off. In the end I baked it first thing on the morning of the party and left it to cool completely while organising breakfasts, showers/baths, and food and decorations for the party. I whipped the cream for the inside of the cake and put it in the fridge to chill completely and made a strawberry sauce by chopping a punnet of strawberries and heating it on the stove with a few tablespoons of caster sugar until the strawberries melted down into a delicious thick fruity sauce. I let this cool on the stove. Then about 30 mins before the party I made the butter cream icing and put the cake together. I was still icing the cake as guests started to arrive but it was only family so noone minded. So here's my version of buttercake:

M-A's Buttercake Recipe

1 egg
3/4 cup caster sugar
100g butter, softened (I took it out of the fridge the night before)
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup custard powder
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven (fan forced) to 170C. Grease and flour the sides and base of a cake tin then line it with baking paper.
2. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
3. Sift all dry ingredients straight into to the mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Beat on low to combine then on high for 6-7 mins (cake batter will lighten in colour and increase in volume) and then pour into the prepared baking tin (I acutally used a springform pan since I wanted really straight sides and it made it so much easier to get the cake out of the tin).
4. Put the cake into the oven and drop the temp to 160C. Bake for 40-45 mins or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. For a regular oven use temps 10C higher but you might need to adjust the baking time.
5. Allow it to cool completely before cutting or decorating. This cake came out perfectly cooked and with a much lighter golden crust - much more appealing if you wanted to serve the cake undecorated.

Butter Cream Icing
Beat 125g softened butter in a bowl until lighter in colour then add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 2 cups of sifted icing sugar in half a cup portions, combining each half cup before adding the next. Beat on high for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Colour as needed with food dye.

To decorate the cake:
I had made a few cupcake sized cakes as well as the big cake to use as eyes and a nose for the Elmo cake. I just cut away at them to make round eyes and a tear drop shaped nose. For the big cake, I sliced the top third of the cake off and carefully put it to the side. Then using a teaspoon and starting 1cm inside the walls of the cake, I scooped out the centre to a depth of about 1.5cm and spread the strawberry sauce over the base of the hole then filled in the hole with chilled whipped cream. I put the top third carefully back on and spread the top and sides with the butter cream icing which I'd made earlier and coloured bright red. I iced the eyes with uncoloured icing and then dusted them with icing sugar to make them really white and added a choc chip for the pupil. I also iced the nose with orange coloured butter cream icing. Using some baking paper with a semi-circle cut out of it as a template I sprinkled chocolate sprinkles in place of Elmo's mouth and then put the prepared eyes and nose in place. To finish it off I used my finger to 'fluff' up the icing to create his fur and vuala!!

Little Lady just LOVED it and on seeing it for the first time when singing Happy Birthday to her, she interrupted the singing to tell everyone "Mo! Mo!". I would have taken more pics of the inside of the cake but both kids and adults alike ate it so quickly I didn't get a chance. And it was delicious! I got loads of complements and apparently I'm now booked for my future nieces and nephews b'day parties...when my sister-in-laws get around to getting married and having kids that is. In the meantime I've got another 6 months or so before I need to start practicing Iggle Piggle for Little Sir's birthday.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I haven't had much of a chance to do any sort of craft work lately. Having 2 little ones is pretty full on, they rarely nap at the same time and when they do I take the opportunity to have lunch or take a shower rather than break out the sewing machine or paint brushes. Current projects that I'm in the middle of are:
  • Nicola's baby quilt
  • Emma's baby quilt
  • painting Little Lady's table and chairs, and toybox
  • make a cushion booster so Little Lady can sit at the dining table
Future projects include making washable, waterproof craft smocks or aprons for the Little Ones, making an Elmo b'day cake for Little Lady and another baby quilt for a good friend due in April.

So much to do still so this is a kick up my butt to find the time and DO something!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tutorial - Sewing a 3-Point Corner

I'm currently making another baby quilt for a friend and I didn't realise that I'd designed a crazy block that required a 3-point corner to join 3 of the pieces together until I started cutting material. Up until now I've been careful to make sure that all pieces can be sewn together by simply adding each individual piece to the growing block with straight sewing lines - much easier to sew. The 3-point corner isn't very difficult to sew but it can be a bit fiddly. Here's how I did it:

Here are the 3 pieces that need to share a corner.

I sew 2 pieces together first and press the seam - in this case towards the blue piece as the flower piece actually forms a corner of my crazy block.

Then I sew the third (pink) piece to the flower piece, starting at the outside edge sewing towards the blue piece, taking care to stop exactly when I reach the seam joining the first 2 pieces. I sew back for a few stitches then forward again to reinforce the seam. Note: this is NOT how most would sew this. Usually it's recommended to sew from the existing seam at the middle of the 3 point corner outwards in case the sides aren't exactly the same length but whenever I try to do this I wind up fighting with my machine and saying many bad words in the process. So this works for me.

When I open up the seams you can see the junction of the 3 pieces and the remaining seam still to be sewn.

This is the fiddly bit as you may need to tug the material a little to get the 2 sides of the last seam to line up and you will also need to fold the first piece out to make sure you don't catch it in the seam about to be sewn.

Here is the last seam lined up ready to be sewn.

Again I sew from the outside towards the central corner and reinforce the end of the stitching so the corner won't gape or come loose. I don't bother reinforcing the start of the seams as with the addition of more pieces to the growing block all these ends will be incorporated into new seams preventing them from unravelling. However, if you're starting the seam from the centre of the block then obviously reinforce your stitching before sewing towards the outside and no need to reinforce the end of the seam.

Press the seams to one side - in this crazy block the flower piece is a corner, the pink piece forms part of a side and the blue piece is a centre piece so all seams are folded towards it.

The finished product - a 3-point corner.

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