Monday, 3 August 2015

Easiest birthday cake ever

K turned 11 recently and decided he was too old for a birthday party - what he really wanted was to have six friends over to stay the night, watch a movie and eat pizza and ice cream. His dad said no but I said yes, because I could see how excited he was and because I wanted him to have the best birthday ever. So - long story short, they came, they ate. they fought with nerf guns, they stayed awake til after 4am. And they made noise. LOTS of noise. It was heaven for the boys and hell for the rest of us, and I'm glad they had such a good time because it won't be repeated EVER again.

While the sleepover was the stuff of nightmares, K's cake was a dream to put together. I made a simple chocolate cake, coated it with buttercream icing and covered it with smoothly-rolled white fondant. I left to harden for a night before putting it out to be decorated with food markers by K's friends.

I kicked off the decorating with a simple 'happy birthday' message on the blank cake and was impressed by how well the markers worked, with clear lines and colour just as intense as regular markers. Having read reviews of various brands, I'd bought Americolor markers rather than the far less expensive Wiltons ones, and I'm so glad I did. Americolor isn't easy to find here in Australia, but luckily I located some at this amazing shop.

Besides looking rather cool, the cake tasted pretty good, if I do say so myself! R has now decided she wants one of these for her next birthday instead of the usual smash cake and I'm all for it. In the meantime, I wonder what other foods I can write on..?

Friday, 31 July 2015

Back in time

"I'm going back in time!" R announced a couple of weeks ago.

I assumed she was referring to some imaginative game related to her Little House on the Prairie obsession, but then she pulled a notice from her school bag about an excursion to an 'olden days school'. I felt a bit jealous, because if there's one thing I love, it's olden days stuff. Among my favourite books as a girl were - in addition to the Little House series - What Katy Did, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and, as a token Ausssie contribution, Playing Beatie Bow. I dreamt of a time when girls wore pinafores, wrote on slates and played with rag dolls.

Having this golden opportunity to live my olden days fantasies through R, I did a bit of research to see what Australian schoolchildren wore in the early 1900s. Then, looking through R's wardrobe, I noticed something curious: she already has a heap of old-fashioned clothes, thanks to my beloved Japanese pattern books. All that was missing was a nice white pinafore, and I had the perfect pattern for it: dress A from Happy Homemade. I used some beautiful white fabric with a seersuckerish stripe and lined it with the lightest, softest lawn. I made two small modifications: I cut the shoulder ruffles a little wider for a more 'olden days' effect and - keeping the bodice the same size - I made the dress a couple of inches wider at back and front.

With her new pinny worn over her Japanese ensemble and a couple of giant hair ribbons, I reckon she really looked the part.

I'm pleased to say that R's dress came back from the excursion as snowy-white as it was in the morning, that she passed her fingernail inspection and completed her schoolwork satisfactorily (on her slate, naturally). Now to work on developing some lovely old-fashioned manners...

Friday, 17 July 2015

Japanese pattern ensemble (and an improved skirt)

A comfy and practical little ensemble: a yoke-panel skirt in soft denim (pattern N from Linen Wool Cotton Kids) and the 'back ribbon tunic' - more of a top, really - from A Sunny Spot/Girls' Fashionable & Pretty Clothes, made in some sort of knit I found earlier this year at the Apollo Bay op shop.

The first time I sewed this skirt pattern it turned out way too big around the waist and I had to move the buttons right off the placket to get the thing to fit. It's a beautiful style, though, so I was keen to remake it with a few alterations. For a start, I added flat piping made from some striped jersey and cut the inside yoke from the same fabric. Most importantly, I added elastic to the waist. In case anyone else is after some ideas about how to do this, here's what I did:
  • Before stitching down the inside yoke, I sewed a strip of waistband elastic to the seam allowance inside the left side of the 'outer yoke'.
  • I folded the 'inside yoke' down and sewed a channel into the back part of the yoke while holding the elastic carefully inside it, making sure not to stitch it down.
  • I used an unpicker to open up a 1" hole in the right side-seam of the inside yoke, then threaded the elastic out through that hole.
  • I pulled the elastic out quite a bit, then cut it down and sewed some buttonhole elastic, double-folded, to the end
  • I hand-stitched the inside yoke to the gathered section of the skirt and added a button for the buttonhole elastic to fasten on to.   

(Please ignore the weird reflection on the middle button - I can assure you it looks exactly like the other two!)

Because the skirt has a side opening, the elastic can only be tightened on the non-opening side, but I find that this works perfectly well, and I will definitely be adapting any future 'yoke panel skirts' in the same way. The photo on the right shows what the back of the skirt looks like:

The top was much more straightforward. I used the denimy skirt fabric for the neckline binding/tie but did away with the hem facing - that is to say, I sewed it in, then decided it made the hemline too stiff and unpicked the whole thing. FUN. I ended up hemming the top with a double needle, which made it hang much better. Oh, and I made the sleeves full-length instead of just-above-the-elbow.

To prevent R from making hideous, sullen faces while modelling, I issued a tower-building challenge. She did pretty well.

...Then they fell down.

It was kind of funny watching R look for pockets in the skirt. It took her a while to figure out that there aren't any!

The whole outfit was made with fabrics I already had lying around. I didn't even have to buy buttons! Surely this virtuous sewing behaviour entitles me to a fabric-buying binge in the near future...?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

KCW: a woollen coat dress

Thanks to two birthdays, a guitar concert, a sick child and a busy last week of school, Kids Clothes Week hasn't been working out very well for me this time. This is going to be my one-and-only contribution to the pool: a coat-dress (pattern O) from Linen, Wool, Cotton Kids. Although the book specifies linen for the dress, the design really lends itself to something warm and cosy, so I used a pure wool fabric from Kim Anh, with some black linen for the facings. It's a sweet and simple design, with tucks at the front and back and a nice long row of buttons at the front (where my daughter says buttons should ALWAYS be). Seven buttonholes, seven buttons... I totally failed at spacing them evenly and had to re-do a few. Unpicking buttonholes is so unpleasant, don't you think? Good thing I bought myself a brand new unpicker along with the fabric. And although the dress looked a bit scrunched up between the buttons in these photos, I promise it hangs beautifully off-camera!

I made a few alterations, one of them inadvertent: I was forced to cut the back bodice in two pieces due to not having bought enough fabric (it's fortunate that R has long hair so nobody will ever notice the mismatched pieces). And since R's waist measurement has remained unchanged for years (the only things that grow on this child are arms, legs and hair) I added cuffs to the sleeves so they can be lengthened as she grows. Unfortunately I managed to make the dress rather short - I was aiming for just above the knee but I have a knack of stuffing these things up - so it might be more of a tunic by next year. It does have a decent hem on it, though, so I guess I should unpick it and hem it with facing or something... but I'm probably too lazy to bother at this point.

R is unwell today and wasn't exactly enthused about modelling, so I had to rope in my lovely feline assistant. Please note that no cats were harmed in the taking of these photos; Morry just loves getting into suitcases!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Sailor top

I didn't set out to sew exclusively from Linen, Wool, Cotton Kids, but it does seem to be working out that way. This is the sailor-collar pullover (pattern T) and I'm not done yet - I have at least one more garment from this wonderful book in the works.

This is really not the kind of thing I expect R to get much wear out of, but since it looked like a quick and easy sew, and since I already had the perfect pale blue linen for it, I just went ahead and made it anyway. I added piping to the collar (using finely striped linen leftover from this jacket) and - having wasted far too much time attempting to find the perfect buttons - made matching buttons from the same fabric. Piping really makes the collar stand out nicely, I think.

R was in fine form for today's modelling assignment, thanks to a free Rainbow Loom from Spotlight, which provided rather handsome compensation for ten minutes of her time. After a few poses she started doing a weird kind of chicken dance, collapsed into giggles and that was the end of that.

I'm pretty happy with this top, even if linen isn't quite the thing in our chilly winter weather. Coming up next: something cosier. From the same book, of course.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Cousins in capes

A few weeks ago I sewed capes from this book for R and her little cousin M. As my sister and her family live out in the country, I had to wait (impatiently) to see them and to give M her new cape. Happily, they came to stay with us this weekend, and at long I was able to see the cape on its owner.

It took a whole day to persuade M to be photographed - she's going through that stubborn three-year-old phase (at least, we think it's a phase...). Eventually the gift of a plastic ring did the trick, and it was well worth the wait. The cape is a perfect fit and looks incredibly cute. As for R, she wore her lovely soft cape all weekend while she played with lego, coloured in, scooted, chased cats and played in the park. I began to feel a little jealous of its blanket-like cosiness, and wondered if I could get away with wearing one (I think the answer is no - so I'll just have to go for a woolly shawl instead).

The book calls this garment a 'poncho' but I think of ponchos as things without front openings, so I'm dubbing these 'capes' instead. The capes have snaps down the front and a removable button tab at the top. They are unlined, but I modified the pattern a little to include a hood lining in cotton, which I attached to the facings so it's set in a few inches from the edges. This makes the hoods look much better when they are hanging down.

R's cape is a lovely soft fabric which was sold as wool, but which I suspect has some polyester in it; M's is pure wool. Both are from the wonderful Kim Anh Fabrics in Oakleigh.

Isn't M the cutest? I hope she enjoys wearing her new cape. Now, what should I sew next...?

Monday, 25 May 2015

A fabric exchange

Something a bit different today - with not a bit of sewing involved! I think I've mentioned before that I love kangas, the rectangular printed cloths with borders that are worn by women in East Africa. I adore their bright colours and bold patterns, and the sayings that are an essential feature of the design. When I was growing up, my mum had a beautiful kanga which she liked to use as a tablecloth. The Kiswahili writing on it was fascinatingly exotic, and frustratingly untranslatable in those pre-internet days. Years later in South Africa I managed to buy myself a few kangas here and there, as well as some similar-sized cloths that are worn by Swazi women. And when my husband and I were married, we used a bright green kanga as our wedding canopy (The saying, translated, read: 'Don't be jealous of me, I have been patient', which I thought very appropriate).

I had never met anyone who shared my love of kangas until I came across Sarah's blog, Kabati la Kanga, in which she documents kangas she buys from her current home in Tanzania (in a town at the foot of Kilimanjaro, no less!). After a bit of correspondence, we decided to do a kanga exchange: I would send her a South African 'kanga', and she would send me the real thing from Tanzania.

Well, it was very exciting to receive a parcel a few days ago, covered in lovely Tanzanian stamps and containing not one, not two, but THREE beautiful kangas, all of them doubles (kangas traditionally being sold in pairs).

Sarah provided translations of the mottos, which are, from top to bottom: 'Lord bless us and give us blessings'; 'A house filled with love is not without blessings' and 'Give trouble to others, not me'. I love, love, love all three kangas, but am particularly taken by the red one, given that I collect enamel teapots and love the way they evoke cosiness and domesticity. 

Sarah's parcel hasn't reached her yet, so I can't show what I sent her. Let's just say it was a traditional Swazi cloth and an unusual kanga from my Cape Town days. I hope she enjoys them!