Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mummy's boy

K was invited to a birthday party for which the dress code was 'ghoulish'. He immediately announced his intention to wrap himself in toilet paper and be a mummy, but I could see that wasn't going to work out too well.

I had a look at this tutorial for a mummy costume and concluded it wouldn't be too much effort. After all, I already had an old white sheet put aside for costuming purposes, and how hard could it be to find a white top and pants at the op shop and sew some fabric strips onto them? As it turned out, it was a fair bit more effort than I had intended, and I couldn't find any light-coloured pants so I ended up having to make them myself out of calico, using some pyjama pants as a pattern.

Tearing the sheet into strips was the best bit. The kids loved ripping it up, and even played for a while with the strips of fabric, which R said were her 'dogs' (sadly their playing soon degenerated into a bickering match over who had more dogs and whose dogs were better). As instructed in the tutorial we soaked the strips in some (very diluted) tea for a bit to make them look more authentically mummyish (to use the term preferred by professional Egyptologists).

Sewing the strips onto the top was a highly repetitive experience that I hope never to have to do again, but I did enjoy the freedom of sewing as messily as possible, not having to finish any raw edges and leaving threads dangling without clipping them off. The sleeves of the top turned out to be rather tight on K (he totally freaked out when he got straitjacketed trying to get his arms into the top) so I cut through the seams at the underarms on both sides and left them open. The pants were easier - I made them in two pieces, then sewed the strips on before sewing the two pieces together. I didn't even bother sewing the strips on properly because the fabric underneath looked mummyish enough that it didn't matter if it showed through.

Lastly I roughly sewed a couple of strips in kind of a spiral to make a little cap, which sat on K's head with one long strip joined to it which I wrapped around his head and face and secured with a safety pin. A bit of white facepaint... and he was good to go.

He looked FANTASTIC, if I do say so myself! A whole lot of school mums are probably wondering why I bothered... but it was a very satisfying project. And of course he could wear it for Halloween, although I have a long-cherished wish to dress my children as Pebbles and Bam-Bam and with Kids' Clothes Week coming up, they may soon find themselves going door-to-door in cute little stoneage outfits... or is that cruel of me?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Barcelona skirt

I make a lot of children's clothes, but it's not often that I sew for myself - partly because kids' clothes are faster to make and use less fabric, and partly because everything looks fantastic on them and (relatively) not so fantastic on me. But things being a bit desperate clothes-wise, I decided it was time to try out Amy Butler's 'Barcelona skirt' pattern that has been sitting on my sewing table for far too long. 

As something of a trial run, I first made the layered version in black linen with black muslin lining (unphotographed as yet). This was my first time using an invisible zipper and invisible zipper foot. Well - I am converted. The foot is surprisingly easy to use, and the zip is truly invisible from the outside of the skirt. Very impressive. The skirt is a good fit and is comfortable to wear. Time will tell whether the fraying layers drive me crazy with their loose threads, but so far I like them.

Excuse the unironed state of this skirt. Front...
...and back.

Having judged the linen skirt to be successful, I felt brave enough to cut up my two yards of Nani Iro double gauze (which, like the pattern and the zipper foot, has been gathering dust for a long, long time). For this skirt I used the simple A-line pattern and extended it by 15cm at the bottom to make it ankle-length. It was quick to sew up and I'm very happy with it - the fabric is just so beautiful. I'm sure I'll be making myself another of these before too long. But (sadly) not in Nani Iro.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Playgroup art and craft: Leafy trees

An art and craft activity inspired by one I saw online (but, annoyingly, can no longer remember where). I cut out the trees, leaves and other shapes in advance, then let the children glue the trees onto the paper and the leaves onto the trees.

The beautiful leafy trees reflect the changes springtime is bringing to our parks and gardens.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A new market skirt

A few years ago I made R a skirt using the market skirt tutorial from Made. With pinstriped red seersucker and white waistband and ruffle, it had a lovely bounce to it and looked gorgeous on her. 

An advantage of R being very skinny is that things fit her for years and years - they just get shorter. We got plenty of wear out of that skirt, but last summer I reluctantly had to admit it was getting a little too short. Time for a new one! 

I don't know why it took me so long to make another market skirt - it really is one of my all-time favourite skirt patterns. Even better, it's not really a pattern, just a tutorial involving rectangular strips of fabric (except for the pocket which is a little more complex). Plus it's free! Unimaginatively, I used the same Spotlight seersucker I used recently for R's bubble dress, but in a different (green) colourway. The only change I made was to put hidden press-studs for pocket closure and stitch the buttons on top just as an embellishment - dealing with buttons and buttonholes on a skirt pocket is a bit irritating for young wearers, I think. Press-studs are a little easier, but still not ideal (as I discovered today) - I may yet replace them with a little bit of velcro. 

So here's the new market skirt, ready for a few years of wearing. 


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Show and tell

K's show and tell task this week was a lovely one: design a stamp for a country and explain it to the class. He chose China, and drew this fantastic picture to symbolise China's population. I love that not all the faces are smiley ones.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Playgroup art and craft: Papier Mache Part 2

After making our papier mache balloons at playgroup we hung them up on a rack outside to dry. I came by the next day to collect them and put them safely away in the storeroom, but sadly the elements (or perhaps the other children who use the centre) had not been kind to them, and most had fallen off the rack and suffered varying degrees of collapse. R's had completely sunk into itself so that it resembled a bowl - actually rather cool. When it came time to paint them we reshaped them as best we could and the children really enjoyed covering them (and themselves) with paint and glitter. R's special 'glitter bowl' has since become a bed for small soft toys. 

An article in Sunday's newspaper quoted a long-term study of preschool children which, sadly, has found that 36 per cent of parents 'never do messy activities with their children, which experts say is critical for developing the senses and motor skills'. As I wrote in this post some weeks ago, playgroup is a fantastic place to do the 'messy' things that some people are unwilling to do at home. And isn't it funny how these things are always the most exciting? When we put out troughs of water in summer the kids go wild. Finger-painting attracts a crowd of eager artists. The sand in the sandpit is used not only for building and digging but also for 'cooking', raking, rolling in and even eating (there's at least one sand-eater in every group, I've found. I understand why they might try it once - but why do they eat it again and again?). 

All we lack at playgroup is a nice mud-patch, but fortunately the lanes behind the local park are full of lovely muddy puddles on a rainy day, with lots of little gravelly stones to toss in them. One just has to remember to keep a towel or two in the car for dusty, mud-covered children. No child should miss out on the joys of messy play!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Smiley faces and bath battles

R was desperate to make 'smiley face biscuits' so we baked gingerbread circles and iced them (she was in charge of smartie application). A very pleasant and successful project.

That evening when she refused to get in the bath I quickly put together this catamaran to persuade her. It was a little too successful - she and K fought over it all evening. Well, you win some, you lose some... At least the Barbies had fun.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Mi goreng with spices

I was lucky enough to be given Yotam Ottolenghi's vegetarian cookbook Plenty for my birthday recently. Lots of amazing-looking recipes, many with ingredients I don't typically have on hand (such as creme fraiche, sorrel, sherry vinegar, roquefort and tarragon, to pick a few at random). Mi goreng* had a more familiar ingredient list, and since I had a tub of tofu in the fridge I thought I'd try it for Saturday night dinner.

A quick trip to our local, fantastic Asian grocery...

Then a bit of preparation (good thing I did it well in advance, because the evening was taken up dealing with a sick child and it was 10pm before we had dinner!)...

The result: a rather delicious meal. Although to be honest, by 10pm I didn't much care what I ate. 

For anyone wanting to make this, it is seriously easy. And I don't even have a proper wok (shocking, I know). Here's my adaptation (with slight changes) of Ottolenghi's recipe, which serves 2:

Prepare: a 500g pack of 'fresh' egg noodles; a bunch of choi sum, chopped into pieces; 200g firm tofu, cut into 1cm thick strips; half an onion, diced; a handful of beanshoots; large handful of green beans, chopped in half.

In a small bowl mix: 3 tablespoons kecap manis/thick caramel sauce, 3 tablespoons light soy, a generous tablespoon of water, 1 teaspoon sambal oelek, 1.5 teaspoons ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground cumin. 

Put aside for garnish: some shredded iceberg lettuce, lemon wedges and a heaped tablespoon of crisp-fried shallots (buy them in a little plastic jar at an Asian grocery).

Method: On a high heat fry the onion for a minute in 2 tablespoons oil (I used olive; the recipe called for groundnut), then add the tofu and beans and cook another few minutes, stirring gently now and then, til the tofu is browned a little. Add the choy sum. When wilted, add the noodles and spread them out around the wok so they can get plenty of heat. Cook for about 2 minutes. Then add the spice mixture and a good handful of beansprouts. Toss gently while cooking for a minute or two. 

To serve: Put noodles into two bowls, arrange lettuce on the side, sprinkle a teaspoon of shallots on each and serve with wedges of lemon. 

Mi want more goreng: Keep another pack of noodles handy in case your partner is still hungry. Cook them with more kecap manis, light soy sauce and whatever's at hand (in our case this was some tofu, a bit of zucchini, some beansprouts and an egg). Keep any uneaten noodles in the hope that a child will enjoy them the next day. 

Drink: Large glass of wine. Go to bed, praying for an uninterrupted night's sleep.  

*Ottolenghi calls it mee goreng (as opposed to mi, or mie). But I'll just be pedantic and change it to the spelling I prefer. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Cushion covers

Our new couch is very long, very deep and very black. It desperately needs some cushions for colour and comfort. It's taken me a month, but I've finally finished a set of four covers in different indigo 'Three Cats' patterns. 

Three Cats is a brand of cotton fabric used in South Africa to make dresses for both ceremonial and everyday purposes. Traditionally it is indigo, but some designs are  produced in brown and red (like the one I used for this skirt). You buy the fabric heavily starched, stiff as a piece of cardboard (this apparently dates back to the need to preserve it on its sea voyage from Europe), but it becomes lovely and soft over time. I always feel sad to wash out the starch because the smell takes me back to the shop where I used to go to buy it - Dick Louis in Cape Town (sadly, no longer there). 

These are square piped covers with a zip in the centre back piece. I cut the cover pieces to the exact dimensions of the cushion insert, not adding anything for seam allowance, so they would fit snugly. Making the piping was the time-consuming bit - the rest was relatively quick and straightforward. For the zip I like the method of sewing a seam, sewing on the zip behind it, then unpicking the seam (if that makes sense) - it's detailed in this tutorial, which uses a completely different assembly technique from my covers but does explain the zip/seam method. I used this other tutorial to work out how to add the piping. 

Now our giant couch is a whole lot more comfortable.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Strike day

Lucky K scored a day off school due to a statewide teachers' strike. We thoroughly enjoyed our day at home, with friends visiting for morning tea and the kids' grandmother L coming over for the afternoon. 

In addition to the bagels, fruit salad and honey cake brought over by our lovely friends, we had this cake, which is the latest addition to my baking repertoire:

I found the recipe for the orange cake here, having tried out a tofu dish from the same blog, Bubala, a couple of months ago (it was fantastic). It's always good to hear what other vegetarians are cooking, and since the tofu was my kind of thing I though the cake might be, too. Besides being very easy to make, this cake is light and delicious, and best of all, it is VEGAN. Although I'm just plain old vegetarian I have been trying to cut down on the amount of dairy foods we eat, mainly for health reasons (I won't go into them here, but Professor T. Colin Campbell, a very eminent biochemist who conducted the world's largest study of health and nutrition, can tell you all the reasons you should adopt a plant-based diet on this website). Generally I have avoided dairy-free baking, thinking it would just be too depressing to eat cakes made without egg and butter, but this one has proved me wrong.

In the afternoon I told K about a puppet-making workshop he might like to go to during the holidays, which resulted in R demanding to make puppets right now. I gave them each a couple of brown paper bags and this is what she and K came up with:

Left and centre are R's; the one on the right is K's.

OK kids, fun's over now. It's back to school and the old routine tomorrow (but only two days til the weekend, hooray!).


I love long hair, but R's was getting much too tangly and hairbrushing had become a nightmare for both of us. 

...and after.


Happy again.

When I looked back through my photos I saw it had been almost exactly a year since R's last (and first) haircut, back in September 2011:

R is still annoyed with me for making her hair less Rapunzel-ish, but I am unrepentant. Here's to tangle-free hair this spring!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Lazy days skirt

You know when fabric is so beautiful you don't want to cut it up? So special that it can't be used, because no project will do it justice? So gorgeous that you just want to keep it forever? My precious piece of Nani Iro double gauze fuwari fuwari has been sitting in a drawer for over a year now (accompanied by a longer length of another print that I may one day have the courage to use) and was in danger of being forever neglected, a victim of its own beauty. And now I've rescued it, brought it out into the world for R and I to enjoy - at least, until she grows out of it. After all, what can you do with a half-yard* of fabric but make a skirt for a little girl?

I'm sure I'm not the first person to suffer from Nani Iro paralysis - the inability to cut up fabric from this beautiful range. Naomi Ito's designs are so stunning that each piece is like a work of art; you could just hang it on a wall and it would look amazing. So I can't take any credit for this little skirt. All I did was choose a simple pattern to show off the fabric: the Oliver + S lazy days skirt (free pattern available here). Although I don't really need a tutorial to put together a skirt like this, the lovely thing about the lazy days skirt is the ribbon hem, which I had never tried before. I bought pale pink and purple ribbons to try out, but in the end I decided that the fabric was perfect just as it was, and there should be no visual distractions. White satin ribbon turned out to be just the right finish for the hem. 

Now all that's left is for me to bow down and worship it.  

* Yes I know we went metric decades ago, but I bought it from Fabric Tales and they only sell by the yard!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Playgroup art and craft: Papier Mache

A few years ago, when K was still at playgroup, we did an activity which was enormously popular with the kids. It was very simple - we covered balloons with a few layers of gluey newspaper, let them dry for a week, then painted them. The result: dinosaur eggs! 

Today we repeated stage 1 of the papier mache balloons, but strangely the children lost interest after a short time, leaving a table full of mums (plus one 8-year-old who really should have been at school, and who will DEFINITELY be back there tomorrow) to finish the papering. Fortunately we are a persistent bunch, so next week those whose mothers spent half an hour up to their elbows in newspaper and glue will have the pleasure of painting their creations. 

Attention truant officer: this boy does not appear at all unwell.

For those who are game to do some papier mache (clean-up ain't fun), here is how we did it:

1. Blow up balloons (not too big, unless you have lots of time to spend covering them with paper) and tie a string onto each one.

2. Prepare strips of torn-up newspaper, about 4 or 5cm wide. Tabloid is good - that way they're not too long (but get in quick, before it all goes online and we have to start using junk mail instead!). 

3. Put glue into large bowls or ice-cream containers. We started off with flour and water paste, then ran out and moved on to a powdered mix-your-own craft paste we had in the storeroom. The craft paste was more pleasant to use, but any sort of glue will do the job. 

4. Dip paper into paste and cover the balloon with strips. Then do at least two more layers. Keep going til you have well and truly had enough!

5. Hang balloons up to dry - it may take a few days, depending on the weather and how thickly you have applied the paste and paper. When they are bone dry you can pop the balloon inside and remove it, if it hasn't already shrivelled up. Then you can paint or decorate them as they are, or cut them in half to make helmets, bowls, whatever you can think of. 

Stay tuned for part 2 next week!