Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer Life and Projects Update

These days, Jadon and I enjoy daily walks around our neighborhood, (sometimes twice a day!). We often stop at the neighborhood playground where Jadon loves to swing on the swings. On nice evenings, I spread a blanket out on the front lawn of our apartment building. We sit there together while Jadon watches the birds fly by with wide-eyed wonder. I love watching his facial expressions when he wanders off the blanket onto the prickly grass. He's so fun to interact with as he becomes more and more vocal and expressive.

I'm also busy with projects, as always. I have several new projects underway, but I'm also working on a couple of old-timers. Here's a quick look back at several posts updates from the past:

So many hours put in already...and so many more to go.
Last December, I started a Christmas quilt that I hoped would be finished before the holiday. Ha! That was an ambitious goal! I'm currently only ten "blocks" in. It takes me about an hour to make one "block." Those little triangles take forever to piece together! I'm still loving the overall design, so I really hope its ready for this Christmas (but at the rate I'm going, this one could take years!)

Homemade blueberry fruit snacks!
I've used my homemade fruit snacks recipe for so many occasions, including road trips, church fellowship meals, and bible study munchies. I continue to experiment with different flavors, and I have a new favorite: blueberry!

I decided to use one of my old candle jars for another glass etching project. This new sea salt container is perfect for table use. I just set out a small spoon to scoop out the salt.

I've also started making diaper covers. Jadon currently rotates through a completely homemade diaper stash,  as he's outgrown all my store-bought covers. I've even started making them for friends. The picture above is a size small that a friend ordered. It's adjustable, fitting babies weighing between 8 and 22 pounds. Jadon fits this diaper on the largest setting at around 22 pounds. I'm so glad I bought my snaps pliers because I'm loving the snaps closures!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pinterest Project: Cloth Bags

I'm a sucker for organization and decor. When I find time for Pinterest, I find myself constantly pinning baskets, boxes, shelving units, and other storage ideas. This little cloth bag caught my attention on so many levels: it's pretty, functional, non-breakable (I have a walking eight month old who is getting into EVERYTHING already), and I could make it myself since it's made entirely of fabric.

As I skimmed the tutorial, I noticed that the author borrowed the cloth bag idea from yet another craft blogger (Don't you just love the Internet? So easy to share!). I learned from the original creator that you need to use interfacing to give these bags their nice shape. Interfacing is a material that stiffens a fabric by being ironed or sewn onto it. The blogger couldn't remember what type of interfacing she had on hand, but tried to describe it to her readers: "It's like a thick paper, not as thick as card stock, but thicker than printer paper." 

That got me thinking. Why would I have to buy special interfacing when it sounds like a stiff, yet flexible paper will do the same thing? I started searching around my apartment for paper products, and found my stash of paper grocery bags. They seemed like the perfect thing to try since they are bendable but still strong enough to carry groceries around.


To make these bags, I cut 10-by-10 inch squares, five pieces of fabric for the outside (red patterned material), five pieces of fabric for the liner (four blue and one red), and five pieces of brown paper bag. I also cut two 10-by-4 inch rectangles for the handles.

I decided to construct the outside of the bag first. I made a little fabric "sandwich" with the brown paper bag as the "bread" and my red patterned fabric as the "meat" (the "right sides" of the fabric were facing each other). The brown paper bags were surprisingly easy to handle with the sewing machine. This first seam joined one of the sides and the bottom of the bag.

I continued sewing pieces together until all four sides were attached to the bottom piece. The giant "plus sign" should have fabric on one side, and brown paper bags on the other side.

Next, I connected the sides. I sewed the side edges together with the fabric facing in, and then turned the bag inside out. Turning the paper inside out was probably the trickiest part of this whole process, but it didn't tear at all. I was already loving the way the paper was holding up the fabric so nicely.

After making the outside of the bag, sewing the lining together was a piece of cake. You can see how the lining fits nicely inside the brown paper bag. 

To create a clean, finished top edge, I trimmed about an inch of the paper bag off. That way, I could fold the red patterned fabric over the edge. Then, I could sew the folded lining to the inside of the bag.

I folded and pinned everything in place. Then, before sewing, I made the handle, which I wanted to be tucked between the pinned layers.

The handle was constructed by sewing the long edges to each other, making an inside out tube. After turning it right-side out, I ironed the tube so that the seam was centered on one of the flat sides. Then, I sewed two seams along both edges of the handle to maintain the flat shape.

Next, I pinned the handles in between the layers of the bag.

Finally, I was ready to sew the top edge of the bag. Originally, I thought I would sew one continuous seam  around the entire bag, but the side edges had too many layers. So, I decided not to sew over the corners at all. I sewed four separate seams, one on each side, carefully removing pins as I went, and sewing right over the handles when I came to them.

The bag looked great, but I wanted to make even more defined edges. So, I flattened the edges of the bag and ran seams along each one. This created the sharp square lines I was going for.

In the end, I made two more bags and gave the entire set of three to a friend for her birthday. I had noticed that she repinned my inspiration picture on her own Pinterest board. I love that Pinterest makes homemade gift giving so easy. You can snoop on friends' boards without them ever knowing, and you can be confident that they'll like what you make!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do-It-Yourself Baby Shoes

I've always thought that shoes for virtually immobile infants were a little silly. Though we were given several pairs as gifts for Jadon, he hardly ever wore them. When he did, I spent so much time re-positioning (and finding!) them that it really wasn't worth the effort. Jadon usually went barefoot at home, socks served him well going out during the winter months.

That was all fine and dandy while he was carried everywhere, and even when he started crawling. But then Jadon took his first steps at seven and a half months, and now wants to walk EVERYWHERE at eight months. With the whole summer in front of us, and lots of grass fields, pavement walkways, and wood chip playgrounds to explore, Jadon actually needs shoes now.

Soft-soled shoes are the recommended style for early walkers to promote proper foot development. Recently, I noticed the nice leather shoes of one of Jadon's buddies. I looked up prices online for similar shoes and couldn't believe the prices! Who wants to pay $15-$30 for new baby shoes?

I started searching for used shoes in thrift stores, but always left empty-handed. They never had the right style or size I needed. Since young children grow so fast, I'm a fan of buying clothes and shoes a little big to get plenty of wear out of them. However, you can only go so big with shoes. New walkers are already tripping over their own two feet! 

The next time I saw Jadon's friend, I took a closer look at how his shoes were made. 

By flipping the shoe inside out, I could see that they were made out of only three simple pieces: a sole, a heal, and top. I set my sights on making a pair.

Above, you'll see the pieces that I needed. I chose to make these shoes out of a soft suede material because it's flexible, durable, and doesn't fray around the edges. The two rectangle pieces were used for the heals. The two large ovals were used for the tops. The two smaller, black ovals were cut for soles (but I ended up changing my mind and used the same blue suede). The white elastic was used to go around the ankle.

Aww, cute baby slipper.
First, I folded the large oval piece in half and centered it on the "toes" of the sole (*note: for this step, the side of the sole you intend to touch the ground needs to face up). I sewed the edges together, which resulted in something resembling a slipper.

Next, I folded the rectangular piece in half and sewed a small seem about a half-inch from the crease (sorry, I forgot to take a picture of that step!). This seam created a tube for the elastic. The folded rectangular piece was then centered on the "heal" of the sole and sewn in place. Part of the rectangle should overlap the previously sewn "slipper."

Since this suede doesn't fray, I could simply cut little slits in the top piece for the elastic to go through.

I love that Jadon is just playing in just a cloth diaper in the background. Ah, warm weather!
To insert the elastic, I used a trick that I learned in high school. On one end of the elastic, attach a small safety pin. This will give you something to grab onto as you are pushing the elastic through the small tube that surrounds the ankle. On the other end, a large safety pin will keep the elastic from going all the way through the tube. After threading the elastic through the tube, I tucked the end under the slits I had cut.

I then sewed the two ends of elastic to each other. Finally, I turned the shoe inside-out, and admired my work.

I loved how these turned out, but then discovered that they were too narrow for Jadon's extra-wide feet! I couldn't even slide them on his foot. When I actually measured how long his feet are, I found that they are almost five inches long. The shoe chart I referenced told me that this is the length of most 18-24 month kids' feet! No wonder Jadon walked so early. His feet are like snowshoes!

The grey thread you see is what I used to hold the elastic in place for the top piece,
since this fabric would fray if I cut little slits in it.
My second attempt at shoes for Jadon fit, but just barely. I ended up using the black soles that I ditched earlier for this pair. I tried to make them look like little TOMS. 

I think I may have found a new sewing addiction in making baby shoes.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Brew Your Own Kombucha!

Once upon a time, my husband and I went grocery shopping together. Suddenly, he saw a drink that he remembered having as a kid. We bought a bottle, and he insisted that I try it as soon as we got in the car.

"Kombucha?" I stammered, reading the label. "What is it? And what is floating around at the bottom of the bottle?"

"Oh, that's the bacteria," he replied.

What? Who drinks stuff with bacteria floating around in it? I thought. Even though I was grossed out, I was willing to try it...and I hated it. It was fermented, and pungent; way too strong for my taste. After that first taste, I remained totally uninterested in kombucha...until one fateful day.

Months later, I was at a friend's house. She offered me some of her homemade kombucha. I braced myself for the worst (with a polite smile on my face, of course), but I was pleasantly surprised with its simple, mild, yet tart, flavor. Now that was refreshing to drink.

Because I was so happy with my friend's kombucha, I asked her to teach me her ways. I learned that Kombucha (pronounced "com-booch-ah") is a naturally carbonated tea drink that is produced by a symbiotic culture obacteria and yeast (scoby). Like yogurt bacterial cultures, Kombucha cultures are actually good for you, promoting gut health. Also like yogurt, Kombucha can vary in sourness and sweetness.While the entire brewing process takes at least two weeks, the actual active preparation takes less than an hour.

I know that there are probably dozens of kombucha recipes out there, but I want to share the only one I know I like.


First, you have to brew your tea. Rather than brew a regular batch of tea and later have to wait for it to cool to room temperature, my friend instructed me to make a "tea concentrate" and then add cold water to it so that it cools more quickly. To yield one gallon of kombucha, you should brew six organic black tea bags in a half-gallon of water, along with one cup of sugar. You should use the purest water you have access to, as it will contribute to the health of your scoby. I used water from our filtered pitcher.

After about 20 minutes, and the sugar is completely dissolved, transfer the concentrated tea solution to a clean glass gallon jar. Next, add a little less than a half gallon of cold water to the jar (making sure to leave enough room for your scoby and a little leftover kombucha from your last brew). Adding the cold water will hopefully bring the entire mix to room temperature. If it's still too hot, you'll have to wait. I was in a hurry to cool my brew, so I gave it a little ice bath.

Once the tea is at room temperature, you add the scoby and leftover kombucha. Make sure your hands are clean when handling the scoby. It's weird knowing that this slippery, blubber-like mass is actually living.

Finally, you cover the top of the jar with a clean, cotton cloth which allows the scoby to breathe. Now you have to let the scoby work its magic for at least the next two weeks.

It took me a long time to decide upon a place for my kombucha to brew. Different websites I referenced insisted upon certain storage conditions (must be up high, can't be near a ceiling fan, needs light, can't be too warm, must be away from everyday activity, etc.). I was at a loss because my little apartment tends to be very warm, and every room, except for the bathroom, has a ceiling fan. Luckily, my friend calmed my fears by showing me the place where her kombucha brews: on a shoulder-high shelf in the middle of her busy, warm kitchen. So, I stopped worrying about it and put my jar on the top shelf in my kitchen closet.

Two weeks later, I took my jar down from the shelf. My original scoby, the "mother" scoby, had produced a "baby" scoby, just like it was supposed to.

I carefully lifted the two scobies from the jar and set them aside in a clean bowl. If you're not ready to start another batch of kombucha right away, the scobies can be set aside in the refrigerator. You can also separate the scobies and have two jars brewing at once. Keep in mind that the larger the culture, the faster the brew. I plan on letting my scoby make lots of babies before splitting.

I feel like I've been taking care of a pet this past month! I've had to feed it (on the sugar), make sure it can breathe (hence, the cotton cloths), and take care of its babies. I actually felt like I was killing something when I poured some little strings of bacterial cultures down the drain (I like to pour the liquid through a strainer before storing it in half-gallon glass jugs).

I let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before the final taste test. I was thrilled to find that it tasted just like my friend's kombucha. My second brew will be two weeks old in a few days, but I'm going to let it go another week to see how sour it gets.

I think my new pet and I are going to get to know each other very well in the coming months.