Monday, January 31, 2011

Owls vs. Butterflies

I would like to share some observations I've made recently in the area of fabric quality. I do not consider myself a fabric snob or textile expert but I am starting to see the value in spending a little more to get something that will last.

I made the two bibs pictured below around the same time. The butterfly fabric was purchased from Walmart and the owl fabric is from Tall Mouse ("Timeless Treasures Fabrics, Inc., Pattern # APPLE-C 5707). They have been used and washed approximately the same amount of times. This is definitely not a formal science experiment, since I have no way of knowing at this point exactly how many times either bib has been washed or whether they have received the exact same treatment over the last few months, but I am able to just look at them and see a dramatic difference in the way they are showing wear.

Here's a closer look...

Here's what kind of blew my mind. This is how the fabric compares before any washing or wearing. The bibs above were cut from these very pieces of fabric...

Yikes! What happened to those lovely butterflies?

Here's just the owls- new on the left, worn on the right...

There are some hints of wear but really this fabric looks to be standing up pretty well.

Now just the butterflies. Same deal- new on the left, worn on the right...

Poor tired butterflies.

Just for fun I did the same kind of comparisons with the fabrics I used for the backsides of the bibs. The green swirls fabric (Timeless Treasures Fabrics, Inc., Pattern # APPLE-C 5710) is from the same line as the owl fabric...

Still pretty nice and green.

This fabric is from Jo-Ann Fabrics...

Not too much visible wear here either.

The Walmart fabric obviously does not maintain it's look as well as the more expensive Tall Mouse fabric but I did remember that the fabric I used for my Composition Book Cover was also from Walmart so I dug out the original fabric and did another comparison. The original fabric is on the left and the Comp Book Cover is on the right.

Huh, this fabric has held up okay and, if memory serves me correctly, this project preceded the bibs by a couple months and it's been carried around in various backpacks, purses, and carry-on luggage. The difference? The comp-book cover has not been washed "a million" times (I did wash the whole piece of fabric once before I did anything with it but the original piece and what is now the cover have both been washed the same amount of times so the comparison is still valid- and this isn't a strict scientific analysis anyway, remember?)

So, I guess my conclusion, based only on what I've seen happen before my eyes, is if you are going to be using the fabric for something that will require frequent washing (such as a baby bib) and you want that bib to stay looking "nice," you should probably spend a few extra bucks and spring for the nice fabric (or use a coupon and spend the same on the nice fabric as you would on the "cheapy" stuff). On the other hand, if you're making something that will never know the inside of a washer or dryer (such as a composition book cover), use whatever fabric strikes your fancy.  Go ahead, I dare you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Axe Cop!

A little over a week ago my husband and I got the following Facebook message from Ethan Nicole, a friend of my husband's (and illustrator of the online comic, Axe Cop, which is written by Ethan's six-year-old brother, Malachai)...
Hey Kenfields!
I have a question, and don't feel the least bit bad if the answer is flat out no. I just had an idea to have an Axe Cop birthday cake at the event on the 27th. I was trying to think of who would make a really awesome one and I thought of you guys. Of course I thought maybe Will could make a cool Axe Cop candle (like the one in the comic where he is holding up the two axe candles) but I figured I would see if you guys would be up to it...I like the idea of having a cake at this event, but there's no way I can make it happen, so I thought I'd see if you'd like to try.

We were more than happy to help out a friend and honored to be a part of this special event. This table of baked goods is what we ended up with...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's a detailed look at our adventures in cake embellishing.

Our efforts began primitively. After deciding the only logical thing to do was make Uni-Cupcakes, inspired by Uni-Baby and Uni-Man from Uni-Smart World, the goal became figuring out the best way to construct 80 or so unicorn horns. After considering various edible sculpting mediums, I chose Vanilla Tootsie Rolls. Thankfully, since Valentine's Day is just around the corner, Vanilla Tootsie Rolls are currently being sold in bags with their Cherry flavored counterparts. I did some practice runs with the cherry flavored candies (which, by the way, smelled exactly like the playdough I made from cherry flavored Kool-Aid the other day- huh) and then an actual vanilla one. They are pictured, from left to right, in the order I made them.

I decided coffee stir straws would be better than doubling up toothpicks and managed to perfect my unicorn horn twisting technique, here's the result...

...and then I made 86 of them...

The Uni-Cupcake Prototype (hand-crafted Vanilla Tootsie Roll unicorn horn stuck in an Albertsons Bakery cupcake). I am so glad this worked because I didn't really have a "Plan B" (obviously, I like to live on the edge)...

Lots of Uni-Cupcakes...

My daughter waited all day to partake of the chewy confection. In the world of Axe Cop, uni-horns can grant wishes. I wonder what Sofie wished for...

...another cupcake, of course!

This awesome candle, which topped an Albertsons Bakery cake, was constructed by Will Crawford (check out his blog here), another friend of Ethan's. It is a reference to Ask Axe Cop #3, Will did an excellent job making it authentic. Good thing too because we didn't want to get anything wrong like they did in Ask Axe Cop #50...

Another angle of the awesomeness...

Ethan and Malachai, the masterminds behind this whole crazy thing, did the honors and blew out the candles after we sang Happy Birthday to Axe Cop.

This whole event was just a really fun time. Ethan and Malachai signed lots of copies of Axe Cop Volume 1 (including ours). They also conducted a live panel during which they showed us the Axe Cop process, created a new character on the spot, answered some questions, and showed some great Axe Cop related videos. On the way home, my husband and I discussed how mind boggling this whole Axe Cop thing is. We are so proud of Ethan and the hard work he is doing. He displays an insane amount of patience in letting a six-year-old dictate the stories but it is the genuine love he has for his little brother that makes the whole thing work.

Happy Birthday Axe Cop! Your crazy antics and outrageous characters bring us laughter and remind us that even the innocence of childhood is riddled with bad guys whose heads must be chopped off.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yo Soy Wax Candles

Back when I revealed my Upcycled Baby Food Jar Candle Holders, the top suggestion I got was to fill them with homemade candles- specifically soy candles because if you're going homemade, you might as well go natural. I resisted at first, reluctant to adopt yet another craft that would take up valuable time, space, and money but finally talked myself into using part of a Michael's gift card to begin my initial decent into the realm of candle making.

I decided to go with the microwavable soy wax this time because I figured it would be pretty tough to screw that up. I also decided to save the experience of making my own wicks for next time, opting for the already assembled, pre-waxed wicks (wow, say that ten times fast). I used Elmer's glue to secure the wicks to the bottoms of the jars (they do sell a special sticky wax stuff that is specifically made for this purpose but why get that fancy on the test run when Elmer's works just fine?).

I measured out some soy wax chips, popped them into the microwave, and simply followed the instructions for heating the wax in the specified time intervals.

It took a while due to my pathetic microwave (you may remember me mentioning my "lame" microwave before) but the wax finally melted and reached the desired temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I used clothespins to keep the tops of the wicks centered and dumped the hot wax into the jars. It ended up taking the whole pound of soy wax chips to fill the five jars of various sizes.

Here's what the wax looked like an hour later...

I waited until the next day to trim the wicks...

...and test them out.

Here they are after their initial three hour burn- not bad!

Obviously using plain white soy wax is not very exciting and makes it nearly impossible to see the glass etching on the jars so my next candle making adventure will hopefully include coloring of some kind. As with the playdough Experiment, the search is on for a natural, chemical-free dying option. Although, if I could figure out how to color candles with Kool-Aid, maybe it would make me eligible for some sort of crafting award- or a Nobel Prize! I can dream can't I? Anyway, delusions of grandeur aside, I would also like to experiment with beeswax and my own wicks sometime soon.

So, just as I had feared, I'm treading in dangerous crafting waters. Thankfully, so far, the time involved has been minimal (it would have been even less with a "real" microwave), there aren't a lot of tools and supplies to take up lots of space (since I'm using the baby food jars as my containers instead of candle molds and such), and I haven't spent any of my own money (thanks to Uncle Randy, Aunt Samantha, and Cousin Ryan for the gift card that made this adventure possible). I'm pretty sure the time is coming though when I go completely overboard and start subscribing to Modern Candle Maker Monthly and scoping out warehouse space to store all of my candle making paraphernalia. This is just the calm before the storm. Perhaps I should just go join my local chapter of Candle Makers Anonymous before everyone else finds out how easy it is to make your own candles and becomes as obsessed as I am about to be.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Playdough Mania

Question: What do you get when you mix these ingredients with boiling water?

Answer: Playdough! Along with hours (well, at least minutes) of fun!

I managed to make six different colors using the old family recipe and six different Kool-Aid flavors...

The Cherry and Grape smell the best but the Tropical Punch is the most vibrant. Orange came out so-so, Pink Lemonade looks disturbingly fleshy, and Lemonade just looks like ordinary bread dough. In the future, I would love to experiment with alternative ways to color the playdough- like beet or berry juices. Each batch makes a ball about the size of a large grapefruit.

This also turned out to be a great opportunity for me (well, actually Sofie) to field test the infamous Play-doh Mat/Bag. So far, so good. There are still a few alterations I would like to make to my pattern but I feel okay selling the ones I already have made as they are.

I would also like to sell the playdough itself (or include a free blob of it with the purchase of a Mat/Bag) but not until I know approximately how long it lasts, whether or not it stains fabric, and whether I can find any other Kool-Aid colors or natural dyes to use.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hemming and Hawing

A while back, when I bought my current sewing machine, one of the justifications for the purchase that I so cleverly offered to my husband was that this machine would allow me to easily hem all of his pants. My husband is about 5'5" and all of his shortness is in his legs so it's impossible for us to find a pair of pants that fit him off the rack. My previous sewing machine was a fifty-year-old Singer 404 with no free arm sewing capabilities and some very touchy tension issues- hemming pants on that thing was not fun.

Well, it turns out that hemming pants on the new machine wasn't really fun either. Sewing in general was fun but practical sewing always seemed to take a backseat to little crafty creations that required the picking out of exciting fabric and coordinating zippers, buttons, etc. When I did finally stop procrastinating and took a break from zippered pouches and play-doh bags to hem the pile of pants that needed my attention, I ran into some trouble. Attempting a double fold hem on jeans creates a giant lump of fabric around the side seams of the pants. It was so thick, it barely fit under the sewing machine foot. Nevertheless, I trudged on, taking my time, pushing my poor little sewing machine beyond where it was meant to go. I got through two pairs of jeans- just barely.

Due to my ignorance at the time and all that fighting and tugging against the machine, I managed to miss the folded under part of the fabric in some places which meant that after a few washes, the still-exposed edges of denim began to fray. This caused my husband to get a little cranky every time he had to trim the frayed edges of his pants as he muttered his frustrations over the situation to no one in particular. Seeing his dissatisfaction with my work would in turn cause me to get cranky and blurt out things like, "If you don't like the sloppy, lame way I do things, maybe you should learn to use the sewing machine and hem your own flippin' pants!" Well, we both knew that would never happen because I'm a crazy control freak and I don't want him touching the sewing machine anyway. I knew the day was coming when I would have to re-hem the flippin' pants.

I'm a bit embarrassed to tell you that what finally motivated me to fix my mistakes was something completely superficial and shallow. When my husband began wearing the badly-hemmed jeans with his new shoes, it became painfully obvious that I had hemmed both pairs of jeans at least an inch and a half too short- a detail that had been, until now, overlooked thanks to the fact that my husband usually wears flip-flops.

Something had to be done. I just couldn't let my husband leave the house looking like a goober expecting a flood. I had to get a little creative since I only had a limited amount of fabric left to work with. I ended up sewing bias tape around the raw edge of denim to prevent fraying. I know I probably could have just done a zig-zag stitch but I really wanted to avoid fraying of any kind ever again for obvious reasons- this decision may have saved my marriage. I then did a single fold hem so that I only had to sew over a large lump of fabric around the side seams instead of a gigantic one.

It took a little convincing to sell my husband on this whole concept since the inside of the pants looks kind of silly with all that bias tape.

I basically told him, "You're lucky I had blue bias tape on hand and not just hot pink. Oh, and if you don't like my ridiculous methods, maybe you should...well, never mind, we both know that's not going to happen."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Again With the Socks!

Here's some more nifty stripey socks! As soon as I started knitting them, I knew they were going to be a birthday present for my good friend, Susanne (sometimes you just know- ya know?). Now that I've finally given them to her, I can unveil them here.

This was my first time using Lion Brand's Sock-Ease yarn. I picked up a ball of it because I loved the colors and I wanted to see if one ball was indeed enough to complete a pair of socks. It was, and then some (I've been able to make two wine dribble stoppers out of the leftover yarn and I'm pretty sure there's enough for one more). This yarn is not as soft as some of the other sock yarns I've been finding out there but I'm hoping that after a few washings it will loosen up a bit. Again, the most attractive thing about the Sock-Ease line is the colors. Also, they all have candy-inspired names, which makes knitting with them that much more delicious.

There are also seven solid colors called Marshmallow (off-white), Rootbeer (medium brown), Circus Peanut (red-orange), Grape Soda (royal purple), Lollipop (bubblegum pink), Green Apple (olive green), and Snow Cone (teal blue). So many possibilities, so little knitting time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Little Corny

Lately I've been trying to avoid cooking with certain oils (mainly vegetable oil and Canola oil) because I've heard disturbing things about them that I'd rather not go into right now. Most of the time you can just use butter instead. Unfortunately, my attempt at making popcorn with butter instead of oil didn't go very well. I couldn't get the butter hot enough without going past the dreaded "burn point" so, by the time the popcorn popped, it was pretty much not fit to eat. Here's what it looked like. Yuck!

Since that didn't work, I decided to move on to another method I had read about on the internet. I dumped 1/4c of popcorn into a brown paper bag. Since it was going to go in the microwave, I came up with this method of sealing the bag (I'll admit, I was a little surprised at my clever resourcefulness).

I have a pretty lame microwave (it can't even pop actual microwave popcorn) so I wasn't quite sure how long to zap the kernels or whether this would work at all. I decided five minutes would be plenty of time. It wasn't until about two and a half minutes that I started hearing popping. How exciting! I felt like Dr. Frankenstein- I may have even raised my hands above my head, fingers curled, laughing maniacally and yelled, "It's alive!" Okay, it wasn't that exciting- after all, you get popcorn hot, it's gonna pop. Duh. The pops slowed down and it started to smell a little like overdone popcorn around four and a half minutes so I stopped the microwave and opened the door. Here's what I found...

A puffy bag! Just like the pre-packeaged microwave popcorn you buy in the store. I was pretty amused by this, especially when I opened the bag and dumped out some very happy looking popcorn (much better than the burnt buttery mess from the first attempt).

There were a few burnt pieces that I had to weed out and, after I had devoured the "fruits" of my labor, there were a few more unpopped kernels than I would like to see...

Overall, pretty satisfactory results though. I do plan on doing this again (at least until I can get my hands on an air popper- I feel like the microwave is just a lesser of cooking evils). Also, I think I could train myself to eat the popped popcorn plain but it is quite bland. As is true with most things, butter would make it better.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Amish Friendship Bread Starters: The Tribbles of the Baking Universe

Here's a word problem for all you math whizzes out there:
If Katie accepts one Amish friendship bread starter on December 10, 2010 that will be ready to bake on December 15, 2010 and doesn't manage to give any new starters away, how many starters will she have by Christmas? Bonus question: How many loaves of Amish Cinnamon Bread will Katie have to bake to keep up with all this madness? Read on for the answers.

I am a sucker for Amish friendship bread but there is a part of me that dreads the weighty responsibility that comes along with accepting an Amish friendship bread starter (which is essentially a bag of a squishy batter-like substance containing live active yeast that must be fed milk, flour, and sugar every five days). Somehow this simple gesture of baking kindness always manages to spiral way out of control until I am up to my ears in fermenting bread dough. The blessing/curse of an Amish friendship bread starter is that after ten days, it turns into two loaves of bread and four new starters (well, it doesn't do this on its own, you have to bake it into bread and separate the new starters from the original one). The idea is to pass those new starters on to other people so they can do the work next time. In ten days, each of those people ends up with two loaves of bread and four new starters and, ideally, passes them on to new people. It's kind of like a chain letter that includes baking- a pyramid scheme of bread, if you will. I think it might actually be a conspiracy implemented by the Amish to drive people like me crazy.

You would think that I'd know better by now but I still jump at the chance to begin a new cycle of friendship bread insanity even though I can almost never get rid of the new starters after I bake. Then they multiply so fast that it's all down hill from there. To answer the above questions, my December baking frenzy has resulted in a total of eighteen* new starters and six* loaves of cinnamon bread. I was able to unload two starters and one loaf on the unsuspecting family for whom my in-laws were house sitting over the holidays. That still leaves me with plenty of bread to bake, which will result in even more bread starters that will exponentially increase for infinity into an Amish friendship bread avalanche of epic proportions (if anyone knows how to express that in mathematical terms please share it in the comments). Thankfully, the starters can be frozen. This slows down the explosion of live active yeast and helps create a more reasonable time frame in which to experience the joy of baking Amish Cinnamon Bread. Nevertheless, my freezer can only hold so many frozen time bombs.

So, here's another word problem:
If Katie approaches you with a zip-lock baggie full of bread goo and tries to convince you that accepting it will make you a better person, how fast and how far will you run in order to avoid being sucked into the vortex of Amish friendship bread?

*If you're a big enough math genius to realize that there actually should have been sixteen starters and eight loaves after two baking cycles- wow, you're a geek, I'm both amazed and disturbed by you. The discrepancy occurred when I ran out of time to do any more baking (it was 2:00 in the morning) and just turned two of the four starters I had from the first baking cycle into five new starters each instead of two loaves and four new starters each. If you're confused, don't worry, you're probably normal. If you understood everything I just said, you should probably go seek professional help.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Day 30

Well, as of today, I have officially managed to blog for thirty days straight. There's a good chance this will never happen again and I'm okay with that. There are more blog posts to come but I think I'll be going more for quality over quantity now. We'll see what happens. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Obligatory New Year's Day Blog Post

Happy New Year everyone!

I spent part of New Year's Eve with my husband and my daughter along with some good friends of ours at Disneyland. It was crazy crowded but we got some free hats and noise makers! At midnight we watched the spectacular Disney fireworks from our friends' backyard- much more comfortable than camping out in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle for sixteen hours.

What will 2011 bring? More blogging I hope!