Stenciling!

There’s no need to apologize for lack of blogging over the holidays, right? Yes? Good. Then forward we go.

I have been aiming to do sewing tutorials on my blog for some time now, and after the christmas doll rush was over, I had about a week to throw a few gifts for various family members together. I thought it would be fun to document that process, but didn’t get around to taking as many pictures as I wanted. But I did get a few. I have had some people ask about how I do the stenciling for some of my children’s clothing, etc., so I will try to explain how I do it.
I have also mentioned Natalie Chanin’s company on my blog before, and get most of my inspiration from her work. If you really want to know how to do some of this stuff, I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

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Not only do they include all the clothing patterns in the back, they also include some of her stencils, like these.

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I wanted to do three gifts- a simple skirt for my niece, and two scarves- one for my mother and one for the while elephant gift exchange we did with my siblings. I decided on the leaf stencil for the skirt, and the medallion stencil for the gift exchange, but wanted a different one for my mother. I looked through the books and found a lovely rose stencil.
I was excited since my mother loves roses, but it wasn’t included with the book. Fortunately, you can download printable stencils straight off of the Alabama Chanin website. http://alabamachanin.com/resources They are also available precut for purchase, but they are quite spendy, so I prefer to print and cut them out myself.
Here it is, just freshly printed.

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If you want to go this route, I highly recommend a little pair of cutting scissors like these, and a little patience. Just start cutting.

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Now you can use the paper stencil, but it is quite flimsy, and since this is a business for me, I prefer to make them sturdier, so I can reuse them many times. I do this by tracing the paper stencil onto a sheet of flexible plastic. You can buy stenciling plastic at most craft stores, but what I have here is actually some kind of leftover orange plastic material that my husband uses when he lays tile. Hey, waste not, want not. I don’t know what it is called, but it works great. I also have this handy dandy heat stenciling tool that melts the plastic as you cut and makes the work much faster and the end result much more professional.

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This may seem like a lot of work, but I have found it really pays off in the end if you want to do more than one project with the stencil. Since I started this business, I have built up a collection of several really beautiful stencils that will last forever.

Now we get to the fun part- transferring the pattern to fabric.

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But before I get ahead of myself and before this post gets too long, I want to show you what fabric I use, and how I cut it. So until next time, happy stenciling!

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My Mountain

(FYI, there will be much nostalgia and waxing lyrical in this post. You have been warned)

I am home again. Even though in a few short years I will have lived more of my life elsewhere, the Pacific Northwest will always be home. And not just because most of my family lives here, although that is always the main draw to return. There is simply something about the land- the tall evergreens, the many fingered inlets of the Puget Sound, even the gray and overcast sky that feels a part of me.
And then there is the mountain. It is something I can never be sure of seeing when I come for a visit. It may be hiding behind the clouds- Or I may not be in the right place at the right time to catch a glimpse of it. When my in-laws came for a three week visit, they never saw it. They even drove up to the national park, and still it hid itself. I have heard visitors say it is a myth, but those same skeptics have been known to pull over to the side of a busy freeway, get out of their cars and stand with mouth agape when they are finally faced with it’s reality.
I once passed an older couple in a parking lot when I visited one summer. They were standing silent, holding each other by the hand, staring in wonder. As I passed, one of them asked me in a whisper if that could possibly be snow on that distant summit- snow in the middle of July! They were from Florida visiting family, and they had never even heard of Mount Rainier (let alone seen a hill taller than a hundred feet).I told them a little bit about it, and then left them there, still unmoved and still holding hands. I felt such a pride in the mountain, like it belonged to me, like I had some right to boast of its beauty.
I know many others who feel the same. One of my friends is quite possessive of ‘her mountain’, and when we visit, she shows us around as if it is her private property. (Granted, her ancestors were some of the earliest settlers there, so she has some right.)

On the flight home, I was keeping an eye out the window for the changes in scenery that would indicate that we were drawing near. There is usually a good chance of seeing the mountain from the seat of an airplane. I watched as we flew over the Columbia River, the dry terrain of Eastern Washington, the smaller foothills. But being distracted by restless children, I forgot to look until the captain suggested we glance out the left window. I was afraid the plane was going to tip sideways, so many passengers got up to see.

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I wished for a better camera, I wished for a better angle, I wished the glass in the airplane window wasn’t so dingy, but I took as many pictures as I could. And as I snapped away, noticing Mount Baker to the left and Mount Saint Helens to the right, I began to hear people around me sharing stories of the mountains- relating the first time they had seen Rainier, various adventures they had had hiking the nearby peaks, where they were when St. Helens erupted. I was tempted to turn around and tell the people behind me that my hubby had actually climbed Rainier and that St. Helens had erupted the day after I was born (a piece of trivia I have always boasted about for some odd reason). There was a sudden camaraderie on the plane, like there often is after a traumatic event or a big storm, when neighbors who never speak to each other come outside to compare stories and damage.
It struck me what an odd thing it was, how a piece of natural beauty can draw people together like that. How the awkwardness of sitting squashed between two complete strangers in a tin can in the sky, and trying not to touch elbows can be suddenly overcome by the beauty of nature. It also struck me what a wonderful gift God has shared with all of his creatures, whether they believe in him or not. These glimpses of grandeur, of glory, of near perfection touch something alike in all of us- a longing to be near our Creator, to see His handiwork, to take pride in Creation, even though we really had nothing to do with it. It is God’s everyday gift to us all, and as my sister said, as she posted a picture this morning,
“It just doesn’t get old.”

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Sprouts, by request

I had an interesting conversation on facebook last week, about the fact that my boys love to eat brussels sprouts. I had many comments of surprise, a few compliments from people who had tried my sprouts before and a request for a recipe that would avoid producing a pan full of “slime balls”. So here goes.

But first, I believe brussels sprouts have a bad reputation. Growing up, if I ever read a book about a child hating to eat his veggies, it always seemed to involve brussels sprouts, or lima beans. Therefore, I grew up with an enormous aversion to them, even though my mother never once tried to get me to eat either. In fact, I never knew anyone who ate sprouts, and such still might be the case if it weren’t for one of my sisters. She returned home from foreign lands, where brussels sprouts apparently had less of a social stigma, and served them for dinner one night. I was a little repulsed by the little mini cabbage heads, but decided to be mature about it and give one a try.
I can’t say that my life was forever changed at that moment, but the old childhood dread was overcome. I was willing to learn more about this new (to me) veggie, with it’s slightly bitter edge and pungent flavor.
I think my sister sautéed her sprouts on the stove that night, but I, who am a fan of the Pioneer Woman Cooks, liked her method of preparing them a little better (no offense sis!)
I think the key to avoiding slime balls is to avoid water at all costs. Do not boil them, do not steam them, and do not, (as the packaging suggests) microwave them in the plastic bag they came in!

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Now there are two ways I do this, but they both involve roasting. Turn your oven up nice and high- about 450 degrees.
If I am short on time, I will toss them in olive oil (2-3 Tablespoons per pound) and a generous sprinkling of salt, which is very good. But there is a slightly tastier way that involves -you guessed it- bacon.
I used about 5 slices of chopped, thick cut bacon here.

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Get that cooking while you prep your sprouts. You will sometimes find, in a bag of sprouts, that they vary in size, like this.

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So for even cooking, I usually cut the bigger ones in half, and place them all on a rimmed baking sheet. I went ahead and used the whole two pound bag here, since we eat them like candy (and since we are leaving town and I don’t want to come back to a rotten bag of sprouts in the bottom of my fridge).

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Once your bacon is nice and crispy, remove it from the pan, but save those drippings!

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Pour the drippings over the sprouts with an even sprinkling of salt over the whole pan, and stir together till everything is nice and coated.

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Put your pan in the oven, and let the high heat do it’s magic.

While they are in there, let me just say that roasting vegetables has become the number one preferred method of veggie preparation around here. If I can’t convince you to try sprouts, then next time you want broccoli, or cauliflower, or green beans or asparagus, just toss the chopped veggies in olive oil and salt and roast away. The heat brings out the natural sweetness in the veggies and gives them a far better flavor than steamed or boiled. I have even had success with roasted wedges of cabbage. My kids love it all! But I must say that frozen veggies do not come out nearly as well with this method, so stick to fresh.

After about fifteen minutes, they will be starting to get brown. Go ahead and stir them up a bit.

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But we want them really brown, even slightly burnt at the edges, so keep roasting another ten or fifteen minutes until they look like this.

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This is when the boys start wandering towards the kitchen, sniffing expectantly.
Throw them in a bowl and serve as is, or sprinkle with your reserved bacon bits.
And since it is Christmas time, try a few dried cranberries on top.

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They add a sweet, tart contrast and a lovely red color that is very festive with the green sprouts. (Just ignore the grubby hand snitching from the bowl).

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I hope you’ll give brussels sprouts a chance!

A step back in time

I’m not sure exactly what kind of post this is going to be, but I wanted to a share a bit about the enchanted afternoon we had this week. I don’t usually post photos of my kids on this blog, but I had some fun playing around with my camera, so bear with me.

We were invited, by a friend in real estate, to tour a new housing development about twenty-five minutes from home, something I was not remotely interested in doing since I am rather busy these days. I couldn’t understand why the hubby so particularly wanted to show this place to me, but he said the boys would love it, and I, as a lover of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, might find it interesting as well. I thought this was a strange statement, seeing as we were talking about a housing development, but we packed some snacks and took off.

We headed out of the city, out into the more rural countryside that winds around the foot of the mountain near which we live. I figured the hubby just wanted to show me some cool architecture, and since the baby had fallen asleep, I planned to stay in the warm car and take a peep from the windows. We drove down a gravelly lane and through an old gated entrance that looked as if it had been there at least 150 years. After a few more windings, I suddenly felt as if we really had gone back 150 years.
The hubby was grinning as I looked around, confused. Where was this “housing development”? It reminded me strongly of a place I had seen before, and then it struck me how much it looked like the movie “The Village”. Scary forest monsters aside, the designer of this place seemed to aiming at just that- an authentic village from yesteryear. We drove past beautifully crafted homes nestled in the woods,

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An “old” blacksmith shop,

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covered bridges,

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and an old fashioned school house (which actually serves as the main office)

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We got out and walked through the quiet woods, nestled in a peaceful valley next to a babbling brook.

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We crossed the brook

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We discovered a small pond that could be navigated by means of an ingenious, rope-pulled boat.

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So we did what must be done and pulled that rope.

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By this time, it was hard to believe we hadn’t gone back in time. It felt so dream like and peaceful, and I began imagining what it would be like to live there, surrounded by quiet nature, my boys able to run and have adventures to their hearts content instead of confined to a small inner city yard. What would life for me be like? Would I have to wear a calico skirt? Learn to milk a cow? I told myself I would be willing to do those things if it meant living in a place like this- especially a place that had such an awesome tree house.

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And the king of all rope swings

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But not all things are perfect.
As enchanting as the little bridges were,

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they made it a little too easy to access the water, as my two youngest found out to their very wet sorrow. I hadn’t thought to bring a change of clothing since I didn’t know we would be having such adventures, so daddy’s big coats had to suffice.

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But there was balm even in this, since we had brought tea and cookies and managed to find the means to light a roaring fire in the big outdoor fireplace.

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And what do little boys like better than fire?

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If only I had thought to bring marshmallows, but I suppose they wouldn’t have had that ring of authenticity. I mean, what would Laura Ingalls Wilder say!

Closing up shop

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Well folks, just a quick note to let you know the shop is officially closed for the season. After my last post on the subject, I didn’t get any orders for a week, and thought I may have scared people off with my ultimatum. I expected a lot from black friday, but nothing came that weekend, so I was pondering some kind of a giveaway, just to get a few more orders.
But lo and behold, on Monday I got slammed with seven orders, so now it’s crunch time. By the time I get them finished, it will be vacation, and then the New Year. So stay tuned for updates on my shop, but not ’til 2014.
In the meantime, I hope to post some fun holiday happenings, and maybe a few tasty recipes as well. And again, thank you all for your support of this little endeavor! Happy Holidays!