Monday, 31 December 2012

Irish Dancing Dress - part 1

At her first competition in one of
the school outfits.
Brace yourselves, this might be a long one!!!

So, the little miss is a little Irish dancer - she loves preforming and she danced in her first competition a few months ago. I knew right from the beginning that she was going to be sticking with the Irish dancing and I decided that I wanted to be the one to make her first ever solo dress (she used one of the school outfits for the first competition). For those of you who don't know, this is no small feat to take on! I spent hours looking at different dresses online and searching for pattern ideas and tips for sewing these amazing dresses. The dresses that I've seen in local competitions range from the amazing (costing thousands of dollars) to plainer, more basic dresses (still costing hundreds). I knew that the little miss' dress would be on the plainer side as I'm not experienced enough to take on the fancy applique & embroidery that many of the dresses have - and I also don't have the money, or even access to, some of the fancier materials used in some of the skirts and embellishments.

The tulle is a bit low & wonky in the  front
in this photo and it drives me a bit crazy to
look at it, but it's been been fixed since then!
Since I essentially had to make my own pattern, I started with a 'practice' dress. I made this one out of a stretchy velvety fabric so that I would have more leeway with it. The stretchy material could not be used in an actual competition dress, but this was just a practice (and play costume) so I wanted it to be able to stretch so the little miss could get into it even if it was a bit too small anywhere. I used the bodice pattern from a 'regular' dress as the base for my practice dress, but I dropped the waist (a bit too much it turns out), added a gathered over-skirt in the same fabric, gathered tulle as the underskirt, added a sash to the back, and voila!

I love the back of this dress, but I'll make the sash a bit fuller for the next one.

So the next step was to take this dress to the dance teacher to see how it would measure up as the base for the solo dress that I was to make... Other than the fact that the waist was a bit too low, and the skirt was a bit too long (both of which I already knew) the only thing that needed altering was the neck. The neckline has to be higher than the collar bone. So all in all I was pretty pleased! And the little miss LOVES this dress - I thought she might use it as a costume, but it's her favourite dress and she actually wears it out. A lot!

So seven months after making this first practice dress, I'm well into the making of the actual solo dress. You'll have to wait for part two to see that one - oh, and for me to actually finish it first!

*You can see part 2 here, and the final dress here.
And then if you want even more you can see how I ended up bling-ing it out here.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Fabric Envelope Pouches

I'm still slightly obsessed with crafts for the school gala at the moment... It's not for another couple of months, but I know that if I don't do it now while I've got a bit of time I'm going to get swamped with other things and end up rushing to get them all done!

I found this fabric envelope tutorial while searching "fabric scraps crafts" on both Pinterest and the general internet. (I have A LOT of fabric scraps that are calling out to be put to good use for this gala!) It looked easy, so true to form I jumped into it by cutting out a dozen or so in various sizes. The tutorial doesn't have any actual measurements (because it doesn't really matter what size you cut it out to), so I made mine according to the size of scrap I was working with. Once fully made, mine measure anywhere from 17 x 11 cm down to 10 x 8 cm. I also made one of the smaller ones for myself as it's perfect for carrying my business cards around in my bag. 

I started with a rectangle, folded it into 3 (to make sure the final size would look ok), and then cut the 'top' third to a point like the top of an envelope. I then laid my cut out shape onto my lining fabric and cut out one of those too. I pretty much followed the instructions in the original tutorial, with a couple variations. After making the first 2 I skipped out the elastic loop part as I really, really, hate sewing loops into seams with thin elastic and decided that I'd rather sew on snaps or make button holes for the others - so that's what I did, and I also top stitched around all the open edges as I thought it made for a nicer finish.

I made 10 of these from start to finish in one afternoon (with my kids and husband around distracting me) so really, these don't take much time at all! And they're pretty much as cute as the fabric you use to make them with.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Lego Mini-fig Display Cabinet - and Merry Christmas Everyone!

I hadn't planned to write a Christmas post, but I just couldn't wait to share the awesome present my husband made me!!!!! I have a small, but growing, collection of Lego Mini-figs (I stopped pretending they were for the kids a long time ago) and until today they lived on a shelf with random other stuff on the cabinet in our kitchen. Ages ago I had pinned various mini-fig storage case thingies, and suggested to my husband that he could make me one for my Christmas present this year. And he did!

I love that he made it himself, and I know that it ended up being a larger (and more expensive) task than he had first anticipated, but I think the end result is fantastic! There is still room for my collection to grow, and as Harry Potter & his friends at the top are kindly demonstrating, there is space to be creative around the frame itself as well. Although, I wish I were able to make it look more like Santa was dangling JarJar Binks off the edge of the frame...

I hope that you all get something that makes you smile this year. Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Jewel Hair Pins

This post is about another craft for little miss' upcoming school gala...

I actually made these hair pins last year when I had a table selling my own crafts at the little miss' kindy Christmas craft market... Since it was a kindy run market, I wanted to have a few little inexpensive things that the kiddies could buy with their pocket money. I found these hair pins and gave them a go...

I bought a big bulk pack of bobby pins and a jar of 'jewels' for a total cost of less than $10. I went for jewels rather than buttons because buttons are actually quite expensive and the little miss preferred the sparkly-ness of the jewels anyway! There were so many jewels in the container that I was able to be really picky with the ones I wanted to use and we the jar was still well over half full when we were done.

They were super simple to make and the little miss and I were able to knock out about a hundred of them in one sitting. We cut up some card stock we had laying around the house and pinned them on in pairs for the little jewels and singles for the large ones. I found some card slips that my husband had leftover from when he collected some sort of cards and they fit perfectly, so I packaged them in those to make them look even fancier. I sold them for $0.50 for a pair with little jewels and $0.50 each for the large flower jewel ones. They were a hit and I sold quite a few to the littlies and just as many again to the grown ups! I have taken them to other markets I have done as well and they do quite well - especially around Christmas and Easter as stocking/Easter basket fillers.

Needless to say, the little miss has quite a few and she likes to wear them all at once - unless, of course, she's using them as mini wands for her little dolls and other creatures.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Moreporks! (Owls)

I've volunteered myself to be on the crafts team for the upcoming gala at the little miss' school... This means I will be making a bunch of crafts to be sold at the school gala in early March. The aim of the craft team is to make inexpensive crafts that can be purchased at the gala by the kids with their pocket money, while raising some money for the school. This year it's a kiwiana theme, so I was hoping to get a few NZ-ish craft things made. I had a few ideas of things I could make with bits and pieces I already have around the house, and then I saw a friend post some photos of adorable little owls that she made. Along with the photo she posted the link to where she got the idea from, and that they were easy to make, so I had to take a look!

I looked at the photos from the tutorial and saw that the pieces were cut out at fairly specific angles, but then realised that the exact angles didn't really matter so long as it was the same general shape as what was in the photos. It looked easy enough, so as per my usual gung-ho-ness I jumped right in and cut out pieces for 7 little critters... And then I realised I probably should have just cut out one or two to see if it was actually going to work first! I cut some bigger than others and figured at least a few of them would turn out ok, but they were actually all super cute - or at least I think so. I used buttons for the eyes as opposed to felt material because I have a fair amount of plain buttons in the house and no felt.

They really were easy and the hand stitching part is perfect for doing while sitting in front of the TV at the end of the day. I've already got another 11 cut out and waiting to go (there's no shortage of fabric scraps in this house!) So, what do you think of my little moreporks? [*Moreporks are a type of owl native to NZ, so they can count towards my kiwiana content!]

I'll be posting about the various crafts I'll be making for the gala in the next little while... theoretically all should be easy and inexpensive. If you've got any ideas you think I should try (especially kiwiana type stuff), please do let me know!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Marshmallow Snowmen

I'll admit right from the start that this was not an internet find (although I'm willing to bet that if you searched "Marshmallow Snowmen" on Pinterest you'd get about a million hits). I heard someone on a TV show describe these and I thought - yeah, that sounds cute AND easy enough to actually make!

These are pretty self explanatory - some small bamboo skewers, marshmallows, an icing pen (or 2) for the faces, and a rolo chocolate bar. The description I copied these from used a chocolate button with a round rolo melted on top for the hat, but I could only find a block of rolo so I decided to skip the chocolate button part and it worked out quite well and a whole step easier!

Well, that's it for my Christmas baking this year - except for another batch of peppermint bark to add to a few presents (and some for me because it's delicious!)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Peanut Butter Fudge - Fudge Success!

For my last party baking item for the week, I was trying to decide between making no bake chocolate peanut butter bars or peanut butter fudge. The fudge was on my baking list, but last night my husband suggested the chocolate peanut butter bars as another option... I was almost swayed to making the bars, but after my chocolate fudge fail I felt the need to redeem myself with the fudge.

The recipe is actually called the "Easiest PB Fudge EVER", but I am far too aware that 'easiest' doesn't always mean successful. I have literally just finished making the Easiest PB Fudge EVER, and it was really, really easy. And quick. I like quick! After licking the spoon (as I was cleaning up) I can vouch that it is delicious, and since it's already almost set I think it's pretty safe to say this one has been more successful than my last fudge attempt.

I don't normally re-write the recipes I blog about, but this one was easier to copy than to try to explain...
Easiest PB Fudge EVER 2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup milk, 1 tsp. vanilla, 3/4 cup peanut butter. Bring sugar and milk to a boil. Boil two and a half minutes. Remove from heat and stir in PB and vanilla. That’s it.
See, easy! And I feel I have redeemed myself. :)

Success. Yum!

Easiest Fudge Ever - Seriously! (but I still managed to fail)

Last night I made this fudge recipe, and it really is the easiest fudge in the world to make! The hardest part was trying to work out those pesky imperial measurements again. FYI: a 14 oz can is the regular size sweetened condensed milk you get at the grocery store in NZ and 12 oz of chocolate is 340 grams.

It's that last measurement that got me... I remembered from making my peppermint bark that the recipe called for 12 oz of white chocolate, and then I remembered measuring out 170 grams (which incidentally was half of the white chocolate in the recipe as I melted the top & bottom layers separately). So long story short - I used exactly half of the chocolate in this fudge recipe and, not surprisingly, it didn't really set. What is surprising is that it almost set, and it tastes amazing!

So instead of bars of chocolate fudge, we're now going to have fresh strawberries with chocolate fudge spread! You can't be perfect all the time, right?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Banana Gingerbread Muffins

Today's baking will be killing two birds with one stone: Christmas party baking & re-stocking the freezer.

Last night I put the last of the frozen baking in the little miss' lunchbox. I really like keeping a stock of home-made muffins or pikelets in the freezer for when I have to throw a school lunch together quickly or for the day before grocery shopping when we're getting low on everything else. So I was looking for something that I could put out for the Christmas party (in case there are guests who would like to nibble on something that's not chocolate or candy!) but that would also be eaten by my daughter in her lunches. The little miss generally likes banana muffins, and she loves ginger & cinnamon so I figured these banana gingerbread muffins ticked that box, but would also fit in with the Christmas theme due to the added spices. This recipe was totally not on my baking list - nor even pinned to my Pinterest boards before this morning, I was actually searching on gingerbread muffins and was weeding out the ones that required ingredients not currently in my cupboards, and when I saw this one it just ticked all the boxes.

Of course I didn't have any molasses in the cupboard (a major ingredient in gingerbread, I know) but the research I did after my peanut brittle baking indicated that I could use golden syrup in exchange for the molasses - although substituting brown sugar was recommended to give it a stronger taste. So I used slightly less golden syrup than the amount of molasses stated and slightly more brown sugar. I also added a little extra of the spices as that was also suggested in something I read about the substitutions. I made them in mini muffin trays because the size works better as party nibbles than a loaf or big muffins, and they work better in my kids lunches. The recipe states to leave them in the oven for 20-25 minutes for muffins, so I checked mine after 16 minutes and they were perfect!

My mini muffins actually turned out really well. They don't taste Christmassy at all, as the banana is the main flavour, but the are moist & delicious none the less. Depending on how things go, I may top them with a little bit of crystallized ginger & a sprinkle of cinnamon to tart them up a bit for the party (the lunchbox ones will stay as is).

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Peppermint Bark

Chocolate bark is another one of those baking items that shouts Christmas to me, so when I saw this one topped with candy canes I knew I'd be making it this year. It's like Christmas topped with more Christmas!

The recipe that I originally pinned (and linked to above) was actually taken from here. Both recipes are the same and both are in imperial measurements - hrumpf! 

To save you the hassle of converting imperial to metric, a 6 oz packet of chocolate chips/buttons measures approx 1 cup (or 170g for those who actually have kitchen scales). I like this kind of recipe because exact measurements aren't required for any sort of chemical reaction, and I'm more into cooking with approximates as opposed to measuring things properly! So if you want to give it a go you'll need 2 cups of white chocolate melts, 1 cup of milk chocolate melts, a bit of vegetable oil (I used rice bran oil cause that's what's in my cupboard), and some crushed up candy canes. :)

Both recipes stated that you need 1/3 crushed candy cane pieces, which confused me a little as to how much that actually meant - but I figured it would take about 1/3 of a cup to cover the top, so that's what I went with (3 to 4 regular sized canes = about 1/3 cup).

Making bark is generally as easy as melting chocolate, and this one was no different - the hardest part was crushing the candy canes into little pieces without them all turning into powder. So easy, so pretty, and so yummy!

*Note: I actually I ended up doubling the recipe at the last minute because I was worried that it wouldn't make quite enough for the party as well as extra left-overs for me!!!
I also thought that if there was a lot extra it would make a nice addition to the kid's teachers end of year/Christmas presents. So if you want to make as much as is in my photos, you'll need double what's written above.
A double batch of this recipe made this much...
The pieces not in the container became un-layered while I was cutting them -
I'm sure they won't go to waste though!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Peanut Brittle - So simple & made in the microwave!

Peanut brittle is one of my most favourite Christmas baking treats! However, I've never been particularly successful at making it myself.

I found this recipe on Pinterest and it looked easy enough that I thought even I could manage it. It's made in a microwave after all! ;)

In theory it worked well... Corn syrup isn't a regular grocery item in NZ like it is in America, so I figured I'd just substitute it with golden syrup and it would be fine - good theory, yes? Well, in fact, yes! However, what I didn't find out until after is that golden syrup burns much quicker than corn syrup. It still turned out fine, but with a slight hint of burnt flavour. It's still edible and it still makes me happy, but next time instead of microwaving it on high for 5 minutes like the recipe states, I'll try it after 3 minutes or so.

I've still got a few more recipes to go, so until the next one...
Happy Christmas baking everyone!

ps - I've had a bit of a thought... for posts such as this, would you like me to add the actual recipe to the end, or would you prefer to link through to the original source instead?

Meringue Christmas Trees

Next weekend I'm having a few families over for a little Christmas get together. I've been scouring the internet looking for some good Christmas treats to make that are: a) easy to make, b) not filled with expensive gourmet ingredients, and c) that make me think of Christmas. I'm a bit of a planner and want to tick off as many items on my to do list as early as possible, and yesterday I started my baking.

First on the baking list were these Christmas meringues... I used my own basic meringue recipe that has never failed me and added some food colouring and peppermint essence to the last 1/4 cup of sugar (that was being added to the egg whites a spoonful at a time). I was careful not to add too much colouring because I didn't want them too green as I thought that might put the adults people off eating them. You may also notice that mine don't have pretty little stars on top - yet! I couldn't find any at the store where I do my regular grocery shopping and am going out to get some later today. I wasn't sure how well these sorts of decorations would 'bake' anyway, so my plan all along was to add them afterward with a little dot of icing.

I was quite excited to use my new Tupperware icing piping thingy, but sadly that part was very disappointing... Long story short, it's messy to fill, wastes a LOT of whatever you put in there, and doesn't hold much. And it took me a few trees to get used to it, so there are a few wonky ones! Next time I'll go back to using my cheap piping bag that came from the grocery store.


But I'm sure they'll go down a treat at the party - they always do. I love these because they're really light and with a hint of peppermint essence in them they're a bit Christmassy too!