Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blind Wine Tasting Bags

I grew up with a mom who LOVES a blind taste test.  Over the course of my childhood, we compared Coke and Pepsi, sweet potatoes and yams--even at our last Thanksgiving, we were treated to three different limoncellos my parents had brought home from Italy.  I hosted my own blind mac'n'cheese comparison in college, the results of which would probably serve me well now as a mom to two small kids if only I could remember them.  So when my parents started holding blind wine tastings, it was no big surprise.  They are really fun--I even did one for my birthday party this year.  My dad, from whom I get a lot of my bargain hunter instinct, has a motto when it comes to choosing wines--he wants a twenty dollar bottle that tastes like it cost thirty but you can get on sale for ten.  The blind wine tasting is a great way to put his skills to the test.

When a friend lent me her blind wine tasting bags (fabric wine bags that hide the contents but are short enough to avoid pouring difficulty, with embroidered numbers to tell the bags apart) for my birthday party, I knew I was looking at something that I could make as a Christmas gift for my dad.

I wanted the numbers on the bags to be more permanent than a paper tag, but my embroidery skills are kind of sad, and I wanted these to be more elegant than "rustic" (the look I pretend I'm going for with my embroidery so it looks like precision was never the goal to begin with).  And then it came to me!  What's classier than Shrinky Dinks?  Nothing, that's what!  I would make the number tags from Shrinky Dinks.

I used this stuff last year to make these coffee decanter tags for my mom, so when I pulled out the packaging this time around and the instructions said to preheat your oven to 300 -350 degrees, I opened up my old blog post to see what temp worked for me last time.  I mean, isn't that one of the main purposes of my writing this blog?  To keep myself informed of tricks and tips I learned and forgot?  Or to avoid the same mistakes I made before when I do something again?  Because memory is not a strong suit of mine.  In any case, I failed to mention the oven temperature in that other blog post.  Details, details.

This time, I started out by printing out the shapes from this free printable I found, and printed the numbers using the Eccentric font in size 85, but as I traced the numbers, I found myself wanting to freehand it.  Well, really just extending and emboldening the printed numbers.  After all, one of my favorite parts of my post-college job at Starbucks was writing the coffees of the day on the specials chalkboard--I have some font skills!

A tip--once you bake the transparent plastic, it turns white and opaque.  So after I cut out my shapes along the black line, I went over the edges again with the black sharpie, because some of the lines that I cut were just outside of my black sharpie line, and that would have turned white after baking even though it wasn't too obvious beforehand.  Be careful though--this is an easy way to turn your perfectly-executed pen lines into an uneven clump if you're not steady.

When punching my holes, I thought to myself, "Hmmm.  Maybe I should have placed the numbers lower in my little shape, to leave more room for the hole."  Just something to consider.  I used a hole punch that is slightly larger than your standard 3-hole-punch-sized-hole, and once the tags shrunk, that hole was very tiny--I was so lucky that my cord fit!  So err on the side of punching a larger hole than you think you'll need--remember that it shrinks to about 20% of its original size.

So this time, I heated to 300 degrees to be safe, and ...

Um, I don't think that's going to work.

This happened.  I checked them after about 2 minutes 30 seconds, and they were still curled up so I let them go for another 30 seconds before taking them out.   The instructions said between 2 and 3 minutes, and take them out after they've curled up then flattened themselves back out, but because you're supposed to put parchment on top of them to keep them from sticking to themselves as they curl up, you can not see a damn thing while they're cooking.

How was I to know?  This was my view!
But they were too curled up to be pressed flat with a spatula as the directions suggested, and I can only believe that my airbake pan was to blame.

Bad Airbake.  Bad, bad.
I couldn't find the little pan I used the last time I did this, so I moved on to the regulation-size cookie sheet.  I also upped the oven temp to 350, in case that had been the issue.  But the good news was that I was better off with hole placement this time.  And I also got lazy about the cutting and just rounded the edges around the design.  I think it looks just as good.

The finished tags, this time without the finicky cutting.

SO!  350, and mine took the full 3 minutes, and then I did press them flat with a metal spatula just to be safe.
Down, you curly edges!

I say to you, AVOID the airbake pans with this project. Save them for your delightfully light-bottomed cookie endeavors (they really are fantastic for that).  It's true, the pan wasn't the only variable, (I messed with the temperature too, what kind of scientist am I?  No kind at all, that's what kind.) but my impression is that the pan was the problem.

In any case, they finally came out well in the end.  Man, that was supposed to be the easy part!  But actually, sewing the bags was a snap.  I followed this tutorial for the measurements, and instead of ribbon I used a thin metallic elastic cord--that way, I could attach the tag and tie the elastic into a loop that slipped over the top of the bottle and bag, avoiding the need to tie the ribbon on each time.  I bought 2 yards of cord for the six wine bags I made, meaning I used 12 inches for each bag, which was perfect.  My only advice with the tutorial is to be careful not to sew your ribbon or cord into any of your seams when sewing the wine bag.  Amazingly, I avoided doing that, but I did constantly have to remind myself to hold them out of the way.

Attaching the tags is probably pretty self-explanatory, but since I took the time to photograph the process I'll share it with you briefly.

Step One:  Looped cord through the hole
Step Two:  Oh man I didn't photograph this step after all.  This is the one where you tuck the loose ends of the cord back through the loop that you made so it stays on.  

Step Three:  Hand or machine-sew the cord to the fabric you cut for your wine bag (4.5 inches from the top, according to the tutorial)

Step Four:  Finish your wine bag without sewing the cord into any of the seams!

And the set was a hit!  I included this fun "Rate That Wine" notepad from knockknock papers, and I didn't include wine glass tags but that would make a great accompaniment for this gift!  Especially because by the time you're trying that sixth bottle of wine, it's harder to remember where you set your glass.

I just have to share--you'll notice that there are only four wine bags pictured here but I did in fact make six.  On the day I took these photos, there were only four sad little bottles in our house that I could use for posing the wine bags.  And, full disclosure, one of those bottles isn't even wine, it's sparkling cider.  How sad is that?  Only three bottles of wine in the house!  Don't worry, we were totally restocked before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Scarf Madness!

I have been a Goodwill treasure hunter this year, since my to-do list included scarves and/or armwarmers for several people on the gift list this year.  I have found some real scores!  Vintage cashmere for $7, striped lambswool, and more--it's been so much fun!

These are the infinity scarves I've made so far.  I'll do another post on scarflets (probably after Christmas--that's the tricky thing about having family members who may or may not actually read your blog; they might get a glimpse of something meant for them ahead of time!)  

The pink one on the right was a custom order for a friend, made from her grandmother's lambswool/angora blend sweater.  Super soft and dense, it was GREAT for a scarf, except that her grandma was a tiny little thing, and I just barely had enough fabric to work it into a scarf! 

I ended up having to include the ribbed cuffs and waistband that I usually cut off when making these things.  I actually like the result--there were enough to distribute the ribbing evenly around the scarf, so it adds a design element that wouldn't have been there otherwise.

It can be worn wrapped loosely, as shown above, or snug up to your neck, leaving the other loop dangling long.

The navy one on the left was a cashmere Goodwill find.  I loved the cables.  I have used embellishment before to hide holes in the original sweater (a danger when upcycling), but in this case I didn't have to do that--I just put them where I liked them.  The flowers are scraps from two other sweaters that I had upcycled.  One was my favorite cashmere sweater turned scarf, and the other is from a project that can not yet be disclosed.

The embellished details

This one can also be worn with a long loop if desired:

Fun!  For a how-to, you can check out one of my previous posts on infinity scarves, and this page has a great tutorial too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fused Glass Ornaments and Tiles!

I don't get too many opportunities to double up the material I am writing about on this blog with the subject matter for the blog I write for my mother-in-law's fused glass art (, but I am going to take advantage!  My mother-in-law, Ann Cavanaugh, is a fantastic fused glass artist. She invited our kids to her studio, along with the kids of several of her friends, to make Christmas ornaments.  I've written about the process on her blog here, but I thought I'd give a little sneak-peek right here.

The kids made these lovely tree ornaments (The Boy's are in the top row, and Little Sister's are the bottom row):

They also made these stars.  We're using them like decorative trivets.

by Little Sister

By The Boy
They took it so seriously!  I had to swallow my worries about my two- and four-year-old using tiny pieces of glass and superglue and let them at it, because they had such a good time and were being so very careful.

Putting the final touches on her masterpiece

I mean, I only had to tell Little Sister to take the chunk of glass out of her mouth once.  (Yes, that really happened).

The Boy's finished work, awaiting the kiln

My favorite part of the day was making glass tiles.  I supervised Little Sister making hers with the abandon that only a two-year-old possesses, dumping any mix of colors and textures she could get her hands on into the glass tray Ann had provided.  Colby oversaw The Boy's methodical placement of glass pebbles and colored glass sprinkles in his frame.  And I even got to make one myself!

My snowy woods
The Boy's careful placement
Little Sister's wild mix
 And afterwards, we got to play in the woods and explore Grandma Ann's property!  Such a great day.

The Boy in the bamboo forest
That's not a leaf.  THIS is a leaf.
If you have a chance, you should totally check out Ann's work on the website I've been putting together for her.  The gallery page shows off a bunch of her newer pieces, and there's info on taking classes and current events as well.  You can like her on Facebook too!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scarf Headbands!

I've got something to show you real quick!

I couldn't resist this gauzy little polka-dot scarf I found at the Dollar tree.  I thought it would make a fun headband for Little Sister.

Even if she was a little skeptical about it.

And since there was a lot of scarf left over, I went ahead and made one for me too.

Then I gave my four-year-old the camera and had him take some pictures of me and the girl.

I think the 4-year-old's camera angle addds a few pounds.
Only to me though, not Little Sister. Hmmm.  Couldn't possibly be
the Thanksgiving through Christmas gorge-fest.
He didn't do too bad!

I may have found a new photographer (replacing myself and my remote)!

Of course, the two-year-old had to have a turn too.

I may never get my camera back.

Who likes taking pictures better than posing for pictures?

We do!

So, here's how I made the headbands.  Nothing fancy!  I maybe would have done some nicer finishing work if these were going to be gifts or something, but just making them for ourselves I wasn't too worried about it.

I rolled the raw edge under and hemmed it so it wouldn't fray:

Just held it and folded as I went.
Actually, when I made the first headband I started with one of the hemmed ends of the scarf so I only had to do this on the second side.

Then I gathered it up (I upped my tension a bit and sewed using a basting stitch with NO backstitching, and pulled the bobbin threads tight when I was done).  I could have just bunched it up with my hands, but this made it a little more even.

Next I cut a little piece of fold-over elastic (about 3-4 inches long), scrunched up the gathered end of the scarf, shortened my stitch length back to normal, and sewed back and forth a few times to join them together.

The underside
Then, I wrapped it around the head that it was going on to figure out where to cut the rest of the scarf off.  For the toddler headband, I had about 3.5 inches of elastic and 16.5 inches of scarf, minus the tiny rolled hem.  For the adult size, I cut 4 inches of elastic and 18 inches of scarf.

Then I did the same thing to the other end of the scarf--hemmed the raw edge, gathered, and attached the other end of the elastic.  Make sure the elastic isn't twisted.

That's it!  While this print is fun and festive, it could easily be done with any old scarf to be worn any time of year!  So much easier than tying and retying when it works its way loose, and getting your neck hairs caught in the knot.  Don't you just hate that?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's cozy hat season!

I was in the mood for hats today, I guess!  I made seven of these:

The Snowblossom Hat from Made by Rae

And I also had to do some hat surgery.

My kids' preschool teacher approached me yesterday and said, "I know you sew headbands, but do you ever do alterations on...other things?"  

I asked her what she had in mind, and she told me about her hat dilemma.  She had one hat with a floppy bill that drooped in her face.  She had another hat with a perfect bill but an impossible-to-get-rid-of mothball smell. 

Two sad hats
She wondered if it would be possible to merge the two, resulting in the perfect hat.

It was.

Mirror self portrait.
I was able to carefully snip the bill on the crocheted hat open.  I did a quick zig-zag stitch down the raw edge so it wouldn't start to unravel.  Then I cut the brim off of the smelly hat (I had to trim the bill a bit to fit inside the crocheted bill.  Then I could pull the edges of the crocheted bill back together, tucking the rigid bill inside, and zig-zag stitched the hole closed.  Easy peasy!  Took me less than 10 minutes.  The hardest part was the worry that the whole thing would unravel when I cut the bill open (it didn't).  I wonder if she'll give me a discount on my tuition?

So while I was in hat mode, I pulled out the bag of fleece.  I buy fleece remnants throughout the year because they can be picked up for so cheap when the fleece is already on sale, and there are lots of things you can use it for.  In particular, I love these adorable, super warm hats from Made by Rae. I made some for my kids last year, and I also made some for the preschool winter hat drive

Well, it's that time of year again--winter hat drive at school!  And the hats I made for the kids last year are getting pretty snug, so I went ahead and made new ones for them as well.

Hat models need to eat dinner too!
A couple of things I figured out as I went:

1.  If you're using printed fleece and you don't want a seam in the front (so you don't have to worry about matching the print up), you can just cut one big piece of fleece on the fold.  Just make sure you cut the earflaps slightly closer to the open edge, not the fold, to leave a big enough opening for your kiddo's face.

2.  Approximate sizing:  My almost-five-year-old's head is about 21 inches around, so I cut two rectangles (one exterior, one lining) that were 22 inches by 13 inches, then cut the earflaps out according to the tutorial.  My two-and-a-half-year-old's head is about 20 inches, so her rectangles were 21 inches long, and just a litle over 12 inches tall because that's how big my fleece remnant was.

3.  When you sew the seam up the back of the hat, stop sewing about three inches from the top of the hat.  That way, you won't have to cut the stitches out when you're making your poof at the top.  (Or if you're like me, and forget to stop three inches from the top pretty much EVERY OTHER TIME, you can just START three inches from the top and sew all the way to the bottom edge.)

That's about it!  I was at it for about 2 hours, and I made seven hats.

Little Sister got two hats, because she's spoiled rotten.
And while we're at it, how about that coat?  I got it for her last year at Goodwill for $5.  It's a really cute Columbia Sportswear coat.  Yes, she did wear it all last winter, but this year it actually fits her!

Side view
Oh!  Friends!  If you want me to make a fleece hat like this for one of your little ones, just let me know!  I have more of the green stripe fleece The Boy is wearing, and more of the red flowers on the cream background fleece Little Sister has on.  I also have solid black, solid dark plum, and solid turquoise.  All I need from you is a head circumference!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Old Navy Bargains, part II

Are you ready for this?  Place your bets now--how much merchandise do you think I got at Old Navy for a whopping $13.75?

I'll show you my haul, and the grand original price total at the end.  I had a $30 rewards voucher, and one tricky thing that Old Navy does is that instead of taking the $30 off of the total price at the end like a gift card, they divvy the discount up over all of the things you bought.  So if you return something, your money back will be minus a percentage of those rewards dollars.  I make sure to ONLY buy things I know I won't return when using rewards dollars.  So, I'll show you the original price, the super-clearance price I found it for (what I would have paid if not using rewards $$), and what I actually paid for it after they took my $30 off the total.

First, for the boy:

Cable knit cotton sweater, size 5T.
Original price $19.94, clearance price:  $6.56, my price:  $1.98.

Striped mock henley (not quite a sweater/sweatshirt, but a thicker woven than a t-shirt), size boys XS
Original price:  $19.94, sale price $7.80, my price $2.55.  
More expensive than my usual, but the boy REALLY needed some good comfy stuff to wear for the holidays.

Ringer tee, size boys S
Original price $7.94, clearance price $1.49, my price $0.47

For the Girl:

Long sleeve sparkle tees--these are pretty cool--it's actual sequins sewn down under decorative thread (so they are REALLY in place, and also not as...sequinny as they could be).  Size 2T and 3T.
Original price $14.94 each, clearance price $2.40 each, my price $0.75 each.

PURPLE HELLO KITTY HALLOWEEN OMG my daughter is going to pass out when she sees this.  Which is why it's put away until next October, when it will fit her.  Size 3T.
Original price $14.94, clearance price $2.40, my price $0.75.

Heart print denim ruffle skirt, size 3T
No tag on this one, so original price is a guess, but most ON embellished denim girls skirts retail for $19.94, so that's what I'm going with.  Clearance price $3.60, my price $1.13.

Oh, and I forgot to take pictures, but she's been needing new leggings so I picked her up three pair.  They are all different (one flowered, one striped, and one solid red), but they're like this:

Original price $8.94 each, clearance price $3 each, my price $0.94 each.

For me:

This tunic didn't photograph so well, so here's the photo from ON's website:

 I really like the feel of it on (it's just rayon, nothing fancy) and I got it because I needed something to wear with my green pencil skirt that I got in my last ON bargain hunt.  It's fun!
Original price $29.94, clearance price $7.50, my price $2.36.

Oh, and I almost forgot!  I just had to take a phone pic of this item and upload it to show you:

Cute travel mug, original price $8.50, clearance price $0.60, my price $0.19!  I haven't unwrapped it yet because I may decide to give it to someone as part of a gift.  Someone who doesn't read this blog, obviously :)

Oh, and don't forget about the cute pink fabric tote bag with exterior pocket that they gave me to carry away my haul!  I love that they do that.

So, the total retail price of all of this stuff would have been....drum roll....$177.84!  And I paid $13.75! That's 93% off of original price!  It would have been $43.75 without my rewards $$, so more like 75% off...that would do, I guess.

Have you scored any great deals lately?  Tell me your secrets!