Sunday, April 29, 2012

Focus on Spring

Everybody's looking forward to the full blooms of Spring...

...And to the day I learn how to focus my pictures better. :)

Friday, April 27, 2012

blogging alternatives

Or, what I've been doing that isn't blogging:
celebrating a birthday and entertaining guests

supporting the arts and taunting celebrities on twitter

seeing a college roomie tie the knot

using photoshop badly to illustrate the beautiful metamorphosis of my shower
doing science, or at least writing about it

snuggling with kitty

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fabric Pen Roll Tutorial

Some time ago, I picked up a free project sheet at JoAnn for a fabric crayon roll. It looked quick and easy, and I thought a crayon holder might make a nice gift for a toddler. Recently, for the 8 millionth time when I couldn't find most of my favorite 5-color pen set, I decided to modify this pattern to keep my favorite pens handy and together.

Of course then it took me a half hour to find the pattern sheet...

And then it took me another 15 minutes to find the fabrics...

And I still have yet to find all 5 pens!

For this project, I needed:
  • Two 7" x 16" rectangles of fabric for the pen pockets
  • Two 9" x 16" rectangles of fabric for the outside/back
  • One 9" x 16" rectangle of fleece for adding stiffness to the roll (not visible from outside)
  • Two pieces of ribbon, each ~26" long

These 4 fabrics are from fat quarters I'd purchased for a different project, but they were fun and happy and I had extra. I had on hand 3 colors of thread that would have worked, but I thought the goldenrod looked best with all 4 fabrics.

I used 4 colors because I couldn't choose just 2. The stripes will be the outside, the pink the inside, and the blue and yellow will make up the pen pocket.

The scrap piece of giraffe print fleece I used for the inside of my fabric roll is a little skinnier than desired, but I wasn't bothered about that and fudged the stitching later.

With right sides together, sew the long sides of the pocket pieces together with a 1/4" seam, leaving the short sides open.

Turn right sides out and press flat. I pressed the seam several inches down from the top so that some of the blue would show over the yellow.

With right sides out, top stitch 1/4" down from the top. (I forgot to take a picture of this step.)

Assemble all the pieces into a stack in this order:
  1. Fleece (giraffes)
  2. Inside 9"x16" piece, right side up (pink)
  3. Sewn 7"x16" pieces for pocket (blue/yellow), aligned with bottom of inside piece
  4. Ribbons, folded in half, with folds lined up against the edge (pretty side, if there is one, should NOT be showing here, that was my bad)
  5. Outside 9"x16" piece, wrong side up (stripes) [Not shown]
Pin these pieces together so they do not shift while sewing.


Stitch around the outside of assembled fabrics with a 3/8" seam, leaving about a 2" opening for turning them inside out. I got distracted fudging my seam because of the too-small fleece and had to use a seam ripper to open up the 2" space again. It's not a real sewing experience without use of the seam ripper anyway.

Turn right side out and press flat.

Topstitch 1/4" from edge around the perimeter of the roll. This effectively seals off the 2" opening that was left for turning.

Using chalk or pins, mark the dividing stitching lines for the pens on the pocket. I made my slots 1 1/4" wide and have 12 openings.

Stitch along the chalk lines on your pocket, taking care to back stitch at both ends in order to prevent the seams from unraveling. For my first two lines I started at the blue and stitched down, but that led to the puckers you see in the bottom left corner, so I switched to starting from the yellow edge and this looked much better.

Ta-da! All finished! As I mentioned, the pretty side of my ribbons doesn't show on the back side of the tied roll, which was a mistake. Unfortunately, to fix it I would have to go back to Step 5, and that was more seam ripping than I deemed it was worth. The design still shows when the bows are tied, so I am satisfied.

For a less froufrou look, two small loops of elastic instead of ribbon would function nicely.

(To make the original crayon roll pictured above, use 18"x11" and 18"x7" rectangles, and sew the pocket into the middle of the backing fabric, creating openings on both the top and bottom for crayons.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spot the Buckthorn

Our yard came with many varieties of plants. Some are low maintenance and very pretty:
A pretty little lungwort

Others need constant tending so they don't take over everything:
I'm looking at you, bottle brush thingys!

One of our neighbors, who owns a gardening business, took me around the yard identifying everything, including dozens of small trees that she said were a fast growing invasive species. She recommended cutting them down.

"What did you call those trees?" I asked the neighbor, "Bowtruckles?"

"What a funny word," she laughed, "No, they're buckthorns."

Embarrassed, I suddenly remembered where I had heard the word "Bowtruckle" before. (See "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" by Newt Scamander)

I felt indignant that she had suggested removing all the privacy and coziness that I liked about our yard, but I soon learned the necessity of subduing these invaders - for the sake of the many beautiful plants that were being choked out, and for the sake of my neighbors' yards!

And so began the War of Yard Reclamation. I could tell you many stories of great battles from this conflict, with victories going to both sides, but we must save that for another time. For today, I just want to teach you about the main enemy: Rhamnus cathartica.

The common buckthorn is native to Europe but brought to the US as a decorative shrub. It is sometimes used as a laxative. This explains the "cathartica" part of the name, as "catharsis" means purging, of either emotion or the bowels.

Fig.1 - A buckthorn seedling being eradicated

Buckthorn trees can be male or female, with the female trees producing small, purple berries. Even though we have removed the largest specimens, sprouts continue to come up around where the trees once stood because the seeds in the berries can take several years to sprout. Fortunately, I have learned to spot buckthorns in all stages of growth. (Fig.1)

Fig.2 - A young buckthorn that has re-sprouted

Buckthorns are very hardy and can re-sprout if you don't get the whole root. If the root remains, alternate limbs can grow. (Fig.2)  It is not worth attempting to remove them unless you have proper weeding tools on hand. I had to leave this one after I photographed it because I was only armed with an iPhone, and there's not an app for that.

Did I mention that in addition to being prolific, hardy, and invasive, the mature ones also have thorns, as their name suggests? Well, they do. Last year I thought I had just a scratch on my leg after a battle to wrangle some trimmed branches into the compost bin, but a week later a 1/4" thorn worked its way out of the wound.

Fig. 3 - Before we moved in [main picture] and the same view 2 years later [inset].

Several years, LOTS of sweat, a professional tree trimmer, and many scrapes later, we managed to take out the motherships and the standing army. (Fig.3) All that remain are the scattered rebels, popping up here and there, trying to stage a coup. But I've built up my own army of weeders, spades, and shovels, and I'm not afraid to use them.

Really, though, I wrote this whole post just so we could play a little game I like to call Spot The Buckthorn! How many suspicious looking leaves do you see in this picture?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Calendar Girl

This year I made myself a photo calendar. In April, I'll be able to feel the glaring eyes of Lady Catherine even when we're not in the same room. Through the magic of the internet, you too can fall under her watchful, disapproving stare! But unless you like getting finger prints on your screen, resist the urge to scratch under her cute little chin in that bottom middle picture.