29 January 2013

Fabric Postcard + Tutorial

I love quilting. I love Postcrossing. Who says my two favorite hobbies can't collide in some bizarre multiverse? Not me. So with that, I decided to start making fabric postcards. Naturally, I will not be using these all of the time, but I made a few to try out for some of my best pen pals.

This one is for my cousin Zizi (real name = Suzy). Her favorite color is red, but she kept cracking up at the Berenstain Bears fabric, so I thought to branch out and make this. Plus, look at the expression on Mama Bear's face. It is so mysterious, almost like the Mona Lisa. Well, Suzy is an amazing artist and has done a few paintings inspired by the Mona Lisa, so I thought this was appropriate. Too bad the little lamb in the corner blends in and got stitched over.

This next one is for my cousin Kiki (Real name = Kimberly. She and Zizi are sisters). Her favorite color is pink. I wanted to try and use different values of pink so that it wouldn't be overwhelmingly pink. Plus, the lamb fabric is my faaaaavorite and I love using it. Luckily this lamb survived.

This next card is for my pen pal Kamilla from Norway. She was actually the first person I ever sent a postcard to through Postcrossing! Almost 300 postcards sent so far, and she is still the person I write to most. She is a die-hard Slytherin fan, so naturally the card had to be all green. 

This card is for my other pen pal, Andrzej from Poland. He just started at seminary, so I thought a cross inspired card would be appropriate. I love this wood grain fabric, and used the greens and blues to represent the grass and sky.

So the postcard that I am going to use as an instructional tool has an important purpose. One of my very close friends is moving away from Texas, and I am making her a quilt. But there is no way I am going to have it done before she moves, so I will be mailing it to her. Consider this postcard a teaser trailer for the actual quilt. I am using scraps that will eventually be in the quilt, so she can get an idea what to expect. I finished the postcard in time to even have it waiting for her at her new apartment in Tennessee.

Now for the tutorial! I am going to show you how to make an easy string pieced postcard. You can easily make a block in the regular way, and just jump in with the interfacing step and beyond.

The front of this postcard is made by using foundation paper piecing. You can use any type of paper for this, but I prefer to use phonebook paper because a) it is free b) it is easy to tear out later c) it is thin enough to see through, if you need to. Also, you might want to use an older rotary cutter blade for this project because it is going to get dulled cutting through paper.

I prefer to make a standard sized postcard, which runs about 4" x 6". To do this, you need to start by cutting a 4.5" x 6.5" rectangle out of whatever paper you are using as your template. 

If you are using a small sized phonebook, you can get two of these out of one sheet, fyi.


Once you have your template, you are going to string piece the fabric together. Start by laying down the center strip, and then place another scrap on top of it, right sides together, making sure that one edge lines up. Notice that my strips are way too long. They don't need to be this long, but they do need to be longer than the paper by about 1/2" because of the seam allowance. I sewed all of this with a 1/4" seam allowance. You are sewing through the fabric and the paper!

It is also very important to use a teeny tiny stitch length. This will help to perforate the paper and make it easier to tear it out when you are done.

So, once you have the first two strips sewn together, iron those bad boys and admire your work.

This is what it looks like from the back.

Then you are going to add the next strip, right sides facing, and sew it in place.

Aaaaand iron it too. You could finger press them between sewing, but since they are destined to be postcards, I want them to be as flat as possible to avoid getting shredded in some mail vortex.

Then you are going to continue sewing strips until the whole paper is covered by fabric. I am not going to torture you with all of these, because I'm hoping by now you get the gist of it.

Once all of the strips are sewn on, this is what the sheet will look like from the back.

At this point you need to trim off the excess fabric.

 Work your way around the rectangle, trimming as you go.

Then presto! You have a perfectly pieced scrappy rectangle.

 At this point you are ready to remove the paper. Thanks to our tiny stitch sizes, the paper just pulls right off. It feels like MAGIC! Obviously you should take all of the paper out. I only left some to show how well it comes off.

Now we need to make the fabric into a postcard. Layer one: Fusible interfacing. You can use any weight you want, but since I use cardstock as the backing later, I stick to Featherweight or ShirTailor weight. You are going to cut a 4.25" x 6.25" rectangle (smaller to account for mess ups). 

Then iron this on to the back side of your fabric, trying your best to keep it centered. The bumpy/scratchy side of the interfacing should be the side facing the back of the fabric. A pressing cloth might be helpful at this point, but I showed it without, so you can get the idea.

So the best thing about the interfacing (okay, maybe not THE best, but good!) is that it holds your seam allowances in place. Woohoo!

Then you are going to use a 4.25" x 6.25" piece of fusible web (I like Wonder-Under). This stuff has glue on both sides, but one is protected by paper backing. Iron the non-paper backed side to your fusible interfacing side.

Then you need to cut a piece of cardstock that is 4.25" x 6.25" (or 4" x 6" if you are bad at centering when you iron) and affix it to the back of the card. To do this, you need to peel off the paper backing from the fusible web, then iron. I didn't take a picture of this step, because you probably already know how an iron works.

At that point, it is a postcard, but it isn't quilted! Depending on the design, I sometimes stitch down the middle (increase your stitch length back from microscopic) and then zig zag around the edges. You can use any fancy stitches you want to, but my machine is fairly no-nonsense. If you have a serger or a machine where you can change the stitch width, you can make it look nice and finished on the edge. 

Then you are done!! All you have to do at this point is write a message, copy an address, and stick a stamp. Woohoo!

I hope this was easy to understand. If there are any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

24 January 2013

Roasted Veggies Recipe

I am going to share with you my most prized recipe. I find myself making this probably too often. Wait, it can't be too often because veggies are good for the body. Hmm, then I guess I make this just the right amount. Or not enough? Anyways, I love veggies. Most people don't. Actually, most people I know have never even tried a Brussels sprout. This recipe turns them into Brussels sprout lovers. 

**Warning!** I write my recipes how I think, so hopefully it isn't too scatterbrained. If it is, skip to the bottom for a concise recipe without all the gibber-jabber.

I start by preheating the oven to about 400ish degrees. I use the 'ish' because my oven runs hot, so I actually set it somewhere between 375 and 400. Feel free to experiment and figure out what works with your oven. This recipe is pretty forgiving. 

Next I spray my 11" x 17" baking sheet with olive oil. Sometimes I am lazy and put foil down instead, but I was out of foil and making a special trip to the store to buy something that will help me be lazy doesn't seem worth it when you look at energy expenditure. 

Oh, you will possibly be confused my the squirt bottle of olive oil! Allow me to explain: My dad had polio when he was in high school way back when. This left him with post-polio syndrome later in life. He loved cooking. He loved eating salads. He loved plain olive oil and vinegar salad dressing. He had trouble with screw tops. We put olive oil in a squirt bottle and vinegar in another, and presto, he could douse his own salads. It is also a really handy way of coating things in just a little bit of olive oil instead of drenching them. So needless to say, it caught on in my family, and I still use my squirt bottle of olive oil. 

So, about that pan... Squirting it helps to keep the veggies from sticking. You could use that aerosol cooking spray, but I mix (toss?) the veggies a lot, and I don't want the odd taste on them, so olive oil it is for me. Squirt squirt.

Next I work on the veggies. Today I used carrots, red potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. You can use these, regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, fennel, any veggie that is appropriate for roasting. Have fun with it! 

First, kerrerts.

I wash them, and chop both ends off. You can peel them, but that seems like a waste of time to me. (Did I mention I'm lazy?)

Save the bits for your compost bin!

Next you chop them into about 1" pieces. I like to pretend the knife is a rotary cutter and cut multiples at a time. You might not like to live as dangerously as I do, though.

You might end up with slices from the fat end that are too big. 'How big is too big?' you might be asking. Well, we want everything to be roughly the same size so it will cook at the same speed.

So if some are too fat, cut them in half!

Then dump those on the greased pan and move on.

Next up: Po-tay-toes. It might help if you watched this video before hand. Or not.

Actually, it probably will not help. Fact: I dance around the kitchen like the odd little potato people in the video when I cook potatoes.

Oh, yeah, back to taters! You can wash them, unless you like eating dirt, which is cool, but I don't, so I wash them.

Then you have a bunch of shiny red potatoes.

 Start by cutting them in half. Do you see those in the very bottom right corner that are sitting flat? They were cut in quarters because they were too big. 'How big is too big?' you might be asking again. Well, we still want everything to be roughly the same size.

I usually cut all of my red potatoes in quarters just because they sit more nicely in the pan and don't wobble. Not that wobbling has ANY effect on roasting whatsoever. It just makes me happy.

Then you add those to the pile!

Finally we move on to Brussels sprouts. I saved the best for last. This is my favorite veggie. For a while in grad school, I was eating them every single day. In my defense, I was finishing my masters, teaching high school, teaching college astronomy labs, and co-directing The Vagina Monologues, so avoiding decisions and eating the same thing every day was beneficial and a real time saver.

First you need to cut off the stem bit at the bottom.

I also remove the outermost layers, because they tend to be a little wilty. This is what you should roughly be taking off. Save this for your compost bin, too!

Then you cut them in half. 'Why? They are already small!' you might be saying. Well, I do this because they are so dang gorgeous on the inside and I just like looking at it.

Then you end up with a big pile of them all chopped in half. Yum. Try to resist the temptation to eat them all right now.

Then you add them to the pile!

At this point, I bring out my trusty squirt bottle of olive oil again and give them a good coating. This will help your seasoning adhere.

Once you think you have enough on there, (about 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup) give them a good toss so that they are all consistently shiny and ready for seasoning.

Now for seasoning, which is where you really get to have fun! For sure, you need to add salt and pepper. Everything else is negotiable. Today I used: Thyme, garlic powder (you could add fresh minced garlic, or whole cloves too), salt & pepper, onion powder (could add actual onion), lemon pepper (could just squirt lemon juice), basil, and sesame seeds since I have so many from Japan. 

You can also add in rosemary, dill, cinnamon (especially if you put sweet potatoes!), cilantro, whatever really! No idea why I didn't put rosemary since it is growing in my garden right now, but oh well.

So add all of that in, and give them another good toss to ensure even coating.

Spread them out so that they are not doubled up on top of each other. You only want one layer of veggies. Depending on how much you are cooking, this might require two pans.

Then you should put them in the oven for about 20 minutes. You will hear them whistling in the oven as the moisture cooks away. It is kind of adorable. While you are waiting, you can go sew something, or start filling your new ice cube trays if your ice cube maker also just broke. *Sigh*

After 20 minutes, you are going to take them out of the oven (don't turn it off yet, because we are not done!). You could fork test the potatoes, but they are not going to be done. At this point, they usually look a little dry, so I add a little more olive oil and mix them up again. This time, don't use your hand because they are about 400 degrees. Ask me how I know.

I recommend a metal spatula.

Then they go back in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. If you are worried about overcooking them, you can turn the oven down a bit, or check them more often. Remember though, when you roast veggies, you want the outer bits to be caramelized and nommy.

So after about 10 more minutes, they should look like this! The potatoes should be fork tender (fork easily stabs through them). 

Then you can use them as the perfect side dish to go with any meaty meal or you can be like me and just eat a giant bowl of them AS a meal. Nom nom nom.

 Thanks for sticking through it and enjoy your tasty new food!

Roasted Veggies
~3-5 large carrots, washed and chopped to 3/4"-1" chunks
~1 lb red potatoes, washed and chopped into quarters
~1/2 package Brussels sprouts with stems and outer leaves removed, chopped in half
~1/4 cup olive oil (plus more for greasing pan)
~1/2 tsp salt
~1/2 tsp pepper
~1 tsp basil
~1/4 tsp thyme
~1/4 tsp lemon pepper
~1/4 tsp onion powder
~1/4 tsp garlic powder
You can add other spices or change amounts to suit your taste.

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2) Grease pan with olive oil.
3) Add veggies to pan. Toss with olive oil, saving some for later.
4) Sprinkle with salt & pepper, basil, thyme, lemon pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, & sesame seeds. (Can add other spices or remove some of these.)
5) Toss again to coat evenly.
6) Spread in a single layer on pan.
7) Bake for 20 minutes and remove from oven.
8) Add a little bit more olive oil to avoid drying out. Toss again.
9) Put back in oven for 10-15 minutes, then remove from oven.
10) Serve and enjoy!