Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas Soaps

Fancy, scented soaps make a great hostest gift, co-worker gift, party favor, or stocking stuffer. Sew some "amazing three seam bags" to go with them and you have a quick and elegant Christmas gift.
When you use melt and pour soap, this becomes one of the simplest crafts ever: it would be a great one to do with an older child who can be trusted with hot things.
It is so simple, in fact, that I almost hesitate to create a tutorial, but I will focus on tips and money saving ideas.

* 2 lb block of melt-and-pour soap.
You can get this a Jo-Ann's or Michael's. Regular price is about $10, but both of these fine stores release 40% coupons about twice a month, and since the product is nearly never on sale this is a great use for your discount.
My favorite variety is the Avacado glycerine from "Life of the Party," and I've also enjoyed the Olive Oil glycerine.
Tip: If you plan to put anything in your soap other than scent, stear clear of the 10 lb brick of "Moisturizing Clear:" All your additives go to the bottom. Stick with one that says "suspension formula."
* Soap Scent - I love the Eucalyptus Mint or Peppermint for Christmas soaps
* Additives, if desired. I like to use finely ground oatmeal (use your coffee grinder or "magic bullet"), cornmeal, or peppermint leaves (buy some cheap peppermint tea and cut open the bags!).

* Butter knife - use this rather than a spoon to avoid waste.
* Pyrex 1 C container. Seriously, use a good pyrex measuring cup here, unless you want to burn yourself
* Molds: I used silicone cupcake trays. These are perfect for soap because they release so easily. Rigid molds will give you nothing but trouble. The plastic ones they sell for the purpose at the craft store are fine, but not as easy as silicone. (Hint: Check to Dollar Tree or dollar bins at Target. I got my Snowman mold last year for $2.50 at Target. I waited for a sale at Jo Ann's to get my Snowflake mold for about $7.50)

1. For three bars of soap (assuming you are using a cupcake mold similar to the ones shown), use the butter knife to cut 6 blocks of soap. Place in the pyrex measuring cup. (More than 6 won't fit easily in your 1 C container)

2. Microwave for 1 minute.
3. Remove from microwave and stir with the knife, breaking up any large chunks if possible.
4. Microwave about 15 seconds more, watching carefully.

5. Add your scent. A rule of thumb is about 2 drops per soap block, or 12 drops for your whole batch.

6. If desired, add about a tablespoon of finely ground oatmeal or a teaspoon (1/2 a tea bag) of peppermint leaves. Stir well with the knife.
7. Carefully pour into your molds, filling each about 2/3 full.

8. Wait at Least an hour before attempting to release - the label on the soap container suggests 20 to 40 minutes, but this isn't really long enough. Resist the urge to refrigerate as it can make the soap "sweat."
9. Wrap in a scrap of Glad Press-n-Seal for ease, or regular plastic wrap if you have more patience than I. Place in your "Three Seam Bag" and you're done!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Vintage Granny-Square Christmas Stocking

Ah, the Granny Square: most loved, and most reviled, of all the common crochet patterns. In the 60's and 70's you could find them in projects as diverse as placemats, vests, and afghans. Overuse in some truly regrettable designs has cast a pall over this workhorse of the crochet world, but there is still a place for them in my heart at least!
My mother's mother, "Grammy" to us kids, was rarely to be found without a crochet hook in her hand, even in the hottest of Fresno summers, and granny squares were her stock and trade. When I was a wee lass of 7 or so I begged her to teach me. I got as far as a decent chain, but by the next time she came to visit I'd forgotten the technique. A few attempts, and a few years, later, the lessons finally stuck and I had mastered the venerable square plus a few more common stitches. Over my teenage years I actually turned out a couple of good sized afghans, but then I put away my hook and didn't even think about crochet for the better part of a decade. Then I got married. Christmas came along, and I realized a serious problem: My new husband did not have a stocking. More importantly, he didn't have a stocking that matched everyone else's! Roughly the time my middle brother was born, Grammy made the four of us matching stockings, and added one for my youngest brother a few years later. But by 2007 she'd long since gone to her reward, and I was the only one in the immediate family to whom she'd passed the torch - if not her pattern.
But since the pattern was made up of nothing by granny squares, it wasn't all that difficult to reconstruct. Here, for posterity, is how to make a granny-square Christmas stocking. Maybe you can start your own tradition!

Materials* One skein each cheap red and white yarn. Red Heart Super Saver or Caron's is just fine: no-one is going to be wearing these! I made four stockings out of a one pound ball.
* Optional: Several pins or other flat Christmas-y shapes for decorating the finished stocking.

* Crochet hook. I used a size "G" but that's not critical as long as you don't change mid project.
* Yarn needle
* Scissors

* Chain, single, and double crochet stitches
* Simple sewing to join squares

(Note: Blogger cuts my embedded pictures off! Mostly you can see what's going on, but if you want the full sized uncut pics, you can find them here)
1. Crochet 14 granny squares in red with two rows each, and then a full row of Double Crochet around the edge. (Please feel free to Google for the granny square pattern. Basic directions without a lot of funny abbreviations appear below.)

2. Crochet 1 granny "triangle," which is just like a square but with three sets of three double crochet and chain groupings instead of four.

3. Construct the toe. Using your yarn needle and a length of red yarn, join three squares at right angles into a heart-shape. (I find that one sewing stitch every two crochet stitches is adequate, with a few extra at corners. Be careful to match up your corners and centers: the rest will take care of itself.)

4. Fold all of the corners to meet in the center, and stitch along the sides.

5. Add two more squares as shown below

6. Your granny "triangle" is the heel. Attach as shown below. When complete you will have a flat edge that is one and a half squares wide.

7. Construct the ankle by joining three squares into a strip and joining into a loop. Repeat three times, then join each loop together taking care to alternate which side of the stocking has the folded square. Think of them as bricks, offset on each row for strength and visual appeal. (By the way, there's no way to do this in a single unbroken line of stitches. Resign yourself to tying off frequently and moving to the next seam.)

8. Join the ankle to the foot, again making sure that the long edge of one of the ankle squares joins across the half-square of the triangle and the first half of the full square.

9. Shape the toe by folding in the square corners and sewing across with a few stitches.

10. With your stocking complete, crochet the cuff in white in about 12 to 15 rows of single-crochet. Count carefully, because mistakes will show! (If your accuracy is as bad as mine, you might start your line of stitches on the back of the stocking where mistakes will be less visible.)

If desired, do a scalloped edge on the last row. I did one single-crochet, one double crochet, one triple crochet, another double and another single, then a couple of slip stitches. The math didn't work out, but I hid the mismatches on the back.

11. As desired, decorate the finished product. I sewed jingle bells on the tips of the scallops for my niece. Grammy's original stockings had intricate felt shapes of Christmas trees, candy canes, wreathes, and Santas. I made due with purchased pins from the dollar bin at Jo-Ann's. I have it in mind to try and simulate her felt designs on this year's stockings, though. If I do, that will be a separate tutorial.

My biggest challenge was placing the name on the cuff. Grammy managed a beautiful embroidered name with green yarn in a cursive font. I couldn't begin to mimic it. I I made due on my husband's sock with a piece of aida cloth tacked down to the cuff. You might try purchased felt letters if your names are short enough. I plan to commission names satin-stitch embroidered on felt from a friend with a good machine for the rest of my socks.

Basic Granny-Square instructions(Assumes knowledge of standard crochet stitches. Refer to the pictures above if you're a visual learner like me!)
Note: These instructions are for three-row (3 round) squares. Most of my stockings are actually made with two-row squares, which are smaller and faster. Omit steps 5-6 for two-row squares.
1. (Foundation Ring) Chain six and join in a circle with a slip stitch.
2. (Round 1) Chain up three, then double-crochet two through the loop.
3. Chain three, then double-crochet three more through the loop. Repeat twice more for a total of four sets.
4. Join with a slip stitch. This is the first layer of your square, with the sets of three chain stitches forming the corners.
5. (Round 2) Chain up three, turn, then double-crochet two more in the first "corner." Chain three, then double-crochet three more in the same "corner."
6. Chain three, then repeat in the other three corners, placing two sets of three double-crochets joined by three chains in each hole. Join with a slip stitch.
7. (Round 3) Double-crochet in each stitch from previous round, with 5 double-crochets in each corner. Specifically, Chain up three, turn, and then double-crochet *three* more in the first hole.
8. Double-crochet in each stitch of the double-crochets below. Proceed along the entire square, placing *five* double-crochets in each corner of the square. Join with a slip stitch, snip your yarn, and weave in the tail.
I can turn one of this out in about 10-15 minutes. Grammy was, of course, much faster.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Amazing 3-Seam Gift Bag

I admitted to myself recently that I Really dislike wrapping presents. However, at the moment I quite enjoy sewing. So I had the brilliant idea to sew gift bags for my little treasures rather than wrapping them in irritating and ultimately disposable paper. After a few attempts, here is the pattern I came up with.

What you will need:

* Cotton fabric in a pretty print. I love to use fat quarters from Jo Ann's, which go on sale for $1.
* About 10 to 12 inches of narrow ribbon
* Thread
* Sewing machine
* Iron
* Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
Step 1: Iron your fabric. Sorry, I hate it too, but it's necessary. I won't make you press your seams, though!Step 2: Measure what you want to wrap. You will need a piece of fabric about 2x as wide and about 2-3 inches taller than your item depending on how "fat" the item is. In my case, I was wrapping small home-made soaps, so my fabric piece ended up about 7 inches by 9. (Incidentally, you can make 6 gift bags of this size from a single fat quarter.) This will give you a bag approx. 6 inches tall by 4 inches wide.

Step 3: Cut your fabric piece

Step 4: Across the long (9 inch) side of the fabric, make an approx. 1 inch fold. This will be the channel for your tie string. Finger-press, and pin if desired.

Step 5: Just under the fold (which will be approx. 2 inches down), cut a small, approx. 3/4 inch slit on each side of the fabric.

Step 6: Now, unfold your fabric, and then fold in the "tabs" you just created with your tiny slits.

Step 7: Slip your draw-string ribbon into the fold, then re-fold the top channel. Pin on both sides.

Step 8: Sew along the channel, taking care not to stitch over the ribbon!

Step 9: Now, fold the bag in half, right-sides facing, and line up the edges. (If you're making a larger bag, you may want to pin it.) Starting *just below* the channel and exactly even with its edge, sew down the edge of the bag.

Step 10: Turn the corner and stitch the bottom of the bag.

Step 11: If desired, trim the seams. If you are more perfectionistic than me, press them to one side. Now turn the bag right-side out, and you're done!

Welcome to Tarkheena Crafts

What, another crafting blog? Aren't there already at least 43 gazillion of those?
Yes, probably so. Who cares? Every crafter, and therefore every craft is unique. I don't expect to ever gather a huge "angry chicken" level following, but I'll amuse myself and maybe a few friends posting the crafts that I've "perfected," complete with tutorials.
A bit about my crafting style. The word "perfected' is in quotes above for a good reason. While I am a perfectionist in many ways, I am also all about "good enough" in most of my crafting, cooking, and (let's be fair) cleaning endeavors. I love shortcuts. I hate ironing. I prefer to measure once and cute twice (or three, or four) times. So you're not going to find things here that demand absolute precision and accuracy in all steps. In other words, no quilts!
Right now I am in a sewing mode. I pulled out Mom's ancient but very functional sewing machine a few months back and have been having fun ever since. More recently I got Grandma's (also ancient) serger serviced, so you may see a few projects featuring rolled hems.
Some day you may also see a crochet project or two, and who knows what else. I've done it all at least once, except glass blowing. (I'm pyrophobic!)
With that, On to the first project!