A Lovely Homemade Life

A Lovely Homemade Life: April 2015

Saturday, April 25

Yarn Along--Well, Today it's Cross Stitch

~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? Take a photo and share it either on your blog, on Instagram (#yarnalong), or on Flickr.  ~Ginny of Small Things

Last year I started a Once Upon a Time Mystery Stitch Along by The Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery.  It was my first cross stitch work on linen cloth (and this one is beautifully stranded with metallic thread!) and each month a new story book scene was be released.  Suffice it to say, I'm a little behind, but I figured, hey, a year later is better than never, right?

So I give you April (2014)'s Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Up next for May?  Jack and the Bean Stalk.  This pattern is still available if case you're like me and seeing adorable crafts just makes you long to do them yourself.  ;)

A Tale of Two Sweaters--Tips for Caring for Your Handknits

Acrylic yarn gets kind of a bad rap, doesn't it?  Many "real" knitters prefer natural fibers--angora, silk, cotton, merino wool at the very least.  I know I can be a bit of a fiber snob at times, discounting certain materials to work with because of their fiber content.

And while it's true, if you're going to sacrifice hours and hours to create a beautiful knitted item, especially if it's a gift, you want to end up with a great result that you're happy with.  But you should also sit back and think about the functionality of the item.  While it's heavenly to work with a luscious, natural fiber yarn, if it's too delicate or difficult to care for all that hard work can be for naught.

That's why I love to use a super soft, easy to care for acrylic yarn for the Baby Cardigans I make for my shop.  I know from experience that new moms and dads don't always have time for special care instructions for those tiny garments and nothing makes me happier than when I can provide a piece that will actually be used and well loved and washed over and over instead of just admired in the closet or dresser drawer but not put on baby for fear of ruining it.

Since I use the same acrylic yarn for all of these sweaters, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to demonstrate just how washable these cardigans really are.  With that said, I give you A Tale of Two Sweaters:

For this demonstration, I chose two pink sweaters knit in 100% acrylic yarn.  While acrylic yarn is a man-made fiber, it is hypoallergenic, vegan-friendly and machine washable and dryable--all good attributes for baby clothing.  One sweater will be tossed in with the regular washing and the other will be "babied" one it's laundering journey.

The sweater on the left is destined for the regular cycle, the sweater on the right, placed in a zippered delicates bag to prevent any snagging, is going through the gentle cycle.  I use a front load washer which is said to be gentler on clothes to start with (as it lacks a central agitator) and these sweaters were both washed on a cold wash/cold rinse setting with like colors.  I use my own recipe for Homemade Laundry Detergent.  You can make your own batch very easily with just a few easy to find and inexpensive ingredients! 

Here the sweaters are after their respective wash cycles.  They get a little crumpled up during the spin cycle, and the fabric feels a little stiff while still wet.

The "babied" sweater is gently laid out flat to dry on a bath towel.  I straighten the shape of it and give it a gentle tug here and there to square it up again and to ensure the two sides are lined up in the front.

The other sweater gets tossed in the dryer on Normal cycle with a medium heat setting.

 My assistant inspects the merch.  She felt them both, but gravitated towards the sweater that had been dryed!  It comes out of the dryer softer and fluffier than when it went in.

Friday, April 24

Week in Review--Family Pics!

 I got our family pictures back this week!  With as difficult as the kiddos were acting during the shoot, I'm pleased with the photos we ended up with. Thank you Nicole Martin Photography!

Wednesday, April 22

Yarn Along--Alexandra

~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? Take a photo and share it either on your blog, on Instagram (#yarnalong), or on Flickr. ~Ginny of Small Things

I've been doing so much sample knitting and designing lately.  It's good--don't get me wrong--but knitting the same item over and over in 5 different sizes isn't all that exciting really.   

I think it all comes down to me not trusting my own "designer instincts" and needing to obsessively check my math and techniques before letting a design out into the world.  In related news...does anyone know a great tech editor?  That might alleviate some of my designer anxiety...

So, after I realized my fantastic stash of Classic Elite Lush angora blend yarn wasn't wanting to become a Lady Wren sample for me, I was casting about for something to take my mind off of the disappointment.

Enter Alexandra and gorgeous Dream in Color Everlasting Sock in Sangria to save the day.  I've knit an Alexandra before, and it's a pattern I'm sure I'll go back to again.  It's just complicated enough to keep your brain on without being so hard it's not fun anymore.

Ah...so relaxing...

Monday, April 20

Downton Abbey Quilt

I've been sharing my plans to update the kid's rooms this year.  The furniture situation is just about finished, and we still have some time until Isla is crawling out of the crib, so I think I'm pretty well set to finish "on time".

One of the projects I've been working on a few times a week in the evening is hand quilting Isla's new "Downton Abbey Quilt".  If you're a Downton Abbey fan, you may (or may not) have noticed the quilt on Mary's hospital bed in the episode when she delivered George--very subtly colored, very simple piecing, very intricate hand quilting designs.  It's pretty much all I noticed.  I was only able to find one still image of that scene that showed any detail, so I watched and rewatched that episode, studying the design as best I could.

I finally decided there was no way I could recreate it exactly, there just wasn't enough footage to go off of, so I used it as an inspiration and made up my own design.

Once the design was sketched and I had calculated the yardages, I took a big leap and ordered fabric online.  I knew I wanted a high quality, solid-color cotton, so I chose JoAnn Fabric's Kona Cotton Solids in Ice Peach and Ash.  I would not recommend ordering fabric online...the colors never come out like you're expecting, but it's finally starting to grow on me after a few months.  The fabric itself is exactly what I wanted feel-wise, I just wish the colors had been softer.  If I ever do another one, I'll choose two colors that look like they're almost white, like Bone and Ivory.

The quilt top piecing took less than an hour--the big time investment was ironing each length of fabric after washing it.  Once it was ironed though, I used my rotary cutter and mat to create long strips that I sewed together on my machine.  I used plain muslin cloth for the backing and I sandwiched the whole thing together with the batting that same day (when does that ever happen?)  I tried a spray adhesive to hold the layers together this time instead of basting with large stitches, and I'm happy with how that has held up, so I definitely appreciated the time I saved on that step.

After the layers were stuck together, I got out my water soluble marking pen and, with the help of a yardstick to draw out just a few dividing marks, I sketched the center design on by hand.  The outer edges are more geometric, so the yardstick came in handy to get those lines evenly drawn.

I started in the middle of the quilt and have been working from there outwards a little bit at a time.  I have some pink antique quilting thread that I'm using and I'm trying to make my stitches tiny and even.  This seems to be the only way I know how to hand quilt (the way that takes forever) but I might try to branch out a bit for Luca's quilt (more info on that coming soon!) and use some larger, more time-efficient stitching techniques.

So far, I have made it through the second to last border--all that's left is the 9" or so of cross-hatching all around the outside.  I even made the quilt binding today, in preparation for finishing the quilt soon.  The binding is my absolute favorite part of a quilt--the end is near!  It's almost done!  Pretty soon I won't have little pieces of batting all over my clothes!

I'm excited to share it with you in all of its finished glory soon! 

Friday, April 17

Stolen Moment--Dessert Party

This is from our recent "Dessert Party" that Luca has begged us to do for weeks and weeks.  I put a bunch of fun dessert recipes on a Pinterest Board and let him choose his 4 favorites.  Talk about a sugar overdose!  He loved it so much though and we had a nice time making the desserts together.  

He's even requested a repeat performance for his birthday...Sure Buddy, that seems like a pretty great way to celebrate 5.

In case you're curious, the dessert depicted above is Cake Batter Dip.  We also made Cookie Dough Truffles, Homemade Reese's Eggs and this AMAZING Japanese Cheesecake.  Seriously...try it.  So good, and the only thing that wasn't sugary sweet.  

Wednesday, April 15


~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? Take a photo and share it on your blog, on Instagram (#yarnalong), or on Flickr. ~Ginny of Small Things

I've been working on a new pattern to release in conjunction with my best friend Bibi of both The Conscious Doer and My Cloth Diapers 101.  If you're in the mood to make some 100% wool soakers for your own babies or for a good friend, stay tuned for the pattern release, which should be ready in about a month!  Samples are knit, the pattern is written and we're working on the finishing touches to be able to launch it May 20th!

Thank you to all of the wonderful knitters who volunteered to test the design!  I'm still looking for a second tester for the newborn, 12-18 month and 18-24 month size if you have a spare skein of Cascade 220 wool (or another similar ~100g/220yard 100% wool yarn in your stash!) and would like to join in!  Deadline for completion is May 6 and you can find all the details and express your interest on my Rav group.  Thank you!

Monday, April 13

DIY Pretend Play Kitchen Update

 A couple of months ago I posted about how the pretend play kitchen in our house sees a lot of action.  Isla (15 months old now) LOVES to pretend she owns a tea shop!  She dunks the 'tea bags' in the cups, she adds the sugar cubes, she stirs and stirs and then delivers the perfect cup of tea.

The plastic kitchen we have isn't quite the right height for her, and her favorite thing is to open all the doors and play monkey and try to climb up to the top...sigh.  So when we rearranged our living room upstairs and swapped out our low TV stand for a taller dresser (the keep curious fingers away) I wanted to try to reuse the old stand.

I thought the height would be nice for her to stand at, and it has quite a lot of storage to keep all of the accessories off the floor when not in use.  You could do a similar project with any low piece of furniture you're willing to sacrifice (or find free or cheap!)  I'll list out all of my modifications below--feel free to pick and choose which elements will work with your piece!

The only structural change I made was to have Michael cut a circular hole in the top for a 'drop-in sink' (aka pet food dish) and drill two holes to install the faucet (cheapest model I could find at Walmart--about $10...a used one from a bathroom remodel would be even better!)

Once the holes were drilled, I installed the 'countertop' (aka marble print contact paper) all over the top surface.  I cut away around the holes--be sure you cut enough so that you can adhere your dish directly to the surface...gluing on top of contact paper is pretty useless.  Michael Gorilla-glued the pet dish in and simply screwed the plastic nuts on the threads of the sink to secure it--easiest plumbing job ever!

The next step was to secure the cutting board (an old one that was deeply scratched on the opposite side that I didn't want to use for food prep any more).  Four screws up through the bottom side keep it in place (through the top is fine too if you can't access underneath, this is just a little more 'authentic')

The 'stove top' has been the most problematic part.  My original idea was the paint a thin 12"x12" plywood board dark grey, spiral pipe cleaners to look like the burners, then cover with a 12"x12" piece of plexiglass and secure all the layers together.  We're still working on this one...the trim pieces are being problematic :/  Eventually three holes will be drilled in the empty corner and three knobs will be installed.

You could get creative with the drawers and openings to create a fridge or oven, but for now I think the countertop area will be sufficient for Isla's play needs.

The final piece of the "kitchen" are a set of cafe tables (covered with more contact paper to look like table cloths) and two poofs for seating.  The poofs (from this tutorial) were really fun to make and she loves sitting on them, drinking her tea!

I have plans to make her an adorable apron in the next few weeks--I'll be sure to share all about that little addition to her tea shop!

So, I'm curious...what is (or was) your kids' favorite pretend play activity?

Friday, April 10

Week in Review

I hope you had a lovely Easter last weekend!  We spent the whole weekend together and had lots of activities planned to keep everyone entertained. 

We started off Saturday with an Easter Egg Hunt.  I don't usually get them a bunch of candy for holidays (that's what they have grandparents for, lol!) but I picked out a few types at Winco in the bulk section and put a single piece in about half of the eggs and Michael filled the other half with an assortment of coins.  We coached Luca a bit about not grabbing eggs out from under Isla if she was going for them, and he did great!  There were plenty to go around, and the final tally was 54-12.  I'm the mom who makes them sort the candy and count how many of each type they got, so we had fun with that activity, as well as sorting and counting the change (and learning about dollar coins!) and putting them in the bank.  (On a side note, how does Isla not have a piggy bank yet?  Oh well...an old formula canister worked in a pinch)

Later that day we dyed Easter eggs (uh...not that we waited til the last minute or anything).  I had a dye kit from several years ago that I bought after Easter for ten cents, and Grandma sent some plastic dye-able eggs, so we had all the supplies.  Luca enjoyed dunking the eggs (since they kept floating up) and they turned out a nice pastel shade.  Isla supervised.  And cheered!

Our last activity was to plant some mini-greenhouses (also from Grandma and Grandpa--thanks!) with tomato seeds and cosmo seeds.  Another fun activity, and Luca loves to see things grow.

Sunday dawned rainy and chilly.  The kiddos got to open their Easter baskets...again, we try not to go overboard.  I saw some magnificent baskets on Facebook, but we really try to limit the number of gifts they receive for any particular holiday.  By the time they get something from us, each set of grandparents, and sometimes great grandparents or aunts & uncles or friends, it gets to be a little out of hand.  I usually try to stick with 3 items or less, with only 1 'medium' to 'large' item.  So Luca received this Lego set, Thinking Putty and some Minecraft minifigs he's been pining over.  Isla received this totally adorable pretend coffee maker.  She's big into pretend play (even though she's only 15 months old!), so the other part of her gift was a new DIY kitchen play area, but I'll talk more about that in a future post :)

Speaking of Thinking Putty*...you should totally get some.  It's much less messy than Play Doh, it won't dry out and the changing colors are completely mesmerizing.  I'm getting rid of all of our Play Doh in fact--Luca sat and played with his tin of putty for 30 minutes!  And there was no mess to clean up!  It's fun for adults too...not that I know from experience or anything...

*The people who make Thinking Putty are not sponsoring this post, I just really love this product and wanted to share with all of you!  Purchasing items linked through Amazon will provide my family with a small percentage of sales--I only link to things that I use and love and want to share with you!

Wednesday, April 8

Progress...aka A Pile of FOs

~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? Take a photo and share it on your blog, on Instagram (#yarnalong), or on Flickr. ~Ginny of Small Things

I feel like I've been very productive looking at this stack of finished objects.  I've had fabric on hand for months to make a few more flannel blankets for my Etsy shop and I finally got around to sewing them up!  The fabric is so soft and cozy and I just love hand sewing the binding on...it's so relaxing.

I also photographed two Baby Bluejays and four Baby Wrens for sale in the shop, and I'm pleased with how the photos came out.  I'm still new to shooting with a DSLR (especially on manual mode) so it's pretty common for me to take 75 pictures and be able to use about 15 of them, but I'm learning.

Outlander, while a fantastic read, seems to be taking me just about forever to get through.  It probably doesn't help that my only reliable reading time is while on the elliptical machine at the gym...at 5:30am...ugh.  While I'm not a 'monogamous' knitter (meaning I like having multiple projects on the needles at once) I AM a monogamous reader...so I won't bore you with yet another picture of the cover page on my Kindle.  (As a side note, I always lose my place in the book when I go back to the cover page for a photo...so frustrating!)

I have a new design ready to be test knit for a 100% wool Diaper Soaker Cover and I'm in need of testers!  It comes in 5 sizes (NB, 0-6, 6-12, 12-18, 18-24 months) so ideally I'm looking for 5+ people interested in knitting one up in 100% wool worsted weight yarn such as Cascade 220 or Ella Rae Worsted (1 skein or less for all sizes)  You will receive a complimentary copy of the pattern and will of course keep your finished sample.  You'll provide me with notes as to your experience knitting through the pattern and errors or areas for improvement.  Novice and experienced knitters welcome--requires knowledge of Kitchenering and picking up & knitting stitches. If you're interested in being part of this test knit, please join my Ravelry Group and express your interest in the XOXO Soaker thread.  Thank you!

What have you been working on lately?

Monday, April 6

The Great Bedroom Makeover Pt 3--My Recipe for Chalk Paint

 I'm pretty new to the chalk painting revolution, but I've mixed up my fair share of recipes and have developed a blend that I think gives a great finish and is easy to apply.

Before taking March off from blogging, I had shared my plans for redecorating the kiddo's bedrooms.  I've been plugging along and have finally finished chalk painting, glazing and waxing all of Isla's bedroom furniture.  (Funny story, I painted all of the pieces in two days, glazed and waxed 3 of the 4 that same weekend, and then let the last one sit for weeks just short of being finished!  Ack!)

I have shared about my chalk painting adventures previously, both with purchased chalk paint and another suggestion I found on Pinterest, but I really like this new concoction as an easy and cost effective option.

To mix up a small batch, suitable for painting a large piece or a few small pieces with 2-3 coats, combine the following ingredients in a container with measurement markings:

-2/3 c plaster of Paris, sifted (I used a fine mesh strainer to remove any clumps)
-1 c water

-Stir the water and plaster together until smooth and uniform, then add flat paint in your choice of color to obtain 3 cups total.  Stir until ingredients are well combined.  

-Add 1/4 c of Floetrol and stir until everything is fully incorporated.

I love the addition of the Floetrol, which is a paint additive available at most home improvement stores (or on Amazon through this handy affiliate link) that reduces brush strokes and increases drying time.  Chalk paint dries in a flash which can make it difficult to get an even coat, but the inclusion of the Floetrol gives you just enough extra time to get it smooth and even before the paint starts to set.

To paint the pieces, I started by sanding off any rough places and areas where I thought the previous finish might flake off.  I then wiped each piece off with a damp microfiber cloth to remove any particles.

I gave each piece two coats of chalk paint with my favorite stubby angle brush.  I was satisfied that they were evenly covered at this point, but you could do a third coat if you felt it was still uneven.  After letting the paint dry overnight, I went back with a piece of very fine sandpaper (320 grit) and sanded each piece all over.  THIS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE!  Sanding removes any gritty spots and leaves the piece feeling so smooth.  It takes the wax and especially the glaze so much better after sanding.

I again thoroughly wiped the pieces down with a microfiber cloth to remove any dust from sanding and waxed all the surfaces, using my favorite Minwax Finishing Wax.  I applied it with my Size 10 thick stencil brush in a circular motion and then removed most of the wax (I wiped with a blue shop cloth until the surface no longer felt sticky.  Work on one side of your piece at a time...otherwise the wax firms up and is hard to remove).

After allowing this first coat of wax to dry overnight, I thinned the Antiquing Glaze I had on hand with some water and brushed it all over the surface, immediately wiping almost all of it off.  I left more glaze in the crevices and corners to give it that antique look.

A final application of furniture wax was the last step, and after it cured overnight I went back with a soft goat hair polishing brush and buffed it to a nice shine.

It sounds like A LOT of steps, but it goes quickly once you get the hang of it, and you really save a lot of time by not having to strip or do much prep work to most surfaces.  I'm really pleased with how each piece came out!  Her room isn't done quite yet (especially since she's still using her crib) but here's a little preview to give you an idea of what the final room will look like!

Here's the dresser, all finished with new knobs.  (Pst...this is the piece that sat around for weeks...I just couldn't bring myself to wax and antique all of those skinny places between the drawers...ugh)

I already shared about this side table in a previous post.  So cute and functional!

This antique vanity chair was forest green when I purchased it, but originally a cream color!  I loved the detail on the legs, so I stripped it, refinished it, and reupholstered the seat (not my neatest work, but it'll do for now)

 And tucked back there is the headboard (which, while purchased from a completed different person, has the exact same scroll applique as the cedar chest!  How serendipitous!)

I can hardly wait for it to all come together!

So what's your opinion of this new chalk paint craze?  Are you a believer, or a furniture purist?