Saturday, December 27, 2014

Adorable Coats, Jackets and Skirts for 18 Inch Dolls Made From Mini-Christmas Tree Skirts

For all you American Girl and other 18" doll fans (and moms of fans) out there, here is something to keep your eyes out for as you do your post-Christmas shopping. Several Christmases ago, my sister and I realized that mini-tree skirts can be easily converted into a variety of darling doll clothes. I won't take time in this blog to give you the how-to instructions. I'm just going to post some pictures so that if you are interested in making some of your own during the coming year, you can pick up a variety of skirts at clearance prices. They are available at Hobby Lobby and other craft stores and in the holiday sections of other stores as well.

So here are a few things we have made in the past to give you some inspiration and to help you know what to look for:

My sister turned a simple red felt tree skirt into this Bavarian style jacket simply by creating sleeves (I can post about how to do this later) and adding trim to the front edges.

Using a similar technique with a slightly larger tree skirt, I made this faux fur jacket. I was able to create a matching hat by salvaging the scraps I cut off to shorten the sleeves. The skirt came with the buttons already in place, and in most cases, they come with velcro that makes fastening in front easy.

Many of the tree skirts have sports themes. The top jacket is obviously football. The white and red one was a baseball that I transformed into a more formal look by simply adding a couple of 
red felt flowers.

Soft fur tree skirts make lovely capes and jackets for party dresses. See the tutorial here!

A larger size mini-tree skirt can be transformed into a darling winter coat. Again, extra fabric that we gained from shortening the sleeves made it possible to create the matching hat, purse 
and trim for the boots.

And finally, we turned appliqued tree skirts into whimsical ice skating skirts.

So, if these look like something you might like to make in the coming months, pick up a few tree skirts during your after Christmas shopping, and I will post tutorials about how to turn them into clothes for your dolls.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Cookies Part 3: The Best Chocolate Cookies Ever

So my friend Amber once gave me the ultimate gift: a cookbook devoted to cookie recipes. And in this cherished recipe book, my sister Laurel and I found the best chocolate cookie recipe. And I am going to share it with you.

The thing I like about these babies is they are moist and almost brownie-esque in consistency. The recipe book suggested adding things to them like chocolate chips and nuts or white chocolate. But it was Laurel that truly came up with the best addition: chopped up Hershey's Cookies n' Cream bar. Yes. It is delicious. I didn't happen to have a cookies n' cream bar in my house, so I just used chocolate chips for the pictures shown below (which is still delicious)...but if you are going for out of this world good, purchase a Hershey's Cookies n' Cream chocolate bar, chop it up, and add it to the cookie dough.

Double Trouble Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Got Milk? The Cookie Book by Peggy Cullen
(I get about a dozen cookies from this recipe and I make my cookies on the big side.)

4 oz (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (preferably Dutch-process)
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or 1 chopped up Hershey's Cookies n' Cream bar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla until combined. Beat in cocoa and then the egg. Add flour and baking soda and mix on low speed until combined. Stir chocolate chips or cookies n' cream bar chunks into the dough.

The consistency of the dough is almost homemade fudge-like. Try not to taste the dough because you may eat it all before you get around to putting it on a cookie sheet.

Drop by spoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Leave on pan for 5 minutes before removing.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beautiful Family (Christmas) Tree

Once again, the timing of this post may seem just a bit off--too much to do to think about any kind of project just days before Christmas. But I absolutely LOVE this idea and want to share it. The reason that I am posting it now is that if you decide this is something you want to do--perhaps next year--you may want to keep your eyes open for supplies when they are on sale during your after-Christmas shopping

I have a wonderful, talented friend who is truly a Christmas decoration artist. Her home is a holiday fairy land which includes four large trees, each with a unique theme. They are all gorgeous, but my absolute favorite is her "ancestor tree." This picture doesn't begin to do it justice:

I learned from my friend that the key to creating this look is to layer the decorations; start hanging ornaments near the trunk and work outward. She also stays within a chosen range of colors. The palette for this tree includes crystal, muted purples, ivory, greens and golds.

What makes this tree especially meaningful to me, however, is that tucked among the lights, ribbon, silk flowers, balls, and other ornaments are tiny jeweled frames, each containing a photograph of a beloved relative.

Many of her frames came in boxed, Christmas ornament sets that she found in department stores like Dillards or in craft stores like Hobby Lobby. Others she found at novelty shops, like Hallmark stores, and at thrift stores.

Hint: An easy way to obtain small, quality copies of pictures for this project is to scan photos into your computer and then go to an online photo store like Walgreens and plug your photos into a collage. It gives you a format that provides room for a lot of small pictures--just what you want for this project. Once the collage is printed, you can carefully remove the glass from a frame, place it over a photo, trace around it, and then cut out the picture to fit into the frame.

Since my parents passed away, I have scanned hundreds of family photos, including many pictures of ancestors that I never had the opportunity to meet. But I feel like I know them from hearing their stories, reading their journals, and seeing their faces.  I love the idea of honoring them next Christmas with a special place on my Family Christmas Tree.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Patchwork Christmas Stockings

My mother made beautiful, hand appliqued Christmas stockings, dozens of them-- for her children, for her sons and daughters-in-law, for many of her nieces and nephews, and finally for her grandchildren. Each time I hang them up, I am flooded with wonderful memories of Christmases past:

Now I love to see Delys, Elin, and Laurel beginning their own stocking traditions. Recently, however, Laurel had an unexpected and unpleasant surprise when she went out to her storage closet and discovered that all their Christmas decorations had been destroyed by water and mold from an undetected leak in the apartment above. So I dashed to my seriously over-loaded fabric closet, pulled out some favorite Christmas fabrics, and went to work.

I know it's already late in the season, but if you are looking for a fun way to make unique Christmas stockings, read on. (This technique can also be used to create beautiful pillows and quilt squares any time of year.)

Mom made up her own pattern. I am less creative and bought this one. It is a traditional shape and size and was easy to work with.

Now, select your fabrics. I chose fairly traditional Christmas patterns, but you can also think outside the box with colorful polka dots, florals, or even elegant velvets and brocades. You can choose as few or as many patterns and solids for the patchwork as you want. You will only need large scraps--a few inches wider than your stocking pattern. You will also need two pieces of fabric that are about 3 inches wider and longer than your pattern. One of these will be the backing for your patchwork, and the other will be the back of your stocking. (See below.) 1/2 yard will be plenty for the back, backing, and a cuff:

Start by cutting a fabric strip the width of your backing and as deep as you choose. Place it right side up on the bottom of your backing:

Cut another strip, lay it right side down on the top edge of your first strip, and stitch across the top through both strips and the backing with a 1/4 inch seam:

Fold up your second strip and iron it flat:

Repeat the process, building your design upward and varying both your fabrics and the depth of your strips to create an interesting pattern:

Once you have filled your muslin backing with strips, you can add interesting detail either by sewing rickrack, ribbon, or braid over each seam line or sewing across the seams with a decorative stitch. That is what I chose to do:

Now you are ready to cut out your stocking. Lay your pattern on your completed patchwork, pin it in place, and cut it out. (You will also need to cut out a stocking back.)

Pin the stocking and stocking back right sides together. Sew around the entire stocking with a 1/2 inch seam. Be sure to back stitch both at the beginning and the end. Carefully make tiny clips from the outer edge toward the seam line around the curved parts of the stocking, being careful not to cut through the seam. This will make the curves look nicer when you turn the stocking inside out:

Turn right side out and press. Cut out two pieces of fabric using the Cuff 5 pattern and follow the directions for stocking B, steps 10 through 12. Now, tuck the cuff inside your stocking so that the right side of the cuff is touching the wrong side of the stocking and the raw edge of the cuff lines up with the top of the stocking. Match the cuff side seam with the left side seam of the stocking. Pin it in place, and stitch around the top of the cuff and stocking with a 5/8 inch seam. Turn the cuff to the outside and press. I cut a 3 inch piece of ribbon, folded it in half, and stitched it to the inside of the left seam to create a hanger:

Using the same fabrics, but changing how I placed them, I created four coordinating but unique stockings. And as their family grows, it will be easy to add to the collection. I personalized each stocking by stitching a name along one of the solid fabric strips. (You will want to sew the name on before you sew the stocking front and back together.)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies: Holiday Cookies Part 2

I love baking--not cooking, necessarily. Baking. Cookies, bread, muffins, scones, biscuits, pastries, pies....all the stuff that isn't very good for you (with the exception of whole wheat bread, I suppose). During the Christmas season, I want to be baking all the time (while listening to my favorite Christmas tunes) and I have visions of making delectable treats to put on festive plates to deliver to everyone I can think of. It never turns out as good as I want it to be. But I thought that I would post my favorite holiday cookie recipes this week to go along with the holiday cookies Laurel posted here.

First up, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. These are moist but cake-y cookies and I love, love, love them.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbl vanilla
1-2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (depending on how chocolate-y you want them)


Mix together pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and mix until everything is combined. Mix in vanilla. (See picture below for an idea of the batter's consistency.)

Stir in chocolate chips. Drop heaping tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet (if your cookie sheet is a dark metal, you may want to cover it in aluminum foil and then spray the foil and then drop the cookie dough on that). Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen cookies. (adapted from this recipe.)

Eat them warm and melty and every day after until they are all gone. Or stick them in a ziploc and freeze them. They freeze really well. Enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sugar and Spice Cookies

Let me start with a disclaimer: we have actually been really healthy eaters as of late. I have mostly limited my baked-good making to healthy muffins and breads. I feel all warm and fuzzy when I send Jeffrey off to school with a blueberry oatmeal muffin or pumpkin pancake rather than a poptart. True, we usually add chocolate chips to the pancakes, but still...

Yet this recipe is definitely a dessert, no other way of looking at it. Yet it's also a wonderful, Christmasy cookie, and ever since our storage unit got flooded, prompting me to put up our Christmas tree several weeks early, Christmas has been on my mind.

Now, Jeffrey isn't usually much of a cookie-eater, but this recipe is possibly his favorite. It comes from his childhood best friend's mother, and it is super quick, easy, and delicious. AND it makes your house smell wonderful! So without further ado:

Sugar and Spice Cookies

Look at me! I totally did one of those "I'm going to take a picture of all the ingredients" pictures! Mostly I wanted to take a picture of the shortening sticks to comment on how I LOVE that they exist! I don't often bake with Crisco, but I would never use it if I still had to scrape it out of the giant tin cans.

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp cloves
  • 3/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Cream together the first 4 ingredients: shortening, sugar, egg, and molasses (isn't molasses gloopy?)

Sift together the dry ingredients and then add to the creamed mixture. Combine well. (Full disclosure here: I rarely actually sift the dry ingredients together. Ergo there's no picture. I just added them individually to the same bowl. I just haven't ever noticed a difference from when I do sift and don't, you know?)

Form into walnut-sized balls and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-8 minutes. If using a dark or coated pan (like I did), reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Actually, I reduced mine to about 360, which was perfect. But since when does a recipe ever tell you to bake things at 360? Never. Better not start now. Something drastic could happen.

They should come out cracked on the top and soft. I removed mine fairly promptly from the pan to cool, and they came out perfect. This recipe usually yields 20-24 cookies.

They're so good, I promise, and are disappearing embarrassingly fast from our house. Mmm...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Soy Wax Emergency Candles

Last weekend the four of us got together for our annual "Girls' Getaway." It was sooooooo much fun. The agenda included yummy food, a Christmas craft, a bit of singing, a couple of sappy movies, a lot of talk and laughter, a mini book club, some family history, and soy emergency candles. Soy emergency candles, you ask? Why, yes! Delys found a great "how to" website, and we thought we would give them a try.

I will include the link to the original site at the end of this post, but just to show you how easy it is, we will walk you through the process.

You will need soy wax, candle wicks, heavy duty glass jars (pint size or smaller), a glue gun and glue, a #10 size can, and a roll of masking or painter's tape.

I purchased the soy wax and wicks from Amazon. They were much cheaper online than at any of the local craft stores I checked--even factoring in coupons. We used a variety of jars. I already had some small canning jars and purchased others from a thrift store for 25 cents a piece. We also used some empty salsa and pesto jars that I had saved. The key is making sure that they are thick enough to withstand high heat, first when the hot wax is poured into them and then later when the candle is burning.

To make a pouring spout in our large can, we simply put it on the floor and stepped on it gently near the open end. It wasn't elegant, but it worked :) We filled a large pot about half full of water and then, using an old measuring cup, we scooped the wax flakes into the can. When we placed the can in the water, it tried to float. so we wedged a jar between the side of the pot and the can to hold it in place. We set the stove at medium high heat.

While the wax melted on the stove, we used the glue gun to anchor the wicks by placing a dab of hot glue on the metal bottom of each wick and then sticking it quickly to the inside bottom of each jar.

When the wax was ready, we carefully filled each jar, leaving about 1/2 inch of room at the top of the jar. (Be sure to use hot pads; the can is hot.) To hold the wick upright while the wax cooled and set, we tore a strip of masking tape long enough to go across the top of the jar, taped it in place, made a small slit in the tape where the wick should go, and then threaded the wick through it.

Once the wax was cool and hard, we removed the tape and trimmed the wicks. We put lids back on the jars to keep the candles clean until they are needed. The website we used said that candles made in 1/2 pint size jars should burn for up to 50 hours. We didn't test that, but we did light one of ours and loved the fact that it burned clean--no odor or noticeable smoke.

Kind of a nice thing to have around on a dark night when the lights go out. . . .

Here is the link to our inspiration site:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kit's Spicy Pumpkin Soup

It is almost November, and it finally feels like Fall! So, this is the perfect time for Kit's Spicy Pumpkin Soup. Kit is not only a truly amazing woman, she is also one of the best cooks I know. (Thank you, dear friend, for this taste of autumn. I think of you every time I make it.)

This recipe is easy, nutritious and delicious:

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

1 T oil (I use olive oil)
1 T garlic powder
1 T chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
4 c chicken broth (from bullion cubes) or vegetable broth
1 15 oz can solid pack pumpkin
3/4 c bottled medium spicy salsa
1 19 oz can chick peas, rinsed, (or black beans, if you prefer)
1 c corn kernels, canned or frozen

Heat oil in a 3 quart saucepan. Add garlic and chili powder and ground cumin. Stir over medium heat for one minute. Add broth. Stir in chick peas, pumpkin, corn and salsa. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes to develop flavors. Serve with cheese and sour cream.
Note: You can add cooked, diced chicken for the meat-lovers in your family.

This soup pairs beautifully with biscuits, yummy rolls, tortilla chips, or crusty artisan breads. For a sweeter mix, make up a batch of these easy Two Ingredient Pumpkin Muffins. (Make that three ingredients if you throw in a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips--which, of course, you should.)

1 Spice Cake Mix
1 15 oz can solid pack pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry cake mix and pumpkin well with mixer. (Add chocolate chips, if desired.)  Fill muffin papers 2/3 full. Bake 14 to 17 minutes.