Monday, July 21, 2014

Eeezy Breezy Doll Clothes

Since I am technically too old to play with dolls, I have to think of other reasons to make them clothes and accessories. Recently, I have started "rescuing" 18 inch dolls from garage sales and thrift stores, restoring them, and dressing them for donation. I often make outfits from scratch, but I also have fun adapting pre-made items; many of these come with fun details that would be difficult or time-consuming to add myself. Laurel suggested that I periodically share a few simple ideas for making inexpensive, high-quality outfits. So. . .

Part of the fun is the hunt. Keep your eyes open for cute pieces that look like they might potentially work for a doll. These could include new or used children's clothing, dog clothes, Build-a-Bear items, and . . . Christmas ornaments (more on that later). Resale stores are ideal places to start, but I have found great, new items on clearance at Walmart and other stores for as low as a dollar. Preemie and newborn sizes need very little adaptation, but larger sizes can work as well. For this outfit, I started with a newborn sweater I found for 99 cents at a thrift store. It is in excellent condition, and I liked the flower detail on the front.

When I tried it on the doll, it was just a little too large across the back. So I carefully clipped out the tag with a seam ripper, put the sweater on the doll inside out, and pinned a tuck in the center back of the sweater to make it fit.

Leaving the pin in place, I carefully removed the sweater and sewed a short seam along the pin line from the neck edge toward the bottom of the sweater--about 3/4 of an inch long, back-stitching at the beginning and end of the seam. (You could easily do it by hand.) This created a small pleat in the back of the sweater which brought it down to size. Voila! Just think of it as added detail. The sleeves were a tiny bit long, so I simply rolled them up.

The bargain hunter in me was so excited to find this "Build-a-Bear" denim skirt at a thrift store for a quarter. I love all the details--belt loops, pockets, decorative stitching and beading, as well as flirty pleats.

Two potential issues: it was too big, and it had a hole in the back for a bear's tail. No problem! Put the skirt on inside out, pin it to fit, slip it off, and stitch a seam down each side along the pin line. I took care of the tail hole simply by stitching it closed by hand.

Take just an extra second to finish the seam edge with a zigzag stitch to keep it from fraying. It will help your doll clothes last so much longer.

You can find fairly inexpensive doll clothes at craft stores like Joann's, Hobby Lobby, and Michael's--especially if you use a coupon. However, the difference between those outfits and the ones you make yourself or buy from pricier sources, such as American Girl stores, is the quality of the fabric and the workmanship. The cheaper manufacturers use poor quality materials and don't take time to do things like finish seams, so the clothes tear and wear out quickly.

Now for the little extras. I love after-Christmas sales at Hobby Lobby. Last year, when all the Christmas items were marked down to either 80 or 90% off, I found a few pair of velour boots and several vinyl pack-style purses. They were Christmas tree ornaments, and although they apparently hadn't been popular options for decorating, they make adorable doll accessories!

I threaded a pink and brown ribbon that I already had through the belt loops on the skirt to create a belt, and the outfit is complete! (Just for comparison purposes, the sweater cost $1, the skirt was 25 cents, and the boots and bag were 50 cents each. The outfit total: $2.25. And the sewing was minimal--a tuck in the sweater and a seam down each side of the skirt. Eeezy Breezy!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Quick and Easy Beef and Broccoli

I have to admit that 90% of the food I make involves chicken. Don't get me wrong; chicken is inexpensive and delicious, but it's probably time to expand my cooking repertoire to include more beef, pork, fish, and vegetarian dishes.

One staple meal I already make that does involve red meat is a modified version of this Beef and Broccoli. It's quick, easy, and tasty!

Quick and Easy Beef and Broccoli

1 pound thin steak (I use different kinds depending on what I have. Flank or round work well.)
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
4 TB Cornstarch (divided)
1 cup + 2 TB water (divided)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 TB Vegetable oil
4 cups Broccoli florets
4 servings steamed rice

Slice the steak across the grain into thin strips. This is easiest done when the steak is slightly frozen, or you can use kitchen shears like I did.

Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and 1 cup water in a small bowl; set aside.

Next, steam the broccoli! In a large saute pan (or wok, if you are lucky enough to own one), bring an inch of water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cover to steam for about 3 minutes. The broccoli should still be crisp-tender--whatever that means. (Basically you should be able to pierce it with a fork, but you still want it bright green and non-mushy!)

While the broccoli steams, combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water, and the garlic powder in a medium bowl until smooth. Add the beef and toss to coat.

Drain the steamed broccoli and set aside. Discard all the water from the pan and heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the beef and stir fry until no longer pink or until desired doneness. Depending on how thin you sliced your beef, this will take 1-3 minutes.

Whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch into the soy sauce mixture.

Add sauce and broccoli to pan. Stir to combine. Simmer for 2 minutes.

Voila! Serve over hot rice and enjoy! Mmm...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Outdoor Solar Wall Sconce

A few months ago, someone posted a link on Facebook that had fun, creative ideas for outdoor decorating. One that caught my eye was a reclaimed chandelier. The decorator removed the light bulbs, fitted the sockets with small solar lights, and hung it from a tree. I loved the idea but dismissed it because I couldn't think of the right place in my yard to hang it. (I couldn't figure out how the solar lights would charge if they were hanging in the shade.) Here is the link if you are interested:

Several weeks later, however, I found this ornamental, metal wall sconce at Hobby Lobby and hoped that I could adapt the idea and hang it on my gate.

The first task was to find the small solar lights. At the beginning of the summer, I saw them at the dollar store, but--no luck. I went to the hardware store and found a large selection, but they were all too big (and pricey). On a whim, I stopped at Walgreens and checked in their seasonal aisle. Sure enough, they had some, and they were on sale for $1.50 each. Perfect!

I was a little worried about how I was going to dismantle it and get the light off the stake. But, fortunately, with this particular brand, the silver solar light simply twists off the clear plastic cup. And, I was excited to find that the light nests perfectly onto the rim of the glass votive cup.

Because the sconce will hang on a gate and will potentially get jostled a bit, I ran a bead of E 6000 glue around the bottom of each light so that it rests securely in the cup.

Now to let it charge. . . .

You would think that the picture above would be followed with a final photograph of magical, glowing lights. Well, that was the plan. Instead you get "Outdoor Solar Wall Sconce: Part 2." (Sequels are big right now, aren't they?)

Remember how I mentioned that I glued the lights into place because I was worried about them being jarred loose when the gate shut? It was a good idea, but it didn't go quite far enough. Just hours after I took the above picture, the gate closed with a bang. The glue job held perfectly! However, the entire sconce jumped off its hangers and crashed to the patio. So although the lights remained firmly affixed to the votive cups, several of the glass cups cracked on impact.

So. . . . I went back to Walgreens and bought new lights. (I should mention here--full disclosure--that I almost marched in complaining that most of the lights I had bought the week before didn't work. I discovered just in time that the lights have tiny on/off switches on the underside of the solar cells. Just thought you should know. It didn't occur to me that solar lights could be turned off. It seems a bit like turning off the sun.) 

Unfortunately, when I got home with them, I discovered that without the glass cups, the lights were slightly too small and slipped through the metal loops that were supposed to hold them in place. So the question became--how can I make either the loops slightly smaller or the lights slightly bigger? The answer? Jute! I ran to Hobby Lobby and bought a ball of jute. Armed with my glue gun, I wound the jute around the loops, which made the holes small enough to hold the lights and added some unexpected texture as well.

It worked well, looked interesting, and created a good base for gluing on the lights.

(The jute destroyed my scissors, however.)

Since the glass votive cups that came with the sconce were no longer usable, I decided to remove the solar lights from their stainless steel posts but keep them attached to the plastic reflectors which protect the tiny light bulbs on the underside of the solar cells. (Another advantage to using the plastic reflectors over glass cups is that there is no chance for rain water or condensation to collect in them. Thinking positively here :) Using my glue gun, I ran a bead of glue around each jute circle and secured the lights in place. 

Before I glued the last lights in place, I grabbed my hammer and tapped the hangers gently to tighten their grip on the sconce.

So, there is obviously more than one way to do this. Find a way that works for you
--and love the light.