Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

We are like every other family, we have developed Christmas traditions and have held these for many, many years. I started some things to help me with my sadness and loneliness when I moved away from my family. I also needed to come up with ideas to keep the girls busy on Christmas Eve to tire them out. We do not open any gifts until Christmas morning. Christmas Eve night is family time only, no presents.

We go to Christmas Eve mass then we make our way to dinner. It can be kind of hard to find a restaurant open on Christmas Eve. We used to go to Olive Garden but haven't been there since the German restaurant opened up. I think we have been going to Old Bavarian for over 12-13 years now. Last night, Christina, the owner, came up to use twice and said she knew it was Christmas since we were here. We do go to Old Bavarian at other times throughout the year but it may be just Jeff and I that go, not the entire family. Jeff's aunt was able to be with us this year. She has always been a trouper no matter what we come up with.

After dinner, we used to bring the girls home to change out of their clothes. We all used to put on pajamas and our winter coats then drive around town to see the Christmas lights. We would make a thermos of hot chocolate to bring with us. It is very calming to drive around the city with Christmas music on and not to many cars out. When Arlene is with us, she also changes into her pajamas. This year, we didn't go home to change we just went right away after dinner. As we drive around there is lot's of laughter. I don't know if it's the togetherness or the multitude of beers that were had at the Old Bavarian.

The evening comes to a close. The lighting displays were spectacular this year. I may just have to go back for a second viewing. We drive Arlene home. Now we can put the cookies out for Santa and all change into our jammies. It was a beautiful evening spent with family. I go to bed thinking about how one baby changed the world.

My Neighbor Gifts

After making Jodi's gift bags, I can't say that I was gun-ho to make more. But as time was getting closer, I wasn't any closer to coming up with anything unusual so I decided to steal my sister's idea. Luckily, I only had five bags to do. Well actually six, my husband asked for one more after I finished these so off to Hobby Lobby tomorrow for another bag. The ribbon is a little gawdy but that is what was close by and I didn't want to rummage in the basement.

In my gift bags, I added the two containers of pancake mix that Jodi used, the old-fashioned mix and the cinnamon mix. I put in a bottle of pure maple syrup, Door County Christmas coffee sample pack and some English breakfast tea. Whew, another year done. I hope my sister let's me know what she is going to do for her neighbors sooner next year!

My Tote Bag Mini Tutorial

When I started to work on the tote bags for my neighbors, I decided that I would take a couple of pictures. I was telling my sister Jodi what went into making the bags and I think it was a little confusing since she doesn't sew or embroider. It may look easy and quick but not necessarily so. With machine embroidery, I do like how you can embellish so many things. I hate the prep work involved with embroidery. I also hate sitting and babysitting the machine. Yes, some projects I can walk away or sit at one of the other machines and sew while the D1 is embroidering. But there are many projects that you have to be watching the needle at all times. Any time I have something turned inside out like the tote bag or onsies, I stay at the machine. Anytime I am embroidering on something thick or strange, like the tote bags, pet mesh, an insulated lunch bag, I stay at the machine.

The first thing that I need to do is to make my center of the tote bag. I want the center of my design to be about 4 inches below the top of the bag. I also want the design to be centered between the handles. I am using a water soluble marker. With the tote bags, I will be turning them inside out. It makes the job a little easier because you can see the fabric that you don't want to embroider and keep it out of the way. I am using a hoopless technique with the bags. This means that I won't be placing the tote in the middle of the hoop. I will put my stabilizer in the hoop then tighten the screw. A few reasons to go hoopless is so you don't get hoop burn on your project. I also don't want to hoop something thick as I might break or stretch out the hoop.

Because I won't be hooping the bag, I do need to do a few things to make sure that the tote bag is stable while it is stitching out. I also don't want it to shift away from the markings and cause my designs to be off center. After my stabilizer is hooped and marked, I spray some Sulky KK2000 on the stabilizer. This is a temporary adhesive. I also try to put straight pins in as long as I feel that the pins will be totally out of the way of the needle. The final stabilizing technique I employ is the use of the fix or basting stitch. This stitch will baste around your design perimeter. Ok, now that that is all done, time to do the stitch out.

The thing I wanted to show everyone is why I need to stay there. You can see that there isn't a lot of room and I have the back of the tote bag to keep out of the way. If you aren't paying attention and this fabric gets in the way of your design, it can be a bear to pick out. The needle is moving at a rapid pace and can put down hundreds of stitches in a minutes time.

Taylor's Gift

This year I wanted to make sure that all three girls got something handmade. Taylor was a little bit of a challenge but I decided to make her a knitting roll up. This was very quick to whip up. I think it took about an hour to make. The only problem I had was finding the double bias binding in blue. I think it comes in white and black so I bought the white. In case anyone in interested in making a knitting needle roll-up, here is the site that I found the directions on.

The Polenske Family Tree

Jeff and I have had 31 Christmases together as a married couple and not one of them has involved an artificial tree. In fact, there have only been maybe three years that we bought our tree from a tree lot. Our tradition has been to get everyone dressed warm and put on the Santa hats then drive out to a tree farm. This year, we drove up to Sobieski, Wisconsin. This tree farm was just an beautiful, idyllic place. I felt somehow back in time when Christmases were simpler. This was just a tree farm but I just kept thinking about some of the wonderful old black and white Christmas movies while I was walking through the property. I think we'll hit this farm again next year. The trees were well taken care of. We spotted a tree about 30 seconds into the drive on the property. Taylor refused to let us stop the truck and look at it. She said that this was too easy and we had to spend more time looking for a tree. There have been a few times when we have been out at a farm for 2 hours trying to find the perfect tree. I had found several that fit our criteria. I look for a grinch type of tree, very tall and narrow. This year's adventure took less than one hour.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

OMG! I Have It In My Hot Little Hands

What could I possibly be so excited about? This may bore most of you, in fact, probably all of you but I'm crazy excited. A few years ago, I checked out a book in our local library on bridal couture. It's a great book. I put this on my "to buy" list for the future. Well with Whitney's engagement, the time had come to purchase this book. The book is from Susan Khalje and it is called Bridal Couture: Fine Sewing Techniques for Wedding Gowns and Evening Wear. I went to my go to site, Amazon. I thought that I was misreading the price, $140.00! I went to Ebay and indeed the starting price for the book was at least $75.00. I was dumbfounded. I really, really wanted that book. Plan B would be to check the book out of the library about 20 times while the Whit's bridal gown is being constructed. Not my first choice.

For over a week, I would check Ebay and Amazon. There is also a sewing want-ads group on Yahoo that I was checking. The cheapest price was still double. That was another option to pay maybe $60 for a used copy. Mind you, this is a paperback book with a retail price of $29.95. The German in me was having a hard time with the mark-up but realizing that the book is now out of print and I didn't have a lot of options. I kept searching with the author's name to see if some little obscure fabric shop had it in their store. After one week of searching, no such luck. Finally, one night I just kept advancing the search button. I can't tell you how many pages into my search I finally found not 1 but 2 places that had the book. Man, I ran as fast as I could to get my credit card. My husband saw the order sheet up on the computer and he quickly said "NOW WHAT ARE YOU BUYING?" I'm using the caps because he did indeed raise his voice. He said that I had a record this month for fabric, patterns, books, etc using PayPal and my credit card. Well it only made sense to explain what a tremendous deal I had found and I just saved him about $110 on the book. This was one of the few times that he didn't roll his eyes and say "yeah, right".

The intellectual side of me said to not get too excited. I looked for the websites copyright date. Hmmm, 2009. Still in business, so far so good. I plugged in my information and waited for a confirmation. I held my breath for about 24 hours until I received notice that my new prized possession was finally shipped out. Last night, the UPS man finally delivered my book. The shop took such care in shipping it. It was neatly wrapped in tissue paper, kind of like a fragile bridal gift. I left out the important parts. I found the book at Who would have thought that an online quilt store would have a resource book like that. I'm eternally grateful though. Of course I had to quickly scan the fabric section of the site but decided that I better not press my luck with my husband working in the same room. The other retailer that I found my book at was Baltazar's in New Orleans. Baltazar's used to have a brick and morter store in New Orleans. They now are only an online retailer. With the times that I have travelled to New Orleans, I always put a trip to Baltazar's on my "next time" list. I blew it there. At least, the specialty items are available online.

This book is a must for anyone who is interested in improving their couture techniques. I am an average home sewer. I don't have any grandiose ideas that Whit's bridal gown will be worthy of couture status but I think I can improve my skills and create a gown that does not look like it came out of mom's sewing room. The book breaks down the construction of the gown, making a muslin, the bodice, the skirt, putting the components together, working with lace, etc.

The other really cool resource book that I added to my library is Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina. This book has always been highly recommended. Sandra is an idol of countless seamstresses and home sewers. The reason why this book is a must-have is that it devotes 2 pages to maybe 80 different fabrics. It recommends finishing techniques, presser feet, needles, thread, etc. for that particular fabric. I was in Beaver Dam taking a smocking class and when that was over, I decided to stop by the Wal-Mart store that is near by. As I pulled up to Wal-Mart, I spied a Goodwill store in the back of Wal-Mart. The past couple stops at thrift stores proved fruitless in my hunt for vintage patterns. I walked around the store looking for patterns. I asked the lady at the counter. She said they either throw them away or used them as wrapping paper. Does that ever make my heart sad. I went to the book section and quickly scanned the area. Scored the Fabric Savvy for $2.99. All-in-all, a good day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

St. Nick Finally Arrives

St. Nick finally made his way over to the east coast. You would think that he would get to the eastern coast of the United States first since he's coming over from the Netherlands. The children in the Fox Cities area leave out their shoes the night before St. Nick arrives. In New York, St. Nick doesn't fill shoes with goodies (no, not even Manolo Blahnik's). He fills casserole carriers with candy. You can't run to catch a cab in NYC if you have goo from Peppermint Patties stuck to the inside of your stiletto's.

The casserole carrier is fairly simple to make. You start with the embroidery design on one placemat. You add the handles to the other placemat. Stitch out a buttonhole then stitch the two together. The really cool thing about this project is that it is made with a button that I bought at the Antique Mall. I was somewhat hesitant to use such a neat button but I thought it looked nice on the casserole carrier.

Now, all this talk about St. Nick reminds me of a young Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn in the original Miracle on 34th Street movie. Susan (Natalie Wood) is watching Santa Claus (Edmund Gween) with a little girl who just came from a war orphanage in Holland. Santa Claus is able to speak with the little girl in Dutch and the two of them sing a song about Sinterklaas. This is the beginning of Susan starting to believe that Kris is real. This scene warms my heart every time I see it.

Sinterklaas, kapoentje
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje
Gooi wat in mijn laarsje
Dank je Sinterklaasje

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Totes

My sister Jodi called last week and asked if I could help her out on her neighbor gifts for Christmas. She wants to put together a package with pancake mix and syrup. I think she saw something similar either in the Land's End or LL Bean catalogs. The bags in the catalog had a monogram on them. Jodi was hoping for the last name. I initially told her that I couldn't do the names, they would be too long for the bag. I had searched for a font that would work for the bags. I decided at the last minute to stitch out the entire last name. It was a little difficult to keep the bag out of the way of the needle. If I had oodles of time and desire, I would have taken the bags apart to embroider then stitch them back together. That would have made things easier. I usually press the items before I embroider but somehow I missed that step yesterday. The Christmas pine letters came from Sonia Showalter Designs. The rest of the name is a font called Melody from 8 Claws and a The letters don't quite look like they match but they both are the same font. Now all I have to do is to find a box and get them in the mail for Jodi.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Some recent projects

I worked on a couple of dresses for Kayla at quilt retreat. The little boys shirts for Connor was ready to be mailed a while ago but I never made it to the post office. I finally drove everything to the post office this morning. I am hoping that everything is large enough to wear next year since Auntie Ellen is late as usual.

Last year I bought several pieces of candy cane fabric. I was just waiting for the right pattern. I had been looking at the Portabellopixie pattern "Claire" and wanted it badly. My obstacle is that the patterns are expensive, about $16 then you need to add shipping on top of that. You won't find this at Joann's or Hancock Fabrics. It came to me one day that the candy cane fabric would be perfect for this and bit the bullet and ordered the pattern. The little Santa elf is from Planet Applique. It's a cute little applique. My only issue is that there was about 33 thread changes with this design. I think the design took almost two hours to complete. I love this design though. It was worth the time to stitch it out. I will definitely make this dress again.

Over the summer, I found the cupcake fabric on clearance at the Wal-Mart store near the office. It has sparkles in it so I knew that it would be perfect for Kayla. I had most of the dress finished then decided to take this up to retreat also so I could cross it off my list. The pattern came from the website Once again, I kind of shuddered when I hit the "pay" button. You get spoiled when you can buy patterns on sale for 99 cents. The indie patterns do not go on sale. I really wanted Kayla to have a little twirly dress and I didn't see anything in the Big 4 patterns books so I bought this pattern off the internet. The cupcake design is from The watermelon outfit is similar to the outfit that I posted for Mikalya.

For Connor's shirts, I found the designs off the internet for free. I wanted to add a little hammer or some other tool to the garage design but decided Connor probably didn't want a lot of decoration on his shirts. I purchased his shirts a size larger because I know that I can procrastinate and they would be too small before you know it.

Winter Quilt Retreat

Typically, quilt retreat takes place during December and March. Lawrence University had changed up their semester breaks so our retreat dates got changed up also. We are lucky to be able to use this fabulous lodge that belongs to Lawrence University in Door County. Located along the shore of Lake Michigan in Bailey's Harbor, Bjorklunden lodge sits on over 400 wooded acres. Lawrence uses this lodge for educational seminars, music events, etc. Just recently, an addition was built onto the lodge. We now sew in the new addition.

The great room is where we used to sew. This room has a fabulous view of the lake. You really felt like you were on a retreat when the sun was rising or setting and you could see that from these beautiful windows. Our new sewing space seems to be a little larger plus the table arrangement is better.

I think that the great room can fit about 40-44 sewing machines. Here is my little home for the next four days. Because this lodge belongs to a university, the rooms are dorm style. The dorm rooms can accommodate 4-6 individuals. We typically de-bunk the beds and put on one of our quilts. I arrived late this year, so Jessie and Pat had already rearranged the room and made the beds.

I consider myself very lucky to be able to attend Jacqi's retreat. Besides being able to sew in such a fantastic place, you are surrounded by some of the most creative, artistic quilters around. Early in the morning, I like to walk up and down the rows before a lot of women are awake. I like to look at all the sewing machines, the projects and the fabrics. I didn't really do too much quilting this time around. I mostly worked on garment sewing.

The Hemingway Room

One of our goals last month while in North Carolina was to find some furniture to fit into a weird space in our house. There is a large space between our kitchen and the sunroom. When we moved into the house, I decided to turn the sunroom into our dining room. The previous owner used the space between rooms for their dining space.

Jeff had been talking for a couple of months about turning the room back into a sunroom and buy furniture to fit it. We had some somewhat heated debates about this room and what type of furniture. I felt that we already had a house of furniture and it didn't make sense to buy more in this stage in our life. He finally relented and told me I was right. The furniture that was in the sunroom was purchased for that room. So with that problem solved, I told him that we needed to look for maybe two unusual chairs or a game table for our odd space.

We arrived at the Hickory Furniture mall and walked into our first store. There sat this table to the left as we walked into the store. Jeff immediately fell in love with this. We took three days and shopped and drove to many furniture outlets and stores. On the last day, we came back to purchase this table and chairs. The table has inlaid marble in it. We felt that the banana leaves added to the look of the room. So even though I won the initial argument, my husband won the battle. Drats! I hate when that happens. I will say that the table and leather chairs give the house a masculine feel to it. It helps to ground the room.

My Amish table that was in the dining room got moved to the odd space. I think it's a little weird to have two tables so close to each other. Oh well. You may be asking why this room is called the Hemingway room. I felt that it is somewhat eclectic in that there are items/themes from different parts of the world. We have a print with the King of Prussia in it, I have a wood plague that we bought in Germany. I have a French clock. You get the picture. Things from around the world just like Hemingway's home, from safari to Havana chic. My belongings aren't as exotic as Ernest Hemingway, but varied non-the-less.

My Retreat Snack

This year for quilt retreat I decided to try a new recipe. I was making a different dessert for work and came across this recipe on the inside of the cream cheese package. So thank you Crystal Farms for this!

Chocolate Peanut Fudge Bars

2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1 (8oz) pkg Crystal Farms Cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons milk

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup coarsely chopped peanuts

In a medium bowl, combine crustt ingredients; mix well. Press firmly on bottom of 13x9 inch pan. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. In a medium mixer bowl, combine filling ingredients; blend at low speed 30 seconds. Beat at medium-high speed 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Spread over crust. In medium saucepan, melt chocolate chips over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Stir in peanut butter; blend well. Stir in peanuts. Spread over filling. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. Store refrigerated.

While searching for a picture of the chocolate cookies, I came across an article from the Washington Post. It talked about the difficulty of finding this little box of wafers. There was a statement by a law professor who said that it was easier to find heroin than these chocolate wafers. If you live in Appleton, Woodman's carries these for under $4/box. You will need about 2/3 of the box for these bars. Eat the rest of the box for breakfast like I did! If you can't find the Nabisco wafers, a second choice would be Chocolate Teddy Grahams. I think that Oreo's would be too sweet.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thread Heaven

After I was finished at Mary Jo's, I drove through 22 stoplights to Long Creek Mills. That is how they describe getting from Mary Jo's to Long Creek Mills. I thought I had gone to far. Surely I had gone through that many stoplights and more. Never saw the street. So I turned around then decided that maybe I was on track to begin with. We didn't bring our GPS unit with us this trip because Taylor had it. This store is just like Mary Jo's, a little bit nondescript. I drove by it and thought, this is insane. I've spent enough time and money I should just go back to the hotel and pick up Jeff. Well, I turned around and finally found the store. Once again, I was overwhelmed at the inventory that was packed into that little store. How hard can buying thread be? I was there over 30 minutes and literally racing thru the isles trying to get out in a decent span of time. Prices were very reasonable. I think the embroidery thread was running about $1.75 for a 1000 yd spool. I came out of Long Creek with over a $100 worth of thread and stabilizers. At least with Long Creek, I'll be able to order online. My goal was to purchase different products to try at home then I would know what to order in the future.

Oh Yeah, I've Died and Gone to Fabric Heaven

It's quite unbelievable that with all the trips to North Carolina that I've never stepped foot into Mary Jo's. With the recent trip, that was now my priority. Luckily, my husband was agreeable. It helps that he's so busy with work and stayed at the hotel to be on his laptop. We needed to check out of the hotel at noon. I knew that I would be limited with time. I was going to go to Mary Jo's and Long Creek Mills which is pretty much across town in Gastonia, NC. Check out time was approaching and Jeff had brought the luggage downstairs and started to work in the hotel lobby. The front desk lady started to talk to Jeff. The conversation went like this:
Lady: You know, your wife left here before 9:00.
Jeff: Yes, I know.
Lady: Where did she go?
Jeff: She went to the fabric store.
Lady: Did she go to Mary Jo's?
Jeff: Yes she did.
Lady: You know, some women never return when they go to Mary Jo's.
Jeff: Great.

Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach because you knew that the adventure would be fantastic. Well, I got up early to make sure that I would get to Mary Jo's early. The parking lot already had lots of cars in it. As you can see, the place isn't upscale. This is one way I'm sure that helps to keep her prices low. When I walked in and saw the expanse of the store, I decided to spend time casing the joint. I spent about 20-30 minutes walking thru the store and developing my plan of attack. I didn't bring any information on my home dec needs so the home dec department was out. I can tell you that the home dec fabric takes up about half of the store. The fabric of course is just beautiful. Lot's of shoppers in this department.

I decided to concentrate on lace. I was looking for heirloom laces and bridal laces. I came away with lots of heirloom laces but no bridal lace. I was very specific about what I wanted. I needed a 3-6 inch flounce of schiffli lace for bridal garters. I've made so many garters over the years that my bridal stash is severely limited. As you can see, there was certainly tons of lace, just not what I was looking for. I think I spent an hour in the heirloom lace dept deciding on the laces and having them cut. Look at the rows of rick rack that was in the trim department. I've never seen such choices before. I wanted to buy some but needed to spend my time (and money) elsewhere.

I think the two biggest draws to Mary Jo's is the home dec fabric and the bridal fabric. I can see why. Both departments were quite busy. There were several brides shopping. It was very hard not to touch all that beautiful lace. You just don't see the quality of alencon lace around here. Well, pretty much you don't see this lace in any store where I live. The prices for the beaded alencon lace ran up to $165.00/yard I think. Not too bad.

Next stop was the cotton department. I held strong and didn't buy any quilting fabrics. Mary Jo's has the best prices around on quilting fabrics. She also carries all the big names. What I usually pay is about $9.50/yard. At Mary Jo's, $6.49/yard. Believe me, it was hard to turn that down. I ended up with three pieces of very soft cottons for heirloom sewing. One is an Imperial Batiste which I can get around here but once again, the price was right. The other two pieces were sweet little girl prints. Hopefully someday I'll have a granddaughter that will have a dress out of this fabric. The store does an excellent job of organizing the fabrics. Batiks were all together, reds, blues, beige, etc all together. She even had polka dots together.

When I tell people that I spent two hours at Mary Jo's they can't believe that is all the time that I was there. Believe me, on my next visit I'll try to schedule more time. I can't wait to go back to Mary Jo's. For anyone that is interested, she does have a website, Her website isn't like others because she can't possibly show all the fabrics, trims and notions. You can call the store and place an order over the phone. Now, onward to Long Creek Mills.