Friday, September 30, 2011

Craft Swap

Back in June (or July, I forget exactly) I posted on Facebook the idea of a craft swap. Not sure where I was really going with this idea. I suppose at first I was hoping that a bunch of people would get together and trade supplies, patterns, items, that everyone could bring something they didn't want and leave with something that they did. And then, as it will, life got in the way and I never really followed up with the idea.


A totally unexpected thing happened.  One friend called me and suggested a different spin on the idea. She had seen the bean bags I had made for my kids and really loved them. She has a daughter the same age as mine, and asked if I would make a ladybug bean bag for her 3rd birthday.  In return, she would make me a mosaic of my color/style choice.

Holy cow!! I have seen her mosaics, they are stunning! And that's not really something that I know how to do, and to be honest, not sure that I'd have the patience for.  So I said (after squealing loudly) YES!!!

One of the coolest things about craft swapping with a friend is that you have an idea about their style. In this case, I knew she wanted a nice bright red ladybug but not totally traditional. So I made the body with red polar fleece, added the black face and eyes, then started experimenting with color. I made some "antennae" with braided, variegated yarn, and rather than doing the spots in black, I made them multi-colored to go with the colors in her daughter's bedroom.  I was so excited about it that I started texting her sneak peek photos while she was on vacation. Like this one---

And then, when they got back I brought the finished bean bag over while her daughter was napping. And I was lucky enough to be there to see her reaction when she got up and saw her birthday present.

The ladybug bean bag, front view. 

 Side view.

Other side view.

I loved watching her daughter run across the room and pounce on the bean bag the same way my kids do with theirs, I think that's a sign of love. Seriously, have you ever seen a beloved toy? They are the most worn out, beaten up things, you feel equal parts sympathy for them and envy for being the number one lovey.

So what about the mosaic? Oh, yes, I got my mosaic! When we talked about it I knew I wanted one for the big, empty wall in my kitchen. And since we're neighbors, our houses have similar layouts so she knew exactly which space I meant. My kitchen is yellow, white and a bit of pale green and I have a great little cafe curtain in my corner window with embroidered daisies. So I wanted something to coordinate with that, and I just love what she came up with.

I love the lower strip of wood that I can add hooks to for coffee cups or dish towels. And I love the bright colors and mirror to open up my small kitchen.

This is such a fun addition to my kitchen, I just love it!

So, even if I didn't follow up on my original idea with the craft swap, I got super lucky to have a crafty friend (and neighbor) to have a totally different take on the idea of a craft swap. I hope that she is as happy with her part of the swap as I am. And I love her interpretation of the craft swap. I'd love to do this again with someone.

Hint, hint.....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Cake!

Since I have cake on my mind right now, I thought I'd show you my other favorite birthday cakes.  This one was for my daughter's first birthday.  I actually found this cake on the Wilton decorating site, and fell in love with it.

I changed up the colors a bit and accidentally made the caterpillar go the wrong direction, but it all worked in the end.

I used the Wilton ball cake pan and did yellow and chocolate cake, alternating segments. This was a big cake!

And the one from my son's 4th birthday, again a Wilton pan.

The purple Monster Truck.

I don't remember why it had to be purple, but it was an absolute must! And my son will only eat yellow cake, no chocolate (crazy child!) so the donut wheels alarmed him, but they're yellow inside so he ate them anyway.

 My daughter's princess party on her 2nd birthday. (yes, I love the Wilton cake pans.)

And here's an one of my earliest attempts for my son's 3rd birthday.

Looking at this one, I realize how much I've learned about cakes and frosting in 6 years. 

These were all so fun to make (and eat!) but I have to admit that I am really glad that my kid's birthdays are 6 months apart, because I need the recovery time. 

That said, I am gathering up my supplies for another one right now.....wish me luck!

Monday, September 26, 2011

R2D2 Birthday Cake

So what birthday week would be complete without a party and cake?  Yes, I did make my son an R2D2 cake (in addition to the alien cake pops for the class).  Frankly, I wanted to try this one out so I kind of persuaded him into it--sometimes it's hard for my kids to fully visualize the end result when I'm begging them to "let" me make the cake/halloween costume/cute outfit of my dreams for them. I usually get funny looks and "ooookay, mom" as a response. But they're still of an age where they believe just about everything I say, and so far we've had only good results.

I'm going to go find some wood to knock on right now.

Without further ado, here's how I made the cake.

First, I assembled all my stuff. I used a 2" deep, 6" round Wilton cake pan for the body because it matched up with the ball pan I already had. I baked 4 round cakes and 1/2 of the ball cake for the top. I used the leftover batter for mini cupcakes, most of which I put in the freezer for later use.  I like the Wilton buttercream icing mix (I know it's just sifted powdered sugar, but I like it anyway) and the pre-made Wilton white fondant, some Rice Krispie treats, and sparkle gel icing.

Bake all the cakes. After they've cooled completely I take a large serrated knife and level them off.  Then I wrap them in tightly in cling wrap. I usually do the baking a few days in advance and put them in the freezer.

I assemble and frost my cakes the night before a party.  So, I gather up everything I need and head to a large work area, which in my house is my dining room table.  I start with the cake board, wrapping it in foil (easy clean-up and a little fancy) this time I also used some blue cling wrap I had on hand to give it a spacey look.  Then I made the base. I cut a piece of styrofoam slightly smaller than the circumference of the cake and wrapped it in white fondant. Then, using icing I "glued" it to the center of the cake board.

Then I put more icing on top of the base and "glued" a cake board, cut to the same size as the cake, on top of the base. I was hoping to add some stability with the cake board. Then using the same idea, I started layering my cakes using the buttercream icing in between layers.

After these 2 layers, I added another cake board, partly for stability and partly to help separate the cake when it came time to cut it. After layer number 3, I put a large skewer through the middle of all the layers down into the styrofoam. My hope was that it would keep him standing upright. (***see note below)

Last, more icing then added the half ball on top. I had intended to use 4 layers, but scale-wise 3 worked better, so I put one back in the freezer.

Then I took a bag of icing with a large tip and filled in the spaces where the layers met. Once that was done, I frosted the lower half of the cake white, then tinted some icing gray and frosted the top. Then, using the sparkle gel, and a handy reference book, I added embellishments so he looked like this--

I got so involved in what I was doing, I forgot to photograph the next steps, but basically I took a bunch of rice krispie treats and squashed them all together and molded them into the shape of his "arms".  Then I covered them in white fondant and attached them to his sides using icing and skewers. Then I used the black sparkle gel to add detail to the arms. And here he is assembled---

From the side----

And the other side---

(***Notes: When I went to sleep, he was standing upright, I thought the cake boards and the center skewer were enough to hold him upright. Well.  The next morning he had a slight backwards tilt, which although it still looked good, scared me to bits so I ended up using my big stock pot to brace him up until party time.  So where I might have gone a bit wrong; first, I need at least 3 skewers, or dowels in the cake to help hold him together as he shifted and settled. Second, the cakes were still somewhat frozen in the centers and I think as they defrosted, the weight shifted and when he started to lean backwards the single skewer was not enough to hold him in place.  I'm not certain that the weight of the arms came into play, but they were heavy so I would try to make my arms less dense.***)

Having said all of that, when it was time to debut R2D2 for the birthday party, he was still standing!  And that's really all that matters. Well, that and a very excited birthday boy---

Both of them look pretty happy to me!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alien Cake Pops

In a total fit of insanity last weekend, I asked my son if he'd like me to bring cake pops to his class for his birthday (which is today).  I had planned on bringing mini-popsicles (bought from the store) which were a big hit last year. And yes, in Tucson, it is still PLENTY warm enough for popsicles!   Everyone likes them, they're small enough for the kids to eat before they melt, and they require very little effort on my part.

But, I had to go and bring up cake pops. So this is all my own doing. And while cake pops are not hard to make, it seems like I always forget they have a lot of steps, which means they take a lot of time. At least I talked him into simple alien heads, rather than the more detailed robots he wanted originally.

For a complete tutorial on making cake pops, I highly recommend Bakerella, she is SO amazing, I bow to her artistry with cake. Check out the Garfield and Mr. Potato Head pops!

I had some leftover white cake, which I had tinted blue, in the freezer that I crumbled up and added vanilla frosting (this is for the non chocolate lover, remember) to make the cake balls. I shaped them as oval as I could and then put them in the freezer to firm up.

Then I took my alien green candy coating and melted a small amount to "glue" the heads onto the sticks. (Note: this green is a Halloween color, so it just happens to be available right now.)

My husband was nice enough to photograph the steps, so I could use both my hands, thanks honey!

Be careful when you are putting the sticks in the cake not to poke them out the top.

I use a block of styrofoam to hold my pops. Once I have them all on sticks, I put them back in the freezer while I work on whatever other parts I need.  In this case, only eyes.  Red, by the birthday boy's request.

For the eyes I used fruit roll-ups. In hindsight, there are probably a hundred easier ways to make eyes, but this is what I had, so this is what I used.  My thought was to cut out eyes, peel them off the paper and then stick them on the pops. 

Nope, didn't work. At all.  

So instead, I pulled little bits of fruit roll ups off the paper and rolled them into 52 eyes. 

Yep, probably even a thousand easier ways to make the eyes....

Then I heated my candy coating, and prepared to dip the pops. My candy coating was really thick for some reason, so I used some shortening to help thin it out.

So you just sort of dip, and twirl them around---

 Use a spoon to scoop some around the stick if you need to.

And while the candy is still tacky, add the eyes.

One alien cake pop, coming right up!

There are so many fun ways to display these too, but I also had to factor in driving them to school without them falling over. So I asked my husband (who was very helpful during this project) to wrap a cardboard box in some space wrapping paper we had and I poked holes in the top to hold them as upright as possible. 

And just like that, it's an instant alien party! 

Happy 6th Birthday to my amazing son! I love you!!

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Down at Fraggle Rock!

My son is turning 6 next week. That fact alone fills me with equal parts relief, sorrow, wonder and a huge amount of JOY! In case I have never mentioned this before, I love the heck out of this boy. He is so much like me that sometimes we can barely be in the same room, and yet.....every day I am grateful (when I'm not tearing my hair out that is....) to have been given such a remarkable gift in this little boy.

But we were talking about cake, were't we?

Well, we'll start now.

I thought I'd show you last year's cake as a preview since we are still negotiating this year's cake. Lucky for him I can work quickly!

I love Jim Henson, (how's that for a segue??) but I do, and frankly, with all the TV programming available, I still prefer Sesame Street, the Muppet Show or Muppet movies and especially Fraggle Rock. I love the Fraggles, and I so wanted my kids to love them too. I think I bought the first dvd collection when Elliot was 18 months old, and I'm not even sure he watched TV then. But by the time he was 2 1/2, that kid was a Fraggle addict! He was Gobo Fraggle on Halloween when he was 3 and this year is considering being Boober Fraggle. I love this kid!

So, last year, on the milestone 5 year birthday, he asked for a Fraggle cake. And like a good Fraggle groupie, I said "Whoopeee!"  And then, like any other mom, I thought "oh no! how am I going to make that?!"

Well, the cake part was easy, I would make a whole bunch of different size and shape cakes, stack them together, frost them kind of unevenly, maybe carve them a little bit and that would look like rocks, no problem. So I gathered up my cake pans, borrowed some from friends and laid out a rough idea of how the cake would stack.

But the actual Fraggles, well, there's really only one way (that I could think of) to do that.

So I bought some pre-made white Wilton fondant and started sculpting.  And slowly, over the course of about a week, the characters started to take shape.

I sculpted only the top half of Red, so she could be in the Fraggle pond.

And Boober.

Then Wembley, I like to think he's wembling in this picture.

And Gobo and Mokey.  Gobo was the only one I managed to make stand up, everyone else is sitting.
They were heavier than I thought they'd be, you'll notice that I propped them all up using foam and toothpicks so they could dry without falling over.

Junior Gorg wound up being pretty big and surprisingly heavy, so he was the only one I had to sculpt out of Rice Krispie treats and cover with fondant. Didn't want him to sink into the cake or fall over!

And as always, the boy asked for the one character I didn't do, Sprocket the dog. But, since I had enough fondant left, I made him too.

I left the figures to dry for a few days (the addition of a little gum paste to the fondant helped) and went back and painted them with watered down gel colors. If I were to do this over again, I would probably tint the fondant with the gel colors first. The colors turn out much more vibrant and you save yourself an extra step.
So, here's everyone painted.

The gang.  I hope by now you're hearing the theme song in your head.

And Sprocket and Junior.

After a lot of baking and frosting, I assembled the whole thing.

And we were "Down at Fraggle Rock!" I have to say, I was thrilled at how this came out!

And the next morning, when he got up----

I think my 5 year old was too.  Just look at that ear-to-ear grin! I'd say that's one happy kid. 

And a great party, and a happy family.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Last Step---Cushions and The Finished Couch!

Thanks for hanging in there with me, I know this has been a long process and I truly appreciate you giving me your time.

Now let's make some cushions for this couch so it can move back into the house!

My couch has loose square pillows that go all across the back, very easy to make. Simply measure the existing cushions and cut out 8 squares, one front and one back, for each pillow. This is where I used my fabulous new contrasting fabric.

At the last minute I decided to add piping around the edge of my pillows in the contrasting rust colored fabric. Because, really, what's another step in the process at this point?

Cut 3-3 1/2" wide bias strips of the rust fabric and sew in the large cording to make the piping. Then pin along the outside edge of the pillows all the way around and stitch in place.You'll want to clip around the corners so the piping will lay flat.

Next, place the other square of pillow fabric, right sides together, on top and stitch around the piping edge again. Try to get your stitching as close to the piping as possible.  Leave an opening on one of the sides, then turn the pillow right side out and stuff using this opening. I really wanted to be able to sew this closed on my machine, but the pillow was just too large, so I stitched the opening closed by hand using heavy duty thread and a small slip stitch.

For the bottom cushions, which are shaped to fit the couch, I took apart one of the existing cushions to make a pattern. Lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric and trace around them adding seam allowance as needed. Make sure that you get a top and a bottom as these cushions have a direction. Also make sure that the stripes in the fabric are going in the same direction. Do the same with all the pieces of the cushions, again making sure that you have the right pieces to make 2 mirror image cushions. You'll need to make more piping in this fabric for the front of the cushions if you don't have enough left over from the front of the couch.

When cutting the back strip of fabric, you'll need to leave an extra 1-1 1/2" seam allowance for putting in the zipper. I promise, this is very easy and will end up so much nicer looking than hand sewing the edges together.
Here's how to add the zipper.  Machine baste (stitch length on the longest setting) the two pieces of fabric right sides together and press the seam open. Open up your zipper and pin down along one side of the seam allowance, you could also hand baste this in if you're not comfortable with the pins. Using a zipper foot or piping foot on the machine, sew down the zipper tape through all the fabric stitching close to the teeth, then sew another line near the outer edge of the zipper tape. Close the zipper and pin down the opposite side, then stitch the same way as the other side.  Stitch across the top of the tape to close the zipper and reinforce. Then use a seam ripper or small scissors to cut out the basting stitch, and pull open the zipper, easy and done!

Begin assembling the cushions by sewing piping onto the front edge of one cushion.  Lay the other cushion piece on top, right sides together, and stitch in place leaving about 1/2" of seam allowance on either end of the cushion. Next, sew all your side strips together creating one long strip. Pin all the way around the cushion right sides together. On the front corners, near the piping you may need to put in some tucks or gathers to fit around the curves, you can either machine baste those in place before pinning the sides in, or you can just hold them down with pins. Sew all the way around the cushions, double stitching and back stitching around the corners.  The corners always seem to be where the cushions come apart, so extra sewing will help.  Then trim the fabric from the corners and turn the cushion right side out through the zipper section, which you left open a little bit, of course. Then, through a series of very inventive wrestling moves, stuff the foam into the cushions.  Trust me on this one, the acrobatics can be crazy when trying to get foam back into a cushion! Then, close up the zipper and do your happy dance!

At this point my husband and I brought the couch frame back into the living room, put it back in it's spot and he put the bed back in. I only helped lift the bed into place and then I left him to it, with very stern instructions not to rip, get dirt on, sweat on, or otherwise harm my new couch in any way. So, I don't know what he did or how he did it, but he put the bed back in and then the couch looked like this---

I stood back and Oh, crap!! I forgot to make buttons for the arms! So here's a quick way to make covered "buttons".  Using that same heavy cardboard from the tack strips, cut 2 circles slightly smaller than the spot you want the buttons in.  I happened to have a spool of thread that was the right side, so I traced around it and cut out my circles.

Then put some batting on the front, lay a larger piece of fabric on top and hot glue the fabric to the back of the cardboard.

And you have a quick and easy covered "button".

Then, take a small nail and nail the "button" into place covering the staples.

The nail head needs to be small so it will pop through the fabric without leaving a hole. You don't need to hammer the nail in very far, just far enough that the button stays on.

I stood back again aaaaannnddd----


Let's take a moment to admire our work. This is a long way from where we started and I think we deserve a huge pat on the back and a glass of wine, or a giant chocolate milkshake, whichever is your preferred drink.

Of course, you can't drink them on the couch, wouldn't want to get it dirty now, would we??