Friday, 28 October 2011

Fettucini Fantasies

And now, ladies and gentlemen, for something slightly different. I told you there would be food, so here it is!

I have an unhealthy obsession with pasta. I can live off it for days and days - I'm pretty sure that in the five days I was in Italy every lunch and dinner had some sort of pasta in it. It was one of the first things I experimented with when I started cooking for myself, and some of the early experiments with white sauce ended very badly (curdled milk, anybody?). Between that and the fact that chorizo, which I love, doesn't really go well with cream, I started trying tomato-based sauces instead.

The recipe below is the culmination of lots of experimentation with smooshing random recipes together and some awesome input from Steph. For one, there used to be hardly any sauce, but she's absolutely obsessed with tomatoes (she eats them like apples!), so I figured I should add more of them to make sauce and it came out nicely. She also taught me a neat trick with oily meats like chorizo - if you stick the meat in a cold pan and let it heat up with the pan, all the oil comes out of it and you don't have to add any extra oil to your cooking.

If you're not into meat, I've made a slightly altered version of this for my vegetarian friends before. Just substitute 2 tbsp oil for the chorizo in step 2, let it heat up a bit and then follow along with the rest of the recipe.

If you're planning on reheating this a day or two after, add a bit of water and stir it around before you pop it into the microwave or a pot so it doesn't dry out.


Serves 4
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins

  • 2 Spanish chorizos, cubed
  • 4 medium tomatoes, cubed
  • 500g baby spinach
  • 10 button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 500g egg fettucini
  1. Boil pasta according to packet directions in plenty of salted boiling water.
  2. While pasta is boiling, put the chorizo in a cold pan and set on medium heat until it is lightly brown and the pan is oily (about 3-5 minutes).
  3. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic is translucent.
  4. Add in the mushrooms, half the tomatoes and 1/4 cup of water. Lightly smash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.
  5. Leave cooking, stirring occasionally, on a low heat until the tomatoes have broken down. Top up with small amounts of water if it's looking dry.
  6. Add in the rest of the tomatoes, the spinach, the lemon juice and some cracked black pepper. Stir until the spinach has wilted.
  7. Mix sauce into pasta. Don't serve with cheese! It tastes a bit odd with it.
And that's it! Let me know if you try it and whether you like it or not :)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Starting from Scratch

I don't actually remember when I learnt how to knit, or who taught me. I know, though, that the first thing I learnt to make were padded hangers - I thought they were pretty daggy, but Steph loved them so I kept making them for her as presents. I love them now too and I have quite a few in my wardrobe. They're ridiculously simple to knit, you just make a rectangle out of plain knit stitches, and the rest is in the sewing.

One of the hangers from my wardrobe
After knitting a lot of hangers, I remember that when my Mum first taught me how to purl it was a revelation. I noticed fairly early on that there was a difference between knitted and purled material, but no one ever sat me down and properly taught me the difference between garter and stockinette stitch. There's a scarf in my drawer from early high school (when I was 12 or so) that's made up in basketweave stitch, and I remember being so proud of myself because I figured out the pattern on my own.

My basketweave scarf
Since then I haven't really come up with anything on my own. I've taught myself (with lots of help from the internet!) how to do various increases and decreases, and I can alter a pattern, but I haven't ever just taken a ball of wool and some needles and winged it on anything more complicated than a rectangle. Part of the problem is that I absolutely hate ripping things out - it seems like such a waste of time and effort - so I knew if I ever wanted to start getting creative it would have to be something small.

When Zara opened in Sydney the lines were so ridiculous that Steph and I didn't venture in until a couple of weeks after it opened. All the good stock was pretty much gone (apparently on opening day 80% of the stock was gone in about 3 minutes!), but I picked up a nice top that was fairly plain except for the knitted bow that was sitting on it. It didn't occur to me straight away, but I realised the other day that it was nice and small and pretty simple to knit, so would make for an excellent first experimental project.

The knitted bow off my Zara top
Digging into my bag of scrap wool ended up being rather profitable - I found some merino from a hat I'd made for a cousin. There was a lot left over because she's eleven and her head is small, but being for an eleven year old girl, the wool was bright pink. It was lovely and soft though, so I went with it. The bow looked pretty easy to make - it just involved a main cylindrical part, and a smaller knitted loop to gather it in the centre. The main bit was going to be easy, but I (like most knitters, I think) hate sewing up seams, so I knitted it in the round. In retrospect it was so small that it probably would've been easier to just sew the side seam up!

Knitting in the round
The finished main tube

Once that part was done, it was just the little middle bit to do. Strangely enough, that was the part that caused the most trouble. Initially I made it way too big and it didn't gather the middle up well at all. It just sort of sat there loosely. I ended up finally biting the bullet and just ripping the whole middle out and starting again. It was actually somewhat liberating, although it still felt like a bit of a waste. I made it smaller, and it was still too big. It turns out that knitted material is much stretchier than I thought. I ended up making it comically small and just shoving the main part through it, and it came up nicely!

I stuck it on a bobby pin and I've worn it to work a couple of times. The pinkness of it makes me feel like I'm about 5, so I might try it again in a different colour. I'm really liking the pattern, especially since there's so many different things I can probably do with it - headbands, pins, decoration on clothing - so I might experiment with it a bit more and make them in different sizes to see what I can come up with :)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Taming the plastic beast

If you think protecting your sewing projects is a good idea, and ever feel so inclined to sew with thickish plastic sheeting, here are some useful tips I have discovered. Hopefully you this way you don't have to learn them the hard, painful way like I did!
  • It gets deformed when you iron it. This probably common sense but I just didn't think of it - I tried to iron the first piece I cut out and it became terribly wrinkly and crumpled and almost impossible to sew. If you really need to iron it, put the heat down to the minimum and put some material between your iron and the plastic.
  • It's weirdly sticky. I tried to sew with it, and my presser foot just wouldn't let the material feed through like it normally does. I was freaking out thinking that was something wrong with my sewing machine and it took me a while to realise that the PVC was sticking to the shiny casing of my machine and hanging on for dear life. Try your best to make sure there's material between the plastic and any part of your machine, especially the foot.
  • It's terribly unforgiving. While it may not look it, a sewing machine's needle is actually quite wide. Once you sew through the plastic once, if you unpick it you won't be able to reuse that part of the plastic as it will have a lovely row of holes punched in it.
  • It builds up a lot of static electricity. This one sounds odd, but it means that dust and dirt will stick to it like glue. You need to make sure to wipe it down before you use it.
  • It's inflexible, and it gets stiffer with time. I had it folded up like the rest of my material swatches and just couldn't use the last of it as it had been folded up for too long and was overly crinkly. Try and get it rolled up for you when you take it home.

The joys of PVC

I've had a lot of fun over the last couple of days drawing logos and printing labels, but tonight I fought a terrible battle against some PVC - just one new fight in a long struggle that basically has me losing against a sadistic plastic enemy.

My zipper pouches - can you spot the shiny enemy?
First, some background - one of my favourite things to make are little zipper pouches in bright prints that you can use for pretty much anything (I currently employ one as a makeup case, one as my camera case and keep one for jewellery when travelling). I realised fairly early on that I could make them spill-proof by sewing a plastic outer layer onto them, so I tottered off to my craft store to see what I could find. They had some awesome PVC sheets - the type your grandparents keep on their dining table to protect the tablecloth - so I brought some home. 

It took a lot of effort the first night. There were lots of things I didn't realise the PVC would do and lots of different ways I didn't realise it would react to my machine (like stick to it!). But after some fighting I finally figured out the best way of sewing it into the pouches. While they're more difficult to make than the non-plastic coated ones, they look lovely and really are spill-proof. And when I went back to buy a second batch the sales lady was extremely helpful and put it on a big roll for me so I could store it without it getting crinkled. Not the easiest thing to carry home, but effective none the less. So I thought I had won the war - until tonight.

The dreaded PVC roll
My state of mind after fighting with it all night

My friend asked me to make a pouch with the plastic on the inside, to protect against any makeup that might spill from within. Innocently enough, I said yes, thinking it couldn't be much worse than the normal ones, and went to work. I'm not very quick at making them yet - usually one will take me half an hour or so - but I ended up working on this for close to two and a half hours all up.

It just wouldn't work! Seeing as the plastic was getting pushed inside the pouch instead of just sitting outside like usual, trying to line up the amount of slack in the plastic versus the amount of give in the material was a nightmare. Also, the lining starts off as being inside-out and gets flipped around, and all the pushing and pulling put a bit too much strain on the plastic and it split slightly. Needing to fix the hole, coupled with the fact that the PVC just refuses to go through my machine when I try to sew it without any material between it and the needle, meant I had to finish the bag off by hand. Being more of a knitter than a sewer my stitching is somewhat wonky. Luckily it was just for the inside! I was also lucky in that I had some really sharp hand needles that pierced the plastic fairly easily. My fingers are still feeling rather sore and well-pricked though.

I actually really like the final product. It's very durable-feeling, and it won't get dirty on the inside (which my makeup case is starting to do). I sort of want one for myself now but the idea of making another one is sending my brain into a spin, so it may just have to forever remain as a painful but successful one-of a kind experiment.

The finished product
The pretty, evil interior

If you want to make your own plastic pieces and I haven't scared you off it entirely, hang around for the next post and I'll write up some tips for trying to work with it.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Of Logos and Labels

I've been meaning to do start up an actual brand for a while, but never got around to it. The most serious shot I had at it was a couple of months ago - I went online and tried to find a brand name by translating random English words into Filipino. When I typed in 'craft', it gave me 'bapor'. Out of curiosity, I flipped it back to English, and it gave me the words 'boat' and 'vessel' - it had translated the wrong type of craft! Despite the fact that I couldn't actually pronounce bapor (I never got the hang of rolling my rs in foreign languages), I still liked the sound of it, and I thought the origin of it made for a funny story, so I stuck with it. I went and got myself an email address and an Etsy account and started making little pouches.

When my sister Steph got wind of what I was doing, she got excited but insisted I label my creations. I'd just bought some material that was pretty and somewhat nautical-looking, which fit into the boat idea, and so we decided that it could be my 'signature' material and would make nice swing tags. It looked like this:

I owe Steph, because everyone who I showed the tags to from then on would comment on how professional-looking they were. But having recently decided on a new name and having spent time drawing up a new logo, I wanted to use the tag idea with the new brand. But how to do it? Cutting pieces out of material is one thing, but getting a logo on something is an entirely different kettle of fish...

I headed off to Etsy to see if anyone could make me custom labels. Doing a search proved rather fruitful, but I was a bit overexcited and the idea of having to wait for items to ship seemed frustrating. Through some more searching I discovered some nice tutorials that show you how to make them yourself with printable fabric.

Discovering the existence of printable fabric had my head running off in a million different directions with ideas of what to make, but first off, labels! A lot of tutorials on the internet bug me because they list American products that are hard to find here, so for anyone in Australia, you can buy Avery Inspired fabric from Lincraft stores or Jacquard InkJetPrinting cotton or silk from Eckersleys. Neither shop seems to stock the products in their online stores, but I found them in the physical shops.

Newest acquisition: printable fabric!

Lincraft was out of the Avery fabric, so I got the Jacquard one, and went to work finding a font to go with the logo. It turns out that there are a lot of sites that have open sourced fonts that you can use royalty-free. I went with Google Web fonts, which have the added advantage of giving you a line of HTML that you can stick in the top of a website that will show the font to anyone who views your page. For example, you probably don't have the Gloria Hallelujah font on your computer, but you should be able to see it here in the headings.

I laid out my label design in Inkscape again, and printing them was just like printing them on paper. The fabric comes with a backing that keeps it stiff for printing but then peels off easily afterwards. The only hassle was that the sheets weren't actually A4 sized, so I had to make a custom paper size on my laptop.


According to the instructions, you have to leave the fabric to dry for 24 hours and then wash it out - it comes out a bit sad and crumpled looking! But ironing it leaves it looking fine.

Some wet and crumpled labels
The Jacquard material is pretty soft and thin, and it frays rather easily. It works fine for the bigger labels, but the little ones tend to fray a bit on the sides. I might try and iron some interfacing onto it and see if it will stop it from unravelling so badly, but for now it doesn't look so bad!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Adventures in Inkscape

My dad is an amazing artist. He can take a piece of paper and almost anything that will make a mark on it, and voila! A drawing emerges. There's a beautiful chalk drawing of my mother that sits in their house - she can't be much older than I am now and the amount of life he managed to make radiate off the board is simply breathtaking. My sister managed to get the drawing gene off him, but I wasn't so lucky. I'm even worse on a computer - I can compose and edit things in Photoshop, but trying to draw them from scratch is a nightmare.

One of the few things I can draw are little cartoon elephants. Someone sketched one out for me once - so long ago that I don't know who or when anymore - and it stuck somehow. I've wanted to make labels for the things I make for a long time, and sticking an elephant on it seemed like a natural thing to do, but the idea of drawing it on a computer was terrifying to me.

To illustrate just how terrifying, here's the first attempt I made at digitising an Oliphant Kat, courtesy of Nick's iPhone:

Not very reassuring. But as you can probably see in the header, I managed to do it, and it actually only took a few hours.

Before I show you how I did it, first, a plea - please don't ever be intimidated by software. Experimenting on a computer isn't very different to experimenting with a sewing machine, or with some knitting needles. I saw a tutorial recently about printing custom material, and the first step was "Open Microsoft Word" and I almost audibly sighed. If you want to do something with graphics, use a program that's built for graphics. You can find a lot of free ones online, including Inkscape, which is what I used over the weekend.

I've done enough design computing to know that if you want to draw a logo, you should really be doing it as a vector graphic - it scales really well, which is especially good when printing things. In terms of software, this basically means using Illustrator instead of Photoshop. Sadly enough, I don't have Illustrator, but my friend pointed me towards Inkscape. It comes with some built in, interactive tutorials (Help > Tutorials), which helped me get the hang of it really quickly.

Whiskers, body, head and an ear
As you can see, I drew the Oliphant Kat in pieces. The reason I really suck at computer drawings is that I have next to no mouse control, but the program came with both built in shapes, and lots of ways to combine them. By drawing a shape, giving it a thick stroke and no fill (CTRL+SHIFT+F will get you the stroke and fill options), you end up with nice line drawings.

The body was fairly easy - it was two arcs on top of each other with their endpoints joined together (which I learnt in the tutorial!). The best bit I discovered, though, was while I was drawing the ear. One of my friends was helping me, and we got two ovals on top of each other and joined them together, but the join was really pointy. It turns out that if you want to draw curves, you can draw a built in shape and then hit CTRL+SHIFT+C and it becomes what's called a path. You end up getting points on the outline of the shape that allow you to control where the line goes and how curved or pointed that area is. This means you can draw a curve and then just start bending it, instead of having to draw your shape freehand in the first place.

Green control points on a path
Once I had the pieces drawn, it came down to positioning. You can align objects vertically or horizontally really easily (CTRL+SHIFT+A for options) but making the shapes look like they were in front of or behind each other was more difficult. I wanted to do this all on one layer, so I had to just combine the shapes I had.

Combination options in the Path menu
In the second section of the Path menu there are some interesting looking options that will look familiar if you've ever done set theory in maths. The most useful ones were 'Union' and 'Difference'. Union joins two objects together as if you've stuck them together by gluing the overlapping parts. Difference does the opposite, and will take two objects and delete one of them along with the sections in which they overlap. To make the body look like it was behind the head, I positioned them, hit difference, and was left with the body minus the overlapping head area. The only trick with this is knowing what will get deleted - would I get the remainder of the body, or the remainder of the head? We discovered that in Inkscape, you can move objects 'above' and 'below' each other (Object > Raise/Lower). You need to move the piece you want to keep to the bottom of the other one (Object > Lower to Bottom) before you do the difference.

The head and the body, difference with the head below the body, difference with the body below the head
One last tip - don't ever hit CTRL+C! If you want to copy something, Duplicate (CTRL+D) instead - whenever I tried copying something it did strange and unexpected things.


That's it! I went from 'Before' to 'After' in a couple of hours of fiddling with some new software and I'm really happy with the result :D

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Project 365: Week 2

Day 8 (12/9/11)

So, 8 days in, I successfully managed to forget to take a photo... oops. Being somewhat ashamed of myself, I'm pretending this is from Day 8 even though it's from Day 4. I'm a complete and utter sucker for Japanese food, so Nick got a voucher to Wasabi Bistro from one of those group-signup deal sites. This was one of 7 delicious courses - having tuna sushi covered with salmon is somewhat extravagant and ridiculously tasty.

Day 9 (13/9/11)

Two days failure in a row! And this time I don't even have a backup photo - how upsetting.

Day 10 (14/9/11)

This is Warm Ted, one of my favourite teddy bears, going around and around in the microwave. His body is full of lovely little heat beads that keep you warm when he's heated up, but watching a teddy going around in the microwave for 3 minutes is somewhat terrifying.

Day 11 (15/9/11)

My workplace is overstocked with awesome things - aside from a ping pong table and a foosball table and more junkfood than you can shake a stick at, we have a very well-kept stationery cupboard. I realised there were so many different colours of fluro Post-It notes that I couldn't do anything but take them all and make a stack out of them, and seeing the result, how can you blame me?

Day 12 (16/9/11)

Aside from being very well-stocked, my company likes to throw elaborate parties. When asked to pick a theme for one of them, my team went through a long, strange and convoluted process and arrived at "Communist Zombies". I volunteered to be a bar tender and so got the full undead treatment. I've definitely looked better!

Day 13 (17/9/11)

This is Nick having a picnic for his birthday. He's an amazingly organised person but it took a lot of convincing to make him have a party, so he had it exactly a month and a day after the actual date. It turned out to be terrible timing however - Nick's friend in the background of the photo was celebrating his birthday that day!

Day 14 (18/9/11)

I somehow got wind of the fact that the major cinema complex in the city was having a charity pre-screening of the Lion King in 3D, so Nick and his sister and I hurried off to go see it. It turned out to be even better than I thought - there were balloons and some face-painting, and the majority of the audience were adults in their late twenties who we reliving their childhoods very enthusiastically (just like I was!) I've never seen people clap so much in a cinema. Go see it if you haven't yet - it's the first 3D remastering that I've seen in which the 3D actually improves the movie.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Project 365: Week 1

Apparently I'd only just discovered the wonders of Instagram!

Day 1 (5/9/11)

I'd been thinking about doing this for quite a while, and I decided to finally bite the bullet at about 11pm. The only thing I had lying around that was even remotely impressive was my recycling - I was finally taking out after a month so I thought it was notable :)

Day 2 (6/9/11)

I'm obsessed with MarioKart, so last year Nick and one of our friends decided to get me a Toad and a Koopa Troopa soft toy for Christmas. They live on my desk at work now, and we made the happy discovery a while ago that Koopa Troopa's hand could hold very thin things. On the morning of this photo Edible Blooms had sent a congratulatory Baci Bouquet to work for some unknown reason. Don't worry, the wrapper's empty - I popped the chocolate in my mouth the second I got my hands on it. Om nom nom.

Day 3 (7/9/11)

About 3/4 of the way through dinner with my friend G I realised I hadn't taken a photo for the day, panicked, and declared I was taking one of her. She wasn't particularly impressed!

Day 4 (8/9/11)

This was my morning tea - a strawberry cupcake from Ghermez via our work's Breast Cancer Foundation fundraiser, and a smiley mandarin. It turns out that mandarin skins are actually non-porus and thick enough to protect the delicious insides from Sharpies.

Day 5 (9/9/11)

My friends and I walk past Mulligans a lot, and we finally got curious and went in. I wasn't actually expecting much (I thought it was a pub until I walked through the door!) but it was amazing. This is Baileys Cheesecake, and it was even more delicious than it looks.

Day 6 (10/9/11)

We have a foosball table at work, and my friends and I have, on more than one occasion, played a ridiculous version we call 'drinking foosball'. So when I stumbled across this in a novelty store I was almost tempted to buy it and bring it in to the office!

Day 7 (11/9/11)

I found this outside the old borded up Borders store in my local shopping centre. Apparently Dymocks are taking full advantage of their competitor's unfortunate demise.