Friday, 20 July 2012

Let There Be Light

When Steph and I moved in to our apartment two years ago, we despaired a bit at the huge expanses of white walls, and the fact that all our furniture was white and cream. We never really did manage to decorate much, and the apartment's nice but not really very homely. When Jade moved in a month or two ago she somehow managed to make her room this giant burst of colour, and one of the bits of it I envied the most was a lovely pretty lamp that she has. I'm a terrible copycat - when I see something I like, I'm pretty shameless and just copy it - so I've been on the hunt for a new lamp since she moved in.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Market Research: Finding Etsy

See Part 1: Fabric-a-brac Redux

After Fabric-a-Brac came two markets full of lovely handmade craft - Show 'n' Sell, and Finders Keepers.

Show 'n' Sell was a handmade market run by the Sydney Etsy Team that I went to with my lovely and crafty friend Helen. To be honest I can't remember how I heard it was on, but it was a little market run at World Bar. World Bar's in King's Cross, so it's not exactly the most obvious setting for a craft market, but they run an initiative called the Wall where they showcase different artists' work in the bar.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Market Research: Fabric-a-Brac Redux

It seems to be the season for funky craft markets. Over the last couple of months I've managed to stumble across three different market events selling a variety of crafty supplies and handmade items, and they've resulted in quite a few successful shopping trips. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Seeing Spots

I've always envied people who can sew their own clothes. The idea that you can have clothes that fit you exactly and look just like what you want is ridiculously appealing to me. When I first got my sewing machine, I had a crafty night with my friend G and I watched in awe as she sat down with an old pair of jeans, some patchwork material and a pair of scissors and just whipped up a skirt. I've been looking for a longish black and white skirt for a while and haven't been able to find one (why is everything mini-skirt length these days?), so I decided to try making one.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Ice Cream Sandwich

My lovely friend Jade and I have been talking about moving in together for a while. It's been about a year in the making, but two weekends ago she finally moved in, and its been a blast! It seems, though, that having a new housemate is a good excuse to clean your apartment, and so for the last couple of weeks we've been attacking the kitchen and cleaning out the fridge and pantry. In the process I discovered that we have an overabundance of cocoa - apparently every time I've need to bake with it I've just bought some instead of checking if we have any.

Seeing all the cocoa made me want to bake, and we had some walnuts lying around, so I decided to make brownies. My mum has a really good Cadbury cookbook so I borrowed the recipe and a large baking tray and went to town with it. Unfortunately I seem to have taken too large a baking tray - the amount of brownie mixture that was made barely covered the bottom of the tray. The resulting brownies were dense and delicious but they were pretty flat.

Jade took a look at them and declared they looked like biscuits. She then decided that we should make ice cream sandwiches out of them, and my brain practically exploded.

I love ice cream. It's actually physically impossible for me to describe how much I love ice cream, because when my brain thinks about it it goes like this:

s;ahf;oaihefohkjsdlasdlfjkjlksoie!!!ICE CREAM!!!!sadkljhfo;hsj;adf

We'd discovered during our freezer clean-up that not only did we have ice cream in the freezer, but we had two flavours of ice cream. There was vanilla and chocolate with chocolate chunks (mmm, even more chocolate!). We ended up making two-tone ice cream sandwiches, and they were amazing. They're pretty easy to make, and we had fun mushing the ice cream into vaguely rectangular shapes. Next time we do it we might go to some extra effort and freeze the ice cream in square containers first, then cut actual rectangles out of it.

They tasted delicious, and I think I was still on a sugar high four hours later. You'll have to forgive me for the somewhat dodgy photos - I wanted to take some nice ones but I got too excited about actually eating them that I had inhaled them before I could be bothered to cleaning off the plates and lining up the shots!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


After being so excited at receiving my lovely sewing machine for Christmas, I suddenly got caught up with a few knitting projects. Mid March I realised that I'd had it for 3 months, I hadn't sewn anything yet, and I actually really missed it. So in a fit of (hopefully temporary) madness I upended my fabric collection onto my living room floor.

At the end of the night, I ended up with a very messy living room floor, and half a drawstring bag.

My lovely mess. Yes, that's a bottle of shampoo in the background.
For a bit of backstory, Steph asked me a while ago for a small laundry bag with a picture of lingerie on the front that she can use when she's travelling. I figured it'd be nice to have a plain bag with the detail on the front matching the lining. The fabric I'd picked up from the Fabric-a-brac late last year seemed to be just the right size and sort of pattern, so it all worked out pretty well.

Matching lining!
Usually I just dive straight in to these things but I'm glad I actually stopped and had a think first this time round. I ended up cutting out stencils of the underwear before I cut the material, and it's a good thing I did because it took a couple of goes to get the sizing of the undies right compared to the bag.

Sewing the design onto the front of the bag was actually surprisingly doable thanks to the new machine - it has a setting that my old one didn't have that lets you sew small things a lot more easily. I didn't want to fiddle with folding the edges under, so I ironed some interfacing onto the back so it wouldn't fray and just sewed close to the edges of the shapes.

It ended up taking me a few nights and a bit of thinking (making the loop for the drawstring to go through took some thought!) but it was pretty fun to make in the end. In hindsight if I were to make it again I'd probably make it out of thinner material so it'd be easier to wash. I'm pretty sure Steph likes it, though, which is probably the most important thing :)

Sunday, 29 April 2012

An Exercise In Patience

The company I work for is obsessed with t-shirts, to the point that one of our customers once joked that we were a t-shirt company masquerading as a software company. Most of the shirts we get made are fairly elaborate and designed in-house for special occasions, but one of our lovely designers decided to draw up unofficial plain text-based ones of memorable things people had said around the office. I really liked the designs, so for Christmas last year I asked her partner which ones they each liked the best, and took a crack at making them.

The original shirt designs - courtesy of @samthebridge

Luckily I found a couple of plain t-shirts at Giordano (although they didn't have a dark blue male one so I had to settle for green), then I wandered off to Lincraft to find t-shirt transfers. There were two types - for white and coloured backgrounds - so I grabbed a pack of the coloured ones.

I started out by printing out a couple of draft versions of the text to get the sizing right. It turned out that choosing the colour was also somewhat difficult - at first I thought a really light grey would be good, but when I tried it out it was too dark. Light cream ended up looking a bit closer to white so I just went with that.

Experimenting with colour and positon

When I bought the transfers, I had assumed that the coloured background type would be a clear sheet that you just printed your design on to and then could cut around roughly and iron on the shirts. To my horror, when I opened the packet the whole sheet was opaque white! I have no idea why they were for 'coloured backgrounds', but it left me with no choice but to cut out all the letters individually.

Oh. My. Goodness. In general I'm not a patient person but I usually get a bit pedantic with getting craft projects perfect. This was really pushing it though. I think all up for the two shirts I was cutting up letters for at least 2 or 3 hours - at least I can say I have excellent cutting skills now. The worst part was the letters like 'e' and 'b' that had bits that needed the middle cut out, and the one 's' I had to cut out was terrible. Whenever I hit an 'l' or a capital 'i' I was over the moon.

I'm about the same size as Sam, and I'd bought myself a shirt along with the two presents I'd gotten, so I was able to position the text in the right place by trying on my shirt with the draft copies I'd made earlier. I just sort've guessed for the other one!

I had a bit of a mishap with the green one - I stuck some paper over the letters and ironed them like the instructions said, but I didn't read all the instructions properly and took the paper off too early (it has to cool down before you peel it off, oops!). Some of the letters came off, so I just grabbed the practice copies of the letters and used them as stencils directly against the t-shirt transfer. It meant that some letters were cream and some were actually white, but given that the shirt said 'Suboptimal', it sort've made sense! I'm glad I did it first though - if I had done the blue one first and lots of letters had been ruined I would've cried.

I'm actually really happy with how they turned out. The edges of the lettering aren't quite perfect and some of them came out a bit wonky but it made the t-shirts feel a bit more personal than if it'd just been printed out by a machine. Plus, while the letters were a huge pain to cut out, not having large expanses of clear t-shirt transfer stuck to the shirt was awesome. As a finishing touch I put our company's logo on the back of the shirts where it appears on our official shirts - it was much easier to cut out than the letters were!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Under Construction

Now that I have my shiny new sewing machine, I'm going to say a fond but relieved farewell to my mum's old machine by sharing with you the last project I made with it. Fittingly enough, it ended up being a Christmas present for my mum.

I've been toying with the idea of making a shoulder bag for a while - I figured the basic construction of it would be the same as a lined pouch, just with an open top and shoulder straps. I wanted to put up a pattern and tutorial, but in my last-minute rush (I started making it at 11am on Christmas morning!) I sort've ran out of time to take photos. I'll share what I have though.

The main difficulty was with the straps. To make a lined item, you sew it inside-out and then flip it round at the end. Figuring out how to sew the straps on so they'd actually be in the right place after flipping it took a lot of thinking about. I eventually worked it out - you sew them on upside down in between the lining and the outside of the bag.

Sewing the strap to the lining - the outside panels got sewn on top of this

I was also worried that the straps wouldn't be able to hold the weight of the bag. In the end I copied some of the green canvas grocery bags I had in the house and attached them with a cross pattern. Then I stitched over the crosses about 3 times for good measure.

Marking out the strap attachment

I lined the underside of the straps, too. Before attaching them to the bag I just sewed the lining and the outside material together along the long sides and the bottom, then turned them inside out. Because they were long and thin it took some coaxing with a ruler, and at times they looked somewhat inappropriate...

After the straps were on, the rest of the process was pretty straightforward. The bag itself came out really nicely - I like how the leaves are only at the bottom of it so they look like they're growing up towards the top. Mum uses it as a toiletries bag now though, so maybe I should've lined it with plastic!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

With A Little Help From My Friends

I've been blessed to have the most amazing people in my life, and their support of my hobbies has been beyond belief (having a conversation with someone who's sitting there knitting must be a somewhat off-putting experience). As I've said before, my family's always put a lot of importance on presents, so with Christmas in December and my birthday in February the new year always sees me with a lot of new stuff. This year was no exception - amongst some pretty accessories and clothes (thanks Steph!) I ended up with some awesome craft-related presents.

For my birthday, my lovely friend and soon-to-be housemate got me a new knitting book. I always find pattern books a bit hit and miss but this is more of an encylopedia than anything, and it has a stitch dictionary at the back full of cable and lace patterns that I'm just itching to try out.

I love knitting in the round. I can't stand sewing at the end of a knitting project, and circular needles mean that you just don't have to seam a sleeve or two. The only problem is that every project seems to call for a different sized needle with a different length of cable, and buying all the different combinations individually has ended up being somewhat expensive. My parents got me an interchangeable knitting set - it's from Knit Pro, and it's brilliant. There are eight different sized needles that screw on to four different lengths of cable, so effectively it's stopping me from having to buy 32 different sets of needles!

Last but definitely not least, Nick got me a new sewing machine. I can't actually express how excited I was. Up until now I've been using my mum's old one which has been a bit unreliable. My machine's from Singer, but I'm not giving a link to it because I'm too scared to Google it - my mum took one look at it and went "that looks expensive!". It's so awesome to not have to stop and unpick mistakes that the machine's made, and it has a whole range of stitches. My favourite one so far has been the overlocking stitch - it makes edges look overlocked without actually needing an overlocker.

New machine!

Up close and personal
The huge range of fancy stitches
I haven't been blogging much because I've been playing with my new toys, but keep your eyes peeled for some new posts soon!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Small Shopping Sprees

I've never been into online shopping. I'm happy to buy things like concert tickets, but in general I'm pretty fussy so I don't like purchasing things unless I can see or feel them first. It's something I'm definitely trying to get over though. I want to get more involved in the general crafty community and support other people who make handmade things, and a lot of it seems to be online.

A while ago I came across an Australian site called Madeit through an unexpected source. Canteen are an amazing organisation that provide relief opportunities for kids living with cancer (go check them out and support them if you can). Their main fundraising event every year is Bandana Day, when they get volunteers to sell bandanas on the street for them. I've bought one every year since late high school, and my stash currently looks like this:

Two years ago I volunteered to be a seller. In the information package they sent me there was a flyer for Madeit and a suggestion to sew some bandanas into something and sell it. It seems that, like me, a lot of their sellers have a bandana overload!

I never did buy anything off Madeit, but their sister shop Craftumi is excellent. Craftumi sells supplies, and I can't find anything bad to say about it. Since it's local, orders ship really quickly, and a lot of the shops let you do direct bank deposits. Also, since it follows the model of having individual shops with vendors you deal with directly, communication about the status of your order is really good. A few fabrics from the Oli-store are from there: the Owls and the Deer came from Fabric Pixie, while HedgeHog Meadow came from DesignerFabricInOz.

I made a purchase more recently from Spoonflower, who I'd heard about a year ago from one of my friends. Spoonflower's an awesome idea - designers and artists can upload images that get printed as fabric. There's a huge number of designs on the site, and when I first visited a year ago I'd already found a lovely ladybug pattern I fell in love with.

I'd never gotten around to buying it mainly because the prices just seem to high. But late last November, I found out that they were having a two for one sale on fat quarters and I went nuts. I ended up buying the ladybugs along with 5 other lots of material from various shops. My favourite is (rather predictably) an elephant pattern. I made a pouch out of the ladybugs but haven't had a chance to make anything with the elephants yet - what should I make?

Elephant March by Endemic

The prime candidate for a shopping spree of this sort seems to be Etsy, but I just haven't managed to find that many things that I've fallen in love with yet. When I finally did make a purchase a couple of months ago it was only for some zippers for my pouches - not particularly exciting. I have had my eye on a particularly pretty nightgown for a while, but Steph got me one for my birthday so I'll have to have a think.
Bon Bon sleepwear by Sandmaiden
Where do you like to shop? Do you know any good handmade shops that sell online? Any recommendations would be awesome :)

Monday, 20 February 2012

All Puffed Up

A short while after I started sewing up pouches I started toying with the idea of adding things to them. One of the early successful experiments was the protective plastic, and I've made and sold about equal numbers of the normal and PVC coated versions. Aside from wanting to protect the fabric of the pouch itself, though, I've been wondering how to protect the things inside it for a while.

Padding is an odd concept to work with. Most protective cases I've had for electronics have been quite stiff and made of leather or plastic, but about a year or so ago when I needed a new camera case, it seemed a shame not to use some of the lovely brightly coloured material I had lying around.

Sorry about the picture quality - having my camera in the shot meant taking the photo on my phone!

The only padding I've ever really worked with has been for the padded hangers I make. It's pretty thick, and comes in big rolled up sheets. I'm not even entirely sure what it's called. I think the actual term for it is wadding. It seemed fluffy enough to protect my camera, so I started sewing a new pouch, and halfway through the process stuffed some of the wadding in between the lining and the outside. It came out ridiculously puffy. I figured I'd iron it, but that turned out to be a bit of a mistake when the whole padded inside shrunk! It's still very lightly padded though and seems to have protected my camera well enough for the last year.

One of my friends saw the padded case, and asked me if I could make one for her. This time, instead of stuffing the padding in between the layers, I actually sewed it in around the edges with the lining. I also didn't iron it, so it came out much puffier.

Aside from the fact that I picked a bit too small a zipper for the pouch, I quite like how it turned out. Working with new materials is always challenging but when it works out it's really rewarding. When my friend originally saw my camera case, I had only just picked up the fabric (My Little Helpers from Spellstone on Spoonflower) from the Post Office. Also, I only managed to sew the padding into the lining because I had a brand new sewing machine - my old one couldn't have handled it. I'm actually really excited about the new machine but it's getting late here in Sydney so I'll have to tell you the stories behind it and the new fabric another day!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Such Sweet Sorrow

Selling handmade items is a strange exercise. You invest so much of yourself, your time and your effort into making something useful and beautiful, but then you go ahead and give it away. I've been lucky in that everything I've sold has been something that I already own myself. Friends will see something I have, or that I'm wearing, and will ask me to make them a copy. This has meant that I've never really experienced separation anxiety when I deliver people's orders - until recently, that is.

Around Christmas time, one of my friends asked me if I'd make him some cushions to give as a present. Apparently his friend has a black leather couch, and that was the only requirement he gave me - the rest was up to me. I didn't have any material in my stash that I had enough of to make two cushions with, so I had to head off to find some.

I stumbled across a nice-looking fabric shop near Nick's house and decided to have a look one day. I was thinking of getting something white-ish for the cushions, and they had this really cool black and white square pattern in the shop. The material was some sort of cotton blend and it felt really nice to the touch. It was a tad pricey, but it was too nice to pass up.
Being the intelligent person I am, I went home, sat down to make the cushions, and realised that to make two cushions you have to buy four squares worth of material, not two like I'd just done. I thought the material would look nice with a plain white back so I headed off to another material store to find some heavy cotton. I discovered that a) thick plain cotton is actually really hard to find and b) white actually comes in many different shades and trying to find a white that matches another white you already have is almost impossible. Before I left for the shop Steph had been trying to convince me the cushions would look better with a black back, so I ended up leaving with a black synthetic type material - not ideal, but overall not bad.

Cushion covers aren't difficult to make. Aside from figuring out the closure for them (zippers, in my case), they're essentially just two big squares sewn together. I was having fun making them but wasn't particularly excited about seeing the result, until I actually pulled it out of the sewing machine and stuffed the cushion inside of it. This is what it looked like:

I don't know what happened, but all of a sudden I was in love with the thing. It was so soft and the print with the black backing was so nice and the material felt so good that I seriously just sat and hugged it for ten minutes. Whenever I sell something, I think I undervalue it a bit in terms of pricing. One of my friends once loved the pouch I made her so much that she insisted on giving me more money than I asked for it, and I was confused, but with the cushion I all of a sudden understood how you could pay a lot of money if you really loved something.

The idea of giving it away made me really sad, but thankfully I had Nick's shiny SLR camera on hand so I had a bit of a photo shoot with it.

It actually looked really good on my couch! If I can get my hands on some more of the material, I might be sneaky and make myself one. But until then, I hope its owner loves it as much as I do.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Christmas Cutting and Colouring

My family's always been into presents. I didn't realise until a few years ago that it was possible for people to 'not be present people'. Any celebration involving Steph, my parents and myself always involves some sort of cake and a lot of presents for the celebrant - it's just what we've always done. It's something that I've ended up extending to my friends, too, which possibly gets annoying at times - I routinely ignore any 'you don't have to bring me a gift' statement when I get an invitation to a party, and I usually get Christmas presents for my friends.

This year for Christmas I figured it would be nice to make something for everyone instead of buying things. I have a decently mixed group of friends - half guys and half girls, and everyone's interested in different things - so something edible seemed to be the go. Some of my fondest Christmas memories are of eating yummy sugar coated shortbread, so I figured I'd give it a stab. I went online to hunt down a recipe and found a nice looking Homemade Shortbread Recipe from

When I made a test batch, the dough seemed a bit wet, so I went ahead and just started adding flour until it seemed right. I didn't have any cookie cutters so I used my measuring cup as a stencil. They came out very short and crumbly but still very tasty. The extra flour made them a bit difficult to roll out but it was manageable enough.

I figured I'd be a bit more Christmasy for the actual presents and borrowed Nick's Christmas shaped cookie cutters. After rolling out the dough, I started pressing down on it with the cutters. They tessellated surprisingly well but it was a bit difficult to peel away the surrounding dough. Steph came over, saw what I was doing, and gave it a shot. Instead of just pressing the cutters down, she started wriggling them around in the dough, and they came out much more easily. Apparently I missed the cookie-cutter lesson at preschool!

My cookie cutting attempt Steph's clearly superior skills

They took a surprisingly long time to bake but they made the kitchen smell fantastic. I'd never baked shortbread before this, and I got a bit impatient with the test batch and took them out a bit prematurely, so I didn't realise that they skip the golden brown stage and go straight to a toasted-brown colour. My oven's a bit uneven so the ones at the back were quite a bit browner, and the lighter ones definitely tasted better. If you're ever making shortbread definitely don't leave it in the oven for too long.

Finished product! The slightly toasted cookies from the back of the oven

I made a double recipe, and after the first batch there was still quite a lot of dough left over that I left in the fridge. When I took it out two days later it was rock hard - it turns out that the dough gets particularly unmanageable when it's cold. If you're going to store it in the fridge make sure you take it out a couple of hours before you actually need it so it can warm back up to room temperature.

I wanted to try something fun with the second batch, and thought the sugar that you sprinkle on top of the cookies was something that I could play with. I was wondering aloud to my friend if coloured sugar was something that existed. Lo and behold, searching for 'coloured sugar' gives some nice recipes so I went ahead and gathered some supplies.

It seemed simple enough. In my mind I was expecting the food colouring drops to slowly seep into the sugar, but when I first dropped the food colouring in it curled up and formed a strange little green ball! Instead of the colour spreading through the sugar it looked like the sugar was just getting stuck to the drops of food colouring.

I figured I'd done something wrong, so I tried it again with less food colouring. It still did it though, so I figured I'd just see what happened if I did what the instructions said and shook the jar, and all of a sudden it worked. I did it with the other colours too and it looked amazing. If you're planning on making some, be careful with your food colouring to sugar ratio - I didn't like the colour of the red sugar, so I kept adding more food colouring, and it turned out very red but oddly sticky. If you're planning on storing the sugar instead of using it straight away, apparently you can leave it out to dry on some foil overnight to reduce some of the stickiness from the moisture in it.

Having coloured sugar makes it a lot more obvious where you've actually managed to sprinkle the sugar onto the cookie. I was doing it with a spoon and it wasn't coming out very evenly - it might've been a good idea to find some cheap disposable salt shakers and do it that way. Also, putting yellow sugar onto straw coloured cookies is a bit redundant. Overall, though, they looked very lovely and cheerful.

Trying to choose colours for the different shapes was interesting. The Christmas tree and candy cane shapes were obvious enough, but what colour do you make an angel? At the end of the day I just picked some colours and stuck to them.

Colouring wise, my favourites were the little gingerbread-man shaped cookies. Nick came up with the idea of giving them different coloured shirts and pants, and I managed to master my sugar-sprinkling skills enough to pull it off.

The cookies went out to a couple of different people, and they all made it safely enough, albeit a little bit crumbled. The candy cane and shooting star ones seemed especially fragile - having long thin segments of crumbly cookies probably wasn't the best idea. My mum thought I should have stuck to the original recipe instead of adding extra flour so they'd be nice and buttery instead of being very short, so I'll have to give it a go next time. Most of the people who I gave them to seemed to like them though. Apparently Nick's family's batch got gobbled up very quickly by his little cousins - I think that having a tick of approval from a batch of little kids is a pretty good sign that you've done something right!