Posts filed in: February 2008

Smocking Is My Bag

comments: 86

I finished my smocking bag on Wednesday! Yay!

Smockingbag4I can't believe I actually finished something. I finished the smocking part over the weekend — it really does take a long time to pleat everything by hand, I will say; I think I used about four rows of pleating down the length of the design, and it was a whooooole lotta width. But I dig it. You can watch movies while you do it. I really enjoyed the process, and I do love the sweet, rustic, sort of fairytale way it looks.

Smockingbag2 The bottom is a little . . . . bulbous. Too poufy. A lot poufier than the bag from the book looks. I was trying to figure out how this could be; the thing starts as a rectangle, and the angled shape is made entirely from the way the top gets sucked in by the pleats. My final top width matched the dimension given in the book, though I didn't cut the original rectangle to the size specified because when I started it I was just kind of fooling around and thought, "Oh, I'll just start smocking this thing, I won't measure it." When I finished pleating the top, it turned out it was the exact dimension it was supposed to be and I thought, "Cool! Nice one. Lucky coincidence." You cut the lining to that final, pleated shape. BUT my bottom was crazy-wide and the shape of the bag looked really weird. Then I realized that the original bag was made of 1/4" gingham and mine was almost 1/2" — with gingham that big, a lot of extra ease gets sucked into each pleat, and it eventually adds up to quite a few inches. I wound up tacking the outside of the bag to the lining (you cut the lining with angled sides; it has no gathers) at the corners, so that the bottom edge could then just gather itself up between the corners and not go wigging out. If that makes sense. It's still a little poufier than I wanted, but I think it's okay. I'm already doing another one using 1/4" gingham and I have to say I think it will work a lot better, but it is harder to pleat by hand. We'll see what happens.


When I do it again, I'll do something else differently as well. When I stitch around the top, stitching the lining to the bag, I'll flip it so that the bag is on the outside and the lining is on the inside while I'm stitching. That way I can stitch straight on the line that is made by the stripe of the pleated gingham. Usually when I make bags I put the bag into the lining, with right sides facing (so the outside of the lining is facing me). Then I pin around the top through both layers, and just stitch. (I leave an opening in the side of the lining so I can pull the bag through when I turn it.) But my top seamline is not completely straight and it really shows against gingham. If you were stitching while looking at the actual gingham, you could follow the stripe and I think it would look better. Anyway, sewing talk.

Are you still here? Hello? Sigh. I could keep going, seriously. Here's some wallpapered closet door talk though.

Hearts and Flowers

comments: 69


Happy Valentine's Day, sweethearts! Blowing you little kisses from here. Andy made me a present that I really love. I have to figure out where to put it and then I'll take a picture to show you. I know I'm starting to get a long list of things I've said I will show you! I finished my smocking bag yesterday and I want to show you that, too. The days go so fast. I said this morning, "It's so weird that it's Wednesday 'cause it really feels like Thursday," and Andy said, "Except that it is Thursday." "Oooooohhhhhhh . . . yeah." What is my problem.


I don't know if I've ever told you about my fireplace roses, but I think I have. I made these little plaster roses many years ago, using plaster of Paris and some candy molds. They just pop right out. I hot-glued them to the bricks (er, probly not sposed to do that, no . . . ) and then piped vines connecting all the flowers and leaves. Then I just painted the whole thing this khaki color. It was really easy. I saw it on the Christopher Lowell show a long time ago (whatever happened to that guy?) — this lady did it to cover a whole bunch of cracks in her wall that she just couldn't get rid of. Hers was really pretty because she did it over an archway.

Big huge kiss and a thank you to everyone who has written with kind words about March's Country Living, which has a little story about Posie. I'm so honored to be featured among the inspiring and creative women they are focusing on this month in their entrepreneurial issue. Country Living has been so good to me. I heart them bigtime. Many people have asked me if I've repainted the studio pink, because the photos of it in the mag are very . . . pink (and you probably know it as insanely blue), but no — all of the photos they used in this issue were ones they had on file from another story we did back in 2005. This March 2008 issue is packed with so many interesting stories, good advice, and truly fascinating people. If owning your own business is your dream, I think you'll love what they've collected here. It's a great issue. I'm very flattered to be included.

Button Candy

comments: 69


Busy day today. Hopefully that will make up for yesterday. Yesterday just kept slipping through my fingers, no matter what I started and what I stopped (about eleven things). Should've probably parked it and given up. Was going to make chocolate something-or-other, but just wound up playing with some buttons, which look like candy to me. So cute.

I watch the Today show every morning. I like Matt Lauer but the energy between him and Meredith Vieira makes me nervous for some reason. I love Ann Curry the most. Today they had a segment from Mike Leonard who went back to the Catholic school in Chicago where he and his wife met many years ago. He asked the little kids to help him write love notes for his wife, to see if they could do a better job than he.

Kid, reading Valentine he made: "This year please don't throw trash at me."

And then the interviewer guy's like, " 'Please don't throw trash at me' ?"

Kid [looking unsure]: "Yeah."

Hmmmm. I've got to be able to do better than that, though I will say it seemed pretty sincere.

I looked all over town for pink doilies to make a little garland similar to the one I saw on Darcy Miller's blog header (it changes every time you refresh it, so you might have to click a few times) but I couldn't find any (I really wanted pink ones). Isn't that so pretty?


comments: 55


Monday ("Pastry-bag-day") already, huh? That weekend was sloooow, yet too fast. It was sloooow because it felt like the first one in I don't even know how long where Andy and I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. We puttered. He puttered, I sat. Mostly cross-stitching and smocking (show ya later). Tick tick tick the hours went by, quiet and slow. We watched Persuasion and Uncle Buck. He made rice pudding and Swedish meatballs. I made chicken and broccoli. Clover got long walks. We considered going various places and decided not to. Man, it was so great. All of us here needed that so much.

I'm blushing furiously over how many people downloaded the Pleasant Kitchen Dishtowel designs. Shelly told me she checked the stats last night and the pdf had been downloaded 1,717 times. DUDES! Seriously? I'm so pleased that you like them. I have really loved doing this project, and plan to finish all the bindings this week and help you with that, too. Really I'm just completely delighted that both the concept and the designs have found such kindred spirits. Some projects just need to be shared, so thank you for welcoming this one!

On Friday morning I attended a free "webinar" at Blurb. com. This was such a cool presentation, where you phone in to hear a lecture about making books with Blurb, and walks you through all the steps on screen. I first heard of Blurb last summer but I never really had time to do anything about it. I was a little intimidated by the software every time I started playing with it, too. But last month, when I wrote this post about the tomato soup and you shared your own family favorites, I had an idea to collect it all in a Blurb book. If I do decide to do it, I will send out a call to anyone who wants to participate, and have you resubmit your story, a recipe, and a photo of the food (or whoever made it for you). Then I'll take everything and format it into a Blurb book that would be available for everyone. I am excited about the idea, and just have to see when I will have time this spring to get going on it. I'll keep you posted on how it all shakes down, but just be thinking of one.

Pleasant Kitchen Dishtowels

comments: 248


Here they are, my dishtowel designs! I decided yesterday to offer these little designs as a freebie, in honor of my sweet Grandma Ieronemo, and all of our grandmas, really. I drew things I have (or want to have, in the case of Sunday's Cheese Lady, ahem . . . someday) in my own pleasant little kitchen. Please click here to download the pdf (you will need Adobe Reader to view it).


I enjoyed making these so much. You could add color to these, or some further decorative stitches, but I really love the simplicity of simple black line art lately. Alas, for now you'll have to transfer them yourself using a light box or a bright window (they are not iron-ons), but I really just wanted to get them out there. I will probably start doing some embroidery kits and transfers later this year, when I get a little more caught up with things, I promise.


Should you need dishtowels, I've heard that these are very nice. I used the cheapies from the fabric store myself, but after seeing how much work went into these, I kinda wish I'd gotten some better ones. I trimmed all the edges straight with a rotary cutter before transferring the designs, 'cause they are so not square. Be sure to wash them (and your trim fabric, if you're going to make some binding to edge it all) before sewing. Or don't, and just get to work. They're just dishtowels, after all . . . ish. (See below.)


I used a Micron 0.1mm marker to transfer the images, and a water eraseable very-fine-tip fabric marker to transfer the text (so I didn't have to draw each dash; I just drew a solid line and then embroidered dashes with running stitch, washing the marker out when I was finished). You could use a fabric marker for the pictures, too, but I prefer the Micron myself. The line is so fine it can be covered with one strand, but I don't have to worry about it fading at all. I just find it easier to use in general. I have a pretty steady hand with it, but if you're nervous, just use the fabric marker. Be careful using an iron-on transfer pencil to trace these in reverse and iron them on; when you print them, you'll see that the design details are quite finely drawn (as in skinny) and I'm not convinced that one strand of floss would cover the transfer pencilmarks, as they tend to be a bit wider and don't wash out, at least when I use them. Yours might be different, but just be careful there.


I'm on the run this morning, but next week I'll do a little binding tutorial, and give you some resources for further embroidery patterns, books, and kits. I used simple backstitch and running stitch on these towels, almost exclusively, and those stitches are very beginner-friendly. My computer is not happy with me today and apparently isn't going to let me look up links here, and I'm moving too quickly today to fuss with it and reboot my computer seventeen and a half times like I did yesterday, agh.


I think my grandma would be happy with these dishtowels, but I can tell you right now that she would never in a bobillion years have attached binding to a dishtowel by hand, as I'm doing. (I'm doing a different calico that reminds me of her on each one.) I'd be a little conflicted about it myself if I didn't enjoy attaching binding so much. It's a fancier, more precious-seeming treatment, and not super practical. That's okay since I've now decided we'll only be looking at them, and not using them. Ev-er. Andy saw one of the towels in the kitchen last night and said, "Can I use this?" and I was suddenly, surprisingly, like, "Er . . . um . . . um . . . um . . . no, give it here." And I took it and put it in the living room. Hrmmmm.


I know. Not very typical of "oh-good-grief-who-cares!" me when it comes to functional crafting. I say use it, baby. But these make me want to not only clean the kitchen, but completely remodel it so that it is worthy of these precious floursacks. Sigh.


Dishtowel Thinking

comments: 122

Calicostack I worked on the dishtowels all weekend and finished the embroidery part last night. I couldn't resist getting a bunch of new little 1/2 yards of fabric as I tried to pick something for the binding. I'll work on the binding edges tonight and hopefully finish many of them to show you tomorrow, and have the pattern, at least, available by the weekend. I'm very pleased with these.

I thought about my grandma a whole lot while I was doing these towels. For some reason they just reminded me of her and her kitchen so much, even though the items I pictured are things from mine. My grandparents bought their first house when they were in their seventies; previous to that they owned several apartment buildings on the west side of Chicago and in Oak Park, the last being at 209 S. Oak Park Avenue, on the corner of Pleasant Street across from St. Edmund Church and school. I lived in this building until I was three, when in 1972 my parents bought our house in River Forest, but my grandparents continued to own "the building" for many years afterwards, living there as landlords. We girls spent a lot of time with them. They moved to their little ranch house in River Forest, just across the park from our house, sometime in the early '80s, I think. We lived a block west but on the other side of a tall railroad trestle that bordered both our street on the east and theirs on the west, and so their back yard led onto the wooded hill that lofted those tracks about twenty feet above the houses. It ran along the length of our streets, and across the town, headed northwest to Minnesota and beyond. That was the Soo Line, and the sound of its locomotives and freight cars rolling along the tracks across from our house was a constant companion of my childhood, and I think my love of trains developed there. I miss the sound of that steady, soulful thing, especially at night, so much. Our neighborhood was an urban place, yet so sleepy and wooded because of the tracks, and the park, and that's what I always loved about living in River Forest, and still miss. I think living in the house was very quiet for my grandparents, compared to when they owned the building, in the middle of businesses and restaurants near the El tracks and the intersections, and had dozens of tenants to attend to. They were city people. I wonder if they liked that River Forest quiet. I don't know. I think they were probably lonely there.

My grandma wore what she called "housedresses" every day, and those were made of calicos of the kind that I feel nostalgic and even very emotional about now — tiny prints on dark backgrounds, usually navy or black. She made all the dresses herself, and they were very simple A-line dress without linings or facings, just trimmed in contrast-colored bias tape, with two big patch pockets on the front and probably a keyhole neckline that tied in the back with long ends of bias tape. My sissy and I were on the phone yesterday talking about fabric, and grandma's dresses, and where they were (all gone now). My mom was here over the weekend and I showed her the dishtowels and the fabric I had chosen for the trim and she immediately exclaimed, "That's so grandma!" without me even telling her what I was going for, so I felt I'd gotten it right.

When I think of my grandparents' little kitchen, I think about afternoons, and their table, covered in oilcloth, where my grandpa sat and peeled a yellow apple with a paring knife every single day. I think about the ridged, rectangular coconut cookies they bought every week from Dominick's. I think about this aqua blue plastic holder that they always had for their 1/2 gallon milk container, to make it easier to pour. I think about how disappointed my grandma was that her stove in the house was electric, and she never really got over that. As I write this, I suddenly realize that I've talked about it before. The images bubble up, usually the same, some absent, some new, but so . . . few, and always fraught with longing. Sometimes I feel like I could just sit and write about my grandma all day, even what little I know. When I buy little pieces of fabric, I feel closer to her. Those fabrics feel like home when home is gone.

Fat-Tuesday Indulgence

comments: 44

Coqauvin2 Well, okay after reading the comments yesterday and seeing how many people have had trouble with the silicone bakers and soap, I'm not feeling so bad! The only other silicone baker I've used was the brownie pan I used for Brownie Disaster II — and I'm not saying the pan caused the disaster, just that I didn't get to taste the brownies to say if they tasted like soap because I'd already ruined them in so many ways, but they might've tasted like soap too, I don't know. Could be the type of soap we use. Someone suggested that the lemon juice could've reacted with the baking soda — that seems possible, too, if it happens when it's baking, because I tasted the batter before baking and it tasted delicious. My guess is that, since I washed the bakers in the dishwasher before using them, there was still soap left on them. So — if you are going to use these, it makes sense to wash them in very mild soap by hand, and rinse well. I didn't even think of that — but now that I do think of it, we always wash our Silpats by hand, as the directions indicate, and never have trouble with them. I forgot about those. I just thought that it says to wash by hand because they didn't want them getting whipped around in the dishwasher or something. But I think it's more because of the soap. Anyway, you get the picture. Silicone and soap = not so good.

These are Coq au Vin Rosettes, a variation on a recipe in an old magazine I have from 2002 called 100 Ideas: Comfort Cooking Recipes from Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications. It seems like just the right fattening thing for Fat Tuesday. . . .

Coq au Vin Rosettes

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
3 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 medium diced onion
2 T. butter
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. salt
8 packaged dried lasagna noodles
1 c. chicken stock
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. sour cream
2 T. flour
1/2 c. milk
1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut chicken into 1" pieces. In a large skillet, cook mushrooms and onion in hot butter over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally (you want to leave them alone a bit to get some caramelization going). Add chicken, pepper, and salt and cook until chicken is no longer pink. Add wine and simmer until alcohol evaporates and you are left with just a few tablespoons of liquid in pan. Remove from heat.

2. Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles in boiling salted water until almost done; drain. Return to pan and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil to keep noodles from sticking. Halve each noodle lengthwise. Curl each noodle half into a 2 1/2" diameter ring and place, cut side down, in an ungreased 3-quart rectangular baking dish. With a slotted spoon, spoon chicken mixture into center of lasagna rings, reserving liquid in skillet. Add the chicken stock to the liquid and heat until simmering. Add the cream cheese to the liquid and heat until cream cheese is just melted. Remove from heat.

3. In a small bowl, stir together sour cream and flour. Stir in milk. Add sour cream mixture to liquid in skillet. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Spoon sauce over pasta rings, covering noodle edges so they don't dry out. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyere.

4. Bake, covered, for about 35 minutes or until heated through.

These are super yummy, especially with a nice salad or perhaps some roasted veggies on the side. Make them if you didn't get enough pancakes for breakfast (since it is Pancake Day — and thanks Christine for this awesome pancake-making video and a response to it). It seems wrong that I didn't make pancakes this morning but I'm crazy like that.

Thank you so much for all the info on smocking, and pleating, and pleating machines! Wow cool! I have to say that I actually prefer the more rustic-looking hand-pleated version, and I don't actually even mind pleating the foundation by hand because I like that kinda thing, but it is very good to know that I should continue to do that down the length of things, which makes sense. I never did get out to get a smocking book last week but I really do need to run some errands today, so I will. I can put off the errands no longer. For some reason all I want to do is stay home and pleat and stitch and cook and embroider dishtowels (ooooooh, can't wait to show you — I'm on "Sunday" now, so almost done). I am just so loving having a little time to do this stuff, especially after all the editorial stuff (words words words, red pens, pages, Aleve, memos, sticky notes, more words, more Aleve). I swear I've started a half a dozen just-me projects (the chair pads, the papercuts, the smocked bag, the dishtowels, a cross-stitch pattern I'm finally finishing the chart for, I don't even know what else) in the past two weeks. But it's been so great. I was waiting a long time to get to make some things for myself and it's like, once set loose, I just exploded all over the craft supplies. Sobbing. "I've missed you guys! I love you guys!!!" Start one thing, start another, start another. Gathering them all up in my arms and collapsing in a satisfied, yarny-flossy-ginghamy heap of sobbing joy. Aaahhhh. Good. Doesn't take much to make me happy, I tell ya. I know I have to get back to making things for my web shop, but for now this feels so good. I'm taking my own advice for once. I can dish it out, just can't take it.


Malted Hearts (or, "Now I'm 1 for 4")

comments: 89


On Saturday afternoon I made the Malted Milk Cupcakes in the heart-shaped bakers. It was kind of fun to follow a recipe that was written as a paragraph. For the sour milk I just added a teaspoon of lemon juice to the cup and let it sit for a few minutes.


I looked in one of my other cookbooks to see what temperature to bake them at, and popped them in for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. The batter was this really pretty sort of brownish pink and it tasted really good.


Andy was out playing pinball with a friend so I puttered around, thinking of different icings that might work with malt. I thought I might just whip up some cream and add some powdered sugar and a little more malt to it, since it was getting late to mess with buttercream and I knew I should be going upstairs and getting ready for Stars on Ice (more about that later).


I took them out of the oven and they looked great. Nice and poofy and they didn't even fall. I ripped the top off of one and tasted it to see if I could actually taste the malt. Munch munch. Munch munch. Munch munch. What is that. . . . Is that . . . Munch munch. . . .

Crap . . . it's . . . soap.

I was upstairs changing when Andy came home. I could hear him downstairs with the dog. Then it was quiet for a while and after a few minutes he said, "Do these cupcakes taste like soap?" And I said, from above, "That's what I thought!"

Durn it.

My baking record is taking a serious beating this winter. Only the gingerbread worked out. I'm not gonna count the bread either way, you know? I think I need a plan to turn this around!

Where I Smock It: Psych!

comments: 97


For the past two nights, I've sneaked upstairs early to work on another little project just for me me me. I got a beginner's smocking book several months ago at Kinokuniya and have slobbered all over it every time I've had a free moment to let myself make stacks of lists of things I wanted to attempt when I had some time.


I buy all my Japanese craft books locally at Kinokuniya so I can't help with other sources, but check Crafting Japanese for a lot of good information. This one is called Smocking for Beginners, ISBN978-4-8347-2578-0, and it is adorable. I wanted to make this bag on the cover for spring.

It's hard to find 1/2" check gingham, isn't it? I can never find it. I like the homespun stuff best, because it's cotton (and I'm actually using the wrong side of some lightweightish flannel stuff), but they don't have a whole lot of colors in my local fabric stores (this one's from Fabric Depot). I love this olive color though, so I lucked out. I have never smocked before but I've always wanted to do it, so I pulled out my needle and blue floss and tucked in. . . .


Hrrrrrmmmmm. . . . ! Wha' happened? Not so good! How do you keep the tension in the horizontal stitches without pulling on the diagonal stitches? Good question. . . .

Then I noticed in the photo and the diagrams (didn't really look too hard at the diagrams before I started, gulp) that the top is all pleated up first. Ah! Now, I don't know if it was the pleating at the top that helped significantly, or if I was just getting better at it the second time around, but look! (Update: I would like to think it was just me, wouldn't I? Natch. :-)


Let's look again! Can you seeeee it in there?


Not so bad, eh [puffing proudly]? I'm so psyched! I love smocking now. If you've been thinking about it, you should definitely try it. I'd like to do it all day long. What is very, very cool about it is that there is nothing to transfer, nothing to read (can't anyway), nothing to really count, etc., etc., etc., etc. Many etc.s there, 'cause it rocks. I like it. Any tips are very appreciated, too. I think I might go out and get a smocking book written in English today, though it was kind of fun to suss it out on my own, I have to say.

When I finish the bag I'm totally want to make this apron to wear when I am dishing up something in my Polish pottery (and thanks for all the info about that — I am totally gonna get some now, especially with the apron motivation and all!).

Smockingbook1 I'nt that just too cute? SMOCKING. You're good.

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at