Friday, December 21, 2012

Cloth Gift Bag

Skill Level: Beginner
Skills Attained: Double-Turned Hem
  • Sewing Machine
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Fabric (your desired size, depending on the size of your gift)
  • Coordinating thread
  • (2) - 12" satin ribbons
Rather than wrapping your gifts in traditional wrapping paper -- or using those recycled gift bags from last year, perhaps you would like to spruce your gift up by making a home-made cloth gift bag. This project is simple and quick, so you may still have time to squeeze it in before Christmas!

You can make the gift bag any size that you desire depending on the gift going into the bag. The instructions below are for a gift bag used to "wrap" a wine bottle.

Supplies: 12" x 13" piece
of fabric and (2) - 12" strands
of satin ribbon

First, cut out your material the desired size. (For the wine bottle, I cut the fabric 12" x 13".) To limit the number of seams you will need to sew, I use one piece of fabric and simply fold it over, so you only have to sew the bottom and one side. However, you can certainly cut out two pieces of equal size and sew three sides of the fabric.

Once the fabric is cut, sew a double-turned hem along the opening of the bag. Using the iron, press the fabric approximately 1/2 inch along the top edge. Then, fold the fabric over again another 1/2 inch and press with the iron. Pin the hem in place and sew along the edge of the fold. (Refer to the "Linen Napkin" post for more detailed instructions on a double-turned hem.)

Iron a double-turned hem along the
top edge of the bag.

After the hem is sewn, fold the fabric in half so the right-sides are together (or if you have two separate pieces of fabric, place the pieces right-sides together). Pin the fabric in place along the bottom and side edge.

Bag pinned
right-sides together
Before we sew the bag together, we need to insert the ribbon. Take the two pieces of ribbon and insert it approximately 3 inches below the top edge with the hem. (You can certainly place the ribbon higher or lower along the edge depending on the gift you will be placing in the bag.) The long part of the ribbon should be "inside" the bag (or in between the two "right-sides" of the fabric). You will only have a small tail hanging over the pinned edge.

Sew along the outside edge using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Be sure not to sew the opening shut where you have just sewn the double hem. Before you turn the bag right-side out, clip the corners to avoid bunching. 

Clip the corners to avoid the fabric from
bunching when turned right-side out.

Turn the bag right-side out and press. You have made a home-made cloth gift bag your friends and relatives are sure to appreciate!

May you feel God's love through His ultimate Christmas gift:  His Son, Jesus. Merry Christmas! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Cookies: Chocolate Mint Creams

Skill Level: Beginner
Skills Attained: Drop Cookies
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Spatula (for removing hot cookies)
  • Electric mixer 
  • Mixing bowl
  • Microwave-proof bowl
  • Rubber spatula
  • Butter knife
  • 3/4 cups butter (softened)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (or baking chocolate bars)
  • Melt Away Mint Candies - approximately 48 (and a few extra to nibble on while you bake:) These can be tricky to find in the store sometimes. Hickory Farms makes these, but I have also found the "off-brand" in Target and Walmart. The recipe calls for the larger size (1" diameter), but you could also use the "minis"; you would just need to use multiple mints on each cookie. Here is a picture of them:

 This post is in honor of my wonderful mother-in-law! She is an extremely talented homemaker, and I aspire to be as joyful and self-sacrificing as she is in serving her family. Last year, she shared with me the recipe for one of my husband's favorite holiday treats: Chocolate Mint Creams. I am sure you will enjoy these little bits of chocolate goodness as much as our family enjoys them!

Beat together the following ingredients in an electric mixer until the ingredients are combined:
  • 3/4 cups butter (softened)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
If you forget to leave the butter on the counter to soften, you can put it in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to soften it. 

Then, beat in: 
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

In a separate bowl, combine the following ingredients: 
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Using the electric mixer, mix the flour mixture into the sugar/egg mixture that is in the electric mixing bowl until they are just combined (don't over-mix).

In the microwave-proof bowl, melt the 16 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate in the microwave. Do this in 30 second intervals; stirring after each 30 seconds until the chocolate is melted.

Mix the chocolate into the cookie batter using a rubber spatula.


Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. When the 30 minutes is almost finished, begin preheating the oven at 350 degrees. 

Remove the batter from the refrigerator, and drop rounded tablespoons of batter 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. You can use a spoon to drop the cookies, but you may need to use your hands a little bit to form the balls. Bake in the oven for 8 - 10 minutes.

Immediately after pulling the cookies out of the oven, place one Melt Away Mint Candy in the center of each cookie. Wait a few minutes until the mint has begun to melt. Then, take a butter knife and spread the mint over the top of the cookie like icing.

Remove the cookies from the cookie sheet and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

Yields approximately 3-4 dozen cookies. 

I hope you have a very merry Christmas! Enjoy the season we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty GodEverlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~Isaiah 9:6~

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Crockpot Applesauce

Skill Level: Beginner
Skills Attained: Crockpot Cooking
  • Crockpot
  • 6 - 8 apples 
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • Dash of nutmeg (optional)
  • Potato Masher (or fork, blender, or food processor)
I love the fall! It is hands-down my favorite season. I love the cooling of the weather and the changing of the leaves. I also love the fact that you can get apples by the bushel-full...literally! In seasons past, I have picked or bought a large amount of apples, which means I need to find and make delicious apple recipes. Crockpot applesauce is a good standby recipe if you are craving a sweet, warm comfort food or if you just need to use up those apples before they go bad. The quantities in the recipe yield approximately 6 side servings, but you can easily double or even triple this recipe if you want a bigger batch. 

You can use a wide variety of apples for this recipe, but I would stick to a nice sweet apple or a "baking apple" (i.e., Jonagolds, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala, etc.). I am using Mutsu apples. I had never tried -- or even heard of -- this apple before, but it was recommended to me by a local farmer at the farmer's market. So, I thought I'd give it a shot. It's a sweeter apple with a soft texture, so it breaks down nicely when cooked. 

Peel and core the apples. Cut them into large wedges. Place the apple wedges in the crockpot.

Add the sugar and spices. All of the seasonings are optional, depending on your personal preference. If you have a sweeter apple, you can completely omit the sugar. However, if you are using Granny Smiths or an apple that is tart, you probably want to add a little bit of sugar. The amounts I recommend for the spices are a guide: add them based upon your personal taste.

Surprisingly, you do not need to add any water to this recipe. The apples will release enough juice on their own and the mixture will not stick to the bottom of the crockpot. 

Cook the mixture in the crockpot for 3 to 4 hours on low. About halfway through, I use a potato masher (or fork) and break up the apples. It's not imparative that you do this step if you truly want to "set it and forget it". Depending on how many apples you use, your cooktime may vary. The applesauce is finished when the apples have completely softened.

There are a few methods to finishing your applesauce. You can mix it by hand using a potato masher or a fork. This is a great method if you like chunkier applesauce. If you prefer a smoother applesauce,  use a blender or food processor to blend.

Serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator for a cold applesauce. This is a delicious side dish for pork chops or a great, healthy snack for the kids.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Using a Rotary Cutter

Skill Level: Beginner
Skills Attained: Rotary Cutting
  • Rotary Cutter
  • Cutting Mat (Recommend "self-healing", grid mat)
  • Straight-Edge/Ruler
  • Scrap Fabric
Any sewing project requires you to cut fabric. You may either cut the fabric by: 1) marking it using a straight edge or using a pattern and cutting it with scissors, or 2) using a rotary cutter. A rotary cutter is primarily used for cutting straight edges. Using a rotary cutter can be an adjustment if you have never used one before, but you will notice straighter edges and more precise measurements. You do not need to invest in a rotary cutter and cutting mat for many projects as it can be expensive. However, if you intend to do a lot of sewing, these items may be a worthwhile investment. In this post, you will learn the basic steps of using a rotary cutter. This will be a good reference page for future sewing projects. 

Here is a video of how to use a rotary cutter: 

Here are step-by-step instructions and tips for using a rotary cutter:

Before using a rotary cutter on a project, practice with scrap fabric. Let's practice making 3" blocks for a quilt. 

After your fabric is ironed (You do not need to wash the fabric when practicing with scrap fabric.), fold the fabric in half ensuring that the edges align as much as possible and the entire piece of fabric fits on the mat. 


Align the bottom edge of the fabric along a horizontal line on the mat.

The first cut will be to "clean up" an edge so that the fabric is straight. Align the ruler along a vertical line on the mat so that you waste as little fabric as possible.

If you are right handed, apply pressure to the ruler with your left hand in the middle of the ruler and place the rotary cutter in your right hand. (If you are left-handed, place your right hand on the ruler and place the rotary cutter in your left hand.) The blade should be facing the ruler and butted up against it. Applying firm pressure on the rotary cutter, start from the bottom of the fabric and roll the cutter towards the top. Before removing the ruler, make sure a complete cut has been made. If the ruler is still in place, you can simply run the rotary cutter again until the fabric has been completely cut.   

The second cut will be to create a 3" strip of fabric. Without moving the fabric from the first cut, take your ruler and align it on a vertical line three inches from the initial cut.  Using the same process as above, cut the 3" strip. 

Now that you have a 3" strip of fabric, the next step is to cut the strip into blocks. Depending on the length of your fabric, you may want to rotate the mat so that the longer edge is perpendicular to you. The key is you want to move the fabric as little as possible. 

Lay out your 3" strip of fabric length-wise so that the long edge is aligned with a horizontal line on the mat. Align the ruler with one of the vertical lines on the mat close to one of the  3" edges and use the cutter to "clean up" the edge to ensure a straight line. Without moving the fabric, pick up your ruler and align it with a vertical line 3" from the edge of the fabric. Use the rotary cutter to cut the fabric. Continue doing this until you have cut out all of your 3" blocks. 

Sewing projects require various fabric sizes and shapes, but these same steps and tips will guide you as you cut the fabric for each project.