New Face Masks For Christmas

I know, we’re supposed to give up fabric masks in favour of single use surgical or N95 masks but I hate the waste associated with those and besides my masks are made using a high grade quilting cotton with non-woven interfacing stitched into the middle; mine are three-layer masks.

More important those awful disposable blue surgical masks don’t fit me very well (I have to flip the elastic to fit over my ears to suppress my glasses fogging which makes the sides stand open), whereas my homemade masks do! And fit is more important than the materials used in construction, according to the experts I’ve read.

New Face Masks


With Omicron being rapidly transmitted throughout the community I decided everybody could use a new well-fitting face mask as a gift. I started making a batch ten days ago. I made a dozen which I gave away yesterday to the knitting ladies. I have another dozen cut out and ready to assemble – have to work on those today and get them made and washed so I can distribute them, too.

The pattern I’m using this time is the one from SeeKateSew. She provides a template for cutting out the masks. This mask is close fitting but because of the origami folds top and bottom it provides breathing space and I find it comfortable.

I don’t do the folded side in the instructions to enclose the elastic. Instead I insert the elastic into the seam as I construct the facemark which makes the sides a bit longer. I use 6″ – 7″ lengths of elastic depending on the face size of the person I’m making the mask for. When I use a longer elastic I add a silicon slide near the bottom of the mask so people can shorten the elastic if the mask fit is too loose.

Now back to sewing….

Danish Paper Stars

Danish paper Stars

It’s become another recent Christmas tradition – I make a few Danish paper stars to hand out to my neighbours and friends in the apartment building. I finished the two dozen I was planning to make last evening. All they need now is string so they can be hung on a tree or wreath. I’ll pass them around as soon as I get that done, later today.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at making these I found, after a lot of searching, some instructions online: Danish Paper Stars. Let me know how you get on.

It took a star or two before I wove the initial paper strips in the right counterclockwise direction (short arm on top). Once I got the initial steps right, my hands remember the twisting movements and the rest of the folding and twisting are there.

I learned to make these stars at least 40 years ago. Didn’t make them for many years. Started again four years ago. Another few years and people will have enough stars to decorate an entire tree!

Calla Lily

Calla Lily

This season I bought my usual Amaryllis but there were Calla Lily kits available, too. So I picked up one just to see what it would turn out like.

Long and gangly. Looks like I will have just three blooms on the plant. The first flower has already lasted at least three weeks – the Amaryllis has come and gone but these three Calla Lily flowers are still going strong.

Amaryllis

I was surprised by the green hue of the Amaryllis – I did get four flowers on a single stock but they weren’t the vibrant colour I expect from this bulb.

Christmas Shortbread Bars

I don’t do a lot of Christmas baking – the fruitcakes and one other pastry – a large cookie sheet of shortbread topped with candied fruit, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped pecans all mixed together using Eagle Brand condensed milk! What could be bad about that, right?

The original idea came from a package of shortbread mix from Robin Hood Flour but they stopped making the kit a gazillion years ago. I have a great simple traditional shortbread recipe I use and add the topping and then I do my best to give this pastry away as fast as I can!

Christmas Shortbread Bars

Here is the recipe:

Mrs. Cooke’s Shortbread

(I double this recipe when I make my shortbread bars because I need enough shortbread to cover a large cookie sheet)
Preheat oven 350° F

  • 1/2 lb butter (at room temperature so you can cream it easily)
  • 1/2 c white sugar (this year I will use coconut palm sugar which I’m sure will work as well since I’m avoiding white sugar entirely in my diet)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (that’s real vanilla, please)
  • 2 c. white all purpose flour

Cream butter, add sugar, vanilla, and last the flour; Mix well until you have a crumbly texture
Dump onto a large non-stick (or parchment lined or Silpat covered) cookie sheet
Press firmly, particularly at the edges
Pierce with a fork to allow the shortbread to expand uniformly
Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate cookie sheet 180° so the shortbread bakes evenly, then bake for another 15 minutes.
The shortbread won’t be quite fully baked but that’s how you want it because you’re going to continue baking after you add the candied fruit topping. Let the shortbread cool for 10-15 minutes before proceeding

Candied Fruit Topping

  • 1 – 11/2 c shredded coconut (unsweetened if you have it)
  • 1 c of mixed candied fruit (with some chopped cherries and citron)
  • 1 c Thompson raisins (you can certainly use sultanas if you prefer them, or even currents)
  • 1 c chopped pecans (you could use walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts chopped)
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries
  • 1 c bitter-sweet chocolate chips (can also use semi-sweet – the point is dark rather than milk chocolate)
  • 1 can (room temperature) Eagle Brand Condensed Milk

Put all the topping ingredients into a large bowl, add the condensed milk and mix as well as you can – it’s a sticky mess but is it ever going to be good.

Spoon the fruit/condensed milk mixture onto the shortbread making sure you spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of the shortbread (try getting as close to the edges as you can – don’t want to waste any of this Christmas bar).

Bake 25-30 minutes at 350° – until the coconut begins to turn golden.

Cool on a rack, then cut into bars. I cut the entire concoction into 8 portions – which in turn can be cut into 12-16 bite-sized bars. This stuff is SOOO rich you don’t want to serve more (although you’ll want to eat more).

I make these Christmas bars about three-four weeks before Christmas. Slip each of the 8 portions into its own small ziploc plastic bag, store them in the fridge until I give them away.

Let me know how it goes if you decide to try them – they’ll be an instant favourite – trust me!

Rapid Test Kits

Throughout the past year and half, Nova Scotia has been focused on early detection of COVID-19 cases. To begin with that meant many Pop-up Rapid Testing sites – staffed by volunteers, in locations where the presence of CoVID-19 was suspected. I helped out with that effort, registering people as they came in. I did that for a couple of months until the number of cases declined, and while a couple of testing sites continued, they were downtown and difficult for me to get to, so I stopped volunteering.

On Nov 9, I joined the Rapid Testing “Test To Protect” effort. For a couple of months volunteers had been making up rapid testing kits for distribution to the airport but the effort ramped up in late October when the NS Department of Health decided to issue kits to school children in order to pick up early warning of COVID-19 spreading among unvaccinated school-age kids. I decided it was time I helped out again. So a couple of times a week, until last week when TTP closed down for the holidays, I helped assemble Rapid Test Kits.

You wouldn’t think putting a few bits and pieces into plastic bags would take much effort – but it did. A four hour shift doesn’t seem like a lot of time – but it was.

When you walked into the assembly room (a large open space with 25 tables – one person at a table, , hands sanitized, wearing a mask) the walls were lined with large labelled boxes – some holding test kit stuff, others already packed with test kits ready for distribution, and on tables dividing the room a WALL of small boxes containing what you needed to make either 30 or 15 kits depending on the batch we were preparing.

You started by adding labels to the bags explaining the “expiry” date on the test strips could safely be ignored. Next you carefully laid out the test components (swabs, test strips, small vials with testing solution) so you could pick up what you needed to place in each bag. Then you filled and sealed each bag and placed it back in the original box.

We started out assembling 30 single test kits; we progressed to 15 double test kits – these to be handed out to arriving passengers at the airport. Working as quickly as I could, it still took me slightly more than 15 minutes to do a single box of test kits. The assembling took a lot of repetitive physical effort (the tables were a bit too high for me – I found it less stressful on my back and shoulders to stand when filling the bags). More difficult was the concentration required to make sure you put the precise number of each component into each bag! You didn’t want to end up short something or to have something left over – that meant you had to go back through all 15 or 30 bags to find where the error had happened! Each bag needed to have the exact number of swabs, vials with testing solution, and testing strips!

I breathed a sigh of relief every time I finished a set of bags neither short something or with any component left over.

In three and a half months, hundreds of volunteers have managed to assemble well over 500,000 test kits for kids and arriving passengers at the airport. A herculean effort. We don’t know yet whether we’ll be called back into action in January but I’m sure everybody who helped out will return, particularly since Omicron looks like it’s set to take off like wildfire here in the province as it has everywhere else.

Bathrobe

I’ve been wearing a velour bathrobe I made at least 20 years ago. I started thinking about a new robe and kept an eye open for velour or terrycloth or fleece of some kind but didn’t come across anything I wanted to work with.

Then the purple corduroy (polyester) I’d ordered online arrived – I’d intended to use it for a pair of pants but I hadn’t realized I was ordering polyester instead of cotton, the colour wasn’t intense enough, the fabric too soft, and it was cut off grain so I was going to lose quite a bit of length at both ends. No pants.

Also, a few weeks back I placed an order with Spoonflower – they print any fabric design you choose from their collection of designer images, or that you create yourself, on a range of fabric types and you can order as much as you need for your project. They print not only fabric, but wall paper, and home decor items like pillowcases or duvet covers! I chose two designer images and ordered a single yard of each – one on lawn, the second on fleece.

I thought the prints were lovely when they arrived but can’t do a whole lot with a single yard so I decided to pair the fleece with the corduroy to make myself a new bathrobe.

I had enough length of the purple corduroy for the body (front and back) as well as the three yoke pieces. I cut the sleeves and yoke facings from the fleece.

The pattern is a very old one for a Hawaiian muu muu I bought in Honolulu a gazillion years ago and have used to make nightgowns and bathrobes for years.

I improvised with a size M (after I cut out the corduroy I suspected the garment was going to be too small – I carried on anyway to see how it might turn out). I split the front and inserted a medium length of zipper so I could step into the robe. I faced the front and back yoke pieces with fleece. Inserted the sleeves, serged the sleeve and side seams, finished off with a coverstitch on the sleeve edges and the bottom hem.

It’s not my best sewing – from the start I was sure this effort would be tossed out so I wasn’t as precise as I usually try to be when constructing a new garment. My neck edge isn’t perfectly matched. The top edge of the zipper should have been tucked under the facing, I tacked it down by hand instead. Small technical decisions I didn’t bother with because I was, after all, just sewing to see how the project would turn out before discarding it.

I was pleasantly surprised when I tried the bathrobe on over my nightgown – it actually fit – is the right length (just to my ankles) and rests comfortably on my shoulders. I thought about pockets but I don’t use the pockets in my old bathrobe so I left them out. If I decide I could use pockets I have a few scraps of corduroy leftover I could use to add patch pockets to the front.

The old velour housecoat is now in my trash bin.

Japanese Maple

There’s a lovely Japanese maple tree beside the Canada Games Centre. I glance at it every time I go by. As fall has progressed the colour has changed from a very deep red to a much brighter colour. And then the other day it was covered with a light dusting of snow.

Two days later most of the leaves had dropped.

When I went to edit the image I couldn’t miss the soffit vent in the roof overhang. I did my best to edit it out but couldn’t make it work. The only solution – crop the image.

So here you have a lone Japanese maple leaf with water droplets on the bare branches. A harbinger of the winter season to come.

Pink Boiled Wool Jacket

It’s been ten days since I posted anything but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working away at stuff.

Here’s the pink boiled wool jacket.

Ruby expressed interest in having a boiled wool jacket when she saw mine. So we went shopping and I talked her into this pink poly/wool blend boiled wool fabric – heavier than the 100% wool I’d used but likely warmer.

The challenge was Ruby has a high waist measurement of 52″! How was I going to expand the pattern to cover her in the middle and still make it a flattering garment for her. The solution was to start with the XXL size in the pattern then pivot the centre fronts about 15° from the neckline. I left the back just about as it was so that it would hang flat.

I traced the adjusted pattern onto Swedish tracing paper (a sew-able light weight non-woven “fabric” for tracing patterns). I pin fit the pattern on her – initially it looked like I should drop the neckline both front and back; instead I raised the shoulder which enlarged the neckline. I made a few other adjustments then basted the parts together and tried the half-jacket on again. Much closer this time.

To control the bulk in the seams I sewed each 3/8″ seam, pressed using steam and a wood clapper, then top stitched 1/4″ from the seam using a stitch-in-the-ditch foot to ensure a 1/4″ seam; I pressed again on the right side using a press cloth. That gave me nice flat seams.

I finished the front and neck edges, sleeve hems and bottom hem with batik facings (I interfaced the front edge with a mid-weight woven fusible interfacing for a bit more body), edge stitching each facing so the turning would be flat.

I added patch pockets (raw edge on three sides, top edge interfaced and faced with the same batik) to the front. I left the collar with a raw edge, as well.

The jacket is a good length on her. I like how it drapes in the front and hangs straight in the back. The “boat-neck” sits solidly on her shoulders although it’s too open to wear without a scarf. I scoured my scarf collection and decided a navy print mobius scarf I made several years ago would fill in the neck nicely.

Ruby was happy with her new jacket. Me, too.