The Canadian Car Poncho

Car Poncho 32

There’s the idea that you shouldn’t put your kid in a big puffy snowsuit in their carseat because the snowsuit doesn’t allow you to do up the straps as tight as they need to be and that could be unsafe if you were to get into an accident. Accordingly, they sell these things called “car ponchos” for small children, and they’re all fancy with faux fur trim and buttons and snaps and zippers and whatnot and they cost like SEVENTY BUCKS. Seriously? Eff that. Also, this is CANADA, and here it’s always colder than it is in other places. So most of those fancy car ponchos are wayyy not warm enough to combat that howling wind when it’s minus twenty.

Car Poncho 2

I figured, seeing as I’m doing all this sewing these days, why not make my own? At the fabric store near us, fleece is pretty expensive, usually about $7 a metre, but at IKEA, you can pick up a POLARVIDE fleece blanket for $5.99, and they’re almost 2 metres. They come in a variety of colours depending on the store and the season, and sometimes they go on sale and they’re even cheaper. I picked up two, for layering.

Car Poncho 1

FOR THE LAZY: Just use one blanket. Sewing two together is less than easy.

One side of the fleece has little round flibbety things that stick out, so I cut them off using my rotary cutter.

Car Poncho 4

FOR THE LAZY: Leave ’em on.

Then I went through a million permutations of how to layer the blankets together so that the raw edges were inside the blanket. But it was much too complicated for me so I just folded each in half on the short edge and flipped them so the folded edge of one blanket was against the open edge of the other.

Car Poncho 5

FOR THE KEENERS: Sandwich the open edges inside so that the folded edges show on both sides.

Then I started sewing the blanket together, starting with a straight line right down the middle, followed by another that bisected it perpendicularly.

I kept going, dividing each un-sewed section in half and sewing through it, then I sewed around the edge. I did this to keep the different layers from bunching around each other. Four layers of fleece is hella bulky and it was really tricky with my little pink machine.

Car Poncho 6

FOR THE KEENERS: Maybe try a bias binding on the outside edge, or sew your lines radiating out from the centre at angles.

So now I have this big bulky blanket with four layers of thin fleece all quilted together. I need a head hole in the middle.

Car Poncho 7

Here I am doing a very scientific measurement of LongJohn’s head diameter using a salad plate. It’s a little big, but babies heads grow alarmingly so I know it’s better to go too big here than too small.  If you’ve ever tried to shove something too small over an angry baby’s head then you know what I mean.

Car Poncho 8

Car Poncho 9

Then I used the salad plate as a guide for cutting out the centre hole.

Car Poncho 10

I waited until everything was sewn together before cutting out the hole because I knew I wouldn’t necessarily be able to line up all four holes properly if they weren’t already permanently stitched in place.

Car Poncho 11

I’m trying to figure out what to do with the circle I have left. Any ideas?

The resulting hole was a bit jagged (cutting through four layers of fleece at once with a circular blade is also less than easy). But it was easily tidied up with a pair of scissors.

Car Poncho 12

Then I had to consider the hood. I was considering not doing a hood but babies don’t wear scarves and I didn’t want LongJohn’s neck all exposed to the elements, especially seeing as the head hole was so big.

The VITMOSSA blanket, also from IKEA, is only $2.99. It’s a thinner fleece with a bit of stretch, and I figured that if I doubled it, I’d get a decent flexible hood.

Car Poncho 13

I measured a distance of slightly over half the way around the circle and I cut a length of the blanket accordingly.

Car Poncho 14

The idea here is that if I fold the piece over itself, the seams line up and the hood forms naturally.

Car Poncho 15

Car Poncho 16

Because I want this thing to be reversible, I opened up a few of the centre seams in the poncho so I could sew the hood into the space in the middle.

Car Poncho 17

Then I folded the rectangle that I cut out in half across the short side again. Inside-out.

Car Poncho 18

And sewed up the two open sides perpendicular to the fold.

Car Poncho 19

Turn it right-side out and then line up the two seams.

Car Poncho 20

Tada, a hood! It has a pointy top so I would not recommend making this out of white fleece, if you know what I mean. Just to be politically correct.

Car Poncho 21

FOR THE KEENER: Sew down the pointy top.

Then I pinned it into the head hole of the poncho.

Car Poncho 22

You can see here that it fits between the two colours of fleece.

Car Poncho 23

Pin, pin, pin.

Car Poncho 24

The hard part here was now sewing the hood into the poncho (that’s six layers of fleece, if you’re counting). I had to shove so much bulky blanket through the little arm of the sewing machine. And then rotate it as I went around in a circle. Slow and steady was the best course of action here.

Car Poncho 25

Once finished, you can see how it works on the gray side …

Car Poncho 26

… and on the red side. I actually had to go around on the red side again because I’d missed a layer in my excitement.

Car Poncho 27

FOR THE LESS LAZY THAN ME: Be more careful and get all the layers sewed at the same time.

And now the test on my model.

Car Poncho 29

As you can see it’s roomy in the neck at the moment but I can always pin or clip that closed for now. He’ll fill out soon enough. He’d wear the poncho like this when I was carrying him or he was walking around. Which hopefully is far distant in my future.

Car Poncho 28

Then here he is in his high chair, which is standing in for the carseat (because it’s freaking cold outside today and I’m not going outside just to take a picture for you guys). The back of the poncho flips over the back of the car seat and the front part can be twitched aside while you do up the straps snugly against your little one. Then you just tuck it back down again and your kidlet is warm and snug!

Car Poncho 31

I’m making another one for a friend with a much bigger baby (makes a great gift!) and I’m confident my head hole size (22cm diameter) will be entirely appropriate. I also have enough left of the VITMOSSA blanket to make a thinner, warmer-weather poncho too!

Car Poncho 30

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One Lamp, Two Lamp, Old Lamp, New Lamp!

My final quarantine project was one I’d been meaning to get done since we moved into the house over a year ago. When we moved in together we bought a matching set of IKEA lamps: two table lamps and a larger floor lamp with crumpled paper shades. They were literally the WORST shades as the things that held the shades up so they looked crumpled fell out and were lost so you just had this wrinkly, torn, dusty, discoloured piece of paper sitting here and we really started to hate them. But they were cheap and they worked so we moved them across the country and back.

New Lampshades 1

BUT NO MORE.

New Lampshades 2

My plan was to use the wire frame of the shades to create a new surface for a slightly more durable fabric shade. So I carefully measured the dimensions of the existing lamps.

New Lampshades 3

Then I took enormous pleasure in ripping the paper off.

New Lampshades 4

I soaked the wires in warm soapy water for a bit to get the excess glue and paper off.

New Lampshades 5

Then I measured and cut the fabric Cait and I had bought from Joann like forever ago.

New Lampshades 6

I don’t own any fabric markers so I use washable Crayolas instead. I measured an inch of overlap from the edges to wrap around the frames.

New Lampshades 7

Then I used pins to fix everything into place.

New Lampshades 9

One side done.

New Lampshades 10

Both sides done.

New Lampshades 11

I left the side seams open for now just because it was easier to manipulate them with it open.

New Lampshades 12

The best way to get this permanently affixed was to set it up so it hung properly, and the best way to do THAT was to put it back on the lamp.

New Lampshades 13

Now I pinned the side seams.

New Lampshades 14

Then I used Mod Podge for fabric and just glued all my flaps closed.

New Lampshades 15

It didn’t take long. I made sure to take the pins out while the glue was still wet.

New Lampshades 16

Once it was dry I sprayed the whole thing with Stiffen Stuff, which is sort of a spray starch for making things like bows and ornaments rigid. Another option would have been to wash the fabric with liquid starch and iron them flat before pinning. It might have had a more uniform look to the finished product but it would have been more difficult to manipulate.

New Lampshades 17

I let the starch dry in the sun.

New Lampshades 18

The finished product, off.

New Lampshades 19

And on.

New Lampshades 20

I did the big one too. I’m quite pleased!

New Lampshades 22

Holiday Decorating Ideas on the Cheap

We never really used to decorate too much for Christmas.  We’d have the tree, and our stockings would come out Christmas Eve, and if it happened to occur to someone, we got a wreath as well.  These days, since my parents have retired, they get a bit more into it.  Last year, because they were down in NYC visiting Ando’s family, it was up to the Pie and I to decorate the house for the holiday season.  This was the first year that my mother had let my dad put up white LED lights in the bushes outside (something he’s been wanting to do for thirty years, though I’m still holding out for the animatronic Santa on the roof).  So I knew we could go a bit more out there than we had in previous years.

The idea was to work with what we had, and my parents have collected a vast number of Christmas tree decorations in their almost forty years together.  So I took the biggest glass balls and suspended them from scrap ribbons tied to the banister on our upstairs landing.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Coming down the stairs you can see your reflection in the closest ones.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

And the view from the bottom.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Some of the more oddly shaped and heavier glass balls I looped around the curtain rod in the dining room.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Then I took a garland that came from Ten Thousand Villages and some paper IKEA decorations and did this to the window in the living room.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Christmas Decorating Ideas

For a wreath, I picked this one up at Value Village for $2.50.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

I pulled the artificial stuff off it and sprayed the actual grape vine underneath a nice bright copper.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Then the Pie and I went to Canadian Tire and went through their clearance decoration bin — this is where they sell off the bits of stuff that fell off other stuff the year before. We picked up a few wreath embellishments for about $2.40 in total, and I sprayed some silver.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Other bits we bought were already copper.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

The finished product is simple, easy, and cheap, and cost me less than five bucks (I forgot to take a picture of it until AFTER I’d hung it up between the two doors). And all those decorations can just be pulled out and reused somewhere else if I feel like changing it up next year.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

So you don’t have to spend a million dollars to create some winter wonderland. Simple accents here and there can also express the holiday season in the same way!

Adding Festivity, the Lazy Way: Paper Wreath

Lazy Festivity 17

Seeing as we’re in Ottawa and not St. John’s for the majority of the holiday season, the Pie and I rarely trouble ourselves to decorate Elizabeth for Christmas.  But this little thing was so easy, and so quick, and the days here in St. John’s have been so very gray, I needed a little festivity … but I was too lazy to do anything too complicated.

So I have here some rolls of wrapping paper that I picked up from IKEA about seven years ago, and which I rarely use (seeing as I still have a chunk left).  The nice thing is that the wrapping paper, since it came on a roll, has a natural curve to it that I used to my advantage.  I also have a large paper plate with an extremely ugly design on it.  I don’t even know how I came to own these things, but I was cleaning out a cupboard and there they were … You will also need a pair of decent scissors and some tape.  Any kind, really, as you won’t see it.  A ribbon is optimal but also optional.

Lazy Festivity 1

First, we need to make a wreath form out of the paper plate.  If you want something bigger (or less ugly), you can make your own ring out of cardboard or whatever is handy.  With the paper plate all I had to do was cut out the middle section.

Lazy Festivity 2

Then I cut about a 5″ wide strip from the roll of wrapping paper.  I folded it in half lengthwise, so it was then about 2.5″ thick, and then folded it across itself widthwise a couple times, until I had a small rectangle about 2.5″ x 5″.  Or whatever works for you.  This just makes it easier to cut a bunch of leaves at once. This is where having a nice sharp, strong pair of scissors comes in handy.

Lazy Festivity 3

Then I cut a leaf shape out of the rectangle, leaving the bottom a little flattened (for optimal tape-age), and ended up with a handful of little leaves.  I did this twice for each colour of wrapping paper I used, so six times in total. I have no idea how many leaves it was, but it was exactly enough for the size of my project, which was pretty convenient — almost like I had a plan.

Lazy Festivity 4

Lazy Festivity 5

Lazy Festivity 6

Then I started taping them onto the plate, putting a wee bit of tape at the flattened end of the leaf, and making them kind of flow around the circle.  Don’t worry about making them arrow straight, and try to pick up different colours at random.

Lazy Festivity 7

When you put on the next haphazard row, it overlaps the first and hides the tape (this is called imbrication – like the layering of scales or roofing shingles).

Lazy Festivity 9

Imbrication … (I learned the word today so it’s rather convenient that I have this project for you)

Lazy Festivity 13

When you come full circle (and I don’t mean that metaphorically this time), just fold up the leaves already there and tuck the new ones into the space to fill the gap.

Lazy Festivity 11

So that’s the whole thing.

Lazy Festivity 12

I had a scrap of blanket binding leftover from the baby blanket I made for the Incredibly Little Hulk way back when, so I tied that on as ribbon.

Lazy Festivity 15

Then I added another ribbon to hang it on my door.

Lazy Festivity 19

This took me half an hour, from start to finish.  Change the colours of the paper leaves and I’m sure you could apply this wreath to any season (black and orange for Hallowe’en, purple and green for spring …).  Easy peasy, blamo kablam, it’s done!

Lazy Festivity 20
Imbricaaaaaaaation: an overlapping of edges as in tiles or scales.

Candy Bar Pancakes

Candybar Pancakes

Gren: “Are you guys making pancakes?”

Candybar Pancakes

Me: “No.”

Gren: “Really?  I don’t believe you. I’m pretty sure you’re making pancakes …”

Candybar Pancakes

The Pie and I rarely use our dining room (for eating at least) when it’s just the two of us.  But pretty much every Saturday morning since we moved into Elizabeth has been spent making “special breakfast”, where we do something a little more elaborate than the regular cereal or toast, and we eat it together in our dining room, which offers a charming view of our next-door neighbour’s shed.

In addition, we like to try to recreate things that we’ve eaten in restaurants, just to see if we can’t make them a little better.  Monday’s green curry was one example of that.  This is another, and it comes from one of our favourite restaurants.  They call them “candy bar” pancakes, which is a little odd, because most Canadians call things like Mars Bars and Snickerschocolate bars” (because they’re made from chocolate, not candy).  Maybe the creators just thought “candy bar pancakes” sounded better than “chocolate bar pancakes”, or maybe it’s because the high number of American soldiers stationed in Newfoundland at various points in history have left a lasting remnant of their dialect.  Who knows …

Candybar Pancakes

You can use any pancake recipe you’d like for this, though I would recommend a fluffy pancake rather than a flat one.  If you don’t have a favourite recipe, I’ll give you mine, which comes from the Joy of Cooking, and we usually cut it in half because it’s just the two of us.

Take a chocolate bar or two.  The “dry” kind work best, like Kit Kat or Coffee Crisp — anything without caramel or gooey things inside. We prefer the Coffee Crisp because of the different flavours inside. If you live in the US, see if you can get someone to bring one across the border for you — they are excellent.

Candybar Pancakes

Break it up into pieces and put it in the food processor.

Candybar Pancakes

Pulse until you have small crumbs.  Set that aside.

Candybar Pancakes

In one medium-sized bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 3/4 tablespoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. If you are making this recipe with milk instead of buttermilk, then leave out the baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Candybar Pancakes

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and you’re ready to go.

Use a cast iron skillet to get the best crust on your pancakes.  Preheat the skillet at medium for a few minutes while you’re mixing up your ingredients.  And before you pour in the batter, melt a bit of butter in the pan first.  Then scoop in some batter and let it sit for a while.

Candybar Pancakes

Don’t touch it.  Wait until it starts to bubble and get pitted.  The trick with these pancakes is  in cooking them for as long as possible on the first side, so that when you add the chocolate bar pieces to the other side you don’t have to cook it as long and they won’t burn.

Candybar Pancakes

While you wait for it to get pitted, you can play fetch with your dog.

Candybar Pancakes

This squeaky carrot is from IKEA.  I’m never sure if their stuffed toys are for dogs or for children, but they work great either way.

Candybar Pancakes

Take a spoon and sprinkle some of your chocolate crumbs onto the pitted top of the pancake.  Let them sink into the batter a little bit.

Candybar Pancakes

THEN you can flip it, quickly.  Don’t cook it too long on the second side or the chocolate will burn.

Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.

Candybar Pancakes

Or blueberry syrup.  Or whatever floats your boat on a Saturday morning.

Candybar Pancakes

The Accommodating Office

This will (hopefully) be the last full summer that we live here in St. John’s.  Accordingly, our friends and families are taking advantage of it and we are having four separate sets of guests staying in our house from June all the way until August.

Normally when we have guests, we cram an air mattress into the tiny space that is my home office floor and force our guests to live in cramped conditions for the duration of their visit.

Sping Shuffle

This summer, probably because the Pie and I will be sleeping in there while our parents take our bed, we decided to move things around to make for a little more room.

Sping Shuffle

We got a Groupon deal for a new memory foam mattress, and so when (if) it arrives we plan to keep the old mattress for a few extra weeks and use it on the floor of the guest room/office.  As crappy as the mattress is, if you have ever slept with another person on an air mattress you will know how much more preferable it is to being flopped around every time the other person rolls over or gets in or out of bed.  Anyway, in order to do this we had to make a bit more room for ourselves.

Many of my teaching materials are going across the street to my school office.  I should really use it for more than meeting with my students, as it’s pretty spacious and, unlike most of the students in my department, I only share it with one other person, a per-course instructor like me who is never there.  I plan to stake my claim on the desk by the window. I’ve already dusted it, after all.

Spring Shuffle

If we could afford it, the Pie and I would be all over some amazing furniture that better utilizes small spaces.  Watch this video from Resource Furniture and see what I mean — it’s very inspiring.  As we can’t afford it, we did the best we could.  I found this desk online and decided that a small rolling desk was probably the best option for us, and that $60 was a decent price for it.  My old desk, which was actually originally in the Pie’s office, was a sturdy structure from IKEA, in the JERKER line.  I hated it.  Mostly because if you are familiar with IKEA furniture, you know that once you put it together the first time, you really shouldn’t take it apart ever again.  And we moved this heavy sucker FIVE TIMES.

Sping Shuffle

Fortunately our friend Kirby had a serious crush on the desk, and with no IKEA nearer than Québec City, had no way to get one of his very own.  So we gave him this one, and he’s very happy with it.

So, after de-cluttering my work area (so much stuff that was out in view that could be put away somewhere else), and shoving the freezer over to the other side of the room, there’s a lot more floor space in my office, plenty of room for a queen-sized mattress and some more to spare.

Sping Shuffle

We can simply roll the desk into our room or the dining room or wherever, so that I can still do some work at home while people are here.  And I will use my school office more often as well.

Sping Shuffle

I bought this little metal shelf from Canadian Tire to support my herb farm once I re-potted it and I suspect another one will do a handy job of holding all my fabric (the shoe shelf I am currently using is not really up to the strain).

Sping Shuffle

The new shelf in the office.

Spring Shuffle

Of course, removing a large and tall piece of furniture left a huge empty spot on my wall.  But I can fill that easily enough.  I added two more prints I got for Christmas, and then used Rasterbator and a picture of Gren to fill the rest of the space.  Cait tells me she looks forward to waking up to Gren’s looming face when she and her sister come to visit this August.  I told her that not only would she have the poster version, but the real Gren would probably loom over her to wake her up as well.  This is his favourite room to play ball in after all.

Spring Shuffle

Let there be LIGHT!

Light BOX

Rule number one in food photography: ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT.

You know what?  Sometimes that’s just not possible.

You know dinner/supper? Generally that is served in the evening.  And in the winter here, that means it’s dark out.

The solution to that is to use a light box, or light tent.  Many photographers use these devices when featuring a single product.  It’s a good way to get whatever it is to display without any distracting background messing up the shot.

Light BOX

It’s also a good way to diffuse the harshness of electric lighting and make your subject look a little bit more natural.

Professional light boxes or light tents, even the small ones, will run you at least a hundred bucks, easy.  And that’s without the super-bright lighting system that goes with it.  Add another minimum four hundred dollars to your total if you want to go that way.

Constructing my box cost me less than $15 and took me less than an hour.  And a homemade box will give you pretty much the same results. You do the math.

Light BOX

Here’s what you need:

A large and sturdy cardboard box.  These ones are slightly smaller than what I had originally planned, but I can always make another one when I get a bigger box.

Light BOX

Enough white cloth (muslin, linen, cotton, or fleece) to line the box.  Tape or glue for attaching things (I like me my hockey tape, as you know, and it’s designed to attach to fabric).  Double-sided tape is great if you don’t want your adhesive efforts to show.  Scissors/Box Cutter/Rotary Cutter, for cutting things.  White or coloured Bristol board, for your background.   You can also skip the board and use your cloth, but bending the board will give you a nice edge-less angle.

Light BOX

At least two, but preferably more, goose-neck or adjustable neck work lamps.  I already have two of these Tertial ones from IKEA, which cost $10 and come with a clamp base.  I plan to acquire one more to go on top of the box.  It’s important to note that these lamps support the brighter 100W (or 23W if you are using a CFL) bulbs without risk of fire.

As many bright light bulbs as you need for your lamps.  I recommend using 100W bulbs (23W in compact fluorescent terms).  I picked up these “daylight” bulbs, which produce a cooler, less yellow light than a regular incandescent, from Canadian Tire for $10.  Halogens work well in this project, because they’re freaking bright, but they also use more energy, so that’s a judgment call for you to make on your own.

Light BOX

Just make sure that the wattage on your light bulb matches the maximum wattage on the lamps you are using.  You can get cheap desk lamps from anywhere to use for the project but more often than not they will only support a 60W (13W CFL) bulb, and those in the know say that’s just not bright enough for their purposes. The lamp on the right is less bright.

Light BOX

The best part about this is you can totally half-ass the project, if you were so inclined.  You don’t even need to measure the holes you cut in the box and if you’re in a hurry, you can leave the interior of the box unlined and simply drape the fabric over the top.

Light BOX

I plan to be a bit more meticulous, however.  But only a little bit.  It’s sort of half-assed half-assery.

Now of course there are a million different DIYs for making your own light box/tent.  Most of them are by real photographers who actually know what they’re doing, but there are some by people like me.  The dabblers of the earth.  I’m going to add my own to the mix, because the world needs a bit more alidoesit flavour, don’t you think?  My three favourite ones in terms of method and supplies are down below, if you want to check them out, but the concept is always the same.  Box.  White stuff.  Light.  Done.

So you take your box.  Grenadier was extremely helpful in the construction of this light box, as the pictures show.

Light BOX

Cut off the top flaps and secure the bottom ones.  The bottom is going to be the back of the box, and the sides the floor, walls, and ceiling.

Light BOX

Cut out large holes on each of the three sides.

Light BOX

Line the box with white fabric, covering the holes completely.  Make sure that all you can see inside the box is white.  White’s a nice reflector.

Light BOX

Prop a piece of bristol board inside the box so that one end is wedged into the top corner.

Bend the board to make a curve and use a bit of tape to stick the bottom in place so it doesn’t slide out.  This will be your photographic surface.  The curve of the board means that there are no corners or edges visible in the photographs.

Light BOX

Put your lamps with their bright bulbs up to all the holes in the box (as I said, I plan to have three lamps some time soon) and turn them on.  Make sure the bulbs don’t touch the cloth.  You wouldn’t want to start a fire.  You might find it easiest to take pictures of items in your light box using a tripod, but it’s not entirely necessary to your happiness.

Tada, your very own light box!

Light BOX

Here’s some food in a shot taken, like I normally do, in my kitchen during the day.  The light is natural outdoor light through my big kitchen window at the end of the afternoon in October.  Lovely.

Light BOX

Now here is the same food in a shot taken at night, using the electric lights in my kitchen.

Light BOX

And again, in my brand new light box!  I think we can all agree there’s a difference!

Light BOX

Other Light Box/Tent Projects:

http://jyoseph.com/blog/diy-light-box-for-product-photography

http://reverb.madstatic.com/blog/2006/04/01/make-a-photo-light-box-light-tent-cheap/

http://www.digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent