Archive for the ‘Tutorials’ Category

Tutorial: Case for a Kindle Keyboard

August 6th, 2012

I’m, er, rather rough on portable electronic devices. They get stuffed into my purse along with everything else that’s in there (at the very least a wallet, an inhaler, some pens, and my multitool–but the occasional/more-frequently-than-not scissors, book, device charger, etc.)

But when the screen on my Kindle went loopy after a quick trip in my purse (my best bet is that it knocked up against the multi-tool)… And when I couldn’t fix the problem by resetting the system… I knew I needed to do something to protect any future devices before I acquired them.

Not being one to shell out money for something that I’m certain could be made myself, I searched for tutorials rather than for items to purchase. What I found was this tutorial, which I read through and then adapted quite liberally to make my own cover, which I wanted to be hard-sided AND padded to provide extra protection from stray multi-tools.

Kindle Case

And, of course, I took pictures and wrote up the steps so that I could replicate the process should I so desire.

What You Need:

  • Chipboard (I didn’t have any chipboard handy enough so I used the inferior, but in this case still fairly sturdy regular cardboard from within an old binder)
  • Fabric for exterior of case
  • Fabric for interior of case
  • Quilt batting
  • Elastic (I used dollar store elastic headbands)

What You Need to Do:

1. Cut chipboard (using a straightedge and a utility knife) into the following:

  • Two 7 5/8″ x 5″ rectangles
  • One 7 5/8″ x 1 1/2″ rectangle

Cutting Chipboard

2. Cut exterior fabric into rectangle 14″ x 8 1/2″

3. Cut interior fabric and batting into rectangle 15″ x 9 1/2″

4. Pin batting to wrong side of interior fabric. Quilt through fabric and batting as desired (I did diagonal lines from either direction to make a diamond pattern)

Quilting interior fabric to batting

5. Cut quilted fabric down to a 14″ x 8 1/2″ rectangle

6. Cut 3 pieces of elastic ~7″ long

7. Lay out quilted fabric right side up so that the short sides make the sides and the long sides make the top and bottom. Mark points along the top edge 2 3/4″ from right side, 3 1/2″ from right side, and 6 1/2″ from right side. Mark the same points along the bottom edge. This will be where you’ll attach your elastic (see the photo below for approximately what that will look like.)

Marking and attaching elastic

8. Baste edges of elastic to marked points (I used a zig-zag stitch hugging the far side of the fabric.

9. Pin interior fabric to exterior fabric, right sides together.

Pinning fabric together

10. Sew top, right side, and left side together using a scant 1/4″ seam allowance.

11. Turn inside out and press corners to a point using your fingers or a crochet hook.

Turning the pocket inside out

12. Arrange elastic so that the center piece of elastic is on the exterior side and the other two pieces of elastic are on the interior side.

13. Slide 7 5/8″ x 1 1/2″ rectangle of chipboard into sewn pocket. Snug it all the way up to the seam.

14. Change the presser foot on your sewing machine to a zipper foot and sew as close as you can to the chipboard without sewing through the chipboard. (The dotted line on the photo below shows approximately where the edge of the chipboard is–and therefore where I sewed.)

Sewing close to the chipboard

15. Sew another line 3/4″ away from the seam you just made. (This time, the dotted line is a very approximate indicator of where that seam will be.)

Making the next seam

16. Slide one of the 7 5/8″ x 5″ rectangles of chipboard into sewn pocket so that it is snug against the seam you just made. Sew as close to the “open” side of the chipboard as you can without sewing through the chipboard.

17. Sew another line 7/8″ away from the seam you just made.

18. Snug in your final piece of chipboard. At this point, if you were to fold your case up, it would look something like the picture below (except that your cardboard shouldn’t be showing because I adjusted the dimensions of the fabric in this tutorial to fix that problem.)

Before closing the last seam

19. Tuck additional fabric into itself and slipstitch opening closed (or, if you hate slipstitching as much as I do, use your zipper foot again and sew really uber-close to the chipboard again.)

Closing the last seam

Your cover is now complete, except for inserting your Kindle.

20. Slide Kindle under the two strips of elastic. Close cover. Place flap over cover, Move elastic from back over flap to seal shut.

Finished product

You’ll notice that my flap looks a bit wonky–that it projects a bit instead of laying flat. I adjusted the measurement up in step 15 so that shouldn’t happen to you if you’re following this tutorial.

Of course, now that I’ve made my own case, I’ve seen a half dozen cute pictures and tutorials elsewhere that I’d ALSO like to try. You can check out my Kindle Cover Pinboard if you’re interested in seeing some of those.

Tutorial: Anne’s Carpetbag

February 15th, 2012

Remember the Anne-of-Green-Gables-inspired doll carpetbag I made (and gave away) earlier this month?

Finished bag

Wanna try to make one of your own?

It’s really quite simple.

First, print off the pattern. For best results, select “none” for page scaling.

Second, cut out the fabric.

For the outer fabric, I used a heavy upholstery fabric. If you want the bag without the “carpetbag” look, you could use any heavy-weight fabric. Alternately, you could use felt or felted wool (accidentally washed wool sweaters, maybe?) and leave it unlined.

  • 1 bottom piece
  • 2 front/back pieces
  • 2 side pieces

For the lining, I used a lightweight dress fabric. The fabric I used was pretty slippery–I’d recommend that beginning sewers try quilting cotton or broadcloth for lining. If you’re making a felt or felted wool bag, you can skip the lining.

  • 1 bottom piece
  • 2 front/back pieces
  • 2 side pieces

The contrasting handles leave the most up to you. I used a no-fray upholstery fabric that had an almost rubbery back. If you can find something similar, that’s ideal. Otherwise, you could try faux (or real) leather, canvas, or another heavy-weight fabric. If you use a fabric that won’t fray (and therefore won’t need to have it’s sides turned under), cut using the circle template I provided. If you’re using a fabric that will fray, make a circle template about a half inch wider (in diameter) to allow for turning the sides under before applying.

  • 4 circles
  • 2 strips 1 1/2 inches wide by 6 1/2 inches long

Third, assemble the main body of your bag (using the outer fabric).

Line up the bottom and the front (right sides together) and sew along bottom front seam.

Sewing bottom to front

Open up the seam.

Seam opened up

Now align the back piece with the other long side of the bottom piece (right sides together). Sew along the bottom back seam.

Sewing bottom to back

Press both seams open.

Fourth, put the sides on your bag

Align the side of the side piece with side of front piece (right sides together) and pin in place.

Aligning side piece

Now align the bottom of the side piece with the bottom piece (right sides together) and pin in place.

Aligning side piece 2

Finally, align the other side of the side piece with the side of the back piece (right sides together) and pin in place.

Aligning side piece 3

Sew along the pinned portions, making sharp turns in the corners by leaving the needle down, lifting up your sewing machine’s presser foot, and rotating your fabric 90 degrees. Make sure that the extra fabric from the front/back/bottom pieces isn’t in the way before you put the presser foot back down and begin sewing again.

Pivot turns

You’ve now got the first side on.

First side done

Repeat with the second side piece.

Putting on the second side

Fifth, stitch along the right side of all the seams you just made.

Finishing the seams

Notice how the stitching is right on the edge of the seam, going through both pieces of fabric on either side of the original seam. This gives the bag additional form and allows it to stand up on its own.

At this point, if you’re making an unlined bag from felt or felted wool, skip to step 8. If you’re making a lined bag, continue on with step 6.

Finished outer part

Sixth, repeat steps three and four with the lining fabric.

Finished lining

Seventh, attach the lining to the outside.

You’ll start by turning the outside wrong-side out and the lining right-side out. Slip the lining into the outside.

Lining up inside and out

Pin along the top edge of the lining and outside piece, lining up corners and the “dips” in the sides.

Pinning in the lining

Sew along the top of the bag, leaving a small section along the back piece unsewn (so that you can turn the bag inside out.)

Pinning in the lining

A small unsewn section

Turn the bag inside out through the small hole you left between the lining and the outer portion of the bag.

Topstitch along the seam around the top of the bag, closing the opening as you go.


Ninth (and finally), make and attach the straps.

Iron a fold into the long sides of the strap fabric.

Ironing folds in the straps

Now fold the straps in half longwise so that you have a long narrow strip with the previously folded edges on one side (it’ll look like double-folded bias tape). Sew along the edge.

If your circle fabric has the potential to fray, iron under the edges approximately 1/4 inch.

Now pin your straps to the sides of the bag as shown below.

Pinning on straps

Layer the circles on top of the edges of the straps and pin.

Circles over straps

Now, you’ll stitch around the edge of the circle, securing the straps and the circle to the bag. I made a little “X” through my circles to further secure the strap.

Finished bag

Congratulations, your Anne-inspired carpetbag is now complete!

Thermometer Tips

October 6th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about eating red meat. I talked about the wonders of the instant-read thermometer and how one can use it to make sure their meat is safe without having to overcook the meat.

This week, I taught my lab students how to use a meat thermometer. I taught them the appropriate temperatures for different meats and why, for instance, ground meat has to reach a higher temperature than whole cuts of meat.

I warned the students who were cooking to treat my instant-read well.

“Wash the thermometer thoroughly before returning it to the sheath,” I said. “Cause once that sheath gets dirty, it’s impossible to clean.”

And then I remembered a task I had left undone.

Last week, a reader asked what brand of thermometer I used, because hers kept giving up the ghost after a few weeks or months of use.

I’ve been puzzling over her predicament because I’ve never had the same problem.

Ecko Brand instant-read thermometerI use an Ekco brand instant read thermometer–and while mine is quite new, before that I used my sister’s (same brand) for years. As far as I know, hers is still working just fine in Columbus.

Between her question and my reminders to (and observations of) students, I thought I’d share a few more thermometer tips.

First, regarding the use of an instant read thermometer:
Instant read thermometers are not the same as a traditional meat thermometer. While a traditional meat thermometer is meant to be placed into a roast and stuck in the oven for the duration of cooking, the instant read thermometer is intended for only periodic use throughout the cooking process. As a product begins to near doneness, one should use the instant read thermometer to check the temperature. If the temperature is not yet appropriate, the thermometer should be removed from the meat and the meat should be returned to the heat.

Second, regarding the cleaning of an instant read thermometer:
While an instant read thermometer should be quite waterproof, I never quite trust it enough to submerge it in water. Instead, I clean the thermometer by wiping it off with a soapy rag and then by either dipping the probe portion or running the probe portion under very hot water or sanitizing solution (obviously, the sanitizing solution is more often used in a commercial food service setting–and is probably not practical for home use.) I always clean my thermometer before returning it to its sheath, because, as mentioned before, the sheath is almost impossible to clean once it gets dirty. If the sheath does get dirty, an old-fashioned(?) pipe cleaner, such as children use for craft projects, may be effective for cleaning the narrow interior of the sheath.

Third, on the calibration of an instant read thermometer:
After regular use (and sometimes abuse–I’m always dropping mine), an instant read thermometer can begin to give incorrect readings. You’ll note that your instant read is measuring the ambient room temperature as 60 degrees when really it’s warmer than that. Or maybe the difference is more subtle than that and you haven’t noticed. Nevertheless, an uncalibrated thermometer could lead to a food safety snafu. To avoid this, you can easily calibrate your instant read thermometer. I recommend doing so every couple of months.

Thermometer in ice water bathTo calibrate, prepare an ice water bath by sticking a few ice cubes in a glass of water. Let the water sit for three to five minutes so the water can equilibrate to freezing temperature (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Then, place your instant read thermometer in the ice water bath. Let your thermometer gauge come to a stop.

Hex nut on thermometerNow, you will want to adjust the temperature gauge so that it reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit. To do this, you will need to grasp the hex nut directly under the gauge with a pair of pliers. Then, while holding that hex nut steady, you’ll twist the circular gauge until the indicator points at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Your instant-read thermometer is now calibrated and ready to be used again to feed your family delicious, just-right-temp cooked meat!

Newly calibrated thermometer

Tuesday Night (A Pear-Sauce Tutorial)

September 9th, 2010

Dad has a coworker who has a pear tree–and she offers Mom the pears every year.

This year, Mom had plenty of pears already, so she didn’t need anymore.

But our family never refuses free food :-) and Mom and Dad would rather the coworker (who is an older woman) NOT being trying to climb the tree. So they went and picked the tree for her. They ended up with two boxes of pears–some little and some big.

Pears in a box

Mom figured one of the kids would be pleased to take the extra pears off her hands.

And one–well actually two–of us were.

Daniel got the big ones to can as halves or slices. I took the little ones to make pear-sauce with. (Debbie was right yesterday!)

Never heard of pear-sauce? Just think applesauce only with pears.

To make pear-sauce, you first need to rinse off all your pears.

Pears in sink of water

You’ll want to cut each pear in half. Remove any worm holes or bruised spots. There’s no need to peel, or core, or even stem these.

Pears in stockpot

Stick all of your pears in a big stockpot or something similar, add some water, and heat it all up. You’ll want to heat it until the pears are all nice and soft.

Pears on stove

Now, you’ll need to get out your “squitter”–more technically known as a sauce maker or food strainer. These are not the most common of kitchen appliances, but they come in handy if you plan on doing any amount of home canning. My family makes large quantities of applesauce and tomato juice using our “squitter”. A “squitter” can also come in handy if you’ve got babies and want to make your own baby food to freeze.

Pears in squitter

Dump your hot pears into the top basket of the squitter (I used a slotted spoon to transfer the pears so I wouldn’t get a whole lot of extra liquid in the sauce.) Then turn the crank. You can see that the pulpy parts of the pear come out one spout while sauce comes out the other. Continue cranking and refilling as necessary until your sauce is done.

Pears in squitter

Now you’re ready to fill the jars. Use a canning funnel if you have one and fill your canning jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Run a spatula or knife along the inside of the jar to remove any air bubbles. Then wipe the upper rim of the jar, place a new canning lid on top, and screw a ring on to hold it tight.

Filling jars with pear-sauce

Now, you’re ready to process your pear-sauce. You can process it in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes–or you can go the easy way out :-) and pressure process it for five minutes at five pounds pressure.

16 pints of pear sauce

Now you can eat sugar-free, preservative-free pear-sauce any time you want!

(I like to mix mine with plain yogurt and eat it for breakfast.)

Tutorial: Produce Bags

August 18th, 2010

I like to pretend I’m eco-friendly and I do what I can to reduce waste (I hate to throw things away–I’d much rather just not bring them into my house in the first place.)

Several years ago, I made myself some fantastic canvas grocery bags, and I use them faithfully whenever I go shopping–but I still found myself bringing home way too many plastic bags.

Why? Because I still had to use those little produce bags for my produce and my purchases from the bulk bins. Never mind that the first thing I do when I get them home is transfer everything from the bags to bowls or storage containers–I still end up with all those little bags in my house. What’s more, these bags are doubly annoying because they can’t really be reused (except in a really tiny trashcan.)

I’ve seen half a dozen hundred little tutorials for produce bags online–and have quite a few of them bookmarked. But then, rather than using one of those, I just whipped up a modified version of my own in an afternoon. (I was able to make a dozen bags in under 2 hours using this technique.)

Several produce bags full of stuff

Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Select fabric

I used a sheer fabric that I already had on hand–and an old sheer curtain. You could also use netting or tulle (tulle can be purchased very inexpensively.)

Step 2: Cut to appropriate size

There are a few options for cutting.

  1. You can cut two rectangles approximately the size of your finished bag (so for a 12″ wide by 15″ long bag, you would need two pieces of fabric approximately 12″ by 15″)
  2. You can cut one rectangle so that the “fold” will be along a side of the bag (so for a 12″ wide by 15″ long bag, you would need one rectangle 15″ long and 24″ wide)
  3. You can cut one rectangle so that the “fold” will be along the bottom of the bag (so for a 12″ wide by 15″ long bag, you would need one rectangle 30″ long and 12″ wide)

I used all three of these methods at different times in order to best use the fabric lengths I had. You can, of course, adjust the dimensions to make bags of different sizes.

Cutting sheer fabric for produce bag

Step 3: Overlock stitch a two inch length in the top corner of your fabric.

Stitching produce bags

I have prepared a little diagram that shows where to stitch (in red) based on the cutting method you chose in step 2.

Stitching diagram

Step 4: Sew side and bottom seams.

Now you will want to align your already stitched edges so that they overlap, with the right side of the fabric together.

Stitched edges aligned

The following diagram shows where folds should take place with each cutting method (folds are indicated by dotted lines and arrows).

Folding diagram

Now you will want to sew together the sides and/or bottom using overlock stitch. The sides you will stitch are indicated using blue in the diagram above. (Note that you will not restitch over the area stitched in the previous step.)

Step 5: Fold down top casing and press.

You should fold down approximately one inch (or one half of the approximately two inch length you stitched in Step 3) of fabric and press it into place

Pressed casing

Step 6: Sew casing down along bottom edge using overlock stitch.

Casing sewn down

You can see how this leaves a nice casing with a finished edge at a corner.

Step 7: Turn bag inside out and thread ribbon through casing.

Completed produce bag

I used leftover ribbon from my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding. You can use ribbon, twine, yarn, whatever you’ve got. Tie or sew ribbon together at the end to make a loop and you’re done!

The finished result:

Produce bag on grocery scale

It’s difficult to see, but I weighed this bag at my grocery store to see if it would be adding too much weight to my produce or bulk purchases. This bag weighed .02 lbs. I don’t think I’m too concerned! (Of course, if you used string or lighter weight ribbon, you could probably reduce that weight.)

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