It’s Gingerbread House Time!

Part 1: Baking the Pieces

Josh and Lily's Gingerbread House 2015 front view

One of the things I look forward to the most at Christmastime is my annual gingerbread house decorating party. Kids of all ages can get involved in the decorating. Making the houses is not as hard as it looks. I’ll give you some tips that will make the process easy. Even a beginner can make a simple house. The decorations can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose.

The Recipe

Sara Jean’s Gingerbread House Recipe This is my tried-and-true recipe. I have two versions–a regular one and one that is egg-free. The modifications for the egg-free recipe are at the bottom of the page. I’ll add an egg-free icing recipe in Part 2.

It’s best if you bake the cookie pieces ahead of time so they have time to dry out a little. Keep the pieces in an airtight zip-top bag or an airtight container. You don’t want air and moisture getting to your pieces and making them soft. You can bake your cookie pieces ahead of time with no problem. Gingerbread cookies seem to last for a long time. I have made my pieces anywhere from one week to two months ahead of time.

Baking Tips

In the recipe instructions, you will find several good tips. The first is to refrigerate your dough. The eggless dough needs to be refrigerated longer than the recipe with egg in it. Allowing the dough to rest and cool makes it so much easier to handle for rolling out and cutting.

The second tip is to roll out your dough directly onto parchment paper or a silicone mat like a Silpat. That way, you can move your pieces directly onto the baking sheet without distorting the pieces when moving them. Carefully grab the edges of the mat or paper and slide it onto the baking sheet. You can use tinfoil if you don’t have a silicone mat or parchment paper, but I find that the dough doesn’t roll out as well on tin foil. Tin foil also doesn’t seem to release the cooked pieces as well as a silicone mat or parchment paper. (Parchment paper can be found in the grocery store in the aisle with tinfoil and plastic wrap or at any store that sells cake decorating supplies.)

The third tip is to adjust the thickness of the dough and the baking time according to how large the pieces are. A small piece (about 3 to 5″) can be rolled thinner than a larger piece and still not break. The smaller and thinner pieces also bake faster. Gingerbread is hard to tell when it is done because it is brown to begin with. The pieces should be firm on the edges but will still be a little soft. The pieces will harden as they cool. Carefully take your finger and nudge the edge of one of the pieces. If it feels dry and slightly firm, it should be done. The pieces should look dry over the whole top side of the piece.

The fourth tip (which I don’t think I mentioned in the recipe) is to gently shape your pieces when they come out of the oven. They will still be soft at this stage.  You can take the flat edge of a spatula and straighten up the edges of the cookies by gently pushing the spatula against the edge of the cookie. You can also easily cut the cookie pieces when they are still warm from the oven. Cut with a gentle  up-and-down motion. To get a completely flat cookie, make sure your cooling rack is flat. If it is bowed, your pieces will be curved and might not fit together correctly when you are assembling your house.

The last tip is to treat your gingerbread pieces gently. Let them cool for about 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet before you try to move them. Use a spatula to remove your pieces from the baking sheet to the cooling rack. For larger pieces, use two spatulas or a cake lifter or a bench scraper to move the pieces so that the whole piece is supported. You can also use the silicone mat or parchment paper to move the pieces to your cooling rack if your cooling rack is large enough to keep all the pieces level. Gently take the edges and slide the mat/paper onto the cooling rack just like you slid it onto the baking sheet before you baked the pieces. You might want a helper to do this step. Four hands are better than two. In Part 2, I will tell you what to do if a piece breaks and you don’t have an extra piece.

Templates

I like to make my own templates. You can make any size or shape you wish. Just remember that steep angles are hard to attach your pieces to. You can find a variety of designs online or in books about gingerbread house decorating.

You can use several types of materials to make your templates. You can use cardboard. If you do use cardboard, I would recommend using a cardboard cake board since they are food-safe. I wouldn’t want to use a dirty old cardboard box that had been used for shipping–unless you are definitely not going to eat the gingerbread. Cardboard will get dirty as you use it so it is not good a good choice if you want to reuse it later.

I like to use plastic for my templates because I can wash and reuse them. I am still using my original templates I made 12 or 13 years ago. I like to use plastic sheets like this used for making quilt block templates. You can usually find these plastic sheets in any store that sells fabric. You can also use stencil plastic, but I find that plastic to be thin and flimsy. Since it’s not as sturdy as the quilting template plastic, it’s harder to get an accurate shape cut out of the dough. You could also use something like the lid of a whipped topping container. That plastic is sturdy and flat enough, but you are limited by the size of the lid.

I draw my shapes on graph paper so that I know the lines are straight. I cut the shapes out of cardboard first to make sure the shapes fit together correctly. That way I can go back and make any adjustments before I cut into the template plastic. Once the design is finalized, you can trace the shapes onto the template plastic and cut them out with scissors or a craft knife and ruler. Here are printable drawings of  my Gingerbread House Templates for you to use. Do not use “Fit to Page” when printing the drawings. Do a test fit with cardboard first to make sure the sizes are right.

When you are designing your house, just remember that you need two rectangles for the roof, two rectangles for the sides and two sides with a peak for the front and back of the house.  So, let your imagination go wild. You can make the pieces as big or as small as you want. You are only limited in size by how big your baking pans and your oven are.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below. Part 2 will show you how to assemble your house. In Part 3, I’ll share several ideas for decorations.  See you soon.

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I’m Baaack!

So I haven’t posted in what seems like forever. I’ve been away taking care of some legal stuff, some medical tests and figuring out health insurance. That’s the small stuff. The big thing is that I moved. Thanks to all the people who helped me, I actually survived through the transition. I couldn’t have done it without all of the people who helped me. Life is finally starting to settle down. Most of my boxes are unpacked, and I’m working on finding a place for everything. Decreasing your living space by 50% has its challenges. I am so ready to get back to crafting on a regular basis and sharing my creations with you.

About 6 months ago, I said I was going to make some changes with the blog. Well, I have changed my mind again. The fact is, I like writing tutorials. Yes, they do take quite a bit of time to write, but I feel like I’m writing something worth reading when I post the tutorials for you to use. I didn’t feel that posting a photo and a few lines saying, “Look what I made,” was quite my style. I think Pinterest or Instagram serves as a better place to post those pictures. Quite frankly, I need to write down the instructions for myself if I ever want to make the same project again sometime in the future.  So I’ll be back to writing tutorials for most of my posts.

As I said before, my life seems to be settling down. I hope it continues to go that way. I still don’t want to commit to a regular posting schedule. My brother-in-law made a good point about the frequency of posting to a blog. He said that if the content was of good quality, the readers are willing to wait for the next post. Not sticking to a schedule will allow some freedom to write my tutorials without feeling the pressure of a deadline. I do, however, plan to post fairly frequently. In the next year, I also want to add some product reviews and some book reviews. I think you will enjoy the things I have planned.

So, welcome back to my blog. I’m glad to be back. I will see you here again very soon with…? Here’s a hint: molasses and architecture.

 

 

 

Card in a Box: A Birthday Bouquet

card in a box happy birthday bouquets

Card in a Box Happy Birthday bouquets

I noticed that I have been posting quite a few sewing projects lately. Here’s some paper crafting for you, to change things up a bit.

Making the Cards

I made these cards based on a YouTube video by Chic ‘n Scratch. (Find the video by searching “ChicnScratch Card in a box video” on YouTube). I like how she cuts off some of the flap to show more of the box underneath. I changed how I score my cardstock for the flaps. When I score my cardstock at the 2 3/4″ mark, I don’t score the last section next to the 1/2″ score line–that would be the section between the 6 3/8″ and 8 1/2″ score lines. That way, the back of my card isn’t creased at all.

I think you need to use at least an 80 lb. cardstock to make the box so it will be sturdy enough to stand. I like the idea that you can use patterned paper, stamps or any sort of embellishment to decorate the flaps. The diorama part of the card can be decorated any way you like as well. I like decorating with flowers because it’s like sending a bouquet through the mail. And the flowers last forever. I also have some ideas to make a nature scene–more on that in a future post. I have also seen the cards decorated with balloons or cupcakes to make a very cute birthday card.

The box part of the card is really easy to put together, especially if you use a scoring board and a paper trimmer. Making the bouquet of flowers isn’t as hard as it looks, but it does take time. I find that when I make the diorama this full, I like to start placing the pieces from the front to the back. It’s harder to get your fingers in behind the flowers to place the next row, but I can see where I need to fill in the gaps and make the bouquet fuller. I used 1/4″ strips of acetate to elevate the flowers and give them a little bounce. I also used dimensional foam dots to add depth to the bouquet in addition to the dimension that comes from the underlying structure of the card box.

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Top view showing the dimension in the Card in a Box.

Mailing in a Regular Envelope

This card is sized to fit into a regular A2 envelope. The thing to remember when building the bouquet is to keep it within the parameters of the 4 1/4″ by 5 1/2″ card size. I do this by occasionally folding the card as I’m working on it to see if I am going out of bounds. I use the measuring grid on my glass or self-healing cutting mats to make sure I stay within the size limits.

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Card in a Box folded to fit into an envelope.

When I make my box cards into bouquets, they usually require extra postage because the card is extra thick. Sometimes, this also requires changing my envelope to an A6 envelope so the bulk will fit nicely into the envelope without anything getting squashed.

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The first card I put together.

Supplies and Tools Used for the First Card:

  • Flower Shop stamp set from Stampin’ Up!
  • Versamark ink
  • White embossing powder
  • Embossing heat tool
  • Stampin’ Up! cardstock: Real red, Daffodil delight, Bermuda bay (flowers and card base), Tempting turquoise, Pear pizzazz, Wild wasabi, Whisper white
  • Stampin’ Up! Real red ink
  • Pansy punch from Stampin’ Up!
  • Patterned paper from the 6″ x 6″ Crate Paper “Pretty Party” pad
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The second card I made.

Supplies and Tools Used for the Second Card:

  • Nature’s Perfection stamp set from Stampin’ Up!
  • Stampin’ Up! cardstock: Whisper white, Pacific point (card base), Wild wasabi, Pear pizzazz
  • Yellow citrus, Lime Pastel, Lipstick Red, Blue Lagoon and Lavender from Colorbox Chalk Ink Queue–Primary Elements
  • Stampin’ Up! Elegant Eggplant ink
  • Elegant Butterfly punch from Stampin’ Up!
  • Patterned paper from the 6″ x 6″ Pebbles “Front Porch” pad

Supplies and Tools Used for Both Cards

  • Grafix acetate
  • Foam dimensional adhesive from Stampin’ Up! and Studio G
  • Aleene’s Acid-Free Tacky Glue
  • Fiskars paper trimmer
  • Bird Builder, Word Window and Modern Label (retired) punches from Stampin’ Up!
  • Martha Stewart scoring board with Stampin’ Up! stylus
  • Stampin’ Up! Bone Folder
  • Stampin’ Up! Paper Snips
  • Ruler

Turban Style Costume Hat

My mom needed a hat for a costume for Vacation Bible School. I had a pattern that I had modified to make a Hindu wedding hat for a friend’s son. One of the hats in that pattern set had the definite look of a turban. So I suggested that pattern to my mom. I also said that I would make it for her if she wanted me to. She bought some material and brought it to me to sew. After measuring her head, I was ready to go.

The Pattern

Simplicity pattern 2494

Simplicity pattern 2494

The pattern is Simplicity 2494, Size A. The pattern includes small, medium and large sizes to fit heads with the circumference of 21, 22 or 23 inches. It comes with patterns for six different styles of hats. I used the purple hat shown in the upper left corner on the pattern cover.

Sewing the Hat

Making the crown part of the hat is really easy. Attaching the brim is another matter. I had to repin twice and ended up ripping out my first stitches. Now that I’ve practiced sewing this pattern a couple of times for other people, I think it’s time for me to buy some fleece and make myself a nice winter hat. Since all the patterns are so cute, maybe I’ll have to make more than one.

The hat being modeled by my pressing ham.

The hat being modeled by my pressing ham.

Quick Tip

You know how it’s so hard to fold a pattern and get it back into the package once you’ve opened and unfolded it? Instead of trying to stuff the delicate pattern paper back into the envelope, fold the pattern neatly and store it with the envelope in a gallon zip-top bag. I’m pretty sure I found that tip in Threads magazine. It sure has saved me a lot of frustration and keeps my patterns neat and dust-free.

Crazy About Crazy Quilting

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My unembellished crazy quilt square.

My mom and I recently went to a class at The Quilter’s Garden in Fenton, Michigan, to learn how to sew a crazy quilt square. Crazy quilts are traditionally made from scraps of fabric sewn in a random pattern. Embroidery and other embellishments are then used to decorate the fabric. Wow, talk about fun!

What I Like Best About Crazy Quilting

I found several things to like about this method of quilting. First of all, you can use scraps of fabric. You can get your fabric from just about any source. You can use fabric from scrap pieces left over from quilting projects or other sewing you have done, pieces cut from clothing worn to a special event or made for a special person, or from clothes or bedding you have bought at a yard sale or the second-hand shop.

You don’t have to worry about what type the fabric is and if it is washable, because you don’t usually wash a crazy quilt. Silk, satin, lace, corduroy, denim, cotton, wool, synthetic–anything goes. I had gone through my fabric before the class and actually chose colors that wouldn’t clash, but basically you can sit down with your bag of scraps, pull out some pieces of fabric and go to work.

Secondly, you don’t really have to be an experienced quilter to make one of these quilts. (It does help if you know how to embroider, but I’ll get to that later.) All of the seams are straight, so no complicated curves.  You will get a decent product by just slapping down some fabric and sewing it together. You do want to avoid spaces in the design where there are gaps between fabric pieces (referred to as “holes”). I admit, I had to fix a couple of holes on my square. Because the fabric has a random placement and will be embroidered later, the “mistakes” are easy to fix and won’t really show at all. Other than that, there is no wrong way to place your pieces.

Thirdly, the sewing goes quickly. You don’t have to cut any intricate pieces of fabric. You don’t have to worry about getting that perfect seam allowance. You overlap fabric as you sew, so getting your points to line up perfectly doesn’t matter. I finished sewing the fabric pieces onto my 12″ by 12″ muslin foundation piece during the two-hour class. That was with a lot of talking going on and sharing an iron with the other quilters.  Crazy quilting is just a fabulous and fun way to make a quilt.

Crazy Quilt Decoration

Crazy quilts are often heavily embellished with fancy stitches. This is where a little bit of embroidery practice beforehand pays off. However, don’t be discouraged if you haven’t done much embroidery. If you start with a small project like something that would fit into a small frame, you can practice on a piece that is not so large as to be overwhelming. Then make your next project bigger, and the next one even bigger than that to build your confidence.

Sometimes crazy quilts don’t have much embroidery on them, instead using the color and placement of the fabric to set the design of the finished project. You can also use ribbon, buttons and charms on your quilt in addition to the embroidery.

Most of the quilts are used as wall hangings or as decorative fabric for 3-D projects like pincushions, pillows or other stuffed decor items. Some projects are framed just like any other piece of art. Many of the projects are small-scale, so finishing your embellishing isn’t such a daunting task. Although piecing the square together goes quickly, embellishing it can take a while to finish.

Read More

There are several versions of how to assemble a crazy quilt square. The one we learned was developed by Barbara Blankenship, if I remember correctly. She wrote an article called “Piecing a Crazy Quilt Block” about how to use her version of assembling a crazy quilt square. I also found a really good book by Allie Aller called Allie Aller’s Crazy Quilting. The book is a great source to have on your shelf because it gives five methods of putting together a crazy quilt square, ideas on how to embroider and embellish your quilt squares and several projects to get you started.

Another good book to have on hand is one that shows a variety of embroidery stitches. I have a book I picked up at a used book sale. It is called An Encyclopedia of Crazy Quilt Stitches and Motifs by Linda Causee. Any book like this that shows how to make the stitches would be helpful even if it isn’t necessarily geared toward crazy quilting. (Used book sales are great places to find books about embroidery because the stitches don’t change over time as other styles change.)

More to Come

I’ll show you my square when I finish embroidering it. It might take me a while though, since I can embroider about 15 minutes at a time without my hands hurting. Gotta remember to take care of the old body but have fun in the meantime. Right? I also am working on a stitch sampler to practice and preview stitches before I use them to finish my square. More on that later, too.