Saturday, July 7, 2012

Curtains for the Nursery: Mission Impossible?

Not too long after we found out we were having a baby, I did what most moms-to-be do and started planning the nursery. By the time we found out we were having a girl, I had completed countless hours of “research” on the web (mostly on sites like project nursery, etsy and various blogs) and had a few basic ideas: 1) I wanted the room to pretty and girly without being over the top (i.e. not a ton of pink); 2) I wanted the room color to be something that could potentially be used with a boy in case future baby #2 is a boy; 3) I wanted white furniture; and 4) I wanted some fun curtains to liven up the space but that would also block out all of the early morning light we get given our East-facing house.

The first three things were not that difficult to address, but finding pre-made, fun and functional curtains that did not cost an arm and a leg (especially given that I needed four panels for the two windows in the nursery) proved to be a bit of a challenge. Pottery Barn Kids seemed to have the greatest variety of blackout curtains but I wasn’t in love with the fabrics and they were definitely not cheap. So I thought about doing something more custom made—I had pretty good luck with my no-sew fake roman shades and had seen several other blogs talk about making actual curtain panels using a similar technique. The problem there was that these were generally not lined, and in order to keep out all the light I was going to need some heavy duty blackout lining.

It was at this point that I came across a tutorial for making lined curtains on the web and an idea was born—maybe I could actually sew these things myself.  The tutorial made it look so easy—it was a lot of ironing, some pining, and sewing a few straight lines. Surely I could figure this out. And it would be really nice to make something for my future child. It was settled –I was going to learn to sew by making curtains. Now it was just a matter of finding a sewing machine. Fortunately, I knew someone who had one—my mom. Granted it was 30 years old and probably hadn’t been operated in 18 years (my mom is not much of a seamstress either), but it was easily accessible. So back in the spring I asked her if I could borrow it and she said ok. She even dug out her old Reader’s Digest sewing manual for me.

Cut to last weekend when I finally decided it was time to get to work on my little project. I had found and ordered a fabric that both Jason and I really liked (Waverly’s Pom Pom Play) as well as some inexpensive blackout lining a month or so before and had purchased what seemed like all the necessary sewing supplies—thread, better scissors for cutting the fabric, straight pins, hem gauge, long measuring tape, etc.  I was ready to go—feeling so confident, in fact, that I was sure I would get them all done on Saturday and be able to spend Sunday relaxing around the house.

Yeah, right.

Saturday was perilously close to being a total disaster. Everything just took way longer than I expected—which, in hindsight, isn’t that surprising. I was (and still am) a total novice when it comes to sewing….why I thought I’d be able to whip these things out in an afternoon, I am not sure. But clearly my expectations were way too high. And being 8 months pregnant, it was also a lot more tiring that it would have been for someone not in their third trimester. Seriously, after an hour crawling around the floor measuring and cutting the fabric, and then 2 hours standing on hardwood floors/leaning over an ironing board and/or our dining room table trying to get the first (!) panel pinned, I hurt all over and just wanted to take a nap. And I hadn’t even sewed a stitch!

So you can imagine that by the time I finally sat down to the sewing machine, I was already pretty tired and frustrated at how long the process was taking. And when the sewing machine then decided to jam and/or the thread decided to break every 30 seconds (and I’m not exaggerating that much I promise), I was close to my wits end.  After almost 2 hours, I was *this close* to having the first panel complete when the thread broke for the 500th time—and I totally lost it. I just started sobbing. So loud, in fact, that Jason heard me from two flights up and came downstairs to see if I was ok (he’d been a great sport about helping me figure the sewing machine out to begin with—he actually had some middle school home ec  experience to call upon). I looked up at him and said (between sobs) “I…don’t….think….I….can….do…this.” To which he of course replied “You don’t have to! We can buy curtains. There is no reason that you have to do this.” But there was no turning back at that point. I had the fabric and I had invested a lot of my precious free time on this already—I was GOING to do this. I dried my tears, re-threaded the machine (which I had become quite adept at doing) and finished the curtain which we promptly hung up.

Then I did something very smart…. I took a break.  A long hot shower helped my aching muscles and dinner out improved my mood. When we got home that evening I decided to see how far I would get on another panel. And miracle of miracles….this one only took half the time! The ironing/pining went a lot faster and I figured out that part of the reason the thread kept breaking was I had the tension set too high (I also probably needed heavier duty thread --despite the fact that the sales person at the local fabric store recommended what I had previously purchased-- but I was able to make it work with the tension adjustments).

Sunday went more smoothly as well…the remaining panels took only about an hour and a half each. And I took a long break in between so as not to wear myself out.  All in all, despite the rough start, I was pretty pleased with how the curtains turned out. And proud of myself for making something for my child.

But if future baby #2 is a boy—he is totally getting store-bought curtains!

A few tips on making your own blackout curtains:
-This tutorial was really helpful. I pretty much followed her instructions as-is with only a few exceptions: 1) I used blackout fabric instead of a sheet to line the curtains; and 2) rather than hand-stitching the bottom hem once the curtains were hung, I measured the length from the curtain clip to the floor before I cut the fabric so that I could be sure to have exactly the right length I needed.

-Blackout fabric has two sides—a shiny (or vinyl looking) side and a matte (or fabric looking) side. The shiny side is what should go against your curtain fabric—you want the nicer, matte side to be the side showing. is a great site for choosing fabrics (it’s also where I got the fabric for my no-sew shades). They have an amazing variety and you can order swatches if you want to see something in person before you buy. Once you sign up, it seems like they are always running sales. I got all of my fabric (12 yards each of the Waverly fabric and the blackout lining) at 30% off and free shipping during one of their sales which was great. I also really appreciated that they shipped the fabric on large spools rather than folding it up which meant I didn’t have to spend (even more) hours trying to iron the wrinkles out of my 100% cotton fabric!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pancakes for Breakfast

As a child, I was a really big fan of the Tomie dePaola book Pancakes for Breakfast. Do you all know this book? It has no words, just illustrations, and depicts one woman's quest to make.... pancakes for breakfast. Her road to pancake paradise is not easy-- after she collects all of the ingredients (including tapping a maple tree for fresh maple syrup) they are ruined and her dreams are dashed. (Don't worry, though-- she finds a way to get those pancakes she's been dreaming of.) I don't what it is about that book that I loved so much-- maybe it was an early sign of my interest in cooking. Or maybe it's because I just happen to REALLY like pancakes. (And I do-- more on that in a second). Regardless, Pancakes for Breakfast was a must have on our baby registry-- I am really excited about sharing this book with our daughter (sounds so crazy to say)...who incidentally,  is "scheduled" (as much as due dates can be considered a schedule) to make her appearance in a little less than 8 weeks. Eek!

I always think of this book whenever we make pancakes at home, which is actually pretty often (most weekends in fact). After several years of trying various mixes and recipes, we've found a from scratch recipe that is now our go-to. I am pretty sure I've shown you pictures of the fruits of this recipe in the past, but never shared the recipe itself. And I thought this (very hot) Sunday morning would be a good time to let you in on our secret, so that you too can enjoy pancakes for breakfast.

Sorry for the repeat picture, I was sure I had taken pictures of pancakes in the past but can't seem to find them this morning!

The Best Buttermilk Pancakes

From The Kitchn

Note: The only update I've made to this recipe is to halve the original amount of butter-- from 5 TBL to 2.5-- and salt--from 1 teaspoon to just a half. If you decide you want your pancakes super buttery, add the full amount of salt. Other than that, it is all thanks to the The Kitchn. If you don't have buttermilk, you can substitute some yogurt per The Kitchn's suggestions; we've tried that to varying degrees of success. Instead, we pretty much buy buttermilk on a weekly basis. It really does make a huge difference! They say this serves 2-3 people. I'd say 2 hungry pancake lovers at best! They are great with blueberries too!

2 1/2 TBL butter
1 1/4 cups flour
1 TBL sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, white and yolk separated
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk

1. Melt the butter and set aside. Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda) in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together buttermilk and regular milk. Add egg yolk and butter, mix until everything is incorporated.
3. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir until all the dry ingredients are moist. Add egg white and mix until everything is just combined. DO NOT OVERMIX! Seriously-- this is an important secret to making good pancakes; it is ok if the batter is lumpy looking. If you overmix, you will end up with tough pancakes. And nobody wants that!
4. Heat a griddle (we like to use an electric griddle for even heating) over medium heat (325 if you are using an electric); coat with cooking spray. Cook pancakes per usual (or have your partner do it; in our house, I make the batter and Jason cooks the actual pancakes!).