Julie Bowersett


Blog Writing Course Alumni

From Guide to Art Schools



Cake Pops, Burger Cookies and Birthdays

Hello, friends.  Wow, I have been missing in action for quite a while, haven't I?  I am not even going to offer any excuses except to say that life has gotten in the way of my creativity lately.  But recently my sewing mojo has been seeping back in and I have managed to spend several days this week in my sewing room.  I've been spending even more time in my kitchen in the last few weeks; fall is birthday season at our house and I have been making and baking like crazy.  Since I don't have any of my sewing projects ready to reveal I'll share the goodies I've been making.

I like cupcakes.  I have always liked cake, and since I've found a great icing recipe I even like that, too.  This year I decided to try out a chocolate version based on the same recipe.  Here's a link to the site where I found the recipe.  I added extra cocoa at the end as suggested in the recipe.  This definitely boosted the chocolate flavor but I found it added a bitterness that some kids might object to.  I think I might up the sugar a bit next time, or try adding more semi-sweet chocolate.

I baked a lot of cupcakes.  I also baked an extra layer cake to make some cake pops.  Cake pops have been around for a while but this was my first attempt at them.  Bakerella is credited with this craze, and I used her book on the subject to get started (her website is full of ideas and recipes).   I read a lot of helpful hints on the internet and found lots of differing opinions about the best way to make them.  Most people agreed that their first attempt was far from perfect.  My experience was the same.

Folks also disagree on the best method for making the cake balls that become cake pops but the general gist is that you bake a cake (boxed mix is fine for this) and once cooled crumble it up into fine crumbs (with your hands, a mixer or any other tool you wish to try).  Add (canned) frosting, anywhere from a few tablespoons to 3/4 of the can.  Mix this up (again, by whatever method you prefer; I used my stand mixer) until you have a soft dough.  You then shape the dough into round balls (I used a cookie scoop for portion control).  Again, people don't agree on whether you have to chill the balls at this point -- I found it was necessary.  I actually made up several batches and put them in the freezer until I was ready for the next step.

The first batch I made I tried candy melts as the coating without a good result.  First, I don't really like candy melts.  I don't like how they taste and I don't love the artifical coloring (you will notice that with most of my cupcakes and baked goods I stick with vanilla and chocolate).  Once it was apparent that I was going to have trouble with the melts I quickly switched to melted chocolate chips (mixed with a small amount of vegetable oil) and had good results with that.  For my first batch I dipped the balls in semi-sweet chocolate and sprinkled on some star and tiny ball sprinkles.

These were really fun (and a great size) to send to school for my youngest son's birthday.

The second batch I attempted worked much better.  These were a lot more complicated than the first but not hard, just a little time consuming.  I made the cake balls as before and dipped them in melted white chocolate chips, then set them into mini ice cream cones (you can find these Joy brand cones at Walmart).  It's OK if the coating drips down the cone a little.  While the chocolate is still soft, add some sprinkles. 

For the chocolate sauce I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips and thinned them down with vegetalbe oil.  I poured it into a squeeze bottle and used that to drizzle it over the top of the cookie ball.  The "cherry on top" is a pretzel M&M though you could use plain or peanut M&Ms or even cinnamon candies.

It's a little hard to get a sense for the scale of these from the pictures.  Here's one of me holding one of the finished cones

and another with the mini cones next to a full-sized cone.

These were really delicious and I will make them again.

I also made some really cute hamburger cookies for my kids' birthday parties.  I first heard about these cookied from my sister-in-law Sue who made them with her grandkids this summer.  These are really easy -- they require no baking, just assembly.

This picture shows the steps by row.  First lay down a vanilla wafter with the flat side facing up (not shown).  Top each wafer with a Thin Mint-style cookie (I used Keebler brand Grasshopper cookies).  You can either place them in the oven for a minute to melt the chocolate a bit to adhere to the wafer or use a squirt of icing as "glue" (the latter is a more sure method).  Next, using red and yellow icing add some ketchup and mustard.  Tint some coconut with green food coloring and sprinkle it on the icing.  I added another little dollop of icing in the middle after this step to act as glue and topped the whole thing with another vanilla wafer.  The original recipe called for real sesame seeds on top but I knew my kids would balk at that so I used tiny white sprinkles.  I used my finger to rub a little light corn syrup on the top cookie to help the sprinkles stick.

This is the icing I used -- it worked great as it sets up and glues everything together nicely.  I had to mix my own yellow as I couldn't find the color I wanted in the store.

I also treated myself to a cupcake decorating class at the lovely Occasionally Cake.  In this class we learned to make rolled fondant animals to use as cupcake toppers.  It was fun but I now know why bakeries charge $6-7 for one of these.  I think I'll stick to frosting that tastes yummy and work on perfecting my swirl technique for icing cupcakes.

Now that birthdays are out of the way I have turned my attention to Halloween costumes and three challenges that are coming due very soon.  The first is one sponsored by my sewing guild chapter.  Each participant was given one yard of the same fabric and charged to create something from it.  I can't share my project until after our annual meeting which takes place on October 26th.  My ASG Neighborhood Group is also holding a challenge.  Members exchanged fabric pieces at the beginning of the year with instructions to decorate, embellish or change our given piece anyway we want.  We'll be returning the fabric to its original owner in November.  The third challenge is one that I am very excited about.  It is being sponsored by Sarah Veblen.  Sarah is offering several challenges each year to help sewers approach problem-solving in a creative way.  For this first challenge participants are asked to use one of Sarah's Dressy Dresses as inspiration to create a casual garment.  You can find more information here.  I hope you will consider joining me in this fun challenge.


Mission Maxi:  Marvelous

Well, I'd better get this one posted while there is still a little summer left (though the weather here in Washington, DC has been very un-summer-like for the past few weeks).  I am usually seriously behind the times.  I might really like the look of the latest fashion trend but by the time I actually get around to sewing it, the fashion world is off to something new.  It is pretty hard to ignore the popularity of maxi dresses these days.  I see them on every corner, at the playground and the grocery store.  They looked right up my alley -- comfortable and cool, wearable with sandals, easy to re-create.  I did a little online snooping and checked out what fellow seamstresses were saying on PatternReview.  The go-to pattern was clearly the Mission Maxi by Jamie Christina Patterns.  (Google Mission Maxi and check out all of the possibilities under Images!) 

As is usually the case I did not have the right fabric for this dress (what good is my stash, anyway?) so I headed to the fabric store and picked up two pieces, one a deep discount number that I could use to mock up the pattern.  As it turns out, the fit of this pattern is so forgiving that my mock up was easily wearable.  This dress works up in a flash.  The pattern comes with a tank or haltar top; I made the tank version.  I took the shoulder seams up which also raised the neckline which many found too low when reviewing this pattern.  I also shortenend the overall length by 5".  I changed how I attached the neckline and armhole binding.  The pattern has you sew on the binding flat with the adjoining seam left open, sewing the seam afterwards.  I chose to sew the seam first and apply the binding in the round.  I think this creates less bulk as you can offset the binding and garment seams just a bit. 

The black and red stripe was my "muslin" and the blue graphic print my second attempt.  I used black binding on that one and made the finished width a little wider for added contrast.  The pattern also includes a version with a center back godet.  I would love to try this style -- maybe next summer.

Others on PatternReview have noted this dress is as comfortable to wear as a nightgown, and they are not wrong.  There is something fantastic about summer dressing when you can slip a garment on and be done.  This dress works up so fast you still have time to make one and wear it before summer ends.  You won't be sorry.


Storm Blue Alabama Chanin Paisley Skirt

When I attended the workshop at Alabama Chanin's Factory in November 2011, I chose for my project a blue dress (which I have yet to post pictures of the completed garment) with a backstitched reverse applique design.  Here's what that technique looks like:

At the workshop Natalie Chanin told me that the backstitch would take three times as much thread and three times as long as the running stitch reverse applique technique (both techniques are covered in their three books).  She was probably right about the thread, but I believe she underestimated the time commitment.  At least for me it seemed like this project took a very, very long time (over one year, as a matter of fact). 

During one of their terrific sales around the 2012 holidays, I ordered a kit for a skirt stenciled with the Paisley design and using the negative reverse applique technique.  I was really amazed at how fast this stitched up, especially compared to the previous garment that I worked on.  I started this skirt in the airport on a trip I took (alone, without my kids) and by the time I returned home two days later I had finished the stitching on one panel.

This skirt was created from the lightweight cotton jersey and was the first time I had used that fabric.  It makes a really nice light weight summer skirt, especially when you remove most of the top layer by cutting away the background from the design.  The resulting pattern develops a lot of textural interest as the tips and edges of the paisley design curl.

It was on this waistband that I first tried my homemade tiger tape to aid in keeping the stitches even.

I have really enjoyed wearing this skirt and can recommend this particular technique (or the standard reverse applique with a running stitch) if you are looking for a project that works up fast.


Stars and Stripes Tank 

Over the last several weeks I have been inspired by some posts I've read on Alabama Chanin's site about their version of Old Glory.  It just so happened that I had been working on some pattern fitting based on the fitted top/dress pattern in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.  I had just finished making a muslin from some inexpensive knit fabric and tweaking it to fit me well.  A real benefit of this was that I was able to mark directly on the almost-floor length dress where I wanted certain seam or hem lines to land (empire, skirt waist, short, mid- and full length dresses) and then transfer these markings to my pattern, resulting in a master pattern that will eventually make any number of garments.  After this exercise I wanted to test the pattern in real life.  With the July 4th holiday coming up it seemed the perfect time to make a top that I could celebrate in while testing out my pattern alterations.

The top consists of four upper bodice pieces and four lower bodice pieces.  I decided to applique the red stripes onto a white foundation.  It took a little math to figure out the stripe widths and general proportions.  Here are the lower bodice portions:

I used a water-soluble marker to mark the grainline on the fabric (recycled t-shirts) and then drew perpendicular lines for placement of the red stripes.

I used a straight stitch to applique the stripes onto the foundation and then trimmed them even with the underlying fabric.

About halfway through this project I realized that sewing the stripes on with a straight stitch would eliminate most of the stretch from the shirt.  I decided I would have to add a closure.  I have a small collection of vintage metal zippers and thought this might be a good project to use one on.  I found one in a Copenhagen blue:

and inserted it into the side seam leaving the tape exposed:

I chose to applique one star on the blue portion using a parallel whipstitch:

Binding the neck and armholes on projects like this is the most time consuming part for me.  I have learned a few things over time and will share some tips with you here.

My favorite stitch for binding is the Cretan stitch (used here) but it is a very slow stitch for me to accomplish.  I am VERY right handed and in order to make this stitch I have to turn the garment 180o for each stitch which really slows me down.  So recently I decided to try the herringbone stitch which works up really, really fast.  My first attempts at this stitch, however, left something to be desired.  The stitches were all very uneven and unattractive.  That's when I remembered a little trick I learned from my sewing mentor years ago:  homemade Tiger Tape.

Tiger Tape has been used by hand quilters for years as a guide to keep their stitches uniform.  The 1/4-inch tape is marked in small increments, and it is very easy to make your own version.

I typically use paper adhesive tape (from the first aid section of the drug store).  Use caution when applying the tape to fabrics with a surface that might be easily marred by tape.  I usually stick the tape to my t-shirt and pull it off several times to reduce the tackiness.  Using a Sharpie or other permanent marker, mark the tape with whatever increment you choose; I used 1/2 inch for mine.

I then cut the tape in two pieces as I find a thinner width allows more flexibility around curves.

You can now apply this tape wherever you need some help in keeping your stitches even.  It is a great application for hand-picked zippers.

Here you can see that I have aligned the tape with the cut edge of the binding.  I take one stitch in line with a marking and the next stitch halfway between two marks.

(One reason I like this stitch (and the Cretan) so much is that the stitches formed on the back of the binding securely hold the binding in place.  In the background above you can see the little pick stitches along the inside of the binding, one row along the top edge of the binding and the other row along the bottom edge.)

Another hint for the herringbone stitch is a little mnemonic I use to remember where to lay my thread when I am taking a stitch.  It goes like this:  when you're down, you're up and when you're up you're down.  This means that when you are taking the stitch along the bottom you will hold your thread to the top and vice versa.  Here are some pictures:

In this picture I am taking a stitch along the bottom edge of the binding so my thread is laid above.

In the picture above I am taking a stitch along the top edge of the binding so my thread is held below.  An additional tip is to always place your knots in the bottom row of stitching.  This puts the knots and their thread tails on the inner edge which will prevent the thread tails from peeking out of the neckline or armhole.

Here's a shot of the completed top, finished just in time to wear for July 4th.  This project reminded me that last year I had the idea of making a flag bunting to hang from my porch for Independence day.  I think I have enough scraps left to give me a good head start.  Wishing all of my US friends a happy and safe holiday weekend.


Nail File Holders: DIY Teacher Gifts

Our family is sliding into summer.  My youngest's last day of preschool was last week, and in two weeks' time I will have both boys at home with me for several months.  I am hoping to build some structure into our days to prevent the grumpies (for both mom and kids) that come with too much boredom. You can bet that I'm going to build in some creative time each day, especially for me.

The end of the year also brings about the time for little farewell gifts for teachers and friends.  This year I celebrated the end of the preschool year with a number of friends who I have been spending afternoons with on the playground, a group we have christened "The Village" (in the spirit of "it takes a village to raise a child").  Most of us will be moving on to new schools or states next fall, so this celebration had a bittersweet quality to it.  I wanted to make a little memento for these friends, something that would remind them of our time together every time they used it.

I had long ago bookmarked (in the old fashioned way) some pages in a Quilting Arts Gifts magazine (Holiday 2011-2012) for later reference.  The article, Emery Board Holders, by Deb O'Keefe Hysack, outlined the steps for making three different types of nail file holders.  I love what Deb has to say about these little creations:  "I like the idea of reaching into my purse and taking out a small piece of art for an everyday purpose".  As I have written before, I am always on the lookout for little tiny gifts for giving that do not come with a big obligatory price to the recipient, something that says "I am thinking about you" or "please remember me".  These fit the bill wonderfully:  they can be made in very short order with scraps of fabric, are lovely to look at and are practical (one friend commented it would allow her to carry an emery board in her purse without scratching her phone screen).

The holders I made are even tinier than those in the article with a finished size of 4" x 1.5".  Here is how I created my version.

Cut three rectangles of fabric, 3" x 4".  This can be three different fabrics or, as I did, two rectangles of one fabric and one of another.  Fold one piece in half to form a 2" x 3" rectangle to use as the pocket.  Also cut one 3" x 4" piece of heavy interfacing (I used Timtex).  Sandwich the interfacing between the two larger rectangles of fabric and quilt them together in whatever manner you wish.  I used decorative stitches built into my machine or channel stitching but you could also free-motion the stitching. 

Next, place the folded piece of fabric on top of the quilted piece, at the bottom, matching the raw edges with the bottom and sides and with the fold at the top of the pocket.  Baste the raw edges together through all layers and stitch securely through the center of the pocket, forming two openings.  Be sure to backstitch at the top of the pocket to reinforce that edge.  Check the placement of your nail files to make sure they fit the pockets.

Set your machine for a dense zigzag (W 6, L 0.4).  Stitch around the perimeter of the piece to finish all of the raw edges, allowing the needle to just swing off the edge of the fabric on one side. 

Cut a piece of narrow ribbon 15" long and hand tack it to the outside of the case just at the point where you backstitched the pocket. 

Insert the emery boards (I used mini emery boards that are 3" long) and tie the ribbon to close the case.


I made a couple of extras to include in a card to my older son's teachers at the end of the year.  These would make great teacher gifts.

I hope you enjoyed this little project and that you will find time to make a few.  I would love for you to share other DIY Teacher Gift ideas here.