Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tutorial: Mitred Corners

One of the things I'm most proud of is that Urban Contessa's handmade napkins have mitred corners.

It's much more time-consuming than the corners you see on mass-produced napkins, but the end-result is beautiful and, quite frankly, I'm a firm believer in "if you're going to do something, do it well". And right.

And mitred corners are right.

I brag about my corners all the time, and people who don't understand ask me to explain mitred corners. Their eyes glaze over and it's clear they have no idea. Or interest.

But people who sew, are interested. And they ask me how to sew mitred corners. In the past, I've directed them to various tutorials on the Web, but I think it's time I create my own "how-to" blog post.

A co-worker ordered eight napkins, so I took this as a sign (and the perfect opportunity) to do my tutorial.

So, here we go...

Urban Contessa's napkins are 20" x 20". To yield eight napkins of this size, you will need two and a half metres of fabric. I like to use Galaxy Twill (shown in this post), or broadcloth.

Start by cutting a 21" x 21" square.

Using a 1/2" seam allowance guide, fold over each edge and press.

Fold over the seam allowance once more and press. This leaves a nice clean edge.

Unfold the second pressed seam to the first fold.

Fold down the corner, at the point where the seams meet.
It's not very clear in this photograph, but you can use the pressed lines of the seams and line them up with the cut edge of the first seam allowance fold. Press the corner.

Open the pressed corner, then fold the corner of the napkin, right sides together, into a point. You will see the pressed line from the folded corner.

Sew along the pressed line. I like to place the napkin in the machine with the folded edge toward me.

Cut off the excess fabric.

Turn out the corner using a point turner to get the point nice and sharp.

Press again.

Close the seam with a topstitch.

Look at that. Isn't that pretty?

Press one last time.

And now we're all ready for sale.

As I said, it's time consuming, but the end result is worth it.

Now that you know how to sew mitred corners, you'll become a corner snob. Whenever you're out, and have a meal with a cloth napkin, you'll check the corners. And when you see those cheap folded-over corners, you will snort your derision.

Welcome to the Corner Snob Club. I'm the President.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bookmarks for Breakfast

Some of you may know that I wear many hats. I have an understated legal assistant fedora for my (paying) day-time job, a very large flamboyant hat for Urban Contessa and, of course, a jaunty beret for writing.

I am a member of the Writer's Community of Durham Region. As I mentioned in my previous post, I agreed to sell my bookmarks at our next breakfast meeting. That would be next Saturday.

It's been stupid busy at my office lately and I'm working fourteen-hour days. I leave home before seven and I don't get home until after nine. Needless to say, I don't have a lot of time to make bookmarks. And yet, somehow, I always mange to make it work.

So, let's get to started.

I gathered the few bookmarks I had already cut out. To the right is a pile of 'scrap' fabric from tote bags and placemats.  As always, I have my self-healing cutting board, ruler and cutter.

Several hours later, I have a very large pile of cut bookmarks and a very small pile of waste.

That's a 14 1/2 " pile of bookmarks!

Now, I have to find the time to sew them all.

The game plan is to dedicate two hours every night to sewing. No matter how late I work. And despite how insane that sounds, I'm actually having a great time. I mean, who wouldn't? I'm sewing, I'm blogging and I'm making money.

It doesn't get much better than this, my friends.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Writers and Bookmarks

I spent the weekend at a writing retreat hosted by Writescape. I thought I would bring along some Urban Contessa bookmarks, give my fellow writers a present and let them pick one for their very own.

I thought it was a good idea. And it still is. But...

All the writers thought the bookmarks were wonderful. And several of them asked if I sold them. Well, of course I said yes.

Yeah, you see where I'm going with this: I'm sold out.

Well, not really.

I have four left.

What's making me panic is the fact that have two craft shows coming up, and the bookmarks are my biggest seller...especially at Christmas. To make matters worse, one of the participants-slash-organizers convinced me to sell the bookmarks at my next writing circle's next breakfast, on December 8. There are a lot of members that attend these breakfasts, and I have to be prepared for all of them to buy three. After all, they sell for $5 each or three for $10. Why wouldn't you buy three, right?

And then she suggested that I contact a couple of local book stores to enquire about selling them retail.

Now, I know it sounds like I'm complaining. I'm not. I swear I'm not!

This is the equivalent of me pinching myself. What I'm doing is trying to convince myself that this is actually happening. I'm feeling very Sally Fields-y right now.

You like me. You really like me!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hungarian Club Craft Show

Today I was at my favourite craft show, at the Hungarian Culture Club in Oshawa.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I go for the food. I always have reasonable sales at this show, and I like to see the regular vendors that attend, but I go for the food. Who wouldn't? I mean, we're talking about home-made cabbage rolls, home-made goulash, home-made pastries and squares. Just plain home-made goodness!

But I digress.

This is the only craft show I do that has round tables. I'll admit, I hate it. I can't seem to come up with a workable set up that properly showcases my work.

See what I mean? It's too crowded. But there isn't enough room to bring a second table, so I put up with it. It's worth it for the cabbage rolls. 

The big sellers today were tote bags, tooth fairy pillows and, of course, bookmarks. Maybe I need to do something to better market the bookmarks. They are the biggest sellers. I'll have to put my thinking cap on. Or sew myself one. 

I also came home with a great stash:

Hand made noodles, poppy seed loaf, and a variety of pastries.

While I think about a new marketing plan, I'll be snacking. Snacking very well.

Monday, November 5, 2012

O'Neill Craft Show

The O'Neill Collegiate Craft Show on Saturday was a lot of fun. It was my first time at this show and I was very impressed. There's something to be said about hosting a craft show at a school.

I parked my car and spent a moment gathering my empty Starbucks cup (don't judge!), putting away my GPS (again, don't judge!) and when I stepped out, there were eight burly football players standing behind my car.

"Pop your trunk, ma'am, and we'll help you into the school."

Well aren't you the cutest things?!

Three Rubbermaid bins (fabric is heavy!), four baskets, one hand-made wooden carousel (made for me by my Late Uncle Ken), usually take me three trips back and forth from my car.

Not this time. This time, I just wandered behind them, swinging my purse, whistling Dixie (or some off-key ditty). It was awesome.

It took a while to figure out how to set up my table. It was smaller than the usual craft show table. The entire time, I kept cursing myself for not bringing my portable table.

In the end, I stacked two empty bins, covered them with a sheet and used that for the bookmarks.

Tooth Fairy Pillows were piled up in their basket. Bowl of candies for the men. Yes, the men. They're usually the ones that take one. It's like a treat for them for being such good boys, tagging along with their wives through the craft show.

I've started blowing up balloons and stuffing them in the tote bags for display. So much neater than newspaper and I hand them out to kids at the end of the day. There's always at least one vendor with kids.

I'm looking forward to some down time when I can cut and sew up the fabric I bought for totes and placemats. Not to mention the various kiddy fabrics I bought for Tooth Fairy Pillows.

Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised with the sales. As usual, the bookmarks were a big hit. I'm seriously considering apply for a booth at the annual writer's conference in the Spring. I can only imagine how many bookmarks I'd have to bring with me. I figure about two thousand bookmarks.

Gee. When I see it in writing, I start to panic a little. I should probably start sewing.

Gotta go...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Potato Sacks

A friend is having a Halloween Party on Saturday. She has organized what she is calling "Halloween Backyard Olympics".


Included in these events is a Potato Sack Race. Of course, real potato sacks just won't cut it. So Sarah hunted up some old bed sheets and asked me if I could sew them into sacks.

Of course!

I folded the sheets end to end and sewed up one side and across the bottom...leaving the top open for people (not potatoes). I left a very large seam allowance (two inches!), then added a top stitch for reinforcement. That should hold up through several jumps and hops.

Just to be sure they "fit", I asked Chris to jump in for me. Clearly, the sacks are 'One Size Fits All'.

That dark lump on the left, is Fender, our retired racing greyhound. There was no way he was moving out of the shot.

It didn't take long to make four sacks, especially when it didn't really matter what they look like, given they'll look pretty rough by the end of the games.

All that matters is that everyone has fun! Have a great time, guys. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Buying Spree

We recently made a road trip to Washington, D.C.  My husband made sure that a visit to Joann Fabrics was included in our itinerary. Yeah, I know...I'm spoiled.

A while ago, I was surfing the Net and stumbled upon a pattern for a cute star ornament that uses different fabrics to create a country patchwork look. So I picked up some Christmas-themed fabric.

When I'm done making stars, I'm going Mod Podge the leftover pieces onto Styrofoam balls to make tree ornaments.

I also found some sweet patterns for tooth fairy pillows:

I especially like the animal prints and daisy-like flowers.

Of course, I couldn't walk out without getting several yards of tote fabric. Aren't these fabulous?!

Today, I spent the day with my cousin, Sue.

We have a routine when we get together. Sue lives in Barrie and I live in Ajax. Newmarket is the mid-point for us. So we meet in Newmarket about once a month.

Our routine includes a visit to Fabricland. Sue is awesome to shop with. She carries the bolts of fabric, oohs and aahs over the colours and patterns, gives me her honest opinion and then debriefs with me afterwards.

We picked out some tote fabric today:

Of course, remnants from tote and placemat fabric are used for bookmarks.

So...I'll be spending the next couple of weeks cutting everything up. Then several weeks after that sewing it all together. I can't wait to get started!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Holiday Sales for 2012

Our line-up of shows for this year's holiday season is finalized. We only have three this year. I say 'only' because we turned down a few others. Not because we don't want to participate in them, but because we have other commitments.

Elderly in-laws are taking precedence right now, but we still want to squeeze in a few shows.

Unfortunately, we won't be at the Vaughan Willard School this year. Instead, we decided to attend a different show that day. We'll be at O'Neill Collegiate on November 5. 

Of course, we can't miss the Hungarian Culture Club. After all, we need our cabbage roll fix! We'll be in Oshawa for that on November 17.

And last, but definitely not least, is the Durham Region Crafter's Community sale on December 15. As you know, this is a craft show that I organize with my partner in crime crafting, Shandell Conboy (from Dellzines). 

We hope to see you at one of these shows this season!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Afghan Project...continued

Yeah. I know. It's taking forever.

Last February (LAST February!), I started this thing. If you think it's taking forever, just imagine how I feel.

It's not like I don't have other things on my agenda. I run a small business, I work a ridiculous amount of overtime at my paying job, I'm writing a novel, I co-run a crafter's organization, I help care for ageing in-laws, I try to visit family who live five hours away.

I'm missing something in there. Oh. Right. And sometimes I sleep. I have chronic insomnia, so it's not often, but once in a while I get some shut-eye.

And despite all that, I'm in a good space right now. The cogs of each of my many wheels seem to be clicking in place at this moment in time and I'm going to allow myself to enjoy it.

So I've been hooking. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is what I mean:

Slowly but surely, I've been stockpiling my squares:

And this is where I'm at:

That's sixty-three and one-half squares. There's a wee bit of yarn left on the ball at the front and behind that, there are two more balls (under the pile of squares on the right).

I may run out.  It's unlikely I'll find the same dye lot, so I think I'll choose a solid-coloured yarn in one of the complimenting colours and make filler squares. It'll be like laying out a quilt.

Oh! A quilt...hmmm...I haven't made one a while...

See my problem?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Our North Office

I recently visited Urban Contessa's Northern Ontario Office in Sudbury, Ontario for our quarterly meeting. That sounds very official, but really I went to visit my mom and Aunt Cecile, who are UC's jewellery designers.

Creations by Lynn and Cecile are in high demand. They are called, several times a week, to create one-of-a-kind pieces or for a personal consultation to view their current inventory.

Their design studio makes me weep with envy. Their bead inventory rivals many stores I have visited. Not to mention, it's organized to a fault.

Work-in-progress is on the table ready for completion.

Across the hall, in a spare room, are two banquet tables covered with necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Lynn and Cecile welcome customers by appointment who shop at leisure.

The inventory changes regularly and there's always something new. It changes so often, in fact, I simply can't keep up with pictures on our site. But the locals know the women by name (and sight) and know where to reach them. These women are busier now that they are retired.

The jewellery division of Urban Contessa wasn't flourishing in Toronto (everyone makes jewellery here), but in Sudbury, Lynn and Cecile, I am pleased to say, are household names.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ajax-by-the-Lake Marketplace say the craft show was a bust is mild.  The rain came down in buckets and no one wants to stick around for an outdoor craft sale--even if it's under a giant tent.

Despite that, I'm not disappointed. After all, the City of Ajax doesn't charge a fee for the table, so it's not like I was out-of-pocket. Sadly, there were many vendors who simply didn't show up. Personally, I think that's unprofessional, not to mention, rude.

The people who organize craft shows put a lot of effort into it. As a vendor, you have committed to attend, have committed to sell your wares at a booth, and have committed to participate in a group event. Your absence is noticeable by virtue of the empty table in the middle of the event. It's like real estate: your home reflects on the rest of the neighbourhood.

Rather than leave empty tables, the organizers opted to take them away. I'm not sure if this was better, as it left empty spaces, but I suppose it's less obvious than an empty table.

As the table next to me was being folded up, the vendor behind me stepped up asked them if they could leave it and allow me to spread out. "You can spread out, can't you?" she said to me.

"Of course!"

They left the table, and I spread out:

This is double my original size. Needless to say, I was a little cramped before.

Despite the poor turn-out and disappointing sales, I'll go back next year, if I'm invited. It's not the City's fault that Mother Nature was cranky today. I still had a good time: I met some lovely people, chatted with old friends and found some new vendors for The DRCC.

All in all, it was a good day!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Totes for Ajax by the Lake Craft Show

I have a craft show this weekend. We were invited back to participate in Celebrate Ajax by the Lake and we're thrilled!

It's fun for everyone in the family, so if you happen to be in the area, bring the kiddies with you.

I spent the weekend cutting and sewing. I made a few tote bags:

Isn't the beach one at the top the coolest?! If it doesn't sell, I'm keeping it and taking it with me on my next beach vacation. Shhh...don't tell anyone...I'm going to put it at the bottom of the pile so no one sees it.

I also cut and sewed together what seems like thousands of placemats. I know I should finish them today, but my back hurts from sitting at the sewing machine too long. I really should get a better chair.

So, over the course of the week, I'll snip the corners, turn them right-side-out, press, then top-stitch. I have enough tooth fairy pillows for Saturday, but I'll need more bookmarks. Friday will be dedicated to sewing bookmarks. Hmm...I need to buy elastic, and perhaps more thread, and maybe some...

I should probably get a pencil and some paper...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Orthodox Candle Box

The Greek Orthodox faith has a beautiful tradition.

At funerals, a candle box is placed near the casket. As family and friends approach to pay their respects, they light a candle, then press it into the sand.

Many funeral homes have a candle box. It is often a beautiful piece of woodwork, with a tray for the candles and a shallow sandbox to hold lit tapers.

I was contracted to make a cover for the candle box at our local funeral home; just a simple fabric covering to protect the contents.

The client selected the fabric and I made this:

It is easily removed, though the length is such that it allows the doors to open while the cover is in place. It is washable and elegant, complementing the piece as well as the room.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Meet the Designers

When Urban Contessa was launched, the product line included jewellery. My mother expressed some interest in learning to create jewellery.

"For myself," she said.

So I showed her how to crimp and shared some design ideas. It wasn't long before she passed on her new skills to her sister.

It became clear, very early, that everyone makes and sells jewellery in the GTA, and it was no longer profitable to carry the line in Toronto. I asked my mom and Cecile if they were interested in carrying on the line in Sudbury and they said they'd give it a try.

Today, my mother, Lynn Nadeau, and my aunt, Cecile Landry, are the Jewellery Designers at Urban Contessa.

They have developed this UC division to become a household name in their area. They regularly host open-houses in their homes, create one-of-a-kind designs for weddings and other special occasions. They have taken this craft to a level I could never reach in my area, but have filled a niche in theirs.

If you live in the Sudbury area, and would like more information, please visit our jewellery page to book an appointment with Lynn and Cecile, or ask about the next Open House.

Monday, May 21, 2012

New Product Line - Key Fobs

Any sewer will tell you that wasting fabric is a sin. Maybe not a major one etched on a tablet, but it ranks up there with letting the water run while you brush your teeth.

So, despite the fact that I have honed my skill to purchase only the amount of fabric I need, and I have fine-tuned my cutting layout to maximize use of fabric, I am still left with remnants. They're small remnants, but it's still waste.

I make bookmarks with the leftover fabric, which uses most of it. But I'm still left with narrow strips of fabric, and nothing to do with it. I know it's not much to throw out, but I can't help but think that there's something I could be making with it. I've been racking my creative brain, but haven't come up with anything.

Then a friend sent me an idea: key chains.

Key chains? Hmmmmm...

I sketched out a few ideas, and after three discarded concepts, I came up with this:

I Googled key rings and found several distributors that sell them for a song (which may not be such a good deal, since I can't sing). Buying them in bulk will cost less than a penny each. And since Canadian pennies will no longer be minted, this means they are free, making Contessa Key Rings a pure profit endeavour.

I have a few craft shows over the summer, so I'll make a few and see how they sell. If things work out, Urban Contessa will have a new product line.

I may have to give my friend a lifetime supply of key rings to thank her for this idea.