boozy gift guide

A Gift Guide for Booze Hounds

What would the holidays be without some bubbly with friends, or a Manhattan after dinner, or your annual glass of eggnog, or one glass of wine too many at the office party? I enjoy a good cocktail any time of year, but there’s something extra special about mixing up an old standby—or experimenting with new ingredients—during the holiday season. And if you have friends or family who partake, you can never go wrong by giving the gift of good alcohol.

Here are a few ideas if you want to go beyond the standard bottle of champagne, wine, vodka, whiskey or tequila. The following cocktail components are great if your friend already has a basic bar setup at home.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

If they like Manhattans, buy Cocchi Vermouth di Torino.

This sweet vermouth elevates a favorite bourbon or rye into a drink you’d be lucky to snag for under $12 at a decent bar. The Manhattan is my go-to cocktail when I want something quick but fancy at home. Lately, I’ve been mixing 2 parts of whatever bourbon’s lying around, 1 part Cocchi, and a couple dashes of cherry bark bitters, stirred over ice and served straight up.

Dolin dry vermouthlillet blanc

If they like Martinis, buy Dolin dry vermouth or Lillet Blanc.

I once used kalamata olive juice to make a dirty Martini. This was a terrible idea. “Hands-down, without a doubt, the grossest drink I’ve ever had,” says Marc. But I learned a valuable lesson that day: If you’re going to make a Martini, you better use quality ingredients.

Dolin dry vermouth is worlds better than the Martini & Rossi extra dry you’ve no doubt seen gathering dust in someone’s pantry. It’s especially tasty paired with a dry gin. If your friend prefers something easier to drink, try Lillet Blanc. It’s the key ingredient in one of my favorite sippers, the Vesper Martini.

cointreau

If they like Margaritas, buy Cointreau.

Good blanco tequila (like Espolón) + fresh lime juice + Cointreau = my favorite Margarita on the planet. So simple. So delicious. (So strong.)

aperol

If they like sparkling wine, buy Aperol.

Ever heard of an Aperol Spritz? According to Aperol: In a wine glass full of ice, add 3 parts prosecco (I like LaMarca), 2 parts Aperol, a splash of soda, and an orange wheel to garnish. Aperol is a bitter (but not as bitter as Campari) orange aperitif, and I probably only consume it in its namesake spritz. But damn are they delicious and fun to drink. This is a great bottle for someone who likes to entertain. Friends don’t let friends drink prosecco alone!

luxardo maraschino

If they like sweet (but not too sweet) cocktails, buy Luxardo Maraschino.

This is the bottle that made me love making cocktails. According to Luxardo’s tasting notes, it’s “a complex liqueur with a persistent cherry aroma. Smooth but sharp, this liqueur has a rounded flavor with notes of cherries and rosewater.” You’ll find Luxardo Maraschino in classic cocktails like the Aviation, Hemingway Daiquiri, Last Word, and Martinez, to name a few. It’ll definitely take a home bar up a notch.

fernet-branca

If they like it bitter, buy Fernet-Branca.

Years ago, at a shitty dive bar in Chicago, I ordered Malört for the first time. An old Polish man saw this and said, “Is good for stomach!” while patting his belly. Malört is a detestable bitter herbal liqueur that’s become something of a rite of passage in Chicago. It makes us feel better to believe that it’s “good for stomach.” Is it? Probably not. But I wholeheartedly give in to the placebo effect of aperitifs and digestifs.

The same goes for Fernet-Branca, which is a type of amaro, another bitter herbal liqueur. But F-B, unlike Malört, has a taste that I’ve grown to love. It’s got a hint of peppermint that clears your nasal passages, and it’s the perfect after-dinner sipper to trick yourself into believing alcohol is healthy.

orgeat syrup

If they like tiki drinks, buy orgeat syrup.

If you really want to impress your cocktail-loving friend, you can make your own orgeat. You’ll need almonds, orange-flower water, a little vodka, and sugar. It’s a somewhat time-consuming process, and it’s not cheap, but it yields a pretty delicious syrup for Mai Tais, Fog Cutters, and probably a billion other tiki drinks I have yet to try. A faster, cheaper option is to buy a bottle of Torani orgeat syrup and call it a day. It’ll never beat homemade orgeat, but it makes a perfectly serviceable Mai Tai.

luxardo cherries

If they like a good garnish, buy Luxardo cherries.

Yes, it might be silly to spend $20 on a jar of cherries. But these aren’t your typical bright-red maraschinos. They’re complex and nutty, and the thick syrup is a delicious cocktail addition on its own. Plus, unless you’re drinking four Manhattans a night, they’ll last for months. These are serious cherries, y’all.

fee brothers bitterscelery-bitterslemon-bitters

If they like to experiment, buy flavored bitters.

I can’t keep up with the bevy of flavored bitters available on the market. Cherry. Black walnut. Black pepper. Rhubarb. Mexican mole. Barbecue. Name any flavor, and there’s probably a company crafting bitters in said flavor. They’re incredibly fun to experiment with in a Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned, Bloody Mary, and more. Fee Brothers is always a safe bet, but, by all means, go bitters-brand-crazy.

I’m always looking for new alcohols to experiment with. Tried anything weird/awesome/delicious lately? Let me know in the comments below, and happy mixing! (Because we all know you need to buy yourself a little something when you’re shopping for gifts at the liquor store. You deserve it.)

Victory Patterns Trina Dress

Witchy Woman

The Trina Dress sent me into a style crisis tailspin. I wanted this dress the moment it hit my Instagram feed, but it completely strays from what I consider to be my personal style.

Victory Patterns Trina Dress

I don’t like massive kimono sleeves.

Or do I? These are so perfectly dramatic.

Plunging necklines aren’t really my thing.

But the deep V balances the sleeves so well.

This dress is too girly.

But YOU ARE A GIRL. And you know you love this dress.

Do I even have a personal style anymore?!

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Luckily, we all have a little something called free will and the power to decide what to wear and when and how to wear it. How novel.

I pulled the trigger with this pattern and set about sewing a muslin—preferably a wearable one—in satin. (Victory had me intrigued with their Trina sample in icy blue.) My next stop was Textile Discount Outlet in Pilsen, where you can find hundreds of bolts of the kind of shiny fabric I normally avoid like the plague.

A deep aubergine satin spoke to me (especially at under $4/yard—this dress requires lots of fabric), and I prayed that there would be enough fabric on what felt like a pretty skimpy bolt. There wasn’t, and I made the ill-fated decision to buy a similar fabric in a different color to make up the difference. The color of the secondary fabric is a cross between a baby pink blush and a very light peach. I have no clue what I was thinking. The color is truly hideous on my olive skin, and the muslin made me look like a circus tent.

Because why the hell not, here’s a Boomerang video of me in my circus tent:

Now I have a very fancy, loud robe to wear around the house. Thanks, muslin. And thanks for making me realize that I should go shorter with my second dress.

Trina Dress Victory Patterns

Victory Patterns Trina Dress

Victory Patterns Trina Dress

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Details for the Real Deal Trina

Pattern: Trina by Victory Patterns
Size: 8
Fabric: textured black rayon blend from JoAnn Fabrics
Alterations: added 1.5 inches to the bodice; chopped a few inches off the length
Finishing: serged the seams, but I’d probably go for french seams next time

Victory Patterns Trina Dress
oooh, aaahhh, texture!

I’m glad I did a practice run, because I definitely needed the extra 1.5 inches I added to the bodice. The instructions are wonderful, but like the other Victory Patterns dress I sewed, I cannot urge you enough to mark all of the notches, match points, etc. The bodice front overlaps the back at the sides to allow the tie to flow through, and that means that you’ll want your sleeve and bodice placement near perfect.

Trina Dress Victory Patterns

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I finished this dress more than three weeks ago, because I wanted something romantic to wear for mine and Marc’s fifth anniversary dinner. (We went to Parachute. It was amazing.) It’s a wonder the number of construction details I can forget just a few weeks after sewing something. If you have any specific questions about this dress, hit me up in the comments.

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving, friends! (And now begins the unselfish sewing for many of us, eh?)

a DIY Marge simpson wig

A Couple Thoughts and a DIY Marge Simpson Costume

I scheduled this post to publish Wednesday morning. Then the unexpected happened and it didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right. I haven’t been able to articulate my feelings about America electing Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief. Confusion, devastation, utter heartbreak. I cried, I stress ate, I felt some glimmers of hope and at the same time heard anecdotes that verify the disgusting racism and bigotry that thrives in this country.

But we put one foot in front of the other. We donate to the causes that we believe in. We ask where our time and energy can be best spent with volunteer work. We voice our support of and empathy for the marginalized voices most affected by the outcome of this election. We count our many blessings. We hug each other. We unplug for a bit and read a book. We consume and make art. We do what we can.

If you need a distraction, read on.


Anatomy of a DIY Marge Simpson Costume

a DIY Marge simpson wig

It’s not about making every single piece of your costume. It’s about putting in the effort. It’s about giving a damn. And boy do I give a damn when it comes to Halloween!

Here’s how I put together my version of the matriarch of the century, Marge Simpson.

The Blue Hair
Forty bucks for a subpar blue wig from the Halloween pop-up store? I think not. This wig was the only 100% DIY piece of the costume. I went back and forth about how to create Marge’s iconic blue beehive: Blue bubble wrap? Foam? Painted cotton balls? There are tons of creative DIY versions out there, but I found some inspiration in the fabric section at JoAnn with royal blue felt and glittery blue tulle.

DIY Marge Simpson wig

I don’t want to bore you with all the details. (Just some of them.) I sewed some batting to one side of a felt rectangle (roughly 23″ by 15″), sewed that into a tube, and used a zig-zag stitch to attach a few pieces of elastic on the inside of the sides and back to keep it in place. I eyeballed a circle for the top and sewed that on, too.

Then came the hand sewing. I cut strips of tulle about twice as high as the wig and 2″ wide and hand sewed them vertically up the felt, balling it up a bit as I went. To finish, I cut a small sliver from the front to make it look more like hair and less like a blue Queen’s Guard hat.

DIY Marge Simpson costume

The Green Dress
In its former life, this was a full-length bridesmaid dress, train and all. I rolled my eyes when, under the fluorescent lights at David’s Bridal, the bride’s grandma said, “You can cut that off and wear it again!” Literally nobody ever does that, I thought at the time. Cut to six years later, and my mom’s voice echoed in my head as I racked my brain for costume ideas. “You know, that dress looks a bit like Marge Simpson’s.” Yes, it does. So I cut off the train and shortened it by a few inches. Never say never about wearing your bridesmaid dresses more than once.

The Red Shoes
I hate flats. They hurt my high arch and rub against the weird bone on the back of my heel. But Marge needs her red shoes! These were $13 on Amazon, and they were about as comfortable as you’d imagine $13 buys.

The Bright Yellow Body
By a stroke of Halloween magic, I found a shirt—a men’s Patagonia running tee—to match the canary yellow tights I bought at a Halloween pop-up. ‘Twas meant to be.

The Red Pearls
Thanks, Mom! She miraculously found a string of cherry red pom-poms that worked perfectly as Marge’s necklace.

marge-simpson-makeup

The Face Paint
It’s terrifying close up, but this yellow and white makeup definitely brought the cartoony look over the top. I used black eyeliner to outline and for the eyelashes.

Marge Simpson and Hank Scorpio

Hank Scorpio: The Other Simpsons Character
Homer would have been too obvious, no? The thing is, Marc didn’t want to shave his beard for Halloween, so we had to find a character that would work with his facial hair. Enter Hank Scorpio.

hank scorpioHank, voiced by the incomparable Albert Brooks, only appeared in one episode, but it’s a memorable one. Marc created the supervillain’s flamethrower using PVC pipe, duct tape, and a couple empty 2 liters of Coke for the tanks. It’s obscure, but the people who get it REALLY GET IT.

And that’s about all she wrote for this Halloween. Until next year!

obidad

27 Halloween Costumes

I’ve been obsessed with Halloween since I can remember. There’s the candy (specifically, Reese’s pumpkins), the movies (Nightmare Before Christmas and Hocus Pocus on repeat), and then the absolute best part: costumes.

That’s why each October, I find myself filled with equal amounts of dread and excitement. How can I possibly top last year’s costume?

I blame my mom. She sewed us matching spider costumes when I was 5. I was a homemade foam banana at 8. And then there’s the costume that will forever live in infamy: the Titanic.

dani-titanic

Yes, my parents actually constructed half an ocean liner out of cardboard. We completed the morbid look with blue lipstick, white face powder, plastic icicles in my hair, and a period-appropriate white life vest. Keep in mind, James Cameron’s epic came out earlier this year. I wasn’t a disaster-obsessed, politically incorrect adolescent. At least, I didn’t know I was at the time.

lumiereandpeter

My mom continued helping me out into adulthood. A month into dating Marc, we went to a party dressed like Dirtbag Peter Pan and Lumière the Candlestick. As if the shiny vinyl, white batting, and gold lamé look wasn’t cartoony enough, my lovely friend Veronica painted my face with a glitter bomb of metallic makeup.

ostrichandrichard

The next year, I spent Halloween at Horseshoe Casino in Indiana, where I pulled slots as an ostrich. That’s all tulle and fake feathers under the bustle. That same winter, my parents gave me a gift that would change my life: my beloved Brother sewing machine.

It was time to start making my own Halloween costumes.

spring-roll

Before I started this humble blog, I had an even humbler tumblr. That’s where I documented my first me-made Halloween costume: a spring roll. “You’re sushi!” Wrong, but close enough. The dress was a complete mess inside, but I loved it.

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Then came double Wonkas. Never again will I sew two coats in the span of a month.

cruella-patch

Last year I learned the importance of a good wig. Cruella de Vil just isn’t the same without the black-and-white hair. A cute puppy accessory doesn’t hurt, either.

That brings us to today. It’s only a couple weeks until Halloween, and I’m surprisingly zen about my costume situation this year. Let’s just say I’ll be chopping off a certain light-green bridesmaid dress, and I need to find or make a 2-foot-tall blue wig. 😇

obidad
Dad with me in an authentic Japanese kimono and obi

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have the Halloween-freak gene. Trying to outdo myself each year is daunting. But if there’s any trait that my parents passed on to me (beyond the obvious eyebrows, chimple and overzealous arm gestures), it’s resourcefulness. My Halloween costumes have never really looked like anyone else’s, and I want to keep it that way.

Halloween sparked my love for sewing, and sewing makes me love Halloween a little bit more each year.

 

archer-button-up-back-3

A Love Letter to the Archer Button Up

Have I mentioned that I like making shirts? 😜  This is my fourth Grainline Archer Button Up. I should branch out with another women’s shirt pattern, but I honestly don’t know if I will. This workhorse of a pattern puts me in my comfort zone, in a good way.

grainline-studio-archer-button-upgrainline-studio-archer-button-up-covergrainline-studio-archer-button-up-close

And that’s saying a lot, considering how terrified I was to sew my first button-up shirt. This time around, instead of reviewing the pattern, I’m going to tell you what I love most about it. You can check out my other versions for more on construction and sizing.

Let me say: Please forgive the wrinkles in these pics! We took them after an hour in the car and then a leisurely brunch. (If you’re ever in Palos Heights, IL, check out Harvest Room. You won’t regret it.) Without further ado, here’s why the Archer Button Up gets an A+ in my book.

archer-button-up-back-2
The lovable butt ruffle, courtesy of View B

You get two different styles for the price of one.

Sure, lots of patterns come with multiple variations. A mini and a midi skirt. A v-neck and a scoop neck. A tunic and a dress. Options are great, but I want great options. And that’s what Archer’s got: Two equally stylish variations that give the shirt a completely different feel. Make a classic shirt with a pleat at the back yoke, or go girly with the back ruffle.

It’s comfy and polished.

It’s a loose-fitting shirt, but the cut doesn’t look or feel sloppy. I especially like wearing Archer buttoned all the way up—something that I can’t do with certain RTW shirts because it feels like I’m being gently choked.

Grainline’s sew-along and pattern tricks are unparalleled.

I am so much more confident sewing yokes, collars, and buttons thanks to Jen’s straightforward tips. Some of the most helpful:

I love you, Archer.

Sincerely,
Dani

And now for a barrage of photos of my latest short-sleeved version. My family and I went to Lake Katherine in Palos after my dad’s birthday brunch. It’s a beautiful nature preserve and a great place to walk around, but be prepared to accidentally photobomb some bridesmaids if you go on a Saturday.

grainline studio archer button up

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grainline-studio-archer-ruffle

the-fam

marc

Until next time, friends!

 

 

foxshirtclose

Foxy.

I can’t believe I’m writing this: I officially love shirtmaking. I love choosing the perfect buttons. I love the careful pressing it takes to make an even button band. I love sewing a symmetrical pocket. I even love the topstitching.

6044 men's button down shirt

This is the third shirt I’ve made for Marc. For the first two, I used Negroni from Colette Patterns. It’s a solid button-down pattern, but it lacks a couple of elements that are common in RTW shirts: a collar stand and a button band. The Negroni has a camp collar and uses a facing instead of a button band.

This time around, I used McCall’s 6044. It’s a pretty slim-fitting button-down without a yoke or a back pleat. This is a straight medium with no size-related alterations–yippee! For the record, Marc is 6’2″ with a 37″ chest and roughly 33″ waist. As you can see, it’s plenty long.

foxshirt6044

6044 shirt back

Marc asked for a Mandarin-style collar, which actually requires fewer steps than a standard collar. (I learned this trick from the Grainline Studio blog.) I’m not a stranger to ditching a full collar, as evidenced by my Cardamome Dress. Personally, I’m a fan of the streamlined look.

6044back

foxshirtclose

Before I wrap up, let’s not forget the fabric. The glorious fox nap fabric.

When I looked at your shirt, I thought it was covered in apples. Then I looked closer and I saw they were foxes! – Marc’s co-worker

It’s loud. It’s borderline cutesy. But in this particular colorway, and with an otherwise minimalist shirt pattern, it somehow works. I’m probably biased, but I think Marc pulls it off pretty well. 😍

 

annadressbhl3

Anna Dress in Rifle Paper Co. Rayon

Six weddings in five months. That’s been the happy, if daunting, theme of my year. Who doesn’t like a good wedding? The vows, the tears, the dress, the champagne, the Hall and Oates, the elderly couple who can kick your ass on the dance floor. I love weddings in all their sappy glory. And thank god, because half my friends are getting married this year or the next.👰🏼

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annadressback

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And let’s be real—being a wedding guest is pretty easy. The hardest part for me is figuring out what in the hell to wear or, better yet, what to sew. I bought this Cotton + Steel/Rifle Paper Co. rayon challis completely on impulse. I figured I’d make a shirt for me or as a gift for someone, but then I remembered Anna. A few months ago, I sewed a wearable muslin of this dress in its maxi variation. Thigh high slit and all. It’s the most glamorous thing I’ve ever made, but I still haven’t worn it out of the house.

I was toying around with a knee-length version of Anna but was feeling pretty meh about it. Even after finding a few really adorable versions, I wasn’t sold on the style. At some point, my crazed sewing alter ego took over (as it tends to do the week before a fancy event). I succumbed, said f*ck it, and decided to eke a knee-length Anna out of a meager but beautiful 2 yards of fabric. That meant taking a shot in the dark when it came to fabric placement. I didn’t notice any flowers where they shouldn’t be. (And you don’t either. Right? Right…?!)

The Details

My last Anna is very fitted, so I used a slightly smaller seam allowance for the side seams this time (probably closer to 3/8″). I also used a quick and dirty tip from the BHL tutorial to reduce a bit of back gaping by sewing the invisible zip slightly away from the edge of the fabric toward the top on either side, and then tapering to the correct seam allowance a few inches down.

I decided to understitch the facing to prevent it from flipping up, but for some reason the seam line wanted to roll outward (see the back close-up). Initially, I hand-tacked the facing to the shoulder seam allowance, but that didn’t seem to be enough to keep that sucker flat. I ended up hand-sewing a portion of the facing to the front bodice with some tiny tiny tiny invisible stitches. Not a perfect solution, but it worked. Have you ever had that problem with a facing before? I’m curious.

And now for some gratuitous wedding photos:

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The bride (Sarah) and groom (Alex) cutting their beautiful cake at their amazing wedding
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Groupon reunion
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my mang
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I think my feet were almost bleeding at this point. But I love those heels.

This wedding was badass. The newlyweds walked out of their ceremony to the theme from Star Wars. And then there were Manhattans. And amazing soup. And dancing to Robyn. And a lot of love. ❤️