Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm moving

I have a new blog address: http://www.tangerineandturquoise.com/!

Please update your bookmarks and readers, as I won’t be posting here anymore.

For my Christmas gift, Will secretively set everything up for me. I wasn’t planning on having a new blog this quickly, so I am thrilled with my present. I can cross one item off my list now.

I’m still fiddling with everything and making some changes and additions. Once I had my pretty new blog, I wanted to start using it as soon as possible instead of waiting for it to be perfect. There are so many more options on Wordpress, and it’s been a little overwhelming trying to figure all of them out. The only bad thing is that I’ve lost all of my Typepad Connect comments. Supposedly they are working on a way to export them, but that was back in May so I’m not holding my breath. When/if there is a solution, I’ll export them.

So, come visit my new site and tell me what you think! I think I have a pretty great husband.

Monday, December 28, 2009

R.E.L.A.X.


It is 2:18pm and I am still in my pjs. This is the first day since school got out that I was able to do nothing. I had no food to make, nothing to sew or assemble, nothing to wrap, and no one we had to visit. We stayed at home, and while the kids played in the bug house and drew with their new art materials, I got to play with the Christmas present Will made for me. It’s been a lot of fun, but I still have some learning to do. I’m hoping it will be ready soon, because I am very very excited.

I just realized there is leftover Beef Wellington in the fridge. I think I’m off the hook for dinner. Sweet! Off to do more of nothing…

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Yesterday, the Day Before and Today

They were all lovely.





A few seemingly quiet moments. With two houses full of family and kids, they weren't. But we all had a good time, and I loved watching my children enjoy everything so much. Now for some rest...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More Teacher Gifts

A few days ago, I realized this is the last week of school before Winter Break. That meant I had to figure out teacher gifts and sew them up quickly. I decided to sew something small and fun I had wanted to make for a while, Erin's coffee cozy. It also looked easy and fast, which I needed since each of my children have two teachers. Erin's final presentation ends up being a paper to-go cup with the cozy on the outside and a gift card to a local coffee place on the inside. Add a tag, and the gift is complete.

I wanted to make patchwork cozies, so I chose scrap fabrics for a warm colorway and a cool colorway. I mixed quilter's cotton, with home decor weight and linen. I had a lot of long strips for the warm colorway, so I was able to cut out two exteriors from the same piece which saved me a little time. I chose high loft cotton batting for the inside, which I actually wouldn't recommend. I figured it might be nicer if the cozies had some extra padding and insulation, but the high loft batting made the cozy harder to turn, the points rounded, and overall it was a little too bulky. Whenever I try to use some of my leftover high loft batting, it usually doesn't turn out well.

The piecing for the exteriors took the longest, but Erin is right as she wrote today - this project is fast. The pattern and instructions are easy and easy to follow. I printed the cozy page on cardstock to make a sturdier template. By the end of last evening, I had 4 completed coffee cozies and I even had time to sew the buttons on. Agnes's teachers received theirs today and they loved them. I'm pretty sure Ely's teachers will feel the same tomorrow. I always wish I could do a little more for them, because they do so much for my children, but at least I can give them something pretty and functional, and also let them get a special treat or two for themselves. I hope they enjoy their vacation, because on January 5th I'm sure I'll be more than ready for school to begin again.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Decorate

Remember when I was trying to figure out what to do with my big bag of fabric selvedges and thread waste? Well this weekend, I realized it would be perfect stuffing for Stephanie's soft trees. I've been meaning to make some for 3 years now - ever since I saw the wonderful trees made for the window at Purl Patchwork - but the trees always get pushed aside for gift sewing. The kids and I spent Saturday morning at home in pjs, and while they played, I got to sew. I managed to get 3 little trees done before lunchtime, and I have plans for some larger ones. This pattern is great for using up all sorts of odds and ends - fabric scraps, random buttons, almost done spools of thread, small pieces of ribbon or lace, and I found that my fabric waste made the perfect stuffing since the trees look cutest when they are slightly lumpy. I did stuff the tree tops with regular cotton stuffing in order to get the tips filled out, but used then the fabric and thread waste for the rest, with a layer of lentils at the very bottom. The kids thought they were wonderful, and I love how you can make these trees out of virtually anything.

Now to figure out how to make french knots! I have trees I want to decorate.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Food Gifts, Part 2

So what happens when someone or a family has a nut allergy and I can't make my famous spiced nuts? I make my second favorite food gift, maple popcorn. The recipe is vegan and nut free, so it is great for people with allergies or with specific food restrictions. Though if you desire, you can always add nuts to it (my friend Paige - who is the source of this recipe - likes to add buttered almonds).

I first had maple popcorn at the end-of-the-season CSA potluck picnic. In the food tent was a large brown grocery bag with maple popcorn written on it, full of yummy looking popcorn. I put a large handful on my plate, alongside my other food choices, and brought it back to our picnic blanket. I think I only ate one or two pieces, because Ely devoured the whole pile in less than a minute. I had to go back for more (and probably for more again). Next year at the same picnic, we arrived at the same time as my friend Paige, and I saw she was carrying a large brown grocery bag with maple popcorn written on the front. "Did you bring that last year?" I asked. She replied that she did, and that maple popcorn is one of her family's favorite treats and something she often brings to potlucks or parties. Needless to say, I procured the recipe from her and it has become a favorite of ours too. When dinner is skimpy or a letdown, maple popcorn is a must. Trader Joe's has very large, inexpensive glass bottles of maple syrup and there is always one in our fridge.

Maple Popcorn
I've found that 6 Tbsp of popcorn kernels will fit nicely in a 6 quart lidded saucepan. This is the perfect amount for an afternoon or evening treat. To make larger quantities, double or triple this recipe and pop your kernels in a large, lidded stockpot. The recipe below is light on the maple syrup - if you want every piece of popcorn coated, then increase the maple syrup to 1/2 cup or more.

-6 Tbsp popcorn kernels (buy small amounts frequently because popcorn dries out quickly and won't pop as nicely, I've also found that the cheap grocery store brand is usually tastier and pops better than anything organic or in the bulk bins)
-3 tsp canola oil (or whatever vegetable oil you like to use)
-1/3 c. maple syrup (I use grade B, but whatever you like best will work)
-1-2 Tbsp of water
-ground sea salt to taste
-optional toasted nuts like peanuts, almonds, pecans, etc.

Pop your popcorn in a heavy, lidded saucepan or stockpot on the stove over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently. Dump the finished popcorn into a brown paper bag and season to taste with sea salt. If you want nuts in your maple popcorn, add them to the paper bag with the popcorn. In a small heavy, lidded saucepan, bring the maple syrup and water to a boil. The syrup needs to reach soft ball stage, so either use a candy thermometer or keep checking to see when a tiny drop of syrup forms a ball in a glass of water. The syrup heats slowly at first, then progresses rapidly at the end so keep your eye on it. If the mixture gets too hot and reaches hard ball stage, the popcorn won't turn out quite right. When the syrup is candied, drizzle over the popcorn in the bag, close the top and shake vigorously to mix everything together. Let cool before eating or storing. For gifts, package up in bags or tins.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Food Gifts, Part 1

It's that time of year again. Yesterday, I spent part of the afternoon compiling my various gift wish and gifts given lists on my computer from last year's and from the random notes in the blank book I carry in my purse. I really try to keep everything simple and handmade (by me or someone else), but I do like to give a little something to neighbors, friends, and of course the many teachers in my children's lives.

This is when I turn to food gifts, and my absolute favorite treat to make and give are spiced pecans. Everyone always raves about them, and I've given out the recipe at least a hundred times. They aren't a dessert, so you don't have to worry about the guilt associated with cookies or fudge, and they will keep for a while in a sealed container (though not in my house, as Will wrecks havoc on the spiced pecan stash). They are good to eat by themselves, and I always have a bowl of them at any party I throw. One of my favorite salads is spinach with apples or pears, thinly sliced red onions, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette topped with spiced pecans.

Ely's school has their Winter fundraiser on Saturday and we are having our business's 3rd anniversary party that evening. This morning I made 6 lbs (24 cups) of spiced pecans for the two events, and it only took me 45 minutes. For the baked goods area or for friends, I package one cup amounts in labeled cellophane bags tied with ribbon.

If you buy big bags of pecans (like at Costco) or nuts in bulk, you can easily double or quadruple the recipe below. I've found that 8 cups of nuts (a 2 lb bag) will fit on one half sheet pan.

Spiced Pecans
Adapted from Southern Table by Frank Stitt; makes 4 cups

-4 c. pecan halves
-1.5 tsp kosher salt
-pinch of freshly ground pepper
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
-1 Tbsp dark brown sugar (if you only have light like I seem to, add a tiny bit of molasses)
-1 Tbsp freshly chopped rosemary leaves (do not substitute dried or leave out)
-1 Tbsp melted butter (if you need these to be vegan, you can just add extra olive oil)
-2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Place pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. When pecans are done, add to bowl and toss together until thoroughly coated. Return pecans to baking sheet and bake for 2-3 more minutes until toasted and fragrant. Watch carefully, because the pecans can burn in a matter of seconds.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

33

Ah, symmetry. I normally have a problem with remembering how old I am, but I think this year will be different with such an easy number. As it's almost the end of the year, I just happened to be reviewing January's list. Not much got accomplished, but I can cross off at least one thing in every category, so I'm happy and it's time to move on.

So here is my new list. These are things just for me, things to do before I turn 34 and can no longer remember my age again:

1. plant bulbs for Spring

2. make a rain barrel

3. dig out the tent (or more likely borrow a larger one) and go camping with the family and dog

4. really practice practice practice free motion quilting on my machine

5. quilt a quilt using free motion

6. make spring rolls

7. learn a cook a few other tasty ethnic dishes

8. spend the weekend away with Will - I'm thinking either Birmingham or Louisville

9. sew a skirt and a dress for me

10. wear more skirts

11. find the (almost) perfect pair of boots and ballet flats so #9 will happen

12. learn to use my gocco

13. make an Alabama Chanin bloomers skirt

14. write more, especially my children's birth stories before I forget all the details

15. work on finishing off all the film in my refrigerator

16. find a photo lab that still prints contact sheets, not just scans negatives for a digital print

17. build a stone/gravel patio in our backyard for a firepit

18. invite friends over to enjoy #17

19. find a local organic/no spray place for u-pick berries or fruit

20. buy an sx-70

21. weed out my closet and repair, dye or recontruct anything that is still good but not quite right

22. move my blog to wordpress

23. zumba every week

24. bake more bread

25. institute homemade pizza night on Fridays for real

26. paint a magnetic chalkboard in the kitchen

27. get fancy drinks at Patterson House

28. rescue my old files off of the 2.25 discs

29. get a jade plant and an orchid and keep them alive

30. eat hot chicken at Prince's 'cause it's been way too long

31. find or have made the perfect menorah

32. sew the family Christmas stockings

33. and finally... I will paint the hallway

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Kitchen is Yellow

After three days of painting, the kitchen is done and the gray is g o n e. No more feeling depressed and blah during the Winter, while I'm stirring something on the stove. Luckily, I started this repainting project about 7 weeks ago, because it took me that long to paint swatches, prime over those swatches, paint more swatches, then finally decide on a color. I originally thought blue because I love blue, but that didn't look right. Green wasn't the right choice either, and though I was briefly tempted by white, I knew I wanted color. It finally dawned on me to use yellow, specifically the shade of the interior of our old house. That house had more windows and better facing ones, but that color yellow was definitely part of the reason there was so much pretty light.

I've been devoted to zero/low VOC paints for almost 5 years now, when we moved into this house, and needed to repaint some rooms immediately (can you say Pepto Bismal pink bathroom?). I was 7 months pregnant, so paint was a big worry for me but the low VOC paint made it a breeze. There are so many more options now in a variety of price ranges than 5 years ago, when stores often had to special order the zero VOC bases. I decided to use Benjamin Moore's Aura, because it is known for its super durability and easy-to-wipe-clean surfaces, all important for a kitchen. I'm not sure I would use this paint again, as it was very thick and dries almost immediately, forcing you to paint as fast as you can while simultaneously preventing you from blending your old strokes with your new ones. The second coat was easier than the first and the final surface does look great, but I'll probably stick to what I've used in the past like Ben or Sherwin Williams' Harmony or maybe I'll finally try out the Mythic paint a local nursery/brewing supply store carries. But first, I got to decide on a shade of red for the dining room.

I hope it isn't too early to force paperwhites for the holidays. We're hosting our third anniversary party in a couple of weeks, so besides painting I'm planning menus and trying to get the house looking nice and pretty. My reward for finishing the kitchen was going to Target to buy a big glass vase, so I could start my paperwhite bulbs. Unfortunately, I ran out of stones. Maybe I can raid my mother-in-law's house tomorrow? - she loves to collect rocks and a handful wouldn't even put a dent in her collection.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Booklog: November 2009

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
It's not Bel Canto, and the story and characters are somewhat implausible, but I enjoyed this Ann Patchett book just the same. I like seeing how her writing progresses from her earlier books to her later ones.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
My first Vowell book, and definitely not my last. Funny and educational is a winning combination.

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch
This is what a great biography is all about - a collection of small details you shouldn't care about or find interesting, but you do because Fitch was able to put them all in one place and create a marvelous tale about a woman named Julia. Though I could hardly stand to read about all the years after Paul got sick, because he and Julia were wonderful together, and it was just too sad to read about him leaving her life mentally then physically.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee
McNamee can't quite pull off for Alice what Fitch did for Julia, but I loved reading about the early years of Alice Water's life and the beginnings of Chez Panisse. I dined there 5 years ago, and the actual experience and food surpassed everything I had heard about the restaurant. It was fun to find out more about how that night of olives, local salad, quail, and raspberry souffle came to be.

Julia Child by Laura Shapiro
The Rachael Ray version of Julia's life.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
Half a fascinating and horrifying account of a young Hmong girl with epilepsy living in California, and half a history and description of the Hmong people. I could not put the odd chapters down, but found the even ones a little boring and drawn out.

As a Friend by Forrest Gander
A lovely, lovely, small book. Beautiful writing that only a poet could achieve.

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I had to take a break with this after I got 1/3 of the way through. I read his Shadow of the Wind for my bookclub a couple of years ago and we all loved it. This new book was supposed to be better, but it wasn't. Not even close.

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
I read Lost in the Forest by Miller 3 years ago and I'm not sure why it took me so long to get back to her. Not quite as good as that one, but still an entertaining, late Summer read.

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman
Waldman has gotten a lot of criticism in the past for some of her essays (one in particular about loving her husband more than her children), but I found myself saying, "oh yes," many many more times than I said, "oh no." While this book is filled with funny and sweet moments, there is one profoundly heartbreaking moment. I closed this book feeling thankful Waldman wrote with such honesty about her motherhood.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The (Very Late) End of the Garden Notes

It's now mid-November, and I originally started this post at the beginning of October when I remembered I never wrote my garden notes for September. I'm trying to catch up with everything unfinished, so here it is:


By mid-September, we were mentally done with the garden. There was still okra and some tomatoes, but the blight finally got to my vines and everything started to look crispy. I figured the squirrels and birds can get what is left.

Originally I thought I would have planted some winter vegetables for the Fall like brussels sprouts and chard. I didn't realize that my little plot would be completely full, and nothing would be done early enough to plant for the Fall/Winter. Next year, I'm going to make sure there is some empty space for all those delicious green things that come up after it gets cold.

Our goal for next year is to till a much larger plot, and have more room and rows to reach our vegetables. Nothing was more frustrating that being unable to reach half of the stuff, because it was so dense and just plain inaccessible from the outside. I can't decide what I should do with the little plot we made this year - I'm thinking of either planting garlic or asparagus, or maybe rhubarb. I need to refer to some of books to see how asparagus and garlic do together, because maybe I'll just plant both. Though I might be too late for any of those now.

The other thing I am going to do soon is start covering the ground to make some more beds the easy way and plant bulbs. I'm not letting another Spring go by wishing for more flowers than the few tulips I get that grow inside a bush. My mother-in-law is gathering seeds from all her dead flowers right now, and she is saving some of everything for me! There is a wonderful book I discovered a few years ago called The Way We Garden Now by Katherine Whiteside. It is full of easy projects to improve your yard no matter if your yard is an acre (or more) of lawn, less than a quarter acre, a brick patio behind a condo, or a balcony in the city. The instructions are simple to follow and the whole book is filled with whimsical watercolors by Peter Gergely. If I even get to a handful of Katherine's projects in the coming year, my outside life will lovelier, yummier, and more colorful than this year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reorganizing

My sewing area has been a disaster for far too long (as in months and months and months). It's not much fun to sew wedged in a tiny corner of your sewing table by a mountain of fabric and other sewing accoutrements. With holiday sewing fast approaching and a bunch of unlistened-to This American Life podcasts, I decided to tackle the big project I'd been avoiding.

While I haven't bought much fabric in the past year, I have accumulated more and more small pieces of fabric. I think is is because I've begun quite a few quilt tops on a whim, all of which are still in progress. What used to be mostly fat quarters or half yards, is now a huge pile of pieces too big for the scrap box but too small to be folded neatly on a shelf. I decided I need to scrap (ha!) my current scrap system - one plastic bin for warm colors and one for cool colors stored on the shelf next to my sewing machine - and expand my definition of scrap. I cleared out most of the plastic filing drawers I use to store materials and current projects, which gave me three small drawers and one large drawer to work with. The large drawer is now for large scraps, and the three smaller drawers are for small warm scraps, small cool scraps, and tiny and irregular scraps. Most of the tiny scraps are just about useless, but I hate to throw them away and I know there are some nifty ideas like this one for using up tiny scraps which I'll probably attempt in the future. Even though I am usually not this way, I decided to label the drawers with the label maker we use at the office. Now that my scraps are reorganized and labeled, and the filing drawers are under my sewing table away from the little hands which like to open them up and dump them onto the floor, I feel like I have gotten somewhere with this reorganization project.

The last thing I don't really know what to do with is my paper bag filled with thread waste, and selvedges, and any kind of scrap that is just two narrow to sew into patchwork. It seems like I could stuff something with all this waste, but I'm afraid a pillow or softie or whatever I made would end up really lumpy. So tell me, do you hold on to this stuff? What do you do with it? Am I a crazy, frugal woman for holding onto it? Should I just chuck it into the nearest trash can?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Says the Jedi and the Elephant. Hope you had a great evening full of tricks and treats. We sure did.

More on the homemade parts of the costumes later.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hello

I'm here. Between sickness (me), Fall Break (Agnes), and more sickness (Ely), I've been otherwise occupied this week.

I have learned that sewing from Oliver + S patterns is a delight. My second garment ever, and first real dress for Agnes, is almost done. Hopefully I can do a little hand sewing tonight while watching Aliens. Yes, Aliens.

Be back soon, hopefully tomorrow. I haven't forgotten about my giveaway.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Good Things

The week is almost done, and it's been a good one:

-Our company was named one of the Best of Nashville by the local, weekly publication. Starting your own business is one of the hardest things we've ever done, and it feels good to know you are doing something well and that other people are noticing. Kudos to all our great employees who helped make this happen as much as Will did.

-Three baby-free workdays, as Agnes started mother's day out this week. She is having a blast, and I get to use my entire brain while in the office.

-My parents buying us our Christmas gift now. Almost 8 years ago, two nights before my wedding, this unknown group wowed me and my friends at my favorite small place to hear music, and now Will and I get to see them on New Year's Eve at my favorite large place to hear music. Plus a night of free babysitting.

-My annoying stomach illness is gone and this cold seems to be on it's way out.

-I get to buy some fabric today to make Ely's Halloween costume. Plus, I figured out that part of the costume can be made from the Oliver + S Bedtime Story Pajamas, so I got to buy that pattern as well. I have a feeling the latest issue of Stitch will also jump into my cart today.

-Upcoming Sunday dinner with friends

-Picking out our free pumpkin at Whole Foods after school today

-Friends coming into town next week for their first visit back since they moved in May, and the early Halloween party we are having for all the kids.
-Nicer weather on the horizon after a cold and rainy week

Also a reminder - if you are interested in my Alabama Stitch Book inspired moleskine journal, leave a comment under this post. I haven't looked at the comments yet, and probably won't until Saturday morning but time is running out. Have a good weekend!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where the Writing Takes Me

One year ago today, I began this blog. I had wanted to start a blog for more than a year before, as a place where I could keep track of what I made through words and photographs. I'm not a very good documentarian and most of what I make, I make with the intention of giving it to someone else. My kids are going to be very disappointed when they look at their baby books and ask "Is this it?" Every diary or journal I've started has ended after a few pages. I did spend months of my life photographing myself as I slept, but that project has been long abandoned. I've enjoyed knowing that last October I spent a whole Saturday sewing coasters, and it's been easy for me to locate my favorite gin mojito recipe when I've misplaced the scrap of paper mine is written on at home. But, the best part of this has been experiencing where the writing has taken me.

Even though I thought this blog would be heavy on craft and cooking, all sorts of other things have crept in here. I might sit down during naptime (like right now), or at night once the little people in the house are asleep, with the intention of writing about the baby quilt I just finished after a year in the making. But then - somehow - the post becomes about the Tashlich service I went to a few days earlier, and the paper prayer I grabbed from my husband's hand and slipped into my purse before he could recycle it. I know I intended to just write another post in a world of posts about the making of a quilt, but somewhere in the process of me typing, my mind suddenly realized that the story of me making a quilt was so obviously tied to other experiences and thoughts in my life. That is the magic of writing about something. That is the magic of watercoloring over the lines of a white crayon drawing on a white sheet of paper. All those connections were always there, I just couldn't see them before.

If you've been along for any part of this journey and indulged me over the past year, then I thank you. My husband loves to tells me I'm a good writer and I usually respond by rolling my eyes, but I admit I do enjoy it. One of my favorite discoveries this year was realizing how much I like the process of hand sewing. I doubt I would have picked up this book and started stitching if I hadn't seen it and the resulting fabulous projects on many of my daily blog reads. While I was supposed to use my moleskine journal with the hand stenciled and stitched jersey cover myself, I'd rather send it out into the world for someone else to enjoy. If you are interested in this journal, leave me a comment by the end of Friday and I'll draw a name.

Looking forward to year #2.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On A Roll

When my son was born, he got a quilt I made. The only reason I was able to give Ely this gift was because right before I found out I was pregnant with him, I took a beginning quilt class where I made and completed a crib size quilt. I originally made the smallest size so that I would be sure to finish it by the time the 6 week class was over, but then it seemed like serendipity that I chose to make a quilt for a baby when I was going to have one of my own. At the end of 2007, I was 7 months pregnant with #2 and had already decided this baby was not going to get a Momma-made quilt. I had no time and was tired from being pregnant, working 30 hours a week, and taking care of the family. But then the Purl Bee posted a new project designed by Molly for a zig zag quilt and I fell in love. The design was great, the fabrics were great, and the quilt was in my colors. Since I didn't know the sex of my baby, the zig zag quilt was the perfect non-boring, gender neutral quilt (though Molly does talk about how you can choose other color combinations.) So, I started a quilt for the baby with 2 months to go.
I replaced a few of the fabric choices with ones I already had, but I did order 2-D zoo by Alexander Henry since that fabric seemed to make the quilt. I remember when it arrived - it was even lovely and softer than I thought it would be. The piecing of the quilt was easy. The quilting was easy too, though by now my baby - a girl! - was 6 months old. I machine sewed the binding on the front, then procrastinated on hand sewing it to the back. At Christmastime, I got my sister-in-law to give me a lesson on blind stitching and I finished the quilt with a few weeks to go until Agnes's first birthday. I meant to put a label on it and give it to her as my gift, but I never did. Now more than 6 months later and feeling invigorated by finishing Jesse's quilt, I pulled Agnes's quilt out and quickly made a label using a kona cotton square that was already cut out and a micron pen. One episode of The Office, and the label was sewn on and the quilt was done!
It feels good to finish two big projects in the same week.

A small note about comments - If you leave me a comment, I'm going to reply under it. It makes a lot of sense to do it that way with Typepad nested comments, and I'm not so good about replying to emails. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dogs and Frogs

I started this quilt for a special baby in the womb more than a year ago. My plan was to give it to him or her soon after the birth, so I could sew a personalized label on the back with the baby's name and birth date. Well the baby was born - a sweet boy named Jesse! - and the quilt was finished within a few weeks of his birth, except for hand sewing the last couple of inches of the binding. And so it sat for a year. Clearly I have a procrastination problem, especially where hand sewing is involved. I always think I hate hand sewing, but once I start I remember that I actually enjoy it. How could someone who loves to make things a la the Alabama Stitch Book hate hand sewing?
This past Sunday was the annual Tashlich service at my church. Tashlich is the Jewish ritual usually performed on Rosh Hashanah of the casting away (often by throwing breadcrumbs into a moving body of water) and examination of your sins of the past year. It makes a lot of sense to me to do this at this time. Fall always feels like a beginning, because a new year of school has started, and the lush green Summer starts to fade as the trees and plants end their growing cycle and start preparing for the next. While I usually make a bunch of resolutions on New Year's day, I've been participating in Tashlich for a few years now* and it seems a much more meaningful way to reflect and change than writing down exercise 3-5 times a week or cook more vegetables for dinner on a piece of paper. As I thought about Jesse's quilt and hand sewing, I remembered a line from the Tashlich prayer: Let us cast away the sin of stubbornness, so that we will neither persist in foolish habits nor fail to acknowledge our will to change. A foolish habit indeed. I have pinned the prayer to the bulletin board above the computer and near my sewing area, where I keep not only my inspirations but the things I want to remember. But even though baby Jesse did not receive this quilt, I still think one year old Jesse will enjoy it.
Now, a few details about the quilt. Jesse's parents love dogs and the dad also has a bizarre passion for frogs, so I couldn't think of better fabric to use for this quilt than animal prints by Heather Ross. I kept the front simple with 8 inch squares paired with a cream border. I decided to piece the binding which was fun and something I will do again in the future, since I really liked how it created a subtle border with little pops of color. I like to make the back of my quilts reference the front but almost be a new quilt, so I chose brighter colors along with a strip of rejected squares from the front. I knew I wanted the turquoise fabric somewhere in this quilt, because it is from a bolt I bought at one of our auctions and Jesse's dad works with us. For the label, I used the method in Last Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts which I love and first used for this quilt along with a micron pen. The quilting is just a simple grid I've seen a lot of other quilters use, and I like how it creates a frame in each of the squares. I was hoping to get some better photographs but it's been raining here for nearly two weeks, so inside on the bed was the best I could do. In retrospect, I should have put a sheet on first, but I didn't realize how bad the mattress cover looked until after the gift was given at Jesse's first birthday party and I finally had a moment to sit down and upload all the photos I took that day. Another foolish act, but probably not a sin.

*Even though I'm half Jewish, we never celebrated Rosh Hashanah in my home growing up. It wasn't until I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church which uses rituals and sources from many religions, did I learn about Tashlich.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

(Not So) Patiently Waiting

Have you seen this? (Be sure to click on the preview on the right side of the page.)

I am beyond excited now. I wanted a dress and I wanted the lotus stencil, and both are in the book, sometimes even together! I have a feeling my birthday and holidays list will be comprised solely of organic cotton jersey yardage.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September Ramblings

School has started and my calendar is quickly filling up. I'm packing lunches and making pb&j, but there isn't much making in the rest of my life. I was made an aunt though(!), which means I'd better return to my sewing machine soon to finish up some secret projects. I'm back at work in the mornings with my 19 month old assistant, and we are busy busy busy. I guess the economy has finally picked up? It's nice to feel like we aren't flatlining anymore. We finally got ripe brandywine tomatoes from the garden, and they are amazing. I've noticed several new fruits on the plant and I'm hoping they will ripen before everything peters out. It's a good thing the family never gets tired of okra because we are still getting plenty. I went back to washing my hair with baking soda, and can't figure out why I ever stopped? We are still walking in the evenings after dinner, but every night it is a little darker when we set out than the night before. Summer is definitely starting to fade.

So far, it's been a month of nice changes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Garden Notes, End of August

-It's more fun to throw rotten tomatoes at the wall than into the compost bin.

-Planting basil right next to the tomatoes is a very bad idea. They won't get enough sun and die, and by the time you have a lot of ripe tomatoes all the basil will be gone.

-Late blight hasn't hit my garden (yet), but some of my tomatoes have an unknown disease, especially the Brandywine and Mule Team ones.

-Ignoring the okra for 2 days leads to 10 inch long pods or pods with a 2 inch diameter. It's okay because they still taste good.

-We all agree that eating fried okra every night is not a bad thing.

-Sun helps make tomatoes sweet, and a weird, wet, cold Summer means none of my huge red ripe tomatoes are sweet. The Hawaiian Currants are sublime though.

-Cutting the Hawaiian Currants off the vine is better than pulling them. They tend to split easily, then get moldy before you can eat all of them.

-It's impossible to convince an 18 month old not to pick the green tomatoes.

-By late Summer, the squash have mildew and the zinnias have rust.

-Even with a small garden, sharing the harvest with friends and family is necessary.

-With a small garden, it is hard to do a second planting for Fall, especially if nothing is dead yet, leaving you with no empty space for the dreamed about chard and beets.

-The unknown volunteer winter squash are still unknown. Prolific but unknown.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gift for a New Mom

My sister-in-law just turned 30. Meg is also expecting her first child any day now.

When Ely was born, I was thankful for his relatively easy birth and that it went exactly as we had hoped it would. Don't get me wrong, it was hard hard hard work work work! Pushing was the most frustrating, uncomfortable, and exasperating thing I had ever done, and when it took much longer than it should have I was sure he was never going to crown. But, I was able to sleep during contractions for the first half of labor, had an active stage that was only about 2 hours long, and when the midwife arrived at our house, she found me completely dilated at 10 cm. During the previous weeks, we had been worried about what my already-almost-at-the-high-cut-off-line blood pressure might do during labor, especially if it was a long and drawn out one. When Ely came quickly, it was as if our prayers were answered.

Learning to breastfeed knocked me off my feet though. I thought it would be easy and natural. I was prepared - I had read lot of books, learned about breastfeeding in our Bradley childbirth classes, attended several La Leche League meetings while pregnant, been breastfed myself when it wasn't the popular thing to do, made sure there were no bottles or formula in the house, and had an extremely supportive husband. Instead of joy, I had over a month of pain, severely cracked and bleeding nipples, plugged ducts, and mastitis. At one point I just knew I had thrush because there had to be some reason why it hurt so much. Nursing made natural childbirth seem easy, and everyday I wished I could birth my son again instead of having to feed him. My saving grace was the maximum dosage of advil and the lactation consultant who came to my house 3 different times (though by the end she was just there to cheer me on as I was doing everything right). My other saving grace was the entire Sex and the City series on dvd, because I had entertainment during those hundreds of hours I spent sitting on the sofa feeding my baby then holding him once he fell asleep. There was no way I was going to move once he was asleep. Not only did I watch every episode, I watched every episode again with the commentary turned on. Yes, I was hardcore.

It can be really hard being a new mom. There can be physical pain, emotional pain, boredom, loss of independence to get used to, and, of course, lack of sleep. Anything to make a new mom's life easier is always appreciated. I remember all the food that came to our house after Agnes was born. The day may have been long and hard, but at least we could sit down at the table every evening as a new family of four and eat a delicious meal someone had made for us out of love and friendship. Our next door neighbor even brought everything over hot and ready to dish onto plates exactly at 6pm.

For my sister-in-law's birthday gift, I wanted to give her a little something that would make her new life easier. I remembered cloth.paper.string's weighted bookmark, and loved the idea of being able to hold a book open without using your hands. I'm sure if I had one four summers ago, I would have added some reading time to all my tube time. I used some neutral linen for the front, light green canvas for the back, and embroidered my sister-in-law's initial on the front in darker green floss (green is her favorite color!). I measured an average size book and decided to make my finished bookmark 9x3 inches. Once it was stuffed with the lentils I found in my pantry, I was unsure if it would be sturdy enough to hold open a book, but I tested it with a newish hardback book and it did with no trouble at all. I also made Meg a nursing bracelet of green opal beads threaded onto elastic thread to help keep track of which side the baby last nursed on. The bracelet slips easily from one wrist to the other. When the baby starts a new nursing session, you simply go to the side the bracelet is on, then move the bracelet to the other wrist. I meant to make one for myself before Agnes was born, but when babies unexpectedly arrive early at 37 weeks, a lot of your plans fall by the wayside.

So, all Meg needs now is her new baby boy. And maybe a season or two of SATC.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Productive Day

Waking up to a sick baby, meant all the fun things I had planned outside the house had to be postponed to later in the week.

While kids made a lot of noise, I got stuff done:

-emptied the counters of tomatoes by making oven roasted tomato sauce

-made Molly's macaroons while I waited for the sauce to finish

-worked in the garden which meant I restocked the counters with tomatoes

-cooked a lot of our okra into bhindi masala for dinner

-weeded my recipe binder while looking for the bhindi masala recipe

-vacuumed the floors (still need to mop though)

-worked on the piles of laundry filling the floor of the laundry room (I'd love to get rid of recycling today too - it's obvious we haven't recycled in weeks)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Booklog: August 2009

I'm reading Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman. It was one of the books we discussed reading later this year or early next for my bookclub, but we thought someone should read it first just to make sure it was worthwhile. Ayelet has a website, and she has the coolest thing on it - a list of all the books she's read in the past few months with brief comments. Her booklog goes back to 2001, and I thought it would be a nice record for me and maybe provide some suggestions for other people. I know that I am always looking for new books to read.

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus with Alan Jolis
Yunus is a genius. So much of what he said about poverty and solutions for poverty were proven in other books I read over the Summer. Some parts of this book were too in depth and others parts didn't quite go deep enough.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Greg Mortenson is a great guy, but the book is just okay. I think a different journalist, or a writer like John McPhee, would have written a book with fewer weak areas.

Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout
Strout can really tell a story and her language pulls you in and keep you turning the page, even when you don't care very much for the characters. This is probably the weakest of her three published books.

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme
The best book I read all Summer, no all year, no in all the past few years. The voice is so perfectly Julia and her story is fascinating.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Why did it take me so long to read Gladwell? He blew my mind, and I'm totally rethinking school for my children. His other two books are at the top of my must read list.

Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl
Another hilarious and engrossing book by Reichl. It's more of a novella, and took me only two evenings to finish. I'm glad I learned more about her mother, who is also in her first two memoirs (maybe the third as well?). I'm eagerly awaiting Reichl's fifth book.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh
In Freakonomics, the chapter on Venkatesh, "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?", is one of the best. I enjoyed GLFAG, and he disproves a lot of stereotypes people have about living in the projects. A lot of what Venkatesh says, is the basis for the success Muhammad Yunus's Grameen Bank.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Ariely loves to come up with questions about the world find out the answers, like "Will it hurt less to pull a bandage off slowly or quickly?" (ans: quickly) or "Are people more likely to steal unattended food or cash in a communal refrigerator?" (ans: food). A lot of what you think should be true is not, and Ariely keeps you wanting to know more and more about his studies.

Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
Strout's first book. I love her writing and I enjoyed getting to know the characters of Amy and Isabelle. Just when I thought the book would remain in a scary and creepy place, Strout takes it in a different direction.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Sad and scary, especially if you know of anyone with early onset Alzheimer's. More of a beach read than good literature, but Genova does know how to keep you turning the pages.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
There are some wonderful short stories in here, and some not quite as good ones. The not quite as good ones seem to be all the early ones, from the publication info on the copyright page. I loved the different ways she used the character of Olive Kitteridge to link all the stories together and Strout is a marvelous writer.

The Kid by Dan Savage
If I ever adopt, I'm doing an open adoption.

Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch
The inside world of Per Se is fascinating. I'd love to eat here or at The French Laundry someday.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and the next 5 in the series by Alexander McCall Smith
The first book is the best, but the others are good car books and it doesn't matter if my 4 year old is paying attention or not. In fact, he loves it when a snake is mentioned or someone gets into a car accident.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison
I wish Morrison had made this book longer. I didn't want the story and beautiful writing to end as quickly as it did.

The Commitment by Dan Savage
Dan Savage is so funny. I annoyed my husband so much while reading this book. The story of the Dan, Terry and D.J. family holds up to the writing.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Liked it, but I didn't end up on the Toole train. By the end, I was just ready for the whole thing to be over and for the characters to go away. Far away. Toole was a genius with the dialogue.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A New Tote: Part 2

Done! Two days of waiting at home for air conditioning repair gave me some extra time to fiddle with and sew on the binding and straps.

First, can I say that I love love love the Echino fabric? I used it before when I made a pillow for the newly finished den, but I had forgotten how wonderful the fabric is. It is a 50/50 linen cotton blend; the linen makes it soft but durable and the cotton holds the warp and weft together so it doesn't shift like most linen fabrics. It is a dream to cut and sew with.

I woke up on Tuesday and realized that I had enough exterior fabric (the Echino) if I pieced the bias strips for the straps. I wasn't thrilled about putting a seam line through the middle of the straps, but I figured it wouldn't show much, as it would only be on one side. Piecing also allowed me to use what I had, which saved me money and shipping time.

Since the extra gathers made the peak distance on my bag shorter than the instructions, I knew I needed to reduce the length of the binding. From measuring the pattern piece, it looked like the binding was 2 inches longer than the peak distance. I made mine 3 inches longer just to be safe, and that turned out to be wise since my binding ended up being only 1/4 inch too long. The distance between the peaks on my bag was 9.5 inches, and the resulting binding measured 12.25 inches.

I received a comment on my blog from Limabean + 4, and she said she also gathered her bag more but felt the pattern's strap length was too long with the gathered bag. I cut my straps the same length as the pattern, and checked them by pining everything in place before sewing. I was happy with where the bag fell while on my shoulders, so I left the strap length alone.
The main problem I had with my straps is that they got very bulky at the side seams of the bag. My sewing machine had trouble sewing through the layers and there wasn't quite enough room for all the fabric to pass under the foot. This was all my fault since I used decor weight fabrics for both sides of the straps. While it didn't matter for the bag body, it did make a difference on the straps. Next time, I'll either use a lightweight fabric for the interior of the handles, or still use decor weight but make the interior strip shorter than the exterior, so there aren't as many layers where the ends of the straps meet up. I ended up trimming off about 1/4 inch of the lining fabric from both ends to reduce the number of layers - everything came together nicely and I had no trouble moving the bag under the presser foot.

From other blogs and the flickr group, I knew some people had trouble understanding how to sew on the straps. It took me a couple of reads - I was a little confused at first - but I followed them and found the instructions to be right on. I wish Heather also included measurements for any square or rectangular pattern pieces, as I'd rather use my ruler and rotary blade to cut them out, instead of tracing the pattern, cutting out the pattern pieces, chalking the outline, then cutting out the fabric. There is a lot less room for error by me using the ruler and rotary blade.

I adore this bag. I love the fabrics I chose, and the look of the bag. It may not completely replace the black tote, but I know I'm going to use it a lot and I see myself making more, especially as gifts. I'm also glad I finally made a bag with a curved top and bias strips for the handles, because I've been intimidated by that technique and Alicia's Tanglewood Bag kit and pattern have been sitting untouched on the shelf in my sewing nook for far too long.

Life Without a Serger

I do not own a serger. When I made these bags, I finished the inside edges with a "fake serge" stitch on my Janome 6125 QC sewing machine. I've been asked by another Janome user exactly what this stitch is and how I do it. The specifics below will apply only to my machine, but I'll try to be general too so you can apply it to your machine.

I found out about the "fake serge" in my sewing machine's manual under the utility stitches section. It wasn't called that and didn't say that the stitch could be used in place of a serger, but the description sounded promising as it was to "finish a raw edge of the fabric to prevent fraying." My machine came with an overcasting foot (foot c), which looks a lot like a 1/4 inch foot with the metal guide at one end but with wires running through the middle. There are two stitches that use this foot, overcast (which is just the zig zag stitch #3 using the overcasting foot) and overedge (stitch #19 which you only use with the overcasting foot). Both allow you to finish raw edges, but the overedge also seams so it probably acts more like a serger. I prefer the overcast because you can adjust the width and length slightly, though I prefer the shorter length to the longer one, as you end up with stitches closer together and less fabric showing. The overedge stitch, which looks a lot like a blanket stitch, has a fixed width and length. When you use the overcast foot, be sure the stitch width is wider than the wires, otherwise your needle will hit those wires and either bend, break or damage the foot. I've found that both of these stitches work and look better on two layers of fabric than a single layer, so sew your seam first then overcast or overedge.

It is good to read (or reread) you manual from time to time, and to experiment with feet and stitches on scraps of fabric. Even though I use the same stitch and foot 98% of the time, sometimes those fancy stitches and weird looking feet are be useful. And label those fabric scraps! I have a whole pile next to my machine with the stitch number, foot name, stitch width, and length. Whenever I need to decide how a zig zag stitch should look, I pull out the scraps, find the perfect one, and plug the numbers into my machine.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Garden Notes, End of July

It's been 3 months since our plants went into the ground, and we've been able to harvest tomatoes for about 2 weeks now and okra for maybe 3 weeks. This has been the strangest July. Usually it is beastly hot (upper 90s or even 100) and the last two summers have seen us in a severe drought by this time, but this year we get rain at least 2-3 times a week and the temps have been in the 70s and 80s for almost a month. I am definitely not complaining! All the rain has kept everything growing so well, and it's been nice to see green instead of brown.

Both Will and I regret not planting more okra, as each plant has about one pod ready to pick at a time. This has made it hard for us to cook the okra immediately, and we've been letting the pods collect in the fridge for a few days to give us a larger serving. Our favorite way to prepare the pods is to cut them crosswise about 1/2 inch thick, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a handful of cornmeal, then saute them in a skillet with a little olive oil until they are golden brown. This is my mother-in-law's "fried okra" and it is delicious. I think the super fresh pods make it even tastier than usual, and I've noticed that the okra from our garden are completely slime-free. Roasting, grilling, sauteing, or frying okra usually gets rid of any sliminess, but our pods have been different than what I've had before, even the fresh okra I've gotten from our CSA or the organic farmer's market. We try to pick the okra small, about 3 inches in length, but even when we accidentally let them get past that point, they have still been very tender. We planted a second batch of seeds about 4-6 weeks after the first, so we are hoping our production increases soon so we are able to blanch and freeze some.

The tomatoes have all come from the same plant, the Hawaiian Currant. All of our other plants (the heirlooms and the volunteers) have lots of green fruit, and we are not-so-patiently waiting for them. The currant tomatoes are grape sized and so tasty and sweet. The plant literally has thousands of fruit ripening, and it's been a chore to stay on top of them. We've picked some at the dark orange stage instead of leaving them to reach the red stage, and the orange tomatoes have been just as good as the slightly more ripe, red ones. A bunch of these get eaten in the garden, but mostly I've been putting them in a bowl with some tiny balls of fresh mozzarella cheese and drizzling them with tiny bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, then scattering basil chiffon over everything. I would be happy if this was my entire lunch or dinner. The only negative thing about this tomato plant is that it is huge! It grew the fastest, and quickly got bigger than all the other varieties of tomato. Now it is growing on top of everything else in the garden, so there are Hawaiian Currant branches on all sides, and I'm afraid it is choking out the other tomatoes and okra. Next year, this plant will get a wide birth.

We've also been getting a few yellow pear tomatoes from the plant at the office. They are coming in a few at a time, so I haven't eaten enough to report on them yet.

A few other thoughts at the end of July:

- we definitely planted too many things in our little garden plot; when the plants are tiny, it is hard to realize how big they are going to get; next year the plot will have to get much bigger to match our eagerness

-all of the tomato plants need to be planted further apart; while I read that 18 inches is permissible, 2+ feet would have been much better for us

-okra gets huge and the leaves get huge! we needed the maximum spacing specified on the seed packet; Will actually tells me he pretty much ignored the specified spacing altogether so that might be part of the problem

- the Florida weave tomato trellis method has worked great; you must stay on top of it, but it wasn't hard for us to do that since our plot was small; the only negative I see with this method is that the plants become very dense which makes picking the tomatoes in the interior of the plant harder; I think spacing the tomatoes further apart next year will also help with this problem

I'm curious what my end of August report will say. With a garden, so much happens in four weeks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ely and Julia

My four year old son is obsessed with Julia Child. It's all my fault, really.

While I wouldn't call myself a huge Julia fan, I do like her. A lot. When I lived in Alabama, I picked up a remaindered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for $2 at the place where we liked to buy new but slightly damaged books. In Austin, before I had kids, I would spend the morning shopping at Central Market and the afternoon cooking coq au vin and the special mushrooms and onions Julia says you must serve with the dish. After my mother recalled how my brother and I loved the French hamburgers she used to make us from MTAFC, I tried them myself and quickly found a new family favorite. Nowadays, I'm happy if I only spend 30 minutes a few times a week making dinner for us, as it's not too much fun with the baby hanging on your legs, and the four year old chasing the dog in circles around you, as you try not to get yourself or anyone else burned by the hot stove.

One of the best food nights is Sunday, as we usually go to my parents' house for dinner. They always cook a feast with cheese and wine beforehand, to keep us coming back with their grandchildren, and to give them leftovers to eat for the week. A few weeks ago, I was perusing my parents' bookshelves while eating grilled figs drizzled with honey and cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto and drinking our favorite prosecco when I spotted My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme. I didn't realize my parents (actually my Dad I think) owned this book. I seemed to recall that several of my friends had read it and loved it. I also knew the upcoming movie Julia and Julie was based on Julia Child's memoir as well as Julie Powell's book and blog of the same title, both of which I had already read a few years ago. I quickly put My Life in France in my bag to bring home.

I finished the book in four days. It was that good. My Life in France is the type of book you hate to finish because you worry there aren't any other books out there as good as this one, but you also can't put it down because the voice is so perfect and you have to know what happens next in the story. I knew a little of Julia's life before I started, but I hadn't realized all the hard work and determination and luck and support by her husband that made her life and love of cooking possible.

Of course she talks about her tv series, The French Chef. I can remember watching it as reruns on PBS as a kid, but I don't think I'd seen her cook in 15 or 20 years. I checked Netflix and sure enough there are two series of The French Chef on dvd. My local library had the first, so I requested it immediately. I know I mentioned before that my son and I like play games after his rest time is over but while the baby is still sleeping, but once The French Chef dvds were at our house, we started watching Julia make onion soup gratinee, roasted chicken on a spit, tarte tatin, french fries, and many many other dishes. Ely was entranced. He loved to watch her show off Big Bertha, a 45 pound lobster covered in seaweed she has on "The Lobster Show", that takes a good 45 minutes to cook. He began to tell me the difference between a roaster chicken and a fryer, or what Julia uses to make sausage casing (lamb intestines). He would wake up in the morning and ask for Julia. He would want to watch Julia after lunchtime, and of course once he was up after rest time. If I let him watch Julia while I was trying to get dinner together, I had one less kiddo (possibly two) in the kitchen. I finally had to put my foot down at more than two episodes per day, and a few tears were shed when the dvds had to go back to the library.

What I realized myself, is that so many of her dishes aren't the complicated, all day affairs I thought they were, that most of her bases and sauces are made from simple, easy-to-memorize formulas, and while Julia knows all the traditional methods she would rather - just like most people - beat her eggs whites with an electric mixer than by hand in a copper bowl. While I don't see myself making tripes a la mode or pate de campagne any time soon - if ever! - I definitely want to make a cheese souffle, and sandwich bread, and a spinach tart, and mousse au chocolat, and I haven't even finished watching the second series yet. When I make these dishes, I know I'll have a special four year old sous-chef helping me out. I guess I'd better start sewing him an apron.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A New Tote: Part 1

I had to throw away my favorite tote bag last week. It was over 10 years old, black, and I used it for everything in the last decade - a school bag, a briefcase/satchel for interviews, a teacher's bag, a camera bag, a purse, a knitting bag, an airplane carry-on bag, a snack bag for car travel and lastly a diaper bag. It was sturdy and roomy with a flat bottom, and had a zippered pocket so I could have a place for valuables if I didn't want to carry a separate bag. Finally the coating on the outside just disintegrated, and there was nothing that could be done except give it a final resting place.

I decided to use my new Echino bird on line fabric to make the Everything Tote from Heather Ross's Weekend Sewing. I had seen some cute Echino ones in the flickr group, and when I suddenly needed a new tote bag, this project jumped to the top of my sewing list. I wasn't sure I could every replace the beloved black tote bag, but I figured a cute Echino one would help.

I think most people know that there is a mistake in the materials list, and you need 1 yard of both an exterior and interior fabric. Since the Echino print is directional and I didn't want upside down birds, I had to cut out 2 individual pieces for the outside, adding 1/2 inch to the bottom of each for a seam allowance. Heather uses 3/8 inch seam allowances for the sides of the bag, but it made me feel better to have a slightly larger and hopefully stronger seam allowance for the bottom. If your print is not directional, you fold your fabric in half, and place the lower edge of the pattern piece on the fold which becomes the bottom of the bag. On Saturday, I went to the last day of my local fabric store's sale and came away with a gray and blue polka dot print from Denyse Schmidt's Country Fair line for my interior fabric. After 3 weeks of 50% off, the store was picked clean but I was happy with what I ended up with. Heather calls for a lightweight fabric for the lining, but I figured a decor weight fabric should work just well even though the bag would be slightly heavier and bulkier. I was also hoping the decor weight interior would allow me to cram more stuff into the bag.

Making the body of the tote bag was pretty straightforward. I saw another mistake in the instructions when they called for using a 3/8 inch edgestitch to attach the pocket to the lining. This didn't make any sense, as you've turned the edges of the fabric for the pocket over 1/4 inch to the wrong side and a line of stitching 3/8 inch would not catch the edge of the fabric and also usually when you make pockets, you sew right along the edge to attach them. I figured the measurement should be 1/8 inch and changed it on the instructions and drawing in the book with a sharpie. I knew my fat blackberry would never fit into the skinny side of the pocket you create by sewing a line straight down 1/3 of the way from the side, so I moved it over by a couple of inches. Close to bedtime, I started making the gathers between the points and found another mistake when I realized the distance from point to point was already 12 inches which is the measurement Heather says to arrive at once you create your gathers. I measured the pattern piece, and sure enough the distance from point to point was just slightly over 12 inches. I looked at a couple of photos of completed totes (again found in the flickr group) and saw that most bags had gathers, so I made mine until I thought it looked good and found the points were now 9.5 inches apart. I did the same on the other side. By this point it was bedtime, so the straps had to wait until morning.

Today, I woke up, fed the kids, got them playing with legos (please Agnes, don't swallow any!), and laid out my fabric to cut the straps. They are cut on the bias as the bag edges are curved which means you need more fabric than if the straps were cut on grain. The straps from the interior fabric worked out just fine as I had 1/2 yard remaining. Remember how I had to cut out 2 different pieces for the exterior? Well, I didn't have enough fabric remaining to cut out the straps on the bias. In retrospect, I should have laid out the pattern pieces for the exterior at opposite corners of my big piece of fabric, because I could have fit the straps diagonally between them. But, I didn't. From now on, I will always lay out all the pattern pieces at once in case I have to rearrange to get them to fit. I know the local fabric store has no more of this fabric left (I looked on Saturday), so now I have to order more from somewhere online to finish this bag.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Dress Tale

The story is always the same...once I have some new fabric, I want to sew.

I thought the Far Far Away unicorns would make a cute dress for Agnes using the smocked sundress pattern from Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross. The pattern is simple and easy to follow, and Heather has great illustrations in her book for almost ever step. Heather was also on The Martha Stewart Show in May, and she showed Martha how to make the sundress. The 13 minute segment is available for viewing, so I with the additional visual instructions, I figured this project would go smoothly.*

The Far Far Away fabric was a little difficult to true up and cut to size. I don't know if it is me, or if the patterns on most fabrics are printed slightly off, but I found the unicorns were not even close to being perpendicular to the selvedges. I ignored this problem, since I didn't want to waste any of my precious unicorns. The linen-cotton double gauze also likes to shift and unravel much more than quilter's cotton.

The dress came together easily. At one point my bobbin loaded with elastic thread acted up, so I had to sew over one of my smocking rows. I originally started to rip out the row, but the double gauze did not like me removing stitches, and I figured it would be better just to sew over the row than to tear the delicate fabric. I also had to ziz zag the interior seam where the back of the dress comes together twice, as the single row of stitches ripped through the fabric slightly. I think this is a problem with the double gauze fabric and not with the pattern, but I was glad I chose cotton thread to sew with instead of poly as the ripping would have been worse.

For the straps, I made my own folded bias tape. I've tried those bias tape makers, but they always make me swear and I've never been able to figure out how wide my fabric should be to achieve the desired tape width. I use my own bias tape all the time, especially for bag straps and apron ties. While pressing the bottom hem of the sundress, I realized my dressmaker's tape was the perfect width for the straps at 5/8th of an inch. I multiplied this by 4 (the basic formula for making your own folded bias tape), and found I needed to cut my strips 2.5 inches wide. With my iron, I pressed each strip in half to mark a center line with a crease. Then I unfolded the strip and folded each long edge to that center line, pressing in place with my iron. Once both sides were done, I folded the whole strip in half (this is easy since on one side you have your creased line and on the other you have the "line" created by the two edges meeting) and pressed with the iron again. On one end of each strip, I tucked the short edge inside before the last fold for a clean edge. To finish off the strips and close the open side, I topstitched along both long edges 1/8th inch. For bag straps, I'll offen do several lines 1/8 inch apart as this makes the bias tape much sturdier.

Placing the straps evenly and edge stitching the top was a little fiddly, especially since the double gauze does not like to keep a crisp edge. I think next time, I'm going to sew the top hem before I do the smocked rows, then just sew the straps to the inside of the dress which wouldn't look too different. I suppose I could also cut open the stitching in four places, insert the straps, then sew over the line again securing the straps in place. Heather actually has you make the top hem before doing the smocking on her adult version of this sundress, the Mendocino Sundress.

Soon after I finished the dress, Agnes woke up from her nap and started clapping when she saw it laying on my bed. She wore it over to her grandparents' house, and enjoyed showing off her new dress to Papa, Grandmaman, Uncle Josh, and Mu cat. The green colorway was the only color my local fabric store had, but it looks so perfect on Agnes and I'm happy now I didn't end up with the magenta. The only thing this outfit needs is a matching diaper cover, and I think the Ruby's Bloomers pattern from Weekend Sewing will be perfect. Though, I'm going to try it first with other fabric to check the sizing before I use my last precious scant half yard of unicorns.

*I actually started another smocked sundress a few months ago, using a vintage floral tablecloth from my collection. This particular tablecloth has several large holes, so I was happy to repurpose it. Once the smocking was done, I realized this dress was going to be much too long for Agnes's current height. Since I didn't want to lose any of the pattern from the tablecloth, it seemed to be a better idea to set the dress aside until she is older than to trim the fabric down.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Most Wonderful Day of the Year

This year, that would be July 6, the first day of my local fabric store's 50% off, two week long, Summer sale. I like to show up to the sale on the first day 15 or 20 minutes before the store opens, because often they let people in early and I've found if you wait until later in the day, the fabric you want is already gone. Last year, I (stupidly) forgot my list of Anna Maria's Drawing Room fabric for her Birdcage on a Chain quilt and I decided to come back in the afternoon to purchase everything instead of the few yards I could remember by sight. Of course by then, several of the fabrics were gone and I could only get a handful of the ones I needed. Natalie Chanin visited the fabric store in May, and was impressed with all the trims and buttons.

This past weekend was all about plans being thwarted. On Saturday evening, we were supposed to go to the local minor league baseball game and fireworks. I had babysitters (aka grandparents) lined up for the girl, because 16 month olds and stadiums do not mix. About 15 minutes before we needed to leave, the rain started and didn't let up until the morning. It hadn't rained here in over a week but had to start the evening of the 4th. And last night, we decided to go to the latin jazz concert and have a picnic supper on the grounds of the plantation beforehand. A couple of hours before the concert, a huge storm blew in and the torrents didn't stop until later in the evening. I was thankful no tickets for either event were purchased ahead of time.

Today, instead of being at the fabric store at 9:45am, I was on the way to the doctor's office for well visits for the kids. What rotten scheduling! I was so tempted to try and reschedule the visits, but I didn't want to put them off for another month, especially when I need to send updated vax forms into school soon. I managed to make it to the store a little after 11am (though toting two children to the fabric store is usually not my idea of fun), and the fabric I wanted was still around. The minimum cut for the sale price is one yard, so I picked up a yard of Far Far Away unicorns and an Echino bird print. Textile Fabric just started carrying Liberty Tania Lawn, and I really really wanted a yard of it, but even on sale it will cost me around $27 so I decided against the purchase.

We'll see how strong my willpower is next week...