Monday, February 28, 2011

Month End Review - February 2011

February was the month of the cranky, unmotivated sewist. According to my handy-dandy spreadsheet, I started 5 different items in February. I finished 2. Out of other 3, 2 are still viable, and one was somewhere between an experiment and a wadder. I will call it failure of fabric to behave as expected, making me cranky and throwing me off into another project.

The baby dress is done all but the hem/trim. Which is why it's not done - I haven't decided if I'm hemming or trimming. When I decide, I'll call it finished.

The other UFO is a sleeveless dress, so no real rush, but that got put aside because I misplaced my silk organza squares I was using to make the welts/openings, of which there are a few. (Sounds strange, but I'm looking forward to proving its not. When I find the stinking organza).

But in the finished category, I have the black/white/gray chenille cropped sweater, which I'm quite happy with, and the BWOF 2/2011 #101 sleeveless dress, which I actually wore to work on today with a matching blue cardi that I forgot I owned. The cardi actually pre-dates the fabric, but it shows that at least I'm consistent in my colors.

This week may not contain a lot of sewing, but I'm going in and tearing up the workroom until I find the missing organza, and the pieces of the unfinished dress.

I hate UFOs. I won the UFO contest on Patternreview in 2007, and I think the embarrassment of having that many scarred me for life.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Little things (and a dress)

I woke up to sunshine and not freezing temperatures this a.m., and surprisingly both my energy and my mojo were sitting there waiting for me, tapping their tiny feet.

After giving the cats their breakfast (priority), I went across the street to the coffee shop for mine. Have I mentioned I love my neighborhood? We went there yesterday, and the barista, when told that we were going to Paris later this year, played 3 versions back-to-back of La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaf, of course, then Louis Armstrong, and then . . . Grace Jones. Who knew Grace Jones covered that song, and that it was fabulous? (It's on Youtube if you feel an urge to look it up.)

Yesterday I did a little work in the back garden, more cleanup that was left undone, some pruning of the roses (they got hit hard with the wind this year, but it's actually good because I don't prune as hard as I should and this forced me to really cut them back had). Mario witnessed my dance of absolute gardener glee when I moved a pile of debris and uncovered the almost iridescent green tips of the first hyacinths. Little things, that's what makes a day.

Since today was warmer, I obeyed the call of the garden before the call of the workroom - I can sew in the dark, but my outdoor lighting isn't really good enough for night gardening. I filled all the composters to the brim with kitchen scraps (sitting outside in cat litter buckets waiting for the composters to be uncovered), turning over the soil for the first time in what will be the early salad bed, and more general cleanup.

This should have kicked my ass, and it did, but in a backward sort of way because I came inside and after scrubbing the dirt off, I went right into the workroom and got the zipper installed in my new spring/summer dress, BWOF 2/2011 #101. I had a litle issue with the skirt lining (no lining fabric and no patience to wait until I got any), but I cut up an old slip of my great aunt's and made do, and now I have a dress ready to show off, if not ready to wear anytime soon. Full patternreview here.

A 55 degree Sunday does not make for sleeveless dress weather, no matter how I feel when I'm outside with my hands in the dirt. Must remember that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Paris Bound

And I'm so excited!

I've been more than a little OCD about checking all the travel websites daily, and getting my feelings hurt daily. Roundtrip Philly to Paris has been running in the high $900s, which is appalling. I didn't want cheap - I know the days of cheap, cheap airfares are behind us - but I wanted at least a price that didn't make me gag.

The other day, I got one. Drinking my morning coffee, checked the airfares, saw Philly to Paris, roundtrip, non-stop, for $630. I had to look twice to make sure I was seeing properly, and then I clicked "buy."

Of course all this excitement will be delayed, because the belated "honeymoon" that this technically is will not happen until October, but that's all right. I'm a big believer in anticipation, and the fabulousness of going back to Paris will definitely not wear off in 8 months.

I've got a major soft spot for Paris. Aside from it being freaking Paris (and what else does it need), there's the little issue of the food, the art, the food, the wine, the food and the window shopping. Plus our first trip to Paris together in 2007 was where Mario and I definitely became a couple who would end up together, so that's best of all.

And of course, there will be Paris vacation sewing, but not for a while yet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit

Things are beginning to pick up again in the workroom, but still nothing much to share. I started working on a spring/summer dress from the 2/11 BWOF in a blue and white cotton stripe with eyelets, but then it snowed and I kind of got demoralized about sewing a sleeveless dress when my sprouting garlic is in the back yard shivering under 3 inches of fresh snow.

So instead, I'm on the couch, under a fuzzy blanket with a cat or three, reading. And if I can't sew, you know what I'm reading about.

I got this book a while back and wanted to share it with you all. I haven't tried out the techniques yet in reality, but I've gone over them in my head and on the page, and I'm really looking forward to trying to copy one of my vintage garments using the methods described in Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit, which is subtitled Using the Rub-Off Technique to Re-Create and Redesign your Favorite Fashions, by Steffani Lincecum.

The first section, Basics, explains 2 different methods for achieving the rub-off (on paper and fabric), goes into tools and equipment needed, how to estimate yardage, the importance of measurements and explaining some basic and not-so-basic sewing techniques. The illustrations (both drawings and photographs) are really clear and show as much as the author tells in her explanatory paragraphs.

The rest of the book is dedicated to patterning skirts, blouses, dresses and handbags, using in each chapter a "source" garment which is then copied and remade with full illustrations of the process (I've included the blouse section here, as it had the least pages and was easiest to photograph). She also goes into drafting the pattern from the rub-off, adding seam allowances, making adjustments and making variations on each garment.

The author explains clearly how to achieve variations once a well-fitting pattern is achieved, and while I wish she had tackled more complicated patterns (pants, anyone?) this is a well-written, clearly illustrated book that I feel will really give me a push to finally replicate some of my beloved vintage pieces that either don't fit or are falling to pieces in the closet, waiting for me to remake them.

One of the reasons they've been sitting around for so long is that I haven't wanted to take them apart, and using the methods in this book, I won't have to. Recreating vintage clothes seems more like a cold-weather project, but I don't think Mother Nature is quite done with us yet, so there may be time to give these techniques a try before the yen for summer clothes kicks in fully and I give up on complicated projects until I have undistracted time for them.

Even though the weather's keeping me back right now, there's as much gardening going on in my head as there is sewing. I'm trying to work out a redesign for the back garden that will keep the bulk of my ornamentals while letting me shoehorn in a bunch more edibles. Thankfully I lost a good number of younger perennials last summer (a few years ago, I'd still be in mourning for them this long after; my, how things change), so there's some space to be had, and the evil thorny raspberry's days are numbered. When you take up that much real estate, you'd better damn well produce, and Spike is 4 years old and gave me about a half cup of berries last year, and probably twice that to the birds.

Ah, spring, when my mind turns to asparagus and slaughtering unproductive plantlife. Sewing is really much less violent. Even when it makes me bleed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Say Cheese

Occasionally I play mad scientist in the kitchen. This was one of those moments, and it was such an interesting experience that I wanted to share it.

For those who came looking for a sewing post, they'll be back soon. Promise. My version of spring fever gives me loads of energy and no focus, and I'm all over the place without effecting much change other than to leave rubble strewn in my wake. This is not always good for sewing, and infuriating when I return to a chaotic workroom that I can't convince someone else to clean up.

A few weeks ago, when spring fever started boinging around inside my head like a tennis ball, I got an idea. Normally when I'm antsy, I sew, but spring brings on a different, more concentrated antsiness, and if I can't work it off in the garden, or build something in the house, it generally devolves into some project that trashes my kitchen. Since it's too early to put the veggies in, there was nothing interesting left to try to preserve and I haven't gotten past the planning stage of the next building project, I decided to try to make cheese.

After some exploratory reading, the idea became more insistent. And then we went to the farmer's market last weekend, and I noticed for the first time that one of the farmers sells raw milk. Hmmm. I toted home a half gallon, which sat in the fridge, looking at me accusingly, for the better part of the week. (Trying to keep someone from pouring it over his cereal was also fun; that stuff costs way too much for breakfast).

The other night, Mario went out, and I decided it was time. Making cheese, at least beginner cheese like this, is surprisingly easy, as evidenced by the fact that I never forgot to take pictures of the process. All that was required, besides the milk, was a big pot, a thermometer, a strainer, some cheesecloth and an acid (white vinegar or lemon juice).

I poured the milk into a pot and turned on the heat. The milk needed to be brought to just below the boiling point, or around 185 degrees. I had to pull the thermometer out and check whether the black or red numbers were the ones I was supposed to look at, since the C and F were hidden on the far end.

I'm not a big milk drinker (I drank it by the gallon as a kid, but around age 12, it started to taste sour) but I was curious about raw milk and whether it would taste different. I don't know if it's from lack of processing, or lack of hormones or the better feed the cows eat, but this stuff was really tasty. And when was the last time you opened a bottle of milk and there was cream floating on top?

After a few minutes, when the milk hit about the 160 mark, the milk developed a wrinkly skin on top while starting to bubble around the edges. I'm surprised the skin actually came up in the photo. A few minutes more and it hit 185, but the milk still wasn't boiling. I gave it another minute and 10 degrees before I took the next step, taking the pot off the heat and pouring in 1/4 cup of lemon juice, very slowly, and stirring.

Once the acid hit the milk, all kind of fun chemical reactions took place. Basically I curdled the milk, and the stirring was to separate the curds (solid, soon to be cheese) from the whey (liquid, leftover milk with the proteins knocked out). After I'd stirred and stirred, and no more curds appeared, I took a slotted spoon and removed the curds to a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

I let the curds drain for a while, and then tied them up in the cheesecloth and let them continue to drain overnight.

As I went to clean up, I looked at the big pot of whey on the stove, and realized that almost 3/4 of the bottle was still left, though it was technically no longer milk. I sampled it, and amazingly, couldn't taste the lemon at all. It still tasted milky, but not quite. What to do with it?

When in doubt, ask the Google. I came upstairs, turned on the computer, and typed in, "uses for leftover whey from cheesemaking." Other than to ask me if I meant to say "cheese making" instead of "cheesemaking," it had a ton of suggestions. The best one was to use it in place of water in bread recipes. Making bread is on my list for the weekend, so I poured the whey back into the milk bottle and put it in the fridge.

This morning I got up early to play with my cheese. I unwrapped it, and cut it into cubes and put it in a bowl with olive oil, salt, some red pepper flakes and a few chopped sundried tomatoes. Left to marinate in the fridge all day, it made a yummy post-work snack this evening, and there's plenty left for the rest of the weekend.

The whole process, from start to "forgetting" to do the dishes (remember the part about the rubble strewn in my wake?) took less than an hour, plus a few minutes in the morning to finish it off. And it tastes really good, did I mention that? Creamy and spicy and really fresh.

I'm definitely going to try this again, see what other flavorings I have around the kitchen that would work well with a simple cheese like this.

So, okay, I made cheese. It forced me to focus, it drained off some of the excess energy, and I learned a new skill that will keep us fed (and me occupied) in the future. Not saying I'll never buy cheese again, at least not until I have the space to acquire goats to make my own chevre, but this was a good evening for me - I learned, yet again, that complicated stuff doesn't have to be that complicated, that it's not difficult or expensive to eat good, healthy food, and that there are way less useful ways to spend an evening than to absorb a new skill and expand my mind a little.

So, I made cheese Thursday night. What did you do?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Off the shelf, into the closet

See, I've been sewing - a little, anyway.

This wasn't anything in the way of a complicated project, but my mind can't handle complicated right now. It's barely stringing two sewing thoughts together, so this seemed like the perfect time to try this cute shrug from Tanit-Isis. She made a pattern from a vintage sweater recently and was kind enough to post the pattern on her blog, here.

Not always a big fan of tape-together patterns, but honestly, this was only 9 pieces of paper. Even on my worst day, I can do that, right? Apparently I can.

I used a black, white and gray chenille-ish sweater knit from Emma One Sock that I've had for probably 2 years. I only bought a yard because it was expensive, and then when I got it, I realized that a yard really wasn't enough to do what I had in mind, so it went on the shelf.

Now it's off the shelf, out of the stash, and I have a cute little sweater to wear to work. This falls into that category of patterns that looks more complicated than it is - actually it's one big piece, cut on the fold and sewn up under the arms, and the leftover scraps are used for the sleeve and front bands.

The pattern is one-size only (I think it's a 36), but because of the shape it would be easy to grade up or down - I took it up to a 38 without any issues. I finished the whole thing in an evening, with time for TV and cat-napping on the couch with cats. Works for me.

Go visit Tanit-Isis. Download her sweater pattern. Say thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone. I'm going to try to jump-start the mojo, even though what it really wants to do is go out and play in the mud, or play in the kitchen, or do something - anything - other than what I normally want to do more than anything.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I'm working on right now

Not a whole lot, let me tell you. My mojo isn't absent, it's just feeling scatterbrained - I'm picking up this, starting that, working on the other.

So what I guess I'm making at the moment are UFOs. And I hate UFOs. In progress at the moment: a spring/summer dress based off the Burdastyle Fatina downloadable pattern. The shape is straightforward, but I'm adding a detail that requires some fiddly sewing, and while I don't even mind that, I couldn't find something that I needed to start doing the fiddly sewing, and by the time I did, I'd started working on

a pencil skirt with a stencil. That was going along well, at least the stencil part, but the fabric wasn't actually started to fray at the seamline before I'd even finished sewing it, so a good idea with the wrong fabric. Skirt went into the bin, and the rest of the fabric went back on the shelf - I think it'll be fine if it's stabilized with a light layer of fusible interfacing (maybe a vest for Mario), but as a skirt, it didn't cut it, which meant that I went on to start

a dress for a friend's baby. Except I couldn't find a fabric that I particularly wanted to use for the dress, so I started

another baby dress, as a backup gift. That one is done except for the hem and the closure, but it'll probably be saved for the craft show next year. No one did any kids stuff this year, and I think baby clothes in the 6 month and 1 year range would sell well. But in the meantime, baby dress #1 is unfinished, except in my head.

And yesterday we had temps in the high 50s, and all I want to do is get out in the garden and finish the cleanup I neglected last fall. I'm about to order this year's organic veggies, and there needs to be some serious cleanup and shovel pruning if I'm going to fit in everything that I currently want to grow.

FYI, for those who read my last post, Civil Disobedience, apparently protesting can move mountains. Or at least cities and building owners. The tenants of the burned apartment building got a 48 hour stay of the demolition order, and today they were allowed to go in and retrieve what's left of their possessions and try to get their pets. Turns out the building isn't unsafe, except in certain areas; it was just easier to keep people out. I feel really good now about the loss of my sewing Saturday, and I hope that there's something left for these poor people after over a month of waiting.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Civil Disobedience

I had so many plans for this weekend.

After a winter of too much winter, it was supposed to be nice on Saturday, and even nicer on Sunday. I was going to do a good bit of sewing (the clog in my brain seems to be clearing and I had a few ideas perking) and I was going too get out back and do the clearing up in the garden that I hadn't finished in the fall.

None of this got done.

Also on Saturday was a trip to the farmer's market, a badly needed haircut (both done), and a stop at a neighborhood rally. Also done.

A little over a month ago, there was a huge apartment fire a few blocks from my house. It happened during the workday, so no one was injured, and most people weren't even home at the time, which was both good and bad, because they were able to rescue nothing. Including their pets. The firemen went in the next day and rescued a bunch of cats, most living and a few dead, and said that was all that they saw.

A local cat rescue group found a few more of the animals from the apartment complex, and had everyone keeping an eye out for others. Last week, one of the missing animals was spotted sitting in the window of her old apartment on the second floor. Trapped. The building had been sealed by the city, and is scheduled for demolition this week.

So the rescue group put out a call and about 150 people showed up yesterday in front of the building (which wasn't even completely gutted by the fire, but is being demolished anyway, because it's easier than repairing it). Turns out it's remarkably easy to stop traffic. We blocked the intersection and waved signs and carried on for an hour or so, and the police, when they showed up, just waved and started diverting traffic. A lot of the tenants were there, because in addition to the animals still trapped inside, quite a few apartments sustained little damage and yet they haven't been allowed back in to retrieve their possessions.

I know there'd have been breaking and entering involved if those had been my cats, but I feel for the other people as well -- losing everything in a fire would be horrible, but what about not losing everything to the fire, but losing it anyway because you aren't allowed back inside?

At the time we weren't sure how much good we did, but a notice came out this afternoon that the PSPCA were allowed into the building this morning for the first time, and were able to trap the kitty who'd been looking out the window, and she's been reunited with her person after a month-long separation. Another cat was sighted but ran away.

Demolition is still scheduled to begin this week, with no word on whether the tenants will be able to get their things. Another protest is scheduled for tomorrow, and a neighborhood lawyer is plannint to file an injunction.

All I know is that when I got home from the rally yesterday, freezing cold and with a scratchy throat, the first thing I did was track down all 10 cats and hug them until they squeaked.

If you have animals, go hug them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Has sewing made me a better cook?

I think it has. I've always loved to sew. Cooking came later, but it came full blown, with the arrival of the Food Network on my cable TV lineup (this was back when the Food Network actually taught cooking, instead of simply broadcasting shows about food).

In the beginning, I was a slave to the recipe (or pattern instructions). As I gained confidence, I would occasionally swap out an ingredient or change the steps (order of constuction) to suit myself.

These days, mostly because of Burda, I've learned to sew without reading the instructions except when I'm stumped, and while I love to read cookbooks for inspiration, I rarely have one open on the counter while I'm cooking.

I've noted the resemblance before, but it really hit home this past Sunday when I made a big batch of lamb stock from some bones I had in the freezer. I threw the bones into my biggest pot with an onion, some celery and a carrot, and let them boil away until the broth looked yummy and the veggies and bones turned gray. I removed the insert with the bones and veggies and proceeded to strain my stock. I couldn't find my funnel so I was using my cone-shaped strainer with some cheesecloth inside to simultaneously strain the stock and pour it into jars.

Somewhere around the fourth jar, I noticed that the cheesecloth must have slipped a little because there were a few flecks in the stock. I stopped, thought about it, and said to myself, "No one will notice, and I'll strain it again before I use it." I tried to go on, and I couldn't. I poured the stock back into the pot, changed the cheesecloth and re-strained it, without flecks. Soon I had 7 jars of stock on my counter, and a realization growing in my head.

A few weeks ago, when I made the Burda spring blouse, I picked out an entire line of stitching that no one would ever see, because I realized that it would make me crazy every time I wore it. It seemed easier to do it right the first time than to be irritated later knowing that I was too lazy to do it right.

Apparently this mindset has now drifted downstairs to the kitchen. I've never been a perfectionist - good enough often is good enough - so it remains to be seen whether I can keep up this level of "doing it right the first time."

What about you? Have you seen any of your sewing habits wandering into your other hobbies or obsessions?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January: Month End Review

Wow, how did it get to be February already? I think I've just lost track of time, buried here in the snow and the slush and the ice.

Don't get me started on the ice. I'm not among the most graceful of women to begin with, but this morning I was involved in a Busby Berkley/Keystone Kops on ice routine. Walking to the train, the sidewalks of the last block were flooded due to blocked sewers, so we began walking in the street. There were 4 of us, walking in a line, because there was also traffic on the street.

The woman in front hit a slick patch and went down, flat on her back. The second man, behind her, went to assist and he went down. I was third, and I stepped further out into the street to avoid the ice and hit . . . more ice. And the the ground. Person 4 nearly fell on me trying to help me up, and the transit cop who watched this insanity from the train station came out to assist, and he went down too.

Is it less embarrassing when you make an ass of yourself in a group? I don't feel that way, and at this point I'm just thankful that it's too cold to wear anything that might show the Hawaiian sunset of a bruise I have coming up on my left hip. Really impressive.

Back to the sewing. It's been a month of very disparate projects, from my boss's drinking shirt to a sleep sack for my friends' baby to an appliqued tshirt to sweaters to spring tops. A little of everything. Totals for the month were 7 projects, 11.5 yards. Definitely more fabric out than in. (Still holding on my resolve not to buy fabric before PR Chicago, but it's not easy, even with a stash like mine).

So here are the projects: 2 KwikSew 3470 sweaters (both worn twice already), a blouse from January 2011 Burda (and many groveling thanks to Elizabeth for lending me the issue until I could re-up my subscription), the drinking shirt is KwikSew 2935, a different men's shirt than I generally use and one much more appropriate for casual wear. The baby bag is a combination Burda/Frankenpattern. The appliqued tshirt is an Old Navy RTW tshirt that I decided to play with because I got inspired by the new (to me) Natalie Chanin Alabama Studio Style.

Despite feeling like I got almost no sewing done this month because of the wedding and all the lead-up to it, apparently I did manage to find some time to escape to my happy place.

More of that later this week - I'm taking a half personal day on Friday because the plumber is coming out to do some scheduled work, and he won't take the whole afternoon, or at least I hope not. We decided to treat ourselves to a functioning downstairs toilet with some of our wedding money; it seemed like a good use of the cash and because we're going to be hosting Easter dinner this year, it will be nice to have the powder room usable because some people can't do stairs.