July Foodie Penpals!

This month’s installment of Foodie Penpals was brought to me courtesy of Meg from Two Healthy Dollops!  This month’s box was chock-ful of tasty treats!!

While I’m always excited for anything peanut butter-esque (and this is my first encounter with anything by Peanut Butter & Co., but oh have I heard good things!), I think the most exciting thing is the Gourmet on the Go beans & grains…now while I like beans and grains, what really excites me is the tiny plastic fork that comes with it!  That and the fact that it’s French!  How cute is that?  So cute!  I bet it’s tasty, too!

Here’s the complete rundown:

  • Annie’s Parmesan Peace Pasta
  • Cheddar Almond Nut-Thins
  • Dark Chocolate Cherry Kind bar (loooooooooove these!!)
  • Peanut Butter & Co. Bee’s Knees honey-infused peanut butter (soon to meet my morning toast!)
  • Justin’s Hazelnut Butter (also looks tasty!)
  • Peanut Butter Kid Clif Bar
  • Rawxies Chocolate Cacao Nib Cookie
  • French Vanilla Coffee

I predict some excellent snacking in my future!!

If you want to get in on next month’s exchange, head over to the Lean Green Bean and sign up!!

10th grade geometry…

I find myself wishing, on a fairly regular basis when I’m on a sewing kick, that when I took geometry in high school, someone would have said “you know, kids, someday these skills you are honing will come in very handy, so pay attention you young slackers!”  Oh, wait, I’m pretty sure they did say that.  Oops.  Well, now I find I wish my geometry skills were a bit more polished than they are, especially since I seem to be doing a lot of grading up these days!  Not that this is terribly germane to the rest of the post, it’s just something that rambles around in my head when I’m sewing…

I made the mistake fabulous decision to visit my local fabric shop on payday and came home with a 2-1/2 yards each of this really spiffy fabric from the shiny new Tula Pink inventory!!

I cannot pick a favorite, and I barely have plans for all of it (dangerous business, this buying fabric without concrete plans for use…that’s the stuff stashes are made of, I fear!).  But I do have plans for the stormy blue swoopy swallow fabric!!  It is soon to be the Sewaholic Crescent Skirt, in fact!

I decided to add about 8 inches to the skirt.  I found an excellent tutorial that Patty has whipped up over at the Snug Bug and basically followed it to a tee (and I agree, you probably don’t need to grade up the skirt, just gather less…but I did it anyway because, you know, if I can complicate life somehow, why not?!).  The folks over at Sewaholic also have a super helpful series of sew-along posts for this pattern!  I have learned so much just reading through those (like french seams for pockets…I’ve looked at the diagrams for french seams in my ancient reader’s digest sewing book and always come away very daunted and a bit confused, so I’ve never done french seams…but the sew-along post makes them super clear and they really don’t look that hard!)  Unfortunately, I had already sewn my seams when I found the bits about french seams, but I foresee them in my future…a lot…because I really hate the look of raw edges inside a garment…even if they’re supposedly “finished” with a zigzag.  And I’m too lazy/cheap to finish them all with bias tape binding.  But next time, Gadget…french seams!!

Progress on the skirt has been a bit slow since I started it at the end of the weekend and have worked on it in bits and pieces on weeknight evenings (always following the “no sewing after 10pm” rule!).  So here are some progress pics!  I’ve got the skirt sewn together except for the back seam, and the waistband is attached to the skirt.  Next up is the zipper and the waistband facing!  I’m a little nervous about the zipper (I have yet to install one I really love, but if this one turns out as promised, it’ll be great.  And if not, I suppose I can handsew it in place instead).

Prime Pickles!

Is it odd that the thing that most excited me about the first batch of pickles in 2012 is that we canned a prime number of cucumbers? (127, if you were curious!). Yeah, I think my mathly-inclined friends are rubbing off a bit…

Anyhow, the farmer’s market had fabulous looking itty bitty cucumbers (like the size of my pinky finger or smaller) for $15 a bucket (about $2.75/pound), so we decided to liberate a bunch and make pickles. Walking past the herbalist’s stall and smelling the fresh dill wafting on the hot breeze might have played an important role, too…I always love the different smells at the market, but sometimes I do get a bit carried away!

So we acquired fresh dill and a short ton of baby cukes, picked up some vinegar and jars on our way home (seriously, where do all the jars go?) and got down to business. I should also say, this was the day we decided to make currant jelly and shrub, so it’s not like our afternoon docket was empty. But there’s always room for pickles, no?

I washed the little cukes and sliced off both ends…I started out doing this with a paring knife, but then I remembered I have a small microplane blade on the side of my box grater that would do them much faster (and at much less peril to my fingertips!). Stroke of genius, that.

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Once the cukes were washed, it was time to make the brine and pack the jars. The brine was a simple 1:1 ratio of water and white vinegar with a bit of salt and sugar added. Once that was all in the pan and heating up, I started filling the jars.  One head of very fragrant dill apiece, plus a half-teaspoon of pickling spice (Penzey’s blend…it’s quite tasty), plus half a teaspoon of dill seeds (not all the dill heads were seedy yet, and I wanted DILL pickles!).  A few jars also got dried peppers added just to see how they’d come out!

Once the spices were in, John & I packed the cukes in as best we could.  We had slightly more cukes than the recipe called for (OK, about 2.5 times by weight), so we got 10 pint jars and one half pint once all was said and done.  We poured the brine over them (we’d done a triple batch figuring we’d need it, but I bet we could have gotten by with a double batch b/c we ended up throwing quite a bit out that didn’t get used).

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Once the jars were packed and brined, we popped them into the water canner to process for 10 minutes and poof! Done!  I’m really excited to see how these turn out (I think we’ll crack the half pint in a few weeks just to see, though we do need to finish up a few jars of last year’s pickles before we go crazy and make a bunch more.  That, or annex more storage space somehow…)

We missed out on the baby cukes last year, so this was the first time we pickled whole cucumbers…I’m curious to see if anything is different (texture/flavor-wise) compared to slices!)

And, of course Herbie the cat likes to be part of what’s going on.  Or oversee his human underlings…we’re never quite sure which it is…

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Currant Projects!

A friend of a friend hooked me up last week and I got to pick just a little over 3 pounds of currants!  And I suddenly had all sorts of plans for currant projects at my fingertips!  The first use was scones, which got snapped up so fast I didn’t get  a picture (sorry!).

The second project was currant jelly!  I’ve never made jelly before (jam, yes, but that’s different!) so this was a little new.  I used the recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook (lovely recipes, and the few I’ve made turn out so well!) for this batch.  Reading through the steps, it became immediately apparent that I would need to rig up some sort of jelly-straining apparatus…I had to get jars anyhow, so I thought I’d check out the hardware store’s options for this (there is apparently a proper “jelly strainer” setup available for purchase)…however, the hardware store wanted $13 dollars (thirteen!) for what was essentially a hemmed bit of cheesecloth and a rickety wire stand with hooks for holding the cheesecloth in the center (ostensibly then the juices would drip into a bowl below).  I foresaw it becoming a very messy cat toy and said nothankyou.

So I rigged up my own (much sturdier) setup…a big piece of cheesecloth tied into a bundle of hot juicy fruit (doesn’t that sound fun!) suspended from a 20 pound magnetic hook with a bowl in the sink below to catch the drips.  Can I just say, I love my metal cabinets?

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But before I got to the straining/hanging point, I had to boil down my fruit with a little water and let it cook for 45 minutes to extract the juices.  Once I had the pulp in the strainer, it dripped for about 3 hours, which netted me almost 3 cups of juice.  To that juice, I added a bit of sugar and proceeded to boil it down (or up…turns out when you boil jellly, it foams and climbs the sides of the pan a LOT!).  So glad I had opted to use my giant roaster pan for this!

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From here, I checked to see if the jelly had “gelled” by dribbling a bit on a cold saucer and seeing if it acted, well, gel-y.  I wasn’t satisfied the first time I checked, so I cooked it for another couple minutes and checked again, and I’m afraid it got very gel-y.  Oh well.  Better than ending up with syrup, right?

I poured the jelly into jars and discovered a downside of cooking it a bit more than specified…I got 2.5 pints instead of 4.  Oopsies!  And here, too, I got a bit confused.  The recipe simply said to “seal and store” the jars, and the book’s instructions for “sealing” jars consisted of pouring hot stuff into hot jars and slapping a lid on it asap.  No mention of wax or water bath or pressure canner…so I stuck the jars in my water canner for 10 minutes to seal (following sealing instructions from a jelly recipe in a different book).  I hope that works…I think we’ll open one this fall to check.  I also wonder if those ten minutes in the canner will make my jelly even more gel-y?  One way to find out, I guess!

But, even with the ambiguous sealing instructions, I’m really happy with how it all turned out.  Such pretty jars!  I was surprised it was so dark, though…the pictures I always see are a bright happy red!

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So jelly was use #2, and use #3 is a shrub!  A recipe that is also from the River Cottage book, this time it’s a currant/brandy concoction.  I took the pulp that remained after the juice dripped through and wrung it out into a separate bowl.  I got just over a cup (which couldn’t be used for jelly or the jelly would be cloudy, apparently, from stuff getting forced thru the cheesecloth with the wringing).  But with my second-wrung juice, I had just enough to make the shrub.  I combined the juice with some nutmeg and the zest of a lemon and a whole (175ml) bottle of Calvados apple brandy.  Right now it is hanging out in a cool, dark place, percolating.  I promise to show pictures once it’s done (right now it’s just a quart jar full of goopy pink liquid since I still need to add the sugar and some heat to finish it in about a week!)

Tokyo Story Mixed Media Dress

The first sewing class I ever took was to make the first version of this dress I ever made (OK, I’ve now made two versions, it’s not like I have an army of them in my closet…though that’s not a bad idea now that you mention it…they are ridiculously comfortable dresses.  Ah, I digress).  It might have even been the first sewing project I blogged about here, in fact; it’s one of the early ones, for sure.  Anyhow, I remember being very excited that I had created a wearable garment, but I had picked out two very “loud” fabrics for the dress (don’t get me wrong, I still love the green polka dots and orange bicycle fabric combo, but it’s …difficult… to wear to work, and the dress is so comfy that I’ve been sorely tempted to wear it to work on a number of toasty hot days).  So I bought some less “loud” fabric and decided to reprise my handiwork and make another one that would be a bit more work-friendly.  I think there’s a name for this Japanese-style print, but I don’t know it.  But I really loved the light blue & white fabric, it seemed perfect for a sticky hot summer day, and easily dressed up for work with a cardigan and some non-flip flop shoes.

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The pattern is from Kwik Sew, and I have to say, it’s really easy to alter.  When I went to sew dress 2.0, I had a few adjustments I wanted to make from version 1.0 (someday, I will just follow the pattern as written and simplify my life greatly, but not today).  The overall fit of V1.0 was OK, but the waist was incredibly high on the first dress, so I wanted to fix that, and the armholes were really low-cut, so I wanted to raise those a bit.  I also wanted the skirt to be a tiny bit longer and hit just at the top of the knee.  And the pockets needed to be dropped by about an inch so I could comfortably stuff my hands in my pockets without having my arms sticking out all akimbo.

All of that was relatively easy to do, so I just eye-balled it and it worked out fine.  No, seriously, I did!  And somewhere the stars aligned and rainbows appeared and cherubs smiled benevolently and everything worked out.  It probably shouldn’t have, but it did.

For the waist, I just added 1.5 inches to the length in a straight shot across the bottom.  For the armholes, I put a dot 1/2 inches higher than the center underarm on both front and back pattern pieces, then followed the general curve of the armhole, reducing gradually until I reached the point where the pattern piece turned vertically.  (The blue line below is the new armhole height).  This worked like a dream!

Adding the length to the bodice also added the length I was looking for in the skirt (which was a very good thing as I’ll explain in a moment…), and moving the pockets down was a matter of, well, moving the pockets down.  Easy peasy.

So, all that glowing GoodnessGraciousItActuallyWorked out of the way, this pattern was a tad problematic…you see, to make my preferred version of the dress, I combined the skirt and belt from View A with the (sleeveless) top from View B.  And both times I’ve done this, I’ve discovered that their fabric recommendations are off for the skirt requirements.  Maybe this is only if you’re making the XL size, and it works out OK on the smaller ones?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that, if you’re making the XL size skirt, you can have the stated length, the belt, OR the pockets, but not all three.  There’s just not enough fabric to make all three out of the same 1-5/8 yard piece.  I had vaguely remembered this from dress 1.0, but had chalked it up to my sub-par layout and cutting skills.  Turns out, my layout/cutting skills are just fine, but without serious alteration to the laws of geometry, there is no way that all the pieces will fit on 45″ wide fabric.  Rats.  I solved the problem with a scrap of orange fabric I had in my stash (please note, it makes me inordinately proud that I was able to actually solve a fabric conundrum with stash fabric!!).  So the dress has bright orange pockets.  It was either that, or a bright orange belt, which might also be fun and might also still happen…

Anyhow, that’s about all I did with the pattern.  Once I solved my fabric shortage, the dress came together pretty quickly (well, for me it seemed quick)…I think it took me about 2 hours to adjust the pattern, discover my fabric shortage, fix the fabric shortage, and cut all the pieces out, and about 3 hours to sew it all together.  At least 45 minutes of the “sewing” time was spent picking dark grey top-stitching out of the belt, though…I thought it would look really nice, and it might have if I had sewn it in a straight line and not accidentally changed stitch length partway through.  I think top-stitching is one of those things best done when one is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (lucky for me, I bribed John with a currant scone and didn’t have to do all the stitch-ripping myself!).

So this is the dress, sans belt (which is very cute and comfy!)…(pardon the clutter in my sewing/living room!)

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And here it is with the belt…a bit more polished, I think!

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And here are the pockets!  Such pockets!

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And here’s the back.

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I think the accidentally-orange pockets are one of my favorite things about this dress.  That, and it’s really nice and cool and comfy, just the thing for this beastly hot weather we’ve been “enjoying”.

Adventures in Grading Up, part Deux

So my first attempt at embiggening a pattern went OK. I got a wearable maternity top out of the deal (pity I don’t actually need a maternity top, but oh, well…). I made some adjustments and fixed most of the problems I had (too narrow through the hips, shoulders that didn’t lay at all flat) and sewed another one, which turned out super cute, even if it had a few problems of its own…I ended up with a bit of extra fabric right under the arms (maybe 1/2″ in total, that goes away about 2″ down from the arm hole), and the bottom of the side seam comes to a bit of a point (not noticeable, really, but I know it does, so I’ll try to fix that next time). The overall tank top also turned out a bit snugger than I’d really like (it still fits, but yeah, a bit closely). And it could be about an inch longer, but that’s negotiable! Considering I’ve gotten nothing but compliments when I’ve worn it, I’ll call it an overall win!

On a side note, I think this is why I really enjoy sewing. If I had bought a tank top with the fit issues of attempt #1, I’d have been totally stuck with a shirt that didn’t fit. But since I was making it, I could adjust it at least enough to sort of work, plus I could adjust my pattern so the next one was even better! And now I get to adjust my pattern again to fix a couple small issues and (if I do it right and this is the last adjustment round), I get a perfectly fitting tank top, AND I got to learn a lot along the way.

I do have plans to adjust my sorbetto pattern yet again and go for a third iteration, but in the meantime, I decided to learn to sew sleeves. Proper sleeves set into a separate seam, mind you, not cheater kimono sleeves (which are pretty easy and I quite like the look of). A friend of mine signed up for a class to make Sew Liberated’s Schoolhouse Tunic at my nearby local sewing studio, so I signed up too! Can’t think of a better way to tackle sleeves than with fun friends and someone knowledgeable to hold my hand through the traumatic sleeve-sewing process (in retrospect, it really wasn’t that bad, BTW).

I picked up my fabric and the pattern and, um, had a tiny problem. The pattern sizing stops at an 18/20, which was a few inches (4 inches, to be exact) smaller than I would need to fit based on the measurements in their size chart. I was super glad I noticed this before the class, since it gave me a chance to whip out my pattern grading skillz (I think I’ve earned the z at this point, don’t you?!) and add a few inches to the width.

This pattern was a bit trickier than the sorbetto because of the pleats in the “skirt” of the tunic, so I tackled each pattern piece a little differently. The back bodice was the easiest: I cut a straight vertical line close to the arm hole (didn’t want to mess up either the arm hole or the neckline, so that was where I figured I’d do the least damage) and spread the pattern piece about an inch apart. I also added about an inch to the length because patterns always seem to be too short on me…

The front bodice was a little harder because it has a facing, so I didn’t want to interfere with where that lined up, and I didn’t want to mess up the neckline at all, so I did the same thing with the front bodice pattern piece, but used the line where the facing would extend to under the bodice for my vertical slash line. Then I extended the facing piece a bit to match the new line (so about an inch wider at the outer edge), and I lengthened the front bodice piece to match the back one.

The skirt, being essentially a large rectangle, was really easy, even with the pleats. That’s not to say I didn’t agonize over how to do it, but eventually, I got fed up and said screw it and added an inch to the side seams and an inch at the center, then moved the pleat markings over for the center back pleat.

Then I traced out all my adjusted pattern pieces and was ready for class!

I have to say, sewing the tunic up is really fast. Even with the (not-so-scary-now) sleeves. It was a 3-hour class, and in that time, I got everything cut out and managed to get the bodice and sleeves sewn together, as well as get the skirt pleats basted in place and the sideseams sewn together. I ended up sewing the bodice to the skirt at home. One seam’s worth of homework is not bad in my book!!

The pattern was great, too, the only thing we did differently was create a facing for the back neckline instead of using bias tape, which I think looks a ton nicer (comparing my tunic to the sample the shop had made for the class). I’m glad the folks at Sewtropolis suggested the adjustment.

So how did it turn out in the end, you might ask? To be honest, it’s a bit too big. (I know, right?!). I forgot that, being designed as a fairly loose garment, it would fit pretty loosely as written. So I added about twice what I really should have when I did my grading up. That said, it is a fabulously roomy/floaty/cool-to-wear-in-godawful-summer-heat tunic. I like it, a lot (which is saying something, since I don’t actually own any tunics because every single one I’ve ever tried on has looked terrible). I will continue to wear it, too, though I might try buzzing a deeper seam up the side-seams and taking it in maybe a half inch on each side, especially above the waist, or maybe I’ll sew some elastic at the sides to cinch it in a bit. (I figure if it looks bad, I’ll pick it out and let it be, but I might as well try!) And I’ll reduce my enlarged pattern a tiny bit and try again…I’ve already got fabric picked out and everything!

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Shiny Laminated Frustration

I have a pretty high tolerance for putz.  For projects that don’t come out quite right, for instructions that have clearly been translated from German to Mongolian and then into English by way of a dartboard and are thus indecipherable save for the stick-figure illustrations.  I can handle that.  After all, I have Ikea furniture–need I say more?!

So it’s really not very often that a project truly frustrates me.  Frustration to the point where I rip stuff up and stalk off to the couch and pout in a huff and vow never ever to ever work with ____________ again.

Well, this weekend, laminated oilcloth is the material in question.  And the Hemma Designs “Solveig” bike bag was my attempted project.  I love the look of this bike bag, and a convertible purse/pannier is something that I’ve been wanting for a very long time.  Now, there are people out there who make such things, but trust me, they’re all either a) doggedly ugly, or b) uber expensive.  So when I found this pattern at the local fabric shop a few weeks ago, I bought it.  I barely read it, I was so happy to have found it.  In fact, I didn’t realize that it called for special (read: non-cotton) fabric until I went to make it and realized I didn’t even know what oilcloth was!  So back to the fabric store to raid their remnant bin for oilcloth.

Turns out, oilcloth smells funny.  (That was my initial impression, anyhow).

So I got home and cut out the pattern, which includes a few rather putzy pieces to make the flower design on the front flap.  Hand-cramp-inducing, but thanks to a few Dr. Who episodes on the Netflix, I didn’t mind that it took me nearly an hour and a half to cut them all out (or, maybe it was thanks to said episodes that it took so long?).  Anyhow.  Got them cut out finally and then pinned them to the oilcloth.

Kids, pins put holes in oilcloth, as in, never-to-be-recovered-from-tiny-holes.  I though it was rather odd that the instructions said to tape the pattern to the cloth to cut it out (my inner tightwad was all a-flutter, protesting “but how will you reuse the pattern if you do that!!?!?”) so I pinned it.  Now all my pieces have random puncture wounds…it looks a little like I have a very tiny vampire running around attacking my fabric stash.

Two episodes later, I had all my pieces cut out of the oilcloth, and the gluing commenced.  Yep, you read that correctly.  Step one is to glue the flower stuff into place.  Then stitch around the flower outline.  This is where I really ran into trouble (not the glue, the stitching).  Turns out, laminated oilcloth sticks like a mofo in my sewing machine.  Holy bananas.  I’ve never had much problem sewing anything I’ve tried sewing before (which granted has either been knit jersey or some variation on quilt-weight cotton).

It floored me, to be honest, and nothing I did really helped.  I tried taping the bottom of the foot with masking tape…no luck.  I tried disengaging the feeder feet…no luck.  I adjusted the tension…no luck.  I tried yanking the fabric along as I sewed…no luck, just lots of knots.  I tried using the hand wheel to crank stitches while the foot was up and just guiding the fabric by hand…looked like a drunken toddler had sewed it.

It may have been the glue fumes.  It may have been the heat (even with aircon, I’m sure it was a solid 80 degrees in the apartment Sunday afternoon).  Whatever it was, I gave up.  I harumphed over to my couch and pouted for a solid 20 minutes.  I tore that stupid little flower piece to bits.  I felt better.

I still have all the rest of the pieces cut out, and I think I will take a stab at finishing the bag, but there is no way that it will have that stupid flower design on the front.  And you can bet your bippies that I’ll be researching “how to sew oilcloth without turning into the incredible Hulk” before I continue.  And, maybe I’ll run across something that makes that flower do-dad more doable and I’ll add it back in, but don’t hold your breath.