Thursday, March 31, 2011

FO: Eastlake

Pattern: Eastlake by Norah Gaughan
Yarn: Berroco Inca Gold, which is the yarn the pattern calls for. The drape is lovely and it's so soft! We'll see how it wears over time...
Time to complete: 3 months
Mods: We didn't think that the casual look of the ribbing on the bottom matched the dressiness of the rest of the sweater, so I just did a couple of rows of purling at the bottom with a size 6 needle before moving up to the size 7 for the rest of the sweater. My mother teaches middle school and she does not like to wear low-necked shirts to work, so I raised the neck about an inch. I was really pleased that the shape stayed intact, because I think the square-round neck is really lovely on her. She also wanted long sleeves, so I cast on a few less than the recommended start of the sleeves (which are supposed to start on your forearm for 3/4-length sleeves) and increased up to the required number of stitches for the top of the sleeve. We didn't want the bulk added by the eyelet and ribbing rows around the upper arm in the original pattern, so I omitted those, using instead 2 bands of purling by the sleeve cuff.

I cracked up when I showed up at Mom's house for the photo shoot: she's wearing a necklace I made for her when I was about 12.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Things

The Hubbs has joined a Community Band that plays music from 1880-1920...and dresses accordingly. Awesome.

Pushing against the plastic top
The tomatoes are sprouting like crazy. I look at them every day, and I may talk to them...not that I'm admitting anything. I am so excited for spring!

May have planted a few more than "2-3 seeds per pot" as directed...oops. Will have to do some thinning.

And, sneak peak: finished Eastlake! Coming soon to a Mom near me!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Learning to Sew: Owl Tote: Wild Success!!!

I finally got Husky Helen back from the sewing machine repair shop. $65 later, we're back in business! I kind of didn't realize that sewing could be like this. Ya know, NOT stopping to curse your machine and re-thread every few inches, cutting snarls off the back and pulling the fabric to try and relieve the puckering from the crappy tension.

Left, the ratty stitches pre-repair. Right: silky smooth and no re-threading the machine every five minutes!
The owl tote bag turned out amazingly! 
Pattern: tote from Stitch by Stitch, owl from a photo in that book (pattern not included), zipper insert from this tutorial.  The book was about $20 but I'm using it for at least 4 things, so $5
Fabric: Green main fabric $2.80.  The rest from my stash. Lining from my tack board, butt from the curtains
Notions: zipper and thread $4
Total: $11...unless you count the sewing machine repair, in which case $76
Results: LOVE IT! 
Back of the applique
I have never done so much gratuitous bragging! At work last night I had to make sure *everyone* understood that I had made this. "Look at the zipper!" I crowed, "did you see the zipper? I put that in. Um, did you catch the zipper?  How 'bout that zipper, eh?"

Usually I like to keep a low profile with my DIYs, waiting for someone to ask if I made a thing and then modestly admitting, guilty as charged, no no, it was nothing. But this.  THIS.  This I am truly proud of.

I wasn't actually planning on putting that much into the zipper: lining it with its own fabric and then attaching it to the lining. Really, it only happened because that was the only tutorial I could find for putting a zip in a lined bag. But whoa boy, it's a nice touch.  The buttons I also love: The Hubbs drilled out the middle of the white buttons so the black ones would seat into them, but they still rattle around a bit like the googly eyes of my childhood sock puppets, which I enjoy.

p.s., didja get a look at that zipper???

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Angel Food Cake: Rice Flour vs Wheat Flour

My nephew, Logan, is turning one at the end of the month (!!!!). For his birthday party, his mama has requested Angel Food Cake, as it will be easy for his little tummy to handle, and because the party is at lunchtime and a lighter cake will be more digestible for all. There will be one gluten-free partyer in attendance, and I was considering trying to make a GF angel food cake. "You don't have to," my sis-in-law told me, but, "My friends were asking if you were making a dessert. You have a bit of a following." Well well well, flattery will get you everywhere! If that's the case, I must outperform everyone's expectation, of course! Having never made angel food cake of any kind before, I borrowed a couple of pans and started with the basic angel cake recipe from the Joy of Cooking.

The recipe calls for a dozen egg whites (holy moly!) and I didn't want to use two dozen in my test run, so I made one recipe of eggs whipped to satisfyingly frothy peaks, then divided it and made two small cakes, one with cake wheat flour and one with brown rice flour. GF baking can be quite a chore: wheat flour cannot simply be substituted with one other kind of flour: no other grain gives that light taste, that softness and strength for which we depend on wheat flour. GF recipes inevitably call for 1/3 c rice flour, 1/8 c chickpea flour, 1 T xantham gum, 1/12 c fairy dust, 2 T unicorn horn, etc. Hoping to avoid this, I talked myself into thinking that, just this once, for angel food, rice flour would do the trick. "There's only one cup of flour in the whole recipe," I reasoned. "It's not like it depends on the flour for structure: it uses the egg whites." Alas, we found the rice flour cake to be somewhat gritty, especially when compared with the fluffy wheat flour version.

I have two other recipes to try, one with millet flour, tapioca flour, white rice flour, and sweet rice flour, and one with potato starch, cornstarch, and guar gum (really?). I could also try the pre-mixed gluten free cake flour you can buy in the store.

But last night after making all that angel food cake I looked at what I had left: 12 egg yolks that would not keep very long out of their shells. Hm, what do I love that uses egg yolks? So I made a double-recipe of rich chocolate pudding from Cook's Illustrated's holiday edition. And ya know, those gluten free party-goers might just be satiated with some chocolate pudding, GF angel food cake be damned. The question is, can I swallow my pride and abandon the quest for the GF cake that feels and tastes EXACTLY RIGHT? No one asked me to do this, but for some reason I feel that I cannot show up to this party with less. I need them all to gush, "I can't believe you made this, you're so Martha!" "Oh no, it was nothing. Didn't take a minute," I will assure them, blushing modestly. Oh Affirmation, I crave you!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tomato starting

The bulbs I planted in the fall are not even peeking through yet, though those at my brother's house and at the hospital are growing like crazy. Gr! I'm nervous about them, given the clay-ey-ness of the soil around the house, their shady locations, the lateness with which I planted them, and because I never really believe the little bulbs I stick in the ground in the fall will really "work." Every spring I gasp with surprise and pleasure when I see, as The Secret Garden so lovingly puts it, "sharp little pale green points" sticking up out of the earth. But, gardening is, if nothing else, an exercise in optimism, and today I started some tomatoes.

Last year I had little success with starting seeds in the basement with a florescent light on them. Today at the gardening center I saw this genius-looking mini greenhouse and decided to give it a whirl. Seeds go in the little mesh-wrapped peat pellets, clear plastic top goes on until they sprout, leave them on a windowsill until ready to plant. What could go wrong? (ha. ha.)

I recently read The $64 Tomato, and I'm interested in tracking how much "money saving" I really do growing my own tomatoes. Home-grown tomatoes are delicious, and vine-ripened heirloom ones are too soft to make it home from the store and simply must be available in your backyard. So it's not like if this isn't financially efficient I'll stop doing it, but I'm still interested to know how much this is costing or saving me. So far, obviously in the red:



Tomato seeds, starting kit $20


This doesn't count the $3 I spent on Sweet Pea seeds. (Yes, it's time to plant Sweet Peas already!) You can't put a price on beauty, right? :)

They're soaking overnight and then into the ground they go!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Learning to Sew: machine troubles

Am attempting to replicate this adorable owl-appliqued tote from Stitch by Stitch (applique pattern NOT provided in the pattern section of the included CD, may I add).

My dear Huskystar E10 (must think of a better name for her) has been having some problems for a while now: tangles in the bobbin department, tension issues. I discussed with the Viking representative at Jo-Ann Fabrics, who, after scolding me for touching the tension knob, said that problems below are usually from something you did wrong above and vice versa. Meaning that if I thread the top of the machine wrong, or if the thread slips out of the tension disks or the lever...thingy, I'll get knots under my work, and if the bobbin is not properly placed it will manifest on the top of my work. Good to know, but when I went home I discovered that, first of all, the knob I had adjusted wasn't even the tension, it was the presser food pressure knob (uh oh) and I am having problems both above and below my work. Check out the puckering:

And this photo, see how near the bottom my stitches are nice and flat while at the top they meet in the middle, which they are supposed to do underneath the work? :

And about the hundredth time this happened, I threw up my hands and decided it was time to seek professional help:

So Husky (Husky Hannah? Helen Huskinator?) and I are going in for a checkup, and I will undoubtedly be off sewing for several days. I'm NOT happy...think I'm addicted.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Learning to Sew: Divided Placemat: so-so

The first real project in Moebes' Stitch by Stitch is this roll-up picnic place mat with slots for utensils. Not a frequent picnic-er, I still wanted to make this as I thought it would be great for learning a few of the early lessons in the book, like bias binding and cutting a perfect square. Wracking my brain for another use for such a thing, I decided to make it for a toy holder for my nephew, who will be one this month (!).

I'm giving this project a "so-so" success rating: it wasn't an epic fail by any means, but I'm probably not going to be giving it away as a gift. It has too many learning flaws, and additionally is not truly all that useful.

Moebes is very excited about bias tape, and she managed to sell me on the whole idea as well:
"I make lots of this at once when I have time and store it for different projects,"
she breezily proclaims, leading me to picture myself tucking away miles of adorable bias tape for kicky accents inside white shirts and around blankets. Continuous bias tape (CBT) is the way to go, according to Moebes, and she led me pretty successfully through making an off-center tube and slicing off a shocking amount of long stretchy tape. However, a few things went quite wrong, leading the bias tape to not give the polished look I'm seeking.

Moebes suggests a 3-inch bias tape for your first project, the large size easing the beginner into this, theoretically.
"I use my bias tape maker to keep my fingers from getting scorches, but you can press without one as well,"
she advises.

My local Jo-Ann fabrics did not carry a 3-inch bias tape maker, so I picked up the biggest one they had: 1/2 inch. Oy, this is a big difference! First, my strips were a bit...wavy on the cut line, meaning that parts of them didn't get caught by the stitches and left gaps I had to go back and re-sew. Also, I left a 5/8" seam allowance, but my tiny bias tape would not cover this, so I ended up doing some creative trimming and forcing to get it to wrap around, which wasn't too pretty. Afterward, I found out that they make bias binder feet for your machine that do ALL OF THIS FOR YOU! May have to invest in one...

I detailed my bias saga to a friend at work who is a quilting goddess. "You should have brought it in!" she scolded. "Bias tape is easy. You don't need a bias tape maker or a foot, silly." (This is, at least, a lot more helpful than the Jo-Ann employee helping me find the bias foot, who said, "just buy the pre-made tape. Making this stuff is not as easy as they make it seem in the instructions." Thanks.)

I'm also pretty sure I have some tension issues with my machine. I was getting puckering, so I turned the tension down and now I'm getting knots underneath. This scares me, as I remember the first rule of sewing being "don't touch the tension knob," per my mother, so I think I might need to take my machine in for a check-up. Although, Moebes assures me via her first of many cute power phrases,
"You're the boss! (Not Tony Danza--YOU!) Don't let that machine sass you, or make you feel like you can't do this. You can. That's just a machine, and you're in charge!"

I think that I learned some pretty valuable lessons here, even though this project is kind of a throw-away. And Moebes does a pretty good job of making everything sound fun and inspiring, so I'm excited to move on to the next project: a lined tote bag. And boy oh boy, do I love a tote bag! Woot!

Monday, March 7, 2011

At Last, Done with Decorating

Huzzah! I got the valences up in the office and I am declaring myself done with decorating. The goal was never designer-perfection decorating, but I really hated feeling like I was in a white box, and now I feel like I've added some color and can move on. The biggest lesson learned is that I really hate sewing curtains! Yards and yards of fabric, taking forever to iron and hem, and your reward is a bunch of big squares! I did no sewing for the office (kind of ironic since its my sewing room!) and got the valences up in one day. Going for quick-and-dirty again, they are taped with packaging tape onto curtain rods, and the trim is glued on with fabri-tack. I can continue to add things to the house as I find them, but now at least I feel like I can go on to other projects.

With all these windows, the office is really my favorite room in the house. Even in winter, it's full of light. It has a small bathroom attached and is probably supposed to be the master bedroom, but since I work nights, we chose the smallest room with the least windows for sleeping, not wanting to waste all this good light by blocking it out so I could sleep during the day.

The fabric-covered tack board is covered in inspiration, fabric, photos, and notes to myself.

Taping the fabric onto the curtain rods took about ten minutes each, with an additional fifteen minutes for gluing on the trim. The curtains I sewed took days each, what with trying to motivate myself since it was so boring! I finally told myself, snap out of it, it's a rental house, and rocked the quick fix. I'm very happy with how it looks!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bedroom decor!

I don't have any "before" pictures of the bedroom, but picture your typical white box room in a rental house and there you have it. The picture on the wall is one we took in Etretat, France, and has some purple and yellow flowers on a cliff. I picked the curtain fabric to pick up the yellow. I'd open the curtains to get some natural light, but the windows have pink foam insulation stuffed in them for heat, and to keep out the light so it can be really dark in there when I sleep during the day (I work nights). Classy.

I covered the lampshades with gray muslin, adhering it with spray adhesive and stretching it to get out wrinkles and bubbles. I folded the edges over and attached them with double-sided tape on the backside. The yellow trim is self-adhesive trim tape, which is a brilliant invention.

The only problem with the lampshades is that, when the lamps are on, you can see the places where the fabric is folded over to the backside, and it's kind of unsightly up close. I could trim the fabric to exactly fit and then glue the edges with fabric-tack, but that sounds really unpleasant and also might not look neat. I think for now I will probably just ignore it and hope I forget about it, because otherwise I'm very happy with how the room looks.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Inspiration, and cooking

mmmm, crafting books! I find the fact that I "don't sew" irrelevant to the fact that I just bought two books on sewing. I'm in need of a little inspiration, and one of these days I'm going to dive right in, I swear!

...for now I just stalk a lot of sewing blogs. :)

The Hubbs made bagels. Last time he did we dipped the tops in grainy goodness and seeds, and it all fell off, so this time he kneaded in our grain mix and they were chewy and delicious!

And we made Smitten's green bean salad with pickled onions. We about doubled the "non-green bean stuff" (onion, almonds, fennel) to "green bean" ratio and Holy. Crap. it was good. Also made the lemon pasta, but only used about 2T lemon juice, compared to her 1/4 cup. Yeah, I could pretty much call this blog "the girl who made everything Deb made and yup, it was good."