Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meet Lilly!

As we have already discussed, machines hate me. I don't buy new gadgets - when I find something that works, I stick with it until it flees from my presence or commits technological suicide. So it is with some trepidation that I am posting about my latest bit of technology.

See how cool we are, using our dog-earred copy of Watchmen
to show you how small she is.

This is Lilly (short for Lilliputer), our new Netbook. Phineas has been advocating getting a netbook for some time since it suits both of our needs for working from the road - small and lightweight (half my current laptop), inexpensive, long battery life (7hrs), internet, and other basics.

And she is shiny too!
Right now I am sitting in front of Lilly, writing this post. See, here I am writing a post and photographing myself with Lilly's built in web cam:

She arrived this afternoon and Phineas has been playing with her since then. So she wouldn't be a lonely 'puter, Phineas also bought her some friends - a Blue Tooth mouse and some kind of external back up memory thingy that is equally lilliputian. I am threatening to call him Tiny Tim since he is crippled (no keyboard, no monitor, just a brain). Hmmm, Brain might be a good name also. And we could call the mouse Pinky. But I digress.

Anyway, I was not looking forward to lugging my laptop to London. And this way, perhaps I will even be able to update you from the road since Phineas has shown me that I can pop the memory card from our camera right into Lilly. I am really liking Lilly so far. It's usually at this point that something goes splat. So cross your fingers that Lilly survives her first trip with me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spain on the Brain: Planning

So, with just 5 days until I fly off to London for work, our plans for vacationing in Spain have really come together. Although it was not initially our intention, Phineas and I ended up deciding on a whirlwind itinerary including lots of stops over a 12 day span - London, Bath, Barcelona, Granada, Seville, Madrid, and Toledo. We are even taking an overnight train to get from Barcelona to Granada in order to squeeze it all in.

The Alhambra, Granada

Here are the things I am looking forward to:

Tapas - I might as well be honest here: Phineas and I generally let our stomachs be our guide when it comes to travel. What could be more exciting and satisfying than wandering from bar to bar sampling the tapas and wine?

Art - I am in desperate need of an art-fix. Our last vacation (Asia), really only had one significant museum stop. So, I am looking forward to the vast amount of great art at the many museums and churches throughout Spain.

Rambling - I love trips where we spend most of our time walking around a new city admiring the architecture, browsing in shops and soaking up the culture at the local establishments. Phineas is very good at getting me to pause and watch life go by rather than just racing from sight to sight.

The Alhambra - This is the sight that I am most looking forward to visiting. Hopefully, I have not built it up too much.

Stunning, no? I think so.

Anyway, that is the plan. Since I have been swamped with work, Phineas has done the bulk of the work with finding hotels, coordinating transportation and researching where to eat. I am in charge of arts and culture for this excursion. I hope this will be the first of many visits to Spain!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Alteration Sunday!

Since I am leaving for London on Sunday and will be away for 2 1/2 weeks, it seemed silly to start work on a major project this past weekend. Instead, I decided to use my Craft Lounge time to finally deal with the growing pile of clothing that needed "editing" before they could be worn out of the house again.

I'm pleased to report that I was very productive. Here is the rundown:
  • one pair of trousers for work now fit at the waist/hips again
  • one pair of stretchy fold-over waist pants are now smaller (waist again) and are no longer un-sewing at the crotch
  • one hoodie sweater no longer has a hole in the underarm
  • one black shirt with beading is now tapered attractively
  • one orange tee shirt is also tapered at the waist
  • one long sleeve v-neck no longer is too long in the vee (this required a little creative sewing - taking it up at the shoulder, while not messing with the sleeves)
I'm feeling rather pleased with myself about this. I now have 6 pieces of clothing which had fallen out of the regular rotation because they had little things wrong or were too big. None were items that I couldn't live without, so if I botched them it wouldn't be a disaster. However, it's nice to have them back in the mix - especially the pants! This brings my total number of wearable work trousers to 5; that's up from 3 just a week ago.

I'm still having serious issues with RTW (ready to wear) pants. I tried on 20 pairs of pants last week, 3 purchased on line and 6 or 7 more on Saturday. The final outcome is that I kept exactly one of the on-line pants. Thirty pants, just to find one!

I can't help wondering if I am getting pickier the more I sew and if all sewists go thru this. Should I just buy RTW pants that don't fit perfectly with an eye to altering them? I don't know. I hate the idea of buying something that doesn't really fit well, but I need pants. What's a girl to do?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Fluff

Well, the 45 meringue cookies that I made disappeared in 7 days. I am fairly certain that I didn't eat them all myself, but I couldn't swear to that in a court of law.

Since Valentines Day was last weekend, I decided that a second batch - with my suggested improvements - was in order. So, back to the kitchen I went. This time I added 2 oz each of dried cherries and chopped walnuts. I also reduced the baking time substantially. Last time I nearly scorched the cookies after mis-reading the directions and doubling the baking time.

This time the cookies came out much softer and chewier, and also much more dense than the last batch. The recipe made 10 fewer cookies this time. Sadly, this upped the calories from a skinny 28 to a less svelt 49. That said, as you can see from this photo, I haven't stopped eating them. However, I do miss the crispiness of the first batch, even if they were, technically speaking, overdone.

Anyway, in the next batch I make (and there will be a next), I will add just 1 oz of each of the additional ingredients and increase the oven time a bit. I may also cut back just a bit on the chocolate chips. With any luck, there is still a happy middle ground out there.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Showers of Happiness

I spent the afternoon of Valentine's Day at KK's baby shower. I liked the timing of the event for purely philosophical reasons: the arrival of a baby as the ultimate expression of romantic love. What better day to celebrate? On the flip side, a V-Day baby shower could also be seen as a cautionary tale for those with romantic plans in the evening. (tee hee)

KK opening my gift, with the ever-helpful Miss Beansprout there to assist

I finished the tote bag on my day off and just had a few finishing touches to complete the morning of the shower - attaching the tag and Stainguarding the bag. I am THRILLED with how it came out. Here are some final pics:

A little embellishment on the outside

My favorite outside pocket

Look at all the pockets!

This project really came out well. I'm not sure whether this has more to do with my increased skill level or with the pattern. I have never used a Butterick pattern before, and I found the directions and markings very clear and straightforward.

Some of the features that I really liked about this bag are:
  • the length of the strap - really long so you can wear it slung across your body
  • the number and variety of pocket styles both inside and out
  • the ample size - lots of room for pampers, wipes, etc
  • style - it really doesn't scream "diapers!"
In fact, I may make a non-diaper version of this bag for myself in the future and will only make changes to the inside pockets (fewer and smaller).

Friday, February 13, 2009

On the Street

Seen outside a bead and jewelry store on Sixth Ave in NYC.
Naturally, it was Phineas that spotted it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WIP: Baby Bag

Armed with matching thread, I began the "sewing" part of the diaper bag project last night.

One of the things I enjoy about sewing is that there are many "aha!" moments, especially with a project like this. You start with a square of fabric and fold it here, then gather it there, and finally sew it to that other piece and - voila! - it's a pocket! There is a moment of "OH! So that's how it goes!" that hasn't yet gotten old.

Anyway, last night I made pockets and attached velcro. Maybe you can see it a little better below.

After my jacket and pants, I'm happy to have a one-size-fits-all kind of project. This project is all about taking a few 2D squares and turning them into a 3D bag - a jigsaw puzzle of sorts. I really love how it is coming, even at this early stage.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pants + Jacket = Project Complete!

Note to self: It's time to clean the mirror!

Here is the final low down on my pants and jacket project, which I finished over the weekend.

Jacket (Simplicity 4334)
Up until the second when I realized that it had indeed worked, I was really not convinced that the sleeve and lining was actually going to match up. This was definitely a lesson in trusting the directions, even if I couldn't quite see where they were going. Since this is the first lined garment that I have made, it really was a skill-building project. Unlike the pants, the lining fabric that I used for the jacket (a fun black and while leopard print poly) worked really well and I think will hold up well.

Overall, I am very happy with the end result. As a stand alone piece it really came out well. The only change I would make next time is that I would definitely use an interfacing to give it more body and help it hold it's shape a bit better. The gabardine is very soft, which gives it a really nice drape for the pants, but works less well for the jacket.

However, looking at the style, I think it might work better with a skirt than pants. Also, the short length is ok, but is not the best look for me. I think it draws attention to my hip-thigh area, which really really does not need any attention drawn to it.

Pants (Sloper from my Pattern Drafting Class)
I already told you that I am pleased and proud of how these came out. And really, this garment represents more learning than any other project to date.

Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on how you look at it - my sloper is now too big for me. I won't use it again as a pattern for pants until I make a new one, probably once I feel like my size is not a moving target. That said, I will be using what I learned from it to help alter other pants patterns in the interim, as my measurements change.

Unlike the jacket, the drape of the gabardine fabric really is perfect for the pants. The only change is that next time I would line the pants, as I originally intended.

Final thoughts
The first step in sewing a garment is choosing the pattern and materials. The importance of choosing well can not be underestimated!

One thing that every woman knows is that even though a garment may fit, it may not be flattering. Picking styles that really flatter one's figure is the holy grail both in shopping and in sewing. I did ok with this project, but still have some learning to do in this area.

Fabric really is an ongoing learning process. I am still a beginner. This project made me very aware that selecting the right materials - fabric, lining, interfacing, etc - is one of the most important skills to cultivate in sewing.

I am actually somewhat relieved that this project is over. I signed up for the pattern drafting class which led to these pants way back in July. It's nice to not have it lingering any longer. However, I am feeling tremendously confident after this experience and eager to take everything I learned on to my next project.

Monday, February 9, 2009


I seem to say "Oops!" a lot these days; most frequently when I am in the Craft Lounge.

I spent Sunday morning pressing, laying out and cutting the fabric for the diaper bag that I am making for KK. I decided to use the messenger bag style pattern (Butterick 4560) rather than the tote bag style.

Looks like a normal cute bag, right?

This project is turning out to be more time consuming than I initially thought. The pattern has 16 different pieces, many of which needed to be cut out in the diaper bag fabric, the lining fabric and in fusible fleece. It took the better part of the day to cut the fabric, transfer the pattern markings and fuse the various pieces of fleece to the fabric.

By about 4pm I was ready to sew. That's when the oops happened. As I sat down to my sewing machine I realized - no thread! I never bought thread to go with the fabric and, after a quick search, realized I did not have anything that would work. UUUgh.

Pile of pieces, waiting to be sewn.
So, right now there is a pile of pieces cut out and labeled, waiting for me to get thread. And on top of it, I forgot to bring a swatch of fabric to work today so that I could buy some. Sigh. So I can't even begin sewing until tomorrow. Thankfully, I took Friday off. So, the bag will be done in time for the shower on Saturday.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fluff: the chocolate variety

After all the baking and cooking - not to mention eating - that I did around the holidays, I basically took January off from kitchen experiments. January is traditionally a time for resolutions and frugality - for balancing out the excess of the holidays. And the basic building blocks of baking - butter, sugar, eggs and flour - just don't fit in to that mode of living.

However, by February, most people have called it quits on their resolutions and are gearing up for the first chocolate-oriented holiday of the year. So, when Erato sent me a link to's page on cookies, this recipe for Dark Chocolate Meringue Drops caught my eye. Since it is a classic meringue, it does not rely on butter or flour - a good compromise between January and February.

Thanks to the bittersweet 60% cacao chocolate used in the batter, the resulting cookies come out with a rich flavor, yet a very light and airy texture. Crisp, yet ethereal - a typical meringue. I liked the addition of chips (I did not use the optional nibs) for texture and extra bursts of chocolate. In fact, I liked it so much that next time I will add a small amount of diced nuts and dried cherries or cranberries, to give it even more bursts of flavor and texture. The trick will be to use enough to add impact without damaging the lightness of the meringue. The only other change I will make will be to reduce the amount of sugar somewhat.

See! I am already planning a next time. This recipe is definitely a keeper! It definitely can't replace a classic chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie. But at just 28 calories a pop, it is about as guilt free a chocolate indulgence as you can get, even if you are like me and end up eating 7 cookies.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Almost done!

My jacket is nearly complete!

Here it is: partially pinned together, inside-out and with lots of hanging threads.

Over the weekend I sewed the sleeves on. So, all that is left to do is attached the lining to the jacket.

Right now it is pinned together waiting to be sewn and turned. I have to admit that I am a little nervous about this. I haven't lined a jacket (or made a jacket!) before, and the directions are rather unclear about attaching the lining at the sleeves.

Actually, looking at this photo, I think I may have something inside out. This doesn't look right. Hopefully it is just the photo.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sewing Machine Shopping: Part 2

I got a bit side tracked from shopping for my next sewing machine, but on Friday, I finally got back to it. I visited Sew Right, in Bayside Queens to test drive some Viking Sewing machines. I was also hoping to test drive some Janomes, but they only carried the intro-level models.

I was utterly wowed by the Viking Sapphire 850.

Here's the Sapphire line - 830, 850 and 870.

This is another BMW-esque sewing machine that makes my current machine look like a Ford Pinto. And after seeing the Bernina Activa 230, I was surprized at just how many features the Viking Sapphire 850 has - I was unprepared for the wow-factor.

For example, you control the presser foot with a tap of the foot pedal rather than with a manual switch/arm that you have to lower and raise by hand. This means you can use 2 hands to position your fabric while lowering the foot. Also, the sewing advisor is really cool - you tell it what you are sewing (kind of fabric) and task (sewing, hemming, button hole, etc). Then, it selects the best stitch, stitch length and width, and tells you what thread tension, needle and presser foot you should use.

The Sapphire 850 has
fewer overall stitches (137 vs 205) than the Bernina, but I think it has more where it counts - like 7 different kinds of button holes (3 more than the Bernina). Also, it comes with 9 different feet (2 more than Bernina), for sewing button holes, zippers, regular sewing, etc.

Aside from the bells and whistles, what I really liked about this machine was that it has an extra long "harp" or sewing area. The larger area allows you to work a little more comfortably when you are dealing with a lot of fabric. Anyway, since most of my readers are non-sewists, I won't bore you with the technical details. I'll just leave it as: Wow! I am impressed.

Next week I hope to test drive the similar Janome models and will then have a better idea where I am going.