Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Drat! I Was Right!

After posting about my skirt yesterday, I couldn't shake the feeling that maybe the creasing in the front was caused by my waist being lower in front. I became more and more unhappy with the skirt as the day wore on. So, when I got home, I tried the skirt on again and pinned a one inch fold out of the center front, tapering to nothing at the seam.

Before pinning:
See the crease under the tummy?

After pinning:

No more crease!

And from the side... Before:

Not smooth.

Blurry, but smooth

As you can see, the crease is pretty much gone. Which means I was right about it being an issue stemming from my waist and not about the darts at all.

So, what does all this mean? It means that I spent last night with my seam ripper detaching the waistband from the skirt. Uuugh. I feel like I am at a point in my sewing career (the terrible twos?) that I know just enough to recognize problems, but not enough to avoid them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Winter Blahs & My Pencil Skirt Reveal

For the last few weeks I have been suffering from the winter blahs. And every time I try to give myself a kick in the pants to get me moving again (like my new running program), I seem to stall (like my sneakers going kaput on day 1).

However, last night, I did manage to pull myself together for long enough to make Phineas snap a few pictures of me in my pencil skirt. (Go figure, I'm wearing it with a cowl neck.)

I think I am finished, but I am not 100% certain. I may tinker some more. I had trouble getting the darts to lay flat, I think because of how thick/stiff the fabric is. So it is causing that wrinkle/pucker across the tummy, which looks worse in the picture than in real life, I think. You can see it in the side view photo, too. The darts end where it puckers out, and then it slopes in. See?

Although, now that I think about this more, I wonder if my waist being about an inch lower in the front contributes to there being extra fabric there to droop. Hmm, I need to think this over.

That said, I am pretty happy with this project for a number of reasons. I really like the fabric for one, and showcasing it with a simple pattern is exactly what I wanted to do. However, along the way I used some new tools and techniques. And this was my first project on plaid.

I already told you about using my new invisible zipper foot to install the zipper. In addition, I used my new 5mm narrow hem foot to finish the lining. It definitely took some getting used to because you have to use a very light touch and not try to make the fabric roll. The foot does it for you.

Lining sewn with my new narrow hemmer.

Matching up the plaid went ok, but not perfect. After I had finished the back, I learned a better technique for cutting plaid so that it will match better in the future.

Overall, I am mostly happy with the project and I'll defintiely get some wear out of this skirt. It came together easily, fits pretty well and I think is a fun addition to my wardrobe.

Monday, January 25, 2010

When is it time for an intervention???

I continue to amass cowl neck patterns.And this one is not even in English, although they did email me a translation.

But I am pretty sure that I have a problem. I don't think it has translated into a problem in my wardrobe just yet, since I haven't had enough time to sew up a slew of cowl necks. But even if I did, (rationalization #1) cowl necks look nice on me, and (#2) the patterns I own are really all very different, and (#3) this one could be the perfect one for me, and (#4) it is a versatile top/tunic/dress pattern, and (#5) it could expand my style to include leggings, a trend I have been resisting... Not buying it? Well, I did. And this pattern is now on its way to me from Denmark. So there.

By tomorrow (I hope), I will have taken some photos of my pencil skirt to show you. I finished it up on Friday evening. I also made some progress on my Calm, Cool and Cowl necked top, which in my defense is not very cowl-ish at all. It is more like a slightly drapey boat neck. Anyway, more on this later.

Friday, January 22, 2010

You never know what you'll find in other people's closets.

Compliments of my mother-in-law's closet:

"As seen on TV"
I present the Singer Tiny Serger, which I assume was advertised on an infomercial sometime in the late 70's or early 80's. Calling it a serger is a bit presumptuous as it has no cutting blades. But it really is incredibly small. Here it is with the latest Burda magazine for comparison:

For kicks, I decided to see if it still works. The directions are missing, but I was able to get it threaded thanks to a diagram on the machine, a pair of tweezers and a flashlight. The advertising on the box - Comes prethreaded, ready to sew - suddenly made sense. It took 10 minutes. I can thread my sm in 15 seconds. Later, when I plugged this little guy in, I learned that there is an internal light which goes on when you plug in the power and then off again when you plug in the pedal, presumably to help you thread.

I "serged" the edge of some jersey. The machine made an unfriendly chugga-chugga-chugga noise, but it worked. Stitch quality isn't great, but what can you expect?

I can't imagine what kind of craft project my MIL would have been doing with it - there were so many talented seamstresses in her generation of the family.

Anyway, the Tiny Serger is back in the closet, which is where it probably belongs. Happy Friday, everyone.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not enough GO in the escargo!

I continued to run at a snail's pace through the holidays, not gaining any ground but not losing any either. However, having set some new running goals - and with a dinner of mac + cheese waiting at home - I left for the gym on Tuesday evening, raring to go.

Phineas has created a new running program for me, working up to a 10k and also working on speed. I do well with a program. It's how I operate. Whether it is a garment to sew, a cooking or baking project or an athletic achievement, I do best when I have a clear goal and can see all the steps to get there (sewing instructions, recipes, workout plan...) But anyway, off I went to the gym for day one of 10k training.

After a few minutes on the treadmill, there was something rubbing rubbing rubbing my right heel. I stopped the treadmill and checked it out; a knobby piece of turquoise fuzz was stuck to my sock, probably from the wash. I plucked it off, laced up and was back to running. But the rubbing rubbing rubbing got worse - a blister was imminent. So, I got off the treadmill to examine my heel. That is when I noticed it: it was not an innocent piece of fuzz! A piece of turquoise lining had ripped away from the inside of my sneaker leaving a pit!

The offending sneaker.

That is what was rubbing. And that means my sneakers are done for. The sneakers that carried me through my first 5k! Sigh. Poor sneakers.

Now that it is a day later, I am feeling much more philosophically at peace with the idea of new sneakers at the start of a new endeavor. In the interim, I am going to try using a little moleskin to protect my heel until my new sneakers arrive. I will update you on my progress once any has been made!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

M+C Experiment: Crack-n-Cheese

Now that the holidays are behind us, I got back down to my mac + cheese experimentation last night.

Recap: We've tried 2 different kinds of mac + cheese recipes: my mom's recipe, which is not as unique as I thought (see this recipe from the NY Times). And the wildly over-the-top custard-based recipe from Cooks Illustrated.

From the first recipe, we liked the gooey-ness, but not the Velveeta. From the second, we loved the breadcrumb topping, but found the sauce overpowering.

The Plan: So, it was time to try a bechamel/white-sauce variety of mac + cheese. There are endless examples of this version, but I narrowed down to 3 recipes: Martha Stewart's so-called Crack-n-Cheese, Ina Garten's variation, and an LA Times "House" recipe. Phineas and I decided to start with Ina Garten's recipe, which called for the lowest cheese-to-pasta ratio (20 oz cheese:1lb pasta), figuring that we can increase from there. One thing we borrowed from Martha was cooking the pasta al dente and then rinsing it so that the additional starch would not make the sauce grainy. That step worked very well.

This is all that Phineas and I could manage to eat.

The results: Rich. Leaden. There was entirely too much sauce. When I dumped it into our casserole dish, there was more sauce than pasta, and it was more cream sauce-like than cheesy. It was just as overpoweringly decadent as our previous attempt. We could not eat very much of it, and were both left feeling bloated and yet not satisfied.

Epiphany: That is when it occurred to me that this is why American's are fat. Perhaps to sell cookbooks - or bowls of mac + cheese - you have to produce a recipe that stresses "bigger-better-more" over "balance". And that is not what I am looking for. Don't get me wrong, I am not counting calories here. But what I want is a dish like the one I had in Montreal. It was just right; I cleaned my plate and yet didn't feel gross or bloated or like I had eaten a lead bar. It was cheesy and creamy in just the right proportion.

The Verdict: Back to the drawing board. This recipe was too rich, without being cheesy enough. I don't think that increasing the amount of cheese would help since this mac + cheese is just too rich to begin with. I have a plan to move forward, but here is where we are going to take a big leap away from mac+cheese recipes and into guesswork and tinkering. It could get ugly.

How ugly? Well, I promised Phineas that I wouldn't subject him to mac+ cheese every week, so I will be back in 2 weeks with a next version.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Little Things: Buttons!

This morning, I was sipping coffee at my desk and trying to motivate myself. I was feeling like the only person who had to be at work today. Even on my commute, it seemed like everyone else was heading to NY for fun rather than office drudgery. This made me considerably mopey.

After an unproductive hour, I decided that a 10 minute surfing break might help things. So, off I went to a few sewing blogs that I follow. That is when I learned - wah-hoo! - that I won a give away on The Diary of a Sewing Fanatic. So, a selection of mother of pearl buttons will be heading my way. Suddenly, the day is not looking so bad afterall.

In other news, I cut Phineas' pj's this weekend along with the Calm, Cool and Cowl neck top from Hot Patterns that I did a quick-and-dirty muslin for a few weeks ago. I also *mostly* finished my pencil skirt. I'm tinkering with the front darts a bit (they won't lay flat!) and also have to hand sew the lining around the zipper. Otherwise it is done done done! Photos to follow during the week...

Friday, January 15, 2010


During the week, I picked up a few twin needles and finished my cowl neck top. I feel relieved that it is done.

Since I scrapped the sleeves, I made it pretty close fitting, which is not what the pattern intended. But I just couldn't stand how frumpy it was. I think it looks rather nice this way, even if it is not quite as planned and took much more time and effort than intended.

I'm feeling rather torn about the pattern. At the outset, I intended to make all three styles of the 3 Graces top. But, given all the problems with the cowl neck version, I'm just not sure now. The other two styles are supposed to be closer fitting, but I am still feeling too scarred to tackle this pattern again. I may just table it for a while.

I am, however, enjoying working on multiple projects at the same time. When I get tired or reach an impasse with one project (like not having a twin needle), I just move on to the other. So, while I finish my skirt this weekend, I will also begin work on Phineas' PJs and my sheath dress.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stash report

Even though I have more projects than I can count in the works, I could not resist picking up a few patterns at a January Simplicity sale at And at $1.99 a pattern, I'm really not feeling much guilt. Here is the round-up.

I have a black cardi-wrap/shrug/cosy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it like this that I wear often. And I had been thinking of making this part of my wardrobe project. So, once it went on sale, it was a done deal.

Since it looks like the 3 Graces top is NOT going to be the staple top for my wardrobe project, I need some alternatives. And, as this is a Pattern Review "Best of 2008" pattern, I thought I would give it a go. (The cardi wrap and my maxi dress are "Best of 2009" patterns).

I think I bought this because I would like to wear more skirts. And, given how well my pencil skirt is coming, I am glad I did!

Hmmmm, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up with this pattern. Maybe it was a combination of it being New Years and my inherent weakness for halter tops. But we could all use a party dress, couldn't we? I have no immediate plans for this pattern, but I did buy some fabric that I could use for it, when I have an occasion on the horizon.

I also went a bit overboard at It started out innocently enough. I'd been planning on buying some jersey for knit tops for some time. My shopping stars aligned - most of what I was looking for had just been moved to the $1.95 sale section. After selecting a few knits, there was a pop up message telling me that if I just spent a bit more that I would get free shipping. After adding in a coupon, I ultimately spent $33 on 10 1/2 yards of fabric including "oyster" colored crepe back satin, a piece of faux leather to make a slouchy hobo bag and a piece of silk brocade to line it.

Anyway, after spending most of December shopping and cooking for others, I am feeling very good about this mini splurge on myself. I hope that you have also taken the time to treat yourself after the mad rush of the holidays.

*****Updated at 4:45pm... Apparently my little buying binge is not over. This afternoon I could not resist this pattern for an Anywhere "T", which I saw on Clotilde.

It looks just like my favorite top, which I wear all the time and have been fretting over as it is nearing the end of it's life. Mine has a deeper cowl than this purple one and is black, other than that, it is pretty much the same. Sigh. I may need a cowl and halter intervention in the not too distant future.

*******Updated at 4:50pm....OH! And of course, now that I bought faux leather, I am going to have to get a teflon or walking foot for my sewing machine so I can sew my hobo bag.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

C is for Linzer Cookies!

Courtesy of NY Magazine

Since the compliments keep pouring in for the Linzer Cookies that Phineas and I made for Christmas this year, I thought I would share the recipe.

Phineas and I have very different cookie sensibilities. I like drop cookies, preferably with chunks: chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, etc. In my cookie-verse, even meringues have chunks, and rolling pins don't come into play. Phin, however, leans toward sugar/butter/shortbread-type rolled-out cookies instead. So he set out to make Linzers as his addition to our Santa's Kitchen treats.

The evening he planned on making the cookies, he was a bit under the weather and rather tired, and Linzer cookies are a big project for a cookie. A few minutes in the kitchen produced a series of clanks, crashes, curses and other odd noises which are generally incompatable with good cookie making. So we decided that it was a two person project. Ultimately, I made the dough, Phin rolled out, cut and baked the cookies, and I finished up by icing (jelly-ing really) under his supervision.

Anyway, here is the recipe, which came from NY Magazine. Phin cut it out when it origially appeared. Our only change was that we did some raspberry and some blackberry filled cookies. Enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back to Sewing

Breaks are good. Taking three weeks away from sewing turned out to be restorative. I returned to the Craft Lounge on Saturday feeling relaxed, patient and ready to sew.

I also got over my irritation with the purple Hot Patterns top. I decided that it will be fine without sleeves, and I will just have to wait until warmer weather to wear it. C'est la vie! Once that decision was made, I took in the side seams and did a little reshaping of the underarms. I was ready to hem the arm holes and the bottom, but then realized that I didn't have a double needle. Oh, well. As soon as I pick one up, the top will be done, done, done.

It finally fits!

Since I was stymied with finishing the purple top, I decided to work on my pencil skirt and made a HUGE amount of progress. I already had the lining ready to go, but the skirt was just cut and marked. On Saturday, I sewed the darts, seams and waistband, checked and fine-tuned the fit, installed the zipper and dropped in the lining.

Look! It's invisible!

Check out my invisible zipper. Not bad for my first time! I used an amalgam of the pattern's instructions and the very good directions in Connie Crawford's book. The invisible zipper foot I bought for my sewing machine made it easier than I thought, and I now feel like I can conquer any zipper.

So, I have a few things left to do on this project - finishing the slit, hemming and hand stitching part of the lining. But with the skirt 85% done, I am beginning to think that this might be my best project yet. It is making me feel very optimistic, indeed! In fact, last night I flipped through my other patterns, feeling very confident and eager. Now, I just need to decide what to tackle next.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Freak Weather and Fricos

Things started going off the rails with my blog right around the time that our Feast of Seven Fishes had to be postponed because of a freak December blizzard that struck the East Coast. We rescheduled for after Christmas, but were so worn from the holidays that not a single picture was taken at the actual feast. However, to make it up to you, here is the recipe for fricos - tasty parmesan crisps - that we served with prosecco to kick off cocktail hour. They were the surprise hit of the evening.

But first a word on "Parmesan". What I mean by parmesan is aged and imported Parmigiano-Reggiano. This:

"Parmesan" is actually a generic name for cheeses that are similar to the real deal, some may say imitators. But there are more differences than just the spelling. And this is such a simple recipe that you really need a good cheese. So, save the pre-shredded or grated versions of this for your spaghetti. If you can't get Parmegiano-Reggiano, try a Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano (again, avoiding imitators). OK, here we go:

3 oz Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese
1 scant tbsp flour
1/4 tsp black pepper (freshly ground)

Heat over to 350. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silpat. Grate the Parmegiano with a large grater. Mix with the flour and pepper. Scoop by the teaspoon-full onto the cookie sheet, leaving an inch between each. Spread out your mound of cheese into a round. Bake for 10 minutes until bubbly and starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet for 2 minutes. Carefully lift to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Store in a tin or Tupperware between waxed paper for up to 2-3 days.
There you have it. Easy, easy, easy.

Over the weekend, I hope to fit in some time in the Craft Lounge, and next week I plan to get back on track with my mac + cheese experimenting. Plus, Phineas has a New Year's resolution of his own to share. So, please tune in next week when regular programming will resume.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Super New Year!

The holidays were fantastic and exhausting. I did a lot of cooking and baking, spent time with family and friends, celebrated five years of being married to Phineas (hurray!) and received some very thoughtful gifts which relate to my hobbies. In other words, I have a lot of catch-up blogging to do.

But first, I want to share my goals/resolutions for 2010. I know many of you are resolution nay-sayers. However, I've successfully made small but positive changes at the New Year like "replace my daily diet coke with water" and "eat fruit every day". Perhaps it is because they are small goals and not broad strokes (eg: "get in shape") that I have succeeded. Whatever the case, resolutions work for me. Even the one resolution from past years that I seemed never to be able to conquer - "run 30 minutes without feeling like I want to die" - was finally met in 2009.

So, what goals to set in 2010? I have a few, most of which have to do with running:

Run My First 10k- Since my Turkey Trot, I've continued running. I'd really like to run faster - less than 10 min/mi would be good, but I don't know how long it will take me to get there. So, since I am running longer each week, the resolution is to run my first 10k - that is 6.1 miles. It would open up lots of opportunities since there are so many 10k races. And I may have found a good first one: The Super Hero Half Marathon. Yes, I know a half marathon is not a 10k. But this one can be run as a 2-person relay (6.55 mi each) by either single sex or mixed teams. It's not until May, so I have time to make up my mind. But it would be fun and fit the bill.

No Seconds
- In my ongoing efforts to live the French paradox I've decided to put a moratorium on second helpings. In 2009, I successfully maintained my weight loss, which was the goal for the year. Given my interest in running - and running faster and further - I've decided that I would be more aerodynamic and superhero-like with10-15lbs less of me to love. So, no seconds.

So, overall, if you want to make a sweeping statement about my resolutions, I guess it would be: Be a SuperHero!
Oh, that sounds kind of exciting! Anyway, best wishes for 2010, and stay tuned, because there is more to come.