Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

A very fun Halloween was had by the Muses and nephews, and so much candy was consumed by all that it will most likely be a very good Christmas for our dentists. 

I'm not sure I've ever dressed as a superhero for Halloween before. I loved it!  I may have to be a superhero for Halloween every year from now on. You may find my character - Hit Girl, a 10 year old vigilante described as "John Rambo meets Polly Pocket" from the movie/graphic novel Kick-A**- to be controversial. So be it. She is. But when I saw the movie last spring, I loved that she is strong and empowered, that her character and the havoc she wreaks is non-sexualized, and that she doesn't wear a trampy costume (why is it so hard to find a non-slutty Halloween costume these days!?!?). Plus who doesn't love a purple wig?

Hit Girl - My ten year old vigilante superhero alter-ego.
Here's a few more pictures from my day. I hope you had an excellent Halloween, too!

Mario and Luigi - Mom Muse really got into the spirit!

Venom (Spider Man's arch nemesis) and the cutest pumpkin in the patch.

Poly as a witch, Me as Hit Girl, Calliope as a rabbit and Erato as a cheerleader

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great Scott! It's almost Halloween!

If you missed Glee last night, then you missed their utterly awesome Halloween homage to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But thanks to the Time Warp (and Hulu, where you can see the whole episode for a time), here is a little taste.

When I was a teen, seeing RHPS at a midnight show in Greenwich Village at the first opportunity that your parents wouldn't notice that you were not in your bed at midnight, was practically a right of passage, especially if you considered yourself to be somewhat of a misfit or outcast. And what teen doesn't feel that way? Anyway, it was so much fun to see this cult classic diced and spliced with the talent and enthusiasm of the Glee cast during the month when both me and Rocky Horror are celebrating 35 years. (Seriously, do I not have the best birthday month ever?!?!?!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Putting the Moron in Oxymoron

It was almost exactly three years ago that I received my first sewing machine as a birthday gift from my mom. Since then, I've learned a huge amount about sewing, and there are days when I feel very confident and capable about my work. However, there are also days when I feel like I don't know a thing. Lately I feel like I'm oscillating back and forth between sewing genius and class dunce. Perhaps this is a propos for being in the oxymoronic catagory of "advanced beginner". 

On Saturday, I had one of those truly laughable moments when I was working on fixing the lining and zipper of my gray pants. Everything was going fine and I was congratulating myself on so swiftly fixing the pulling problem. And then, in about a 20 second span, I managed to thoroughly destroy a perfectly good zipper. As you can see from the above specimen, not only did I manage to derail the zipper from the right track, but I also somehow managed to rip the teeth off of the tape. I have absolutely no clue how I managed to do this. Although, I will confess that I happened to be holding a seam ripper in my right hand when the trouble began. When I saw what I had done, I carefully put down the pants and slowly backed out of the Craft Lounge, being very careful not to touch or disturb anything on the way out, lest any other innocent notions or projects meet a sudden and untimely death at my hands.

Do you ever have moments like this? Either with sewing or another hobby?  That 30 seconds that take you from things going along swimmingly to utter disaster?

I did get back on the proverbial horse yesterday, and installed a new zipper. I am now attempting to finish putting in the lining. It's all basted together and (knock on wood) looking good. During the week I plan to finish sewing up these pants.  Um, cross your fingers for me, please!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy Friday and More October Baking!

Another sunny and crisp October weekend arrives today! Hooray!

This is the time of year when I start to think about pies; rolling out the dough, filling it with apples, pumpkin or pecan fillings, sprinkling sugar on the crust to make it shiny and sweet, and the warm aroma of cinnamon and spice filling the house.

I went on a second apple picking expedition over Columbus Day weekend - a special trip to get granny smiths and winesaps, which were not yet ripe when I took my nephews apple picking. I now have a plethora of apples to eat and bake with. So, last weekend, I made an apple pie. If you've never made a pie from scratch, I have to tell you that there is something immensely satisfying about it. So much of cooking these days is about quick and easy - semi-homemade, 1-2-3, Rachel Ray... Not that there is anything wrong with that. But it doesn't really give you the same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction of a pie that is made from scratch, with apples you picked from the tree and a crust you rolled out with your own hands. Pulling my piping hot pie from the oven gives me a similar sense of satisfaction as finishing a successful sewing project - that moment when you try it on and say "Yes! Perfect!"    

Apple Pie! Mmmmm....
About apple pie... There are several schools of thought, but most divide along the following lines: raw vs pre-cooked filling and 2 crust vs lattice vs crumb topping. It all comes down to preference, and some people have pretty strong preferences. My mom's apple pie uses an uncooked filling, which I do enjoy, but in the last few years I've come to favor precooking mine. Some of the Muses (my siblings) think this amounts to heresy, but I find it more reliable - no worries about al dente apples in the pie or a burnt crust and raw filling or too wet or dry a filling. It takes some of the variables out of the equation. This filling recipe from Williams-Sonoma is a good basic one. I use a mix of Granny Smith and Empire apples, which makes a filling that has the right sweet/tart balance and doesn't get mushy, even after a long baking.  I also tend to make either a 2 crust pie (my primer on pie crust here).

This pie did not last long at all. But, since Phineas has already started mentioning turkey and stuffing and all things Thanksgiving, and I seem to have Autumn on the brain, I am sure another pie is in my near future - maybe a pecan one this time.

Anyway, I hope you are enjoying excellent Autumn weather where you are and getting out there and making the most of it! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My first "Vintage" machine

Last week my Pop called to say he was evicting me and my sisters. Or rather, all of our accumulated junk from high school, college and childhood was being evicted from the attic. So, on Sunday, the Muses assembled at family headquarters to go through all our old toys, clothes, science fair projects and memorabilia.

There wasn't all that much that belonged to me: one box from high school and one from college, both of which contained some real gems - speech and debate awards (I was a nerd), yearbooks, notes from friends, concert ticket stubs, etc. And I did come home with one outstanding new-to-me item.

My Grandma's Sewing Machine
My Pop gave me my Grandmother's sewing machine. It's a Sears Kenmore 1320 "Zig Zag Sewing Machine" and it boasts of having 4 different types of stitches. I am going to guess from the funky avocado colored accessories and the instruction manual that starts with a letter to "Dear Homemaker" that it is circa 1975 or earlier. It has been in my parents' (un-air conditioned) attic for ten years, but it still had the tag on it from the last time it was serviced.  So, I was optimistic that it would be in working order.

There are a bunch of mysterious presser feet. How cool is this button hole attachment?
I took out and started the machine up last night - it weighs a ton!  The machine was still threaded and there were bobbins still wound.  The motor protested when I tried to wind another bobbin, a sign that it definitely did not like my parent's attic or is showing it's age. And there is something funky happening with the part where you load the bobbin. You actually have to take the throat plate off in order to load it, which is very neat.  But something isn't catching or clicking on the inside to hold the bobbin in, but I'm not sure what. So, I have some work cut out for me in figuring out how to operate my new toy.

My Pop also sent me home with my Grandma's tin of buttons.  I don't think any of the buttons are particularly noteworthy, but the tin is excellent. It says "Ward's Fruit Cake" on it. I'm sure it was kicking around my grandma's house since the '50's.

Anyway, I am probably going to have to get the machine serviced or repaired, so stay tuned for more as I investigate further. I can't wait to get it into working order so I can take it for a spin.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lady Grey Muslin 2.1

A business trip at the end of the week and into the weekend kept me from posting about changes to my Lady Grey muslin. It also kept me out of the Craft Lounge.  So, here is an update on how things were going as of last week.

Things are starting to come along. I did some strategic pinning, taking in all the seams by about 1/4 inch from shoulder to a little above the waist.

From the front with a bit of the collar pinned out to prevent gaping.

From the back - definitely an improvement from this.

From the side - less gaping.
Here is another view of the back.
I may need to do a little more pinning across the back. Plus I need to finalize how much to pin out of the lapel so there isn't gaping in the front and work on the sleeves. However, I think that once I have sewn this up in my wool boucles, sewn in the stabilizers and added a lining, this will fit pretty well with the right amount of ease. I think that some of the little distortions are caused by the pins, and by the extra ease. It is just so difficult to judge the back! I don't want to make the muslin too fitted and then have my jacket be snug.  

Anyway, that is where I am with this project - let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Weekend Sewing: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I should be feeling much more positive about my weekend sewing than I'm actually feeling. Although I made progress, I had some pretty annoying setbacks. And, as usual, there was just not enough time for everything I wanted to do. Here is the round-up:

First, I sewed up the second muslin for my cami, now in a size S instead of M, and with the FBA that I posted about on Friday.

Please ignore the red eye, black bra straps and ridiculous grin. 
It's better than the first version, so that is some progress. But now it is a shade too snug across the bust and hips. Plus the straps are still too close together in the front, probably on account of it being a smaller size. I plan to add a bit more room to the center front and see if that helps all three problems.  I do think that the size small armskye fits better than the medium.  I really want to be done with this muslin so I can sew on the beautiful silk that is staring me down in the Craft Lounge. With all my on-going, larger-scale projects, I need a simple, easy thing to sew. I need a win.... bad! Do you ever get like that?

Next, I haven't told you about my pants recently. That is because there was not much to tell. I was plowing ahead, little by little, when I realized I had gone too far and attached the waistband without dropping in the lining first. Whoops! So, a little backtracking and the lining was in. However, when I went to do the "final try on" before closures and hemming, it was a big old mess. I must have done something wrong when stitching the lining to the zipper fly area, because now the fly is pulling to one side, causing all kinds of ripples across the crotch/abdomen - it's very noticeable. Not good. So, now I have to un-do this part of the lining and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. I really hope I didn't botch this project - I was loving these pants even more than the original version. And Phin commented that the bum was fitting perfectly, which is pretty incredible considering how awful the first muslin was. Aaarg!!  I'm hoping I just did something dumb that will be self-evident and easy to fix. So, that is another big step back.

Finally, I DID manage to make progress on fitting my Lady Gray. But, I will post more on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Icing on the Cake

This weekend I celebrated my ongoing October birthday with an (apropos) Oktoberfest party at my parent's house. The weather was perfect for brewing beer with my dad in the yard during the afternoon, and then in the evening many of my favorite people dropped by for the party. I think everyone had a great time - I sure did! One (slightly unorthodox) feature of the birthday party was that I demanded to make my own cake this year. I'm sure there is some kind of bad luck associated with this, but oh-well, I think it was worth it. I made my old reliable yellow cake from KAF, which is buttery and delicious, and frosted it with a simple yet luxurious chocolate ganache icing.
Yellow cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting
 Easiest Chocolate Frosting Ever
16 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
16 oz (1 c) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
Bring cream to a boil in a small pot. Pour over chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth and add vanilla. Pop in fridge until somewhat set (about an hour). Beat with a hand-held or stand mixer until fluffy (2min). Ice  cake.  

This is another very simple recipe that basically relies on the quality of the chocolate for success. So, use what you love. It makes enough to very generously ice a layer cake or 24 cupcakes. Honestly, even if you make a cake from a box, this will significantly up your game.

I had lots of help blowing out the candles.

The rest of the weekend was also lovely - more apple picking, 2 great runs and some sewing. Actually, sewing was rather frustrating, but I will get to that tomorrow.

Friday, October 8, 2010

More Musings About Muslins: Unmentionable KS Cami

The other muslin that I have in the works, as you know, is for my KS Cami, which I decided last week needed an FBA (Full Bust Alteration/Adjustment).

Rather than a dart, Kwik Sew adds room to get over the bust by having you gather up some of the fabric at each front side seam and ease it into the back side seam (ie: the front piece is longer than the back until you gather it up, distributing fullness over the bust). I would love to keep this pattern dart-less, and, in theory, I should be able to. If I just add some room to the front where you are supposed to gather, I should be able to ease he fullness into the seam the same way as the unaltered pattern, without adding a dart.

Gather the front up between the notches and then ease it in between the back notches.

I consulted the Kwik Sew website, where I learned 2 important facts from their on-line Fit Guide. (Seriously, KS really is tops for user friendliness.) First, the cup sizing of their patterns varies according to pattern size (XS and S are sized for a B cup, M is a C cup, L and XL are D cup). Second, they add 3/8 of an inch to the length for each cup size. SO, since I am going down to a size small, and therefore will have to up-size by 2 cup sizes, I should add 6/8" of length.

My altered pattern

The other  piece of the equation, is of course having enough room across the front. Looking at a similar RTW cami that I own, I noticed that the straps on the KS cami are set closer to the center than the RTW one. So, I've added one inch to the center of the KS pattern so that there is more room between the straps. Anyway, I hope this will add enough room in the right places for the cami to curve around the bust in an attractive way that doesn't lead to gaping arm pits.

I'm sewing up the second version of this muslin over the weekend. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lady Grey Muslin 2.0

Over the weekend, I stitched up my second muslin for the Lady Grey Coat, this time in a size 8, with just 1 inch of extra length between the bust and waist. It definietly needs some fitting work. Obviously I want it to still have a good amount of ease so that it still fits once it is interfaced and lined, and I am wearing a sweater under it. But here is my initial assessment.

Front: There is too much room in the lapels and through the bust. The lapels gape forward away from my body, or they collapse to the side. So, I need to do the same alteration that sew-along leader, Gertie, did. (It's great that I have the same fitting issues as her, so that she can post the solutions for me, don't you think?)

Back: Funky things are happening across the back. There is still extra room between the shoulders. This photo is with a little bit pinned out from the center seam, but not enough. Although, now that I am looking at this photo, I am wondering if I need to let it out a bit at the waist. That might allow it to drape better across the waist and hip, taking care of those wrinkles across the princess seams. It is so difficult to fit the back of a garment on yourself.  Diagnosing fitting problems from a photo is not all that straightforward.  

Side: Actually, you can see the problems best in the side photo. See the gaping front and back? Yeah.  Also, I'm not sure what is happening with that crease along the sleeve from the shoulder to elbow. I have to investigate further. Looking at this, I am wondering if I actually needed the extra length that I added. I normally do need it, but perhaps that is what is causing some of the problems. Hmmm. That would be a ridiculously easy solution. Hmmm.

Anyway, I think this is much better than the original size 10 muslin, but it still needs work. I am going to play with it a bit and see how it goes and will get back to you, hopefully soon, with a finished muslin, or at least a new and improved version. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Birthday: An Ode to October

Pumpkin and apple picking with nephews and Calliope

I know that I am not alone in thinking that October is the best month of the year, particularly in the Northeast. Some people love October because of apple and pumpkin picking, hay rides and changing leaves. Others because of Halloween, jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating. And still others because October is football weather, or because the holidays draw near. And I do love October for all of those reasons.

Orpheus on the hay ride

But I've always felt that my love for the month runs deeper. It isn't that October is "my month", it is more that October is where I belong, where I am at home, where I am meant to be. As she nears - and my birthday, too - I start to feel invigorated and alive. I start to think about the year to come. Among the falling leaves and the cooling temperatures, I feel my place in life and I feel excited for what is next. October is all change to me. And some time between my birthday on the 3rd and Halloween, I look at the person I am and set my sights on the person I want to become. October is full of possibility for me.
I feel very affectionate in October. She is a snuggly month, and I am full of love and appreciation for the people in my life. At 35, my friends are getting married and starting families, my family is growing and my nephews and nieces are becoming beautiful and funny little people. I see new smile lines and crows feet forming, and I'm aware that these are joyful days. I'm lucky to have reasons to smile so much. I'm not sure yet what the first few grey hairs say, but I have time to figure that out while the leaves also change colors. It all adds character to the landscape at my feet and the face in the mirror.     

Oh, and it also doesn't hurt that in October I can finally get back into the kitchen and bake! So, here is what I baked on Friday/Saturday to get my birthday month off to a good start. By the way, I do plan on celebrating all month long.

 Legacy Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Legacy Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting**
2 1/2 Cups (10oz) white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice, or 2 tsp apple pie spice
1 cup (2sticks, 8 oz) unsalted butter
1 cup (7.5oz) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 cup (7oz) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup (2oz) boiled cider or apple juice concentrate
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups peeled, chopped apples (about 3 large apples, 1 lb)
1 cup (4oz) walnuts, chopped

Regular cake procedure: Mix and set aside dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs one-by-one. Add the rest of the wet ingredients. Then the dry. Stir in apples and nuts. Turn into greased layer cake tins or 13x9 pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until set. 

Brown Sugar Frosting:
5 T (2.5 oz) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3.75 oz) firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 T (1.5 oz) milk
1.5 Cups (6 oz) confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Melt butter and sugar over medium heat untill sugar is disolved. Add milk and bring to a boil. Cool 10 min, then beat in sugar and vanilla. Spread while warm. 

This cake came out moist and delicious, and was even better the second day, I think. Saturday is my actual birthday party, so expect to see more cake!

** From the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.