Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Berry Bounty

So, I mentioned that Phin and I went strawberry picking over the weekend. It was hot and sweaty work, but very rewarding. Farm-picked, ripe, local berries smell and taste unbelievably good. In fact, they taste like strawberries, unlike the mutant-sized cardboard-like berries that you can get at the supermarket most of the year.

Fleeting berry perfection

Just look at these perfect jewels!

Anyway, given that berries that are picked when they are actually ripe have a very fleeting shelf life, both Phin and I had big and immediate plans for our berry hoard, which also included raspberries and blueberries that we bought at the farm stand.

Phin's lovely Bumbleberry Tart!

Phin made a Bumbleberry Tart. I helped by making a Pate Sucree crust, which he filled with a freshly made blueberry compote and then topped with a crown of fresh berries. No recipe was used.

Since it's officially summer, I decided to pull out the ice cream maker. Last year I made, but did not blog about, Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream. So, here it is.

Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream!

1lb strawberries, hulled and chopped
1Tbsp vodka (or other liquor)
3/4 c sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Optional 1 cup sliced berries to mix in at the end 

Stir sugar and vodka into the strawberries and leave it macerating for an hour. Or do like I did and stick it in the fridge overnight. Puree the strawberry sugar mix with the sour cream, cream and lemon juice. Chill thoroughly and churn according to you ice cream maker directions, adding in the optional berry slices near to the end. Do your best to resist eating all the ice cream right out of the machine. Fini!
This recipe, which is from my favorite ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, was designed for mediocre, supermarket berries. So using perfectly ripe and flavorful berries made this ice cream explode with strawberry flavor. And the sour cream adds just the right tang to make sure it's not cloying.

After a very sweaty 5k trail run at a historic farm nearby, this was dinner last night. Seriously folks, I ran a personal worst 5k time. It turns out that I like the idea of trail running much more than I actually like running cross country, but what really did me in was the heat even though I was well hydrated. Live and learn. Ice cream was the perfect tonic.

Essence of Strawberry...mmmmmm

And everything tastes better when served in a pretty champagne glass, no?

Monday, June 24, 2013

First Weekend of Summer!

After last summer, which went by in a blur of back pain, I'm finding myself oddly determined to make the most of this year. So, I got right down to it this first weekend of summer. Phin and I picked strawberries, planted tomatoes and herbs, and grilled up a storm with family on Saturday and just for ourselves yesterday. Plus, I ran a personal best 1 mile (I'm promoting myself from snail to tortoise) and managed to fit in a little bit of sewing and knitting. I'm also in the midst of a baking blitz.

Summer always inspires me to get into the kitchen. I've been working on perfecting a few new-to-me recipes, including this one for blondies. 

Ooey-gooey delicious blondies!

After quite a few batches, I feel like I finally have them right. My early batches were very dense in the center (leaden) and overdone (dry and crunchy) around the edges. These ones came out moist throughout and had the right gooey denseness, without being leaden. Also, these are very very nutty, which is a big plus in my book.

Blondies (Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip ones!)
8Tbsp (4 oz, 1 stick) butter
16 oz (2 c) brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps vanilla 
1 1/2 c (6 1/4oz) flour
3 eggs
1 1/2 c peanut butter and/or chocolate chips
1 1/2 c (6oz) chopped walnuts or other nuts

Mix sugar, salt, baking powder and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer. Melt butter and mix into sugar. Let cool to room temperature. Add eggs one at a time, beating well  after each addition. Mix in flour, followed by nuts and chips. Bake in a greased 9x13 pan at 350 for 28 minutes. They should still be gooey, but not runny, in the center. 

Mmmmm... blondies!

This is almost exactly the KAF Bakers Companion recipe, but mixed together and baked according to the KAF Whole Grain Baking book recipe. Really, the key difference is that you beat everything in a mixer and bake for a shorter amount of time. Also, I omitted 1/4 tsp of optional butterscotch flavor since I had none. Oh, and I substituted a mix of peanut butter chips and chocolate chips for the butterscotch chips. I used about 2/3 pb and 1/3 chocolate. So these are nutty and delicious with little punches of chocolate. Perfect!

I bake much more than I can eat, even with Phin's help. But I have a very easy storage solution for baked goods: the freezer. At any point in time, you can usually find some assortment of brownies, cookies, bread, muffins, cake and pie in my freezer. (NB: custard-based pies, like pumpkin, don't freeze/thaw very well.)

Ready to be frozen!

After taste-testing, most of the blondies were put on a wax paper lined baking sheet and frozen. Once they were solid, Phin moved them to a zip lock bag for future devouring and sharing. This way, I always have desert for company and something to bring when I'm the company, and I never have to worry about sweets getting stale or eating them all myself.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Done!!! But It Feels Insulting to Call This a Diaper Bag

I dare you to call this a diaper bag!

Since Wednesday was a beautiful day, I was able to reschedule my outing with my excellent friend Magenta and her new little one, and drop off my gift - a diaper bag - in the process. I can't help feeling that it's unfair to label this a diaper bag. I'd be happy toting this around sans baby.

Here are a bunch of photos. 

Front - I think my pattern matching has come a long way!


This is my third version of Butterick B5005, which I first reviewed in 2009 (blog post here and PR review here). I don't have much to add to my initial comments about the pattern. It's a great bag, and although it's sold as a diaper bag, each time I've made it I've thought about making one for myself to use as a weekender or carry-on bag for travel.  I think the only thing the bag might be lacking is a zipper pocket. And, frankly, if I had thought of it last week, I would have added one. Oh well.

Over time, I've begun using more hardware on my bags.  On this version, I used webbing from Pacific Trim for the straps...

...a magnetic snap for the front pocket...

...and a zipper from Botani, that I had custom shortened.

I don't have a good picture of them, but I also added feet to the bottom of the bag. You can see them a bit in the first photo. Also, I added a lanyard with a lobster claw on the inside for clipping keys or a binky to.

As for the rest, I used lime green cotton broadcloth for the lining. I thought that with such a dark rich fabric, the green added a real punch and that lining in a light color makes it easier to find things inside your bag when you don't have the best lighting or at night.

Broadcloth lining.

It's a bit hard to tell the specific color of the bag from the photos. The brown really is a lovely coffee color, which did photograph ok, but the tree motif is metallic and was impossible.  It's brass colored. I was not able to find top stitching thread that matched either the brown or brass, so I used metallic embroidery thread that did match very well. My sewing machine has a backstitch stitch that I used so that the embroidery thread would be thicker and sturdier and show up better as topstitching. I'm happy with how it looks despite a few episodes of sporadic cussing when the thread snapped or snarled repeatedly.

Top stitching with a backstitch.

I used fusible hair canvas to add some body to the bag, being careful to trim it away from the seam allowances. Bulk management in the seams is a consideration with a bag like this. At the corners where you have pockets, sides and bottom all converging, you need to grade seams carefully.

Also, the pattern calls for cardboard to make the bottom of the bag more rigid, but I used two layers of perforated plastic canvas (like this) instead. I find that the canvas gives the bag bottom firmness but also flexibility and doesn't break down over time or with spills like cardboard would.

That's about all there is to tell. I had a wonderful day with Magenta and Mini - there's something so sweet about tiny baby feet isn't there? And the bag seemed to be a hit. Even Magenta's yorkie looked expectantly like it might be for toting him around in. (Sorry, Chewie.

So, that's that! I hope you all have a great weekend and happy first day of Summer! Yay summer!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hully Gully Winner and my 800th Post!!

So the winner of the Shabby Apple Hully-Gully Skirt Giveaway is.....

Faye Lewis!!!!!

Dragon the Hippo gets very excited about giveaways, so we let him preside over our very humble and analog raffle to ensure impartiality.

As I was about to hit "post," I realized that this is in fact my 800th post! How time flies when you are busy sewing, knitting, baking and doing all sorts of fun things! Thanks for reading along!

Oh, and since I am thinking about my blog, I suppose this is as good a time as any to say:  Follow my blog with Bloglovin. I know I am about the least technically savvy person in the blogosphere, but since Google whatever is going the way of the Dodo, it seemed like it was time to flap to a new home.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Linen Pants: Two Steps Forward and One Back

***Hey peeps, there's still time to sign up for Friday's Giveaway! Click here.***

This weekend, my mojo was nowhere to be found. I should have known better than to try to force myself to sew or knit. It was two steps forward and one step back with my jeans styled linen trousers.

Steps forward:  I sewed the zipper fly and finished the inseams. This is what the faux Hong Kong seam with underlining looks like once the seam is sewn.

Isn't this a great finish for a ravelly linen?

Then I sewed the CB seam, which I also did as a flat felled seam. So, the insides of these trousers could not look better - so neat and finished!

I also attached the waistband and started adding some decorative stitching. Here's the zipper fly and waistband. My crack stitching could not have been better, and I've been having fun using remnants to make fly shields lately. Doesn't it look great?

Zipper fly and waistband.

Right. Unfortunately, this is the point where things started to go not so perfectly.

Steps Backward: It was time to try the pants on to adjust the length of the elastic that I had threaded thru the waistband. But once on, I realized a major flaw in the trousers. One of the design features of jeans is less ease at the crotch compared to normal trousers. I had sewn these pants as trousers (ie: normal crotch length/ease) with jeans styling (ie. gold topstitching, even along the center/crotch seam). This made the crotch - which looks totally normal on my red linen trousers -  look long and droopy and sad on the jeans-style trousers.

No worries, I thought, I will just hike them up a little higher and they'll look fine, right? WRONG.

I had to hike them up to slightly above belly button level to get the crotch to look right. Now keep in mind that here is how the red ones fit - exactly where I like my trouser waist to be.

About 2" below the navel = perfect!
I know that rise is a generational issue and that some of you may think that waist-height is fine. We will just have to agree to disagree on this. Anything higher than 1" below my navel is just not comfy and looks, well, tragically un-hip to me.

Anyway, after some pouting and therapeutic cussing, I decided to un-crack stitch the waistband and start figuring out what to do. The current plan is to use the waistband, which is still attached, as a facing by folding it to the inside. I'll use it to create a channel for the elastic and then add topstitching to make it look like there is a waistband. So, essentially, it will be a cut on/faux  waistband. I actually had trousers with this treatment years ago and it was very flattering. So, my fingers are crossed that this will work out. Luckily, I had decided that I wanted a deep hem, so there is enough length in the legs that these won't end up too short.

And since I've decided to complicate this project - because that seems to be what I do best - I also made two decisions.

Patch pockets
First, if they are going to be jeans, they might as well have patch pockets, right?

Second, my SM isn't really doing a great job with the buttonhole. So, I've decided to hand stitch the buttonhole, which will be a new-to-me skill.

Anyway, back with more when I've worked out the rest. Oh, and I should add that I did finish my friend's diaper bag. Our meet up was postponed because of the torrential rains on Thursday. But I'll post some finished pictures when we get together this Wednesday! 

Friday, June 14, 2013

How ya Like them (Shabby) Apples? Give Away!

One of the things that seems to happen after you've been blogging for a while is that you receive offers for "free" products. Well, "free" if you will review them on your blog. I generally don't say yes.* BUT, this week I received an offer from Shabby Apple, a retailer I like very much, that I can pass on to my readers instead of benefiting from myself.

But first, here is what I like about Shabby Apple, in their own words...

"At Shabby Apple, we believe in both femininity and feminism. As feminine women, we create clothing that is artful in design and crafted with a vintage-style flare. Each piece is carefully constructed to both flatter a women’s figure and maintain her mystery. As feminists, we created a company that is women-owned and operated and that donates to help other women start their own businesses. With our old-fashioned style and modern ideals, we believe the best is yet to come!" (from their website)
How could I say no to vintage clothing for a reader from a retailer whose ethos is one that I can absolutely get down with? Also, on a more superficial note, vintage styling often translates into a longer hem length, which means that many more of their dresses and skirts are work-appropriate length for longer-limbed gals like me. I guess this is what they mean by "maintaining her mystery". This jives with my own style - I love clothing that flatters my figure without being overly revealing.

So, on to the goods! Shabby Apple has invited me to host a giveaway for one of their dresses or skirts. I got to pick which one; I hope you like my choice!

Hully-Gully Skirt
This is their Hully-Gully Skirt. It's a high-waisted pencil skirt with a fun bow detail at the waist (sizes 2-16). I think it has real charm. I can't decide if I think this falls into the cake or frosting category, so I've decided that I'm going to call it pie. Shabby Apple Pie, to be precise.

The fine print: sadly this contest is only open to US readers. Sorry, foreign readers. Those who want in, just holler Apple Pie in the comments by Tuesday, June 18 at midnight EDT. Also, since we haven't talked about dessert recently, feel free to tell me what your favorite kind of pie is for a second chance to win (all in one comment is fine)! Oh, and please do make sure I have a way of getting in touch with you!

*I have no affiliation with Shabby Apple and am not getting anything in return for this giveaway. I could have opted to get a free dress myself, if I would review it on my blog, or do a giveaway instead. I chose giveaway, since you all deserve cute skirts and I have no ambition to have sponsors or build a career or earn any money from sewing/blogging. I admire those who do - they add a lot to our community! But it's simply not for me, at least not at this point in my life. Sewing is something that I do for the love of it and am happy to bankroll. It's an investment in myself, which is the most important and significant investment that a person can make, IMHO. Next is investing in others, which Shabby Apple does and is what made up my mind to go ahead with this. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"In Progress" Pictures

A last minute business trip has had me away from the Craft Lounge for 24 hours, but thankfully I'll be back at my sewing machine tonight. This is a good thing since I want to finish my friend's diaper bag before I see her on Thursday.

One of my failings as a blogger is that I tend to get absorbed in what I'm doing and forget to take any "in progress" pictures.  So, because I am wishing that I was back in the Craft Lounge but away, here are a few of the process pictures of the diaper bag that I worked on over the weekend. 

Bags like this are really an exercise in making pockets.

These are the sides of the bag...

Side pocket with lining.

The left and right sides of the bag

A peek inside the pocket

And this is the front...

Front piece with strap

How it will hang

Outside front pocket lining with magnetic snap

Assembled front with pocket.

The fabric is pretty thick. After bending several pins, I decided that binder clips were a better solution for "pinning" pieces together until they are basted.

 And here is the top zipper piece...

This part of construction involves lots of basting, stitching, pressing and topstitching. So, it is slow going with lots of changes of thread and needle. But I should be able to dive right back into construction when I get home tonight.

Do you tend to document your work as you go or are you like me - racing to the finish line while forgetting to take pictures?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

WIP Fun x 4: Lessons in Fitting/Sizing

My last WIP for the week is actually a multi-part project. And, trust me, I know I am boring you to tears with this series of posts. But it's really helping me organize and prioritize.

So, I'm making an easy breezy wrap skirt and matching bag for each of my sisters (I have four of them) from the wax cloth that Pop Muse bought on his last trip to Ghana. My sister Polyhymnia is currently pregnant, so we are skipping the skirt for now. 

I'm using Kwiksew 2954 for the skirt:

And Simplicity 5151 for the bags. I know I could draft a simple tote bag pattern myself. But quite frankly, this pattern fits the bill for options and ease, which is what I am going for with this project.

Now on to the interesting part. In my original post I mentioned that my sisters and I all have very different shapes and sizes. We range in height from 5'6" to 6", some of us are busty/curvy, others are waifs. In our whole lives, sharing clothing has really never been much of an option given how we differ. So, imagine my surprise when I looked at waist and hip measurements and it turns out that everyone (excepting Polyhymnia) basically falls into KwikSew's size medium. Now, I know that this is a very easy fit pattern and S/M/L sizing tries to cover a wider variety of bodies in a smaller number of sizes. This exists in RTW, too. But it was shocking to me that when I look at us, my eye sees that we are very differently sized. And yet, three of us have the very same waist measurement.

What this has made me keenly aware of is how differences in proportion make women's bodies look vastly different. Even with the same waist measurement, our differences in hip measurement and height, give us each a very different appearance.

Apologies for not providing a picture of my lovely sisters. To be honest, I couldn't find one that had all of us recently and I wouldn't put their pictures up for scrutiny without their express permission, anyway.

That said, I hope to show finished skirts on sisters in the end. But in the interim, have you had any experiences like this? Where you have realized how height truly affects proportion? Or how women with the same measurement can look totally different?

To be honest, I am now sweating bullets about the idea of trying to create something that not just fits, but also flatters each of my sisters. Right now, the skirt pattern is traced. I am going to alter the length for each person and do a few minor other changes. Also, I bought bamboo rings for some of the purses. Naturally I forgot to buy matching thread.

That is ok since I won't get to do much more until the diaper bag is finished. More on that in a few days!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Knitting WIPs

Apparently, I have recovered from my bout of knitting ennui. Here is the pile of yarn that I bought last week, as proof of my recovery.

Piles of yarn!

This is yarn for the next four projects that I plan to work on, all of them gifts. I've even cast on and begun knitting two of them already!

I'm making a baby blanket and matching bunny (not pictured) for my sister, who is expecting a new little boy in July.
Baby Boy Blanket!

Both are patterns I've knit before (see here). So, nothing too challenging or exciting. But I was so happy with the first version I made for my sister-in-law that I'm knitting both for my sister, too.

Oh! And by the way, I seem to have tentatively settled on Ivory as the name for the new herd member. I let the names simmer for a week, and somehow Ivory just feels right.

 Thanks for all the great suggestions!

I have one more WIP post for this week planned for tomorrow with some thoughts on sizing and fitting sewing patterns. Then I'll have some actual sewing to show you next week. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

WIP Week Continues: Diaper Bag for A Dear Friend!

Here's another work in progress that I'm really pleased with at this early stage.

My excellent friend Magenta has just had her first child and I've been wanting to make her a diaper bag. You would think that with a nearly 9 month window, I would have gotten a leg up on this gift, but I really did suffer from a case of fabric block which left me in project paralysis.  Then I found this beautiful fabric at Mood.

Butterick Diaper Bag in gold and brown tree fabric

So, I'm making Butterick B5005, which I made a few years ago for my sister and then my sister-in-law. Both of their babies are 3 1/2yo now and my sewing has come a long way since. In the intervening time, I've also become a big fan of hardware. I think that it gives a bag a much more RTW look.

For this bag, I bought webbing for the handles instead of making fabric ones, gold feet for the bottom of the bag, and a magnetic snap instead of using velcro for the pocket closure. Really, velcro never looks good or holds up well. Never! I don't know why pattern companies use it instead of any of the other hardware closures that would give a much more professional look.

I also bought 2 different top stitching thread options. I have to decide if I want to use the gold or the brown. The last notion that I need is a zipper.

I decided to line the bag in green twill, which I ordered but has not yet arrived. However, the rest of the bag pieces are cut. Given the vast number of pockets that needed to be pattern matched, cutting was no small feat.

Anyway, this was the second project I worked on over the weekend. And, um, since I am seeing Magenta in a little over a week, I really need to get going on this as soon as the lining arrives! Wish me luck on this one!

Monday, June 3, 2013

WIP Week: Linen "Jeans" Trousers

This last week and weekend was major organization time for all my upcoming projects.  Fabric was prepped, notions were purchased, tools were assembled... Then I got distracted by the BMV pattern sale, and it's taking all my effort to stay the course. (Seriously, I've got an unhealthy obsession with M6746, an ill-advised pattern for a host of reasons.) But back to the plan!

I'm going to be delving into the knitty gritty of my projects this week, starting with my second linen trousers. They are well underway and there is a lot to tell. But first, did you see the awesome guest post on linen that Carolyn wrote for Did You Make That? LOTS of good info there. Now on to my trousers...

After pre-washing, the blue linen looked so much like denim, that I've decided to make these trousers - another version of Burda 06/2011 #114 but with a zipper fly - a bit more jeans inspired. 

Parts assembled

Last week, I bought gold top stitching thread and a jeans button. I also found a jumbo snap in my stash which I may use instead of the button. We'll see. And this time I found a fun striped cotton remnant in my remnant bin to use for the fly shield and underlap.

I decided to underline, rather than line, this pair of trousers.  I can tell just from cutting and pressing that this linen is going to be even more prone to growing than the red linen. So, the underlining (I hope) will add some desired stability.

Once I decided to underline, it seemed entirely reasonable to go the full monte and make a faux Hong Kong seam finishing (click for instructions) on the inseams. This is more work on the front end of the project, but less finishing work at the end.  This is what one of the leg pieces looks like with my kiwi green underlining. Once the seam is sewn, I won't have any finishing to do.

Faux Hong Kong seam underlining

On the outseams, I decided to do a jeans inspired flat felled seam. I had to change the order of construction to sew the outseams first in order to do this.  There is more than one way to sew a flat felled seam. I prefer the method where you sew wrong sides together so that the seam allowance is folded over and top stitched down on the outside.*Oh, look! Just to make things convenient for me, Steph C has posted a flat felled seam tutorial today! *

My flat felled seam. Seriously, doesn't this look like denim?
Anyway, now my outseams are neatly finished too, with the seam allowances of both the linen and underlining enclosed in the seam. 

Next I have to sew the fly and decide if I want to add jeans-like patch pockets to the back. I think yes. And that's where the linen "jeans" trousers stand.

Oh! On an entirely different note and before you ask, I did finish the lining of my red linen pants. The color is not very accurate in this picture - the lace is actually a buttery yellow and the lining is more lemony. I couldn't really find a contrasting lace that I loved, but wanted to get this done since it's been HOT here in the Northeast and I want to get these pants into rotation ASAP. Anyway, now I can wear my red linen pants without shame.

Lining hem finished!
I have two other sewing WIP's and some knitting, too. So stay tuned since it's a busy busy week!