Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Confessions of an Iron Thief: Maytag Digital Smartfill Iron & Vertical Steamer Review

Irons. Am I wrong in thinking they are the bane of many a sewist's existence?

An iron is a mission-critical tool for sewing. But, if you are like me, you probably already have one in your home from your pre-sewing days for pressing shirts and other wrinkly things and cringe at the thought of shopping for and spending on such a utilitarian item. So, it wasn't until my leaky but nice-and-heavy iron gave up the ghost and I was left with nothing but a travel iron to use that I bit the bullet and bought my first iron for the Craft Lounge.  

After polling friends, I decided on the Maytag SmartFill Iron & Vertical Steamer that Oonaballoona reviewed back March 2015. The price was right and Oona liked its features and functioning. So I ordered it. 

Here's my confession: I was sent the wrong iron. 

Here's the thing about being a new parent: I didn't notice.*

So I used my Maytag Digital SmartFill Iron & Vertical Steamer for some time before realizing that it was not the iron I thought it was. More than once I even patted myself on the back for buying the best dang $50 iron ever and wondering why anyone would ever pay more. Then I realized it was an $80 iron. But now I am hooked on this iron and will gladly pay the more that this model cost to replace it when the time comes (and after it's 2 year warranty expires). It's a great value.

Here's are the virtues of this iron**: 
  • digital thermostat with 4 settings gives you a precise and consistent temperature
  • goes from off to max heat in under a minute and beeps when ready
  • if you press at a high heat and then lower it to press cooler, it beeps when it's cooled to the temp you want (this may be my favorite feature)
  • ceramic sole plate heats evenly and glides easily over fabric
  • gunk doesn't seem to stick to the sole plate somehow
  • loads of steam - yay! - and variety of settings as well as steam and spray buttons
  • no leaking - I can turn off the steam and press pattern tissue without fear of moisture even with a full water tank 
  • water tank detaches for easy filling
  • also comes with a cute little pitcher for filling the tank while attached
  • ball and socket sort of cord attachment makes me feel like there is less of a chance of the cord getting loose and pulling away from the iron, which is what did my last iron in. Instead the cord sort of swivels around where it attaches to the iron. (hard to explain)
How cool, right? 

I've been using this iron for about 6 months now, and have pressed silk, wool, cotton, linen blend, rayon and a few synthetics. I've used a variety of fusibles including hair canvas and other interfacings and used the iron to fuse iron-on vinyl to the changing pad I sewed for my sister. This iron has handled every fabric pretty perfectly. When I've needed a really crisp press or just a touch of warmth, my iron has delivered. The MAX heat setting really does a great job on fibers that need heat like linen. And the low setting is cool enough for the most scorch and melt-prone fabrics I've sewn (probably Taco's Halloween costume). And the steam is abundant and non-leaky.

I used my iron on fusible vinyl, cottons and fusible hair canvas for this one project. 
The ceramic sole plate took a little getting used to, but now I really like it. It has a different but good feel as it glides over fabric. 

Honestly, the thing I like most about this iron is that it is just plain easy to use. It heats in a flash, the settings for both temperature and steam are clear and accurate, and it presses like a dream. The tank is easy to fill and doesn't leak. The iron beeps when hot and feels like it's a good weight in my hand. It presses lots of different fabrics well. I always thought of pressing as one of the more tedious chores in sewing, but now it seems like much less of a hassle.

Anyway, this is probably my first "grown up" iron. So, take what I say with a grain of salt. But if you are looking for an iron that is easy to use, does a good job and is a step up without breaking the bank this one is a winner in my book.

* I did try to sort it out when I did notice, but because I was a disorganized new parent and couldn't find my e-receipt, forgot my log in, had already been using the iron, etc. I was told to just keep it. Mwahahahahaha!

** NAYY - I am a totally ordinary schlub. I have no connection or affiliation with Maytag or Amazon or, well, anyone else who might give me free stuff like an iron. Aside from the "discount" I received from being sent the wrong model of this iron, I am an ordinary customer with my own opinion. (My opinion on being sent the wrong iron is, again, Mwahahahaha!)

***Blogger suggested Dschubba as the autocorrect for my misspelling of schlub(b). I found this word so interesting that I googled it: Dschubba is a traditional Arabic name for Delta Scorpii, a star in the constellation Scorpius. Am I alone in finding that fascinating?  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

McCall's Shirt Dress Gets the Silk Treatment

I've already talked about the mojo issues and the photo shoot challenges around these parts. But, I recently had a breakthrough and am feeling back on track and full of ideas that excite me, at least in the mojo department. This silk dress was the breakthrough moment.

It took more than three wearings to actually photograph, which is an unheard-of amount of time for me. And the photos were taken with my iphone, at night, and after all day of wearing the dress. That is to say that both me and the dress look slightly bedraggled and wrinkly. My photographer did an awesome job, especially with the whole leg-lengthening camera angle.


The breakthru moment: I had been craving sheath dresses and could think of nothing else for about two months. However, once I identified that what I was really craving was clothing that made me feel put together and stylish without too much fuss, I was back on track. Anyway, this shirt dress fits both what I was craving and the practical realities of my life right now. And it will most likely still fit a few inches from now once I stop nursing.

This dress is a bit of a departure for me in a number of ways. First, I'm not sure I've ever worn a shirtdress; it's been one of those trends that I've been admiring on other women, but somehow didn't think of for myself. I haven't quite settled on the right belt, yet. Also, I sewed the dress a good 2-3" shorter than my normal hemline. Since I plan on wearing it with tights and boots throughout the winter, this is fine with me and ok for work.

Last, I almost never sew button holes. My first sewing machine wasn't particularly good at the job, but these came out well.  And now...well... the fact that front unbuttons is a big plus for my working-pumping-nursing-a-wee-one lifestyle. (Truth: I'm still pretty uncomfortable with the "mom" moniker. And I think a lot of my mojo issues are that inside I am still Clio and want my style to be mine and not be subsumed by the label "mom." I'm still working through this.)

Buttons and top stitching.
The pattern is M6885, a shirt dress with a few variations. I wouldn't blame you for overlooking this pattern; the one view on the envelope that has a model instead of fashion sketches is in a busy floral fabric with a matching hat. But the pattern has good bones.

M6885 - Easy to overlook, I think. 

It is an "Easy" McCall's pattern, and it actually does deliver on the "Easy." I sewed view A with the sleeves from view D. The pattern has some very nice details like the sleeve tabs and pretty front placket with pleat.

The only problem I ran into with the pattern is that I went up a size - to a 12 instead of my usual 10 - in order to accommodate my larger bust. Shame on me. I should have stuck with a 10 with an FBA or even graded down to an 8 in the back and shoulders. I had to tinker with the sleeves and armscye quite a bit to make it work. It isn't perfect, but it's comfortable and looks pretty good unless you get nit-picky.

See, it's a little large at the shoulder/underarm

I used a silk panel print for the main portion of the dress. It wasn't long enough to cut the full dress, so I supplemented. In the end, I like the effect of the black fabric for the sleeves, placket and collar, and lower part of the dress. I think it keeps the print from really dominating. The black fabric was sold to me as rayon challis, but it has a firmer hand and is thicker than any challis I've ever felt. That said, it did pair well with the silk print.

The only thing to note about the fabric and construction is that the silk was very ravelly. I ended up using an odd melange of french seams and my serger to finish the insides of this dress.

At Taco's first birthday party! The color in this pic is more accurate than the others.  

Anyway, I'll be happy to wear this dress throughout the winter with boots and tights, and into the spring. Silk and rayon are terrific fabrics for multi-seasonal clothing. They are warm when its cold, but breathe. I never get clammy in either. I think this dress will get lots of wear.

Hooray for mojo! 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Mom Muse's Frosting for Taco's First Birthday!

My teeny tiny Taco is 1 today! I can't believe a whole year has passed.

One year old!

To celebrate, we had family over on Saturday for brunch and cake.

Birthday cupcakes! 

We hadn't given Taco any sweets before. So, I though long and hard about what his very first confection should be. I decided on cupcakes with my family's very favorite birthday frosting. My mom has been making what we have dubbed Mom's fluffy chocolate frosting since I was a child. It gets specially requested for birthdays and other occasions. Essentially, it's a chocolate whipped cream... light and delicious. It could not be easier to make.

Phin is not much of a chocoholic; I am a third generation chocoholic. We were curious to see who Taco would take after.

Clearly taking after me.

I think the verdict is clear. My clever little guy ate all the frosting and left behind some chunks of cake.

Mom Muse's Famous Chocolate Fluffy Birthday Frosting
2 cups heavy/whipping cream
3/4 to 1 cup of confectioners/powdered sugar (to taste)
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp unflavored gelatin (optional)
4 tsp water (optional)
Mix water and gelatin in a small bowl (optional). Warm in microwave until it is liquid (20 sec?)  Set aside.  Sift cocoa and sugar together. Pour heavy cream into a stand mixer or use handheld beater. Begin to whip. As cream begins to thicken, add sugar-cocoa mixture in a few (3-4) batches, beating well in between additions. Beat cream until it holds a peak. Whip in gelatin. Spread or pipe over one 8 or 9 inch layer cake, 9 x 13"

If you don't have or want to use the gelatin, you should just keep in mind that the frosting is basically a whipped cream and will deflate over time. The gelatin just stabilizes it enough to keep its shape.  It was never a part of my mom's recipe, but I added it to give the frosting a longer "shelf life".

An early walker is a mixed blessing. 

What a year it's been! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Photos: It's A Problem!

Just a quick note to say that there's a lot of activity in the Craft Lounge, but very few pictures. I'm much better with my iphone and Instagram than I am with actually pulling out the real camera at a the precise moment that:
  • the sun is shining/weather is cooperating
  • I am dressed for a photo shoot
  • Taco is napping or being watched by another adult
  • Phin is available to take pictures (not watching Taco or trying to get other things done)

You see the challenge we're having, yes? These circumstances almost never converge.

Anyway, here are a few things I've been up to.... 

Mittens for Taco! 

Working on my Clare Coat muslin and pattern alterations. 

A photo posted by Clio (@cliophineas) on

A photo posted by Clio (@cliophineas) on

The fit is worked out, and I've transferred the changes back to the shell pattern pieces. Now I just have to make changes to the lining and interfacing pieces as needed. Since I altered every single pattern piece of the shell - FBA to the front, raising the armscye on the side pieces and sleeves, and narrow back/shoulder adjustment to the back and collar, plus adding 4" length all around - there is quite a bit of work ahead. These are all normal alterations for me. I think this coat will be epic once I'm done.

Pumpkin pie experimentation.

The pie did indeed come out loftier and lighter. Some people liked and praised the lightness of this souffle-like pie while others (mostly me) missed the dense creaminess of a regular pumpkin pie. 

I'm also mid way thru a mini-Craft Lounge re-organization complete with new furniture! Long overdue! Pictures to follow once things are presentable. 

Hope you all had a great weekend! What did you work on?