Testing this and that…

Recently I bought one of these awesome Rinse Well thingies.  AKA, “The Watercolor Toilet.” Hah!  Because when the water in the well gets dirty, you push that little button and it disappears into the well and fresh water automatically refills the basin.  It’s a silly little tool for lazy artists who don’t like to get up and change their dirty rinse water.  It’s not perfect.  The well is a bit small if you’re doing a big splashy painting, but it’s perfect for dainty dry brush work that doesn’t require a huge pigment load.  Also all the dirty water doesn’t disappear so the fresh water in the well is slightly tinged with whatever color was there.  But it’s still a cool thing that will work for certain things I do in the studio.  I like it.  Because I like cool tools.

The other item I’m testing is the switch back to the creation of jpegs on my iPhone.  Apple sneakily changed the default file type from jpeg to a proprietary file type they claim is better called HEIC (pronounced “HEEK”) in their last major upgrade.  Well that’s a heiccup if you ask me because those HEIC files would upload anywhere and couldn’t be converted without paying for and downloading a conversion app.  Grrr.  What the HEEK Apple?  So it turns out it’s easy to make your phone switch back in your  settings under “camera” then “format” choose “Most compatible.”  That’s it.  And don’t we all want to win the award for Most Compatible?  All except Apple.

Serger Thread Storage


You can buy these Closet Maid over-the-door organizers at Target as of 7-2016. Aisle C-41 in my Tarhet. Are the aisle numbers consistent from one Target to the next? 

Serger cones fit perfectly in this pitifully easy to assemble and install rack. Lots of them. And who has a serger and doesn’t have lots of cones of thread? This is not my original idea. I found it on the forums of Patternreview.com while desperately searching for ways to organize my sewing room. I am merely passing it on. Paying it forward if you will. It’s a great idea, so thanks to the original poster, whoever you are.

Updated to add that the serger cones fall over so it’s best to store them lying down and they fit fine that way too.

Where’s the Honey?

HoneycakeSo we have this recipe we now call Honeycake but it hasn’t a drop of honey in it and it’s not really even a cake anymore.  Funny you should ask.  Skip down to the recipe if you don’t care a fig for provenance and just want to bake a tasty treat, read on if you have nothing better to do.

In 1979, the year I was married, I cut this recipe for Applesauce Spice Cake from the Modesto Bee and for a few years I made it often in my tube pan.  As time went by, I found other recipes, started making them more and forgot about this one that got shifted to the back of the cake section in my recipe box.

Speed forward about 20 years and a lot of cakes later and trans fats are getting a really bad rap and they are everywhere in baked goods so I’m looking for a recipe for a cake that doesn’t have butter (which hasn’t been rehabilitated yet) or shortening (none available yet without trans fats) and I come across this recipe that uses oil rather than butter or shortening.  I bake it up and offer it.  DH refuses it, saying he doesn’t like that cake.  Huh? I distinctly remember him appreciating this cake enthusiastically every time I baked it…in 1979.  I’m confused.  He just smiles.  Oh, okay.  So now I call it Honeymoon Cake and make it in 3 little loaf pans rather than the teflon-coated tube pan so it will make convenient slices and take I it to a tennis match to see what the tennis ladies think of it.  It’s love-love.  And the story makes it even better.  Sweet story, sweet cake.  Along comes DGS and he loves this cake, but what does a 2-year-old know from honeymoon, although he knows all about how yummy HUNNY is from Winnie-the-Pooh, and he knows what cake is and that it is also yummy.  So he shortens the name of this snack to Honeycake and some days he just can’t live without it.  Which is why I baked it today.  And FINALLY, here is the recipe:

Honeycake

  • 2 cups (9 0z.) All-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

 

  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz) oil
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (3.75 oz) packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease 3 small 3×5 loaf pans or one bundt or tube pan. Sift together dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients in mixer bowl and beat until combined.  Add dry ingredients.  Mix on low until well incorporated and then beat on medium until smooth.  Bake in 3 loaf pans for 40 minutes.  If in tube or Bundt pan, 50 minutes.

If you’ve made this as a cake, the original recipe had a glaze:

  • 1 cup (4 oz) sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine and drizzle over cake.  To avoid that metallic taste you can get in frostings and glazes, heat the milk before adding it.  I really think the glaze is overkill on the sweetness front and prefer this served plain as a quick bread rather than a cake.  It’s really good served with a nice very lightly sweetened whipped cream cheese spread.

 

 

Cover stitch hem preparation

 

 

 

 

CS Tutorial 1

 

This first photo is showing a hem pressed.  If you try to sew over this area where the serged seams are stacked up with a cover stitch machine, at the very least you will get a pile up of smaller stitches as the feed dogs struggle to push over the extra bulk.  More likely you will get skipped stitches.  So, open up that nicely pressed hem:

 

 

 

 

CS Tutorial 2

 

And see where the fold is pressed into the seam allowance.  Here is where you will clip to, but not through the furthest needle thread in the serged seam:

CS Tutorial 3

 

And flip the seam allowance in the hem the opposite direction from the seam allowance in the body of the garment:

CS tutorial 4

 

Now you can fold the hem back into place along the pressed line and the seam allowances will nest and be much flatter:

CS tutorial 5

 

Be sure to put a pin here to hold everything in this orientation before you begin sewing the hem.  I have been doing this for years and have never had a seam pull out in the hem area as a result of that clip.  Please ignore the bad manicure, or actually, the complete lack of manicure, and ragged cuticles.  I went straight back to the lotion after every hand-washing and cuticle cream at night regimen as soon as I saw this photo.

One size fits most

mod dots tank

 

This is the latest in a long line of tanks made from this pattern since every time I try to use up a knit from stash and I end up with a usable piece left over, I make one of these.  I finally got around to doing a much-needed FBA on the pattern because this knit is very limited in stretch and recovery ability, almost like a stretch woven rather than the true knit that it is.  I didn’t take that into account when I used it to make the first top, a 3/4 sleeve boat-neck number.  That one is wearable, but only barely.  This one is much better, thanks to the FBA.  Why the title?  This old Vogue pattern (see below, printed in 1997), which only goes up to a size 10 and I’m usually a 12, is so adaptable I’ve shared it and made it for many people of varying sizes by sliding it one way or another before cutting and making use of the seam allowance for adjustments.  I love the neckline, which is not your standard tank, but not quite a boat neck.  It’s unfortunate that this pattern is so obscure.  Doesn’t even come up on Etsy or a Google search or on Pattern Review. This little throw-away tank that seems to have no relation to the 2 main “fashion” tops in views A and B is a real gem, sort of like the flip side of an old 45 rpm record.  Remember those…and House of Fabrics and 1997?

Vogue 9708 pattern

Crazy Knitting, Sane Sewing

McCall's 6963...again

McCall’s 6963…again

 

 

 

This top turned out well and I plan to wear it tomorrow when I go…fabric shopping!  Will post the results of my first purposeful fabric shopping trip in ages.  I’ve been in and near fabric shops over the course of the reduction program and have resisted adding to the stash, only buying what was needed for any current planned project and then using it up before getting back to stash reduction. This lightweight knit is again from the stash, I think it came from Fabric.com.  There were other fabrics ahead in the queue but I finished knitting the sweater below and thought I might make a top to wear with this crazy sweater since the colors were so lovely together.  I know, crazy idea.  The best thing to do with that sweater is probably wad it up and toss it into the charity bin.  But more on the sweater in a minute.  This pattern has become my go-to cowl neck pattern.  I’ve got others, but they droop too low.  This one is just right.  Not sure how many 3/4 sleeve cowl neck tees I need, but I might make one more for winter and then will switch to spring/summer sewing and might need a few short sleeve or sleeveless versions for next year.  This time, I added a (an?) FBA to the pattern and that fixed the snugness all around.  Fit is good.  Even in this lighter weight, stretchier fabric, the sleeve cap wouldn’t set in without being cut down so I will do that to the pattern permanently now.

Note to Palmer and Pletsch:  yes, a set-in sleeve with a higher cap gives a more snappy appearance to a plain t-shirt, but what’s the point if the cap is SO high you can’t set it in without either gathering it or cutting it down in knits?

Okay, now on to the sweater:

Crazy Lace Sweater, aptly named

Crazy Lace Sweater, aptly named

Well it’s hard to say whether the yarn choice or the knitting instructions were the biggest culprit in this case but 2 lessons learned:

  • If a Craftsy Class combines the words Lace and Crazy in the title, whatever results is probably not going to be my cup of tea.  There were a couple of sweaters posted on the class boards by students in this Crazy Lace Sweater Class that were really cute, but I didn’t like most of the students’ sweaters or even the sweaters knitted by the instructor for the class and that should have been a huge clue.  The one or two successes were very experienced knitters who completely altered the pattern.  And I know Lace is not crazy.  Lace is lovely and serious, requiring attention to business at all times and deserving of a certain class of yarn, not craziness, which is for socks.  I do enjoy a little craziness in my socks now and again.
  • Singles yarns can be lovely, but the “textural” ones are declared forever off the table for me.  This yarn varied from fingering (sock) weight to nearly super-bulky weight randomly as you knitted along.  I hated knitting with it and do not like how it looks.  I will look more closely at yarn in future.  This is Manos Del Uruguay, worsted weight in Cornflower, which you’d think would be blue, but is really quite as purple as it looks in the photo.

So, there’s countless hours of knitting down the tubes.  Good thing knitting brings other rewards.  This thing came out so huge I had to basically do some half-fashioning and treat the knitted fabric as just that, fabric, and sew up the side seams, taking out about 4 inches per side after completing the sweater.  I’m not much for un-knitting a whole sweater and you really can sew knitted fabric on your sewing machine easily, it won’t ravel if you do it right.  The sweater is so lumpy and bumpy because of the inconsistent weight of the yarn and it will not settle down with blocking, I tried that.  To make matters worse, the dye is inconsistent as well so the sweater really had no hope.  I should never have tried even a minimally structured garment out of such unstructured yarn, but I only noticed the lovely color and thought the variations might add interest to the areas of plain knitting but not overwhelm the lace.  Not the first time I’ve gone this wrong, but the first in a long time.  I’ve got several successful sweaters knit from Jacquelyn Fee’s book, The Sweater Workshop.  Next time I’ve got the urge to knit a sweater, I’ll head back there and get some less capricious yarn.  Meantime, I might make some fingerless mitts out of what I’ve got left since the color goes so well with this top.  On fingerless mitts, I don’t think the yarn variations will be such an issue and although they are structured, they are quite small.  Or even better, a loose-knit open scarf pattern would serve, but I’m not sure this top needs a scarf.  The neck has enough interest on its own without adding a scarf, plus I don’t trust this wool against my neck.  I’ll think about it a bit longer before committing this time.  For the now, I’m back to knitting socks, and not even crazy ones, just plain brown superwash wool.  Winter’s coming.

 

…and the quilt frame

BOM quilt on frame

This project was put on hold indefinitely for a few reasons.  In the meantime, smaller projects have been finished on the frame and the problems/reasons for not working on this beast have been resolved.  Namely, there is now space for the frame with this over-size quilt on it and I have learned to discipline myself to no more than one hour of hand quilting per day to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

What a happy surprise when I uncovered this quilt I hadn’t seen in ages.  Why, it’s lovely!  This project began as a case of “careful what you wish for.”  Rarely do I win anything in a lottery-style drawing, but I had my heart set on winning these Block-of-the-Month entries back when I was a card-carrying member of our local quilt guild, Country Crossroads Quilters.  It was an unusual project in that everyone had a small piece of the same theme fabric and each quilter was to add companion fabrics and use a block design of her own choosing.  Those of you familiar with these types of activities know that generally participants are given a general color scheme and/or one theme fabric and a designated block design.  So the winner gets a number of blocks that generally coordinate color-wise and are all the same design and she sews them together and has an instant quilt top.  That’s the general theory.

Giving people carte blanche on the design of the blocks made for an interesting assortment and giving a theme fabric with so many colors meant that there wasn’t even really a consistent color theme as some quilters opted to bring out the Christmas theme of the fabric and others opted to showcase the purple.

So for once in my life, I did win the drawing.  It may have been rigged by my friends in the group who knew I wanted these blocks and knew I had been a faithful participant in the Block of the Month project for ages and had never won the blocks whilst some had won multiple times or worse, some had won the single time they threw a block in the mix.  Or, it may have been the universe out to teach me that careful what you wish for lesson.  Either way, I “won” the oddest assortment of blocks.  In the end, there were only 13 that were really useable.  Yes, 13.  Hmmm.  So I took the 5 that went together the best (accent on Christmas, no additional purple) and made a medallion out of those, which you can see in the middle of the photo above.  I confess I did add the Celtic Applique myself to the otherwise perfectly serviceable 9-patch block that just needed a bit of a lift and a shift of scale to be placed center front and play well with the rest of the Christmas themed blocks that had lots of white.  The rest of the blocks were used “as is.”  There were a few more that would not play well with the group no matter how I tried to make them settle in.  I waited to set these blocks until the makers of the unused ones were no longer around to see that their blocks were not included.  That took a while.  And the quilting has taken even longer.  Because of the medallion setting, the quilt got huge.  It’s the largest I’ve ever made.  Also because of the medallion setting, there is a lot of design space that cried out for hand quilting, although in retrospect, sending this off for custom machine quilting probably would have been the wiser choice. (Close-up below showing the block I contributed and some of the designs I adapted.)  I am determined to finish this before my hands and/or eyes fail me.  I’m currently more than half-way and it’s only taken me 15 years or so.  And when I’m done I’ll have a HUGE Christmas themed quilt.  But it will be gorgeous.

BOM quilt close-up

Post and Toss

Or, this why I don’t do sculpture.  Or, why moving is good, bad and ugly.

Sawdust cow

 

This little cow was my first attempt at sculpture in at the tender age of 6.  I remember this being an assignment in first grade and that the sculpting medium was starch and sawdust.  Can that be right?  I also remember my poor little hands cracked and bled from working with the stuff.  How we suffer for our art.

Why my mother saved it and gave it back to me 30 years later is a mystery.  Why I kept it for 20 more years is an even greater mystery.  I assure you it is now where it belongs, in the trash.  Why the cow has a dark shadow on it’s back is not a mystery.  I believed at the time that was what the teacher wanted us to do.  It had something to do with shadows from the sun.  I think I got it backwards and we were supposed to shade the under side of the cows darker because the sun came from above.  Perhaps I was fascinated with the hairs growing out of the teacher’s chin and missed the point of the dark shadows lecture.  Who can say?  I do think it serves well as a reminder that 3-d art is not my strong suit and that letting go of things is healthy.  Letting go of things is healthy.  Letting go of things is healthy.

Oh, did I mention that I moved???  And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several months?  It’s good to be back.

Stash-busting SWAP

Stash-busting SWAP

 

The fabric stash is getting out of hand.  So there was this red linen and I was wanting crops for summer and had signed up for Sandra Betzina’s Craftsy class on pants fitting.  Now we have a pair of red linen crop pants that fit (thanks, Sandra) and only one or two plain white tops that go with.  Hmm.  What about this polka dot knit I picked up at Britex a few years back, just because I was in a polka dot mood that day?  Okay, that’s 2 fabrics out of my stash and one very wearable summer outfit in the closet.  Now I’m on a roll so I go back to the stash to see how many fabrics there are that could conceivably be worn with the red linen pants. They must include some red just because I say so.  My stash, my stash-busting mood, my rules.  I found 5 possibles.

I think I’ll sew up the plaid shirting next using New Look 6010. View C with the bias bib.  Then let’s see if I’m still wanting to stay with this group or move on to something else.

The pants above are Vogue 2948, which is discontinued but if you sign up for the Craftsy class, you get a copy mailed to you.  Arguably, it’s worth taking the class just to get this pattern.  Sandra says it’s the best pants pattern she ever drafted and I believe her.  It fit me pretty much out of the envelope in the size I measured.  All I had to do was take in the waist and remove excess from the hip to the top of the pant to make the smaller waist fit there.  The top is Vogue 8669 for knits.  I have made this pattern before.  It’s a nice draped neck that stays put and isn’t too low.  It’s on the way to becoming a T & T top as long as draped cowl necks are in style.  When they’re out they’re OUT, but they are still feeling fresh to me so I’ll probably make a few more of these.

I’m off to cut that plaid shirt.  I might have it ready by the middle or end of next week if I’m diligent.  It’s got buttons and buttonholes and interfacing.  Little one or two hour knit tops and dresses have gotten me spoiled!  This is actual shirt construction…it’s been a while.

 

Real Armenian Rice Pilaf

Now we are getting to the nitty-gritty.  This is the classic.  More than just a side dish, Rice Pilaf is King of Armenian Cuisine.  No holiday meal is complete without it, but it also graces the table year ’round and serves as the ballast for all kinds of daily meals.  It’s quick to make and never fails to satisfy.

The Recipe:

  • 1 cup very fine vermicelli, broken into small pieces, or if you like, Orzo.  I buy imported very fine vermicelli already cut to the proper size at a Mediterranean Market.  You can also use Golden Grain Angel Hair Cappellini, which comes in tight coils and you crush it with your hands until the pieces are a uniform size, each around 1/2 inch in length.  
  • 1 cup long grain white rice.  I SO dislike the flavor and texture of Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice that I call it perverted rice, but some Armenians use it exclusively for their pilaf.  If you like it and want to use it in my recipe, just don’t tell me, please.
  • 1/2 cube of butter, which equals 1/4 cup.  I said BUTTER.  Salted.  That being said, a friend has used olive oil and says it’s good.  Feel free to experiment.
  • 1 can of Swanson’s Chicken Broth, 14.5 oz. size.  I’ve heard of people using Beef Consomme, Vegetable Broth for vegetarians or even all water, but the classic is the Swanson’s Chicken Broth/water combination.
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

It’s best for amateurs to stage these ingredients prior to starting the rice.  I do this myself when I am making this rice for special occasions and there will be distractions in the kitchen or when making larger batches.  The process moves quickly and requires constant attention to stirring and the quick addition of ingredients at the proper time so there really isn’t time to find and measure out things once you get started.  If everything is already measured out and the can of broth is opened and all is ready to go, you will be much happier.  Trust me on this.

Here we go:  Melt the butter in a 3-4 quart saucepan over high, stirring constantly with a large spoon so it will not burn.  As soon as the butter is melted, add the vermicelli and keep stirring like mad over high heat until it is evenly browned and it looks like this:

browning vermicelliThe butter is now very dark brown and possibly even starting to smoke, but not burned yet.  This is where the distinct flavor comes from.  Be fearless and bold.  Take it to the limit but don’t allow it to burn.  When browned perfection has been achieved, quickly throw in the rice and keep up the stirring like mad to coat each grain of rice with butter.  You can briefly remove the pan from the heat while you are adding and stirring in the rice but as soon as all grains are coated and stirred in, return to the heat and pour in the broth, water and salt, as quickly as you can.  Give it one quick stir or gentle shake to make sure the liquid reaches everywhere within the pot and bring to a full boil.  Cover and reduce heat to simmer immediately.  Leave at the simmer for 25-35 minutes.  This stage can be stretched a bit to accommodate the rest of the meal.  The rice will stay hot and be fine.  You can turn off the heat after the 25 minutes are up and just let it sit but don’t open the lid or stir until you are ready to serve:

rice pilafDo you see how the grains of rice open up and accept some of the lovely brownness (and therefore flavor) from the vermicelli and how the vermicelli swells and releases some of its color?  If you have not browned the vermicelli enough, your rice will be pale, although still delicious.  This recipe serves 6 easily.

You can double the recipe for larger groups and proceed without concern, but if you go above 2 cups of rice, you will want to pre-heat the liquids or they will not come to a boil quickly enough and the rice won’t come out right.  You also have to make sure you have a pot large enough to accommodate the expansion of the rice.  I have done the math and method for large batches and can go as far as 6 cups of rice/vermicelli and when I make that much, I weigh out the dry ingredients rather than using measuring cups to prevent additive measuring errors and I add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with the liquids to keep the rice from getting sticky.  Beyond THAT you need a restaurant kitchen and the strength to stir all that vermicelli without burning it or yourself and to pour large quantities of boiling liquids from one very large pot to another without mishap.  It’s harder than you might guess.  I make my 6-cup version in a 12 quart All-Clad Stockpot.