Tarantula Hawk

Tarantula Hawk


Now this is something interesting to find doing what looks like figure skating school figures in your garage.  The circular movement pattern was obviously the result of this poor wasp having lost a leg somehow.  I’d never seen any insect that looked quite like this before so I ran to my California Insects book and discovered it is a Tarantula Hawk.  What a lifestyle this wasp leads!  I hope you followed the link and read the whole gruesome story and that you make a note in the picture of the intact stinger.  Yikes! Give these ladies a wide berth!  (The males can’t really sting but apparently they pretend they can.  Look for the curled antennae…those are the stinging girls!)

My only remaining question is why this lady wasp was frequenting our neck of the woods.  The tarantulas are all at higher (foothill) elevations in this area, AREN’T THEY???  Please say yes.

Good Riddance to Bad Fabric

Burnout fabric tops


There is some lovely rayon challis in my stash that I’d like to get out of the stash and into the closet in the form of wearable tops.  I’ve been considering a few patterns, among them Simplicity 8523, Vogue 8816, and Burda 7509. What I really wanted was a top that had a nice draped cowl style neck but as I looked at various patterns featuring this neckline I noticed that the ones for woven fabrics were all cut on the bias.  I find bias-cut garments to be uncomfortable to wear and generally a pain to cut out during the construction phase.  So the Vogue design (shown on the right above) very much intrigued me as only the top front piece was cut on the bias.  The part skimming the waist and hip are cut on the straight grain.  Reviewers on PatternReview indicate it runs very large so I cut a straight 10 and made the top out of this mystery fiber burnout fabric that has been in my stash far longer than the rayon.  Obviously, the fabric does not drape well enough for this design.  It’s hard to see this in the photo, but that draped area sticks out in front like some sort of crumb-catcher device.  Not attractive at all.  Plus, the fit is still too loose over the bust and waist and yet too tight over the hip and the top is hard to get past the shoulders when you put it on.  I could probably fix these things, but most likely will not bother.  I have a wonderful Vogue pattern for a cowl neck top for knits so maybe I will just stick with knits for this style and move on…

On to the Burda option.  I went ahead and tried this shirt even though it is cut on the bias.  I was in a hurry to see if it would work and didn’t want to fuss with all the bias finishes on the armholes and and neckline, which was originally cut to be a V-neck as shown in view B.  What I did was put rolled hems on all edges.  I actually like the look and the top fits pretty well so I thought I might wear it over a cami until I started itching like crazy within 2 minutes of putting the top on.  I am actually allergic to some fiber in this fabric blend and even with the rolled hem covering the cut edges something was poking through.  I now realize the only way I could have worn something made of this fabric was to use french seams as even serge-finished seam allowances would have allowed fibers to poke through and irritate my skin.  Pfffft.

The Simplicity style is probably my best choice for the rayons.  I made up a muslin of the pattern ages ago and made some fitting adjustments based on that so even though it’s plain and simple, in nice rayon batik I think it will make serviceable tops for 3-season wear around here.  Nothing wrong with plain and simple.  Some would call that classic.  A couple of classic shells would not go amiss in the closet.

The original inspiration for the purchase of this fabric is lost in the mists of time, but let me tell you it was a mistake on many fronts.  And I had lots of it. Sometimes these little misadventures in fabric acquisition have happy endings, like my favorite summer robe made of border print linen I thought I’d use for a pantsuit (you’d laugh out loud if you saw the fabric, perfectly nice in a robe but completely inappropriate for a pantsuit), or my striped denim crop pants of fabric that initially was intended to be a jacket, both of which were declared ugly and un-usable fabric by my 2 most trusted young fashion advisors.   This time, the only happy ending is that I got to try 2 patterns with no risk and I am now 4 fabrics down in my current stash-busting sewing spree.

While I continue mull the pattern choice for the rayon challis fabrics, I am sewing a sleeveless blouse of some shirting fabric that’s been hanging around for 15 years or so.  That would make 5 fabrics out of the stash and if the shirt turns out, 4 wearable garments in the closet!  Good thing because I caved on a Fabric.com sale and ordered some new knit fabric, but that’s another post.  Sigh.

Sew I Gather

Simplicity 2892


This is Simplicity 2892, a cute little summer top from a pattern I vow never to sew again.  I think it turned out well in the end, but the gathered yoke with the little ruffle set into the neckline edge was a lot of fussy sewing for what you get in the end.  I spent the better part of last Sunday gathering, adjusting and hand basting layer after layer.  I made it in a straight size 14.  It came out a bit large for the intended wearer, but not much and her measurements would put her right in a 14, so I took in the side seam and gave it a little shape at the waist.  That helped, but I might recommend going down a size from what you usually sew if you are brave enough to tackle all that gathering.  I think there must be other patterns that give a similar effect with much less effort, like New Look 6895?  Maybe I will try that one soon on this stash-busting summer sewing spree.  I’m certain there are some fabrics in the stash that would be just the thing…

Gone to the dogs


Let us begin this post by establishing that I like dogs and welcome well-trained animal companions in all appropriate situations.  Now, has anyone else noticed the proliferation of ill-trained and badly behaved faux service dogs in grocery stores and other places where pets have no business being?

3 out of my last 4 trips to Costco have been marred by badly behaved pets masquerading as service dogs, either by wearing vests or by having their owners declare their “doctor has signed a letter” saying they need to take their mutt everywhere. All this tells me is that they have their doctors trained better than their yapping, jumping dogs. Today one snuck up behind me and began yapping at my heels while I was waiting in line and when I started from surprise and turned in dismay to find a dachshund lunging at me from the confines of her personal stroller, the woman at the other end of the leash declared, “Oh, she just wants you to pick her up, that’s all.” Right-O. I’ll pass on that until she gets the dog as well trained as the aforementioned doctor who signed a letter.  Next she picked the puppy up out of her little doggie cart and clutched the wildly agitated dog to her chest.  Who’s serving who here?

The dogs in the photo above were 2 chihuahuas riding in the actual grocery cart, the same one the next unsuspecting person on a trip to Costco was going to use for food. When queried as to the service these dogs provided for her, the woman who had been giving the dogs a ride around Costco claimed to have a brain tumor and said they were trained to bark if “anything happened.” Hmmm. It takes 2? And they can do this service from a remove of 6-8 feet as they go through the checkout line in the cart and the object of their service is on the other side of the Costco-size conveyor belt?  Sadly, I’m skeptical.  I know you can buy bogus service dog vests and credentials off the internet very cheaply and that professionally trained service dogs are so costly as to make it unlikely anyone would have two at once so that makes me doubly skeptical.

It’s way past time that service dogs are tested and certified and that certification credentials be carried on the dog or owner’s person in just the same way that handicapped placards must be displayed to use special parking spaces, or that a license is required to prove you have demonstrated the ability to operate a car.

A true service dog in action is a wonder to behold.  I once shared an elevator ride with one who completely ignored the fact that I was carrying a roast chicken in a bag not 6 inches from his/her quivering nose.

Bark if you agree that the laws stating that pets are not allowed in grocery stores and restaurants should have teeth and be enforced and that real service dogs are beyond amazing and should be welcome everywhere!

As promised

It’s the end of the week and the shirt is finished. This is New Look 6010, size 12. I made a forward shoulder adjustment, not realizing the shoulder seam was already forward, as if there was a yoke, although there isn’t. If I had looked more carefully at the drawings and photo on the pattern I’d have seen that detail and made a more informed decision and probably not done the alteration as it brings the seam farther
forward than I’d like. Still, I think it’s a successful and wearable project that will go with jeans as well as the recently completed red linen crops.

Don’t ask how all those buttonholes went in after all this time. I can’t remember the last time I did buttons and buttonholes. That first, most visible one at the top always goes wrong. I remember that much and this time was no exception. After 2 perfect samples, the machine hung up at the start of the first real buttonhole on the shirt and the two beads of stitching wouldn’t meet at the top. Sigh. Seam ripper to the rescue. The rest went in fine, and then it took an hour sewing all those buttons on to finish just under the wire of the deadline I set for myself.

The perfect dog

Doesn’t bark, doesn’t bite, doesn’t jump on people, doesn’t dig, doesn’t attract foxtails, doesn’t need to be boarded when we travel or walked daily.

Also won’t come when you call or seem to know when you need a silent friend to lay at your feet the way a real live Springer Spaniel surely would, always did.


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.


Hello Lamppost

Ever since I read an article claiming that every one of Paul Simon’s songs was nothing more or less than an anthem to drug use if you parsed the lyrics correctly I have assumed that Paul was tripping on something other than cobblestones when he saw flowers growing out of a lamppost while he was feeling so groovy.

On Bainbridge Island, you can be stone cold sober and watch flowers growing from lampposts and feel groovy on the longest day of the year.

Ba-da-da-DA-da-DA-da, Feelin’ Groovy!


Now that summer is here and there are no chorus rehearsals to prepare for and no tennis matches to recover from, I have gotten a chance to read a couple of books and watch some movies.  I’ve read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  and The Magician’s Assistant recently and enjoyed both but if I had to choose one I’d give the nod to the second choice.  I would say this book could be described as elegiac, and I’d made up my mind that I’d turn and run from any book that had that word used to describe it after reading The Sea by John Banville, which won the Man Booker Prize and is described on Amazon as “luminous” as well as elegiac.  Three strikes against! I read that book for a group discussion and there was 100% agreement that The Sea was one of the most boring books we’d read.  It’s right up there with A Sport of Nature by Nadine Gordimer which we’d read many years previously and held up ever since as the standard bearer of painfully boring books by award-winning authors.  Sport of Nature was the book for my first meeting and I naively thought at the time that when you committed to a book group it meant you were committing to the reading of the selected book each month in its entirety, period.  I got to the meeting and found out no one else had bothered to finish the book.  I still believe if you join a book group you should read the book or not go to the meeting.   

What Ann Patchett has done here with The Magician’s Assistant is nothing less than sleight of pen.  Yes, it’s about grief and loss and wallowing, but it’s also about the magic of love, whenever and wherever it can be found.  I read all the one star reviews on Amazon and find some of the complaints about the book valid but still, there is something about it that satisfies, even though I agree with the 1-star reviewer who found  him/herself saying, “Huh?” at the puzzling end.  Maybe I was just grateful I’d made it to the end and the book hadn’t devolved into the wrenching violence I kept expecting from reading all those Oprah books back in the Book Group days.  They all had at least one episode of horrific violence which often felt like it was dropped into the book arbitrarily and for the sole purpose of getting Oprah’s attention and therefore selling lots more books.  The worst offender for me in that category was Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts in which (major spoiler alert if you haven’t read it) a very minor child character was brutally raped by an even more minor character in the book and then never mind and on we go with the rest of the story.  Yes, there is violence in this current book, but it makes sense within the context of the story and serves a purpose in driving the plot.  Yes, I get it that extreme violence happens to unsuspecting innocent people all the time and it makes no sense.  That’s why they call it senseless.  There’s plenty of it to go around in real life, I don’t want it in my books.

The other book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a good read too, and I suspect most people will find it more to their liking.  I read it.  I liked it.  I just wasn’t affected by it in the same way.  I think Patchett’s prose just carries me along effortlessly.  I found myself stopping and noticing the effort behind the prose more in Fowler’s writing.  Also, I guess I’d rather have a bit of, “Huh?” at the end of a serious book than a sweetly tied bow.  Just me surprising myself.

Movies:  “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “Sweet Land.”  Both good in their own way.  So nice to have a breather from the blockbusters and all their noisy explosions.  Sweet. Sad.  Funny.  Moving.  Satisfying.  Small films with big hearts.  Thanks for the recommendations Netflix.  Your algorithms are working.

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.