Monday, July 28, 2008
This princess would sit in the turret of her tower, wishing lustfully for the novelty cotton skirts she saw on eBay. She purchased a loom, and would sit for long hours each day attempting to sew accurate reproductions of the dresses, taking care not to poke her finder on the needle lest she slip into a long sleep. She would gaze at eBay each night as she combed her hair with 100 brushes, bookmarking beautiful, tiny dresses, skirts, and blouses and vowing to diet until they fit. But it was as though a wicked witch had cursed her efforts, because somehow the princess was never small enough, or the skirts were never large enough. Nothing fit.
Then one day the princess could not help herself. She knew she had to have a novelty cotton skirt of her own. So, singing liltingly to the birds outside her window, she twittered out her desires, and before she knew it the friendly woodland creatures delivered to her a lovely skirt, covered in images of birds, with a disastrously tiny 22 inch waist. The princess loved the skirt so much, but she knew it would never fit, and in despair she shed a single tear that dripped down her cheek and landed splat on the tiny waistband of the vintage skirt.
As the tear hit, a pouf of glitter illuminated the room. As the dust settled the princessed looked up and right before her, next to a pumpkin carriage and several dwarfs with pincushions, sat her fairy godmother seamstress. "Do you think you could.... make it fit?" she asked timidly holding out the garment, bracing for the worst. "But of course," said the godmother with a good natured wink, "And I won't even make it shrink back to a 22 inch waist at midnight!"
With a few glides of her scissor a few inches below the original waistband, and a few stitches to add a new, larger waist yoke and zipper, the skirt was finished. And it fit. Like a glove. Like a white, well fitting, silk-spun-from-magical-worms, princess-worthy glove. And she loved it.
And that is the tale of how one lovely princess found a way to wear vintage. And the best news is that this is not actually a fairytale, but rather an autobiography (minus the embellishments of fairly godmothers and turreted towers). Ladies, fret not any longer about fitting into vintage circle skirts. I am here to tell a tale of success, of triumph, of romantic dreams realized as though it were a fairytale.
To make sure you too can wear vintage, just find a sweeping skirt with enough length to take it up a bit. Then, find a good tailor. Ask your tailor to take the skirt up - from the waist. It only takes a few inches from the waistband to convert a 22 inch waist into an enlarged 40 inch waist. When you add a yoke back onto the waist band, you give the skirt back some of its original length. Plus, a yoke keeps the extra fabric down near you hips where you want volume and away from your waistline where you don't want it.
...and we can all live happily ever after in our well fitting skirts!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
“This will make us the envy of all the world!” I said. That might not be entirely correct, but if you came to my house, you would surely be envious of me. Because I have a test tube spice rack.
The rack was born when I saw one on the Dean & Deluca Web site. Dean & Deluca is an upscale gourmet grocery store in New York. They sell things like $32 elderberry vinegar, $23 coffee oil, and $135 lobster rolls. Expensive stuff. Probably delicious and certainly pretty to look at, but hard on the wallet.
Then I saw the spice rack. Go look at it. Isn’t it pretty? Doesn’t it make you want to break out a Bunsen burner and a chemistry kit? Don’t you want it for yourself? I did too! But I wasn’t about to shell out $100-$150 for one, no sir.
And so we did without a spice rack. We had some spices in jars, some in magnetic pots, some in tiny plastic bags. They sat in the cupboard, over the stove, on the fridge, on top of the island. They were everywhere.
Until one day John came home and said, “I bought us something from your wishlist. Well, half of it.” And this was how I discovered that John decided we were to make our own test tube spice rack. With a set of 50 test tubes, 50 cork stoppers and 1 metal rack, we had our spice rack.
First we had to figure out how to label the spices. we didn’t want to write directly on the test tubes or stoppers, so they could be reused. Stickers, we decided. But where to put them – on the stoppers or on the test tubes? We chose stoppers, so we can easily identify our spices.
Next came filling the tubes. We don’t have a funnel, so we had to slap together some makeshift ones using pieces of paper. John insisted we use fresh paper for every spice, ranting about cross contamination.
Last was the labeling. Using a fine-tip pen, I wrote out the names on the spices on rectangular labels cut to fit the stoppers. Hopefully my serial-killer handwriting will be legible.
The test tubes don’t hold very much, but aren’t they pretty? Don’t you want one for yourself?
Are we not the envy of all the world?
p.s. I would LOVE to include more guest blogs on this site. If you are interested, please email me your story and photos at email@example.com. I will do my best not to edit your contributions, aside from tiny formatting or grammatical changes. Bring on the guest blogs people!
Sunday, July 20, 2008
This bag is full of fresh basil, dill, and onions picked from the grounds at Scott Arbor Farms and delivered on Wednesday as part our our weekly Community Supported Agriculture basket, or CSA basket for short. We also received a wealth of ripe red tomatoes, petite and tender yellow summer squash, pickling cucumbers, white cucumbers, and this week melons! We have been enjoying the abundance with fresh salads every night, special grilled cheese dinners with tomato and basil sandwiched between thick bread, and calabacita all the time. The fresh produce (and local!...and did I mention also organic!!!) is a delight to prepare and consume, although at times we have so much we honestly don't know what to do with it at all.
Managing a weekly CSA basket of summer's abundance feels complicated, more complicated than one would expect. While I recognize it sounds silly to say that the coordination of a basket of fresh veggies is complicated, I am serious. It feels complicated in the same way that I imagine managing a hedge fund, or managing the HR paperwork for the 10,000+ employees that work for Starbucks, or trying to manage a the power grid for the city of San Antonio is complicated. I mean, it is REALLY complicated. When do you eat your squash, and what if you are tired of squash? How long will the tomatoes keep, can I put them in the refrigerator? And what is a yard long bean and how do I cook it? What do I do with only one small eggplant? And how do I cook pearl onions in summer? It is enough to make a girl order carry out and eat it while staring at a pile of beautiful veggies with guilt.
However, there is hope. I yoinked this information straight from Apartment Therapy's food blog The Kitchen, and I intend to put it into practice right away. Those of you with CSA subscriptions, or summer gardens, or just overzealous produce purchasing behavior in your local grocery :) should take note:
Seven Tips for Managing Your CSA
1. Deal with everything right away. We pick up our CSA on Saturday afternoons, which means we have no excuse not to aside some time over the weekend to sort, cook, and organize. If you pick yours up during the week, it's a good strategy to plan on an hour or two that evening and make it part of your routine.
2. Make a list of what you have. It's easy to shove your bundle of five radishes into the back of a drawer and forget about it until things get smelly. We like to keep this list posted right on the fridge so we see what's in there and cross things off as we use them.
3. Take a seat and plan out your meals. Meal planning for the week is a good strategy anyway, but it's even more handy when you're trying to use up your CSA and avoid making the same stir-fry night after night.
4. Organize your fridge. Group together the foods that go together: greens in one place, salad fixings in another--whatever works for you. We cut off the tops of beets and put the bulbs in a separate space from the leaves. We also like to trim and discard or compost any parts of the vegetable that we know we won't be using, like the tops of leaks (unless we're making stock!).
5. Wilt down greens right away. Since the leafy greens take up the most space and usually get wilted down anyway, why not wilt them down to begin with? An armful of chard wilts down to about a cup, which can then be stored in a container and added to dishes as needed.
6. Save what you can. Often we'll get very small amounts of something--a pint of blueberries or a handful of ramps--that aren't quite enough for a whole recipe. Since you're likely to get another pint the next week, try to determine if your first batch will keep that long and then combine them.
7. Freeze what you can. If all else fails and food is backing up, turn to your freezer. Berries freeze very well, as do many vegetables like beans and corn. If you have time, we recommend blanching vegetables until barely al dente before freezing them. This helps preserve the color and decrease cooking time on the other end.
Granted, this is a pretty Type A list! But we've found that being organized actually frees us up to be creative in our cooking and enjoy our produce each week.
Eat your veggies! I am.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I for one support handmade because these are items created by an individual, for an individual, and each piece of work includes a bit of the maker's personality in the finished product. It is the same reason I bake my cakes from scratch rather than from a mix... the finished product reflects me, not the box. Of course, handmade items embody the personality of the maker as much as homemade items, it just doesn't sound as classy. The word choice a linguistic trick, because truthfully my bias tape is the same regardless of if I call it home or hand made. However I want it to sound as glamorous and impressive as possible, so my bias tape is definitely handmade.
I created it using one yard of 100% cotton quilting fabric covered in tiny flowers and gold accents. I used a series of pseudo-complicated instructions and diagrams that I found online under the title "How to make yards and yards of bias tape." Using the instructions, I marked, cut and sewed this yard long piece of fabric into an incredibly long strip of continuous fabric. I then used a newly acquired bias-tape making tool to fold and press the strip into the final product.
Unfortunately I was not very impressed by the biased tape tool. It was better than nothing, but seriously, shouldn't their be something better? You put a flat piece of bias cut fabric trimmed to fit into the wide end of the tape maker, and the tapering metal shape forces your strip to fold over as it exits the narrow end of the tool. However, for me the fabric did not seem to exit with much consistency. The folded edges were rarely, if ever, symmetrical in their folds. Sometimes the top would be very narrow, then it would reverse and the bottom fold would barely exist, then of course both sides would manage to fold in over each other. I mean come on now, is it too much for a girl to want a tool that provides consistency?!?!
My sewing instructor has pointed me to the brand "Clover" as a better bias tape maker, and I found a review of the brand and the process to back her up. She also showed me an old fashioned way to make the tape using only a long straight pin and my cloth covered ironing board. Looks like I have some experimenting to do.
Ultimately I think this is really the type of high quality bias tape that I am eager to duplicate. The lazy side of my personality is eager to just purchase it ready made. The problem is that I don't want to pay $8.50 for two meters. At that price, my bias tape might cost as much as my fabric! Perhaps a few more practice rounds of homemade, ah-hem HANDmade, tape will produce the highly uniform results of my dreams. Heck, if I am successful and get really inspired, perhaps I will open my own custom biased tape business like this one. I can offer colors and patterns to order, so that all of YOUR sewing dreams can be realized as well.
It took hours to iron the yards and yards of tape first into single fold bias tape, then again into double fold bias tape. However, I actually enjoyed it. I expected to find myself bored of the project after a few minutes, but instead I popped in a movie and ironed away. I found the precise folding and crisp ironing oddly therapeutic. Plus, holding the end result, a GIANT spool of bias tape of my personalized fabric, was VERY fulfilling!
Monday, July 14, 2008
I am hopeful that this Very Easy Vogue pattern can serve as a starting point. It has the sweeping low neckline and the single button closure. I will need to construct bell "lanterns" sleeves with gathers on my own though. I gave this Vogue blazer some serious thought, because I like the darting and the low neckline with collar. Wouldn't giant fabric covered buttons look so great buttoned up along that asymmetrical placket? Perhaps I could join the more uptight pointed collars to create a more rounded sweeping collar like this one, to keep the vibe casual? I also like this Vogue blazer pattern, and think it would be a striking contrast in casual sweatshirt material with a fun cotton trim with color and pattern.
For now, I am on the hunt for material. Any ideas where I can find thick sweatshirt style material, but in a high quality with natural fiber content? I want something that will hold it's structure, and it's color, as it is washed and worn. It does not need to stretch much, if at all, so I suppose what I am looking for is a very thick and heavy cotton woven.
I am also on the hunt for decorative bias tape to finish the inner seams, either for sale somewhere premade, or a means of making my own. One of the best parts about Anthropologie is the attention to finishing detail, and this sweatshirt is finished with the cutest striped bias tape. I want to do that to mine recreation. I understand there are tools out there to help in the process, and I plan to explore them.
Wish me luck, this looks like a project with minimal fitting issues, maximum personalization option, and something that can be worn frequently in the everyday wardrobe (as opposed to a few of the vintage dresses I want to make, but have nowhere to wear them to!).
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Check it out. Erin from the wonderful, fantastic, engaging, entertaining, helpful, intelligent, nostalgic, inspirational, aesthetic, can't-say-enough-good-things-about-it blog A Dress A Day posted a question poised to her by moi' a few days ago (July 8, 2008 to be exact). This is what I asked her:
I recently acquired some AWESOME Vogue Special Designs dress patterns, but they are several sizes too small and about 10 inches too tiny for me in the bust/waist.Dress a Day responded with a link to this Threads article on pattern grading, which I am still working my way through. The article boldly claimes that "using the method I outline here. This means that you—the home sewer, custom dressmaker, or independent designer—can do just as good a job as Vogue, Burda, Calvin, or Donna." That is excellent news, because I need to grade a bunch of beautiful vintage dress patterns. The article, among other details, give this information with the above graphic:
I am learning to redraft my own patterns, but in the meantime I would be happy to pay somebody for their expertise in resizing my small patterns into my size and tracing them onto pattern paper for use in my sewing room. Do you know of any companies or individuals who offer this type of service?
While I am in the mood to pay others to help with my sewing, are you aware of any companies that offer the service of cutting and marking patterns, then mailing the patters, fabric, and cut pieces back to the owner to complete the sewing?
I am so eager to sew that I am looking for shortcuts to speed up production time. Any advice is appreciated! Thank you. - Kate
Making the cutFinally, to expand on the Thread's method, one of Dress a Day's readers named Jen posted this comment, which I think astutely describes what individuals like me can do to make their cut and slash pattern grading methods one-of-a-kind custom:
There are five basic pattern pieces: bodice front, bodice back, skirt or pants front, skirt or pants back, and sleeve. Each pattern piece has several vertical and horizontal cut lines, which correspond to measurements on the grading chart.
These standard cut lines are placed in approximate locations where the body "grows" or "shrinks." Vertical cut lines are always parallel to CF or CB (or sleeve's grainline), and horizontal cut lines are perpendicular to CF or CB (or sleeve's grainline). A cut line may pass across a dart but shouldn't intersect a dart lengthwise (this changes size of dart, thereby altering garment's overall shape).
Making the grade
1. Establish overall grade (difference between pattern’s measurements and body measurements).
2. Divide overall grade by 4 to get allocated grade. This distributes overall grade among four parts of body or pattern (left and right front, and left and right back).
3. Divide allocated grade among the cut lines on the pattern piece (see drawings at left) by following cut line’s formula in grading chart on the facing page. Calculate it yourself, or use the precalculated amounts for commonly used grades.
4. Slash along cut lines and spread/overlap by the required amount along each cut line.
5. Blend gaps if pattern was spread; split difference if overlapped. Trace graded piece onto clean paper, and transfer grainline and notches.
Overall grade: 8 in.
Allocated grade: one-quarter of 8 in. = 2 in.
Formula for line 1 (one-quarter of allocated-grade): one-quarter of 2 in. = 1/2-in. spread
Grading up: You will get your best results when re-sizing a pattern if you start with a perfect fit sloper pattern(as mentioned by "anonymous"). A sloper is how the pros start-and it is the best way to avoid disasters with proportion. Suggestion: If you make your sloper in large woven gingham cotton, your grainlines will be clear and your pattern balanced more easily. You can iron-on stiff interfacing to the back of that gingham fabric after all alterations have been made, and have a perfect fitting pattern to follow.After reading all of this, I suppose that next up on my list of sewing to-dos is completing a boring sloper pattern in gingham, I think something like this McCall's M2718, a Palmer Pletsch Basic Fitting Pattern. It won't be a fun project, but it may make every other future project a better fit, and THAT would be fun!
To change a pattern using the cut&slash method (as shown in the Threads article): lay the cut paper pattern you want to enlarge on top of the altered sloper pattern, making the slashed spaces even so your grainline is still straight. You may decide to line up your patterns across the bustline or waistline, then enlarge from there. Just be sure the Center front is aligned, shoulders and underarm meet, and the waistline is centered. What you will probably be left with is a layout of the style lines, super-imposed on top of your sloper's basic block.
Place tracing paper over this and mark the 'new' pattern on it. Another way to copy the pattern is to start with a cork board, lay on pattern or butcher paper, then the sloper, and finally the paper pattern that is being graded. Use a pattern wheel with those scary pin wheels and roll around the pattern to transfer the pattern to paper (or go around the pattern with a pin, stabbing the edges with a line of pin 'dots'). When the patterns are removed, the under paper will have a copy of the pattern in puncture lines.
Now, go try out your new pattern!
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I arrived in this compromising position last week after I came to the realization that I need my own dress form. I experienced several highly unsuccessful attempts at redrafting the back bodice of a dress pattern, and threw up my hands in dismay. The experience was so frustrating, and I felt so hopeless in my ability to sew something that fits, that I realized I needed a body double to pin and fit garments to on a whim. Thus was born the idea of finding a body double dress form. I did some internet research, read a number of instructions and watch one highly informative video before I finally settled on the paper tape method of construction. Then, armed with a giant rolled of glue-backed, reinforced paper tape, an old t-shirt, some duct tape, and a sponge and bowl of water, we set to work.
The "we" I refer to is me and my husband. Did I mention that my accommodating, every patient, kind, giving (and let's not forget handsome) husband took the time and effort to wrap me in paper tape, in a mostly successful attempt to create a a custom dress form of me? He did. The experience itself was pretty humorous and more than a bit awkward. In fact, it occasionally felt like our efforts were bordering on some form of weird craft-related bondage play. "Stand still" he would say in his most authoritative and manly voice any time I craned my neck to try and see what he was doing. If I fidgeted too much he would give my behind a little swat, only I could not react, because I was busy trying not to contort the wet, paper tape swaddling my figure (or lack thereof, if you look at the finished form). You get the picture... it was highly humorous and more than a little weird.
In fact, I found myself bursting into laughter spontaneously, and while there was no mirror in the kitchen where we attempted this activity, I could catch my reflection in the microwave door and the pot lids handing on the wall, and it was too funny. There is nothing like watching yourself get wrapped in tape by your husband to inspire the giggles.
In all truth, I think a custom made dress form is perhaps one of the biggest blows to self esteem that any of us can face. For me, it highlighted all of the flaws that I work to camouflage through clothing on a daily basis. But then again, a custom made dress form is also a good dose of reality, and it is a very useful tool. Already my dress form is allowing me to piece together patterns and test for fit before I start sewing, and that is worth quite a bit of private humiliation and a wee bit of self loathing in my book.
Plus, seeing my shape in paper tape helps me to remember that I am more than the shape of my body. No matter how far my dress form's stomach protrudes or how lumpy its breasts look, I know that the dress form does not reflect who I truly am. It does not have my head situated on its stiff brown shoulders, so it cannot reflect my face, my smile, my eyes, my personality and the true essence of Kate. Looking at the form, I am reminded that I am infinitely more beautiful than my body shape. We are all more than the shape of our physical selves. That is what makes us beautiful, and that knowledge is what allows me to feel content with myself.
Even now, with a giant paper tape sculpture of my trunk laying on my kitchen table, I can remain confident in myself. Plus, it helps that I have a wonderful husband who wrinkles his nose every time he walks by the tape monstrosity, eying the dress form, than eying me up and down, before saying "I just don't think that looks like you" as he gives me a kiss on the cheek. Beauty really does remain in the eye of the beholder. ;-)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Quick breads are one of the ultimate impulse bake. The ingredients are almost always on hand. The require no special technique or tools. And they are so quick and easy to whip up. Better yet, the recipe is usually very forgiving, meaning I can forget the vanilla or over measure the salt and still have a tasty final product. Plus, they smell so, so good as they bake. And they bake quickly. If you work quickly, you can be eating a warm and steaming piece of zucchini bread within an hour and a half of your initial craving!
My last batch came from a recipe from Cooking Light magazine, and I like it because it provides a more healthful way to consume my vegetables as a dessert. It is cheating, I know, to mix veggies with sugar and flour and still consider it a serving of produce, but at least it my Cooking Light version is a more healthful cheat than the alternative oil and fat laden breads.
The cinnamon flavor in this recipe is tasty, and I added a bit extra because I hear cinnamon is an aphrodisiac. I used one zucchini and one random green squash that came in my CSA basket last week. It seemed to function as a zucchini would, and I feel proud of my squash flexibility. I also one and a halfed the recipe, because my loaf pans are 5 x 9.5, and the recipe calls for smaller 4 x 8 pans. The end result was great. The bread texture is firm and a bit chewy. It does not crump when sliced or bitten into. The bread held its moisture and texture for several days (it might have gone longer, but we couldn't help ourselves and ate it all). The recipe goes into my "keep" pile and I hope to make it again next weekend.
Speaking of, do you think I can make dessert breads with my yellow summer squash too? I have about 30 of them refrigerating in my produce door right now, and I would love to eat them as a piece of hot-from-the-oven bread.
by Lorraine Warren , Cooking Light, JULY 2005
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups shredded zucchini (12 ounces)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through baking soda) in a large bowl.
Combine egg substitute and next 4 ingredients (through egg) in a large bowl; add sugar, stirring until combined. Add zucchini; stir until well combined. Add flour mixture; stir just until combined. Stir in walnuts.
Divide batter evenly between 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
2 loaves, 12 servings per loaf (serving size: 1 slice)
CALORIES 150(26% from fat); FAT 4.3g (sat 0.4g,mono 2g,poly 1.6g); IRON 1mg; CHOLESTEROL 9mg; CALCIUM 21mg; CARBOHYDRATE 25.3g; SODIUM 96mg; PROTEIN 2.7g; FIBER 0.6g