October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Caitlyn's first jack o lantern

This is Caitlyn's first jack-o-lantern. She sketched the design and participated in the carving, with Papa's help.

Caitlyn's first jack o lantern

October 29, 2011

Adding inches

It seems Caitlyn's pants are always too short. Sometimes this condition coincides with wear and tear, and then we call the pants "grubby" and she wears them for things that involve dirt and mud (p-patch work parties, walking in the woods, puddle stomping, etc).

And sometimes the pants are in perfectly serviceable shape. They are just too short.

I don't know why it's never occurred to me before to just make the pants longer.  I've had this blue floral fabric in the stash for ages.  I've also got a red and white print that makes me think of red bandanas (although it's not paisley at all) that I think would have been really cute as the added ruffle.  Probably would have ended up clashing with the preponderance of pink shirts, though.

October 27, 2011

Candy Corn Restrospective

It was supposed to be quick and fun.

homemade candy corn
Instead, it took more than an hour and inspired some... er... colorful language.

So, should anyone else want to attempt making candy corn from the how-to provided by The Harvard Crimson Flyby, here's what I learned:
  • If you are using ingredients from the natural foods aisle (eg, not C&H powdered sugar), sift everything really well. I used powdered sugar from Wholesome Sweeteners and powdered milk from Organic Valley. Both of these clump up as a general rule but it's never been a problem with other uses, although those usually involved a mixer. No amount of stirring was able to get this stuff to a completely smooth dough.

    So what? If the dough isn't completely smooth, it's a pain to roll out into the long snakey things that is a necessary step to get the traditional three color combination of candy corn.
  • There's a lot of hands-on in getting the candy into it's final shape. If you wait until it's well and truly "cool enough to handle", it's firmed up too much. The arm strength needed to roll out the snakes and then squish them together with a rolling pin is more than I have. If you have them, consider some sort of gloves to protect your hands from the heat and get the dough moving before it cools down.
  • I'm not sure if the trouble I had getting the three colors to fuse together nicely was a result of the dough having cooled too much or if it had been toughened up due to excessive handling. But I had to wet the sides of my colored snakes of dough to get them to stick, sort of, most of the time.
  • If you have one, use a kitchen scale to get your dough division even. I ended up with more orange than the other colors.
  • Using "mainstream" sugar may result in a whiter white. My Wholesome Sweeteners Sugar produced a white that's really more tan. And better food coloring might result in brighter colors. I had generic food coloring (usually used around here for coloring eggs) and some higher quality cake decorating colors may produce more vibrant candy.
  • Roll your colored snakes out to much less than 1/2 inch in diameter. You'll end up with final candy corn that's a bit more reasonably sized.
homemade candy corn Otherwise, the recipe is really straightforward, without unusual ingredients. If you've got sugar, powdered sugar, powdered milk, corn syrup, vanilla and butter on hand, you can do this. It doesn't even need a candy thermometer. And it's pretty tasty stuff.

October 24, 2011

Nothing like Last Minute

About seven years ago, I picked up what I think was my first fat quarter bundle. I was at In The Beginning (which has since closed it's retail store and is a fabric design house and there was just something magical about these bundles of coordinated fabrics. I had no idea what I was going to do with the fabrics but I bought them anyway. I washed them and ironed them and put them away.  They've come out a couple of times, most recently when I was thinking about a skirt for Caitlyn.  When I visit fabric stores now, I take a spin through the precuts (fat quarters, jelly rolls, layer cakes, charm packs, etc), and most of the time I'm a little bit better at knowing what I'd do with a bundle before I fork over the cash.

Canton Village Quilt WorksBut that purchase may now be justified!  Just shy of a month ago, I found Canton Village Quilt Works (via Quilt Dad) and discovered the launch of Jackie's Blogger's Block of the Month. It's kinda like quilt-along, but since it lasts for a year, it's less time-crunchy. As an added bonus, this one is free, which totally compensates for not having a clue about how the whole thing is going to come together.
Block Number Two is announced tomorrow, so I've just squeaked in by finishing this first block (designed by Sherri at A Quilting Life) today.

bloggers' block of the month
There will be 12 blocks total (I think) and they are each about 8 inches square. With luck, the fat quarters I bought all those years ago will be enough for the foreground fabrics. (The background white is something I've had since I bought it in 2002 to drape over speakers at our wedding.)

bloggers' block of the month
Of course, if that's true, I'll probably have a harder time resisting picking up the occasional bundle of pre-cuts. I may have started something terrible here.

October 18, 2011

Prewash for shrinkage

Despite my best intentions, it seems that as the seasons tip into fall, I start feeling generally dissatisfied with the contents of my closet. It's not that there's a shortage of clothes in there (although I'm wearing holes in nearly all my jeans). It's not that I've grown out of anything (unlike Caitlyn). It's not that I have new places to go or people to impress with an up-to-date wardrobe. It's not like I need to be fabulous when I spend the day at home, banging away at the computer and stirring up messes in the kitchen.

I mentioned this to someone (I've totally forgotten who by now) and she pointed out that I probably had done the typical back-to-school fall shopping as a kid, enough so that I'm essentially trained to think Fall = New Clothes. It makes sense. And much of the time, I'm pretty good at ignoring the impulse to buy more clothes. I may feel I need new clothes because it's fall, but that feeling has yet to be strong enough to outweigh my general dislike of shopping.

Yes, I'm a terrible American Consumer. I don't like shopping. I especially don't like shopping for clothes, especially for me. You see, despite the fashion and advertising industries claim that the Ideal Woman is tall and slim, it's very hard to find clothes that actually fit a person who is tall and slim. I'm 6 feet tall, short-waisted (which makes me very long-legged), and while I'm not exactly athletically fit, I don't carry around a lot of extra weight. The CDC reports that the Average American Woman is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 164 pounds. This is the body that ready-to-wear fashion is trying to dress, not mine.

Forced to confront the increasing population of holes in my jeans, I headed off to Eddie Bauer, my resource for jeans that aren't obviously too short for the last several years. My first mistake was to go to an actual store, where the selection is limited to the of-the-moment styles. But even online, where there are more styles, the fabrics are already pre-distressed. I wear my jeans until they literally fall apart; I don't need them to start out half-way there.

I'm starting to seriously consider giving up mainstream clothing entirely. I'll just make everything. That way I can have my jeans start off in new denim and go all the way to my ankles. And while I'm at it, why not make my shirts and have them neither baggy or cropped, with sleeves that go to my wrist. The only long sleeve shirts I have that are actually long enough in the arm were purchased in the men's department, which is hardly flattering to the rest of me.

So, when I saw that The Quilting Loft was going to host a class about sewing with knits, I signed up. I feel fairly confident when sewing with woven fabric (although I haven't actually tried to make a pair of jeans yet), but knits have been something I figured was out of reach without an investment in a serger. When Caitlyn was younger, I converted a stack of old onsies into t-shirts by cutting off the snaps and zig-zagging the raw edge. They rippled and ruffled rather badly, which worked on Caitlyn at age 2, but was enough of an unexpected result that I just figured that I wasn't properly equipped for knits. Recent reading has suggested that I didn't need a serger, but since the things I made with knits last spring now need to have most of their seams repaired, I still wasn't confident that knits were something I could work with. And if I'm going to move toward making things that actually fit me, I need to get this knit thing figured out.

a shirt

Sometimes there is really no substitute for getting a lesson from someone who knows what they are doing. Cheryl was great, not only minimizing the mystery of working with knits but also showing the class how to take a finished shirt and reverse engineer it. I came to class with two t-shirts, one that fit me in the torso and one with long sleeves. As part of the class, I made a pattern for a single shirt that wasn't overly large and had long sleeves. I added length so that the finished sleeves actually reached my wrists. We dropped the neckline a bit, and I think I could figure out how to change it up so I could make a v-neck or a scoop neck with some gathering.

a shirt

There's just one problem: I didn't manage to pick up my fabric before class. And while it was fun to have a whole store of fabric to choose from when it came time to lay out my pattern pieces (fantasy: having so much fabric on hand that anything I want to do is possible right now), it really is better to prewash everything. Including knits.

a shirt

Those luscious long sleeves are now three-quarter length sleeves. And the shirt is too tight in the underarm. And it's shorter overall than I'd like.

I'll be heading off to a fabric store some day soon to pick up another knit. I'll wash it before I do anything else with it. And I'm going to make that shirt again. The prospect of something that fits the way I want is really appealing, now that I've had a taste. Who knows, I might even take up fashion design, just for us tall, slim, excessively practical people. There are more of us out there, right?

October 13, 2011

Next time, I'll know better

If you can get your hands on 4 lbs of fresh peaches (a bit unlikely now that it's October, but there's always next year!), you want to make peach butter.

peach butter

I found the recipe over at Smitten Kitchen and was instantly obsessed. Like, I thought about it all the time and I hadn't even tasted it yet. I got too excited and bought too many peaches, then had to borrow a scale from a neighbor to avoid mucking up everything. I even planned out when I was going to make the peach butter, at a reasonable time on a Saturday, and then got up on Friday and knew I had to make peach butter immediately.

Next time, though, I'll know that it takes about 4 hours for the peaches to cook down all the way, instead of the 40 minutes specified in the recipe. Maybe I was overly cautious with the temperature, choosing to spend more time stirring and less time mopping peach butter off the kitchen floors and walls ('cause it spatters!). Either way, I've got jars of condensed summer and it's amazing.

October 11, 2011

Kids Clothing Week Challenge, Fall 2011

It's time for the Kids Clothing Week Challenge, Fall edition over at Elsie Marley! Pretty please, can I play too? It's only two days in and already there's cool stuff in the Flickr pool, like this skirt and this dress.

But Caitlyn doesn't really need anything in the clothes department this month. I'll probably need my own version of KCWC come December or January when she suddenly puts on another inch or two, but right now she's got dresses and skirts aplenty. I've got ideas about making some shirts someday, but that's a project that's a bit down the road as I'm still wrestling with the combination of knit fabric plus my sewing machine (it skips stitches sometimes when I'm sewing with a knit, and I've not got the zig-zag settings right since the shorts I made during Spring's edition of KCWC need to have most of the seams redone;  the stitches are breaking when the fabric stretches) and part of the plan involves hypothetical digital art. We did go out and buy shirts last weekend since last winter's long sleeve shirts are now three-quarter sleeved and cropped.

Pardon me while I take a moment to be pleased with myself: half of the shirts we bought came from a thrift store. I was a gibbering idiot when we left - massive sensory overload - but otherwise it was a successful thrift store outing.  Maybe the trick is to have very specific things in mind, look only for those things, and not shop for myself.

Anyway, Halloween is coming and I've got a costume to make for Caitlyn. I've also got three shirts to make for Ian (two of which are in fabric I gave to him last Christmas... at this rate I could make the shirts and give them to him again this coming Christmas!). And I've got a jacket to make for me. So, I'm doing my best to get in my hour of sewing per day this week, as if I were participating in KCWC. It's not Kids Clothing Week, though; it's Sew Something Already! Week. 

And if Caitlyn doesn't put on those extra inches by January, she will have done so by April and I'll definitely have things to sew for next spring's KCWC.  Maybe I'll have knits figured out by then, too.

October 01, 2011

I Grew a Crisp!

apple crisp

The apple tree in the backyard gave us enough apples for an apple crisp! And even better, lots of the apples, although spotted a bit on the skin, were completely bug-free inside. I wonder if that means that I could have left them on the tree a little longer? Would they have gotten bigger? Or buggier?