Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vintage Kitten Nightgown

A sweet reader tucked this vintage kitten fabric into a package for me last year, asking me to share a picture if I made something from it. I will! It took me a good long time to make up my mind to use it up. That's the nature of an excellent piece of stash. You have to own it for a while first. Then you can cut into it.

So, two identical summer nighties for Daisy, long enough to brush her little ankles, printed with *singing kittens*, and trimmed in ancient yellow crocheted trim off a thrift store shelf.

Thank you so much, Kelly M!

Monday, May 30, 2011

In Which We Surprise Giles, a Lot

. . . by going to see him! Graduation is next week, and we wanted to see his work and visit with his friends before everyone got spread out and distracted with the graduation craziness.

Love his work!!

Love his friends! We cooked together. And talked about patterns and fabric.

We snuggled on the couch together. Cecile on the left. She is so charming and beautiful. And she's dating Giles! We loved her. Muriele on the right. Muriele is from Haiti and is extremely outgoing. Everytime she saw the Composer she stretched her arms out for a giant hug, shouting, "Daddy! Daddy!" We loved her too.

And so many others. What a wonderful community he has there--but only for one more week, which is hard to wrap our minds around. But that's graduation for you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Felix's Graduation

And now he is off to Costa Rica for a month of Spanish study and ornithology. I love this happy boy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exceptionally Blue Hydrangeas

All over town this year the hydrangeas are a much deeper blue. Maybe it was all the rain? These beauties are almost purple.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Basic Basic Cooking: Salad

Everyone starts somewhere, but if you've never given much thought to preparing food, it can be hard to know where to start when you want to begin feeding yourself and others well.

Let's start with a salad. It's good to eat a salad every day. If you fix one, and then you prepare some other dish with some protein in it, you've made an entire dinner.

So go to the produce section and buy a package of romaine lettuce. Romaine is a sweet, crunchy, sturdy lettuce. It doesn't melt under dressing, and it has a lot of flavor without being bitter. The "hearts" are the lettuce heads with the outer leaves removed. The hearts are the tastiest part of the lettuce. You can also buy a single head of romaine, not a package of hearts.

Pull off as many leaves as you think you want to eat, and tear them into bite-sized pieces. Put them into a colander or a salad spinner. Wash the pieces well by running a lot of cold water over them while you lift and stir them with your hand, then dry them by spinning your salad spinner (yes, you want one if you're going to be a salad-making-and-eating person), or by putting them in a clean dish cloth and swinging it around over the kitchen sink. See, I told you you want the spinner.

Now make the dressing. It's nice to have a small jar set aside for this, but you can also use a glass or a mug. You need some extra-virgin olive oil (find this with the other oils at the grocery store), and some balsamic vinegar. The vinegar is often sold alongside the salad dressings or the pickles. There are lots of kinds of vinegar. Find the balsamic. It doesn't have to be the most expensive. This is the one we like the best--'Balsamic Vinegar of Modena'. The third ingredient is this salt blend called Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt. It's sold on the spice aisle, usually near the regular salt. If you can't find it, pick out some other salt blend.

In your jar, pour about 3/4 inch of oil. Then almost as much vinegar. They won't mix. Now add about half a teaspoon of the salt. When you're ready to dress the salad, either put the lid on tightly and shake the dressing, or use a fork to vigorously stir if you're mixing it in a glass. This will make enough dressing for several days of small salads. No use in doing the work every day if you don't have to--just cover the dressing and keep it out on the counter for several days, shaking again before using.

When you're ready to sit down, pour what you think is enough dressing on your salad. You'll quickly learn by trial and error how much you want to use.

That's it. You've made something delicious and entirely lacking in corn syrup or preservatives. Now you cook.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Colette, Meet Alabama Chanin

It turns out that you can take Colette's Oolong pattern, which is made from woven fabric cut on the bias to give it some stretch, and turn the pieces to the straight grain and cut them out of cotton jersey.

And then you can bring your Alabama Stitch techniques out and finish the seams with hand top-stitching, and you can leave the hem of the dress raw, and the sleeve edges unfinished, and you have a dress that is easy, easy, both to sew and to wear.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Alabama Studio Style: Circle-Spiral Applique Dress

Clara reads to the girls in her supremely comfortable, eminently wearable new Alabama Chanin dress. All stitched by hand from the pattern in Alabama Studio Style, with a few changes. I added short sleeves, raised the neckline, added an inch in length to the bodice, and two inches to the skirt. She says it is the most comfortable dress she's ever had.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Vintage Sewing Bee

"The sewing bee got under way at the Malones' the next morning. Five minutes after Dulcie drove up in her father's pickup and carried in the portable sewing machine and set it on the dining table, the room became a noisy and cluttered dressmaking shop. Lengths of bright colored print and small mounds of sheer white goods were piled on table, chairs, and sideboard. Streamers of braid or rickrack or lace tripped the unwary. Spools of thread rolled underfoot.

'Just three days to make two tiered skirts and four fiesta blouses,' Dulcie said. 'So it's full steam ahead, my hearties.'"

--Lenora Mattingly Weber, The More the Merrier (1958)

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Graduates

Or, The Inspiring Story of Two Country Boys Who Crawled Out of the Mud, Put on Some Clothes, Went to School, and Made It All Look Easy.

Felix, high school, this week.
Giles, college, two weeks away.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Felix Paints a Parrot

Felix brought home his drawing portfolio from the year. His bird drawings are so beautiful and detailed!

I'm going to frame this study of a Pale-Headed Rosella. He used ink and watercolor washes to get those jewel colors.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Advice for the Novice Cook

"The novice should try some fairly easy dish that requires long cooking. The novice should consult several recipes and read them over a few times until he or she has gotten the parts straight in his or her mind. And the novice should call up the best cook he or she knows and listen to what that person says. And then the novice should stick to it."

--Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fairy Roses

The fairy roses are blooming! I'm counting on them to fill in my front garden; the deer won't touch them. I like to wear armor myself when I'm cutting them, the thorns are so fierce. But worth it!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Schoolhouse Baked Beans

•Schoolhouse Baked Beans•

A perfect standby for any picnic, potluck, or cookout. Any meal with a "k" sound in it, really. And all the ingredients are pantry or long-term fridge stable.

Now, think flexibly. If you're feeding a small group, say six, you might want two large cans of baked beans. But a larger group might require five cans. I always buy the vegetarian, I'm not interested in the little chunk of mystery meat.

Open, and if you're cooking for a crowd, keep opening the cans of beans. Drain most of the sauce into the sink, then tip the beans into a large pan. Don't worry about every drip of sauce; you don't want your beans to fall in the sink because you're trying too hard.

When you're satisfied with the quantity of beans in your pan, get out some dry mustard powder. For a small batch, use about a teaspoon (this is all very casual, there *is* no wrong amount); for a large batch, two tablespoons. Dump on top of the beans.

And follow with some ketchup, aiming for about 1/4 cup for a small batch, 1/2 for a larger batch.

Same with the brown sugar.

At this point, if you're feeling fancy, you can dice some onion or green pepper, though I rarely do.

With a rubber scraper or wooden spoon, fold everything together gently. Lay a few slices of bacon on top.

Slide into the oven. If you have just an hour, set the heat to 400. If you have longer, use a 350 oven and keep them in til it's time to go. A small pan will need an hour, a large pan twice that. You want them to bake and bake until most of the liquid has cooked off. They will become candied and dark brown, and the bacon will be crisp. Your patience will be rewarded, and if you do this right, you will soon be *required* by your friends to bring this dish with you the next time you come.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quilting the Roses

Suddenly we have perfect weather, and space to breathe during the day (well, we girls do. Not sure about the Composer. I think he doesn't). School is almost, almost finished--Bella, get that science done!

A stray half hour to sit outside under the persimmon tree with my handwork, quilting around my stenciled roses. As always, the thread is Craft & Button. I'm in love with the pearly khaki color.

Once the quilting is done, I can decide to go in and do some cutting out, handily producing reverse appliques on the leaf shapes. It's so fun.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


You know what these are, right? Yes. Swatches of jersey from Alabama Chanin!! Birthday present from the girls.

More like a portal to future birthday presents, really.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Daisy World

Daisy doesn't always let me into her imaginary world. Sometimes I accidentally intrude into an elaborate set-up on her bedroom floor and she shouts "Don't come in!", catching me before I crash into a universe of tiny animals and scraps of fabric and cotton balls.

But this week she needed help. She can't drive a car; she doesn't own any buckets; she had no way of choosing a safe spot to cut lots and lots of daisies unless she got me on board.

Daisies. "Because my name means Daisy. So I want a lot of them." She brought three pairs of scissors and two buckets, and we parked in the parking lot of the Apostolic Pentecostal Tabernacle and cut flowers in the ditch.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Next Year for Felix

Giles was easy--he found the three best photography schools, then chose the one he liked the most. Felix's college search was different.

"Give us some criteria," we said in the fall. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm looking for a great biology department. But it can't be pre-med biology. It has to focus on evolutionary biology and ecology. And I need a strong foreign language department, with access to study abroad, for my double major in Spanish. They have to accept all my AP credit. And they need to pay for everything."

"Excellent," the Composer said drily. "We should be able to check out both of those schools."

So, they found just the one. Felix is going to a flagship state university, with everything paid for. He will be able to complete his degree in three years, double majoring in biology and Spanish, and he has access to grants for the travel he wants to do. Most, most excellent indeed!

(photo credit to friend W)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

In the Alabama Style: Two New Embellishments

Continuing to mess about with Natalie Chanin's marvelous ideas, here is some straightforward stenciling on what will be a jersey shawl. I used the "Rose" stencil from Alabama Stitch Book, and permanent fabric pen. This is just fun, like coloring. I may do some reverse applique next; the underlayer is a slightly grayer shade of lavender, which you can see in the upper corner of the photo.

And this is a gorgeous, almost-finished dress for Clara following the "Circle-Spiral Applique" directions in Alabama Studio Style. I used a natural jersey for appliques all around the hem of this navy dress.

For jersey seekers--Hancock's has been carrying a modest selection of very soft, thick all-cotton jerseys. That's where I bought the two purples and the navy. The natural came from the fabric stash of a church friend who was clearing out.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Daisy's Bouquet

Daisy picked me bouquet today of honeysuckle, red clover, and a lavender wildflower I can't name. The best part was that she wrapped the stems in a vintage hankie pinned with a safety pin.

False. The best part was her sweet face above the flowers.

False. The best part was finding her perched on a stool drawing the bouquet in her sketchbook.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Vintage Teen Dress: Simplicity 3446

A new dress for Clara, to brighten (yes, it's bright!) finals week. Made from a tried and true vintage pattern friend, Simplicity 3446. A Slenderette. Like she needs it.

Look at that waist.

Insane polka dot fabric that looks almost pixellated! She wore it with a pale pink cardigan and pale pink flats. Very nice.

Two finals down, one to go.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How to Fill in a Low-Cut Neckline

Let me take you step by step through designing and sewing a tidy little infill for a too-low V-shaped neckline. You do a little fiddling with the paper up front, but the end piece will fit very nicely.

1. Put the dress on, and slip a piece of paper into the neckline V so that it sits in the way that pleases you. Trace the V with a pencil. Don't worry about getting it exactly right.

2. Cut out the triangle that you just drew. Now fold it vertically so you can check it for symmetry. It's probably not symmetrical, so now place it with the larger side on top in the square corner of a fresh piece of paper. You want the top line to be nice and horizontal so that your infill doesn't have a strange dip or hump across the top. Trace the diagonal line onto your new piece of paper.

3. Add an allowance to your triangle by drawing another line two inches away (mine's dotted). It's not necessary to extend the bottom point so far though, so crop it off leaving about a two inch allowance below the bottom point. This wide margin will make it easy to attach the infill to your dress.

4. Cut around your new, larger pattern piece. Now lay it out on a folded piece of paper, with the long vertical side on the fold, and cut it out so that you have a full-size trapezoid piece. Label it as you see below, with the grain line on the paper fold, and a "place on fold" mark on the longer horizontal side of the trapezoid. It will be the top edge of your infill.

5. Cut it out in your fabric, following the directions on the pattern piece. You'll need to fold your fabric on the crosswise grain to do this.

6. Now fold your odd shape of fabric, wrong sides together, through the middle, so that you have the trapezoid you desired, with a beautiful folded edge at the top. Press it neatly and pin the raw edges together. Sew the three sides with their raw edges, then finish them with a zigzag or overcast stitch. Advanced seamstresses might want to sew with right sides together, leaving an opening for turning the shape, then turing it right side out and slipstitching closed. But it's not necessary.

7. Your infill piece is finished now. Put the dress on, and pin the piece in place. Remove the dress, and either slipstich the piece to your garment (this is so much easier to do if your dress is lined!) or you can even carefully safety-pin it in place with tiny pins (for this you MUST have a lined dress). The idea is to catch inner layers of the dress with your stitches or pins, so that nothing shows on the outside.

8. All done!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

So Much Butterfly

I found this beautiful, new with tags, monarch-sporting pillow at the thrift store this week (my local store is intact; my favorite store is not). I lured it onto my yellow chair.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Jersey Cardigan with Some Alabama Style

And then it occurred to me that I could use Alabama Studio techniques on a commercial sewing pattern designed for jersey. Simplicity 2206 is a simple kimono-sleeve cardigan with very few pieces. I ran up the seams on the machine, then picked out some to fell by hand with a running stitch.

I just love handwork on jersey. It is such a comfortable way to sew, and so beautiful.

Not sure about the fit through the shoulders for Bella, though. I think maybe a size up next time.

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