Monday, December 29, 2008

Coincidence?

Is it a coincidence that Best Sister Ever (along with best Brother Ever) gave me about 200 vintage patterns and most of them are her size? Just asking...

Favorites so far:
Miss Moneypenny jumper and blouse


I always loved Miss Moneypenny. She seemed to put Commander Bond in his place; I like that in a gal. A proto-feminist. All business. Maybe someday we'll see a movie where SHE gets a license to kill. And she can do everything a man does but in high heels. (A great concept, call my agent...)
I see this one in wool crepe with an English (of course) shirting. The cool striped kind.



Lolita jumper (is it just me, or is this pattern illustration ten kinds of creepy?)
Those knee socks, that school girl hair, those SHOES! Unless the wearer is 9 years old, this one is a definite DON'T. Simplicity made it up to size 16 Misses, so someone at some time thought this was appropriate for adults. The 60s were a strange time, class. The social scientist in me says that maybe someone wanted desperately to infanticize women so they would stop agitating for equal rights. Or they just had a weird Lolita thing going on. If I were 16 and had a Twiggy figure I'd make this in wool plaid. No knee socks, Go Go Boots. And fishnet hose. In for a penny...




That saucy minx in blue; doesn't she look like Doris Day? (I love her movies; she has the BEST clothes. Pattern companies- you should make a retro movie star pattern line. It could have categories like Doris, also Audrey, Katharine, Elizabeth and Marilyn... That's a million dollar idea! Call that agent back! Ari, baby, have I got a product tie in for you.) I like the use of rick rack on this one. We need more rick rack opportunities.



This one has both Dorothy Hamill and Farrah influences. I love the top with the flutter and long sleeves option - cause one sleeve isn't enough.

I know the 16 year old me would have made this pattern if I had seen it. I even had a Dorothy Hamill haircut when I was 16. I wonder if I made it now, if it might be a classic example of mutton dressed as lamb. At least views one and two. However, I reserve the right to make view 3 out of scarf print fabric. I'm not that old. Also Mr. Hunting Creek says I have been looking younger lately. I really must have his eyes checked...or maybe not. :)
Who is going to argue when he says stuff like that?
Happy Sewing!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Presents!


My family decided that there are three stages of Christmas: stage one is when you are So Excited you can't go to sleep Christmas Eve. The day seems endless and parents heartlessly send the kids to bed at the regular time. Now of course we know that they needed time to finish wrapping and assembling all the toys. My father says the three most frightening words in the English language are "some assembly required". This is from a man who assembled not one, not two, but THREE bicycles one Christmas Eve. The second stage is when you have kids yourself, so YOU are the one staying up til 2am getting everything ready. And finally, the third stage is when you have older children and get everything done ahead of time. The kids let you sleep late, so no need to get up at 6am to see what Santa brought. We are at that stage at Chez Hunting Creek, so we get to sleep late, drink coffee and open gifts in a leisurely fashion. We started Christmas Eve at my sister's house, and opened gifts there too. It's just nonstop gift opening from Christmas Eve til Inauguration day here.
Ann said she wanted to know what everyone got, so here goes:
My brother and sister, who shall henceforth be known as Best Sister Ever and Best Brother Ever, shopped Victoriously on eBay and had scored over TWO HUNDRED vintage patterns from the 1940's to the 1970's. Here is a picture of one of our favorites:

This pattern was declared by all present as the BEST. It is multi purpose: you can use it for Manson Family-style cultwear, I Dream of Jeannie fantasy wear, and I'm not even sure what the blond in the bizarre Jetson pigtails represents. Did we really dress like this in the 70's? If yes, Time has mercifully drawn a veil over the memory.
I took a picture of some of the patterns spilled out on the dining room table...but that's not even half! See picture at the top.
I also received perfume, cool new speakers for my computer so I can listen to tunes while I work, a giant bottle of Mexican Vanilla, a designer Apron, and several new books, including a biography of Colette and a memoir by Marcella Hazan. We will have another celebration with our family on January 17th when my daughter returns from her Christmas in Italy (oh the life she leads!) We will open Even More Presents then.
I hope Santa brought everything you wanted.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

All I Want For Christmas, Italian Edition


My daughter flew to London yesterday to spend the holidays with her Italian boyfriend and his family. While we will miss her terribly and will celebrate Christmas again when she returns, there are compensations (besides Christmas gifts from Italy). She will bring me Italian Sewing Magazines.
European sewistas don't use the printed paper pattern as much as we do here in North America. Instead they have magazines with patterns in them like Burda World of Fashion, Patrones, La Mia Boutique, Modellina and several others. When she was in Italy last spring she brought back an issue of La Mia Boutique,which to my surprise, also contained recipes. Bella Figura obsessed Italians can whip up cool tees with the shoulders cut out and then step in to La Cucina and whip up Bucatini con Le Sarde. I loved slipping into the fantasy that I lived that kind of life. I don't get that from my American magazines; they are much more prosaic. U.S. magazines are Balkanized into Sewing , Cooking, Gardening, etc, and they rarely mix topics.
The European magazines are also culturally revealing. Their visual language is different; you wouldn't mistake an Italian fashion shoot for an American one. And the language! They are breathless in a way that only a fashion magazine can be - that tone of awe about New Spring Looks that transcends cultures. No matter where they are from, the fashion people all seem to drink the same delusionary kool aid when it comes to discussing the importance of new sleeve silhouettes. It just sounds better in Italian.
I'm lucky, my daughter is fluent in Italian, and can translate for me (while I speak Italian at the first grade level, I can read Italian and Spanish with a little help from il dictionario). While I tell Mr Hunting Creek that the magazines are Educational, I can't say that knowing the Italian for gathering, basting and sewing invisible zippers is helpful beyond sewing. As we learned on our last trip to Italy, being able to speak sewing and cooking Italian is only marginally helpful when trying to understand the announcements over the loudspeakers in Termini.
But no matter! When she arrives with my magazines, I can pretend for a while that I am sewing in Italian and that makes even a tshirt pattern just that much more romantic.
Happy Sewing!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What NOT to Give



Occasionally people ask me for suggestions on what to get their nearest and dearest for gifts. Since I am an oldest child and full of opinions, I will share my hard earned knowledge of Gift Don'ts in the hopes of helping others.

Don't waste your precious sewing time on people who don't understand the value of hand made gifts. You know who they are. The kind of person who says when you give them handmade pajamas, "I can buy this at WalMart for $10!" Oh Really? Next year, lump of sewing coal for you! This person does not understand handmade. They do not DESERVE a handmade gift. They are the people for whom the cold impersonal Gift Card was invented.
Don't give gifts that are meant to improve the other person. This is only implies that the other person is in need of improvement. Also very few people enjoy being improved.
Examples of such gifts: Mr. Hunting Creek is a lefty and is, how shall we say, handwriting challenged. A kind person would say that this is not a flaw, but an advantage! It's like his own personal shorthand! He can make notes no one but Chloe on 24 can read! His own mother (!!!) once gave him a Calligraphy Kit. He was Not Amused. Other gifts in this category include giving expensive clothes one size too small to encourage weight loss, and diet books. Bah Humbug!

I once had a boss who read every self help book ever published. Every Christmas he would send the latest to our team as gifts. Even worse, he would write in the book, thus diminishing its resale/regifting value! If a person wants a self help book, they will buy it themselves. That's why they call them "Self Help Books" not "Somebody Else Help" Books.

Do you want to really spread Holiday Cheer?
A nicer present would be to offer to teach someone to sew, or help them sew something themselves. These would be people who have expressed a desire to learn, so you can both have fun.
For your sewing friends, you could make a sewing gift card. Or invite those friends to a sewing party at your home, with fun snacks, and all sew together and have a nice visit. You could make a nice little gift card invitation and package it with some cute notions, like pretty buttons.

Good gift example: my sister gave me some beautiful fabric and a pattern for Christmas last year. She had it all packaged together with a super cute pincushion shaped like an easy chair. This was much appreciated. (Of course I love that fabric so much I have not yet cut it, but that's not her fault.)

I have heard horror stories of mothers in law who gave Joy of Cooking to professional noncooking daughters in law, men who gave hardware store gift certificates to their nonhandy girlfriends, and all time best - a gift of cookies in which a couple had been sampled. I am not making this up.

The wrong gifts can ruin relationships. While in High school, I made a lovely shirt for my then-boyfriend. It was a thing of beauty. He gave me...a teakettle. We broke up not long after that, and I know now that our gift incompatibility was one of the reasons.
The Holiday season is fraught with Gift Pitfalls. If we have friends who don't like or understand homemade gifts, it's clear that we need to give something that they understand or make new friends.
I'm baking cookies and making ornaments today, and I know the recipients will love both things. I hope that your efforts are equally appreciated.
Happy sewing!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Art is dangerous



I wanted to personalize a gift with stencils, so I got out my book of stencils that I wanted to try. While reading the instructions for preparing the stencils in Japanese Cut and Use Stencils I noticed the following advice: prepare the stencils with boiled linseed oil and turpentine (Why not just cut them in plastic?) and they make the following casual statement, "Any excess can be wiped off with a dry rag...the rag should then be immersed in water until it can be incinerated or removed by regular garbage disposal service. Spontaneous combustion can occur if the rag is stored for later use." SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION???!!!
This led me to think - well, what about the paper stencil that is soaked in this stuff? Won't THAT be in danger of spontaneously combusting? And who knew ordinary household items could be combined with such exciting results? My son was all in favor of finding out, but not wishing to create hazardous waste or burn down the house, I have decided to try my new Indygo Junction Asian Stencils instead.
My idea is to use my Paintstiks to stencil a design for a little bag for a gift. If I like it then maybe I'll stencil something larger, like a purse, a scarf or a tote bag, then maybe a coat, a shawl or a quilt, but baby steps... I'll try and fit it into our mad weekend of putting up the tree, decorating for Christmas, shopping, wrapping, baking, working, shipping...I need a little quiet sewing time, preferably non-flammable time.
Happy Non Combustable sewing!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lights, Camera...


This old pattern caught my eye. The girl on the right looks JUST like Tiffany Case; to you non James Bond fans, that's Jill St John. You know, in the movie with Sean Connery as James Bond, when Oh James was a bit of a thug, before he was dappered and English gentlemanized by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan (My favorite).
I had a dress just like this when I was in 6th grade. Mine was pink and looked just like Jill's dress (unfortunately, being only 12 at the time, I did not look like Jill St John.) Since we women have relationships with our clothes, it's not unusual that a little image can bring back memories associated with certain outfits that we loved (or hated.) I remember when I wore that pink dress, where we were (Lion Country Safari in Irvine CA) and how old I was then. My sister still complains that our mother used to dress us alike for pictures when we were little. She can describe the clothes in detail and describe exactly what she liked or disliked about every single outfit. Most women can tell you their whole life story based on their favorite outfits. We remember exactly what we were wearing on all the important days of our lives. I am sure that men don't even THINK about their clothes like that. I had a dress I used to love that I was wearing the day I got laid off from a job - I never was able to wear it again. I held it against the dress as if it were a friend that had let me down. What I should have done was wear it immediately to a happy occasion to get the bad karma off of it. Instead it hung sadly in the closet, passed over for years until I finally admitted I could never wear it again and put it in the donation box for the Salvation Army. It was like a break up. On the other hand, I will always think kindly of my wine colored Diane Von Furstenburg knock off that I wore in 1977 to get my boyfriend's attention. It was slinky in all the right places. It DID get his attention and we've been married now for 29 years. That's the power of a good dress! I still have the dress, I've never been able to part with it but I don't think Mr. Hunting Creek kept his yellow button down shirt. (I bet he could not even tell you what he was wearing)
Do you remember what you were wearing on the most memorable occasions of your life? Everyone I asked this question has told me a story about their favorite dress, or the sweater they stole from their sister, or the skirt that they had to wear to choir practice. It's because for women, they aren't JUST clothes; they are nothing less than the costumes that we wear starring in the movie of our lives.
Happy Sewing!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cinderella Syndrome


I love reading Burda World of Fashion, and I especially love the formal wear. I have just realized that this is some kind of mental illness. I want a velvet and silk formal dress. I don't know why. I work at home. I do not lead a Gala Formalwear life. When I was down in the fabric/sewing cave this weekend with my daughter, we counted dark teal charmeuse, silver shantung, green velvet, iridescent green/turquoise velvet, red velvet, wine velveteen, forest velveteen... I could go on. For a person who works at home and wears nice t shirts and jeans every day I have an awful lot of velvet. Every year I read the Threads issue on how to sew a velvet dress with interest. I made a velvet and silk wrap for my sister and my daughter. I made velvet stockings for gifts. Everyone loved them. I know how to sew velvet: lots of basting. But I have not made one single velvet thing for myself. I want to. I have the fabric. I have the patterns. A fellow blogger called this "an irrational lust for impractical clothing". I think I will call it the Cinderella Syndrome. When I read her words I recognized myself. "I have that too!", I thought. I wonder if our irrational brain, the one that engages in magical thinking, is reasoning "If we have a formal dress, will we then start to lead that kind of formal dress kind of life? With Glass Slippers, Princes, champagne out of the aforementioned slippers, coaches, fairy godmothers?" This is the same kind of magical thinking that reasons that broken cookies have no calories, that the cute guy "forgot" our phone number, and that trickle down economics works, in spite of all rational evidence to the contrary.
If you saw my fabric stash, you'd think that I was anticipating leading a glamorous life that required many changes of velvet and silk outfits, with some beautiful jewel toned wool coating thrown in for practicality. I think my fabric could lead a more glamorous life than I do, if it were set free to find its soul mate.( This imaginary woman has unlimited time to sew and fancies chic DVF style wrap dresses for day, and velvet ballgowns for evening.) It's all potential down there. If I sew the dress, will the invitations pour in? There's only one way to find out.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Stitch in Time


Have you read the new sewing magazine, Quilting Arts Stitch? I have been reading mine and have enjoyed the clean clear graphics, the no nonsense sewing advice and the full size patterns tucked into the center. I also bought it to encourage the development of more sewing magazines. There need to be MORE! There are way too many scrapbooking and quilting magazines compared to sewing. Magazine people, get with the program! And sewists, you need to do your part by buying the magazines and encouraging more new sewists. I think I'd like to try making the scarf with the disolving stabilizer. It looks like fun, and I have some vacation time and some pretty silk scraps that would be perfect for it. If I get at least one good idea out of a book or magazine the experience is worth the time spent.

We had a great Thanksgiving here. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. We cooked this year. I did a two hour turkey - you should have seen the look on the guests' faces when they arrived and I was just putting into the oven. "we'll eat at MIDNIGHT!", they cried. Actually, not, we ate at 530p, as planned. I always cook my turkeys the high heat 2 hour method as detailed in Barbara Kafka's excellent book, Roasting - A Simple Art. The turkey was moist and flavorful, and the guests were amazed. I took all the credit, but really, it's super easy.(Plus my daughter had ordered a beautiful fresh free range grass fed turkey) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake turkey for two hours (mine was 15 pounds). The thermometer showed that it was done as well. It also made excellent sandwiches the next day. My son makes his with everything (including stuffing and cranberry sauce) on them. We've already eaten ours up!
I hope all of you had a great holiday.
Happy Sewing!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Groovy Sewing



I told Mr. Hunting Creek that the best part of this picture is that the man is pinning up the hem! He kind of looks like an older Cary Grant, maybe from one of those madcap comedies. He's pinning up her hem, because he is pretending to be a couturier while in fact he is an international jewel thief in hiding from Interpol. And what better way to meet rich ladies with lots of jewels?

This fun book has lots of great information.(But nothing, alas, on pretending to be a designer while hiding from Interpol.)
I especially like reading fashion advice from 1967. From page 4, "A large collar, an unusual neckline or an interesting trim can draw attention to a pretty face. Out of proportion hips may go unnoticed."
Or this advice: "For Shopping: In the city, a simple dress or suit is most appropriate. Add a comfortable top coat if necessary, Pants are out."
And finally, my favorite: "The homemaker often makes the mistake of wearing old clothes to do her daily tasks. This is really not a good idea. Your morale is higher, your work efficiency greater when you are dressed in comfortable, becoming clothes." Plus, little homemaker, you must think of the example you are setting for the children! I started to hum that old song that went something like, "hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your makeup..." because of course you must put on a dress and makeup just before the Mister came home. (If I did that Mr. Hunting Creek would want to know where we were going.)
For an extra treat, tucked inside the book was a Simplicity Pattern flyer from Spring 1967. Look at the colors!

I realized what was bothering me about the retro looks nowawdays - they got the shoes wrong. These heels are sensible. In the 60's, you didn't wear high heels in the day time, according to my neighbor. High heels were for evening, she says.
Of course I am studying this like the CIA studies the yearly Kremlin Christmas Card photos.
Thanks to my Dad, who sent me this cool stuff. Soon I will be an expert on the covered button use of 1967.
(I might even try making that blue dress for this spring. It's been added to the inspiration file. But I'm NOT doing the hair.)
Happy Sewing!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Lesson from 1965



My Dad sent me some cool old patterns in the mail. He knows that I love old patterns. (Thanks, Dad!) I especially love the instructions. Unlike current instructions, the old ones do not SKIP AROUND. I know that I am not alone here in really disliking the current instruction sheets that skip around all over the place for each view. Do the pattern companies realize how much this discourages beginners? And makes old cranky experienced sewists like myself even crankier? If you're reading this, Simplicity, take a look at your archives from 1965. Sometimes the old ways are better.

Exhibit A: instruction sheet from Simplicity 6371 copyright 1965

Look how it calmly instructs, "Follow your progress from start to finish, put a check in the box after finishing each step."
1. Select the pattern pieces for the view you are making
2. PRESS the pattern pieces
3. Compare your body measurements with those on the back of the envelope.
(I don't mean to quibble here, but really, shouldn't THIS really be STEP ONE?)
CAUTION: Do not measure pattern tissue, for in addition to body measurements, ease is allowed in the pattern for garment style and comfortable wearing.
(I feel like such a renegade, because I always measure the tissue. Sometimes when I haven't,I have been unpleasantly surprised.)

4. if alterations are necessary, they should be made in the pattern before placing on fabric.
This is always good advice. And they go on with every tiny little step, including a zipper tutorial.
This dress could be worn as-is today. I especially like the yoke detail on view 2. I might steal that idea.
The pattern pieces have more detail too. In addition to seam lines, they also instruct which direction to sew the seams. I always do my own thing this way, depending on the fabric, but I can't recall seeing this direction on a recent pattern. Studying old patterns helps me to visualize different methods of constructing garments, and I can contrast older methods with current ones. Mr. Hunting Creek teases me because I read instruction sheets in bed, but what better way to see how things were done? Sometimes I actually learn something new.
Happy sewing!

p.s. Little Hunting Creek is having a sale, free shipping on patterns and fabric packs when you buy three or more. Mix and match!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tried and True


This always happens at night: "Would you make a cake for tomorrow?" Or cupcakes. For an office party, someone's birthday, last day at work, baby shower... When the kids were younger I got caught once or twice unprepared, but now I am on to their game. I am prepared for anything in the cake category. Here is my go to, never fail, tried and true, last minute suprise chocolate cake recipe. Keep the ingredients in your cupboard and no one will catch you unprepared either.

Surprise Chocolate Cake

Preheat your oven to 350

3 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Mix all this in a bowl with a whisk.

Then in a separate bowl, mix
2 cups cold water, or cold coffee (I always feel so frugal using up the leftover coffee)plus it makes the chocolate taste chocolaty-er
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use canola)
1 Tablespoon vanilla (or use dark rum, or Amaretto, or hazelnut liqueur)
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry and mix together. Pour into 2 9 inch round greased and floured cake pans or 1 9"x13" cake pan, or 24-30 lined cupcakes
Bake about 25-35 minutes. Cupcakes cook faster than a 9x13 inch cake.

This tastes like it is full of chocolate, butter and hard work, but only took a few short minutes of whisking. I won't tell if you don't! Notice that there are no eggs, butter, dairy products or other perishables in this cake. You can keep the ingredients on hand and no one can catch you unprepared.
Leftover cupcakes can be designated as muffins and eaten for breakfast. I hereby give you permission to have cake for breakfast. You deserve it!

My daughter made these for her Italian class party yesterday and says that they were a big success. She also notes that carrying a large Tupperware cupcake carrier around town is a sure fire conversation starter, and that if you want to meet people, just carry around decorated cupcakes. On her way home from class, she says that several people at the Metro station and the Old Town trolley stop struck up conversations. Some rough looking young men approached while she was waiting to change trains and asked what she had, and she said "chocolate cupcakes, want one?" All of a sudden they were all smiles as they each took one. There's a moral there somewhere.
Happy baking!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Holiday Sewing:Tote Bags

What a week it's been! I'm glad to get back to the calm in my sewing room. This week I've been working on tote bags as gifts. These are easy to make and very practical, since many people and businesses are trying to get away from plastic grocery bags.
I found this great tutorial on besewstylish.com called Two-Hour Tote Bag by my friend Ann from Gorgeous Fabrics.
Here is my first one. It is made out of some embroidered denim that has been aging nicely in the stash for several years and fell out on my feet while I was looking for the green toile canvas that I know I have somewhere. The denim said,"What about ME?" And I agreed. When the fabric begs like that I'm a pushover. I still haven't found that toile! (That's how you know you have enough fabric - when your fabric can hide from you) I put a little quilt square in the pocket for contrast so you could see it.

These are super easy to make and don't take much fabric. From the tutorial it says
you will need:
• 1/2 yard of denim or canvas (60 inches wide) plus equal amount for lining if you want
• 2 7/8 yards of 1-inch-wide nylon or cotton webbing
• Thread to match
• Sewing machine
• Iron
(BeSewStylish is a fun website too, check it out when you have a few minutes)
While I was cutting out a second bag, I had the idea to line the bag and make a contrast pocket, so I cut some lining pieces the same size as the bag pieces basted on the pocket, sewed the lining pieces to the bag outsides, right sides together, keeping the bottom open, and basted the contrast pocket on. This finishes the sides and top. Then I press and zigzag finish the bottoms. My contrast pocket was 11"x22" because I cut it on the fold so the top would be the finished edge. Here is the pocket basted to one bag side, and ready for the strap to be sewn on
Then I attached the straps per Ann's tutorial, and finished the bag. Not bad for an experiment! The Variety store near our house had lots of colored strap webbing, so along with the red, I bought bright yellow, olive and blue. These are fun to make and a nice break from making my top for our neighborhood Christmas Party. They make a fast and fun gift, especially if you add a couple treats inside. (and since all I had to buy was the webbing they were almost free, right?)
The strap bottoms really do match on both bags but they are folding in in the picture - honest! (not that it matters for a tote bag, but I have my OCD side)
Now back to that Christmas top.
Happy sewing!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted

There's still time to vote if you haven't yet.
We got up before dawn today, my husband and our daughter and I, and drove down to the elementary school that serves as our polling place. Both our kids went to that school and I always find it sweet to wait in line while looking at the artwork.
There was no parking available, the lot was FULL and cars covered the streets nearby. The line went out the door and around the building. I could still see the stars as we took our place in line. There was a table selling coffee and doughnuts nearby. Everyone in line was cheerful, and seemed happy to take part in this historic election. No one complained about waiting. It wasn't too cold. As we waited, the line moved slowly. The people in line were all ages, all races, some had small children, some were in business clothes, some were retired. Everyone was polite to the Democratic and Republican helpers who were offering sample ballots.
As I waited I reflected that when my grandmother was born in 1904 in Punxsutawney, PA, women did not yet have the right to vote. Less than 70 years later, when I voted for the first time in 1976, my parents took a picture of me coming out of my old elementary school with my I VOTED sticker. I haven't missed an election since. Don't miss out on your chance to make history.
Happy Voting!
(and I am SO GLAD that this is all over and I can get back to sewing Christmas gifts and clothes)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Sign Update

Someone stole the signs AGAIN! And replaced our signs with their candidate's signs! These people are shameless! So Mr. Hunting Creek went and got MORE (twice as many) and placed them all along the road. However, he did not remove their sign, because that would be wrong. (We were tempted, but our better angels said no) But their sign is now surrounded :) Only 1 more day...

Did I mention the free single scoop of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream if you VOTE?( I think I'll get cinnamon bun ice cream)

The whole world is watching, so let's all go and show them how it's done.

Mr. Hunting Creek and Ms. Hunting Creek and I will go at 6a and vote early. And make sure that our signs are still there.

Happy Voting!

Your Vote DOES Count

Anyone who remembers the 2000 election knows this. Your vote matters. Every vote counts. Please make sure you go vote tomorrow, and don't let anything stop you. Don't let rain, or lines or lack of transportation stop you. Someone at the local campaign office has a ride for you, just ask them.(Especially if you are in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina, Missouri, and Pennsylvania)

To encourage you, Krispy Kreme, Books a Million and Starbucks are giving out freebies if you Vote.

So enjoy your free coffees and doughnut, you deserve it! Ben and Jerry's single scoop! FREE! (No calories on Election Day!) But only if you VOTE!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Virginia Election Story


I read in the paper this morning that Fairfax County, Virginia is the bellwether county in the whole United States in the 2008 Election. As Fairfax goes, so goes the nation? Emotions are running pretty high, and there has been all sorts of mischief. Here at Little Hunting Creek, our property is half an acre of woods that goes all the way to the highway. The campaigns have lots of signs back there along the road, but someone kept stealing the signs. So Mr. Hunting Creek would get more to replace them, but it kept happening. A couple days ago our daughter was drinking her coffee and looking out the window and she saw a jogger stop and take the signs! She ran out the back door shouting, "Put those signs down! What do you think you're doing?" He ignored her and kept going, so she ran out the door, jumped in her car and tailed him, yelling out the window at him that he was stealing and violating our neighborhood's First Amendment rights. He dropped the signs. She said, "I have called the police and reported you!" and then she put the signs back. It was an older man, with gray hair and a moustache, someone old enough to know better. The police were very impressed with her law enforcement skills. They offered to come and arrest him, but we both felt that he had learned his lesson. No one has touched the signs since. Don't mess with our First Amendment rights at Little Hunting Creek when Ms. Hunting Creek is around! And on Tuesday, don't forget to VOTE!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Holiday Gifts: Luxury Pillowcases

The nice thing about making gifts yourself is that you can take something practical, like a pillowcase, and turn it into something luxurious, or personalized or even a work of art. It doesn't take much money, and only just a little time.
Pillowcases can be made out of cute themed quilting cottons, like these that I made for my nephew:
Or they can be made of of soft cuddly flannel:



or you can make them out of silk, like the ones I am working on now. Silk is not much more expensive than good flannel or high quality quilting cottons. I ordered mine from Ann at Gorgeous Fabrics (not affiliated, just a happy customer)
I think Habotai or Charmeuse makes nice pillowcases. You don't need much and it makes a fabulous impression. If you looked at the prices of nice silk pillowcases in stores you would faint dead away. I read somewhere that silk pillowcases are supposed to prevent wrinkles. I don't know if that's true, but it can't hurt!

Imagine all the possibilities here. You can make custom designed pillowcases for kids that they will like so much they won't sleep with anything else. With printable fabric or transfers thrown into the mix, you could even put family pictures, pets or kids drawings on them.
Here is a brief description with dimensions for your convenience:

Standard pillow measurements:
Regular 20"x26"
Queen 20"x30"
King 20" x 36:

Fabric requirements for ONE pillow: (based on 42" wide fabric)
Main pillow std/queen 3/4 yard king 1 yard
cuff 3/8 yard
contrasting trim 1/8 yard

Supplies besides fabric:
scissors
thread
rotary cutter and mat
ruler
sewing machine of course

Cutting:

Std queen king
Body cut one piece 22" x42" 26"x42" 32"x 42"
Cuff 10" x42" 10"x42" 10"x42"
contrast trim 1 1/2" x42 1 1/2"x42" 1 1/2"x42"

I do everything flat first - sew your contrast trim piece to the pillow body. You can sew it as a contrast band like my flannel cases above, or you can do my flange variation, where I folded the contrast piece in half wrong sides together and then sewed to the pillow body, like flat piping. This looks very nice. You can also do eyelet here, or lace, or other trim. Then sew on the cuff piece to the contrast piece. Right sides together. Now you fold the whole thing in half right sides together. You'll have a 21" x 22" rectangle if it's a standard case. There is a long fold on one side and a seam at the bottom and one side. Match your contrast and cuff seams at the sides. Sew the sides. For silk pillows it's nice to do French seams. I trim and zig zag, but you can also use your serger. Press. Fold the cuff edge down half an inch and press then fold in half so it covers the raw edges inside - wrong sides together. Sew down, covering all raw edges. You can use a contrast color thread, or matching. A decorative stitch looks nice too. Press case and you're done! It's also nice to package this gift with lavender sachet if you are giving to grownups, or fun pajamas for either kids or grown ups. Everyone in our family enjoys home made gifts, so it's fun to make unusual things for them every year.
Happy Sewing!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October Baking


Yikes! You've been asked to bring something to the office potluck or Thanksgiving Party. What to bring that's different yet familiar? I adapted this recipe from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook (which has lots of good stuff in it)

Halloween Pumpkin Cake

Preheat your oven to 350 before you start so it has time to get hot. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch pan, or two 9" cake pans or 1 tube cake or bundt cake pan

1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar ( I like dark brown, but use what you have)
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 can 15ounces pumpkin puree

Mix all the wet ingredients together in a large bowl,they will look very goopy. This is normal. In another bowl blend together

2 1/2 cups flour (or do what I do and use 1 cip white whole wheat and 1 1/2 cups reg flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg ( I grate mine fresh)
1/4 teaspoon allspice
( or you could add all of these spices up and use pumpkin pie spice, if you have some handy)
Whisk all of the dry ingredients together then blend in the wet ingredients
Pour into the prepared pan or pans. Bake about 30-35 mins for layers, 35-40 for the sheet and 45-55 minutes for the tube. Of course you check ten minutes before it is supposed to be done. Just to be sure.
I glazed mine with cinnamon buttercream glaze, which I invented that very minute.
I mixed about 1 cup and a half of powdered sugar with a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of melted butter and enough milk or cream to make it glazey. I spread this over the top so it would drip attracively down the sides. There have been no complaints

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Perfect Gift

I don't know when it started or who started it, but ever since I can remember, our whole family has always conspired together to get "the perfect gift" for each other. The perfect gift is that ineffable "something" that the recipient may not even know that they wanted, but when they get it, it's like love at first sight. You know when you give one and you definitely know when you get one. We think about this all year and conspire in small groups, discussing options.
The perfect gift is not necessarily expensive, even though jewelry stores would like men to think so. It can be that Italian cashmere scarf that you have always wanted, or it could be an old picture of your mother all dressed up in a formal gown from before you were born. Whatever it is, it's something that just feels right.
All year we collect information, somewhat like the NSA only more benign, observing preferences. Does someone want to go to Italy? Love chocolate, lime bars, snickerdoodles? Hawaiian shirts, cheesy horror movies, long historical novels, football? All of these things and more are noted, filed and discussed.
You won't always find one every year. Like the a night blooming cereus, it is rare and special.
This year, so far, I've made a few gifts already. I've made some cute themed pillowcases, baggage tags and I'm working on some specially designed table runners. None of these might be "perfect", but I think they are pretty nice.
These Pinup girl pillow cases are for my nephew who is in college.
Click on the pictures for a close up. With these and some snickerdoodles, a few gift cards for food and a book or two and he's a happy man.
Here's a baseball themed one for someone:

I may give this with a couple tickets to a game, a bag of peanuts and a baseball cap. You just have to use your imagination!
I'm still conferring with my co-conspirators about what else we will get that will be the perfect gifts, but in the meantime we've got pajamas, cookies, baggage tags and pillowcases. I hope you have lots of good ideas for perfect gifts too, and that someone is thinking about one for you.
Happy Sewing!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Holiday Gifts:Fabric Gift Bags



Quilting Arts Magazine Gifts featured fabric gift bags as one of the projects, and gave a recipe for making them. They looked so easy and cute, in my hubris I jumped right in and immediately made one incorrectly. As Mr. Hunting Creek says, when all else fails, read the directions.




Basically these are really lined pillowcases with boxed corners masquerading as gift bags, if that makes any sense. You can make them any size, out of any themed fabric and embellish accordingly. My wine bottle bag is made with 2 contrasting pieces of fabric 11"x14", sew each one in a tube with the top left open, and on one, leave a 4" area open for turning. Box the bottom corners by matching the seam to the bottom center and sew a triangle about one inch in. (Like you'd do with a pillow or purse bottom.) Sew the two tubes together at the top, right sides together. This was a tight fit on my machine, even with the free arm. Then turn right right out and sew up the hole. Make a cuff at the top and fill up with gifties. The wine bottle size could also hold maple syrup, liqueur, or any other long skinny things like biscotti wrapped in plastic
My little fat leprechaun bag was made because at first I did not follow the directions(because I didn't READ them. I assumed that I would just know how to make them.) and sewed two 11"x14" bags together first, so instead of a tall skinny bag I have a fat one. But that's ok. It will hold a pound of great coffee, fancy cocoa or candies. Plus it looks cute.
The nice thing about fabric gift bags is that they are reusable, you can use any fabric, not just Christmas fabric, and since we can make rectangles any size, they could hold any size gift. Perfect for lumpy or odd shaped gifts. You can tell the recipient to please feel free to reuse, regift and pass it on. It's not easy being green, but the more we try, the easier it will be.
Happy Sewing!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Comfort Food: Pear Cake


My daughter's Italian boyfriend calls this Torta di Pera, and we call it Pear Cake. He loves American Food.(The only thing we made that he didn't like was Yorkshire Pudding, but hey - that's English!) He eats American Desserts with enthusiasm, especially the warm fruity ones. I had some ripe pears in my bowl, so I made one today for our dessert. It's very easy to make and I think you'll like it too.

Pear Cake ( adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine Raspberry Peach Cake, Sept 2006)
Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9x2 inch round cake pan
Mix together
1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Set aside.
In mixing bowl or food processor, mix
6 tablespoons butter ( I have used salted and unsalted and no one can tell the difference)
1 cup granulated sugar ( I have also used 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla ( I make my own, see below)
2/3 cup plain yogurt ( you could also use sour cream or buttermilk, they are interchangeable)
2 sliced ripe pears
Cinnamon sugar
Mix the butter and sugar, add eggs, vanilla and yogurt. Sometimes I add a little lemon brandy too (see below), add flour mixture. Scrape into cake pan. Top with the sliced pears. I make a pinwheel design and sprinkle everything with cinnamon sugar.
Bake about 40-45 minutes, until tester comes out clean
Eat with ice cream, or as my family does, in a bowl with milk.

Lemon Brandy
I make this to add as a flavoring
Take a clean half pint jar, and next time you need to squeeze a lemon, peel the zest off, beat it up a little and place it in the jar. About two lemons worth is good. Cover the lemon peels with brandy. Steep for a month and use in yellow cake, gingerbread and other baked goods that would like being flavored with lemon brandy. I also use it to sprinkle on apples for apple pie or apple crisp.

I don't need to tell you how to make cinnamon sugar, do I? I keep a jar of this on my counter next to the coffee pot. When my kids were small they insisted on cinnamon toast so often I just made it by the batch, and we always have some one hand. I make mine with Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon. Treat yourself and get some, it's wonderful.

Holiday Gifts: Baggage Tags Part Two

I have had so much fun making baggage tags that I think I have enough for everyone on my gift list. I will use them as stocking stuffers and also as recyclable gift tags, so they do double duty by being green as well.
I had a couple emails asking for a little more explanation, so I took a picture of an unconstructed baggage tag.

I placed the fast2fuse interfacing in the center of my fabric piece. I fold up the edges of the fabric and fuse, then stitch with a decorative stitch. Then I sew on the Quilter's Vinyl sleeve on one of the sides. After that I make the strap. You could also use cord or ribbon. I fold the two raw edges of the long sides of the 2"x14" strip to the center of the strip then fold again so the raw edges meet and I have a long strip with the raw edges inside. I sew this, the place it with the ends in between the two sides, sew all around the edges and that's all there is to it.
Here are a few more completed ones:

Aren't they cute? Everyone who has seen them, loves them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Holiday Gifts: Baggage Tags



This weekend I was reading my new copy of Quilting Arts Gifts and I saw the baggage tags pattern and thought, hey those are cute. I had some scraps of fast2fuse from another project and some glue so I made one (it took about 5 minutes). These are so easy, I dare you to make just one.
You only need small amounts of fabric, so these are perfect to use up those pretty scraps that you hate to throw away. I used Fast2Fuse for the interfacing but you could also use Timtex or Peltex or another stiff interfacing. I used my Quilter's Vinyl for the clear sleeves on top. A yard will make a lot of tags!
The first one I made I followed their directions, but since I always think I know better, I changed them to suit myself. The author used glue to attach her fabric to the interfacing before she sewed the two sides together, but I didn't want to fuss with glue, so I cut my fabric slightly larger all the way around and used a decorative stitch and pretty thread to sew them on instead. Then I used the decorative thread to sew on the vinyl window. Voila! Easy, cute, takes 5 minutes to make: what's not to love?

My daughter says that we could use them as gift tags too, on wine bottles and gift baskets and as part of a themed gift. We are also thinking of using printable fabric to make these with pictures and names for custom gifts. After we make those I'll take pictures. I realized I am now addicted to making these because they provide almost instant gratification, they are inexpensive, they make a fun gift for coworkers, and a super stocking stuffer.

To make a baggage tag, you'll need:
Fabric glue ( I dispensed with this after the 1st one, but of course you can certainly use their method. Just call me a Maverick ;)
Two fabric pieces, cut 5 x 6 1/2 ish ( I made mine larger than their instructions)
One piece cut 2" x 14" for the strap
stiff interfacing ( you can cut any size, I decided 3 1/2" x 5" worked for me, but of course you can make yours bigger, smaller, longer ...depending on what you need them for)
Quilters vinyl cut 2 1/2" X 4"ish ( I took a business card and made sure it fit. You can see how scientific and exact I am.)
I sewed the two fabrics to the interfacing, attached the vinyl window to one side, inserted the strap in between the two sides, sewed them together: done!
Silk, brocade, embroidery stitchouts, extra quilt squares - all of these would be awesome as a tag! You could embellish with paints, paintstiks, trim...whatever strikes your fancy.
I made myself a kit, and cut about twenty interfacing rectangles, vinyl pieces, assorted fabric scraps and strips and sat and played. Everyone is getting these this year as part of their present (Dad, forget you read this)
The Quilting Arts Gifts has other projects I want to try - next up, the reversible wine gift bag.
Happy Sewing!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tag I'm It


Cathy at HemminandHummin has tagged me and I'm supposed to reveal seven random facts about myself. Here goes:

I once ran the Trailways Bus Station in San Juan Capistrano. Talk about a job where you meet interesting people...I could write a book about that job.
After we graduated from college, Mr. Hunting Creek and I both worked in Maui at the Maui Airport, managing the National Car Rental Office there. We met Chuck Norris! We saw humpback whales! And to tell the truth, I was happy to get off that island when we left to go back to California for grad school.
When I was working at a firm in Washington DC, I was introduced to Jerry Springer. I didn't know he was THAT Jerry Springer, and I asked him if he was ever mistaken for the famous one. He laughed and said, very politely, yes, all the time. Afterwards I found out that he WAS the famous one! Oops!
I met my husband at freshman orientation at UC Irvine - at a Toga Party.
When I was getting my teaching credential, we had to do student teaching in all sorts of situations. I taught in some rough areas, and years afterwards, big scary rough looking guys would come up and say Hi Teacher! when I was at the mall. They were really very nice kids...they just LOOKED tough.
When I was little, I used to design clothes for my Barbies. Didn't lots of great American Designers start that way?
And I really do read cookbooks in bed...as well as everything else. Bed is the best place for reading, especially since the kids and Mr. Hunting Creek LOVE scary movies and I hate them. So I go read in the bedroom and listen to music so I can't hear any part of their scary movie du jour.
I'm supposed to list my favorite blog places, but I don't want to leave anyone out by accident; I'll be like the Governor of Alaska and answer as I please instead.(She did, and why can't I?) I'll list my seven favorite places that I've been: San Francisco, Berkeley, Rome, Kyoto, Florence, Kuala Lumpur and New York.
I hope you all have a sunny and wonderful weekend.
Happy Sewing!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Current Projects



This morning my daughter told me she wanted a pair of silk pajamas. She picked out this fabric from Gorgeous Fabrics and now all we have to do order the silk and decide which pattern. She rarely asks for anything, so we will add that to our Holiday Project list. While we decide on what pattern, I am working on my Thanksgiving Table Runner Project. We are having Thanksgiving at my house this year after a long break (my sister has had it at her house for several years, while I did Christmas). So this year we swapped, since she and Bill are traveling that week. My daughter and I were talking about decorations and our menu, because of course we like to show off a little bit. My sister always decorates the table beautifully and has a fabulous multi course meal planned, so we can't do any less. (not that we are competitive, mind you. Oh NO) We were brainstorming menu ideas and table decor and we came up with an idea for a Thanksgiving Table Runner that had all of our pictures on it and things that we were thankful for. We are gathering the pictures for that now. (and for our super top secret Christmas project that we will not be discussing YET) This is a good opportnity to test out the new Photo Fabric Play book we just got in as well. I'll use EQ Printables Fabric for the pictures, (they have the best print quality, IMHO) and autumn colored fabric for the runner. We'll use paintstiks and leaf rubbings to embellish, and also some Angelina as well.(I might use real leaves for the rubbings too) I'll test out some designs and ideas this weekend and see what I like. The nice thing about making a table runner is that it is normally about 13-15inches wide and 40-50 inches long, so it isn't too big to finish in a couple weekends, leaving me plenty of time to decide what the actual dinner will involve. My daughter wants to get a Virginia locally raised free range turkey, and we'll also have a ham, and pumpkin pie, and apple tart, but the rest of the menu is free form and subject to change. Of course my son always wants exactly what we had the year before, and the year before THAT, but my daughter and I like to sneak some new stuff in every year.
You have to be both sneaky and respectful about traditions, I think. Yes, make that same old corn bread stuffing, but also maybe try a new vegetable or dessert every year. Same with sewing; I love to try new techniques and fabrics whenever I do a new project to stretch my abilities a little bit.
After such stressful news in the papers and on TV this week, I'm thankful that I can sew something nice for my family and make this small corner of the planet a little bit nicer, and not think about all that other stuff for a while. Aren't you glad that you sew?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Sale at Little Hunting Creek

We're having a SALE at Little Hunting Creek!
Ten Percent off everything, including Vintage Vogue Designers, Indygo Junction, and Amy Butler! We love the new Indygo Junction Asian Pajamas Pattern - won't they make a great gift? So unusual; perfect for that special someone.
Check out the new quilting DVDs, from Judith Baker Montano and Jan Krentz.
We have the long awaited new books by Katie Pasquini Masopust and Paula Nadelstern in stock now.
I'm making a Thanksgiving Table Runner and using my new copy of Digital Essentials to design some cute images to make it one of a kind.
The new Calendars for 2009 are here and make a great gift.
We are also having a sale at our sister website Autostradastores.com, where you will find
the perfect gift for your favorite car enthusiast, whether they love Jaguar, BMW, Ferrari, or Porsche, they have the special something for that man (or woman) in your life who is hard to buy for.
Use discount code LHC10 at checkout at either website for 10 percent off from today through October 5. Happy Shopping!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Vintage Men's Patterns


This week I found more great vintage men's patterns for my holiday gift projects. As a bonus besides the actual patterns, I love the artwork on the envelopes. If I were still teaching, I would point out to my students the manliness totem objects in each picture. For instance, why is this gentleman holding a golf club in his pajamas? Would we think he was insufficiently manly without it? And the man behind him in the nightshirt is smoking a pipe. That pipe! Why is it that no men's shirt pattern from the 50's is missing the guy with pipe picture? Did all men smoke pipes back then? I know that my dad didn't smoke a pipe. I don't even know any men that do. Very interesting, I wonder what Dr. Freud would say?
Contrast these to the pattern below from the 70s

The men in these pictures are younger, and they are wearing the same shirt as a girl! This clearly shows the changing gender roles of that era.. No fifties Dad would ever be caught wearing the same clothes as a girl. And note that they have no pipes! No golf clubs! And longer hair. It's clear in this one we aren't sewing for Dad any more.
I was thinking as I looked at the great artwork on the older patterns that the pictures would make great quilt blocks. What an awesome wall hanging or throw that would make. And now that I've noticed the guy with pipe theme (he was on that pattern I wrote about last week, too.) I'm feeling a little obsessed.(I think I will have to collect more of these. My daughter will read this and say NO! You've got enough!) I wonder how many it would take before the Smithsonian would ask me to curate a men with pipe pattern retrospective.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Comfort Food


When I'm recovering from a cold, I feel like I deserve a reward. I've suffered! I've endured the 1001 symptoms that they enumerate on TV and gosh darn it, I need a BROWNIE and a cup of tea. Earl Grey, please.
I remember buying this cookie cookbook in downtown LA in the fall of 1984. The night before Mr. Hunting Creek and I had been to the most Horrible Dinner in the history of humankind. We had been invited to stay at a brand new Boutique hotel in a part of downtown that was...well...ahem...not Quite gentrified...at that time. They had a fancy pants chef who made this nouvelle cuisine...no, that's not right...I'm not sure what kind of cuisine it was. It was weird food. I was 7 months pregnant at the time, so it seemed super disgusting, but other, non-pregnant people with us agreed that the food was odd. Time has mercifully dimmed many details, but unfortunately I have not been able to forget the Avocado garlic ice cream with garlic pepper whipped cream on top. It was a color green not usually associated with ice cream and I still feel a little queasy remembering it. The next morning we snuck out of there early and ate breakfast at the Pantry, which was wonderful, and I bought the cookbook in a bookstore we walked by on our way to Union Station.
I read the cookbook on the train all the way back to San Juan Capistrano, and by the time I got home, I had a craving for brownies so bad that I started making them before I had even unpacked.
These brownies are my TNT for emergency desserts, because they are yummy, easy and fast to make. They are the LBD of desserts.
This is Mrs. Witty's recipe with my variations alongside.
You don't have to be pregnant or recovering from a cold to enjoy them.

Quick Brownies (or as Mrs. Witty says, the shortest distance between yourself and a panful of brownies) These are brownies of the "cake" variety, but don't worry, they are plenty moist and delicious)
Get out a bowl, you are going to mix everything together with a spatula.
1/2 cup bland vegetable oil ( I use canola oil, don't substitute other shortening)
6 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup water ( I always use cold coffee leftover from breakfast. Once I used part coffee and part Kahlua.)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional, I never use these because my son doesn't like nuts)

Preheat over to 350. Grease an 8"square pan.
Measure all ingredients except chocolate chips and nuts into the bowl and mix until blended. Scrape into prepared pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips and nuts( if using) all over the top. I like to use a mixture of chocolate, white chocolate and coffee flavored chips, for fun. Bake for about 35 minutes, until they test dry in the middle. Cool, eat with ice cream. (But not Avocado-garlic ice cream, please)
Mrs. Witty says that they keep for several days but quite frankly, I've never had them hang around that long. I heartily recommend the book, Mrs. Witty's Monster Cookies. I think it is out of print, but I have seen copies available on Amazon for very reasonable prices.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It Don't Come Easy

I've been fighting a cold all week , and as of yesterday morning the cold was winning. After cheering on Aaron Rogers and the Packers, I felt like sewing something easy. Deep in the sewing room closet, I found a pillow form and a remnant that would make a cute pillow for our breakfast room couch. The pillow is 12"x12", and I have a 12 1/2" square quilter's ruler, so I marked around it in chalk and cut out my fabric. This will be easy, I thought. I found a zipper that matched from my zipper stash and after I had it sewn in, I unzipped it and it broke. Back to the zipper stash. I found another zipper that matched (this one even better, how did I miss it before?) Some quality time with the seam ripper later, new zipper is in, pillow sewn and on couch. Then I dipped into the UFO heap to finish some pajamas I was making for a Christmas gift. Got to stay on track for Christmas! All I had to do was make buttonholes for the drawstring and the casing. Of course I could not do that correctly either; hello again, seam ripper! I hate ripping out buttonhole stitches the MOST; they are so close together and tiny. Finally I did them correctly and when I was halfway through putting the drawstring in the casing the safety pin somehow came off the drawstring and I had to start all over again. TWICE. These pajamas will be finished another day. Some days I do everything perfectly on the first try and other days I can't do anything right no matter how hard I try.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Like Finding a Unicorn

When it comes to vintage patterns, my favorites are the men's patterns. Old patterns for men are the ivory- billed woodpeckers of patternland, but who doesn't love a challenge? My son is a retro fashion fan, and he asked me to make him some retro attire. Look what I've found so far:
I LOVE that the guy on the right is smoking a pipe, supposedly at the beach or poolside! And those are some really short shorts, buster! This pattern includes two shirts, one of which is reversible. How cool is that?
And how about this groovy number?

I'm not going to recreate this look in polyester doubleknit. But when you read in the fashion pages a few months from now that Italian sailor shirts and men's leisure suits are BIG with the kids, you'll know who is responsible.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Christmas Homemade Cookie Story and Recipe

My teenage nephew loves Snickerdoodles; they are his favorite cookie. My sister is not a baker, plus she has an extremely demanding job and does not work at home like me. (Not that MY job's not demanding, I just have more time at home) Suffice to say, she doesn't make cookies very often. So several years ago, I started making a tin of cookies each every Christmas for my nephew, brother in law and sister. (Why one tin apiece? Because they love their cookies so much that they won't share!)
True story: my sister and our brother were down in her rec room/basement watching a movie and they noticed a cookie tin hidden in the rafters there. "AHA!," my sister says, "He's hidden something! Oh no! Could it be drugs?" She enlists our brother, who is very tall, to get the tin down so they can look. They open the tin. It is full of the snickerdoodles I had given my nephew for Christmas. He had hidden them up high in the rafters so that no one else would eat his cookies. I would be willing to bet that no one would do this with store-bought cookies. The moral? If you want to give an appreciated gift, give something handmade.
These cookies have been eaten with gusto by Senators, Congressmen, Generals, Vice-Presidents, family and neighbors. (I used to work in DC and have a BIG Christmas List) But no one likes them better than my nephew.

Snickerdoodles
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion (with, dare I say, a few Improvements)
2 sticks butter (the original recipe calls for half butter, half vegetable shortening. I hate shortening, and don't approve of hydrogenated fat. If you're going to eat a cookie, might as well have the Real Thing)
(remember, don't let that butter get soft and oily - we want it cool, NOT cold, not warm)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract ( I make my own, make sure you use the real stuff)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
****
Cookie coating
Mix 1/2 cup sugar with 2 teaspoons cinnamon ( I use Penzey's Vietnamese Cinnamon for its wonderful scent and flavor)

***
Preheat your oven. I do it to 350. The original does 400. I like my way better.
I make my dough in my Cuisinart, if you have one, it's super easy - mix the butter with sugar, eggs and vanilla, then add dry ingredients all at once, zap zap zap until blended.
With a mixer, blend sugar and butter, add eggs and vanilla then add dry ingredients (which you have mixed all together in another bowl - see why I use the Cusinart?)
I scoop the dough with a teaspoon cookie scoop. It's like a melon baller, and all the cookies come out the same size. I roll them in the cinnamon sugar and place on baking sheet. The original recipe tells you to them smash the balls flat. I don't do that because if you don't they come out a little softer and chewier in the middle. I like that better and so do my eaters, so I never smash them. I bake mine for 11 minutes. Test your first batch and see how long they take to get the effect you like. Makes about 4 dozen - 5 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them and how much dough your "helpers" eat. If you are baking ahead for the holidays you'd better hide these. Put them in a sturdy airtight container and freeze. Every year I make hundreds of these and no one gets tired of them. And some people won't share, so better make plenty!

*** Home Made Vanilla***
I make my own vanilla and have had my jar for over ten years.
Take a jar ( mine is 8 oz) and add two cut up vanilla beans. I cut mine both lengthwise and horizontally. Cover them with brandy. I use Christian Brothers. I wouldn't use fancy expensive Cognac, but it's your kitchen, if that's what you like. Shake it up, and store in a cupboard for a couple weeks. I add a vanilla bean every six months or so, and more brandy when it gets low. I never take out the old beans. My jar smells amazingly vanilla and if they made men's after shave that smelled like this stuff women would follow those men around, helplessly smitten.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What to make for gifts?


One of my readers sent me an email yesterday saying that I didn't say WHAT gift items I was making. I will list them below. I've been doing this for several years now, so I have it down to a science. But first...

Mrs. Hunting Creek's Rules for Sane Holiday Sewing

1. Do not try something you have never tried before. Now is NOT the time to learn how to crochet your own thigh high silk stockings, (unless you are one of those rare people with tons of free time and a small gift list)
2. Make the projects small enough so that you can finish them in the short time alloted. Will you really be able to make 4 queen size quilts in 110 days? Keeping in mind that your sewing room is not a sweatshop (although at times it may feel like one)
3. Do a trial run - make a few and see if you really want to make 28 matching napkins. Mix it up so you don't get bored and do other stuff in between or you'll go crazy. Ask me how I know this
4. Start early - start planning NOW. Do you really want to be up til 3am on December 18th making gifties for your secret Santa? I didn't think so.

You can make fun presents for people and not end up wandering in the mall like an extra in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Here is what I am making this year. If you do the same thing consistently your recipients will start to ask you in November if you will PLEASE make those biscotti in a Christmas Tin like last time.

Cookies - you can make these in batches starting now and freeze until holiday time, then it won't be overwhelming. Long keeping cookies that freeze well include biscotti, Snickerdoodles, thumbprint cookies and bar cookies.

Crazy Quilted and otherwise fancy-looking Christmas Stockings (there are lots of patterns for these and after having made hundreds I can truly say that they are quick and easy to make)

Table runners - these are small quilts and go together quickly - plus they use use scraps and can be made to match people's decor or interests

Accessories: I have made wraps, shawls and scarves and they are super easy and cost a fortune if you buy them. I'll work with my photographer this week to make a tutorial for you.

Tote bags: these make a wonderful green gift and are super thoughtful.

I'll post recipes and pictures as I go along. This will keep me from falling behind, right? Right? Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Only 100 Plus days til Christmas


My brother in law, who is otherwise a very nice, kind and considerate person, sent me a ecard last week. There were butterflies, puppies, rainbows and leaping fish, all of them gaily proclaiming: only 115 days til Christmas! Isn't that Pure Evil? Like most working women, I look upon the holidays with all the cheerful optimism of Nell tied to the train tracks by Snidely Whiplash. All the work, all the gifts, cards, planning, cooking...I'll stop. I must think zenlike thoughts.
Adding to this normal Fall to Winter Marathon, this is the year that my son is in his senior year of high school and is applying for college this fall. He is my youngest child. Once he is at college, I'll be officially an empty nest mom. Mr. Hunting Creek is looking forward to this development. "We'll go camping!" he says. He points out the fun my dad had on a recent trip to Mammoth Lakes. (Hi Dad!)

What he doesn't know is, I am not going anywhere without my sewing machine. This may complicate his back to nature Simple Life fantasies. (We'll pare down to basics!, he says. "It will be great!") no stash? no machine? ah, no... I won't tell him yet. It will be our little secret.)
In the meantime, in between working, running a household and getting my son's applications in, plus all the holiday prep, I'll be attempting to do my pre-holiday gift sewing and cooking. I like to give some homemade gifts to my nearest and dearest.
If you see Dudley Do-Right, tell him I'm tied to the tracks.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Almanac Knows

Our weather here in Northern Virgina has been amazingly pleasant the last few weeks - way too pleasant to sit inside and sew. My son and I were discussing this phenomenon and we both agreed, weather this pleasant MUST mean that we will get a horrible winter. We didn't get hardly any snow last winter and to a high school guy that's a big disappointment - no snow days! He saw that the almanac had also predicted a heavy snowfall for us this upcoming winter and advised me in his scientific tone of voice that of course it was impossible to predict the weather with any accuracy more than a week ahead. Which means that we'll get lots of snow, right?
I'll have to work on my coat muslin so I can finish my winter coat before it gets cold. Since our weather has been so wacky lately that could be any day now.
I'd better get started on my fall sewing before we are buried in snow!
What are you sewing for fall?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Only ONE month left of Summer

Hurry! only one month left of summer! If you hurry, you still have time to do the following:

Lie by the pool reading magazines
Sew a cute T shirt in your favorite color
Watch a blockbuster movie with your kids (if you don't have kids, you can borrow some.)
Eat outside
Squeeze in one more trip to the pool (ours closes on Labor Day)
Go to the Farmer's market and buy all the tomatoes and peaches and sweet corn they have
Make a Tomato Pie

Everyone loves this at our house. It's so delicious you won't believe how easy it is.

Make a batch of biscuit dough. I use the recipe in Fannie Farmer, which is almost the same as the recipe on the back of my flour bag. Two cups of flour, one stick of butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons baking powder and about 2/3 cups milk.
Divide the dough in half and line an 8 inch pie pan with that half. Then cover the bottom with a handful of grated mild cheddar cheese, 2 sliced tomatoes, snipped chives, basil, more cheese (another handful) and then take 1/3 cup mayonnaise, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and spread that over tomatoes and cheese and herbs. Top with remaining biscuit dough and bake until brown - about 20 minutes at 350.
Wonderful with a cold iced tea - equally as good later this fall with Roma tomatoes.
Better make two if you have more than 3 people who like tomatoes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why I Love Patterns

Some people find out how many patterns I have and they are aghast. Why do you need so many? (non-sewists just don't get it) Patterns, like recipes and road maps, are the directions to get you where you want to go. How can you have too many directions in this world? Say that you are watching the Academy Awards and you see the fabulous Helen Mirren. She was wearing an amazing dress, right? The sewist knows that they could make a similar dress with the help of a good pattern. Or you are in a great restaurant and you have a wonderful dish, delicious and unusual (like the carrot and ginger soup I had once at Zola in DC). You know that if you can find a similar recipe, you can make that soup whenever you want. A good map gets you where you need to go. Mr. Hunting Creek, armed only with the Rand McNally Atlas, once drove us from LaGuardia to Tuxedo Park New York for a wedding weekend, with no wrong turns, in the dark! All you need is a good map and decent directions, he said.
I very seldom make a pattern exactly the way the designer intended. Either I have adult attention deficit disorder, or I am incapable of following directions. I like to experiment and also, sometimes I think I know better than the designer. For instance, don't you think that this pattern would make a great top? That's what I'm going to do with it. And this Butterick Tunic wants to be a dress (it told me).
With quilt patterns I mix stuff up too. I take a little of this and a little of that and make something different. I like to take all of my patterns and mix and match ingredients to come up with something better. The first time you do this it will feel funny, but if you play around with test fabric first , you'll get the hang of it. And pretty soon, you'll be swapping the skirt of one Vogue Pattern with the bodice of another to the benefit of both. Don't say I didn't warn you.