Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Dad!

July 31st is my Dad's birthday - Happy Birthday Dad!
Are you 21 again? Even though all of us kids managed to dent his cars multiple times he never got mad.
Everyone here wishes you a great birthday!
Love and candles! MMMWWAHH!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fabric Rehab

My children told me that I had a problem, but I denied it. "I'm not an addict!", I claimed. "I collect fabric and patterns, that's all. I like to sew. It's my hobby."
"Then why is it called a STASH?" they wanted to know. Good question. Like all addicts, I live in denial. Even though I have over a thousand patterns, (my personal patterns, not even counting the ones I sell on my website) I am always looking for the new ones. I check out my favorite fabric websites every day. Because you just never know. That next pattern, that new fabric might be THE ONE.
I inherited my fabriholic tendencies from my mother.(She was quite a collector of more than just fabric. I think this behavior is genetic.) We used to visit the Fabric Warehouse in Anaheim and Newport Beach just to see what they had. No projects in mind. Just looking. We'd come home with huge bags of treasures. For many years my fabric acquisition was under control because after we moved to Virginia, there was no local source for the designer fabrics I craved. I took up quilting... until one day I found the Pattern Review website. It was as if an alcoholic got a job at a brewery. It was like finding the source of the Nile, fabric-wise! I could buy fabric ONLINE! Things got so bad that once Linda at Emmaonesock called to ask if I wanted the goods shipped in a plain brown wrapper, so my husband wouldn't notice. (I THINK she was kidding.) Yeah, I'm on a first name basis with my purveyors. While we were talking she said that her customers sometimes ask her to ship to next door neighbors, hold fabric for later shipping, ship to that no one at home knows! What kind of behavior does THAT sound like, class? True confession: I have even accidentally bought pieces of the same fabric twice because I had forgotten I had already bought some. This is NOT sane behavior. I've tried to reform, really I have. I donated some fabric that I would never use to charity. I donated supplies to our neighborhood silent auction, to raise money for a new playground. It's July, and I haven't bought any fabric or patterns for FOUR months! I told my son that I was cured, and he said, "No Mom, you can never be cured. Once an addict, always an addict." Isn't it awful what they teach our kids in school these days?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Best Cookies in the World

This is a true story about the best cookies in the world. (this sentence blatantly stolen from Roald Dahl via John Thorne. They were referring to Danish Sugar Cookies, but in our family, and most of the United States, the Best Cookies are Toll House.)
I am going to be blunt: everything you know about making these cookies is probably WRONG.
The recipe on the back of the Toll House Morsels? A vile imposter!
I know this is shocking. I'll give you a second to contemplate. I was shocked too.
But the recipe on the back of the bag is NOT the true Toll House Cookie Recipe.
First, a little background: About 25 years ago, we lived in El Toro, California, which in True California Fashion, has now rebranded and renamed itself Lake Forest...but I digress... I used to go the the local library to check out books, and also to visit the Friends of Library Bookstore, where they sold, [and may still sell] donated books, magazines and music to raise money for library programs. Paperbacks were 50 cents each, hardcovers $1. I found an old cookbook that looked interesting. I love old cookbooks. So I tucked it in my basket and paid my money. When I got home and looked more closely, I discovered that what I had was an autographed copy of Toll House Tried and True Recipes by Ruth Graves Wakefield. My copy was copyright 1947. Yes, that Toll House - the cookie one. Wow! And there were more surprises. The shocker - the famous cookie recipe was DIFFERENT. The name is Chocolate Crunch Cookies, but that's not all. After some research and further obsessive reading, I learned from other Toll House Lovers Richard Sax and Philip Schulz that when Nestle bought the rights to the recipe, they were bound to print it exactly like Mrs. Wakefield's Original, but when that contract was up, almost to the DAY, they changed the recipe. They dumbed it down.
No more buttered cookie sheets, no more sifting the flour, no more dissolving the baking soda in water - they even deleted the water. As we all know, Method and Technique in Baking is as important as in sewing. How you combine ingredients and when is vitally important to the success of your project. In sewing, you need to do your pressing, staystitching, clipping as you go along and at the right times to ensure the desired outcome. In Baking, sifting, measuring carefully, and mixing correctly are all just as important as the actual ingredients.
When I taught my daughter how to make cookies, we learned something else: when recipes tell you to soften the butter, they go too far. Soft butter is exactly what you DON'T want. It makes for flat cookies. Now when it comes to baking, I'm a pretty darn good baker. I would not be embarrassed to give one of my cookies to Jacques Pepin or Anthony Bourdain. But I wouldn't. I would give them one of my daughter's cookies instead. Because even though I make a darn good cookie, my daughter makes the Best COOKIES EVER. She only makes Toll House, and ONLY from Mrs. Wakefield's Original recipe. She not only follows that recipe exactly, but has added some steps. She measures and sifts exactly. She only softens the butter a few minutes while letting it sit out while she assembles the other ingredients. It's still COLD, but not a block of solid butter. You could bend it slightly without breaking it. She doesn't warm the eggs either. Her whole method is based on keeping everything as cool as possible. And she keeps the dough in a metal bowl that she places in another, larger metal bowl full of ice water to keep that dough cold. She uses a cookie scoop like a mini ice cream scoop so that each cookie is exactly the same. Her cookies are perfect. Each one is just like another and they have a nice crunchy chewy texture. Mrs. Field's cookies are not even close. Ruth Graves Wakefield would be so proud.

Here is Mrs. Wakefield's Original True Toll House Cookie Recipe, with adaptations from Caitlin to ensure a more perfect cookie:
Sift 2 1/4 cups of flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter - keep it cool, don't let it get oily or too soft
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
Mix butter and sugars together, until creamy. Keep that butter cool by placing your bowl inside a larger bowl of ice water.
Add 2 beaten eggs to the sugar and butter, then mix one teaspoon of baking soda with one teaspoon of warm water and add that to dough mixture along with the sifted flour.
Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Fold in the chocolate chips.[one bag, 2 cups] Add 1 cup choppped nuts if you like nuts.
Drop by small scoops (Mrs Wakefield asks for 1/2 teaspoons, which are LITTLE. Ours is 1 teaspoon. Make them any size you like, but then adjust baking times) on to greased baking sheets. Bake about 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Check that first batch carefully, as every oven is different. You may have to bake your cookies a longer or short time. Mrs. Wakefield's recipe makes 100 small crunchy cookies. If you use a larger scoop, you'll get fewer cookies.
Enjoy the accolades.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Making Time

I was talking to my BFF from high school earlier today. She asked what may be the Eternal Question which has been asked by women since the Dawn Of Time: "How do you balance so much?! I have NO hobbies or businesses. Does doing laundry count?"
I realized I don't balance at all. I am BAD.
When I am sewing, I am NOT doing the following:
I'm not doing laundry [although I'll confess to throwing some in while I pass by the laundry zone. Triple Laundry Score if I get to preshrink some fabric while washing clothes.] Physics question: why do guys make so much laundry? Especially 17 year old guys? Just asking.
I'm not vacuuming. Although with two dogs who shed [shedding is THEIR hobby] I could legally vacuum three times a day.
I'm not letting the dogs out AGAIN.
I'm not mopping the floor, polishing the furniture, dusting, or watering plants.
When I am sewing, I am happy. I am an artist. I am in the ZONE, as psychologists say. I read that being in this happy zone has tremendous mental health benefits.
I would like to confess here that I am never in the zone while cleaning.
Nowadays I have to make time to sew. When other things keep me from sewing for too long, I go into withdrawal. So I try to take sewing breaks. At lunch I'll sew for fifteen minutes. I'll save handsewing for after work and do it while listening to music. I find this relaxing. At night when the family is watching some scary movie, I read about sewing.
But like a true addict, I dream about a day when I can sew all I want! Yes! That Magic Day when all fabric is preshrunk, I will always have enough of any fabric to make that new pattern, and never run out of thread that matches.
And the dogs will let themselves out.
Until that day arrives, Happy sewing!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My First Quilt

I've been reorganizing my sewing spaces this month. I may have a thousand patterns, so my daughter bought a nice cabinet from IKEA for me to store them in. While I was sorting through them all, I found this pattern from my first quilt, pictured above.
I was only 22, just recently married and there was a new baby in the family. I had been sewing since Barbie days, so I decided to make a quilt. I used McCalls pattern7810 copyright 1981, but made a few design changes. I remember cutting it out on the kitchen floor, because I didn't have a table as large as my cutting board. It was dark wine,rose pink and pale pink, and I didn't use the bear applique but designed my own. 22 year olds are fearless, yes? I decided that I would put the baby's name in applique diagonally down the center. I drew letters and cut them out of paper to get the right arrangement and size, and played around until I had a pleasing design. Then I cut them out of fabric and used a fusible to apply them to the medallion center. Then I satin stitched around them. Very pretty! Everything came out beautifully and the new mom was very impressed. Not too long ago she mentioned that my niece still had the quilt. [This niece just sent us a note saying she was getting married next summer! Talk about feeling OLD. ]
My second quilt I used the same pattern, but this time I made the bear applique. It also came out great and everyone was impressed. So if you ever need a great easy pattern for a beginner, keep your eyes open for one of these. McCalls should re-issue these; they were so easy and looked so cute when finished.
An experienced quilter will recognize that it is just a medallion center with a log cabin border. Nothing could be easier. Why not pick a pretty conversation print for the center, use two complimentary fabrics and applique the name on there? The baby will love it forever.
Happy sewing!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July to everyone, and I hope you all spend the day as our founders desired - picnicking and celebrating with family and friends.

I've been thinking about personal independence days as well. By this I mean when I learned how to do something that allowed me to be free to make my own choices, culinarily, stylistically or otherwise. Here are a few of mine, which I will be privately celebrating today:

Bread Baking Day! Way back when I was a student at Berkeley, the future Mr. Hunting Creek and I used to combine our resources and cook together. We were always broke, but had high culinary standards. I decided to teach myself how to bake bread. In true Berkeley style, I went to the University Library and checked out books on this subject and read all about it. My first attempt was disappointing - somewhat like a brick and ugly too. However, with further study and a little practice, on my second attempt I made bread that looked and tasted like BREAD. There was no turning back. I was then able to make our own rolls, pizza dough, pie crust and sandwich bread for pennies. I felt like a goddess.

Making my first blouse: I wanted to learn how to sew, so my mother took me to visit a friend who had a teenage daughter who sewed. She felt like I would learn better from someone my own age. This girl was older than I, and one of the cool kids, but she was nice enough to show a ten year old the basics. However, her working style was somewhat slapdash, and when we got home, my mother cast a critical eye over the finishing details on the inside and said, "that's not the right way to make a blouse!". My young teacher had just had me sew the seams together with all raw edges everywhere and no finishing, right in style now with many avant-garde designers, but anathema to my mother's generation. Out came the seam ripper and we redid everything until it was done right according to my mother's high standards. To this day I am unable to do anything in the "quick and dirty style"; even a costume has to be finished correctly. I'm sure Dr Freud would have plenty to say about this! Once it was done correctly, even a sullen preteen had to admit it looked better. Thanks, Mom!

Learning how to fit: after I had had my children and was a busy working mom, I was unhappy with the way patterns fit. I was no long the young skinny thing who could make patterns right out of the envelope, but I was unhappy with the patterns made according to my measurements. They were sloppy looking, too big or just plain wrong. Then I discovered PatternReview and read a few reviews by women who were also large busted. When I read the tutorials they had added showing how they did the full bust adjustment, you could have knocked me over with a feather - OF COURSE! That's what was wrong! There was a secret I didn't know! Cue angels singing and the trumpets blowing! I would especially like to credit Ann at Gorgeous Things , Debbie Cook and the Sewing Divas for their generous tutorials.
After that, there was no turning back. I could make my own clothes that fit correctly. I was no longer a slave to RTW.

Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Patience is a virtue

A couple years ago I had a great idea: I would make everyone in my office custom Christmas stockings for my team's gift exchange. I designed special themed stockings for each person and sewed them up. It didn't take long, and it was easy and fun. Pictured is one of the special stockings. Everyone loved them and hung them up in their offices. Some people took me aside and said, "Oh I wish I could sew. I just don't have the patience." And I would respond that it took no special patience to make a stocking, but they would claim this lack of patience prevented them from any creative endeavor: quilting, painting, cooking, sewing. No patience! Can't do it!

I am not an especially patient person. If you were to ask anyone in my family to list my virtues, I am pretty sure patience would not even make the top ten. But I hear the same statement over and over again whenever I make a baby quilt, or a dress or blouse or pillows. They just don't have the patience. Is it that some people consider sewing complete drudgery?
As sewists and quilters I think we have a small mission. We must rid the world of this myth that making something yourself requires patience. No patience is required. The truth is making your own anything is fun. I had fun making those stockings. Quilters and sewists are the most generous people; they even make things for strangers, just because they care so much. So I'd say that it doesn't take any patience at all. All you need is love.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Has THIS ever happened to you?

Have you ever finished a slightly challenging project and then... you don't know what you want to make next? I just finished a pair of capris - my first pair of fitted pants since I started sewing clothes again. It was a challenge because Butterick and I had a serious difference of opinion over what size I should be. Silly me, I thought I'd go by the measurements on the envelope. Well. This was a error that made, after basting to check the fit, a pair of clown pants. Since I am not a clown, [actually I HATE clowns] clearly some adjustments were in order. I pinched, I pinned, I went down THREE sizes. Now I don't like tight pants, but three sizes too big is more ease than anyone needs, even if that anyone likes an occasional Ben and Jerry's treat. Now it's not like I am going to wear these on the Red Carpet for the release of my latest film, but I do like the things I make to look handmade in a GOOD way. I had to make the darts in the back deeper and add darts in the front. I figured out where by trying them on and pinching fabric where it was loose and seeing where the darts looked best. [My waist is smaller in proportion to my hips than Butterick thinks it should be, even when I cut a smaller size there. Isn't that a nicer way to think than saying my hips are too big? My waist, alas, is too small! ] I made a perfect fly zipper using Sandra Betzina's method in Power Sewing and it came out perfectly. That's one reason why I persevered - that fly was PERFECT, darn it, and I wanted to FRAME it for pete's sake. These capris were more work than some ball gowns I've made!Anyway, the pants are done, hemmed and wearable and DH approved. I am on vacation this week, and we are "summering in place" this year, so no need to pack and go somewhere. [ I actually like staying home, to be honest. Home is nice. Everyone speaks English and I don't have to figure out the money exchange.] I have enough fabric to make clothes for a small army. I have enough fabric to make quilts, purses, pillowcases, and curtains for a small department store. And I think I just might have a pattern for everything. So what is the problem, you ask? I think I have too many choices! Should I make a nice Tee? Simplicity 4076 is a TNT for me. Hmmmm. Or maybe a summer purse? or both? What do you do when you can't decide? Flip a coin? See what fabric the cat decides to sleep on? Stay tuned, Gentle Reader. I'll go poke around in the sewing cave and see what fabric grabs my ankle and refuses to let go. Until then, Happy sewing!