Thursday, February 26, 2009

Much Ado About Sleeves

I read quite a few comments about Mrs. Obama's sleeveless dress. I agree with the Washington Post. If my arms looked like that I'd never wear sleeves again.
Remember what we discussed about Cotillion etiquette? That whatever the First Lady does in matters of fashion is correct? It is now correct to go sleeveless in February.
People who criticize are only revealing their ignorance of etiquette, as my mom used to say.
(Or they are jealous of those arms.)

I've had an epiphany regarding redesigning my top and have now moved to the testing phase. It will either be a huge success or I will be getting good use out of all of my knit scraps in testing. Win-win, right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Re-imagineering" Butterick 5327

I have been swamped with work this week, but when I am on conference calls and doing mindless downloading, I am all the while "re-imagineering" the construction of this top. The crazed maniacs at Butterick want us to first sew the top front to the back at the shoulders (kudos though for mentioning stabilization at shoulder seams), finish the neckline edges of front and back with a doubled narrow hem (on a KNIT! are they mad? ) and then hand sew all of the little teeny tucks the neckline edge. Knowing from personal experience that those instructions are just not going to give me the results I want, I have been plotting a better method. The recommended fabrics are jersey and cotton knit. Those fabrics can be heavy, and here we are pleating lots of extra into the neckine and there is nothing to stabilize those pleats, and knits are, as we all know, very stretchy, so a heavy pleated neckline will eventually droop. It's a puzzle, and I think most sewistas are problem solvers. How can we make this a better way? I have some ideas that I'm testing. One, to do the pleats on the front while that piece is flat, before it is sewn to the back, and to make the ornamental pleats first by machine and then do the shoulder seams and bind the top edge folding the binding to the inside. A very narrow binding. And I think a very lightweight stabilizer would help the top edge not droop. I don't think that the pleats necessarily have to be done by hand. What is it with these pattern instruction people? They seem to be in the dark ages about sewing machines. They are always saying, "sew this by hand" as if that is the best way. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. I don't mind hand sewing and I do a good job when I do it, but I resent unnecessary hand sewing. And I think it puts new sewists off.
If you have a better idea than Butterick's on how to do these pleats and finish the top edges, feel free to share. I think this could be a very cute top if made a better way.
Is it Spring yet? I want it to be Spring by the time I finish this. Mother Nature, are you listening?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Butterick, how can you be so wrong?

Last night I read the instructions of all my new patterns while I waited for Mr. Hunting Creek to finish his eternal conference call and come make dinner with me. I wanted to decide what to make next. Reading pattern instructions is like being an airline pilot: hours of pleasant boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror. (OK, maybe not EXACTLY like an airline pilot. But, you get the idea.)
The following instructions should strike fear into any sewista familiar with the handling of knits:

A doubled narrow hem on a knit? Are they kidding me? Whenever I have attempted this, it has always resulted in a wavy stretched out disaster. Knits, most of them, don't unravel, so why are we doing a doubled narrow hem anyway? Why do we finish the edges at ALL? I decide to rebel. I decide that I am not following their instructions.
I feel like a rebel. I feel like a renegade. I contemplate changing my name to Tonya, a la Patty Hearst. Mr. Hunting Creek, when informed of the collossal wrongness of Butterick and their misguided knit finishing policies, is not suitably shocked. I now understand the evangelical fervor of religious missionaries.
I can hardly wait to finish work today to put my revolutionary knit finishing theories into practice. (Is this what Karl Marx felt like? A sense of fanatical RIGHTNESS?) be continued

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cake for Breakfast

Why not? Flour sugar butter eggs...Nothing non-breakfasty there. I like cake for breakfast with coffee;I'm not much of a dessert eater. However the rest of the crew at chez Hunting Creek are very much dessert eaters; there have been pointed comments and wistful looks at empty cookie jars and cake plates this week. Last night was cold and rainy so I made homemade macaroni and cheese. While it was baking I thought I'd make a cake but none of my recipes inspired me, or I didn't have some vital ingredient. So I made up my own recipe. I've been baking since the Cretaceous Period, surely I could invent a cake? I consulted several of my cookbooks. The basic proportions were all about the same. Here's my invention, based on ingredients on hand:

Cinnamon and Brickle Chip Cake
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream, or yogurt ( I used yogurt because that's what I had.)
2 teaspoons vanilla (I make my own, see previous post on Vanilla for the recipe, I may in the future flavor the cake with rum, Amaretto, lemon brandy or whatever strikes my fancy)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cinnamon chips ( I got mine from King Arthur Flour)
1 cup Heath Brickle chips (obtained at the good old grocery store)

Preheat your oven to 350. Grease and flour bundt pan or angel food cake pan. Blend the butter with the sugar ( I use my Cuisinart), add eggs and vanilla, mix in then add sour cream or yogurt. It should be creamy and all mixed up. Add flour and baking powder and salt. Mix that in, then fold in chips. Bake about 55 minutes. It may take longer or shorter - ovens differ. I start checking at 50 minutes and gauge from there.

A note on recipes. I say I invented this, but I am sure someone, somewhere has also made a cinnamon and brickle chip cake. How could it be otherwise? I think that there are really are no original recipes, there are only variations.

At our house cakes are eaten in bowls with milk, because that's how we all always eat cake. We prefer our cakes unfrosted, so that they can get the bowl and milk treatment.(Of course when there are guests we eat cake like the guests. The milk in bowls will be our little secret) I assume it would also be good with ice cream, because what cake isn't?
Next time I will try it with blueberries and cinnamon chips, or maybe mini chocolate chips and nuts. It all depends on what I have on hand.
Happy Baking!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spring Fever

Today is deceptively sunny but not warm. I whine that I am tired of winter. "I am only sewing warm weather things from now on". Mr. Hunting Creek says, "Why don't you get some new patterns? It will cheer you up." Is he just being nice? no...he even offered to drive. So off we went. Here's what we are sewing for Spring:
Butterick 5327 What an unusual T shirt. I have lots of knits in the stash that would be perfect for both views B and C.
Also making a new tshirt is an excellent way to restore sewing mojo. Mine has been dormant since I finished the birthday shirt. I love the gathered neckline and ruffled sleeve and I love the tucks. I'm a sucker for tucks on anything. This is odd actually, because I get so cranky making them. But the pattern buying me is not very considerate of the sewing me. The pattern buying me also loves ruffles, for instance Butterick 5320 Now don't go getting all reasonable and saying, "But Mrs. Hunting Creek, aren't you afraid of looking bridesmaid-y?".

Yes I am, that's why I will carefully select not bridesmaid fabric. Something sinister, to conteract the ruffles. "What's sinister fabric?" Mr. Hunting Creek asks. He enjoys participating in wardrobe planning. (He and our son are quite dictatorial actually. Sometimes they interpose a veto on certain fabrics and patterns.)

Fabrics like this one and this one from Gorgeous Fabrics are perfect to counteract the bridesmaid tendencies.
Then since I have "saved money" by making a dress, accoring to the Law of Compensatory Cashflow, I have money Left Over for cool shoes. Our son says, "Is there such a thing as leftover money?". I carefully explain the Law of Compensatory Cashflow. Say I need to buy a dress to wear to a wedding. At Nordstrom, the dresses that I like that are Perfect are between $300-798. Sewing my own dress might cost as much as $40-80 if I used silk, or maybe as little as $35 if I used a knit. That would mean that according to the Law of Compensatory Cashflow, I have as much as $758 left to spend on shoes. "I don't understand how you have $758 'left over' ", he says. "You would never spend $800 on a dress ever. You always make them." "This is because you are not a future Nobel Prize winning economist, like your mother." I say. "It is great minds like mine that will get us out of this recession."
What are your great ideas to get us out of this recession? I am doing my part; I bought 10 new patterns this morning(not all for me; I am so selfless) and some rick rack for Best Sister Ever, plus thread and interfacing.
My birthday is in a couple weeks, and for a present to myself I will break my yearlong fabric fast and get something for my birthday. I like to make something every birthday as a treat. That will help end the recession.
Everyone must do their part to end this malaise, both financial and emotional. We can start by making cheerful clothes. What are you planning to make for spring?
Happy Sewing!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Birthday Shirt Finished

With at least 2 minutes to spare. We have earned our jello shot...
We were supposed to be at the birthday party at 430p. I was sewing on the last button of the birthday shirt 5 minutes before we left (as usual, I always finish everything at the very last possible minute. I don't know how I do this. This would be a very stressful habit if I were a bomb defuser.)
Here's the shirt, modeled by the birthday boy over his sweatshirt.
It is actually warm enough today to wear it.( over 50 degrees at least)
This is a basic casual shirt pattern, but I deviated two places from the instructions. The yoke and the collar pattern pieces instruct you to place them on the lengthwise grain, but that would have made the design sideways on the collar and yoke and would have looked distracting, so I placed them on the crosswise grain instead. This made the pattern blend better.I do this all the time and it works fine. Don't be afraid of making your own grain decisions if the shirt calls for a change. The pattern is only the rough draft; you are the "decider", (if I may borrow that from W). In the past I have placed the collar and the sleeves and the yoke on the bias and all was well. They just take a bit more care so you don't stretch them. Go ahead and experiment. Nothing is going to blow up, after all.
Here's a shot of his quilt from the birthday 2 years ago. These are his favorite colors, and they all play nicely together with college pictures printed on printable fabric in the nine patches. The pictures are printed on EQ Printables and are still soft and unfaded after 2 years of use.The lap quilt is backed with dark brown minkee and is super soft.

I want to make one for myself, now that I have fulfilled my birthday obligations.
Mr. Hunting Creek is making sad faces today, because he loved DBIL's shirt and he says he doesn't have a new shirt for spring casual day. My son is also whining about the speed of my shirt output. They are under the impression that this is a sweatshop. There was almost a marital incident when it was commented that "you used to sew much faster before". You mean before I had two jobs, two kids, a house, a garden, two dogs and a husband? Those were the days...
Happy Sewing!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lemon Cake Custard from 1957

Whenever we go out to restaurants, I like to test the kitchen by ordering soup and dessert. Good soup is rare; good desserts even rarer. Many places outsource their desserts and you are offered the generic Tiramisu (I hate it), creme brulee (so last decade), or Brownie Sundaes (yawn). Washington DC used to be a vast wasteland when we first moved here in 1990. Things have improved quite a bit since then; you can get good desserts at lots of places now.
If they have an old fashioned dessert I always order one, just to see if the chef knows what she is doing. I have made Lemon Pudding Cake, Lemon Cake custard and its chocolate cousin many times. I had a particularly nice version at Zola in downtown DC. The chef there had added raspberries, which made it very special. I was sorry that I had to give Mr. Hunting Creek a bite; he takes big bites.
This version is from the Sunbeam Mixmaster Recipe Book from 1957. I'd show you a picture but it was all eaten before I could take one.

Lemon Cake Custard
Cake at the top, Lemony custard on the bottom

Preheat oven to 350 (Sunbeam did not mention this, so it was my lucky guess)

3 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar

Take the egg whites and beat them with the salt until foamy. slowly add the 1/2 cup sugar, unril peaks form - about 1-2 minutes or so. Set aside.

2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup sugar (yes that's right, another 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/3 cup lemon juice

In a different bowl, mix the melted butter, sugar, egg yolks, flour, milk, lemon zest and juice until smooth. Fold in egg whites. Pour into 6-8 ramekins, custard cups or one large baking dish ( I used an 8x8 casserole, lightly sprayed with baking spray. They didn't mention pan size either, so I guessed there too. It worked though.)If I had used custard cups, I would have placed them in a larger baking dish and put hot water around them to prevent over cooking. That's called a bain marie in cooking terms; you use it to prevent your egg desserts from overcooking.
Bake 45-50 minutes. The top will be lightly browned and cakey, the bottom will be custardy.

In our house we ate this with vanilla ice cream.
I think it would also be good with blueberries or raspberries baked in it, or with fresh strawberries and whipped cream on top. They say it is wonderful warm and chilled. I can only vouch for warm so far.

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Operating Instructions

When you buy a new appliance, the manufacturer gives you operating instructions. Nowadays they don't assume that you have the common sense that Mother Nature gave a mouse, (and they wish to avoid liability). For example, one of my computer manuals advised the user NOT to use it in the bathtub. It's NOT a laptop. (I don't think you should use your laptop in the tub, either) When my babies were little, I used to get a great deal of amusement reading the instruction, "Add Water Before Feeding" on their baby formula. "Who could be that stupid? Who would give a baby dry powdered formula?" I asked my mother. "Oh, you'd be surprised at how stupid people are", she said. "Our next door neighbor when you were little was a new bride. She went to roast a chicken and the package said READY TO COOK so she popped it right in the oven, plastic and all." Today when you buy a chicken they even tell you to cook it to a certain temperature. They don't assume you know anything about cooking. They even tell you to wash your hands.
However, back in the 60's, instructions had a lighter touch. They assumed you had a certain level of expertise around the house. Women back then were professional homemakers, and they knew what they were doing. For example, my dad sent me the 1960s operating manual for a Kenmore Washer. The instructions are full of helpful hints but they assume you know how to wash and dry darks and lights separately and they give tips for different fabrics. The booklet is very sexist in a chipper, perky way though. The instructions aren't sexist...exactly...but the pictures are.
The women in the manual are dressed in cheery aprons or chic homewear, and they are oh so happy to be doing laundry! Not a man in sight in the whole booklet...oh wait! Here's one - the repairman! Look at Mrs. Shirt's pride in that crisply ironed shirt! True happiness.
The other booklet in my post today was the Sunbeam Mixmaster instruction book and recipe book from 1957. It welcomes me to the "family of over twelve million homemakers who are saving time and arm-work and enjoying more delicious foods with their Sunbeam Mixmaster Mixers." I feel so special! But wait! In the pie chapter I am told, "It's pie for the man of the house, and really not difficult to make!"
Can you even imagine a booklet saying that today?
Most men I know do their own laundry, and know how to cook. We've come a long way, baby, from 1957. (This recipe for Lemon Cake Custard looks delicious -they knew how to make dessert back then.)

I almost forgot! The witty and eloquent E has nominated me for an award. That's so sweet! The award states that I am supposed to nominate others, but I looked and all of the blogs I read have one already. Thank you all for your generous sharing of information and support.

Their links are on the side. I'm off to make Lemon Cake Custard. I'll let you know how it comes out. The Route 66 shirt is half finished. Progress tomorrow.
Happy sewing!