Monday, 26 July 2010

The Birthday Frock

The weather finally cooperated with my schedule and we had a lovely sunny, breezy afternoon just perfect for taking photographs of new frocks!  Usually my dad does my "photo shoots" but my little sister volunteered today and we had a lovely time.  We went down by the lake across the street, plowing through the underbrush which has grown over the path - with a bicycle, which was no mean feat! - waded in the water, tried not to step on thistles in our bare feet, and had a lovely time.  I came back a bit scratched and mosquito-bitten, but no serious damage was done.  And many thanks to Katie for the photos!  Plus the sister-bonding time - that's always good too :-)

Anyway, the dress!  I'm calling this the "birthday frock" because I did the majority of the sewing on my birthday this past Wednesday.  I cut it out the day before and finished it up the day after, so it was a pretty quick project for me.

The pattern is Butterick 5033, a reprint (I believe) of a 1952 pattern.  It was very easy to work with and went together quickly!  There were very few fitting issues, which for me is unusual and so was a nice surprise!

Usually I end up lengthening bodices; this time I left it as-is but added a wide waistband, and I like the look even better than the original.  It gives that nice waist definition without making a belt necessary (although it certainly would be cute with a belt, too!)  

The fabric is a cotton-and-something (I think) blend that I picked up at Walmart last summer for $1/yard. I had three yards where the pattern called for 4.5, so shortened the skirt by about 6 inches and used a linen/rayon blend which had originally been intended for corset lining to add the length back on at the bottom.  I used the same linen for the collar.  The lining is the crisper, stronger parts of what used to be my old fitted sheet; it's blue-and-white stripes and matched the main fabric perfectly.  There's lots of that sheet left, so I'm sure it will show up again at some point!  The best part: the cost.  I paid $3 for the blue fabric, less than $2 for the linen blend, nothing for the old sheet, and I got the zipper with a 40% off coupon.  So the whole thing only cost me $5-$6!

When I get back from Memphis I'm probably going to take the zipper out and replace it with a longer one; the 22" zip just isn't working for me.  I'm so tall that my back-of-neck-to-waist measurement is 20" already, which doesn't put the end of this zipper anywhere near the fullest part of my hips.  Which means it's quite an adventure to get it on and off!  If I take it apart that far I'll also take the skirt off the waistband and narrow it by about 1/2", as the bodice is really just a tad bit longer than I intended it to be.  (As you can see in the photo above, the back is too long and wrinkles a bit with it.)

My favourite part might be the pleats at the centre front of the skirt.  Such a nice design detail, and they camouflage any unsightly bumps and rolls in that area! ;-)  I wish I'd pressed the whole dress before we took photos - I'd been wearing it since 8 in the morning, and the linen wrinkles if you look at it, which is one of the very few flaws in this dress.

I wonder if anyone has advice on this, though: I know that with bias-cut skirts, such as this full-circle one, you're supposed to let them hang for 24 hours to let the fabric stretch before hemming.  I didn't do that with this one, both because I wanted to get it done already and because of the contrast border (also cut on the bias); I didn't know how to even it up without making the while border uneven.  With the result that the hem is uneven, but regularly.  It has almost a scalloped effect.  I don't mind it at all; it almost looks like I intended it to be that way - but I wondered if there's any way to deal with this in case I make another similar dress.  Would I hang the main dress to even out, trim it, and then attach the border?

I'll definitely make this pattern again!  I want to try the other view - the one with the little triangle cut-out at the neckline.  This was a quick, easy, fun project and the "shoot" was such fun - a lovely way to spend a gorgeous summer afternoon.

I'll be busy sewing this week so I'm not sure if I'll have time to get proper photos of any of the other projects - but I'll be sure to post them when I get back from the wedding if not before.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Postponed on Account of the Weather

I did finish my new dress on Thursday, but I am unable to give you any photos yet.  Why?  Well, it has rained more or less non-stop since I finished it.  And not just any rain - we've had whiz-bang thunderstorms and deluges of epic proportions, as well as the more moderate drenching rains which are so good for my garden, but so very bad for photo shoots.

My garden is loving it, though.  I brought in my first zucchini this week - it weighed in at 2 lbs 14 oz!  And there's another nearly as big waiting to be picked.  I've no idea what to do with zucchini though, apart from bread, so if anyone has favourite recipes I'd be more than grateful!

The tomatoes are setting up fast, too.  A few days of sun and I'll be inundated, I suspect.  I just hope they decide to ripen before I go back to college in three weeks!

I have a lot of sewing to do this week.  Thursday afternoon I leave for the wedding of two dear friends, taking place in Memphis.  I'm taking the train, which will be a lot of fun, I think!  But I still need to make my dress for the wedding, in which I'm singing, and I'd like to finish two other dresses as well, a shirt-dress and a sun dress.  And since there's to be a pool party in the evening after the wedding, I really need to finish up the bathing suit I've been working on for over a year.*

Tomorrow we are having my birthday celebration.  I've planned a lemon-pasta with grilled chicken dinner, and my favourite cake - chocolate with mint icing, which is a family tradition.  My great-grandmother used to make it for my mum's birthday every year :-)  And when we finish with the birthday celebration, I will be madly at work at my sewing machine.  I hope to have lots of pictures to show you all soon!

If it will every stop raining, that is.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Little Things

Sometimes it's the little, everyday things in life that make an impact... that stick with you and define a period of time.  This summer, I've been photographing them when I can - I'm a "visual learner" and I like picture memories!  Today I thought I'd share some of these with you... the little things of this summer that have made me happy :-)

My very dearest friend from college and her boyfriend (also a close friend of mine) came to see me!  I haven't seen either of them since May so this was a lovely day.  They're also the first of my friends from college to actually make it out to my house - living 700 miles from school has its drawbacks.  I loved spending the afternoon with them :-)

I made bread last week.  At least I tried.  I did something wrong, or the weather affected the yeast somehow; and then it fell before I could get it in the oven.  So it came out looking more like bricks.

But Daddy took my photo shoot as an opportunity to be silly - so I got a laugh out of a failure after all!

Is this not the sweetest house?  I've been pet-sitting this week and on my twice-daily perambulations with the dog I pass this house.  From the road it simply looks like a very tiny one-storey house -- but it's built into the side of a hill, so there's twice as much house below the first level!  Its yellow paint is so cheerful and it has dark green shutters on the front that I just love - and to top it all off it's lakefront property, so  the view is gorgeous.  I have no idea who lives here but I smile every time I pass it.

This last picture isn't really a "happy thing" - it's my finished project from last week.  We needed new napkins and Mum asked if I could make some.  I found this fabric - a cotton-and-something blend - on the Red Tag shelf at JoAnn Fabrics, and the red tag fabric happened to be on sale that day.  So a yard and a half of a lovely, weighty jacquard, plus the thread to match - cost me about $7.  I got 12 napkins out of it, and I'm pretty happy with them.  They're boring to hem though!

I'm working on a new dress that I hope to have finished this evening; if I get it done I'll have photos for you tomorrow!  Have a lovely evening, friends :-)

Thursday, 15 July 2010


After this week, I have a whole new respect for housekeepers.  Not people hired to keep other folks' houses - no, the women who cook, clean, wash, and care for everyone and everything in their own houses.

My mother's been gone this week -- at a teaching conference which she attends almost every year and which is her relaxation and vacation for the year.  She went by train, this year, and since the conference is in Dallas this time around it's a two-day trip, each way.  She left Tuesday, early, and won't be back until Sunday evening.

This leaves me, as the eldest girl, in charge of the household.  I figured it would be pretty easy.  Cook dinner a couple nights a week - the kids each have a cooking night, so that would be easy.  Breakfast is a piece of cake - scrambled eggs and toast aren't exactly difficult to prepare.  The laundry needs keeping up with, but what's a load or two of laundry every day?

I am disillusioned.  It has been only three days, and already I am exhausted!  Eggs and toast aren't hard to prepare - but one has to be up and awake in order to prepare them.  And there's the washing up afterwards.  It's not hard to run a load of clothes through the washer - but one has to remember to go back, fetch them out, and hang them on the line.  And then remember to go back and turn them for even drying.  And then remember to go back and bring them in before darkness and dew.  It's not hard to cook dinner, but there's the planning, the shopping - and the cleaning up afterwards.  And meanwhile, while you're hanging laundry or washing dishes or catching a few minutes of rest, the floors need sweeping, there's an accumulation of clutter on the coffee table, and your younger siblings are doing something they're not allowed, because Mummy's not here and they think they can get away with it. 

I knew all this, in theory.  I've watched my mother try to keep up with all of it over the years - and she's home schooled us all at the same time, too.  I knew she didn't find it easy; I knew we were often disorganised, behind in something.  The carpets weren't always vacuumed, dinner was late, and the garden never got weeded unless I did it.  Now I'm looking at the weeds and saying "They can wait!" -- and the only reason I'm planning to vacuum today is because we have company coming.

This is all without mentioning trying to deal with an 18-year-old brother who thinks he's immune to all authority, parental included but ESPECIALLY that of his older sister.  We won't go there.

The most difficult thing for me has been not the cooking or the cleaning or the whole organisational aspect of housekeeping; it's been juggling all this while keeping an even temper and a sweet disposition.  I'm sadly inclined towards shortness and snapping when I'm stressed or tired, and it's been almost impossible to deal with minor crises and small annoyances in a righteous manner.  The siblings annoy me, some plan or other doesn't go quite right, and I bite someone's head off.  I hate this, and I've spent most of my odd moments the last few days praying for a calm spirit.  I guess maybe God wanted me to learn a lesson this week! ;-)  But again I'm impressed with the magnitude of the job so many women bear every day.

I realise I'm probably preaching to the choir here - after all, most of my readers, I think, are mothers and homemakers themselves.  Well, my hat is off to all of you!  I think that anyone who is under the impression that being a homemaker or a stay-at-home mother is easy should be obliged to try it himself for a week.  I think he'd be singing a different tune by the end of it!

And I'll be very, very glad to hand the reins back to my mother on Monday morning.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Currant Price

One of my favourite passages in Little Women is the chapter when Meg tries to make currant jelly.

          In the kitchen reigned confusion and despair; one edition of jelly was trickled from pot to pot, another lay upon the floor, and a third was burning gaily on the stove.  Lotty, with Teutonic phlegm, was calmly eating bread and currant wine, for the jelly was still in a hopelessly liquid state, while Mrs. Brooke, with her apron over her head, sat sobbing dismally.  
          "My dearest girl, what is the matter?" cried John, rushing in, with awful visions of scalded hands, sudden news of affliction, and secret consternation at the thought of the guest in the garden.... "What worries you, dear?  Has anything dreadful happened?" asked the anxious John, tenderly kissing the crown of the little cap, which was all askew.
          "Yes," sobbed Meg despairingly.
          "Tell me quick, then.  Don't cry, I can bear anything better than that.  Out with it, love."
          "The--the jelly won't jell and I don't know what to do!"

I never could help laughing at this point -- it's such a silly thing to get so worked up about.  But I know her pain; I've made my share of batches of jelly that wouldn't jell, and it gives a horrible feeling of helplessness -- there's nothing you can do about it!  And this week I decided to make currant jelly for the first time ever, so I couldn't help thinking of poor Meg the whole time.

To start with I picked my own currants!  We've got a thicket of them growing wild in our back woods (or, I don't know, they could have been planted on purpose; all the land around here used to be an orchard, and we have one of the old apple trees on our property.  But they're very wild now!)  Over the last few years I've picked a few, but never enough to do anything with, so I've been slowly collecting them in the freezer.  But this summer I was actually around and paying attention when they came ripe, and after stripping all the bushes I had almost a quart of berries.  Combined with what I had in the freezer, it was enough to make it worth trying to make jelly.

Oh, and did I mention?  I don't think I've ever been so mosquito-bitten in my life.  We nick-named the currant patch "Currant Hollow" as it's in a low spot in the yard - and low spots attract mosquitos.  And this is Michigan, so there are lots of mosquitos to attract.


I got a little carried away with the artistic shots of currants.  They're so pretty, though!  The berries are almost translucent and they have a distinct veined pattern.

The Joy of Cooking is my go-to book for jams and jellies.  Simple, straightforward, and none of this fuss about added pectin.  Did you know that the addition of storebought pectin means you have to use more sugar?  The percentage is something like 40% sugar, 60% fruit.  So even though there's a slight risk factor in making jam without added pectin - risk of it not jelling, I mean - I'd much rather go with a method where I can turn the percentage the other way around.

This is the fruit after the first stage.  It's in my makeshift jelly bag (hastily sewn together from a scrap of unbleached muslin), straining through the fabric to produce the juice which is the only part of the fruit to end up in the jelly.  It sounds sort of wasteful but I only had about a cup of pulp left after straining - I started with about 7 cups of berries, and had about 2.5 cups of juice - so I guess it's not too bad.

And the finished jelly not only tastes lovely, but it DID jell!  There was no cause for hysterics this time around :-)  In fact I was surprised, because currants seem to have a lot more natural pectin than many of the fruits I've worked with; I didn't have any trouble with this.  Maybe Meg had a different kind of currants!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The One-Week Shawl

I'm trying so hard not to be smug and proud of myself.  After all neither of those emotions are exactly admirable, and I do try to be admirable.

But I've never completed a shawl in a single week before!

The pattern is "Shoulder Shawl in Cherry Leaf Pattern" from Victorian Lace Today.  (Incidentally this is one of my favourite lace knitting books!)  

I added two repeats of the pattern to made it both longer and wider - I didn't really want a "shoulder shawl" and even if I had, I'm six feet tall.  A shoulder shawl for most people would be a scarf on me! ;-)

I changed the lace edging as well.  The border in the pattern was more solid and - triangular, if that makes sense - so I swapped in this one.  I really love the airy feel the rows of double yarn-overs gives to the shawl!

The top edge is bound off with a picot finish, another change from the pattern, which wanted me to bind off, then add a crochet picot edging.  I didn't want to be bothered with crocheting, so I figured out how to knit it instead!  And I think the finished edge is much more lovely and elastic than it would otherwise have been.

I went out this evening after dinner to take a few pictures.  I came back in with over fifty!  I think I got carried away ;-)  I leave you with one last shot and apologies for the picture-heavy post!  I just love photographing lace, and the discovery that the flowers in our rock wall are exactly the same shade as my yarn delighted me to no end.

Have a lovely evening!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


There's something about this photo I just love - even though it's out of focus and over-exposed.  It just says "summer" to me - carefree, full of sunshine, not too worried about appearances.  I like summers like that :-)

We're in Pennsylvania for the week, visiting my grandfather.  That's always a bit of an adventure because he lives in a smallish apartment in a retirement community - six of us plus him gives a definite feeling of someone always being in the way.  But it's so good to see him!  And - a big plus as far as the siblings are concerned - there's a pool half a mile away.  We go every afternoon that it doesn't storm, usually for several hours.  I usually get sunburnt.  This year was no exception, although so far it's not too bad; I'm hoping to be able to keep it down to "not too bad" for the rest of the week!  The only real problem with having a naturally very fair skin is that, even with sunscreen with an SPF of 50, it's really only a matter of time before you burn.  Ah well.

I don't think I finished any knitting projects last week... and I broke down in my resolve not to buy any more yarn or fabric.

I found this yarn on sale.  How could I resist it?  It's the exact shade of deep crimson that I've been wanting forever, and it's a "cobweb weight" yarn - finer even than your usual lace-weight - which I've wanted to try for a long time.  And I got three cones of it - 2200 yards or so - for $24, which is a very good price indeed for such fine wool.  But I've promised myself I can't knit anything with it until I get the rest of my stash pared down.

I also picked up some fabric at Wal-Mart.  I found a gorgeous length of green-and-white floral calico - on the $1/yard table!  It's just the right kind of green for me; a little blue, but still definitely green, and there's more white than green in the fabric.  I'm planning a shirtdress, with green buttons, a green belt, and probably rickrack on the collar because I can't seem to avoid using rickrack on things like collars!  I picked up another length of fabric as well but I can't describe it or say what it's for, since it's intended for a gift.

I have been working at my stash though!  See?  I started a shawl yesterday in the car and it's progressing nicely.  I love this yarn - it's very light and airy, but since it's merino wool it will be warm.  The pattern was quick to memorize and it's progressing rapidly.  I think the shawl will be a good every-day one; warm enough to be useful, sturdy enough that I won't be terrified of snagging it on something, but light and dainty enough to be really pretty.

And lest you think that knitting, sewing and swimming are the only things I've been doing this summer:  behold my reading list.

I'm singing a song cycle for my senior recital based on the last words or letters of Henry VIII's first five wives, and I'm also writing a paper on the song cycle.  Which means I have to read a lot of books, both on the five women, on Henry, and on music of the Tudor period.  I ought to read up on the composer as well, but she's very modern, still living, and as far as I can tell there isn't any scholarly writing on her yet.  On the other hand, I might be able to email her and ask her questions directly.  We'll see.  (Oh.  The ones on the right are the ones I've read so far - and I haven't finished one of them.  I've got a lot of reading to do!)

I did bring some of them with me, despite this being vacation.  I love history and I've always been fascinated by Henry and his succession of wives.  They were such interesting women!  I'm partway through the biography of Catherine of Aragon right now and I'm learning so much.  But right now I'm long past my bedtime, and I promised to get up and run with my sister in the morning.  So I'll spare you the details!