Archive for January, 2010

Oh, and I made this dress.

This past weekend found me retreating with friends to sew and thrift and sew and sew and giggle and sew some more.  We also ate and slept, but minimally, when our energy levels could not sustain further sewing.  We were so hard core.  Such behavior is the inevitable result of mixing a cabin in the woods, project to-do lists disproportionate to free time, and a handful of women prone to motherhood.

I found myself in a harmonious collaboration with Amy Butler and Denyse Schmidt.  Amy supplied the pattern.   Denyse supplied the fabric.  I supplied the delirious manual labor.  Together, we made this dress.

I finished tracing the pattern and cut out the fabric on Saturday morning.  The final stitches and pearl snaps were applied before 10pm.  In between there was a second thrifting run, some meals, lots of chit chat and a couple exclamations of “Oh Amy, (Butler) you clever thing!”  Having trained in my Grandma’s school of sewing, where the inside of a garment should look as nice and finished as the outside, I was so pleased with the nice finishing details of the pattern.  And how did you know, Amy, that I had been searching for months for a shirtdress pattern like this?  It was exactly what I wanted and turned out perfectly. I hope to collaborate with such fine company again.

Winning the award for 1st Project Completed and also Most Time Squandered Deciphering Placket Incongruities was the aforementioned Square Dance Shirt.

I hand sewed this poignant strip of fabric to a bag thrifted at the last crafty retreat, a bag which now totes the sewing arsenal to and fro.

I even cast on yet another knitting project.  Do I even remember how to knit?  Barely – it’s been a while.  The yarn is alpaca, and it’s a pretty compelling argument for getting an alpaca or two of our own.  But those sweeties aren’t cheap.

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Reporting Live from a Hill of Beans

We are literally swimming in beans.  Or at least one of us is.

Black turtle beans.  Pinto beans.  Cannellini beans.  All organic, bought in 25 lb bulk bags.  That’s 75 lbs of beans.  Looks like I’ve got me a couple of projects.

I must have foreseen this hill of beans when I picked up a ginormous pressure canner at a rummage sale last summer.  It seemed like a wise investment into our future, so I snatched it up, kissed it on the forehead, and tucked it into bed on the shelves of the basement root cellar, right next to the smaller version canner, inherited from the other Mrs. B.

The pinto beans were the first to emigrate to Five Green Acres.  I received them with much fanfare and welcome, knowing full well that our days of paying $1.50 – $2.50 for a can of organic beans were in the past, sorry suckers.  Ok – I must digress now and say that this talk about the high cost of canned beans makes me feel really, really old.  It also reminds me of the time I visited my Grandpa and was presented with a whole flat of canned peas that he had bought by the truckload, practically, because the price was so unbelievably great.  I will forever remember him grinning ear to ear, so pleased with his shopping prowess, displaying that elfish, impish grin that he’s now bequeathed to my son.  I thought he was crazy then, (and very old) but I totally get it now.  Sigh.  Miss you Grampa.

I cooked a whole crock pot worth of pintos, with the intention of then filling the jars and processing them in the pressure canner.  Using my handy Ball book of preserving, newly acquired at Christmas, I read over the instructions, scratched my head, reread them, read them aloud, then read them again.  Wait – did I not have to fully cook the beans before canning them?  Better do a quick internet search.  No. Way.  Really??!!??!!  I just get them boiling, (if I wish) load up the jars, and cook in the pressure canner while simultaneously killing the bacteria for safe canning and THAT’S IT?  I was floored.  Is this common knowledge that I missed somewhere along the way?  Regardless, that little tidbit of info painted a rainbow over my head as I ran to my grocery list and added ‘Black Beans’ and ‘Cannellini’ in big block letters, followed by ‘in BULK!’

I had read somewhere, some time ago, that cooking beans with a small piece of kombu seaweed was a good way to add some trace minerals and also offset some of the more negative digestive tagalongs, namely gas.  Seaweed is a pantry staple for us.  Having learned of its merits in my herbal studies, we found that we love it.  We get it here.

I filled each pint jar about 2/3 – 3/4 full of beans that had reached a boil.  They’d expanded a bit, but not filling the jars to the brim allowed room for more expansion as they cooked further.  To each jar I then added 1/2 t of salt (which you could omit) and a 1/2″ piece of kombu.  I topped each off with some warm water, filling to the bottom of the jar’s rim, allowing the appropriate headspace, then stirred to remove trapped air bubbles.  The lids were applied per the instructions, and those little sweeties were packed into the pressure canners.

The end result was so promising.  The beans were cooked, but retaining their shape so much better than crock pot cooking allows.  My only concern is that the level of liquid in the sealed jars is low.  There were some issues at first with getting a proper seal on the canner (faulty gasket), so it’s possible the liquid escaped then, or maybe it also was absorbed by the expanding beans.  Should I be worried about this?  Should I do anything differently for the 60-odd pounds of beans yet to can?  I’d love any feedback you preserving mavens might have.

Also on the docket is refried beans.  I’ll be using this book as a starting point.

And beans make a perfect plaything for the kids, with their tactile and visual deliciousness.  Non-toxic, too, (organic!) if a few end up in the mouth.  We’ll likely see some again tomorrow during diaper changing time.  The perfect toy, I say, unless you have a problem with a million little things scattered on every surface in your home.  I just might have a problem with that. Edited:  Forget that.  Beans are a horrible, horrible toy.  What a mess.

(it seemed disingenuous to post all the happy-shiny pics without also illuminating the dirty reality)

And I’m off for a crafty sew-’em-if-you-got-’em retreat up North.  See you back here next week, with a full report.

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Handmade Recap – for the Mister

Oh, this is the good stuff, the grand finale of Show and Tell.  This is the project that held up our Christmas, as I sewed feverishly to get as much done as possible before wrapping and presenting it.  And in the end, it was handed over without sleeves or side seams, but after that first moment of confusion, was very well received.  And as of today, January 19th, it still patiently waits for sleeves and side seams and maybe even a hem.  Soon, Handsome Shirt.  Soon.

You’ll have to kindly edit out the bust in your own minds; the only dress forms I have for showcasing the shirt are of the female variety.

Some details for you to chew on –

+ The buttons are pearlized snaps applied with my very own industrial snap setter, mentioned previously.  What I couldn’t say before was that I bought it specifically for this application.  I bought it to apply pearlized snaps, many of them, which is why, when they’re reviewing the candidates, I shall be awarded the honor of Wife of the Year.  The Mister has a thing for pearl snaps.  He also has a dear friend and coworker who sports them regularly, inadvertently calling attention to Andrew’s meager one or two pearlized shirts.  ‘This will really show him!’ Andrew said with glee on Christmas Eve, after fully comprehending the gift.  ‘You betcha, Dearie.’  I said.  ‘We have hundreds of pearl snaps, in different colors even, at your beck and call.’  That is one lucky man.

+ The fabric is something I came across by accident in the sale bin (online) at Purl.  (I get into a lot of trouble just browsing like this)  Imagine, if you can, the gasp! and then the shriek! that was heard in these parts the moment I laid eyes on that fabric.  Is it possible to find a design better suited to our new-found love of old time music, our budding new skills in guitar playing, the line item of Square Dance on our To-Do list, to…to this mustache? Absolutely, unequivocally no. I ordered 3 1/2 yards.

+ When I received said fabric, I gasped again, feeling with my fingertips the buttery softness of the cotton weave.  What a tremendously wonderful weight and drape for a shirt…or a dress…or a whole family of shirts, dresses, vests.  I ran to my computer, my fingers barely keeping up with my desperation and I swooped in, ordering the remaining yardage (all 7 of them) in the cream colorway.  I threw in a couple of yards of the brown colorway as well, for good measure.  Look out, folks.  This family is going to be transformed into the Matchy-Matchy Square Dance Family as soon as this fabric crosses the magic threshold of my sewing machine.  Boy, oh, boy!  For real.

+ That bow-shaped curve detail on the back and the front pocket, which clearly indicates the Square Dance potential of this shirt, was a little sewing improvisation on my part.  I dug out some narrow ribbon in just the right color combination, formed it into an appropriately western curve, and sewed it on.

Is that all I have to say about the shirt, for now?  I think so.  I’m at this minute packing my project basket for a weekend sewing and crafting retreat, where all of the dreams and aspirations of this shirt will come to fruition.  Perhaps some other garments from the Matchy-Matchy line will also be born?  We’ll see.  My eyes are always bigger than my plate when I pack and plan for such a weekend.

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Handmade Recap – for the Girl

Isadora’s handmade gift from Momma was far less satisfying to bestow than the Boy’s Star Baby.  For the Girl, I made a simple Red Riding Hood cape from a velour blanket we no longer used.  I based the pattern loosely on an amalgamation of this tutorial and a few others.  Mostly, I wung it. (surely that’s the past tense of “wing it”)

And this pretty much sums up the high point of the cape’s appreciation.  Oh, Isadora likes it well enough and has worn it a few times, but I think the fact that I have only the lame-o “Globe-for-a-Head” and “Adorning-the-Dog” shots to show for it speaks volumes.  Now, if I had thought to instead make an ice blue, be-glittered Cinderella dress or a kid-size coffee pot that actually spits out water….well, then, this post would have had far more pics.

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Handmade Recap – for The Boy

I didn’t make many handmade gifts for Christmas this past year.  Truthfully, I think we were both a little burnt out from the previous year, where Christmas morning found a Mr. in the kitchen, canning strawberry jam to gift and a Mrs. at her sewing machine, whipping out doll pajamas at breakneck speed.  But I did want to make something special for Andrew and the kids.  What kind of Christmas would it be without the anticipation of seeing those I love open a gift made just for them?

For The Boy, I pieced together scraps of cashmere, merino wool, and angora blend sweater scraps to make this Star Baby.  The idea and basic pattern came straight from the Winter 2009 issue of Living Craft.

He loves it.  Seeing him clutch it to his chest, caress it with his cheeks, chew softly on the knots… this is his gift to me.

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January reflects our best selves.

What magic has January!  What promise, what pure, unadulterated optimism!

I have been utterly carried away by this magic.  Starting over, with a crisp new calendar, starting over with fresh new files.   The luxuriously slower pace allows a chance to reflect, to organize, envision change, and cozy up, all the while reincarnating ourselves for the better.  I imagine it might be as close as humanly possible to the shedding of a chrysalis and emerging with glorious wings. Or rather, entering the cocoon to draw up the plans and begin constructing those wings, shrouded in warmth and darkness and safety.  And coffee.  Yes, that seems a better analogy.

I’ve been starting over with a few new touches to the kitchen – a corner cabinet, painted and adorned anew, an extraordinarily beautiful oak table and chairs, and an antique high chair for The Boy, to unite our (whole) family around the table.  All of this (and more) courtesy of our euphoria-inducing, gloriously-robust Craigslist. (If I were ever to forsake my family and my lifestyle, taking up The Cloth to travel to faraway lands to spread the Good News, it would be Craigslist I would be speaking of.  I am wholeheartedly, unabashedly a Craigslist missionary.  Consider yourselves warned.)

What a year I (we) envision for Five Green Acres. Like the blessed partial amnesia that causes a mother to forget the especially-difficult throes of labor, all of my disgust and frustration and lost opportunities in the garden have been forgotten, replaced now with a glowing promise of what can be.  I’ve dug into the garden books with relish, joined the Seed Savers Exchage, and cleaned out the library’s collection of Childrens’ garden books.  Isadora shall have a small plot of her very own to dream, to plant, to tend, and to harvest.  This year, I shall grow flowers.  Forsaken in years past for more practical (read: edible) crops, I’m gardening this year for body and soul.  And it shall be beautiful.

The first step is to dust off the tool belt.  I’m building myself a potting bench in the basement, no doubt from odds and ends gleaned from Craigslist or perhaps the Habitat ReStore.  Or maybe even Freecycle! A potting bench and seedling grow area will start us off on the right foot this year, at least in the garden.

And chickens!  We plan to again raise broiler chickens, this time with a wee bit more know-how on our side.  I also recently declared, perhaps in a state of delirium, that we should raise turkeys.  We’ll see how that suggestion fares the jurying process.  Thankfully, these types of crazy remarks are often tempered by a more level-headed, feet-planted-firmly-on-the-ground partner.  I’m notorious for having eyes bigger than my plate and Andrew keeps me tethered to the earth, lest I blow away.

Bees!  This looks to be Andrew’s department.  Last year at this time, his nose was buried deep within the Bee how-to books received as Christmas presents.  It seemed feasible to get started on them last spring, at least from the vantage point of our rocking chairs by the winter fire.  Then there was that little matter of a baby, and all mention of bees was promptly (and justly) forgotten.  But this year?  We’ll let the Bee Boss be the judge of that.

What else may be in store for us in 2010?  There is that small orchard we should learn how to prune, more music to make (Andrew’s received both a harmonica and lessons for Christmas), camping, playing, fair-visiting, maybe a trip abroad to visit dear friends…. my mind is a whirl.

It promises to be a terrific year, perhaps our best yet.

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