Monday, February 28, 2011

Farm fresh eggs

farm fresh brown eggs
[Contrary to popular advice, I did put all my eggs
in one basket -- but only for the purpose of this photo.]

It's one of my goals as a homemaker to make positive diet choices for my family. However, spending a lot of time in the kitchen is not one of my favorite things so I tend to procrastinate certain steps to better dietary health that strike me as being really labor-intensive. In short, I'm prone to laziness. There are some steps that are so simple, however, that I really have no excuse. One is to buy farm-fresh eggs from pasture-fed chickens instead of supermarket eggs -- especially since my husband already passes the farm on his way to and from work. I got motivated in this area because Edmund really likes eggs (hard-boiled, scrambled, in a frittata -- you name it). Also, Douglas and I have been consuming more eggs lately in an effort to balance our breakfasts with more protein. So if we're going to be eating eggs anyway, we might as well be eating the most nutritious kind!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

'Printemps' tunic

The background for these photos belies the name, but I was inspired to finish this knit tunic top by a particularly spring-like day last week. Alas, the burst of sunshine is gone and we are back to dreary skies and colder temperatures. But at least I have a new top to show for it!

'Printemps' tunic

I had a lot of fun with this one. I didn't start out with a clear design idea, but things evolved as I went along. First I thought I'd try out a handkerchief hemline like various striped tops I've seen at Anthropologie. It took a little trial and error to get the look I wanted, but when it's hanging nicely (and not blown out by the wind, like in the photo) it looks pretty nifty.

sleeve detail

You've probably all seen variations on the striped-top-with-ruched-sleeves look that is trendy right now. I thought of a sleeve design on a 1936 dress in Janet Arnold's book Patterns of Fashion 2 that I've always liked, and decided to try it out. I didn't scale up the pattern or anything, I just drew it out freehand and it worked! It looks complex but the sleeve is actually all one piece.

The final touch was some lace from my stash for the neckline, zig-zagged on with invisible thread, and the result is a romantic and feminine top for spring. The best part is that the fabric was 97 cents a yard at Denver Fabrics, and since everything else came from my stash, this thing cost me less than two bucks!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sewing with knits

When I posted about my 'Roses are Green' tunic, I was asked about any tips I could share on sewing with knits. I was going to include this with my next knit project post (coming soon!), but I realized I've got more to say on the subject than I initially thought, so this will be a separate post. :)

First of all, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with different types of knit fabrics. Oliver + S had a good blog post about this, "some knit fabric basics." I would recommend visiting your local fabric store and checking out some knits in person. Look at the fiber content; examine the stretchiness, drapiness, and feel of the different fabrics. Take a look at some of the knit garments in your own closet and see what kind of fibers they are made from, examine the seam finishes, etc.

To be honest, I have never made a knit garment from a commercial pattern. The first time I ever sewed with a knit, I took apart an old knit shirt and used it as a pattern. I think this is a good way to start out because you already know that it will fit you well -- just choose a fabric that is similar in weight and stretch to the shirt you are using as a pattern. If you have a "master pattern" like this that fits you well, you can really leap off from there and design anything you want!

As far as the actual sewing goes, I've learned by trial and error. Be sure to sew with a ball point needle in your machine. Some machines have a "stretch" stitch and I have heard recommendations that you sew all seams with a zig-zag stitch -- personally, I have sewn most of my projects with a straight stitch and I haven't found the stretch of the knit to be compromised. Experiment on some scraps if you are unsure what kind of stitch to use. I do have a serger so I finish my seams with that. If you don't have one, you can zig-zag the seams together and then trim close to the stitching, or even just leave them unfinished if you are feeling lazy. :) Knits don't unravel the way woven fabrics do.

Sometimes it can be tricky to feed the knit fabric through the sewing machine without stretching it. I think some machines have the option of lessening the pressure of the presser foot, which may help, but my machine doesn't (or at least I haven't figured out how to change it!). If I find that the fabric is becoming distorted as I feed it through, I will stop with the needle lowered and raise the presser foot to release the fabric. You may have to do this often.

A trick I learned relatively recently is to reinforce shoulder seams (and any other seams that are likely to receive a great deal of tension) with clear elastic. You can read more about that here.

Another feature you'll often see on store-bought knit garments is a double row of topstitching. I used to think I had to just sew around a hem twice to get this look, but I learned that it actually comes from using a twin needle. This has the added benefit of creating a nice finish on the wrong side of the fabric. You can just trim away any excess fabric near the line of stitching.

(I began to type out instructions on how I typically bind the necklines of my knit garments, but then I realized that without pictures, you're likely to just feel very muddled. :-P So if you are interested, let me know and I can do a photo tutorial.)

Whew! That's all I can think of for now. If you have any additional tips of your own, please share with us in the comments. And if I didn't address a question you have, feel free to ask! I have had my share of flops, so I know it can be discouraging when things don't turn out the way you envision. But honestly, knits are forgiving! I encourage you to give them a try! :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

white hyacinths
[White hyacinths Douglas gave me for St. Valentine's Day]

Are you doing anything to celebrate St. Valentine's Day? Douglas and I had a special dinner last night, since he is working tonight. I chose to fix dishes that don't take too much preparation, but are still something fun and special. Our menu was as follows:
  • organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup with sour cream and dill
  • Welsh rarebit
  • brussels sprouts
  • burgundy mushrooms
  • Peter Rabbit chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (so called because the recipe comes from one of my brother's childhood cookbooks)
After dinner, we watched The Young Victoria, which I had been wanting to see for a while. I'm always up for a good costume drama. :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Swing dress fabric

The rayon crepe I ordered for my swing dress finally arrived over the weekend. It's from Denver Fabrics (not affiliated with the real Denver Fabrics store -- just riding on their shirttails, I guess).

swing dress fabric

Fabric-shopping for this dress made me realize how hard it is to find pretty rayon prints that look remotely vintage. I literally scoured the Internet and three or four different Jo-Ann Fabric stores, and this was the best I could find (aside from paying through the nose for real vintage fabric on eBay or Etsy). Please, can't some company produce some repro rayon fabrics??

I've made this dress once before, right before I got pregnant with Edmund, so I tried it on to see how it fit. I had shortened the bodice by three inches(!) so of course that needed a change, but other than that, it fit pretty well. I'm making a mock-up of the nursing changes to the bodice, just to make sure it will work, and I anticipate some time to sew it up this evening after Edmund's in bed. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Excerpt from my current reading

[Three friends take a camping/boating trip up the River Thames...]

"Harris proposed that we should have scrambled eggs for breakfast. He said he would cook them. It seemed, from his account, that he was very good at doing scrambled eggs. He often did them at picnics and when out on yachts. He was quite famous for them. People who had once tasted his scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his conversation, never cared for any other food afterwards, but pined away and died when they could not get them.

It made our mouths water to hear him talk about the things, and we handed him out the stove and the frying-pan and all the eggs that had not smashed and gone over everything in the hamper, and begged him to begin.

He had some trouble in breaking the eggs -- or rather not so much trouble in breaking them exactly as in getting them into the frying-pan when broken, and keeping them off his trousers, and preventing them from running up his sleeve; but he fixed some half-a-dozen into the pan at last, and then squatted down by the side of the stove and chivied them about with a fork.

It seemed harassing work, so far as George and I could judge. Whenever he went near the pan he burned himself, and then he would drop everything and dance round the stove, flicking his fingers about and cursing the things. Indeed, every time George and I looked round at him he was sure to be performing this feat. We thought at first that it was a necessary part of the culinary arrangements.

We did not know what scrambled eggs were, and we fancied that it must be some Red Indian or Sandwich Islands sort of dish that required dances and incantations for its proper cooking. Montmorency went and put his nose over it once, and the fat spluttered up and scalded him, and then he began dancing and cursing. Altogether it was one of the most interesting and exciting operations I have ever witnessed. George and I were both quite sorry when it was over.

The result was not altogether the success that Harris had anticipated. There seemed so little to show for the business. Six eggs had gone into the frying-pan, and all that came out was a teaspoonful of burnt and unappetizing looking mess.

Harris said it was the fault of the frying-pan, and thought it would have gone better if we had had a fish-kettle and a gas-stove; and we decided not to attempt the dish again until we had those aids to housekeeping by us."

--from Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, first published 1889

Thursday, February 3, 2011


[February 2, 2011 - our "backyard" field and neighboring
farmhouse look quite picturesque under a blanket of snow.]

We, like many others across the Midwest, spent the past few days weathering a large ice/snow storm, although "snowbound" is a bit of an exaggeration. My dear Grandma was visiting us at the time and her flight home was postponed 24 hours, so we got to spend some extra time with her. :) We mostly spent the time cozily indoors working, reading, eating, playing with Edmund, etc., and managed to get through with our electricity still on (though there was a heart-wrenching moment when the lights flickered a few times...).

When fierce weather surges outside our walls, I think of the hymn by Isaac Watts:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Praise God for being our shelter and shade!