Wednesday, December 29, 2010

handmade holidays #12: better late than never!

spent all Christmas Day putting this together for my mom, fitted it (straps) two days later, and voila! Now, I just have to mail the finished piece to her:

I made up Colette Patterns' Cinnamon slip dress in Vera Wang hammered silk charmeuse in chartreuse (chartreuse charmeuse! fun to say!). In this fabric it's definitely a slip or nightie, not a dress. I really don't enjoy sewing a delicate, slippery silk like this; the fabric is so tricksy. I do nothing but worry and second-guess myself the whole time, but phew! I think it came out alright! The credit really must go (once again) to Sarai's beautiful and thoughtful designs.

Sorry I couldn't get a better photo; it was blowing like mad outside today and dark inside: folded on the bed was the best I could do. I still have a few gifts to get together. ahem, sorry ladies. And an orange skirt I'm finishing for myself that I need to post, before the nightmare that is winter quarter absorbs me (I am teaching and taking 20 credits - twice a full load for doctoral students). Ugh. I'm starting to feel too old and too tired to be excited anymore. Then again, I always feel this dread before returning; I just have to remember that I will enjoy it when I'm actually back in classes again. At least this quarter I have a slightly better schedule (eg, I've managed to get a full weekday OFF from campus - haven't had that in three years!) and have purchased all my books online on the cheap - or at least, all the ones I know about. That should offset the cost of having the beautiful gray boots my mother in law bought me on sale taken in at the back.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

handmade holidays #11: simple green (earrings, that is)

don't you just love this colour? This was my favorite colour in childhood; I kept it secret, though. It was "snot green" and "puke green" to most other children, and I knew well enough not to admit that, weirdo that I was, I used to colour things in in the colouring books with my olive crayon just to admire the colour on the page. I claimed I loved red. Which I do. But chartreuse and olive will always have a special place in my heart.

I'm not even sure if these are agates or some kind of jade - but I like them! I picked up the stones somewhere - Cali? Washington? I don't know - in the past few years, figuring I'd make earrings with them. I had originally planned to make a little cluster of garnet drops drape the tops of these stones, but while I was making earrings and playing in my box of beads and bead supplies, I found these little ...whaddya call 'ems? Pop-on...somethings? pendants? I don't know. Found these little metal bits and fit them to the green stone beads. Added some simple silver earwires. Because I can't wear giant tassels in my ears every day, but I can wear olive and chartreuse any day I want.

Speaking of chartreuse ... wait 'til you see my next sewing project. Hope to have it finished/posted tomorrow - so I'd better get to work!

handmade holidays #10: anthro-esque earrings for a song

for my sister-in-law: some over-the-top earrings that are as bold and fun as she is. Inspired by the Gothic Revival Earrings at anthropologie:

fun, but also $158, ouch! That is a statement! Mine aren't made with silk tassels (only because I couldn't source any locally), so I had to use rayon ones. The pearls were a gift my mother-in-law brought back from Mexico, the little bits (4 links each) of sterling silver under the pearls were leftover from another project and the surgical steel posts (because my sis has sensitive skin - like me, how convenient!) came from my large stash. I had to buy the sterling head pins and the tassels, but that was it!

To make your own: hit up a good fabric store and check their notions/trims for tassels. Usually, these are with the upholstery fabrics and trims, as tassels are so often used to tie back curtains. In fact, the tassels on my sis' earrings were attached to each other by a long rope cord. I stitched the cord together a bit, so that it wouldn't fray, then cut it off. I saturated each cut end with tacky glue and let dry for a few days.

When the glue is dry, sew the bottom link of your chain to the cut end of the tassel. The glue also gives the end some stability so you can sew into it. I made several passes, as I want the earring to be strong and durable. Slip your ear wire onto the other end of the chain.

Feed a pearl onto a head pin. Make a loop (but don't close it!) above the pearl. Slip the head pin through the chain, so that the loop is now around one side of one of the links. It's best to work from the bottom up. Secure, trim off excess wire from the head pin. Keep going, putting four or even six pearls on each link so that the pearls stack up. I used two different sizes of pearls in similar colours for this, trying to keep the smaller pearls on top.

It takes an hour or two, but it's worth it!

I even made a (much) longer pair for myself: these babies hang past my shoulders on my collarbone. I think I'll put my hair up and wear these with a low cut top and heavy eyeliner to really play up the drama!

handmade holidays #9: tasty treats - the salted chocolate caramel tradition

as last year, I didn't quite get them solid enough in the first go-round. So, I tossed them back into the pot the next day (after a night in the fridge) and recooked tme to just over 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Not as pretty (nor as salty as I'd like), but the texture is a success. This year's adaptation? Cook over medium-low heat (4/10) and stir every few minutes. The oil didn't separate out of them this year. Score one point of success!

I dream of the day I can make these right the first time. But still, they taste delicious, the unmelted flakes of Hawaiian sea salt make for a delightful surprise crunch!, and their smooth texture (aside from salt crystals, that is) is spot-on. Everything worth knowing takes time, eh?

If you haven't seen my caramel posts before, I've linked one above where I note the changes I make for a full-batch of caramels. And here's the original recipe on epicurious.

And why yes, that is sunshine on the parchment paper. For a brief hour or so, solstice morning dawned sunny (I love it when it does that):

I'm off for a walk. I overtaxed my injured wrist yesterday and am feeling the burn today. So, no gym today, a long walk instead. I'm going to pick out a nice vegan meal and go buy groceries to make it. I'll be back later this afternoon with another handmade holidays post: knocking off anthropologie again, this time it's some seriously dramatic earrings.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

handmade holidays #8: tasty treats - chestnut and rosehip turnovers

and now for something completely different, eh?

I make these with frozen puff pastry (rolled out, cut into squares) filled with a little squeeze of chestnut paste that I brought back from Paris (Clement Faugier's chestnut paste, which is also available at DeLaurenti's in the Market now), and a dab of rosehip jelly that I made from the wild nootka rosehips we foraged in the mountains last winter. You simply swipe the edges of the little square of puff pastry with water and fold it over the paste and jam, pressing with fork tines to seal it together. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cut a little vent in the top (I like to make two small diagonal cuts). Beat an egg with about a tablespoon of cold water. Brush the mixture over the tops of the turnovers and sprinkle sugar over them. The egg will give them a nice gloss, and the sugar gives a tiny bit of crunch. It's that extra pzazz that makes it seem like you really know baking ;)

Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, or until pastries are golden. Let cool at least 10 minutes before eating - really. The jam becomes molten and Cass and I seriously burned ourselves (both mouths and hands) the first time I made these because we did not stop eating them!

A note on rosehip jelly: a Serbian friend of mine, upon learning what I'd been making this summer, informed me that rosehip jelly is a winter tradition back home, so I gave him a jar. He was able to confirm that the flavour of our native wild nootka roses is very different from the roses used in European jam recipes - which I think favour rosa rugosa and other large-fruiting varieties of shrub rose. So my rosehip jelly is tannic, like sweet black tea, but I think these would be just as good if you were able to source a more traditional European rosehip jam at an import foods shop.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

handmade holidays #7: a necklace in leather and silk charmeuse

remember how it was on my summer to-do list to make a leather necklace a la handle and spout's creations? Well, it took me some time, but look! I made good on that pledge. I decided I liked the way it lays across the collarbone, and added silk ties for soft-edged textural contrast. This one's winging its way south to a girlfriend of mine, but I hope I can find time to make one for myself eventually - and hopefully it won't take another 6 months for me to finish!

(speaking of to-dos, you should see the ridiculous list I've made for my two weeks off. There should be plenty of posting over the break - though, if I were wise, I'd hold some in reserve for winter quarter, when I'm in for another 20-credit quarter - twice a full load for a grad student - and teaching)

holiday tree

the tree has always been a very special part of the holidays for me. I moved out a decade ago, and I still remember our first tree: we covered it with origami roses because we could only afford a few ornaments. It was about 2 feet tall, so we put it on the kitchen table so it would be more prominent in our apartment.

We still get a small tree - smaller than any I grew up with - but mostly because Rising Sun Farms (in Ravenna) has such great prices on their little trees. Plus, when I first moved to Seattle, I used to walk there a couple times a week to buy groceries at rock-bottom prices. They got to know me, and they cut me a deal on the tree that first Christmas. That kindness meant a lot to me as I was almost completely out of money that December, having only just managed to find work after months of looking. And so, I am perennially loyal.

But as I was saying. Every year I purchase 2-4 ornaments, usually the day after Christmas, on sale. And over the years, it's really become a beautiful collection of orbs, acorns, pinecones and glass icicles (a nod to the tinsel that I loved as a child). We haven't used the origami roses in a few years, but they still live with the Christmas ornaments in the Christmas box. I think one of these years I might them up in our bedroom, a romantic reminder of our early years.

Anyhow, I was struck by a ray of winter sun gleaming in through this blown glass pomegranate the other morning; it so perfectly expresses how I feel about winter, the brief glory of cold, low yellow sun.

But of course, the tree is particularly glorious after dark. So, for family and friends that won't be in Seattle this winter - here's a peek into our holiday. With presents for you under the tree, just waiting to be packed up and sent out!

wishing you a holiday as beautiful and special as winter sunshine, full of memories of love and family!

handmade holidays #6: a feathered fascinator for a flapper

a friend of mine recently celebrated her 27th birthday with a 20s speakeasy party. Dress code was black and white, inspired by the Jazz Age. I couldn't make it down to Portland (owing to Cass' firm's annual holiday party - and the fact that I'm still grading my students' final papers and will be all weekend), but it looks like it was a killer party. She nabbed an underground (literally) venue with great atmosphere and knowing this girl, whipped up some great food to pair with her prohibition-era cocktails.

In the spirit of the thing I whipped this up for her - and got it to her just in time! - for a little extra black and white flair (it was charming against her Louise Brooks wig). Black and white rooster feathers (from this project), black leather (from this one), a vintage rhinestone earring that the vintage shop owner was willing to just give me, a vintage button I had on hand, and a small piece of one of the plastic combs I bought when I made this.

Times are tight, and moving this year reminded me just how many raw materials I already have on hand; so I'm trying to use some of them up this holiday season, when I can come up with a good way to do it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

handmade holidays #5: a pretty bracelet for a special lady

a pretty bracelet worked in lemon jade, leather, silver based on the wrapped glow bracelet from anthropologie - because I love my friends, but that doesn't mean I have $158 to drop on each of them. I only wish these beads had been faceted; still, they're pretty, and I think they'll pair well with the colour palette of a particular lady's wardrobe.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

handmade holidays #4: Frank Lloyd Wright shirts

for my sweetie this year, two new kinds of architecture-related T-shirts. Frank Lloyd Wright is one of his favorites, as he's a real modernist/neo-modernist kind of guy, so a few wearables (he always needs clothes) in honour of his favorite. (more on the process behind these two shirts here)

I was going to reverse-applique this one, but I liked the print so much (and it's so intricate) that I left well enough alone as soon as I removed the stencil. I love this one; it turned out perfect, to my mind: bright, crisp stencil, bold colours ... I have to say it, I think I'm finally being won over by modernist design (it's been a long process). I may steal this one a few times, hee! The pattern is based on a relief featured in the concrete blocks of the Ennis House (1924).

Cass was less fond of this motif, so I kept the colours softer so it wouldn't stand out so much. The waffle-tee is probably not the best thing for reverse applique technique, so I applied a LOT of paint in order to ensure that it had thoroughly soaked the fibers of the tee before I started stitching and cutting. The tulip window is the classic Lake Geneva Inn (1911).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

handmade holidays #3: packaging!

the last two years, I've wrapped the packages under my tree with beautiful celadon, cyan and silver wrapping, but wrapping paper always eats at me, no matter how beautiful it is. It is wasteful, you know. Plus, it's expensive! This year, I think I'll intersperse a few blue packages with packages wrapped in recycled brown kraft paper (I bought a role of packing paper designed for the mail). To make it a bit more special, I thought I'd use white ink and stamps. I carved this arctic fox from a fabric-printing block a few years back; I hope I have time to carve a pomegranate, so that I have a few options (and the pomegranate would be more festive). The little white bud-things came from a sprig of these I found at a thrift shop last summer; I think it makes a nice little detail to spruce things up, and ties in with the white ink.

ta-da, what do you think? Maybe with a bit of striped butcher's twine for tying up some of the packages?

handmade holidays #2: a wreath for the door

whilst snowed in yesterday, I took the time to put a wreath together. I like to put up lights over Thanksgiving weekend and get the tree the next weekend, which is my birthday weekend. It's kind of become a tradition. This year, I wanted to do a wreath, too, as I just love this charming little house we are renting and am feeling extra holiday spirit in the form of the drive to decorate!

Putting a wreath together is pretty easy, actually. You make or buy a form. You buy or trim small branches of greens, and you gradually wire them onto the form in small clusters, with the greenery pointing away from you and the branches coming towards you. As you get to the end, you have to fuss a bit and kind of tuck the branches from the last bits of green under the greenery from the first bits you put on (does that make sense?), but it's not hard. I tucked some rosehips into this one for a bit of colour; I wish I'd had some eucalyptus pods to put in it, too, but I haven't, and the florist's (like many other businesses) is closed due to snow. Ah, well, that's life!

Martha Stewart has some instructions for making wreaths in this post on her website from what seems like a much older episode of her show. Use the instructions for the six-inch wreath. I know I learned to make wreaths from her show in 1993 or 1994, and I think it was this same season. The newer ideas seem primarily to use pre-made wreaths, so those won't help you, unfortunately. (Martha! shortcuts? really?? I'm surprised at you!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

handmade holidays #1: because it's never too early to start

saw something similar on totokaelo (okay, in honest truth, a blog linked to one of those social inspiration-saving sites with a picture from totokaelo), but I just don't have $300 for individual presents - birthday, holiday or otherwise. After all, I am still a student and living on loans. Oh, the high life!

So! Printed out some free peyote stitch graph paper, dug through my beads to find the colours I wanted to combine (or at least,the closest approximation I had on hand), and got to colouring that graph paper with markers until I made a design that I liked. Beaded this up over the weekend while too sick to do much else (handy, that!), then roughly affixed a thick piece of red leather to the back by stitching from the leather through the links of the chain and down through the edges of the beading. Does that make sense? I let the chain droop a bit below the patch because I liked that look, and affixed these solid brass drops.

Bada-bing, bada-boom!

Now, this is actually a birthday present, but I am in a SERIOUS holiday gift-making mood (too bad I still have two small seminar assignments, a presentation, and two papers to write before I'm done with the quarter, pah!), so I'm calling it the first post of this year's "Handmade Holidays" posts. I have SO MANY ideas this year - it's going to kill me when I run out of time! =)

But for now, optimism is the word. Bring on the cheer and the mistletoe. It's freezing in Seattle and I am psyched for the holidays!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

holidays are coming!

and this year I'm reverse-appliqueing some motifs from Frank Lloyd Wright's houses (this one was a pattern in cement blocks in a wall) for the architect in my life.

For more on reverse applique, see these previous posts from me:
2009: Irish County T-Shirt
2008: Maidenhair Fern Pillow Covers (in velvet!)
2008: Tallulah Bankhead T-Shirt

And this post from the woman who brought reverse applique (along with a unique business plan and eco-conscience) to exquisite heights in the fashion world, Natalie Chanin:
DIY Eagle T-shirt

To make your own one-time-use stencil out of cheap printer paper (which has the benefit of being easy to cut, for all that it is a flimsy stencil), spray the back of your stencil (after you've selected, enlarged, printed, and cut out your image) with a repositionable spray adhesive, available at some arts and crafts stores. It basically turns the backside of your paper stencil into a giant sticky note. I have found that the adhesive did not leave a residue on these shirts, even though I left the stencil on the shirt for two weeks while I applied multiple coats of fabric paint.

autumnal eating

nothing quite like a bit of wild mushroom bisque with a savory pumpkin-shallot biscuit to take the edge off the cold and damp (emphasis on the damp today) and bring a little more warmth to these dwindling autumn days. Though I've made this soup before with only shiitakes and portabello mushrooms, I think I prefer the delicate combination of chanterelles and lobster mushrooms. The latter, true to their name, lend the flavour of shellfish to the soup, which pairs nicely with the apricot sweetness of the chanterelles. I add a little bit of shiitakes to ground the flavours with something a bit earthier.

Wild Mushroom Bisque

1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 c. flour

about 2 c. loosely packed sliced chanterelle mushrooms
about 2 c. loosely packed sliced lobster mushrooms
about 1/2 - 3/4 c. loosely packed sliced shiitake mushrooms
3 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbl minced fresh rosemary
1 c. cream sherry
3 c. vegetable stock
1 c. heavy whipping cream
2 c. nonfat milk

Use the butter and flour to prepare a roux: melt the butter in a small sautepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, to form a thick paste with a toasty smell. Do not let the roux darken. Set aside to cool.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add mushrooms, onions, rosemary, and garlic. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning, until the mushrooms and onions have softened and begun to caramelize, about 10-15 minutes.

Add the sherry and cook until liquid has reduced by half. Add the stock, milk and cream. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to keep the soup at a simmer. Stir in the roux a tablespoon at a time until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. You will probably need all of the roux, but feel free to make a thinner soup if that's your preference.

Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Return to pan and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Savory Pumpkin Biscuits with Chives and Caramelized Shallots

2 shallots, thinly sliced
1-2 Tbl. olive oil

2 1/2 c. flour
1 Tbl. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbl. (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

2/3 c. pumpkin
1/4 c. milk

5 scallions (green onions), dark green ends only, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

Heat olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add shallots and reduce heat to medium-low. Saute until deeply caramelized and crispy. (Note: you can prepare the biscuits while these cook, just keep an eye on them and keep stirring occasionally as necessary to prevent sticking/burning). Drain on paper towels. Chop or crumble between fingers.

Meanwhile in separate large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter pieces with pastry blender or fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add pumpkin and milk and combine to make a soft dough, adding more flour as necessary if mixture is too sticky.

Work chopped chives and crumbled shallot into the dough, then turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Roll out to 1/2 to 3/4" thick and cut into small rounds (I used a small-mouth mason jar as a cutter; you could also use a glass or - of course - a proper biscuit cutter).

Place biscuits on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment. Allow some space for rising, though the pumpkin seems to prevent them from puffing up too much, so you don't need to space them more than 1" apart. Bake at 425 for 15-17 minutes, or until they have turned golden (or really, a slightly deeper shade of orange).

october sunset

getting cold here

simple is delicious

cut 4 plums into quarter, removing pits. Place in a roasting pan. Drizzle with the juice of 2 limes, sprinkle 1 Tbl sugar over, then drizzle with 1 Tbl. olive oil. Sprinkle 2 Tbl. chopped fresh rosemary over the plums, laying four sprigs of fresh rosemary in among the plums. Bake at 375 until plums are soft and juices have become a thickened ruby sauce.

Remove from oven, let cool slightly. Top with a dollop of plain nonfat strained greek yogurt or better, plain Icelandic skyr (I like Siggi's skyr, which I find at Whole Foods). Drizzle with just a touch of honey.


checking off old to-dos: wool pants to wool shorts

these were too-short wool pants that I've owned since about 2003 and haven't worn since at least 2006 (if not longer). Took a bit of doing to get it hemmed properly/smoothly since the leg was tapered through the thigh, but I think I'll get more use out of them in their new incarnation. Hope so, anyway.

pilaf for dessert

I don't know about you, but I grew up with a lot of rice pudding. My mom would make it with regular milk instead of cream, with raisins and just a little butter. We'd have it for dessert, then leftovers would be breakfast the next morning. My dad and I would sometimes eat leftover white rice cold, with a bit of milk and sugar. It was kind of a thing. I'll still do this for breakfast on hot summer mornings, only now I mix the nonfat milk with a bit of lowfat coconut milk, and top it with mango slices or fresh strawberries. So I'm partial to sweet pilafs for a snack, for breakfast, for dessert. It's familiar, comforting, and most of the calories come from rice - which is really not a bad thing, in my book. (Especially if you make brown rice, though admittedly I didn't do that here.)

So, when I had some bananas about to go bad one day, I decided to make bananas foster - rice. I cut the four bananas lengthwise, then sliced the halves into 1/2"-thick half-rounds (approximately). I melted 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter, added a tablespoon of brown sugar, some vanilla, and spices (I think I used nutmet, cloves ... and maybe ginger or cardamom?). I added the bananas and cooked them over medium heat until the bananas were soft and the butter/sugar cooked into a thick syrup. Meanwhile, I cooked 1 cup of basmati rice with 2 cups of water. When the bananas were soft and the rice was fluffy, I stirred it all together. Try it - it's a good, simple treat!

well hello there

going through images left on my digital camera, I realized how many posts I've been meaning to put up. Whoops, sorry about that.

So let's begin with a recipe we made a week or two ago from a cookbook we got for our wedding (Earth to Table): a pizza topped with shredded chanterelles, corn kernels, fresh thyme and goat cheese (we used maple-smoked chevre). Literally, that's all that topped this pizza. Simple, and delicious. I think next time, I would use a thin crust and brush it with olive oil and season with some salt and pepper, too. Delicious!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

deco goodness: my Sencha blouse

Sarai at Colette Patterns has a real winner with this Sencha blouse; I went over there this summer and learned that she'd actually sold out of the pattern. Looks like she's got it back in now - click the link to go to the shop.

I made mine out of a floral-print swiss dot in black, but then I realized I'd (whoops) made it out of sheer fabric and (double whoops) used a white stabilizer on my facing. I tried to fix it by tea-dying the fused pieces (don't ask me HOW the whole thing didn't just fall apart), but to little avail. So, in order to mask the very-opaque, very white interfacing, I resorted to a bit of embroidery - a simple running stitch in a pale nude-pink that wraps around the keyhole and the neckline. Really, it was serendipitous, because I'm quite happy with the deco-feel that resulted.

details of the front and back. With such thin fabric, I opted to use snaps, but then chose to sew my filigree brass buttons over the snaps for a pretty look.

And here it is on. Cute, huh? I don't exactly plan to style it with jeans; I think pencil skirts are more this Sencha's type. Or I might pair it with the wool shorts I'm just finishing tonight - DIY'ed from an old pair of wool pants that were just a tetch too short.

Monday, September 20, 2010

save the summer

about now, many of my perennial blooms are starting to fade, and seeds are coming on strong. As our home has a little bank of windows in the utility room, I plan to try propagating from seed next spring. If it works, I'll have a bunch of plants to put into the yard and more to give to friends.

Here's a simple way to collect the seeds and grow more of your favorite flowers next year:

cut rough circles of lightweight fabric. It should be thin, rather sheer, as this will allow light and air to continue to reach the flower where the seeds are developing. Just make sure it's not so delicate that it can't endure a bit of weather (I wouldn't use silk, for example). The sample circles above (a quarter is in the middle of one, for reference) were cut from polyester organza leftover from making that veil. These were actually too small for most of my echinacea blooms, and I had to cut larger ones.

Using a running stitch, stitch all around the edge of the circle, a scant 1/4" - 1/2" from the edge. Leave long ends, as this will give you something to tie off later.

Pull the long ends to gather up the fabric along the running stitch. Gently fit the little fabric cup over the seed-head of your flower. Tighten the fabric around the flower's stem and tie off the threads. You don't want to cut the threads into the stem (so as not to damage the flower), but do tie it quite tightly - if the seeds should start to fall off the seed-head, you want the fabric to gather them all together and keep them contained. I just tied the loose ends in a bow, but you could knot them as well.

When the heads have developed as much as they are going to and/or the seeds begin to fall, cut the flowers at their stems and bring them inside. Allow them to dry a bit (perhaps hang them upside down, to help the seeds fall out and be caught in your fabric. Then carefully cut the fabric off the seedheads, pick out any seeds still remaining in the head, and store them away until spring.

because blackberries are a summer essential

Though we haven't had much of a summer this year, we at least got out one afternoon to pick blackberries. The haul wasn't good - the brambles were mostly picked over, and what few berries remained were small. We managed to net about 2.5 - 3 cups. What to do with too few berries for a pie or jam?


I used this recipe as a model for my own. I used all the fruit we had (so, more than twice the amount called for in the original recipe), cut the crumb topping, added vanilla, and stirred the fruit into the batter instead of placing it on top of the cake. I had to cook it more than twice the original length of time, but the result was a dense fruity cake (really, you could hardly tell there was any cake) that stayed moist over days without even being wrapped. Here's my version below:

Blackberry Coffeecake
1/4 c. canola oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. nonfat milk
2 tsp Mexican vanilla extract

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 heaping tsp. baking powder
dash salt

2 1/2 - 3 c. fresh blackberries, picked over, rinsed and drained.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9" square pan with sides at least 2" high. I used a 9" diameter springform pan with high sides.

Mix wet ingredients together. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until a smooth batter forms.

Add berries to batter and gently fold in, using a wooden spoon, until berries are evening distributed throughout batter.

Pour into prepared pan, and bake about 60-70 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean (or with moist crumbs rather than wet batter attached).

Monday, September 13, 2010

african wax-print #3: the peacock oxford shirt

Finally! At long last, coming far far behind the heels of
african wax-print #1
african wax-print #2

I have made time to use the african wax-print cloth that Ari brought home for me from Rwanda. The women in the village agreed that this was "the most beautiful" of the local patterns, and I have to agree that it's gorgeous (plus, I love green). I almost went for black buttons, but somehow, at the fabric store, they looked too dark, too shocking. Though everyone disagreed with my choice of these navy buttons (except Cass), I don't think they're "too bright" at all; I mean, c'mon, it's ankara cloth - bright is part of the appeal, right?

To make this blouse, I used Vogue pattern V8598. I used the sleeve in view D (featured below) as a model, but cut it short to make a half-sleeve. Instead of adding the continuous lap, pleats, and cuff, I left a slit open at the back of each of my sleeves (finishing the hem with a shirttail hem, basically), and made the tabs from leftover fabric. To make a band collar instead of a foldover collar, I just cut the collar band piece from the pattern and not the collar itself. I skipped adding the collar piece in when I sewed the band together and voila! Continue like normal. =)

I think it's going to be a great piece for fall, especially with all the peacock-motifs out there this year. The only thing is that the green and blue dyes bleed, and even though I've washed this twice, I still ended up with a greeny-navy blush on my fingertips after sewing all night. I think a few more washes are in order before I actually wear it; just to try and keep that dye off the rest of my clothes and skin.
But it is nice. Though you can't really tell on the hanger, the princess shaping is good, and the top is fitted (but not tight) rather than boxy. Whew! Finally, back to crossing things off that summer to-do list! I've got another blouse cut already; hopefully I'll be able to show it to you in a couple days!


doncha just hate it when this happens?

(lesson learned.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

sweetest day

whew. I don't know if I'll make and embroider a veil by hand again - certainly not anytime soon. This absolutely absorbed every free minute for the past two weeks; and I didn't finish it until 10pm the night before the wedding - yikes! So things have been quiet around here while I've been hard at work, giving myself carpal tunnel.

Thank goodness it was a short veil! Each of the two layers is only 20" long, but of course the standard width for veils is 108 inches (or nine feet!), so I had a lot to do. The edge was blind-hemmed by hand. The floral motif was taken directly from the embroidery motif on the bride's gown. I embroidered two smaller versions of this central motif on either side, making a total of five embroidered motifs, each separated from the other by a length of palestrina knots (also known as old english knot), which I also used to trim the rest of the veil, embroidering the knots over the edge of my blind hem.

Though I'm glad to be done with it, I think a veil is something every bride could make for herself, especially if she wants a simple one - this would have been super fast if I had just been sewing ribbon or pearl-trim to the edge - and from what I read online, it seems that making your own veil is a good way to trim your wedding budget by as much as a couple hundred dollars (not much in the grand scheme of things, but it all adds up!). Here's the tutorial I used as the basis for making this veil, but there are a lot more out there - just google "diy wedding veil" and see!

I also made seven hairpieces to tuck into the top of the bride's updo (which I was also responsible for creating on the day of the wedding). The tiny white violets are my favorite; I think when my hands recover I might consider making a hairpiece for myself, just using these. To make them, I bought some ribbon that looks like little flowers linked together, like this:

click here to buy your own from things festive

I cut the tiny flowers apart, and stitched a single seed bead into the center of each one (mine were rocailles: clear glass with a silver-painted center), and added a few little stitches to subtly shape the violets into a more natural/organic form. I stitched them together, one by one. It took hours, I'm not going to lie to you. This is definitely not a craft for someone looking to finish quickly, but the final result was exquisite. The silvery leaves are from some expensive french lace that I bought and cut apart, tossing the flowers but keeping the leaves (I sealed cut edges with tacky glue to prevent fraying). The tiny faux pearls on clear plastic line I bought at a party goods store and cut apart, and the larger faux pearls I slipped onto thick headpins, securing with tacky glue. The little rosettes are made from a branch of faux spray roses that I cut apart, stitching about three little blossoms together for each of the rosettes you see above.

All in all, a lot of work for a few little glitzy bits and bobs, but totally worth it to help a beautiful bride on her special day!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

did I mention we were headed to Europe?

whoops. Sorry to disappear. I'm back from Stockholm, Vadstena, Sandham, Prague, Paris, and Mont St. Michel. We had our backyard wedding celebration (note: a bit more work than I'd expected, ha!) and the last out-of-towners (my family) just left today. So! I'm off to nurse a cold (I am so incredibly worn out after all that!) and embroider that veil I've been fussing with all summer. I have so much left to knock out on that summer to-do list, so I should be back to regularly posting new projects soon!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

this is where we live

it's pretty hard to beat the transitory, brief beauty that is summer in the northwest

are you tired of seeing these fruit desserts yet?

I had a conversation with my mother about fruit desserts the other day; she thinks that part of the reason I'd rather have a fruit dessert than anything else (really!) is because they're her favorites, too - and consequently, account for the vast majority of desserts we were served growing up (excepting the ubiquitous ice cream, of course!).

Cass had the idea to make plum dumplings; imagine my surprise when, after suggesting for months that I make them, I came to him for a recipe and he said he'd never had them before! What was the root of all that insistence, I wonder? Well, wherever that inspiration came from, it was genius. These things are so VERY good that I know I'll be making tons of them from now on - and as far as desserts go, they're really not terrible for you. And they make a perfect breakfast - that is, if you can manage to keep from eating them all in one go!

I used a Polish recipe I found, that didn't make a potato dough. It speeds the process considerably. Also, I used perfectly ripe red plums (my favorite!) cut into quarters rather than the traditional little Italian prune-plums, which I'm less excited to eat - and it worked just fine.

Plum Dumplings:

4 ripe red plums, pitted and cut into quarters, or 16 small black prune-plums, pitted

2 c. flour
2 egg yolks
1 Tbl. salted butter, melted
1 c. lukewarm milk (I used non-fat) thanks Cheryl!

Place flour in a bowl. In a separate cup or bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry and stir into a sticky dough. Set aside, let rise 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, turn dough out on a floured board and knead just to make a smooth, elastic noodle dough. Roll out dough into a rectangle (at least 9 X12). Cut dough into quarters.

Working with one quarter of the dough at a time, cut that quarter of the dough into quarters again (or sixteenths of the original dough). Roll each out until you have a square or rectangle to wrap around your plum.

To wrap my plum quarters, I placed a plum, skin-side down, on the diagonal of a square of dough in my palm (this way, the thinnest part of the dough would be exposed to the least amount of plum juice, thus helping to prevent the noodle dough from tearing). I would wrap first one corner and then another across the middle of the cut side of the plum wedge, lightly wetting the edges where I needed to seal dough onto dough. Then I would wrap the other corners over the points of the plum wedge. I'd then squeeze and press the dough-wrapped plum a bit, just to make sure all of the edges were sealed, and placed it on a baking sheet.

Repeat process, cutting, rolling and wrapping, for all 16 plum quarters.

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Slip your dumplings into the pan; you'll want to do this in 2-3 batches so that the dumplings don't get stuck together. Boil dumplings for 10 minutes, then drain and, if not serving immediately, toss with a little bit of oil (olive oil, melted butter, etc.) to keep dumplings from becoming one gluey mass.

To serve, top with little bit of melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.


party preparation begins

we leave Thursday for Stockholm; last night I made filling for phyllo puffs. Tomorrow I want to assemble, taste-test, and (if successful), freeze them for the party. I am making and freezing lemon-lavender sugar cookie logs today and hopefully also parbaking and freezing a tart shell for a lemon-curd tart.

Our dinner is united by a lemon-and-lavender flavour theme (I was also originally going to decorate the table with potted lavender plants, before my MIL offered her summer dahlia garden for the tables), and so I made some fresh bunting to hang from the trees from vintage sari cloth my aunt Diane gave to me. This is stunningly beautiful cloth worked in lavendar and gold, but I could never decide what to do with it because I knew that once I cut it, it would start to fray. So, in order to reinforce these, I fused the back of three yards of the sari cloth with lightweight fusible interfacing. There are still some threads that are fraying, but most of them have been captured and I think these will hold up considerably better for having a fused backing. I was only able to make three 12' strings of these, but as the colour palette is so similar, I think we will just have to mix these with our Swedish Midsommar buntings (in blue and yellow).

Monday, July 19, 2010

more forest goodness

wow. Summer is on (finally) around here. We went foraging for berries in the mountains on Sunday with Cass' parents, an aunt and uncle, and a friend of ours. We were out on the trail about 4 hours, all seven of us hunting and picking (this family can forage!). We picked wild mountain blackberries (tiny and far more floral than the ones that grow by the highways); red huckleberries, salmonberries, and thimbleberries (my personal favorite).

What to do with all of them?

I made one small pie just of wild mountain blackberries. They are Cass' favorite and he just LOVES wild mountain blackberry pie. I couldn't not do it.
The rest (mostly red huckleberries because I'd rather stay safely in the forest than scramble down hillsides for the tiny blackberries) I put in a pot...

and yes, made another dozen small jars of jam. Won't this be nice, at yuletide? Tangy delicious, truly wild berry jam for the holidays. Presents from the summer forest.

I swear, I do other things than make jam and fruit desserts all summer! Hopefully I'll have another sewing project to show you soon!