Five for Friday

1. I finally got around to hemming my Everyday Skirt in time to wear it to work today (and take a quick picture in that most glamorous of settings, the office-building restroom). So far, so good. It’s comfortable enough that I haven’t thought about it all day, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay a piece of clothing I want to wear a lot.

2. Related: This is a pretty extensive, though hardly exhaustive, list of independent sewing pattern designers.

3. These pictures of a 13-year-old Mongolian eagle huntress are SO GOOD.

4. On the off chance you haven’t seen today’s XKCD about free speech, it’s pretty great.

5. The second season of The Bletchley Circle started on PBS last weekend (Orphan Black is back this weekend!). Tom and Lorenzo really nail down what makes it so, so great.

Spring/summer sewing

This is the time of year when I get excited about sewing all over again. Partly it’s because I’m looking ahead to warm-weather clothes, which are so much more conducive to sewing than most winter clothes. And partly I think it’s just part of the year’s cycle; after months of rich braises and knitting, I crave crunchy salads and sewing. Turn turn turn and suchlike.

So I’m drawing up a sewing list, based on what I’d like to be wearing this summer. I’ll probably make a couple of Staple Dresses and Everyday Skirts. There’s a muslin of the latter mentioned in the post linked in the last sentence, and I have one in the same black cotton/silk twill fabric as that dress just waiting to be hemmed. I think both of those patterns would be nice in a fairly large-scale print, something like this Charley Harper nuthatch print, which marches right up to the too-whimsical line, but stays on the right side, I think, since it’s so graphic.

I have a muslin of the Scout Tee on my kitchen table waiting to be sewn together; once I have the sizing nailed down, I’ll make several in simple graphic patterns like these (both from Purl). It seems like an incredibly versatile pattern; the shape looks like it’ll work with skinny or slouchy pants, full or narrower skirts.
41366_zoom41369_zoomThe directions call for sewing the shoulder and side seams before setting the sleeve caps in, but I’m used to doing it the way sweaters are assembled: sew the shoulder seams, set in the sleeve cap, then sew one side seam from the lower edge to the sleeve cuff. It just makes so much more sense and seems so, so much less annoying. I think I’m going to try one sleeve each way on the muslin and see how it goes. I can’t see any reason why the easier way wouldn’t work just as well, but I guess I’ll find out.

The Gabriola skirt from Sewaholic is really chic and pretty. It would be a stretch for me to actually execute–there’s some fancy piecing business around the waist that calls for precision and attention–but I love it.
IMG_9274__06181.1391810470.1280.1280I’d also love to make a version of this Mociun dress, which is no longer being produced, but I can’t find a pattern that really looks like it.mociunsilkdressPlenty of people have adapted existing patterns to make their own. I’m not sure my pattern fitting/drafting skills are there yet, but maybe I’ll give it a shot. It doesn’t seem that complicated.

knit topCarolyn hipped me to this top, which I love unreservedly and would wear constantly. It looks a lot like a warm-weather version of a tunic from Uniqlo that I’ve been wearing at least once a laundry cycle all winter. The only thing stopping me from buying the pattern and enough fabric for three or four versions is that my sewing machine isn’t great for knits—the zigzag stitch doesn’t work and the repair guy I took it to said it would be more expensive to fix than to replace the machine—and I don’t have a serger. I do have a few friends who do though…

Spice-infused oil for soapmaking

This is an experiment in whether the scent from infused oil can survive saponification. I haven’t been able to find any information on the subject other than a general ‘of course you can infuse your oils’ and forum posts from people who’ve tried it but can’t detect a scent in the finished product. Almost all of those examples were people who were infusing dried herbs, however, not spices. Cardamom essential oil, in particular, is prohibitively expensive and it would be terrific to find a way to get that scent using bulk spices.

P1090111This is 12 oz. of olive oil with two cinnamon sticks, one crushed nutmeg, five pieces of star anise, two tablespoons each of allspice berries, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds, and one tablespoon of peppercorns, the latter four toasted and blitzed roughly in a spice grinder. I’ll let the mixture steep for two weeks in a sunny window, then use it in a batch of soap. Four weeks after that, I’ll be able to report back on whether the finished product is scented or not. Soapmaking is an interesting practice, timewise. Putting a batch together provides almost immediate gratification, but the curing process is so long that it’s only because of my detailed notes that I even remember what I did with any of the batches by the time they’re ready to use.


Five for Friday

IMG_26441. Beet yogurt? Beet yogurt!

2. I’ve been a fan of Morbid Anatomy for a long time and their museum project looks AMAZING. They still have a way to go on their Kickstarter though.

3. I never really write about my full-time job here, but I’m pretty proud of a recent feature I wrote about streaming video services in libraries.

4. Likewise, I rarely tout my husband’s work, but I really enjoyed this interview he did with Paul Stanley of KISS, in which they talked some smack about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone, and the whole idea of autobiography.

5. I’m so enjoying reading about Daniel and Max’s home renovations on Manhattan Nest. Daniel’s writing is terrific (corpse tub!), they have phenomenal taste (meaning they like things I like, obviously), and their project gives what seems to be real insight into the process of buying and renovating an old house, something I’m pretty sure I never, ever want to do on that scale.

Blanket statement

Over the last few years, I’ve crocheted a few blankets for gifts, but haven’t kept any for myself. I seem to be bound and determined to change that, starting a new blanket every few months. They’ve all been conceived as ways to use up scraps or to repurpose larger quantities of yarns that aren’t ideal for garments or whatever project I bought or spun for them originally, but I know I’ll like and use the finished objects whenever they’re done.

P1090108I’ve mentioned the handspun log cabin blanket before. It continues to grow slowly, especially on cooler evenings when its warmth is welcome in my lap and its utter simplicity makes for mindless knitting. Even though the days are going to be heating up, I think it’ll still see a lot of action in the mini-season known as My Landlady Turned the Heat Off, but It Isn’t Really Warm Yet.

I haven’t done much with the crocheted hexagons over the winter. They’re such a good warm-weather project though, I expect to make some progress with them this summer.

And I just started the third one this week. It’s the Purl Bee’s Elegant Granny Stitch Blanket, though I’m doing it at a bigger gauge, which dials the elegance down a bit. I have a big bag of assorted fingering-weight yarn in blacks and grays and am working with two strands at a time, switching new yarns in as the balls run out and trying my best not to micromanage the randomness.

New design!

I’ve been wanting a new website design for a while and now, thanks to Carrie, I have one! I wanted something that would be sort of crafty and sort of graphic and also make it easier to navigate around, and I really love how it came together.

I wasn’t really planning to launch the new site design the same weekend as the pattern for my wedding dress, but there’s a nice symmetry there, I think.

0081Silvermine is available in my Ravelry store.

Named for our wedding venue, the Silvermine Tavern in Norwalk, CT, this dress has a modernized Gibson Girl silhouette, with the straight front skirt panel and fullness around the sides and back and a fitted bodice. While it makes a spectacular wedding dress, it would be equally stunning in almost any color for any formal occasion.

The knitting itself is not at all difficult and could be ably dispatched by anyone comfortable with basic lace knitting. It does, however, require hours of careful, attentive, and patient finishing work.

The fit of this garment can be blocked slightly larger, smaller, longer, and shorter due to the nature of the lace fabric. Choose the size closest to your measurements and block to fit yours. The project was designed to have about two inches of negative ease in the bust, about zero ease at the waist, and several inches of positive ease through the hips.

The pattern begins with the waistband, using a provisional cast on to center the stitch pattern. The bodice is knit in three pieces (one front, two backs), with a buttoned placket in back. The center panel of the skirt is knit from the bottom up, while the main piece of the skirt was knit from the top down with cording separating the lace patterns. The bodice pieces are sewn together with mattress stitch, but all other seams are done by picking up stitches along the edges to be joined and doing a three-needle bindoff on the right side, both for strength and because the look mimicked the cords on the skirt.

A cabled cardigan to transform me into Stella Tennant

This time of year, it can be hard to rally a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to work on this kind of project–it’s far enough from done that even if I devote all of my knitting time to it for the next month or so, it won’t be done before it’s too hot to wear it–except that it’s extraordinarily nice to knit. The yarn is gorgeous, a multistrand cashmere/merino from School Products that I’ve been hoarding for close to a decade; the color is basically the best color, a rich, heathery navy/purple/black that’s surprisingly tricky to photograph; and the simple cables are easy to work but produce a lush, plush fabric that I basically want to wrap myself up in forever, or at least until the temperature climbs much north of 60. The back is done and I’ve cast on for one of the fronts.

This was my inspiration for it, a tear sheet I’ve had kicking around long enough to forget where it’s from. I love everything about it: the cozy sweater, the gorgeous dress, the setting, her luminous skin and wacky bedhead, her feline friend, the enamel basin of … berries, let’s say, the eccentric-highborn-English-ladyness of it all. As much as I love looking at Marion Cotillard in Dior, my idea of chic is much closer to Stella Tennant with oxfords and socks under her gown and a cat at her feet.

And speaking of feline friends, Fuzz Ferdinand is keeping pretty busy being super handsome all the time.

Introducing Fuzz Ferdinand

20140331-084036.jpgWe got a cat this weekend!

He’s a very sweet adult Russian Blue that we adopted through a rescue organization in Brooklyn that I’m not going to name because I would never recommend them. They’re doing good work, but they really don’t make it easy or pleasant. Adopting a homeless adult cat should be a no-brainer. They should say, oh, you’re willing to do that (and are not a pet hoarder or vivisectionist)?  TAKE IT PLUS A MEDAL YOU BEAUTIFUL SAINTED ANGELS. Instead, there are stacks of paperwork and references and a home visit and the pre-visit phone call I had to field while I was at work because I stupidly answered honestly on the form where it asked if the cat was going to go outside and I said well, we have a deck so maybe, sure.  It’s true, first of all, and I’d think it would be a positive thing to let the little guy get some fresh air sometimes. This one doesn’t strike me as a bolter, but I can always get a leash and tie it to a railing so he can’t run.

She started ranting at me about how terrible it is to let cats go outside just because I dream about watching it chase butterflies (er, what?). Some of her points were valid (cars, contact with other cats who could have FIV), some of them were LUDICROUS (she actually mentioned COYOTES as a possibility—she lives one neighborhood over from us, so she should know that there aren’t any coyotes in south Brooklyn), and she just wouldn’t stop talking, even though I kept saying “It’s okay, we don’t need to let it out, it’s just an option since we have outdoor space” over and over. She got super wound up and was talking faster and faster and I could practically hear the spittle flying from the corners of her mouth. And she was really condescending—at one point snottily asking if I’ve ever even HAD pets before (because I clearly care so little about their welfare, you see). I finally had to interrupt her and say that I’d give my husband her number so they could schedule a time for the home inspection that would work for both of them and said goodbye and hung up. (I didn’t mention the leash option, since I couldn’t handle a lecture about how the cat will strangle himself with it or a hawk might get him or a sniper might use him for target practice or or or.)

The visit itself was fine—apparently she was perfectly nice to Rob and said she hoped she hadn’t offended me—and the only issue she pointed out was a possible toxicity risk from the HANGING PLANT in our living room. (Because he’s secretly a flying cat? I mean, I guess it’s somewhere within the realm of possibility that it could launch itself from a piece of furniture, pull down a few bits of plant, and eat them, but I just don’t think it’s likely. He’s not a small cat and, frankly, doesn’t seem to have that kind of ambition.)

It’s all worth it to have him home with us though. Cats are such a nice warm presence in a house and I’ve missed having one. We had decided to wait to name him until we’d spent a little time with him and in those early days, Rob started referring to him as Our Fuzzy Friend, which has since morphed into Fuzz and Fuzzy, with the official full name of Fuzz Ferdinand. He’s still hanging out in the closet some of the time, but he was snuggling on the couch with us the first night and even let me clip his claws yesterday morning.

A spring salad


It may not look like much, but this salmon is easily the best fish I’ve ever cooked. I used Nigella Lawson’s recipe here  as a template, changing the marinade recipe a little bit (miso, maple, and soy sauce), but following her directions for the process and timing. It helps that I bought a nice piece of fish to start with, but the real trick is that I managed to avoid overcooking it and ended up with two portions of perfectly medium-rare, flaky salmon.

20140331-083955.jpgThen I made a salad of anything salad-y in the fridge: baby kale, chopped snap peas, roasted potatoes and tomatoes, chopped baby bok choy, a bit of avocado, and the last little bit of vinaigrette in the jar. It was flavorful and substantial but still light, and something I’d love to eat at least once a week for the next few months.

Bad batch

My soap experiments have been pretty successful so far, as far as I can tell. I won’t know for sure until everything’s cured and I can actually lather up, but the various concoctions I’ve mixed up so far look and feel the way I’d expect them to–until this one. It was extremely hard, bright white, and almost crumbly, in stark contrast to the soft, easily sliced, ecru-to-greenish beige bars I’ve been making.

It used the same oils I’ve been working with so far (coconut, olive, avocado, sunflower, and castor). I’ve been playing around with the proportions of each, but not to such a degree that I’d expect a radically different result. I suspect that the problem is that the oils were too warm. With soapmaking, you’re separately mixing up lye and oil mixtures that need to be roughly the same temperature when they’re combined. When the dry lye hits the water, it gets super hot (I’ve never measured the temperature right at the moment of combination, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s close to 200F) and then has to cool down to somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-110F. Meanwhile, the oils are at room temperature and have to be brought UP to 100-110 in a double boiler. Generally, it’s a lot faster to heat up the oils than it is to cool down the lye, so you wouldn’t even start that until the lye is almost in your target range, but I’ve figured out that putting the Pyrex measuring cup holding the lye into a sink with a couple inches of ice water in it cools it down extremely efficiently. With the previous batch, this was such an effective move that I really had to scramble to get the oils warm enough before the lye cooled down below where it would be effective. So, yesterday, when I was making this batch, I figured I’d heat the oils first and hold them at the right temperature while I dealt with the lye. It didn’t work — the oils got really hot and then retained the heat really well, even when I stuck the bowl in the refrigerator. And even without using the ice water, the lye cooled down before the oils and I ended up adding 100F lye to 130F oils. It achieved trace in a perfectly normal amount of time and it looked fine, but it wasn’t. Maybe it would have been okay if I hadn’t insulated the mold, but maybe not.

I think it’ll probably still be usable after the curing period; it’ll be interesting to see.