Monday, July 30, 2007

Only time for a quick post

Our internet at home has been down while we switch from a business account that work used to pay for to a personal one (why AT&T needs a week to do this is beyond me!), so I only have time for a quick post during lunch at work.

And I have so much to talk about! It was a fiber-filled weekend + 1 day since I took off Friday from work.

I went to the vendor show at the American Sewing Guild convention. The convention was in Sacramento this year so you'd think that I'd take advantage of the close proximity and take some classes. But no. When the brochure came I put it aside and for some reason I wasn't very excited about it. Then I had a "comp" day coming to me at work and decided I'd go to the conference on Friday. But by then it was too late to pre-register. I didn't really want to get up at 4 am and drive 2 hours just to find out all the "good" classes were full so I decided I'd have a more leisurely day off and just go shopping.

I had a fun day and in the end I was glad I didn't pack it crazy-full with classes. The drive there and back was long. The vendor show, though small, was pretty good. I bought fabric (surprise!), a pattern, and some notions and also bought fabric at a Sacramento fabric store I stopped at first. I'll tell more about my purchases later this week and maybe I'll be able to post a photo or two of my what I bought.

My husband and I have gone to Lambtown in Dixon, CA the last two years and despite some major changes to the show this year (no sheepdog trials, no sheep shearing competition), we took a chance and made the long drive to check it out. We missed seeing sheepdog chase down sheep but we did get to watch a shearing demonstration and pet some sheep. There was also an alpaca, but she was not pettable. This year they turned Lambtown into a fiber craft fair and held it closer to downtown instead of the fairgrounds. The vendors were mixed between those selling raw fleece, roving, and yarn and those selling "decorative" gifts, purses, hats, and other assorted stuff. I of course shopped for roving and came home with 4 bundles: Pygora (a cross between pygmy and Angora goats), Shetland (sheep, not pony!), Alpaca, and Jacob's sheep. I also bought a niddy-noddy, which I put to use on Sunday.

Day of rest! We watched the final of the Tour de France, listened to the far off "buzzing" of the Champ Cars in the San Jose Grand Prix, and I did some spinning. I finished spinning my practice roving and learned to ply. I made a mess of the plying at first and my wonderful husband helped me untangle it and gave me words of encouragement. I used my niddy-noddy to turn it into a skein and by golly, my first handspun actually looks like yarn. I have pictures but I can't upload them! Drat!

You'll have to wait.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Homemade ice cream

I'd forgotten how good it is! We made peach ice cream (actually ice milk, since I didn't make it with cream) and brought it to a BBQ Saturday night. It was a hit and caused quite a few people to remark about how they used to make homemade ice cream and should do so again.

The ice cream maker I have is this one:

It was purchased about 20 years ago and was used a lot at first and then spent most of its years in the box. I think I stopped because I was scared away from making ice cream with raw eggs; however, I had forgotten how tasty fruit-based ice milks and sorbets are. Plus they're super easy to make.

This ice cream maker, which you can still buy new today or used from eBay, garage sales, and maybe even thrift stores, is easy to use and turns out a decent frozen treat. Its main feature is a chilled cylinder that you need to pre-freeze for at least 7 hours in the freezer (so it's best to just store it there). You insert the plastic paddle, pour in the blended mixture of your choice, and turn the crank by hand every few minutes. It makes a quart of ice cream in about 1/2 hour (I don't believe the 20 minutes or less on the packaging unless you want very soft ice cream).

The peach ice "milk" I made was following this recipe:

2 cups of peaches (skinned, pitted and cut into quarters)
1 12 ounce can of evaporated milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup of milk (I used non-fat)
3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

I used a stick blender to mix everything together but you can also use a blender or food processor.

Friday, July 20, 2007

All shook up

click to see larger

I didn't feel it even though I was awake. What was I doing awake at 4:40 am? I was awakened at 4:30 am to the lovely sound of a cat hacking up pieces of Fountain Grass at the foot of the bed.

Still bummed I didn't feel the earthquake, but we are quite a bit south of the epicenter and it wasn't a very large one (thankfully).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day off

We took Monday off and went to the beach. Now I'm a Jersey Girl, and for me the beach was "the shore" and it meant soft sand, warm ocean water, jelly fish (yuck), lifeguards, claiming a spot on the beach amidst the shoebies, the radio tuned to a pop-rock station, sandcastles, airplanes pulling advertising banners, and of course the boardwalk (saltwater taffy, fudge, t-shirt shops, pork roll...don't get me started!). Well now I live in northern California and the beach here is a totally different experience. It's beautiful and the beach we went to (Greyhound Rock) was nearly deserted on this Monday afternoon in July. We had a nice picnic lunch, a little nap, and a long walk. Here are some pictures. You can see some more on my Flickr site.



California coast

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Promises, promises

Ok, so I didn't post about the lounge pants the next day, like I said I would. I got distracted by peaches and cutting out a new top and work and genealogy stuff and more peaches.

Our peach tree harvest is huge this year. Last year we had no peaches and this year we have 25 billion little peaches. Well, not actually 25 billion, but we did harvest a lot of yellow peaches...and the white peaches are right behind. Unfortunately the yellow peaches were very small, about apricot sized, which made it more time consuming to work with. We tried to thin the fruit and I know I picked off loads of unripe tiny peaches earlier this year to keep the branches from becoming overloaded and breaking, but I guess I didn't do a good enough job.

At least this year I did remember that the first peaches, the yellow ones, are freestone and thus easier to process as peach halves than the white ones, which are not freestone. So far we've processed 10 pints of peaches, squeezed a quart of peach nectar, baked a peach crumble, churned a quart of peach ice milk (no-cream ice cream), and ate a lot of peaches. And there are still more yellow peaches in the fridge and on the tree. And did I mention that the white peaches are nearly ripe? Knowing that they will get mangled trying to cut out the pit, I'm saving those for peach preserves and peach chutney. And more ice cream, which was yummy!

And now, the rest of the farm report:

The zucchini and yellow squash are still going strong. I have to admit that I'm getting just a little tired of eating squash every night. Just a little. The tomatoes are slowly ripening - I'm waiting for the onslaught of ripe tomatoes and the adjustment from squash-based dishes to tomato-based ones. Oh, but nothing beats a vine-ripened tomato. Eating one brings back memories of my childhood in NJ when we used to buy tomatoes (and peaches!) from the local roadside stands. The cucumbers and onions are still producing and providing us with a cucumber salad each evening. The bush beans are on their second wind - either they're supposed to produce like that or the extra watering is helping. We spotted two new pumpkins to bring our total to four - I'm ready for an early Halloween. We have about 4 or 5 cantaloupes that are growing bigger each day and there's one tiny watermelon trying to survive. We ate one ear of our corn and have decided to plant more next year. The rest of the stuff: peppers (sweet and hot), eggplant, beets...they're all chugging along. I went to the grocery store last weekend and didn't buy a single fruit or vegetable, which sadly I know is not an uncommon thing for an American, but my farm report here tells you we are well stocked.

So anyway...the pants. They still need to be hemmed but I'll tell you about them anyway, in more detail than you probably care to read so be prepared. It wasn't a big disaster, but not quite the simple, easy project I wanted to do after my not-so-simple orange summer top. I desperately need some new sweatpants or lounge pants to wear around the house, but just can't bring myself to buy any because the styles are either made for 16-year olds (low on the waist and too tight across my thighs and butt) or I just can't, as a sewer, pay money for pants when I have plenty of fabric to make them. And of everything I sew, these should be the easiest and quickest thing to sew, right? That's what I thought too.

I recently bought some cotton fabric from that was labelled as "novelty." Just what "novelty" means is up for interpretation. I know what "novelty yarn" means - generally acrylic in nature and containing bobbles, tufts, metallic thread and usually made into scarves. But when it comes to fashion fabric, "novelty" can range from something that Vicki Lawrence might have worn on a Carol Burnett show skit to a really interesting fabric, that could be of good quality and just doesn't fit any other definition. The "novelty" cotton fabric I bought was actually pretty good. Here is a picture of it, "borrowed" from the site:

I also bought it in navy blue. I originally had in mind making some sort of top out of the fabric (I only paid $1.95/yard for it) but when I received it I thought it would be perfect for some lounge pants. It's a bit thinner than sweatpants but is the same weight as some other drawstring pants I bought and wear around the house.

I decided to use this New Look 6730 pattern, which I used for a skirt last year:

I have not sewn many pants for myself because I fear the fitting process. Even elastic-waist pants can cause me grief. As I've been taught, I chose my size based on my hip size, which meant the ginormous size (yes, ginormous is now a word). I could have spent time measuring and altering the pattern but these were supposed to be easy, lounge pants, so I figured I'd just make them in the ginormous size and take them in where needed. I traced off the ginormous size, leaving the pattern intact in case I wanted to traced off a smaller one later (wishful thinking).

I washed the fabric and here is where I encountered the novelty part of the fabric. When I went to lay out my pattern I found that it got all twisted and off-grain. The fabric came as a large tube with the selvages serged together and maybe this caused it to twist in the washer. Or maybe "novelty" means you are to laugh at the novelty of a cheap fabric that gets off-grain when you wash it. Had it not been for the gray and white checks of the fabric, I might not have noticed. Word of caution: check your novelty fabrics (and non-novelty, for that matter) carefully for grain after they've been subjected to the punishment of a washer and dryer.

After much tugging and pulling and coercing, I got the checks lined up and cut out one back leg. One piece down, three to go. Due to the grain problem I decided to cut out the pieces on a single layer. However, with piece #2, I realized my fabric was about an inch too short. I thought 2.5 yards would be enough to lay out two pant pattern pieces next to each other: 90 inches long = 45 inches for each. But I've never checked my measurements and for the whopping cost of $1, I should have sprung for an extra 1/2 yard. I was probably trying to keep my order total from bumping me up to the next shipping charge tier. Thankfully, the fabric was wide and I managed to cut out the remaining three pieces without any creative piecing. Another word of caution (besides not scrimping on fabric): think before you cut. If I'd realized my dilemma I could have positioned the first piece a little better and gained more room for positioning the remaining pieces. This is why "cutting out" is my least favorite part of sewing - too much prep work and even when you think you've got everything figured out, something else happens.

Finally I had all the pieces cut out and could move to the sewing machine. I serged the leg seams and crotch and reinforced the crotch with a utility stitch on the sewing machine. I don't know what the stitch is called. It looks like a straight stitch but it is sewn with both forward and backward stitches. I think it works well for reinforcing stress areas like crotches and underarms. I used an elastic with a built-in drawstring for the waist. First I made a small buttonhole in the front of the pants for the elastic to go through. I wanted the drawstring on the inside, so I made the center of the buttonhole about 1/2 inch from the top. This is half the width of my elastic, which is 1" wide. If you want the drawstring on the outside of the pants, you would position the buttonhole down 1.5 times the width of the elastic. I used a zig-zag stitch to attach the elastic to the upper edge, folded the elastic over, and stitched it down, close to the bottom of the elastic.

Now the big try-on. Plenty of room in the hips and thighs, but the waistband was much too high and I could pull the pants up well above my waist. So out came the elastic and I trimmed off 1" from the top of the pants, put in a new buttonhole, stitched the elastic in, and now they fit ok. I do still have to hem them though.

The annoying part is that if I'd known I was going to lop off 1 inch from the waist band, I could have saved myself the grief I had laying out the pattern pieces on fabric that was just a smidgen too short. I didn't have any problem just cutting down the waistband. I noticed that the pattern was graded so that each next size was taller in the waist (had a longer crotch curve). Those kind of gradings perplex me. Larger people are not necessarily taller. I guess that's why I should pay more attention to the pattern before I cut.

Simple lounge pants. Yeah, right. Nothing I do is simple.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Work, work, work

I hope you all had a nice 4th of July. I had a crazy weekend spent flying across the country for work, but I managed to squeeze in a visit with my mom and sister, do some fabric shopping, and I had lots of time to knit on the plane. Usually my work is not too demanding of my weekends and evenings, but when it is demanding, it can mean long hours and sometimes travel . After a long day of flying, including a 2-hour weather-related delay at the connecting airport, I spent the next two days cooped up in a windowless, over-airconditioned room watching computer monitors while we ran tests on the instrument I'm involved with. The instrument is a telescope that will look at gamma rays in space and it's being launched on a satellite early next year. This past weekend we had to make sure the control center at Goddard Space Flight Center can send commands to the instrument while it's still on the ground. This kind of test is always prone to delays and by Saturday morning it looked like the 36-hour test (of which I worked the first and last 12 hours) that was supposed to end late that night, was threatening to extend into early Sunday morning. Fortunately the problems were resolved and we caught up and only went an hour or so beyond what we'd planned.

It wasn't exactly how I wanted to spend my holiday weekend, but I looked forward to knitting some socks during the long flight and that's exactly what I did. I plugged my noise cancellation headphones into my iPod and knit, knit, knit. I already had the leg of the sock started so I turned the heel and by the end of the last flight, I was about halfway down the foot. I should have stopped and evaluated things after turning the heel because before my flight home I tried the sock on and decided that the heel was awful. So I did what had to be done. I ripped everything back to the heel. Sigh. I knit a different short row heel, one that I've used before, and I liked this one much better. I tried it on this time to make sure.

Whenever I get back to the DC area, which is usually due to a trip for work, I head over to G-Street Fabric. Even though I'm blessed with some great fabric stores in San Francisco and Berkeley, I am obsessed with going to G-Street. By the way, I just heard that we're losing two wonderful fabric stores in the Bay Area: Poppy's in Oakland has lost their lease and is not able to find a suitable location and Satin Moon in San Francisco is also closing. The owners of Satin Moon apparently are retiring from the business and also say the change in the neighborhood is a reason they're closing. I hadn't shopped much at either but I guess I should have. Anyway, back to G-Street Fabrics. It was the last day of a big sale (25% off on most things!) and my mom had printed additional coupons good for 25% off on one item. Woohoo! If I get some time I'll post a picture of what I bought but for now, a description is all I can provide you: I bought a peach and white flower print in a stretch cotton for a dress, a few yards of a subtly-striped brown stretch cotton for some pants, a gorgeous Nichole Miller orange paisley cotton for a summer blouse, and a blue striped stretch cotton from the sale table for a shirt. I guess I like stretch cotton. I also bought a bunch of zippers. They have a nice selection of zippers at G-Street so I brought some swatches with me to find some matches. I didn't find perfect ones for all, but I did pretty well. I could have spent all afternoon there but we needed to get some lunch and then I had to drive back to the airport.

My fabric-buying has been a bit out of control lately. I'm expecting a big box from this Wednesday and there's a fabric over at textile studios that would work so beautifully for a pattern I have that I don't think I can resist.

I have been doing some sewing...well, before I went on that trip. After finishing the orange plaid shirt, I needed to work on something simple. Really simple. So I thought I'd whip up a pair of lounge pants from some novelty cotton fabric I'd purchased from What could go wrong? I'll let you know tomorrow.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Knitters (and sewers) are the nicest people

I have benefited greatly from the friendship, advice, and support from fellow knitters and sewers. I smile and light up when I read the wonderful comments on things I've made. I don't know what it is about the fiber arts but most people I've met who knit and/or sew are really great. Are nice people attracted to these hobbies or do these hobbies make people nice?

I'm amazed and then again, not so surprised at the generosity of knitters lately.

Claudia rode in the Multiple Sclerosis Bike Tour 2007 in Massachusetts last weekend and raised over $40,000 - mostly from knitters! She received donations of yarn and knitting related items to give as gifts (180 of them!) and I was a lucky recipient of a skein of Irish Baby Knits yarn from

Last week Rachel's beloved cat Digit turned up after being lost for 4 months and given up for dead. He showed up at her house at half his weight and with serious health issues. The vet bills were astronomical, as one could imagine. At the urging of some visitors to her blog, she opened up a paypal donation with a raffle of three of her hand-knitted sweaters as prizes. In one day people donated enough to cover the current bill and the expense of the surgery Digit needs.

Last night I went to a going away party for Kristi at spinnity's house. I'd only just met Kristi through spinnity's spinning parties and now she was leaving to relocate to Colorado. The house was packed with knitter friends. Good food, some knitting (always!), riotous laughter at Hannah dressed in a sheep costume, and tears as we said goodbye to Kristi. I'm so glad I took up knitting again because it's through knitting that I've made some great new friends.

And the sewing friends are wonderful too. I've received so many nice comments on the orange plaid Butterick top both here and on patternreview. It's a wonderful feeling to be complimented on my creations and it really lifts me up. It's especially helpful because at work I don't get an positive feedback on the projects I spend so many hours on. There's one co-worker who is always willing to go the extra mile, gives credit where due, and is a really nice person. Oh yeah, she's a knitter!