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New top pattern and a sew-along!!!

Yes, Yes, I know, your Aunty is in the midst of doing a muslin for a jacket, but sometimes you also need something that is easy, simple and will clean the brain. Yes, I do more than one project at a time; it actually helps when I am doing something more complex like the jacket and am having some frustrations to do something as something to keep ‘the mojo’ up there.

And this is IT — a brand new knit top pattern from Hot Patterns. Very clever, with a neat and tidy tee-top in the front, with a nice, loose yoke-blouse look in the back, for light weight knit fabrics. Love it. Great for the hot and steamy summer. PLUS – and I love this part – a sew-along. What’s not to like?

If you’ve never tried a Hot Patterns product, now is the time to do it – there will be the fabulous Trudy there to hold your electronic hand through the entire thing. When the sew-along is over, you will have your top completely done — no UFOs!! Make new friends! Learn new skills! Plus videos and all sorts of help from Trudy herself.

Home sewing can be a very isolating experience – most of us have to snatch little bits of sewing time for ourselves and many times we get behind and end up feeling defeated. Commit to the project. I’ll be doing it too!

The sew-along starts on May 21st (plenty of time to get your pattern and get fabric or search the stash for those great knits you’ve been, like me, hoarding), so here you go! Getcher pattern right here!! Blouse-back tee and sew-along!

Make a muslin – jacket first try

I always feel like one of those pictures in my junior high health textbook when I do these shots; all that is missing is the black bar across my eyes.

So, going from top to bottom, what are my issues here? And I say it that way because they are MY issues, not the pattern issues. The muslin went together smooth as silk; everything matched up. I know a lot of folks do changes on a tissue first before they cut out the muslin, but I don’t because I want to get a complete view of how the thing comes together. Once I start ‘slicing and dicing,’ all sorts of things can happen so I want to know how the garment came together before I do that. So, from that perspective, the pattern works really well. When I laid the whole thing out on the table after I’d sewn it together and ironed it, it literally looked exactly like the diagram on the envelop. (more…)

I hereby declare this month to be “MAMM”

OK, so this month out there is everything from “Me Made May” to “International Business Image Improvement Month” (which could use it, I admit) and I am going to totally avoid the entire thing and declare my own celebration: MAMM, which stands for:

MAKE A MUSLIN MONTH

I know there are folks out there who have been sewing since we were slapping laundry on rocks down by the old mill stream and avoid making a muslin of a new garment like the plague (and I suspect that most of them either have a sloper/block/tried and true pattern that they use religiously, OR they are perfect size whatever and have figured out which size in the Big Three fits them). I am not one of those people. I have physical issues that preclude whipping the tissue out of the envelop and just cutting out. I’m short, stocky, stout, short-waisted, broad in the back, have a tummy, big upper arms, and a rear-end you could set a potted-palm on. I also have arms like a T-rex (as in even petite size stuff is several inches too long in the sleeves) and low knees. I don’t like making ‘wearable muslins’ because by and large, this does not work for me; I end up with things that are too big in the shoulders with the waist in the wrong place, the armscye is way too low and the sleeves do not fit. And I will have ruined a piece of fabric; I’d rather work out all the issues on muslin first. (more…)

Best bang for your buck at the garden center

Not everyone has the time, space, inclination or ambition to grow the flowering plants for their garden from seed on their windowsill. This leaves people buying their plants and sometimes these can get pretty pricy. I haven’t had the time or space to start my flower box plants this year, so the DH and I went to a local greenhouse to pick up a few things.

I always find that getting plants in six-packs is a bit of a disappointment. The plants are so small that it takes a very long time for them to get big enough to fill in the space and make a show (which, of course, is the whole point, right?). So, to get enough plants to fill in, I end up buying probably 4 times the plants that I really have budgeted for – very expensive. Since I won’t be putting my plants into the boxes for another month then, it really pays me better to get a larger plant and split it. This is something anyone can do as long as you have some pots, potting mix, a sharp knife and some rooting hormone. You don’t need a greenhouse to do this; once you’ve potted up the cuttings, you can just stash the pots someplace in a bright room, out of direct sun. Keep the potting mix moist and you are all set. (more…)

Why the needle and thread ain’t dead yet

There are things that are worth repairing..and there are things that perhaps are not worth repairing(cheap knit tops from big box stores come to mind).

On the other hand, your Aunt Toby is not asked to do repairs very often, and even less often by the DH, so when he handed over what looked like a dearly departed silk tie with a sniffle, I couldn’t deny the request. After all, it was a gift from ME, for heaven’s sake. One hundred percent silk, famous name on the label. Hubba Hubba. But, a wreck, nonetheless. A testament to how often the DH wears it, this tie had a lower half that frankly looked as if someone had taken a piece of sand paper to it (see photo above). The hand stitching which held the edges together had loosened and come apart and the bottom half (which as anyone who wears a tie knows, is the part that goes to the inside, against the wearer’s shirt and goes unseen) had, in being worn, rubbed against the DH’s shirt (who knew the fabric from men’s cotton dress shirts could eviscerate silk?) and had literally shredded and worn away. (more…)

Weekend thoughts on the garden

Since it is literally in the low 40s outside, and raining, and generally miserable (we don’t call this place Che Siberia for nuthin’ folks), your Aunt Toby is forced to working inside today to get whatever can get done, done, so that when the weather improves, which it will eventually, we are ready to go.

This week has not exactly been a barn-burner in terms of good weather either, so even with plastic on the garden bed, it has not gotten above 49 degrees F. That means I can’t put in my seeds for the early spring crops like kale, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, chard and beets. Boo, hiss. Super annoying. If we could just catch a break and get a couple of warm, sunny days, that garden bed would warm up. Just..one…more…degree..of…warmth…in the soil will do it. Hope, as they say, springs eternal.

In the greenhouse, even though it is a bit chilly, things are moving along pretty well. I continue to be impressed by heritage pepper ‘King of the North’, given that these seedlings are in an unheated (and rather chilly this past week) greenhouse. They continue to grow and do not seem to be effected by the rather negative growing conditions. Tough guys for sure. The plum tomatoes soldier on as well. In the mail this week, I received the potatoes and onion plants that I ordered from Territorial Seeds. The potatoes are one we have grown in the past which have dealt with our rather iffy conditions and negligent care rather well — German Butterball and the onion plants are a mixed bunch chosen for northern areas (always important when dealing with day length and night time temperature issues).

And, from the ‘never say never’ school of thinking: I was out in the greenhouse with our 16 month old grand-progeny for a little gardening fun (that kid will water anything that appears to be in a pot), and put out a salad tub with potting soil in it so that we could plant a few basil seeds. I handed her an old packet, thinking a) there were not many in it and b) they were OLD so no matter how many she scattered in the tub, I figured that germination would not be all that bad and we’d end up with a few.

This is what happens when you have a 16 month old child whose idea of ‘planting a few seeds’ consists of flinging her arm out and dumping the entire packet (which turned out to have a LOT of seeds in it)in the tub. Anyone need basil seedlings? I think I might have enough for..everyone.

What do I grow?
For those folks who feel a bit overwhelmed by choices (and goodness knows there are a huge buffet of choices out there) in their gardens, let me suggest one guideline that might narrow things a bit: The Environmental Working Group’s list of ‘the dirty dozen.” This list of fruits and veggies consist of their results of testing standard fruits and vegetables bought in standard US grocery stores to find which ones have the highest levels of pesticide residues on them. Now, the issue is that standard US kitchen sink washing methods do not do a very good job of removing pesticide residues, so their suggestion is that if you have a limited food budget, that you make sure that these items are the ones you spend your ‘organic food dollars’ on. Here’s the list:
Apples
Celery
Cherry Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Grapes
Sweet and hot peppers
Imported Nectarines
Peaches
Potatoes
Spinach
Strawberries
Kale and collard greens
Summer Squashes
EWG Dirty Dozen Plus

Now, ok, if we are not going to go to the trouble of putting in trees and vines to grow apples, grapes, peaches and nectarines organically (growing strawberries at home is something that is worth getting into, along with asparagus and rhubarb), we can grow the other things and actually quite easily (and that includes celery, which is wonderful straight out of the garden). So, if you want to get a twofer out of your garden – make sure you grow the stuff on this list organically. A lot of these can be grown EASILY with organic methods – and if you are super lazy the way we are here, that includes ROW COVERS (which basically prevent bugs from getting to your veggies to eat them or lay their eggs). You can go full-on with hoops over the beds, but it’s just as effective to just lay the spun polyester (or old sheer curtains if you have them or can get them) over the plants and tuck them into the soil at the edge of the row. This is something you can find at any home and garden center or big-box store in their garden department.

Frida Kahlo and her skirt

And, we move ahead to the next piece of traditional clothing: The skirt.

Now, we should probably set our parameters right from the start: A ‘skirt’ is any piece of clothing that starts somewhere in the vicinity of the waistline and ends somewhere within reach of the knees and the feet. I realize this is a rather broad region, but if we are going to take in everything from a 1960s mini to today’s maxi, that’s what we’ve got to work with. Also, a ‘skirt’ can take in anything as simple as a sarong/lavalava (that is, a piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and held up either by itself or some sort of tie) all the way through 18th Century ‘structures’ which require wood, wire, padding, hoops, and probably a birdcage, and probably weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 30-50 pounds. “Skirts’ can include every sort of fabric manipulation known — pleating, gathering, ruching, gores, embroidery, slits, you name it. (more…)

Getting started with gardening

I hear more and more from people who want to get into gardening, feel overwhelmed, don’t know where to start and so on.

For the ‘I want to garden’ part, I say, “Hurray!! Another convert!”
For the ‘overwhelmed, don’t know where to start part,’ I say, “Ok, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea and let’s sit down and talk about this a little bit.”

I don’t really care about why you want to garden (I’m a ‘find a hole and fill it’ sort of gardener myself and earned my stripes entering weasley looking carrots and droopy lettuce in a junior garden club show run by the local Men’s garden club when I was in the sixth grade. Somewhere, someplace, that white ‘honorable mention’ ribbon is at the bottom of a box in memory). I don’t care if the only thing you ever grew is a houseplant on a windowsill..or if you never grew anything at all but want to now. I don’t care if your interest is a whole bed of sweet corn, a year’s worth of broccoli or a tomato plant in a pot.

What I do care about is that you ENJOY it. A very short story to illustrate: Once, many years ago, the DH got super ambitious and decided that we needed a MUCH larger garden. Like, huge. And he decided to rip up a spot on the hill next to the barn that was probably 1/4 acre.

With a pick and a shovel. Not even a lawn tractor with a tiller on it. By hand. And he spent his entire vacation with this, hour after hour…day after day. The amount of sweat he put into that was amazing. And by the end of it, we had row upon row of tomato plants and pepper plants and potatoes and carrots and onions, all nicely planted, with the seeds just waiting to come up. And he decided to do just one..more…bit…of..a..dig.

And we ended up at the doctor’s with the DH, me pregnant with child number two, the 2 year old (who was grumpy at the time because we had interrupted her nap), and a completely useless arm. He’d ripped several tendons with all the digging you see. He spend the rest of the summer in a brace on his arm.

So, there we were with garden as far as the eye could see. I could only keep up with a rather small amount of all of that, so rather sooner than later, the garden disappeared under a jungle of weeds, squashes running rampant and goodness knows what else. We did not garden again for a very long time after that. When we did, we analyzed what had gone so horribly wrong.

First, location. The damn thing was so far away from the house that even just going up there was a chore. When we had first started gardening, at a different house, the garden was about 10 steps from the back door. We had a lovely time after dinner most nights just going out and taking a look at what was going on, pulling the odd weed, harvesting the odd bean or tomato. On weekends, we would put in a bit more work in terms of weeding, hacking back the spaghetti squashes with a lawn mower, that sort of thing. But the lesson here is this: Locate where you are going to grow stuff to eat close to where you are going to be, whether it’s on the deck in a planter box, next to the back door, next to the driveway where you are going to see it, a LOT. That makes it convenient and it also puts it where critters are not necessarily going to be able to get to it without being close to you (which they really don’t like).

Next, size. What the DH did was a case of ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ issue which put the garden into the range of requiring a team of people with gas-powered equipment to keep in shape. With him out of action and only one of me, we were defeated before we even started. Lesson from this: Keep the size of the thing, especially if you are just getting started, in the range of something you can get your arms around. This might be a couple of pots with tomatoes on the deck, or a flower box with collard greens and lettuce next to the back door, or some herbs. Or planting Rainbow Chard in the flower patch next to the back door (the stems are almost ‘glow in the dark’ so they are pretty splashy with the flowers). If you want to start with one bed, then make it something like 3 feet wide by 10 feet long. You can get a lot of production out of a space that big and as long as you keep an eye on it and pull the occasional weed, you can keep it under control and harvest things as you see them ripen. But, for the love of all things gardening, do NOT start with something 30 feet by 30 feet – after a month, you won’t be able to find a thing, trust me.

Other gardening thoughts for beginners:
What do you want to grow? What do you already like to eat and eat a LOT of? When you first start, it is completely easy to have things get out of hand. Like tomatoes? Then start with one, maybe two plants and make them two different things – like a cherry tomato and a plum tomato for sauce. You’ll get more cherry tomatoes than you can possibly dream of ever having, and you’ll have enough plum tomatoes to make fresh tomato sauce (which is heaven) and to freeze for winter sauce making and eating (take them out a little bit before you make a salad so that they are defrosting and you will have something that will beat any tomato you can find in the store, trust me). Like peppers? Buy a six-pack of sweet pepper plants and plant those. Take my advice and don’t buy a six-pack of hot pepper plants – you will end up with more hot peppers than you can ever use. Do you eat a lot of Italian (or Greek or Spanish) food? Then get plants for basil, oregano, cilantro and grow those (either in pots on the deck or in the garden). You can never have too much in the way of fresh herbs and eating a fresh tomato from your garden with fresh basil and olive oil is (well, I’m going to start there so I don’t start to swoon). What you don’t want to do it this: Grow a lot of stuff that you don’t already eat. Get your gardening legs under you so that you feel confident about growing the stuff you DO like to eat and then branch out from there. What you don’t want to do is finish the garden season with the thought that you threw out a lot of stuff that you couldn’t get your family to eat.

Something else: Don’t think that you are somehow some sort of weeny if you don’t grow things like tomatoes, peppers and so on from seed under lights inside your house. There is absolutely nothing wrong (or weak or silly or evil) about going to your local home and garden center and buying your plants there. Find someone truly local (not the big box national chains) to buy your plants – they will be growing things that they know will grow and grow well for you in your climate. You’ll be able to get a tomato plant in a big pot for the deck, for example – it might even already have flowers on it (woohoo!!). Much more enjoyable for someone just starting out.

Huipil-style, final thoughts

Now, usually, your Aunt Toby is one to say, “In sewing, fit is everything,” but in a case where there is no ‘fit’ per se, fabric is everything. OK, in these two cases, it is not only fabric that determines the look, but also one other thing: One inch. Literally one inch in the width measurement makes a huge difference in the look. I did not think it would make that much of a difference, but it did.

First up – the top above, made of quilting cotton. The fabric was washed before I made it and I followed my formula from the last post – biggest measurement, divided by 2, plus 5″. This is also actually a couple of inches shorter, but no bother. I actually like the look better in this incarnation than in the next one, but I’m good with both, actually. Again, this top and this style top is going to have some action in my wardrobe this summer. Certainly the easiest thing to sew, EVER. No buttons, no zips. Each one of these (minus the time for washing, drying and ironing the fabrics and cutting the contrasting strips out) took a couple of hours and most of that was placing, pinning and sewing on the contrasting strips. Perfect ‘fiddle around in the evening’ project.

Second up. This on literally is one inch bigger on the width measurement and a little longer. It is also made of cotton voile. Boy, what a difference that fabric makes, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it’s literally ‘light as a feather’ and will be great for wearing when it gets hot and sticky later. But I think I will take it in a bit at the sides for a little bit less ‘blousy’ look on me.

A couple of thoughts:
In doing a bit more research on Frida Kahlo and her huipils, I found out that most of the decoration on these is actually very dense embroidery, which means that these were a real ‘economic development’ project for her – she bought the fabrics themselves but paid indigenous artisans to make them for her. These were not items which she just picked up in a shop or off a stall in Mexico City. I’m also fairly sure (though again, I’ve never seen one of these in person and so have not held one in my hands) that these weigh a good bit; all of that dense embroidery would require a fairly solid fabric to support it and between that and the embroidery itself, these were not lightweight tops.

Another thought is this: Am I, by using this concept and basic design, indulging in what is referred to today as, ‘cultural appropriation’? That’s a good question and one I continue to go over in my head as I go through these exercises on traditional clothing. I’m not trying to pass off what I’m doing here as a real huipil from the Tehuana region in Mexico; no one looking at them can be in any doubt of that. I feel also a tremendous amount of respect and honor for the artisans who produced the garments for Frida Kahlo to wear and who continue to produce them today. These garments, from skills and time they take in the weaving, embroidery and sewing, are worth every penny of the hundreds of dollars that are being asked for them (though I sometimes wonder if the artisans themselves are being paid that much for all their time and skill). But, from the viewpoint of ‘if I want to make a garment which is simple and sparing of fabric and resources’ standpoint, I think the huipil is an excellent basic traditional garment to use as a model.

Where huipils meet the muslin

In our last episode, we discussed Frida Kahlo, zero-waste clothing and her wearing of indigenous, traditional clothing, as an introduction to making clothing which is less wasteful of fabric, less wasteful of resources, with the first example being what has almost become (besides Kahlo’s crown of braids with flowers woven in) the icon for Kahlo: the Huipil, her seemingly favorite form of blouse. Even in photographs where she is (gasp) wearing pants, she is still wearing one of these colorful, simple tops. (more…)

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