Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cold Weather, Warm Hearts

This was the third year that I attended the marvelous winter sewing retreat in Winchester, VA, sponsored by the local Northern Virginia American Sewing Guild Chapter.  Each year I finish by saying it was the best ever.  And this year it was the best ever.  Three days of pure sewing bliss, someone else doing the cooking and giving me lots of yummy choices at each meal, more then three dozen creative women laughing and encouraging one another and then $5 martini happy hour in the hotel bar.  Paradise.  
George Washington Wyndham Hotel Ballroom filled with creative seamstresses
One of my friends remarked that I seemed less manic (she knows me too well) than at previous retreats and I suppose that was true.  Mr. Lucky and I have been working so hard at cleaning and staging our Florida condo that the retreat was a warm, welcome break despite the extremely sudden temperature drop in the Mid-Atlantic.  My flights were timed nicely so that the snows and frozen rains came in between and afterwards.  The first few days in Baltimore were frigid 
Second morning in Baltimore

but sunny so I did get out for a walk.  I loved seeing houses decorated with Ravens team flags and purple lights, all in preparation for the upcoming Superbowl.  I'm not a huge football fan but I do like the excitement of a good party and that's the energy I could feel in my neighborhood.  
I also liked getting out for a walk in order to see this sight.

When I was working full time and having to travel in wintry weather, I was always counting the days until springtime.  I used to mark in my planner the day that I saw my first robin, just to give me hope that spring would come again.  There they are, the first flock of robins I saw, on Wednesday, January 23, 2013.  Spring will come again.

Butterick 5498
Back to the retreat.  I focused my sewing choices and stitched four items but only have pictures of two of them.  My warm up was a Magic Pencil skirt that I cut out last fall before we left for Florida.  The most fun was a simple Butterick pattern, #5498. 

 It's an easy raglan sleeve unlined jacket and definitely fills a void in my wardrobe.  Now that I'm including skinny jeans and pants, I don't have long enough jackets to balance that look.  Here's an easy, flattering woven jacket pattern that will do just that.  I made my first one out of a wool tweed (so old that I think it's from a Jomar trip of years ago) that I put through the washer and dryer.  I lengthened it two inches, added five inches to make it long sleeved and have something very similar, but less expensive at $.99, to a Sewing Workshop pattern.  I had a tough time in late afternoon on Monday getting any pictures on dreary, grey Baltimore weather so here's the best I could do.
Butterick 5498

Since I plan on making a few burnout velvet is on my mind with rolled edges.  
I also sewed up a mock up of a Burda sweater like jacket that you'll see later this year.  With two flattering jackets in my new repertoire, I tossed that Sandra Betzina jacket mock up that was giving me fits.  You all had great suggestions, albeit contradictory ones, but it was way too much work to make it into a mediocre result that I would resent.  Move on.....
Last project of the weekend was hand sewing the binding to my first quilt, one one designed for the best little dog in the world.  
Pick Up Stix quilt

The quilt is staying in our family room in Baltimore so little Lucky will enjoy it when he heads north in three months.  Here's the original post with the pattern details and picture of our dear rescue dog: Pick Up Stix quilt post  Don't worry, dog lovers,  #1 dog, Sam the basenji, has had numerous dogbed covers made for him in our thirteen years together....he just doesn't show his gratitude, neither wagging his tail nor smiling at us like Lucky does.   
As for the condo sale, we met with our first prospective realtor today.  I'll post some pictures next time of the little sewing projects I'm finishing up to stage us nicely.  A few more people to interview and then we're officially on the market.  Meanwhile, everything is shining and we're trying to live lightly.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Retreat Planning, Books, Movies and a Recipe

A few garment muslins going to a sewing retreat
Not much sewing happening at the moment, just packing up supplies for my flight to Baltimore tomorrow.  I think I'll be blowing into the airport (drat, I hate turbulence) just when an expected cold front arrives.  So very glad that there is not a big snowfall accompanying it.  I haven't prepared any projects yet so when I get to my house I'll have to make some fabric and pattern decisions.  I've learned from a dozen years of attending sewing retreats that:
a) I like to have already cut out, marked and interfaced, if necessary, pattern pieces before I go.  I'm simply too easily distracted to do those detailed tasks there amongst four dozen creative and interesting people.  

b) I like to bring a variety of projects but the numbers of those projects have dropped dramatically over the years.   A retreat is wonderfully concentrated sewing time without meals to make or errands to run so it lends itself to a detailed project and a few very simple straight line sewing ones as a breather in between.  I wish I were the kind of person who kept attention on one sewing project at a time......but I'm not.  I have cut back on the interruptions that I allow myself since it is too easy for me to get off track....squirrel....and lose focus.  So I will bring no more than two new patterns to mock up and then some easier sewing for sew and chat time.

c) I appreciate getting other people's opinions about my projects so it's good to bring embellishing items, pattern and fabric combinations and ask for input.  Sometimes other people can point out why a particular garment didn't live up to expectations when I'm blinded by frustration.
d) I am sad to leave the group at the end and want to just toss all my supplies into my sewing room when I finally get home, happy but also tired.  I'm not a naturally organized person.  But I've made a commitment to clean up that pile of stuff the very next day.  If I play some loud fun music to distract me while I clean, I will be glad next time to walk into an organized sewing space. 

Since this blog is also where I keep a list of my recent 
books, here's the January list. 

I savor this series of Diana Gabaldon's historical novels and so decided to read the fifth one right after Christmas.  It was fun to enter the 18th century world of Jamie and Claire, now living in 1770 in the North Carolina mountains.  This one was a slower paced read unlike the swashbuckling, action packed previous novels and has the most mixed reviews on Amazon.  I was reading if on my Kindle on a three week loan and I admit that the almost 900 pages were slow going and I needed almost all of the three week period to finish it.

After that long slog of a book, I was grateful for this short but totally intriguing selection " The Giver."  I was a high school English teacher for six years back in the mid-1970's and loved young adult lit.  I haven't kept up in recent years and was interested to see that this one is commonly taught....and commonly banned in school districts.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it would be a wonderful book to teach and discuss.  I appreciate ambiguous, open-ended conclusions but I bet many an adolescent would find it annoying.  I'll definitely be reading Lois Lowry's books that followed.  

To make this somewhat fashion and design related, I also read Stacey London" (of TV"S What Not to Wear) book.  It's much less a fashion styling book than a personal memoir and challenge to readers to find their own style and courage.  I've always liked Stacey and Clinton and think they are funny and caring as they deal with clients.  This was like having a long lunch and shoping trip with a delightful friend who is also a terrific stylist.  

I started this last book on Wednesday afternoon and after sewing for much of Thursday I had to go back and finish it that night.  I've loved the other two Mary Pipher books I've read, "Reviving Ophelia" and "Another Country" and this one is just as thoughtful, open-hearted and far more personal.  Since Mary Pipher is a therapist herself, she thought she could cope or at least treat herself when sudden fame brought a whirlwind life of speaking and traveling.  She explores how her early experiences and her interpretation of them left her vulnerable to exhaustion, burn out and a melt down as she tried to take care of and please so many new people in her busy, busy life.  Her descriptions were so familiar to me from my own similar experiences this past year.  She cut down dramatically on the situations that led to this distress in her body and mind and healed slowly by learning to meditate (seems like she does it as badly but as fruitfully as I do) and being amongst nature and loving friends.  I was touched and encouraged by this book and am glad I found it.

I've also seen two delightful movies this month.  Our monthly film discussion group watched The Band's Visit  Charming and so well done.The Band's Visit  Mr. Lucky and I enjoyed a Netflix DVD over the weekend. Dear Frankie Also sweet, endearing and the perfect relaxing film after home improvement chores.

Last recommendation is a new to us slow cooker recipe.  This is not fast and easy like the original slow cooker recipes of decades know, pour it all in the pot and let it sit.  Cooks Illustrated and Cooks Country slow cooker recipes require more upfront prep but I like their dependable results.  This one will feed us for several days so it was yummy and worth the effort.  
No computer for a week up north....which might just make me more productive:-)  But I'll take plenty of pictures and share the reteat details when I return. Here's hoping that you have projects that you feel are worth your efforts as well.

Slow-Cooker Chicken with White Wine, Tarragon, and Cream
Recipe by Cook’s Country
If cremini mushrooms (a.k.a. baby bellas) are unavailable, substitute
portobello mushroom caps, cut into 1-inch pieces. Fresh tarragon,
unlike its dried counterpart, has a distinctive anise-like flavor that
is crucial in this dish.
Serves 6
6split bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (10 to 12 ounces each), or 12 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (6 to 8 ounces each), trimmed
2tablespoons vegetable oil 
1 1/4pounds cremini mushrooms , quartered
1onion , chopped medium
4cloves garlic , minced
1 3/4cups dry white wine 
1cup low-sodium chicken broth 
1tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves  or 1 teaspoon dried
2bay leaves 
1pound carrots , peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
1/4cup all-purpose flour 
1cup heavy cream 
1/4cup minced fresh tarragon 
1tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
1. Dry the chicken with paper towels, then
season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a 12-inch
skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of the
chicken on both sides, about 10 minutes, then add to the slow cooker.
(Remove the browned skin if using chicken thighs.) Return the skillet
to medium-high heat and repeat with 2 more teaspoons oil and the
remaining chicken. Discard any fat left in the skillet.
2. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the empty skillet and
heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms, onion, and
1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until the mushrooms are brown, 10 to 15
minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds. Stir in the wine,
scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until reduced by half, about 5
minutes. Pour into the slow cooker.
3. Add the broth, thyme, and bay leaves to the slow cooker.
Nestle the carrots into the slow cooker around the edges. Cover and
cook on low until the chicken is tender, about 4 hours.
Transfer the chicken to a large serving dish and tent loosely with
foil. Discard the bay leaves. Set the slow cooker to high. Whisk the
flour with the cream until smooth, then stir into the slow cooker.
Cover and continue to cook until the sauce is thickened and no longer
tastes of flour, 15 to 30 minutes longer. Stir in the tarragon and
lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the
vegetables and some of the sauce over the chicken and serve, passing
the remaining sauce separately

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Plain and Simple

As I have been obsessing about  harping on mentioning, Mr. Lucky and I are in the house staging part of our sales process for our Florida condo.  Last week I took a four day break to visit with a girlfriend who came into town.  We got to the community pool since the weather has been delightfully and unseasonably warm (climate change, bad, but warm winter in Florida with company, good) and a beach sunset.  She is a quilter so we visited three beautiful quilt stores in the area where she helped the local economy by buying some fabric and patterns while I bought a spool of thread.  Meanwhile, Mr. Lucky was being a DH, took care of the dogs while also doing more minor home tweaking and painting.  He decided one day to see if he could get the hand held sprayer in our shower to work a little more forcefully. In FL we often get calcium deposits so he wanted to clear out those little sprayer holes....what better tool than that sharp little thing sitting on my sewing's the result.
What's wrong with this picture?
Whoops, the sharp tip of the wonderful Clover seam ripper has gone down the drain.  But he did really improve the water flow!  No pictures of us enjoying that result.
Now when I continued my home dec sewing project at the end of the week, I did so without a seam ripper.  Taking chances, right?  Then good fortune smiled my way! Jilly Be Joyful blog Jillian just celebrated her two year blogaversary and offered a wonderful giveaway.....and I won.  Happy faces all around.  Thank you, Jillian.  Soon I'll be ripping away with ease again as well as enjoying that fun notebook and terrific Charco marker.
Here's where I got on the trundle bed makeover this week after my friend left.  
Boring but neutral vanilla bedding
I made a very basic duvet cover for this old quilt (made in China or India) that I have had for almost thirty years.  
I'm using up stash fabric so this is a nubby silk pinstripe noil from Fabric Mart, very oatmeal in color.  I could never decide what to do with it for a garment but bought the bolt for $2 a yard years ago. 
duvet cover "envelope" on the floor before stitching together
I had enough to make the duvet cover and two pillow shams.  That silk noil is lightweight and I had to interface the pillow sham fabric.  It was more annoying to use up a few yards of nice Fabric Mart knit interfacing than to sacrifice this unused fabric. 
Next week some artwork from should be arriving and will be hung above the new bed:
Yes, I probably could have made something very similar with some of my Pinterest project directions but time is running short on our sales season so this is the next best thing.  
As an FYI, I thought some of you would be interested in what happened to that big cuttng mat in this room:
Slightly narrower cutting mat is stored on the lower trundle
This week I am heading north for the annual ASG Northern VA sewing retreat. I'll stitch up some cute accent pillows for the bedding while I am catching up with my dearest friends and fellow stitchers.  More pictures to follow.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with this one: 
While the girls were out playing in fabric stores, Mr. Lucky was repainting all the condo molding and earning many "golf points" along the way.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

From the Bottom Up

Home dec sewing progress
Who says you don't have to do "fitting"when sewing up home dec projects?  I spent a day this week figuring out how to make a dust ruffle work for this trundle bed and do it all with fabric from my stash.  It was a small engineering project to figure out the dust ruffle when there's no box spring to use as a foundation.  And I didn't want to buy any new fabric so I was trying to figure out yardage to coordinate available fabrics.  
No box spring so I had to figure how to secure it to this blanket is on the bottom trundle that slides out
I used a home dec acetate blend from a local store that sells discounted fabrics for $6 or less per yard.  This one was 4.5 yards for a total of $11.  I have enough leftover to make some sort of frilly throw pillow for the bedding mix.  Once I figured out the measurements and my fabric availability I didn't want to do a couture version so this skirt is not lined and uses a leftover cotton for the "base.  To make it stay slightly more stable and not shift like so many inexpensive bedskirts do, I added back grosgrain ties for the back of the frame and front matching ties. 
Grograin ties to hold it on the back of the frame
front corner fabric ties and top mattress in place
I didn't even bother to pull out my ruffler foot, just did the fast and easy zig zag over dental floss and pull to gather.  

Next up is a duvet cover to cover up a quilt that I bought almost 30 years ago when Mr. Lucky and I moved in together in Petaluma, CA.  It's full of the pastels that were so in vogue then.....and seem to be coming back in slightly different versions in spring 2013 colors.  What goes around, comes around, just different enough to try to get us to buy new again.  Off to sew up that big rectangle.... 

This home dec sewing is all about the staging, not all about long term wear.  Years ago when we first moved here I did do a guest room decorating project with truly couture techniques and it looks just as great today as the day I made everything:
Guest rom with lined bedskirts, drapes, piped duvet covers
Different techniques for different purposes, just like we do for our clothing sewing.  Some items we plan on wearing for years, some for a a few years and our sewing materials and techniques change to reflect that reality.
Thank you too, sweet readers, for you broken iron sympathies.  I thought my spray bottle and hot, but dry, iron would suffice but as most of us know, steaming and pressing is vital to a good finished result.  On my bike ride yesterday I stopped in at Target and bought a Shark steam iron for $25.  Not too much money, plenty of steam and I can get back to what I really love to do, sew.  Hope you get to something that you love today.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Running Hot and Cold

Too cold

I've not been having good steam iron karma in the past two months.  The four year old Rowenta generator that I have here in Florida started leaking last month.  (Actually it's only two years old if you consider that I only use it six months per year!)  It's always been a "spitter" but the leaking was something new and not acceptable.  I couldn't yet bear the idea of tossing it out so I packed it up with some other sewing items going into our storage unit and pulled out a Walmart iron that I first bought ten years ago.  It didn't have as much steam but seemed to work well enough for the small sewing projects of November and December.  Then yesterday, just as I was figuring out how to make the dust ruffle for the trundle bed, it totally died on me.  It started "clicking" and then just burned heat, no steam.  I would sooooo like to not have to buy a temporary iron. Mr. Lucky drove to our storage unit on my behalf, rummaged amongst the boxes and brought home that mal-functioning steam generator.  I was hoping that a rest and good cleaning might make it function nicely again.....sort of like re-booting a computer.  
No steam

So far, all I can get is heat, no steam, but I'll settle for that and a spray bottle when I need better creases.  Improvise, 
improvise, that's how it goes.  But this set up is working well enough to keep me working on the dust ruffle for the trundle bed today.  Pictures to follow....

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Patterns, New Recipe and New Downton Abbey

It's a trifecta weekend at our house.  Yesterday I scored several new patterns at the JoAnn's sale, baked a scrumptious new cookie recipe and am taking it to the small Downton Abbey season 3 premiere party at a friend's home tonight.  Here's hoping your day is going as well.
New patterns:

I'm going to work on 6709 for myself at the same time I help a friend fit this pattern when we get together next month.  I think it has some real versatility but I sure wish they would put a lining in the pattern.  The 6655 jacket is similar to others that I have and have sewn but for $.99 I get to use the pattern pieces for the collar in view D.

My growing collection of skinny jeans and pants means that I need some new style tops and I think these will fill the bill.  Longer, looser and drapey and I have a good fabric stash that will sew up nicely.

I was especially taken with the lines of 6699, without those contrast side pockets....positioned just at my bulkiest body parts:-)  But I like the bust cup sizing and the raised waist.  The 6697 knit dress just looks like fun and may be the only way I'd do color blocking.  I zoomed right past 6553 for the last few months and then a 70+ year old friend brought hers to our sewing get together in December.  it looked fantastic on her and everyone there who tried on her version.  Each of us noted that we would do some under bust seam shaping in the front seams and that the swingy back looked chic and not too much for any of us.  What a surprise and another reason why it's good to sew with others and try new styles occasionally.  
These last two are patterns I purchased for others.  Mr. Lucky deserves some of my sewing time in exchange for all the home improvement time he's been putting in this season.  And I have a local friend who mentioned wanting to try out a caftan and I think 6652 might be worth considering.
New patterns are fun and so is a delicious and easy new recipe.  I'm bringing two sweet treats to the Downton Abbey series 3 premiere evening tonight.  The first is a package of my favorite British biscuit....
I'm lucky enough to live in a town where I can obtain these in a local grocery since so many visitors come from Great Britain on holiday.
My more personal contribution is a plate of Cooks Illustrated Best Shortbread cookies:
Here's the recipe:

Published November 1, 2009.  From Cook's Illustrated.
To produce a worthwhile version of a shortbread recipe, we found that “reverse creaming” (mixing the flour and sugar together before adding the butter) contributed crumbly texture. Cutting back on the butter gave us good butter flavor without greasiness. Adding ground oats and cornstarch to the dough cut down on gluten development and gave us tender cookies. And baking the cookies briefly before turning off the heat and letting them dry in the still-warm oven made our shortbread recipe perfectly crisp. (less)


Use the collar of a springform pan to form the shortbread into an even round. Mold the shortbread with the collar in the closed position, then open the collar, but leave it in place. This allows the shortbread to expand slightly but keeps it from spreading too far. Wrapped well and stored at room temperature, shortbread will keep for up to 7 days.


  • 1/2cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4cup cornstarch
  • 2/3cup (2 2/3 ounces) confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2teaspoon table salt
  • 14tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices


  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Pulse oats in spice grinder or blender until reduced to fine powder, about ten 5-second pulses (you should have ¼ to 1/3 cup oat flour). In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix oat flour, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. Add butter to dry ingredients and continue to mix on low speed until dough just forms and pulls away from sides of bowl, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. 2. Place upside-down (grooved edge should be at top) collar of 9- or 9 1/2-inch springform pan on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (do not use springform pan bottom). Press dough into collar in even 1/2-inch-thick layer, smoothing top of dough with back of spoon. Place 2-inch biscuit cutter in center of dough and cut out center. Place extracted round alongside springform collar on baking sheet and replace cutter in center of dough. Open springform collar, but leave it in place.
  3. 3. Bake shortbread 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees. Continue to bake until edges turn pale golden, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove baking sheet from oven; turn off oven. Remove springform pan collar; use chef’s knife to score surface of shortbread into 16 even wedges, cutting halfway through shortbread. Using wooden skewer, poke 8 to 10 holes in each wedge. Return shortbread to oven and prop door open with handle of wooden spoon, leaving 1-inch gap at top. Allow shortbread to dry in turned-off oven until pale golden in center (shortbread should be firm but giving to touch), about 1 hour.
  4. 4. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool shortbread to room temperature, at least 2 hours. Cut shortbread at scored marks to separate and serve.

    I didn't have a biscuit cutter so I used the measuring cup for the first five minutes of baking.

    We are also celebrating a special day today....the two year "re-birthday" of Lucky the rescue dog.  Lucky's First day with us  What a joy he has been to us.  No shortbread or chocolate for him but plenty of love and some yummy treats and tummy rubs.  I hope you have something in your life that makes you feel happy-go-lucky today.