Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hand Sewing

In between costume construction, I've tried to get a little hand sewing done. Once again, the Little Helper has to be in on it.

Mainly, though, because my vision is currently kind of messed up, I can't do this kind of sewing for long. Bummer.

Sewing the Genie

We spent three weeks at it, broke a sewing machine, and made lots of modifications, but DD summed it up well when she said, "This was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, but I've learned so much!"

I agreed. The pattern really was much more complicated than I had anticipated, and it just didn't lend itself to the shortcuts that I had thought we could do. But it was fun working on it with DD, and she was justifiably proud of the end result!

 Here is the completed costume, minus the hat and veil. It was constructed out of hot pink costume satin with overlays of light pink organza. Gathering the organza for the sleeves and the bust overlay was a trying experience! The edges fray terribly, and the fabric is so crisp that it resists any gathers or pleats. Nonetheless, we fought through it and completed those parts.

The bodice and waistband are lined. I was going to skip this, but it became clear that lining was going to be the best way to contain the fraying edges of the organza and satin. I dipped into my stash of recycled fabrics from thrifted clothes, and so it is lined with purple silk! DD reports that it is soft and nice against the skin.

We modified the embellishments substantially: There are multiple overlays on the trousers asked for by the pattern, but we only added one on each leg. The bodice calls for fringe trim at the bottom, which would have been nice, but we didn't find anything suitable and just left it off.

We added a strip of sparkly fabric between the upper and lower sections of the bodice, and after it was all constructed, sewed on the gold sequin trim. Instead of making shoulder straps from the satin, we used ribbon.

The pattern calls for buttons to close the top and a zipper on the trousers, but we made velcro closures. Not sure if that really saved any time, though; I had to concoct a facing for the velcro in the trousers.

I liked the way this project was able to use up some of the trim in my stash! Glad to see it adding sparkle to this.

She made a lovely genie!

Halloween Wrap-up

I am long overdue reporting on the genie costume, how the sewing went, and Halloween in general. Here is the genie, flitting by:

The costume was fabulous, and the weather cooperated enough that she was able to wear it (with long underwear beneath the trousers!) with only a coat draped over her shoulders while walking. A complete report on the construction will follow in another post. It took a long time, perhaps because of the continued assistance of our eager helper:
Her penchant for pulling out pins was not helpful.

Finishing details were delayed in the week before Halloween because of the necessity of creating this monster:

The skeleton creature had to be ready in time to appear in the school's Haunted Hallway during the Halloween festival. I made the mask out of papier mache, made the hood out of a thrifted black skirt, and supplied some black sweats, also thrifted. It was topped off with an old graduation robe, probably one of the handiest garments to keep in your dress-up closet. Reports were that the skeleton terrified every single kid who came through the hall!

We then hung it on a lamp in the living room, where it continued to terrify us, especially late at night ...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Winter is Icumen In*

It has been a long and productive season for the garden. On Monday I was pulling out the tomato plants, having harvested the last of the green tomatoes (on October 24! a new record!!) and was then about to pull out the zinnias, which were looking pretty weary, when a freshly hatched monarch butterfly flew up. Its wings were still crinkled and fat, not yet fully dried out and hardened for flight. How could I take the flowers away when there were still new butterflies needing food? And when I looked at the broccoli that I had allowed to go to flower, there were bees huddling among the yellow blossoms. So I left it all.
But last night the temperature dropped to 24 degrees. We had a light frost in early October, but that only caused a few sensitive leaves to turn brown. This freeze has killed everything. And it's about time. Soon there will be snow, and the plants needed to stop growing and prepare themselves for winter. So today I will finally be pulling out the rest of the garden plants and putting the garden to bed.

Early this morning as the air began to warm, all the maple leaves that were still hanging on to the trees let go and fluttered to the frosty ground, their final connection to the tree severed by the freezing temperature.

*Ezra Pound's parody of the traditional English round "Sumer is Icumen In"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creative Uses for Kitchen Implements

Can you guess what this is for? Yes, that's the paddle from my mixer. And an old basket. And some string.

Today, these items helped rescue our kitten from a tree.

This is Sasha. She's five months old. We got her from the Animal Shelter a month ago, and she has been loads of fun - she's cuddly and loveable, plays day and night, and entertains us and our older cat (Melvil) by racing around the house constantly carrying toys in her mouth.

Today was an unexpectedly gorgeous October day: crisp blue sky, the remaining leaves on the trees shining gold and orange in the bright, clear light. Sasha went outside to chase leaves and chipmunks.

It wasn't much later when I heard pitiful howling. Sasha has a lot of different meows, but she had never meowed like this. I knew before I stepped outdoors what had happened: she had climbed too high in the cedar tree and was stuck.

Every kitten we have ever had has gotten stuck in this tree. It seems to be a rite of passage. One or two have been rescued by my husband, two got down on their own, and one was rescued by the UPS man. (That's another story!)

Sasha was perched on a branch about 15 feet up. I talked to her, moved around the tree, encouraged her to climb down. The tree has lots of branches, so it isn't very difficult for a cat to climb up or down, but apparently there is a critical height at which climbing down just looks too scary. She moved from branch to branch but didn't make any downward progress.

I left her howling up there for several hours, hoping she would figure it out. She didn't. It was time for Plan B.

I brought a ladder over and climbed up,but she was still about eight feet above me. It seemed to make her happier that I was close by, but she wouldn't budge. I pointed at branches, shouted encouragement, assured her that she could do it, but she just continued to meow.

I thought that maybe I could hold something up for her to grab - a broom? a shovel? Those didn't sound very feasible, and would probably end up making me fall off the ladder! I needed a reliable Plan C!

Then I realized that maybe she would get into a basket. She loves baskets! And if the basket was on a rope, and the rope went over a branch, then she could be lowered down gently!

Great concept, except it sounded to me like something that would happen in a cartoon, not likely for a real-life terrified kitten. Well, I figured, what the heck, at least it would give me something to do while she howled. I went searching for the necessary tools, had to settle for string (which I doubled up so it would be strong enough), and lacking a convenient lead weight, I nabbed the mixer's paddle to use as the counterweight.

Climbing back up to the top of the ladder, I threw the weight up and over a branch. I nearly clonked myself on the head with the mixer paddle a few times. Though I tried repeatedly, I could not reach the branch she was on, and was only able to get the basket up to the branch below her. Since she had already demonstrated that she was too scared to climb down, I figured there was no hope. Nonetheless, I pulled the basket up to the branch, secured the string and left it there for awhile.

When I went outside 15 minutes later she was climbing down! I had to race up the ladder before she reached the basket, in case I hadn't secured the string well enough. Without hesitation she stepped into the basket; it swung and wobbled, and I was sure she would jump back. Instead, she pulled her whole body in and crouched down. I slowly began to lower the basket with her in it.

I was still balancing at the top of the ladder, and I was sure that I would have to struggle with a crazed Sasha, that she would jump out onto my shoulder the instant the basket was close. However, when the basket drew near, she refused to get out, and instead rode in it all the way to the ground.
I felt very proud of my invention, and Sasha was extremely grateful. She spent the next hour curled up next to me on the couch, purring, grasping my arm with her paws, as if she were worried that I might leave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Don't Try to Gather Organza

We are making progress on the costume. The top is basically done, not without some choice words, frustration, and modifications to the pattern - all because of the horrible, uncooperative fabrics. However, it is looking great! Next step, the trousers.

Wild Grapes

Every year I admire the bunches of wild grapes in the woods. The vines climb trees, mostly along roadsides and field edges, and the grapes appear in small clusters, seldom very abundant. The grapes themselves are tiny, with a large seed in each one, and when you eat them the taste is very sour, with just a hint of sweetness and grapey flavor.

This year I noticed a patch of grapevines next to a wetland with quite a lot of grapes. I thought that it might be fun to try to make something out of them. My daughter was a willing partner, and on a cold and drizzly Sunday we walked down the road with a dishpan and a kitten (the kitten wasn't necessary, but wanted to come along) and picked enough grapes to fill the dishpan.

We washed them and picked all the grapes off of the stems. With my daughter's help, the task wasn't unmanageable, but it still took us over an hour. We ended up with many more grapes than I had expected - about 8 cups!

Look at that! Eight cups of wild grapes!!

With a little water added, I heated the grapes to the simmering point, crushed them with a potato masher, and left the mixture to cool overnight.

I figured that the food mill would make quick work of separating out the seeds and skins, but it didn't. The seeds were too big for the mill to pass over them easily, and they kept cracking open. I was worried that the crushed seeds would add a bad flavor to the grape juice and pulp, so I had to come up with another plan.

Did I mention what a dark purple this is? Did I mention that our hands were stained purple? Did I mention that you have to cover everything with newspapers, or else your table will be stained purple, too?

The sieve and the spatula: I put a couple of scoops of grape mixture into the sieve, pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed until all of the grape goo was through the sieve, then scraped out the seeds and skins to throw away. How many times did I go through this process? I don't know. Probably a million. That's what it felt like. It was very tedious, and I spent well over an hour, maybe even two, squishing grapes. I ended up with tendinitis in my hand.

The resulting pulpy grape juice was amazing, though. Some of it we froze as is for later use. Most of it we made into grape jam. (I'll call it jam because it wasn't made with clear juice.) I cooked it up with a little sugar, some lemon juice, and pectin (completely winging it - I am not a jam maker!).

We ended up with over 8 cups of the most spectacularly intense grapeness. This is no Welch's grape jelly; it's much more sophisticated. It captures the incredible tart flavor of wild grapes, but without the bother of spitting out the seeds (or the horror of mistakenly eating a small spider)! All in all, a very successful experiment.

I'd like to make it an annual tradition, but I'll have to think hard about that because of how labor intensive it is. And there's no way I want to injure my hand again, so I need to find a better technique for separating the seeds and skins. Maybe that's why I never hear of anyone cooking up wild grapes ...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Empty Leaf

Yesterday evening, DD and DS brought in a giant slug. They put it on a lettuce leaf and we all admired its giant, shuddering sliminess. Somehow - how did this happen? - it was left by the kitchen sink all night ... free to roam. This morning, only a lettuce leaf remained. The slug is gone. I am not happy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sewing Up a Storm

(Note the very classy catfood can pattern weights!)

We are sewing! I am so excited that my daughter is now interested enough to take on a major sewing project. In the past she has been interested in learning to sew, but her enthusiasm faltered if it took too long or was complicated.

She is making her Halloween costume - Simplicity 3626 - a genie. We convinced a friend to drive us to JoAnn's on Sunday so that we could pick out a pattern and fabric. I had no idea there were so many costume patterns available! Maybe I should be sewing more costumes.

DD was so eager to start that she spent the rest of Sunday and most of Monday (no school) working on it. She patiently traced the pattern, decided on layout of pieces, and cut them out. Those long hours of concentrating were hard for me, but I didn't want to interrupt the positive progress. 

The only downside: horrible slippery uncooperative costume fabrics! Ick! Ok, I guess I'm not going to be sewing many costumes. At least not shiny ones.

The Chipmunk Has Left the Building

Our dog has an obsession with chipmunks. This year the chipmunk population has exploded. It seems as if there are thousands of chipmunks.

Yesterday, when I took Crazy Dog for a walk, a chipmunk raced across the ground. Dog nearly yanked my arm off trying to get it; it raced up the apple tree and into the hollow trunk. Dog stuck his nose up into the hollow trunk and refused to move, no matter how hard I pulled on the leash.
He snuffed and snorted, breathing in chipmunk aroma, while I watched the chipmunk escape out of an opening above and run off into the higher branches. Crazy Dog scratched, sniffed, shoved his head into the hole as far as it would go, and finally, in frustration, he BIT the tree!

But the chipmunk was long gone.