Friday, December 2, 2016

Christening Gown for Baby Boy

I sell Christening Gowns on Etsy and my "niche" is that I create them from the mother's (or grandmother's) wedding gown.  I like this because it is a special way to use an expensive gown that will almost certainly not be used as a wedding gown in the future.  Also, it helps that each gown is unique so then each project is unique.  Keeps me from getting bored I guess.

Note in the picture it looks like the tucks on the bodice are uneven,
but rest assured they are all perfectly spaced and even!!

One lady wrote and asked me if I would make an ensemble for her soon-to-be-born son.  The thing was, she didn't want to use her wedding gown.  I told her, that's what I do.  No, she wanted newly purchased fabric and lace.  To further complicate matters, she was in Australia. Australia.

I tried to talk her out of it.  I said surely there's someone in all of Australia that can make it for you? She said no, in fact, there wasn't.  I told her it would be prohibitively expensive, as would the shipping (customs and all).  She didn't care.  

So, then we had to decide on fabrics.  Most people who don't sew haven't a clue as to what types of fabrics are available, what's suitable for a particular purpose, or where to buy them.  But she had an idea of what she wanted and I found it for her.  Of course, all of this was done via conversations on Etsy (on Etsy they're called "convos") so it was a bit cumbersome and took some time.  

The fabric is a beautiful sateen in a soft ecru color.  I had used the same brand of sateen to make a dress for Journey and it turned out beautiful.  Funny how using really good fabric makes a project easier to sew.

She also wanted a particular type of lace.  I sent her scads of links to online heirloom lace sellers but in the end she selected something much, much cheaper.  She had this "look" in mind and wasn't hung up on whether it was heirloom quality or not.  

She wanted lace, but no ruffles or gathers.  Lots and lots of tucks.  She was very specific about the design, including how the lace trim was to be inset in the waist seam.

She had this idea of what she wanted and it turned out just as she had envisioned it.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sweatshirt to Jacket Transformation for a "Tween"

Here's yet another sweatshirt to jacket project.  I bought this sweatshirt from Nancy's Notions, along with several others, on sale.  I used the quick fitting method on this very fast jacket project.

When I went to the Quilt Festival in Houston a few years ago I bought some Fusible Stay Tape (pictured above) from Londa's Creative Threads booth, as well as some of her books.  This Fusible Stay Tape is so easy to use - it is narrow (unlike others I found) and stabilizes the knit fabric by simply fusing it (fusible on one side only) so no stay-stitching is required.  There are two types: "Knit" and "Straight".  I use the "knit" tape on necklines or curved areas.  I use the "straight"  tape on front openings (after cutting open).  Before I found this product I "tried" to stabilize with fusibles, but couldn't find anything narrow enough.  There is a LOT in each package.  I still haven't used it all yet.

Since this jacket was for a "tween" I used sweet and fun flower appliques from BunnyCup Embroidery.  It was free! It stitched out very nicely and I resized it with no problems.  It's amazing how many free designs are out there.

The brown print was a small amount  bought years ago to "audition" for baby bedding.  It was ultimately not used for that purpose and I've since used just about all of it up.  I had just enough for this project.  I didn't have quite enough for true bias tape, so I had to make due with simple foldover.  If you look closely at the neckline you can see that bias would have been better, but... I used the same fabric as a ruffle at the sleeve.

Closure detail
In this close-up of the closure you can see that I used a black hair elastic and two covered buttons.  The one on the left anchors the elastic and the one on the right is the one the elastic goes around to secure. (not sure if that even makes sense, but it's late).  I love covered buttons and they're so easy and cheap to make!

Close-up of the appliqued flowers.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Home Grown Kidney Beans

When shopping for seeds at the feed store this past spring, I saw a package of kidney bean seeds.  I've never grown them before and thought it might be a fun experiment.

Marc planted three rows of kidney beans, next to the regular bush beans.  The bean pods took a bit longer to flower and set than other varieties but otherwise, they looked very similar.

I had the idea that I would pick them as they matured and can them without having to dry, soak, cook, etc. As I said, I'd never done it before, but had this bright idea.  Turns out, that's not how it works at all.

There's really not a lot of info out there on raising these types of beans.  I'm guessing that's because not many people do it nowadays.  Everything I read said to leave the pods on the plant until dry, shell and store.  That was about it.

As a couple of beans matured, I picked them and ate them raw.  Nothing to write home about.  As I did a little more googling I learned that eating raw kidney beans will make you sick! Supposedly even a few will produce vomiting, diarrhea, etc.  I literally learned that right after I'd eaten those few raw ones.  I waited for the violet illness to set in but it didn't happen thankfully.  I'm pretty sure I'd have thrown them all out. Anyway, they must be well cooked before eating.

For the most part, all the beans were ready at once and before I knew it they were all dry on the plants.  It was a very simple harvest job - just grab the dry bean pods and dump them in a bucket for later shelling. Unlike the fresh eating beans, the dry pods are brown and stand out against the green bush, making them easy to spot.  There were a few green ones still not dry when I harvested them, so I popped out those beans and put them in the dehydrator for a bit to get good and dry before storing.

We had 3 rows about 25 feet long total, and harvested 5 pounds of beans.  That may not sound like much but again this was only 3 small rows.  The beauty of the whole thing is you drop in the seed and walk away until they're dry on the bush.  So little effort, unlike the fresh green beans, which have to be picked as they mature and canned, these can sit around until it's convenient to deal with them.  At the height of harvest and canning season, it was nice to have something that I didn't have to worry about going bad before I could deal with it.

I made a pot of chili with some the other night and they were quite good.  Maybe it's my imagination but I think they were better than store-bought.  ; )

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fun in Kindergarten

Home schooling was a family affair this past year.  Mom and Grandma taught Kindergarten (and PreSchool to little Sis). We were fortunate to have space to create a fun school room.  We painted the walls and floor, installed a white board, bulletin board and Mom created a fun life size 3-D tree. Our theme was "Owls".  We set up the play kitchen and light table.

Dad painted some vintage school desks in aqua and pink.  We found that the more modern desk/tables were preferred by the girls.  They have a larger flat surface and weren't so confining.

Aunt Dana provided a really fun language arts curriculum - "Sing Spell Read and Write".  We used colorful posters, music, songs, games and more.  We used Singpore Math for the math curriculum.  We tried to incorporate lots of fun into the lessons.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Paprika Peppers

Fresh Paprika Peppers
This year's tomato crop would probably seem large to most people, but it was a small one for us.  We had about 125 plants in all - about 1/3 of the usual number.  The first few trays of seedlings died (due to operator error).  So, since the harvest would be smaller, salsa was the number one product we wanted to put up.

I have shared the Salsa Recipe I use before, but for the last couple of years we have been adding something extra - about 1 tablespoon of SMOKED paprika.  This really is the best salsa we've ever made, and really the smoked paprika is the difference.

We have canned about 65 jars of salsa and that's got to last us till next tomato season. That's just slightly over 1 jar per week. In our minds, that's not much at all!

I had never tried smoked papriks until sister Dana picked some up at a really neat spice and meat processing supply shop called Townsend Spice in Melbourne, Arkansas, and ever since I tried it, I'm hooked.  I love it. 

I set out on a quest to make my own smoked paprika.  It seemed simple enough - find paprika pepper seeds, plant them, harvest peppers, smoke, dry, grind, etc.

The first challenge was finding paprika pepper seeds.  I only found a couple of different sources on the internet.  I ended up buying seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  They carry two varieties, and I bought the Leutschauer Paprika Pepper.  They are supposedly originally from Hungary.  The package contained only 25 seeds and almost all seeds germinated.  The plants stayed quite small (probably because we neglected the seedlings) but produced a lot of peppers.  They are a lipstick red when ripe. 
Peppers in the dehydrator
The fresh and dried peppers are too hot for my taste, even though I remove the seeds and membranes before drying.  My next experiment will be to cook the peppers before drying them.  Cooked jalapenos don't seem nearly as hot so I am hoping this will help the paprikas as well.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Christening Gown from Grandmother's 1942 Wedding Gown

This a christening outfit I made from a wedding gown originally made and worn in 1942! It was made for my customer's grandmother.  Then her mother wore it (from the pictures - below - looks like it was the early 80's).  It had not been altered to fit her mother.

The gown was machine and hand stitched.  The seams were pinked inside - not something you see often. The fabric was silk satin and absolutely beautiful.  It was cream, but in certain light, looked almost buttery.  It hadn't been stored well after the last wearing and had some rust spots (from the hooks and eyes).  But since it had a train there was plenty of fabric to work with.  My customer had no children but her sister was having one soon and she thought she should do something with the gown before it deteriorated.  Her mother had passed away so it was even more special.

Grandmother in gown 1942

Mother wearing gown at her wedding
My customer wanted the finished christening gown to be unisex.  She also wanted her grandparents' and parent's' names and wedding dates embroidered on the slip.

I usually make a bonnet out of the fabric; however, in this case, there was a hand-embroidered handkerchief carried by both the grandmother and mother at their weddings so I made a "Handkerchief Bonnet" and used the silk ribbon carried by both.  Yellow is not usually a color associated with a christening gown, but since it was a special memento of both weddings and the outfit was to be unisex, it worked well.

It always takes me aback when someone sends their cherished wedding gown to me - a total stranger - and asks me to cut it into pieces and create a new family heirloom.  Each and every one has a story to tell and this one in particular was very special.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Apple Pickin'

Apple Picking
When we moved to the Ozarks, the place we bought had only two little apples trees, which were only a few years old.  We have no idea what variety they are. I got serious about taking care of the trees and have pruned and sprayed (with dormant oil) at all the correct times.  I was rewarded with my first apple harvest (I'm not counting the ONE apple I got last year).  I got a total of about a dozen apples.  Not many, but it is the first harvest after all, and I'm hoping this next year both trees, and maybe even the two we planted a couple of years ago, will have some.

All the attention to the spraying schedule paid off.  There were only a few spots on the outside of a couple of apples that needed to be trimmed off.  There were NO bugs on the inside!! That's a big deal to me. I didn't spray the apples with any fungicide so the skins weren't pretty, but I didn't want to saturate them with poisons.

So Apple Picking was a big deal and a photo op of course.  The little ones picked the apples lickety-split and posed for Grandma.

Grandma may have photoshopped the apples just a bit so they look a little better.

After picking the precious harvest I knew I wanted to make some jam or butter with them.  Stephanie had made an Apple Pie Jam (recipe from Pinterest) but I didn't like the idea of any chunky-ness in my jam, so on to Apple Butter.  Again, Stephanie had found a recipe on Pinterest which turned out good, so I searched and found one.

The girls helped me peel the apples with the handy-dandy peeler Stephanie found at World Market.  It is amazing (and I don't use that word regularly) how quickly and easily it peeled, cored and spiral-sliced each apple.  So easy even a four or six year old can do it!  The girls peeled all but two apples and I had a little fun with the last two.

I added pumpkin pie spice and sugar to the apples and dumped it all in the crock pot to cook on low.  All the Pinterest recipes say to cook on low for 10-12 hours.

Well before the 10 hour mark, we went next door for dinner.  When I came back in I smelled SCORCHED apples!!!  I quickly scooped them out of the crock pot and into a bowl and into the fridge to cool quickly.  I haven't had the nerve to check it since.

Apparently I'm not the first to overcook apple butter.  Sister Dana did the same thing with a batch last year. Caroline suggested that she add some vinegar, can it and call it pork glaze.  So maybe I can salvage it after all.  Word to the wise: do not gamble your entire first year's apple crop on a Pinterest recipe.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hand Made Shampoo Bars

My Hand Made Shampoo Bars
When I was a kid, my Dad used to tell us girls that we should just use Dial soap on our hair like he did.  Uh, no thanks Dad.

Fast forward a few decades...  I had not been happy with store bought shampoos for quite some time.  The only ones I really like cost $10 per bottle, with another $10 for the conditioner.  They are only sold in "natural" foods stores of course.  That's just not in the current budget, so I tried the cheapie shampoos - like Suave.  I found that those cheaper conditioners would break out my scalp so  I had to go back to the expensive "natural" shampoo and conditioner again.

When I started on the soap making journey, I joined some soap groups on Facebook and found out that shampoo bars could be made at home.  I found one recipe created by a lady who graciously shares her recipe and knowledge for anyone to use. It contains Apple Cider Vinegar, coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, and castor oil.

This shampoo bar  is PERFECT for my scalp and hair.  It has just enough superfat (3%) so that I don't need a conditioner, but not too much, which would weigh down my hair.  I've been using it for well over a year now, and will never go back to store bought shampoo.

I infused olive oil with rosemary to use as the super fat in the shampoo bars (I allowed the herb to steep in the oil for some time, then strained out and discarded the herb).  Rosemary is supposedly good for hair, especially brunettes (which I no longer am...).  I add the olive oil to the soap and this extra amount is called superfatting. The rosemary has a very pleasant herbal scent.

I mold the shampoo bars in a PVC pipe.  When hard, I unmold and slice into bars.  I love the round shape - it fits nicely into my hand  and is a perfect shape for shampooing the hair.

There seems to be a lot of misinformation about using shampoo bars out there.  For one thing, I heard many people say that there was an "adjustment period" where the scalp, hair, etc. had to get used to this new way of cleansing.  Turns out, my research proved this is not the case at all.  There are all sorts of silicones, chemicals, etc., on the hair left by store bought shampoos/conditioners (which makes us think the product is leaving us with shiny manageable hair).  This creates a build up.  In order to remove any of this product from my hair, I first prepared a solution of 1 tsp. baking soda mixed with 1 cup of warm water and massaged that in my scalp, then rinsed.  I then used 100% coconut oil soap which is a highly cleansing soap - to shampoo my hair twice.  Then I used the shampoo bar.  That one-time process allowed me to remove any residual product residue from my hair. Now all that is being left behind each time I use the shampoo bar is a little bit of olive oil.  Caroline says blue Dawn dish liquid is the only thing that would strip the gunk for her.

One thing that I learned was that it was a good idea to rinse the hair with vinegar after washing.  For one thing, it brings the pH of the hair back down to normal levels (soap has higher pH than skin), and it helps rinse the soap out of the hair since I have hard well water.  If I had a water softener I probably wouldn't have to do this often.

I have found that I prefer white vinegar over apple cider vinegar.  I use about 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. I use a recycled dishwashing detergent bottle for the vinegar and leave it in the shower with a plastic cup.  I squirt about 1/4 cup of vinegar in the cup and fill it with warm water.  I rinse my shampooed hair with this solution and then rinse it out well.

I have also made the shampoo bars and added tea tree oil, grapefruit oil, and other essential oils. Everyone seems to like something different.

My whole hair care routine has been dramatically simplified.  It's hard to believe that I am making this myself, using natural products that I have sourced myself.  I can't pronounce many of the ingredients in so called natural shampoos, but I have selected each of the ingredients in my shampoo bars.

It may surprise you to know that ALL soap is made with lye.  Soap cannot be made without it.  If a product says "bath bar", "body wash" etc. and not "soap", then it is a DETERGENT.  Basic soap is made by adding lye to water (or in the case of the shampoo bars, apple cider vinegar), then mixing with oils.  The end product (after much stirring) is soap.  Different oils lend different properties to the soap, and by adding extra oil, fragrance, essential oils, and/or botanicals, each bar is truly unique.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Buttercup Squash Gratin

I found some seeds at the local farm store called Buttercup Squash.  I thought it was a type of pattypan, so I got some.  Cute little green squashes appeared on the huge trailing vines.  I picked one when I thought it was of eating size.  It didn't look like any pattypan I've ever had so we googled Buttercup Squash and found out it's a winter squash, and that little one I picked was too immature to eat.  We waited a bit longer.

When the squashes were a bit bigger, they were ready.  We learned that the skin gets a dark green and has a matte finish (no longer glossy).
  Source: Bonnie Plants

For the first day of Autumn, it was only fitting that we try Buttercup Squash for the first time.  I found a recipe on Pinterest (of course) and adapted it to my liking.

Source: The Kitchen is My Playground

The recipe comes from The Kitchen is My Playground.  The author uses Butternut Squash, and cubes it before cooking.  That's hard work - paring butternut is difficult.  Buttercup are a bit easier, but I took an even easier out.  I cut the squash in half, removed the seeds, and placed the two halves in the crock pot, set it to high and waited.  It took only about an hour to cook to fork-tender.  After cooking, I scooped out the flesh and fed the peel to the chickens. I saved the seeds for next year's garden.

So since my squash was very well done, I basically mashed it.  I followed the remaining recipe - well pretty much.  Here's what I did:

Saute 1 small (about 1/2 cup) finely diced onion in oil/butter in cast iron pan.  
When cooked through, but not brown, I added two garlic cloves, crushed.
I let this cook for just a couple more  minutes then turned off the heat.
Meanwhile, I beat one egg in a bowl, then added about 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, the squash, about 1/2 tsp. salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper, then the onion.
I placed this mixture in a buttered casserole dish, topped it off with about 1/2 cup additional Parmesan, about 1/3 cup Panko crumbs, and dotted the top with butter.
I microwaved the casserole for about 12 minutes (only because my oven is not working....) but heating in the oven would have been preferable.

The casserole was quite good and I plan to make this again.  

I do have quite a few of these squashes and while they can be stored for quite a long time, I will probably can most of them so I don't have to worry about spoilage.