Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sprouting Onion Seeds

I've never sprouted onion seeds before, and I didn't expect them to be so curly and cute. I hope these will give us better success than we've had with onion sets here. The garden catalog called this variety "Walla Walla," and promised they'd do great things.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Little Late Winter Spinning

In my continuing efforts to clear some closet space, I've been spinning a plastic tub full of dyed and carded fleece. Yarn takes up so much less space than wool batts! These four colors of Rambouillet wool represent four different crockpot dye baths.

These two batches of yarn represent the last of a very dirty fleece that was given to me. Even as yarn it's got burdock bits in it, but I really like the complex way it takes the dye. Once dyed, it was just too pretty to throw out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Devil In the Shirt Details

Back in October, I read about The Never Too Many White Shirts Project, started by Barbara at Sewing on the Edge. Quite a few stitchers have signed up to sew ten white shirts, the idea being that white shirts focus our attention on fit, line, and details, and sewing a bunch of them is useful because they are such versatile wardrobe components.

I think it's a cool idea, but I didn't sign up because I don't need ten new shirts. Since I was a teenager, most of the clothes I've made myself have been shirts, or else blouses styled like shirts, with collars on collar stands, shirt cuffs, front buttons, etc. In college, my incredulous roommate counted 24 shirts in my closet. They were all made from the same pattern.

When I was a grad student in Washington D.C., I discovered that the Georgetown Junior League's Thrift shop had gorgeously-detailed, seldom-worn men's dress shirts for under five dollars. The colors and patterns were sometimes eccentric, but I was a regular shopper there.

A few years ago I bought Shirtmaking by David Page Coffin. It's the most interesting sewing book I've ever read, and I've incorporated his design details into my shirt-making for several years now.

While Barbara works on sewing slowly and attending to professional shirtmaker's details, I've been looking for ways to sew quick and easy projects with my new serger. Of course I've tried it on shirt patterns.

I used my favorite men's shirt pattern, Kwik-Sew 2777 to make myself this nightshirt and flannel shirt. This time, I altered the pattern with a full bust adjustment, rotating the side dart to pleats at the shoulder seams. I was pleased to find that the shirts fit me much better this way.

For the nightshirt, I used a pattern size larger than I normally wear, and I made it night-gown length. I used the collar stand but no collar for a nineteenth century look, and I made the front one piece with a placket, for the same reason. I tried some cuff and cuff placket shortcuts using the serger, but they didn't turn out particularly well, so I made menswear cuff plackets using the pattern in Coffin's "Shirtmaking" on the flannel shirt.

The serger gave very nice seam finishes and shirt tail hems, but I couldn't bring myself to dispense with the menswear shirt details in these garments. I guess I'm just too shirt-obsessed--a "shirty dame."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blame It On the Cat

Was Valentine's Day disappointing? Could Kitty be responsible? "Single White Feline."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Roses and Forget-Me-Nots--To My Valentine

A heart made of roses and an arrow made of something I don't recognize--the only floral message I understand here is "To my valentine" entwined with forget-me-nots. I can't read the post office in the postmark, either. All I know is that it was addressed to Florence Williamson and mailed February 13, 1909 somewhere in Iowa.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Knitting Meets Patchwork!

Last summer, I had no time for fiber fun, but with too many jobs came enough cash to hit a half-price book sale at Interweave, which I think of as "Eye-Candy Central" for fiber arts. One of the gems I'd been wishing for was Domino Knitting by Vivian Hoxbro. The patchwork appearance of her knitted fabric really appealed to me, but I was mystified by the technique. I assumed it would be something simple, that the rest of the book would be pretty pictures of knitted things, and I would regret spending money on a whole book of eye-candy. (It's happened before.) Finding it on sale after eight or nine years of wishing for it, I finally bought it.

I was delighted to find that it was more than a pretty book and a simple technique. I was inspired by the different ways projects can develop, and I had to try her "Learn While You Knit" projects. My cotton yarn odds and ends didn't knit up nicely, so I used acrylic yarn scraps to make this "pot-holder." Because acrylic yarn can melt, I decided to transform the 16-square fabric into a vest for my teddy bear. With a few extra squares knitted on for the front, it seems to fit him perfectly.

Here are some Web-based inspirations for modular or "domino" knitting.

Domino Knitting (Knitting Technique series)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mandolin Cases from Denim Scraps

After making the denim patchwork coverlet, I decided I liked working with these denim strips so much that I cut up my entire collection of recycled denim. Of course, I ended up with a small grocery bag of leftovers that were too good to throw away, but the final result was a more compact pile of scraps, some of which were ready to sew.

A few months ago, when I got a request for a mandolin case, I turned to this scrap collection (which had expanded, as scrap collections always do). It didn't take long to overlock the seams on this project once I'd located a zipper and figured out how to construct the bag. I've lined it with a sweatshirt fleece scrap. The pocket on the side of the case was once the bib from a pair of overalls. It's big enough to hold a tuner and some extra stings and picks.

Soon, another mandolin case was requested, and, once I'd found a zipper (from a discarded notebook), I sewed this one up the same way. Unfortunately, I didn't have any more denim overall bibs, so I made a small zippered pocket out of short denim strips.

The serger makes this sort of patchwork go really fast, and the overlock seam finish looks interesting all on its own. I'm thinking about making the seamy side the right side on some project.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Yardage from Old Fabric Scraps

Last fall, I discovered I had more fabric scraps by volume than I had uncut, garment ready fabric yardage. (Seven large plastic bins of scraps, but only six tubs of yardage.) After my frenzy of garment construction as I got to know my new serger, I realized that if I was going to keep sewing at that rate, I needed to either use my scraps or win the lottery.

Sewing with a serger can go pretty quickly, and the tidy seam finish gives a wrong side that looks much neater than this.

I've been experimenting with sewing small bits of fabric together to "create new yardage." With my collection of tee-shirt knits, I've cut odd-shaped scraps into wide strips straight on the fabric grain and then overlocked the strips together to produce bigger pieces. Then I cut garments from them. So far, I've just pieced together bits of the same fabric, and cut out my favorite underbritches patterns from them. However, I'm toying with the idea of a harlequin-patterned tee-shirt or cardigan.

I've also dipped into my collection of odd-shaped denim scraps that are too big to throw away and too small for anything useful, to see if I could make "new fabric" without following the grain line. The smaller the scraps, the more tedious the piecing process, and when your new seams have to cross the seams you've sewn previously, a trip to the ironing board is necessary. Still, it's much faster than the foundation piecing technique I used for my crazy-patchwork window quilts.

Here are a couple of old potholders I've re-upholstered with denim scraps. They're a little rough around the edges, but I won't burn my hands or the counter top with these.

There are so many ideas for fabric scraps floating around the Web--here are some I've looked at recently.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Final Bobcat Picture

Just about the time we got the game camera aimed well, the flash developed problems. This is probably the last night-time bobcat picture we'll get. Oh well--it was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Crochet Ye Roses While Ye May

I knit to create clothing, but the thing I admire about crochet is the variety of pure embellishment you can produce. I especially enjoy crochet floral motifs, like this cabbage rose, a standard feature in Irish crochet. I wanted to make some Irish crochet-style leaves to go with it, but I couldn't find a pattern in my collection.

Suzanne Thompson's Curious and Crafty Readers blog came to my rescue, with her Corrugated Leaf Tutorial. It was exactly the way to make the leaves I knew from my grandma's collection of doilies and do-dads. Poking around on Suzanne's blog, I found lots of wonderful crochet flower designs and directions. Some of them are the usual fanciful geometric shapes, but many have details that make them look like real, specific flowers--pansies, poppies, daffodils, primroses. And the leaves--ferns, palms, pine boughs. It's too cool.

She has some of these in a book: Crochet Bouquet: Easy Designs for Dozens of Flowers. It's so moderately priced at Amazon that I put it right on my wishlist. Suzanne's blog even gives you instructions for converting your copy to spiral-bound format.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Debian Wheezy--So Far, So Good

This past Sunday marked the release of the new Debian stable version, 6.0, code-named "Squeeze." I've been running Squeeze testing version since May of this year, and when a Debian version moves from "stable" to "testing," a new version moves into testing. The new testing is called "Wheezy." My /etc/apt/sources.list points to "testing," rather than "squeeze," so that means that running aptitude dist-upgrade after a version-move can mean major changes, and, sometimes, major breakage of the Linux box.

I waffled around about what to do yesterday. I could point my sources.list to "squeeze," rather than "testing," so that nothing would change for a while, but the nice thing about testing is that it has newer versions of programs with the latest improvements. When I installed "testing" last year, I tried upgrading right to "unstable," (aka "Sid") which has the really latest and greatest stuff, but I wasn't able to get it working in the first couple of hours, so I just re-installed "testing." I've been reasonably happy with it (except for my intermittent "grub" troubles. (Check out the Debian sid FAQ, which is informative but mostly just funny.)

I decided to live my life on the edge, and stick with "testing," so after backing up my home directory six ways to Sunday, I just went ahead with aptitude update and aptitude dist-upgrade. It upgraded 220 packages. Expecting the worst, I rebooted, and NOTHING bad happened! Here's the really surprising thing--I did the same thing on my laptop, and nothing bad happened there either. Of course, "Wheezy" could turn on me at any moment....there's another update I'm running today. Still, so far, so good!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Marcellus Shale Extraction in West Virginia

The Charleston Gazette blogs recently featured this link: The industrialization of rural West Virginia caused by the Marcellus Shale gas play. It's well worth a look. There's been some speculation on mineral rights in Pocahontas County recently, and this slideshow has some practical information on what hydrofracturing the Marcellus shale looks like from the surface.

A few years ago, Marcellus Shale gas was unrecoverable, and West Virginia was a relative backwater in the oil and gas industry. The new techniques of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made a sea change in all of that. The Marcellus Shale is now the second largest field of gas -- in the WORLD. It is twice the size of the gas fields in Saudi Arabia. Major oil companies like Exxon are buying up gas resources here. Conventional shallow wells that cost $300,000.00 to drill have given way to 6 to 8 horizontal wells drilled from one well site. And each horizontal well costs $3 Million or more to drill. This drilling causes an exponential increase in surface disturbance, water use and waste disposal. It also requires compressor stations and staging areas and greatly increases demands on roads and other infrastructure.

The slideshow is on the WV Surface Owners' Rights Organization (WV SORO) Website. They introduce their resources with this:

West Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of active oil and gas wells in the country. New drilling permits have more than tripled in recent years and West Virginia surface owners have very few rights to protect them from drillers unless they also own the minerals beneath their land. If you live in one of the state's oil and gas producing counties you know about the polluted streams, needless destruction of timber, lost home sites, careless road building and ruined pastures caused by drillers.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Coverstitching Over Seams--Avoid if Possible

When I bought my serger, I made a point of getting one that has coverstitch capabilities. Ready-to-wear knits have lovely, flat hem stitching that stretches just the right amount and never draws up or ripples, in contrast to everything I've ever tried on a "regular" sewing machine. Here's how pretty the two-needle hem turns out on cotton interlock.

However, my serger skips stitches when coverstitching over seams. That means on two of these tee-shirts, there are skipped hem stitches at each side seam. I wouldn't normally get too excited--it's only one or two stitches. But coverstitch is a lot like chain stitch--if you give a loose thread a tug, you can pull the whole hem out in one fell swoop. I tried everything I could think of to solve this--sewing very slowly, tension adjustments, shims--but there was always at least one skipped stitch, and therefore, one place where the hem could be snagged and pulled out.

I searched the Internet for a long time before I found this handy tutorial on the Gigi Sews blog: Coverstitching over serged seams. She clips the seam at the hemline, then folds the seam edges in opposite directions. This gives you a much flatter "lump" to sew over. She claims great success with it, and I plan to try it soon.

I also went through my closet looking at ready-to-wear knit hems, and got a surprise: None of the coverstitched hems were stitched over a seam. The garment pieces were hemmed first, then assembled.

To summarize, there are two ways to handle coverstitching over hems: avoid it, by hemming before assembling, or clip the seam and fold the overlocked edges in opposite directions before hemming.

There are some fabrics where coverstitching just may not be an option. The paler yellow tee-shirt, above right, is a super-stretchy performance fabric (along the lines of Powerdry, but a different brand), and it was just about impossible to hem--you can see I gave up and finished the cuffs and bottom edge with stretch lace applied on my regular sewing machine.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

My Dream of Grant Woods Pie

Last week Sherry's latest batch of cool "Stuff#21" sent me on a chain of hypertext links that led me back home again, literally and symbolically. Starting close to home with Kentuckian Wendell Berry, Sherry found Berry and Bob Dylan together in a blog post at The Art of the Rural. Now, I was once a Dylan fan, and I still remember ALL the lyrics to "Highway 61 Revisited," but I fell out with Bob when I was a senior in college. I was driving south on Iowa Route 169, just outside of Adel, when "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" came on the radio. "...You just kinda wasted my precious time," Bob sang, as I'd heard him do so many times before, but this time, something dawned on me. "You whiny, self-centered S.O.B.!" I said, perhaps even aloud, as I switched off the radio. If only there were less of my own "precious time" between insight and understanding, I might have avoided some not-so-great life-choices. Still, it was a start.

As I moved from my own farm-girl epiphany to other posts at The Art of the Rural, I learned that Charlie Louvin had passed, Hamper McBee is on the You-Tubes, and there's a lady living in the "American Gothic" house, hellbent on saving the world through pie.

Beth Howard's blog is The World Needs More Pie, and of course, she's right. She says of herself:

I was born in the neighboring small town of Ottumwa, a place I never thought I'd return to because it seemed so "backwater," but now Ottumwa is where I do all my shopping, go to movies, and on the rare occasion, grab a burger at the classic 1930's diner, The Canteen in the Alley. I left Iowa to travel the world, I've lived in places including Nairobi, Stuttgart, New York and most recently Portland, Oregon. And now...Eldon, Iowa. It's like Grant Wood said, "I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa."

Now, I have a few reservations about an Iowan who calls Ottumwa, Iowa (population 25,000) a small town. Cromwell (population 120), where I went to school, is a small town. Eldon (population 1000), where the pie-evangelist lives in the house Grant Wood painted, is a small town. Ottumwa is one of the big towns on the Burlington Northern Line, which ran through My Antonia and A Lost Lady and Creston (population 7500), the semi-big town where my parents bought groceries and I went to high school. Still, she might have been addressing New Yorkers, so I'll let that slide.

Ms. Howard has a whole media empire at her The World Needs More Pie, but I'm mostly hung up on the connection in my memory between Grant Wood and pie. I did my undergraduate studies at Iowa State University, which was adorned with quite a bit of WPA art. The library had a set of Grant Wood murals. I thought they were spectacular and strange, and I spent quite a bit of time looking at them, particularly the Agricultural Arts and Home Economics Arts panels. I have a vivid memory of a huge, columnar woman wearing a perfectly smooth gingham apron in a kitchen, with a spherical cooked fowl and a geometrical pie on a table. However, a look at the Web page Grant Woods murals at ISU shows no such image of a Grant Woods-painted pie. The columnar apron is there alright, but I guess I hallucinated the turkey and pie. (The dorm food was really bad.)

I guess it took Beth Howard to complete my dream of Grant Woods pie.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Poetry Feast for St. Bridgid--Shining from Shook Foil

It's time for the Sixth Annual Bridgid Poetry Feast. There's a Facebook page for it, but I'm cranky about Facebook and won't join, so I'm just sprinkling links around a bit.

Actually, among the blogs I read, most days are poetry days, and Dave Bonta and Sherry Chandler frequently offer poetics as well as poetry. Recently, Dave explained and commented on a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry: a vital first step, and Sherry followed up.

I'm a Gerard Manley Hopkins fan, and, as this is public domain, I'm able to quote a full text here with no worries. On a day of grey skies and white snow, I guess I'm hankering after "shining from shook foil."

God's Grandeur (1877)
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. 
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; 
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil 
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? 
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;         
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; 
  And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil 
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 
And for all this, nature is never spent; 
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;         
And though the last lights off the black West went 
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-- 
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.