30 June 2009

Strawberry Fields Forever

Still catching up...two weekends ago (on one of the very few non-rainy days we've had this June), Jason and our neighbors and I went to Russell Orchards. They were having a strawberry festival with strawberry picking and strawberry shortcake and strawberry wine tasting and music and face painting and balloon animals, oh my! It was the perfect day to slave away in the strawberry fields...not too hot, not too cold, gentle breeze, beautiful, bright red strawberries...So we picked and picked and picked until we had 4 quarts of berries. But what on earth were we to do with 4 quarts of berries? Make strawberry jam, of course!
So I washed and de-stemmed all the berries. Then Jason and I squished and squashed and squashed and squished enough strawberries for one batch of strawberry jam and one batch of strawberry lemon marmalade. Jason wasn't really a fan of getting his hands all sticky, but oh how I love the feeling of strawberries squishing between my fingers.The recipe calls for 5 cups of strawberries, one packet of Sure Jell, and 7 cups of sugar. It was so pretty swirling in the pot that I couldn't resist taking a picture.Once all the jam was cooked and jarred, Jason and I played a game of Ticket to Ride and listened for the pops. Every time a jar popped, I would get all excited and say, "Did you hear that?!?" Finally, Jason asked if I was going to ask him that every time a jar popped, and I said, "Yes. That's how it's done, Jason." You see, I am a 4th generation jelly maker. When my great grandmother Manya came to the US and opened up her tea house, she made her own jam. And the tradition has been passed down to her daughter and my mom and to me and my sisters. That sound of the jars popping as the lids seal ensures the preservation of the jam. But it also preserves a sweet and tasty tradition that I am proud to be a part of.Mmm...doesn't that look so scrumptious on my little jelly table? Don't you wish you had some homemade jam or marmalade to spread on your toast or your pb&j sandwich or some club crackers? Well, I figure if soulemama can do giveaways, then I can, too. So...if you would like a chance to win some, leave a comment specifying whether you want a jar of strawberry jam or strawberry lemon marmalade or a sample of both, and I will randomly select a winner by the end of the week. (Mom, Amy, Megan, I know you all make your own jam, but you're still welcome to enter to try some of mine.) Best of luck! I hope you are having a sweet, sticky, strawberry summer!

29 June 2009

Daisy's Debut

Catching up again...here it is: my first ever project with Daisy Dressform. I raided my closet and found this skirt that I never wear anymore:
I got it back in high school when dress code required me to wear skirts to the bottom of my knees (not the top or middle of the knee...the bottom) and when this length was the style. In fact, I got this skirt at American Eagle, before the era of sluttiness that ensued there. But fashion has changed since 1999, so I thought this skirt was in need of an upgrade. I started by trimming the skirt shorter using Daisy's hem leveler.
Then I took about 6 inches of the extra fabric from bottom of the skirt and sewed it to the bottom of my skirt top. This worked out pretty nicely because the original skirt was a-line, so the bottom became a little ruffle, and it was already hemmed. How convenient!
I thought it needed a little something extra, so I took some solid gray fabric and ironed it using my handy-dandy bias tape maker. Then I sewed it onto the skirt, encasing the rough edges of the fabric from the 2 pieces of skirt. (I sewed wrong sides together so the seam was on the front of the skirt. That way, using the bias tape method, I don't have any fabric with possible fraying ends.) And this was the finished product:
Pretty cute, huh? Yeah, I think so, too. It's not my new favorite skirt or anything, but I will definitely wear it more than never, which makes for an improvement over its past life.

Since this was my very first ever Robin-made article of clothing, I did learn quite a bit, so I thought I should share my insights with you. Here are the 10 lessons I learned:
1) When you have never made clothing before, and you think, "I'll just make something up out of an existing piece of clothing because that will be easier than starting something new from scratch, even though I have all these patterns that would guide me through a new project step by step," you're probably wrong. When it comes to clothes, it is wise to follow patterns, learn your way around, and earn the right to improvise. Will I follow this advice in the future? Probably not. I have too many exciting ideas, which brings me to my next point:
2) When you think you have some amazing idea of how to do something that no one has ever come up with before--like sewing with the bias tape down so you can sew on the right side of the previous seam--remember that whereas your intentions and theoretical knowledge are intermediate, your actual experience and skill level are very much beginner. Apply your innovations to design, but when it comes to technique, stick with convention. It's conventional for a reason.
3) When using a hem leveler--at least on my dress form--don't apply any downward pressure. The latch will slip, and you will end up with a gently sloping hem that won't come close to matching your starting point.
4) Take your time. Iron. Use lots of pins. If you're not confidant with a seam, sew slowly.
5) Don't make mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the better acquainted you will become with your seam ripper and the more the ends of your fabric will fray while you're trying to fix your hasty sewing.
6) When you're going to town with your seam ripper, make sure you're only taking out what you need to. There's no sense in ripping out a perfectly good section of a seam when you can just tie it off and redo the swerving section.
7) When you're new to bias tape sewing, it's wise to use a color that will blend into the fabric. A nice contrast would look awesome, but only if you sew it straight, which you probably won't, especially in those final stages of a project when you just want to get it done.
8) There is a reason that hemming the bottom of a skirt comes at the end of a project. Yes, I saved myself from having to hem, but this meant I had to be much more careful with my gathering and pleating and not catching any fabric that I shouldn't when attaching my bias tape.
9) Bias tape makers rock! They may seem like a bit of an unnecessary investment, but it took all of 20 seconds to iron all of my bias tape for this project, and I didn't burn my fingers once! I am hooked for life.
10) When adjusting Daisy's height, get someone to hold her up. Otherwise, she will come slamming down and bite your fingers.

So there it is. Daisy and I aren't bbfs quite yet, but I did get to spend some time with her, I'm happy with the results, and it was a learning experience. I got an unexpected belated birthday gift card to Joann's so I went out and bought 10 yards of t-shirt fabric and some elastic thread, so there will be more clothing makes in the future with scary/fun things like shirring. But I'm taking a few weeks off from that...giving Daisy her space.

25 June 2009

Rain, News, and Bowling Shoes

I realize I'm behind. It's been nothing but doom and gloom in the cold rainy north shore area, so I haven't felt like taking more dark pictures with zero natural light. I've still been making...just not picture-taking. I hope to be updating this weekend, so stay tuned.

In other news, my wall-hanging was accepted into the first ever issue of Kalos! Woohoo! I'm super-duper excited. I'll let you know when the journal is posted online, and I'm all famous. :o)

Okay, this has nothing to do with bowling shoes...it just rhymed, and I seem to be in a rhyming mood at the moment. This week's make is going to be something to decorate my much-in-need-of-home-making new office. Something highly impressive that says, "Yes I made that, and I am far too creative to be making copies for you."

10 June 2009

A Tasty Dinner and a New Friend

This evening when I set dinner on the table, I was struck by how pretty it was, so I ran for the camera and decided to share this little beauty of a dinner with you:(Sidenote: I don't think my mom has ever brought a pot or a skillet to the dinner table. But my mom also has a dishwasher, and I just don't feel like washing an extra, unnecessary bowl for some chicken. However, I do look forward to someday when I do have a dishwasher that isn't me or Jason, and on that glorious day, I will use the appropriate serve-wear. Phew...it feels good to get that out.)

Moving on...this is one of my favorite meals for three reasons: 1) it is super easy and fast; 2) I always have the necessary ingredients already in my kitchen; 3) it's one of those delectable meals that is tasty and satisfying without being too heavy. So here's what you'll need:

Olive Oil
Lime Juice
Italian Seasoning, Oregano, Garlic Salt, Poultry Seasoning, Salt
Chicken (I use tenderloins)
Pasta (best with angel hair, but spaghetti works, too)
Parmesan Cheese

Put some water on to boil for the pasta. While that's heating up, drizzle enough olive oil in a sauce pan to cover the bottom. Then squeeze in some lime juice. (I don't know...maybe a teaspoon?) Sprinkle in some garlic salt, oregano, and Italian seasoning, and heat all that up on medium, letting the lime and spices season the olive oil. When the skillet is hot, cut up the chicken into bite-sized bits. Saute that, and cook your pasta. Add Italian seasoning, poultry seasoning, salt, and olive oil to the pasta while it's cooking. When there's a minute or two left on your pasta, and your chicken is cooked through and browning, cook your corn. (I use the steamable one-portion bag of frozen corn 'cause it's easy.) When the pasta is done, drain it, and coat it in butter, Parmesan cheese, and salt. Then top it off with the chicken and corn, and walla! A lovely, fast, filling meal that's done all at the same time! (One of those bagged salads with all the fixin's included is a nice touch.)

But...that's not this week's make.

For dessert/small group, I made another one of those delicious chocolate raspberry bundt cakes, and I finally remembered to take a picture of it. I didn't allow it to cool enough before I flipped it out of the bundt pan, so it has some holes in it, but you get the idea.

But that's not this week's make either.

Because I have a new friend. And I'm making something with her. I don't know her name yet. (I'm guessing it ends in y...like Sally or Daisy.) But I'm hoping we get to know each other really well. We got off to a bit of a rough start. She took a bite out of my finger (note the band-aid). But we made up. See? It looks like we're the best of friends already! :o)

A Sonnet for my Tree

Last week's make was inspired by a new goal I have set for myself: to read all of Shakespeare's plays by the time Jason finishes seminary. I decided to do this for two reasons: 1) because my exposure to Shakespeare is embarrassingly thin and 2) to slow the intellectual atrophy that ensues from a job that is not intellectually challenging. So far, I've read The Tempest and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and I'm working on Troilus and Cressida. Reading so much iambic pentameter moved me to write a sonnet last week. But what to write about? I decided since I've already developed the metaphor of my tree--and since it's such an apt metaphor for my life at the moment--to write a sonnet about that. It's definitely not the most brilliant piece I've ever written. My writing is rusty. But the point was just to write something, start to finish. So without further disclaimer or ado, here it is:

I've heard it said, "The fruit defines the tree."
What shall we say when branch and leaf and root
Are all the measure that our eyes can see?
How shall we name the tree without the fruit?
We may be tempted to assign the blame
Of lacking crop to inactivity
And say the tree does not deserve a name
If idle is what it decides to be.
But if this is our verdict, we despise
The very work by which the fruit is won:
How desperately the root for water cries,
How faithfully the sapling seeks the sun.
If day by day, the tree is slowly grown
In season, by its fruit it will be known.

03 June 2009

The Hard Work of Treedom

After many hours of sulking in my stumpedness, after dozens of ideas touched down upon and just as quickly discarded, after much frustrating and philosophical pondering on the question "what is beauty?", I finally have my submission for Kalos. I don't know how well it answers the question. In the end, I decided to do something that I could do well and that meant something to me. But before we get to the the philosophical reasoning behind my creation, let's start with the process, shall we?

I chose to finish a wall-hanging of a sun, a tree, and a river that I started a few months ago. It's a collaboration of applique and embroidery...because my hand-sewing is so impeccable. Once I had the fabrics chosen and the pieces cut, I had to sew them together. Of course all the lovely curves meant I had to sew all of the fabric onto my muslin base by hand, turning under the edges as I went.
After many hours of tiny little stitches, it was time for...more tiny little stitches. I did the top of my tree with a stem stitch and finished off the rest of the tree with stitches I don't know the names for. At this point, I'd just like to brag a little. The mark of good embroidery is that the back looks just as good as the front. This is the back:
And the front:Pretty good, right? Yeah, I know. :o)
Here is the completed panel (on my pretty mosaic coffee table):
I felt like it needed a border, so I added brown fabric from a curtain I found in the "As-Is Bin" at Ikea. (Oh how I love Ikea!) Once the border was attached, I cut out a brown back panel and a layer of batting so the back wouldn't show through my white muslin front. I sewed the front, batting, and back together inside-out like a pillow because at that point I couldn't decide whether it would be a pillow or a wall-hanging. (That also saved me from adding a binding around the edges, which would have been...more tiny little stitching.) In the end, I decided on a wall-hanging, so I stitched a sleeve of fabric onto the back, fed a dowel through the sleeve, and hung it on my bedroom wall. So here, again, is [a not stellar picture of] the finished product:
And now for the deep metaphorical explanation:
I began this project with the intention of hanging it over the door of my apartment. It would symbolize the three words Jason and I have engraved in our wedding bands: grace, truth, warmth. We decided that those were the virtues we wanted our marriage to embody: to be gracious to each other always, quick to listen, quick to forgive; to be grounded in the Truth and to always be honest with each other; and to be warm, gentle, and comforting to each other as well as having a welcoming and hospitable home. So my little wall-hanging has a river for grace, a tree rooted by that river for truth, and a sun for warmth. In addition to being a scene of serenity and beauty, what it represents is a shared life of those three virtues, and I believe that that qualifies as beauty, too. But there are more layers to the imagery. In talking to Jason about my idea, he pointed out that the images I planned to make were also very Trinitarian: the Father is the sun, the Son is the tree, and the Spirit is the river.

The day I finally decided to go ahead with this idea, I was reading psalm 1, which talks about "a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither." That little phrase "in its season" stuck out to me. Normally, I instinctively discard the terminology of "seasons" when it is used in Christian circles. I throw it out with "this too shall pass" and "God is in control" and other such cliches. But when I read psalm 1 the other day, I was struck by this tree and its seasons. It is rooted by the stream. It's where it is supposed to be. And because of that, it stays alive. It goes through photosynthesis. It recycles the CO2 in the atmosphere into oxygen. It provides shade for a picnic or an afternoon of climbing to a child. But all that is not the glory of a tree. The Bible says, "You will know a tree by its fruit." A tree's glory and its identity, the full mark and celebration of what the tree is, is its fruit. But sometimes...the tree is just a tree. It isn't always yeilding fruit. More often than not, the tree is building up sugar, storing it until the time is right for the fruit to grow and ripen. And in the mean time, the tree does the more simple, mundane acts of treedom... stretching its branches towards the sun, digging its roots deeper into the soil, pulling at the current of the river for a drink. And in all this reaching and stretching and striving, the tree's reward is to gain a little growth for itself and see its shade enjoyed, it branches climbed, and its leaves thoughtlessly torn off or chewed up! But someday, in its season, sure enough, the tree will yield fruit. And on that day, there will be no doubt what kind of tree it is.

The tree in my wall-hanging is fruitless at the moment. It is doing the hard work of stretching and reaching and growing, with little visible results. But it's where it's meant to be. It's doing the work it was made to do. And someday, it will burst forth into color and produce a rich harvest that makes all the stretching and striving make sense. And maybe on that day, I'll make another wall-hanging that displays the tree in all its rich and fruitful glory. Both scenes, I think, have something to say about beauty, maybe even more so the simple than the ostentatious. Because the struggle, the mundane day-to-day, all the hours of work and anticipation, are what eventually yield the harvest.