Sunday, December 30, 2007

New knits

I'm so close to finished with Demi--only one sleeve and a bit to go. I ran out of yarn, but I don't think color matching the creme-colored yarn should be too much of a challenge (I'm already mixing two dye lots with no problem). So it's time to start seriously thinking about my next project. I'm fairly set on the Minimalist Cardigan from Interweave Knits Fall 2007:

It should be relatively quick. I think I'll make it in black wool so I can wear it with everything. I'm also keeping an eye on new fashion for inspiration. I love this Esme sweater by Ulla Johnson, seen at Basic Boutique:

I think this could be a fun one to try to recreate. I love that sideways knit yoke! I wonder what they have around the collar that makes it look so polished--maybe a crocheted edge or i-cord would have a similar effect? It also looks like you'd have to double or triple up on the yarn for the yoke--it looks so much more bulky than the drapey body. In any case, I'd love to see someone tackle this type of sweater.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Involving the ears

I heart Podcasts.

Do you ever get overwhelmed when you look at concert listings, and feel like you don't have enough time to keep up with what's going on in the music scene? Ok, before I start to sound like an infomercial, I just wanted to share some online (legal!) music sources that I have found to be a wonderful way to keep up with new music.

WXPN, a public radio station from UPenn plays a great selection of music--mostly new rock/indie stuff. You can listen to them online by clicking here and following the instructions.

On iTunes (which is a free program, for those who don't yet have it, and I swear its not that scary to figure out), you can subscribe to free podcasts if you go to the iTunes store. My favorite music ones are as follows:

NPR: Live Concerts from All Songs Considered
NPR: All Songs Considered
MPR: The Current Song of the Day
KEXP: Song of the Day
KEXP: Live Performances Podcast
NPR: World Cafe: Next from WXPN

For those of you who prefer stories and intellect, try these:

This American Life (Ira Glass is pretty dreamy)
WNYC's Radio Lab (excellent program, with a science-y spin)

Twinkle temptation

I've had a mild obsession about Twinkle knitwear since I first came across her book, Big City Knits, about a year ago. The sweaters look amazing on the models, and I adore big, soft yarn and texture (as evidenced in the previous post about the giant knit rug). Match made in heaven, right? Maybe, but maybe not. The patterns in Big City Knits get rather mixed reviews due to the limited size range, errors in the patterns, and the fact that extra chunky sweaters aren't exactly figure-flattering.

I'm currently trying to decide if I want to invest in some yarn to make this:

The pattern is available for free on the Canadian Living website. I've seen a lot of people make this one, and sometimes it looks really cute. I don't really like it buttoned up all the way--but I have never seen a picture of someone wearing it unbuttoned. This makes me nervous--does it only work if you button it? Also worrisome is the fact that I always seems to like the sweater best in photos of the sweater itself--as opposed to on the person who made it. All of this adds up to my logical mind telling me to move on to a more flattering pattern. But that yarn! Oh, and those giant cables! Can I really resist? I think I can get some sale yarn and make a version of this sweater for $25...maybe its worth it? I'm thinking it would look great in a pale purple. If anyone out there reading this has an opinion, please leave a comment!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Veggie Paella

I went to a dinner party with a Spanish theme a few weeks ago. They served sangria, tapas, and paella. They were even kind enough to make a small veggie paella for me. Paella is one of those dishes that I really enjoy, but rarely think about. The party got me thinking about it again, so last night I pulled out my own recipe to give it another shot.

It came out pretty well--chock full of vegetables, chickpeas and rice. It's quite a nice, healthy meal for a winter night. I used a recipe from VegWeb by Curtis Aikens. I just happened to have a bit of saffron left over from a stay in India a few years ago. Despite it's age, it was actually still very flavorful and colorful. Apparently saffron strands will keep for several years if stored in a dark, air-tight container.

And speaking of the container--I love it. It's lime green, about 1.5 inches tall and features Hindu deities. I'll be keeping this one.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Resist dyed fabric

Oi! It's been a very long time since my last post. For those of you still in school, or who remember those days, you'll understand that the time between Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays is difficult. Luckily, the end is in sight! I finished my independent study on resist dyeing techniques, and have been putting my project binder together. It includes 55 pages filled with fabric swatches and library research on resist dyeing in Africa, India, Japan, and Indonesia. Last weekend I set up an indigo vat by myself for the first time. It took a little trial and error, but in the end I got good results for my starch resists. I found a very detailed indigo vat tutorial online here, for those of you who might like to try this someday. I would suggest setting it up outside or perhaps in a basement or garage. It's messy, and not something you want near anything you care about or might eat.

Here are a few images of some of the textiles I made:

Board clamped resist
Starch resisted king

Starch resisted elephant

I hope to make a triumphant return to sewing in January. I have this Burda dress on queue, as well as this Burda skirt. My Demi sweater is now almost half finished, and looking great!

Monday, November 19, 2007


I just got this lovely fabric in the mail from Sheree! She really has an eye for fabric combinations. Check out her new store--especially if you live in Europe and like to support individuals rather than big fabric stores.

As for me, I've been terribly busy with school work--it's getting to that stressful time of year where many large projects are due. I haven't had any time for sewing--despite the several projects that are ready to be cut. Demi is progressing at the rate of several rows a day. I'm almost up to the arm shaping on the back piece. Perhaps I'll finish in February or so...

In the mean time, I'm still working on resist dyeing techniques. I haven't photographed much of my shibori yet (some came out quite nicely). But here is the starch resist pattern I was printing this weekend. It's a Nigerian king taken from a lovely book on African Textiles. I hope to get an indigo vat going next weekend.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


I came across this website a few months ago, and was blown away. If you haven't see it yet, please do check it out. I desperately want one of the giant cabled rugs. I feel like my new sweater might be somewhat inspired by this project. Can you imagine what a single bobble would look like on that scale?!

All images courtesy of

Demi in progress

I started to knit "Demi" from the book Vintage Knits. I've been slightly obsessed with bobbles ever since I saw a friend knitting them a few years ago. I just love that texture! This is my first time knitting cables, bobbles, and from a chart. It's a nice challenge--but not something I could easily knit while talking. So far it's coming out very well:

I'm using the cream-colored Lamb's Pride yarn that I recycled from a previous sweater. It's not really ideal for such detailed work. The yarn varies a fair amount in its diameter, so some sections look imperfect--but I think overall it will have a nice effect.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Patterns, anyone?

I'm pairing down my possessions bit by bit. Would anyone have use for any of the following patterns?

Vogue 8392, cut for a size 8 (31.5" bust, but fits loosely)
McCall's 5317, cut for a size 10 (32.5" bust, 36" bust measurement on finished garment)
Simplicity 4111, cut for a size 12 (34" bust, 37.5 bust measurement on finished garment)

If you would like a pattern, please leave a comment with the pattern number and your email, so I can contact you for your mailing address. No charge, just pass on some good cheer to someone else as payment.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Laboratory refashion and other creative outlets

Things have been getting pretty busy around here, but I have managed to do a few creative things in the past couple weeks. Between clothing projects, I decided to do a little refashion for my workspace. In the lab where I work, we have these fume extraction vents at our benches, so we don't have to breathe in solvents while we work. They are covered when not in use. Formerly, they had been using ratty old pieces of mat board as covers:

I was pretty tired of looking at these every day, so I made a fancy prototype for new fabric covers. There is a piece of mat board inside, so it is sturdy and acts as a good cover, but I hope you'll agree that this is much nicer to look at:

I used some African fabric from my stash in a bright orange, printed 'batik' pattern. I'm hoping to make a whole bunch of these covers so that everyone in the lab can have them.

I've been doing an independent study on resist dyeing methods, and recently tried my hand a batik. I turned my entire dining room table into a lightbox, which saved me some tracing time:

I haven't been successful yet with the batik--I need to figure out how to get the wax to penetrate the fabric well, without running all over the place. As another aspect of this project, I have been experimenting with starch resists. This type of resist is used in Nigeria, as well as Japan--and probably some other places as well. I bought a product called Inkodye from Dharma Trading Company, which said it was a cassava starch paste resist--which is what they would have used in Nigeria. I cut stencils from sheets of Mylar based on some Nigerian designs. Here are a couple elephants:

Unfortunately, I managed to kill the elephants by using this method with a synthetic dye (Procion). The starch is semi-water soluble, so it can't withstand long soaks. The directions say to apply the dye, rather than immersing it. However, I'm thinking that this might work in an indigo dye bath, since that involves repeated dipping, rather than soaking. This would have likely been the process used in Nigeria. Stay tuned for updates on how that goes!

Finally, at the request of a friend, I attempted to make fudge for the first time:

Being ambitious in the kitchen, I decided to make it totally from scratch, thermometer and all! I used a recipe from Alton Brown, but something went wrong and it ended up soft and grainy. I then tried again using a simple recipe from the Joy of Baking website (which has excellent recipes). The recipe I used called for sweetened condensed milk, chocolate, butter, and vanilla. It was easy as could be, and came out delicious and creamy. Keep it in mind for a hostess or holiday gift.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lucky girl

Yesterday, in the middle of a gloomy Monday, I got some wonderful news: I was the lucky winner of a gift certificate from Sheree. Sheree has a lovely crafting blog, and has recently opened up a store on etsy. She just listed a bunch of handmade bags, blankets, and a lot of nice fabric bundles. Be sure to check it out, especially if you live in Europe (she's based in Germany). I'll have to continue the blog-love by having my own contest at some point.

Vogue 8392

It's been a very busy few weeks for me, but I decided to take the time to make something over the weekend. I made a top, since I had already bought the fabric months ago, and it involved less work than making a whole dress. I chose Vogue 8392--view A, but I skipped the collar, and used the neckline for views B and C instead:

I used a moleskin-like fabric from the clearance bin at Joann's. When I bought it, I liked the colors, but felt like the design was potentially too wild for me. In the end, I like it as a top, and think it could be a nice, vibrant print to wear on occasion.

The pattern came together easily--although I didn't like the instructions for the neckline on views B and C--rather than drafting separate patterns, they have you sew everything together--including the darts, and then cut off 1.5 inches around the entire neck. As a result, you end up cutting through all your backstitching, and some threads might become loose as a result. Not the best idea, but it ended up working out okay.

The fit isn't perfect on this top. It is meant to be a woven pull-over, with a hook and eye closure at the back of the neck. It's therefore drafted to be roomy in the torso, so you can slip it on and off. I didn't want it to be huge on me, so I opted for a size smaller than I would normally go. I was able to get into it fine, but I nearly got stuck in it, and had to do a brief contortionist act to take it off. After that, I decided to put in a short zipper in the back. This helped, but I find that it is still very snug around the arms. I blame this mostly on the pattern, as I have pretty narrow arms, and I'm not convinced that going up a size would completely remedy this problem.

Overall, it's a very cute shirt, and was very easy to make--just beware that you might have to make some adjustments to the arms to make them more comfortable.

Monday, October 8, 2007

New sweater

I finally finished seaming a sweater that I knit this summer. This yarn was supposed to make a lovely vintage sweater, but it wasn't the right gauge, and the variegation looked a bit too busy for a lacy knit. I decided to knit up an easy turtleneck without a pattern instead. I made the neck pretty loose, since close-fitting necks make me uncomfortable. It's very basic, and warm. I think it will serve me well on cold, casual winter days. The yarn is Shamrock from knitpicks. It's nothing fancy, but it's cheap.
Of course, now that I finished all my ongoing knitting projects, I had to choose a new one (or three...) I'll start with the "Demi" sweater from the Rowan Vintage Knits book. I'm planning to use some Brown Sheep wool that has already been a part of two previous sweaters. Neither sweater was quite up to par, but I have high hopes for Demi. I've seen a lot of great finished sweaters from other knitters.

I consider myself somewhat of an idealist, and love all things frugal and recycled. I came across this great article on recycling yarn from sweaters about a year ago. I have yet to find good thrift store sweaters to do this with (mostly due to lack of time to search), but here's a look at what I did with recycling one of my hand knit sweaters:

The unraveled yarn bears a strong resemblance to ramen noodles when taken apart. I wanted to relax the kinks with a little moisture, but I needed a place to put the yarn while it dried and straightened. Nothing that might stain it, cause it to knot or felt together...I finally realized that my dresser would be perfect:

I think it adds a nice touch to my bedroom decor.

Monday, October 1, 2007

New hat and Mexican lasagna

On my way to and from Ottawa, I knit my first hat. It's a pattern from the most recent issue of knitty, called foliage. It's a lacy pattern that knits up pretty quickly. I chose a soft black yarn from knitpicks, called Andean Silk. It took just a bit more than one ball.
Overall, I'm very pleased! This is my first new hat in about 7 years. It was about time! Generally, I'm all about sweater knitting (and dress making), but I have to say that finishing a project in a day or two is very satisfying!
To celebrate my return to home-cooked food, I made a "Mexican Lasagna" based on a recipe from a recent issue (perhaps a year ago?) of Vegetarian Times magazine. If you're a decent cook, you could easily pull this off without a recipe. It consists of three layers: 1) corn tortillas 2) beans (refried, or loose black beans sauteed with onion, tofu, cumin, and coriander, as I did) 3) veggies. I used grated yellow squash, grated carrot, onion, corn, chili powder, and some Mexican-influenced tomato sauce. It's assembled and topped with cheese. The next time I make this, I'm going heavier on the sauce and cheese--those are the best parts, right?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Inuit grass sewing

I just returned from Ottawa, Canada where I participated in a conference on the conservation of Aboriginal heritage. It was a wonderful conference filled with mutual respect and a diversity of ideas. While in Ottawa, I stayed at the "Jail Hostel." It's pretty much like it sounds: an old jail that has been converted into a youth hostel. We slept in jail cells, complete with bars for doors. It was a fun place, but I'm very happy to be back in my own (comfortable) bed!

The last day of the conference held a number of workshops on traditional techniques. I chose to learn Inuit grass sewing--a type of coiled basketry. Our instructor was from Rigolet, Labrador, and learned this technique as a child in school. The grass we used is native to her area, and was picked for us by one of her neighbors. It starts by sewing one piece of grass around a knot made from three others:As the coil builds, you continue to add grass to the inner bundle, and work thin pieces around the inner bundle--both to hide it, and anchor the coil to the previous rounds:
After a full-day workshop I made a very tiny basket. Learning these techniques gives you a genuine appreciation for the amount of time and work it takes to create these objects.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Built by Wendy, take two

Here's my second attempt at Simplicity 3835, a Built by Wendy pattern. I chose to make the mini-dress with tie sleeves, only I used the length for the longer dress. I'm pretty tall, so it ended up being a good length (not too) mini on me. I don't think I'd ever go much shorter than this, but I think this style looks nice on the short side. I used a cotton print by Joel Dewberry called Buttercup, in ochre. It's a nice quality fabric, and I like the subtlety of the print. I finished it in quite a hurry last night so I could wear it to a friend's birthday party. Overall, I think this is quite a cute pattern, though I do think it is tricky to get the arm gathering to look nice. Mine is a bit haphazard, but I'm sure there must be a trick to doing it well.
I should have a couple finished knits to show in early October, after I return from a trip to Canada. Hopefully my first vintage dress will also be ready to show soon!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Indigo Workshop

On Saturday, I participated in a wonderful workshop on indigo dyeing. We learned some traditional and modern Shibori techniques--and had a lot of fun in the process. Shibori is the Japanese art of bound resist dyeing. It is sometimes called tie-and-dye in English, but it actually involves much more than what some of us did in summer camp. Our teacher was Darius Homay, an artist based out of Honolulu, Hawaii. Above are vats of indigo, and below are some examples of our creations. I was very happy with what I made--it's really quite remarkable how a simple technique, or
set of techniques, can produce such an endless variety of patterns. Some of our work from class is currently on display at The Arts Scene in West Chester, PA. I'm planning to do more Shibori in the coming months, and will try to post more pictures of the various patterns I'm able to create. I can see some of these ending up as wide trims on flowy skirts.


My friend Sharon surprised me with 7 bell peppers last week--all home or locally grown. It's been a very pepper-friendly few weeks for me. I decided to make one my my favorite Moroccan dishes: Tchektchouka. It's ingredients are actually quite similar to the Kadai Paneer I made the other day--the main focus is peppers and tomatoes. However, with a change of some of the minor ingredients, you end up with a completely different thing.

It's actually very easy to make.


4-5 Bell Peppers (red and green)
1 large can chopped tomatoes
1-2 cloves garlic
1 T chopped parsley
1 t ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne (optional)
1 t ground paprika
2 T olive oil
3 T vinegar (white wine, rice, or similar)
salt and pepper

1. Place the peppers under your over broiler, rotating, until the skin begins to blacken (10-15 mins). Remove from oven, and allow to cool slightly in a bag (I've heard paper or plastic--but don't melt the plastic). When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds, and chop into bite sized pieces.

2. In a large pot, combine the tomatoes, roasted peppers, crushed garlic, parsley, and all spices. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put on medium heat, stirring occasionally until everything is cooked, and most (or all) of the liquid has evaporated. (With canned tomatoes, you tend to have more juice, so don't worry too much about the liquid.)

3. Stir in the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve hot or cold with bread (pita will do if you don't have a Moroccan bread source).


Monday, September 3, 2007

Kadai Paneer

I made Kadai Paneer for dinner last night. I'm a huge fan of Indian food--especially anything involving paneer (Indian cubed cottage cheese). I used a Tarla Dalal recipe. If you're interested in cooking Indian food, you may want to check out her website. She is perhaps the most prolific cookbook writer in India. On the website, you can sign up for a free membership which includes an occasional email with links to free recipes. They range from recipes like this one--that you might know from Indian restaurants--to some pretty bizarre interpretations of 'Mexican' and 'Italian' food. One other tip--when in doubt, add more spices. I almost always find that the Indian recipes I use would taste bland if I didn't throw in more of the spices than called for. Just taste the food as you're cooking, and make sure you can taste the spices!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Misses' Hobby Smock--finished!

I came across this McCall's smock pattern on ebay, and thought that it would be perfect for work. Normally we wear lab coats, but sometimes a smock is just right. This pattern is from 1969. It has a great square neckline with nice details, a big pocket, and roomy sleeves. It came together very easily, and they even included easy instructions on how and when to make flat fell seams. My finished version is below. Although I didn't think of it when I bought it, this color fabric will work very nicely for an Indigo Dyeing workshop I will attend next weekend.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tarte aux Poires and an almost wearable muslin

To celebrate my return to my own place, I spent yesterday doing some activities I had been missing while away for the summer. I baked my very first tart! It's a pear tart with almond cream. Pears aren't exactly in season, so it could have been more flavorful, but I've been dying to try this recipe, so I decided not to wait. I think my favorite part of tarts is arranging the fruit. Next time I'm going to cut them very very thin and fan them more finely.

During breaks from tart making, I was sewing an almost-wearable muslin for Simplicity pattern 3835, a cute Built by Wendy dress. I used a cheap woven polyester fabric that I picked up at a sale in the spring. I'm at a stage where I'm trying to figure out what types of fabric I like to work with, and how fabrics drape. This fabric seemed to have a nice drape, which I thought might work for a dress, plus I liked the color. And it was really cheap, so why not give it a try?

I ran into a few problems. First, the polyester unravels like crazy! I could have guessed as much, but man, does it go quickly. I solved this problem for the most part by making false french seams (also a first for me--they make the inside of the garment look much more professional. I might try real french seams next--I have a feeling they might save me a little time.

I also learned that fabrics that don't wrinkle, like this woven poly, don't make soft gathers--this makes the highly gathered neckline look a little funny. On the bright side, though, it gave a really interesting look to the ties at the sleeves. They puff out, and really hold their shape as three-dimensional objects. I like it.

In my excitement to start sewing again, I neglected to notice that my sewing needle was 1/8th inch left of center--so I was sewing 6/8th inch seams rather than 5/8th! Consequently, everything ended up smaller than I imagined it would. Until I realized my mistake, I had been cursing Wendy for drafting such tiny sleeve openings--I have pretty skinny arms, but wow! Now that I know, I'm fairly certain that this size will work for me the next time around without adjustments--as long as my needle is where it should be, and I choose a less ravelly, more breathable fabric! Overall I'm pleased with this pattern. It was easy to cut out, and fairly quick to sew. I'm half tempted to try to salvage this muslin and make it wearable, but I think I'll be less attached to it once I make another one in nicer fabric.