Thursday
Feb152018

Plague House

You haven't heard from me for the past several days because I was down with the flu. It started Saturday night. I felt perfectly fine all day, cooked a big dinner, but then, when I went up to work on the messenger bag, I just could not get things to make sense. I cut lining pieces the wrong size (several times), the fusible fleece wouldn't stick, etc. And then I started to get chills and a fever so I called it a night and went to bed.

By Sunday morning, I had it all: headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, cough. I didn't feel bad enough to stay in bed. (I very rarely am sick enough to stay in bed; the last time was due to a bout of really awful food poisoning.) I parked myself on the couch and spent the day watching sewing videos on YouTube.

Not surprisingly—because we live together and share all our germs—the husband was also sick when he woke up Monday morning. We spent the next three days hunkered down here, tag-teaming nursing duties. He slept in his recliner while I crashed on the couch. We watched YouTube videos and the Olympics. The dogs were thrilled. Three days of the whole pack sleeping together in the living room was more than they could have asked for. 

My supervisor was very good about making me take the time off. I know they have backup transcriptionists for just these situations, but I still felt bad about taking three days off. She told me not to worry, that I needed to rest. 

And now, because I know someone is going to ask or comment: No, we did not get flu shots. This is only the third time in the past 20 years that I have had the flu. I am not anti-vaccine by any stretch of the imagination, but I've also reached the point in my life where I have had enough interactions with the medical system—some of which clearly violated the "do no harm" rule—that I am way beyond just blindly following every recommendation that comes down the pike. I work from home and my interactions with people are pretty minimal (which may account for the fact that I have only had the flu three times in 20 years). If this year's shot had been more effective that it was reported to be, I might have gone ahead and gotten one. 

And no, we did not get tested to make sure it was the flu. You have to understand that we live 17 miles from town. That's a half-hour car trip in the summer when the roads are clear. In the winter, it takes a lot longer. We also had a big windstorm up here on Sunday. The thought of two sick people driving themselves to town just to have someone tell us what we already knew was not appealing. 

Same thing with Tamiflu. If I didn't think that the process of getting Tamiflu would take upwards of several hours—and with both of us sick by then—we might have tried to get ourselves some. Honestly, though, we both just wanted to sleep and rest. 

And we managed. Ali checked to see if we needed anything from the grocery store. Anna brought us OJ and french toast casserole and candied bacon. My mother called several times to check on us. 

We are still moving a bit slowly. I may not work a full day today, but I'll work some. It's going to be a few days before we're back to firing on all cylinders, though. 

Saturday
Feb102018

Baby Blankets and Messenger Bags

Teri asked about the minky/flannel baby blankets. I am not sure I ever did a blog post on them, and even if I did, it has been a while, so I'll give the details again.

Google "mitered baby blankets" or "self-binding baby blankets" and you'll be rewarded with links to all sorts of tutorials and instructions on the net. (Missouri Star Quilt Company has a great YouTube video.) I actually used a pattern purchased at my quilt store, which was helpful because it had all sorts of lovely diagrams and extra hints and tips. You can make a very simple receiving blanket out of two pieces of flannel, which is a good place to start if you've never done one before or you've never worked with minky before. 

The instructions are pretty basic (sorry I don't have any pretty pictures):

  1. Cut a square of material for the front of the blanket. 
  2. Cut a second square of material for the back/binding of the blanket, making it 3" larger on each side. This will give you approximately a 1-1/2" wide binding on the front. 
  3. Pin the two pieces together with wrong sides facing. Here's the kicker: The sides of the squares are different lengths, so you will pin the front to the back starting 3" from the side of the back piece and end your pinning 3" from the opposite side. A lot of instructions will have you start pinning in the middle, working your way out to each side, but I found that this resulted in problems when mitering the corners. It's much more accurate to pin making sure you start exactly 3" from each side of the larger piece of fabric. You can ease any difference in while sewing the seam. (You did square your fabric by measuring the diagonals, didn't you?) 
  4. Sew with a quarter-inch seam starting a quarter of an inch from the beginning and ending a quarter of an inch from the end. Make sure you leave that quarter of an inch at the beginning and end. 
  5. Repeat for sides 2 and 3. The blanket is going to start looking pretty funny with some rabbit ears sticking out at each side. 
  6. On the fourth side, leave a 6" opening for turning. Don't turn yet. 
  7. You'll probably want to find a picture for this next part unless you have mad spatial skills and no trouble visualizing what is happening. You want to pinch one corner so that the rabbit ears make a triangle with a fold at the bottom. You should be able to see where your side seam started. You want to sew from the top edge down to the folded edge, and you want to sew such that this new seam is perpendicular to and right next to the side seam. This creates the miter on this corner. 
  8. Trim the excess, leaving a quarter-inch seam allowance.  (I always like to turn that corner out, first, and check to make sure I did it correctly before I trim.)
  9. Repeat for all four corners. Turn inside out. 

Adjust the binding so that it is even on all four sides and pin or clip in place. Use a zig-zag stitch to topstitch the seam where the binding meets the front fabric. This secures it in place. It should look something like this:

This is one project where I prefer to use my Janome 6600P over my vintage machines. Minky can be tricky to sew. It's technically a knit fabric. You're sewing a knit to a woven, so what is the appropriate needle? I've tried both microtex and ball point. I split the difference with a universal needle, which is blunter than a microtex but sharper than a ball point. I sew with the flannel next to the feed dogs; the minky tends to get hung up otherwise. I also use the Accu-Feed (walking) foot on this machine to make sure those layers stay together. When I topstitch, I use a stretch zig-zag (the minky will have to be against the feed dogs at that point, but it's okay.) 

The two pieces of fabric don't have to be squares—I have done this with rectangles, too, especially when I find minky remnants at Jo-Anns. Just make sure that the minky piece is larger than the flannel piece by 3" on each side. 

These seem to be well-received as baby gifts. I made one for our minister's daughter when she had her first baby about four years ago. She and her husband recently had their second girl, and posted a picture on Facebook with her wrapped in the same blanket I had made for her sister. They are soft and cuddly and easy to wash. (I always pre-wash all my fabrics, too, to account for any shrinkage.) 

And finally, when you are all done, CLEAN YOUR MACHINE. You would not believe the amount of lint that these fabrics produce. 

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The messenger bag exterior pieces are cut out and labelled:

I think it's a good thing that I spend so much time reading over and familiarizing myself with a pattern before I make the first cut of fabric. I was reading this pattern and noticed that the instructions called for 1-1/2 yards of 60" fabric. That seemed like an awful lot to me. I buy my waxed canvas in one-yard cuts and didn't want to have to buy another piece, so I got out the calculator and started adding up measurements. I said to the husband that I was pretty sure a yard and a half was a gross overestimation of the amount of fabric required. By my calculations, I should have been able to cut this out from about 3/4 of a yard of fabric. Half of the pieces were cut using measurements ("cut a piece 8" x 17" for the front, etc.) and the other half were cut using templates. I wasn't overly picky about lining the template pieces up on the grainline; I don't think it matters that much in waxed canvas and I have never seen grainline markings on pattern pieces in other bags calling for waxed canvas. (Obviously, I didn't cut them on the bias.) I also cut two of each template and taped them together, because most of them called for cutting on the fold. I don't like to do that with waxed canvas. I get better results if I cut my template pieces from one layer. As it turns out, I was able to get every piece for the exterior of the bag cut from about 2/3 of a yard of 54" wide waxed canvas with just a handful of small pieces left over. I didn't cut the handles from waxed canvas because I am going to use webbing, but I still would have had plenty left for handles if I had wanted them. 

I get it—I used to write knitting patterns and trying to extrapolate the amount of yarn needed from one size up and down to all the other sizes is a guesstimate at best. I tended to err on the side of too much yarn. Nothing is worse than having a knitter call you up and start yelling because they bought the recommended amount of yarn and ran out halfway on the second sleeve and now that yarn isn't manufactured anymore. Of course, you also get the knitters who call you up and say that they don't know what to do with three extra balls of yarn and couldn't you have been more accurate about how much yarn was required because now they have all this yarn left over and they don't know what to do with it.

Sigh. 

I need to run to town this morning, so I'll stop in at Jo-Anns and find something suitable for the lining for this bag. This is going to be a long-term project. There are lots of moving parts and I want to proceed slowly and deliberately. 

Thursday
Feb082018

O Sewist, Thou Art Fickle

I went up to my cutting room last night and couldn't decide what to work on first. Analysis paralysis from too many choices is almost as bad as losing one's sewjo. I decided that I would rather not start cutting the messenger bag until I have the lining fabric and a good idea of which direction I am heading. I went downstairs and ordered and downloaded the Noodlehead Range Backpack pattern. I went back upstairs and inventoried my waxed canvas again. I have a yard each—54" wide—of red, black, navy, sage green, smoke blue, gray and hot pink. (That hot pink is going to end up in a very special bag for me at some point because it is my favorite color.) I had a little bit left of the teal, enough to make one more Wool + Wax Tote, so that's what I cut out:

The lining is another remnant and again, I had just enough. It's a directional print, though, so I couldn't just cut the 17" x 34" piece called for in the pattern across the width of the fabric. Instead, I cut two 17" x 17" pieces and will seam them together at the bottom. That should give me a lining that fits a bit more snugly in the bag. I am not wedded to that red for the front pocket lining. It picks up some red in the print, but it might clash too much with the teal. The front pocket lining isn't very visible, though, so it might be okay. I'll have to think on that a bit. 

Part of the other reason that I wanted to use up the teal waxed canvas was to get an idea of exactly how many and which kind of bags I can get out of a yard, just in case I decide to start selling some. (There are licensing agreements included in most of these patterns.) I need to be able to calculate material costs. I have a piece left that is about 17" x 10". I think I'll be able to use that as an accent piece in another bag. I want as few scraps of waxed canvas left as possible. 

[I bought a pattern yesterday—the Waterlily Tote from Blue Calla—and I notice that she specifies to zig-zag over the edges of the waxed canvas pattern pieces to keep them from fraying. I haven't run into that before and I have quite a few patterns designed for waxed canvas. Nor have I run into a problem with the waxed canvas fraying. The wax helps the fabric to keep its integrity, I think. She may be getting her waxed canvas from a different supplier. In any case, I would probably serge over those edges if I thought they needed it.]

This will be another easy sew. I won't get to Jo-Anns anytime soon; we are being treated to freezing rain right now to be followed by a snowstorm this afternoon. And I have hospital list tomorrow. The husband and I are supposed to attend a fire department dinner tonight—a thank-you from the trustees—but Murphy's Law dictates that any fire department gathering for fun and relaxation will be interrupted by either a house fire or some major motor vehicle incident, particularly if the weather is lousy. I hope not. I am looking forward to seeing some people I haven't seen in a while.

One of the other items that has moved further up the sewing to-do list is making more minky and flannel baby blankets. We've had a rash of new babies recently and my stock is getting low. I like to keep half a dozen or so on hand. One of them is going to a new baby born to some friends of ours on the fire department, which is how I know that I need to make more. 

Wednesday
Feb072018

A Mess Out There

It has been March for most of 2018. 

I know, it's not really March yet, but based on the weather, it certainly seems like it. March is the month of endless freezing and thawing, rain, sleet, snow, slush, and perpetually filthy cars. We have had that since about the second week of January. It makes me wonder what the actual month of March is going to bring. 

I am planning on doing some work in the sewing room tonight. I was too tired from driving when I got home on Monday. Yesterday afternoon, I went to town to get chicken food and human food and last night, I wanted to finish a really good book I was reading, entitled Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown:

I will read, eagerly, anything else that Amy Belding Brown writes. This was so good that I had trouble putting it down. That happens only rarely anymore. 

I'd like to start working on that Ravenwood Messenger Bag. The pattern has had time to marinate in my brain and I think I am ready to pick fabrics. The exterior will be sage green waxed canvas. I'll have to look at Jo-Anns this weekend (because I don't have any in my stash) for a nice flannel in shades of green and navy blue. Several of the sample bags used flannel for the lining and I thought it added a nice masculine touch. And it will let me experiment with topstitching on the sage green with navy blue thread for contrast. 

Even though I am not designing a bag, there are still a fair number of design decisions that go into making a bag. Chief of these is the fabric, of course, but there is also the lining, thread, and hardware to consider. I must miss designing at some level, because I really enjoy pondering those choices. 

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It's almost time to order seeds. I made a first pass through the Victory Seeds catalog last night and marked off all the staple crops—things we do year after year after year. I had a moment of panic when I couldn't find a listing for the Oregon Star paste tomato, but a check of their website indicates it is still available and in stock. I have tried all sorts of paste tomatoes—Amish Paste, Roma, San Marzano, etc.—and the only one that produces reliably for me is Oregon Star.  We'll add Cherokee Purples to that and maybe one other variety. I like a mix of varieties for my sauce. 

We're giving up on onions. They take a fair bit of space and they almost never do well. Ditto on carrots, at least for this year. The ground is too rocky and they require thinning and weeding. I can buy a 10# bag of organic carrots at Costco in the fall for canning. (I did that last year and we'll have plenty for another season yet.) 

The husband will have his cantaloupes and watermelons. I want to try out some dry shelling beans. We eat so many beans in soups and stews over the winter that it would be nice to grow our own. We planted one variety last year that did really well, but the plants got intermingled with other stuff and I didn't realize until it was too late that they were actually shelling beans and not eating (like green) beans. 

We will plant potatoes, of course, and cabbage and broccoli and shelling peas and zucchini and cukes and collards and swiss chard. Sweet corn. Pumpkins. Acorn squash for my sister. And lettuce—lots of lettuce. This is the time of year that I really start to miss salads. 

We've reserved another half dozen piglets for this spring. They will likely arrive in May. I would love it if some of my Buff Orpington hens would go broody and hatch out some chicks. We'll probably end up getting chicks, as we usually do, from the farm store, but honestly—the ones that the hens hatch out and raise themselves are much easier. And I need one or two replacement roosters. 

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A link to an article about working from home popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, so I went and took a look. I work from home. I can always use help on maximizing my time. The author of "10 Ways to Stay Motivated When Working From Home" had some interesting things to say. Some of the suggestions—get up early, make a schedule, get dressed in something other than PJs—I already practice. (I could be better about staying off Facebook.) When I got to suggestion #10, though, I just about spit coffee all over my computer monitor. "Have a side project to fill the dead space," the author suggests. After all, working from home and foregoing a commute can turn a 9-5 job into a 9-2 job, so it's important to make sure you have something to fill those three hours of dead space. 

DEAD SPACE? WHAT IS THIS "DEAD SPACE" THING OF WHICH YOU SPEAK?

Apparently there are people who work from home who—when their workday is done—spend 3+ hours binge-watching Netflix. I never seem to have enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on my to-do list. I would happily take those 3+ hours of dead space from those people and actually use it for something productive. 

Truly, people, don't waste oxygen. If you have that much free time, do something to improve yourself—or better yet, improve your community. Spend some time visiting residents at a nursing home. Volunteer at a food bank. Sew pillowcase dresses for naked little girls in Africa. I don't care what you do, but there are a thousand things better than binge-watching Netflix all afternoon.

What have we come to?

I have to say that my job, which I have always liked, has been even more enjoyable ever since Dr. Mumbling Dictator left the clinic. His absence has re-ordered the queue a bit and I am getting to transcribe doctors I haven't had quite as often. (I also suspect that there was some cherry-picking going on by some of the overnight people that resulted in the daytime transcriptionists getting left with the the lousy dictators.) And since I am not spending so much (unpaid) time trying to decipher what he is saying, I have days where I am making more money. 

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This is a longish post, but I will leave you with a picture of the husband working in the shop (he's not binge-watching Netflix):

He is in the process of welding a new bar at the end of the flatbed on his truck. Last fall, when he went to hook the gooseneck stock trailer up to this truck, he discovered that the bar that he had on the end of the flatbed didn't allow for enough clearance, so he's modifying it. It's good that he has a project out there, because #11 on my list of how to stay motivated when working from home is "Don't get distracted by the shiny toy." 

Tuesday
Feb062018

Across the State of Washington and Back

I've lost track of the number of times I have been over and back across Washington state in the past seven years. (DD#1 started college at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma in 2010.) I am sure these road trips number well into the several dozens. DD#2 and I added to the total this past weekend with a trip to see DD#1 and her boyfriend in Seattle. 

I am spoiled having one kid in Spokane; it makes it easy to break up the trip. I worked Friday morning and left around 11 a.m. It had snowed about 4" Thursday night and was in the process of changing over to rain. By the time I got out of Flathead County, though, it cleared up and warmed up and getting to Spokane didn't take long. I took DD#2 and her boyfriend to dinner at a little place called Wisconsinburger. It's right around the corner from the hotel where I stay and is also where DD#1 waited tables when she was in grad school. They serve interesting things like cheese curds and fried pickles. The hamburgers are phenomenal. I had mine with a side of potato salad topped with bacon jam. That's a thing. Who knew?

DD#2 and I left bright and early Saturday morning. It took us about 4-1/2 hours to get to Seattle. DD#1 and her boyfriend are living in a tiny (500 sq ft tiny) apartment just a few blocks from the University of Washington, where Arne is in his second year of dentistry school. He did his first year in Spokane as part of a program to train doctors and dentists to work in rural areas. They would have preferred to stay in Spokane as it is much cheaper, but he has to do his second and third years of study back in Seattle.

Their apartment is in a wonderful little neighborhood—very walkable, with lots of shops and places to eat. Arne either bikes or takes the bus to school every day. DD#1 will be driving his car back and forth to work in Bellevue. Her car is still here at our house. It would have cost a ridiculous amount of money in insurance and parking for them to have two cars there. Also, her car is a stick shift and those are not fun to drive in Seattle (ask me how I know). 

The apartment is tiny, but recently renovated with an attentive landlord. I was intrigued with all the creative uses of space. Still, it's over $1000 a month. They only have to be there for a few years, though, and they're young. They will make it work. Fortunately, neither of them is a slob. 

We went to the nearby University Village to meet my cousin Lucy for lunch. She is a buyer for Nordstrom and lives not too far from DD#1 and Arne. Her mother and my father were sister and brother. I am the oldest of the grandchildren and I think she's the youngest. She's a lot of fun and we always like spending time with her and now I have an excuse to see her more often. 

The kids and I spent the afternoon wandering around the outdoor shopping area. It was raining, but that doesn't deter people in Seattle from being outside. The shopping center had bins of umbrellas strategically placed every couple hundred feet, too. Shoppers are welcome to use the umbrellas while they are shopping and leave them when they are done. 

I had to laugh at myself—this is what happens when a country bumpkin from Montana goes to the big city. I spent most of the time walking around the stores exclaiming about all the stuff that I didn't know existed (like bacon jam). Yes, I suppose I could order a lot of it online, but it's hard to find things online if you don't know that someone actually manufactures the thing you need. And there is something to be said for actually being able to pick up and examine a product. 

I didn't go overboard. I bought some garam masala seasoning and some smoky Earl Grey tea at Williams-Sonoma. (I really like W-S's garam masala.) I bought a tunic at H&M, which is not a store I usually frequent. On rare occasions, though, I can find something worth buying there, and this tunic got the DD#2 seal of approval. I picked up a tube of conditioner at Aveda. That was it. 

By late afternoon, I was tired and it was time to go check into the hotel. DD#2 and I stopped by Seattle Fabrics on the way there. I'd like to go back some time when I have a list of what I need and I am not so tired. It's a small store and while I am sure the owners know where everything is, it's one of those places where stuff is piled on stuff and the whole effect is disorganized and overwhelming. It reminded me a lot of Tioga Fabrics, in York, Pennsylvania. When the husband and I lived there right after we got married, my MIL and I used to go to Tioga fairly often. They carried mill ends of mostly home dec fabrics but also some garment fabrics. Unfortunately, they are no longer in business. I could have a field day in a place like that now. 

We found an authentic Asian noodle place for dinner. My kids are all fairly adventuresome when it comes to food, especially ethnic food. I must have raised them right. 

Speaking of food, DD#1 and Arne took us to one of their favorite places to eat for brunch on Sunday morning. It's called Portage Bay Cafe and it's just a few blocks from their apartment. The place is so popular that it requires reservations at all times. We got there at 9:00 and it was full. They source as many of their ingredients as they can from farms within 25 miles of Seattle. We eat good here (I use local ingredients from my own property) but I can safely say that the Dungeness crab omelette I ordered was the best thing I have eaten in quite a while. 

DD#2 and I got back on the road after brunch and headed back to Spokane. DD#1 starts her new job tomorrow. I know she's excited. It's good to see her so happy and settled. I don't think she and Arne will stay in Seattle—he grew up on Kodiak Island and they both prefer less populated areas, but for now, they are where they need to be. 

I spent Sunday night in Spokane again and drive home yesterday morning. The roads were clear until I hit Flathead County again. (It was 37 and sunny in Libby, Montana). It's still snowing here at our house and we're expecting another storm on Friday. I keep telling myself that we need the moisture. 

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February's offering from the Bag of the Month Club is the Ravenwood Messenger Bag by Betz White:

It's made out of waxed canvas, so of course this went up to the top of the queue. I suspect it is going to be a long-term project, though, as it has lots of moving parts. It certainly won't be an instant gratification project like the Wool + Wax Tote.