Friday
Aug182017

Apples

I was out checking on the apple trees today. I think it's just about time to pick the apples off the Lodi tree. That's an early variety and most people I know pick the Yellow Transparent and Lodi apples around the end of August. I am most partial to those varieties—lazy farmer and cook that I am, I like being able make them into quarts of canned pie filling without peeling them. I've also done that with the Duchess of Oldenburgs. Susan has a Duchess tree in her orchard and she is very generous about sharing them. 

The Lodi really only has enough apples on it this year for maybe one or two pies, but I am tickled about that:

The Red Wealthy tree is loaded—we had some concerns about it earlier in the season because it had a pretty bad aphid infestation. Susan assured me that it wouldn't really harm the tree, just make it look bad, but I mixed up some spray anyway and took care of them. The Red Wealthy is also an early pie/sauce variety.  It doesn't look as far along as the Lodi. Neither does the State Fair. Susan says to cut an apple open and if the seeds are dark, it's ready to pick. I'll check those two this weekend and see where they are. I think they are all destined to be applesauce. 

The Honeycrisps are a mid-season variety, as is the Golden Delicious. We have a few weeks yet. I am a bit concerned, though, about waking up in the middle of the night some night to find a bear marauding through our orchard. 

Orchards are not for the impatient. We put these trees in a good 5-6 years ago. This will be the first year for apples. We didn't get any pears or peaches this year, but it may have been too wet for them last fall. 

There are a lot of old homesteads in our little neighborhood. I sometimes think—when I am being particularly delusional—that it would be fun to go around and get cuttings off the old trees and graft them onto new rootstock and see what they produce. I am sure that some of those trees are pushing the 75+ year mark and I would hate to think that they might be some old heirloom variety that is dying out. (Don't get me started on that Frankenapple known as the Red Delicious.) 

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I stopped in at the quilt store in town yesterday and picked up a copy of the pattern for the Mini Professional Tote. It's by the same designer and is a scaled-down version of the big tote. The saleslady was ringing it up and pointed to the pattern and said, "That one's going to be a lot of work." I just smiled and said, "Oh, I finished the big version a few days ago." I think I might take it in there and show them as I bought the fabric at that store. Also, I am pretty proud of my work.  

The zipper on that bag, by the way, is all fixed. I bought new zipper stops and put them on today and now the zipper behaves as it is supposed to. 

I am going to make a Professional Tote for DD#1, but I would also like to play around with making it with some interfacing that isn't quite as stiff as the Decor-Bond—maybe even some foam. I think it's a great bag for carrying papers, books, and magazines (as its name implies), but I think it's less suitable as a travel bag. I can't imagine ever trying to fit it under an airplane seat, for example. 

I have a travel bag that I bought from LL Bean about 20 years ago. I am still using it. It is made of some heavy Cordura-type nylon and it has gone everywhere with me. I'd like to make a similar bag that is kind of an amalgamation between it and the Professional Tote. I love the separate center zip pocket of the Professional Tote, for example, as it is the perfect place to keep a tablet or small laptop, but the LL Bean one is several inches bigger and holds more stuff, like a change of clothes. 

I'm glad it is almost fall. I was able to get more sewing in this summer than I thought I would, but the cold-weather months are when I really get productive. 

Wednesday
Aug162017

First Tomatoes of 2017

There hasn't been much to write about. The weather has been pleasantly cooler, although we are still at risk of fires. When I opened the kitchen door Monday morning, it smelled like fall—a lovely hint of weather to come. The husband mentioned last night that there were a couple of ripe tomatoes in the garden, so I went out this morning and picked them:

They are smallish—the plants are in an area at the edge of the watering zone—but I ate two before I even got to the house and I can assure you that they were very tasty. There are many more, much larger tomatoes still ripening on other plants. The husband put all the tomato plants in a nice flat area this year, fairly crowded together (and held up with cages) so that if a frost threatens, it will be relatively easy to throw a concrete blanket over the whole works. We routinely extend our tomato season to the end of September that way. 

I've been busy with some other projects this week so there hasn't been any sewing, but I did get out the travel fabric for DD#2's travel bags. This one is probably a remnant from Jo-Anns:

And this one is from the Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements collection:

I love Tim Holtz fabric. Last season, he put out a very cool entymology fabric that was patterned after old biology textbook illustrations. I used it to make a pillowcase for a college friend of mine who is an entymologist in Virginia, and I rounded up as much of that fabric as I could find from all the Jo-Anns I frequent—here and in Spokane—before they discontinued it. I have enough to make a bag or something else for myself. 

The travel bags won't take long to make. I am thinking about doing them on the serger, just to get some practice. 

Speaking of Jo-Anns, they have completely revamped their quilt fabric offerings. This summer, they put almost every bolt in the store on clearance and now I see that they are stocking the main quilt fabric section with "1091 new quilt fabrics" (from the flyer). The bolts are labelled by category of fabric: modern, 1930s, vintage, Asian, etc. It will likely make it easier to find things and reshelve bolts after they have been to the cutting table. It's a pretty big overhaul, though, and I wonder what is driving it. I also wonder if this means they won't be carrying designer fabrics any longer, like Tim Holtz and Susan Winget. Jo-Anns introduced a house line of fabric last season—Buttercream—but even that appears to be going away. 

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Ever since we moved to this property in 1994, we have gotten a steady stream of people stopping in to ask for directions. Before the county finished paving the entire road—when the pavement ended just before our driveway—people would stop to ask if they had reached the end of the known universe. They hadn't—the pavement started up again about three miles south of us—but to someone unfamiliar with the area, it really did look like there should be a sign saying "Dragons Ahead" or some such. 

I don't know how people make the decision to stop at our house and not at any of our neighbors, but it happens pretty regularly. The other afternoon, I heard the driveway alarm go off around 4 o'clock and looked out the window to see a guy on a bicycle in our driveway. I walked out and called to him. Our not-so-vicious guard dogs were slobbering all over his legs. It turned out to be a tourist from Germany who had flown in to visit some friends of his and was biking up and around Glacier Park. That day, he had ridden about 60 miles from Polson. He was looking for a place to camp. I stood out in the yard and visited with him for about 10 minutes while I tried to decide if I should invite him to camp here. We have a port-a-potty and it's pretty easy for people to throw up a tent and not have to be traipsing in and out of the house. I wasn't getting any strange vibes from the guy, but the husband hadn't come home yet. I knew the husband wouldn't mind; I just didn't want to be reckless. In the end, I directed him to a good camping spot in the woods across the road on state land and he pedaled off. 

I felt bad; he was pretty worried about bears (although camping in our yard is no guarantee that he would avoid them) and I think we could have had a nice visit that evening. The husband said that they could have talked about all of the diesel cars with manual transmissions that are for sale in Europe that aren't available here. Yeah. 

It's a fine line to walk between being hospitable and being wary of strangers. 

Sunday
Aug132017

A Finished Professional Tote

It's done—I finished it this afternoon:

I had gotten everything done but the top zipper part. I have a huge collection of zippers picked up at thrift stores, and I like to use my stash whenever possible, but none of the zippers I had was really meant for the top of a tote bag. I didn't want to have to make a trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics, because I was pretty sure they wouldn't have what I needed, either, but neither was I keen on ordering a zipper and having to wait to finish this bag. Then I remembered that I had a 30" purse zipper specifically ordered from ByAnnie.com for the Ultimate Travel Bag. I still have plans to make that for myself, but right now, all the materials are stashed in a small plastic bin. I went and retrieved the 30" zipper, which just happened to be black. 

As it turns out, I ran into a pretty significant problem, but I didn't figure out what had happened until I finished the bag. This is a view down onto the top and inside of the bag:

Look at the left-hand end of the zipper. There is a metal stop there that goes across both sets of zipper teeth. What I did was to replace a regular zipper that should have opened at the top end with a purse zipper that had two zipper pulls but was closed at both the top and bottom. On the right side, I cut off the excess zipper tape and added a fabric zipper stop (that end of the zipper is an extra couple of inches long and it's folded back into the bag). Had I been thinking—had I been more cognizant of the differences in the zippers—I could have done the same thing on both ends and had a zipper that opened wide and allowed me access into the bag. It was a 30" purse zipper so I had plenty of length. I was trying to follow the written instructions, though. I did wonder why I was having trouble sewing the zipper facing onto the bag and doing the topstitching, but I wasn't until I was all done that I was able to figure out exactly what happened. Hindsight and all that. 

[I have another tote bag, commercially made, that has exactly that top zipper system. It's one of my favorite bags for that reason.]

What I have now is a tote with a zipper that doesn't open all the way to the left, which limits access to the inside of the bag. It's not an insurmountable problem. I can remove the stop that goes across both set of teeth and replace it with two stops, one on each side, so that the zipper behaves the way it was intended to, which is to separate at the top and all the way down. I'll probably take that second zipper pull off, too. It will likely be a five-minute fix, once I order the needed hardware, but it annoys me that I could not figure out what was happening while it was happening. Oh well—rookie mistake, and it has been duly noted so that I can change it on the bag I make for DD#1. 

Zipper issues notwithstanding, I am really happy with the way this turned out. It will get used, definitely. 

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We seem to have gotten a break in the weather. The forecast was predicting a good bit of doom and gloom for yesterday afternoon: thunderstorms with lightning followed by a cold front bringing high wind gusts. That combination could have been awful had it materialized. We never got the thunderstorms and when the front finally did arrive—at least I think it did—it was only accompanied by some stiff breezes. Right now, it's in the low 70s and drizzling. We could use a lot more rain but we will take what we can get. It looks like we're finally done with the 90+ degree days, at least. 

Besides finishing the tote bag today, I also cut some collard greens and blanched them and put them in the freezer. The snakes really fell down on the job this year; the grasshoppers did more damage than they usually do and I only spotted one snake. I was commenting on this to the husband and he said, "Can you imagine how hard it is to be a snake in Montana?" 

I suppose. It's not the most hospitable of climes. 

We had Ali's little guy for a few hours yesterday afternoon. She is pulling a ridiculous amount of overtime because of these fires, and I told her I am always glad to help out and keep him here. They are over here every couple of days so he's pretty comfortable with us. He walked in yesterday and spotted the zucchini bread cooling on the counter (I made six more loaves, just because I had the zucchini) and said, "I have 'chini bread?" He and the husband finished off an entire loaf between them. 

Thursday
Aug102017

Progress on the Professional Tote

I completed the outer part of the bag yesterday:

Now I need to complete the lining and sew everything together. I am thrilled with this. It's going together so smoothly on the industrial. I absolutely adore that machine—it hasn't balked at anything yet. Having the right tool for the job really does make a difference. 

Switching out the drawstring cords for elastic on the side pockets worked really well, too, and I am glad I made that modification. My pattern is covered in lots of scribbled notes to myself. One of the things I really appreciate in sewing patterns is having a photo of the finished item with the pieces labelled—something that shows the "anatomy" of the bag. There isn't one for this pattern and thus I am flying kind of blind in places. The pattern specifies to cut the pieces out of main fabric, contrast, lining, and interfacing. Each piece is numbered and labelled within the instructions (and handy little pin-on labels are included in the pattern), but without actually making the bag, it's hard to visualize where each piece goes. In the picture, above, you can see that I used black for the handles and the base. Those are considered "contrast." The top edge detail on the front and side pockets, though, are also considered "contrast," and you can see that I changed those to a different color of Kona. 

The lining instructions have you cut out four pieces of fabric for the large center zip pocket. Two are interfaced for the outside of the pocket and two are not interfaced and make up the lining of the pocket.  After I got my zip pocket put together, I ran across a photo tutorial on the internet that showed the large center zip pocket with a different fabric used for its lining. I thought that was a really nice detail and I wished I had done that on mine. I've now re-labelled that particular pattern piece, because I think it's confusing to call it part of the lining when it's actually the lining for the center pocket, which I don't think of as being the lining for the bag. Also, there are "contrast" pieces that are part of the "lining" and that really threw my brain for a loop for a few minutes. 

I am being picky, I know. Try writing the instructions for tying your shoe and you will have a better appreciation of what pattern writers have to go through. It's not easy and these instructions are some of the best I have seen. 

In any case, that center pocket is done and I am not going to redo it for this bag. I might change it on the next one, however, because now I will be able to see which pattern piece goes where and I can choose the fabric for that piece accordingly. That's especially helpful when I am trying to work from my stash and may want to use up smaller pieces of fabric. 

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I've got to get out to the garden this weekend and get some things picked and dug up and processed. The beets are huge. It's a variety we have grown before but they have never gotten this big. The collard greens need to be picked and blanched and put in the freezer for soups and stews. I did that last year and it worked really well. I've given up on spinach. It would look all nice and lush and then I would go out the next day to pick it and it would have bolted literally overnight. Collards are much easier and they taste the same in soups. The beans are confounding me–the plants are lush and green and climbing up the trellis and covered with blossoms, but I have yet to see a single bean. I have no idea what is taking them so long. I expected to have beans long before this. 

I see lots of tomatoes, especially on my paste tomato plants, and that bodes well for sauce-making in September. 

We'll have lots of potatoes, lots of corn, and I think my cabbages will survive another week or two of this awful heat. I feel like we just didn't manage the garden as well this year as we did in previous years, but then I have to remind myself that falling off a deck set us both back physically for a couple of weeks. As long as I am happy with the amount of food I have put up for the winter—and I am mostly on track—then I'll just have to be okay with how the season went. I got huckleberry jam made this year, all the zucchini bread is done, I did peaches, we have plenty of peas, and the beans still have some time yet. We aren't going to starve. And it may be that I am feeling like we're not working as hard out there because the changes we have made in our cultivation practices, like not rototilling and using black plastic to keep down the weeds, means that we just don't have to work as hard. I'll have to run that past the husband and see what he thinks. 

Tuesday
Aug082017

On Pins and Needles

And this has nothing to do with sewing. 

We had a very wet winter and spring, starting all the way back in October when it rained and rained and rained. We had a fair bit of snow and then in April, again, it rained and rained and rained. We were all convinced that it wasn't going to be a very busy fire season because of all the moisture. 

And then it stopped raining. It didn't rain very much in May or June, which are typically pretty wet, and when we got to July, the temperatures rose and it got windy, and all that lush vegetation that grew in April dried out. Our humidities are running in the low double digits. About two weeks ago, the county instituted stage II restrictions, completely bypassing stage I fire restrictions. It is dry. It is so very, very dry. 

The husband poured concrete early on Monday and was home by about 3 p.m. I had just finished working and was making instant pickles and visiting with our renter when the pager went off for a grass/brush fire in our neighborhood. The husband left to get the wildland engine from the station near our house. I went outside and saw the spotter plane circling overhead. 

Part of the problem with wildland fires is locating them, especially up here on the side of the mountain. The location given by dispatch is not necessarily the location of the fire. The reporting party's address was about a mile up the road from us, but they were reporting on a plume of smoke they could see in the woods. I was listening to the scanner and hearing the husband talking with our chief as he was trying to locate the actual source of the smoke. It turned out to be at the end of a nearby road; the husband said he had to go through someone's yard and up an old logging road—a trail, basically—to get to the fire. 

By that time, DNRC had sent two helicopters and two engines. The helicopters did at least 8-10 bucket drops, pulling water from a nearby lake. It appears that the fire started in a slash pile left over from burning in the spring; it had smoldered for several months. That isn't as unusual as it sounds. We have had quite a few windy evenings here lately and that was probably all it took to get the fire burning actively again. 

The husband was up there until about 7:30 p.m. Monday night. Yesterday morning, we were awakened at 5:30 a.m. by the pager going off for a fire in the neighboring district. They were asking for mutual aid, so the husband went and got the wildland engine again and went down to help with that fire. He was there until about noon. 

We dodged a bullet. We've dodged several, actually, given how many big fires are burning around us. It's really only a matter of time before something happens up here. A lightning strike started a fire on Monday night near Eureka (the town up on the Canadian border where we take the pigs in the fall). Overnight, the fire grew to 1400 acres and forced people to evacuate from their homes. And of course, there are all the stupid people out there who either aren't aware of the restrictions or selfishly choose to ignore them. You would not believe how many times local fire departments and DNRC have had to go out in the past week to put out campfires or tell people to stop setting off fireworks. 

The local weatherman says that the long-range forecast for the last couple of weeks of August is for cooler and wetter weather. I hope he's right. It can't get here soon enough. 

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There has been no sewing. I have trouble focusing when the husband is out on a fire, so mostly I just putter around the house tidying up. I did join the Self-Sewn Wardrobe Group on Facebook and that has been interesting. This is a group run by Mallory Donohue, who—together with her mother—does the Sewing Out Loud podcast that I love so much. I happened to join the Self-Sewn group just as a bunch of the members were in the middle of making underwear for themselves, so my Facebook feed has been full of people posting selfies of their underwear projects. (It's not as awful as it sounds, really.) I would love to make my own undies someday, so I am finding this all very educational. It's also a nice break from worrying about the neighborhood burning down. 

[I think I've finally gotten my Facebook feed tweaked the way I want it. I am not interested in political posts. I want to see pictures of my friends and their families, sewing machines, projects people have made with their sewing machines, and local news about the fires. That's it.]

I haven't been out to the garden to take pictures, so all I have for you is this picture of some baby cantaloupes that I took a couple of days ago. I need to make a trip out there this morning and see what is happening: