Monday
Jun112018

I Bought an Instant Pot

I may be a presser foot junkie but I try to limit my kitchen gadgets to things I will actually use. I had already purchased an electric pressure cooker, a Cuisinart, some years ago. Probably 90% of the appliances and cookware in my kitchen are the Cuisuinart brand. Cuisinart had never disappointed me—my food processor was a wedding present and is still going strong—until that pressure cooker. Perfectly-cooked risotto? Yes, please. Delicious pesto chicken? I'll have some. And then the display decided to stop working. I could still get the cooker to pressurize, but I had no idea how long things were cooking or on what setting. Of course, this happened just after the warranty ran out. 

I've kind of missed that pressure cooker since then. I could cook in my pressure canners, yes, but they are big and unwieldy. DD#1 and her boyfriend have an Instant Pot and have been raving about it. She tends to work late at her job and he is a second-year dental student, so they're both tired at the end of the day and don't want to spend time cooking. They can have a complete meal of chicken from frozen breasts to ready-to-eat in 40 minutes. With one-pot cleanup. I've been resisting and resisting, but finally, I decided it was time to take the plunge (again). 

I bought the 8-quart Duo version. I am sure we could have gotten by just fine with the smaller 6-quart model, but the 8-quart model will let me pressure cook an entire chicken. We have lots of frozen chickens. We butcher the old ones, eviscerate and clean them, and then freeze them whole. That works well if I have a whole day to cook down a bird and make chicken soup, but sometimes it would be nice to have a tender, cooked chicken just for the meat. I also like that the Instant Pot has a stainless steel insert. The Cuisinart had a Teflon-coated insert and I try to avoid Teflon when I can. 

I am all for anything that streamlines my cooking process. After 31 years, I am tired of coming up with new menus and I am tired of cooking. Despite the fact that I am here working all day, I do not always think about dinner until the middle of the afternoon. I am looking forward to some new meal ideas and spending less time in the kitchen. I've already joined a Facebook Instant Pot group and found tons of recipes, including some for yogurt. I like yogurt, but I hate the empty plastic yogurt containers that pile up, so I tend not to buy it. (We have no recycling here.) It will be great if I can make some of my own yogurt and use fewer plastic containers. Let the experimentation begin. 

********************************************

The tipi is done!

(It was late in the afternoon and the lighting is especially weird.) This wasn't difficult to make, or hard to sew, just bulky. Those last five seams—the ones that form the casings for the PVC pipes—took some wrangling because of the amount of fabric. The Necchi industrial did a great job, though. I'll talk to Ali and see when this week would be a good time to deliver the tipi. I hope the little guy gets some use out of it for a few years. 

And now I feel ready to get back to working on the McGregor Field Tote. I am still loving my Bramble Bag. 

********************************************

Our neighbor across the street had a black bear in her yard the other day. She posted a picture on Facebook. And I found out at church yesterday that there is a collared mama grizzly with two cubs wandering around our neighborhood, too. I think that the colder-and-longer-than-normal spring has driven a lot of the animals down here to find food. (I hear the ground squirrels are really tasty....) We've never had this high a concentration of them before. The snow, which had mostly melted off the mountains, is back again thanks to a storm this past weekend. The snow levels got down to about 5000 feet. Our house is as 3250 feet. No late frost, though, thankfully. That would have been a lovely addition to this year's gardening season. 

Sunday
Jun102018

Our Horses Love Your Pigs

I was out getting lettuce from the garden yesterday morning when I noticed that one of our neighbors was on his property burning a slash pile. Their property backs up onto our pig pasture, but their driveway is actually around the corner a ways. (Property layout up here is complicated and there are a lot of parcels that are landlocked behind property that has road frontage.) We knew they had bought that place but we'd never met them. I took the opportunity to walk back to the fence line and introduce myself. I mentioned that I had been shooting ground squirrels but that I wouldn't shoot if I saw their horses out there because I didn't want to spook them. He said to me, "Are you getting pigs this year? Our horses love your pigs." That made me laugh. I told him that I thought the pigs would show up this week and he said they would turn the horses out so they could all keep each other company. 

I still think that a big potluck gathering in the fall in the meadow down the road would be a great way for everyone to meet everyone else. We'll see how the summer goes. I could probably rope our neighbor Smokey into helping me with something like that. 

I know I moan and groan a lot about being an introvert, but I do try to put a fair bit of time into community building activities and helping to make connections between people. It's what is sometimes referred to as "social capital." We are fortunate to live in a place where the process of making those kind of connections never really died out. I like to think that I am just carrying on the traditions that were started by the people who homesteaded up here in the early 1900s, when going to Kalispell was only a twice-yearly event and people had to depend on each other to make it through the winter. 

The ground squirrels seem to have disappeared. The husband was weeding the peas yesterday afternoon and said he had to pitch the carcass over the fence because it was starting to smell. Perhaps it did serve as a good warning to the others. Some of the lettuce I picked had obviously been chewed on by rodents, but I just gave those leaves to the chickens. 

One of our neighbors called last Monday morning to tell me he had seen a mountain lion crossing the road by our house—at 9:30 in the morning. That's unusual. We know they are out there, but they aren't usually that bold. The husband also saw it—he had to go out on a fire call in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and as they were driving the engine back to the fire hall, he saw it walking alongside the road. I've never seen a cat in the wild and I'll be quite happy if I never do. 

****************************************

I'm still working on the tipi. I'd like to finish it this afternoon. The weather is abysmal—chilly with heavy rain—so I won't be weeding. We need the rain and I welcome the extra sewing time. 

One of my pet peeves, and I see it all the time on the sewing groups I belong to, is people trying to use domestic sewing machines to sew leather and other heavy materials. A lot of eBay and Craigslist sellers think that because the vintage machines they are trying to sell are made of heavy cast iron, they must be capable of sewing really heavy fabrics, and thus they market the machines as "industrial" or (my favorite /sarcasm) "semi-industrial." (I even get a bit twitchy with the term "heavy duty.") Every so often, we get an influx of (mostly guys) on the Necchi list who seem to have been told by someone, somewhere, that they don't really need a Sailrite or an industrial machine—that if they find themselves a nice vintage Necchi, they will be able to sew canvas with it. I try not to preach (really, I do try), but sometimes I can't help myself. If you want to sew heavy canvas or leather, you need an industrial machine. You will be able to do it occasionally on a domestic, but only occasionally. The best analogy I've come up with is that I *can* put a hitch on my BMW station wagon and pull a trailer, but I would only do that in an emergency, not every day. 

It's not only men with this problem (lest you think I am being sexist). One of the most frequent questions I see on the bag-making groups is women asking for recommendations on machines that will be able to sew marine vinyl, cork, etc. Vintage machines are often recommended there, too, and I just want to scream in frustration. I've seen machines that were used in ways they were never intended to be used. They wear out. Linkages get loose. If you're sewing something and more than one needle breaks during the process, it's a good bet you're trying to force that machine to do something it isn't meant to do. 

Because we have had so many new people join the Facebook Necchi group lately (the moderator says she has been approving about 30 new members a week), I thought it might be helpful to illustrate the difference between a Necchi domestic machine and a Necchi industrial machine, so I took a picture of two of my machines side by side yesterday and posted it:

The one on the left is a Necchi BCJ, a simple straight-stitch machine. It's very similar to Vittorio, my Necchi BF. The one on the right is my Necchi industrial. See the difference? It's kind of a no-brainer. 

I know that a lot of people seek out the domestic machines over the industrials because of cost concerns, lack of room for a bigger machine, and issues like that, but I still believe in using the right tool for the job, especially if you want to start a sewing business of some kind. It's a corollary pet peeve of mine when people want to start a business on the cheap. I get not wanting to invest tens of thousands of dollars in something until and unless you know that you'll be able to make a profit. Perhaps your business is meant to be a side hustle, not your primary source of income. I understand that. What I cannot understand is when people refuse to invest in the proper equipment and then wonder why their machine balks or when what they are producing doesn't look professional. 

[I've picked up vintage industrial machines for as little as $75, so I know you don't have to spend $1500 on a new industrial machine. It just requires some research and a little patience. And I am a firm believer that sometimes you have to spend money to make money.]

Here endeth today's sermon, LOL. It is Sunday, after all. 

Friday
Jun082018

Ground Squirrels Fear Me 

I spent some time out in the garden again yesterday hoping to knock off a few more ground squirrels but they were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps that carcass I left out there the other night served as an effective warning. I'll wait a few days and see if they return. 

I looked out my office window yesterday afternoon and noticed a group of turkeys having a conference in the front yard (oh, that grass...):

Two of them settled down to watch cars and cyclists go by.

We do have dogs. They are supposed to patrol the yard. This is what they were doing instead:

Lila actually sleeps that way, indoors and out. She is also very fond of dirt. She has a couple of wallows in the yard. I don't even try anymore. I just sweep up after her. 

One of our little pear trees is loaded:

This is the Harrow Sweet Pear. I am not a big fruit eater, but this variety is pretty good. 

I spent yesterday afternoon cutting out the panels for the tipi:

Rice bags make great pattern weights. The area rug in the living room was the most suitable location for cutting the pieces. I usually work on the cutting table upstairs but this fabric, at 60" wide and five yards long, was just a bit too much to wrangle around. It was easier to work on the floor. 

I got the door panel made last night and started hemming the other four panels. When I go to town today, I'll stop in at the hardware store and pick up the PVC pipe and fittings. This isn't a complicated project; it's a lot of straight seams which is just what I needed right now for some relaxing sewing. The Cordura takes a bit of getting used to but it's not difficult to work with. 

I finally heard from the pig supplier yesterday. He has four purebred Berkshires for us, but he had to castrate the males and that's why we haven't gotten them yet. He said he would deliver them the middle of next week. What a saga. We're going to use a different supplier next year. My friend Cathy recommended someone she knows. 

We're supposed to get some crummy weather this weekend with a front coming down from Alaska. I doubt I'll be doing any weeding. 

Note: Networked Blogs is no longer supporting RSS feeds, which is how I used to get my blog to show up automatically on Facebook. I am looking for a replacement system that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and doesn't require me to sign over all my personal information. In the meantime, I'll probably just be posting manually.

Thursday
Jun072018

Brazen

I finished working yesterday afternoon and went to the garden to weed beans and corn. The husband listens to podcasts while he works in the garden, but I prefer silence, probably because I have people talking into my head all day. I also like to know what is going on in the environment out there and the best way to do that is just to listen. 

I heard the telltale chirping noise that the ground squirrels make, so I got up from my weeding and went to investigate. I was on the east side of the garden, and as I walked over to the west side, I saw a ground squirrel head sticking up out of a hole. Then, as I watched, it ran out of the hole and out onto the black plastic where all the melons and zucchinis are planted. 

The .22 was back in the house, in my office, so I marched over and retrieved it. That stupid ground squirrel was still out there when I got back. It ran back down into the hole and just then, I saw another one run across the plastic and into the strawberry bed. I couldn't get a good shot at either of them. I waited for about 20 minutes and then went inside to make dinner.

[One of our neighbors had a bit of a fit last year when I was shooting ground squirrels in the woods. Even though it is our woods, and we have a total of 7+ acres, he came out to investigate and made it clear that he didn't think I should have been out there. Some of our neighbors are not good about keeping their pets off our property (he was one of them), but ultimately, that's not my problem. Just because you live in the country does not mean you can let your animals roam where they want to. However, I do try to be careful about the shots I take. We're not living in a subdivision, but it's not the middle of nowhere, either.]

The husband was going to be working later than usual, so after I finished making dinner, I went out to the garden again to see if the ground squirrels had come back. As I walked around the rapsberry bushes, I saw one right out in the middle of the garden. I didn't think it had seen me, but as I went to take a shot at it, it ducked back down into a hole. I started walking over toward the west side of the garden again and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Another one was sitting in the tall grass along the south fence. I went down to the far edge of the garden, walked across the dirt, then came up on it from that side. It was an easy shot and I nailed it. 

[I took a picture to send to the husband; I won't post it here, but if anyone has a burning desire to see what these things look like, let me know.]

After that, they all disappeared. The husband said they were probably having an emergency underground meeting about the crazy lady upstairs. 

I've never seen that many in the garden. I've always shot them in the woods. The nice thing is that they are pretty predictable and 3 o'clock in the afternoon seems to be their favorite time to be out. I'll see if I can get a few more today—at least enough of them to put the fear of God into the ones that remain. 

Interestingly, while I was out there the first time, I kept seeing a large bird gliding overhead. It wasn't a raven or a crow—they make a lot of noise and this bird was silent. It finally lighted on a stump in the pig pasture and I could see that it was a hawk. That was kind of unusual. Our garden is open, as is our neighbor's horse corral, but the rest of that section is wooded and not typical hawk habitat. I hope it's out there hunting ground squirrels, too. 

****************************************

Lest you think it is all carnage here at Chez Schuster-Szabo, here are some pics of the columbines in my herb garden:

I like these fringy ones. They have seeded themselves everywhere. This one is really a more intense, deep purple than it appears here:

I absolutely adore the periwinkle color of this one:

The herb garden is an overgrown mess again. It's going to have to stay that way for now. 

My friend Doreen and her mother are going to be here for a visit starting this weekend. Doreen was my physics teacher when I was a senior in high school and we have kept in touch since then. She is planning to retire from teaching next year and would like to move out here, so this is a scouting trip to see about housing options. They are staying in town but I expect that they'll be out at our place a fair bit. 

Tuesday
Jun052018

The Foot Makes a Difference

This is a post about sewing, so if you're here hoping for pictures of baby animals, you'll have to come back. (Still no pigs yet; I am thinking this is going to be a pig-less year, which is fine with us.)

I decided to try using the heavyweight cotton webbing on my Field Tote after all. I don't like problems I can't solve, and I am usually able to solve problems if I make an effort to understand what is happening. When I say that my Necchi is a "light industrial," I mean that it isn't a machine designed to sew heavy leather. It's very similar to the Singer 31-15 in that it was an industrial machine designed for tailors, not manufacturers. My Necchi came from a department store in Salt Lake City where it was used to sew draperies—lots of long, straight seams in home dec material. 

The issue I run into when sewing thick layers is called "flagging," and it results in a series of skipped stitches. It happens when there is a section of a seam where the thickness suddenly changes, as when there are two layers of cotton webbing inserted between two layers of waxed canvas. Flagging can happen either at the beginning of this section or at the end, and it happens because the presser foot is cantilevered over two different thicknesses of fabric and can't hold either of them properly. As a result, the fabric moves up as the needle comes up and pulls the top thread with it. The top thread then can't catch the bobbin thread properly. 

[My Necchi is set up a treadle, so my legs are providing the motive force, not a motor. You might think that as a result, I would have trouble getting getting heavy materials or lots of layers through the machine. I don't, not really. The Necchi has a heavier treadle mechanism than a domestic treadle, and it's a beefier machine, but it moves easily. It's good exercise for my legs. I'm never going to match the speed that I would get if that machine were hooked up to a motor, but that isn't the point.]

You'll often see advice to use a folded-up piece of fabric under the back of the presser foot or even a nifty little device called a "hump jumper" as you approach a thick seam. Using either of those will raise the back half of the presser foot and level it out to allow it to go over the seam. That wasn't my problem. The fabric was feeding fine. I was getting flagging in the section just after the webbing, where I was transitioning from a section about 1/4" thick back to a much thinner section of just three layers of waxed canvas. Using a folded-up piece of fabric there helped some, too, but it didn't always solve the problem. 

Armed with all this information, some lengths of webbing, and some scrap waxed canvas, I started experimenting. I have a huge collection of presser feet for my industrial. I am something of a presser foot junkie. Make of that what you will. I took pictures after the fact, because trying to take pictures while I am also trying to solve a problem is too distracting, but hopefully these will illustrate the issue. 

This is the straight stitch foot I normally use. I prefer this narrow one to the wider ones that come standard on most machines. It is hinged and does fine riding up over the thicker layer:

You can see, though, that as it comes off that thick layer, the front of the foot is riding high and not in contact with the fabric, despite the hinge, and I got flagging:

My second favorite foot is called a flex-reaction foot. It's got two hinges, which allow the front and back of the foot to flex independently of each other. It's still a narrow foot, though:

 

When it comes off the thicker layer, the front part of the foot keeps better contact with the fabric:

This eliminated the flagging problem, but the tension on those stitches still wasn't correct. 

I finally turned to the heavyweight foot, which is not one I've used much before but will definitely use from now on. It's a broader, heavier foot and is designed specifically for thick fabrics and seams:

Not only did it keep contact with the fabric, I could also tell that it was putting a lot more pressure on the fabric than the other two feet:

That certainly helped with smooshing down that thick layer. ("Smooshing" is a technical term.) Using this foot eliminated both the flagging and tension problems. If I were going to go into production work on multiples of this kind of bag, with this kind of webbing, I'd find a more suitable machine, but it's nice to have been able to solve this problem so I could finish this bag and be happy with the result. 

You might wonder why I didn't try a walking/even feed foot. The short answer is that it is hard to find walking feet to fit vintage machines (my machine didn't come with one). Also, I am not sure that it would have eliminated the problem of keeping pressure on the two uneven layers of fabric. It's more suited for feeding fabrics evenly to match stripes and plaids. 

And thus ends our technical sewing lesson for today. 

******************************************

The mail lady brought a Priority Mail box yesterday containing five yards of 500 denier Cordura in dark green from Seattle Fabrics. This is the same fabric I used for the cover I made for the Honda generator on the husband's work truck. You might wonder what I am making with five yards of this. It is going to get turned into a tipi for Ali's little guy for his birthday later this month. (Auntie Janet does not mess around.) I am using this pattern:

The husband is going to help by getting the PVC pipe and drilling the necessary holes in it for me. Ali knows about this project because I wanted to clear it with her, first. I chose the Cordura for longevity; it's strong and it's also coated to minimize sun damage. The most time-consuming part will be cutting out those big triangles. They are put together with French seams which create the pockets for the PCV pipes. It's a very clever design.