Monday
Aug072017

Coming Along

I sewed yesterday, for most of the day. It was wonderful. The front and the back of the tote bag are done:

That riotous paisley turned out to be a really good fabric choice. It means I don't have to be overly careful about matching prints because no one can tell which way the fabric is supposed to go. 

I still have to do the side panels, and there I *am* going to make a modification. The pattern calls for the pockets on the sides to be threaded with nylon cord and closed with cord stops. I am going to switch that out for elastic at the tops of the pockets instead. The way the pocket lining is attached, it forms a casing there and slipping the elastic into the casing will be easy to do. 

After the side panels are done and attached, the outside of the bag will be finished and can be set aside. Just before the lining section begins, the instructions tell the sewist to stop and admire what has been accomplished so far. I love that encouragement. So many times in a project like this, all we see are the mistakes and the things we would have done differently. My next one will be better, certainly, because I am learning as I go. I am pretty proud of this one, though. This has been a great project. Vittorio, my Necchi BF, did the lighter bits and the industrial Necchi powered through everything else. I am so glad I bought that set of compensating feet for the industrial. The 1/8" compensating foot really makes my topstitching look nice. 

I think I might stop after finishing the side panels and take a break. I need to make some simple drawstring bags for DD#2 for her trip to Italy. She is spending the fall semester at Gonzaga's campus in Florence. I have a bunch of travel-themed remnants picked up here and there and they'll be perfect for some bags for shoes and other items. 

Sunday
Aug062017

Peaches in August

One of the things I always plan to do over the summer is can peaches, but I have never been able to make that happen. August rolls around and I get swamped by other stuff and peaches fall off the list. This year, though, I was determined at least to make an effort. The husband loves peaches and I know he would appreciate having some to eat over the winter. 

I made a trip to town Friday afternoon and picked up a box of peaches in anticipation of that being my Saturday morning project. Anna gets a lot of her produce from a Hutterite farmer, but she was busy getting ready for an event this weekend and I didn't want to bother her for the contact information, so I just went to the big produce stand in town. I got a box of Regina peaches. I had never heard of this variety before, but apparently it's an heirloom variety that is regaining popularity. These seemed pretty easy to work with (based on my less-than-vast experience with peaches). 

I was getting everything together yesterday morning and musing out loud to myself about whether to can the peaches in quarts or pints. The husband heard me and said, "Do quarts—pints are like two bites' worth." I said that I would do quarts—pints would take longer anyway, because I can only do seven pints or quarts in my water bath canner at a time unless I have two canners going at the same time—but he had to promise not to eat them all in one week. I was not joking. I don't think anyone besides my MIL has a good appreciation of how much food this man consumes. I often think that it was easier to keep a newborn human being alive than it is to keep him adequately fed. Newborn human beings don't require 6000 calories a day. 

A few hours later and I had 10 lovely quarts of peaches:

I might get another box this week and do another run. We'll see. These weren't difficult. I really do have a great kitchen for canning. I have plenty of counter space and my range is in an island, so it's easy to reach my canning kettles from either side. Sometimes I wish for a six-burner gas range—mine only has four—but that's pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. 

While the second batch of jars was processing, I made six more loaves of zucchini bread. I am now done with zucchini bread. I think we have plenty in the freezer. There will still be a few coming in from the garden, but they'll either get given away or stuffed for dinner. The zucchini plants are mostly spent, though. 

After lunch, I took the wagon out and picked cucumbers. My kids' old Lil' Tykes wagon is perfect for hauling stuff in from the garden. I filled it with cucumbers, and those were only the Munchers. Some of the lemon cucumbers are ready to pick, too. Our neighbor, Elysian, stopped by and took home half a dozen. I promised some to Mike, our other neighbor, too—he is just getting started with his garden and his cucumber plants didn't do very well. I made another batch of instant pickles. I still have a lot of cucumbers. The chickens might get some of the bigger ones. 

[I am not doing regular pickles because we're still eating pickles from years past.]

By then, it was 2 o'clock and I went upstairs to sew for a while. The tote bag is coming along. I like that the pattern is broken down into manageable steps. My plan for yesterday was to get the straps made and sewn on to the front of the bag, and that is exactly how much I got done. I am learning a lot, too, about how this interfacing behaves. The Decor-Bond called for in the pattern is heavier than anything I have worked with before. It's going to make a very sturdy tote bag, but it requires a bit of wrangling, even on the industrial machine. (I don't know that I would attempt this on a regular domestic machine—I am so happy to have that big Necchi.) By the time the interfaced handles got sewn to the bag, I was sewing through 6-8 layers of fabric and two layers of interfacing. The Necchi went through them like butter, and even though it's a treadle, I didn't feel like I had to treadle much harder than I usually do. 

The husband and I had date night last night. Every so often (especially during canning season), I just get tired of being in the kitchen. It's hard to continually have to come up with interesting meals and make them in large quantities. He knows this and tries very hard to be accommodating about making sure I have a break from cooking. Part of the problem is that even though I don't want to cook, the thought of driving into town and having to deal with all the tourists and traffic is just not appealing. Unfortunately, no one (besides one pizza place) does delivery 17 miles from town. 

I was lamenting about all of this to the husband and he said, "Do you want me to make dinner?" Knowing that his culinary skills are about as extensive as my spatial perception skills, I half-jokingly said, "Can you make me seared scallops on a bed of risotto with some grilled asparagus on the side?" and he said, "No, I was just going to throw some hamburgers on the grill."

The funny thing is that right after the conversation about the scallops and risotto, I was checking Facebook on my computer and up popped a post from Chef Howard Karp, a caterer in the Flathead Valley who will come and prepare a special dinner just for you in your home. The picture that accompanied the post? Seared scallops on a bed of wild nettle risotto with a side of grilled vegetables. Oh, and French Chocolate lava cake with fresh raspberry coulis for dessert. As far as I know, there aren't any listening devices in our house. I think it was just a funny coincidence.

We went out to dinner and it was fine. Everyone must have been out in the woods or at the lake because there weren't many people in town. I wish it were like that all the time. 

Friday
Aug042017

A Two-Hour Pocket

I have been working on this tote bag (The Professional Tote) for an hour or so every night this week. It is slow going. Between the main fabric, contrast, and interfacing, there were 30+ pieces to be cut out, and almost every single piece of fabric had to be fused to a piece of interfacing. I ran out of interfacing (Pellon Decor-Bond) and had to do a resupply at Jo-Ann Fabrics yesterday. Thankfully, all the interfacing was 50% off. There is also the not-so-inconsequential matter of my limited spatial perception ability. Thus far, I have completed the front pocket with zipper, a piece that is a whopping 5"x 7". That took me two hours. At the rate I am going, this may end up being a diaper bag for my first grandchild, and I don't expect to have one of those for a few years yet. 

The husband asked me if I was making this tote bag to torture myself. I don't see it as torture (although I may feel differently in a few days) but rather a way to challenge myself and stretch my brain. I've already spent a fair bit of time reading and studying the pattern in an attempt to "build" the bag in my head, but there comes a point when the only way for me to understand the construction is actually to construct the bag—or, in the case of last night's activities, the front pocket. 

I don't fault the designer; there are many, many pages of instructions and illustrations. Still, an explanation that works for one person may completely befuddle someone else. I know this from writing knitting patterns. I read lots of reviews of this pattern on the internet before I bought it, and all of them praised the clearly-written directions. Also, I am not new to putting zippers into pockets. I looked at the directions, though, and could not figure out a) if the zipper went face down or face up and b) how far from the edge of the fabric the zipper pull should be. The first problem was all mine; I missed the part of the instructions that said to place the fabric and zipper RST ("right sides together") because I would have said to place the zipper face down on the right side of the fabric. That's a minor case of semantics. There was no guidance for the second issue, however, and this is one of those instances where I will just have to make a note on the pattern and address that in the second iteration, if there is one. I don't think the zipper pull is close enough to the edge of the fabric but I may be able to adjust that when I sew on the handles. The handles cover up the raw edges of this pocket. I had already taken the zipper out once because I put it in face up instead of face down, and I wasn't going to re-do it a third time. 

[I sometimes think I would be a fabulous pattern tester, if only I had more time. I would ask all the annoying little questions that don't occur to people who aren't as head-blind as I am.] 

I have at least two sewing machines dedicated to this project at the moment. Vittorio is set up with some neutral thread to sew all of the pieces together. There is a fair bit of topstitching, though, and for that I am using the industrial Necchi and heavier black thread. This is why I have a router in every horsepower. 

[When the husband and I were going through my father's workshop after he died, I opened a cabinet and found five routers in five different horsepowers. This is now an ongoing joke with the husband and me. Apparently I am an apple that did not fall far from the tree. I have to say, however, that it is quite fabulous not to have to continually unthread and rethread a machine for each step. I just have to go up and down two flights of stairs.]

The trick with this project is going to be keeping the momentum going. The pattern seems to be broken down into manageable steps, so if I go a step at a time and don't let myself get overwhelmed, I should be okay.  

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We are drowning in cucumbers. The plants are so happy in this heat that they are producing bushels. I made instant pickles last night, which the husband loves. They are simply wilted cucumber slices in vinegar but he (and the girls) love them so much that I make them almost every night during cucumber season. 

The lettuce is kind of pretty when it bolts and flowers. I wish lettuce season lasted longer.  

Rodent wars continue. Everyone is having problems with mice this year (where are the predators?) We have been catching one every couple of days down in the mechanical room which also doubles as storage for canned food, and the other day, one ran across the floor of my office and under the copy machine. I had to go to several different stores in town to find one that had mousetraps in stock. The husband put half a dozen traps out by the chicken coop last night and caught four mice within an hour. He reset the traps and there were five more dead ones this morning, including two traps with two mice each. The chickens are getting plenty of protein. If we weren't so allergic to cats—and if Rusty didn't hate cats to the point of harming them physically—I would import a couple cats for rodent control. This is getting to be a bit ridiculous. All of my food supplies are stored in metal and plastic containers to avoid attracting mice and they are still coming in. 

Our neighbor is digging some fill from his property to put on another part of his property. His property borders our garden and yesterday morning I heard shooting. The husband thinks that when they were digging with the excavator, they were uncovering the ground squirrel burrows and our neighbor was picking them off as they ran out. I am going to have to take him some zucchini bread to thank him. 

Wednesday
Aug022017

Stuck

I've been trying to come up with a description for how I have been feeling, and "stuck" seems to be as close as I can get. It encompasses a whole lot of feelings: a reluctance to move forward—because truly, what else is this summer going to throw at us? and I hate even to tempt Fate with that question; some paralysis caused by looking at the tremendous amount of work I have to do each day when I don't even know where to begin; and the complete lack of physical ambition due to this relentless, soul-sucking heat. 

[A "cold front" came through last night which is supposed to drop the temps to the mid-80s today, but it also came accompanied by gusty winds. I suspect today's fire report is not going to be good. There are a lot of fires burning in western Montana. Thus far, they seem to be mostly down near Missoula (DD#1 says the air quality down there is just awful) but that could change in an instant.]

I think the husband is feeling it, too. He keeps talking about all the maintenance that needs to get done around here that isn't getting done because he is just so busy. Thankfully, he has a good crew of some strong young men who aren't afraid to get out and work hard, but he could clone himself and his crew and they would still have too much work. It's a double-edged sword. We were talking about all of this yesterday and he reminded me that even getting a few things done is forward progress. 

Bob's memorial service was yesterday morning. For all that family has been through, they were so gracious and welcoming to everyone and the service was lovely. I am thankful again for the flexibility of my schedule; I was able to work early, go to the service and play, then come home and finish up after lunch. I also took the husband's advice and just started tackling the pile on my desk and the things on my to-do list one at a time. I got quite a few things done. I ripped down one row of peas before I just couldn't stand to be outside anymore. I washed a bunch of little potatoes and cooked up a batch of hard-boiled eggs in anticipation of making potato salad today. 

I also—and I am ridiculously proud of myself for this—started a tote bag last night. The reason this makes me happy is because I was finally able to bust through the giant wall of inertia and find my sewing mojo again. And I had to get creative to do it. This bag calls for 1-3/8 yards of each of the main fabric, contrast fabric, and lining. As this bag is supposed to be for DD#1, I had her pick out fabric when she was home, but I don't have enough of each of the fabrics she picked. I decided to make a bag using fabrics I do have enough of; if she likes the bag when it's done, she can have it, and it will give me an opportunity to work the bugs out in the first iteration in the event decides she wants something different. I found two yards of a multi-color paisley fabric in my stash and thank goodness I had two yards because the pattern layout is based on 44" wide fabric. This fabric—even though it came from a quilting store and not Wal-Mart—was barely 42" wide. (I wish for consistency in all things...) I had to adjust the pattern layout accordingly, but I got all of the main fabric pieces cut and labeled. Finding a suitable lining fabric was a bit trickier; I needed something that coordinated with the paisley, but none of my large cuts of fabric was suitable. I did, however, have several remnants of a small print that looked great with the paisley. I was able to fit all of the lining pattern pieces into those remnants. 

[And this, people, is why I have a fabric stash, although at the moment, it looks like a Jo-Ann Fabrics store has exploded in my upstairs.]

I still need to cut the contrast pieces—which I think will probably end up being from Kona as this is a busy paisley and the Kona will help calm things down—but I looked at what I had done last night and felt a pretty good sense of accomplishment. I used what I had on hand, I made it work, and I made some forward progress on a project. 

I am feeling a little more ambitious this morning. It's deliciously cool, thank goodness, and maybe I can get outside and work in the garden this afternoon without melting. This is temporary, however. It is supposed to be back up in the 90s tomorrow. 

The view is pretty smoky looking south down our road:

And thankfully, only one minor casualty from the wind, a rotten little maple:

The husband made the rounds of the pig pasture this morning to make sure no trees had taken out the fencing. We don't need pigs running loose around the neighborhood.

Sunday
Jul302017

Grocery Bags, European Version

It is still ungodly hot here with no end in sight. We are up in the mid-90s every day. The tomatoes are loving it; the cabbages are struggling. I feel like one of those cabbages. The husband says I am going to miss this weather in January but I highly doubt it. The heat just saps the energy out of me. 

I had no pressing food preservation tasks yesterday, so I devoted the day to fabric. I am still in the midst of cleaning and re-organizing my stash. That's always a good way to get the creative juices flowing: I become reacquainted with what I have available and an organized space is much easier to work in. DD#1 is home for the weekend and I also needed her to pick out some fabric for the tote bag she asked me to make her. That would have been yesterday's project, but I am waiting for the pattern to arrive. It was out of stock at the quilt store in town and I had to order it. 

Instead, I finished up the last of the canvas grocery bags that were on the production line. I am not going to cut out any more until this fall. These last two sets are for my friend Twila and for DD#1's boyfriend. Twila is getting what I am calling the European version. I usually make these out of plain duck cloth, but I had a remnant of some home dec canvas, so that's what I used for hers:

They are just a little bit classier—kind of like Twila. 

I love the way these turned out, but that home dec canvas was kind of a pain. It isn't as tightly woven as the duck cloth, and as I was working with the pieces, the edges really wanted to fray. Before putting in the lining, I ran the top edge of the bag through the serger. That made a huge difference. I now have the serger set up where it is much more accessible. That was one of my goals for the summer. I would use it more often if I had a dedicated space for it and now I do. 

I also got the pattern pieces printed and cut out for this:

This is the Swoon Bonnie Bucket Bag. I've seen lots of versions of this bag on the Creative Bag Making Facebook group and I want to make one for myself. It's a very simple bag—which is how I prefer my purses to be—and although the pattern calls for it to be made with quilting weight cotton, I have seen versions made up in vinyl and leather that are pretty stunning. I'm going to make it as written, first, and once I get the construction down, I'll try either a waxed canvas or a vinyl version. (The quilting cotton version is just a bit too slouchy and unstructured for me.) This bag has a double welt pocket, which I have never done before. 

Too many ideas, not enough time. 

DD#1 made me a batch of hand soap yesterday:

I have tried to make hand soap—twice—and failed miserably both times. It's not hard, but for some reason, she is much better at it than I am. Two or three times a year, she makes me a big batch. She uses the Dr. Bronner's bar soap and glycerine. This batch is citrus. Good for cleaning off garden dirt.