Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Two Blue Dresses

In January, deep in covid-cautiousness, my sister got married. It was a delight to dress up again and celebrate! Phoebe was the flower girl, although as soon as she said "flower fairy," the title stuck. My sister said we should choose whatever dress we wanted (I have the best sister and she was never, not even for one second, a bridezilla). I had a delicious deep dive on winter flower girl dresses, developing a vision that suited all parties: dressy but not out of regular church-wear, wintry but not black or white, flexible with whatever other colors appeared at the wedding. . . I used a simple Prussian blue cotton from my stash. I found a gorgeous net sequin fabric for the overskirt at JoAnn's as well as pink satin to line the bolero. For cold weather, she wears the bolero. For warm weather, it's a sundress! I wanted to give Phoebe as many chances as possible to enjoy wearing her dress, but wanted it to look appropriate in any season. At that time, I could not predict when we would be going out in nice clothes again and I did not want any more nice clothes hanging sadly in our closets, especially the handmade ones. 
 I thought I could just gather two rectangles of the net fabric into a black ribbon and tie the overskirt on at the sides, but it ended up being too heavy so I basted it onto the waistline for the wedding. 

Phoebe and I are both so pleased with this dress! She has indeed worn it in all its iterations since January.

The second blue dress is a school uniform dress. I added some light blue topstitching to liven things up. It has a deep hem, so I'm planning to let it out as Phoebe gets taller. I love Peter Pan collars and here with the puffed sleeves, it's such a charming retro look. 
I had all the supplies in my stash! When my older kids were starting school, I laid in a supply of fabric that would work for uniforms. Our district currently does uniforms until 6th grade and I think that is just right: let the little kids scramble into a prescribed uniform, let the big kids define their own style as they fledge into adulthood.

Phoebe is really the only child I sew for any more. I feel like I live with three other adults and a child! In fact, Genevieve turned 16 this week, oh my word. Such is the speed of life....

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Fun With Okra

Without exception, my family loves okra. Okra loves hot weather, which is why it is such a Southern thing, but it is possible to grow it around here and I have found it from some local farmers occasionally. But to really ensure an adequate supply, we have started growing it in our backyard!

green beans on left, tomatoes in back, okra on front right

Our first crop was last summer - we started the plants from seed, mainly my husband driving this with his outsize love for okra, and were astonished at everything about them. The okra plants get about 8' tall and their stalks are woody like trees, so it's not easy to get them out of the garden in the fall. The pods grow from gorgeous hibiscus-like flowers. And the pods grow fast. We try to harvest them at 3-5" long, but even when we miss some and they are longer than that, they have stayed tender and not woody, thank goodness. 

This picture has a funny story. I picked the garden in the morning, and then I wanted a picture of a person with the okra plants to give you some idea of their height. I brought my husband outside to help, and I am struggling to hold all the okra pods he found after I thought I had picked all of them! He called me "okra-blind," oh my word. I retorted that the pods grew big enough in the few hours between pickings! Also, we are getting about a quart of okra pods daily right now from 10 plants. Amazing.

Okra pods keep pretty well in the fridge. My go-to recipe is to slice the pods in coins, toss with some flour and cornmeal and a seasoned salt or equivalent, then fry in a hot oiled pan until they get some crispy, browned edges. We never have leftovers!

Extremely proud to have okra, green beans, and tomato pesto (on pasta) all from our backyard garden!

Another easy method is to oil the pods lightly, salt and pepper, then grill until they are browned in places and even splitting open a little. So so so good. 

When time permits, I make gumbo. And I was astonished to see at this linked blog post that we also grew okra in 2010. I have no memory of that whatsoever! 

This year, I also pickled some okra because there was so much on hand. I used the Ball Blue Book recipe, which is essentially the same as the dilly beans I like to can.

If you have okra recipes to recommend, please do!

Public service announcement: I absolutely re-use my canning lids if they are free of nicks, dents, rust, and the like.  I have been doing this for years. There was (is?) a canning lid shortage due to the pandemic, but I recommend this practice for economical reasons even when there is not a shortage. I have found no difference between lids that went through a waterbath or through the pressure canner. The main thing is to reuse lids in good condition. Iffy lids are used on jars that are used for food storage in the freezer or elsewhere, or recycled in my metal bin that I take to a salvage yard.

A word about how I did those okra pickles: I looked at the recipe one night, pulled the jars from the basement the next morning while waiting for the coffee, washed them later in the morning while on a phone call, stuffed the okra pods and garlic cloves in the jars in the afternoon before picking up Phoebe, mixed the brine and filled the canner after picking up Phoebe, and finally assembled the jars and canned their butts right before we went out the door again to Ben's game. It goes to show that little chunks of time can add up to a finished project. Dogged determination gets everything done, right? We choose what we spend our precious time on, and food preservation is important to me, but dang, family life is busy. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Pilgrimage

A friend told me that the Baltimore Museum of Art was hosting an exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts, and I knew I needed to see these quilts in person. This is my third fall with the big kids' sports laid over top of the garden and preserving, laid on top of regular family life which keeps me hopping to begin with. I'm in survival mode right now, but I was determined to see these quilts. I did!

I love these quilts for their beauty and seeing the artistic decisions the quilters made in the urgent utility of using what they had and keeping their families warm.

They remind me of the wholly practical approach my Grandma Weaver had. No time for fussy stitches, matching corners, purchasing coordinating fabric or enough fabric so the whole quilt was the same. That pragmatism is beautiful to me on its own. "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." 

The exhibit notes also explained how the Gee's Bend quilters received Martin Luther King Junior in their isolated community three weeks before "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama, and how they leveraged their quilting fame for racial justice and voting rights after that. And now I connect to the quilts through that lens, too. After George Floyd's murder in May 2020, I began a personal journey of education and activism regarding systemic racism. 

I have mixed feelings about the Gee's Bend quilts (and Amish quilts) being displayed in art museums and called art. Certainly I agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these quilts are stunning. However, I think of art as made to BE ART. The people who make art think of themselves as artists. They should get paid for that and recognized as artists, and note "artist" as profession when they fill in that line. The rest of us who make beautiful things, accidentally or on purpose, I want respect for us, too. I'm quibbling with art museums being the highest standard of respect for beautiful things. 

It's similar to the mindset that truly beautiful rooms and homes are the ones showcased in magazines. I reject that - those places are often showcases that simply photograph well, not homes where people are happy, industrious, and engaged in life. 

How can we respect the quilters of Gee's Bend, the Amish quilters, the everyday quilters like me? We are often the homemakers whose unpaid work in running our homes and raising children and the like is not counted as economically significant or valuable. And the quilters of Gee's Bend have the added layers of poverty and Black skin as well. It's a lot easier to take the quilts from Gee's Bend and exhibit them in an art museum, to say they are "eye-poppingly gorgeous" (New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, 2002) than it is change attitudes towards poor Black female homemakers. 

 There were only five quilts in the exhibit. I stood in front of them and cried behind my mask (useful for that, isn't it?). And then I drove home and got out my own needle and thread again. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Madras Skirt I Wanted to Wear On Vacation

In June, I was packing for a family trip to Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes in New York when I realized I did not have a fun skirt I wanted to wear. (Related blog posts I have toyed with writing: Why Do We Get Tired of Our Clothes? And what can we do about it? Also, Why Do I Loathe Packing So Very Much? Really, why? Maybe I should find out why some people enjoy packing to shed some light on my loathing?)

It was late at night and I was not nearly done packing, but the ding-dong pandemic has ridded me of some pragmatism, so I went immediately to my fabric shelves to see what was "fun." Madras! And also unbelievably soft with the wonderful intersections of colors creating new colors. I googled "madras skirts" and spent some daydreamy moments in our trip designing the madras skirt I wanted. 

I found an image of a Ralph Lauren skirt that fired my imagination, so I modified a simple wrap skirt pattern I had to add the ruffle and make a tie closure instead of a button. I inserted some pretty little scraps in the ruffle and tie for the patchwork fizz I like, but then when I saw the ruffle in the mirror, I unpicked the biggest pieces and took them out. Just didn't like them - patchwork can be so surprising. I left the smaller pieces intact. 

I had enough madras left to squeak out a tank top (another Sorbetto tank). I love wearing the skirt and tank together for a dress look, or mixed with other shirts and skirts to hopefully avoid clothing boredom. 

The madras is a dream to touch. Truly the best thing float off sticky sweat in hot weather. However, it is really lightweight, almost delicate, and I did not add a pocket to the skirt because I was unsure it could handle the stress on the seams. I also could not quite figure out where to slap a pocket on a wrap skirt. Bummer. I really rely on pockets.

Back to packing: I have noticed that it does bring my clothing collection into focus when I pack for a trip. Suddenly I see that I have tons of navy, or that my tank tops are stretched out and sad, or that my favorite sandals need to be replaced soon. Or that I want a fun skirt! So that is a good thing I can focus on for future packing. . . 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Exactly What I Want To Eat

 I am slow to acquire cookbooks, although I do read a lot of cookbooks. I want cookbooks that I really use a lot. After checking out Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark from the library over and over, I bought a used copy this winter. 

Summer Vegetable Salad with Tapenade

No exaggeration, I have cooked 1-2 recipes from Dinner every week since then.

I love the concept: each recipe is meant to be dinner and she suggests side dishes if you want some ideas. Very few of the recipes require time ahead of time for marinating or something. Most of her technique is unfussy or flexible where it's unusual, and she's not bossy or snobby. Most of the food I've made has been delicious and creative and very more-ish. Melissa Clark's pantry is pretty similar to my pantry, apparently, and she has new combinations and suggestions that we have loved. Only a few dishes were just average or more work than I care to do for supper. 

Chilled Cucumber & Corn Soup 

The suggested Avocado Toasts to go with the soup

Some of our favorites are Coriander Seed Chicken with Caramelized Brussel Sprouts. . . Roasted Carrots with Walnuts, Feta, and Dill. . . Fresh Corn Cakes with Tomatoes and Fried Sage. . . Watermelon Gazpacho with Avocado. . . Mediterranean Tuna & Olive Spread. . . 

According to her website, Melissa Clark has over 3 dozen published cookbooks. I'm amazed. How does she have the time and talent to produce such excellent, diverse recipes? I'm a huge fan!

What's your go-to cookbook these days? 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Old Sheets, New Jammies, New Curtains

 I save sheets that have a stain somewhere, a rip, or whose partners were worn to shreds. I use sheets in sets, pretty much, so the orphan sheets go into my fabric stash. 

I made pajamas for myself with a sheet from a Tommy Hilfiger set I bought for Genevieve when she graduated to a big bed. So, that would be about 12 years old now, and that speaks to the quality of the namebrand in this instance. I had a pair of pajamas from Old Navy clearance a few years back that were so floaty and cool, I laid them down on the sheet and used them as a pattern. I also used a length of cotton eyelet to fancy them up a bit.


Then, the new bedroom needed some curtains.  I had a lot of fun treating myself to fabric from Spoonflower.

But here's a little word of caution: this was my first time ordering fabric from Spoonflower. I bought 8 yards of their petal cotton, giving myself 2" to spare with all the seam allowances included. I prefer this kind of no-waste sewing because, even though I adore patchwork, my piece bag overfloweth and there are only so many little piecey projects one house needs. 

But when the fabric came, there was a wide white selvage on the sides and both ends. I expected selvage on the sides, but not on the ends! Uneasy, I measured the whole dang yardage and discovered it was 6" shy of 8 yards. When I contacted Spoonflower help in a froth, she said that 1-4% shrinkage is within the range they stated on their website and also that the fabric is cut and measured before the dyeing/printing process and it shrinks after that in its mordant process. She indicated if the fabric was unusable that they would give some kind of refund/discount, but I did not feel right about doing that because I did indeed use the fabric and the shrinkage was what they stated. I did suggest to her that they clarify when the shrinkage happens - as part of the manufacturing process, even before the washing the buyer is going to do at home.  Never have I done measuring and math for shrinkage of commercial fabric I have purchased and washed, but any shrinkage always seemed negligible. Please note that I am not mad at Spoonflower, just newly aware of the differences in purchasing from smaller companies.  

On the plus side, I do not have one single shred of this fabric left over. 

I made the narrowest possible hems on the tops and bottoms, and cut the height as skinchy as possible. I think they turned out well! I used old white sheets as the lining fabric. I do find old sheets really useful. 

What do you do with old sheets?