Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sorta 40's

I was invaded by meal moths. The damn things got in the appartment and ate my pancake mix, flax seed and walnuts that I know of, and who knows what all besides. It isn't a catastrophe, just an annoyance, all it means is that I threw away half of my dry goods and put the rest in the freezer to kill anything moving. But I have been eating a number of un-picturesque foods lately in an effort to use up whatever may be attractive to bugs before starting over. A handful of olives, pickles and some salami is a light and tasty dinner for summer, but there isn't much to say about it.

My general mood of using stuff up has extended to my fabric stash. Here is the dress I mentioned a while back. The pattern is from the seventies, but somehow it turned out looking more 1940's. The fabric is some holiday stuff from IKEA which I got 2 christmasses ago. It looks nice and summery, it's all cotton and I wanted a shirt dress. But it didn't turn out quite the way I intended- the sleeves are too poofy at the top, and the material is a bit stiffer than I realized. Also, I am woefully short-legged, so unless I wear it with heels, I look a tad stumpy in it. But! it used up most of the material, I had enough left over to whip up a halter style top for shlepping around the house in hot weather, and I did not make a practice garment first! The last part is key.

When I'm using a pattern that I have never tried before, I usually make up a practice version in waste fabric first. Most of the time I get great results this way, the only problem is that sometimes I get bored and never make up the final garment. It seems to me that a more fearless approach to sewing is in order, if I am ever to get through even a portion of my accumulated materials. Which is why I am really quite happy with this dress: overall I had rather do something imperfectly than do nothing, perfectly.

And here is my strange little cucumber-thing. This fruit is about 1 inch long. They taste a bit lemony, and have a slightly pulpy middle.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

That's just embarrassing

I collect vintage patterns. I am one of the uber-geeks who find it interesting when there are store stamps, handwritten notes and suchlike on used patterns. Really I do! Not this time though. Look at that dude in the plaid shorts and sportcoat. Woah! Words can not do it justice. I defy you to claim that it does not reduce you to unseemly mirth to look at that. I've been snickering about it all day. Oh, goodness me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Singer 66 in a treadle base

Singer 66 in a treadle base, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.
I am a madwoman. This is my newest acquisition, and my oldest machine. It dates from 1912. In 2 years, it will have been kicking around for a whole century, and it sews just as beautifully as any machine I've ever used. I don't know if the cabinet is the one it was born with, but I suppose it's possible.

There are lots of things I'm super excited about this machine for. Yes, because it's a zillion years old. Yes because it functions; I don't like to collect things that won't do what they're supposed to, but there are a bunch of nerdier things too. This machine illustrates a principle I've heard described as "make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler" and now I don't remember who said it.

This machine has a number of functions in common with modern machines. The bobbins and needles are exactly the same as most home machines today, I think it's the first generation of machines that were made this way. Earlier machines had a more complex bobbin arrangement: the bobbin was loaded into a shuttle which sat in a mechanism that zipped back and forth. This model has the bobbin stationary, and simply has a hook that grabs the needle thread and loops it around the bobbin- mechanically, much simpler. It's a system they got so dead-on that it hasn't changed in a hundred years. It is maximally simple, yet maximally effective.

By contrast, this machine also has bobbin winder, that I'll post pictures of soon. I love the little gadget, it has this adorable, lilliputian victorian steampunk aesthetic with its little gears and levers. And it's beautifully designed, if you come over sometime, I'd love to geek out and show you how it functions. Or rather, how it ought to function. You see, it is neither maximally simple nor maximally efficient. Its parts are complex, and and require some fiddly types of adjustment to perform a basic operation like winding a bobbin. Modern machines have a system where you just run the thread around a knob and hey presto! it winds perfectly evenly. But the gears are beautiful. I'm just fascinated by this thing as a snapshot of engineering history from the late victorian age.

The design of the treadle irons merits a whole geek-out of its own, but I'll restrain myself. I will say that its really fun to use. I named her Aldonza. Weird huh? Somehow, she just ain't an Austen girl.

Now, who wants to come over to play with my sewing machines? I got lots to go around...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Damn! That's tasty!

Ever seen that stuff at Denny's called "hot bacon dressing"? It's creepy shit. Don't eat it. But once upon a time, it was descended from this: Salad Lyonaise. Remember my Rule of Salad! If it ain't something you'd eat naked, don't put it in! Eat the naked ingredient, I mean. I don't care what you eat without your clothes on, really, it's none of my business.

For each serving-
1 or 2 pieces of good quality bacon. Or pancetta; I had bacon.
a tablespoon minced shallot, or other mild onion
a teaspoon of dijon mustard, either fine or whole grain.
a tablespoon of sherry vinegar.
a poached egg
a little pepper and maybe some olive oil
a handful of bitter mixed greens. I used some bag o somthin-or-other from TJ's, it's got frisee in it.

Have the greens ready in a mixing bowl. Put on a pan of water to simmer for the eggs. Don't forget to salt it a bit.

Cut the bacon up into 1/2 inch pieces and fry them until they're crispy. Bacon can be fattier than pancetta, in either case, once it's rendered out, pour off all but about a teaspoon of fat per serving, and then put the onions in to brown with the bacon. Add enough olive oil to get the onions well coated. Seriously, does it really need bacon fat as well as olive oil?! Oh yeah baby.

Keep the heat turned down low enough that the brown bits in the pan don't become black bits. When the onions are thoroughly done, put the eggs in to poach. In a little bowl, mix up the vinegar and mustard. As soon as the egg yolks have filmed over, get them off the heat and drain them a bit. Quickly throw the vinegar and mustard into the hot bacon pan. The liquid will get all the caramelization off the pan in about 10 seconds. Don't be afraid to throw in a bit more vinegar if you need to. Pour the hot dressing over the greens and toss them up, divide into servings and top each serving with a warm egg.

Everybody gets to add their own pepper, if they want it, then smash the egg into their salad. I licked my plate.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wonders never cease

seed rainbow, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.

I opened up my remaining poppy pods, and this one struck me as being exceptionally fancy looking. They ripen from the top down, evidently, and the progression of ripeness is so elegantly demonstrated by the color gradation that I had to get some pictures.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The herd

It got too hot to eat, let alone cook. But it's much better than last year, when it was also too hot to move, breathe, or think. This summer has not yet been too hot for me to indulge my other obsession.

In the cabinet on the right: the first treadle I bought, from the goodwill bins. It's a White, and runs most beautifully. I think it dates from about 1917. Sewing machines like company. In the center cabinet is another White, which I got because I had become obsessed with treadle operated machines. The second one is cosmetically in great shape, and also runs extremely well, but I think the older one is a little lighter to operate.

On the leaf of the right hand cabinet is a Singer. I don't know much of anything about it yet, cuz I just bought it on Saturday afternoon. But it seems complete, if rather stiff. It came in the cabinet on the left. So why is there another machine in the cabinet? Because that beige machine is a clone of my mom's machine, which I learned to sew on. After I bought it, I learned that it was the last model Singer produced that was designed to convert to treadle power. So obviously I needed a Singer designed cabinet. Which happened to come with this machine head that I'm very excited about because it appears to take modern needles and the same type of bobbin the beige machine does.

Then there's my serger. That's the thing on the chair. Very high tech, it intimidates me a bit. But it does that thing you hem t-shirts with, and it sews, trims, and finishes  a seam in one pass, which is a big timesaver. I don't like computerized machines, but when I need one, I really need one.

There's another machine that didn't make it into the picture. I've more or less retired it- it's the one I bought with my very own money back in 7th grade. I saw a classified ad in the Ann Arbor News, and called the lady, and then Mom took me to the bank where I withdrew my 100 dollars. Or maybe Mom paid the lady with a check, and I paid Mom. I don't remember. It's a Necchi, which is a more or less defunct brand. At the time I bought it, the White company had owned out the brand for some time; I'm not sure Necchi branded machines are even produced any longer. I hear that really old Necchi machines are serious pieces of equipment. Mine, not so much. Early on, it was great, but it's got nylon gears, which I've broken twice over the years, and it was never meant for heavy work, so I've warped the main drive shaft. Currently it's functional, but that's about it. I keep meaning to take it to goodwill, but, you know...we've been together since seventh grade. I made some of my favorite things on it. But christonacrutch, I really don't need 6 sewing machines.

I name my sewing machines. The vintage ones, anyway. The Whites are Lizzy and Jane, and the beige Singer is Anne. I thought the Singer that came with the cabinet was going to be Marianne, but it doesn't look like that's its name. I'll have to get it functional, and then we'll see. God, I hope she isn't Emma.

Friday, July 9, 2010

poppy seeds

poppy seeds, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.
Like most people in developed nations, I have a limited relationship with my food. Doesn't stop me from being interested in it, fortunately.

Look at these for instance. I kinda take poppy seeds for granted. They're on all kinds of things, I don't look at them much, I just buy them out of a jar at Fred Meyer. But they are seeds, so on January 31st this year, I threw a bunch in a pot of dirt, and POOF! there were a zillion little green things all over the place. They took until June to bloom, and for this whole time I had a continuous source of novelty and small mystery. I'd look at 'em every week and think "Ooo! they got bigger!" or "Ooo! that one's putting up this tentacle-y thing! That must be how they bloom!" and lately it's been "I wonder if the seeds are done yet? What do those things look like inside?"

Well, now I know. They grow in there on these fleshy, spongy, vanes. If you pick the pods just before they're fully dry, the seeds are plump and brown when you dump them out, but they dry out and turn blue-gray in less than an hour. Or you can wait until the head is completely dessicated, and you can hear the seeds rustling around in there like sand. They make a lot of seeds. About a generous teaspoon per pod. Pretty cool, huh?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

More Silly Plant Tricks

Burnet is another of those plants which somebody said would taste like cucumber, but doesn't. It's just kinda bitter and astringent. But it's a curious looking thing, so I'll keep it around for the time being. Check out those weird little pom-pom bloomey things! Neat, huh? It's like if a fraggle was a vegetable. Here's some closeups:

Thursday, July 1, 2010


If you don't use a sewing machine, this will be Totally Meaningless to you.

This is a picture of a dart I sewed as  practice for a shirt. As you can see, there are no strings dangling from the end of the dart! Why do I care? Because if I want to make an elegantly shaped item in a sheer fabric, sewing darts in the normal direction, i.e. from the big end toward the point, leaves dangling threads hanging off the point of the dart. These can be seen from the outside of the garment, and look sloppy.

Here's how to do it: thread the machine as usual. Then remove the spool of thread from the top, leaving only the bobbin in place. Using the bobbin thread, thread the machine backwards, starting with the needle, and going through all the thread guides and tension disks. Pull up enough thread from the bobbin to account for the length of the dart you want to sew, plus enough for threading the upper part of the machine. Be sure to remember to put the thread through the needle from the back of the eye toward the front-I forgot this detail the first time I tried it and had to figure out what went wrong.

Begin sewing at the point of the dart, and finish at the big end. Re-thread in this manner for each dart you want to make.

This technique has completely justified every penny I have ever spent on redundant vintage sewing manuals from Goodwill. It has made me feel like a sewing ninja rockstar, no foolin.