Month: April 2015

May’s Project: Dresses

I thought it would take me the majority of the year to build my skills to Dressmaker Level. However, I think I found a pattern or two that I can try now (even though it’s not May yet). 

My first attempt is Butterick 4790. It’s a retro pattern from 1952! I love retro dresses, and ones from the ’50s usually have just the right shape for my curves. This dress is really neat; it goes over your head and then the back snaps at the front waist, creating a sheath and overskirt look. 

Of course, I chose bright, bold fabrics because I can’t bring myself to wear neutral colors. 
 

The feathery fabric (L) will be the back and overskirt; the floral will be the bodice and front skirt.

Yeah. I like color. 

I cut my pieces out today. There are only three pattern pieces (a total of four fabric pieces) to this dress, so they are all huge and obnoxious to cut. Tomorrow I’m going to tackle darting! Stay tuned. 

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Watch out! (and Homemade Ice Cream)

Guys, there’s lots of listeria out there right now. Blue Bell has recalled all of their products, as has Jeni’s. You’ve got to watch your back out there, and you shouldn’t have to worry that your ice cream is going to kill you. 

Solution: make your own. It’s so, so good, and it’s virtually limitless. 

Homemade Ice Cream

  • 2C heavy cream (yes, it’s full of fat–eat it)
  • 1C whole milk
  • 2/3C sugar
  • 1/8t salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • Vanilla bean or vanilla extract

Heat cream, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it’s steaming, but not bubbling at all. (You can scrape the inside of a vanilla bean in there and throw in the pod, or use 2t-1T of vanilla extract.) Get a bowl and whip the yolks until they lighten in color. Slowly whisk and add a little bit of the hot cream into the yolks until about 1/3-1/2 of the cream is in with the eggs. Slowly pour the yolk/cream mixture back into the saucepan and mix. 

Heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture thickens quite a bit. You’re making a custard here, if you hadn’t figured that out, so as the eggs cook, the ice cream base will get nice and thick. It should coat a spoon when it’s ready. 

Remove the pan from the heat and let it hang out for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture into a big container (used sour cream or yogurt containers work well) and refrigerate until very cold. I usually make the base in the morning and churn it in the afternoon. 

Churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions until it looks like soft serve. Spoon back into your container and freeze. Homemade ice cream is a lot harder than store-bought, so take it out of the freezer 15 minutes before you want to eat it. 

Variations:

  • Substitute almond extract for the vanilla and add 2t cinnamon. Steep 30 minutes, then strain. 
  • Add bottled hot fudge or caramel during churning. 
  • Chop up some leftover birthday cake and add during churning. This is my favorite variation. I did this with the leftover cake we had from our top tier. Use any leftover frosting instead of the 2/3C sugar. So. Good. 
  • Add booze! This will make your ice cream softer. Rum + cinnamon vanilla ice cream = BOOZY MILKSHAKE MATERIAL. 

Vanity Sizing and Realism

I’m a curvy gal. My hips are 42″ and my waist is 30″–so Sir Mix-a-Lot would have a lot to say about me. Lady Bootyton, at your service. 

I own a lot of size 4 dresses from Dress Barn. They fit perfectly. I’m a big fan of The Barn, despite their weird name. Cute shit, reasonable prices, and I get to say I’m a size 4. 

That’s the problem. The fabric store had a pattern sale a few weeks ago and I got a really cute “very easy” retro pattern from 1952. I opened it up today so I could figure it out and see how much fabric I need since I have a coupon. WELL. According to the eminent minds at Butterick, I’m a size 14. Fourteen. Ten numbers bigger than my usual Barn size. I’m starting to understand that whole “Marilyn Monroe would be plus-sized now” thing, even though that’s sort of nonsense. Her waist was smaller than mine, but my hips are bigger. (That was me bragging, by the way.)

But Jeezum crow, guys, what the hell? Yes yes yes it’s just a number, but why in the fuck are these two numbers SO DIFFERENT? Oh, I know, because we (Americans/Westerners) have an obsession with thinness (or the illusion of thinness) and body control. I knew that the size 4 label at Dress Barn was vanity sizing but I was completely ignorant of just how vain their sizing is. 

Let me be clear: I’m a huge fan of my body. My curves are awesome. I’m built like a very short pinup peasant from the Old Country. Wide and short, that’s me! It’s taken me years to get comfortable with myself, and it feels wonderful. And you know what I’d love? If our culture embraced this body positivity and just put the correct damn numbers on our clothes. Or do it like the industry does for men: measurements. My husband’s jeans literally say the size of his waist on them. Why can’t we have that too? Like, oh, I wear a size 30 waist/42 hip jean. 

Basically, let’s love ourselves and be honest with ourselves. Love those inches on your hips, love the width of your ribs, love your thick thighs. (Or tiny thighs!) Don’t let yourself get bummed when you look at your pattern chart and see a double-digit number. 

Vanity sizing doesn’t accomplish anything other than very superficially making you feel better for reasons that make no sense. Our standard of beauty should not be based on a dumb clothing tag. You know what they say in Botswana as a compliment? “You’re looking very fat today!” That is lovely. 

In conclusion: you’re gorgeous and I’m a size 14. 

Curvily yours,

Amanda K. 

Broken Needles, Bird’s Nest Bobbins, and Other Sewing F*ck Ups

Oh guys. Today was not my sewing day. It started out fine–I was just making a mini zippered pouch for myself, so nothing I haven’t done before. Then I sewed over the metal zipper teeth and broke my goddamn needle. Sigh. Of course I don’t have another regular needle, so my project will have to wait until tomorrow when I go to the fabric store. 

This shit happens a lot. We don’t really talk about the fuck ups in Sewing Town, but between broken needles and Bobbins Gone Wild, sewing can be super annoying. But no, we take pictures of the final project with all the extra threads snipped and the messy parts covered up. Because seriously, it’s embarrassing sometimes. I know to avoid sewing over metal because in middle school sewing class, our teacher specifically said, “Hey, don’t sew over metal, small idiots.” And then a boy in my class sewed over his fingernail and we forgot all about her sage advice because blood is fascinating. 

You might notice that I’m using more colorful language lately and that’s intentional. From now on, this blog won’t be a cleaned-up version of my thoughts; I’m going to curse and be annoyed sometimes. That’s who I am. I’m salty. I curse a LOT. If that isn’t your jam, goodbye, friend. Authenticity is pretty great, I’m pretty great, and sewing can be great (except when you want to throw your machine at the wall). 

Here’s another sewing foible I encountered the other day. I bought the last bit of this gorgeous fabric I’d been eyeing for a while with the intention of making yet another circle skirt. Then I fucked up cutting the fabric and now I have three-quarters of a circle skirt cut out and no way to salvage it. Goddamnit, guys. I actually hid the pieces I cut under another yard of fabric because I didn’t want to look at it. These are the times I make a low growl and eat a bunch of jam out of the jar. 

So hello, friends who like a bit of pirate language in their lives, and so long, friends who prefer “gosh” and “dang.” Here’s to better sewing days!

The Joys of Podcasts

I spend a lot of time alone. That’s an understatement. Most of the time, I’m alone. That’s the childless (thus far) housewife life, guys. I volunteer twice a week and go to the fabric store more than I should, but when I’m at home, I’m hanging out with two cats and a dog. They’re great conversationalists and they take criticism really well. (“You already have food, you dumb shits.” “Lulu, I’m not leaving forever, I’m just getting some chicken out of the chest freezer in the garage.” “Vincent, stop stepping on my boob.”)

After realizing last summer that having the TV on all day was depressing me, I decided to start listening to audiobooks. You can get them from the library using Overdrive. It’s pretty wonderful. Then a friend recommended Welcome to Night Vale and MY WORLD CHANGED. That sounds like an overstatement. It is not.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast. It’s a (hopefully fictional, oh please let it be fictional) radio broadcast from a small, Southwestern town called Night Vale where weird shit happens. It’s scary and sweet, and the writers do a great job of building this bizzaro world. Details from past episodes that seemed tangential and unimportant become important months and months later. It’s so richly realized. If you love spooky things and episodic storytelling, check it out. They’re releasing a Night Vale novel in October! (Not great for kids because it’s creepy as hell.)

After I caught up on WtNV, another friend recommended Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine. Hosted by Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband, Justin, Sawbones is exactly what it sounds like: each week, they choose a topic like lobotomies or blood-letting and talk about the awful things we used to do to each other in the name of health. It is hysterical, despite being about lobotomies and blood-letting. (I guess you could let your kids listen, but it’s sort of gross sometimes. No cursing, though.)

Justin McElroy is also on another podcast, which is my current obsession: My Brother, My Brother and Me. It’s an advice show for the modern era, which means people send in their questions, and the Brothers McElroy (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) make you shoot coffee out your nose because it is the funniest thing I’ve ever listened to. Here’s a sample. They also find questions on Yahoo! Answers and holy crap, that is where the dregs of humanity hang out. (There is lots of cursing, so get ready for how awesome it is. Definitely not for children, which they say in the disclaimer at the beginning.)

The great thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them anywhere, anytime. However: do not listen to Welcome to Night Vale while you’re in the bathtub at night and your husband is not home. It is creepy and you will become super jumpy.

Happy listening, and I’d love to know what podcasts you like!

April’s Project: Skirts (Circle Skirt Edition)

Circle skirts are adorable. They’re those super twirly, full skirts that invoke garden parties, meatloaf, and martini lunches. Wear one with heels and you look like Donna Reed. Wear one with ballet flats and you look like Briar Rose in Sleeping Beauty. tl;dr: THESE SKIRTS ARE SUPER CUTE. 

I used this tutorial. It’s not so much a pattern as a guide. Warning: you need to dust off the geometry portion of your brain and use pi. I’m serious. But I also promise that I’m terrible at math and these still turned out great. 

You need lots of fabric for one of these. If you’re a curvy lady like me, get about three yards. Extra fabric is better than not enough. Follow the elastic sewing instructions closely. It’s another situation where everything seems like it’s going to fail but it won’t. It won’t. You will succeed, but go slowly. I hemmed the raw bottom edge by folding the fabric and slowly feeding it into my machine. Pinning a curve is a pain in the ass. 

  

The hardest part of the entire process is figuring out the measurements and cutting the fabric. Everything else goes quickly–so quickly that you could make two in an hour if you had your measurements figured out and oodles of fabric.

I want to make hundreds of these and wear nothing but circle skirts. They are so comfortable and flattering. Make one with fancy fabric and wear it to a party. Make one with gingham and wear it to a picnic. Make one with every kind of fabric you can buy. Trust me, you’ll want to.