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. 

April’s Project: Skirts

Yes, I cheated, okay? I’ve already made (and worn) two skirts. It warmed up here in the Denver metro area this month. Last week it snowed and two days later, it was 75°. 

I’d wear a skirt every single day if I could. And I probably will, once I have a stash of them. The skirts I’ve made so far are elastic waist A-line things; super easy and comfortable. For April’s project, I plan to make some circle skirts and pencil skirts. Will May’s project be dresses? (Yeah, probably.)

Stay tuned for my struggle with geometry, pi, and hemming curved seams!

Give Me Almonds and Give Me Granola (Almond, Coconut, and Cranberry Granola)

I need almonds. I need almond flavor, that sweet, hard-to-pin-down floral quality that you either love or hate. I love it. Love love love. I bought some almond extract the other day for bath bombs and spent at least five minutes huffing the bottle.

I have a great granola recipe (over here), and recently I’ve tweaked it to satiate my almond-loving palate. It replaces the vegetable oil from my standby recipe with coconut oil, another product I adore. You can substitute coconut oil for vegetable oil in that recipe if you aren’t fond of almonds or want to mix it up. This particular granola is not too sweet and packed with good fat. Sprinkle on ice cream (chocolate is a good choice; it’d be like an Almond Joy), stir into yogurt, or just stuff large handfuls into your gaping maw.

Note: my previous granola recipe calls for 8 cups of oats, but it makes a ridiculous amount of granola. You can double or halve as desired.

Almond, Coconut, and Cranberry Granola

  • 4C rolled oats (“old-fashioned,” not quick)
  • 1/2C dry roasted almonds (preferably salted), chopped fine
  • 1/4C unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4C brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4C honey
  • 1/8C blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2C coconut oil
  • 1/2T cinnamon
  • 1/2T almond extract
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1C dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325F. Combine oats, almonds, and coconut in a big bowl. In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, honey, molasses, coconut oil, cinnamon, almond extract, and salt. Bring to a boil, then pour over oat mixture. Stir until coated and spread evenly on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir, then bake for 10 more minutes. When you take the granola out after 20 minutes, it won’t look like granola. It’ll be squishy. You didn’t mess it up. Leave it alone for about 10-15 minutes, then chunk it up with a spatula. Cool, and mix with dried cranberries. Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag.

March’s Project: Aprons

Gainfully Something | March's Project: Aprons

Let’s do this, pattern.

When I was at the fabric store for the hundredth time a few weeks ago, they were having a sale on Butterick patterns. They were all $1.99–ONE DOLLAR AND NINETY NINE CENTS. For comparison, these patterns normally cost $10.99-$18.99. I did a dance.

I picked up this apron pattern (Butterick 5765, version A), because it was advertised as “Very Easy.” Okay, so that was a little bit of an overstatement on Butterick’s part, but whatever. I figured it out.

Oh god what is happening

Oh god what is happening

Here’s the thing about paper patterns: they are crinkly and fragile and somehow expand ten times their size when taken out of their envelope. My dog and cats found them tantalizing, so I yelled a bunch which added to my creative fervor.

The instructions are vague and simple at the same time.

The instructions are vague and simple at the same time.

The hardest part of the entire thing is figuring out how to fold your fabric and position the pattern pieces on there, and then determine how many of each piece you need. This is probably excruciatingly simple, and yet it took me a stupid amount of time to cut out my pieces. Even a pattern that is “Very Easy” assumes that you actually know what you’re doing, which is a silly assumption. Oh, Butterick, when will you learn?

Anyway, after you cut out your fabric, things get a LOT easier. Essentially, you’re making a 3D fabric puzzle that fits together perfectly.

This bodice is adorable.

This bodice is adorable.

Ta da! When I finished the bodice part of the apron, I was so proud. It went together really easily and it looked more professional than anything else I’ve made. The rest went together fairly easily, too. This is not to say it went together quickly. It was mostly tedious (“Sew Bodice [SEVEN] to Waistband [FOUR]”, etc.). However, I think a second go at this pattern would fly by.

Oh, you want to see the final product?

It's so cute! Don't mind my terrible mirror.

It’s so cute! Don’t mind my terrible mirror. Also, the center skirt panel was supposed to be the orange fabric, too, but I ran out. Improvisation!

I really liked the end result. It fits nicely, especially in the bodice. Aprons never fit my zaftig frame, but this has a Wonder Woman kind of feel in the bust. I think I could use the bodice pattern to make a cute swimsuit.

The verdict on paper patterns: this one turned out great, and it was relatively easy to follow. Granted, I read through it about five times before starting, and there were a few confusing parts. I remember looking at one step and saying out loud, “What the HELL am I supposed to do now? Razzenfrazzenrazzlefrazzle.” (I’m trying so hard not to curse on here but that’s going to change soon, I think.) Sewing is all about taking something 2D and making it 3D, and that involves a different part of my brain than I normally use. It’s like origami, and I’m bad at origami. Basically I’m telling you that if I can build my skills to this point, you probably can, too.

I’ve also made a few other exciting things this past week, and I’ll share those soon!

Zippers (and Santa Fe Chicken)

Yes, yes, yes, I know that March’s project is supposed to be aprons. I’ve made two, and I bought a pattern for another, but you know what I learned how to do the other day?

ZIPPERS.

I was terrified of zippers because they seemed so complicated. There are two pieces, and they have to line up and they are a functional closure. I thought so much could go wrong, and then I took a step back and said, “It’s a goddamn zipper, life will go on, just do this.” So I made this pouch. Well, to clarify, I’ve made five such pouches. Three of them turned out great, and two of them are sort of wonky. But three of them turned out great! Yay for me!

When I attempt to use a paper pattern for the first time, I will definitely provide a step-by-step illustrated guide to my confusion.

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Our awesome friends from the Midwest visited last weekend and shared this great recipe with me. It’s based on a recipe from Pinterest, but I just sort of threw it together, recipes be damned. (To be honest, when a recipe is mostly, “Open cans and dump contents out,” you don’t really need a tutorial.) Plop the chicken on top of the corn pudding, top with cheese and cilantro, and eat until you burst.

Santa Fe Chicken

  • 1 can Hatch chiles (the little can)
  • 1 can spicy corn (the little can)
  • 1 can hominy
  • 1 can black-eyed peas
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can black beans
  • cumin, to taste
  • chili powder, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 C chicken stock or broth

Dump all the cans into the crockpot. Add spices and stir. Push the chicken down into the mixture, and pour stock over all. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, until chicken is falling apart. Shred, and serve over corn pudding.

Corn Pudding

  • 1 can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 can cream-style corn, not drained
  • 1 stick butter (I KNOW, IT’S DELICIOUS)
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix

Melt butter in a casserole dish (I used an 8×8 dish). Add remaining ingredients and mix. Bake 45 minutes at 350F.

March’s Project: Aprons

Yes, it’s only February 19. And yet… I’ve already made two projects for March. March’s project is aprons! I cook and bake a lot, and as my friend Natalie reminded me, aprons are a great way to practice various techniques. Binding, ruffles, pockets, straight lines (my old nemesis), curved lines (probably my new nemesis), etc.; aprons are a more varied lot than you’d think.

My first apron is this little beauty. Instead of using a dish towel, I hemmed a piece of fabric to measure 27″x21″, the size of a typical dish towel, and went from there. I added patch pockets to my apron, too. The final product is absolutely adorable and functional, two of my favorite things.

I’m still making lined totes like crazy, and I want to make a few fun full aprons in the next month. Every project I do makes my sewing skills better, so who knows? Maybe I’ll make a skirt in April or May!

January: coasters

February: totes

March: aprons

Crayon Rolls (and Sautéed Spinach)

Do you know any kids? You probably do, because you are, presumably, a human person. If you are not a human person, I’m impressed.
Anyway, kids like crayons and stuff. And you know what crayons do? Get everywhere. And break. And get everywhere. There is a solution! A crayon roll!

I’ve made a few of these so far, and they are surprisingly easy and fun to make. They don’t take too much fabric, and the only extra things you need are a hair tie and a button. The roll holds 16 crayons. I put in a few shades of red, orange, yellow, etc., in ROYGBIV order (because, why not), and added black, gray, and pink. You can’t draw a bunny without pink.
These make great gifts. Throw it in a coordinating pocket tote with a coloring book, and there you go.

If I was slightly more awake, I’d put a segue here.

Spinach! It’s delicious when prepared correctly, by which I mean, with lots of garlic.

Sautéed Spinach

  • bag of spinach (or if you get the huge bag from Costco, a few giant handfuls)
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil over medium low heat in a big saucepan. Press the garlic into the oil and stir, cooking until the garlic just begins to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Stuff the spinach into the pan. It will look like you are making way too much spinach, but it’s fine. Trust me. Stuff that in there. Don’t worry about stirring just yet. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low. In about 5 minutes, uncover and start slowly turning the bottom spinach to the top. It will seem slightly impossible for a few seconds. Once it’s kind of moved around, cover again and cook 2-3 more minutes, until the spinach is mostly wilted and coated with oil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.