Apple gingerbread cake

bittersweet chocolate apple cake aka torta di pere

For the holidays, I attempted to bake a couple of things, an activity I engage in a few times a year, always fueled by a wildly optimistic and delusional valuation of my baking skills. I made a Apple Gingerbread Cake. (I also made a Bûche de Noël, but that is a post for another day.)

I followed the recipe fairly closely, which is unusual for me. I find pastry recipes tend to have too much sugar for my taste so I usually cut back on the amount of sugar. Also, I like to increase the salt by a little. I find a touch more salt brings out sweetness more. Another place where I deviate from the recipe was to substitute maple syrup for molasses.

I could not find molasses in small enough quantity. The recipe only called for ¼ cup but the smallest molasses quantity I could find was one quart. I suppose I could have bought that and use the rest in experimentation, using it in place of sugar. It’d a lot of experimentation though, so I decided to use honey instead. I was guessing that honey is about the same sweetness as molasses, just with a different flavor profile.

As it turned out, the substitution worked great and the cake turned out to be amazing. The recipe is straightforward. I was suspicious of the step where the recipe calls for whisking eggs into the hot molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, and butter. I was concerned that the eggs would be scrambled when introduced into a hot medium. Instead, I tempered the eggs first before adding it to the host mixture. Maybe that was not necessary, but I didn’t want to take the chance of ending up with scrambled eggs.

There was one gotcha, which I found out when I, buoyed by my success, I baked a second one. (Note to self: quit while I’m ahead. 🙂 ) When layering apple slices into the caramel, if the slices are not pressed firmly into the caramel, the cake batter may seep down into between the apple slices and the caramel and ruin the cake’s top. It’ll still taste great, but it wouldn’t look as good.

I served the cake drizzled with heavy cream, as called for in the recipe. It was a bit hit!
slice of apple gingerbread cake, served with heavy cream

So it seems that while my valuation of my baking skills remains to be verified, genius is indeed 10% talent and 90% perspiration! Sometimes.

Details, details, details

white/black/red tartan shirtdress, front view, with white boots and white hosiery

Often, it’s the the small details that separate a “home made” garment from the “Wow, you made that?!” garment. I would like to share a few details from my recent use of Dress Shop and from making a shirtdress recently.

Dress Shop generates the pattern pieces for the collar such that the undercollar is slightly shorter and narrower than the collar. The collar is then eased into the undercollar, generating tension that will curve the collar inward without needing a lot of steaming:
pattern pieces for undercollar vs collar

Also, the undercollar is cut on the bias, which gives it a bit of elasticity and makes it much easier to ease the collar into it:
collar & undercollar comparison

Another “detail” I would like to mention is buttonhole orientation. On my white black red tartan flannel shirtdress, all buttonholes are oriented vertically, as in most shirts and dresses, except for one. I oriented one buttonhole horizontally, the one near the waistline. It’s a touch I noticed in Italian tailored men’s shirts. The one horizontal buttonhole ensures that the two overlapping layers don’t shift vertically relative to each other:
close-up showing horizontal buttonhole
This is especially important for plaids, tartans, and patterns or where alignment is important, such as alignment of horizontal details (seams, piping, pleats, etc.).

Here’s another wearing of the dress, this time after getting my bangs chopped. Hosiery: Wolford Satin Touch 20; boots: Loriblu.
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, front view, with white boots and white hosiery

Shirtdress in black, white, red tartan

white/black/red tartan short dress, front view

As part of my process of refining my Dress Shop measurements set, I made another garment, this time, a shirtdress. The pattern used was “Dresses/Unfitted/Shirtdress” and is one of the Dress Shop Quick Start patterns, which is of course also included in the higher-end versions, Dress Shop Deluxe and Dress Shop Pro.

I chose a pattern that does not depart much from a close-fitting sheath. The minimal ease of the pattern makes fitting issues easier to observe, thus making it easier to fine tune my measurements in Dress Shop. The pattern is listed in the “Unfitted” folder, but its “fit” can be set to any of five fits, ranging from “form fitted” to “unfitted”. I chose “standard fit”, the next looser fit up from “form fitted”.

I found a heavy cotton flannel from Jo-Ann in a great tartan of white, black, and red. The fabric’s tartan most resembles a MacPherson of Cluny tartan. It’s slightly heavier weight than top weight, perfect for fall, winter, and fall wear down here in Texas, where we have two seasons, summer, and slightly-cooler 🙂 .

(BTW, do you know the difference between a “plaid” and a “tartan”? According to Scot Meacham Wood, all plaids and tartans are comprised of stripes that meet at a 90-degree angle, but “with most every tartan, the pattern on the stripes running vertically is exactly duplicated [my emphasis] on the horizontal axis“.)

white/black/red tartan short dress, front view white/black/red tartan short dress, front view white/black/red tartan short dress, 3/4 right back view white/black/red tartan short dress, 3/4 left back view white/black/red tartan short dress, right side view white/black/red tartan short dress, back view

As expected, the stripe matching was a lot of work. I cut each piece separately, matching the pattern of a just-cut piece to the succeeding adjoining piece. Also as expected, I goofed in cutting and had to make one additional trip to get some more of the same fabric! Of course, the new piece of fabric had to be washed and tumble dried and ironed before I can cut it, taking even more time!

The mistake was that because I worked my way through the bodice pieces, right front, right back, left back, left front, matching the pattern of each piece to the succeeding piece, by the time I get to the left front piece, in addition to matching the pattern at the left side seam, I forgot to also match up the pattern at center front! One would think that the center front would autimatically match up, but not so, because fabrics can and do skew diagonally. I did make sure to “true” my fabric beforehand, but with fabrics of a looser weave, there is the possibility of localized distortion. The lesson here is to, well, pay attention! 🙂

The match of sleeves to bodice in front turned out great:
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, closer-up front view
but not so much in the back, because matching the sleeves’ dot up to the shoulder seam rotated the sleeve a bit such that the pattern is off a bit in the back:
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, closer-up back view
For next time, I might try rotating the sleeves a bit when cutting them, so the pattern matches both the front and back bodice. Of course, the pattern will no longer run parallel the sleeve’s axis but slightly off. I wonder what that would feel like visually…

“Dress Shop” motorcycle jacket

front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece, showing lining both sides
I am continuing to explore using Dress Shop Pro to make my own patterns. My initial attempts at a few pairs of shorts were moderately successful. For best result, I should really have spent the time and effort to make a sloper and adjust my measurements set in Dress Shop. If you’re like me though, you’d lack the patience to undertake that step. I decided that I’d make “wearable prototypes” instead and adjust my measurements set with each succeeding one. That way, my time and effort would result in things I can wear and yet also contribute to refining my measurements set.

For example, after the last thing that I made, a halter top sheath dress, I changed some measurements before making this biker jacket: reduced the “across back” measurement by 1/2″ and decreased the “bust back” measurement by 1/2″.

I intended this jacket to be only a “wearable prototype” to further refine my measurements set in Dress Shop. However, I got carried away with the trims a little bit! 🙂 I had some black and white harlequin pattern cotton left over from when I made my Carnaval Austin costume earlier this year, so I used that for trim: undercollar, front facings, welts and bags for hand warmer pockets, wrist straps, and epaulets:
3/4 front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece front view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece, showing left side lining
hand warmer pocket, topstitched hand warmer pocket, topstitched & opened
wrist straps and would-be epaulets

Did I say epaulets? I meant “would-be epaulets”, of course. 🙂 I was going to add epaulets but when I inserted the sleeves, I completely forgot to insert the epaulets. So now I had two left-over epaulets. What to do? Since I had put some effort in making them, making sure the pattern lined up and was the same on both epaulets, I didn’t want to waste them. I used them as “back straps” at the jacket’s back side waist. Doing that allowed me to add a bit of gather to that location, to improve the cut and fit a little:
3/4 back right view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece

I also had some tan bottomweight cotton twill laying around on my cutting table, so I used it for the inside pocket’s welts:
inside double welted pocket & facing & lining inside double welted pocket

For buttons, I had a bunch of multicolor buttons of assorted sizes that I bought as part of a big bag at Jo-Ann, so I used the brown buttons. I wanted to use the sage green buttons but I don’t have enough of them in the set.
BIG button!

I also topstitched with black topstitching thread, mainly to anchor the seam allowances, because the fuzzy fleece obscures the topstitching quite a bit so it is not as decorative as topstitching would normally be:
topstitched seams

I used an ivory cotton voile for the lining, with the thinking that it’d be light and not add much bulk. Plus, it’s much smoother than the fleece which makes donning and doffing the jacket easier. The fleece can be quite fuzzy and thus “grabby”. The cotton voile is a bit too sheer, however, so it doesn’t actually hide the jacket’s inside very well, like a lining should. It’d have been more suitable as lining for a garment that one doesn’t take off in public, say, a skirt. (Well, at least *I* don’t take my skirt off in public. 🙂 )

front left view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece front right view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece side view of motorcycle jacket, orange polyester fleece

Sewing machine presser foot as helping hand

using sewing machine's presser foot as a
A “helping hand” is not new in sewing, nor in many crafts, for that matter. For example, there exist antiques of the “bird’s beak” clamp. Similar devices exist in jewelry making, watchmaking and other tiny-scale crafts, such as fishing lure tying.

I’m reasonably dextrous so I can manage manual tasks well. There are times though, when an extra hand would make things go quicker and/or less fiddly. For instance, when I need to rip a long long seam, as I did recently when shortening the skirt of my “Dorothy” costume. I wanted to re-use the costume but wanted something a bit racier than the skirt’s modestly long hem. Afterall, Halloween is the time to having fun dressing up the way that would get one arrested any other day 🙂 .

Anyway, the costume’s skirt hem has about two million yards of ruffled cotton eyelet trim:
Dorothy costume, front view
All of which had to be removed before the skirt can be shortened. The seam is straight and simple, but there was just so much of it!

With someone or something holding one side of the seam, things would go much quicker. Enter my sewing machine’s presser foot. It has enough grip force to anchor one side of the seam firmly and is a “quick-release” clamp of sorts which makes it easy and quick to move the seam along.

Oh, and this how the costume ended up looking (I didn’t get arrested 🙂 ):
Dorothy costume with matching purse

Braiding purse handles

purse handles
I have a Tignanello purse that I really really love that was showing its age. I love its shape, a satchel shape with full length two-way zipper to allow the purse to open really wide. I love its utility, having just the right number of pockets and zippers in just the right places. I love its color, a pale red wine color, which can go with dark hues such as blacks and browns as well as with brighter spring and summer hues. I love the handles configuration, just the right sized hoops for carrying on my arm or swinging in hand.
After a few years of use, the leather of the handles became worn and cracked. The rest of the purse was still in tip-top shape. I really hated to discard it just because of that. Also, it’s so difficult to find a suitable purse that I felt it’d be more efficient to try to prolong use of the one I already have and love.
Enter Paracord braiding! Paracord is a kernmantle-style cord, generally made of nylon and originally used as suspension lines of parachutes. I think today, paracord is so widely used in so many applications that it has become a common name, like “xerox” has.
Paracord appears to be used in many many craft applications, but most commonly made into bracelets and used to wrap handles. It was easy to find a really good video tutorial for paracord braid cover of a handle. It was also easy to get into a rhythm, to produce uniform braids, at least for me. As you can see from the result, I got pretty good at it after only about a third of a way into doing the first handle.
Another plus of paracord is that you can get in many different colors. I used a purple one that I just happened to have around and the purple matched my purse reasonably well.
So far, the braidings appear to hold up well, but it has been only a couple of months. It’s not yet clear how this particular brand of paracord stands up to abrasion of repeated use. (I bought the paracord at Home Depot.) One thing is for sure, new, spiffy, braided handles sure beat spending loads of time looking for a new purse. The only thing better would have been to make my own purse, which I may yet try at some point.

Making a matching clutch purse for costume

finished clutch purse

When I sew a garment, I like to make a matching hair scrunchie as to wear as an accessory. A matching scrunchie signals that the garment is probably custom made and not just an off-the-rack one. For my Halloween costume this year, I rehashed a previous year’s costume: Dorothy of Oz, shortening it quite a bit, from “slightly demure” to just about “call the police!” 🙂

The shortening resulted in quite a bit of left over fabric. Instead of the usual scrunchie, I decided to try my hands at making a clutch, since the costume has no pockets. The costume’s skirt is quite voluminous and I could carry a lot of stuff under it, but it would mean having to hike up my skirt and making a scene every time I need to retrieve something!

I sized the clutch to fit my phone. In retrospect, it could have been a little wider and longer to also accomodate keys, lipstick, etc. I used fusible felt to add body to the fabric, and underlined the clutch to make the inside appear a little more finished. A pocket with a Velcro secured flap on the outside was sized to fit credit cards, driver’s license, and a bit of cash. The wrist strap was a strip of selvaged, interfaced with fusible shirt-weight interfacing.
velcro closure on clutch purse's credit cards pocket

A lesson that I discovered almost immediately is to construct all the details such as outside and inside pockets first before closing up and attaching zipper. I did not and as a result, had to struggle a bit when attaching the outside pocket.

inside of clutch purse

The end result was reasonably polished, and people did notice it and knew that the costume was custom made:
Dorothy costume with matching purse

Using fabric scraps to trim greeting cards

finished card

Every sewist has come up against the difficult decision of what to do about fabric scraps from sewing projects. Some scrap pieces are small enough such that tossing them is the obvious thing to do. However, often the scrap pieces are big enough that they seem like they might be useful for small projects. The problem is when I’m staring at a bunch of scrap pieces seems to be the time when I’m the least creative. I’m full of ideas at any other times, but the sight of scrap pieces seems to stanch my creative juice.

Conversely, when I set out to make custom greeting cards, the very process seems to blank my mind as to what to make. I’d stare at a greeting car blank and draw a… blank, as to what to put on it.

Enter fabric scraps! Why not use the leftovers from a garment project to make greeting cards?! Immediately after I’m done with a project, I would already have all fabrics and thread and trims are already at hand, and more importantly, they are all coordinated, matching or contrasting each other. And the machines would already be threaded with the right color thread. All I’d need to do is to throw them together on a greeting card blank.

Here are two cards that I made using scraps resulting from shortening my “Dorothy” Halloween costume. With these two cards, I was going for the “deliberately unkempt” look, leaving raw edges and “tassels” of thread at ends of stitch run, leaving the wrong side of the cards unfinished, etc. Well, OK, I was just being lazy. 🙂

I just used the same mid-sized universal needle that I used for the garment in making the cards. I can see how sewing card stock might dull the needle, so be aware of that ad change needle sooner than you would normally would.

For these two cards, I used the blue gingham cotton and the white lining fabric for border: cut 1″ wide strips, place them right side down and sew them to the card down their center, fold and press, and zig zag or topstitch:
ready to make cards fabric trimmed with scraps attaching fabric border to card attaching fabric border to card attaching fabric border to card

I leave the strips long and trim them after I started attaching them. Swiveling the card to one side made it easier to do trimming:
swivel card to trim border

I used the white netting for the crinoline for an “overlay” of one card. I want to be able to customize the card further with, perhaps, lettering, so I attached the netting with small safety pins, including them as a design element. The safety pins allow me to remove the netting later to embellish the card some more, to customize it to the occasion e.g. birthday, wedding, etc.:
finished card

I also used tiny scraps of fusible fleece (left over from making a matching clutch purse for the Dorothy costume) to make petals of a flower, which I fused to the card. (The heat of fusing warped the card a bit but when it cools, it returned to almost normal shape, being only slightly wavy, which added to the “unkempt” look!) I added a small pearl for the flower’s center: I removed the presser foot, set zig zag stitch width to the widest, set stitch length to zero, threaded the pearl onto the sewing machine’s needle and turned the wheel by hand to zig zag a few times to attach the pearl.
flower with fusible fleece petals and pearl center

I wanted to use oral letter size envelopes for the cards so I trimmed the cards and added the cut-off pieces to inside the cards as “leaves” in a book:

Oh, and it would also help the card making process if you already have a stock of greeting card blanks on hand so you don’t have to spend time making some and can just get right to creating cards.

Vietnamese Red-Cooked Baby Back Ribs

Vietnamese red cooking: adding caramelized sugar to pork baby back ribs

Red cooking is billed as “Chinese stewing“, but there is nothing specifically Chinese about it. It is also one of the more major cooking techniques in Vietnamese cuisine. I would not be surprised if the technique is also prominent in other Asian cuisines.

In Vietnamese cuisine, the technique is called “kho“. There are variations of the technique in every region of Vietnam. Also, since it is possible to use a lot of salt and fish sauce and sugar in “kho”ing, resulting in a highly salty and sweet dish, the technique probably also served as a way to preserve food in the old days, when refrigeration was not yet commonplace.

I remember my Mom’s red cooked pork belly, cod, shrimp, and chicken. Not fondly. 🙂 I never did like her red cooked dishes because they were always too salty and not sweet enough. Also, I also particularly hated her red cooked cod since most fish, especially less fatty ones, become hideous if cooked for a long time. My Mom never did grasp that fact. I can say with some confidence that I did not inherit the culinary gene from my Mom! 🙂

I generally avoid red cooking seafood. The length of cooking time required for the caramel and other flavors to infuse the protein would render the seafood completely inedible. Instead, I like to use red cooking as a stewing method, to cook dishes to be reheated and eaten several times during the week. Sometimes, I would do red cooked chicken or shrimp for a dinner, but it’s not technique I employ often for a single-meal dish.

Basically, red cooking features caramelized sugar as the main ingredient, resulting in a dish with reddish golden brown hue. My general procedure for red cooking is to sautée thinly sliced shallots as the aromatic for the dish, then add the protein and caramelized sugar and season with fish sauce and black pepper, adjusting the taste with salt.

With pork belly, pork ribs, or beef chuck roast, I would first cube and brown the meat in a cast iron Dutch oven, then remove the meat and sweat the shallots in the same pot. While I’m sweating the shallots, I make the caramel by heating about two tablespoons of white sugar in a small Teflon saucepan. When the sugar starts to melt, I return the meat to the pot so it would be heated up enough by the time the caramel is ready.

Remember that at this point, the caramel will darken very rapidly, turning dark and bitter very quickly, even if removed from heat. The trick is to add it to the meat just before it turns the desired shade. I like to add the caramel to the pot when it turns golden reddish brown and just starting to foam, as in this video, where I was making red cooked pork baby back ribs:

After adding the caramel, I add water or stock and a couple of Thai peppers and simmer for a couple of hours. I often add hard boiled eggs to the stew, but towards the end so they won’t be too overcooked. Letting the dish sit overnight in the fridge allows the flavor to round out more and also for the eggs to absorb the caramel sauce. It’s also common to add ginger and/or lemongrass. Another variation calls for coconut juice in the stew (not coconut milk!), though I don’t usually usually add coconut juice as my S.O. doesn’t care for its taste.

browned ribs, ready for caramel caramel, ready to add to ribs

Pinning zippers?

When pinning zippers, do you pin parallel to the zipper tape, or at right angle to the zipper tape? Maybe it depends on your pinning habit.

I always pin perpendicular to the stitching line and sew over the pins. (Cue rancorous sew-over-pins religious war here! 😆 ) I do that for several reasons. When several layers of fabrics are pinned, they are shifted in relationship to each other, like this:
fabric layers are distorted when pinned
At places where the pin enters and exits the fabric layers, the layers are shifted, the thicker the fabric, the greater the shift. Thus shifted, the fabric layers will be distorted when stitched.

Additionally, if I pin parallel to the stitching line, I’d need to either remove the pins as I sew which I find time consuming, or to pin a distance away from the stitching line, which compromises accuracy.

If I pin perpendicularly to the stitching line, the fabric is still distorted, but in a direction perpendicular the stitching line and thus won’t result in distortion of the stitched seam.

Additionally, I can sew over the pins. (After stitching, I remove pins all at the same time, saving a lot of time.) I know that many people who warn against sewing over pins, citing the danger of hitting a pin and breaking needle, throwing machine out of alignment, eye injury, etc. There is definitely that danger. However, the risk of hitting a pin, and of whether or not the needle will break on hitting a pin, depends on the size of the pins used. I use Clover’s Patchwork Pins which are only 0.4mm in diameter i.e. very very fine. They are flexible and bend very easily but can be bent back into shape, yet they are sturdy enough to anchor layers of fabric. As such, in the very rare times when the needle hits a pin squarely, the pin gets bent, but that’s all.

In the same spirit, when I pin zippers, I pin perpendicular to the teeth and tape as well. Since the pins will “ride” over the zipper teeth and might foul the presser foot, as the second and third pins in the following pic show:
zipper tape pinned with pins perpendicular to tape

As such, I need to remove the pins rather than sew over them. However, removing the pins negates the point of pinning (to ensure layers do not shift), so instead of removing a pin altogether when I sew up to it, I would pull it out just enough so that only its tip is still engaged, as is the case with the top pin in the above pic. (In fact, I just realized that in the pic, even though the point of the point of the pin is still engaged in the zipper tape, it’s barely visible!) This affords me the benefit of layers still being secured against shifting, yet the point of the pin does not present an obstacle.

Vegan bacon?!

I recently made some new friends who are vegans. That may sound like “making friends with collectors of dryer lint” but I assure you that they are actually pretty cool people. As I love to cook for friends, I tried my hands at vegan cuisine. I’m not a vegan, but tackling vegan cuisine is akin to trying a new, unfamiliar, ethnic cuisine. It’s a fun challenge.

The first thing I attempted was mini BLT sandwiches for a potluck dinner. (“BLT” are “bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches”.) The two ingredients that were challenging were bacon and mayonnaise. It’s not difficult to find vegan mayonnaise, though I had to mortgage my house to buy a jar of the stuff. I found several brands of vegan mayonnaise at a local Whole Foods. It tasted quite decent and surprisingly close to real mayonnaise.

The other challenge was, obviously, the bacon. I scoured the Web for a vegan bacon recipe and settled on one from that seemed promising. The recipe used coconut chips as the base ingredient. Coconut chips turned out to be quite hard to find. The coconut chips that I found had too much small bits of coconut in the mix. The smaller bits would char too easily in the oven. I needed to sift the chips to isolate the bigger chips.

Since I didn’t have a sifter of the appropriate size, I made a sifter using the cardboard stock from a cereal box. I punched the sifter’s holes with a paper punch:

sieve for coconut chips, made from cereal box

sieve for coconut chips, made from cereal box

I baked the chips at a much lower temperature than called for in the recipe. The recipe’s 350° for 5-10 minutes resulted in burnt chips that were not as crispy as I’d have liked. Instead, I baked at 150°-175° for a long time. The process was more akin to dehydrating than baking.

bake/dehydrate at approximately 150 °

The chips keep for a long time, weeks, in an airtight container.
If you want that umpteenth degree of crispiness, you can always toast them in the oven for a few minutes before using.

Use shoe boxes to organize sewing notions

We all have different methods of storing our sewing stuff.
Recently, a member of my local chapter of American Sewing Guild gave a presentation on how she organizes her sewing stuff.
One approach that she and I share is storing items in boxes stacked on shelves. Her boxes are all uniform, labeled with their general contents, and stacked to a maximum of three high on shelves. My boxes are old shoe boxes labeled with a listing of their contents. 🙂

I use shoe boxes since they are often of the same shape and size and thus will stack better. I suppose boot boxes, or boxes for shoes for Shrek, would be very different in size, but those are few and far between: I have few pairs of boots, and I don’t know Shrek.

For labels, I use a piece of paper folded to about the same size as a box’s cross section, with a fold in the top which would hook onto the box’s edge and be secured by the lid. The labels are usually just hand written. If I get ambitious, or if a box’s contents have changed too much, or if the list gets too big, or if the box’s contents change often, I’d make a list on my computer and print that out. A printed list is easier to edit, but obviously has a higher “start-up cost” than a hand written list.

using shoe boxes for sewing notions close-up of label for shoe boxes containing sewing notions

V-shaped hem slits

I’ve been asked to clarify/explain how I did the V-shaped slits in my Dress Shop shorts:

The slit is basically a “lined” diamond shaped cut-out in the garment fabric. When folded in half along one of its axes, the diamond turns into a V shape. By locating the points of the diamond on the hem line, the result would be a V shape “slit” at the hem.

The steps are:

  • Cut a piece of lining larger than the diamond by 3/4″ on each side of each axis.
  • Draw the diamond shape on the wrong side of garment fabric, with two of its points on the hem line.
    I’d recommend making the diamond larger than the desired slit size by 1/4″, as I find the shape “shrinks” a bit during construction.
  • Pin the lining to garment fabric, right sides together.
  • Stitch the outline of the diamond shape, drawn earlier, pivoting at corners. Use short-ish stitch length, especially around the corners:
    mark and stitch diamond shape

  • Slash inside of diamond, through both layers, from corner to corner:
    slash inside diamond through both layers

  • Press seams open, turn lining to wrong side of garment and press the diamond shape, then fold in half along one axis and press.
    turn and press diamond shape

  • Fold along hem line and press and voilà!
    finished at-hem V slit

Sewing and turning a spaghetti strap

There are a multitude of methods to make a spaghetti strap.

One method calls for using needle and thread. I used to do this, but have never been happy with it because the thread has to be inserted near the end of the tube and the fabric tends to fray and the thread’s knot would slip out half way through. When it does, I’m pretty much up a fairly undesirable type of creek without a paddle, because it’s impossible to recover from that.

The first method calls for using a bobby pin. I have not tried this method, not having ever used a bobby pin and therefore not having one. This method seems promising, though I can see that the length of the bobby pin, or rather the lack of it, can make turning the tube over the pin quite a fiddly affair.

The second method uses a tube turner, the type with a hook in the end, faces the same problem of the tube’s end fraying and letting the hook free.

The third method uses a plastic drinking straw as a DIY tube turner.

The last method calls for stitching the tube casing wrapping a length of twine or cord, then stitch across one end to anchor the cord, and then turning the tube back over the cord. A variant of that calls for anchoring the cord stitching the tube. This is better because there is less “trapped” fabric in the anchored end and hence less bulk, making turning the tube easier.

My method is a hybrid of these last two methods and the first method. I just use a length of sewing machine thread anchored to the tube’s end with a “bar tack”: reduce stitch length to almost zero (effectively making a thread bar) and zig zag near tube’s end, then pull out a length of thread:
zig zag near tube's end, then pull out a length of thread

Thread the length of thread through a large needle, then run the needle through the tube, blunt end first, to turn the tube:
thread secured to a needle, ready to turn the tube

My method does not require an extra cord like the last two methods, and does not run the risk of the tube’s end fraying and the thread pulling loose half way through the turning process.

One constant among all these methods is that if you are making tubes from woven fabric, use fairly light fabric, and cut the strips for the tube on the bias (at 45° to the fabric’s fibers) which results in more stretch in the strip, both lengthwise and crosswise, making turning the tube easier.

Precision is overrated! :)

Baking fish or seafood en papillote is one of my favorite quick-meal methods. I can be as fancy as I want, or as slap dash as I need to be. I can sautée the aromatics like onions, shallots, or garlic beforehand, perhaps with spicy marinated olives, to bring out more flavor. Or if I’m in a rush or feeling lazy, I can just toss everything into the packet and go with that. However I do it though, I simply use a large-ish piece of parchment paper, fold it in half, and crimp it. It’s not like the end result would taste any better or worse if I am casual about the shape of the parchment paper.

Recently, I came across an en papillote recipe that calls for cutting the parchment paper into a heart shape! My immediate thought was: “Who has time for that?!” But, I suppose that if I was the type who cook wearing beautifully manicured and painted nails, like the person in that recipe, I’d probably also want to be very precise with the shape of the package! Either way, the end result would be equally delicious :

halibut en papillote, before


halibut en papillote, after


Custom range duct, five years later

You may remember from five years ago when we got a new GE Profile cooktop that I had to fabricate a custom duct for the exhaust in order to make use of the existing ducting. Heck, whom am I kidding? Even I don’t remember that, why am I asking you?!

It’s kinda cool looking back at that post, seeing how I went about making that exhaust, how I made a mock-up, a prototype of it, using packaging from Marie Callender frozen dinner entrées:
Cardboard prototype for exhaust manifold

prior to cutting out the tin sheet and riveting:
Laying out and cutting of exhaust duct exhaust duct folded and riveted

My neighbors were suitably impressed when they saw me in my garage bangin’ away (get your mind out of the gutter!), hammering and riveting the zinc sheets into shape. One of my neighbors, a man, even made a remark about how he wished he had the “skill set” to do something like that!

I was rather proud of the finished exhaust:
completed exhaust manifold for GE Profile cooktop, side view completed exhaust manifold for GE Profile cooktop

I wanted the exhaust to be fairly air-tight, so I used foil backed duct tape and clear silicone caulk on the riveted seams. My concern at the time was for the longevity of that caulk, given that the floor of the duct will probably collect a lot of oil and grease, which may seep out and react with the caulk, breaking the seal and leaking oil and grease.

I am happy to report that the exhaust’s ducting is holding up perfectly! Tim Allen would be proud!

Where to position the needle when using invisible zipper foot?

Recently, I answered a question on about needle position when using an invisible zipper foot. I figure I would share my answer here as well.

When using a zipper foot, the needle stays in the middle. You position one of the foot’s two grooves over the zipper teeth depending on which side of the zipper tape you are attaching. The grooves locate the zipper tape in the correct position relative to the needle.

For example, in the following pic, the left groove is over the zipper teeth, ready to sew the right edge of the zipper opening. (The “right” edge of the zipper opening is when facing at the garment’s right side. I omitted the fabric for clarity, but the fabric would be right side up with its edge on the left, aligned with the zipper tape’s left edge, under the zipper tape.)

close-up of invisible zipper foot positioned to sew right zipper tape

And this is when sewing the other edge, with the zipper teeth of the left zipper tape under the left groove:

close-up of invisible zipper foot positioned to sew left zipper tape

Another pair of shorts from Dress Shop pattern

white cotton eyelet and plaid shorts

Since I was so hapy with the fit of the first pair of shorts that I made using a pattern generated by Dress Shop, I made another pair from the same patterns.

I used some white eyelets cotton left over from making a dress (also from a Dress Shop pattern, more on that soon), plus the remaining cotton flannel from Michael Levine in L.A. from the first pair of shorts.

Actually, the cotton plaid was already cut and edges serged, ready to go, from when I made the first pair of shorts. How did I come to be so prepared? It’s a tale of attempted and failed matching of plaids!

When I cut the first pair of shorts, I started with the two front pieces, making sure the center front falls on a “major” plaid stripe. Then I work my way around to the two back pieces, matching them to the front pieces. I planned on simply letting the plaid pattern at center back to fall on whatever vertical stripes they may, since I felt it was the most important to match the plaid at center front and side seams. Everything was going great, until.

When I started the assembly was when I noticed that I had borked the plaid matching at the side seams: somehow I had managed to cut the back pieces on the cross grain i.e. turned 90 degrees! I guess it must have been because the stripes looked nearly the same on the cross grain as they do with the grain and I had somehow turned the fabric when cutting. Luckily, I had enough fabric left to cut two new back pieces and finished the shorts. It was a good thing I had two yards of the fabric. Who know it’d take two yards of fabric to make one pair of shorts?!

Anyway, since now I had two unused back pieces, albeit cut on the cross grain, I used them in my second pair of shorts. The fabric is almost as stable in the crosswise direction as it is in the lengthwise direction, so the pieces being cut on the crossgrain would not affect the wearing ease or the fit much.
white cotton eyelet and plaid shorts white cotton eyelet and plaid shorts

I added an underlining to the front pieces as the white cotton eyelet is fairly sheer. To add some pizzazz (I’m all about the pizzazz),
I made patch pockets from remnants of the two fabrics and trimmed the front pockets with contrasting bows and the back pockets with fabric covered buttons:
close-up of front pockets of white cotton eyelet and plaid shorts close-up of back pockets of white cotton eyelet and plaid shorts

First pair of shorts from Dress Shop pattern

plaid shorts from Dress Shop pattern

I recently started using Dress Shop, a Windows application that generates custom-fit sewing patterns.

The application comes in three flavors: Quick Start, Deluxe, and Pro. They are variants of the same application. One can try the application for free by downloading the application, installing it, and check out its functionalities. The only thing one won’t be able to do during the trial is to actually print out the pattern. Other than that, the trial version of Dress Shop has the same functionalities and features and the Quick Start version of Dress Shop.

Dress Shop recommends making a fitting sloper first so that’s what I did. I could have just selected a standard size and started with that. Instead, I figured since this is something I’d do only once and it’d be important to be as precise as possible, I opted to measure and enter my measurements into Dress Shop. There are 59 different measurements altogether! However, many of them are common measurements, just split up into front and back portions e.g. front bust side seam to side seam, over bust) and back bust (side seam to side seam across back at bust level). I generated the dress sloper pattern, and made the sloper from some junk fabric I had laying around. The sloper was basically a princess seam sheath dress that has zero wearing ease. The fit of the sloper gave clues as to which measurements to adjust by how much.

Next step was to try making something. I decided to try making a pair of shorts, since I don’t have any shorts whose fit I really like, and since summer was coming. I had a light cotton flannel plaid bought at Michael Levine in L.A. during a trip out there to do a runway show. Since it’s a plaid, I had to do a lot of matching, cutting the pieces one at a time. I’ll write more about how I did the matching in a future post.

plaid shorts from Dress Shop pattern plaid shorts from Dress Shop pattern

To add a bit of pizzazz to what is otherwise just a “wearable muslin prototype”, I added V slits at side front of the hem and added multi-color buttons:
close-up of slit and buttons detail

The V slits would be very straightforward if they were situated at the usual position, in the side seam. Instead, I wanted the slits to be more towards the front of the thighs, where there are no vertical seams I can’t think of any way to do such a slit other than creating a diamond-shaped openning with the diamond’s short axis on the hem line.

A “prototype” of the diamond-shaped opening, backed with lining:
close-up of construction of in-hem off-seam V slit

The diamond-shaped opening, folded as it would be in the actual hem, forming the V shaped “slit”:
close-up of construction of in-hem off-seam V slit

Construction detail of the diamond-shaped opening:
close-up of construction of in-hem off-seam V slit

Full disclosure: I am not only a satisfied user of Dress Shop, I am also the owner! 🙂

Sheer inserts: new trend?

They say that there is nothing new under the sun. Even though there are a gazillion galaxies in the universe, each having a gazillion suns, and some of those suns may have a planet with intelligent life, I think it might not be that far fetched that there is nothing new under any of those suns.

Case in point: one of my currently favorite embellishment methods is to add sheer inserts into garments. Specifically, I like to add sheer horizontal inserts near the hem of skirts and dresses. Such inserts flash more legs while keeping the hem demurely long. The skirts and dresses are both proper and scandalous at the same time!

I would use various types of sheer materials for the inserts. For some, I’d use white organza:
Pic of Altered version of McCall's 5619, now View A

Or ivory organza:
M6953 dress with sheer inserts, front view

Or white netting:

I don’t know if it’s coincidence, or if I just happen to notice such embellishments more, having done them myself, or if it is actually a current trend, but suddenly everywhere I turn, I’m seeing such sheer inserts.

I see them in mass market ready-to-wear garments:
fit-and-flare dress with sheer band insert at hem red skater dress with sheer black band insert at hem body con sheath dress with sheer horizontal band inserts fit-and-flare dress with sheer band inserts

in garments designed by students at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology:
dress with sheer band insert at hem

in designer garments e.g. in this gown by Prabal Gurung:
Prabal Gurung long gown with sheer band inserts

I can’t be sure whether I’m avant garde, or whether great (design) minds think alike, or whether it’s pure coincidence. But one thing is for sure: my designs are currently trendy! 🙂