First pair of 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.

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

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:
20150524_Sun__TGQ_Social_XIV_DSC_3244_b

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! 🙂

An inch is not an inch, and why it doesn’t matter!

One would think something as standard, and as important, as an unit of measurement would be both easy to implement and be important to get right. Can you imagine the fracas that would result if one second represents different duration in different usages?! There’d a lot of baking recipes getting messed up, train schedules being mere suggestions (though I’ve been to actual places where they are merely suggestions), and people “not feeling their age”.

I recently bought a replacement tape measure and after having bought it, wondered about its accuracy. I compared it to the inch-size grid on my cutting mat and the result was… shocking. So I compared it to other tape measures that I had on hand.

It all started out innocently enough:
pic showing tape measure inaccuracy

…but then the fun and games ended and it started to become worrisome at around the high 20s mark:
pic showing tape measure inaccuracy

At the low 50s, things have become completely borked:
pic showing tape measure inaccuracy

I suppose tape measures are like tire gauges: a random sample of tire gauges will all show different readings. With tire gauges though, as long as a tire gauge is consistent and produces repeatable readings, it’s useable: tires are not exactly precise laboratory-grade air vessels and it’d be both impossible and meaningless to measure or to know the precise, actual, pressure in a tire. With tape measures, I guess I can pick the ones that show the most similar readings and go with those, on the grounds that there’s safety in number!

Realistically, the inaccuracies don’t affect my sewing. First of all, I make few measurements that are in the 50-inch range. For instance, my outseam is in the 40-inch range so I don’t care that the readings don’t become unusably inaccurate until the 50″ marks. Secondly, I most often use a tape measure as a measuring stick and not as a tool of reference. If a measurement, e.g. the outseam, is X inches, then I’d measure a distance of X inches on the pattern or the fabric. As long as I make both measurements with the same tape measure, it doesn’t matter whether a measurement of X inches is actually X inches or not. It only matters that the distance I’m measuring on pattern or fabric is actually the outseam measurement.

Endives With Apricots, Blue Cheese, Walnut

For a recent fundraiser dinner, I did endive with roasted figs, blue cheese and candied pecans appetizer. It’s a great combination, as cheese and something sweet always is. It was the first thing to disappear from the buffet!

It could have been better though. The roasted figs were sweet enough but they were a bit mushy and could have been sweeter. It’s usually difficult to go wrong making something sweeter. Indeed, there is a Vietnamese saying that goes: “To add beauty, use gold and red. To add taste, use honey and fat”!

Subsequently, I tried a variation, substituting the figs for slivered dried apricots. The apricots is sweeter and is more “toothy” and really improved on the dish.

pic of endive with dried apricot blue cheese candied walnuts

As an aside, the rounded underside of endive leaves makes filling them, and serving the dish, quite fiddly and annoying. I “flattened” the bottom of the leaves by slicing off a sliver off the underside, creating a flat surface which added much needed stability.

pic of how to flatten bottom of endive

Weird baked pasta trick! :)

I used to use a metal measuring cup turned upside down on top of a lasagna to “tent” the aluminum foil cover so it won’t stick to the melty mozarella. However, I don’t like the way the cup leaves a ring in the cheese top of the finished lasagna. Also, when I remove the cup, it usually takes a bit of cheese with it, leaving a tear/hole in the cheese.

I think I have found the perfect solution: run a pair of bamboo grilling skewer through the aluminum foil and rest them across the top of the baking dish.

photo of skewers supporting foil covering baking dish close-up photo of skewer supporting foil covering baking dish close-up photo of skewer supporting foil covering baking dish

The result is an almost perfectly clean foil after baking:

photo of almost perfectly clean baking result

How to make a scrunchie

You may have seen that when I make a garment, I often use the remnants to make a matching scrunchie. It’s a great way to say “this garment is custom made” without having to actually tell people that.

Making a scrunchie is relatively straightforward. Afterall, it’s just a tube enclosing a loop of elastic. The trick is in how to make a scrunchie quickly and efficiently, with as few steps as possible and as little hand sewing as possible, yet with the highest degree of finish possible. I searched but could not find a page with good instructions, so I decided to write one.

I start with a rectangle of fabric, 3.5″ x 20.25″. I prefer to cut it on the bias (45 ° to the fabric’s grain), but sometimes I’d cut it with the grain if I don’t have enough fabric. The length of the elastic depends on your hair and how tight you want your scrunchie. I use a 7 1/2″ length of 1/8″ elastic cord, allowing for 3/4″ of overlap of the ends to form a loop.

There are four seams altogether. The first seam is to form the tube: fold the rectangle lengthwise, right sides together, and sew a 1/4″ seam along long sides, stopping about 2 inches from the ends:
sew seams along long sides, stopping 2" from ends

Turn the tube using a bodkin, or a large safety pin:
turn tube using bodkin

Run the elastic through the tube:
run elastic through tube

“Whip” the ends of the elastic together. I put the ends under the presser foot and zig zag across them as much as I can. I don’t tie the ends together because the knot would invariably slip and become undone. Also, a knot is a bit too bulky inside the tube.
whip ends of elastic together

Now, here’s the tricky part: match up the ends (the short sides of the rectangle), right sides together, and stitch a 1/4″ seam:
ping short sides of rectangle together

Now, here’s the really tricky part 🙂 : pin as much of the remaining open edges along the long sides of the rectangle as you can. (You won’t be able to pin all of it.) Since the tube will be doubled up inside itself, be very careful not to catch the inner tube in the seam.
pin long sides of rectangle together

Here’s another view of the pinned seam:
another view

The stitched seam:
stitched seam

Now turn the tube right side out, and stitch the last bit of the lengthwise seam close:
20160604_141059_b 20160604_141124_b

Another user for safety pins: bra strap keepers

You know that I use safety pins to baste clothes for fittings. I also pin a few safety pins to the lining of my purse, so I always have them for emergency “wardrobe malfunctions”. Here’s yet another use to that amazing invention the safety pin: bra strap keepers. I pin small safety pins (about 1″ long) inside the shoulder straps of the dress and secure bra straps with them.

using a safety pin as bra strap keeper

Using safety pins to baste

I use safety pins to “baste” clothes during alterations because they approximate a sewn seam well enough for fitting purposes, and because using safety pins permits the wearer to try on the garment without getting stuck by sharp pins. It occurred to me that safety pins might be a great way to teach children to do fitting.

Anyway, one time I used safety pins to narrow the sleeves on a jacket I made for myself.

skirt suit, sleeves basted with safety pins!

I wore the jacket (part of a skirt suit) in “real life” several times to be sure of the width of the sleeves before making the alteration permanent. The temporary seams with safety pins were so “real” I actually forgot about the temporary alteration and wore the suit multiple times and sent it to the cleaners multiple times. I didn’t realize that until one day I accidentally turned a sleeve inside out when taking off my jacket and saw the safety pins! 🙂

skirt suit, sleeves basted with safety pins!

Blue Cheese & Honey!

Cheese paired with a sweet something is one of culinary’s classic and enduring combinations: gouda and apple, cheddar and honey, manchego and dried figs, Swiss and a dollop of fruit preserve, etc. A quick way to make a simple, quick, and very tasty treat is to sprinkle blue cheese crumbles on slices of French bread, drizzle with honey, and toast under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and the bread is browned around the edges. As variations, add slices of roasted or broiled fruit such as figs or pear.
slice of French bread with blue cheese and honey

Keeping track of eggs’ age

We don’t use many eggs. We don’t bake many desserts. We don’t have eggs for breakfast. About the only thing we use eggs for regularly are omelets, e.g. this recent Sunday lunch of an omelet of scallions, cherry tomatoes, and blue cheese:

Sunday omelet: scallions, tomato, blue cheese

We buy eggs only half dozens at a time and usually have some laying around in the fridge for quite a while. (I know, eggs are better when fresh; we just don’t eat ebough eggs to always have fresh eggs on hand.) The way I keep track of what kind of eggs, and bought how long ago, is to tear off some of the labeling on the egg carton, write the purchase date on it, and put it in the egg carrier:

how to keep track of eggs' type and age

And yet another variation of M6953!

I really really really wanted a new dress for Easter. Did I mention I wanted a new dress for Easter? I had some fabric left over that I had made a couple of things from and wanted to use it up. Plus, it’s the most Easter-y fabric I had on hand. So I did another variation of McCall’s 6953, a dress that I have made three versions of already: this, this and this.
This time, I modified the neck line to more scooped both in the front and in the back. I also reduced the shoulder width and made the armhole more scooped.
I trimmed the dress with ivory organza bands at the midriff and at the hem, and added blue lace ribbon to define the edges of the band.

M6953 dress with sheer inserts, front view M6953 dress with sheer inserts, side view M6953 dress with sheer inserts, back view M6953 dress with sheer inserts, close-up front view M6953 dress with sheer inserts, close-up back view

What did I learn from this project? Things will always take longer than I think they would . I was up until the wee hours of Easter Sunday! But, I did get to have a new hot dress for Easter, I did make the early morning Easter service, and I did get a bunch of compliments on the dress, so it was all worth it.

Avoid large garment pieces cut on the bias

Continuing with the bias thing from last week, here’s another tip on working with bias: avoid wide pattern pieces with bias garments. Warp and weft yarns can differ in both count and tension such that they will stretch differently. A wide pattern piece, such as the fron of a dress, can end up skewed because one side might stretch differently than the other side. Try adding center front and center back seams to keep the pattern pieces narrower. Also, narrower pieces cut at 90° to each other (both on the bias but are mirror image of each other) help to balance out the pieces directional stability once assembled. Cutting pieces on the bias at 90° also provides an opportunity to play with the fabric’s pattern, for instance, with stripes:
example of breaking up large garment pieces cut on the bias
This Threads article has some more interesting tips on working with bias.

Cutting sleeves on the bias.

This Threads article describes a great tip by Denise Severson, a seamstress, alterations expert, and Association of Sewing and Design Professionals member, to add sleeve fullness attractively: cut sleeves on the bias.
sleeve_on_bias
Besides a more attractive fit, sleeves cut on the bias fit more comfortably and allow a wider range of movement because fabrics almost always have the most stretch in the bias direction.
Sleeves are not long and large pieces of fabric that can have a bit of weight to them, nor do they have have to support a lot of weight. As such, the extra stretch is not as problematic as is the case with a bias bodice or bias long skirt, where the size and weight of the fabric might result in some distortion in the garment’s shape.

Using tea ball infuser for spices in phở

As you may know from my chicken phở recipe, I use a tea ball infuser for the spices.
One problem with using a tea ball infuser is that if I have a large amount of spices, it’s challenging to close one half of the ball over the other without spilling some spices since one side has to be flipped over to the other side to close.
Doing so inevitably spills some spices, especially the “smaller” spices like cloves, anise seeds, and coriander seeds.
I came up with a way to minimize spillage.
By having the star anise pieces all on one side and flipping that side over to close the ball:

20160225_143833_c

I can minimize the spillage since the star anise pieces are larger and less likely to fall out. E.g. in the above picture, I’d be flipping the right side over to the left side to close the ball. (You can also see the twine that I used to tie the tea ball to the stock pot’s handle for quick retrieval.)

Crispy Pig Ear!

We had a great dinner at one of Austin’s new restaurants, Juniper. Both the chef/owner and the executive chef used to work at Uchi/Uchiko, Tyson Cole’s amazing “modern Japanese” Austin sushi places. Being adventurous eaters, we tried the “Shaped Pasta With Crispy Pig Ear”:
another version of Juniper's Shaped Pasta with Crispy Pig Ear

It’s orecchiette pasta in a light cream sauce, with strips of crispy pig ear. The sauce has a slight acidic tang to it which really played off of the dish’s richness. The piève de resistance, though, was the crispy strips of pig ear: a cross between bacon and chicharrón/pork fat cracklings, but far crunchier and harder than either can ever hope to be. The dish was a revelation!

Here’s another version of it:
Juniper's Shaped Pasta with Crispy Pig Ear

Grapefruit with sea salt and black pepper

I had some grapefruit with Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper. The black pepper is an idea from chef Tyson Cole of Uchi/Uchiko. Putting salt on tart or sour fruits is an Asian thing. Salt turns the sour or tart taste into a taste resembling sweet, but much more pleasant, in my opinion. For me, it’s definitely more preferable than the tart or sour taste.

The black pepper is a very clever touch: Tyson once made me an one-off dish of sliced strawberries, nước mắm (fish sauce), and black pepper. That was amazing not only in taste, but also in the genius of the idea of using black pepper with strawberries.

supremed grapefruit with Kosher salt and black pepper

Salmon en papillote with tangerinequat

I did another version of fish en papillote, this time with salmon, and tangerinequat instead of my usual Meyer lemon. I like this version better, as the tangerinequat is a little sweeter and the rind and flavor is more orange-y. I used my usual method: caramelized one thinly sliced shallots, add marinated spicy olives mix, cherry tomatoes, wrap up paper packet, and baked at 350 ° for 15 minutes.

Salmon en papillote, w/tangerinequat

Worthless without a pic :)

So I should have snapped a pic when I did chicken skin cracklings so you’d have an idea how the end result looks. I mean, in these days of 16 megapixel phone cameras, what’s my excuse?! So, here it is, cracklings that I made yesterday. They should be called crackling crack because they’re so addictive!
Chicken skin cracklings made in the microwave!

Ready made bias strips

This Thread article outlines the disassembly of menswear ties to be used as bias binding strips. What a great idea! Thrift stores are a great source of ties, not just because they’re economically priced, but also because the ties there likely as not have colors and patterns that one would not be caught dead in, yet would make amazing accents as bindings and trims!

Rip-stop nylon is really rip-stop!

You know how you can sometimes tear fabrics by making a snip at the edge and tear along the grain? Well, I found out that “rip-stop nylon” is really rip-stop because it’s impossible to do the tear-instead-of-cut thing with it!