McCalls 6953

I needed some clothes for work. I wanted a dress that is conservative i.e. hem not up to here :) , but still nicely feminine. I went with McCall’s 6953 because I liked its fit-and-flare silhouette, and because I have some soft floral rayon from The Common Thread, a cool Austin fabric store South of the river. I used the pattern’s black-and-white graphic to “design” the dress in Photoshop beforehand. I used a photo of the fabric, from my “inventory database” as a swatch to “fill” the empty areas of the dress graphic. I was also planning on modifying the neckline to to be a narrow scoop neck line instead of the design’s jewel neck line.

I tried several variations and settled on one with dark forest green sides and light blue trim at the waist:


It’s a good thing I wanted contrast inserts at the sides because I didn’t quite enough of the fabric for the dress, not even for the shorter knee-length version.

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Edit: A person asked on my review on about the facings. Here are a couple more pics of the lining and facing. I cut the facing in pieces from the fabric’s scraps, positioning the pieces’ inside edge on the selvage. I stitched the facing in position on top of the lining and construct the dress and lining as normal. The left pic below is the inside of the bodice back and the right pic is the inside of the bodice front. As you can see, I did not add a facing at the neck line, choosing instead to merely understitch the lining. (The zig zag stitches secure the rick rack trim.)

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Origami boxes

After a long hiatus, I did some origami boxes at an origami meet-up, from “Joyful Origami Boxes”, by Tomoko Fuse.



Corn husk mat

I made some finger food for a friend’s surprise birthday party, some mushrooms stuffed with pancetta, shallots, and sage. I wanted to present the food nicely and show off a bit :) but didn’t want to go too overboard. I decided on using corn husk to line the plate for mushrooms. I was planning on just having a simple layer of corn husk on the plate. It turns out the corn husk refused to lay flat and the mushrooms are too light to weigh it down.

I decided to tear the tip of the corn husks’ and weave them together to keep them flat. The obviously progression was, well, why not wave all the corn husks into a mat? I tore the husks into narrow strips and weave them into little mats, which then lay perfectly flat, and looked great too.


Food for party

A friend invited us to a surprise birthday party for her life partner. I volunteered to make a couple of dishes. I decided to do one vegetarian dish and one gluten-free dish, just to cover the bases. I also decided that they both should be finger-food. I wanted to stay away from dishes that would be more suitable for a sit-down dinner party; finger-food is much more suitable for a “mingling” type of party.
I decided on Stuffed Mushrooms with Pancetta, Shallots & Sage for the gluten-free dish, and Parmesan-Basil-Cheddar Stars for the vegetarian dish. I made a “test run” of the stuffed mushrooms beforehand. I was a bitleery of the sage, not quite sure how much of it to use. It turns out that between the pancetta and the cheese, I needed to be a bit heavy-handed with the sage othherwise its flavor would get drowned out. Generally, I stuck pretty close to the recipes.
I got over-eager and made all the mushrooms two nights beforehand instead of making them the night before. Fortunately, they lasted just fine covered with Saran wrap in the fridge. They did bake up beautifully:


For the cheddar “crackers”, it’s important to roll the dough out as thin as possible otherwise the crackers may turn out a little doughy instead of crunchy and crisp. I took the easy way out and not do them star-shaped and just cut the dough into rough geometric shapes, with a pizza cutter. I baked them just before heading to the party. Once cooled, they keep fine in a tissue paper-lined wicker basket:


Thread two needles each time…

I was doing some hand sewing and needed to stop and thread a new length of black thread when I had an “Ah-ha!” moment. When I wind bobbins of white or black thread, I always wind two or three bobbins, not just one, saving a few minutes. White and black thread is something I will need forever and ever, so the bobbins will never languish for long. So, why not do the same with hand sewing needles? Every time I thread a needle for sewing, I pull the length of thread across a lump of beeswax then run the thread between two fingers to “smooth out” the wax on it before threading it into the needle. That means I need to retrieve the lump of beeswax, unwrap it, then re-wrap it and put it away afterwards. By threading two needles at the same time, each with the usual length of thread and saving one later use, I save a bit of time wrangling the beeswax. Plus, now that I usually have a threaded needle at hand, I don’t feel as reluctant to do hand sewing.

(P.S. If you’re not already doing so, you must use beeswax when hand sewing. I sewed for 30 years before I discovered that doing so makes hand sewing about a gazillion times easier: the wax makes the thread a lot less likely to tangle.)

Thread catching bin for sewing machine table

I got tired of reaching across the sewing table to toss thread clippings into a bin so I rigged up a thread catching bin for my sewing machine table. Twenty years after I built the table. :)
I started with a distilled water container (I use distilled water for my iron). I cut off a portion of it, putting a notch in one side so it’d fit against the side of the sewing table. I drove two drywall screws into the table edge to hold the bin in place. A bonus is that the bin is easily removable for emptying.








The bin, when in place, may look too low and might foul my legs when I sit at the table, but it’s actually just right:
The bin may look too low and might foul my legs when I sit at the table, but it's actually just right

My entry into’s “Member Model Challenge” had a challenge for members to make a dress, the “Pleated Designer Dress”, and model it. I needed to fortify my work wardrobe and this dress is perfect for work, so off I went.


I found a 50/50 cotton/polyester fabric at Jo-Ann, charcoal gray with white stripes. I like the blend because it should make for a wash-and-wear garment. I also like the stripes because it gives me the opportunity to play with the pattern’s design, which I think lends itself very well to juxtaposition of stripes. I would have liked the stripes to be a bit bolder, wider. That would have made for a more dramatic dress, but this fabric is not bad.
The pattern preparation is straightforward and easy: print out the pattern, tape the pages together, and cut out the pattern pieces. As is common with many patterns, this pattern has no seam allowance. The seam allowance has to be added when cutting out the pattern.
I made a few changes to the pattern to better position the stripes. The first was to convert the back pieces, originally one per side, to have a princess seam: I extended the upper end of the back dart up and into the armscye seam. Adding the princess seam resulted in two pattern pieces per side, which can then have stripes running in different directions:


The other change was the addition of a “belt” mid-section, which can be cut in four sections, again allowing for stripes in different directions:


The construction is very straightforward. I would recommend this dress for less experienced sewers. The only slightly challenging part was the easing of the sleeve back piece into the sleeve front piece:


As is, the skirt is a “pencil skirt”, with the expected degree of movement restriction. For the next version, I will add a center back walking slit. I might even add one to this dress, depending how annoying the lack of a walking slit turns out to be.

Quick Sunday lunch

Sandwich of smoked turkey, honey baked ham, spinach, cucumber, sharp cheddar, cherry tomatoes, and the pièce de resistance: balsamic vinegar.



I went to a local origami meet-up today.  I didn’t know what level to expect but there was no need for concern. There is something for everybody. The most advanced people (which was most of us :) ) help out everybody else, teaching them stuff. I learned three new things: a dragon (medium), a tarantula (quite advanced; my fav!) and a flower/stem (advanced).

One thing I learned is “origami paper” makes a huge difference!  I have been using ordinary printer paper, 26 ozs I think, and it’s quite challenging for objects with many layers and folds, such as the tarantula.  Someone gave me a couple of sheets of origami paper to fold the iris, and wow!  It’s like switching from a Yugo to a Ferrari!  :)

I taught myself how to fold the dragon from one already folded, and a couple of other intermediate folders followed along. I figured out most of the dragon but the legs were a little challenging. Somebody had brought a tablet so we looked up up the video on how to fold a dragon and followed that to do the legs.


I especially love the tarantula! The guy who taught it to us had it memorized!




The flower (an iris, I think) is from the same base as the taratula.



Red with white polka dots dress, McCall’s 5881, Sep 2013

I made this dress, from a cotton fabric bought at JoAnn’s, using McCall’s 5881 pattern.  I have received compliments on it every that I wear it.

Its construction is fairly straightforward.  The only tricky thing is the fit of the bust band: since it’s constructed and finished before being joined to the lower part, it’s just about impossible to adjust its fit if it’s too loose or too tight. The only possible way to do that I can see is to include a tiny of room for adjustment at the side zipper opening. You can’t really add too much allowance there since it’s to one side and too much added or taken out there will make the garment too obviously off-center.


Another en papillote!

I did a halibut, baked en papillote. It had more or less the same ingredients as before, the only difference this time being the addition of caramelized onions. The ingredients this time was: halibut, Meyer lemon, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, olives, dried thyme flakes, butter, salt, pepper.





Making Xmas cards again…

I made Xmas cards again this year. It’s a paper stencil cut-out on khaki twill cotton on card stock, trimmed with Xmas ribbons and framed with glossy red card stock, and finally banded with gold net ribbon.





Another art2love artling

I made another “artling” for art2love, this time a “globe” plush toy, not a cape. Here is the child’s design:
Driginal design

Here is what I came up with:
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The globe (blue) and the continents (green and white) are polyester fleece. Globe is in 12 segments, stuffed with polyester fiberfill, “Poly-Fil”. Continents are hand stitched to globe. The stick figure is denim, sewn into tubes, turned, and stuffed with fiberfill. Head is in 6 segments, of cotton. Crown is “stiffened felt”. Rainbow is bias strips of satin remnants (that I had leftover from making art2love capes!), stiffened with plastic tapestry grid and padded with polyester fleece. The clouds are in two pieces, of 4-way stretch knit, hand sewn to the globe and rainbow, and stuffed with fiberfill.

Library of Congress

My tax dollars work! :)
I came across a pin pointing to The Library of Congress On-Line Search where one can search for, and view old publications! Searching for “garment cutting”, “dress making”, “tailoring” and “garment drafting” returns great old publications and books on the subject. For example, here’s a page from “Elements of garment cutting”, Madison, J. O. (James Otis), 1878:
Pages 44-45

And yet another art2love cape!

Since the child is “36 inches from neck to ankle” i.e. he/she is rather young and probably does not yet have the ability to express ideas literally, I took the liberty of enhancing his/her original design. I hope he/she will forgive me!

Original design and my interpretation of it

Original design and my interpretation of it

The construction is similar to the “Poison Ivy” cape and Dragon Ball Z cape. Of course, I just had to screw up at least once:

I con spelt I cen

I con spelt I cen

The lesson there is that when applying iron-on lettering, check and double check before applying heat in anger, ’cause there ain’t no second chance!

But all’s well that ends well:



Mitered corners!

Mitered corners!

Another art2love cape…

September 13, 2013: for those in Austin, this cape is currently on display at Dragon’s Lair.

I made another cape for art2love. The child who designed this cape took his (her? I don’t know whom it’s for; I’m not supposed to) inspiration from “Dragon Ball Z”, a Japanese anime series.

The construction of this cape is similar to the first cape that I made. The major color blocks are applied with Wonder-Under, an iron-on fusible web with paper backing. Since the pieces are huge, I only applied Wonder-Under around their perimeter. Backing an entire large piece with Wonder-Under would make the cape too stiff.

I used white polyester fleece for the “cloud”. I did a black outline as depicted in the excellent original design; it’s necessary to give the piece an “anime” feel. I did the outline with black permanent marker, then do a narrow zig-zag satin stitch over it. The black ink gives the outline more defined: I only needed to zig-zag the outline once instead of twice as usual.

The black border at the bottom is a bit of FUBAR on my part! I miscalculated and made the design too big so I had to add some length to the cape to accomodate it!

The Kanji script on the character’s white chest enblem is, AFAICT, Japanese Kanji script for “dragon”. I hope it doesn’t actually mean “dumpling” or something worse!

The “Dragon Ball Z” was replaced with the child’s initials, to avoid any possible copyright issues (though the design itself may have copyright issues as well; hopefully they won’t go after the kid for copyright infringement!).

The cape

The cape

The original design

The original design

“art2love” cape

September 13, 2013: for those in Austin, this cape is currently on display at Learning Express.

art2love is a non-profit organization that aims to “touch hearts through art“, to “to empower, encourage and elevate children in crisis through art – their own art“. Children come up with design for things such as capes, soft toys, etc. and volunteer craftster bring the designs to life.

Finished cape

Finished cape

I volunteered to make a cape for a 14-year old. Her design is quite… challenging. She was highly creative in her choice of design for the cape, of its crest, and of its colors.

Crest's original design

Crest’s original design

Cape's original design

Cape’s original design

I executed her design as is, with one small artistic license: the construction of the wavy royal blue borders lent itself to thin black outside borders. I thought the fine black lines lends even more “pop” to the blue borders.

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Cape's black border

Cape’s black border

Finished cape

Finished cape

I also learned something new: working with Wonder-Under. Wonder-Under is a paper backed heat-activated fusible material. One of its uses is to apply appliques. One would heat fuse Wonder-Under to the back of the applique material, let it cool, draw the applique shape and cut it out. Peeling off the paper backing leaves behind the adhesive and the applique can now be heat fused onto background material. To add a final, neat-freak, touch, one would zig zag around the applique’s border. That would also make the applique more rugged, to withstand possible laundering. I zig zag the border twice, to make the stitching more dense and to give it more visual presence.



I love the end result (if I do say so myself!). I see many custom applique-festooned garments in my future! :)

Overall, making the cape was a rich and rewarding experience. I will definitely do more of it.

I won!

It’s summer, so it’s time for the annual Spiceworks Salsa Contest. This year, the contest is held in conjunction with our party to celebrate Sys Admin Day, which is a big deal in and of itself. Last year, I won the “Most Culinary Creativity” prize with my “Strawberry Pico de Gallo”. This year, in a bid to win everything :) (“Crowd’s Favorite”, “Most Culinary Creativity” and “Best Dressed” prizes), I aimed for something a bit more recognizable but still having enough creativity, and presented to the best of my ability: “Roasted Poblano Tomatillos Salsa With White Truffle Oil”! I got one out of three: my salsa won the “Crowd’s Favorite” prize!!!

It’s basically a roasted salsa (all veggie ingredients are broiled under the broiler in my electric oven) with the addition of white truffle oil (Grapevine brand) and seasoned with Chihuahua de Mexico smoked salt. I think the earthy truffle oil and the smoky salt really spice up this classic roasted tomatillo poblano salsa.

Look, Ma, real truffle!

Several days before the contest, I made different versions of the salsa, starting with just the vegetable ingredients, then successively adding olive oil, lime juice, and truffle oil, fine tuning as I go. I leave the salsa in the fridge overnight and taste and fine tune the salsa further the morning after, as would be the case on contest day.


I didn’t decide on adding Chihuahua de Mexico smoked salt until making the final iteration of the salsa. I’m happy the salt’s smokiness did something good for the salsa.

For presentation, I crafted a basket lined with Spanish moss, representatives of the ingredients, and a “bouquet” made from the husk of the tomatillos.

Making the "bouquet" and putting together the presentation




Roasted Poblano Tomatillos Salsa With White Truffle Oil

  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 6 tomatillos
  • 2 fresh poblano peppers
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 8 whole garlic cloves, skin on
  • 1/2 C very finely minced cilantro, leaves only (include stems and chop less finely for “chunkier” salsa)
  • 2 Tsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp Chihuahua de Mexico smoked salt, finely ground with a mortar and pestle
  • 2 tsps truffle oil
  • dash of coarsely ground black pepper

Roast tomatoes, tomatillos, poblano, red onion, and garlic cloves 3-4″ inches from broiler’s flame/element for 7 minutes then turn and roast for another 5 minutes, until blackened all over.

Squeeze garlic out of their skin. Mash to a paste with back of spoon.

Roasted garlic

Optional: remove charred skin from tomatoes and poblano. Leave more skin in for more smokiness, at the expense of having some rough bits in the salsa.

Separately, coarsely purée tomatoes, tomatillos, poblanos, and onion in blender. Remove to separate bowls.


Start with equal volumes of tomatoes, tomatillos, and poblanos.

Add onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salts, truffle oil and pepper. Taste and adjust.

New button stitch detail!

Who knew a plain old four-hole button can be sewn on with such panache?!


My ‘C’ Spices

I keep my spices in alphabetical order.  I’m not that anal; it makes finding spices quicker when the number of spices exceeds a couple dozens.  I notice that I have quite a few spices under  ’c':

  • Cardamom
  • Cajun seasoning blend
  • Cayenne
  • Chili powder, Bolsa
  • Cinnamon: stick & ground
  • Cloves
  • Coriander
  • Cumin: whole seeds & ground
  • Curry power