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 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:

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.
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:


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!

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Chicken Skin Cracklings

A really quick and convenient way to make yummy cracklings from chicken skin is to render it in the microwave. I especially like to do this with roasted chicken skin or skin that has been otherwise cooked. Sprinkle with salt, put between sheets of paper towel and microwave for short periods of time until crisp.

Extra cilantro and flat leaf parsley?

pic of a sprig of cilantro

I can never buy cilantro and flat leaf parsley in small enough quantities. They’re sold in fairly big bunches, but I generally use them only for garnishing, rarely as one of the main ingredients. I always have a large amount left over and cannot use them all before they rot. (I keep them, washed, wrapped in a paper towel in a zip-lock plastic bag, in the vegetables bin in my refrigerator.)

Episode 1 of Season 10 of “Mexico One Plate At A Time” with Rick Bayless has a great recipe for Whole Grilled Fish With Green And Red Adobos. In addition to roasted garlic and serrano chile, the green adobo uses lots of cilantro and flat leaf parsley. He says that the green chile adobo used in that recipe keeps for multiple months in the refrigerator. That’s how I am going to use my surplus cilantro and parsley from now on: make green adobo.

Discharge dyeing

“To add speed, add lightness,” the famous Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus (the car company, not the software company!), was reputed to have said. To go faster, remove weight. So it is with discharge dyeing: to add designs, remove dyes.

My local sewing meet-up group had a meet-up where we did discharge dyeing. The meet-up’s leader was not an expert in discharge dyeing, but was much more experienced that the rest of the group at the discipline. She also prepared for the meet-up very thoroughly. Every attendee got instructions, materials (gloves, goggles, respirator, bleach, bleach thickener, brushes and toothbrushes and miscellaneous implements with which to apply bleach, various objects for use as stencil). She also had everything set up and ready to go: tables, two buckets each of first rinse water, bleach stop, and final rinse. We got going in no time. It was a lot of fun!

The main thing that I discovered is that it’s fruitless to try to achieve a sharply defined design. Without some sort of resist, such as wax, as used in batik dyeing, the bleach would eventually bleed out and blur any design you have in mind. I supposed the same is true with fabric painting: unless the bleach is actively prevented from spreading, it will.

You can find lots of fabric dyeing and painting supplies at:
Dharma Trading
PRO Chemical & Dye

McCall’s 5619, rebooted!

Once upon a time, I made McCall’s 5619 from green and white floral cotton. I think the fabric may have been a home decor fabric. It does resemble a curtain! I look rather like Scarlet O’Hara in that dress . At best, the dress looks a little “school marm”-ish. My S.O. thinks I look like an extra for “Little House On The Prairie”!

Pic of Original version of McCalls 5619, View B

I decided to divest the dress of its sleeves, which is actually the pattern’s View A:

McCalls 5619 View A

I think you would agree that View A looks light years better on this Princess Leia!

Pic of Altered version of McCall's 5619, now View A