Apple Gingerbread Cake

apple gingerbread cake
One of my baking projects over the last holiday was an apple gingerbread cake.

The idea appealed to me: apples sautéed in butter, molasses, served with heavy cream. How could I go wrong? Famous last words, as it turned out. To be sure, the result was delicious, but it was nowhere near as pretty as it could have been due to just one simple oversight. Or to put it another way, as I said to a software engineer colleague one time, “That’s a bug.” He replied, “Well, it’s not optimal.” I’ve been using “not optimal” to describe my screw-ups ever since.

Anyway, the error in my execution of the apple gingerbread cake recipe was very simple error: when I layered the sautéed apple slices into the mold, forming what would subsequently be the top of the cake, I didn’t push down the apple slices down into the caramel hard enough and the result was some air pockets under the apple slices. When I poured the batter on top of the apple slices, some of the batter seeped down beneath the slices and as a result, ruined the top of the cake. You can probably see in the pic above bits of cake oozing and seeping past the apple slices.

Now that didn’t affect the way the cake tasted. It was delicious. Unfortunately, I believe that one eats with all of one’s senses, and if what one is eating is beautiful, that would only add to the experience. I guess it’s one mistake I will not make again any time soon.

Austin Carnaval costume

You may have seen from an earlier post on making the mohawk headpiece for my Austin Carnaval costume. I found this braided metallic mesh tubing at Jo-Ann Fabrics:
braided mesh tubings at Jo-Ann

…and decided to add fringes to the back of the mohawk:
adding fringes of metallic woven tubing adding fringes of metallic woven tubing

Beyond that, it was on to making the rest of my “Road Warrior in White” costume:

I made a fingerless glove, with straps made from fold-over elastic.
I also made a small purse to carry my phone and keys and credit cards.
glove, with straps made from fold-over elastic close-up of glove and purse for road warrior costume

And of course, apocalypse would not look the same without huge “football shoulder pads”. Here’s the back view of shoulder pads, on dress form:
shoulder pads on dress form
…and with chains added:
shoulder pads with chain trim

And voilà! Here are my posed “studio” pics of completed costume:
road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed

And here are my Carnaval “action” pics:

Performance by the Austin Samba School’s troupes:
performance by the Austin Samba School's troupes

Samba dance troupe
Samba dance troupe

With masked purple woman
with masked purple woman

With couple in red/yellow
with couple in red/yellow

With people who made their own costume
with people who made their own costume

With “cowboy” couple

With woman in purple/green costume with fascinator
with woman in purple/green costume with fascinator

With couple also all in white
with couple also all in white

With “firemen” and woman in red; pouch has been moved to front

With other “road warriors”
with other

With yet another hot celebrant
with yet another hot celebrant

With yet another woman in red
with another woman in red

With a whole bunch of “insects”!
with a whole bunch of

One “occupational hazard” of getting up close and personal with other people to take pics with them is that you end up wearing their glitters! 🙂
occupational hazard, OPG: other people's glitter :)

Clever way to correlate fabric to pattern

using fabric strip to secure roll of pattern pieces
As you may know, I started using Dress Shop to generate patterns. Dress Shop generates a PDF file which is printed out on a normal printer on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. I would then tape the pages together to form the pattern. One artifact of printing patterns this way is that they are too sturdy to fold easily, even when printed on the lightest weight printer paper. As a result, I store patterns by rolling them up, which means I need to secure the rolled up patterns to keep them from unfurling. A simple rubber band will do, obviously, but I came up with a better mouse trap: I use a strip of fabric remnant, left over from cutting of the garment, to secure the pattern roll.

This way, I tie, literally and figuratively, the fabric to the pattern. The fabric remnant tells me what garment I made with the pattern and also, what the pattern is without needing to look for description or name printe don the pattern, or worse, having to unroll the pattern.

For instance, the picture above is of a Dress Shop shirt dress pattern that I made with a white/black/red plaid cotton flannel:
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, front view, with white boots and white hosiery

Austin Carnaval costume: “mohawk”

finished mohawk

I made an all-white “road warrior” costume for the 2017 Austin Carnaval Brasileiro. I’ve been “incubating” the idea for several years, and this year I finally “pulled the trigger” on it.

Since the costume is for the Carnaval, it needed to be super sexy! That means short skirt, bared midriff, spike heels, etc. However, one element of the costume that I settled on early on was a “mohawk” headpiece: nothing says “road warrior” like a fierce mohawk! This is how I made mine. (I’ll write about my costume soon.)

I used buckram for the “base” of the mohawk. The base is basically a form that sits on my head and that everything is attached to. Since I wanted to sew everything to the base, I can’t use, say, plastic. I used brim wire (“millinery wire”) at the form’s perimeter to give it the necessary stiffness. I zig zagged the brim wire to the edge of the form:
zig zagging brim wire to base zig zagging brim wire to base: almost done zig zagging brim wire to base: wire clipped to length zig zagging brim wire to base: wire joiner added
I left adding the joiner for last, so I’d know exactly what length the wire needed to be.

Test wearing of the base:
test fit of base on my head

For the mohawk, I made a form/pattern to determine the size and shape of the mohawk, using card stock (boxes from frozen entrées 🙂 ) to make the pattern:
pattern to test fit mohawk pattern to test fit mohawk

Test fitting the pattern to ensure its fit and size:
test fit of mohawk

Test fitting of base to mohawk pattern:

I wanted the “body” of the mohawk to be of the same white sequined lace that I used for the rest of the costume. Obviously, the lace won’t stand up by itself. It will need to be backed with something stiff yet transparent to show off the see-through nature of the lace. I wanted something similar to the acetate from, for example, Whole Foods baby spinach boxes. The problem is the boxes are not large enough. I’d have to piece several pieces together, which is doable, but it would have meant having to eat a truck load of spinach. I like spinach but not that much!

I settled on acetate sheets from Jo-Ann. I found them in the paper crafting/scrapbooking/card making section:
acetate sheet

I did a test to make sure I can sew on the actetate, because I will need to sew lace, Velcro, etc. to it:
test of sewing velcro to acetate sheet
The acetate can be stitched easily, using normal sewing needle (80/12 Schmetz Universal) and thread (Gütermann), without it tearing or the stitches getting messed up.

The mohawk will obviously need to stand up by itself and not flop over. It also needed to be light enough to not present a problem staying on my head, or be a pain to wear a whole night. I decided to make two acetate+lace mohawk shapes and attach them so they’d have a wedge cross section: attached at the outside/top edge, and spread apart at the base and attached to the long edges of the base. The wedge cross section ensures that the mohawk will stand up by itself and not flop over.

I also wanted to make the mohawk so it can be disassembled, to simplify transport and storage. I used Velcro to attach the two mohawk halves together:
Velcro sewn to mohawk Velcro sewn to mohawk
and to attach the mohawk to the base:
Velcro tabs sewn to base

To secure the mohawk on my head, I zig-zagged elastic cord to the base, adding a cord keeper to ease adjustment:
elastic cords & cord keeper
This work well, but I think I will add a hair comb or two to the underside of the base to make it even more secure.

To hide the attachments at the base of the mohawk, I added a length of gathered tulle to the bottom edge:
tulle trim for mohawk's lower edge tulle trim at mohawk's lower edge tulle trim at mohawk's lower edge

The final touch, which really made the mohawk look like a mohawk, was a strip of feather trim tape along the edge:
finished mohawk

Now to make the rest of the costume! And make it in time for the Carnaval! 🙂

A pressing matter

fleece motorcycle jacket with nicely pressed seams

Pressing and steaming differentiate great garments from home-made looking ones probably more than anything else. Mismatched plaids and stripes, uneven hem, and wrinkly sleeve caps also say “home made” instead of “tailored”, but not to the same degree, as it takes a bit of scrutiny to see those things. Unpressed seams, however, says “done at home” as much as a bowl haircut on a kid! It only takes the briefest of glance to see the puffy seams, bulging darts, and overly thick collars.

Here is an example, from a “project” page of an on-line fabrics store. I have removed identifying info so as not to shame anybody! I feel this is particularly egregious example of lack of pressing because this jacket could have been so amazing, being made from a “selvedge denim” costing $18 a yard, which is actually more like twice that expensive since it’s only 31″ wide! Pressing and steaming is super easy and very satisfying with denim because it takes a seam so beautifully, being 100% and reasonably loosely woven. Granted, it’ll take a bit of extra work to pound the thicker areas such as where seams intersect, etc. to make the finished seam as thin as possible, but it is always worth it.

unpressed, puffy, lapel on denim jacket unpressed, puffy, seams on denim jacket unpressed lapel, top view

By contrast, this jacket in a pattern review on, of a silk and linen blend, is beautifully pressed. You can see the difference nicely pressed seams make.
linen jacket with beautifully pressed seams

Even a jacket that I made from fleece (top pic, above) can be coaxed into having flat and pressed seams by having flat felled seams as well as having interfaced cotton facings.

Pin sizes

comparison of shaft size, Dritz #44 pin and Dritz #22 Ultra Fine

I have written before about sewing over pins. There is always a “religious war” over whether or not to leave pins in place and sew over them or to remove them as one sews. I think at least some of those who are in the “remove pins” camp use pins that are sturdier but as a result have a larger shaft and are much more likely to get hit by the needle.

I current use Dritz extra-fine pins as well as Clover “Patchwork Pins, Fine”. The Clover pins’ shaft is 0.016″. The Dritz extra-fine pins are about as fine, maybe a hair thinner. By comparison, Dritz #44 pins (red ball head, second from bottom) have shaft of 0.035″ diameter. That is more than twice as thick as the pins I use!

The silver ball head pin and yellow ball head pin (bottom and third from bottom) are similar in size to the Dritz #44. One can see how, using those pins, the chance of pins getting hit by needle would be more than twice as much!
comparison of shaft size, assortment of pins

I used the blue ball head pin (third from top), Dritz #21, for a short while before I found the Dritz extra-fine and Clover pins. Their shaft is 0.027″. They’re OK but still a bit too thick to sew over safely.

The Dritz extra-fine and Clover pins’ shaft are so fine that if the needle hit them, they’d just get bent and nothing much else happens. I had the opportunity to sew on a Bernina Activa 145 this weekend at a charity sewing event. I loved the machine! It sews beautifully and the user interface is very intuitive, at least for me, a very experienced sewist. The machine’s owner is in the “remove pins” camp. I think I can understand why she’d prefer that. The Bernina appears much more precise and finely tuned than my 40-year old Singer Fashion Mate Model 248. Hitting a pin on the Bernina, no matter how fine the pin, may have much worse consequences than on my Singer.

P.S. Here’s a Threads magazine article on pins.


close-up of couture technician wearing a chatelaine

A chatelaine is “a set of short chains attached to a woman’s belt, used for carrying keys or other items.” (It also means “a woman in charge of a large house”, presumably because she’d be carrying a large cluster of keys etc.) I saw “Dior And I” at the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival a few years ago, a documentary about the designer Raf Simons and his time at the House of Dior. One interesting thing I saw in the film is the chatelaine that couture technicians wear around their neck. It’s basically a little pouch on strings, used to carry scissors, pins, chalk, etc. It struck me as being a great idea for two reasons.

The first reason is that, obviously, having the stuff they use the most around their neck is more efficient because they always have what they need right at hand. They don’t need to go back to their workbench to fetch what they need.

The second reason did not occur to me until recently when I was making the black/white/red tartan dress. I didn’t want to have to undress every time I need to try on the dress. Since I was by myself in my workroom, I just sewed in the nude. (Don’t tell anybody! 🙂 ) That did save a lot of time. Until I found that, one, since I’m nude, I don’t have anywhere to clip my scissors scabbard to 🙂 and two, I still had to take off my pin cushion around my wrist and put it back on afterwards every time I tried on the dress. It then dawned on me that the reason the chatelaine is worn around the neck instead of, say, clipped onto a belt, is because one always has a neck to hang chatelaine from regardless of what clothes one happens to be wearing, or not wearing 🙂 .

I went looking for proof that “chatelaines and couture technicians” is a thing, and found plenty.

One example is from a photo of a group of couture technicians of the house of Givenchy on a balcony with a model wearing a design by Riccardo Tisci. A couple of the technicians can be seen wearing a chatelaine around their neck. One woman’s chatelaine shows a pair of sewing scissors. Her chatelaine does not appear to very deep and also has a wide mouth, probably so she can easily retrieve items in it:
couture technician wearing white smock and a chatelaine
The scissors are located at the chatelaine’s upper left corner, handles up, probably for convenient access for righthanders. You can also see that in this pic of two of Dior’s in-charge couture technicians, with the designer Raf Simons:
wo of Dior's in-charge couture technicians

While the vast majority of chatelaines are utilitarian and unadorned, slapped together with random fabrics and with quick stitches:
utilitarian chatelaine
…some chatelaines are more embellished with edge binding and quilting:
couture technician w/ embellished chatelaine

I think there is a chatelaine in my future. And definitely there is more sewing in the nude in my future. 🙂

Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël, view 3

Continuing to brag about my holiday baking 🙂 : I made a bûche de Noël, a.k.a a Yule log to bring to the holiday dinner at my cousin’s house. I was overjoyed at how it turned out since it was the first time that I attempted many of the elements and techniques in making it: meringue, sheet cake, ganache, and marzipan. Admittedly, most of them are straightforward and anybody probably could have done them. The meringue was probably the most challenging technically, both because of the skill involved (knowing how and how much to beat the egg whites) and the baking required (baking temperature and time and cool-down).

I loosely followed this bûche de Noël recipe, using its sponge sheet cake, bittersweet ganache, and mascarpone filling.

For the for meringue mushrooms, I used a recipe. It came pretty good, though the egg white could have been a bit stiffer: the tips of the mushroom stems drooped a bit when piped out. It wasn’t too bad. I only needed to chop off a bit of the tip to assemble the mushrooms. I used bittersweet chocolate to “glue” the stems to the caps, and to also to make the underside of the caps a dark brown: close-up of meringue mushrooms

For the “bark”, instead of the recipe’s white “birch bark”, I used Two Sisters’ Crafting’s recipe for chocolate buttercream frosting.

The assembly is fairly straightforward, albeit with one flaw in the instructions, IMO: the mascarpone filling should go on first, underneath the ganache. The recipe calls for spreading on the ganache first then the mascarpone filling which didn’t work out so well. When spreading the mascarpone filling on top of the ganache, it was difficult to avoid smearing the mascarpone filling into the ganache because the ganache was too soft and did not make a good base for the mascarpone filling. Even the recipe itself says: “carefully spread [the mascarpone filling]over [ganache] surface, trying not to blend with ganache!

I used a marzipan recipe from, adding bittersweet chocolate powder to make the “leaves”.

Here’s the result. It was the huge hit one would expect, both visually and taste-wise!

Bûche de Noël, view 1 Bûche de Noël, view 2

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