C'est Si Bon! The Quest

On March 14, 2011, I was searching knitting patterns on Ravelry.com and stumbled upon a scarf that I immediately fell in love with. Now, I'm not prone to "love at first sight" when it comes to knitting but, for some reason, the look of this particular piece was captivating.

Unfortunately, all the viewable projects (about 7 at the time) were in French.

It even LOOKS French, doesn't it?
So, with the help of Google Translate (and a few years of high-school French), I emailed one of the French knitters to see if she could help me secure a copy of the pattern. Fortunately, she responded in excellent English which she, like most Europeans, claimed was "not good." She sent me the email address for the shop that created and printed the pattern. Achievement unlocked: Find the Source.

I promptly emailed the shop, again with the help of Google Translate, and received no response.Ever. Fail.

At that point, I went back to the photos of people's work-in-progress and finished projects to see if I could suss out the pattern myself. I mean...it's a scarf. It's not like it's rocket science but I was stumped about how the stitch pattern was created. I'd never seen anything quite like it before. Fail.

In order to not drive myself completely insane, I let it rest for a long while. I didn't taunt myself by looking at the scarf or obsess about the fact that I couldn't have it - although I really, really wanted to. Achievement unlocked: Patience.

A number of months later, I was browsing my Ravelry Favorites, saw the scarf, and the old love was renewed. I decided to take up the quest again.

My English-speaking friend's scarf.
By this time, the number of completed projects had more than doubled and - lo and behold - there was one in English. I emailed the English-speaking knitter and explained my plight. I told her that, if she could just provide me with the stitch pattern, I could fake it from there. Again, it's just a scarf - a great, big triangle. Unfortunately, she had just moved and couldn't find her notes so she attempted to remember it as best she could. She provided a couple of very valuable pieces of information that helped explain the elusive stitch pattern. Unfortunately, once I started knitting, it was obviously not quite right. First Actual Attempt: Fail

Now I was obsessed. I wracked my brain trying to think of ways I could get my hands on an actual copy of the pattern. I could deal with translation after the fact. I thought of friend-of-the-blog, @pinkundine, a crafty-blogger who lives in the UK. Maybe, just maybe, closer proximity to France could facilitate securing the pattern. So, off went a long, convoluted email about my quest and, while she couldn't find a way to purchase the pattern for me, she did LOADS of internet research in an attempt help. Honestly, she went above and beyond. Achievement Unlocked: Secured Awesome Crafting Friendship.

Finally, Cassandra said to me, "Doesn't your friend Mary speak French? Why don't you have her call the shop and see if she can convince them to ship internationally?"  *face palm* How could I have forgotten that one of my best friends in the world is a proficient French speaker (although she claims her French is "bad"). So, one morning after brunch I asked. She looked at me and said, "Why don't we just ask Carrie to pick up a copy for you at the shop? She'll be here in a couple of weeks and she can bring it with her."

Seriously....my head nearly exploded. It's one thing to forget that you have a friend who speaks a foreign language. It's entirely another to forget that you actually KNOW a person who lives in the city that you need something from. And, she was traveling to us within two weeks. Could it be more perfect?

Mary emailed Carrie. Carrie agreed to secure the pattern for me and bring it with her. This past Saturday, at exactly 7pm, I completed my quest. The pattern is mine. QUEST COMPLETE!

Now, I just have to get it translated*.

- Alex

* If any of you know of any proficiently French-speaking knitters, PLEASE get them in touch with me. Thanks.

Friday Finds: Deep Fried Pickles

I don't recall the first time we met. But I do know that it was love from the first. Deep Fried Pickles and me have had a hot an heavy relationship for years.

Every time I spy them on a menu they are immediately ordered. But, for some reason it never occurred to me to make them at home. Until now...

Photo courtesy of Pillsbury.com

The good people over at Pillsbury have put a great (and simple) recipe to make this food for the Gods in your very own kitchen. For extra sin, don't forget to add the ranch on the side for dipping!

Have a great weekend everyone,

Spring Cleaning or OCD? You Decide...

This time of year is a double-edged sword for me.

You see, I'm a recovering sufferer of OCD. And, while I often joke about it, the truth is that there was a time when I was really sick. There was a time when I spent every spare minute of my life cleaning. Again...not a joke. If I wasn't at work or cooking a meal for my child, I was cleaning. Every evening, every weekend.

To illustrate the extent of my illness, let me put it this way: on Sunday, in addition to normal kitchen and bathroom cleaning, vacuuming, and laundry, my ritual was to scrub every tile floor by hand, to scrub every baseboard in the house, and to wash all the curtains. Every Sunday. With bleach.

When I went shopping, I couldn't let my food items share the cart with non-food items.

I washed my hands a lot.

Like many of these things, it's about control. This was one area of my life I could control and so I did - with a vengeance.

Thank god for therapy and Prozac.

So, I've been pretty healthy for the last 15 years or so. Every now and then, while at the grocery store, I feel my brain start to scream "WHY IS THAT LYSOL BOTTLE TOUCHING THE GRAPES!" and then I remind myself that it's not the end of the world and I do a little deep breathing and everything is okay. Sometimes, I force myself to put incompatible items next to each other in the cart just to prove the point.

Unfortunately, spring cleaning is one of my worst OCD triggers. Culturally and practically, this is the time of year when "over-cleaning" is encouraged. We're supposed to pull out our sofas and vacuum behind them. We're supposed to get the cobwebs out of the corners and scrub the winter off our floors. All that sunshine coming through the windows makes it impossible to ignore the dirt, right?

Well, I had the day off on Monday and thought I'd clean a bit. A trip to the equipment rental store and seven hours later, you can eat off of every surface in my kitchen. Yeah... I went a bit overboard.

If you've never rented a commercial grade floor cleaner before, let me recommend doing so. My kitchen and bathroom floors have never been cleaner and I even went as far as pulling the appliances out from the walls and cleaning behind and under them. Obsessive, yes. However, I eventually forced myself to stop and even replaced the (filthy, in my opinion) uncleaned dog gate in the kitchen doorway. I lost a day to my OCD this week but I managed to stop myself and not let it completely blow out of proportion.

And I've got a wicked clean kitchen to show for it. I guess a little OCD can be a good thing sometimes.

- Alex

The Year of the Quilt

I don't know if it just an effect of my spring fever, but I have really had some creative demons roaming around in my mind lately. The kind that nag at me and won't leave me alone until I confront them. This past weekend, I had no choice but to exercise one out. So, instead of cleaning or some such foolishness, I designed and started a full size quilt.

A work in progress...
Stepping backward from the photo above, my creative process actually began with color. The sight of our emerging spring has been my treasure-trove of inspiration. The brown and ochre of last fall is mixed with a million shades of newly budding green. Intoxicating. I have been so distracted on my drive home from work I can barely keep my eyes on the road. These colors are going to be the palette of my quilt.

You know, it's funny, I read a lot of quilt books. Some I own, some I've borrowed from the library. At least a few times a week you will find me on the couch with one in my hands. It's kind of weird because I've never really made a proper quilt, but I really feel like I understand a lot of the "mechanics" of the process from my reading. It also doesn't hurt that I've been taping the Fons and Porter TV Show on PBS. If you check out this link, some are even available to watch online for a fee. Sure, sometimes the aesthetics of whatever they are making doesn't appeal to me, but I have to get past it and focus on the techniques. I know my way around a sewing machine, I can do this (she tells herself).

As I've said before, I think quilting is a whole lot like graphic design. Shapes and spaces working together in a perfect balance of control and chaos. When I sat down with paper and pencil (and the computer after that), I was starting with some base knowledge on a variety of blocks and how they work together. I'm pretty excited about this design I have concocted. It employs a few different types of blocks, some embroidered panels, and some applique. It is still a work in progress...and in my usual fashion, will be until the last thread of the binding has been snipped.

The colors of the wild.
I have purchased some fabric as well as raided my stash to get started. My starting place is the eight 12x12 log cabin blocks included in the design. I love log cabin blocks. They are simple, but with the right fabric choices, can be so colorful at the same time. I am using these blocks as a "chaos" area in my quilt. That means I have been cutting tons and tons of different colors for the "logs". Major time-suck, but it will be worth it in the end...hopefully. :)

Cutting and cutting!
Next week I would love to have a little tutorial (the word tute rankles Alex) ready for you on my log cabin blocks. Until then, I will be cutting and sewing (or possibly sewing and cutting).


Friday Finds: Gutter Garden

One might misinterpret the title of this post and assume that I'm referring to the weeds that like to grow along my roof line when I neglect to properly clean my gutters.

Oh, but no! I'm referring to one of my favorite Friday Finds of all time - hanging planters made from pieces of gutter.

Look at this!

Seriously... how cool is that? And the building plans look really, really easy.

Based on the instructions for planting, you need shallow-root plants (obviously) and most greens fall into that category. I know where my arugula and chard are going this year! Woot!!

I'm so ready to start gardening it's not even funny. Hopefully our weather will even out a bit and I can get some stuff in the ground soon. I feel like I'm already behind. So, one of these cold, weekend days, I'm going to build a gutter garden planter and, hopefully, kick off the official gardening season. I can't wait!!!


Frenchy Bags

Last week, I got the urge to tick one of the things off my to-do list, I sewed up an Amy Butler Frenchy Bag. Ooh-la-la! It's so cute!

Check out the cuteness.
This is the only Amy Butler pattern I have sewn, but if all of her patterns are this user-friendly...I'll be back for more. The directions were so clear and straightforward. I am used to sewing the patterns from big companies like Simplicity or Butterick. While I love them, they can be a little confusing and unnecessarily complicated. Amy keeps it simple and straightforward. Love it.

Love you Frenchy Bag pattern!

The pattern includes directions for a handbag and a large tote. I chose the large tote (because I need a mom purse). I did not deviate from the pattern except for leaving off the magnetic closure because I didn't feel like I needed it.

When I was sewing my bag it occurred to me what a great advanced beginner project this would be. You learn about interfacing, simple pleats, handle joining, and laying in a lining with pockets. If you have never followed a garment pattern before, this is a great place to start.

Detail of pleats and handle join.

When I told Alex that I was writing this post today, she asked me why she has not seen me wearing my new bag. Well, let me tell ya...I love it, I really do. I'm just afraid it might be a little loud. Maybe I will feel differently when the summer hits us and I am wearing different clothes, but right now the fabric seems too bold. (Speaking of fabric, the blue floral pattern is from last year's Amy Butler collection and the mustard is something in my stash by Moda from a few years ago.) I might have to make another in more subtle tones.

It's another love fest, I'm giving this pattern a thumbs up. I encourage everyone to make one....then we will all match! We can call ourselves the Frenchy Bag club. I'm so lame... ;)


Crunchy Little Fishies

When one moves to the Wisconsin, it's a good idea to assimilate as much as possible. And, really, this isn't a disagreeable thing to do. The quirks that make Wisconsin unique are all very appealing things, such as good beer, cheese, butter, and fish fry. There are a few that are a bit more difficult to swallow - like ice fishing, for example - but, for the most part, the things that Wisconsinites love center around food, friends, and food.

When I moved to Madison in 1996, I'd never eaten a bratwurst. I'd had my share of Italian sausages (for obvious reasons) but the Germanic versions of sausage were off my radar. The first time I bit into a Johnsonville Beer and Brat (where there's beer INSIDE the sausage casing) I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I quickly learned that proper bratwurst is to be pre-cooked in beer before they're put on the grill to crisp up. And, since I'm not a beer drinker, this was how I could participate in the Wisconsin passion for consuming the official state beverage*.

Of all the Wisconsin traditions, the one I've taken to heart the most is the Friday Fish Fry. Born of Catholic roots, the Friday Fish Fry is much more than just a meal out on a Friday night - it's a ritual of epic proportions. In the greater Madison area alone, there are hundreds of restaurants that serve some version of Friday Fish Fry. The standard fry includes:

  • Breaded or beer battered cod, perch, or walleye (or any combo of the three)
  • A potato of some sort
  • Cole slaw
  • Salad or soup for a nominal upcharge
There are as many variations on this theme as there are restaurants. And there are websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and even Twitter accounts (@MadisonFishFry) devoted to trying as many as possible and finding the best.

We all have our favorites for one reason or another. A true fan doesn't care much about the ambiance of a restaurant, just whether the fish is top-notch and how the sides stack up. Personally, I like perch (or blue gill if I can get it) breaded (not battered) with a baked potato on the side. New England clam chowder to start, if it's available, please. Along with your fish fry, a true Wisconsinite drinks an Old Fashioned, the Wisconsin way - with brandy, sweet. As an original east-coaster, I just can't bear how sweet a brandy Old Fashioned is so I have it with bourbon. This is a dead giveaway that I wasn't born and bred here.

A few years ago, I was introduced to a variation on the Friday Fish Fry theme - the smelt fry. For the uninitiated, smelt is a tiny little fish - about the size of an anchovy - and, in the Midwest, they are found in the Great Lakes. They're a "winter fish" meaning that they're normally fished during the cold months. And they're one of the few fish that are caught by netting.

So, when you cut off the heads and gut them, then dredge them in flour, salt and pepper and fry 'em up, you have, essentially, little fishy french fries. They're AWESOME.

I'm a loyalist. I only go to one place for smelt fry - the first place I ever went, about five years ago - the North Bristol Sportsmen's Club (NBSC). The NBSC is a shooting range that has an awesome clubhouse with a long bar and a dining room full of formica tables. Once a month, from January to April, the NBSC hosts a Saturday night all-you-can-eat smelt fry. To say the fish are perfect is an understatement. A friend who lived in the UK for years is fond of saying that the NBSC smelt is as good or better than any frito misto he's ever had, anywhere. And, as if perfect, crunchy, little fishies isn't enough, you can also have homemade cheesy potatoes (this is pure Wisconsin, baby), homemade potato pancakes, cole slaw, rolls, applesauce, and, if you don't want fish (traitors!) they also offer some pretty exquisite fried chicken.

For a great sense of the NBSC smelt fry, please read my friend Sean's Heavy Table review from last year, here.
From one of our regular smelters. So he knows of what he draws.

Over the years, I've taken a lot of my friends to the NBSC for smelt. We now have a pretty regular group that tries to attend as many of the four annual dinners as possible. It's become a ritual, nearly as epic as the year-round Friday Fish fry. Maybe more epic because it's limited and being forced to wait makes the smelt that much sweeter.

This past Saturday was the last NBSC smelt fry for 2012. It was bittersweet - a beautiful warm afternoon meant that we could wait for our table outside, serenaded by the blasts of shotguns. My cheap but ridiculously strong bourbon Old Fashioned meant that I had to stop after one because I was getting tipsy before we even sat down to eat. As I plowed through my overflowing plate of little fish and cheesy potatoes, and I watched my friends do the same, I got a slightly misty about the fact that I wouldn't be back to the NBSC until January of 2013.

At least I have next Friday's Fish Fry to look forward to.

- Alex

*I'm pretty sure I just made that up. If Wisconsin has a state beverage, it's probably milk but everyone I know here is obsessed with beer.

Friday Finds: Lost Soul

If you didn't see this article on NPR's site the other day...you really missed something. Soul music recorded by various (non-famous) women at a small label was set aside and forgotten, until now. Alex and I went gaga. We love this stuff.

Photo Courtesy of Timmion Records

Take a minute to go to NPR and in and get your groove on. You can listen to 5 tracks. Deep Shadows is my favorite. Have a great weekend!


1970s Fashion Flashback!

Back in the stone age, when I was in high school, maxi skirts were the rage. And the coolest maxi you could have was one made from an old pair of blue jeans.

There was a cool girl at my school who had the best blue jean skirt ever. I coveted that skirt. Then, one day she left school - I can't remember if she graduated or if she moved to a different school but she left the skirt behind in the laundry room and I found it. Possession is 9/10th of the law, right??

I wore that skirt almost daily for a full semester. I loved that skirt with everything I had. Then, one day, she came back and saw me in it. The exchange went like this:

HER: Hey! That's my skirt!
ME: No it's not.
HER: Yes it is... look there's the [some identifying feature that made it hers]. Give it back!
ME: No.
HER: I'm telling. (she probably didn't actually say this but...)
ME: Fine.

So, I caved and returned the skirt and forever regretted no longer having the coolest jean maxi skirt ever.

The other day, I was cleaning out my chest of drawers and came across a pair of jeans that I never wear anymore. And I had an epiphany.

Because I'm a really generous person, unlike that b*tch from high school, I'm going to share my tutorial on how to make your very own, awesome jean maxi skirt. Enjoy.

Materials needed:
  • 2 pair of jeans (or one pair of jeans and fabric to fill in the “center” of the skirt)
  • A seam ripper and/or a really good pair of sharp pointed scissors (snips)
  • A spool of “jean thread” (it’s kind of orange and heavy)
  • A denim needle for your sewing machine. DO NOT SKIP THIS. You need a heavy duty needle to get through the multiple layers of denim.
  • An iron and ironing board
Step one: Open up the inseam on the pair of jeans that will serve as the skirt. 

Step two: Clean up the remnants of the old thread.

Step three: Measure and cut the jeans that will be used to fill the center of the skirt.

a)      Measure the inseam on your “skirt” and then measure the leg of your second pair of jeans from the hem up – allowing yourself at least four inches of extra fabric. It helps if your “inset” jeans are longer than the “skirt” jeans.
b)      Mark the fabric at your cut line. Fold the jeans in half and cut across both legs.

Step four: Secure the “V” of the skirt in the front and back by folding the fabric over and sewing it down using a topstitch with the "jean thread".  I used a ¼” seam allowance. See photos:

Front fold
Front pinned down
Front sewn
Back pinned

Back sewn
Step five: Take one of the legs apart with a seam ripper, leaving you with two pieces of long fabric. The back of the leg will be wider and, probably, the one you’ll want to use for the front inset. However, you can use the narrower one if it fits and you prefer it. Iron flat any old seams that might be folded over.

Step six: Open the larger seam (the old inseam) on the other leg, leaving the smaller seam and creating a wider piece of fabric. This is the one you’ll use for the back inset.
a)      When placing this fabric into the “V”, make sure you line up the seam so that it’s exactly in the middle or it will look askew.

Step seven: Pin the inset fabric into the front and back “V”’s of the skirt and then sew in place using a ¼” seam allowance topstitch.

NOTE: on the front of the skirt, the old inseam should still be folded under and you can just topstitch over that. In the back, you'll need to iron the fabric to create a finished edge for the topstitching.

Step eight: Turn your skirt inside out and trim off the excess fabric. Don't worry about the frayed edges. Pro-tip: If they bug you, use some Fray Stop.

That's a lot of extra fabric.
Step nine: Finish the hem in whatever way you prefer. I like a fringe so I just cut everything to the same length and start the fray with the pick end of the seam ripper. It will fringe up nicely with a couple of washings.

E voila! You’re done. Now you can be the coolest kid in school too. 

- Alex

Color Theory

My mind has been in a really quilty place lately. I've been designing blocks in my head while driving home from work or making dinner. Unfortunately, if I don't get these ideas down on paper (and then on fabric) it will completely consume me. Here's a little peek into my brain, by the way.... if I don't purge this stuff from my head, I will become completely creatively blocked. This is how my creative process operates.

I don't know if I can call myself a "quilter". I have dabbled with the process but I am in no way an expert. So, you might be wondering why a novice like me thinks I can somehow design quilts. Well, let me tell ya...a big part of quilting is just graphic design and color theory. And that's the part I can do with gusto, the technical sewing part is the part with the learning curve.

The creativity of the Gee's Bend quilts rivals any modern artist.
Quilting appeals to the trained artist in me. When I look at a traditional quilt I appreciate it for it's color balance and overall abstract geometric design. When in perfect symmetry or perfect controlled chaos it can really sing. It appeals to me in the same way painting does, and I think that's why I use the same critical eye when viewing them.

Are you a seasoned (or new) quilter who possibly stresses out when choosing fabrics? This would be because achieving the balance between so many pieces of pattern and color can be overwhelmingly complex. But if you understand some basic color theory, these creative choices can be much easier. Here is a very breezy overview of color theory:

Colors fall into 3 groups...
Primary: You know these as red, yellow, and blue
Secondary: Mixing primary colors gets you purple, green, and orange
Tertiary: These are the colors you get when you mix the primary and secondary colors (i.e. the many shades of yellow-green)

A simple color wheel.
You may say... But, Cassandra, how do I apply these simple principles to an actual project? You take these groups of colors and use them in "families". There are a mess of them, but these two are the ones I dip into for guidance most often:

Complementary Colors: On the actual color wheel, these colors are directly across from one another. Believe it or not, when these two colors are mixed together, they create a neutral color. Seriously cool huh? Some examples would be red and green or blue and orange. When designing with complementary colors it is best to balance the use of the two colors so that they don't compete with each other. For example:

Color harmony in action.
One of the best examples of the use of complementary color is a 7up can. The green can with the red dot is beautifully done. There is just enough red to complement the green without competing. Have you ever looked at a fashion magazine and seen something that designers like to call a "pop of color"? This is how that pop of color works. Look at product packaging and other designs that appeal to you and see if you can find the balance between complementary colors. It takes practice to find this balance and you have to exercise your eye for it.

Analogous Colors: Let me share a secret with you. Using analogous colors is sort of fool-proof. These colors are next to each other on the color wheel. A group of three like red, red-orange, and orange make a very appealing palette. It is simple to use because the color variations are subtle and therefore it is difficult to make a mistake when trying to blend them together tastefully.

Lovely analogous room.
When you are designing something such as quilt blocks, you can tackle this palette a couple ways. You can make one of your colors dominant and use the other two as support colors, or you could use them in equal doses for a balanced pattern.

When you get more sophisticated with your use of color families, you can use one or more of these theories in a piece. For instance, you could have a quilt with only analogous greens and the binding could be done in complementary red for balance.

I'd also like to mention that colors also fall into either warm or cool categories. Cool colors such as blue, seem to recede in space while warm colors such as red, tend to advance. This is something to consider when designing with color. You can use both light and dark or cool and warm to achieve depth.

There are volumes written on the subject and I even had an entire semester devoted to this topic back in my school days. It is technical and sort of boring, however, it can make the difference between a design being stunning or just okay. This applies whether we are talking about a quilt, interior design, or even a colorful handbag added to your outfit. If you are interested in knowing more about this topic (I have merely scratched the surface here), go ahead and Google "color theory". It is actually pretty fascinating. But, if you merely use the guidance I've given here, you can still make an impact on your work.


Use the Skinny Lens, Please.

As many of you are aware (because we've been talking about it incessantly), Cassandra and I were lucky enough to have an original pattern of our design chosen to be in What (Else) Would Madame DeFarge Knit, due to be published in June 2012. The process has been wonderful, frustrating, surreal, and exhilarating. A million thanks to Heather Ordover for seeing something in our pitch and agreeing to take a chance on two people who had never designed anything more complicated than a hat.

One tends to forget, while in the throes of working out a pattern, that there are ancillary things that are required of a "published knitwear designer." For example, we needed a bio of some sort. Fortunately, that wasn't too much of a stretch to create. We also needed a head shot. Wait. What?! You want our photo?? And, potentially, thousands of people are going to see it? Oy... this is my worst nightmare.

When you become a "woman of a certain age", having your photo taken is monumentally stressful. I see every wrinkle, every jowl, every pound of extra weight. And, lest you think that my young(er) friend Cassandra is immune, think again. She despises having her picture taken.

Please don't misunderstand me. We're both perfectly fine looking people. We're not scarred or deformed in any way. Our hair (while a little courser) is pretty nice. We both have nice smiles. We may be a bit thicker in the middle (and the top, and the bottom) but we're fairly normal sized for Midwesterners. It's just that we're not the hotsy-totsy cuties we were back in our 20's.

We called our dear friend Kim, a real-live professional photographer who does AMAZING portraits, and asked if she'd do our photos for us. We decided that we wanted to have fun pictures - not just our two heads smiling at the camera. So, we brainstormed some ideas and settled on a couple that we really loved - tableau's that would show our personality and, hopefully, convey that we were crafty.

Make me look like this!
Then we asked Kim to make sure she used the "skinny lens" in all the pictures. (This is a real thing - ask any photographer. I swear!)

The photo shoot was a blast! Kim took us to an old warehouse studio so we had this gritty wall and old windows to work against. The natural light in the room was incredible and it really made for some interesting lighting in the photos.

For the one scene, Cassandra and I put on temporary tattoos that Cassandra had designed. Her's was heart-shaped with pins and needles coming out of the top and a ribbon that said "Stitch Bitch". Mine was a ball of yarn with two needles sticking through and ribbons that said, "Knit Fast, Die Warm". We borrowed a tattoo gun machine from a friend and made it look like Cassandra was tattooing my arm. The next set of poses are what we call our "engagement pictures". They're probably my least favorite but they're good for cropping if we need just our heads for something. Then, the final set is Cassandra and me, sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of craft materials. In the last set, Kim suggested that we make beatific faces - as though we were on some kind of crafting high. They're hilarious, as long as you understand the context. Otherwise, I think we just look nuts. LOL

Here are a few of our favorites for your viewing pleasure. In a few months, you'll be able to see our pic on the website for What (Else) Would Madame DeFarge Knit in the designers area. Woot!! We're (nearly) famous!

My fave. Cassandra says she has "helmet hair".
This is one we like.
Our "engagement" photo

Seriously, it looks like we took Ecstasy or something...

Sewing Fundamentals: The Stitch

You know what? I bet if you have spent some quality time with your sewing machine, you know how to rock the straight stitch. Cruising along hemming curtains or maybe even seaming up some pajama bottoms. We all know it and love it...but there is a wide world of stitches out there. And they aren't as scary as you might think. 

Here are 5 basic stitches to get you started: 

Straight Stitch: as I mentioned above, it is the workhorse in your arsenal. This stitch has 2 main functions: 1.) seaming two fabrics together smoothly 2.) top stitching. With this stitch you can make a ton of stuff. Even an entire quilt!

Zigzag: I just love saying the word..zigzag! This stretchy seam can attach elastic, finish the raw edge of a fabric that frays, or even look cute securing appliqu├ęs.

Overlock: This is the bad-ass version of the zigzag when it comes to finishing the raw edge of a fabric. It mimics the effect of an edge finished with a serger. You overlock it and that edge ain't going nowhere.

Honeycomb: This stitch isn't used that often, but it is really handy in certain situations. Smocking (which I just love), a stretchy stitch for attaching elastic (like the zigzag), or simply used for decoration.

Blind Hem: Wonder how you can sew a hem on your machine without seeing stitching on the outside of the garment? This is your stitch. You need to use the blind-hem foot that came with your machine and a special technique for this one but the results are awesome. Check out this awesome video I found:

There are a couple things to keep in mind before you sew. Normally you can set the dial on your sewing machine to your chosen stitch and are ready to roll with the preset stitch length and tension. But, occasionally, you will need to fiddle with those settings.

The shorter your stitch, the stronger the seam. So, maybe when you are sewing children's pants or something else that will take a lot of abuse, you might want to shorten your stitch length a little bit. On the other end of that spectrum, the longer the stitch, the easier it is to remove. So if you are just basting or even gathering...lengthen that stitch. Sometimes when I am going through multiple layers (like when quilting), I lengthen my stitch to help ease the fabric through. You get less "bunching up" that way.

Tension...yes, I said it. The word that drives fear into the hearts of many of us sewers. Let me tell you what I know about tension. If you have your upper tension set between 3 and 5, you are probably in a safe zone (don't even think about fiddling with the lower tension unless you are some sort of rocket scientist). Even then, different fabrics have certain tension needs. If you see that your bottom thread loops are peeking out at the top, your upper tension is too tight. Lower that sucker until it looks as it should. On the other hand, if your lower threads (on the bottom of your fabric) look too loose, tighten it up until you have a very even stitch on both sides of your fabric.

Now, this is a very breezy overview of stitches. There is much more to know but we need to start with first-things-first. I have to tell you though, it boggles my mind how little you need to know in order to do so many projects.


P.S. - In case you missed any of the other posts in the Sewing Fundamentals Series:
Choosing a Sewing Machine
Fundamentals of Needles and Presser Feet