Monday, April 30, 2012

April: In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Fire-Breathing Dragon

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you know that I am as obsessed with the weather as I am with pie, dogs, and fabric. This past month has been quite a ride. We started in the comfortable mid-70s, rocketed up to the 90s, suddenly fell to 65 one day, and then climbed steadily until the thermometer topped out at 105. As we close out the month, today’s high is only supposed to reach 94, but it’s not much comfort when we’re looking at the next five months in the hundreds.

I’ll be outside every morning watering the vegetables, and again every evening to make sure nothing’s been incinerated in the heat.

So far the squash plants are coming along fine.

The yellow pear tomatoes are ripening.

Tiny grapes with the flowers still attached.

The local wildlife will be looking for water, and I try to keep trays full for the birds.

The birds are more likely to visit their bathing area if it's well hidden in the shrubbery.

Look who I finally caught on film!

Gila Woodpecker, Melanerpes uropygialis. Curious and noisy!

Reptiles need water, too, and I put some shallow water dishes on the ground in the hope that our snakes and lizards can find them.
Groundsnake, Sonora semiannulata. They come in many beautiful shades of red, pink, gray and striped patterns.

I would like him to invite all his friends over so they can feast on our scorpions, crickets, ants and other pests!

Now is the time that the snowbirds leave for their cool Northern homes, locals plan vacations as far away as they can get, and I close the shutters and curtains and make sure the air conditioner is going to hold out for another season.

Summer, here we come!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Fun with Photoshop

I've been working on some secret projects, and I don't have anything I can show yet! Instead, I’ll offer up some silly fun today.

As you know, I love my little dogs, and I can’t seem to stop taking pictures of them. One particular shot continues to evade me: the picture of both of them sitting still, in the same frame, and both looking at the camera. I have hundreds of pictures of the two of them, but in 90 percent of them, someone’s got their butt turned toward the camera, and the other 10 percent are blurry due to movement.

I finally got a reasonably good shot of them at bedtime the other night, but it wasn’t very sharp.

Instead of trying to sharpen it, I blurred it a little more, and then mushed the colors around in the background.

Then I experimented with filters in Photoshop Elements.

The ones I liked best were Poster Edges:

And Solarize:

Chalk/Charcoal was interesting:


Enough silly fun?

I also want to wish my Mom a very Happy Birthday today! Hope you have a wonderful day, and a great year, and many, many more!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

More Books and Magazines

All right, you enablers, let’s get off the topic of expensive technology and look at books again.

Am I the last person on Earth to read The Hunger Games? Seems like it.

I have one cardinal rule about movies: if the movie is based on a book, inspired by a book, or is an adaptation of a book, I insist on reading the book before seeing the movie. That way, the characters can get firmly established in my mind without some filmmaker imposing his or her interpretation on me.

The movie trailers are everywhere now, so I quickly ordered the books and steadfastly ignored all the advertisements and reviews. I’m halfway through the trilogy now, and at this rate I’ll be done by the end of the week. I’ll be curious to see how the roles were cast for the movie when I watch it, but my vision of them is cemented in my mind, and won’t be affected by the actors.
And may I just say THANK YOU to Suzanne Collins for the character of Katniss, who is as prickly and problematic as any teenager in our world but who instinctively taps into her own intelligence, sense of morality, and physical power when needed.

On a completely different subject, have you ever looked at the Dover books of iron-on transfers? I’ve been tempted by them many times but finally decided to try one when I saw this Art Nouveau collection available for 99 cents.
I just received it, and it is fantastic. It contains 90-plus designs printed in transferable ink on one-sided pages. 
It was published in 1984, and I was concerned that sitting on a shelf for 28 years would affect the transfers.

Apparently not, as my first sample ironed on very nicely:
It looks a bit fuzzy around the edges, because I did not follow the instructions, which say to pin the paper to the fabric to prevent shifting. As soon as I moved the iron from one side of the design to the other, there was a slight shift, so I blurred it a bit and the edges are lighter than the center. No matter, it’s clear enough to stitch.

Next, I need to make a decision about sewing magazines. I’m thinking of canceling my subscriptions to Vogue Pattern Magazine and Burda Style.
Vogue usually has a couple of interesting items but I usually flip through it once and file it away.

Burda Style is gorgeous, but in an entire year, I’ve only traced off two patterns, and haven’t sewn either one. All the Burda patterns I’ve made were downloaded from their website.
I understand it’s hypocritical to bemoan the death of the printed word on one hand, and cancel all my print subscriptions on the other, but there still has to be some value for my money. I can’t decide if Threads or Sew News is worth trying. I’ve looked at a few issues in the bookstore, and they were somewhat interesting but fairly expensive.

Are there any magazines that you find especially useful or inspiring?

Finally, Happy Birthday today to my good friend Jonquil!
Yes, she gave herself that pseudonym; even I could not have come up with that one. Jonquil’s a youngster at age 51 this year, and I wish her an excellent day and many happy returns!


Monday, April 23, 2012

Fear of Overlock

It was interesting to see that your suggestions on sewing with knits were representative of the sewing community as a whole. About half insist that you can successfully sew knits on a regular sewing machine; the other half insist that life is immeasurably better if you have a serger/overlocker and coverhem machine.

I will experiment with my basic sewing machine before making any investments in more advanced equipment, but the discussion did inspire me to research the types of machines and address some of my fears.

My first fear is cost.

It took me months of deliberation before I invested a whole $140 in my new Singer last year. Now, of course, I am thrilled that I have it, and I can’t believe it took me so long to make the decision. I’d imagined that sergers were in the $1000 range and I would never be able to spend that much. When I found that there were functional, popular machines available in the $200 - $400 range, I had to reconsider.

The next fear is the difficulty of use. I don’t think there is a sewist out there who hasn’t felt daunted by a new serger with its row of slots, loops, needles, blades, and dials, all of which must be threaded and adjusted perfectly in order to get a good result.
One of the 48 pages of a Singer serger instruction manual

The consumer reviews and help sites are full of desperate people ready to tear their hair out or throw the machine out the window because they can’t get the tension right. But, since some machines also have glowing reviews from happy users, it must be possible to learn eventually. (I see that the Brother that Anita recommended is very popular on all the sewing sites – that’s good news!)

Brother 1034D

Another problem (not a fear, just a limitation) is my work space. I can barely push my fabric through my regular sewing machine with all the stuff stacked up on and around my work table. Where on earth would I put a serger, and how would I get to it in order to use it? Another major reconfiguration of the room would be required.

And finally, there’s the fear of losing ground on that slippery slope of “I just need one more thing.” So maybe I have a sewing machine and a serger. I expect I would immediately decide to need a coverhem machine, because who wants a silly messy hem on the T-shirt, when you’ve got nicely overlocked seams. Once I have the sewing machine, the serger, and the coverhem, no doubt I would decide I don’t want to do embroidery by hand anymore, so I need a fancy sewing machine that does programmable embroidery. At that point, why not take up quilting and invest in an industrial free-arm machine? You can see where I’m going with this. I can control myself (really, I can), but if I do invest in additional technology, I will have to be very sure it does everything I’ll need in the foreseeable future.

As I mentioned, I’ll be testing out different methods with the current machine and will share any interesting findings. In the meantime, any additional suggestions on sergers (particularly overlock/coverhem combo machines) are very welcome!


Friday, April 20, 2012

Books and Magazines

Dear Readers, I’ve had another of those frustrating, unproductive weeks. Big plans; no accomplishments.
Mostly it’s due to a perfect storm of atmospheric conditions: temps hovering around 98 (metric readers, that’s 37 C!), ozone and particulate levels triggering an official health watch, pollen count “high”, and UV index at “very high”. All of which leaves me too sneezy to work outside and too headachy to do any sewing.
I caught up on a few missed episodes of Bones and Castle, and did a bit of internet window-shopping. But I spent most of the time reading books and magazines that recently arrived in the mail.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color is one I’ve spent a lot of time with. I ordered it mainly because I love color and pretty pictures, but I also had a vague notion of using it as a reference for era-appropriate color matching of fabrics to sewing patterns.
This compilation had to be quite an undertaking. The 200-page book was published in 2011, and the introduction states that “we are now just far away enough to try to perceive the era as a whole.” Fine to view it as a whole, but how on earth to break it down into parts, and select which parts to present in a limited number of pages? The authors admit that following a century of color trends in every region of the world would be a lifetime’s work, and they had to limit their scope to the US. At the same time, it’s clear that influences from all over the globe have contributed to the kaleidoscope of US culture.
India influence, 1970s

Each decade is introduced with text explaining current events and influences, followed by eight to ten color palettes and beautiful photos illustrating their use. Contrary to my expectation that the colors would be based on historical clothing, the palettes chosen for each decade come from many distinct aspects of the culture. The most frequent sources are paintings, furnishings, advertisement, theater and film, textiles, and even antiquities. Apparel takes a larger role in the book starting in the 40s and continuing through the 80s, but is still only one factor among many.
World War II influence, 1940s

I’d assumed that Pantone was one of those things that had been around forever, but I learned that the company was only started in 1963 as a matching system for art supply manufacturers. It rapidly expanded into “the language of color,” according to the authors, for every type of material and industry around the world. Although the decades prior to 1960 did not have Pantone as a frame of reference, the authors used the best match in Pantone to illustrate the colors in such historic icons as Tiffany lamps, Maxfield Parrish paintings, Bakelite plastics, WPA posters, and Dior’s New Look.

Another thing I found interesting was the cyclical nature of color popularity, as well as the changing meaning of colors. As you flip through the book it’s apparent that not only are many of the colors repeated, but entire palettes show up again and again. Some are unsurprising: much of 1940’s Fantasia repeats in 1969’s Sesame Street and modern anime.

Other similarities are unexpected. The 1990’s Grunge colors, which we think of gloomy, look as though they could have been drawn from the spirited 1920s Art Deco palettes. The “naturals” of the 70s (harvest gold, avocado green, burnt orange…) were preceded by the rich, sunny, landscape colors of 1920s travel posters. My favorite pale blues, greens, and grays are found in the 1990s Zen palette, but similar colors were seen 60 years earlier in 1930s Hollywood glamour.

Although it’s not exactly what I expected, the book is certainly interesting and has a wealth of visual information for designers and artists. A serious student of history or color science would find it too basic and arbitrary, but it’s great for casual readers like me.
Well, I hope you all had an enjoyable week, more productive than mine, and are looking forward to a nice weekend!

Note: all images from Pantone: The 20th Century in Color. More info here, book purchased here

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Next: Knits?

Thank you all so much for your comments and condolences. I'm afraid that as we grow older these events will beome more frequent. Our group plans to get together soon and raise a glass to the dear departed. Our friend gave us so many good laughs during her life that I'm sure we'll be able to muster up a few in her memory.

But today, I am back in the sewing room, attempting yet again to deal with the fabric hoard.

I have accumulated a lot of knit fabrics.
A LOT! Some have been waiting around for ten years or more, others are new.

There are cottons, silks, rayons, bamboo, metallic, acrylic, nylon, and polyester.

Jersey, sweater knit, stretch lace, stretch terry, double knit, ribbed knit, burnout, textured, pique, and an ITY or two.

Dots, stripes, plaids, geometrics, botanical, paisley, and nautical prints, along with solids in almost every color.

I need to start sewing some of these.
Knit tops and dresses are perfect for summer, since they're wrinkle-resistant.
We get to wear lots of cardigans here in the summer, as offices and restaurants are usually air-conditioned to freezing temperatures.
I’ve sewn knits in the past, but never come up with the exact combination of stitch, tension, needle, and thread, that would result in a nice-looking, functional seam. Usually my seams look sloppy from dropped stitches and loose thread, zigzag too wide or too narrow, or stretched fabric.

I’ve gotten a couple of ideas from other blogs, but this is another area where there seems to be TOO MUCH helpful advice on the internet. I will try using strips of interfacing on necklines, seams, and hems, since many people have had success with that. I might branch out and try some of the other stretch stitches on my machine.

What has been your experience with knits? (Wearing or sewing!)


Monday, April 16, 2012

Vivere disce, cogita mori

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to see many wonderful old friends that I hadn’t seen in years. Sadly, there was none of the jumping, squealing, and raucous laughter that usually accompanies such a reunion.

We were at a memorial service for another of our friends, so there were smiles, hugs, and reminiscences, as well as a lot of tears. We lost a wonderful woman; an intelligent, loyal, funny friend; a mother, a sister, and an aunt to her large family. She was insightful, and could see through falsehoods and foolishness from a mile away. We could count on her loyalty and support in anything, and no matter how poorly she felt, she'd always ask how we were doing. She had a talent for comedy, playing the straightwoman with perfect ease, or delivering a line that was so subtly funny that you’d crack up 15 minutes later. We all remember “the look,” a glare our friend could deliver that would anyone in their tracks. There is a lot to miss about our friend.

The majority of us are in our mid-50s, and we all consider ourselves in the prime of life, give or take a few aches and a memory lapse here and there. Our dear friend was barely 53 years old when she passed away, an event which struck us all as completely unfair, undeserved, and untimely. What about the rest of her life? Why doesn’t she get that part, too? No answer.

Of course we promised to spend more time with each other, and to stop taking all that we have for granted. Soon, all our good intentions will fade, as we get caught up in life and overwhelmed by everyday demands. But we won’t forget our friend.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Birds and Bees

The flowers are blooming and the pollinators are working overtime. You can hear the buzzing in every tree. Arizona has more than 1000 species of bees and a wealth of other pollinators. I commonly see honeybees, carpenter bees, and several other varieties that are too small or too quick for me to identify. The more, the better, is my motto, and between my native landscaping and the vegetable garden, our yard is a popular pollinator hangout.

That doesn’t mean they are easy to photograph! I’ve taken hundreds or even thousands of shots, and they are all blurry. Here’s the only decent photo of a carpenter bee – its behind!

Honeybees are a little easier – they spend more time on each flower.
You can see the pollen attached to the bees’ legs. The one on the lower left has just arrived and has only a small amount, while the one on the upper right has been collecting for some time and has very large pollen sacs.

A bee wearing sunglasses? No – it’s a sneaky syrphid fly that mimics a honeybee. It had me completely fooled until I blew up the photo and saw its body shape.

Birds are even harder to photograph. They follow me around, chattering and looking pretty, but as soon as I bring the camera out, all I see is a blur of wings flying away. I got one shot of a woodpecker tail.

Here’s a verdin, a tiny, hyper bird that loves to eat these orange flowers.
Thrashers and mockingbirds are everywhere. Can you see the thrasher hiding on the left? His orange eye looks like one of the berries.

The hummingirds are especially bold. They are fascinated by water spray and often zip in and out of the water when I have the hose going.
This is a female Anna’s that kept me company in the vegetable garden.

Here’s a male Anna’s in the front yard. He’s slightly more aloof (I didn’t have the water running).

Let's hope that with all this help, my plants will be healthy and full of fruit this year!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Very Special Happy Birthday

Today is The Piemaker’s birthday, which means that I baked a cake for him! This only happens once a year. The process is fraught with danger. I have anxiety for weeks in advance. Thankfully, it turned out okay this year.

For his special birthday cake, Piemaker requested a tried and true recipe, the German Chocolate Cake we’ve loved in the past.

Here’s what it looked like when he made it last year.

Here’s what my version looks like.Frosting sliding off. Thumbprint on the side. No nutty decorations. Sticky plate. This is why he does the baking. But it tastes good! (Yes, we already got into it!)

Happy Birthday, dear Piemaker,
Happy Birthday toooo yooooou!


Monday, April 9, 2012

An Award! An Award! I Got an Award!

Yes, I have been nominated for the Liebster Award!!!

Thank you to the beautiful Laura Mae at Lilacs and Lace for this recognition. Laura Mae has been a vintage sewing inspiration to me since I caught a glimpse of her incredible Ceil Chapman Cocktail Gown. Every one of her creations is perfectly fitted, finished and styled. Plus, I love that her photo shoots always have scenes from my home town in the background, and that she adores her little Chihuahua. Thanks, Laura Mae!

The origin of the Liebster Award is rather mysterious (meaning I could not find out who came up with the idea or gave out the first one), but liebster is a German word meaning "favorite." The award is given to blogs with less than 200 followers.

An award? Me? I was shocked when people first started reading the blog. But to receive an award is the last thing I expected! People like me?!?!?!?

Well, I like you too. When I first started blogging, it was because I so love to hear myself talk about myself. Since then, I’ve been thrilled to meet so many other bloggers that are interested in sewing, vintage clothing, aging, gardening, eco-friendly lifestyles, and adorable pets. You are a great group!

And I will now pass this award on to five of my favorite blogs:

Sew Vintage, Sew Fun: Anita is a multitalented, compassionate blogger who writes on many topics, including some of my favorites: sewing and crafting, vintage goodies, living a green lifestyle, enjoying fluffy little dogs, personal growth and relationships, and so much more. Anita was also my very first follower on this blog and has been a good friend and a big help to me.

Snippa: Snippa is a true renaissance woman. She spins wool, knits, sews, gardens, cooks, forages wild edibles, creates art in many forms, and plays music, among other things. She lives in Scotland and shares photos of the magnificent countryside. What a place!

The Frump Factor: I first found Anne’s blog when I was trying to settle on a name for my own blog. All the good names with “frump” in them were taken! But Anne’s writing and her view of the changes both in ourselves and the world around us are just hilarious. I was hooked!

Not Dead Yet Style: Okay, Patti has exceeded the 200 follower mark, but I can’t help it. She really has been an inspiration to me, particularly in her willingness to address a whole range of topics around women, aging and society.

OMG Almost 50: This blog by Lilly Forever is relatively new and just bursting with enthusiasm on any and all subjects.

And so, new Liebster Award winners, what can you do?

You can:
1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog. (That’s ME!)
2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you. (Me AGAIN! LOL)
3. Copy & paste the blog award on your blog.
4. Reveal your 5 blog picks.
5. Let them know you chose them by posting on their blog.

(If you’ve received a Liebster award in the past, you can still pass it on, if you like.)

Congratulations and keep up the good work!