Peachy

 

peachy pie 2

 

It’s been a crazy few weeks around here.  Bryan has been finishing up a HUGE project for an art exhibition opening shortly—huge in physical scale, and in time invested, etc.  It took over his life, and then started to encroach on mine too.  Many things I’d been planning to work on got put to the back burner, until finally near the install date I was doing nothing besides helping get ready, unless the other thing had an already-agreed-upon-in-writing due date, and even then not too much was happening.

I’ve been cooking a lot though.  It’s the kind of situation where logically it would make sense to just make a big pot of soup and eat it for the whole week.  But, it’s my absolute favorite time of year for eating.  All the ingredients for ratatouille are sitting there, fresh and glowing, at the growers’ market, and it would be make me feel much more deprived not to cook them and eat them.  And it turns out, not surprisingly, when I’m not spending my creative energy on other projects, I end up experimenting more with food and making up recipes.  And, when Bryan is burning lots of extra calories working on huge sculptures all day, he’s more excited about having dessert, and any time I’m stressed I definitely want dessert.  Any two weeks in which we ate two of these pies can’t be that bad.

Although things evolve and change, and I’ve been excited to have so much fiber stuff to share lately, I wouldn’t want recipes to disappear entirely from this space, so here you go.  I’ll be back soon with a little more about the sculpture project & the exhibition (which is really pretty cool) and maybe even one more recipe.  But for now:

 

Weekday Peach Pie with Nut Crust

(adapted from various bits of the Joy of Cooking)

This isn’t a humongous Southern-Sunday-dinner peach pie, but instead one you can make if you just grab a few extra peaches at the market.  Pecans are my favorite for this crust, which is the same one I use for pumpkin pie in the fall, and just happens to be gluten free.  You can use other nuts that grow near you and/or you like, and it should work fine.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Peach filling—put all this in a bowl:

1 1/2 lbs peaches (weighed whole), cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  (Freestone peaches are much easier to slice.)

1/4 cup sugar if your peaches are ripe and juicy, maybe a tablespoon or two more if they are firm and tart.

1 1/2 Tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch for thickening.  I ground the tapioca in a spice grinder to get finer grains, which I think I read about in an Alice Waters cookbook.

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice.

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional but I like it).

A small pinch of salt.

Stir up the filling and let it sit while you make the crust:

You can either put all these ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse together, or grind the nuts first and then mix everything by hand.  Either way, don’t chop the nuts super fine, or the crust won’t have a lot of structure, a texture like coarse crumbs is good.

2 cups pecans (or walnuts, almonds etc.) chopped, see note above.

4 Tablespoons butter (especially if you’re making it in the food processor, it’s important to soften the butter first, otherwise you’ll end up with chunks of unmixed butter).

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Butter a pie pan well, and pour in the mixed crust in it.  Use your fingers to press the crust over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, getting it reasonably even if you can.

Prebake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until it starts to brown.  The edges of this crust are apt to burn, so cover them with a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil first.  If the sides of the crust start to sag or the bottom gets too puffy, you can push them back in place with the back of a spoon.

While the crust bakes, beat 1 egg (the smallest egg you can find) with just a tiny bit of water, until well beaten.

When the crust is warm and starting to brown, take it out of the oven and glaze it with the beaten egg. This is the key to putting a moist filling in the nut crust without getting a soggy crust!  Use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of egg wash all over the inside surface of the crust, up over the sides, etc.  The egg will want to slide down, but just keep brushing it up, until the warm crust starts to absorb it and hold it in place.

 

peachy pie 3

 

Put the egg-washed crust back in the oven for just a couple of minutes, until the egg is cooked and shiny.

Then pour in the peach filling.  Cover the edges of the crust again, and put the whole pie back into the oven until the juices of the filling are thick and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  No matter what you do, the edges of the crust will probably get a “bold” baked color (as the bread makers say). If it goes all the way to burnt, just scrape off the very top.  This crust is really simple and delicious, so it’s totally worth it.

Here’s to a weekday-peach-pie kind of week …

 

peachy pie 1

 

Making Jeny’s Stretchy Slip Knot Cast On with Lumpy Yarns

Or, how to make it easier in any yarn.

I love this cast on*; how easily it stretches and bounces back right along with the knitting, how invisible it is (it’s like whatever pattern you’re knitting just appears fully formed, without a visually different edge), and the bonus that since it only uses one end, you don’t have to worry about starting with a long enough tail.

But it’s notoriously difficult to do with uneven or thick-and-thin yarns, since the yarn has to be able to slide easily past itself to make the required shape.  Or does it …  My knitting students were having a hard time with this cast-on, even in a relatively smooth yarn, which got me wondering if I could figure out a trick that would help keep the yarn moving.  I decided to try it with my first handspun project (a thick and thin yarn if there ever was one).  And I did figure it out!  It may have helped that I was stuck on an airplane at the time without too much else to do …  It turns out that there’s one place that the yarn gets hung up on itself, and if you can get past that, you can do this cast on in a lumpy yarn too!  I’ll show you how below.

First, a quick review of what makes a slip knot, since that’s the structure this whole cast on is based on—you’ll essentially make one slip knot after another.  First of all, you need a loop.

 

slipknot cast on 1I’m going to show you using a bit smoother yarn—otherwise it would be hard to see what’s going on.  This is “Sheridan” from Mountain Meadow Wool—yummy!

 

Next you need another loop, and to put that second loop through the first one.  Remember that the ends must cross each other for the loops to stay in place.  So, you can either make a second loop in the bottom strand of the first loop and bring it through the top, or make a loop in the top strand and push it up through the bottom, which is what I’ve done below.

 

slipknot cast on 2

 

Tighten it up by pulling the second loop through until the first loop closes around it.  If you’ve made a successful slip knot, it will go away if you pull on both ends of the yarn.

 

slipknot cast on 3

 

Put this first knot on a needle, and you’re ready for the cast on.  I like to put the working end of the yarn (not the short tail) around my thumb, and hold the end with the last two fingers of my hand, as shown below.  (There are other hand positions and motions that work perfectly well to make this cast on, these are the ones I use.)

 

slipknot cast on 4

 

To make the first loop, I use the needle to scoop up the strand nearest me around the thumb, moving from the bottom up.

 

slipknot cast on 5

 

Leaving this first loop on the thumb, I use the rest of my hand to bring a second strand of yarn over the needle, making the second loop.

I used to think that looping this strand one direction vs. the other over the needle might make it easier to pull the yarn through in the last step.  That might be true, but it also (of course, silly me) determines which way your first round of stitches sit on the needle.  Chances are you want them as shown below, so wrap the yarn starting at the front and moving to the back.  If you’re a “combination” knitter or you learned in a tradition that knits through the back of the stitch, you’ll find your stitches ready to go if you wrap the yarn the other way, starting at the back and moving to the front.

 

slipknot cast on 6

 

In either case, now we have two loops on the needle.  We want to move the first loop over the second one, so that it makes a collar around the base of the second loop, just like in the first slip knot we made without the needle.  To do this, I use my thumb to lift the first loop up and over the tip of needle, and then let it go.

 

slipknot cast on 7

 

In the instructions I’ve seen before, the next step is to hold the new loop against the top of the needle, and pull on the end of the yarn so the collar around it tightens up.  Sometimes this works great, but if your yarn has any resistance to sliding along itself, it will probably get caught up, stop short, and cause you to curse, tug on all the ends available, and try again.

The reason the yarn gets caught easily is that there’s one place in its path where it has to loop quickly around itself, making almost like a little knot (indicated by the arrow below).

 

slipknot cast on 8

 

What I found was that if I pull the yarn through this tight place first, I can then pull on the end and the stitch will tighten up smoothly, even in my lumpy handspun!

I take hold of the outside of that little loop-de-loop, and pull it out, so that the collar starts to form around the bottom of the new loop on the needle.

 

slipknot cast on 9

 

I’ve found that it works best if I get the new loop pretty snug, right up against the stitch before it on the needle, and the collar almost snug as well.  Then with it set up, I hold the new loop against the needle and pull on the yarn end to finish the new stitch.

 

slipknot cast on 10

 

Although this undoubtedly adds a step, to me it’s totally worth it, since I can now use a whole lot more yarns with one of my favorite cast ons.  And I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a slightly more complex but smooth process, rather than cursing and tugging on the yarn every few stitches because it keeps getting stuck.

 

slipknot cast on 11

 

*One of the many bonuses of going to a workshop with Cat Bordhi in person, is that she tells you all kinds of cool little tricks, and that’s where I first learned about this cast on.  The original post about it on Jeny’s blog is here, she links both to her own video of the steps, and to another one which uses different motions.  If you’d prefer not to hold the yarn around your thumb, there’s also a variation using two needles demonstrated by Tillybuddy on YouTube here.

 

Happy knitting!

Treadle Magic

 

I’ve been wanting to write about sewing on my mom’s antique treadle machine when I was a kid, and now on the one from Bryan’s family that I’ve been restoring, for what feels like forever.  Sewing on these machines is something like magic, and I kept dreaming about sharing that with more modern sewists.  As of today, it’s happened!  Any minute now, the August issue of Seamwork magazine should be up, and with it, this treadle article of mine, which I’m super excited about.

So excited, in fact, that I also made my first-ever YouTube video as a companion, to show you how the bobbin winder works in motion (it’s a thing of beauty):

 

 

Are you excited yet? Do you have a treadle sitting in your garage? Let’s get it out! I’d love to help answer any questions that might get some of these beauties back into service, so ask away and I’ll do my best.

Also, stay tuned, I have a couple more treadle extras in the works for the coming weeks.

Have a great weekend!

 

Simple Textures

Here’s what I made with that first batch of my handspun yarn.  And how to make something similar yourself, if you’re interested!

 

first handspun cowl 2

 

I really wanted something simple, that would let the (ahem, very thick-and-than-thin) nature of the yarn shine through.  But, I’m not a knitter who’s happy with endless rounds of stockinette.  No offense to those that are, but I just need a little something pattern-wise to keep my brain engaged, and let me see that I’m making progress.

My gut-instinct guess was that I’d have enough yarn to make a small but substantial cowl.  Of course, there’s no label on my handspun to let me know the yardage, but I was able to estimate how much knitting I could get from the yarn pretty successfully.  I knit a swatch in my pattern, measured the dimensions, and weighed it, so I knew about how many square inches of knitting I could get from a certain amount of yarn by weight.  Then I weighed all the yarn I had, and used that number to figure out about how many square inches of total knitting I could make from it in this pattern.  I tried on a cowl I had, and estimated how big it would need to be to comfortably fit over one’s head, and how tall I would ideally want it, and arrived at a compromise number to cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 4

 

The finished cowl is 25″ around, and 7″ tall, which turned out to be plenty big!  At my gauge of 2.5 stitches/inch, I cast on 64 stitches.  I used Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast On.  (In this yarn—yes really!  More about that here.)  I did two rows (or maybe three? Forgot to write that down …) of plain knitting to make a little roll at the bottom, then switched to my pattern; alternating blocks of four knit and four purls stitches, and switching them after 4 rounds.

Of course you could use another simple pattern for the body of the cowl.  Just make sure that the total of your pattern repeat (in my case 8 stitches) divides evenly into the number of stitches you cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 3

 

When I was getting near my estimated total height, and at the end of a pattern repeat, I knit a couple more plain rows, and then bound off, using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind-off.  I ended up using almost every bit of the yarn, which was definitely my intent!

I almost never buy yarn this chunky, so it seemed like the whole thing took about 5 seconds to knit.  In reality, it took parts of two days of traveling, and it was done!  So far, it seems like spinning is actually speeding up my production of finished knitted items, if that’s possible.  I actually have another finished handspun thing that just needs photos … and this one is off to live with someone dear to me, hopefully it will keep her neck warm this winter!

 

first handspun cowl 1

 

In the meantime, I hope this is helpful if you’re looking for something to make with a special bit of
thicker yarn, whether made by you or not!

 

 

Maybe I’m Over It

Over the purple corduroys, the NYC garment district, the whole thing.

I’ve been to New York City twice ever, both times since I’ve had this blog.  Both times I went to the garment district, and I haven’t written a thing about it either time. The first time, a couple of years ago, it was just crazy and overwhelming. We had the truck with us, and let me just say I will never, ever, drive any vehicle to NYC again if I can possibly help it, much less one that qualifies as quasi-commercial and definitely oversize. The truck is fine in Chicago, but as it turns out, not all at fine in New York.

 

floyd bennett field camping 3Our truck in the parking area for camping at Floyd Bennett Field, by far the most post-apocalyptic National Park Service site I’ve ever been to.  It’s staffed by friendly New Yorkers who, when they find out it’s your first time in the city, will tell you everything, starting with “So there’s five boroughs …” to making sure you have quarters for the bus.  I am not making any of this up!

 

Anyway, we went to NYC again this past winter, along with traveling to an opening of Bryan’s work at the Griffin Museum of Photography outside Boston. I actually have a dear cousin who lives in Brooklyn, so we made a side trip to go and see her (completely vehicle-free, with only the luggage we could carry). I thought it would be much better and I would love it. It was better without worrying about the truck, but I was still overwhelmed. I’m the kind of person who naturally absorbs most of the stimulus coming at me in a given day, and likes to have a while to process it. There is a whole lot of stimulus coming at you all day, every day in New York—before you even get to the shops full of ceiling-high mounds of fabric in every color.

 

nyc street view

 

The garment district, while fascinating, is not geared for a thoughtful experience. It’s fast-paced. There are millions of choices packed together, but not a lot of background on any of them (any, really, beyond the fiber content and maybe a country of origin). I’ve tried to be more conscious about my fabric choices for a while now, but I knew I wanted some fabric to make another pair of pants, and it seemed ridiculous to be surrounded by what felt like all the fabric in the entire world, and go home with nothing for my project. So after some debate, I chose something purple and stripey and soft, brought it home, and a couple of months later, cut it out.

 

over it purple pants 1

 

And I got exactly what I deserved for picking fabric I had no background on, no relationship with, and so no idea what to expect—it behaved terribly. There’s some stretch in this stuff, which I’ve avoided in wovens in the past, and I’m going right back to avoiding it like the plague. It kept stretching as I was sewing it, throwing off my alignment and topstitching, moving the pockets around even though I basted them in place, etc. Plus, it’s weirdly clingier around my bum than the non-stretch fabric I’ve used in this pattern before.

 

over it purple pants 2

 

Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t the worst pants ever.  I like the color, and they fit me reasonably well, which is enough to almost certainly ensure they’ll get wear when the weather gets cool again. And, they have the nicest inside waistband and zipper tab of any pants I’ve made so far, so I learned something there.

 

over it purple pants 3

 

But, the whole experience just brought home what I hadn’t been able to articulate. In my head, before I went there, the garment district was a mythical paradise of fabric. But it turns out; it’s not my Mecca. It may sound a little blasphemous to say so, but I don’t think the garment district even has the fabric I want. I think I’m over it.

So what, exactly, is the fabric I want, you may reasonably ask? Well, what I really want is unreasonable to ask for in our current culture. I want fabric that not only do I know where it comes from, what labor conditions went into it, and how the fiber was cultivated in the environment where it grows, but I want to feel good about the answers to all those questions. I want to buy some fabric now, see it how it wears, and in 5 years, when I like what I find, buy some more of that exact same fabric. I want fewer, but better choices.

 

floyd bennett field camping 2

 

I have tried before to find some fabric closer to these ideals. I went on an online quest for organic wool a couple of winters ago (when I eventually bought this lovely stuff from New Zealand).  I had a few interesting conversations with fabric store owners through email. Mostly what I learned is that they don’t know any more about the origins of their fabrics than I do.  Often times even by writing to their suppliers, the most information we could possibly get was what factory the fabric came from.

At that same time I wrote to Mountain Meadow Wool, an American yarn company I feel really good about supporting, and suggested they think about making some knit fabric out of their American Merino. I got a really nice response back … but since then some blankets and finished knit goods have appeared in their line-up, no fabric yet … I do get it, I see why market research would indicate a much bigger market and profit by skipping the fabric and going right for finished goods.   Imperial Stock Ranch took it one step further and produced a high-fashion collection. But knowing that they are taking high-quality wool, sustainably grown in USA, all the way from sheep to fabric also in-country, and that none of that fabric is available for sewists to buy (that I know of, I’ll write them too, we’ll see)—it makes my fingers itch. I think it’s phenomenal how much single-breed, known-origin, small-farm-type wool yarn is available to knitters right now, and I know there’s a niche for fabrics made from the same materials.

The fabric for my first pair of purple corduroys was organic cotton & hemp, but made in China (under supposedly good working conditions). The biggest problem with it was that it didn’t hold up to wear long enough to be called well-made. How sustainable is anything that has to be replaced every couple of years, or less?

The best news in thinking about all this, is that there are other sewists out there on similar quixotic journeys to find (or make!) sustainable fabrics, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I can find them. And there is a lot going on right now.

I’m throwing my lot in with one Year, one Outfit, a project on this is moonlight to source “fibershed” textiles in your area, and make them into an outfit by the end of the year. Although I may not make a whole outfit by the end of 2015, I’m pledging not to buy any new fabric for (at least) that time, unless it meets (at least!) these minimum requirements: 100% made in the USA, sustainably grown also in USA, and not dyed with synthetic dyes, bleached, or processed in other ways that use toxic chemicals. At the very least, it will be a kick in the bum to do my homework, and some experimenting!

 

one year one outfit logo

 

While I’ve been thinking about this, some other thoughtful bloggers have also been researching and sharing around similar topics. This post of Zoe’s about organic cotton and whether it’s really better got me thinking about the fabric I really want to find. The other bloggers in the one Year, one Outfit project have done some good research. Mari’s post about what she’s found available in the Southeastern US was really interesting, and there are people around the world taking part and sharing what they find, there might be someone near you.  Then just the other day, Ginger posted about a designer making sustainable sweater knits available to home sewers! If you’re curious, I also definitely recommend listening to this 2010 interview with Rebecca from the fibershed project, which I also linked to from one Year, one Outfit.

Phew!  So, do you want in on some crazy back-to-basics fabric hunting? Interested in dyeing/printing your own textiles (because I think that’s going to be a big part of it)?  Stay tuned, updates will definitely be coming!

 

The End of the Yarn

 

end of the yarn 1

 

My knitting students inspired this post. I do explain in class what to do when your skein of yarn runs out and you need to add more, but it’s a little tricky to visualize without actually cutting the yarn, and easy to forget when you get home and you’re left alone with an internet full of confusing videos … so here you go! These are my favorite, simple, fairly foolproof methods. The first one works with practically any yarn, any project, any time, and the second one makes a totally seamless join in any feltable yarn.

Personally, if I can’t felt the ends together (see below), I almost always just leave the tails, and I don’t mind sewing them in later. There are lots of methods for weaving in the tails as you go, by wrapping the new yarn over/under/with the old yarn, and most of them work just fine. You may find one that you love. But, you don’t need to do any of them. Leaving the tails to work in later is perfectly good. And if you’re still thinking about how to knit, you don’t need anything more complicated going on when you get to the end of a skein.

So, just stop knitting when you have about 6 inches of yarn left unknitted. Pick up your new ball of yarn (mine is purple) and, leaving another tail of the same length, start knitting with it. The stitches on either side of the tails will probably be a little loose, but you can cinch them up later to match their neighbors when you weave in the tails, so don’t worry about it for now. If you like, you can tie the two ends together into a slipknot to keep things neat while you’re working on the rest. That’s it!

 

end of the yarn 2

 

end of the yarn 3

 

end of the yarn 4

 

As long as we’re talking about joining yarn ends, I wanted to include my very favorite method, which takes advantage of the felting properties of wool to join two lengths of yarn without any tails left at all.

Untwist and fluff out a couple of inches on both ends. The first key to this method is to get the fibers as separated as possible. Just like in any other felting, fuzzy, loose fibers will attach to whatever is next to them, and fibers that are already joined or clumped will attach mainly to each other.

 

end of the yarn 5

 

The second key to this method is to mix the fibers from the two ends together thoroughly before you start rubbing them. You want as many places for them to meld as possible, so move the strands around so that all the ones from one end are not on the same side.

Add just a little moisture (I usually use spit unless water happens to be handy). The fibers should be barely damp. Squeeze the join lightly between your hands, and start rolling it back and forth. You want to agitate the fibers together without disturbing their orientation.

 

end of the yarn 6

 

end of the yarn 7

 

end of the yarn 8

 

Small areas like this felt very quickly. The join is done when you can pull gently on it from both sides and the fibers don’t slip. It’s possible to go too far, so that your little felted area becomes noticeably stiffer than the rest of the yarn, so stop when it’s holding together.

 

end of the yarn 9

 

Other than with non-felting yarns (superwash, plant fibers, silk, synthetics etc.) the only time I wouldn’t use this method is if a slight difference in yarn texture will be noticeable in the knitting, like in a very smooth or shiny yarn. A felted join is basically invisible in fuzzy singles, and it also works well with textured and handspun yarns, as well as your more “standard” multi-ply wool yarns like Cascade 220 (shown here, you can see the felted join in the bind off near my thumb below). And, if for any reason the felted method doesn’t work or you don’t like how it looks, you can always cut it off and go back to the first method.

 

end of the yarn 10

 

Happy joining!

 

Grateful and Lush

A quick Me-Made-May ’15 wrap-up, plus some totally unrelated spring thoughts and photos …
Tasha teaching felting Flag Wool

Photo by Louisa Ballard

This shot of me teaching felting at Flag Wool is the closest thing I have to an outfit photo for the whole month of May! I decided not to worry about documentation for MMM this year, which was mostly a good choice, even though I felt a little more alone in my handmade-wearing.  It was such a busy month in the best way, and I just didn’t need any other thing to try and do every day.  Plus I felt like my best thoughts around a handmade wardrobe happened at the beginning/planning stage this year, and once I set it up I basically dressed like I normally would, except for the items I couldn’t wear because they didn’t fit my pledge, which were quarantined in the back of my closet.  I fell back in love with one old me-made skirt.  And discovered that while I may technically have enough me-made or me-repaired socks to make it through the month, I don’t have the will to keep on top of the laundry so that they’re always clean and ready to go … I also decided that any situation which calls for truly expendable work clothes doesn’t count. I was definitely looking forward the end of my self-imposed restrictions by the end of the month, although I enjoyed the challenge. I have a small wardrobe in any case, so maybe my goal for next year should be to add a few more me-made pieces. Also, I’m going to try harder to come up with some kind of documentation that works for me.

This May we traveled out to the Washington DC area for two art shows, and saw a bunch of friends, which has been part of our May plan for the last few years.  But we were also home more than normal, including for the wool festival here, which was super fun.  I had great students, and enjoyed the vendors (there was some totally beautiful handspun, among other things) and sheep as much as anyone.  I also worked on writing & photographing two new articles for Seamwork while we were back—I can’t say much about them yet, except of course that I’m really excited!  I can’t wait for you all to see them too.

Throughout all of this, I felt like I’d fallen into a pond of gratefulness.  Our trip went well.  Friends and family lent me their tools and knowledge at the exact time I need them.  I had enough me-made/altered/repaired clothes to wear for a whole month.  I was in the home I love, working and learning around things I’m passionate about.  To top it all off, that home was not on fire, or anywhere close to it.  We’ve had an unusually wet spring, and it’s mind blowing to think that just about this time last year our neighborhood was under evacuation orders from the Slide Fire.  (It didn’t get that close in the end, but it was such a scary time).  The forest is so lush right now.  Well, lush for here, a little carpet of green grass and small yellow flowers under the pines.  I tried to take a photo, but it just doesn’t look full of water and life unless you live here … but every time I look out the window I breathe a little sigh of relief.

Instead I’ll leave you with a few photos from earlier this spring, near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  Spring anywhere out East still fascinates me, having grown up in a land where a little grass and extra flowers count as lush.  More fiber stuff is on the way!

 

spring mammoth branches

 

spring mammoth ripples

 

spring mammoth moss and flower