DIY Fabric Shower Curtain

 

fabric-shower-curtain-2

 

Hello everybody, it’s been a little while! I’m a firm believer in blogging whenever you can and feel inspired, not on a pre-ordered schedule, and I also think that most blogging apologies are a waste of time and just make you feel bad. Still, it’s been much longer than I meant it to be, and I’d like to echo Molly’s sentiments on Orangette: if I ever decide to leave this space for good, I’ll tell you so. It seems only fair. The way she puts it at the end of that post is so good.

The first reason for my losing track of online things was one of the better ones: for the second time ever, we hosted our annual family and friends craft retreat at my house last month. The first time we hosted it, two years ago, was when I had an inspiration—the infinite to-do list—that started a big difference in my thinking.

I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself this time. I felt calm and relaxed in the lead-up, and I even slept well before and during at least the first part of the week—proof that I’ve made progress as a human lately, and let go of some anxiety, even the good kind that’s more like excitement. (If you need this too, may I highly recommend the book The Three Marriages by David Whyte, which is full of deep insights about things in general, and came into my life at exactly the right time. You can also listen to a good interview with him from On Being.)

It was one of those times when being calmer and going slower actually ended up meaning that I got more done. We cleaned off the back porch, for instance, which probably hadn’t been done in the two intervening years …

And I made a new shower curtain! Well, “made” might be exaggerating somewhat. I took a length of wide fabric, hemmed it, installed some grommets, and there we go.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-1

 

I’d like to apologize to all of our previous guests for the old shower curtain, a cheap vinyl thing with one ripped eyelet, which someone bought right as we were moving into our house a decade or so ago, and had been there in various states of nastiness ever since. Incidentally, I also figured out that if I actually took the vinyl thing down, soaked it in the tub with vinegar and dish soap, and took a scrub brush to it, it came out clean—enough better that I decided to save it in case I need a waterproof something.

Back to the new curtain though: I’ve been slowly moving more and more away from synthetic materials and towards natural ones for all kinds of reasons. I got another push that way when I found out that polyester and nylon clothes shed tiny synthetic fibers in the wash which eventually find their way into the oceans, enter the food chain when they’re eaten by small critters, and never break down. I first heard about this on Science Friday a while back (but cannot now find the specific program). It came up again recently on Root Simple. This was one of those last-straw moments. I’m convinced, I’m done with that, and I’ve been trying harder not to buy any synthetic fabrics.

So I wanted a natural fiber shower curtain, and as I was looking for one and researching options, it occurred to me that I had in my stash some wide cotton fabric which was basically what I was looking for—lightweight but tightly woven. And with stripes!

I measured the old curtain to figure out what length would work best (a little shorter than standard turns out to be good for my tub) and if one width of the fabric would be enough (it was, but you could always add a seam if not).

I made a deep hem on the bottom, and a narrower one at the top. The hardest part was hammering in the grommets. Typically for me, I liked the “wrong” side of the fabric better since it’s a little more textured and subtle, so I put that on the outside.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-3

 

I had a few questions, but figured it was worth trying to see what would happen. Would plain cotton keep the water inside my shower? Yes it did! Would a deep hem be enough to weigh down the bottom? It was! To be on the safe side as far as mildew, I’ve been wringing the curtain out after I shower, and then spreading it out as much as possible to dry. So far, it’s working really well, and it’s so much nicer to look at than the old one, it’s fairly ridiculous. I also like the idea that I can take this one down, put it in through the washer, and hang it to dry in the sun once a month or so, which should actually be easier than cleaning the vinyl one.

If you wanted a sheer curtain, or a liner for a more decorative fabric on the outside, I suspect that silk organza would be amazing (although I haven’t tried it, not having that much on hand). Something so thin but crisp and tightly woven should dry almost instantly, and look beautiful. Oh printed silk …

Anyway, I hope this give you all some ideas!

It feels good to be writing here, and I intend to do it again soon.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-4

 

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Knitting 102 Cowl – Free Pattern

 

T with simple knit cowlWhen my cousin was about 12 years old, she knit me a scarf. I’m touched by this gesture every time I think about it. That’s a lot of time and effort to put into an object for someone else when you’re that young. The scarf (at left) is great, made from a colorful thick-and-thin yarn, but it’s kind of short. Then one day a couple of years ago I realized that if I added buttons and buttonholes to the ends, it could be a stylish cowl, and I’d probably wear it a lot more. Which I do.

Then I realized that a cowl like this, just a knitted rectangle with buttons added, would be a perfect second or third knitting project for my students. For when you can knit and purl, but maybe you’d like to make something besides a washcloth using your current skills, before moving on to knitting in the round and all that.

I made a sample one with some seed stitch columns added, and left it at the yarn store where I teach. One day not long ago I was over there, and the owner and one of the employees were telling me about how people ask for the pattern a lot. I was quite surprised. I agreed to write it out. Then I got to thinking, if I’m going to give this pattern to whoever comes into the shop, I’d like to give it to you guys too. So here you go:

 

Knitting 102 Cowl Pattern

 

102 cowl 1

 

To make this cowl, you’ll knit a long rectangle, and then use a simple crochet stitch to make buttonholes on one end. Sew buttons on to the other end, and it’s ready to wear!

This concept is very adaptable. It’s easy to vary the yarn, stitch choices, and size to suit your own taste and knitting level.

 

102 cowl 4

 

Materials

Yarn: the sample is made in Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky, a very soft yarn with a lot of drape and not much bounce. One skein is enough for a small cowl like this. The finished fabric hangs in liquid folds. If you’d like a cowl that will stand up more, choose a yarn with more body and spring.

Gauge: the finished sample has 4 stitches per inch in both stockinette and seed stitch. It’s OK if your gauge comes out a little bit differently, since exact size isn’t super important for this project. It’s still a good idea to make a swatch with your yarn and see if you like how the fabric is coming out, and measure your gauge to get an idea of how big your finished cowl will be.

Needles and Hook: try US size 8 (5mm) knitting needles, but keep in mind that you may need a larger or smaller needle to get the gauge you want (especially if you use a different yarn). You’ll also need a crochet hook in a similar size for the buttonhole loops. In my experience the hook size doesn’t need to be exactly the same for such a small section.

Finished size: the sample cowl is 8 ½“ wide and 22 ½” long. It fits fairly close around my neck, but is big enough to get over my head without undoing the buttons. You can compare the dimensions to any cowl you like to see if this seems like a good size for you.

 

Directions

Cast on 35 sts (or your stitches per inch x desired size in inches).

Other options: If you’re not quite ready for keeping track of the seed stitch columns, you can also make a perfectly good cowl using garter stitch (knit every stitch, every row) or using seed stitch across the whole piece. (A cowl made with all stockinette stitch—knit one whole row, purl one whole row—will curl up at the edges.)

For the seed stitch pattern, you’ll need an odd number of columns of stitches. In the sample cowl, there are 7 columns of 5 stitches each. You can also vary the number of stitches in each column if that works better with your stitch count.

First row (right side): work in seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then knit 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: You may want to put a stitch marker around the needle between the sections to help remember when to switch patterns.

Second row (wrong side): work seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then purl 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: this seed stitch in this pattern alternates every stitch between knit and purl, both horizontally and vertically. After set up in the first row, work a knit stitch on top of each purl stitch you see in the seed stitch sections, and vice versa.

Repeat these two rows until you reach your desired length for the cowl.

Bind off—not too tightly or the edge will pucker. Leave a long tail (a couple of feet long) and you can use it to make the buttonhole edge as well.

 

102 cowl 5

 

Crochet buttonhole edge
Go into the first stitch of your bind-off with a crochet hook. Pull a small loop of yarn through with the hook. Go into the next bind-off stitch the same way, pull another loop through, and then pull the second loop through the first loop so that you have only one left on the hook.

(I drew these illustrations for my students, who would also have me standing next to them to show them how to do it.  If this whole concept of crochet edges is new to you, check out this explanation from Knitty, which covers crocheting on to a knitted edge, as  well as the difference between a crochet slip stitch and single crochet stitch.)

 

crochet edge

 

Continue in the same way, going into each stitch as you come to it, pulling a loop though it and then through the loop you already have on the needle. This is called a “slip stitch” in American crochet terms.

You’re making a line of crochet stitches, which should look like another bind off row on top of the first one.

When you get to the place where you want to make a buttonhole, chain (pull loops through your working loop one at a time, without connecting to anything else) until you have enough stitches to just fit around your button.

You can make the buttonholes flat to the edge or more of a loop—your choice, depending on where you attach them—but either way they should be just big enough to push the buttons through, otherwise they may come loose while you wear it.

Reattach the chain to the edge by going into the bind-off stitch you choose, and making a slip stitch as you did before.

 

crochet buttonhole v2

 

The sample cowl has three large buttons and buttonholes, which line up with the three stockinette stitch columns.

 

102 cowl 2

 

Sew on your buttons to line up with the buttonholes.  I use the same method as I do with sewing thread, except the yarn only goes once each way through the buttons since it’s so thick.

 

102 cowl 3

 

Enjoy!  If you make one, I’d love to see it.

 

Pistachio Pesto

 

Apparently, it took me all the time since pine nuts were suddenly out of my price range (years!) until this year to figure out that pistachios are the pesto substitution nut to beat all others.  I’m amazed.  It’s so obvious once you taste it.

 

pistachio pesto 3

 

It also took me a little while (but not nearly as long) to nail down some quantities for this recipe.  I get in this funny mood sometimes when I’m cooking by taste, where I just want to, um, cook by taste.  Any attempt to quantify what’s going on feels like an unwelcome intrusion of thoughts that might be interfering with my creative process. It’s funny because I’m also a fairly obsessive note-taker.  I guess it’s just hard to take the notes at the same time I’m making the thing … in any case, I tried a few times, and finally got it close, I think.

The worst that could happen is that you’ll also need to make and eat a few batches to nail down the proportions you prefer … that’ll be terrible I’m sure.

 

pistachio pesto 1

 

Pistachio Pesto

Makes about 4 servings, enough for each person to have on top of ratatouille (which is fabulous!) or pasta.  Any leftovers are delicious just spread on bread.

I’m convinced that the food processor was invented by someone who needed to make big batches of pesto in a hurry.  It pretty much the perfect tool for this.  Combine in the bowl:

pistachio pesto 41 level cup shelled unsalted pistachios

1 1/2 cups very well packed basil leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano 

2 large or 3 small garlic cloves

A generous drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil

A sprinkle of black pepper

Process until you get close to the texture you want.  Taste and adjust.  I usually end up adding a little more olive oil partway through, even though I prefer it slightly chunky and not too oily.  I find it salty enough from the cheese, but of course you can also add a little salt if you like.  I predict that if you try it, you’ll be converted, the taste is worth the shelling!

 

pistachio pesto 2

 

Simple & Satisfying Broccoli Pasta

With Garlic and Chile Flakes

 

simple broccoli pasta

 

Basically, I’m still in the same food mode I was when I wrote about the savory tarts (and still making a lot of them!).  Some days I feel like experimenting, and I have been working on a few new recipes, and trying a few others.  But many days, I’m in the mood to make something that won’t take forever, and that I know I’ll like.  Like this!  Broccoli appeared in our CSA store a couple of weeks ago, and I know Bryan likes it, so I always get some when it’s there.  This is one of my favorite ways to eat it.  Add a salad, and you have dinner.  It’s quick enough that I will even bother making it for lunch, if there aren’t enough leftovers in the fridge.

 

Simple Broccoli Pasta with Garlic and Chile Flakes

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

 

For dinner-size portions for two, start with two small or one large head of broccoli.  My second favorite thing about this recipe is that when I found it, I learned how to cook and eat the broccoli stems—it always seemed like a waste to just compost them.  The stems just take a bit longer to cook than the florets.  Cut off the florets, and cut them into about equal pieces.  Slice the stem into fairly thin rounds (leave out any of the bottom that seems too tough or stringy), and then dice up the slices.

 

chopped broccoli

 

Boil some water, to cook the pasta.  I like the deep nutty flavors of whole wheat or spelt noodles here, but then I like them with just about anything.  Use whatever kind of noodles you like.  For any even simpler gluten-free option, leave out the noodles all together, and serve the broccoli as a side.  The broccoli only takes a few minutes to cook, so you may want to cook the noodles first.  While you’re waiting you can mince a little garlic (I use about 1 small clove per head of broccoli) and grate some Parmesan, or other hard aged cheese of your choice.

To cook the broccoli, you will need a pan with a lid.  I keep a terrible, ancient skillet around because it’s the same size as my favorite one, and therefore functions as a convenient lid.  Add a generous amount of olive oil to the pan, and heat over medium.  When the oil is hot, add the chopped bits of broccoli stem, and sauté for a few minutes.  Then add the florets.  Stir, so that they all get a bit of oil, then pour in a splash of white wine if you have it, or water if you don’t, and cover the pan.

After a couple of minutes, lift off the lid.  The broccoli will have turned bright green.  At this point you want it to be slightly less done than your desired finished dish, taste some and see.  I like it about as far towards raw as I can get and still call it cooked.  When the broccoli is almost as done as you’d like, add the minced garlic and hot chile flakes to taste.  It can be subtle or spicy.

Let the garlic and chile cook for a minute or so, stirring with the broccoli.  The pan lid should be off at this point, to let any remaining liquid evaporate.  Turn of the heat, and add the cooked drained noodles to the pan, along with a little of the grated cheese.  Stir everything together, and add a bit more olive oil and/or cheese if it seems too dry.

That’s it!  Serve with a bit more grated cheese on top.

 

DIY Crib Rail Covers for Teethers — A Tutorial

 

So apparently, small teething children will chomp down on wooden crib rails like beavers.  I really had no idea until, visiting our dear friends at the end of the summer, I saw the evidence first hand, little teeth marks right through the wood finish.  My friend the mama was thinking about ordering some covers for the crib rails, but I knew we, ok I, could easily make some, and I would get to sew!  In August, after months away from my sewing machine, this seemed like a gift from the universe, plus it would be so useful and cute for friend mama and her little one!  I’m going to share my notes and method, which should work for any crib, below.  This is a fairly quick project, so if you are still looking for a gift for a young family, it could be a good one.

 

crib rail protectors onTo make up for only having quick snapshots of this project (did I mention there was a baby involved?) I’m making it my illustrated post for this month.

 

First things first, I measured the crib.  I wanted the covers to go around the whole rail easily, so I added a little extra ease to my measurements.  The back rail is against the wall, apparently too awkward an angle for little one’s head to chew, so I didn’t worry about that one.

crib rail protector mathI know that the quilt batting (which I want here for padding) will shrink a little bit, probably not enough to affect the width, but for the length I’ll include a bit extra.  I usually use 1/2″ seam allowances, which I did for the width.  I decided to use 1″ seam allowance on each end for the length, since that is where I am likely to want more wiggle room.  To figure out how much fabric I need, I made another diagram, since I’m really a visual thinker.

crib rail protector fabricSo here are the supplies I got, including a little extra fabric for shrinkage, since it’s 100% cotton:

Two yards fabric (Modern Bliss design #13662 by Robert Kaufman)

One yard super wide cotton quilt batting, for two layers of batting in each cover

Eight yards of totally beautiful soft cotton ribbon for ties

All of this came from Stitchin’ Post in Sisters, OR.

 

When getting ready to sew, don’t forget to preshrink your fabric!  Wash the fabric and dry it the same way you (or the recipient) plan on treating the finished project.  I also put the ribbon through wash and dry, in a lingerie bag, just in case it was going to bleed any dye, etc., since a baby might be chewing on it.  I didn’t pre-shrink the batting.  The package it came with says it will shrink 3%, which will give the covers a bit of that puffy quilted look once they are washed.  After washing, I ironed the fabric and ribbon to get rid of wrinkles and make it easier to measure and work with.

Cut or rip the fabric and batting into strips 10″ wide (or the width you picked for your crib), and then divide them for the length of the covers, as in the diagram above.  Take one fabric section with its corresponding batting to the crib, make sure the size seems close, and decide where you want to put the ties and how long they should be.  We decided on 7″ for each tie, which divided fairly neatly into 8 yards, 20 ties with two sides each.  I just cut the ends of the ties at a diagonal to keep them from fraying, and left the other end, which will be sewn inside the cover, squared off.

I pinned the ties to one side where I wanted them to go, and then with the fabric off the crib, folded it in half to match and pin the matching tie. It’s helpful to leave just a bit of each tie sticking out beyond the fabric, so you’ll be able to see where they are when you’re sewing.

Make a fabric stack for each cover, with two layers of batting on the bottom, then one layer of fabric (right side/public side up) with the ties pinned in place (I pinned them in the middle too, so that they wouldn’t shift around and get caught while sewing).  Then top with the other side of the fabric, right side down towards the ties.

crib rail protector sandwichHold the whole sandwich together with a few pins, and sew down each long side with a straight stitch, 1/2″ from the edge—our planned seam allowance.

Each time you come to one of the ribbon ties (which you’ll know because the ends are sticking out) sew over it, then back up and sew forward again, so that there are three lines of stitching holding each tie in place.  Blend back to your seam allowance line, and keep sewing to the next tie.

crib rail protector sewing ribbonOnce you have sewn down both sides, turn the whole thing inside out and tada!  The batting is on the inside and the ties are on the outside.  I had thought I would trim the batting from the seam allowances, but when I got to this stage it didn’t seem necessary.  I just pressed everything in its new orientation, smoothing things out and using the iron with steam.

Check the size of the cover on the crib, the fold the ends to the inside to get the length you like.  I decided to stitch them closed by hand, using a ladder stitch which picks up a little fabric from each side.  It just looks better, and I can also add a line of stitching near the ends when quilting so that the hand stitches won’t take much strain.  The white UFO near my fingers in the photo is the head of a pin . . .

 

crib rail protector sewing ends

 

All that’s left is the quilting!  I don’t usually quilt; I’m too obsessed with the properties of different fabrics, their drape as a 2-D material wraps a 3-D body, and the possibility of walking around all day protected and flattered by garments I made.  I do see how quilting is perfect for something like this though, and I don’t mind the quilted look, but it does bug me when the stitching totally contrasts with the fabric, especially when I like the fabric as it is.  I decided to use the diagonals in the print as guides for my quilting stitching, and not to worry about them being exactly all the same.  It gave the covers more of a modern look, which the mama and I loved.  I did check the batting instructions, which said to quilt no more than 8″ apart, and make sure the maximum distance between my lines was not more than that.  I quilted to one end, checked the measurements and then did a second round.  I didn’t have access to a walking foot, so I spread the fabric and batting sandwich outward from the foot with my hands as I went, and it worked just fine.

 

 

crib rail protector finished

 

I just loved making these, mostly because at the time I was thrilled for the chance to take a project from idea in my head to finished object in my hand!  I’m sure I could have looked up someone else’s directions, but I didn’t want or need to, and I love how my version came out.  I played with the balance between making something as good as I can, because it’s for my best friend’s baby, and going with the flow, letting it be a bit inexact and show its handmade-ness, because it’s the real world, and because I always think handmade things are the most beautiful.

If you try this project, I hope you’ll agree, and have as good a time as I did!  Happy week everybody!

 

Fried Green (Cherry) Tomatoes


fried green cherry tomatoes


But why, you may be asking, should I fry green tomatoes?  That was my question too, until we got some from our CSA a few years ago and I tried this for the first time.  The short answer is: they’re delicious.  For a slightly longer one: in our mountain climate, an early freeze is likely pretty much inevitable in the fall, which greatly increases the chances that my friends and neighbors will give me tomatoes picked before they had time to ripen.  They will get a little riper on the counter in a paper bag or wrapped in newspaper, but they’ll never be the same as they would be on the vine. When fried, the green tomato flavor completely changes, and a crunchy cornmeal crust is a wonderful compliment to the tart soft insides.


Fried Green Tomatoes

adapted from The Joy of Cooking


Mix together in bowl for the coating:

1/2 cup dry masa

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup blue corn meal

Seasonings you like: a little bit of salt and pepper, seasoned salt, fresh thyme and/or Cajun spice mix . . . anything you want to give the batter a little extra flavor.

If you don’t have these exact ingredients, don’t worry.  The mixture of fine ground (masa) and coarser cornmeal seemed like a good idea as far as sticking to the tomatoes and producing a crispy crust, but a mixture of regular cornmeal and flour should work fine.  One cup total of the dry batter was enough to cover a heaping dinner plate’s worth of fried cherry tomatoes.

Pour a little buttermilk (or regular milk, I used buttermilk since it’s a little thicker and has a bit of tangy flavor) into a shallow bowl.  If you run out you can always add more to the bowl.


Dip the tomatoes in the buttermilk, then in the cornmeal mixture, shake off the excess and set on a plate to dry.  I found the most efficient method to be: chop a bunch of the little tomatoes in half.  Reserve one hand for buttermilk and one for cornmeal (so you can do several rounds without stopping to wash your hands).  With the buttermilk hand, pick up a handful of tomatoes and drop them in the milk.  Stir to coat and then drop them into the cornmeal mixture.  With the other (cornmeal) hand, scoop cornmeal on top of the wet tomatoes, stir them to coat, shake each one gently and put it on the plate.  I was a little worried about the batter not sticking to the skins of the little tomatoes, but for the most part it worked just fine.

If you have big tomatoes, slice them fairly thin (between a quarter and half inch thick is good).  Dip each slice in the buttermilk and then in the cornmeal, turning to coat.


To fry: heat 1/4 -1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of a heavy pot or skillet.  I like to use my heavy-bottomed soup pot, since any splashes of oil stay inside it instead of all over everywhere.  Use an oil that can take high heat without smoking (I used canola).  Joy suggests heating the oil until a drop of water sizzles when you flick it into the pan.  I did a little research for a recommended temperature, and Southern Living (they should know) suggests 360-375° F.  I know from experience that having the temp too low can cause strange things to happen to your batter . . . anyway, when the oil comes up to heat, drop in as many tomatoes as will fit in a single layer.  Fry until one side is golden brown and crispy, and then turn them over and cook the second side.  When done, scoop the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon or strainer, shake off the excess oil, and place on paper towels.

These are best eaten warm, delicious with a little homemade mayo or ranch as well as just plain.  If that doesn’t make you hungry for some Southern food I don’t know what will!  Black eyed peas and cornbread . . .

Northern Arizona Corn Bread

 

NAZ cornbread

 

One of the few recent food happenings I have actually gotten a photo of is this cornbread.  It’s my adaptation of a recipe that my Mom has made since I was little.  It came from one of my elementary school teachers, Ms. Bené.  We made it during our creative retreat this year, actually twice, it was a hit!  It’s a sweeter-style cornbread, what in the US we call “Northern” style.  I’ve given it a Southwestern twist as well.  It’s great with blue cornmeal, if you can find it, and pretty awesome with some chiles inside as well.

 

Northern Arizona Cornbread

In a large bowl, mix well:

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

 

Stir in:

1 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

-or- plain milk and no soda

The buttermilk gives a nice flavor, but it’s not necessary.  Either way, you can add a dash more milk for a very moist cornbread.

 

Pile on top of the liquids in the bowl:

1 cup blue cornmeal (or yellow if you can’t find blue.)

1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use white or a mix if you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder (at sea level, at 7000′ I use 1  1/4 tsp)

Stir just until blended.

 

Optional: remove the stems, centers, and seeds from 3 roasted green chiles.  Cut into thin strips, and stir in just before baking.  This adds a delicious bit of spiciness, but leave out if you are serving the cornbread along with other hot foods, which it goes really well with! Chile time is coming again soon!

 

Scrape into a heavy baking pan.  Any size 9 x 9″ or bigger will work, the cornbread will just be a little thicker or thinner.  Bake at 350˚ F for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  It should be a little bit brown around the edges and golden on top, although with the blue corn it can be harder to see.   Enjoy!