The Star Blossom Hat, A Pattern for Solstice

A free pattern to knit and embroider.

 

embroidered-hat-1

 

I designed this hat for myself, and decided to share the pattern after a friend declared it her favorite thing I’ve ever made. It feels like a really good time to put a little bit of beauty out into the world right now. I’ve been collecting the pieces of this pattern—the photos, the drawings, the yarn specs—in spare slices of time over the past weeks, and now it’s ready to go!

The Star Blossom Hat is mainly seed stitch ribbing, shaped with short rows for a longer back to cover your ears, and designed to be long enough to turn up all around. It has a stockinette stitch top to serve as a background for some sweet and simple embroidery, reminiscent of a cherry blossom or a starburst.

Yarn

Lucky me, I had a big skein of my friend Lauren’s handspun just sitting in my stash. All I remember her telling me about it is, “It’s alpaca.” It was just waiting for this hat I think. Assuming that Lauren didn’t go into production on this and start selling it around the country without telling me, here are the characteristics you want to match in your yarn to get a similar look and feel:

•It’s worsted weight, about 9 WPI.
•It has bounce. 4” of yarn will stretch another ½”, and then easily spring back. It needs a little elasticity so the ribbing pulls in just enough to keep its shape on your head. My yarn has some drape too, like most all alpaca, which is not a drawback here, but also not necessary for this shape to work.
•It’s not too fuzzy. An alpaca yarn with a lot of “halo” effect would obscure the textured stitches and the embroidery, so opt for something fairly smooth.
•It’s a 2-ply yarn, and each ply is a slightly different (natural alpaca) color. It’s also a little bit thick-and-thin, being handspun. Neither of these characteristics is essential to the hat, but both give the texture of the stitches a little more dimension.
•It’s soft enough to comfortably touch my face.

This hat took just about exactly 130 yards of yarn. 150 yards would give you plenty for swatching and margin of error.

Spinning geek details on the original yarn for those interested:

•Angle of twist 27°
•3.5 – 5 twist bumps per inch in plied yarn
•587 yards/pound

Yarn scraps for embroidery:

These are also something I’m lucky enough to have; little bits and pieces from my grandmother’s stash which I’m pretty sure were dyed with natural materials by her or her fiber friends. You can use any scraps you have in colors you like! Or even ask your knitting friends to share and swap scraps. Embroidery is my ultimate use for tiny bits of yarn too beautiful to get rid of. These are singles (one ply) yarns, which gives the stitches a soft fuzzy look.

 

embroidered-hat-2

 

Gauge

Before blocking I got 5.5 to 6 sts/inch in seed stitch ribbing, and 5 sts/inch in stockinette.
After blocking I got 5 to 5.5 sts/inch in the ribbing (stretched slightly during blocking) and the same 5 sts/inch in stockinette.

Needles:

I think I used US size 4. I knit pretty loosely. Size 5 would probably be a more common recommendation … the point is it doesn’t matter, use the size you need to get the gauge you want!

Sizing

I have a fairly big head, and I hate hats that squish my hair (or worse, my head!). Straight around my forehead, with the measuring tape snug but not tight, measures 22.5 inches, and that’s the size I made the hat (using 5 sts/inch for math). This gives me my personal hat fit of dreams: snug enough to stay on my head, but never tight or uncomfortable. I highly recommend that you measure the hat recipient’s head and take her/his preferences into account. You may have to modify the decreases for the top a bit, but that’s a small price to pay for a hat that really fits!

Seed Stitch Ribbing

This is just so nubbly, I’ve been knitting it into everything lately. I wanted a combination of stitches that would look good on the right or wrong side, so the brim of the hat could be turned up, and this is what I came up with. The columns of ribbing are always purl knit purl, with two stitches of seed in between.

It does look a little confusing at first, so put as many markers as you need, until you can see where the ribbing columns are and which are the seed stitches that should always alternate.

embroidered-hat-seed-rib-chart

Pattern

Cast on 115 stitches (or the number you determined from your head size). You’ll need a multiple of 5 stitches for the seed stitch ribbing pattern. I used this cast on.

Bring the beginning and end of your cast on stitches together, and knit in the round, in the seed stitch ribbing pattern, until the hat measures 6 1/2 inches tall. (If you have extra yarn, you can knit further at this stage, which mean you can make a deeper turn-up in the brim of the hat when it’s done).

Short rows:

Reserve 40 stitches (or about 1/3 of your total stitches if different) which will be the center front of your hat, by placing a marker on both sides of them. Keep knitting around until you are 4 stitches away from reaching the first marker again, and then turn and knit back until you are 4 sts away from the second marker. (Remember to match the patterns to what you see on the wrong side as you work back.)
Continue to work back and forth, each time stopping 4 sts away from the last turning, until there are 5 groups of short rows or 6 “steps” on either side of center front, and about 40 sts in the middle that will be the center back. The back of the hat should measure 8 to 8 1/4 inches tall.
Work around on the right side, integrating the turning stitches. My favorite is Cat Bordhi’s “Thanks-Ma” method, which uses a clever pick up to make the “steps” basically disappear. Cat’s video explains it specifically for her sock heel, but I’ve used it on all kinds of things since learning it. Still, if you have another favorite short row method feel free to use that instead.
Then knit one more round on the right side, maintaining the patterns, to smooth everything out.

You shouldn’t need to change the numbers in this section, unless your stitch count is very different from mine. If short rows freak you out, you can also skip them altogether, and just keep knitting in the seed stitch ribbing pattern until the hat is 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches tall, depending on how much you want to turn up the brim.

 

embroidered-hat-6

 

Crown:

Switch to stockinette stitch and knit one round plain (knit every stitch). Place a marker at the beginning of your round.
Round 2: Work a K2tog (decrease 1) at every column of knit stitches from the ribbing pattern (23 times around). Or you can think of it as k2tog, knit 3, repeat around. I just think it looks nice to line up the decreases at the knit columns.
Round 3: Same as round 2 (decrease 23 sts again in the same places, or k2tog, knit 2, repeat).
Rounds 4-8: Knit these 5 rounds plain.
Round 9: Decrease at every column again (k2tog, knit 1, repeat).
Rounds 10-14: Knit these 4 rounds plain.
Round 15: knit every two stitches together all the way around (k2tog, repeat).
Rounds 16-18: Knit these 3 rounds plain.
Round 19 to finish: Continue k2tog until there are only 6 stitches left.
Break the yarn, leaving a tail, and thread the tail on a blunt needle, and through the remaining stitches, continuing in the order you would knit them. Thread the tail through the top of the hat to the inside, and pull the last stitches snugly together. Secure the yarn on the wrong side of the hat.

If your stitch count is different, I suggest trying the same number of decreases in each decrease round as you have knit columns from the ribbing, and using my spacing of plain rounds between. If that doesn’t work or you have questions feel free to get in touch, I’d be happy to help you figure it out! I unraveled my crown twice to come up with this formula. It should have a little curve (like your head), but not be too loose or floppy, to show off the embroidery.

Embroidery

I used just two stitches; the simplest running/satin stitches (in two different groupings), and Colonial knots, both which I explain in this post.

I used pins to visually mark the placement of the five knots nearest the center, and then based the other motifs on those, moving outward.

embroidered-hat-drawing-1

Tips for embroidery on knits:

Whatever stitching you add will also add some bulk and stiffness to the knitted fabric. You can minimize this by:
•Taking the shortest path on the wrong side between the end of one stitch and the beginning of the next.

embroidered-hat-drawing-2

•Stretching the fabric gently after every few stitches (minimizes puckering).
•For longer stitches between motifs on the wrong side, catching a little bit of the yarns in the fabric as you go along, so you don’t have long floats that can catch on things (I show this for yarn ends in this post).

 

embroidered-hat-5

 

That’s all, folks! I really hope you all enjoy this pattern, and if you decide to make it of course I’d love to see! It’s now up on Ravelry as well.
Take care everyone and enjoy your winter!

 

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Fixing Store-Bought Socks

 

fixing blue stripe socks 3

Isn’t the phrase “store-bought” kind of funny when you think about it?  Maybe I should have said mending “factory-made” socks?  Maybe not, that sounds weird too.  Fixing “non-me-made” socks … never mind!

Anyway, I get a little depressed any time our society expects me to get rid of something which is mostly perfectly good, but has one flaw/broken part/hole/mold on just one corner.  Although I do accept that there’s a point at which socks are well and truly worn out and need to go, what happens to most of mine is that they develop one or two really worn places somewhere around the heel first, while the rest of the sock fabric still seems totally intact.

The really tiny gauge which commercial socks (I might like that phrase best so far) are knit in makes it hard to darn them in the traditional needle-and-yarn ways.  I’ve been experimenting with patching them, using compatible knit fabrics, and it’s been working well.  Experimenting over some time now, so please forgive the different lighting in the photos, I’ve been documenting the socks as I fix them.

As most of you reading probably already know, I love the idea of “visible mending”, of showing the world that I fixed something and I’m using it.

 

So, should you have the audacity to mend a store-bought sock, here are some things I’ve worked out:

The fabric for the patches should be similar to the socks: knitted (stretchy) and fairly sturdy.  I’ve been using wool knit fabric swatches, scraps from making these leggings, and parts of other socks.  Although I’ve been seeking out wool patches, I think cotton knits would work too, as long as they are fairly thick/tough.  Check that the care requirements for the patch fabric work with how you wash your socks (I usually machine wash & line dry mine, occasionally they go through the dryer, and the wool patches have worked fine for me).

 

patched purple hobo socks

 

sock under machine It’s totally possible to mend shorter socks with a sewing machine, any time that you can scrunch the rest of the sock out of the way (kind of as if you are turning it inside out), so that just the layers you want are under the foot of the machine. I used an overlock stitch for maximum stretchiness & sturdiness.  As with any knit project, you may need to experiment a bit to figure out which stitch and settings work best.  Expect to do a lot of lifting the foot with the needle down and repositioning things while sewing on the patches.  You can cut down on that somewhat by basting the patches on first (takes about 30 seconds).

 

When the patch is done, I finish by getting all the thread ends to the inside, and burying them before trimming, using a hand sewing needle.  You can also trim the edges of the patch outside the stitching if they come out funky looking.

 

thread ends fixing socks

 

For heels and toes of knee socks, and any time I can’t easily get the part of the sock I want under the machine, I find it just as easy to sew the patches on by hand.  (I like hand sewing, and I don’t like fighting with my machine.)  I’ve been using a catch stitch (explained in more detail here) around the edges, sewing through both the patch and the sock when possible.  An old-fashioned darning egg (or improvise with a small block of wood etc.) inside the sock is so useful here that it’s almost essential, making things much easier by assuring that you only sew through the layers you want.

 

fixing blue stripe socks 2

 

fixing blue stripe socks 1

 

For either method, cut the patch definitely bigger than the worn place/hole, otherwise it will quickly wear right along the edge of the patch.

  For cuffs, you can use a scrap of ribbing to cover worn places and/or make a new cuff.  Make sure the ribbing is long enough to stretch around the widest part of the leg which the sock will go around.  Mark and sew the ribbing together, then stretch it evenly around the sock.  I find it’s easier to sew two seams, one on the inside and the again around the outside edge of the ribbing, than to try to catch both edges perfectly in one seam.

 

fixing sock cuff

 

Both my hand- and machine-sewn patches have worn well, adding a year or more to sock life, and lasting until the rest of the sock fabric gives up the ghost.

 

The socks below I didn’t even mean to fix, but they ended up being some of my favorites.  They’re the ones I wear in the summer when we’re setting up the booth.  I was going to buy new ones, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to spend real money on new socks for such a humble purpose, and I knew cheap socks would wear out super quick under those conditions.

The new short length is perfect for when it’s hot but I still have to wear shoes, and I love seeing my little mended socks during what can be a stressful situation.

 

mending set-up socks 1

 

mending set-up socks 2

 

Finally, just in case you’re thinking that I have a magical house where socks are fixed as soon as they develop holes, let me tell you, it ain’t so.  I’ll admit that I tend to let them pile up until my sock drawer is looking sparse, and I’d forgotten about the very existence of some of these by the time I got around to mending them … when I start to run out of socks that don’t need fixing, then I settle down and do one or two pairs a day until they’re all fixed.

Happy mending!

 

 

Tips and Ideas for Sewing Cover Buttons, DIY and Store-Bought

 

diy sewing cover buttons 1

 

As I mentioned in my knitted cover button post, I got into some online research on DIY cover buttons, and I couldn’t resist making up a couple of sewn ones.  Special thanks to Sophie of Ada Spragg for pointing me towards Ebony H’s tutorial for fabric covered buttons on SewStylist!  I love the idea of covering existing buttons, and especially that you can sew through them.  But, I’m kind of a purist, I like things clean, and held together with needle and thread alone.  And I had some more ideas … so, below is my version.

If you’d rather use a cover button kit from the fabric store (I do this a lot too), scroll down (way down) towards the bottom of the post, and I’ll include my favorite tips for those as well.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Measuring & planning the button front

Draw around your button with a fine-point marker.  It’s easiest to use one that erases with water or air, but if you don’t have that, you can use any regular marker that won’t show through your fabric, just keep all markings on the wrong side of the button.  Draw another circle outside the button outline—this is the fabric that will wrap around the button to the back.  It should be just a little smaller (about 1/8″ or 3mm smaller) than the thickness of your button plus half its width.  If your button is bigger, you can have more of a gap in the fabric at the middle of the back.  For these little buttons, I wanted as much fabric on the back as I could get without it bunching up in the middle, so that it has the best chance of staying in place and not fraying as I sew it.  Mark the distance you want outside the button outline at several points, then connect them to make an outer circle.  (This picture also shows the markings for the back piece, which we’ll get to later.)

 

diy sewing cover buttons 2

 

Embroidery (optional of course)

If you’d like to add any embellishments, it’s easier to work them before you cut out the fabric pieces.  I was inspired by this post on The Purl Bee, but decided I’d rather have simple stitching.  I think this would look great if you used the same thread as the topstitching on your project.

Since I used a water-erasable pen, I could stitch on the same side as the marks, following the button outline.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 3

 

Once I was done with my embroidery, I caught the thread ends in the stitching on the wrong side, and trimmed them off.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 4

 

Sew & gather the button front

Cut out your fabric circle.  Then sew a line of running stitches around the edge, around 1/8″ or 3mm inside the cut edge.  Ordinarily I’d use matching thread for this, but as you’ll see, it won’t show, so use contrasting if it’s easier to see.  Start with a knot, or leave a long tail so you can pull on both ends of the thread when you’re done.  The smaller you make the stitches, the easier it will be to pull your gathers in tight.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 5

 

diy sewing cover buttons 6

 

Time to pull the gathers around your button.  At this point it occurred to me that I needed to get the button wet at some point to erase the marker, and it might be easier to manipulate the gathers if the fabric was damp.  It totally was!  So I highly recommend spritzing your fabric with a little water before you cinch it around the button.  This should work for all natural fibers.

Pull the gathers in tight.  Use your thumbnail or an awl, etc. to redistribute any gathers that are bunching up.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 7

 

Once the gathers are set how you’d like them, stitch around the back, a bit inside the edge, with a series of backstitches to hold them in place.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 8

 

The button back

I wanted another fabric piece to cover all these raw edges on the back.  To make one, draw around your button again, but this time just add a tiny bit around the edge, I found 2 mm to be just about perfect (I know you have a metric ruler, fellow Americans).

Stitch another circle of running stitches, this time just inside the line you drew around the button.  Leave a tail of thread at the beginning and the end.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 9

 

Pull on both the thread tails to gather the raw edge to the inside.  It may help to get the fabric wet again.  You can use the blunt end of a needle to push out any parts of the turned-in edge that get bunchy.  This doesn’t have to end up as a perfect circle, since it will be on the back, but roundish is helpful.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 11

 

Once the back looks pretty good, I like to tie the thread ends in a knot, so the fabric won’t come ungathered as I sew it on.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 12

 

You can guess what to do now, right?  Yep, sew the back piece in place, using tiny stitches around the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 13

 

Finish off with a couple of backstiches under the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 14

 

That’s it!  I sewed them on using my favorite method, making a thread shank on the back. You could also sew just through the fabric on the back of the button, rather than through the original button holes, but I think this would leave the fabric on top of the button free to shift around a bit.

The possibilities here are endless … and speaking of endless possibilities:

 

Tips for store-bought cover button kits

I use these a lot (at least I did before I discovered the above technique).  My favorite are the tiny ones (surprise).  Here are my best tips:

1.  Get the kind with the teeth facing inwards, not the ones with the flat metal edge.  The teeth are a lot easier to work with, and you can use them without tools, precisely centering your fabric.  The flat edge also cuts through the fabric over time, meaning your buttons wear out faster.

 

cover button packagesOnes on either side, good, the center ones, not so much.  Her hair!  Can you tell I inherited cover button kits from both my grandmothers?

 

2. Use another layer of fabric, or something thin and opaque like interfacing, under your button fabric.  This prevents the shiny button from showing through, and gives your button a subtle but nice plusher look.  The extra piece only needs to be the size of the button top, since it doesn’t need to wrap around.

 

cover buttons coatI replace the fabric on a couple of these buttons on my coat about once a season.  The ones with a layer of interfacing do seem to last longer.

 

3. The guides printed on the back of the button kit are probably too big for thick fabric and/or knits.  You need enough fabric to secure in the teeth, but not so much that it bunches up and keeps the back from seating in securely.  You may need to experiment to find the right size circle for your fabric.

4.  Pull the fabric up from two opposite sides, and hook it onto the teeth by pressing it under them.  Repeat at right angles to your first two points, and then do the places in between.

5.  For knits, it’s up to you how much you stretch the fabric as you pull it over the button.  Pulling less will make the buttons look more plush.  Try to be consistent, however you like it.

 

cover buttons small wool knit

 

6.  It’s totally possible to use the metal parts of these kits many times when the fabric wears out (like on my coat).  Use any small flat tool to pop off the back, then pull off the remains of the fabric, and start again.

7.  You could definitely use embroidery on these as well (they do in that Purl Bee tutorial), just be careful when centering the fabric—see 4.  You could even use the embroidery to tack your two layers together.

 

cover buttons small wool knit finished

 

I think that’s the lot, for now anyway.  Best returns of the season, everyone!

 

Washing Fruit and Veggies on the Road

 

washed fruit in cooler

 

So, you’re driving along on a late-summer road trip, the farmers’ markets and road-side fruit stands are overflowing with beautiful produce, but you hesitate to buy a bunch of berries or tomatoes if you can’t figure out a way to wash them, right?  Here’s our solution.  All you need is a container (a tub that yogurt came in is perfect) and some water.  A cooler is optional. I’m not really sure why it took us so long to figure this out.  It works a lot better, and uses a lot less of our drinking water, than trying to pour water with one hand while somehow holding and scrubbing fruit with the other hand by the side of the road.  Even if you are on your way to a house or hotel where you could wash fruit, this has the advantage of letting you eat it right NOW, while you cruise along with the windows rolled down, or at your favorite picnic spot.

Put your produce in your little tub, and pour in enough water to cover it.  Swirl everything around with your fingers for a minute or so, and then hold the fruit back and pour the water off. If a lot of dirt comes off in the first round, or you just want to make sure it’s really clean, repeat.

 

tomatoes in tub of water

 

Then you can put the clean tub of fruit in your cooler, or on top of the parking brake between the seats for easy access.  If you’ve washed something like tomatoes that does better dry and room-temp than cold and wet, you can dump them out onto a towel, or use one of those little green plastic baskets to store them. If you knew how many picnic style meals we’ve eaten, consisting mainly or entirely of various versions of caprese sandwiches, you’d laugh out loud.

 

tomatoes in green basket 1

 

A couple more notes: basil does well in the cooler with the stems in the water, or in a sealed plastic bag with a little moisture inside (kind of like the cooler version of this method), but not if the leaves touch the ice (they’ll frost and turn black).  Thanks to Bryan for hand modeling, and for being as enthusiastic about fresh local edibles as I am.

 

tomatoes in green basket 2

 

A Cabarita Top Variation, with Tips for Matching Stripes

 

The first picture I saw of the Cabarita Top from Cake patterns must have been one where Steph is wearing the “back” as the front. I’m hardly ever struck by the sudden need to make a pattern exactly as shown, but in this case I knew I needed this top … even though it turns out that’s not exactly what the pattern intended. I also hardly ever make anything trendy … but I love how many chevrons and clever stripe matching I’ve seen in the last couple of years, so I guess it’s a trend I don’t mind being part of. (Fair warning: I’m going to wear this top until it falls apart, whether or not it starts to look dated.)

 

cabarita front

 

Anyway, how about some tips for stripe matching first, and then a couple notes on changes I made to the pattern?

The first step of stripe matching is careful cutting & planning. I cut striped fabric in a single layer, so I can see exactly where the stripes on each piece go.

Lay your first pattern piece, the one you most want to match, on the fabric, and trace the stripes onto that pattern piece with a pencil, so you can see exactly where they line up, and then cut them the same, or in a mirror image, on the next piece. I could swear that I took a picture of this step during this project, but apparently I was mistaken.  I’ll have to get one next time I’m in the studio. The point is to carefully draw the stripe placement along the seam lines of the pattern piece.  Draw both edges of key stripes, so you can see how wide they are and where each edge goes.  It may help to use colored pencils that match your stripe colors.  For a fairly simple stripe, you can go ahead and cut, and then move the pattern piece as necessary (don’t forget to flip if needed), align the stripes with the ones you drew, and cut again.  If you want to match along a seam where two pattern pieces meet (like a side seam between a front and back) you’ll need to transfer your drawn stripes from the first piece you cut to the second one, making sure they are aligned at the bottom.  This project was a straightforward one for this part, since there are just four copies of the same piece.

 

cabarita side

 

Sometimes, especially with plaid fabrics, or more complex garments with lots of seams, you may have to pick your battles, choosing the most visible/important seams to match stripes on as you’re planning and cutting the fabric. Also keep in mind that if a seam runs in the same direction as a stripe, it’s much much easier to make it look good if the seam runs through a wide area of the same color, than if it’s along the border between two colors or a narrow stripe, where it’s likely to look wobbly.

When you get ready to sew the stripes, my all-time best step for perfect matching is: baste! Don’t worry about exactly matching the seam allowance edges, worry about exactly lining up the stripes. Peel back the fabric and look. As you stitch, check to make sure that the needle goes in and out in the exact same place on the stripe in both layers, and adjust if necessary. You can check, and even try on your project, after basting to see how it’s coming out. You can bet that if your stripes are matched as you baste, they’ll be matched after you sew the seam.

I also use my walking foot for stripes, as a little extra insurance against the layers shifting.

 

basting stripes

It works:

 

finished matched stripes

 

Just in case you want to make Cabarita hack like this, here’s how I did it:

I compared the v-neck on the pattern to another me-made shirt I like, which suggested I should use the marked neckline for the group of sizes bigger than mine. I forgot that having a V in the back as well (instead of a plain round neck) would give the top more leeway to slip off my shoulders. I ended up adding thin clear elastic, barely stretched as I sewed, all around the neckline in the seam allowance of the binding seam, to keep it hugging in a bit. I like it, but if I cut this again I would use the V suggested for my size for both front and back.

 

cabarita left

 

To make the bands at the shoulders, I took an inch off the shoulder from the top down, minus seam allowance, and cut a separate piece 2” wide plus SA, across the stripes. I sewed the extra shoulder piece between the front and back on each side, and then the binding around the neck and sleeves.

I sewed the binding once on the seam, and again near the edge to keep everything flat as it’s washed and worn. Then I flipped the binding around and sewed one last time just along the edge, from the right side. Have I mentioned I’m really liking zigzag as topstitching lately?

 

cabarita stripe bands

 

This fabric is an organic cotton & hemp blend from The Fabric Fairy. It’s yummy, and I’m looking forward to it getting even softer and drapier as the hemp ages. I decided to use the “wrong” side as the public side, because I love how you can tell that the stripes are knitted in, and how the little rows of purls (for you knitters out there) soften the transitions between the stripes just a bit.

 

cabarita back

 

I’m really liking wearing this over tank tops, maybe even more than on its own. I think I like how another layer showing below it breaks up the pattern a bit, but it also could be just because this summer has been generally cool enough that light layers have been a good option.

 

What about you, what have you been sewing? Any more tips for stripes?

 

How to Make French Toast—and Happy New Year

With variations, tips and tricks to customize your own perfect French toast recipe.

 

french toast in skillet

 

It took me long enough, right?  (Can you believe it’s been almost two years?  Yeah, me neither.)  For a blog with this name, which features recipes, the lack of actual directions for making French toast was getting a little ridiculous.  Here’s the thing, I didn’t want to post just a recipe for French toast, that seemed silly, everyone already knows how to make French toast, right?  Instead I would put together some marvelous, unheard-of combination of toppings and put that in a post, with the actual French toast just included almost as a by-the-way, here’s how I make it.

I started off yesterday morning with just such a plan, to make a seasonal orange-based sauce.  I wasn’t going to tell you this next part, but it now seems important: it did not go well.  In fact, it reminded me specifically of the part of the year just passed that I would very much NOT like to repeat in the year to come: me trying very hard for a goal which I (perhaps) have somehow misjudged in one or more ways, expending a lot of time and energy but not quite getting where I’d like to go.

I like to think I’m not superstitious, but at first, this seemed like the most inauspicious possible sign for January 1.  Then, as it rolled around in my brain a little more, I started to think that maybe the failed orange sauce (it came out ok after all) was a cautionary tale, and if I took it the right way, I could use it to steer away from the process I don’t want, and towards the one I do.

 

french toast on plate

 

I started thinking; maybe just French toast is enough.  Of course not everyone already knows how to make it.  Especially since I have some tips and ideas to get you started with your own never-before-seen, awesome variations.  After all, this space is supposed to be about empowering you to make things, and not about me showing off, even though I love sharing the things I make here.

In 2014, I’d like to be more grounded, less hectic.  I still have a million dreams of every kind, so many things that I’d love to do.  But my journey towards them might not be about reaching as far as I possibly can in one grasp, or frantically trying to fit as much as I possibly can into every single day.  Maybe it will be more about doing one little bit at a time, and even about recognizing and sharing the good bits I already have right in front of me.

Happy New Year, friends!  May it be a good one for all.

 

How to Make French Toast

 

First, and most importantly, you need bread.  You can use any kind, and it’s not just a metaphor, or part of the 6 words I chose to describe my life, it really is the best possible use for bread that’s staler than you’d like to eat it.  Brioche, or banana bread, or any other thing that’s called a “bread” and maybe borders on dessert, will make amazing, Ann-Sather-worthy French toast.  I’ve used my homemade bread for our most recent versions.  As always, a quality bread (or any ingredient) will lend even more layers of subtle delicious flavor to the toast (or any finished dish), but it also may be a tastier use for a less-than-stellar bread than eating it alone.  How much batter the bread will soak up varies wildly depending on the type of bread and how dry it is, etc.

Next, you need some egg and stuff to soak the toast in.  I like it to be mainly egg, because I do not like the inside of the bread to be soggy when it’s done.  I like to whisk up the egg etc. in a glass dish with a flat bottom rather than in a bowl, so I can put a few pieces of bread in to soak at a time, and not be left with a little well of liquid at the bottom that the bread can’t reach.  For about 6 pieces of bread (again, this varies a LOT depending on your bread, but you can always add a little more to the pan) I use:

3 eggs, whisked up well with:

1/4 cup milk (it’s Ok to substitute non-dairy milk here)

A pinch of salt

A larger pinch of sugar

Next, add some flavorings to the egg mixture—whatever your heart desires.  A generous sprinkle of cinnamon, a pinch of ginger and a pinch of cloves is a good way to start, especially in winter.  A splash of liqueur is good—for an especially luxurious version, substitute a generous splash of cream for the milk, and add the lost liquid back in by way of brandy or rum etc.  Vanilla extract is good (but probably choose it or liqueur), or try another extract, maybe paired with a spice or two, for a unique flavor.  I especially like to compliment whatever I’m planning to put on top with a bit of something in the batter, but keep it fairly subtle.

french toast soakingSoak the toast in the batter for a few minutes, then flip the slices over, and let them soak for another couple minutes.

To cook the toast, heat up a heavy skillet over medium heat and melt some butter in it, maybe 1/2 Tablespoon butter for four slices (in my little skillet I used less).  The toast should sizzle when it hits the pan, and the egg batter should start to set up right away.  It only takes a few minutes to get lovely brown spots on the bottom side, at which point flip the toast over.  You may need to add a little more butter between batches.

If not all of the toast is done at once, you can keep it warm on plates in the oven at 200° F, until you’re ready to serve it.

For toppings, really, the sky is the limit.  It’s—ahem—delicious with just real maple syrup and homemade crème fraîche.  A little orange zest (or even iffy orange sauce) is really good with this basic setup.  Practically any fresh seasonal fruit is amazing on French toast, strawberries in spring are particularly wonderful.  Any jam you have is good.  Coarsely chopped toasted nuts are great (bread with nuts in it would also be great as base).  Melted butter, fruit syrup, whipped cream . . .

Some of my favorite flavor combinations may yet appear as time goes on.  Please share yours as well!

 

Giveaway and Sewing Tips from Me on Sew,Mama,Sew! Today

 

smsseamguide

 

I’ve been waiting to see what questions everyone would ask on Sew,Mama,Sew! this week.  I admit that I was a little nervous, kind of like when I first started teaching sewing years ago.  What if someone asked a question that I totally didn’t know the answer to?  Actually, I did get one—but it was a very specific one about piping around corners on a pillow, and since I’ve never done that, I think I can be excused.  In general though, all the questions were great!  And really relevant for beginners.

If you’re wondering about the tension on your sewing machine, or how to clean and oil it, I talked about that.  If you have trouble sewing around curves, or with slippery fabric and knits, I’ve got some tips to help you out.  If you’re not clear about when to finish fabric edges and how, I covered that.  And at the end, there are a few resources to help with fitting and selecting interfacing.  Most of the answers were excerpted or adapted from Hello Sewing Machine, where of course you’ll find a lot more answers to basic sewing questions.

Phew!  Thanks to everyone who wrote in with questions, it was great to see what readers were curious about.  You can read the answers over on Sew,Mama,Sew! today.

Plus, I’m offering both a chance to win a free copy of my new e-book, and a coupon code for a discount if you order one on Etsy, so go check it out!

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