My New Addiction

Otherwise known as Kumihimo, the art of traditional Japanese braiding.  At least I was warned…


I can get turned on to all kinds of hobbies, and my one requirement before venturing in at all is that I need to be able to try something out with a minimum of investment.  This way I don’t feel compelled to keep on with something that I’m not loving once I’ve gotten into it.

I started reading about Kumihimo quite by accident when I was looking for some tutorials for adding beads to one of my handmade blouses.  I still haven’t quite found what I was looking for, but I did find a youtube site that showed how to do beaded Kumihimo (you can see a bit of it in the illustration above). I knew I wanted to try it, and luckily a beading store nearby had all the supplies and a starter kit.  Here’s a look at what I came home with:


I decided to start simple with just a silk cord design (no beads),  and today I sat down to make some Kumihimo bracelets.  By the way, I’m pretty sure that this is the grown-up version of friendship bracelets.  I was of the lanyard era (yes, that old) so I can’t say for sure.

Essentially the Kumihimo Disk is threaded in various ways to create all kind of designs. Mine was a two-tone alternating color design so the initial set-up looked like this:


The pattern is achieved by a simple up and down movement of the warps (official term for the strands) with quarter turn movements after each.  The disks below are bobbins like those used in intarsia knitting and they just keep the warps from getting hopelessly tangled.  This all moves very fast once you get your zen motion going and the braid forms below the disk like this:


Eventually you get a big old braid:


Once the warps are all used up and the braid is removed from the disk there’s a special way to bind the braid so that it won’t unravel when you cut it into pieces for jewelry or whatever.  This is what that looks like:


I used some industrial strength glue on a toothpick to add end caps and voila!


Although you should let it dry overnight, I couldn’t resist closing it up


and slipping it on my wrist:


Now I’ll leave it alone until tomorrow.

Oh, this was so much fun to do, and the possibilities are endless.  Next up, beads.  More on that later.

Mixing it Up

With no preamble or sewing story set-up I give you today’s project:


Now I’m sure you get the title of the post.

This version of this dress is what in the sewing world is called a “wearable” muslin.  A muslin refers to the trial run on a pattern done with inexpensive fabric or even the actual beige cotton “muslin”.  The purpose of the muslin is to work out fitting and construction kinks before cutting into an expensive piece of fabric.  Because I find working with beige muslin deadly dull, and frankly it’s useless for a knit garment, I tend to make muslins that I could potentially wear.  That doesn’t mean I always do.

In terms of finding inexpensive fabric, we have in Tucson a store called SAS fabric which is a warehouse filled with remnants, casts-offs, discontinued bolts and lots of other trims and notions.  It’s wearable muslin heaven because I’ll give anything a go at $2.99 or $3.99 a yard.  Sometimes you can even get a yard or two of something really nice if you know what you’re looking at.

I was thrilled last week to find this lovely soft knit made of some poly blend.  They had several yards available so I grabbed it with a muslin for this project in mind:


I washed the fabric like I always do and then I discovered that part of my yardage looked like this:


and part looked like this:


Oops.  I guess I know now why it landed at SAS.  But I was undaunted, and  I decided to do the bodice with the top fabric and the skirt part with the bottom.  The fabric is so busy anyway I actually thought at the outset that it might not be so noticeable.  Uh, maybe not.

Anyway this pattern provided me with a few ways to stretch my sewing skills, which is a good thing no matter what the outcome.  The bodice of this dress is self-lined with the main fabric which enables the neckline and armholes to have a clean finish.  It’s not super easy to see with the busy pattern but here’s a close-up of the neckline finish:


I tried this on midway and took my first ever selfie in the mirror:


I knew from that point that the top was going to be a little big on me but I pressed on anyway.  This dress also used clear elastic to create gathers on the skirt without having to actually gather.  You stretch the clear elastic as you sew, and if you space it right the end length of the waist mirrors the length of the bodice.  It took some time futzing with it and one wholesale rip-out before I got the hang of it.  I actually like this technique and here’s a look at how the clear elastic looks on the inside (before finishing the seam).


I have to say that many times as I was constructing I said “I’m going to hate this”.  This is common chatter for me when I’m trying something new before the whole thing comes together.  As is the case with each project, at some point I just have to conjure my inner Tim Gunn and “keep going”.  I’ve had experiences being pleasantly surprised, moderately surprised and not at all surprised at the various final outcomes.  In this case as soon as I slid the finished garment over my head I was shocked by how super comfortable it was.  For that reason alone I will definitely give it another go with a better quality fabric.

Regarding this wearable muslin, though, there’s lots of room for improvement.  First of all the fit is a little loose around the neckline. It’s hard to know if that’s a pattern issue or construction issue because knit necklines frequently stretch out. Whatever the reason it needs to get fixed.  Next, I had a mystery “bump” on the shoulder here:


When I joined the bodice lining to the shell I got a little hung up on the seam and I think that’s where it got a little bunched.  I figured out how to do it better on the other side.  And finally there’s this:


Nothing to do about that, but I’ll let David tell me how noticeable it really is (and he’ll be honest).

So that’s the dress.

And if you’re wondering about the new hairdo, it’s actually my “hanging around, no one is going to see me” look. The problem was the flash.   Not the camera flash, the hot flash.   I just had to get the hair out of the way.  And you know,  I’m glad I did because the dress has enough pattern all by itself, and I like this look better with this dress.  Like I said, sometimes you just gotta mix it up (and take a picture).




Today was coffee, crosswords, swimming, sunning, napping, ping pong, errands and leftover eggplant parmigiana.  In other words, a perfect Sunday.  And then there was this:


Thank you.

Friends With Benefits

No, not those benefits. These benefits:


Our friends, Carol and Dave, are experienced gardeners, and they had such a bountiful harvest this year that they offered to give us some of their veggies.  Yes, and thank you! You can bet that we spent part of our evening out to dinner with them last weekend taking mental notes about how they did it.  Wow. We were so impressed and very grateful, and we were determined to use each and every vegetable.

I thought it would be fun to document how we made good use of all this. So this will be a longish post that covers several days and cooking sessions.  We had a big head of kale, two small butternut squash, seven eggplants, and a huge bunch of basil.  Plus there was a fun Santorini zucchini which was completely new to me.  Here’s a better shot of that:


So here’s what we made…

 Caprese Salad – Dish #1

Jeff  joined us for dinner last Saturday night, and we had planned on making a Caprese salad using the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that are in the stores right now.  We figured we could use some of the wonderfully aromatic basil to top the dish. Here it is all assembled and ready for dinner:


This  salad is simply heirloom tomatoes sliced and topped with fresh mozzarella, our C & D basil (chiffonade), salt, fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I’m not actually a tomato fan but these heirlooms are visually hard to resist. Check out the colors and shapes underneath the cheese:


So good.  And no leftovers.

Butternut Squash Soup -Dish #2

David knew what he wanted to do with the butternut squash because this soup is a favorite recipe of his.  And since we were going to Dave and Carol’s for nosh and a movie last Sunday night it was a good time to whip it up.  I did neither the cooking nor photography for this one since I was on the treadmill working off Saturday night’s blueberry pie.  I think David did a great job standing in. Here’s the lovely squash all peeled and chopped and ready for the pot:


After sautéing some onion and garlic in a saucepan,  David added the squash, chopped apple, vegetable broth, and dried thyme.  Here’s the  pot simmering away:


As everything softened up he add some chopped jalapeño (no seeds), cinnamon and a pinch of salt.  After some heavy pulverization in our Vitamix, voila!


Silky smooth squash soup with a little bit of sweet and a little bit of heat.  It’s delicious and Carol and Dave loved it too.  Next time, though, a sprinkle of parsley or some pine nuts on top?

Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde- Dish #3

For this dish we used the Santorini zucchini, a yellow squash and this zucchini from our garden:


It was such a coincidence that Smitten Kitchen posted the perfect recipe just as I was trying to figure out what to do with the zucchini.  I considered a zucchini bread but really wanted to showcase the veggies.  Her recipe for Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde is here and I followed it pretty much as written.  I did substitute a mild red onion for the shallots because Whole Foods didn’t have any shallots and I can only schlep around so much in the Tucson summer heat.

This recipe is all about adding flavor, flavor, flavor to the delicate (i.e. kind of flavorless) squash.  That is done by mixing in a salsa verde along with grated gruyere cheese, shallots/onion and brown butter coated bread crumbs.  It was my first time making salsa verde which is a combination of fresh herbs, anchovies, capers, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil that are chopped up together in the food processor.  The vibrant green color is beautiful.  Here’s a look at my leftover salsa verde:


And here’s a look at the assembled dish before baking…


and after:


Ooh, this was good.  I think the breadcrumb to zucchini ratio was a little off because I had a hard time cutting and slicing the Santorini zucchini.  I used some of it but probably not as much as the recipe needed.  Luckily brown butter breadcrumbs are one of those “can’t have too much of ” items.  An excellent place to park all that summer squash.

And last but not least we made:

Eggplant Parmigiana – Dish #4

While there are lots of light and healthy eggplant recipes out there, we knew we wanted to go with a classic eggplant parmigiana, and my usual sources weren’t any help.  Luckily we found a recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli of Food Network online which came with nothing but rave reviews.  Check out the recipe here.   A bit labor intensive but I had my sous-chef/husband ready to assist.  This recipe uses a from-scratch sauce which is worth it.  I tracked down those San Marzano canned plum tomatoes at Whole Foods and it made a difference.  Plus gobs of softened onion and garlic.  Really, how bad can it be? Here’s  a look:


David cut up all seven of our little eggplants, dipped, coated (gluten free breadcrumbs) and fried them.  And here they are in their golden loveliness awaiting entry into the casserole:


Admittedly we did a bit of “tasting” of the eggplant with a little tomato sauce dip.  Couldn’t resist!

The layering included the usual mozzarella:


And along with the grated parmesan and torn basil, this recipe uses lots of grated provolone :


In our excitement to get this dish in the oven, I forgot to take a “before”shot of the dish but here’s the after:


Oh my.  It was as decadent and flavorful as it looks.

Wow!  We did it.  And I think we did our friends proud.  We used most of the veggies and tried out some terrific recipes along the way.  The kale, by the way, went with David to work for lunch everyday.  We ended up throwing away some of the basil because we couldn’t use it up fast enough.  Next time we’ll make some pesto and freeze it.

Even if you don’t have any friends with benefits/bumper crops I recommend checking out the farmers markets this summer and using what’s fresh and available to try out some new recipes, eat well and have a lot of fun.  David and I are determined to expand and improve our garden this fall and if we are so lucky to have more than we can eat ourselves we’ll be sure to let you know.


A Beautiful Morning Ritual



As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday show where Oprah interviews all kinds of successful people about spirituality, consciousness and the point of it all.  At the end of each show she presents an “original short” or five minute segment that focuses on ordinary people (as opposed to her famous guests) and their various spiritual and artistic journeys.

This week I caught an episode of the show, and Oprah’s guest was Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.  His inspiring commitment to running a company where respect and values are central has much to do with the great vibe we all get when we walk into a Starbucks.  In keeping with the “coffee” theme, the original short focused on the importance of morning rituals, and it got me thinking about mine and David’s.

Our morning ritual starts early and is something that we, as individuals and as a couple, fiercely protect. Our routine begins with coffee in our comfy chairs in the kitchen (the same chairs from the crossword puzzle post).  In fact, this ritual is so central that we don’t even have a kitchen table in our kitchen!  Good sweet coffee is something we both enjoy (our favorite is Seattle’s Best Dark Roast) and we’ve been known to take it with us even when we travel.

Cups in hand, we sip, we look over e-mail, we puzzle and we chat.  From my chair in the kitchen I can see the sun come up and I’m often treated to some pretty stunning views.  This morning, before we headed out for our daily walk I took some photos of a particularly wonderful sunrise.  In the photo above, the sliver of moon and one solo star is so lovely.  But the real drama was all to the east:


Wow. So breathtaking.  By the time we headed out the door for our walk this was gone.

I’ve written already about the great energy in Sabino Canyon, and David and I feel our best with daily exercise, but the most important part of our morning walk is that we are doing it together.  At different times of the year we aren’t able to get out together (too dark) and we miss starting the day connected in that way.  We seldom miss an opportunity to express gratitude for each other and all the beauty that surrounds us.  Once we get home David usually whips up a refreshing smoothie which we enjoy  before we start our respective days.

For us, the morning ritual creates feelings of connection and peace which stay with us for the rest of the day.  It’s a good thing.

A Mini Milestone

On another note, this is my fiftieth (!) blog post.  I can’t believe it, but WordPress tells me it’s so.  I’ve loved putting these posts together and continue to be intrigued by where this blogging journey will take me.  Thanks to those of you out there who read, comment and give me feedback.  I appreciate it very very much.





So Chic

Capital Chic that is!


Capital chic is a brand new indie designer out of London with a cute line of sewing patterns.  You can read more about them here.  I’ve been on the hunt for a simple blouse that had potential to be a versatile TNT (that’s “tried-n-true”) pattern, and I decided to try their Bellini pattern.  Here’s a look at the line drawing of this very simple pattern:


That little scalloped collar was a no-go for my fifty-something sensibility so I went with View A.  I particularly like this design because the cap sleeves are designed as part of the blouse rather than as a set-in addition. I had any number of fabrics in my stash that this would work for (hence the versatility) but I settled on a Robert Kaufman dark blue chambray.  Here are the four pattern pieces laid out and ready for cutting:


Yep, that’s it.  What also makes this pattern really nice is that the designers included directions for inside finishes like french seams and a rolled hem


Again a moment of thanks for the edging foot that makes these tiny hems possible.  This pattern uses bias binding to finish the armholes.  I decided to dig into my old quilting cotton pile to find something complementary rather than cut into my extra yard of chambray.  Here’s a look:


Anyone who has stayed in my guest room would recognize this tan fabric from the quilt on that bed.  I really like the contrasting fabric peeking out.

In the interest of keeping it real, I did have a bit of a fiddly (sewing term!) time with the collar, and after reading reviews from a few pattern testers I think it was a mix of pattern glitch and my inexperience that resulted in this:


Not terrible, but the little puckers up there are a result of a less than perfect fit between the collar piece and shirt opening.  A better sewist might have been able to do better with it but I decided to just iron it out.  Not a huge issue.

On a final note regarding the pattern, this was the first time that the pattern directions were entirely metric!  I grumbled about this a bit and then  googled a conversion program.  All of my measuring tools have both inches and centimeters but the hem was measured in millimeters.  I was surprised that the designers didn’t include both kinds of measurements.  Guess I’m just one of those  Americans.

But that bit of grumbling aside I can’t complain because this is easily the best-fitting blouse I have made.  Spot on without even one adjustment.  For me anyway the design and proportions are perfect.


I’m thinking that version two will be a rayon challis leopard print.  Hmmm.  I can hear Nathan Lane in “The Birdcage” saying  “What? No good?“.  We shall see.

And on another note, if you’re wondering about that goldish aura around me that’s the beautiful brown/gold paint that is the backdrop of our cavernous bedroom.  I really need to call a decorator 🙂

Messing With My Zen

So you know how some people always seem to be renovating something in their homes?  The folks who buy a house and part of the excitement is anticipating all the things they are going to change when they get in there?  Well I’m NOT one of those people.  In all of my years of owning homes (and I’ve had several) there wasn’t a renovation that I didn’t go into kicking and screaming all the way.  I’ve lived with overly small kitchens and horribly outdated decor (some aqua blue formica countertops come to mind) because I so hate to share my space with, well, anybody!  Anybody not married or related to me anyway.  But this morning these guys arrived:


When David and I bought our wonderful house with the beautiful views we knew that the key stuff like the kitchen, bathrooms and layout would not need to change.  We also knew, however that ALL of the windows and doors would need to be replaced–not only because the existing ones are original to the house but because they are environmentally unfriendly in a way we can’t live with.  So here we go.  I figured that with all the tumult around me (I’ve already ripped out my new knitting project) the only thing to do was to accept that there would be no Zen moments today and start taking pictures.

These guys work fast!  It’s only 10:30 here and most of the windows are already set in:


In anticipation of this work, David ripped out an unhealthy-looking oleander hedge.   Frankly it needed to go.  I like the brown trim on the windows.  It took some time for me to make up my mind about the color.  Phew!  I’ve definitely been stressing over whether I would like it.

Here’s the work going on the other side of the house:


We are also replacing all of the decorative glass to make it more environmentally friendly and efficient.  I feel cooler just thinking about it.  Here’s some of the glass waiting for its new home:


Which will be here:


and up here:


and here:


I think the new sliding doors will go in tomorrow.  I’m way excited about having functioning sliders with screens.  Imagine living in this gorgeous environment with (mostly) perfect weather and not being able to bring the outside in!  Wow, nothing like blogging to help me focus on the pay-off of all of this rather than the inconvenience associated with having it done.

Actually, any time I’ve had work done in any of my houses the experience was never as problematic or bothersome as I feared.  Here in Tucson we’ve had a succession of service folks come through who were professional and friendly, and I’m always so much happier to know that we’re doing necessary maintenance and creating a space that feels good and looks good.  Replacing the windows is one of those projects that isn’t sexy but we will be much happier with the upgrade.  And it will all be done in a few days.

Of course next we’ll be getting in touch with the painter to paint the exterior trim and take care of interior touch ups. And while we’re at it, there are the interior walls we never got to.  And what do we want to do about replacing that hedge?  Slippery slope.  Dominoes.  Sigh.

The good news is that tomorrow I can hide out in my sewing room.  Yes!





Do Frogs Like Blueberry Pie?

To pick up on a thread (yarn?) from a while ago, remember this?


After I frogged my project I was determined to make something out of this perfect cream-colored yarn.  I loved working with it.  After several false starts I settled on a short-sleeved leaf pattern top.  In order to make the gauge I had to drop down two needle sizes.  As a result I was dealing with lots of little stitches.  It came with me to Montana and here’s a shot in progress (upside down) on the circular needles:


And today I finally finished it!  Here’s how it looks:


I love it!  After several projects now that include lace I can say that I am completely hooked.  Here’s a close-up of the lace panel:


Oh and for those who can’t see without their glasses…


Ha!  Actually I was just playing around with the “macro” setting on my camera 🙂

This pattern was fun to knit (the gazillions of stitches notwithstanding) because there are only nineteen stitches of a changing pattern on each row and the rest is all circular (i.e. fast) knitting.  It’s a good project to do when the TV is on, assuming you can find anything to watch. Speaking of TV, and on a happy note, we are now very into “Halt and Catch Fire” on AMC.  But I digress…

I think the reason I like knitting lace patterns is because the negative space is such an integral part of the pattern.  I’m very into “space” these days in everything from design to my psyche.  The more the better.  I don’t think we’ve seen the last of my lacy knitwear.  And here I am modeling the new sweater:


OK, so it wouldn’t have killed me to put on some make-up for my photo session but it’s Saturday and I’ll be dunking in the pool soon.

So by now if you are wondering what my reknitted ex-frogged project has to do with blueberry pie, the answer is “absolutely nothing”.  Total nonsense.  But I did, in fact, need a segue to this:


Hope you are having a great weekend.

The Little Denim Skirt

And My First “Refashion”

So we all know about the “little black dress”, right?  You know, the one that you can dress up, dress down, wear to a wedding, cocktail party or funeral?  Well, I’ve had one of those in my closet for years and it’s collecting dust.  I don’t need a LBD.  I need a LDS or little denim skirt!  Here in Arizona life is so casual that one could easily live in jeans and almost always be dressed appropriately.  Trouble is that when temperatures start to climb jeans get way hot very quickly.  Enter the little denim skirt.  Dress it up, dress it down and a little air circulation. Yes, please!

About a year ago I thought that I had found my perfect LDS at Ann Taylor-good length. dark blue denim (we 50-somethings are not supposed to wear the washed out kind anymore, right?), form-fitting but not too tight and cute detailing.  Here’s the skirt:



Unfortunately this skirt is made of stretch denim and what began as a neatly-fitting skirt grew and grew when I wore it.  And no amount of washing was going to help.   I’ve been keeping my eye out for another skirt like this one and have been unable to find it.  So, it was time to take my refashion/tailoring skills out for a spin.  I’ve seen many sewing blogs featuring refashioning of ill-fitting or out-of-date clothing,  I’ve been wanting to try it but haven’t really had the right project.  I had nothing to lose so I got out my seam ripper and started tearing the skirt apart.

As with my cooking posts I’m still getting the hang of taking pictures in process so I don’t have any photos of the skirt in pieces with swirls of thread on the kitchen floor.  Actually the process was far simpler than I had imagined it to be.  It’s funny how I can create a skirt from scratch but wondered about taking this RTW one apart!  Because this skirt has a back zipper this was simply a matter of taking in the side seams.  In order to do that though I had to free the side seams from the waistband (with a plan to take that in too) and the hem.  Easy.

I intended to take the skirt in one inch on each side, however I got sloppy cutting open one side seam and took off more fabric than I had intended (oy!) so I ended up taking in each side one and a half inches (glad the denim is stretch!)  Here’s a look at my new seams:


This is the one at the hem with the hem resewn over it. This is the seam up at the waistband with the waistband sewn back down:


Not perfection, but the dark denim and thread hides a multitude of sins!  Having a serger to finish the seams really makes the repair job look professional.  Here’s a seam with the original finishing:


Surprisingly easy to duplicate!

And here is me wearing my “new” well-fitting (if a wee bit snug!) LDS:

DSCN0771 - Version 2

I’ll take it!  Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to rummage around in my closet to see what else I can tear apart…

Garden Surprises (Of Course)


So after eighteen days away and the start of the monsoon season in Tucson it would make sense that we would see some changes to our garden.   But we were not entirely prepared for what we saw.  First, get a load of the Audrey 2 clone (i.e. our zucchini plant shown in the photo above) that now has the proportions of a bonafide bush!  That leaf in the front is probably a foot long.  And the kicker is that here is our one and only actual zucchini:


Well, okay, it’s a nice size zucchini but one might have expected a bit more production from such a behemoth.  I’m not sure whether to consider this a pleasant or unpleasant surprise.  Clearly the plant to zucchini ratio can use some improvement.

Next, after the first seeds got planted back in January we finally have the start of a pepper:


Here’s a close-up:


This is exciting.  But again, I’m not sure what it means for our next round of growing. Peppers must like the heat.

For the most part though everything in the greenhouse except tomatoes needed to be pulled up.  In terms of our growing season it was probably time anyway, but our biggest surprise came when we discovered that the plastic sheeting that enclosed our greenhouse had literally begun to tear away and disintegrate!  Clearly the material couldn’t handle the stress of the summer heat.  I didn’t take photos of that because we were too busy pulling the tattered sheeting off and the dead plants out before we got pelted again with monsoon rain.

But here’s the skeleton of our greenhouse as it looks now:


David’s done some research and we have a better grade of sheeting on order.  Luckily the frame is completely sturdy and intact.  And I don’t think the tomatoes mind the extra sun and rain. We haven’t seen the last of the summer tomatoes 🙂

As I’ve documented on this blog, our first six months of gardening has been a real mixed bag. We are very encouraged by how we (well, actually our veggies) fared but there is so much more to know and lots of room for improvement.  For the next month, before the fall planting season we’re hoping to learn more, build some more raised beds, repair the greenhouse and get excited all over again.

I will keep you posted and welcome any and all suggestions from green-thumbed readers…