Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Stockings

This year, Greg and I decided to do Christmas stockings for each other. Of course, instead of buying stockings, I decided to make some. Joann's, as always, was having a sale. So I bought a yard each of red plaid and green fabric and a yard of fusible fleece to make the stockings a little puffier.

Fusible fleece, just in case you're wondering, is about $8 a yard. But I had a 50 percent off coupon, because I'm awesome (I highly recommend the Joann's app if you're a big JoAnn's fan.) The ladies at my JoAnn's crack me up. At the cutting counter, I presented the fusible fleece and requested a yard and the lady looked at the fleece and leaned over the counter to whisper, "This is not on sale. You have coupon?" I told her that I did, and she smiled big and cut the fabric for me. She was genuinely worried that I might overspend on fusible fleece. Cute, right?

Anyway, here are a few pictures from the second stocking. The first one I made after work one night, meaning that I didn't finish until about 2:45 a.m. since I work until 1 a.m. Which is to say that there aren't pictures from the first stocking.

First, I made a "pattern" out of muslin. I had to make the stocking HUGE to account for all the seams and quilt. I just used a charcoal pencil to sketch a rough outline -- and then I realized how much would be taken up by seam allowance and made it about half again as large.

I cut just about everything with a rotary cutter because I'm lazy and I think the finished cut looks more neat. And I'm lazy.

Do you like my pattern weights? They're my mom's. She gave me a bunch of her old stuff. She has fancy new pattern weights. But these have character -- I remember her using them when I was a kid.   

So first I cut out two stockings and two cuffs from the red plaid. 

Then I cut two stockings and two cuffs from green. 

Then I ironed one stocking and one cuff to the fusible fleece (again with the laziness -- I could have used normal quilt batting.) I wanted the stockings to be different on each side, so I sandwiched the opposite fabric onto the other side of the fusible fleece and sewed a seam around the outside.

I did this for both sides of the stocking and then sandwiched the two sides together and sewed around the outside. Except the top, obviously -- you want your stocking to open. (Fun fact: The first stocking, I sewed the top shut by mistake. I got in a groove of sewing all the way around. Don't be like me.) 

Then I trimmed the seam allowance with pinking shears, sewed the cuffs (also sandwiched with fusible fleece) to the top and flipped the whole thing right side out. 

Finally, I sewed a little loop on the back of the cuff so that we'd be able to hang the stockings over the fire. 

Here's an inside shot. Please excuse my scrap fabric pile in the background. 

These made pretty small stockings, as you can see with my hand there. (Although, for the record, my hands are huge -- larger than most men's hands.) But they're just big enough for a good bunch of small stocking stuffers, which is exactly what I wanted. I haven't decided yet if I want to embroider the solid green cuffs with our names. So far I'm thinking no. Maybe next year. :)

Hope you all have a merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Dress

Last night was Greg's company Christmas party -- the perfect opportunity to wear my new dress!

This is Butterick pattern B5708. I just love it! On Black Friday, I ventured out to JoAnn's and they had all Butterick patterns for $1, so I stocked up.

This pattern is from a collection of vintage patterns that they re-released last year.

It was a fairly simple dress to sew and the pattern instructions were nice and clear, which I always appreciate.

I don't have a zipper foot for my sewing machine, so I had to hand sew the zipper. And the dress was HUGE the first time, so I had to pull it apart and take it in a couple times (resewing the zipper three times, thank you very much). And I didn't like the way the straps were supposed to tie, so I tied them at the shoulders. But that looks a little more fancy anyway, I think.
Butterick 5708

Overall, I think it was a success! I got tons of compliments, which are always good for my ego. One gentleman even stopped me to say that I looked like I stepped right out of 1953 (I chose to take this as a compliment) and that he adored my dress. So sweet!

I'm wearing it with a crinoline from ReSashay, which is the most wonderful online shop. I ordered the crinoline on Monday, and it was delivered on Wednesday.

And you can barely see them, but I'm also wearing my mom's wedding pearls. I found them in a dresser at my grandmother's house when we were packing her things so she could move to a condo. My mom had forgotten all about them!

This was a fun project, but next up are a dress (one that is slightly more work-appropriate) and a little shell shirt. I'll let you know how they turn out!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Sewing Machine

Matching homemade outfits -- oh yeah!
My mother is a fantastic seamstress. She made all of my clothing (except jeans and underwear, she is usually quick to point out) and Halloween costumes (everything from a fuzzy bunny to a unicorn) when I was a kid. She also stayed home with me until I was 3 and supplemented the household income by making costumes for the Peabody Dance School. She made me a flower girl dress for my Aunt MeeMoo’s wedding.

Basically, my mom is a sewing badass, though she doesn’t break out the machine as much anymore.

Singer 338
Recently I came into possession of the sewing machine that my mother used when she was learning to sew. My grandmother’s sewing machine. From the early ’60s. On the phone the other day, my Mommom informed me that she bought it in 1963. 

It’s green and loud and heavy.  

This Singer 338 is about to be 53, ya'll -- it deserves mad respect.

Really, there’s no reason I can’t do all of my sewing on this machine. My Mommom and Mom both did. (Mom’s got a super fancy newfangled plastic machine these days.) 

I’d also really rather not drop $500 on a brand new machine that’s willing to do quilting. Because I would really like to make a new quilt and cheap machines don’t have the wherewithal to manage heavy quilting. 

And I love my little blue 338.

Also, I just don’t trust a machine that weighs less than 20 pounds. There’s something just not right about that, let's be honest.

So I've carved out a little corner of the basement for a sewing area. There was a serendipitous coupon (Groupon? LivingSocial? The world may never know) for G Street Fabric, a fabulous store near here. It was $25 for $50 worth of merchandise. So naturally I bought the largest cutting mat I could find. And it fits perfectly on the table that used to hold Greg's miscellaneous papers. Yay for using a filing cabinet!

On the ironing board, you see my latest project, which I plan to wear this weekend to a fancy party -- and there will be finished-product pictures, don't you worry!  

I know it's a bit of a mess right now. 

But I've got major plans for this space, which looks a bit bare now. I've got a bookcase to put in there to hold all my fabrics and notions and things. And I plan to put up a magnetic knife strip for my scissors and a bulletin board I have leftover from another DIY project. Not to mention some pictures and my little TV -- gotta have something to listen to while I work! 

I have so many ideas for making my little sewing room into something both functional and cute (rather than the current mess.)

For now, though, it meets my needs and I'm having all kinds of fun with my little sewing projects -- even if I'm not quite up to fuzzy-bunny-level sewing just yet. ;)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nuts About Dough

Recently I purchased a donut pan. Kind of an impulse buy, but I've been on a baking kick lately. (By the way, I swear that this will not become a baking blog. But I just have to share these donuts.)

And these doughnuts are that good.

I took the end of a batch to work on election night (I was working overnight) to leave for the morning crew. When I told Greg he got a panicked look in his eye and said, "But you'll make more, right?"

Clearly I don't bake frequently enough for the poor man.

Now. I will say that some people take issue with the fact that anyone would call something a doughnut when it has been baked. Well it's my blog and I'll call it a doughnut if I want to. If it makes you feel better, you can call them Appley and Delicious Non-Doughnut Rounds. But I'll just stick to apple cider doughnuts.

These taste like cake doughnuts to me, though it has been quite a while since I had a real doughnut, as I don't really like sweets very much. These are sweet -- but not too sweet -- and they have a nice amount of spice.

I've used two very similar recipes for this, one from The Kitchn and one from Tasty Kitchen.

I prefer the Tasty Kitchen version, but I modified the recipe to take elements from The Kitchn's recipe (apple butter) and my own craziness (whole wheat flour.)

In my rendition of the Tasty Kitchen version, I used apple butter instead of applesauce, a cup of King Arthur Flour's white whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose -- also tried using plain whole wheat flour, but that version got a bit heavy. And I messed with using hard cider instead of regular cider (pretty good actually -- totally worthwhile sub if that's what you have on hand). I also don't seem to own nutmeg. I have no idea how that's possible, but it is. And I added ground ginger because I love ground ginger. I also subbed some of the white sugar for brown. As with most any spiced cake-like food I make, I probably quadrupled the spices.

In the glaze, I thinned it out much more than the recipe called for -- it was VERY thick at first and not very apple-y. So I used extra apple cider and stirred in a bunch of apple butter to increase the apple flavor. And in the dipping cinnamon sugar, I added some extra spices and used less sugar.

Actually at this point I think it might be fair to just give you my recipe. I didn't realize how much I changed it the Tasty Kitchen version, sheesh. This is an approximate version, but I think it should be pretty close.

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Allspice
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cups apple butter
  • 2 whole Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

  • 3-4 Tablespoons Apple Cider
  • 1 1/4 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 teaspoons Allspice
  • 1/4 cups Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice

Use the Tasty Kitchen baking directions, though, this recipe is really all theirs. And the idea to put the batter into a plastic bag and cut off a corner and pipe into the doughnut pan? GENIUS. It is seriously difficult for me to spoon batter into a doughnut pan.

Anyway, the final product is what I would describe as a gingerbread apple cider doughnut. Delicious. And according to this website, they're not too terrible for you. About 150 calories per doughnuts. With a couple of scrambled eggs, I'd call that breakfast.

Or you can be like Greg and skip the eggs and have an extra doughnut.

And you better believe I'm making a batch for Thanksgiving. The people who are coming early/staying over need something delicious to get them through the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, right?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bread to Bake

Recently I've been baking our sandwich bread. Greg frequently eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and I like an egg sandwich for lunch most days (with my work schedule, I'm pretty much always home around lunchtime.)

And I've been messing around with the King Arthur Flour sandwich bread recipe.

Bread is deceptively easy to bake and it makes your house smell divine! I like to do a lot of cooking and baking on Sundays.

To be honest, the absolute worst part is kneading the dough before the first rise.

This bread requires 6-8 minutes of kneading, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's not easy, either. Or maybe I'm just a wimp. Entirely possible.

I can't help but mess with a recipe when I try it, so the first time I made this bread (last week), I added a cup of whole wheat flour. The recipe said you could substitute up to half of the flour with white whole wheat flour, but I didn't have any, so I added plain whole wheat.

The bread was definitely edible -- even tasty. But not very good for sandwiches. Greg said it tasted like soda bread to him. In other words, a little more dense than it should have been. But it was nice with butter, so it suited my egg habit just fine.

This week, I learned my lesson and bought some white whole wheat flour, but I really think my yeast might be getting old, because it's definitely not quite as puffy as the picture on the King Arthur website.

All in all, though, this week's bread came out much closer to real sandwich bread... even if it's still a little short. I think I'll try to buy a new jar of yeast before it's time to bake bread next week.

The lucky thing about bread is that even if you mess it up, it's still pretty darn tasty.

EDIT TO ADD: And right after I hit publish, look what popped up on my Google Reader! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Never am I more thankful to live on land than during a hurricane.

That's a funny thing to say, I'm sure, but my three years as a liveaboard gave me a healthy respect for indoor living during foul weather.

Hurricane Sandy has forced the entire area to grind to a halt. She's not quite here yet, but it's been raining and windy all day.

Greg and I went to see Miss Misty on Saturday. We took off her roller furled jib, lashed the main to the boom, tightened up all the hatches, doubled the lines and checked the fenders. You know... the usual. The marina was recommending that people take their boats out of the water, but I'm still a firm believer that a keelboat tied securely to a floating dock is much more secure than the same keelboat stored on land.

So far, Misty's made her way through several hurricanes without incident. Here's hoping this year is no different.

My thoughts are with all those living aboard and those suffering from the storm. And my prayers go out to the crew of the HMS Bounty and the U.S. Coast Guard, who works tirelessly to keep us all safe.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Soap Nut Saga

 When it came time to do my most recent batch of laundry, I decided to try out the new soap nuts (which Greg lovingly refers to as my "crazy nuts.")

As you can kind of see there, the actual nuts are wrinkly and almost hollow-feeling.

The instructions that came with the nuts said that, contrary to popular belief, it is possibly to use soap nuts with cold water. You just have to "activate" them by soaking them in hot water.

So I put the recommended 5-6 nuts into the little drawstring muslin bag they came with, put them in a Ball jar and poured it full of hot water. I then let the nuts steep for about five minutes. They felt kind of gushy inside their bag when I poked them, which seemed like a good sign, so I poured the entire thing into the washing machine, on top of the clothes.

I did a mixed load with some of my clothes, some of Greg's clothes, some t-shirts, some jeans, a couple dish towels, some socks -- the usual. And I decided to go big. Instead of filling my Downy ball with fabric softener (we dry out clothes on a line outside), I filled it with white vinegar, a tip I'd picked up somewhere in my online eco-friendly, homemade detergent travels.

The clothing came out scent-free, which was new. No clean laundry smell. It smelled like fabric and nothing else.

I hung it on the line and after a few hours it was dry.

Now I will say that I obsessively sniffed everything to make sure that the soap nuts had, you know, actually cleaned things.

There's no nice way to say that Greg, whose laundry I do when I do my own, can get a bit... manly. And by manly, I mean sweaty. After washing, the shirt (and in the second load I did, the undershirt) that he had been wearing for yard work the day before smelled like his deodorant at the armpits. It didn't smell like sweat or anything, but it wasn't as perfect as Tide usually gets it.

I tried a load of whites and a load of colors. The same results for both -- the sweaty shirt smelled like deodorant. Everything else, though, smelled fine, including my running clothes.

The vinegar did NOT get things as soft as fabric softener, either. But it's all wearable, and the clothes do soften up after a few minutes of wearing. Or you can pop them in the dryer for 10 minutes to fluff.

I think, for now, we'll adopt an all-of-the-above laundry strategy: whites (mostly socks and undershirts and towels) and super dirty clothes in Tide and colors in soap nuts. Or I might continue to experiment and try washing in hot water and see if that works better -- I suspect it might.

I'm still on the lookout for a good fabric softener solution though. I don't think vinegar is going to cut it.

But I'd rather be partially eco-friendly than not-at-all eco-friendly, right? Right.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Soap to Nuts

I just bought a small package of soap nuts from Amazon.

I’d like to say that I’m officially crossing out of normal and into out-of-the--ordinary, but let’s be honest: I’ve always been out-of-the-ordinary.

One reason? I like to make things myself.

A few years ago, I found myself really enjoying the show “17 Kids and Counting” about the Duggar family. I know. Questionable taste. But alternative lifestyle choices have always fascinated me.

At any rate, I was at once fascinated by the fact that the Duggars made their own laundry detergent. Who had ever heard of such a thing? I remember asking my mother if I could make our laundry detergent and she, brilliant and incisive woman that she is, reminded me that sometimes my “cost-saving” projects ended up being overly expensive and time-consuming.

I abandoned the idea.

Then I moved in with my boyfriend and started using his washer and dryer. And then -- this is the kicker, folks -- I discovered Pinterest, which reignited my detergent-making ideas.

Several years older (and hopefully somewhat wiser), I began researching homemade laundry detergent. I came to the conclusion that I did not particularly like the ingredients listed in Borax. I didn’t know what all of them were and I didn’t like the idea that Borax includes an ingredient, boron, that isn’t renewable.

If I’m going to go to all the trouble of making something myself, then I want it to be something that I feel 100 percent good about. Otherwise, why waste my time?

Finding a link to an article on Make Online about homemade laundry detergent, one of the commenters mentioned that he used soap nuts. (And it looks as though the Grist article has been updated to reflect concerns about Borax.)

I was intrigued. Google informed me that soap nuts were a wonder nut, grown on trees, harvested by fairly paid workers and processed in the United States... what could be bad? Some reviewers said they don’t clean too well, don’t fight stains and don’t wash in cold water unless you grate them and turn them into liquid. (We wash everything in cold water and usually dry on a line outside.)

It turned out that Amazon was selling small bags of them (a trial size, if you will) for $7. Why, yes. I think I’ll give them a try. Free shipping with Amazon Prime, I might as well give them a go.

I'll let you know how they turn out.


Welcome to my blog, The Liveaboard Takes the Suburbs.

I’m Aleksandra and I live with my boyfriend, Greg, in a lovely little house in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I work as a copy editor, but I also like to make my own, do it myself, grow it at home, re-do and mend.

Some of you may know me (hi, Mom!) from Diary of a Liveaboard. For three years, I lived aboard the boat my father and I co-own and I blogged about it sporadically.

Living aboard was an amazing experience -- one I am very glad to have had -- but I find myself in love with living in a house. I have space for a garden, a sewing area, a home office that doesn’t double as my kitchen table/food prep space and, the best part, a full-sized kitchen.

It might sound trite, but every day I feel lucky to have this space. And I’m incredibly thankful for Greg, who is supportive of all my crazy ideas, whether they work out or not: home-sewn paper towel replacements, soap nuts, baked donuts, a squash tree... the list goes on.

I intend this as a space to talk about my successes and my failures. My crazy ideas and DIY attempts. As always, feel free to email me or comment with any questions you might have.

Thanks for stopping by -- I hope you’ll come back soon.