Friday, March 11, 2011


I'm very, very worried about the recent earthquake in Japan.

I have lots of friends there but don't know how to get in touch with them.

It's made me realize that I've lost touch with so many people over the last few years. If we haven't talked in the last few months or years, and you read my blog, please leave a comment or get in touch.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Happy Pancake Tuesday everyone

Today is the day we call Pancake Tuesday in our house.

It's one of the few remnants of religious holidays that we celibate in our house. This is a modern day version of food traditions that go back several thousand years in Europe.

This time of year (going by the lunar calendar) is the end of winter. In much of Europe, new shoots are starting to show themselves and there is enough fresh food available to get by on. The larders are almost bare, but there should be some apples, but more likely quince or meddlers, some dried fruit, some flour and lots of eggs. The chickens have just started laying like crazy a few days ago, as opposed to the sporadic efforts to give us eggs during the darkest months.

In much of Europe, there is a tradition of making a heavy, egg based bread, often with dried fruit and lots of fat. Hot cross buns are a rather yummy, modern equivalent.

Also in parts of Europe, during different times in history, the use of ovens was strictly regulated (land owner also owned the oven and the farmers had to pay to use it). Most of the cooking was done in a pot or a pan. So if you say, wanted to make a cake in a pan, you could make it a bit runny and then, presto, you have a pancake.

An over simplified, over romanticized explanation of why we tend to eat pancakes this time of year.

How Pancakes have become associated with Shrove Tuesday? I just figured that the Church new a good thing when it saw it, and adopted many of the yummy food traditions.

We eat English pancakes in our household. Although, I've discovered that what the term English Pancake means, depends on where in the UK your family is from. This is what we enjoy:

English pancakes
2 cups of flour
2 eggs
2 and 1/2 cup of milk.

makes enough for 4 to 6 very hungry people.
  • Beat together with a fork until there are only small lumps of flour left in the batter. It should be quite runny.
  • Heat up a fry (or crape) pan, cast iron is best. You need to grease or oil the pan. It's a bit hot for olive oil, so grapeseed oil is a good choice if you are going for healthy. Lard works best, but many people don't like to use it.
  • Poor enough of the batter onto the pan to just about cover it in a thinnish layer. Note, this is going to look like a crape, but be several times thicker.
  • When the air bubbles in the batter pop and don't close up again, it's time to flip the pancake. Sorry, I cannot help you there, it's the tricky part.
  • Cook the other side briefly and plate.
Now for the important part: sprinkle a good tablespoon of sugar on top of the pancake. Poor lemon juice on top, enough to soak into the sugar. The heat of the pancake somehow makes the sugar and lemon syrupy. It's very yummy! Roll up the pancake into a tube, and eat with a spoon (or knife and fork).

Oh, and if you have a diabetic in the house, may I recommend some extra protein to balance the carbs and sugars. Bacon or sausages go very nicely with pancakes. And for a more complete meal, some OJ or fruit help. But a pineapple for desert would be the best. All those lovely enzymes helping digest the fried foods. Perfect!

Happy Pancake Tuesday Everyone. What a wonderful excuse to eat pancakes for dinner.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

sad news about a beloved yarn shop

This makes me sad.

Shelley is such a wonderful person and I hope she succeeds in whatever comes next for her.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Victorian Corset Kit - almost halfway done

I talked earlier about my goal to learn how to make corsets. I got this idea in my head not because I want to make myself look thinner or more shapely. On the contrary, I tend to wear clothes that do the opposite. Rather it's a mater of weight distribution. I have a rather large endowment that creates an even larger back ache. Modern bras in my size are expensive and difficult to find. So why not learn more about corsets?

Farthingales offers a Victorian Corset kit. It's just right for beginners like me. It has everything needed to make your first corset. I would say the sewing skills needed are very basic: Sew straight stitch, use a zipper foot, and apply bias tape. The ability to measure is important. But the most important skill needed to create this corset is the ability to follow directions!

My antique treadle machine (a Singer 127) is the perfect machine for this. It is fast, effortless to use, and every stitch is under my direct control. I'm very happy with how it sews and it doesn't even seem to notice that this fabric is as thick (and as stiff) as poster board.

One thing I have been learning about is how to make things fit.

Please forgive my horrid photos - I'm not use to photographing myself in the mirror.

This is at the stage before I sew the bone channels.

Lacing it this tight makes it feel like a strong hug. There is no pain or restriction of breath. The stomach ache that I was worried about before I tried the corset, magically disappeared while I was wearing it but returned afterwards.

I'm wondering if I might have chosen a size too big. The hips feel comfortable, the waist could probably be tighter, but maybe not.

The bust, however, feels all wrong.

I've already taken the bust in 2 inches on each side, but it's still quite loose. I was hoping that it would make my bust feel all squishy and supported, but mostly it's, well, not.

I think it's also too high. I'm going to take 1/2 to 5/8th of an inch off the top.

This is a size 14 Dore version of the Laughing Moon Victorian Corset, with a D cup.

So, any corset experts out there? Thoughts? How can I improve this? What should I do differently for my next corset? Will adding the bones improve how it fits the bust?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Titan Special sewing machine from India - Not an antique sewing machine

People don't take things apart enough any more - Though it is for good reasons, I suppose. I think society trains us to be afraid of the innards of things. Taking apart a something to see how it works might void the warranty, or worse, expose us to some of those highly dangerous chemicals that they use to make electronics these days.

It seems to be a generational thing as I hear stories of how so and so took apart their dad's radio or bicycle and put it back together again, and even though it worked, they had all these spare parts left over. At which point in the telling of the story, everyone chuckles.

This sort of activity use to be a right of passage - but now a days you would be foolish to take a part a radio without specialized equipment and a hazmat suit. We have gone a bit beyond the word of vacuum tubes.

And I think that's a real shame. We are one step further away from being self reliant. Instead of having the time and skills, not to mention the hazmat suit, needed to make simple repairs, we spend more time working so we can spend more money buying new things to replace the slightly broken things in our life.

The chickens bought me a sewing machine for my birthday. Very nice of them too.

It's from India, and despite appearances, is very new to this world. Only about 5 to 10 years old, maybe less. Although, it does look like an antique sewing machine and it even has a hand crank to make it operate. So it has the same technology as the vintage sewing machines. It also has only one plastic part: the crank handle. Unlike modern machines it has no electrics, no electronics, and no plastic bits inside to wear out.

I wonder if it will still sew 94 years from now (the current age of my treadle powered Singer 127, Beautiful Sphinx). It's not as well made as the antique sewing machines, but it is perhaps, better made than many modern machines. It is also much easier to repair.

The machine is made in the style of a Class 15 clone. Which is good news for me because this manual (pdf) covers most of what I need to know to make it work such as threading diagrams.

When I brought her home, she didn't work. This is where the taking things apart comes in. At first, I was very nervous. I obsessively took photos of every stage so that I would know how to put it all back together again.

I could manage a slight wiggle from the machine, but that was it. Even with the clutch engaged, the main wheel kept going without moving anything. I couldn’t see any lint (anywhere - which made me wonder if it had actually been used) or any obvious jams. It did have a heavy grease or motor oil on all the parts that should move. It had hardened to a horrible wax like substance which I suspect did more harm than good.

So I took it apart the wheel to see if the clutch was working. Aside from more wax/grease, it seemed to be fine. I couldn’t turn the shaft, so I decided to put it back together and try something else.

Next, I spray WD40 on all the gucked up parts. Don’t worry, I rinsed it out with sewing machine oil afterwards. Still no luck getting it to move, but now there is the sound of metal on metal. Hmm…

I followed my ears, and found that it was coming from the bobbin area.

Realizing I should have started here, I took it all apart…

… and found the problem.

Such a small bit of thread and yet it prevented the machine from working. I suppose this means that the machine must have been used at some point in the past.

I reassembled everything, oiled with sewing machine oil, and ran the machine. Listening for anywhere it is running rough, applied more oil, ran the machine some more.

Now it runs very smoothly. I just have to make some thread guides (the only parts missing) before I can try sewing on it. I won't know 100% if it works until then, but fingers crossed.

My favourite things about this machine are the decorations (is that Hindi?), the fact that it has metal parts instead of plastic ones, that some parts like the face plates are hand fashioned, possibly out of reclaimed materials and that the brand Titan is also stamped on the parts inside which means that it is not just something they painted on the outside. I also like that it's a hand crank machine that was built not for decoration, but for use; for modern day use to boot.

Less happy with the fact that I don't think it's as well built as my antique and vintage machines. But it is built to last longer and be easier to repair than fancy modern day machines made for the American market. I also don't like that the paint is chipping in a few places. I'm also not fond of how heavy this beast is. It's portable in so far as you don't have to have a treadle base and table with it. It is not something I want to carry around with me on a long walk.

I think this will be a good machine for sewing in unusual places. If it works, I plan to use it at an upcoming workshop where I need to bring my own sewing machine.