Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Top 10 Sewing Tips

 I'll soon be teaching a homeschooling friend and her sweet daughters the basics of sewing in a once a month class in my home and I'm really looking forward to it.  In digging up some of my syllabus ideas for the beginning sewing classes I taught years ago, I found these tips that I've passed along to many novice sewers. 
I realized that I hadn't ever included them on my blog, 
so here they are!

1. Use good thread.  Cheap thread is just frustrating and why waste time in frustration when you can be creating something pretty?  Cheap thread 'gums' up the machine and breaks easily - avoid those cheap spools like the 'plague'. They are the ruination of so many beginning sewers!  Let's just say they are enough to make the preacher's wife swear ... if she knew the words!

2. ALWAYS pre-wash washable fabrics.  Always.  As in, without fail!  Honestly, you don't want to be working with unwashed fabrics. Think crazy shrinkage, nasty chemicals, running dyes, bugs, and the sanitation limitations of  people who toil in textile mills all over the world. Wash and dry the fabric as you would the finished item. Be sure to iron it well before you cut it out.  Don't skip this step. If it's 'dry clean only' and you plan to dry clean the finished garment get the fabric dry cleaned before you cut it out. That includes lining fabrics as well. Please don't ask me how I know that pre-dry cleaned wool coating (Melton Cloth) and non-dry cleaned Bemberg lining are a sad sad sad combination.

3. Use simple patterns and quality natural fiber fabrics to begin with.  There is nothing wrong with simple patterns with good lines.  You can tackle a designer Vogue dress with 67 pattern pieces later - simple is best to start. Classic designers do it all the time - simple patterns with luxurious fabrics and one or two eye-drawing details. Perfect!

4.  If you are making clothing, make a 'muslin' or trial run garment with cheap fabric first. Try it on.  Adjust the pattern. Adjust your 'muslin' until it fits.  Use your 'good fabric' and cut it according to your changes - it should fit nicely the first time, and if you can't get the 'muslin' to flatter your figure get another pattern and try again - don't waste your time and nice 'expensive' fabric on a pattern that doesn't fit right. Once you have a pattern that fits and flatters make it again in different fabrics and add or remove details for a different look. Don't re-invent the wheel.

5. You iron is your BEST sewing friend. It's true!  It is the difference between 'handmade' and 'homemade' - well pressed garments look well, so take the time to stop and press frequently and carefully. Use a press cloth for most fabrics - it prevents shine and scorching. Mine is just an old linen  napkin - nothing fancy, but it works.

6. Take a class, read a good sewing book, watch some sewing DVD and buddy up with an experienced seamstress. Than just set aside uninterrupted time and SEW!   Push yourself to gain a new skill with each project you tackle.  For example, when I was 10 years old I made every project in the 'Bishop Method of Clothing Construction' sewing book that I inherited from my Grandma W. It took me  a year but by the end I had made a lined tailored jacket and skirt for myself.  With bound buttonholes and bias trim. My Mum did not and does not sew, so I was mostly on my own, but it was so fun. I made mistakes.  The seam ripper is a tool meant to be used.

7. Learn to finish your seams professionally.  If you have a serger, great - it's a huge time saver.  If not, learn to French seam, flat fell seam or at the least employ those pinking shears! Not only does it look better inside the garment, it will extend the life of the garment as well. Take a look at how your favorite clothing is constructed and learn from their seam finishing techniques.

8.  Change your sewing machine needle with each and every project and learn to use the right needle for the fabric you are working with.  Have at least 2 'spares' of every size and type of needle on hand at all times.  They tend to break in threes - I don't know why. Remember that the larger the number, the more heavy duty the needle is.  Most woven fabrics do well with a 'sharps' or 'univsersal'  size 10 or 12  but for fine or slippery fabrics a size 8 works better, and for something heavy like canvas or duck you'd need 14 or 16.  Denim has it's own needles which are very heavy duty and durable, and knits require special needles as well.  Make sure that the needle you buy are for your machine, and if you are not sure, compare the top or shank with the needle you have. Double needles are fantastic for top stitching nice details.  Easy as pie - just fill an extra bobbin with your thread and draw both threads through the tension together until you get to the the needles, then thread them separately.

9. Keep trying on as you go - it will prevent a lot of ripping out!  Even if you muslin was 'perfect', your 'good' fabric may have a different amount of stretch or ease, and may drape differently on your body.  Make your adjustments before you do the finishing, like hemming or tip stitching - it will make your life easier. Always hang a skirt or dress on a hanger overnight before you hem it - especially skirts that are cut on the bias.  They may sag or drape more in one direction or another and make for a crazy uneven hem - which is never attractive when it is unintended!

10. Vacuum out the dust and fluff and oil your machine regularly.  It's working hard for you - so a little lube and tidy up is the very least you can do in return! Your owners manual will give you simple instructions for the regular maintenance, and you local sewing machine repair person should be able to give you some idea of how often professional cleaning is required.

 Enjoy your sewing projects more - I know how frustrating it can be to try something new and not have it go smoothly - hopefully this will help you avoid some common pitfalls! 

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

School Days

Storyteller’s Subject List
Grade 5 (age 11)

1.      Bible & AWANA T&T book #4 (he's really sweating this one - the verses are challenging)
2.      Big Bad Bible Giants (Devotional)
3.      Singapore Math- Primary Math 5a & 5b
4.      Gateway Reader – Grade 5
5.      Wordly Wise Book 5
6.      A Reason for Spelling Level E
7.      Explode the Code
8.      Creative Writing 6
9.      A Reason for Handwriting 
10.  Daily Journal assignments
11.  Exploring Education - Physical Science - Intermediate Level
12.  A Child’s Geography
13.  US. Geography
14.  50 States
15.  Drive Through American History
16.  Colonial Life in America
17.  Pioneer Life in America
18.  The Mystery of History Volume 3 – Reformation, Renaissance & The Growth of Empires
19.  Visual Latin
20.  Spanish
21.  Meet The Masters Online Art
22.  Guitar Lessons
23.  Home School Gym weekly at the YMCA, Fall Batting League, Home School Soccer, Upward Basketball

I am still working on his Read Aloud list - currently we are working our way through Ulysses.

Dreamer’s Subject List 2011- 2012
Grade 9 (age 13 - almost 14)

  1. Bible (currently continuing an Intensive Study of 1 John)
  2. Thinking Like a Christian (Developing a Christian Worldview)
  3. Grammar and Writing 9
  4. Daily Journal Assignments
  5. Excellence in Literature-Reading and Writing through the Classics-British Lit.
  6. Invitation to the Classics
  7. Wordly Wise book 10
  8. Pentime Cursive 9
  9. Latin Roots 
  10. Visual Latin
  11. Speech and Debate ( with a homeschool group)
  12. Algebra ½ (Saxon Math with DIVE CD)
  13. World Physical Geography – Runkle’s Mapping the World
  14. Exploring Education - Physical Science- Advanced Level
  15. The Mystery of History Volume 3 – Reformation, Renaissance & The Growth of Empires
  16. The Light and the Glory & Sounding Forth the Trumpet
  17. Beginning German
  18. Meet the Masters Online Art (Adult Level)
  19. Piano and Music Theory with Mrs.D. – Dreamer received 3 ‘Superior’ Piano Guild Awards this spring and is working toward a 15 piece Bach program for Spring 2012 – she practices at least 11/2 hours daily.
  20. Home School Gym at YMCA weekly, Ballet, Home School Soccer

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Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm wearing a sweater

Oh the joy! 
We are experiencing our first 'true' fall coolness and it is wonderful!

Yesterday I made a batch of Mr. Good Barley Soup (recipe HERE) and a batch of Whole Wheat dinner rolls (recipe HERE) and today I made Cheesy Potato Soup - which you know means fall is really here! 

Dreamer came into the kitchen with her sparkling blue eyes and said,
'Oh!  I LOVE soup season!'
Fall is such a special time of year and I am ready to enjoy every minute of it!
On Saturday we took down the summer mantle 'beach theme' and I didn't have the heart to ask the guys to get up in the hot hot attic to dig out the fall boxes, but we'll get to it this week. There is nothing wrong with an 'edited' mantle for a few days ... as long as you dust it!

I'll get to that later.
I'm dreaming about soup right now!

So ... in thinking about all things soup related, I thought I would share my simple Chicken Stock recipe, because I don't know about you, but the $3 carton of organic stock is getting on my nerves.  I didn't mind when it was $2 so much, but  when they INCREASE the price at the same time they DECREASE the quantity, it's time to re-think the quick and easy carton of soup stock. 
When I see them on sale I will buy for the pantry, but for now I am making my own.

It's easy - it helps keep your veggie drawer in good shape, and it is so much more economical!
So let's get to it.
Chicken Stock
(You're going to love how simple this is!)

Chicken bones & skin
celery, carrots, an onion or two, garlic, ginger
sea salt, pepper, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, turmeric (for color)
Time: 10 minutes to put together - 4 hours to simmer - overnight to cool - 
10 minutes to skim off fat and repackage for the freezer.

Tonight I oven roasted 6 large chicken breasts for meals this week and deboned them when they were cool.  I have plans for two suppers and a lunch with that chicken, and I had the oven on anyway, so it is win-win!
A rotisserie or oven roasted chicken carcass works just fine too.

I threw those bones, the skin and the juices from de-glazing the chicken pan into a 16 cup heavy duty pot.  
By de-glazing, I simply mean pouring some boiling water into the pan
and loosening all the yummy bits of stuck on chicken goodness. It's good stuff!
I cleaned out the crisper ( which my Dad says should be called the 'wilter') and tossed a limp celery heart (about 6 ribs and the leaves), 3 large rubbery carrots, one large onion and 4 cloves of garlic in the pot. 
I love the richness of ginger in my stock so I grabbed a chunk and put it in the pot too.
All the veggies were washed and then just coarsely cut up - no pealing or dicing is necessary. 

 I guess the carrots sunk - they are in there!

I filled the pot almost to the brim with water and added some fresh and dried herbs from the garden, 
but dried herbs alone work just fine too. Most of my herbs are from my bountiful garden - everything else did poorly, but the herbs flourished and I've been drying them frequently.
Tonight I used rosemary, parsley, oregano and fresh black pepper.
For every 2 cups of broth I use 1/4 tsp. sea salt - so for this batch I used 2 I'll taste it and add more as needed, but we avoid salt around here as much a possible, so adjust this to your tastes!

I don't know why, but the bay leaf is really a necessary ingredient.  I have varied the other herbs and spices according to what we had on hand, but whenever I've left out the bay leaf, 
the flavor of the stock has not been a full and rich. 
Flat and boring.
That little leaf leaves a lot of flavor behind. I put three in my big stock pot tonight.

I don't have a bay in my herb garden yet ... maybe someday I will, 
but the plants are expensive and I've heard they are tricky to grow.

My stock is simmering away and leaving a wonderful aroma in the kitchen.  In about 4 hours I will strain the stock and discard the contents then put the stock in a large bowl in the fridge to cool.  In the morning there will be a layer of fat on the top that I will remove before freezing in 2 cup portions. 

What did it cost me? I don't know, but I do expect to get 12 cups of broth - so about 3 four cup cartons (they are smaller now) worth and I am quite sure that the electricity and ingredients were way less than $10.
The onions were in good shape, but the rest of the organic veggies were a bit past their prime and might not otherwise have been used - perfect for soup stock in my opinion.

Do you make soup stock?  
What is your 'secret' ingredient?  I'd love to know!

School has started - I'm planning on publishing a list of our curriculum choices for this year soon.
We are LOVING science!  We are getting into a good routine, but I've been very tired lately, so not much else is going on! We start the regular weekly activities this week so I am praying for more energy.  Most days we drag our books out the the back patio table and enjoy the fresh air while we work, but some days have been just hot or wet for outdoor school.  I'll encourage 'school on the patio' until the colder weather requires too many hot chocolate breaks, though it might not be a problem since the new grill has a side burner ... 


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