Learn. Choose. Change.

I pledge to learn the true cost, to people and the planet, of what I eat, wear, drive, use and do every day. I choose to consume justly and to increasingly change my habits.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just Sew: White Sheet Challenge

Week Three of Project Run and Play challenges everyone to create an outfit using a white sheet.  My sketch for this came pretty quickly.  I knew I wanted to use polka dots and stripes, and had hoped to employ resist dye techniques (for the first time) to get them.  Unfortunately, it did not seem like the results would come out as crisp as I would like, so I resorted to painting the fabric instead.  By utilizing tips I picked up on HGTV about painting designs on walls (tutorial found here) I got the really clean patterns I was hoping for.

This look's second life will be The White Rabbit when I show my Alice in Wonderland collection next week (!!!!) during the First Friday Gallery Cruise.  I was inspired by the classic John Tenniel illustration above for the color scheme and the collar detail.  I also ended up adding a little seam detail in the front inspired by Handmade Martini's Macaron Dress that seemed to be everywhere this last month.  I am so happy with how this outfit came out and cannot wait to add the finishing touches to transform it next week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just Bake: Weekly Bagels

Last week, when talking about reducing the amount of plastic that comes into our home, I mentioned I make bagels from scratch every week instead of using store bought bagels packaged in plastic.  There were a few comments and requests about that process and recipe, and it seems appropriate to write a post it.
First off, the back story has nothing to do with plastic.  Two years ago, my kids decided they like having bagel sandwiches in their packed lunches for school.  What goes on the bagels varies, but they'd rather have it on bagels than bread.  Our grocery store does not carry organic bagels, and I don't leave the island frequently enough to buy a weekly supply of organic bagels somewhere else.  For a little while, our local organic bakery was making a custom order for us, but sometimes they would forget, or would comment on how labor intensive making bagels can be.  Also, that was an expensive option.  So, I decided to look up recipes and to try it for myself.  It turned out to be pretty easy (I'm not sure what they were complaining about at the bakery) and is part of our weekly routine.
I am probably closing in on my hundredth batch of bagels (I don't always make them during the summer) and have tweaked and merged recipes to come up with the most reliable results week after week.  The ingredients are:
          5 1/2 cups of flour
          2 1/4 tsp. yeast (or 1 package)
          1 Tbsp. salt
          2 1/3 cups of hot water
          1/3 cup of honey or sugar
Mix together the dry ingredients first.  In the beginning I used to heat up the water a bit in the microwave, but now I just use the hottest water I can get from our tap (ours runs about blank degrees - our youngest is nine, so we don't have to be as careful anymore).  After you add the water you can add the honey or sugar.  Knead the dough for five minutes.  It should be pretty smooth and elastic and just the tiniest bit wet when it is ready.  Let the dough rest as a ball for ten minutes.  Divide the ball into pieces (12 for regular size bagels/18 for minis).  Roll each piece into a snake and then shape into a circle and pinch the ends together.  Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and cover with plastic (I cut up a bag from all of the packaging I save to reuse).  
At this point you are going to proof the dough in your refrigerator for about eight hours.  I make and shape our dough on Sunday night and then boil and bake them Monday morning before school.  You could also make your dough in the morning and bake them in the evening.  Pull your dough out of the fridge and boil a pot of water.  Also, set your oven to 450 degrees.  Drop your bagels a few at a time into the boiling water and cover with the lid.  They should float right away.  If they sink, be sure to move them off the bottom of the pot so they don't get stuck to it.  Boil them for two or three minutes on one side and then flip to the other for another two or three minutes.  Remove and set on a cooling rack.  (If you are adding toppings like poppy or sesame seeds, you would press your bagels into a bowl of them now).  
After the last set of bagels have been boiled, transfer all of the bagels back to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Put them in the oven to bake for ten minutes.  I also throw and handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven when I first put them in.  Flip all of the bagels and bake for another ten minutes.  Your bagels will be a nice, shiny golden brown when you pull them out.
Like I said, the original decision had nothing to do with plastic, but now I see, in order to avoid bringing more plastic into our home each week, we will have to make more of our staples from scratch. I am probably going to tackle yogurt or cream cheese next month and would love any tried and true tips on that.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Just Sew: Pretty in Pink

 When Project Run and Play announced their themes for each week, I immediately started sketching ideas.  After briefly considering Audrey Hepburn for the second week's challenge of Fashion Icon, and then moving on because I thought everyone will choose Audrey Hepburn (but now I wonder if no one will because we all went through the same process?), I started listing the traits I value in fashion.  I certainly appreciate vintage pieces and other secondhand items, as well as, when someone exhibits creativity and repurposes one piece of clothing into something else.  This significantly narrowed the field, when suddenly my fashion icon hit me:  Molly Ringwald's character from Pretty in Pink, Andie Walsh.  Aside from Maria making playclothes from curtains in Sound of Music, the construction of Andie's prom dress has to be the most iconic upcycling scene caught on film.  Plus, Andie and Duckie Dale made wearing thrift store clothing look pretty cool, when everyone else was buying matching outfits at the mall.
Although this movie came out the year before I was in high school (and my parents would not let me see it in the movie theater due to its questionable language), it quickly became a staple at most slumber parties.  Our family was planted pretty firmly in the middle class, but I did identify with the frustration of not fitting in (or even caring to) with mainstream high school culture.  By my sophomore year I was buying clothes at thrift stores and raiding my dad's closet for suit vests and cardigans.  I also had a pretty great hat collection.
To recreate Andie Walsh's style I converted a sweatshirt into a blazer (tutorial found in this post).and paired it with a vest repurposed from a flowery woman's blouse, and a simple jersey skirt made from the bottom half of a black t-shirt.  The hat was a score from one of our favorite consignment shops and I just added leftover fabric from the blouse to wrap around the band.  
But my most favorite detail of this outfit is the embellishment on the blazer made from doilies.  The jacket seemed a little plain, but I wasn't sure what to add, wavering between an embroidered crest or some tapestry.  Then after watching the movie for easily the first time in twenty years the answer was obvious.  In the opening scene there is a shot of Andie's bedroom and there are doilies everywhere, on the bedspread, her vanity, and in the details of her clothes.  A quick run to the antique store (half off at $2.47) and a dunk in some pink dye made the perfect final accessory to this look.  I actually cut the center piece out of a large doily and gathered the edges together yo-yo style to add a little dimension.
It turns out the DVD for this movie has a lot of great Extra Features, including a section interviewing the actors and the costume designer about the wardrobe.  They had footage from the time the movie was filmed, as well as, some more recent interviews with everyone.  I was already impressed with how well the film has held up after all of these years and felt both Andie Walsh's outfits and Ducky Dale's looks were pretty timeless.  But then both Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer talked about how they were allowed to keep certain items from the movie and how they still wear them to this day, which just confirmed:  the best fashion advice is to find the style that really represents you. Use classic, well-made pieces to express yourself, customizing them by swapping out buttons or adding doilies, even, as long as it says "This is who I am" to everybody else.

Just Make: Painted Fabric Tips

 Next week's Project Run and Play challenge requires working with a white sheet.  Since everything I am sewing for this season will be part of our community's First Friday Gallery Cruise in October, I feel like each look is part of a "collection."  The theme of this collection is costumes representing characters from Alice in Wonderland.  The colors I am using are very bright and I am trying to mix and match a lot of polka dots and stripes.  After researching  a few techniques for getting stripes on fabric (resist dye, freehand painting) I decided to use a tip I saw on HGTV at one point and treat my fabric like painting stripes on a wall.

The first thing I did was iron the fabric to create a smoother surface.  I picked up this sheet at a thrift store a few weeks ago and it has been sitting, folded up on my sewing desk since then.  I wish I had been more aggressive about ironing, because any imperfections I had were definitely caused by wrinkles.  Next, I measured and taped off my stripes with blue painters tape.  I wanted the stripes to be pretty wide, so I put two strips overlapping to create about three inch stripes.  This is where the HGTV tip comes in.  Instead of just painting all over the fabric, "dry brush" paint the edges of the tape where it meets the fabric.  This means only put a small amount of paint on your brush,

and then, starting with your brush on the tape, paint onto the edges of the fabric along the tape.  The theory is, this prevents excess paint from seeping under the tape onto the fabric (or wall), and instead creates a nice, crisp line of paint.  Once the paint is dry where you dry brushed you can go back over and paint the entire fabric.  After this coat dries, you can peel the tape and admire your nice clean lines.  I was really pleased with the stripes, and my neighbor didn't even realize the fabric had been painted when I was trying the skirt on her daughter, so I count that as a success.  Tune in next week to see the fabric in Week 3's look for Project Run and Play!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Just Read: Plastic Free

A few years ago I decided to stop buying ziplock bags to use in my kids' lunches.  We invested in some sturdy re-useable containers and also started rinsing out and saving bags when purchased items happened to come packaged in them in case we needed them.  In comparison to Beth Terry's declaration in 2007 to not allow any new plastic to come into her household, our decision seems rather small.  But as I read her book Plastic Free:  How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too I learned a plastic free life is only attainable through small steps like ours.

Even though the goal of this book seems daunting, Terry's story is very encouraging.  Prior to 2007 she led a very disposable and plastic lifestyle: eating take-out daily, drinking multiple cups of coffee a day - all from styrofoam cups with plastic lids, and accumulating CDs, DVDs, craft supplies, and sporting goods manufactured  from plastic.  If she got to plastic-free from that, surely our somewhat conscientious family can make this journey, too! 

By tackling the various areas of our lives most infused with plastic (food packaging, personal hygiene products, cleaning products) in different chapters of the book and providing feasible solutions and resources for each, Terry does make this goal seem attainable.  Packed with references to other books and websites, as well as, profiles of Plastic Free Heroes the reader will find the answer to any situation that involves plastic.

Since reading this book, I have of course, become more aware of the pervasiveness of plastic in our lives.  And although we have been using stainless water bottles for years and buying most of our items secondhand and even baking bagels from scratch for packed lunches (which means we don't bring in a new plastic bag every week from the grocery store) our family still has a long way to go to eliminate bringing new plastic items into our household.

My goal is to focus on one area each month and eliminate that source of plastic.  After doing it consistently it should become a habit and allow me to move onto a new area.  An easy goal for October will be a consistent commitment to re-using plastic bags for produce rather than using the ones that are provided in the grocery store.  We already use cloth bags for our grocery shopping, and I just need to devise a system that makes it easier to store and take bags for produce to the store.  It is something I have been saying I will do for months, and it will feel good to finally do it.  Trickier goals will definitely be making other perishable items from scratch weekly that contribute to our ever growing collection of plastic food containers stored in the cabinet to the left of our dishwasher:  yogurt, cream cheese, salsa, hummus, etc.  You can bet I will look at recipes and choose the easiest first! 

I know this will be a process for our family, and even Terry admits she gets in tough situations where it seems like plastic is unavoidable.  Right now, I am sure there are areas we can easily improve and whatever habits we incorporate will be better than how we are doing things currently.  Throughout her book Terry frequently reminds the reader she is not perfect and that this is a journey, I am just thankful she blazed the trail and we can use her experience as our own road map.  What are some ways you avoid/reduce plastic in your life?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Just Sew: Bias Strip Romper

It was only this past spring that I stumbled on Project Run and Play and was instantly hooked.  Although we don't watch T.V. in the traditional sense in our house, we do keep up with a few shows online.  Despite the over-produced drama, I am pretty fascinated with Project Runway.  I love the idea of the challenge of creating something within specific parameters, and when they take the time to show it, I do get inspired by some of the design elements and sewing techniques.  I do occasionally do some sewing for adults, but I predominantly sew clothing for children, and I often found myself hoping there would be a spin-off focused on the children's industry.  So, the more I read about Project Run and Play and how it was pretty much what I had been hoping for, the more I got drawn in.

Unlike Project Runway, there is a sew-along option for the folks "watching" from home, and I was able to create something for four out of the six weeks.  Then I got caught up in sewing costumes for my daughters' dance production and wasn't able to finish the last two looks.  This "season" I have managed to plan ahead, and am hoping that even if something unexpected comes along, I'll be far enough ahead to compensate.  That's the plan anyway...

The challenge for the first week is a pattern remix, using No Big Dill's Very Biased Skirt tutorial.  Everything I sew is made from secondhand fabric or clothing, so of course, I started with a pile of t-shirts.  I should add here that all of my Project Run and Play entries will end up doing double duty for an art display in October.  Each month our local fiber and textile arts collective features one of its members for our community's First Friday Gallery Cruise, and many months ago I volunteered for October.  Inspired by Halloween, I am sewing costumes representing characters from Alice in Wonderland.  This romper will eventually be part of the Cheshire Cat's look - hence the pink and purple stripes.
After cutting out two rectangles 25% larger than the waist measurement, and with a one inch allowance at the shoulder, I began the process of cutting the printed t-shirts on the bias into strips.  This is where I began to feel like a real Project Runway contestant.  The amount and type of labor involved in cutting enough strips was really out of my comfort zone when it comes to sewing.  I could spend the same amount of time hand-embroidering something and never complain, but repetitively cutting strips - no thanks.
Once the strips were cut, I pinned and sewed them onto the rectangles, essentially creating my own fabric.  Before putting the right sides together, I took the time to pin down the loose ends of each strip so I didn't accidentally sew a strip into a wonky position while sewing up the side seams.

Now it is time to pin up both side seams (leaving a few inches for the armholes) and across the shoulders (leaving and opening for the head).  Although I was mindful to leave the opening for the head a little wider than necessary, I completely spaced out on the part about leaving the legs open after cutting the inseam (three inches for an 18 month old).  So, yes, I pinned (and sewed!!!!) the inseam before trying this on my future Cheshire Cat model.  I did not sew much when my kids were this young, and I seem to have forgotten how an article of clothing like this would work.  You should leave the inseam open and only pin and sew the sides and shoulders at this point.  I also finished up the exposed edges around the neck, arms, and legs while I was at my machine.  Luckily, I had a onesie on hand to borrow snaps from and sewed those into the inseam.
It was a chilly evening, but my neighbor's little girl was wearing a long sleeve shirt that coordinated perfectly.  This will work well for the Cheshire Cat, as our Alice in Wonderland shoot is slated for the first week of October, which can be pretty unpredictable in the Pacific Northwest.  All in all, I do love the combination of the colors and prints, but will probably do a fun applique on my next romper.  I do feel like I was pushed in this challenge, but would definitely only use this technique for a special occasion outfit.  What technique do you use when you are creating something special?


Friday, September 7, 2012

Just Listen: This Man Makes Beautiful Suits

My husband and I have been fortunate enough to find jobs on the island where we live, which means we do not have to deal with the headaches of commuting by ferry to the mainland, and then driving in gridlock to get to work.  Except for this week.  I have recently taken a new job in our school district and had to complete training in Olympia every day this week.  The commute works out to about a three and a half hour round trip.  I. can't. believe. there. are. people. who. do. this. on. a. daily. basis.

However, ever the optimist, I have searched for the silver lining in my situation this week:  1) I got to explore a city I had never visited before during lunchbreaks, 2) I finished knitting a hat for my soon to be adopted nephew while riding the ferry, and 3) I had lots of uninterrupted time to listen to NPR.  Usually, I am lucky if I can squeeze in two hours a week of NPR, and even then it is always broken up by the short people in my house requesting my assistance in one way or another.

This morning during Planet Money, of all features, they played an interview with Peter Frew, a tailor in New York City who hand-sews custom made suits.  Even though Frew's suits are certainly a luxury item, retailing between four and five thousand dollars each, he himself does not make more than fifty thousand a year (which is stretched thin in an expensive city) and could never afford to buy one of his own suits.  Frew confessed he cannot even afford to take the time to make himself a suit (much like my organic farmer friends who cannot afford to eat their own produce).

I appreciated that the interview certainly gave the listener a better understanding of what goes into handmade goods, and provided the perspective that although the final product may have a large price tag, the artisan is not getting rich off of the sale.  When asked why he doesn't go into some other business, Frew replies he still gets a lot of satisfaction from every suit he makes, and at the end of the day, he just loves what he does - a very inspiring answer for us all.