Fun with Vintage Piping on New Jammies

I have a couple of TNT sleepwear patterns, but I was hankering for something new for my “easy and cheap” jammies project. I chose McCall’s 7297 because I like the close-fitting top, and I thought the cute neckline detail would give me a chance to use some vintage piping from my grandmother’s stash. Plus, Joann had a $1.99 special on McCall’s patterns – must be thrifty! I had everything else for the project in stash, including four yards of 100% cotton jersey in sky blue.

My grandmother’s favorite color was hot pink. She had hot pink tiles in her kitchen and bathroom and an oriental rug prominently featuring hot pink. I inherited that rug, but I had to get rid of it when I realized the color was the exact shade of Pepto-Bismol.

We found a small stash in her home when she died – a few patterns, some thread and needles, a baby-food jar full of buttons, and a few odd trims, like iron-on hem tape. We also found a couple of packages of piping, including one in hot pink, natch:

 

Three yards for 19 cents was quite a bargain! I love the offer to send 3 labels and 15 cents to Wright’s in Massachusetts to get a bag of trimmings for doll clothes. I wonder what would happen if I tried that now?

I walked the pattern with a measuring tape, and I thought I had just enough to add piping to the neckline and cuffs (wrists and ankles) of the PJs. I sandwiched it with some fleece binding for extra comfiness. I got the top done and went on to the pants. Oh no!

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Six inches too short for the second pants cuff! CRAP!

The vintage piping is color #67, Rose, 100% cotton. Wright’s does not make this color anymore, but it offers something similar, color #1232, Berry Sorbet, a bit more purply than the original. And it’s a cotton-poly blend. Boo.

I toyed with the idea of buying some cording and a fat quarter of quilting fabric in as close a color as I could find, and making my own piping for that second leg. But what a chore for one pant leg!

Then I wondered if a vintage store near me, the English Building Market, would have something similar. I’ve had fun looking through their antique buttons and I’ve bought old zippers and trims there before – could lightning strike twice? Behold!

 

The original cost 15 cents for 4 yards. The vintage shop sold it to me for $1 (I think a new package of 2.5 yards costs around $2). It’s the right color but uses slightly smaller cording than the original from my grandmother. I don’t think it’s noticeable. Can you tell on the pants which is the larger?

This piping was even older than my grandmother’s, to judge the packaging. You can get a bag of trims for doll’s clothes for 10 cents! They also call the fabric nainsook, which I had never heard of. The dictionary says nainsook is a fine, soft cotton fabric, originally from South Asia. Cool!

And I love how these old-timey packages would have a picture of the moldy founder of the company – like, “If some old white dude’s face is on the label, it’s got to be good!” Later Wright’s put a model “of a certain age” on the label, Notice her blouse uses no trims of any kind that you can see, but she does look like she knows her way around a sewing machine.

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And now there’s no model at all. Double boo. Maybe if I send them a picture of me in my new jammies, they’ll make me a cover girl?

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I wouldn’t count on it. Nonetheless, here I am in my finished project. Note the geeky owl-face slippers.

Jammies are a great project for beginning sewists because they’re relatively loose-fitting and they require few complex construction techniques. This pattern, for example, has an elastic waist and no buttons. You can use nice soft cotton that’s easy to work with. And if they’re not perfect, you can still wear them. For example, I goofed a bit on the legs and there are a couple of small tucks in the fabric where the cuffs went in. So what? Also, the topstitching at the neckline’s a bit wavy. Who cares?

The Minimalist’s Pie

I am not much for desserts nowadays – too rich, too sweet, too many calories I’d rather spend on something else. But a little corner of my heart still loves a fruit pie. I grew up eating them and making them, as a child at my grandmother’s side. In New England tradition, pies are simple and not too sweet, with just a rumor of cinnamon in an all-butter crust. Eat a leftover slice for breakfast with a steaming mug of creamy coffee.

My minimalist pie starts with the right kind of apples: either Baldwins or Cortlands.

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This entire tote bag of Baldwin apples will make one big pie.

Cortlands are commonly found all over the place, but Baldwins are the apples to score if you’re lucky enough to have a diverse orchard nearby. Baldwins used to be everywhere years ago, but they’re  rare find today. I drive to Guilford, Conn to get some at Bishop’s Orchards.

My family grew two varieties of apples when I was growing up: McIntosh for eating and Baldwins for keeping. They’re a hard winter apple, not too sweet or too starchy. You can safely store them in newspaper in a cool place until spring.

 

I cut the apples with one of those eight-slice apple coring and slicing gizmos. Leave the slices whole – you want a bite of apple, not mush – and toss with the juice of a lemon to keep them from browning.

To the apples, I add a half cup of white sugar (again, not too sweet is the rule), 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (you want to taste apple primarily, with just enough cinnamon to perfume the pie juices) and a tablespoon of potato starch for thickening. You can find potato starch in the kosher section of your supermarket. It’s better than cornstarch because it keeps the pie juices clear, while cornstarch clouds the juices.

Then there’s the crust. That’s simple:

  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out  (get King Arthur, a New England brand, if you can swing it)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 pound of cold sweet butter (two sticks – I like Kate’s Homemade Butter from Vermont)
  • 8-10 tablespoons of ice water

An all-butter crust is crumbly and hard to work with, so if you’re not a pie doyenne, sub out half the butter for Crisco and you’ll have an easier time and a pretty good crust. I make my crust by hand, cutting chunks of the cold butter into the flour-salt mixture with a pastry blender in a big bowl. Sure, use a food processor if you’d rather.

Once the butter’s cut in to the flour into tiny pieces (no larger than a grain of raw rice) sprinkle in the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time. If it’s humid, 8 tablespoons of water will do. If it’s dry, you may need up to 10. Err on the “less is more” side – you can always add water if you need it, but you sure can’t take it out. You’ll know it’s done when it just holds together if you give a chunk of the mixture a good squeeze.

Rolling out the pastry is another “less is more” exercise. Sprinkle flour onto your counter and onto a rolling pin, Flatten the pastry with your hands into a disc and roll, center out, then lift from the counter, turn 90 degrees, flip over and roll again. Got that? It’s roll, lift, turn, flip. Roll, lift, turn, flip. A scraper helps with the “lift” part. You shouldn’t need to roll that much – 8 or 10 turns should do it. If the pastry is not cooperating, wrap it in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for a bit, then try again.

To transfer rolled pastry into the pie plate, wrap an edge of the pastry around the rolling pin and coil the rest of the pastry around, then unroll it right where you want it. (I can’t think of a better way to explain this – I imagine there are 100 videos on YouTube if you don’t understand.) If there are little holes or tears in the crust, just patch them as best you can. It’s homemade, after all. Don’t sweat it.

To get a good seal on the crust, wrap the overhanging bits of top crust under the overhanging bits of bottom crust and crimp them together with your fingers or a fork. Cut a couple of vents in the top crust so steam can escape. Brush the top crust with an egg wash (an egg beaten with a little water).

I use a clear Pyrex pie plate so I can see what’s going on as the pie cooks. I bake it at 400 degrees on a pizza stone to get a good crisp bottom crust. It’s done when the juices bubble thickly. Some may spill out – don’t worry about it.

Cool completely, or as completely as you can stand before eating.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Who Loves a Business Trip?

I’m on a business trip for a few days. Nothing fancy, just a hop on Amtrak to Baltimore for a couple of days.

I love business trips. Although I’ve been traveling for work a little for 20+ years, it’s still thrilling somehow. I feel like Peggy from Mad Men with her smug satisfaction, even if it means staying at a budget hotel, drinking low-quality whiskey.

Or, in my case, a fruit, veggie and hummus plate from Amtrak…

Business trips cure my craving for alone time. Something about a hotel room, all to myself, a flight without a companion, even a meal alone feels great. I get time with coworkers during the day, or I interact with lots of strangers at a conference, but any time after that is MINE. At home there’s always something that needs doing, or my husband wants to chat, or the TV is blaring… Always something demands my time. 

Most importantly, I get lonely after a few days, or I wish I was home again. And then I am – feeling refreshed.

“You Can’t Spoil It”

I canned seven pints of piccalilli today, following two old family recipes. As with most family recipes, they make no sense. But after a bunch of roundabout instructions, random amounts of ingredients and other “be sure to’s,” there’s a line at the bottom: “You can’t spoil it.”

True enough. This stuff has enough acid, sugar and salt in it to survive World War III.

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The base for this sweet and sour relish is green tomatoes, as piccalilli is meant to use up all the veggies from your garden at the end of the season. I picked all my Roma tomatoes yesterday, saving anything red or almost red for one last batch of spaghetti sauce. The rest went into the piccalilli pot, along with a green and a red bell pepper, a couple of onions, and some broccoli stalks. Everything took a whirl in the food processor, before being salted, drained, and boiled in white vinegar with more salt, what seems like way too much sugar, a pickling spice sack and a generous palmful of mustard seeds. I hot-packed the relish into sterilized pint jars and processed them in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.

They’re sitting on a beach towel because after they’re processed, I swaddle them in a heavy towel so they can cool very slowly.

I learned to can at my great-aunt’s knee. She had a kind of subsistence farm in rural New Hampshire, where growing and canning food was a matter of survival. I’d visit for two weeks every August to help her harvest, process and can her food. She had a special set-up in her basement with a giant hand-crank Foley Food Mill and some pressure- and boiling-water canners. It was hot, dirty, dangerous work. I loved it.

One time, we worked all day and went to bed early, only to be awakened by the sound of smashing glass. In the basement, we discovered that a jar of tomatoes we’d canned that day had exploded, in turn smashing several others around it. We’d forgotten to swaddle the jars and had left the basement windows open, letting some damp cold mountain air invade the space. We cleaned up the mess in our nightgowns, glass crinkling underfoot, the stinky tomato guts all warm and slimy.

I laid awake for much of the night, convinced that more jars would expolde.

The next day, my great-aunt inspected all the other tomato jars and decreed that the exploded jar was defective. She sent me home with several jars of what we’d put up, and I was afraid the whole long ride home that another explosion was imminent. To this day, I swaddle my jars overnight.

Some years, I don’t get around to making piccalilli or canning anything else. For one thing, a freezer is a much better option for preserving food nowadays. (We rarely have power outages; Every winter she’d be out of power for at least a week.) For another, I really don’t need to do this time-consuming, archaic chore. I don’t live off my food I grow or even care about it that much. But then I look around my home and think about all my blessings, and think about where I have come from and where so many of my relatives still are – scraping by, yearning for the past, feeling like a stranger in the here-and-now. I and so I make some piccalilli, using the old recipes, for Christmas gifts that are truly appreciated.

 

An Artist’s Date to the Vintage Shop

I found a bit of my grandmother this week during my Artist’s Date. As recommended in the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, people looking to develop their artistic muscles should go Artist’s Dates – weekly solo adventures to seek connection and inspiration. I headed to a vintage shop to look over things from estate sales, with special hope of finding cool vintage clothing, textiles and sewing supplies.

As I rummaged through a bin of buttons, I spotted a set of pearly pink oval buttons. Then I spotted another set. And another. Then I saw a set of the same buttons, a bit larger. I pulled them all together for a better look:

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Seven sets in all – 10 smaller buttons and four larger ones. Clearly, some woman not too long ago had bought all these buttons, intended for a special project. Based on the number and size of the buttons, I’d guess she bought the small buttons for a shirt dress and the larger ones for a matching jacket.

My grandmother used to wear such ensembles to church. I have a few of her sewing patterns from the late 1960s, and you can see the basic look, although these are simple no-button jackets and zip-back shift dresses:

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These buttons were pricey originally, so I imagine the woman who bought them had special plans for them that were never fulfilled.

Also, that pearly pink finish spoke to me. My grandmother’s favorite color was pink. She had pearly pink tiles in her kitchen and bathroom. She would have loved these buttons.

I didn’t buy them, because I can’t imagine using them. I was tempted to buy one set, just to have. But then I thought it was better to keep them all together. I hope they find a home – and a worthy project – someday.

Funkytown

I’ve been in a funk for the past week. I was on a business trip to India, which was exhausting and exciting and fun and scary all at the same time. When I got home I dealt with jet lag for a couple of days. But there’s some other kind of lag going on still.

Since I was gone for a week, it seems like everyone has been making up for it by being on my ass about everything. The house needed cleaning. My husband’s needy and whiny. Stuff piled up at work. Bills needed paying. Even the damn dog is like, “Pet me! Pet me NOW!”

All I want is to sit somewhere, quietly and alone, and just not have to deal with anything. I actually had a fantasy of just getting a hotel room so I could sit in it and be quiet for a while with nothing to do, no place to go, no one expecting anything of me.

Of course I didn’t do that…

And because I am pretty out of sorts I am making it worse for myself by hauling around resentment. I struggle to ask people for what I need. I just go along, silently, tired and annoyed, one day after the other.

I finally chose to take a week off in a couple of weeks. This little vacation is meant to get my garden in, and I will definitely do some gardening that week. But mostly I look forward to a few days when I don’t really HAVE to do anything. I will do what I want, as much as possible.

I need to frame this vacation to my husband, or I risk him taking over. Whenever I have some time off, errands always pop up. Or he comes home early from work. Or friends want to get together. Or I have to wait around the house all day for FedEx or the chimney cleaning guy or some such nuisance.

I told my husband Friday that I am taking off a week in May. I am run down, I said. I need some time to just relax and get a break from work. I really don’t want to be bothered with anything, OK?

OK. We’ll see.

Why I Am on Strike Today

Today is International Women’s Day. In recognition of the day, in the US, activists have called for a general strike by all women. The strike means:

  • No work, either paid (a job) or unpaid (housework, caregiving)
  • Don’t spend any money
  • Wear red in solidarity

I am doing all these things today. Why? Let me lay out my reasons:

  • I don’t like being taken for granted.
  • I want my voice heard about inequalities in the workplace and in the home.
  • I want to demonstrate that women are a big part of the economy.
  • I want to continue the momentum from the Women’s March in January.

Many women I know are on board and many women are not. Here are some common criticisms and my responses:

Q: How nice for you that you can take a day off from work with no penalty. Doesn’t this “strike” smack of privilege?

A: Yeah, it does smack of privilege. So what? I am able to take off a day from work without taking a hit to my bank account or imperiling my job. I am fortunate. I am speaking for those who cannot.

Q: You’re not in a union. You like your job and you’re well-paid. Why take out your political frustrations on your employer?

A: Even if you are well paid and well treated at your workplace, you can bet that others are not. Some women at your workplace are paid less than men for doing the same work. Some women didn’t get promotions or plum assignments or other opportunities because they’re women, a mother to young children, pregnant, or caregiver for someone. Some women at your workplace have to deal with sexism, bias, hostility and harassment. You are affected by these things even if you don’t personally deal with them every day. Speak for those who cannot, those who are silenced by trauma and fear.

Q: Why take this out on people who need you, like your husband, kids or parents?

A: Don’t tolerate emotional blackmail. If your husband has to cook and do the dishes, he’ll live. If he does not “get” the purpose of the strike, you have bigger problems in your marriage to worry about. You’d be surprised what your kids can do on their own if they have to. Any child over the age of 3 or 4 can dress themselves, feed themselves, use the toilet and other basic tasks. Your kid may be dressed weird or may have cereal for dinner, or their hair may be messy or their teeth poorly brushed, but again, for one day, they’ll live. Older children can help younger ones. If you’re truly the caregiver for someone helpless – an infant, an elderly parent – then of course it’s not right to let them suffer. Get your husband, brother or son to do whatever they can. You do what must be done but no more.

Q: Doesn’t the “no spending money” hurt woman-owned businesses too?

A: Of course. Some strikers have decreed it’s OK to spend money on a woman-owned business, but I disagree. No business is going to go under because women don’t spend money there for one day. It’s about demonstrating our economic power. Often, businesses that cater to women – the hair salon, the boutique, the yoga studio – are really owned by men anyway. Be sure you know who owns the businesses you frequent! Some friends and I came up with a list of women-owned businesses in our city, and we pledged to use these businesses whenever possible.

Q: Wear red? Really?

A: OK, I think the whole “wear this” directive is kinda juvenile, but I suck it up and do it because it’s part of the visual statement we need to make. One of the reasons the Women’s March was such a success was because all the pink pussyhats  made a major statement. I would prefer that we stuck with pink, but whatever. I have my red sweater on.

Q: So, basically, you’re just going to be lazy for the day, right?

A: Yes and no. I am taking some “me” time today to work on a sewing project. I did a good workout at home this morning. I will enjoy a glass of wine tonight when my husband makes dinner and cleans up. But I am also taking action, including writing this blog, and going to a demonstration later today. Do whatever you want! You’ve earned it!

 

 

Caretakers

My cousin called me last night to tell me her grandfather had died. He was my great-uncle, and he had been in poor health for several years, but still it was a blow to everyone. My cousin had been primary caretaker for both her grandparents, as well as her mother and mother-in-law, so they could stay in their home. Her brother does nothing.

My sister-in-law is battling her mother over care of her father, who has dementia and falls down all the time. He is staying in their home without any extra help. Her brother does nothing.

My cousin is helping her mother (my great-aunt) care for my great-uncle, who has advanced dementia and still lives at home. Her brother does nothing.

Anyone see a pattern here?

Caring for the sick and elderly is the biggest distaff deal of all. Women’s work. The kind of essential but unpleasant, tiring and depressing work women do all over the world, often for free, or at best, poorly paid.

Why won’t men step up? Why don’t women make them help out?

I don’t have an answer to these questions. Men are stepping up more when it comes to child care. Every father my age or younger I know has changed diapers countless times; my father never did. So that’s progress. But when it comes to care of the elderly or ill, no dice.

If anyone has suggestions, I’d appreciate it.

What a pleasant surprise!

Every year, my relatives give me food for Christmas. They know I’ve lost and (mostly) kept off a ton of weight, and yet they always give me a pile of crap for Christmas.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a typical example from December 2012, after I lost 65 pounds.

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There’s a bag of licorice, a tagine and cookbook, a book about wine & cheese, a bottle of wine, wine bottle stoppers, a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, a pound of coffee and a gift card to a restaurant.

After a few years of this, I tried the tactic of “asking for what you want.” We started using this website called Elfster to manage our family Secret Santa drawing, so I liberally filled out my profile with likes and dislikes. The people in this gift exchange are family, so presumably they know what I like and don’t like, but hey, no one’s a mind-reader, right?

I told my family I like the outdoors (hiking, biking, kayaking), gardening, sewing and reading.  I like handcrafted things. I like natural fiber clothing. I like art glass. I like adventures and new experiences. I also noted explicitly: “I do not like gifts of food or cooking equipment or kitchen stuff. I work hard to maintain my weight, and I already have a ton of kitchen things, thanks.”

This year, guess what I got?

Drumroll…..

A “lobster” gift basket, including plastic lobster plates, plastic butter dishes, vinyl lobster bibs, lobster crackers, a lobster motif coffee mug, lobster shears, lobster-shaped candy, and a rubber lobster (which I gave to the dog to destroy). Also wine glasses. Also a gift certificate to a fish market, where  I can buy a live lobster to cook at home (although I would have to schlep it home in a 3-hour car drive).

Sigh.

Yes, I realize I sound like a baby complaining about it all. It’s not the gift that upsets me really. It’s the realization that my family doesn’t know me and doesn’t want to know me. They’d rather just think of “old me.”