28 January 2009

From the Unsalted Sidewalks of West Philly

Doesn't this live pattern woman look uncannily like Maggie Gyllenhaal?

This is one of those rare patterns in which the live-action version is more enticing than the artist's rendering. Usually I find it's the other way around--the stylized, cartoon version has the advantage of wafer-thin, anatomically malleable women and no real reference to the weight or drape of fabric. But on this pattern, that seems to be the problem. On the model, it looks chic, office-y but not overly professional. On the cartoons it looks like a bathrobe.

I don't have much to show for myself, sewing-wise. I finished one dress, but I'm unhappy with the fit, and the fact that the best bits of it are the parts I did by hand (like the hem). The other dress I've been working on (affectionately nicknamed the JesusMaryAndJoseph dress, for the frequency I felt compelled to utter that as I stood slack-jawed and uncomprehending over the directions) is having some issues with the bodice being about 1 1/2 inches too long for my little frame, and also I need to purchase a zipper for the side-closing.

The part of me that loves to start new things wants to start a new project (at least until I get a zipper for the JMAJ dress), but the responsible, see-it-through girl wants to convince myself to do some more work on the unfinished dresses before moving on. Angel v. Devil, that kind of thing. You understand.

22 January 2009

googling my way to glory

Someone in Italy apparently found my blog by googling the phrase "suffragette pants pattern."

Sometimes, when someone finds their way to me via googles, I am completely apathetic to their plight. The person who googled "Sexy Secretaries" and got here, for example, I'm not really all that concerned that my blog didn't meet their searchy needs. But "suffragette pants pattern" is awesome. I totally want to be the blog that fulfills that search.

Unfortunately, I don't know what suffragette pants are. Firstly, since the person is in Italy, I don't know if they are using the American or British usage of pants. Do they mean trousers or knickers? I think the former, because I think what they are referring to are these:

Which would be bloomers. If a pattern exists for these (which it probably does, although I haven't found it after a morning spent looking), it's hard to get to from google, because most of the search terms I tried lead me to children's underwears (you know, the little bloomers babies and toddlers wear under their dresses but over their diapers?). I know there are sites that do repro 19th century patterns--but usually these are for corsets, shirtwaists, skirts, and various undergarments.

Additionally, compared with modern, baby-type bloomers, which are really simple affairs (elasticized
waist, elasticized legs and boom, bloomers), a 19th century dress reform style bloomer would be pretty difficult to make. There are a lot of different styles of them, but most were made in heavy sportswear fabrics like tweeds, and involved over skirts and shirtwaists to make them imitate the style of a dress.

Of course, this person could be thinking of bicycle bloomers, like these:

From what I know of these, they'd be pretty hard to make too--I saw a 19th century bicycling outfit once on display in a museum and it pretty much killed any desire I would have had to make a pair. They made these suckers out of the heaviest materials available--really heavy wool with suede and leather trims and anchors--sometime the pants parts would be weighted so the fabric wouldn't flap around while you biked or get caught in the wheel spokes.

So, no patterns for that here. Sorry, Italy. I let you down. Maybe next time!

19 January 2009

Tables and Chairs

Last night, in a fit of despondency, I dragged Lady to Ikea. Actually, only I was despondent. She was just hungry.

The end result was a veritable cornucopia of new furnitures. Lady got herself some much needed bookshelves and a cabinet that hangs on the wall (for books and curios). I came away with a table for my sewing things (so I can stop sewing on the kitchen table), an iron (so I can stop ironing on the coffee table), and some boxes for my notions (so I can stop leaving pinking shears on the couch and seam rippers on the floor). Pictures:

In addition, this is the pie I made last week for Marie's birthday:

Chocolate Pomegranate with fresh berries. It's (mostly) Vegan (except for 3 tablespoons of milk in the crust, which can be subbed out with soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, or whatever your favorite milk substitute happens to be).

The recipe is one of my staples, as it is infinitely variable based on what kind of chocolate flavor combinations you like. You could have chocolate-amaretto, chocolate orange (garnished with mandarin orange slices, perhaps), mocha (with vanilla ice cream on top), chocolate-cinnamon. It looks and slices like a French Silk pie, but is in fact about 100 times more chocolately and not at all creamy or heavy (it has no cream in it, so the richness is all from the chocolate, not from eggs or milk, like in a silk pie).

Recipe as follows:


2 cups flour
2/3 cups oil (vegetable, sunflower, etc. I wouldn't use olive oil, peanut oil, or anything that has a strong flavor of it's own, unless you wanted that flavor to carry through)
3 tblspns milk or milk substitute
pinch salt
--mix the oil and milk in one dish and the flour and salt in a big bowl. Add the oilymilk to the saltyflour and mix with hands until it forms a ball. It should be the texture of wet clay. Roll between two sheets of wax paper (srsly. do not skip this step or you will be spatulaing this crust off your counter tops with a spatula in chunks), invert onto pie plate and trim. Bake completely. Set aside to cool.


1 pkg silken tofu
2 bars unsweetened baking chocolate (I like the ghirdelli 100% cacoa bars. Generally speaking, the better the chocolate, the better this pie will be. This is a decadent pie--buy good chocolate!)
1-2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tblspns (or more, or less, to taste) confectioner's sugar
flavoring (in this case, one and a half bottles of Pom pomegranate juice--the ones that come in the little squatty bottles--cooked over the stove until reduced to a syrup)

In a food processor or blender, process tofu until completely smooth. Melt chocolate over burner in a pot or in the microwave (if it starts to look dry, add some butter, margarine, or other oil). Combine with tofu in processor. Add vanilla extract, then other flavoring (in this case, pom syrup) and continue to process. Add confectioner's sugar one tblspn at a time, tasting after each spoonful. If it isn't sweet enough, add more, if it starts to get too sweet, stop adding.

The vanilla I find keeps the chocolate tasting smooth. You can use granulated sugar too, but I like the confectioner's because it has some cornstarch in it, which helps the pie set. If the concoction looks too watery, you can add a teaspoon or two of cornstarch to help it set even further.

Pour into prepared pie shell and smooth top. Garnish with fruit, or whatever is handy and looks/tastes nice. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

15 January 2009

Pedagogy, or Why I Have No Direction in Life

Currently, I have no job. Partly this is because I finished my Master's degree and have moved cities twice in the past 5 months. Mostly it is (I think) because I have no idea what I want to do with my life. [note: I feel I should clarify that before I moved to Philadelphia I had two jobs, so the internets should not get the idea that I am completely lazy].

Before I went to England last year, I thought I wanted to go on to get a PhD in late 19th century British Literature. Sometimes I think I still might want to do that, but at several points in time last year (once when I was opening the Kelmscott edition of Sigurd the Volsung, once when I was standing on the landing of the V&A with Anne, watching some museum workers refurbish the cast court collection, and some other times as well) I began to second guess myself about things. I want to learn things, and I want to teach things, but I don't know if I want to be a professor.

So now the odyssey of life. I'm taking some time off to work (if I can find a job--damn you economy!), to learn about new things, and figure out what I actually want to do with the rest of my life.

It's a frustrating task, I think, in part, because actually I know exactly what I want to do in life. I want to bake pies and sew things. I want to read books and be excited about them, and maybe even write books of my own, not for any purpose but just to write them. I want to create bad art and good conversation. I want, in short, this:

Then last night because I couldn't sleep I was reading Lady's copy of 1066 and All That, which has the following to say in the introduction about history:

"History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember. All other history defeats itself."

And the first thing I thought when I read this was, "wouldn't this be a great first day discussion for a history class?" So many great places you could take that discussion: What history can you remember? What is the purpose of history if you can't remember it? What is the purpose of history? What did you think history was before this statement told you differently? Is history self-defeating? How do we remember the history we thought we knew but really forgot? Does history remain history if some people remember it but not all people?

Then there is this post on Historiann about history classrooms, pedagogy, and investigative teaching methods, which also made me really excited about teaching.

There is no point to this post, except perhaps that whether or not I ever get a PhD, maybe I do want to teach and that also I am still of the opinion that occupation is a way overrated way to plan your life. And also that I want to be employed. The End.

Tricia Helfer

Internet, meet Tricia Helfer. Tricia Helfer, meet the internet.

I'll be posting more about her later, but for now, I just wanted you all to be able to experience her majesty.

08 January 2009

Tangerine Tarte Tatin

My flight back from Alabama was extremely bumpy and nausea-inducing, so I distracted myself with the January issue of Martha Stewart Living, which had a feature about varieties of oranges and other citrus fruits. Her recipes were fine and all, but what I really wanted was pie, so I made this guy up:

Tangerine Tarte Tatin:

6 medium-sized tangerines, sliced
2 tangerines, juiced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup orange liquor (I used cointreau, but anything would work)
1 cup sugar
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
puff pastry

I boiled the sliced tangerines for about 3 minutes to make the rinds soft, then drained the water off and set them on a paper towel. Then I melted the butter in a skillet, added the sugar, orange liquor, and juice until it started to bubble, then added the sliced tangerines. Cooked all that together until it started to smell extra delicious and a little caramelly. Unfortunately for me, I don't own a tatin pan, so I used a cake tin--arranged the tangerines in the bottom and then poured the juice over them, then covered that with the toasted almonds, and then fitted the puff pastry (cut to the size of the tin) over it. Baked at 425 for 20 minutes. Final step: let cool 10 minutes and then invert onto a plate.

It turned out really really well, although a little sweet. I think using a more tart variety of orange might help with that, and reducing the sugar a tish. I used store-bought puff pastry, 'cause I was being lazy, so there's that.

On the side I made a little bit of whipped cream with almonds--just a regular whipped cream recipe with almond extract added and then toasted slivered almonds folded in after it is whipped. All in all, a success!

02 January 2009

A box of tatters

So I have dragged out the giant box of unfinished objects I left behind me when I left the country last year. It's equal parts treasure trove and trash pit, so I've been sorting through pattern pieces, unfinished projects, bolts of fabric, notions, and literal rags for the past hour. Yeesh.

Amongst the ruins: the instructions for Simplicity 5240 (looks like a 70s pattern for a pant or skirtsuit) and the cut pieces of Simplicity 6885 (which also appears to be a 70s pattern for pants).

What should I do with these random bits, do you think?

01 January 2009


Did you know that the Hartford airport has free wifi? It does.

The Philadelphia airport, where I am currently holed up, does not. I am therefore reduced to coffee drinking and pecan-roll eating. I suppose it shouldn't alarm me that this pecan roll is awful, since I bought it in an airport, but I feel compelled to ask the world at large why on earth any baker would insist on making a pecan roll so slathered with a tar-like caramel that it is basically inedible unless you are gifted (cursed?) with teeth like the villain of that one Bond flick. I can't remember his name. Srsly. Do you remember this scene in one of the Harry Potter books where Hagrid gives Ron and Harry a bunch of treacle that he has made and they barely escape with mandibles intact? I'm pretty sure that the baker of this particular pecan roll invented some sort of Gumby-based technology so that ze could jump into the pages of that book and steal the recipe from Hagrid.

I'm on my way back to Birmingham--a day later than I was supposed to leave, due to weather. I'm tired and have the beginnings of a cold, but I'm happy to be traveling towards home. I miss my mother and have a suspicion that she has been working too hard lately. I miss my mother's cats. I miss Birmingham.

I think about cities a lot, probably most especially Birmingham. At some point when I was in high school, I woke up to the city in a way that I have never fully recovered from. Though I had moved around quite a bit through my childhood--living in different houses, going to different schools, allying myself with different parents--the city had been the one constant, the solid thing that was mappable, dependable. I have an allegiance to Birmingham that I will never have for another place, no matter how many years away from it I spend.

Like most allegiances, mine for Birmingham is perhaps misplaced--or, at least, based on false premises. It is not the only city I've ever lived in, or even the only city I've ever loved--I spent the first for years of my life in Macon, Georgia, and the four years of my undergraduate degree in Atlanta. But I still feel, somehow, that if the whole world were destroyed and only I survived, I'd miss Birmingham the most, its cicadas and its Shades Crest Road, the marquee of the Alabama Theater and the pothole on 19th Street.

I spent last year in London, earning a degree I have yet to use and now that I'm back I must admit that I spent the better part of my time there pining for things that felt familiar. Now that I've moved to Philadelphia, I find myself pining for London. I miss the bus that I took to the British Library every day and the Gherkin. I miss the market along Whitechapel High Street that I walked through every day and I miss coming home at night when it was packed up and gone, but you could still smell the fish from the fishmonger's stand when you passed its vacant spot. I miss the view from my kitchen window. I get sad and nostalgic listening to this song .

I'm currently re-reading Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, so I'll leave y'all with this as a final thought of the day:

"As I drew my ship out of London I knew I would never go there again. For a time I felt only sadness, and then, for no reason, I was filled with hope. The future lies ahead like a glittering city, but like the cities of the desert disappears when approached. In certain lights it is easy to see the towers and the domes, even the people going to and fro. We speak of it with longing and with love. The future. But the city is fake. The future and the present and the past exist only in our minds, and from a distance the borders of each shrink and fade like the borders of hostile countries seen from a floating city in the sky. The river runs from one country to another without stopping. And even the most solid of things and the most real, the best-loved and the well-known, are only hand-shadows on the wall. Empty space and points of light."