Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Piecing a Quilt

I have wanted to make a quilt for a long time. Old-fashioned patterns are my favorites, especially ones with simple color schemes. Quilts are restful things, and busy geometric patterns that set my mind in a whirl are not as appealing to me; likewise, many modern patterns are stunning, but seem to me more of a general textile art than traditional patchwork.

I would love to make an Oak-and-Reel quilt, since it's so pretty and such a good show-off piece for applique work, as well as having so many interesting 19th-century examples extant. Popular patterns from the 1920s and 30s are also fun, especially Dresden Plate and Cathedral Windows. After waffling about various patterns and almost deciding on Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, I fell back on a simple one which I have admired since girlhood: Single Irish Chain.

This webpage shows examples of the many variations of the Irish Chain. Mine is down towards the bottom, the double ninepatch set on point. A double ninepatch means that instead of alternating ninepatch blocks with blank blocks for the entire length of the quilt, the ninepatch blocks are formed into larger ninepatch blocks which are then alternated with very large blank blocks. Setting them on point means that instead of squares the entire way up and down, the quilt blocks are set as diamonds and finished at the borders with triangles. The diagrams on the website should be self-explanatory.

I strip-pieced this quilt in about a week and a half, against other distractions. Strip-piecing is a quick way of finishing a quilt top. Instead of making ninepatches out of nine actual little squares, with all the cutting that method would require, long strips are sewn together and then cut into rows. Once this is done, it takes only two seams to assemble a ninepatch instead of eight.
Long strips are sewn together and then cut into "rows." Shown is red-white-red. I also made white-red-white.
There are numerous sites that describe how to cut the strips, including seam allowances, for whatever size completed block is desired. I used the directions on this page for mine, since I wanted a 6" finished block.
two finished ninepatch blocks
My quilting fabrics are cut-up sheets from Wal-Mart, the basic poly-cotton ones in dark red and off-white. This saved me money, especially with this being a highly-experimental first quilt. Additionally, these sheets are color-fast and don't tend to shrink; I washed them together to pre-shrink just to see if there would be adverse results, and they came out fine. If I ever made a fancier quilt I would invest in fancier fabric, but for now I adhere to the historically-consistent idea that a good quilt can be made from whatever is at hand. From what I understand, I would not be able to machine-quilt this because of the thread-count, but since I plan to hand-quilt it, that won't affect this project.
a completed double ninepatch block, to be alternated with a white block of the same size
The finished quilt top will contain 75 single ninepatch blocks and fit a twin bed.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cold Cherry Soup ~ Cseresznyeleves


2½ lbs fresh cherries
cold water
lemon slice
2 Tb. sugar
1 Tb. flour
3 Tb. sour cream
heavy cream 

Remove stones from cherries and put them in a pot with just enough water to cover them. Sprinkle with sugar and add lemon. Simmer for ten minutes or until fruit is softened.

Combine sour cream and flour. Remove cherries from heat and dissolve sour cream mixture into the broth. Serve chilled, with sweetened whipped cream for garnish.

~*~

This refreshing cold fruit soup is my favorite summer recipe. I have adapted it over the years from The Paprikás Weiss Hungarian Cookbook, which three generations of my family keep for reference. Since I tend to make this by proportion instead of set measurements, I've tried to approximate the quantities here.

Traditionally, this soup is made with meggy, or sour cherries, which are not available in my region. The stones are often left in the cherries. This supposedly leaves the cherries themselves with more flavor, though I have found that this is not always the case. I prefer not to have to spit the stones out inelegantly as I eat it, and besides, whole cherries would not give the soup such a lovely color (or the broth such a juicy flavor).

The soup must be served cold. It is not meant to be sweet of itself, and most people enjoy it with whipped cream swirled on top. Hungarian cold fruit soups are not necessarily meant to be desserts and can be served as a first course.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Spinet Desk Restoration, Part II

Now that it's been a year to the day since I introduced this desk on this blog, it seems like time for an update. After working at it heavily for a couple months, I managed to get most of the large surfaces clear minus some touch-up areas.

[click here for Part I]

The body would have been a faster process if it could have been taken apart, but it wasn't meant to be disassembled. I could see how it went together, but prying it apart might have cracked the old wood. This means it was not possible to sand down the interior of the pigeonholes to the original wood. On most spinet desks I have seen, the middle two holes are usually drawers and the outer two are pigeonholes. I'm pretty sure this one was like that, but there's no sign that it ever had any drawers. Some models have four drawers, and this will become one of them.
The hinged part of the lid was removed for the process.
The lid and desktop are veneered in mahogany. It is slightly chatoyant, which keeps making me think I haven't sanded it enough until I look again and realize that the glimmer is inside the wood. It has a lovely color and silky texture which I hope will only be enhanced by a wood stain.
Reminds me of banana bread.
The other parts are a light wood with a grayish tinge. Not pine, but too soft for maple; it reminds me a little of aspen. My goal is to find a stain that blends the two types inconspicuously. I'm going dark enough with it that some of the nicks and blemishes will be hidden or at least minimized.
Here's the original pull in the desktop-- brass, to match the hinges. I was able to find an exact match for the one hinge that was missing. This will look beautiful against dark wood. Little details on plain furniture are delightful.
When I was nearly finished stripping the main surfaces, it suddenly occurred to me that a heat gun could be used on the legs. This would not have been a safe choice for the veneer, since it could warp and come unglued. The legs are each one solid piece of turned wood and I had not been looking forward to sanding them down individually. I thoroughly enjoyed using the heat stripper. Watching the paint bubble and peel was immensely satisfying, and it fell to the floor in hardened curls which could be swept up and thrown away-- no sticky mess, no residue, no rags. It even took the varnish off from beneath the paint so my sandpaper didn't gum up afterwards. Here's an in-progress shot of the transformation.
You can see the color difference between the legs and the veneer, at the bottom.
My current plan is to use a walnut-colored stain as the base and stain the mahogany surfaces first. I'll mix other stains with the walnut to approximate the color on the rest of the desk. I think dark brown is a sound choice as far as restoration goes, since I don't believe the desk was originally as black as the finish I uncovered: there would have been no point in veneering a desk if it were meant to look like black lacquer. For a topcoat I'll probably use semi-gloss polyurethane. I like darker woods and this will be pleasant and clean.

I do intend to finish this before July 12th of next year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mostly Red & Green

My garden has gone sorely neglected. This is the second year in a row when I have been excessively occupied during the planting season, and with the climate here being what it is, there's no time to catch up once that window closes. There's still plenty to enjoy. If there aren't many flowers, there's at least a good promise of some for next year. That's the nice thing about growing perennials.

I bought a rose bush last week and was a little surprised with myself. Red roses are my least favorite kind-- there's something gruesome about them, especially the darkest ones. This one was just cute. The blossoms are a little less than 1" across and grow in clusters. They look like little buttons, bright red, with a hint of white at the center-- cheerful red. There is no fragrance. I have no idea what kind it is. The man at the shop I bought it from called it a "miniature rose" and said I'd need to put it on a trellis. The leaves and blossoms are miniature even if the canes aren't; it looks as if it will reach a healthy size. At first I thought it might be a polyantha, but now I'm not so sure. The petals are very tight and angular, dainty in a stiff way, with none of the blowsy softness that I'm used to in polyanthas.
Polyantha?
Healthy green things are nice to see. Many of my plants are just as beautiful with their foliage as they are with their flowers. I occasionally trade through Dave's Garden with gardeners around the country, and a couple years ago I arranged to trade some elderberry bushes, which grow like weeds here, to a Texan gentleman for some beautyberry, which grows like weeds there. I had sent mine in the mail, but his weren't arriving. A week or so later he messaged me to say that he'd just been to the post office and would have gone sooner, but one of his fences had broken and the cattle got out, and as soon as he fixed it one of the cows learned how to jump over the fence and had to be auctioned. I think of this every time I walk by the place. Having plants from other people, and plants with stories behind them, makes a garden more special.
Callicarpa americana
My woodland garden is quietly thriving this year. I have no wooded areas large enough to naturalize, but one of my large willow oaks has picturesque roots and I have underplanted its deep shade with little native things that remind me of the mountains. This is a fine specimen of ebony spleenwort. The entire plant is no bigger than my hand. Nearby, but not in the frame, are little brown jug, cranefly orchids, green dragon, Christmas ferns, and celandine poppy.
Asplenium platyneuron
The most recent garden work I have done is to pot up nearly all my rose bushes. My flowerbed is too shady for them and they did not care for the soil. Additionally, I was given a 'Petite Lisette' from my grandparents' garden-- my first old garden rose-- and I am determined that it should thrive. Right now I have four large pots: one for 'Constanze Mozart,' two for 'Therese Bugnet,' and one for 'Petite Lisette.' Mrs. Mozart (known in the US as 'First Crush') is wanting to be dramatic over the change. Therese is as stoic as ever, and Lisette has a sweet little new leaf just coming.
Rosa 'Petite Lisette'
Outdoors the cicadas are droning endlessly now, but there are still birds busy in the early hours of the day. I heard the warbling vireos and the wrens this afternoon. Yesterday I found a little blue eggshell near the house. I'm not sure which bird precisely it belongs to, because robin eggs and catbird eggs look nearly the same and there is a nesting pair of both somewhere nearby. My understanding is that catbird eggs are glossier than robin eggs, which inclines me toward the latter in this case, but many eggs begin to lose their color and sheen after hatching. Catbirds are much more secretive of their nests than robins; I have walked by a robin's nest and watched the incubating parent without causing alarm, but I once made eye contact with a catbird which I knew had a nest hidden somewhere nearby and the creature remained motionless until I had gone back indoors.
Some summer toadstools are popping up here and there in the yard. Photographing all the different kinds is fun. This picturesque one popped up in my woodland garden right beside a bleeding-heart. I believe this one is an agaric of some sort. Mushroom-hunting has always sounded fun to me and I do wonder how wild mushrooms taste. I can identify morels and caesar's mushroom beyond a shadow of a doubt, but every time I see any they're simply too beautiful to pick. Any other type of mushroom is too much of a risk for me.
Amanita. It's always safe to guess they're amanitas.
Perhaps my fall-blooming plants will give a good show. In the meantime, there's still plenty of marvelous little things to find and admire if I can keep away the mosquitoes and stop my camera lens from fogging.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Walk in the Garden

Spring came late this year. Winter was consistently cold, and while it warmed up briefly at the beginning of the year, we did have snow early in March-- uncommon for this region. My flowering quince usually blooms by January, but it was almost February before it had lots of buds opening.
Chaenomeles speciosa
I bought a pearl-bush a couple years ago and it's finally large enough to bloom. The plant gets its common name from the flower buds, which swell in perfect little spheres along the stem. The flowers themselves are large and pure white, with a crepe-y texture that glistens in the light. This bush has a sprawling, informal growth habit and looks good naturalized or as a softening touch within a border.
Exochorda 'Snow Day Blizzard'
These jonquil-type narcissi came from a bag of mystery mixed daffodils which I bought on clearance. There are 7-12 flowers per bud and they're very cheery things. They were my first daffodils to bloom this year, opening even before 'Tete-a-Tete.' Every single one of my daffodils waited until February, which is a sign of how cold our winter was.
My sweet-betsy bloomed late this year, too. It can go from bare twigs one week to little buds the next. It has a "severe" form, upright, in winter, but the leaves soften it. The flowers smell like strawberry yogurt and are a lovely shade of burgundy-brown, uncommon in spring. I had to photograph it on a cloudy day because of the glare-- the new leaves emerge shiny, and the leathery flowers have hairs that catch the light as well.
Calycanthus floridus 'Michael Lindsey'
I bought this rosebush on clearance a few years ago-- it's the 'Peach Drift' groundcover rose. I'm not sure what to think of it, to this day. It is a hardy bush and blooms reliably, but this one seems to be diseased. Initially, the flowers look lovely, but after a few days dark pink speckles appear. It reminds me of botrytis blight, but there's never any moldy appearance to the foliage and the flowers themselves don't look "blighted"-- just speckled. 
Rosa 'Meiggili'
My irises bloomed for Easter this year. They are my favorite flower in the garden and for the brief two weeks that they are in bloom I am constantly going out to enjoy them. They have done fairly well in their part-shade space but they might need some sort of fertilizer because only a few of them flowered this year.
They each have a slightly different fragrance. These brownish-burgundy ones smell like root beer and the white ones are strong and lemony. Bearded irises are my favorite kind because of the fragrance; other varieties of irises don't have the same appeal. There are so many strongly-scented flowers that actually smell terrible to me-- hyacinths, wisterias, and lilacs, to name a few. 
Did you know that there are names for the parts of an iris? The upright petals are standards and the lower are falls. The bristles, of course, are the beards. They almost sound like heraldic terms. Which reminds me that at some point I need to do a lengthy post about flower symbolism in medieval art, focusing on irises in particular. These white ones are my favorite. Even though I sometimes get distracted by fancier cultivars and color combinations, I always return to these.  I don't know of any other flower which is so entirely, spotlessly pure. The towering whiteness reminds me of thunderheads in the summertime. 
My garden is full of birds, too. Every year, grackles nest in the top of the loblolly pine tree at the end of the driveway. They are noisy birds with an abrupt, irritating call like a squeaky hinge. They nest in colonies but I can't see up through the branches to count how many are there; I am guessing at least five pairs. This ugly little fledgling was sitting in a willow oak shrieking to be fed. Its plumage will come in iridescent black and its eyes will turn bright yellow when it is mature.
Quiscalus quiscula 
There's also a pair of mourning doves that nests in the dogwood tree which hangs over the fence from the neighbors' yard. Mourning doves are utilitarian builders and their nests, albeit plain, are strong. I've read about doves reusing nests within the same season, but as far as I can tell this same nest has been on this same branch for at least four years and they're still using it. Roadside trees are listed as a favorite nesting site, and this one is about a foot from the curb. They are not disturbed by cars, trash bins, or foot traffic.
According to the Peterson field guide Eastern Birds' Nests, the male usually incubates during the day and the female from dusk to dawn. I frightened him even though I was used a zoom lens for this shot and learned that these are some of those birds that flail around with drooping wings to distract predators from the nest. The nest was too high to examine and I did not want to disturb the birds any more, so I reached my arm up and over for this picture. Oak twigs, with an inner basket of sewn pine needles: nothing fancy, and no lining materials. It has lasted almost five years and a hurricane, so I'd say it does the job.
This picture is so placid and calming for some reason that I keep coming back to it.
I have some under-construction photos of my garden coming up, along with lists of new plants for this season.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

'20s in Tweed

Pleated skirts are classic. I like how they can be fitted at the waist and sit smoothly at the hips, but not cling tightly while sitting or striding. Gathers are bunchy to me, and unless they're for something pre-20th-century-- in which case it's long and petticoated enough to offset the waist-- I really prefer pleats. I frequently look through patterns in thrift stores; there are seldom any older than 1970, but once in a while I'll turn up a gem. This one was in girls' sizes, but view #3, with the two inverted box pleats on the front, attracted me immediately. The disintegrating envelope contained only the directions, but these were intact and included diagrams of what the missing pieces looked like. For only 99¢ it was worth taking home as a reference.
Simplicity #1783, from 1956, via Etsy
One thrift store which I frequent keeps a shelf of fabric scraps and remnants. I often donate my own there and sometimes pick things out for new projects. This one caught my eye especially: a plain-weave wool tweed for $2.00. Tweed is my favorite material and I would have all my clothing made of it if it were more readily available. This piece was 44" wide doubled, and just over a yard long-- enough for the skirt, if I cut it carefully. There was no room for error: this is old fabric with no stretch in it whatsoever.
It's a rusty reddish brown with oyster-cream-- warm and autumnal.
At some point before starting work on the skirt, I happened to be re-watching some Jeeves & Wooster episodes and noticed a skirt in one of the episodes which seemed to be constructed on the same general principle. I can't tell if there's top-stitching or not, and there are two pleats in the back as well (#1783 only has one). It is also slightly a-lined, which I liked. Pencil skirts are difficult to fit to my body type, and I was worried that even with pleats a form-fitting skirt might be uncomfortable. This one looked nice, though; it's designed off a late 1920s golf dress.
"To qualify as Miss Wickham's husband, a gentleman should be possessed of a commanding personality and considerable strength of character."
"Exactly, Jeeves! Condemned out of your own mouth!"
The front is pieced in five: a front panel, two front-side panels, and two insets for the inverted box pleats. I didn't have enough material to fold the outer fabric all the way from the pleat to the waistband, but that's the beauty of it-- I could cheat a little bit. Here's the underside.
I managed to cut around all the moth-holes and weird sunbleached bits.
Originally, I thought there wouldn't be enough material to include a pleat at the back, but there was just enough. It really surprised me how far I could make that little bit of fabric go-- there's even extra material inside if I should ever wish to enlarge it. Here's a view of the back pleat, with the topstitch going up to the waist.
I hemmed it by hand. The woven selvage was pretty enough to leave, but the hem looks crisper.
The waistband worried me a bit because there wasn't a strip left which was long enough for the entire thing and I had to piece it together out of three. It doesn't show at all, though. I did put some interfacing inside it for support. I decided against an invisible zipper since I planned to match the topstitching anyway. The button is one from an old collection I bought in a 1960s coffee jar-- nothing antique and nothing particularly exciting, but good and plain and serviceable. 
Probably my nicest and most patiently-done waistband ever.
 I did fully line this skirt, since tweed is awful against the skin and I had planned to wear it in cooler weather. Lining is something I do for most garments anyway; it helps them sit better and looks more finished on the inside. Here it is! I've already worn it to work several times and it is quite comfortable.
I usually wear a cardigan buttoned over the waistband.
 When there's a bit of a breeze or I'm moving around the pleats open up some, so I have lots of mobility.
I'm pleased with the way this came out-- it's the first sewing project I've sat down and completed in a long time which came out exactly how I had hoped. That's always an inspiration to go on and finish the rest of them.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Saga of the Shed: a brief history

Here is my new garden site as it appeared late in the summer of 2015. It wasn't until clearing away some of the brush to plant the peonies that I realized what a nice corner it would make for my entire garden, since it received balanced amounts of sun and shade and afforded a greater degree of privacy than my current flowerbed. The one drawback of the location was the eyesore shed. The outside was pristine compared to the inside, which was too dilapidated and filthy to use for real storage needs. One of the doors had broken off and had to be held up with a broomstick jammed through the handles. This doozy was visible from the main thoroughfare six blocks away.
Coming up the street, it looked as if Our Lady were riding the broom. That was when we knew it had to go.
My perennials were mostly in place by the end of 2015. I had hurried to get them moved before cold weather set in, only to end up with a drastically mild winter. Everything was in a hodge-podge and I had no plan whatsoever, though I did amend the soil with some peat moss and a few bags of manure. I enlarged the iris bed and moved in a few dozen more. The pedestal for the statue used to belong to an old broken bird bath. I really should straighten it out one of these days.
The only reason that the shed was standing on the concrete pad in the first place was that it had been nailed there.
An ice storm last January left us with a sizable amount of debris. It wasn't until a week later when everything had thawed out that I saw the full extent of the damage. On entering the shed for a branch trimmer, I found that a huge limb from a loblolly pine had crushed the roof. I was elated. A kind neighbor with a chainsaw helped to remove it. Almost forty minutes had passed before we could even get it to budge.
The cat used it as a stately pleasure-dome.
I would have removed the shed immediately, but the screws holding it together had rusted into the metal in many places and were so weather-worn on top that a screwdriver had nothing to grip. They had to be located from inside and beaten out with a hammer. I removed the panels from two sides and laid them away to use as roofing for the screen room we hope to build sometime in the future. The rest of it I tore down and beat to pieces between grueling sessions of work on a graduate portfolio. I did cut my hand rather badly in the process.

To save myself a trip to the scrapyard or dump, I took a picture of the twisted heap that remained-- roof, walls, doors, and framework-- and put it on Craigslist for free. A gnarly-looking and excessively polite gentleman disassembled and removed it to build a trailer for his rat rod car. This is not the first time I have listed something as "Free" just to have it carted away.
Now we're getting somewhere.
This is the garden wall I built last week as the first phase in my new design. It's made of broken concrete sidewalk pieces which were buried at the back of our yard; I believe they were used to hold down landscaping plastic which was then covered in mulch, about 30 years ago. This past summer I salvaged a truckload of broken cinderblock which gives the wall a bit more height. It all blends together nicely and I love its irregularity. It adds some much-needed upward dimension in the garden and has a nicer effect than lining all the "rocks" up in a flat meandering border. The top layer on the wall has some yellow lichen growing on it. I'd like to try moss on the shady side and some pockets of succulents in the larger gaps. There is about 16' of chain-link fence between the wall and the bushes at the back and I might try to build a panel of wattle fencing to conceal it. The gap at the end of the privet hedge will eventually be concealed by a summerhouse.

The arbor is built of scrap wood, some from the shed when we moved in and some leftover from projects. Carolina jasmine is starting up the left side and 'Lady Banks' up the right. Both are a little slower-growing than I thought they'd be but will look beautiful someday. In the meantime I might try some morning glories to make it look less barren.

I still have a long way to go but am pleased with the view so far.