Friday, November 22, 2013

Best Sweet Potato Gnocchi (gnocch on wood)!

Thanksgiving dinner for me this year will be spent back home in Ohio with the family.  Cincinnati will be a convergence zone for friends & family to meet up for the big Turkey din-din!  Heading over from Pittsburgh, PA, is the Italian side of my family- my Dad's side.  We have our little traditions in this side of the family- like my Aunt B's homemade Italian Wedding Soup.  It's been far too long since I've slurped up this 'bumbi'-goodness.  On a side note, in our family, we call the little pastina pasta in this soup, 'bumbis'.  So when my mother put me in charge of making the sides for Thanksgiving, I immediately thought of another Italian family tradition of ours-- gnocchi!!

Gnocchi has a special connection to Thanksgiving for me.  It was with the leftover mashed potatoes that my Aunt B passed down the family gnocchi recipe to me the year I was in 8th grade.  I still remember her making a mini-Mt. Vesuvius mountain of mashed potatoes on the marble cutting board, with an egg or two posing as the 'lava' in the middle well of the potatoes.  Then there was the Thanksgiving when I was in my mid-twenties and wanted to impress my family with my gnocchi prowess.  My mom's side of the family (5 sisters) were having a mini-reunion that year at our house and I wanted to serve gnocchi as a side.  Oh what a disaster that turned out to be.  I made the gnocchi ahead of time, froze it, then defrosted it and dumped it in the boiling water and giant mush-balls of potato/flour mixture plopped up in the pot.  I was so embarrassed with my kitchen catastrophe, but being the sweet family that I have, everyone ate it and pretended to like it.

So this year, I thought, I'm gonna 'gnocch'-it out of the park with a tried and true gnocchi recipe!  I settled on Giada De Laurentiis' Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter, because it had sweet potatoes, a different twist on a Thanksgiving classic.  Having suffered an epic gnocchi fail during a past Thanksgiving dinner preparation, I thought I'd better practice this recipe.  I am sure glad I did!  The first few times I attempted the recipe, one was a total flop and the other was an ok, back to the cutting board moment.  I needed to do some research on making no-fail gnocchi and consulted the interwebs.

Having sifted through the interwebs, I found there were three key elements in making the perfect gnocchi dumplings.
1)  Use as little flour as possible or else the gnocchi will be heavy and not light & pillowy.
2)  Your potatoes should be as dry as possible, not watery and full of moisture or the dough will be too sloppy.
3)  Handle the gnocchi dough as little as possible.

Wow! I thought.  After all these years, I had developed gnocchi-making skills that were the polar opposite of this advice above.  Ok, time to break from the norm!

After 3 times of making sweet potato gnocchi for the past few weeks, my 3rd time was the charm.
Here's what I did....

First, I invested in a potato ricer (bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $8.00), and a wooden gnocchi board.  If you have an awesome mom like mine, she'll send you this as a gift, but you can find them on, too.

For this trial batch, I used a large Sweet Potato (the light yellow kind), about 9 inches long and 4 inches at the widest part, and I used a small Russet Potato (half the size of the Sweet Potato).  I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F, lined a baking sheet with aluminum foil, sliced the potatoes in half, and before I put the potatoes on the sheet, I made a bed of rock salt on which the potatoes would bake.  I read this somewhere on the web as advice to dry out the potatoes.  I cooked the potatoes for about an hour to and hour and 15 minutes, when you could stick a fork in the potatoes to check that they're soft.

I let the potatoes cool a little bit, but while they were still hot, I peeled off the skin and scooped out the flesh, putting the flesh into the ricer, a few batches at a time.  I pressed the ricer through, allowing the potato to pour out into a large mixing bowl.  After I had done this with all the potatoes, I added about a tablespoon of nutmeg, a tablespoon of cinnamon, a dash of salt, and about 1/2 cup of flour.  I worked this into the potatoes, but was careful not to over-handle the mixture.  Once it was all mixed in, I dusted a board with flour and put the large dough ball on to  it.  I added about a 1/4 cup more of flour into the mix and worked it into the dough, being careful to not over-work the dough.  Once the dough wasn't so sticky, I broke it off into 3 balls.  With these three balls, I broke them into smaller balls and rolled each of them into snakes that were 3/4" thick. Make sure you continue to dust your board with flour before rolling the balls into snakes.

I cut the dough snakes into little dumplings- about 1" in length.  Out of the large sweet potato & russet potato mixture, I was able to get 61 dumplings.  I rolled the dumplings over a gnocchi board, curving them inward at the edges, creating a little crevasse on the inside of the gnocchi dumpling.  The outside ridges of the gnocchi dumpling are meant to hold the sauce on the pasta.  If you don't have a gnocchi board, you can use the tines of a fork to create ridges.  I put the gnocchi dumplings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, dusted with flour.

I filled a large pot with water, added salt, and waited until it reached a rolling boil.  I boiled the gnocchi dumplings- about 20 at a time, 3 batches each, in the water.  Plop them in the pot, and then they'll rise when they're close to being cooked.  When they rise in the water- let them cook about 30 seconds to a minute before removing them.  With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi and put them on a plate, tenting them with aluminum foil to trap their heat.

For the sauce, I loosely followed Giada's recipe for the Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter sauce.  For this batch, I melted 1/2 cup of butter on low heat in a saucepan, then added a few tablespoons of olive oil.  I threw in some fresh chopped sage then added a 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon and a 1/2 tablespoon of nutmeg.  A pinch of salt was also added, then 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.  I let it sautee on low heat while the gnocchi cooked.  Each time I had cooked a batch of gnocchi, I added those dumplings into the sauce to cook for a few minutes on each side, then transferred them to a bowl.

Once all of the gnocchi was cooked, sauteed in the sauce, and transferred to a bowl, I added the last bit of the sauce on top of the contents of the bowl.  This could easily serve 2 people-  around 30 dumplings each.  I grated some fresh Toscano cheese on top and voila!  Soft, pillowy, maple, cinnamon, butter goodness!  This was delectable!!

So now that I've got my Gnocchi making down to a science, I don't wanna lose it.  I better 'gnocch-gnocch-gnocch' on wood!  Prepare to get your Turkey Day groove-on and ride on down the Gnocchi soul train!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Maneki See, Maneki Do: EZ Maneki-Neko Costume Tutorial

Three more days 'til it's Halloween and you don't have a costume?!  Well fret no more 'cuz you're in luck, kitten.  I've got a super quick 'n easy costume you can make in one evening-- the Lucky-Cat to be exact, or Maneki-Neko (in Japanese).  You know, those cute little ubiquitous kitties that sit in the window of your favorite [insert here: sushi, thai, ramen, pho, etc..etc] restaurant.  Maneki-Neko literally translates as 'beckoning cat' in Japanese.  So come hither, my crafty-cat, and I'll take you step by step in the making of a Maneki-Neko costume!

About 3 years ago I was scrambling to figure out what to be for Halloween and literally whipped this puppy, oops I mean kitty out in a matter of a few hours as I watched the finale episode of Project Runway Season 8 where Mondo Guerra loses to Gretchen Jones.  Boo-Hoo to that, I was rooting for Team Mondo, but perhaps my disgust for the outcome fueled me to create a masterpiece in the same vain as my favorite PR designer, Mondo, so here's what I came up with!

Please note, my version of this costume requires sewing knowledge and experience.  If you lack that or you have a fear of needles, by all means, I encourage you to recreate this by stapling, duct-taping, safety-pinning, hot-gluing, and painting

What you'll need:
-White OverSized Hoodie Sweatshirt (The one I'm wearing in the pic is a Size Men's XX Large.  I'm petite- 5'3"- to give you perspective)
-Another White Sweatshirt size Adult Large and up (this is used to make the leg warmers and the ears and 4 paws and the white in the eyes).
-Black felt- 7 sheets of 8.5" x 11"
-Tan felt- 2 sheets of 8.5" x 11"
-Yellow felt- 1 sheet of 8.5" x 11"
-Polyfill stuffing (for paws)
-One pack of yellow rick-rack trim- 1/2" wide
-Large Jinglebell- 3 1/2" diameter
-Red Metallic Fabric- 1/4 yard
-Green Metallic Fabric- 1/4 yard
-Gold Metallic Fabric- 1/2 yard

- Measure the length of your knee to below your ankle.  Take this measurement and measure from the sleeve band up the sleeve on your other white sweatshirt that you are not using to make the Maneki-Neko costume. Mark the measurement on the sleeve, then cut across the sleeve.  Ta-Da!  Leg warmers!
The Sleeve Band will be used to keep the leg warmer in place at your knee.

Now let's start with the Maneki-Neko Ears.....

The ear template is sized on my costume at 5.25" width at the bottom and 5" from top point to bottom.
Cut a front and back for each ear out of the white sweatshirt that you use to make your leg warmers.  That's a total of 4 ear pieces.  Make sure you flip the ear template when making the other side of the ear so you don't have 2 of the same ear shapes.  The front and back of each ear will be the same side of the knit sweatshirt fabric.  Sew the front and back together. I used a zig zag stitch to top stitch them, with raw edges.
You will cut 2 red metallic fabric pieces of the inner ears.  Remember, flip the ear template for the other side so that the other inner ear is mirrored. Sew the inner ears in the middle of the white outer ears.
There's a 1/2" seam allowance at the bottom of the ears.  Fold this under, then wear your hoodie over your head and pin the ears where you desire.  You will sew the ears on to your hoodie at the seam allowance.  See lower left pic below showing the seam allowance.

 Now on to the Maneki-Neko eyes....

The eye template on my costume below is size at 4" at the widest part across and 2.75" from top to bottom.  When you cut the eyes, remember to mirror them for each side.  The eyes are cut from the black and yellow felt.  The whites of the eyes are cut from the scrap sweatshirt (use for making leg warmers).  Glue all pieces together.  Try your hoodie on again and pin the eyes on where you desire.  Sew the tops of the eyes on to the edge of the hoodie.  I used a zig zag stitch to top stitch them onto the hoodie.
Now on to the Maneki Neko Bib....

Take some tracing paper or parchment paper to trace the bib neck template using the neckline from your sweatshirt.  On my costume, the red metallic band is 2.25" wide, while the green metallic bib is 8.5" from top to bottom by 12" at widest point across.  Please note, the green bib is placed below the red neck band.  You will spot glue your green bib down on the sweatshirt.  Baste stitch it down with your sewing machine.  Take the yellow rick-rack trim and cover the edge of the green bib.  Spot glue or pin in place.  Then top stitch it down. Place the red neckband down on top by spot gluing.  I top-stitched this with a zig-zag stitch on my costume.  Add the yellow rick-rack trim on top in the middle of the red neck band and top stitch it down.  Now you can sew the oversized jingle bell.  Use a heavier thread like embroidery floss to hand stitch it to the neckline.

Now on to the coin...
The coin on my costume is sized at 11" across in width by 15.5" tall.  I cut the coin out of the gold fabric, the black kanji characters are cut from black felt.  I hot-glued the felt onto the gold metallic.  Then I placed the coin on my sweatshirt hoodie as I desired (I tilted it), pinned it to the sweatshirt and topstitched the edge with a zig zag stitch.

 Now on to the Paws...
You will have a total of 4 paws- 2 for the sleeves, and 2 for the bottoms of the leg warmers.
The paws on my costume are sized at 7" across by 4.5" from top to bottom.  Cut a front and back out of the scrap sweatshirt fabric for each of the front paws.  You will be cutting a total of 8 paws.  Make sure you mirror them for each side- left and right.   Cut the fingernails out of the gold fabric and glue on to each paw.  I also sewed each fingernail on to the paw, as well.  I topstitched the front and back of each paw, but left and opening to stuff some polyfill stuffing in each paw to give it a puffy 3d effect.  Once I got the puffiness that I desired, I closed the hole up by top stitching with a zig zag stitch.  I pinned each paw where I desired on to the edge of the sleeves of the hoodie and then at the bottom raw edge hem of the leg warmers and top stitched the edges of the paws to hold them in place.
And finally, the Spots!
You will cut a total of 4 Spots-- 2 for the arms, 2 for the leg warmers.  The size on my spots is 4.5" wide by 6.5".  Cut out of the tan felt, then cut the black felt pieces and hot glue them in the middle.  I hot-glued the spots to my hoodie sleeves (near the elbows) and hot-glued them to the leg warmers just below the knees.

And voila!!!  You have just completed an adorable Maneki-Neko costume!  Well done, kit-kat!  Now have yourself a happy Halloween and send me a pic of your creation!

I wore white tights under my hoodie and also wore a white demi-mask on my face, on which I glued a little pink felt nose, to complete the look!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Be Like the Squirrel: Personalized Applique Pillow

Summer's fading into autumn and the sun is gearing up to hibernate behind the Seattle rainclouds for the next 9 months.  No more excuses for me to play out in the sun all day.  Time to make like a little squirrel, gather up all of my project ideas like little acorns, and prepare for a winter sequester in my sewing nest.  My most recent project was accomplished in one day over the weekend, pictures snapped of it before being wrapped up in a brown paper package and mailed off to my dear friend Kevin.  This would be a housewarming gift for him.

Kevin and I go way back in our friendship.  Somewhere between the Never-Never-Land phase and Reality Bites phase of our early adulthoods, we crossed paths as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshmen at the University of Cincinnati.  We lived on the same floor at Daniels Residence Hall and upon meeting Kevin, I was instantly drawn to his whimsical, spontaneous, goofy energy.  I still chuckle thinking back about how he decorated his dorm room-- he brought with him to college a box of random props:  action figurines from McDonald Happy Meals of years past, Pizza Hut promotional sunglasses, and a whole array of other nonsense.  Whenever I hung out with Kevin, our inner creative children intertwined in a carefree playfulness- sometimes to the point that it would confuse or piss off innocent bystanders.  We laughed the same laugh & spoke the same language....and if that's the case, I must have had a thick Long Island accent (like Kevin's) in a past life.
Props to from Kevin:
L: Graduation Gift?  No(kia)-sir-ree!! Fischer Price plastic red toy phone (with drinking straw antennae) will do for now.
R: Kevin struts out in Over The Rhine (Cincinnati) in a dapper ensemble of red plastic lei, gold caution tape, and green Elton John-esque specs- karma, karma chameleon!
Through all those years since we met, Kevin and I have remained close friends even if we've lived at opposite ends of the Continental U.S.  I guess we're stuck with each other.  And when you throw my bestie Meredith into this mix, it's just madness and mayhem.  I'm surprised we haven't been committed to an institution yet.

I know when I pick up the phone to talk with Kevin, I'll be hanging up with abs of steel and a weak bladder.  Soon after talking with him, my trials & tribulations are quickly forgotten & become trivial.  We entertain each other with silly stories about life's conundrums that we encounter as we leave the state of Reality Bites and venture off to the silly, nonsensical tangents of Never-Never-Land.  Serious belly-laughter to the point of almost peeing your pants can be a real pick-me-up after a lousy day of being an adult. ;)
Sometimes shopping cart donuts in the parking lot with Kevin are a real mood booster too.
Recently, Kevin made a big hop from New York City to Cincinnati.  After years of dealing with the stressful hustle-bustle of Manhattan, Kevin preferred to live in a more relaxed environment and moved back to the Midwest.  Opportunity came knocking on my door, and I decided to make him a housewarming present for his new Cincy digs.

So back to the drawing board I went and off to the sewing machine....

And voila-- an applique of a Snaggle-toothed Monster Squirrel ready to pounce on a cityscape was created in Kevin's honor!

Squirrels have become another goofy addition to my friendship with Kevin.  Ok, that sounds kinda weird, I admit, but there's always a story behind it.  It started when Kevin and I went back home to my parents house.  My parents lived 25 minutes north of U.C., I had wheels, and we were frequent visitors whenever dorm food or top ramen wasn't sounding like an appetizing option.  We must have been chilling in the family room watching TV when Kevin discovered a stuffed squirrel just chilling in the branches of a plant.  This was not a plush squirrel, it was a stuffed squirrel that my little brother made in a summer activity class on Taxidermy.  Rather than it collect dust in the attic, My parents would just let it perch in their plant to show off my brother's talent.  Once Kevin got a hold of it, you would have thought this was the next best thing since sliced bread!!  
So when I was shopping at an outlet mall a few months later, I came across a life-size plastic squirrel figurine at the Nature Company's outlet store.  Ah, perfect I thought!  It was on clearance and I knew Kevin would love it.  I walked past it on the shelf to grab one and as soon as I walked by, I heard a little squirrel garble-chuckle noise.  When I reached for the box it came packaged in, I read that this was a motion detector squirrel that gave off a little squirrelly-chirp when it sensed motion.  Oh man, even more perfect!!!  I could only imagine the hi-jinks that would ensue once this squirrel was in the hands of prankster Kevin.
And the squirrel shenanigans did ensue......almost costing Kevin a job.  Kevin was working in the office of the EPA in Cincinnati on one of his co-ops, or internships, during college.  He brought the motion detector squirrel to work one day and when no one was looking, shoved it up inside the ceiling panels in the office.  For almost a week, Kevin had gotten away with bloody murder as people would hear this mysterious little chirp and have no idea where it was coming from.  I can't remember the exact details, but I want to say maintenance was called on a few separate occasions to search for the root of the chirpy noises.  All the staff were perplexed and the whole office was disrupted.  Finally the squirrel was found up inside the ceiling and Kev's boss was not laughing anymore.  Kevin got a stern talking-to, but luckily didn't lose his job.  
Anytime I see a squirrel, I can't help but think of Kevin.  I decided that his housewarming gift had to be a squirrel.

Just as Kevin returns to Cincinnati.....The Squirrel invades the city, once again!

One thing I've appreciated about my friendship with Kevin, is that when I'm around him I can drop all of my adult problems and play like a kid again.  I guess you could say I can be like the squirrel.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What's Red and White and Everything Blue?

Something doggone cute, that's what!

As a designer, crafter, and sewist, I'm super lucky to be working for a textile company like Clothworks!  Not only am I surrounded by oodles of fabric which prompts me to go off in 'creative la-la-land' every once and a while, but I get to step up to the plate and use my mad crafter skills when something like the Everything Blue Block Hop comes along!
In honor of the upcoming launch of Clothworks designer Marsha McCloskey's gorgeous new collection called Everything Blue, our marketing coordinator Susie coordinated a Block Hop using fabrics from this collection.  All the blocks contributed in this block hop will be pieced together to form a quilt that will be donated to a charitable organization.  Follow along at Clothworks blog, The Works, to see what the other participants cook up in the Everything Blue Block Hop!

We had just a few stipulations for the blocks in order to participate in the block hop.  The finished blocks had to meet a 10.5" or 12.5" square format, needed to use up to 3 fabrics from the Everything Blue fabric collection, and could use 3 additional fabrics of our choice that were either red, white, or blue.  We were given free reign to come up with whatever design on the block that we desired.  Oh yay, I thought!!  I've made a few simple pieced quilts in my day, but my real strength lies in my applique designs.  I love combining my artistic/ sketching talents with my eye for color to create striking applique designs.  And one more thing I love......PUPPIES!!!!
So 'Who let the Dogs Out?!!  Woof-woof-woof-woof-woof!'  Why me, of course!
The Red-White-and-Blue Tri-Color palette inspired me to create 2 different appliqued blocks-  one with a French Bulldog and one with a Boston Terrier, the American Gentleman.  I really had a ball with this project.  The Frenchie just makes me laugh with his red beret & neckerchief, and silly moustache.  The Bosty is so dapper with his natural 'tuxedo-style' markings.  I stuck a red lace bowtie on him to complete his look.  I am partial to Bosties, so he won my heart with a big red lace one.

Since I didn't document my process when I made my Everything Blue block contributions, I decided to make them in different fabrics to give you an idea of how I create my appliques.  Pictures say a thousand words, right?
This little Frenchy was turned into a stuffed pillow and will be heading off to a very special person!! ;)

Not only is this Bosty quite suave, he's a talented pup tickling the ivories.  Lucky me, I get to wear him on my sweatshirt!!!

I can't wait to see what all the contributors created for the block hop.  With such diverse talent and free reign of design, I can only imagine the finished quilt is going to be blue-tiful!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Matcha Pan Muffin Savage: Gluten-Free Muffins Packed with Punch!

Yesterday was pay-day and I splurged on a tin of Matcha Green Tea powder while I was picking up a Chirashi bowl for lunch at Maruta's in Georgetown where I work.  I always do a quick mental inventory of any Asian condiments that are needed to restock my fridge or pantry when walking around Maruta's, and Matcha Green Tea powder popped in my head.  Last February, I made some Green Tea cupcakes to impress my baking-diva vegetarian gardener friend Sarah for her birthday and had a terrible time finding the real-deal Matcha powder in the joe-schmo grocery stores around my neighborhood.  I ended up ripping the tea bags open from Republic of Tea's Double Green Matcha Tea to sub in that recipe.  It worked for the time being; there was a nice Matcha flavor, but the downside of using this was the gritty texture of the course green tea leaves partially mixed with the real Matcha powder.  When you bit into the cupcake, the inside of your mouth was covered in what felt like dried basil from a spice rack.  Mental note- next time use real Matcha powder!
So now that I got my Matcha, I perused the interwebs for some recipes.  Usually I just google the contents of what's currently in my pantry & fridge in my search.  I happened to have some almond flour left over from when I was on a gluten/sugar/dairy-fast last winter.  A foray in gluten-free, sugar-free, and dairy-free baking, I made this recipe for a blueberry lemon pound cake, and still had a number of left-over ingredients sitting in my cupboard.
After a bit of surfing, I stumbled upon this recipe from interior designer Kristopher Dukes' blog: Matcha Green Tea Almond Flour Mini-Muffins.  I had all of the recipe contents in my kitchen, so no special trip to the store was needed.  This morning I thought I'd treat myself to these muffins for breakfast and after a shot of espresso, went to town!

I fiddled around a little bit with the recipe since I also had some coconut flour and coconut oil in stock and knew that would up the flavor profile to another level of yumminess.  Since I read that you need to add more liquid when baking with coconut flour due to its absorbent properties, I though hmmm...what else do I have in my kitchen.  Oh yes, some extra eggs and heavy cream left over from making a batch of the Barefoot Contessa's Pecan Squares this past week for a co-worker's birthday.  Nothing like using up the kitchen's bounties for a recipe!!

Here's my modified version of Ms. Dukes recipe.  I call it--

Matcha Pan Muffin Savage:  Gluten-Free Muffins Packed with Punch!
(WWF aficionados and Children of the '80s take reference)

'The Tower of Power
Too Sweet to be Sour
Funky Like a Monkey
OOOOH- yeahhhhhh!'

2 cups finely ground almond flour 
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
2 tbs matcha green tea powder
1/4 cup cane sugar
3 eggs 
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk all wet ingredients together.  Slowly pour the wet mixture into the large bowl of dry ingredients. 
4.  With an electric mixer, mix the liquid mixture and dry mixture together for a few minutes until all ingredients are well blended.  The consistency is going to look green and crunchy.
3. Take spoonfuls of this mixture and lop them into lined (or non-stick) mini muffin tins. 
4. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top. 
5. Bake for 22 minutes, or until the edges brown.  Stick a toothpick in and out of the middle of a muffin to check if the muffin has cooked all the way through.  If it's clean, it's done.
6)    Take out of the oven, let cool for 5 minutes.
7)    Remove muffins (still lined) from muffin tins and let cool on rack for a few minutes.  Bon Appetite!

Ok, so I've eaten 4 already, does that tell you anything??  The coconut & almond flavors marry well with the delicate matcha green tea flavor.  The texture is slightly moist, but dry enough so that the muffin still maintains its form and doesn't fall apart like a mashed up heap of nuts.  Trust me, I am always skeptical when I cook with all-purpose flour alternatives.  You never know what kind of level of crunchiness will turn out from your slave-to-the-kitchen pursuits.  

One more food porn pic-- up close and personal!  Chomp!
For Gluten-Free baking, this recipe is no flash in the pan. A champion in the ring, err kitchen, this is a keeper....DIG IT-Ooh Yeah!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Summer 'Sol' Searchin'

September is here, Labor Day is through, and it's almost time to close the book on Summer 2013.  The daylight hours are whittling away a bit more each day, and the mornings & evenings are getting just a tad cooler than they were the day before.  I admit, I'm not much for being an active blogger in the summertime.  I guess when you live up in the Pacific Northwest, being one of the wettest climates in the Continental U.S., you learn to get in while the gettin' is good whenever the sun comes out.  Summer 2013 was most definitely one to be got here in Seattle.  In the past 7 summers I've lived here, this compares to no other.  The weather was consistently clear, with blue skies & sunshine, and 80 degree temps with very low humidity.  In fact, we made it through a record stretch without rain.  I don't have the facts in front of me, but it was somewhere around the ballpark figure of 30 days straight with not a drop of precipitation.  Seattle bared its 'sol' this year and it was the perfect opportunity for me to do a little 'sol' searching too.  So lemme take the opportunity to reflect.

Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage..... 
Lake side, pool side, beach side, river side...or just plain old sidewalk!  Nothing beats the Greenwood Classic Car show!  Cruise the mile and a half thoroughfare dotted with one vintage beauty after another....

Summer in Seattle sure was nice, but sometimes a girl's gotta hit the road and head south.  Run for the border to the Rose City, aka Portlandia aka Portland, OR.  June is the time when the flowers are in bloom and the Roses are Free in Peninsula Park.  But a summer just isn't a summer without a trip to the beach!  Head west to the coast and you'll run into a sweet little beach town called Manzanita.  Perfect setting to taste the salty breezes and tickle your toes in the cold Pacific surf.

Those cool rainy winters in Seattle sure can be a drag, but at least we have gorgeous flowers and plants to show for it when Summer comes to town.  Speaking of towns, what a better place to see all sorts of flora and fauna than south of Seattle proper in a quirky neighborhood called Georgetown. A little jewel tucked inside of industrial parks, railroads, and airports, you would never know the secret gardens that await you had you not gone on the Georgetown Garden Tour.  Petunias, Succulents, Hydrangeas, Roses, and Pictures of Lily(s), could be spotted in hi-definition brilliance.

As mid-summer approached, near the end of July, an amazing surprise and early birthday present was bestowed upon me.  Jimmy Flame had purchased a ticket for me to go see Paul McCartney play at Safeco Field.  My teenage dream had come true and I leaped with joy in the thought of seeing a real, living Beatle perform!  History was in the making.  Giddy & gushing as in true teenage fashion, I did get crafty once during the summer and made an applique Paul on my tee-shirt to show my undying love and devotion as a fan.  Sitting in the stadium watching a very spry Sir Paul perform for 3 hours straight at the ripe age of 71, and with my impending birthday on my mind, I learned you're never too old to ROCKLet me roll it....

Oh yes, that birthday.... they say it's my birthday (we're gonna have a good time)....It was a milestone one this year.  But a lady never reveals her age.  She will just have her cake and eat it too, thank you very much!

It's no secret that sometimes those 'milestone' birthdays cause you to question the meaning of life and where you fit in to the scheme of things.  With such pensive thoughts on the brain, another 'get outta dodge' moment was needed in search of my 'sol'.  So a short roadtrip and then a ferry ride brought Me Myself and I to Whidbey Island, where I felt like I was miles away from pressures of the city.  Time to let loose!

Beaches, blue skies, fresh air, and walks through the woods provided much needed mental clarity and renewal for my birthday'd-out brain.  Forget the fountain of youth, the key to anti-aging is a long walk deep in the forest to expand your mind!

Each day brought forth a new experience, a new answer to a question, and one step closer to being in touch with my 'sol', one sunset at a time.

If there was one take away moment I could reflect on this summer, it would be the one time I awoke extra early while at Whidbey Island to 'get up at the bum-crack of dawn to watch the sunrise'.  I'm not much of an early riser; I'd rather watch the sunset in mental peace & serenity than try to hustle out the door in the dark with morning grogginess to catch a sunrise.  But I wanted a new challenge and a new perspective of watching the sun.  Surprisingly, with no coffee in my system, I amazed myself by jumping out of bed, brushing my teeth, and hitting the ground running  at 5:30 am for the sunrise!  

So I set out on my journey from the cottage at where I was staying.  Blankets of fog covered the surrounding fields on each side of my path, and the sky above transitioned from midnight blue to medium blue.  I wasn't exactly sure where I wanted to see the sunrise; I just knew I needed to head East.  I decided that maybe I'd see the sunrise in a new a location that I had never been to on Whidbey Island and set out towards that point.  As I continued driving, the blankets of fog that were once dotting the fields here and there morphed into one thick, nearly blinding white cloud-wall.  The voice inside of me said you'll never see the sunrise in this.  So with just minutes to spare, I backtracked and decided on a sunrise destination:  Langley.  I knew the little town well and had even spent time there the day before relaxing on the water bank.  It was East and of course I'd see the sunrise there, I thought.  So Langley sunrise or bust,  I headed in that direction and the sky went from cotton ball white to clear blue.  I had finally gotten my bearings and knew my sunrise GPS was up to speed.  With just a minute before the actual sunrise time, I parked the car and walked towards the public landing near the water which faced East.  Moments after, a bright orange ball slowly rose above the peaked horizon.  The ball grew larger and more intense with every second it lifted up in the sky.  Wow...what a glorious sight to behold!  And amazingly, I was the only person to witness this!!  I continued walking around the landing area to get different view points and then I looked up at the street name which I had never noticed until then.  Well, whaddya know!?  I was on Sunrise Lane, watching one of the most magnificent sunrises!!  I chuckled to myself.

What I learned from this experience is that sometimes you just got to go after the 'unknown', trust your instincts, keep your eyes on the prize, and the answer will be obvious, looking you right back in the face.  And that makes you Happier than the Morning Sun!

Thanks for taking the time to read about my summer 'sol' search.  Looking back on it, it was quite a journey.  Pictures say a thousand words, but music is always in my heart, body, mind, and soul.  Sprinkled throughout my summer travel recap were some musical clues that I listed in bold.  Pick them out and you have the soundtrack of my summer.  Press play & enjoy!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Inspiration Made: Steppin' Out in the 'Urban Twist Skirt'

Modeling my newest project, The Urban Twist Skirt

Trite as is it sounds, inspiration appears to me in many forms:  a shade of rust or blue, a bird's eye view of the city observed from a ferris wheel gondola, the blocky silhouette of an evolving urban skyline, or even a secondhand skirt purchased from a resale shop.  Last autumn when I went to trade in a few pieces of clothing at Buffalo Exchange in the U-district, I came across an amazing skirt that I've been wanting to translate and re-make for my own.

Granny-Prep- hipper than Geek Chic!  Skirt purchased at Buffalo Exchange
My degree is in fashion design, but since moving to Seattle years ago- I made the transition into the quilting/ patchwork world.  My first job in Seattle was working at a fabric boutique, and then I made the leap up, presently working at a fabric wholesale company.  I learned very quickly in the sewing community that there were 2 sides:  the garment sew-ers and the quilters.  These camps clashed sometimes (especially when it came to fabric consumption), yet there was a lot of crossover, almost like two opposing political parties.  Coming from the garment-maker background, I was rapidly thrusted into making accurate, cost-efficient calculations of how much fabric to cut and sell to quilters who did not want excess scraps.  No more frivolous "I'll have 3 yards of that and 5 yards of this...", instead it was "I'll take a quarter yard of this and maybe three-eighths of this.  Oh, do you sell one-eighth yard cuts??"

So when I eyed this color-clashing skirt oddity (pictured above) at Buffalo Exchange last autumn- I had to pounce on it!!  As I examined it from the rack, I thought it looked as if your granny came over and went through the closets, removing every plaid button-down shirt your mom or dad owned from Land's End or L.L.Bean, cutting them apart and then stitching them together using a Seminole patchwork technique, upcycling it into a skirt.  The skirt was obviously homemade.  You can't see it in the picture, but the lining wasn't even hemmed, I had to tuck the hanging threads under the skirt to make it look nice in the picture.

Last autumn, the Pacific Northwest enjoyed an Indian Summer well into October, which allowed me to get mileage out of my new secondhand purchase!  The first day I wore it, I received many compliments- people stopping me in the coffee shop and on the street.  It made me think, Gee, I need to remake my own version!  So, after many months of sitting on the idea, inspiration hit me on a recent fabric shopping trip to Jo-Anns a few weeks ago.  I purchased a load of 'linen look' fabrics in various shades and from there, that's when the Urban Twist Skirt as I call it, began to materialize.

Color and shade were an important part in pulling off this patchwork design.  It took me a while to get the right vibe off these colors, I even had to discard the purple (shown in the pic above) from my fabric gradation selection.  When I finally came to an agreement on what the color gradation would be, I began cutting and sewing the strip pieces together.

 And continued sewing strip piece portions together...

Until finally...I had one huge piece of patchwork!

And then that fabric patchwork piece was transformed into a skirt!

In my redo version- I made the skirt fuller with a simple elastic waistband.  I added a peek-a-boo slip of natural-colored muslin, hemmed with cotton crochet lace trim, self-attached to the outer pieced skirt.  I added a non-functioning sash/tie for the front, but decided to take this off when I styled it with a chunky belt in the photo shoot I did this morning.  The 'faux' linen fabric was the perfect weight for this design as the fabric fell on the bias or diagonal, and helped give it a drape.  I'm really quite pleased with my re-inspired version and plan to make this into a sewing pattern.

The color gradation & tiled patchwork piecing reminds me of a city skyline silhouetted by the sunset.  When worn, the motion of the skirt is swishy and swirly, too!  Thus it was christened The Urban Twist Skirt.

From one side to the other- garment sew-er to quilter- it's time to give this skirt a whirl, and step on out....

Friday, May 24, 2013

Big Love: Monster Heart Applique

I have big monster love for my newest applique design, Mothra!  Inspired by the 1960s Japanese B-Movie monster, Mothra, she is the only female kaiju (that's Japanese for giant sci-fi monster).  She's a benevolent giant moth with psychic powers who defends the earth from her arch-nemesis, Godzilla.  Mothra is the baddest and most beautiful of the pack!  

As a lover of butterflies, and one who has re-occurring dreams of flight, I identify with the gorgeous Mothra.  And because she's a girlmonster who constantly kicks Godzilla's bum....that makes me fall in love with her all the more!!  So much in love, she became my first tattoo.  Mothra will always have my back!

Her presence might be inked on my back, but she needed to be immortalized in fabric!  After sketching up a cute version of Mothra (loving the hearts in the wings), I up-cycled some scraps of denim jeans I had in my stash to bring her to life as an applique.

Denim washes in gradating hues made up the applique, while oxblood-colored tooled pleather accented it for more depth and texture.

But as I created Mothra in applique, I realized she was missing something.........Godzilla!!!

So Godzilla was cut from the same cloth as Mothra...

And at long last, they were united and stitched down in craft history!
I got the hots and the hearts for you!