August 18, 2009

The Sewing Studio, Part I

I am writing today about the changes I am making to create a "studio space" for my work. This is something that will be taking a few more weeks to complete, but it is well on its way as I am happily sharing Part I with you today. I have been working out of the guest bedroom of our house since I started the business. I use the bed as a cutting surface which is a bit too low, as you could well imagine. Since no guests stay in this room (heck, I would have to do some MAJOR stuff removal for that), I have decided that it is time for the bed to go and to put in a great work island (not built yet....but will be soon....thus Part II at a later date).

When I started my business 8 years ago, I had just bought my first serger and didn't even have a table to put it on! So I improvised and put it on one of those rickety little round know, the ones with the screw on legs? That got old pretty quickly, but it took a while to get a solution. Since I sew all the time, I never put my machines away. I like for them to be out and handy at a moment's notice. I don't really care for the sewing cabinets that are available because most are made from non-wood products and boast about their storage and the fact that they fold up into a small cabinet....not interested in all that! To suit what I wanted, we found an unfinished wood sofa table (which was too tall, but my handy husband cut the legs off for me). We finished it and I have been using that for the last 6 years. It was fine, but I didnt' like that my machines had to be so close together. I really wanted more space, so I began to think about how I could upgrade my sewing space. I had my table near a corner of the room and wouldn't it be nice to have an "L" shaped table where the serger could have its own space?? Wow....that would be I began looking around to see what was available. As I suspected....nothing! At least nothing that I really liked and was willing to spend any money for....which leads me to the solution that worked just perfectly.

A few years ago, my husband had some guitar cabinets made so that he could display them on the wall, beautifully "framed" and protected from UV rays. The craftsman that made them did such a beautiful job, as you can see in the photos. Jim is one of those guys that does everything couldn't ask for better made cabinets. I knew that he had also made furniture, so I decided to ask him if he would be interested in making my table, and thank goodness, he was! We worked out the details on what I wanted...wood choice, style, and size, and he drew up some great sketches of the sewing table of my dreams..... Please visit his website, Ozark Valley Displays, to see photos of his amazing work. You will mainly see guitar cabinets, but keep in mind that this talented man can build just about just have to be willing to ask and know that quality takes time.

This wonderful table arrived last Friday and we have been busy ever since, getting it set up, redecorating, and moving other stuff around. I covered the cork boards with fabric over and got those hung up over the weekend and just finished the cover for the office chair yesterday. Notice my polka dot light? It is a clamp light that I covered and it takes up no space on my table top!

Stay tuned for Part II, because we are planning on making a large work island next for the center of the room. We will be doing that part ourselves in the coming weeks, so it may be a while before the big reveal. By the time we are finished, it is going to be one sweet space! I already feel like a spoiled sewing queen over here... just imagine how I will feel when the whole studio is complete....there will be no living with me!!

August 12, 2009

A Sweet Distraction

Don't these luscious chocolate dipped macaroons make you stop in your tracks? They certainly did around here! One of my dearest friends just celebrated her birthday and I made these for her birthday dessert. They are huge....about the size of an ice cream scoop and are surprisingly easy to make. I stumbled across the recipe somewhere online, as I am ashamed now to say I don't remember where! I highly recommend them if you are a fan of coconut and dark chocolate...think of them as the "ultimate Mounds bar", only far better!

So these were a little distraction from my work. We all got together on Monday and celebrated. It was sushi for lunch, then the movies (Julie & Julia, which was a very good movie, by the way), then on to the macaroons. It was a yummy day spent with great back to work!

I have been busy over here and you will see the fruit of that labor very soon. The fall designs are coming along quite nicely, and that is a good thing since printing deadlines will be looming before I know it. The funny thing is that market always has a way of sneaking up on everyone, and this year it is two weeks early, so it is being extra sneaky this year! Anyhow, I think I will be ready without a sweat....thank goodness.

Below is the recipe for these lovely macaroons. Once I figure out how to attach a pdf file for this thing, you will be able to click on it from the sidebar for easy download.

Tres Leches Coconut Macaroons

Recipe yields 24 large macaroons. (I actually got 30. It probably depends on the size of the scoop) Use an ice cream scoop to make the mounds.

4 - 14 ounce bags sweetened coconut flakes
2 - 14 ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 - 2 packages of high quality dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 72% dark chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper. Mix half of the recipe together at a time by placing a bag and a half of coconut in a mixer bowl, along with one half of the remaining ingredients. Mix slowly with a paddle attachment. Once all of the ingredients are well blended, add the remaining half bag of coconut. Mix in and empty the bowl into a very large bowl. Mix the other half of the ingredients in the same way. Add it to the already mixed portion. Use the ice cream scoop and lightly pack the ingredients together so that the macaroon holds together nicely during baking. Place onto the cookie sheets and bake. I was able to place two sheets into my oven on different shelves, so I changed their position halfway through baking to keep the browning even. The original recipe says to bake for a total of 10-12 minutes, but I found I needed longer. I baked for 10 minutes, then moved my pans, and set the timer again for 10 more minutes. You will know when they are done when the bottoms are nicely browned and the tops are lightly toasted. Remove them from the pans to cool on a rack. Once they are completely cooled, they can be dipped in chocolate.

Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl in the microwave, stirring after each minute until just melted. Dip the cooled macaroons halfway into the chocolate, then place back onto baking sheets covered with parchment and set in the refrigerator or freezer until the chocolate is set.

Now sit back and enjoy the wonderful combination of coconut and chocolate...and as for that diet, think like Scarlet O'Hara....I'll think about that tomorrow!

August 4, 2009

Don't Fear the (invisible) Zipper

Today I am going to talk about the dreaded zipper. I know there are many of you out there who despise them....really they are not to be feared! Honestly, I avoided learning how to install an invisible zipper for a long time because I thought there was some sort of magic that I didn't know, so I continued to put in conventional zippers until I designed the Sabrina Tunic. I decided then and there (this was just LAST SPRING, people!) that I had to learn how because I didn't want that tacky "take a look at where I put in my zipper" thing going on down the back of my new tunic! It isn't that I hadn't put an invisible zipper in before, but you have to think a little differently to get them in correctly, and I let that cloud my judgment....well, I am SO OVER that now, and I can't imagine putting in a regular zipper on any clothing garment anymore.

This was the inspiration for this post as well as a recent email conversation that I had with someone asking if my tunics required the installation of a zipper and that she really didn't get along with zippers too well. I encouraged her to master this technique, as it will open doors for you if you can think...."An invisible zipper? Ah, that is no sweat!"....So without further ado.....Don't Fear the Zipper!

You will notice in the following photos that I use a regular zipper foot. I HAVE an invisible zipper foot, but I prefer to use my regular one. Why? I learned the hard way that some zipper teeth get along with the grooves in my invisible zipper foot and some don't. What I found was that the length of the zipper teeth vary from one brand to another, making some brands grip too tightly in the foot grooves. For example, my foot works great with Coats and Clark zippers, but not so great with Unique by YKK. I found that no matter what I did (change the stitch length, pull the fabric/zipper combo through), my fabric would pucker...gasp! No amount of ironing made it smooth. This was enormously frustrating, so I taught myself how to use the regular zipper foot with any type of invisible zipper and I haven't look back since. I encourage you to try this if you have experienced this puckering before....or even if you haven't, since most of you have a regular zipper foot and are under the mistaken impression that you have to have a special foot for these things. Yes, it takes practice to get as close as the other foot automatically puts the needle, but you can do it!

It is also important to note that you can substitute an invisible zipper for a regular one in just about any article of clothing. Just remember NOT to sew the seam where the zipper will be placed. I also find that it is much easier to sew a zipper into something where not much construction has taken place yet, so for the back of a skirt, I would install the zipper before sewing the side seams, for example.

Here goes:

1. Finish the raw edges of the fabric to receive the zipper.

2. Unzip the zipper and place it face down on the ironing board. Open out the zipper teeth away from the zipper and press it flat.

3. Place the zipper along one side of the fabric, right sides together. I like to start with the piece that will be to the right of the zipper. It does not matter which side you start with. Place the zipper stop about 5/8" - 3/4" below the top edge of the fabric. The zipper tape may extend beyond the fabric edge depending on the brand of zipper. (some have more tape extending beyond the stop than others) Have the edge of the zipper tape even with the finished edge of fabric.

4. Move the machine needle to the FAR RIGHT position and have the needle in the "needle down" setting if you have that. Begin at the top of the zipper, getting as close as possible to the zipper teeth. Backstitch at the beginning and end. Stitch alongside the zipper teeth as far as possible, stopping when stitching becomes difficult next to the bottom of the zipper.

5. Zip the zipper closed and lay it flat against the wrong side of fabric that you just attached. If there are seams that you have passed in the process of stitching the zipper, use a removable marking pencil to place a mark where the seam is located on the unattached portion of the zipper tape. This is very important, as it helps you to line up the zipper to the other piece of fabric and have your seams meet nicely once the stitching is complete.

6. Open the zipper once more and turn all pieces to face right sides up. Line up the remaining piece of fabric to the side of the zipper. Turn under what will be the seam allowance and slip the remaining side of the zipper underneath. This will put the right side of the zipper against the right side of the fabric. Match up the marking with the seam and pin that spot in place. Check the top of the zipper and pin it in place exactly as the other side was sewn.

7. Stitch the remaining side of the zipper in place in the exact same manner as the first side, only move the needle position to the FAR LEFT. Check your work on the right side of fabric to be sure that the seams and upper edges of fabric meet up appropriately.

8. Zip the zipper closed and match up the edges of the seam below. Pin in a couple of places to hold the fabric together.

9. Move the needle position to the FAR RIGHT again and stitch the seam starting at the lower edge. Have the finished edges of the fabric at the 5/8" marking on your throw plate. Continue stitching until you have stitched just slightly past the original stitching for the zipper. This line of stitching will be slightly to the outside of the original stitching. Backstitch.

10. With the wrong side facing up, press the seam open. Turn the piece over and gently press the seam, including the fabric to either side of the zipper flat.

11. Back on the wrong side, stitch the zipper tape that extends beyond the stitching along the bottom to the seam allowance on either side.

And that is it! You have successfully installed an invisible zipper! Now all we need is more cowbell...... : )

Happy Sewing!

Thank you!

Just a quick note to thank all of you who left such nice birthday greetings for me! It made my day extra special (and the ones to follow as well). Thanks also for all of the nice compliments on my still looking young. How do I do it? I haven't a clue...guess I am lucky! I do try to take care of myself....exercise, eat reasonably, get plenty of sleep (believe it or not), and stay out of the sun. Guess I will keep up with that regimen!

On the topstitching comments...thanks so much! I hardly think that my stitching is the best in the world, but I do my best to make it as good as I can...I will have to post some of my secrets in the future!!