polka dot {wiksten tank}

i have a thing with polka dots.  and tanks.  and polka-dotted tanks.  i do love dots applied liberally, in dresses and coats and umbrellas, for instance, but i’m not a spotlight-seeker, so i tend to save them for less conspicuous things like linings and wallets.  and, apparently, tanks.  i think i find the cheekiness of polka dots a little less spotlight-grabbing when used in a smaller garment, and a polka-dotted tank suits my sartorially cautious-but-coy side just fine.

i have adored the wiksten patterns for ages, and finally ordered the e-versions of them this summer.  i set about making the tank straight away, printing and taping and cutting the pattern pieces – a slightly tedious task that i rather enjoy.  i also like ironing*.  i’m weird that way.
[*which is ironic, given that this tank is clearly not crease-free.]

i found the pattern quite easy to follow, but i must say that i found the instructions a little sparse in places.  i find it annoying when patterns don’t mention anything about finishing exposed edges.  of course an experienced seamstress knows better than to leave the pocket edges unfinished, but a beginner may not.  it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a pocket fall off after a few washings, but why suffer that agony if you don’t have to?

i love the shape of this top – it seems so modern.  the curved hem is catchy, and i like that it is slightly longer in the back than it is in the front.  the wee pocket is nice addition, even if it is virtually invisible in my polka dot version.  i do find the neckline almost scandalously low, certainly low enough that i need a layer beneath (or i need to be really careful when bending over).  i did use a cursed quilting cotton for this, albeit a lighter one, so it doesn’t provide the drape i think this pattern demands.  i hope wiksten tank number two, in the glorious V&A voile shown below, will be spot on.  it will, of course, have the added bonus of reminding me of my trips to the V&A, one of my most favourite places in all of london.

i must know, do any of you get sentimental over fabrics?  do you cherish some fabrics so much that you can’t bear to cut into them?  please tell me i’m not the only fabric-nut out there!

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catching up (in photos)

there has been a lot of undocumented stirring and stitching going on this summer.  here is a small taste of what the last couple of months have looked like…

all of that and a trip to killarney, many a hot run, working five days a week and some lovely chats with lovely people at the studio tour has made this a full and fulfilling summer.  i hope that you have had a marvy summer, too!

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{peanut butter crack bars}

i’m sorry to do this to you.  really, i am.  because i am fair and kind, i will warn you: these bars are highly addictive – exercise caution in their presence.

these peanut butter crack bars owe their high addiction factor to two variables: they are childs’ play to make and they’re terribly easy to eat.  their moreishly smooth and creamy peanut butter base is topped with a thin lid of chocolate melted with peanut butter – a highway to the danger zone, if there ever was one.  i dare you not to consume spoonfuls of the base before it makes its way to the pan.

i found this recipe on la creativite de la fille and have tweaked it ever so slightly, so i am sharing my version of her lovely recipe below.

the main tweak i made was to use natural peanut butter instead of regular, processed peanut butter.  i’m always cautious when doing this, though, as there are instances where it just doesn’t work.  in this case, however, i’m happy to report that it worked out brilliantly (probably due in part to the fact that they’re not baked).  to compensate for the natural peanut butter and the unsalted butter substitutions, i’ve added a little bit of needed salt.  i also upped the quantity of peanut butter, which makes my version more peanutty-sweet than knock-your-teeth-out sweet.

and, for those of you who don’t trust yourselves in the presence of this confection, i can tell you that a half-recipe fits quite nicely into a standard loaf pan, which makes these bars far less dangerous.

•  •  •

peanut butter crack bars (adapted slightly from ‘creativite de la fille’, who credits ‘let’s dish’)

for the base:
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (i blitzed more or less 1 sleeve of graham crackers in my food processor)
2 cups icing sugar
1 1/4 cups natural peanut butter
1/4 tsp of salt

for the topping:
4 tbsp natural peanut butter
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

•in a large bowl, mix all of the base ingredients together until well blended. tip into an ungreased 9″x13″ pan and pat down evenly.
•melt the topping ingredients together (i do this in the microwave on 50% power for 60 seconds, stopping to stir, then in 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until it is melted. you can also do this in a pyrex bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently). pour overtop the base and spread evenly.
•refrigerate a minimum of 1 hour before cutting into squares.
•if you live in a hot/humid climate, or if you’re storing them for more than a day, you’ll want to keep these in the fridge.  either way, you’ll want them in an airtight container.

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{bespoke wallet}

i was introduced to these adorable and practical wallets in a post on very berry handmade.  i crossed my fingers as soon as i saw her photos, thinking ‘pleeeeease tell me there is a free pattern for these’, and, hip hip hooray, there was.  (as an aside, i love veryberry’s blog, and i wish i had access to all of the stunning fabrics she sources.  you folks in the uk may want to check out her compendium of uk fabric shops…you’re so lucky!).

the tutorial for these is the work of confessions of a fabricaholic.  it is filled with step-by-step photos and instructions to walk you through your first ever home-made wallet.  thank you, fabricaholic, for sharing your marvy tute!

i’ve made a small collection of these now, and have learned a few lessons along the way.  i’ve used medium-weight cotton for all of these, so i interface the interior and exterior main pieces, as well as the front and back of the zip-pocket, and the largest and smallest card slots.  i interface both the interior and exterior tab pieces, as well.  i’ve learned to cut the interfacing just shy of the seam allowances, as it becomes super bulky if you don’t.  the exception, though, is the tab.  because you trim the seam allowances away and it’s so tiny, i’ve found that full-sized interfacing helps to prevent fraying (i had to remake two tabs because they started to come apart after i turned them).  and back to the card slots – i serged the top edges of the three pieces that remain exposed, just so they don’t fray.

i didn’t like the look of the round, silver snap that i used on my first take (and i found that it didn’t close very securely), so i went with what has become my signature sewn-in snap tab closure, which i’ve used on my phone cosies and computer cosies.  i’d like to try a magnetic closure, but i wasn’t sure about the effect this may have on credit cards inside the wallet.  i’m also playing around with the idea of using buttons with an elastic loop (because who doesn’t love buttons?), but i’ve become pretty loyal to the clean and simple snap tab, and i’m not sure i’m ready to abandon it just yet.

one other  step i tweaked was the zipper insertion.  i worked with a 3/8″ opening instead of 1/2″ – it’s surprising what a difference an eighth of an inch can make, but i do think it makes for a tidier looking zip (certainly tidier than the one shown above).

i’m still working on my edge-stitching.  it’s just not that lovely, is it?  i find the corners particularly difficult to navigate beautifully.  i’ve noticed that very berry’s corners are perfectly curved and very smooth.  how do you do it,  very berry?  what is your secret!?  i know i need to work on symmetry and having my edges perfectly square.  with all of the layers and the turning, this can be difficult to achieve.

since my adorable one-of-a-kind bookhou wallet is on its last legs (i’ve used the heck out of it for five years now), i think it’s time for a bespoke wallet of my own.  now to choose some fabric…

•  •  •

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{lavender shortbread}

as i’ve said in previous posts, it doesn’t take much to make me don my apron (random cravings are usually considered valid excuses to bake), but this week i do have a legitimate need to bake: it is my duty to contribute 6 dozen delicious cookies for the studio tour this weekend.

last year i baked up a couple of batches of ginger crunch and they were received with oohs and aaahs.  i was planning a repeat performance this year until inspiration struck when i was cutting some lavender from my garden.  i dug out my ‘celebrate lavender festival 2002 cookbook’ and read through the recipes.  there’s a lovely lavender sugar cookie dipped in dark chocolate which i’ve made several times, though i envisioned them all melting together in the heat this weekend and decided i needed something sturdier.  lavender shortbread cookies fit the bill perfectly.

these pale and speckled little bites taste like summer (well, like my imaginary summer in the south of france).  they are mysteriously fragrant – buttery and floral.  they are indeed sturdy, though they taste delicate and soft and not at all like they should be consumed with egg-nog.  they are so easy to eat on their own, one after another, though they beg to be paired with some lavender lemonade on a hot afternoon, or to be taken with tea (proper cup and saucer, and at least one lace doily).

this recipe is as simple as it gets.  the most taxing step is making the lavender sugar, and really, it’s not too taxing at all.  the notes suggest using a food processor or spice mill.  i found my food processor didn’t mince up the lavender buds adequately, so instead i pounded them with my mortar and pestle, which ground up the buds nicely.  the contents did look much like lawn mower clippings, but i went with it and everything turned out beautifully.  as long as the buds are broken up into little threads, you won’t detect their texture in the finished cookies.

my plan for the weekend cookies is to sprinkle them with some lavender sugar prior to baking so they look a little more dressed up (but i’ll sift the lavender out because, though the whole buds do look pretty, they aren’t so nice to chew on).  i hope that they will garner a few oohs and aaahs as well!

•  •  •

lavender shortbread cookies (from ‘the 6th annual celebrate lavender festival 2002 cookbook’, this recipe was contributed by ‘the herbfarm cookbook – 2000’)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, but take out of the fridge 15 minutes before making the dough
4 tbsp fresh lavender buds, or 2 tsp dried lavender buds
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour

• make lavender sugar: you’re basically grinding the lavender buds with the sugar and there are a few ways you can do this. if using a spice mill or coffee grinder (clean, of course), mix the buds with 1/4 cup of the sugar and grind until fine, then mix in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. if using a food processor, mix the buds with all the sugar and blitz until fine. i used my mortar and pestle (see notes in post above) to grind up the lavender buds, then mixed with 1/4 cup sugar and ground some more, then stirred in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
• beat the butter (which was on the counter for 15 minutes) with the lavender sugar in your stand mixer on low-speed until the mixture is smooth and there are no detectable lumps of butter when you roll a tsp of the dough between your fingers. DO NOT beat until fluffy. add the flour all at once and mix on low-speed until it forms a cohesive dough.
• turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface (i use a tea towel*) and form it into a smooth rectangular block with no cracks. using a rolling-pin (and more flour, sparingly), roll dough into a 12″ x 9″ rectangle, 1/4″ thick, rotating the dough a quarter turn (gently) each time you roll to ensure it doesn’t stick (i never have this problem when using a floured tea towel). using a straight edge and a paring knife or pastry wheel, cut the dough into 3″ x 1 1/2″ bars, or cut with cookie cutters (i cut into smaller squares and slightly oblong bars). using a spatula, transfer cookies to parchment lined cookie sheets, leaving 1/2″ between the cookies, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking.
• preheat oven to 300 f. bake cookies until they are coloured lightly like sand, not browned, 22-25 minutes (mine were ready at 18 minutes so start checking early! you don’t want these golden or brown, just pale). lift one to check the underside; it should be just a shade darker on the top. place pan on a rack and cool completely on the pan before moving. stack the cooled cookies in an airtight container and store at room temp for up to a week.  makes 24 cookies (unless you cut them smaller, like i did).  enjoy!

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{reversible headband}

i’ve been busily sewing lately, trying to churn out goodies for an upcoming studio tour which kicks off in, gasp, 12 more sleeps.  this will be my second year as a guest artist of my friend, the super-talented kim (who not only paints, draws and creates amazing mosaic glass pieces, but is also a first-class baker who has been sharing some of her recipes at crumbsbykim).

one of the lessons i learned last year was: for goodness’ sake, do not leave all of your creating to the last-minute.  last year my procrastination lead to blood, sweat and tears in my sewing room (i am not exaggerating), and too many exclamations of “why, oh whyyyy am i doing this?”.  crisis-driven sewing and crocheting is not fun.

characteristically, despite my hard-learned lesson last year, i find myself once again frantically trying to come up with just the right items to tempt this year’s discerning studio-tourers.  will i never learn?  to add to the struggle, i’ve been working on a few me-designed items which have taken significantly longer to refine than one would think, including some jersey-knit infinity scarves (more on those in another post) and these reversible headbands.

they look simple enough, don’t they?  sure, now that i’ve sorted out the pattern and the process, i can make one rather painlessly, though getting to this point was far from painless.  i spent an entire day doggedly trying to come up with the right shape, drafting and re-drafting, sewing lousy muslin after lousy muslin, muttering curses and vexing myself for pretending i was capable of coming up with something on my own (much the same experience i had with my phone cosies and my tobermory hat).

despite all the head-banging, i’m pretty happy with the results.  overall, this is a comfortable and flattering headband that actually stays put (yes, it’s true!).  being reversible, i think it’s a little more fun than a standard, one-print number, and it’s certainly more versatile.  i really  struggled with the seam that joins the elastic to the ends of the headband, until i came up with a really simple solution which you can see in the close-ups.  the best part?  no hand-stitching!  and no necessary top-stitching, though i may go back and add some for accent.

once the studio tour chaos passes, i plan on writing up a tutorial for the headbands (as well as keeping my long-standing promise to write-up the patterns for the cosies and the hat), though, fair warning, i may procrastinate the tutorialing for just a bit longer so i can do some sewing for myself (i’m desperate to try making a hazel and some summery skirts, though i’m afraid by the time i get to make them, it will be fall).  in the meantime, i’d love to hear from any of you who have experience selling your homemade wares – how do you do it without losing your sanity (or your shirt)?

•  •  •

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old-school {rhubarb-strawberry double crisp}

i love rhubarb.  it is the only plant in my garden that thrives regardless of the degree of neglect it faces (which is significant).  my initial investment of a few dollars for the cutting and a few years of patient observation has finally yielded a boisterous looking plant that is established enough to support our seasonal need for rhubarb crisp.

there are so many lovely things one can do with rhubarb, but our favourite is an old-fashioned crisp with some strawberries mixed in to balance the tang.  it’s a simple enough dish – one that i’d like to be able to throw together without a recipe, but each year i learn the hard way that i really do need some help to get the topping just right.  i’ve made several different recipes so far this season, and i think i’ve found the ultimate (if you’re of the ‘you can never have too much crisp in a crisp’ persuasion).  with an ample golden buttery topping, a sweet and sour filling of just the right consistency, and a surprise layer of a deliciously thin oatmeal cookie-like crust beneath, this recipe from dorie greenspan is guaranteed to make crisp-lovers swoon.

now, before i share with you dorie’s recipe, i must say that in the kitchen, there are some things that simply can’t be improved upon and shouldn’t be meddled with.  the first time i made dorie’s strawberry-rhubarb double crisp, i followed her recipe obediently.  after all, who am i to question the wisdom of a baking goddess like dorie?  the thought of crystallized ginger studding the crust and ground ginger flavouring the fruit filling sounded amazing, but i have to say that i found all of that gingery zing a bit unpleasant and out-of-place (and i am a certified ginger-lover).  sorry, dorie.  the rest of the recipe, however, was perfect, so i tried it again this weekend, sans ginger, and i am much happier with the more traditional flavour.

this recipe is a little fiddly because you make what is essentially a strawberry jam to pour over the rhubarb before baking.  the beauty of this approach is that it guarantees a non-soggy crust and a non-soupy filling, but you kind of lose the texture of the berries.  in my next iteration of this recipe, i’d like to see what happens if i skip the cooking of the berries and just toss them together with the rhubarb and sugar, though that approach may be better suited to the truly old-school single layer crisp.  thankfully my neglected rhubarb plant continues to push up enough brilliantly red stalks of goodness to allow me a little more experimentation.

• • •

strawberry-rhubarb double crisp (from ‘baking, from my home to yours’, by dorie greenspan)

for the crisp:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 tsp ground ginger (not for me)
pinch of salt
pinch of ground cinnamon (i increased this to 1/4 tsp)
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger (skip if going old-school)
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

for the filling:
1 pound (4-5 medium stalks) rhubarb, trimmed and peeled (i never peel my rhubarb. is that so bad?)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
3 cups (about 12 ounces) strawberries, hulled and sliced (i can say that frozen berries work as well as fresh)
1 cup sugar (don’t skimp as i did the first time)
1/2 tsp ground ginger (skip if going old-school)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

•dorie says to use a 9″ square non-reactive baking pan and place it on a lined baking sheet. i just used my oval 3 1/2 quart le creuset, which was deep enough to avoid any bubbling over. preheat oven to 350°f.
•put the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt and spices in a large bowl and sift the ingredients through your fingers to break up any lumps of brown sugar. mix in the nuts (and crystallized ginger, if using), then pour over the melted butter. stir the ingredients until they are thoroughly moistened. spoon half of the mixture into the pan and pat it down lightly to form a thick crust; set aside the remaining mixture for the topping (don’t eat too much of it!).
•slice the rhubarb into 1/2″ chunks and scatter them over the pressed-in base.
•dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water and set aside. put the berries, sugar and ginger (if using) into a medium saucepan and crush the berries with a fork or potato masher. place the pan over medium heat and, stirring occasionally, bring to a full boil. pour in the cornstarch mixture and, stirring, bring back to a boil. keep cooking and stirring until the berry filling is thick and no longer cloudy, about 3 minutes. remove from heat, stir in the vanilla, then pour the filling over the rhubarb.
•scatter the remaining topping evenly over the filling.
•bake for 60 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the strawberry jam is bubbling up all around the edges. cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature (with ice cream, of course).  this crisp is best served the day it is made, as the bottom layer of crisp becomes a little less crisp on days two and three (if it lasts that long).

•  •  •

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