May 28, 2014

I've changed teams.

Hello! I've been away for so long it feels kind of strange to be back. I haven't been idle though (not with school fete time looming). Plenty of sewing has been done and of course there had to be some kind of sewing machine purchase/saga during my absence!

Over the Christmas school holidays, this little beauty hung out on my dining room table for about a month and I fell in love. She's a 1972 Bernina Record 830, with pretty rough paintwork and yellowed plastic. She was a spur of the moment buy from Gumtree. The seller had just logged out of Gumtree putting the ad in when I happened to go online, found it and phoned her. It was meant to be, especially for $75.

I quickly packed the kids in the car and my Mum who was visiting at the time, and went to pick it up straight away (in case the seller got a better offer as these machines can go for heaps more!). After a very thorough clean (the part I love the best) she was working beautifully, and so very fast. She even came with plenty of feet, an extension table and red carry case.

That day I became converted. I became one of those people who you read about on sewing forums going on and on about how great Bernina's are. I have to say they sew really well and the feet are so lovely and easy to change and it actually does a zig zag (sorry my lovely straight stitching Singers).

Then guess what happened?

Bye, Bye Janome sewing machine (I decided to sell it). Hello Bernina 1008.

A Happy 40th present from my very lovely husband, who I think couldn't stand the sight of the yellowed plastic of the 830. The two machines are very similar (except for the price tag). I have actually been wanting one for quite a while, but could never justify the price (don't you just love BIG birthdays?). If you hadn't realised, I'm pretty keen on mechanical machines, I just didn't have one that did a zig zag or blind stitch or pretty serpentine stitch...

After a sewing machine shake up, the Bernina 830 has gone to live with my Mum (and she's pretty happy with it). I also ended up selling my industrial machine to a young swimwear designer, my spare Singer 201 head went to Africa, my overlocker to a lovely new mum, and of course picked up a second hand Bernina overlocker for only $150 (love that Gumtree!), thus effectively changing to team BERNINA (and vintage Singer).

I've sewn on my 1008 pretty much everyday since I got it in the beginning of January (sorry little Singers), and the only thing missing is that it doesn't have that typewriter clacking sound that I love about the 830 (the Bernina seller says that comes over time as the new metal rubs and wears in the bobbin area) the 830 is 42 years old, so it should be right by the time I'm 82?

And I love that I can oil it (even if it's just the bobbin area). I couldn't do that with my Janome.

Oct 13, 2013

I love school holidays!

For the first time in three years, we had a holiday with just the four of us. I didn't want to leave. I thought four days up at the Bunya Mountains would be plenty (before the kids developed cabin fever without all their toys), but they didn't want to leave too. Brisbane had four very hot days, so we were lucky to be up in the mountains where it was a few degrees cooler, with a beautiful rainforest just down the road and green parrots that ate out of your hand while we ate breakfast on the deck.

We hung out on fallen tree stumps.

Swung on vines.

Carried a three year old down to see the waterfall and then back up again. Twice.

And loved seeing these beautiful wallabies carrying their joeys just outside the door.

It's so peaceful and relaxing. The only bad parts were the ticks (I had a couple down my shirt!) and stinging nettles (yep, I stepped on one).

We've already promised the kids a long weekend next year in winter, just so we could use the fireplace.

After the three hour drive, we came home to this:

A chinese star jasmine explosion over our front gate. It smells divine.

And because this is my sewing blog, here are a few things I made this week:

A baby quilt for a family friend.

An a work in progress for the shop. I love school holidays!

Sep 21, 2013

I've been having fun putting food in jars

Forget sewing, I think I've found myself a new and delicious hobby. Stuffing yummy things into jars and boiling them for 10 minutes!

Yesterday I made more strawberry jam (as it's the last of our local strawberries) and just because the pot of water was still hot I decided to try out some Pickled Asparagus, with only two bunches of asparagus. I'm hoping these will taste great as they are very simple to make and asparagus will be pretty cheap in the next few weeks.

Today I made fruit chutney.

I used this recipe but changed the plums to apples and pears, and for the dried fruit I used a mix of dates, sultanas, prunes and cranberries. It is delicious! I actually made some a few weeks ago (just after my first jam success) and it's nearly all gone. This time I doubled the quantities. The house smells like barbeque sauce as it's cooking (I think you could actually water it down a bit and purée it and it would pass as barbeque sauce).

Both the recipes that I used above are written by Marisa McClellan, who has a fantastic blog called Food in Jars. She creates recipes that may only make 2-4 small jars of food, so you don't need to spend all day cooking or need to spend a lot of money on produce (or need a big area to store it all). I'm so excited by her recipes that I've ordered her book and am impatiently waiting for it to arrive!

As you can see from the photo above, I've been making a few small batches over the last few weeks:  Strawberry and blueberry jam (the best!), strawberry and apple jam (with less sugar) and just plain strawberry with grated orange and lemon peel. I think I now have enough strawberry products to last us until next year!

In other fun food news, I also made some Chai Tea/Milk Flavouring out of condensed milk.

It's just a can of condensed milk (I used the skim stuff) with a couple of teaspoons of ground cinnamon, some freshly grated nutmeg and ground cardamom (maybe three quarters of a teaspoon of each) and about a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cloves. Mix it up and store in the fridge.

I didn't have any pre-ground cardamom or cloves so I bashed them in a mortar and pestle. It's unfortunately a little chunky, so I'll definitely use pre-ground spices next time. To use it, just add two teaspoons to a cup of black tea (I also add a splash of milk too) and drink it up. Just don't drink the very last bit if you grind your own spices as it kind of makes your mouth numb...

The kids love it in warm or cold milk too. I shake it up in a unused jar and they drink it with a straw!

And with my flat-leaf parsley about to run up to seed, I quickly harvested a gigantic bunch, gave them a good wash, picked out three small caterpillars, spun it dry (the old fashion way - crazy spinning arm holding a bundled up tea towel outside), chopped it coarsely (just the way I like it), packaged into zip lock bags and placed it lovingly into the freezer with a big smile. There it will sit until I need a bit of parsley for some pasta sauce, and it's long gone from the garden (and it's overpriced at the shops).

Parsley freezes really well (and stays green), and if you don't chop it too finely (as it extracts too much liquid) it freezes all loose and not in a giant hard clump, making very easy to use in cooking.

I'm just hoping I got all the caterpillars out of there first!

Aug 30, 2013

Hooked on Jam Making and Hat Making Apparently

What do you do with 6 half pints of strange jam?

Empty those jars out into a big glass container and give it away to an unsuspecting relative who likes the taste, and make some new jam!

But this time, use jam making sugar with added pectin.

I really didn't want to waste any more good fruit, so I succumbed to the CSR Jam Sugar. A kilogram of fruit (and a little added lemon rind) and two bags of sugar, five minutes of boiling (not 50 minutes like last time) and it's done. Perfect Strawberry Jam.

Typically - I couldn't help myself - I made another batch (each batch makes 5-6 230ml jars). Then I went to my sister's and made a batch for her. Then I ordered some more jars and lids. Now I plan to make a half-batch with just one packet of sugar and 500g of mixed blueberries and strawberries tomorrow.

I will never buy strawberry jam again, it is so good. I feel like I need to have enough of this jam to last my family until next strawberry season (so I should make more right?), but then again summer's coming and with it peaches, apricots and plums. Jam making is addictive (too bad about all the sugar though). I'll have to branch out into making pickles so we don't get type 2 diabetes and cavities.

And for all those Aussies out there, did you know they sell regular mouth Ball Mason jars (the brand I used) in Big W? My local store doesn't have the half pint size like in the above photo, but I picked up a dozen pint sized ones for $29 and the lids are $2.97 a dozen. Beats paying and waiting for shipping!

And typically, I can't just sew a few hats for my kids, I have to go and make six more to donate to school fundraising.

I'm definitely going to up size this pattern to fit my head!

Aug 23, 2013

I made strange jam

I attempted to make some Strawberry Jam today. It was my first time at it, but I had high hopes. What a way to ruin 1.5kg of beautiful strawberries, four lemons and six ball jar lids.

I was following the Australian Woman's Weekly recipe (1.5kg fruit, 1.1kg sugar and 1 cup lemon juice), but I cooked it too long - just trying overly hard to get it to set on that darn frozen plate. It's not burnt, but it's not the Bonne Maman Strawberry Conserve I had in my preserving dreams.

It looks nice, but it is way too lemony and thick. I love lemon, but somehow it's just too much and you can't taste the lovely strawberries. I even water bath processed them, so they'll last a whole year on the shelf.

I want to try again, but what do you do with six half pints of strange jam?

I'm thinking lots of jam drop biscuits.

Aug 16, 2013

Book Week 2013 and other bits

It's that time of year again! Book week always seems to sneak up on me (and it doesn't help that school only gives parents a couple of weeks notice), we panic a little, and then go through every book we own and try to work out a character to dress up as. R wanted to go as the tree from the book Stuck (by Oliver Jeffers), but the nasty cold/chest/cough thing that I've had for the last two weeks put a stop to that. He went as Puss in Boots instead.

I reused the hat and belt from his Robin Hood outfit two years ago. Those medieval outfits just all look alike, so just add some felt for a buckle and knee high 'boots' (I even used a fancy stitch to edge the tops of them - and they sit above his black school shoes), a cape/cloak made out of panne velvet (which is awful to hem), a quick tunic complete with no hemming and his little brother's red pants and you're done!

Don't forget the whiskers and tail (which was borrowed from the little guy but sadly does not appear in the photos) and you're done! He was the only Puss in Boots this year, which was pretty cool.  Amazingly, nobody dressed as Harry Potter!

In other exciting news, I've made a couple more hats. An extra small one for my new little nephew and a camo grey one for R. Both these hats have lightweight black denim on the underside as well as the interfacing. I think the extra weight will help them stay put on a windy day. Such a great pattern - I've even cut out a few more for next year's school fete.

Somehow, whilst feeling under the weather, I began dreaming of making jams, especially strawberry as it's currently in season. I've never made jam before, or done anything else that goes in a jar hot, but the urge was strong enough to make me order some small jars, lids and utensils.

I also has visions of making my own tomato sauces, dill pickles and preserved fruit in giant jars, but then reality set in when I worked out just how much those jars cost, then the produce cost, storage space and then the worry about food poisoning and botulism.

I decided to go low scale and just make small quantities of seasonal jam and mustard pickles in half pint (230ml) containers. I'm thinking the small size will get used up quickly (so we won't get bored of the same flavour) and won't take up too much room.

I just bought a dozen regular mouth Ball Jars from Ozfarmers if you're interested. I really want ALL sizes of Ball Jar (especially the blues one) as I'm a jar lover, but it will have to wait until I get the gigantic kitchen of my dreams.

And now I'll just have to go and find some strawberries for a good price and get jam making. I'm still going to make some dill pickles with summer cucumbers, but I'll be making these Refrigerator Pickles instead.

Aug 4, 2013

The Clam Hat

If you just ignore the fact that the clam fabric is upside down, let me present to you the littlest guy's new bucket hat!

It is of course the fantastic oliver + s  free Reversible Bucket Hat Pattern. This is unfortunately the biggest size (21"), so I will have to look elsewhere for any larger sizes. Fabric is Clam Bake from Dear Stella on one side, dark blue homespun on the reverse.

It is ever so easy to make, I even did it on this:

Oh yes, I turned the Singer 99k into a hand crank! It like a new toy. The boys have been having so much fun with it too, cranking away while I steer the fabric (sewing even more lavender bags). I thought it might be tricky to sew with, but it really is very easy to guide the fabric with your left hand and turn with your right. The bobbin still even works (it's also a great arm workout).

I bought the hand crank from here. The overall quality of the hand crank isn't the best - not like the beautiful enamel finish on the actual machine. I think it's all just black paint on fairly rough metal, but it does it's job well. And as an added bonus - I have a working Singer motor to use on another machine!

It's so nice to be able to just walk up to the machine and start sewing - no foot controllers and power points to plug in, no worries about leaving the machine on and things heating up. The only downside it you were thinking of converting to one (apart from speed), would be the lack of light at night. This baby came without a light anyway, but I have come up with an alternative:

An IKEA led portable light that is conveniently magnetic! Press on and off. Fantastic. The littlest guy, thinking it was funny, stuck a bunch of fridge magnets on the machine, and guess what we worked out?  Flat magnetic fridge magnets can be used as seam guides! (I'm sure lots of people already know all this, but I'm obviously a bit slow).

Oh, and if I wanted, I could take her outside into the garden to sew while watching the kids play, or down to the creek to throw rocks, or on a boat, or in the car. Imagine what muscles I'd have...