Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wedding dress in progress

Just a quick progress pic here -- I took this a few nights ago to show my mom how this dress is coming along. I have a few weddings to go to this summer, and I'm getting a head start on fancy dress sewing to make sure that they actually turn out nice enough to wear to weddings!

This is the dress that I'm planning on wearing to my brother's wedding in July. It's make from Colette's Chantilly pattern, which is a pattern that I think is totally gorgeous but somehow doesn't seem to have been as popular as some of the other Colette patterns dresses (at least based on user-submitted pictures). The fabric is a silk chiffon from that I got a fantastic deal on -- I think it was part of the Vera Wang fabrics that went on sale a few months ago, and I got it for two bucks a yard! The lining came from my NYC fabric shopping splurge, and it was also two bucks a yard. So, all told I think I spent $16 on the fabric for this dress and will probably have enough left over to make a flouncy sleeveless blouse or something.

I'm basically finished the bodice of the dress now (I finished the topstitching on the collar after taking these pictures). Now I just need to baste the skirt on, put in the zipper, and hem the bottom layers. That's still quite a bit of work for me at least since I'm a rather slow sewer, but I always find it's a lot more fun to work on the final stages of putting something together when it starts to actually look like a real piece of clothing.

Friday, April 23, 2010


So you know how I've been struggling for months now with a ridiculously green tank? Buying flocculants and changing the lights schedule and doing everything I could think of to get rid of this nasty floating algae infestation? Today the tank lights pop on in the morning to this:

Woah! Okay, it's not clear by any means, but it's also not thick pea-soup green that makes it impossible to see my fish three inches away from the front of the tank (and really, that linked picture was not the worst of it -- it was pretty bad for a while there). I don't know what happened in between yesterday afternoon and this morning, but I'm damn pleased to be able to see my fish again. The plants are looking a little worse for wear, which is understandable since they've been fighting for light with the algae soup for months. Maybe now they'll have a fighting chance!

I'm going to consider this a good omen for the weekend. Happy friday, folks!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

RIP, Nemo

Advance warning: This post is about fish euthanasia. So, if you don't want to read a sad post, this one's not for you.

I had to put down one of my fish today. My sweet vegan SO doesn't particularly want to listen to me talk about fish euthanasia, so I thought I would blog about it here.

The fish in question was named Nemo. I don't ordinarily name my fish but this one came to me already named, by way of friend who was moving out of town and needed to find her fish a new home. So, Nemo joined my tank in 2008 and has been living there happily ever since. A few months ago she started changing color, with her scales getting slightly darker. I wasn't too concerned about this since she still seemed to be eating and acting normally. I figured this might be the fish equivalent of going grey, since she was getting up there in fish years.

Yesterday Nemo didn't come up to feed, and when I looked around in my (still green) tank, I found her near the bottom, floating at an odd angle. She wasn't dead, but she seemed to have lost the ability to right herself and was pale and not moving around very much. I thought it might be best to leave her since there wasn't any infection or anything that I thought I could treat, but today I saw one of the other fish picking on her in the tank. That's not a good way to go. I considered setting up the spare tank I keep as a hospital tank so that she could die in peace, but she seemed so listless and weak already that it seemed like euthanizing her would be the best option.

It's been a while since I've had to kill a fish, so I did some research on methods over at Wet Web Media. I wanted to make very sure that I was using a method that would be effective but not painful. I opted for using clove oil to anesthetize Nemo (since I had it on hand), followed by freezing. The combination of these methods seemed to be the best way to address the limitations of each: Some people said that clove oil alone was difficult to use because it was hard to tell when the fish was really dead or just anesthetized, and opinions were mixed on whether freezing a conscious fish actually caused pain. I used the clove oil first, waiting ten minutes or so until there was no visible movement, and then put the container in the freezer to ensure that Nemo didn't wake up.

I'm pretty sure Nemo died of old age (I'm guessing she was at least three years old, which is fairly old for a platy), but even fish deaths of natural causes still get me down. I guess it's inescapable part of owning any kind of pet, though.

So, RIP Nemo. You were a hearty little fish. Nemo is survived by one offspring, a small but fast orange male platy who's still alive and well in the tank.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nom nom nom

Not much to say here, except look at these gorgeous cinnamon buns that I made (or if you're German, "cinnamon snails")! Last week I had a cinnamon bun craving that just would not go away. While I was tempted to just buy a pack of the Pillsbury buns in a can, I knew I'd end up eating them all myself (since they're not vegan) and living to regret it later. I finally got up the motivation to make them from scratch using the Vegan Brunch recipe. I cheated a little and put the dough in the breadmaker instead of making it by hand and that turned out quite well. These took a lot of time to make but weren't exactly time consuming. There's a lot of rising time in there, but not a whole lot of work. So, if you haven't made cinnamon buns before, try it! They're pretty damn tasty.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Discount shoe shopping

I'm in the DC area at the moment for a work trip. It hasn't been the most entertaining trip ever, but it has produced some fringe benefits: namely, a nice new pair of shoes!

Normally one of the first things I do when I get within spitting distance of a major city is google around to see if they have a Nordstrom Rack. The Rack is crack to me (ha! I swear that was unintentional). Basically they have a bunch of old stock from Nordstroms and they sell it off at discount prices, sometimes really discounted if you're willing to sift through the sale racks. Some of my favorite things to wear came from the Rack (aside from things I made myself, of course!) and I love going there just to treasure hunt.

Now I know there is a Nordstrom Rack in the DC area because I've been there before, but it's quite far away from where I'm staying at the moment. Even this might not ordinarily be enough to stop me, but I'm trying to put myself on spending lockdown lately, and a place like the Rack about the worst place in the world to visit when you're trying to be thrifty. Instead, I opted to take a walk out to a store called DSW. What does this stand for? Discount shoe world? Designer shoe warehouse? Who knows, I'd never heard of the store before. But, it was about an hour away (a good distance for a walk), and I thought it might be a good way to limit myself to making at max one frivolous purchase.

Turns out that this place is great! I'm totally going to add this to my roster of stores to visit when on treasure-searching breaks from work trips. The prices for their regular stock were good, but the discount room at the back was fantastic. I turned down a lovely pair of Sofft pumps that were about $40 (but unfortunately too similar to other shoes I have), and I settled on a pair of grey pumps in the end. They're by a company called Naked Feet that I'd never heard of, but the shoes are amazingly soft (and will hopefully also be amazingly comfortable). Here's some stock photos from the web:

I got the dove grey color, pictured at the far right. Pretty sweet, eh? I paid $35, regular $125. I was tempted to wear them right home with the grey/black jeans I was wearing, but I think I'll be wise and wait until I have more ready access to bandaids before I try to break them in.

Another travel perk -- Watching Project Runway in real time! If I get off campus early enough today, I'll go get some take out food from Chipotle or something and watch in my hotel room tonight. Life is good.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

1000 miles!

Ta dah! I finally make it to my goal of 1000 miles on my bike odometer yesterday, on a pretty trip out towards Spencer to the Biodiversity Preserve, a nice little area that's about ten miles away from our house. According to my trip odometer I needed exactly 20.5 miles to get to 1000, but I found that when I got home I was still at 999 on the total odometer, which for whatever reason is always a little off. So, I actually cheated and spun the wheel for a minute or so to take this picture :)

Just for fun, here's an image of how far 1000 miles would get me from my house in Ithaca:

Looks like it would take me about to Brunswick, GA; almost all the way to Florida. Pretty impressive, eh? Now, it's taken about a year to accumulate that many miles on my bike, but it's still pretty cool to think about how small little bits of everyday riding adds up to big distances over time.

It took me a little bit longer than I expected to hit the 1000 mark. Originally, I was hoping to make it at about the end of March, but all things considered I think I still did pretty well. I think biking inside on the trainer is a great solution for me over the winter, but as soon as it was at all nice enough to bike outside, the trainer came down pretty quickly. Doing a few quick sessions on the trainer during the week is great, though, and I wish it wasn't quite so much of a pain to have the trainer set up in the kitchen so that I could still have that option. I've been vaguely thinking about taking up jogging so that I can have a low-cost activity that doesn't require a lot of planning or scheduling. The only problem is that I kind of hate jogging. Maybe I could learn to love it, though?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Custom fitted pants, the finished product

Okay, my custom fitted pants are finally complete! Are you ready for the virtual fashion show?

These pictures were taken just moments after I finished sewing the buttons on, so you'll have to excuse the unpressed hems and other weird wrinkles.

Okay, impressions. Despite my frustrations with how these were turning out halfway through, I think they look great in the end. They hang very smoothly from my body and have a very easy fitting shape, and I lowered the waistline to just where I like it so it's very comfy. I did find that on my first wearing out that the silk lining was not exactly the best choice, though. I don't know if I needed to make an ease pleat or reinforce it a bit more or what, but I did actually rip some of the stitches in the lining a bit when I sat down quickly and they must have pulled in some weird way.

I learned some interesting things about fitting my body from this experiment. For example, one of the things that I noticed when I was making the pattern pieces is that the back waistband was very curved, while the front pieces were almost flat. This makes a lot of sense if you look at me from the side, since I'm kind of straight up and down around the middle in the front and sloping in the back. This will be good knowledge to have for future pattern alterations, and I can think of a few patterns that I made that had pieces that were too straight (and therefore gappy at the back) or pieces that were too curved (and therefore dug into my waist at the front). Drafting my own pattern from a block was also incredibly fun, and really encourages me to make a bodice block. Oh, the cool blouses that I could make then! I did make a few errors when drafting my pieces, but obviously nothing bad enough to keep these from turning into pants at the end of the day.

My main problems with this project were really related to the linen. I'm a bit bummed out at how baggy these pants are after wearing them around for a day, even after my reducing and interfacing and twill taping. These are not supposed to be close fitting pants, they're designed to be comfy in a fabric with no ease, and so maybe linen was just a bad choice for a first go. They'll be very nice for a loose fitting spring pant, but they're just not quite what I had in mind. I think I'll have to make these up again in a non-stretch fabric that will be more stable, and that will give a better indication of whether or not these are truly the perfect pants. Oddly I've had two pairs of pants self destruct this week, so maybe that's the pants gods' way of telling me I should try again. Maybe a brown twill?

Nice ride, with a brownie halfway

I stole this neat little map thing from my SO's blog from the ride that we took this weekend. He suggested that we try a sunday ride with the Finger Lakes Cycling Club. They were planning on going to Taughannock and back so it was a ride I thought I could handle, but when we showed up in the parking lot and saw a bunch of guys with spandex and aero bars, I was a bit worried. Sure enough, we set off towards the park at a pace of 13-14 miles an hour. That kind of pace would be fine for me in the trainer and for half an hour or so, but I knew this was going to be trouble for me in the long term. Sure enough, I started to drop behind after we hit a hill half an hour in, and the SO and I decided to break off and do our own route instead.

We took a nice ride into Trumansburg, going up the hill on a long but not too steep path, and when we got into town we stopped at Gimme! Coffee for a snack. I'm a big fan of snacking in the middle of rides, and I told my SO we should plan the next ride around a good place to eat. It was a lovely day for a ride, and although I was pretty tired afterwards I had a fantastic time. The only downside of the ride was that I didn't wear any sunscreen, and now I have little lobster red arms and the beginnings of a farmer's tan. I guess I'm out of practice with sunscreening myself!

My bike odometer is now at 980 miles... one more ride, and I hit the 1000 mile birthday! What should I do to celebrate?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Beignet skirt

I finished this project a few weeks ago, but pics are still slowly trickling out of my SO's camera and onto the blog. So here you see me on what was probably the first day warm enough to wear a skirt (and matching sandals!) in Ithaca. The skirt is made using the Beignet pattern from Colette patterns, and it came together beautifully. Since the pattern says that it is very fitted at the waist, I cut a size 10 for most of the pattern but graded out to a 12 at the waist. This worked really well, and it turned out fitted, but not at all tight or uncomfortable. I used a stretch cotton for added comfort and for some wrinkle resistance, although it didn't turn out to be quite as wrinkle free as I'd hoped by the end of my first day wearing it out and about.

When I initially picked out this pattern I was worried that the high waisted slim skirt look wasn't going to be so hot on me, but I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I like wearing this skirt. Usually I don't tuck tops into skirts or pants because it always looks weird to me for some reason, but with the higher waist I think it works. I'll probably make this skirt again in a different fabric at some point, and maybe with a side zip instead of buttons. It would also be really fun to do a version of this with an even more fitted waist and a bit of plastic boning for a corset like effect. Maybe next winter I'll give it a go, but for now there are summer dresses to sew!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fun with kitchen gadgets

I look like I'm having fun, don't I ? And I was having even more fun eating the delicious noodles that came out of this funky looking contraption that my SO brought back with him from Germany. In case you haven't guessed, this is a spaetzle maker. When my SO lived in Berlin there was this delicious spaetzle place right down the street from his apartment where you could get these noodles with cheese and onions, sort of like a German mac and cheese. As soon as I was confident that I could pronounce "kaese" and "spaetzle" well enough to be understood, I went to that shop as many times as I could without risking total cheese overload. For around 4 euros, you could get a tiny salad and a giant plate of fresh, cheesy noodles covered in sauteed onions. Delish.

I wasn't at all confident that we'd be able to reproduce that noodle goodness here at home, because spaetzle making seems to be something that there's a lot of lore and mysticism about -- no one will tell you how much water to add to the recipe, for example, so you just have to guess at when you've made the dough thin enough that you can actually get it through the press but not so runny that you just end up with sad little disintegrating blobs on the other side. Somehow, magically, we managed to produce noodles on the first try. It was fantastic watching those long strings of dough hit the water and become delicious lumpy noodles! I had fresh ones for dinner with some cheese, onions and mushrooms on top (my SO tells me that my addition of mushrooms is decidedly NOT Swabian. Whatever, it was really tasty). The next day I made the leftovers with more onions and cheese in a pan so that the noodles got a little crispy and the cheese got nice and melty.

In addition to how surprisingly easy this was to make, I was also surprised at how not nutritionally terrifying the recipe was, for the dough at least. I thought I was going to discover that I'd actually been eating four eggs in a serving with a little pinch of flour to bind them together. For this batch I only used two eggs and a cup of flour, which sounds pretty reasonable to me for two meals (at least until you start dumping loads of cheese and onions in, but so be it. I'm no stranger to loads of cheese and onions). Do you think the Germans just like to keep us thinking that this stuff is terrible for you and impossible to make anyway so that they can have all the noodles themselves? Your secret is out, Germans!