Saturday, February 10, 2024

A Marmalade Day


The first Marmalade Day of the year was last Wednesday. Seville or sour oranges, the best type to use for marmalade, are available for only about six weeks, starting in late December. Some years I can find them, some years I can't. In this part of the United States they aren't common.

If I'm able, I'll stock up. I simmer the oranges whole in plenty of water. Then I put on big apron, have a seat, and cut open the oranges, separating the insides from the peels and slicing the peels into shreds. It's a good job to do while listening to the opera or an audio book. Depending on how chapped one's hands are, it's a bit sting-y at first.

In Britain, where they take marmalade seriously, one could buy a special marmalade cutter. I make do with a sharp paring knife, but gosh, isn't the marmalade machine tempting?

Fellows & Bates Marmalade Cutter

I do have a Foley food mill (first picture,) which I use to separate the seeds from the pulp. Seeds, pulp, peel, and poaching liquid are then frozen in single batch sizes, allowing me to make marmalade throughout the year.

Marmalade simmering on the stove is a terrific antidote to a grey winter day, which is why I typically wait until February to make a batch. The house smells like orange Lifesavers and the additional moisture in the dry winter air is welcome.
I give away some to friends and keep a few jars for myself. 

It's remarkable how fast a person can get through a 12 ounce jar marmalade without even trying very hard.

Monday, January 22, 2024



Whatever you may call this, from Victor's perspective this is a cat toys automat. It's a little tricky to get to - you have to negotiate a swivel chair that may have stuff piled on it, but after that, the table underneath provides an excellent perch from which one may select something nice to pull off and play with. Or several somethings. And of course, the cat toy automat is open 24 hours if you absolutely positively need a new toy at 2 am.

Because of the way the house is laid out, it's just about impossible to keep Victor out of the sewing room. The best I can do is cat-proof it. So one day recently when it was far too cold to get outside to do a little gardening, I decided to put the cat toy automat out of business, at least for the next few years.
The toys are gone but their ghosts remain. In truth, many of the items on the board were only supposed to be there until I took the time to put them away in their proper places. Obviously, some items had been there several years without my taking the time to deal with them. 

The ribbons have gone into the plastic tubs where ribbons belongs. Likewise beads, needles, insect pins, bits of lace, patches, embroidery, quilting, and knitting samples all have their places. The feathers don't fit into the box in which I currently store millinery supplies, so I'm still puzzling out that one.

It's still January, but I notice that the streetlights don't come on until a few minutes after 5 pm.
Victor and a rain boot cat toy

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

A January Task

Is there a more January task than carding buttons one has cut off of worn-out clothing so that they can be re-used? If I didn't sew some of my own clothes, and if I didn't hate shopping for buttons, and if the outside temperature today wasn't well below freezing, I'm not sure I'd bother. The only way I've found to keep track of these salvaged buttons is to sew them onto small rectangles of cardboard, cut from tablet backs that I keep for the purpose. 

You can never have too many sets of white buttons. I think these came from a much-loved LL Bean shirt. Their clothes typically have nice buttons and I like the pie-crust edging on these.


Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Well-Dressed Santa, 1920s edition


Do you lie awake at night, wondering what Santa wore in the 1920s? I have the answer! See the full posting on Unsung Sewing Patterns.

Merry Christmas, everybody. I'll be hibernating until the New Year.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Nice Try


I love the Search feature in Google Photos. It tries so hard. This is one of the photos it showed me when I searched for "gloves." I had even added a description to this photo reading "stockings."

This is the time of year for wool stockings. I knit these years ago, because it is so delightful to have a pair of stockings with secret purple feet.

(But on a serious note, the search results are a good reminder to us that recognition by machines is imperfect.)

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Almost Antiques


Christmas baking started this weekend, and a fair amount of ground nutmeg was required. My nutmeg grater and I aren't officially antiques yet, but we're both headed in that direction, long may it continue. I bought my grater new, about 35 years ago, in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, appropriately enough. I think I paid about $2.00 for it. These little graters were a pretty common item in gift shops in those days. They may still be, if there are still gift shops.

If you're ever in need of a small housewarming gift, a shiny new nutmeg grater and a jar of whole nutmegs might be appreciated.

My Christmas baking requires prodigious amounts of almonds, honey, candied and dried fruit, and chocolate. Some years, this was a significant bump in the grocery budget and I'd start laying in supplies in November. Some years almonds were in short supply. Or candied orange peel. Or the only other person on the planet who needed candied citron got to the grocery store ahead of me and cleaned them out.

Thus far this year there haven't been any hiccups, long may it continue. The lackerli are done, the dough for the pfeffernusse has been made up and is mellowing. Cinnamon stars are next on the list.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Thoughts While Sewing on a Button

Over the last year or so I've been watching the conversations on the social media sites about the hidden costs of fast fashion, from the exploitation of garment workers to the environmental cost of cheaply-made clothing that ends up in landfills after only a few wearings.

I've never been a fashionable person. I don't have the mind-set for it, and I've never really had the money, so while I can observe the social and advertising pressures that drive people to purchase fast fashion, I don't really understand them.

My parents have vivid memories of the stories the adults in their lives told them of the deprivations of the Great Depression. They also remember the shortages of World War II, so they have a good sense of what you need to get by versus what's nice to have, and they passed this along to their kids. Largely, I buy or make the clothing I need in order to present myself to the world as a decent, rational human being. Now and again I'll buy or make something just for the fun of it and let me tell you, I've gotten a lot of joy out of these garments.

A few weeks ago I lost a button off a shirt I made in 1998 and wore several times a month until quite recently. I had spare buttons put away, so in a couple of minutes one of my favorite shirts was ready to wear again. It's become a little too faded to wear outside the house, but it's fine to wear around the house on a chilly day over a purple t-shirt. And those bright purple grapes just make me so happy.

Should everybody know how to sew on a button? Absolutely. Maybe those little sewing kits we all steal from our hotel rooms should also come with instructions on how to thread a needle, repair a length of hem, and sew on a button. This would be at least as useful as the Gideon Bible.

Should everybody make their own clothes? That's not realistic for a number of reasons. But I think that everybody should know that making clothes is an option. Everybody should know how fabric and clothes are made and how to distinguish good quality.

We've been talking about this for over a hundred years. The book Clothing Choice, Care, Cost was published in 1920 in response to high clothing costs after World War I.

While some of the information is outdated, there is still plenty of good basic information on textiles, fibers, budgeting clothing purchases, and clothing care and repair. 

Possibly the most intriguing idea is that of a Clothing Information Bureau, designed to educate the consumer (pp. 217, 218)

My copy of this book spent some time in the library of the Hudson City YWCA, and it's intriguing to imagine this Y having their own Clothing Information Bureau. Woolman also suggested that department stores could house Clothing Information Bureaus.

There are some significant hurdles to updating the concept of a Clothing Information Bureau to our more-or-less virtual lives today, from the tactile element of fabric, to being able to inspect seam finishes, grain line, and pattern matching.

In what physical space could a Bureau reside? Who gets to decide what information is included, and if it's accurate? But most importantly: is it even feasible to counteract the overwhelming social pressures driving fast fashion?