December 11, 2012

Halloween 2012

Just getting around to catching up with this post now. We had a pleasant halloween this year, with jack-o-lanterns, mostly home made costumes, and trick-or-treating.

December 6, 2012

Girl's dress shirt for Violet's Revels show

Violet has been participating in a homeschoolers singing group called Revels, which she has really enjoyed. Last Tuesday they gave a short recital which was wonderful to watch. She needed a white shirt to wear for the show, and didn't have one. So I whipped one up on Sunday and Monday. Violet was very excited about it: "Dad, look it has cuffs and a collar! So fancy!".

Violet and Millie's Birthday Party

This year for Violet and Millie's birthdays, which are only separated by a month, we had a combined party. They share many of the same friends, and it's a lot of work to host! Given the date of mid-October, and coming the weekend after we went apple picking, we settled upon an apple themed party. We made apple theme cakes, two apple pinatas, served apple cider (sweet and hot, or hard and cold), and had some apple based games for the kids to play. The above is a box Becky painted for the 'Toss the Apple' game.

November 29, 2012

Man Doll for Buster

I've made some Purl Girls from Mimi Kirchner's wonderful pattern, but I wanted to develop a man doll to gift to little boys, such as my 1.5yr old son Combustion. I adapted the Purl Girl pattern, which unsurprisingly leads to a doll which is much like Mimi's style but less skillfully executed.

I think this guy turned out pretty cute though, and I'll be making some changes to the pattern and hopefully making a few more for my nephews.

November 28, 2012

Apple themed birthday cakes

For Violet and Millie's birthday party, we baked two cakes with apple decorations on top. Both were two tier, 8 layers total with filling between layers, frosted with swiss meringue buttercream and decorated with colored fondant cutouts.

November 21, 2012

First decent French Bread

Some years ago, I wanted to start baking bread. So I got myself a copy of Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhardt, and began trying to bake some french bread. I did not meet with great success.

Having baked quite a bit of bread and having more skill and experience now, I thought I would give it another try. Two weeks ago I did so, and the bread was great!

November 19, 2012

Mini Harvest - Fall 2012

About a month ago we dug up the potatoes and beets we planted this year, and cut down the basil plants. More recently, we turned over our garden bed and planted some garlic.

October 31, 2012

8th Annual Cidering

The weekend before last, I took the two girls to Maine for the 8th instalment of our fall cider making get together with Ben Polito and a cast of other characters. We had a nice time, despite rain on Saturday. 1000+kg of apples were processed into 750L of cider using our custom built bicycle powered cider machines. Ben's blog has the definitive writeup of the weekend.

October 26, 2012

Apple Pie and Pie Preparation Strategy

I am a particular lover of pie, and apple pie is my personal favorite. Apple season in New England is a wonderful thing, and I like to take full advantage of it by prepping a stack of pie fillings with fresh in season fruit, then freezing the filling for later use.

October 25, 2012

Home cured pancetta

Since Becky took our family's diet away from Vegan and straight to Paleo, I became interested in possibly trying out some home meat curing. I read Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn, and hit some of the great web resources for meat curing like Jason Molinari's Cured Meats blog. My first effort was turning a big piece of pork belly into pancetta. It turned out nicely!

October 24, 2012

Apple Sauce - 2012

Here is the ingredients list of what I like to put in my apple sauce:  APPLES. That is it. It is my feeling that with the right variety of apple, sourced fresh and in season from a local orchard, apple sauce needs nothing else to be optimally delicious. The other year I happened to taste some commercial apple sauce someone had brought to work, purchased at Whole Foods. It tasted like insipid mush one might find in a paper factory compared to quality homemade sauce.

October 10, 2012

Apple Picking - Fall 2012

Last Sunday we spent a lovely fall afternoon at Red Apple Farm, in Philipston, MA. We had a tasty BBQ lunch, chose pumpkins for halloween, picked about 100kg of apples, and generally enjoyed the New England countryside during its best season.

October 8, 2012

Purl Girls

I made a Purl Girl for Analeise, my friend Carrie Whitter's daughter. I did most of the work in short intervals during a recent visit we made to California to see some of my family, and was motivated to finish the doll by the firm deadline of seeing Carrie and Analiese on a jaunt to my childhood home of Tehachapi.

For quite a while I've admired the work of the artist that designed the doll. Her name is Mimi Kirchner, and she lives in the next town over
from us, Arlington. Her blog is at:
She periodically offers doll making workshops; I would love to someday attend one!

A while back she donated a pattern and instructions for this doll as part of a collaboration with Purl SoHo in NYC. She is called Purl Girl, and you can find the instructions and pattern here, and a Flickr stream with people's completed dolls here.

September 24, 2012

First two razors finished and in Use

My first two razors were heat treated by Mike Blue in short order and returned to me with a stately heat induced blue/black finish. I've completed the finish work on them, and have been shaving with them for about 6 weeks full time.

September 17, 2012

Sprouted Einkorn Bread

Becky has lately been excited about paleo and Atkins type diets, both of which involve low or no grain eating. I have not been able to motivate myself to get on board though, so I have continued baking essentially all the bread we eat. However I only bake bread about once or twice a month now since the household doesn't eat much of it; its main use is for me to eat sprout sandwiches for breakfast at work.

Becky read about ancient wheat, and how it has lower gluten content than modern wheat. Concerned about my health, she bought a sack of einkorn from a Massachusetts grower for me to try out. Somehow she bought whole grains though, instead of flour, so I am working on how to use it.

August 1, 2012


I have always loved to eat pies, and in my opinion there is really nothing that can best a well done home made pie. It seems a simple food, and indeed is possessed of a far more rustic appearance and flavor than a fancy cake, but an excellent pie demands a significant amount of time, loving effort, and basic skill to execute. Cake presents a refined product of sugar, dairy, kitchen chemistry, aesthetic whimsy, and strict adherence to a prescribed process. Pie on the other hand is a celebration of fruit, complemented and enhanced by its raiment of basic pastry, and involves relatively more art in the technique of preparation.

In this post I'll provide a snapshot of my current state of the art on fruit pie making, as of late July 2012. These two pies were made to bring to a summer party for my office, graciously hosted by the Sachs family at their beach cottage in Westport, MA. They turned out nicely, and were well received by the guests.

July 26, 2012

Homemade Crème Fraîche, Butter, Buttermilk, Leaf Lard, Bread, and Broth

Last weekend we did a fair bit of food preparation:
- baked a few loaves of bread
- rendered about a liter of leaf lard
- made a big pot of stock using oven roasted beef shanks
- cultured 3L of creme fraiche
- churned about 2L of it into butter and buttermilk
- harvested and braised a bucket of kale from the garden

June 27, 2012

Mall Tool Co. vintage lock mortiser

I have about 40 doors in my house, which is an 1890s victorian two family, about 325 m^2 (3500 ft^2). You know how those victorians loved their zillions of little rooms with doors separating them! These doors all have nice old mortise locks in them. I'm replacing some of the doors, and want to reuse the locks, but its a bit of a chore to install them in a new door slab.

Porter Cable and Virutex make door mortising machines, but they cost upwards of $1200. I did two doors for the downstairs apartment using a jig I made for the drill press and a forstner bit to clear most of the wood, followed up by a chisel to finish the mortise. This worked fine, but was time consuming and rather awkward. If I only had one door to do, I would just live with that since it wasn't all that bad. However, I have at least 15 more doors to do so I wanted to think about a more efficient method.

I found this vintage machine on ebay for something like $200 and thought I would give it a try. It came in an enormous rusty tool box with no instructions, and the box is almost as heavy as a person. State of the art in "portable" tools 75 years ago. Very solid though, and apparently still functional. I'd be surprised if my router still works in 75 years.

First homemade straight razors - out for heat treating

I'm still a rank beginner when it comes to straight shaving. But I do like to make things, and I've already made myself a strop, shaving soap, and a brush. So it seems only natural to undertake the fashioning of a razor.

I am anticipating that it will be deeply satisfying to exactingly draw a cold, fantastically sharp piece of steel shaped with my own hands across all the tender parts of my face. A tool made from scratch with care and fine materials, exquisitely suited to the one job it was designed to do.

May 1, 2012

Homemade Shaving Brush

Continuing to groove on the straight razor thing, and having made shaving soap and a strop, it seemed natural to make a brush. I'm doing fine with the the horsehair brush I got for free off B&B, but I wanted to experience what badger hair has to offer.

Actually I bought the 22mm Super Badger Bulb from The Golden Nib, but I made the handle and did the assembly. The ferrule is laser etched titanium. The handle is maple finished with oil & wax, secured to an aluminum disk plug with an M4 stainless screw. The knot was installed with epoxy.

April 25, 2012

Glories of the Past: Ghost Wedding Birthday Cake

Violet's birthday is in October, Millie's is in November. They share many of the same friends. So the last couple years we have been having one combined birthday party for them on or near Halloween. They each get a gift and maybe a treat on their actual birthday, but most of the birthday energy goes into the party. Last fall, the party was on the Sunday before Halloween.

We had picked out some insect cupcakes to make from Hello Cupcake! This book is amazing; you should check it and its sequel out if you haven't seen it. Of course I would substitute scratch made cake and frosting recipes for the box cake and canned stuff they recommend, but it is a great design reference and can really get you thinking in new ways about cake design.

Violet's costume was a bride dress we had sewn up a few months previously, so she was really pulling for a Wedding Cake. But Becky and I felt we needed to have some kind of Halloween tie in for the cake, so I came up with the idea of a ghost wedding. Violet was highly suspicious of this idea until our friend Kelly said she thought it sounded cool, at which point Violet got on board.

April 18, 2012

Making soap

I've been wanting to get into soap making for a little while now. I tried two tiny batches last friday night.

We don't use all that much soap at our house, but it would be cool if the hand soaps in the dishes by the sink in the two bathrooms were home made. Becky and I share a 1L bottle of Dr. B's for showering; it would be neat to make that too, or a reasonable approximation of it. I've recently embarked on a journey to switch from shaving with an electric to a straight razor, and I would also like to eventually get to exclusive use of my home made soap.

April 11, 2012

Regency dress muslins enjoy a second life

Violet has been wearing her red and white regency girl's dress I made her in 2010 around with a bonnet, which is a great aid to playing Little House on the Prairie. We were having a hard time keeping it washed and available for the frequency she wanted to wear it, so I though finishing the muslins I made as precursors for these dresses would be a relatively easy way to get another dress in the same style.

We just finished them last weekend, and they turned out really cute!

April 9, 2012

Regency Girl's dress Revival

The red and white regency dresses I made the girls for Joelle's wedding (see the recent Glories of the Past entry) were unfortunately not favorites and never got worn more than a handful of times, usually only after significant prodding from me. However, Violet just realized its probably closer to anything else in her closet to something Laura Ingalls might have worn as a girl, and so these have been enjoying something of a renaissance.

They are very cute, especially when Millie and Violet match and are also sporting the white sunbonnets we got at Sturbridge Village. The other week Violet wanted to wear hers every day, and we were trying to keep up with putting it through the wash frequently enough. As might have been predicted, the white skirt gets very dirty very quickly. In response to the high demand for regency wear, I dug out the muslins I made as precursors to these dresses and we've been working on finishing them up to a wearable state. I'll post pictures when they are done of course!

Glories of the Past: Girl's Regency Dresses for Joelle's wedding (2010)

Today I will introduce a new feature here to tell you every week or so about a project done before this blog was started. Some of these are partly produced elsewhere on the internet, some are not, but I want to bring them here and add them to the collection in an easily navigated form for my reference, and your amusement. This week I'll tell you about the dresses I sewed the girls for my sister Joelle's wedding in 2010.

This is from my submission to the Show & Tell section of Sense & Sensibility Patterns, the place I got the pattern from. If you have not checked out this website, I highly recommend it. The designs are nice looking and come with good instructions and graded patterns on heavy paper.

April 5, 2012

Straight Shave Update, Homemade Strops

I've been slowly trying to accustom myself to the deep waters of straight razor shaving. Its slow going, but I figure after 100 shave attempts I will surely be getting somewhere. My razor is out for a touch up by a local B&B forum member after a botched sharpening attempt on my part. Stropping on a free hanging pasted strop is not recommended, in case you were wondering.

April 4, 2012

Sprouting at Home

As someone who grew up in California, there would be something terribly wrong if I didn't like sprouts at least a little bit. But the experience of buying sprouts at the grocery store is not rewarding. They are rather expensive, bland, and spoil quickly. Much of the time they are matted together and get slimy on the bottom.

I started looking into home sprouting when we began eating mind boggling amounts of chia seed last year. Turns out the consensus is that chia seeds actually lose nutrition when sprouted, and don't taste all that great anyway. But in the course of the chia surfing, I came across sites like Sproutpeople.  Since then I've tried many types of sprouts and usually have 3-5 groups of sprouts or microgreens going at any given time. Believe me, there are so many amazing sprouts you have never tried.

The picture above is a typical breakfast for me: black coffee, huge pile of sprouts (these are buckwheat) on homemade whole wheat bread with vegan butter. Yum!

March 27, 2012

Clausing drill press back together (~5 years later!)

A decent drill press is a great thing to have in your shop. It might even be the one stationary machine I would choose to get first. Over the last 10 years, I've had two Clausing drill presses which I attempted to fix up and swap parts enough to realize my ideal drill press. I don't think I ended up with that, but at least I have a working machine now.

March 26, 2012

Violet's second piece of embroidery done, #3 begun

Becky has been teaching Violet simple embroidery stitches these last six months or so. Her first project was three circles of different colors on a piece of muslin, done with big satin stitches. She was very pleased with this, and it hung on the wall of the kitchen for some time. Next, she wanted to get more ambitious, so she designed a scene with a flower.

March 19, 2012

Sleep sack for Buster

Buster has been sleeping in a sleep sack we bought in the fall, but he is almost too big for it. Becky suggested making him a bigger one, so we rounded up some old baby blankets and got to work.

Response to NYT Magazine Article: How to Be a Pioneer Woman Without Ever Leaving the Couch

My sister Annesly sent me a link this morning to a very funny article by Heather Havrilesky in the New York Times Magazine about reading her 3 and 5 year old kids the Little House books. We are coincidentally also in the midst of reading these books to our 3 and 5 year old daughters (we just started book 6, Little Town on the Prairie), and it has also prompted us to do some reflection on ourselves and modern life, so the article really resonated in many ways. I have some fundamental issues with where the author ends up philosophically though.

March 15, 2012

Am I seriously going to use this thing to shave my face?

I've been using an electric razor more or less exclusively for my whole shaving life, about 20 years. It stinks, and I want better.

March 14, 2012

Finished racking 2011 cider

Last weekend I racked the last two carboys of 2011 cider into kegs. This means all 100+ liters of my 2011 hard cider is now in stainless. The combination of holiday season feasts and all the company we had to help with Becky's broken ankle in January helped us tap out the 2010 cider toward the end of February. I racked the first three carboys of 2011 a few weeks ago and have started drinking that.

The 2011 is shaping up nicely with a good balance of flavors. I think its quite tasty for a 5 month old cider, and it should improve further with age.

March 13, 2012

First handmade button hole

Last Sunday, Violet dug out a yellow dress from her closet which has a single strap on top that fastens around the neck and buttons in back. It used to have a freehanging button loop made of lightweight cord, but this broke some time back. We had mulled the idea of making a buttonhole on the strap itself as a repair, instead of recreating the free loop. So on Sunday, Violet was really pushing the buttonhole repair and asking if we could get out the electric sewing machine out to make a buttonhole.

As you may know, I am trying to not use the electric sewing machine this year. I considered breaking the resolution; its just one teeny button hole right? I have a buttonholer for the Necchi, but that machine is not able to be treadled at the moment. I had been thinking of doing hand buttonholes, and have greatly admired the ones I've seen on Jeffrey Diduch's blog. This actually seemed like the perfect chance to try it out. Only one needed, its not that visible a location, and the customer is not too demanding.

Last week's bread

A few months ago we received a tin of fancy olive oil from Italy. One of Becky's friends got it as a holiday gift from some relatives of hers who run an olive oil operation in Italy. She has kids who are very allergic to a variety of things though, so she can't eat stuff like this due to the possibility of cross contamination by other food items. So she kindly gave it to us.

Violet said she wanted to eat some of the "old" bread I used to make with the fancy oil and salt. So last week I baked some extra bread in addition to the two sandwich loaves for the week.

Homegrown Shiitake Mushrooms

My mom sent us a Shiitake Mushroom Patch from Fungi Perfecti for xmas.

March 6, 2012

New England Model Engineering Show - 2012

The whole family went to this show, at the Charles River Museum of Industry. This museum is small, but pretty cool. I had taken the girls there last fall to attend a festival listed on their website, but when we showed up we found out it was cancelled. The place was empty of visitors though, so the kids had fun running around checking stuff out, and we even got a demo of the excellent line shaft driven machine shop they have there. Though they probably had more fun balancing on the rock wall outside next to the dam and waterfall on the river.

This time though, there were so many people there you could barely move.

Lined Wool Cloak

Finished this on the Wheeler & Wilson the other night. Outer layer is wool (melton perhaps?), lining is sand colored medium weight rayon, both pulled out of my fabric stash. Satin ribbon trim and strap, wool felt applique, stainless snap closure.

February 29, 2012

Bread for the Family

This year I am trying to make all the bread we eat at home, as indicated by the 2012 New Year's resolutions. Our family eats a fair bit of bread. For breakfast I eat a slice or two, topped with a big pile of sprouts, Becky has a slice or two, and Millie and Violet each have a slice. Sometimes sandwiches get made for lunchtime. So all in we usually had eaten about 2+ loaves a week of store bread, plus some homemade bread.

Based on consumption in the year so far, we go through two 1.4kg homemade loaves a week, which will be in the 100-120 loaves range for the year, which would total around 140+ kg of bread range (over 300 lbs). This will represent around 85kg (187lbs) of flour. At typical yields, this would require around 4300 ft^2 area planted with wheat. Not that much actually. Hmm... should we plant wheat in the back yard??

February 10, 2012

Sewing with a treadle sewing machine

Why bother?

Vintage machines are generally cheap, reliable, oftentimes repairable and serviceable by the user, and can stand up well to years of heavy use. The ones still around in good shape have proven themselves worthy in a Darwinian sense. I would be surprised if a $1500 machine bought new today and packed with plastic and electronics is still around and useable 100 years from now.

A treadled machine specifically will be quiet to use, doesn't need a cord to the wall, and will work even if the power goes out. I also get more of a sense of control over the stitching with the treadle machine. My WW9 has a large, heavy balance wheel that makes stitching with hand power in tricky spots convenient and enjoyable.

February 9, 2012

A Treadle Machine finds a new Home

Wheeler & Wilson No. 9

Looking forward to starting my new life free from commercial clothing vendors, I began cruising craigslist and ebay for a suitable treadle table to house my newly acquired Necchi BU Nova. Becky and I agreed that a good looking treadle table would be best located in the dining room, where we could use is as a little sideboard or side table to put flowers when it is closed up. As you might expect, there were plenty of options on craigslist for cheap, but I was picky and wanted something that looked (or could look) great, was in reasonable shape and so wouldn't need a ton of work, and also not too big in size.

So I bought this Wheeler and Wilson No. 9 from a guy in Salem, who was kind enough to deliver it for an extra fee.

February 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

1) No buying of clothes for the whole year
This includes socks, underwear, and shoes. Whatever we need, we will sew ourselves, preferably from fabric already in my stash. I thought this would be more exciting if we got rid of our electric machines and moved to exclusive use of an antique treadle machine or hand work. So my mom is going to become custodian of Becky's mom's nice 80's vintage Kenmore sewing machine, which I've been sewing on for the past 11 years, and a friend of Becky's will get my serger. In reality, this is less kooky than it sounds because we all have enough clothes to last a year sitting in our drawers. Plus our kids get a lot of second or third hand clothes from their cousins, which is still fair game under this system. But I want to take the opportunity to ramp up the amount of sewing done in the house, and simultaneously up the quality of sewing work done and start dressing better. Sounding a little like wishful thinking at this point, but we'll see how it goes!

2) Bake all our own bread
We eat something like 6-8 loaves a month. I bake the equivalent of ~4 normally, so upping the baking shouldn't be too hard. The trick will be in making whole grain bread my family is willing to eat, and managing the schedule so that we always have bread but it doesn't sit around long enough to get stale or moldy.

3) Cut back on spending and consuming
Try to only bring ingredients or raw materials when possible. When contemplating a purchase, ask whether we really need that thing or not. Can it be had used instead of new? If it is a replacement, can the old one be fixed instead of replaced?

January 26, 2012


My name is Holly Gates. I am an engineer living in an old house in Somerville, MA with my wife and kids. This blog is a space for me to make some notes about pictures and put up the occasional project writeup or tutorial.

I used to have a website,, at which you can still find archived stuff. But I haven't updated it almost 5 years, and have started missing the ability to indulge in the conceit that the world is interested in what I am up to. The full on website process was just too time consuming; writing the HTML, formatting and uploading pictures, organizing into a hierarchy that made sense, making links, and the like.

So I figured I would go all web 2.0 and try out a blog. I think possibly something is lost in not having an organized structure, but it sure is easier for the author to get new stuff up! With good search and tags it's probably almost as good and even better under some circumstances. Using the Blogger interface also makes it way, way easier to get pictures up and placed, and to format the text of a post.

Here is a picture of my wife Becky and I at my cousin Stephanie's wedding last August.