September 27, 2013

Muslin Bunnies

Our family just got back from a trip to the west coast to visit my family. I made two quick stuffed bunnies to give to the children of a friend of Becky's we stopped in to see in Berkeley.

In 2010 Violet and I made a stuffed bunny, mostly based on something I saw on the internet (don't remember where I found it). I freehanded an outline for the front and back fabric, both made from a linen blend muslin type fabric we bought a bolt of years ago to make into curtains but didn't end up using. Then I embroidered a design onto the front. The tail is a chunk cut from a sheepskin I got at Ikea a while back for use in sewing projects. A small circle was cut in the rear fabric, the edges folded under and backstitched to the edges of the skin (thimble required!).

Then the two pieces of fabric were sewn right sides together, inverted through a length of open seam, and the resulting bag was stuffed with wool batting from West Earl Woolen Mill. Finally the opening was stitched closed by hand.

The first bunny has held up well being in the general stuffed animal rotation at our house. The joint between ears and head has gotten plenty of flex, so the ears are rather floppy now but this is not unpleasant for a bunny. Violet recently decided she liked it above the other animals and has been taking it to bed, which is gratifying. This design is a good payoff for not much work, so it seemed like a reasonable choice to make up some small presents for kids.

I once again freehanded the outlines, mostly based on Violet's bunny but slightly smaller to accommodate the odd pieces of fabric I wanted to put to use. One non-ideal characteristic of the first bunny is that the wool fibers work their way through the muslin, making it look slightly hairy all the time. So on these new bunnies I cut enough fabric to have a double layer in both the front and back. We'll see if that slows down the fiber extrusion problem.

Becky's friend has a boy and a girl. For the boy style bunny, I made the face more fierce but still cute. The girl style bunny is nearly identical to Violet's, other than that I enhanced the flower embroidery a little.

The embroidery is all done with three strands of DMC floss, not particularly elegantly. I joked to Becky's friend that it looks so coarse it could have been done by a blind woodcutter. The outlines are mostly in black, with a mix of backstitch and stem stitch. The flower stems are dark green, the leaves are satin stitched with some light green my mom had at her house. On the blue flower, Becky reminded me how to do french knots to form the stamen parts in the center with peach colored floss. For some reason I seem to have put the faces too far up, so the eyes are almost running up into the ears. They still look pretty cute though.

Before our trip I had cut all the pieces and packed up the necessary supplies. I did the embroidery and tails in free moments along the first half of our trip.

Someone joked that to make them more realistic I could make some french knots in brown thread just under the tail. Alas I had not packed any brown thread and my mom didn't have any in her stash!

At my mother's house in Oregon, she pulled out our old electric Kenmore which I sent to her last year and I got to briefly renew our acquaintance while joining the fabric layers. One night my mom and I stayed up late stuffing in wool batting I had brought along, and I closed up the openings by hand about one day before the bunnies needed to be delivered in Berkeley.

We made plans with our friends to meet in Muir Woods in Marin so our kids could check out some redwoods.

It was raining steadily, but the park was still packed. Child 1 especially enjoyed the rain!

The kids kept a sharp eye out for "fairy houses" formed in the base of the redwoods.

So despite the poor weather, everyone had a fun walk around the flat part of the park. Becky's friends lent us rain coats and umbrellas.

The pictures of the bunnies are taken at a tree near the entrance to Muir Woods.

In passing, Becky's friend mentioned she had a box of socks she had deemed excess to requirements and was going to throw out. You can believe I snapped those up! Boo-yaw! I should be set for another couple years on socks, and my number one problem with continuing into year 3 of my no-buying-clothes challenge has been neatly resolved.

September 9, 2013

2013 Apple Sauce - 30L cooked and canned

Last weekend we did our once yearly apple sauce run. I ordered 2 bushels (36kg) of Macs from Kimball Fruit Farm, which Child 1, Millie, and I picked up at the Somerville farmers' market on Saturday morning. We also got to see a demo of a bicycle powered honey extractor put on by the beekeeping dad of the lady who runs Relish in Union Square, which was cool.

I'm not crazy about Macs in general, but they make a nice flavored apple sauce, and this is one application where their habit of turning to mush is in fact helpful. These two boxes of apples were not the most flavorful macs I've tasted, but they are still fresh and local and thus will make a sauce far superior to the flavorless mulch purveyed by the supermarkets.

On friday I had picked about 1kg of crab apples from landscaping in my office park and various trees along the bike path on my commute to work.

The first order of business was to wash the produce. Fortunately the weather was glorious, so Child 1 and Millie worked together to wash the apples while I prepared things upstairs in the kitchen.

The apples cook much faster if you chop them up first; the smaller the chunks, the faster the cookdown.

For each pot full of apples, I added a handful of crabs for seasoning, and about 250ml of last year's hard cider to aid in initiation of the cookdown.

This year I tried a pipelined production technique, with a packet size of one of my medium pots full of chopped apples. So I would wait until the pot was cooked enough to process, empty it out and refill with already chopped apples and start another cookdown.

While the next pot was cooking, I would can a batch of sauce and start a canning cycle, process the previous output from the pot into sauce, and put the new sauce into a secondary pot for pre-canning cook. This was easier to manage than taking the whole load of material through each step entirely before starting the next, which is more or less what I have done previously.

I borrowed my co-worker Jim Serdy's Squeeze-O handcrank food mill again, which the kids enjoy operating (for a while, then I keep working it for the other 5 hours :)

Everyone took turns cranking, and much sauce was consumed hot from the mill.

The bottleneck in the pipelined process was the cookdown in the medium pot. To help this step go faster, I added a pre-bake step. So I would chop up the apples and put them into stainless bowls covered with foil, baked at 175C in the oven.

See that handle sticking out? Kind of inevitable, but of course I grabbed it while it was still burning hot on the countertop. Doh.

When the cook pot was emptied, I poured preheated apples from these bowls into the pot, then refilled the bowls with raw apples. Even if I had another big pot to add a parallel cookdown station, all 4 burners were already in use on the stovetop (cookdown, sauce cook, canning kettle, jar lids). So putting the oven to use made a lot of sense.

Here is the yield of this year's effort, in 35 jars, mostly quarts.

Should be enough to keep us in sauce for the year, with a few extras to give away as gifts.

September 2, 2013

Fairy Chairs

The other week I was in the basement working on the new back gate, when Violet and Millie came down and wanted to make something. I asked if they had any ideas for something simple we could work on in an afternoon. Violet came up with fairy chairs.

She has been arranging a little fairy house outside, with moss, brick walls, a wood roof,

and a mat woven from leaves

So she thought a chair might be a nice addition. I had some scrap red cedar pieces (the cheeks of the half lap joints from the gate) that looked like they wanted to become fairy chairs, so we started cutting and fitting.

These were fairly quick and crude, but it was fun to cut up the pieces with the japanese saw and put them together, and Violet was delighted with the project. Of course I did a lot of this, but she did a number of cuts, some planing, sanding, and filing.

After the glue was dry, we did a seal coat with shellac.

Child 1 helped by scratching some scrap wood.

When the shellac was dry, we sanded lightly in preparation for further finishing.

Violet wanted to paint two chairs with Real Housepaint,

and one with dark stain that I used for the bathroom cabinetry.

She gave one of the red ones to her neighborhood friend Maddy. I'm sure the fairies are enjoying the other two. I think they are adorable!