Friday, March 23, 2012

Fresh vs. Powdered Buttermilk

I hate buttermilk. It smells and it's expensive and I can never tell when it's gone bad. But it's an essential acid in lots of baking recipes, like in quick breads. As an acid, the buttermilk reacts with baking soda and baking powder to create gas bubbles that leaven without yeast. But I am not always a great planner and I often find myself without this critical ingredient in the house when I need it, or if i do get it for a recipe, I have to get a mega sized container because that is all they have and I end up pouring the remainder down the drain. If there is one thing I hate, its wasting food and money!! Okay that's 2 things, but work with me :)

Then I found out about powdered buttermilk. I was really skeptical. I mean, reconstituted anything is worse than its fresh counterpart, right? But for baking, would it do the trick? I decided it was worth a try.

I made some cornbread and Irish soda bread with it. Although the rise was a tiny bit lower than with fresh, especially with the heavy cornmeal in the cornbread, the taste was fine and it was still very acceptable. I'll admit, I didn't do any side by side tests (who needs that much cornbread) but the bottom line is that it makes palatable results. The small container seems like it will last a long time, and it's reasonable in cost, especially compared to buying fresh and wasting half every time.

Bottom line: Try it for yourself! I certainly think it works! Just remember to add it to the dry ingredients and add the water in place of the buttermilk when the recipe calls for it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Baby Ren Faire costume

I know it's only March, but I am SO looking forward to summer.

And if you couldn't tell by previous posts, I am obsessed with the Renaissance Faire. This year I have a new attendee, my son! I did the math (ick scary math) and he will be about 8 months at Faire. I went a-researching on the interwebs and guess what I found? Damn near nothing. It took a whole lot of reading and a lot more looking at historical portraits to figure out a viable period costume for him.

I'm still not totally sure what to make, but at least I have an idea.

Here is what I found (forgive my lack of references please):
Up till about 6 months (or even one year according to some) babies were pretty much constantly swaddled to keep them from plucking out their eyes and to promote straight limbs. This was usually done with strips of linen wound around their bodies. Their heads were covered, but it is unclear whether that would be done by the swaddle or by a separate head covering, like a "bonnet" (coif). There are some paintings that show what looks like a solid piece of material used for the swaddle. Some of them were then wrapped with criss crossing bands to hold it in place.

Since little man will be over 6 months, it will be hot, and I don't want to have to unwind a swaddle for each diaper change, this option was out. But it's simplicity can't be argued with!

The next stage of clothing reminds me of a christening gown. The upper classes would dress babies, male and female, in ruffly dresses that often loosely resembled the mother's attire. Middle and lower classes had more simplistic gowns in class appropriate colors for the time. Some images show small children in just an undershirt or chemise, but this was always in the home, not in public, so I think it was a more casual "snapshot" of life, and nothing that would be seen outside. I mean, we've all run nude through the house as toddlers, right?

Yep thats a boy, although this is from 1610 or so.
Finally, I did see some paintings of babies in what can only be called "mini me" outfits. Typically in portraits, these outfits were worn by princes, princesses, and children of other gentry, and often were exact duplicates of what the parents wore. My assumption is that these were special occasion outfits and weren't your typical everyday clothes any more than your modern Christmas outfit resembles play clothes. However, for the queen on progress I don't think it would be a huge stretch that parents would dress children in their very best, but a full corset and hoops on a little girl or a doublet and ruffs on a little boy may not be all that practical by today's standards.

note the littlest one in a "christening gown" type outfit.  The one with the sword is a boy, not yet breeched

So I think I will make my little man a nice gown :). The upside is that it can be used by either gender. Boys didn't get "breeched" until potty training at the very earliest (some not until nearly 10), so if you make it generously sized, it can last 2 faires or more. And what ease of diaper changing! Of all the ridiculous clothing styles of the Elizabethan period, they sure had a smart idea when it came to children!

Stay tuned for more on this. Not only do I need to sketch and mock up a style for him, I have to figure out a way to breast feed in a corset?! Or do I...?

Read more about this project here and here!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Swaddle Blankets Big Enough to be Useful

Receiving blankets.  What a great thought. My friend loves to wrap her hand-knit stuffed animals in them.  She also uses them to wrap baby gifts instead of using paper.  A great THOUGHT.  She does not (yet) have kids, but once she has her little bundle home, she will realize like the rest of us just how unrealistic these teensie blankets are.  They are so good in theory, but are simply too small (at least in my experience) to do much with.  Wouldn't it be great if they were big enough to actually swaddle your little one? And in a pinch change him/her on it? And use for a mat for tummy time?

Well, I am here to solve that problem. :-) And a bonus - it's probably the easiest tutorial yet. It involves cutting and then hemming (or serging if you prefer). That's it. I promise!

XL Swaddle (or other) blanket
1 1/4 yd of 45" wide flannel fabric (I actually recommend getting 1 1/2 yds to make sure cuts are straight. You can use those scraps on future posts- I have plans!!!) don't forget to wash it first for shrinkage!!
Good scissors
Sewing machine OR serger

Step 1: Make one cut edge of your fabric straight by cutting along the pattern or following a thread across or drawing a line with a square and straight edge. Fold the straight cut edge to the selvage edge making a triangle. Cut along the bottom selvage edge to remove the excess fabric, making sure you are cutting as straight as possible.

Step 2: Heat your iron to high heat and put on the steam setting. Quickly iron the piece just to get major wrinkles out, focusing on the edges. Fold over one edge by 1/4". Press. Fold over again by 1/2". Press. Repeat on all 4 sides, unfolding the corners of the pressed parts so you can evenly fold each side.

Step 3: Now what to do with those crazy corners you say? We are going to use a "fancy" technique to miter the edges. I don't know what it's really called since I'm largely self taught... Sorry :). This will keep any loose threads from coming out and is a useful skill for more complex projects where appearance really matters. You can skip this step, but I suggest you practice it :)

With the pressing totally unfolded, trim the corner below the first intersecting fold. I used disappearing marker to draw over my fold lines so you can see better in the photo.  The intersecting lines will make a diamond.  You will be cutting off everything below the bottom corner of the diamond, straight across.

Fold the trimmed corner up at the top corner of the diamond. Again, see photo.

Refold one raw edge and press. Then refold the other side and press again.

Turn up one hem at a time, pressing after each, and making sure the edges come to an even angle. Make sure your corner comes to a nice sharp point.

Repeat this process for each corner.

Step 4: Stitch around the edges, close to the inner fold of the hem, pivoting at the corners and using one continuous thread. To pivot at the corners, sew up to the angled part of the corner, making sure your needle is down and advancing it with your hand wheel as needed. Lift your presser foot and turn the fabric 90 degrees. Put your presser foot back down and stitch to the next corner and repeat! Again, not so important for this project but a good skill to hone when the attractiveness of your stitching matters!
begin stitching close to the inner fold.

make sure the needle is down before lifting the presser foot.  This keeps your fabric in place.

Lift the presser foot, rotate the fabric, and then put the foot down again.  Resume your stitching!
 Congrats! You are the proud new owner of a large swaddle blanket!  They measure about 45" by 45" and are AWESOME for larger babies and older children.

Bottom Line:
1 1/2 yd of flannel = $8 (it was expensive fabric, but I had to have it...)
Total cost = $8 (but you have scraps for an upcoming project - yay!)

Time: about 1.5 hrs, maybe less.  I didn't actually keep track of this one... Oops. :-(

Retail cost: kind of not possible to find, but the a&a blankets made of muslin are about $9 each

Total savings: $1. Rather unimpressive... :-(

Well the savings may not be that great, but its exactly what I wanted, and that is worth the cost.  Besides, its still a savings, and every little bit counts.  I also have some leftovers to do more with - I will confess I got more than just the yard and a half needed for this project, but I had other ideas in mind... :-)  Don't worry.  I will post them soon.  

Oh, and if you don't want to bother with hemming, just serge around the edges.  Round off the corners with a cup and then you can just serge around the whole thing.  That makes it a lot faster.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Diaper Pail Liner Revisited - the PUL version

Okay, so ripstop wasn't awesome.  So I revisited my design knowing that there are upsides and downsides to working with PUL.  I used only 16.5" of 60" wide PUL and folded the length in half and stitched up the sides so there wasn't a bottom seam to seep through.  I also enclosed my side seams to avoid the same.  Hopefully its not just a lot of effort that wont make any difference... sigh.  I never know when I am being clever and when I am just being overly complicated.  :-(

Diaper pail liner - PUL version

16.5" of 60" wide PUL
Sewing machine
~ 45" of cord or shoelace for the drawstring

Step 1: Fold the PUL in half, folding selvage edge to meet selvage edge, with the laminated side (shiny, rubbery side) together.  Pin the sides together close to the edges.  Measure about 4" down from the open side and pin.  Stitch sides together below the pins, a scant 1/4" from the cut edge.

Step 2:  Turn the bag inside out (laminated side out).  Turn the corners and stitched edges very well.  To encase your seams, stitch along the sides about 1/2" from the edge, making sure the 1/4" seam allowance stays between your line of stitching and the outside edge.  NOTE: Only stitch below that 4" line from the top of the bag. :-)

Step 3:  You should now have an awkward tab at the top, above that 4" pin you put in oh so long ago.  CAREFULLY clip the fabric to the seam line.  I accidentally clipped too far on one side (easy to do when rushing) and now I have a weak spot that may tear over time.  Boo...

Doing it right the second time... too late to save the first side.
Step 4: Now to finish that top 4 inches.  Fold the cut edge of the fabric to the seam line, laminated sides together.  Fold again, enclosing the raw edge.  Stitch, keeping close to the inside edge of the fold.

Step 5:  Turn under and stitch 1/4" of the top edge of the bag, laminated sides together.  Be careful at the sides that you just finished, as the PUL can get bulky and make the stitching slip.  Repeat with the other side.

Step 6:  Turn the newly finished top edge of the bag over 1" toward the laminated side, or as much as you need to fit your drawstring.  Stitch close to the finished edge to create a casing.  Repeat on the other side.

Step 6:  Almost there!  Now to add width to the bag - note that this is the same as with the ripstop bag.  Refer to that post for more explanation if this step seems tricky.  Laminated side out, crease the bottom edge of the bag.  Place in a pin or two along that crease.  Match the side seam up with the line created by the pins and pull the front and back sides of the bag out, creating a triangle shape.  Measure three inches from the point of the triangle (the corner of the bag) and place a line of pins across to make the bottom of the triangle.
holding the bottom edge of the bag
turn the bag sideways so the bottom edge of the bag is up
place pins in 3" down to create the bottom of the triangle
Stitch across that bottom line of pins.  Repeat on the opposite corner.  The bottom of your bag should look like this:
It now has wings!!!  and with no red bull... sorry, i am sleep deprived :-)

Step 7:  Thread your drawstring through the casing you made on both sides of the bag.  Gather the loose ends on one side and knot them securely.  You are Finished!

Bottom Line:
~1/2 yard of PUL - $5
45" of cord - about $1.50?  
Total cost = $6.50

Time = ~1.5 hours, maybe more if you have to fight with the PUL... boo.

Retail cost:=$15 for a 2 pack of disposable liner refills, $16-20 for a reusable liner

Total savings: $10-15 for a reusable liner, or ~$320 over the life of the bag for disposable liners

A few things to consider when using PUL... if the laminated side is not feeding through your machine, wrap tissue paper around the seam (top and bottom, or at least on the bottom) and then tear it off once you sew your seam.  The paper makes it slide easier, but will not make extra space between your stitches.  Also, PUL is like other plastic and rubberized fabrics.  Pin holes stay there.  Some say that a run in a hot dryer will seal up those holes, but its agreed that making less in the first place is ideal.  I know I say to use pins a lot in my post, but in my pictures, you will note that my use is minimal, and often within seam allowances where it will not affect the integrity of the waterproof layer.  Back to the dryer bit... as with all fabrics, quality of PUL varies greatly, and consequently so do the care instructions.  Some people swear that PUL is fine in the dryer, regardless, and others say line dry only unless you want to destroy your item, regardless.  I say, play it safe and machine dry only when necessary (ie: you have nowhere to put your dirty diapers unless it gets dry pronto!).  It hangs dry pretty fast, so this shouldn't be too much of an inconvenience.  Hope this post helps.

Oh, and for the record, my ripstop bag was still in use up until last night when I finished this bag, and while it did seep some liquid into the bottom of the can, it wasn't terrible.  I wonder if better ripstop really would work??

Update: I now have wet bags and pail liners for sale in my Etsy shop.