Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Make your own Skirt

A little while ago, my grandmother let me go through her boxes and drawers of fabric scraps and odd lengths.  I found bags of useful and lovely stuff, one piece of which happened to be a stylish 70s print in orange, green and brown on white (yeah, 70s).  The piece also just happened to be long enough to wrap around my waist and reach my knees, so I devised a suitable and simple skirt pattern to produce on my mother's ancient and dependable Viscount machine.

Machine-sewing on one of these bastards, or the more famous Singer models like the pic, is (I find) much easier than using an electric model.  Turning the gears by hand rather than battling the over-sensitive electric throttles makes a pleasant noise; they are also sometimes easier to thread, as all the moving parts are left more visible.  Not least, you never have to send off to Korea for parts if the tension screw falls off, but can stop into the nice man in Wimbledon who will hand-make a new one.

Homemade Simple Skirt
You Will Need:
Cotton/similar fabric, approx. 50 x 24 inches (more for more-ish people, i am teensy)
Six or seven appropriate buttons
Strong cotton thread, one reel
Tailor's chalk
Flat surface
Measuring tape
Sewing scissors

1) First take your own measurements: hip, and waist-to-knee.  Now measure your piece of scrap fabric to make sure you have plenty.
2) Lay your fabric on the flat surface, and mark out the following pattern according to your measurements.
The shortest edges of the four-sided shapes are half your hip measurement (allowing 1/2 inch seams, in dark brown).  The longer edges opposite these and the vertical edges are taken from your waist-to-knee measurement.  Joining these should give you a nice slant.  The smaller, triangular shapes can be as long along the bottom as your remaining fabric will allow - remember though that they should be the same size, and do allow for seams.  They give the finished garment a bit of swish.
3) Cut out the pieces, allowing 1/2 inch seams all the way round each one.
4) Pin the pieces together.  Join each triangle to the two large pieces, slant-edge to slant-edge, straight-edge to straight-edge, wrong sides together.  Check for a good fit.  If you like, adjust the seams at the waistband to give a more tailored shape.
5) About 5 1/2 inches down the seam between one large piece and triangle, make a chalk mark.  Cut two little snips out of the seams at this point.  This is a stopping-point to make a gap for buttons.
6) Make sure that your machine is threaded properly by running a test piece of scrap through it a few times.  When satisfied, join all the pieces together, removing the pins as you go along.
7) When you come to your snips, stop sewing.  Rotate the fabric by putting the needle all the way through, lifting the presser foot, swizzling the fabric and replacing the foot.  Sew back over the seam to strengthen it about 2 inches.
8) Above the snips, stitch the 1/2 inches of seam back independently of each other, making a hemmed slit.  This will be where you place buttons and buttonholes later.
9) Stitch the waistband seam.  Cut any obvious corners off the bottom of the skirt, and hem to a rough circle. It's nice to open out the seams like the pages of a book and hem across them, so that they're flat.
10) With tailor's chalk, mark places for buttons equidistant along the slit on the wrong side.  Sew the buttons onto the right side.  Hold the other side of the slit fabric over the buttons, and mark on the right side with tailor's chalk where the holes should go.
11) Outline these chalk marks with circles of backstitch, about 2mm away from the mark on all sides.  Now go over these circles with closely-placed short stitches perpendicular to the backstitch.  It's a buttonhole!
12) Fold the buttonholes in half, so that you can cut a tiny snip inside them with your scissors more safely.  Lengthen out these snips carefully until they are the right size for buttons.


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Trifle Catastrophique

Or, How To Rescue Ambitious Cakes Which Fall Over.

I have developed a habit of excessively baking for Dad's friend A, ever since Dad challenged me to make an Arctic-themed birthday cake for him.  This time I'd decided to make an upside-down-double-blueberry cake for our dinner party.  Method as follows:  Grease and line Springform baking tin.  Pour in 1 punnet blueberries.  Spread in 2 large eggs-worth of almond sponge mix.  Bake approx. 30-40 mins.  When cool, remove the outside of the tin.  Turn cake out.  Repeat the process and layer thin cakes together with mascarpone cream filling.

The trouble came at the turning-out stage.  The usual method for turning out a Springformed cake onto a plate is to put the plate on top of the de-tinned cake, grasp the plate and bottom of the tin with both hands, and deftly flip.  You can now remove the bottom of the tin, revealing a lovely smooth surface to ice, and in this case a lot of exploded blueberries.

What actually happened was that my impatience got the better of me as usual.  With a tin-bottom still warm from the oven, I grasped it with oven gloves on and fumbled the whole thing over the gas hob frames.  My delicious cake was fractured into several pieces.  At this point Dad's fiancé N came to the rescue.

'Eton mess it is then,' she says.  'Lucky we have lots of cream eh?'

Trifle Catastrophique
You Will Need: Failcake, large fancy bowl, small bowl, whisk, spoon, knife

half packet of mascarpone
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons icing sugar
300ml double cream
Grand Marnier or other brandy-like substance
(extra fruit to decorate)

1) Scoop the failcake into the bottom of the fancy bowl, breaking into smaller pieces if necessary or unavoidable. Chill in the fridge if still warm. Drizzle over the Grand Marnier, as much as you like.
2) Beat together the mascarpone, yolk and sugar with the spoon until smooth.  Pour in half the cream and whisk until very thick, but still pourable.
3)  Pour the mascarpone filling over the cake, and spread flat with a knife.  Whip the rest of the cream and add another layer until all the cake failure is hidden from view.  You may need more cream depending on bowl and failure size (oh noes :-P)
4)  Scatter any remaining fruit, and some flaked almonds if you have them, over the top.  Chill before serving.

N says that this must go down as one of the better Great Unregrettable Mistakes of the world, along with penicillin, as the trifle thus created was probably just as good if not better than the intended cake.  I rather like it because it's the first time I've produced a non-fail trifle (custards for trifle still escape me).  Try it yourselves!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Cloisonné Cake Decoration

Cloisonné is a jewellery-making technique used by the Anglo-Saxons (among others).  Small cut garnets, pieces of crystal, shell and coloured glass were laid on a gold backing, and walled around with gold to create geometric designs.  As a fun evening activity for some fellow medievalists, and a celebration for a succesful day's outing, we raided the Home Baking aisle of the local sainsbury's and made our own 'circular brooch cake'.  These directions assume that you already have a cake ready to be decorated; it could be any typical flavour, but shouldn't be likely to be overwhelmed by the taste of the jelly diamonds and other decorations.

Cloisonné Cake Decoration
You Will Need:  Small bowl, teaspoon, butter/palette knife, patience, dexterity, inspirational brooch image

cake, completely cooled and plated flat-side uppermost
icing sugar
juice half a lemon
yellow food colouring
'golden' marzipan
packet(s) jelly diamonds
packet candied cherries
(mixed peel, candied ginger, angelica and silver balls could also be used)

1) Mix the icing sugar, colouring and lemon juice to make a relatively thick, blonde icing.  Spread it over the cake in a thin layer.
2) Sort the jelly diamonds into colours and work out how you will arrange the design to be most like your inspirational picture.  Roll pieces of the marzipan into very thin worms and wrap them around the edges of the jelly diamonds.  Pinch the diamonds to affix the marzipan firmly and point up the corners.
3) Do the same with the cherries or pieces of cherries if you don't have enough 'garnet' jelly diamonds.
4) Place the 'jewels' onto the cake, working from the centre outwards and using more icing if necessary.
5) Surround features of the design with longer worms.  In the gaps between the main features twist more marzipan worms together into helices and curl artistically.  If arsed/have room, make one big worm all the way round the edge.

Happily, a cake so decorated will also look beautiful when sliced as the designs aren't ruined when the cake is cut.