Archive for the ‘The New Old-Fashioned’ Category

Yesterday, while I was sewing blocks of fabric into the strips that are going to make up my friend’s baby quilt, I realized that the design needed “something”. After staring at it for a long time and from multiple angles, I finally decided that it needed a boarder to bring it all together. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan on a boarder, so I didn’t have enough fabric.

I lay my pieces out on a table and start roaming the quilting section for just the right fabric to bring the whole thing together. As I am wandering, many people offer me welcomed advice. Finally, I choose a fabric and was about to pack everything up, when a women asks me a seemingly innocuous question, but one that I had been dreading. “Why is my backing basted to the quilt batting already, when the top is still in pieces?”

Of course, most of you have no idea what this means so I will explain. When you quilt, traditionally you piece a top together, than you “quilt” it together with the batting and the backing, creating a sandwich. Now there is a lot of controversy in these two steps, and many consider themselves purists.

Like vegetarian and vegan, one set of pure doesn’t even encompass the purists. There are people who piece each individual bock together by hand, and then stitch the sandwich together by hand as well (these are the vegans of quilting); and there are people who will use a sewing machine to stitch the blocks together, but will stitch the sandwiches together by hand (these are the vegetarians). Now your meat eating sinners do the whole thing with a sewing machine.

I am going one step further, and am doing the piecing and quilting at the same time (basically the eating equivalent of a diet consisting of trans fats and processed food). How this works is I am piecing the blocks into strips and then sewing the strips onto the sandwich, so that I don’t have to go back over and quilt the layers together.

Now, I understand the look of abstract horror of the women’s faces when I explained what I am doing. I am normally a very dedicated “vegetarian” quilter. I love the comfort and quietness of hand quilting (but I like to get the piecing done as quickly as possible). As enjoyable as this is, it seems like an awful lot of work to do for a pattern that is modern and funky. Not to mention that I want this quilt to actually be used, and a little boy is hardly likely to care exactly how many hand stitches I made as much as he is going to enjoy the colors and pockets that I am putting into it.

One of my aunts received a beautiful hand worked baby blanket for her little girl, and it has spent most of its time in a box so that said little girl won’t mess it up. I make quilts because they are an expression of warmth and home, they are totally unique, and they are a work of love. Let me tell you, there is no greater compliment to a quilter than to see a very well-loved children’s quilt.

Funky Baby Quilt Pieces

More on my funky baby quilt:


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I am always amazed when people who read say that they never use the library. What better place to get books? I’m not sure what’s not to like. I suspect that they are still suffering from horror memories of card catalogs and microfiche. Or maybe they can’t bear the thought of running into a replica of their 8th grade school librarian, who had the sense of humor of Attila the Hun and a propensity to write out detention slips.

If these are your reasons for not going to the library, let me wake you up to the 21st century. Now there is this lovely little piece of technology called the internet that makes most of your childhood nightmares a thing of the past. Gone are the card catalogs, along with the frustrating, fruitless searches.

If you haven’t done this lately, check out your local library’s website. I’m betting that you will be surprised by the ease and joy it will bring to your book addiction. All you need to do is type in the name of the book, author, or subject that you want to look up, and it pops up on the screen in a couple seconds. If it’s not at your local library, but at another branch, all you need to do is push a button and they will bring it to your neighborhood branch. Then you just dart in, pick it up and leave. Honestly it is much easier than Barnes and Noble, where you have to search for the subject you want, and there isn’t much order to where they place the subject categories.

Now, let’s say that you forgot that the due date is coming up. Well, never fear, the system is usually set up to send you a reminder email. Then all you have to do is go online and hit renew. It really doesn’t get much easier than that. Do yourself a favor and give it a whirl.

Library books

More New Old-Fashioned posts:

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Ever since I read The World Without Us, I have been a bit obsessed with cutting as much plastic out of my life as possible. Intellectually, I have always known how bad plastic is, but for some reason, this book really drove the message home. One thing that I have discovered, is how easy it is to replace most of your plastic leftover storage with glass jars.

The wonderful thing about the glass jars is that they’re usually free. The next time you make spaghetti, just rinse the jar out and put it into the dishwasher. It’s amazing how quickly you will build up a good-sized collection.

The only downside is spooning the food into the jar. Sometimes it can be messy, because the mouth is narrower than most plastic containers. I have two solutions for that problem. The first, and easier, is to use a spoon that is slightly smaller than the opening, that way food won’t dribble down the sides. The second, is to use a canning funnel. This is a funnel that has a wider mouth, and is used to pour homemade jams into jars. You really don’t need one to make this work, but if you found a cheap one, it might be worth it.

The upside of using glass jars is enormous. My plastic containers don’t last all that long, so over my entire life, I imagine that I would go through quite a bit of them. Each one is going to be around for tens of thousands of years, leaching nasty chemicals into our environment, and getting eaten by unsuspecting animals.

Also, little known is that these containers usually have chemicals in them that are know or suspected to cause all sorts of health problems. We didn’t evolve with the ability to handle these chemicals because we have created them only recently. Glass jars don’t have this problem. Glass is nonreactive, and won’t add any unsavory chemicals to your food. This alone I think makes it worthwhile to make the switch.

Using glass jars instead of plastic containers

Past posts on sustainability:

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I can’t rant and rave enough about my new old-fashioned sewing machine! I just took it apart to oil it, and it was easy as pie. The newer models don’t even give instructions, because they want you to take it into the shop, but this old one was obviously designed with self-maintenance in mind.

First, I took off the top and side pieces so that I could clean and oil. The lovely thing about finding a machine that was rarely used is that I had very little to clean.

Oiling the Sewing Machine Top

Then it was time to work on the bobbin case and the bottom of the sewing machine. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it could do this.

Oiling the Sewing Machine Bottom

The base is on hinges, so all I had to do is push the machine over to get to the bottom gears! Isn’t that handy? I wish that the newer machines had this level of simplicity built in. My last sewing machine that I had such problems with wasn’t a more complicated machine. I don’t understand why they had to make it so much tweakier to use and maintain.


For more on my new (to me) sewing machine:

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The only thing that is truly new to me about my sewing machine is that, well, it is new to me–it was originally purchased in the early 60’s by a woman who has barely used it since.

A bit of background: I’ve been sewing since I was 5, and it was the first truly useful craft that I ever learned. My mom had bought me a toy sewing machine for Christmas that frustrated me so much that she finally broke down and let me use hers. I continued to use this machine until I graduated from high school and moved out of my mom’s house. I’ve missed its solid, functional presence ever since.

For high-school graduation, a couple of family friends thought that it would be a great idea to buy me my very own sewing machine so that I could take it with me to college. This was a wonderful and thoughtful gift, but unfortunately I have had problems with it ever since. A lot of the parts are plastic, and it’s just not really built to last. The final straw was last fall when I found out that it was going to cost $90 to fix. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money to repair something that had given me nothing but trouble.

After listening to a sales pitch for a $700 machine that didn’t seem much more solidly built than the broken one, I decided that I needed to go back to basics. I started scouring antiques malls for sewing machines, but never found one. I was about to give up when I finally had the inspiration to search Craigslist. Lo and behold, there were 20 listings for sewing machines!

Now most of these ads were for crappy machines like mine, but a few of them were for good old-fashioned ones. After a few weeks of trolling around on Craigslist, I found the perfect one. It is really solid, hasn’t been used that much, and still runs perfectly! I feel like I’ve struck the lottery. Now all I need to do is learn how to oil it, which is tomorrow’s project, and I will be good to go.

Stay tuned for lots of new old-fashioned sewing projects!

Becca’s New Old-Fashioned Sewing Machine

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How did the housewives of old keep their house constantly tidy? Sure, they had more time then we do now, but so much of what they had to do was significantly more time consuming. As I said yesterday, one of the ways they did it was because they had to. Friends would drop by without any warning, so there was more of an incentive to stay neat. The other reason, as far as I can figure, is that they had a lot less stuff than we do today.

Things that we take for granted today would have been prohibitably expensive for all but the wealthiest of people. Women would only have a couple dresses and a few accessories, children had a doll or a toy gun and not too much else, and the kitchen had far fewer gizmos and gadgets to get the job done.

I am not advocating that we give up all our stuff, just being more thoughtful before we add it to our collection. Do our purchases really make sense? Yes, the $10.00 teeshirt at Target is cute, but is it going to last or is it going to shrink in the wash and live out a long existence cluttering up your closet?

If we were all more cognizant of the quality vs. quantity of what we buy, I believe that we would have far fewer problems with over-stuffed homes, not to mention a better handle on debt. We have collectively been going on a shopping binge for a couple decades with cheap imports from Asia. Often, I will buy something at Target, and it rarely ends up being used, but at the time I thought that I had to have it. I get the rush of buying something pretty or fun, and it is cheap so I don’t feel bad, but in the end it is just an energy suck in my home. Buyer’s remorse then sets in, but it is too late.

So one New Year’s resolution that I have this year is to think before I buy (preferably for at least 48 hours). To get into this habit, I have declared January a “consumption diet” month. I am only purchasing food and toiletries. Everything else can stay on the store’s shelf until February, to make me think about whether I truly need it.

Previous posts that may be interesting to you:

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For a long time I’ve wondered how the women of old seemed to always be on top of the household chores, and I think that I’ve finally come up with an answer. It breaks down into two parts, and both can be modified for today’s living. Today, I am going to focus on the fun one.

Before telephones, people used to pop by unannounced for tea in the afternoon. You didn’t have more than a couple minutes warning that a friend was coming. If you were lucky, they were walking and the dogs tipped you off a full ten minutes before they arrived, and if you were unlucky they came by buggy and were at your doorstop before you knew it.

This was a great motivator for keeping the house spic and span. Most of our friends fall into one of two categories: the type you would have over even if the house is a bit of a mess, and the type that we would only invite over if the linens were ironed and the silver was polished. Back in the day, there was no telling who would show up, and so the silver was always polished.

With the invention of the telephone, it became no longer polite to show up unannounced. And if your house was a wreck, you could always put off the would-be visitor by saying that you were sick or were going out. Eventually, we stopped calling all together, and now we never invite ourselves over, instead we make dates weeks in advance to go out to coffee, thereby avoiding the home entirely.

So where is the lesson in all of this? I wouldn’t start showing up at friends’ houses unannounced to see if they eventually start keeping their house neater. What you can do instead is plan to host more. So many of us will think about having friends over, but we stop ourselves from inviting them because the house is a mess. A better way to think of it is: if the house is a mess, invite a friend to have dinner over in a couple days. This gives you the time to clean, but it sets a strict deadline on how long you have to do it.

Throw the hat over the wall so to speak. You will be amazed at how effective it is at motivating you to do the dreaded straightening and cleaning. In our household, this basically means that we have to have people over at least twice a month. Any less, and our house becomes rather unlivable. The beauty of this plan is that you get the joy of seeing the people that you love, and you get to have something to look forward to as you are cleaning.

Go on to: How Did They Do It? Part 2

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