Thursday, March 17, 2011

Baby quilt with embroidery -- finished!

And before the baby's arrived, too.  That's a new record.

I took the quilt block I embroidered last month and turned it into the center block for a 52"-square baby blanket.  Backed with flannel and lined with a piece of white sheeting, it reminds me of two my grandmother made.   They had tractors and farm animals and nursery rhyme scenes embroidered in the squares.  And they wore out from my brother, my sister and I dragging them around wherever we went.

My embroidery wasn't as ambitious.  The fun duckling with balloons in the center block was a full design, the other four embroidered blocks were done to supplement and tie the overall design together.  So I chose four simple shapes from Doodle Stitching: Fresh & Fun Embroidery for Beginners -- I found a dragonfly, butterfly and duckling that echoed the printed duck fabric's designs and then added a balloon for the fourth block, lifted from the larger duckling design in the center block.

When I drew out the quilt top on graph paper, I realized I didn't want to simply surround the center block with straight nine-patch blocks.  That seemed sort of blah to me and, somehow, seemed to take away from my center block, too. So I used four nine-patch blocks with the plain, yet embroidered center squares and added those other four with the three long blocks of color in each.  I know where that idea came from.  Just prior to drawing out the overall design, I was reading a thread on Chickens in the Road and saw a photo of a just-completed baby quilt that I couldn't get out of my mind.

This blanket is meant for regular use.  To cover a sleeping baby, to spread on a floor to provide a toddler's play space or just to be dragged around by a growing child.  It should go through the washer and dryer without a problem.  And I hope it wears out just like the ones my grandmother made.  I think that's what happens to all well-loved baby blankets and so it's what I wish for this one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

99 sweaters to wash in the wringer, 99 sweaters to wash

Put some in, swish'em around, 93 sweaters to wash... *

From 9 a.m. till 3:30 p.m. last Saturday, I washed knitted wool sweaters plus woven wool skirts, jackets, scarves and slacks.  And one wool Army blanket.  (Smelled like wet dog, washed it just before lunch when we changed out the water.)

Some of the woolens had been washed previously at the laundromat.  I'm always leery of bringing in stray moths when I get woolens from the thrift store so I either store them in the shed or my car's trunk till I can get them washed in hot water and rinsed with a bit of lavender vinegar.  And I've learned my lesson about washing thrift store woolens in my front-load washer.  It doesn't felt as well, of course, as this old Maytag wringer washer but the main risk is my next several loads of laundry are likely to smell like wet mothballs.  So the ones I'd washed late last year at the laundromat were cleared for moths, but hadn't felted as well as I like so they needed a round in the wringer to achieve their fulled potential.

Since my mom's stroke four years ago DH and I've made a monthly commitment to deep-clean her vinyl kitchen and laundry room floors and apply a coat of the shiny "floor finish" she likes.  Between moving all the furniture, sweeping with a broom, scrubbing the floor (on hands-and-knees scrubbing, not the long-handled mop kind), waiting for it to dry, then applying the shiny stuff and waiting for it to dry before putting everything back in place, that's easily a two- to three-hour job.  This month DH agreed to tackle the floor on his own while I washed woolens with the wringer washer in the shop.  He did it because he's a good man but also because he wants a pair of felted mittens to wear, as he said, "the one day every winter when we go out shopping for Christmas."  Yes, he had an ulterior motive and it means I have another project added to my list but, hey, I have till December to worry about THAT.

His willingness to help may have been influenced as well by the last trip we made to Activity Day in my car.  DH and I were in the front, DS was in the back and the trunk was so full of woolens waiting to be washed that DH had to put his two crates of Squad Leader game pieces and hex maps on the backseat next to DS.  When we swung by the farm co-op on the way home to pick up a bag of mineral salt for the sheep and a couple of bags of chicken feed, there wasn't a place to put them except for under the passengers' feet.  And since I invariably drive my car, as DH does his truck, that meant he was one of the inconvenienced passengers.  So when I arranged the day for cleaning with Mom, I asked to use the wringer washer, too.  That's when the Army blanket was added to the queue.

A few years ago the wringer washer lived in our garage.  I used it for much of our regular laundry during the warmer months and whenever I had wools to wash it was right there ready to go.  But we have no basement and very little storage space other than the attached garage which also serves as the root cellar in the cooler months.  So when our 25-y.o. top-loading washer gave up a few years ago I moved the wringer washer (it was my grandmother's originally) back to my mom's shop and we bought a very efficient front-load washer.  (One of these days I hope to have space again for the wringer washer and its tubs.)

Mom's shop only has cold running water these days so DH carried hot water over from her house in 5-gallon buckets.  It took two trips or about 3-1/2 buckets to fill the wash tub.  Meanwhile, I filled the rinse tubs with cold water.  I added two tablespoons of Orvus Paste in the wash tub and 1/4 cup lavender vinegar in each rinse tub.  I don't use regular laundry detergent because I avoid washing wool with the so-called brigheners or bleaches that are often added to detergents. Orvus Paste is what I use for washing fleeces and it works just as well on the finished goods.

Once we had the tubs filled, I added the first load of sweaters and commenced to washing.  So sweaters in wash tub, wait 15 minutes.  Run the wash load through wringer and into first rinse tub.  Put next load of sweaters in to wash.  Use stick (wonder what happened to the long-handled wooden spoon we used for this purpose when I was a kid?) to poke clothes below level of water and just all around play with the laundry.  You know, same way you do with an outdoor fire...

Then after about 10 minutes, start the batch in the rinse tub through the wringer again.  This time they go into the second, or last, rinse tub.  Then move back to the washer and wring those clothes, which have been washing for just about 15 minutes, into the first rinse tub.  Third load goes in the washer and the countdown starts again.

This time there's even less waiting as I factor in how long it will take to run both rinse tubs-worth of clothes through the wringer and still get back to the load in the washer at the right time.  It's not a problem if I run the wash longer than 15 minutes, but I've found that's a pretty optimum time for felting most wools and I want to do this as efficiently and quickly as possible without unnecessary delays.

In between washing, poking the rinsing (can't forget that important step!) and wringing, I sort the items by color.  It's not perfect but I like to start out with the natural or lighter colors first and move through to the reds and then blacks at the last.  Many red wools bleed dye so I aim to do them just before the darkest items or before we plan to change out the cooling wash water for hot.  And in between washes I top up the washer with hot water from a fresh bucket DH brought over mid-way through the morning.  It's surprising to me but the washer does a good job of holding the water's heat, especially when I remember to keep the lid closed except when necessary to pull out/put in clothes.

At lunchtime, DH drained the washer and I did the same with the rinse tubs.  The tubs are made with a fixture on the bottom where a hose can be attached but we just used the buckets and emptied them outside around flowers or shrubs.  It's been so dry here this winter they can use all they can get.

Mom often fixes Saturday lunch for a friend who helps her with landscaping and house maintenance so she increased her covers to include us as well.  (The menu was country-style steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, sauerkraut, fried apples, cornbread and chocolate cake -- well worth stopping work for!)  After lunch, DS helped his grandmother clean up, DH carried fresh hot water for the washer and I refilled the rinse tubs.   I was ready to get the job finished.  And DH still had to clean the floors -- he didn't want to interrupt lunch preparations in the morning but once the dishwasher was running he got to work, too.

Final count was 69 sweaters, 2 scarves, 10 jackets, 9 skirts and 2 pairs of pants.  And can't forget the one Army blanket.  So it wasn't QUITE 99 sweaters but 93 woolen items is close enough for me.

*DH has this habit of ad-libbing lyrics and he couldn't keep it to himself while we were unloading baskets and bags of sweaters for washing. And you know how it is when you get a song stuck in your head.  Especially a silly one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trimming onion seedlings -- easier than trimming hair

But has to be done much more often.  On the positive side, these trimmings are great in scrambled eggs or scalloped potatoes.

I'm trying to keep the onion seedlings (seeds planted January 30) down to 2" or 3" in height to encourage strong root growth and avoid spindly tops.  Every couple of days I have to trim the onions.  (And I hate to waste anything, you know that.)  So I've been using the trimmings like tender young chives.  They're excellent for adding a touch of fresh green onion flavor to our scrambled eggs, egg salad and scalloped potatoes.  Next time I trim them I plan to stir the green bits into some of the creamy kefir cheese (drained kefir, like yogurt cheese) and use for a dip with crackers.  They're much too good to waste.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Menu plan, week of 2011-03-14, plus scalloped potatoes from our dehydrated potatoes and kefir

Monday, March 14, 2011
Scalloped potatoes (recipe below)
Deviled eggs

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Pork potstickers with dipping sauce
Harvey House slaw

Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Egg salad
Potato wheat bread
Strawberry-banana yogurt

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Green beans
Butternut squash
Sticky chicken
Homemade egg noodles

Friday, March 18, 2011
Homemade pizza
Carrots and celery with ranch dressing made w/ kefir
Sliced apples

Saturday, March 19, 2011
Cilantro-lime brown rice topped with taco-seasoned ground beef
Corn salsa
Tortilla chips
Fruit salad

Sunday, March 20, 2011
Vegetable-beef soup
Soda crackers
Ice cream and brownies 

Scalloped Potatoes (from dehydrated potatoes)

2 - 3 cups dried potato slices
enough boiling water to cover potatoes
1 cup kefir or light cream
1 egg, beaten (optional)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt or celery salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 cup cheese, grated (optional)

In medium bowl, pour boiling water over dried potatoes and set aside for 10 minutes.  Grease a shallow 2-quart baking dish.  Lift potatoes from water and spread in bottom of baking dish.  Don't worry if a little water clings to potatoes.

Discard (or save for other use) all but 1 cup of the potato water.  Add all remaining ingredients, except cheese, to the cup of water and whisk to blend well.  Pour the mixture over potatoes, cover and bake in 375ºF. oven for 40 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and starting to thicken.  Then dot potatoes with butter and grated cheese and continue to bake, uncovered, for another 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender, sauce is thickened and top is golden brown.  Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes: I decide how many potatoes to use by pouring the dried slices into the baking dish I want to use to get a measure then moving them to another bowl for soaking.  This is very good layered with onion slices -- 1/2 cup fresh or 1/4 cup dried.  Or sprinkle chives in with the potatoes. If using dried onions, I don't bother soaking them first.  The egg may be omitted but I like the way it adds to the sauce -- similar to a very creamy mac-and-cheese.  When I want to make this more substantial, I add diced cooked ham or sausage to the potatoes.