Posts filed in: February 2008

Thrifty Quilty and a Little Dog, Too.

comments: 76


Last Sunday, we went to Goodwill for the first time in months. I was psyched to find this "quilt." The patches are printed, but I love it. Perfect for the picnic to which I'll wear my smocked skirt.


But we'll have to wait until summer, which seems soooooo far away, even though the weather has been nice here, I must say. This doggie barely even knows what summer is!


I know, baby. Someday.

I love lasagna.

comments: 84


Lasagna. Perfect wintry dinner. I love lasagnas. I make them frequently and I think I've finally figured out the way I like mine: 1) NO sauce on the bottom of the pan. No sauce. Layer noodles thickly right into the (lightly oiled) baking dish to create a sort of "crust." When you put the sauce down first, it all soaks into the noodles and I don't like that. I like me a nice rubbery, ripply layer. 2) Speaking of noodles, don't use the no-boil noodles. Although they seem easier for obvious reasons, I have found that they just never stop "cooking," and ultimately get very mushy, and I don't like that either. Ina's recipe for Turkey Sausage Lasagna has you soak regular noodles in hot water for a while, and that works pretty well, actually. They still soak up some of the liquid in the pan while cooking, enough to truly cook, but they don't stick to each other and get all crusty and weird in the strainer while you are fussing with the other stuff. I don't like to rinse the hot, cooked noodles in cold water because they're all slimy and slippery then. 3) I like thick layers of stuff in general, not lots of thin ones. I'd rather have one thick layer of ricotta, for instance, then split the cheese up and have it sort of all mush together when you cut it.


Eeeeeewwww and yum. I love ricotta cheese. I've noticed that people either love or are disgusted by ricotta. Andy Paulson = disgusted variety. Maybe not disgusted, but certainly not a slobbering cheerleader for it, as am I. R-I-C-O-T-T-A!  Yeah! In our family we pronounced it like "rig-awt." We Giada-ified it. When I was old enough to see the word spelled I had absolutely no idea that the word "ricotta" referred to "rig-awt." My mother used to buy it fresh from the deli counter at the grocery store, probably Jewel or Dominick's. I have never seen it sold like that here out west in a regular grocery store. Maybe they still sell it that way in Chicago, or places with a larger Italian population. She would put the cheese in cheesecloth in a strainer over a bowl for several hours until a lot of the water came out. Now I just dump mine straight out of the container. There is a HUGE difference, to me anyway, between part-skim and whole-milk ricotta. I can't even pretend to like the part-skim stuff. I would just as soon not have the lasagna. And cottage cheese in lasagna? I'll pretend you didn't just say that.

The most insanely rich but seriously delicious lasagna I know is the Spinach Lasagna Bechamel (scroll down that page to see it, and yes, I'd definitely use 2% milk instead of whole here) from the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook. My friend Dee McNamer, the beautiful and talented and ever-lovely Dee, served this at an English department party in Missoula once. Everyone who makes it and everyone who eats it is always slightly embarrassed to be that happy about something so bad for you. It seriously weighs about 26 pounds (not including the tare weight of your baking dish). Maybe make it if fourteen people are coming over. I've been known to make it for four. But they have to be close friends, so they'll feel comfortable wearing sweatpants to your dinner party (I encourage this when serving lasagna).

Picnic Skirt

comments: 99


I finished my smocked skirt yesterday, stitching up the sides and hemming it, attaching a strip of bias tape to the waistline, adding a zipper. I'm very happy with it, though it's still too cold to wear, I think (in spite of camellia evidence).

This skirt is from a different Japanese craft book than the bag and the apron; this one is ISBN 4-277-31151-2. But basically, this skirt is simple — just measure your waist and cut two panels using that measurement as the width, one for front, one for back. Then smock them all the way across the top for about four inches; my pattern gathers the 1/4" gingham fabric to about half of what I started with, but it's not exact, so I made sure to remeasure each panel before stitching up the side seams and putting in the zipper.


Then I just zoomed around the top and attached a strip of purchased bias tape for the waist band. You could add a regular waistband here, too; that's how it was in the book. But I hate it when those things fold over (ahem) when I'm wearing them (ahem) so this little strip is fine. What I noticed when I tried it on is that it really had to fit kind of high on my waist to look right. I wound up having to take it in a little more before adding the bias tape to finish. It's not a hip-hugger skirt, it's more like a dancing skirt. It will also make your can look huge. Huger.


The embroidery across the bottom is a classic thing called Chicken Scratch you see on a lot of vintage gingham aprons and sundresses and stuff like that. It's just three strands of white floss, and straight stitches; to make what looks like white circles, you make sort of an open-cross shape with a white square in the middle, then go under each leg of the cross, around in a spiral, twice. For such a simple treatment, I think it looks so pretty. If you do this, I would definitely wait to do the embroidery until you are sure you've got the side seams right; since I had to take the skirt in further, after I put the zipper in (whoops), my embroidery is a bit off center. You can't really tell since it's all so gathered, but I'd do it differently next time. Welcome to Alicia's Smocking Blog! I know, right?

First Flowery

comments: 97

Camellia2_2 These frothy delights are the first flowers I am seeing in my yard. They are Camellia japonica 'Ave Maria,' planted haphazardly by me maybe five years ago now, too close to the house but as such bursting forth with these prom-night poufs immediately outside the dining room window. February 25th — wow. That's a nice winter treat.

To take this photo, I used natural light in my kitchen, which is fairly dim in the morning and gives me this lovely, moody luminescence. I put the camera on my tripod (I always use a tripod for anything that's not moving), and set the 2-second timer. I almost always have my camera set to the "A" setting for Aperture-control. I open my aperture as wide as possible (this one allowed me to go down to f/4.9) and zoomed in on my flowers with the lens (meaning, the lens was pushed out all the way out to 300mm). Using a wide-open aperture and a zoomed-in lens will give you the shallowest depth of field possible — so the flowers will be in focus, but the chair in the backround, which is actually about eight feet away, will be blurry. To zoom in on the flowers, you actually want to pull the camera and the tripod back — I think I was probably four or five feet away.

To focus, you first want to make sure that your auto-focus is set to allow you to choose what the camera focuses on. If, when you hold your shutter halfway down, you see one little rectangle in the middle of the frame which beeps of turns solid when it has finally found its focus, you're in good shape. Use this little rectangle to focus on the spot in your composition where you'd like the focus to settle, but remember — this does not have the be the center of your final photo. To focus on that most forward-facing flower, I hold my shutter down halfway (mine beeps when its ready) with a small part of the petals of that flower within the boundary of the rectangle. Continuing to hold the shutter halfway, I recompose the shot, shifting the flowers a bit to the right. When you've got things where you want them, then you push the shutter down all the way. The timer takes over, and two seconds later snaps your photo, using a shutter speed of its choosing.

If, when you hold your shutter down halfway, you see several rectangles (gathering exposure and focus information from lots of places in your composition), you need to consult your camera manual to figure out how to turn that off. I prefer to control where my camera focuses, and from which places it reads the light. Once you get used to it, you'll find that this is a lot more fun. Don't be scared.

I try to explain camera stuff in a non-technical way because the technical jargon tends to make me start panicking. And again, this is just how I do things (or rather how I get the camera to do things), and what works well for me — and that's typically always changing as I learn more stuff, or as my habits and interests change. Mostly, I've found taking photos to be something that's best learned by doing. If you're unsure, pick one thing and learn a little bit about it — concentrate on that one thing for a while, playing around until you think you get it. A professional photographer told me recently that he shoots every still life at every aperture setting — then picks the one that works the best from the contact sheet. I love that idea. I also Photoshop all of my photos, and I can tell you about that too. But not today 'cause I gotta finish about four half-finished smocked things.

Also meant to say that if you know of any other photography tutorials that have helped you, please leave them in the comments, definitely.

That's It: Part II

comments: 60


Well, okay. I feel so bad that I left you hanging. I don't know what was funnier, scrubbing cake off the baking sheet or reading the comments from everyone who thought these were Whoopie Pies (they did look like WPs, though those rings of what look like white filling are actually the little metal cake pans, or the parts of the pans that aren't covered with molten chocolate). I'm sad to say that looking at the finished cakes was just as funny, since they didn't really get any better looking, though I tried, oh I tried. I really did try. I laughed out loud, alone, so many times while doing this, so at least I amused myself.

So, I was just trying to bake little cakes like the ones I did for Valentine's Day last year and the dinner party ones with the pink flowers and the birthday one (now I'm just showing off, cause that one was beautiful, I'm sorry, but it was). So I mean, I had it. I did used to have it. I had to go back and look just to make sure. Was I [pause] too sexy for my shirt? I think so. Hubris. Got lazy. While you are all so nice to blame the oven temperature, the recipe, the humidity, the baking soda, or the [insert name of blameable cause other than myself here] for me, I'm chagrined to say this one was entirely Operator Error. I just filled the pans way too full; apparently, though I took the time to make cake batter entirely from scratch, I could not really be bothered to stop for 1/4 second and think about how much batter I should put in the pans.

Turns out, not too much. This batter, when finished, is totally liquid, the consistency of Swedish pancake batter. But it . . . rises. So the cakes totally blobbed out in the oven and gooed all over my nice beautiful baking sheet. I was standing and looking at them through the oven-door window with my mouth actually hanging open as they were bubbling over, oozing like lava. That was a sad moment. I decided to let it go, and hope the part in the pans still cooked. But thank goodness for the nice baking sheet, otherwise . . . well, at least I got that part right.


The finished stacks are these wobbly, pock-marked, frowsy little towers of sponge and cream. I think they are embarrassed for themselves, actually. They looked just like the ones I made in my Easy-Bake Oven when I was nine. But Andy was right: They are delicious. So it was all fine — just too much batter of a too-sticky cake in a 4" round tin. The recipe, Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake, is one I've used many times, and it is the best chocolate cake, if you like them dense and sticky, as I do. But it's so moist that it's not a great candidate for further lateral slicing, like I did with the Stacks of Hearts and Clouds (drier); this one's sticky even when it's coming out of the pan. It's insanely delicious, though, so don't let me stop you. Don't let my problems stop you. Just, put it in the right size pans. I see now that this — wrong pan-size — is a recurring theme in my baking badness. So, after I surgically removed these from their pans and cut off all their weird edges, I added a layer of raspberry jam. Frosted them with this (with a little jam added):

Cloudburst Frosting

4 T. flour
1 c. whole milk
1 c. butter
1 t. almond extract
2 c. sifted confectioners sugar

In small pan, whisk together flour and milk. Simmer until thick over low heat. Remove from heat and let cool completely but NOT in refrigerator. Cream together butter and almond; add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add flour mixture and beat until fluffy. The frosting will appear to separate, but just keep beating on high until it whips up into smooth, fluffy clouds.

Slapped a doily under them, sprinkled on some powdered sugar, and just dug in, quick. Not a problem. Nope [munch munch], no problems now. I wish you were here so you could have some and then maybe you'd forgive me for being such a doofus. Nevertheless, I'm sticking to smocking and savories for a while. Seriously. That's it.

That's it.

comments: 135



Binding Tute

comments: 117


I stopped the smock just long enough to bind a couple more dishtowels. There's something about binding the edges of things that I find very satisfying, though it does take some time, and a bit of practice. There are a few different ways to do this, but this is the way I do mine.


When binding, you are basically creating a strip of fabric long enough to go around the all the edges of your item, folding that strip, then attaching it to the edge of your item. Since the edges of my dishtowels are straight, I'm using straight-grain-cut binding here. (If you were binding the edges of something curved, you'd use bias-cut binding ["bias tape"] made of strips cut at a 45-degree angle to the straight grain, which gives them the flexibility and stretch they'll need to go around curves. It is also more durable, having lots of threads running across folds instead of just one or two. Straight-grain binding, while less durable, is easier to handle and uses less fabric, so, you know — choices. Do what works for you.) With the help of a self-healing cutting mat and a clear plastic ruler, I cut enough strips (cutting perpendicular to the selvedge) so that, when they're stitched together at their short edges, they'll make one strip long enough to go around the circumference of the item I'm binding. Since I'm making binding that will ultimately be 3/4" when finished (before being folded again over the edges of the towel), I cut my strips twice this width, or 1 1/2", to accomodate the raw binding edges I'll be folding in. I stitch the strips, right sides together, at their short edges to make one long strip.


When binding quilts and other straight-edged items, a lot of people press this long strip in half lengthwise, stitch the raw edges to the edge of the item, then flip the binding to the back and secure. I personally do not enjoy pressing that long strip in half legthwise; it always comes out wobbly for me and I'm just not very good at it, so I generally use a tape maker to make neatly folded "tape," and attach it as I would do if it were cut on the bias, by machine and by hand. But that's just me.

Tape makers come in lots of different sizes; they're readily available in the notions section of any fabric store. It's good to have a few in your sewing box. As mentioned, I used 3/4" binding for these towels, and that dimension refers to the width of the tape as it comes out of the maker, but before it is folded around the edge of your item. You just feed the strip through the maker, right side down, pressing it as it exits the small end. (To get it started, I usually push it into the tape maker then use an awl or a thicker pin to sort of fish it out the end.)


With the dishtowel right side up, lay the binding right side down with one raw edge even with the raw edge of the dishtowel. Start a few inches away from a bottom corner (flip the towel vertically, so you're working on the bottom edge first); the long strip of the binding will be trailing way off to your right. Pin the binding to the towel on the foldline (I am a vertical pinner), then machine stitch, starting about an inch from the beginning of the binding (we'll deal with this end later, don't worry), and stopping and backstitching 3/8" (the width of the seam allowance) from the corner (where I've drawn the red line).

Binding5 Take the long end of the binding and fold it straight up, perpendicular to the edge of the towel, pivoting at the point where you stopped stitching.


Okay. Now fold it back down smoothly, keeping the fold (it's there at the top edge) even with the raw edge of the towel, and keeping the raw edges of the binding even with the raw edge of the towel on the right side. Pin and machine stitch, starting and backstitching right at the folded edge through all layers. Contine around the towel this way, stopping to repeat this process at all corners. When you get back around to the point where you started, cut the binding, leaving enough of an overlapso that you can stitch these two short ends together with a 3/8" seam; mark this point with a pin and stitch these ends; press open the seam allowance, lay the binding flat, and continue stitching down edge until you reach the point where you started. Overlap this point by a few stitches and backstitch to secure. Are you with me?


You can trim the edges a bit with a rotary cutter if you need to, but these are pretty tiny so I didn't. Turn the towel over so the back side of it is facing you. Now you'll just fold the binding to the back side and pin it. To miter the corners, fold over and press one side smoothly.


Then do the next side, keeping the edges of the corner smooth and sharp. Continue pinning the folded edges all the way around.

The nicest way to finish the back side is to  tack the binding to the back with slip stitches done by hand. If this is too daunting (it's a lot, and seven towels is a lot, too), you can stitch this edge by machine. It's more durable, so for a dishtowel it kind of makes sense. Match your thread to your binding (I didn't have any green like this yesterday, so mine is off-white), and machine stitch this edge with a scant 3/8" seam with the back side facing, so that you are stitching through all layers of binding neatly. You can also pin on the front side, then stitch in the ditch with the front side facing you, being sure to catch the binding on the back side in the seam. On binding this small, I tend to miss catching the back-side binding in the seam, so I usually do the less-neat thing and make sure I get it by having the back side facing me while sewing. I know there's a presser foot you can buy to apply binding this way to a finished piece this thin. Mabye I'll go get that today, even though I was just at the sewing machine store yesterday getting a new lightbulb and didn't think of it. Naturally.


So that's it! Cute, huh? Now just six more to do!

Can't Stop. The Smock. Can't Stop the Smock.

comments: 50

Smockingapron3 More smocking. This is the Polish Pottery Apron. Maybe I'll try to get a better picture. All the smocking is finished and I just need to add the ruffle and the pocket and the ties and the waistband. There's not really even anything to say about it anymore, I know. Many local shoppers have written to say that both Marshall's and Ross have new shipments of Polish pottery around town. I did go out and get a little serving dish for $12 to satisfy my longing. Now if I can just haul my buns into the kitchen and actually cook something to put in it, that would be nice for all of us, probably!

A few people have sent me photos of the dishtowels they're working on and I'm so pleased to see them! I need to set up some new Flickr groups to accomodate, I know, I'm sorry. I will do that. I have some housekeeping stuff I need to be doing on my blog and sites and all that stuff. It's just hard to do that while you're, you know, smocking incessantly. And ya can't stop the smock. Just sayin.

Flickr has some cool photos tagged with "smocking." I am absolutely loving this one, especially the quilt she is sitting on. This one is awesome. This one's quite lovely. And these little white nightgowns with the blue are just dreamy. Naturally, there are also lots of pictures of people "smoking" here, too.

Prairie Smock

comments: 82


Over the weekend, I made a different kind of smock. A smocky tunic blouse. This is New Look pattern 6707 (* bought it and the fabric last fall and just getting around to making it now, so it might be discontinued but available at this link, I think). I combined views C and D. D had the shorter poufier sleeves and the ties in back. The C had no tucks on the yoke. I wore it all day yesterday and got some weird looks at the mall. But I guess this isn't really a mall outfit. It's what you'd wear while walking through a wheatfield, or with Wellies while carrying a basket of freckled eggs, and not shopping at Sephora? Maybe shopping at Crabtree & Evelyn. I could see that. I wish Laura Ashley still had stores in the U.S. I miss Laura so much. She's very different now.


This blouse/dress reminds me of a dress I got at Pier One about twenty years ago when they used to have clothes. It was the summer between high school and college and I was working at TravelHost magazine in Chicago. It was a very rainy summer morning and I woke up very, very crabby. And late. And tired. Which was pretty typical of me then. My mom was going to drive me to the El. TravelHost was in a great location, at 6 N. Michigan Ave., and the Wabash El was only about two blocks away from the office. Not important. So my mom was waiting for me in the front yard, and I had on a new dress, long, cream colored with Indian embroidery. It was the first time I was wearing it. I crankily came out onto the porch, opened my umbrella, started going down the stairs and then immediately slipped and came crashing, loudly, with my umbrella and lunchbox, down the rest of them, landing in a muslin heap on the sidewalk. "Waaaaahhhhhhhh!!!" said I, mournfully. "Oh my gosh!!!" gasped my horrified mom, and ran over to help me up. My dress was sopping wet and muddy, and naturally I had landed right on top of an enormous red earthworm (sorry worm!), which smooshed into a big, bloody, gooey smear all over the front of my dress. So it was back inside to change out of the new dress, and I will tell you that the earthworm stain never came out. And I do seem to fall down on the porch a lot what is that.


Usually I don't like things that tie in the back, but when it's sort of long like this over something it's kind of aprony and that's okay. I used little covered buttons in the contrast fabric. I also did all of the buttonholes by hand which I can tell you takes at least 417 times longer than doing them by machine. I am soooooooo bad at doing buttonholes by machine that I just parked myself and spent pretty much an entire movie doing the buttonholes, and I have to say they look very nice. I don't know if it was worth it, but I thought I'd give them a shot, just to see. Will probably try to get better on the machine, though. . . .


I have gotten more for-myself-inteded sewing, smocking, and embroidery done in the last month than I have in the past four years combined, I think. I'm starting to feel very guilty about it, not to mention very, very broke since I really need to update my web shop with new stuff, but I can't seem to stop indulging these impulses. This week, though. Must change. I kind of knew this would happen. The minute I finished the book it's like I just went completely berserker and started fourteen things for myself in about five minutes. I have finished quite a few things at this point. In order to get this much done, it's quite helpful to have no life whatsoever. That's pretty much how I do it, for those who have asked.

Pleasant Kitchen Silkscreen

comments: 90

Silkscreen3 It's still morning here in my south-facing pleasant kitchen so the light is dim, but I found a home for my Valentine's Day presents made by Andy. Aren't these so awesome? They're silkscreened images on canvas of my Pleasant Kitchen drawings. I love them so much. Can you see the glitter coming out of the Dutch oven?


You may remember the stationery he made for me last year? So beautiful. These canvases were a surprise. I put them in the corner of our little kitchen nook, where I keep my favorite cookbooks and a few little things on this little Colonialish hutch. The little shelf has been there for a while and holds an ever-rotating little still life of whatever I happen to like at the time. This little flower-and-gingham-rimmed pasta bowl was Grandma Ieronemo's. The egg cup and gray-and-yellow pitcher are thrifted. And you can just make out the pancake mold in the pitcher. What a sweet present. Thank you, my dear love. You are just so good to me.

And thank you to all of you for the compliments on my bulbous, poufy, and weird-looking bottom! I NEVER get compliments on my bulbous, poufy bottom!!! The smocking continued throughout the weekend. It is so much fun. I seriously recommend it. I did the smocking for another bag and the Polish-pottery apron I mentioned last week two weeks ago (time flies), now just need to put them together.

The sun is shining today! It's a President's Day miracle. My friend David sent me an email last week about why he is voting for Obama and I asked him if I could share it. I think it beautifully articulates how I and many of my friends and family are feeling. Andy has the whole day off and I am determined to put together a plan for fun that involves us actually leaving the house. He and the puppers are out right now, having a little walk in the woods. I am going to cook up some oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries, red, whitish, and blue.

I just noticed that most of my house is painted the same color. The last three posts have photos from the kitchen, the bedroom, and the dining room, and it's all blue. I really like blue. I'm about to paint another one blue, too.

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at