Experiments and Good Ideas

I am a person who best learns by doing. I like to just try stuff and see what happens. I might have made a good scientist, and sometimes I get a little mad that my teachers were not better at getting me excited about math and science. What if I could have been a tremendous theoretical physicist?  Oh well, maybe next time around. No regrets. I don’t mind if what I try does not turn out right the first time, although I have a pretty good track record. One of my superpowers is knowing a good idea when I hear one, and then wanting to do it immediately.

I also don’t mind making mistakes, really. When I first tried knitting from patterns, after knitting without patterns for 6 years, after teaching myself from a book how to knit, and not realizing I wasn’t doing what it said to do until I tried to knit from patterns, I would rip out entire sweaters and start over when I realized I had done something seriously wrong.

Anyway, my experiments this year have been mostly internet-inspired, and involve making things. Like delicious and more or less healthy food. It would take me days to link to all of the great recipes I’ve found and bookmarked, so I’ll just give you a few favorites, and then you can go explore on your own. It helps that I have a really well-stocked pantry, thanks to my new Indian grocer, and that I joined a local CSA and sometimes have no clue what to do with some of the produce. I am indebted to Smitten Kitchen, The Kitchn (and thanks to Jess, an avid maker of things, for turning me on to that blog), and Incredible Smoothies! I’m not traveling as much (hardly at all, really) so I have lots of time and motivation to cook. Oh! I nearly forgot these. They put the “crack” in crackers, and got me started down a long winding road of non-wheat flours. More experimenting. And it turns out there is quite a bit of chemistry to be learned from baking, especially the gluten-free variety, or when you decide just for fun to substitute ingredients.

Another thing that happened is I started sewing. Not with a sewing machine, which I’ve done before, not very much or very successfully, but with a plain old needle and thread. It all started when I was innocently cruising Twitter, and one of my knitting friends, Misa, posted a photo of some garments she had made. I went from “not having Alabama Chanin on my radar at all” to “completely obsessed” in about 24 hours. I’ve since heard that happens to a lot of crafters.

That’s right, each leaf shape is hand-stitched and then cut out for reverse applique. Not as torturous as it sounds.

I bought a kit to make this skirt and then soon afterwards I bought All The Books. Since a couple years ago I set an intention to get rid of clothes I don’t wear, and to (try to) only bring in new clothes if they were handmade by me or someone else, or previously used (except for maybe shoes and underwear. Handmade shoes are nice but expensive, and I don’t want to make or wear anyone else’s unmentionables.) so, Hooray! This recycled T-shirt stuff fits both criteria. After the initial skirt, I made a short sleeve T-shirt, with stenciled appliqued lettuce leaves–

Decorative as well as edible.

I took a photo of a leaf of lettuce I grew, traced it and made a stencil out of it.

Very lettuce-y. And, yes, I do own an iron, but I hate to use it.

I found this more satisfying than trying to use my hand-drawn stencils. My drawing skills have gotten super-rusty, and nothing was looking as good in real life as it did in my head–a corset-tank top,

I kinda forgot the part about binding the armholes and neckline.

a short tunic,

Love the visible seams with contrasting thread.

another t-shirt, with more embroidery and even beads,

This became a staple of my “uniform.”

an embroidered dress which did not fit so I decided to find someone who it did fit and give it to them,

All of the my cute, random embroidery on the bodice made it not-so-stretchy, just like the books said it would. Hmmph. Oh well, good practice.

another try at an embroidered dress which still did not fit…

It started out so promising.

I’ve never been a big fan of the “measure twice, cut once” idea, but the skirt was wearable, so really only the top part is scrapped. I have big plans for a long-sleeve orange, green and black top and long skirt set and a brown hoodie. And, oh yeah, I made a couple headbands, a book cover, and I am about halfway through a king-size reversible duvet cover made from many squares of dark red and blue t-shirts. I cut  12″, 6″ and 4″ squares with no plan for how they would fit together. It all worked out, and the second side will be nicer than the first. I worked on it quite a bit during the summer and have put it in the closet for now. Too much knitting to do.

In the midst of all of this sewing, I realized that it would be really smart to sew the prototypes for new knitting designs, to check out size and shape and see if the pieces would really work before investing all of the knitting time.

This piece is currently being translated into knitted yarn.

This was definitely a good idea, since even cutting out and hand-sewing a scarfy thing only takes a day or so, where the knitting would be weeks.

Another great idea came from my friend Jennifer, who turned me on to the bulk Goodwill. It is even cheaper than the regular Goodwill, which is where I had been getting my t-shirts.

They switch bins every 2 hours or so. Makes for a long and exciting day!

Jennifer and I went there one Saturday, and I scored a crapload of t-shirts, a brand new pair of Doc Marten’s shoes (see intention above), some clothing I will actually wear rather than cut up, and some other household stuff.

I also got a well-loved copy of Harry the Dirty Dog, one of my childhood favorites!

Everything is 59 cents a pound if you have 50 pounds or more. You can combine your haul with that of your friend  or just partner up with another shopper even if you don’t know them.

Rather a civilized crowd. This is the only shopping I dared do this close to Christmas.

Our total bill was around $52. Jennifer got some great stuff to repurpose for her own wardrobe and for other crafty uses, including a few cashmere sweaters.

Jennifer’s haul. We both reassessed and “threw back” at least 2 times, so it could have been worse!

I think her tailoring skills are way better than mine, but it doesn’t need to be difficult. See this blog that she also clued me in on.

Some of my purchases ended up in the garden. This was actually going to be the entire blog post, until I started thinking about all of my experimenting and realized it is a much bigger subject, and very interconnected, for me at least. One of my alternative healthcare practitioners is a really good gardener, and I had set another intention this year to grow more of our own food, so I always have an ear for any tips that can make this work better

Yeah, I really thought it was fine to plant peas, peppers, eggplant, beans, and more in this one 4 x 4 foot bed. Later in the summer, I realized it was a little crowded. Also, my container tomatoes and thai chilis were a bust.

My failed garden experiments are too numerous to list, but let’s just say I’ve learned valuable lessons from the mistakes of last season and have done slightly more planning than before, and will make full use of companion planting strategies to discourage pests. The brilliant idea was to take the plastic containers that you get when you buy organic greens at the store, or really any clear containers, and turn them upside down over your own growing lettuce and other hardy greens, like a fake cold frame, Genius. Also genius for beginning gardeners like me, this.

I had a ton of lettuce in the spring. I just love super-fresh greens (even made a T-shirt! See above. Told you it is all interconnected!) and even when the weather got so hot and the lettuce turned bitter I cooked it and ate it (see need for new recipes, above.)

Greens gone to flower. I wondered if they might reseed themselves, but I put other plants in this bed after the lettuce was spent.

I now hate to buy when I can make (more on that later,) and so I replanted in August. But then a bunny came to live in our yard for a while–he was so not afraid of the dog–and I think he ate all of my second planting. My guy said with the cold frames as protection, you could plant in October. Sounded like a plan to me. So after I put in my garlic for next year, right after Columbus day in my area (garlic lesson learned last year–don’t harvest it until 4th of July) I sprinkled some spinach and lettuce and maybe kale seeds in my raised bed and topped them with my nice glass and sturdy plastic containers from the bulk Goodwill. The greens grew and seemed happy, but they didn’t get big enough to eat before the weather turned wintry. Darn it!  Then between X-mas and New Years it snowed, and snowed again. Maybe about 6 inches total piled up, enough so that I had to dig some paths in the snow so my little dog would do her business out in the yard instead of right on the deck.

Not a big fan of winter, that Rooney.

I can’t really blame her, I wouldn’t want to put my bare butt so close the frozen ground either. Well, the point of all this is to show you what I found when I decided to uncover the bowls on Jan 3, This!

Safe from predators and seemingly well-insulated.

On the left are 8 or so inches of garlic growth.

If you’ve read this far, then you are procrastinating super-bored way into all of this just like I am, so I will tell you about some other experimenting I’ve been doing.  I get bummed out now to think about all of the chemicals in products we are sold, and I figured the less toxins the better since I’ve had some digestive issues for the last year (worst part of the change of life for me/hence the alternative healthcare practitioners) and I come from a long line of very frugal Maine yankees, so I love to cut costs and I love to make-my-own-whatever.  Riffing off of these wonderful online recipes, I’ve made laundry detergent, fabric softener, deodorant, toothpaste, and body butter.

What are the best ideas you’ve acted on lately?

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3 thoughts on “Experiments and Good Ideas

  1. Awesome post! I love finally getting to see all your Alabama Chanin inspired garments. The t-shirt that you said became a staple is killer. I got a skirt kit in Earth, just like yours, for Xmas and can’t wait to start. I’m very impressed with your Goodwill shopping skills. I want to make those crackersas they sound amazing, I’m GF and a good cracker is golden. Used to have a Boston Terrier. Are you sure we weren’t separated at birth?

  2. I am totally enamored with the t-shirts and skirts you’ve done. This is my first season also with Penn’s Corner, and I am really enjoying the vegetables…when I’m not stuffing my face with corn chips. 😦

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