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The Tyranny Of The See’s

April 22nd, 2011 4 comments

So, after meeting up with some sewing bloggers and consuming wonderful See’s chocolates with them, I got to thinking about the horror and deprivation of being too far from Mary See’s main stomping grounds.  Why, I asked myself, should those of us unfortunate enough to be stranded 3,000 miles away from Nirvana, be forced to suffer so?

Ah, sweet mystery of life.

Naturally, in spite of having read this article the very day of my search, I went online to find  a solution to this vexing problem.  And I found it, in several recipes allegedly replicateing my favorite-of-all-favorite See’s Candies, the Dark Chocolate Bordeaux.

I experimented, and fiddled, changed things up, and made a few pounds.  The first batch was messy:

But they still looked nice on a plate:

We ate them anyway.  The flavor?  Yuuuum, and very, very Bordeaux!  However, I’d crystallized the sugar a bit, so naturally I had to make more.

The second batch was neater, and dressed up nicely.  We ate it, too.  Mr. Noile thinks these are better than See’s, but Mr. Noile is a bit of a renegade.  I ate most of them, anyway, so perhaps his judgement is skewed.

It turns out that Michael’s, the ubiquitous craft store, sells candy boxes and foil cups:

Candy making, not unlike sewing, has its own set of tricks.  After the first batch, I realized that it was important to boil the brown sugar fondant at a relatively low temperature, and for a very short period of time.

A melon baller was perfect for scooping up uniformly sized centers, and a fondue fork — with snake-tongue prongs — was the right thing for dipping the centers into the chocolate.  The prongs held the fondant so that it didn’t slip off.  A common table fork was helpful to slide the dipped candies off the fondue fork.

Michael’s also has cute little gold elastics for closing the boxes (though you could probably buy any color by the yard at a fabric store):

Michael’s had seals, too, but I didn’t put one on this box.  (It wasn’t going to be long for this world.)  Any office supply store might offer a choice of those, too.

Tempering the chocolate in the microwave required some practice; it’s best to melt it in short bursts, not in longer sessions, which can make the chocolate lumpy.  I used Hershey’s Special Dark rather than a better European brand; it was just right with the Bordeaux-like centers, and, anyway, See’s is a quintessentially USA-American candy, so USA chocolate seemed appropriate.  The flavor was just right with the brown-sugar-coffee centers.

I used Wilton’s sprinkles — a travesty if ever there were one — but next time (that would be after we lose the weight we just gained), I’ll use these Dutch sprinkles.  They can’t be worse, and they sound a whole lot better than the rather waxy Wilton’s.  It’ll go better with the organic cream and butter.

Here’s another useful tip: Really good candies don’t have either corn syrup or sweetened evaporated milk in them; you might get sweets that way, but you won’t get anything like See’s.  And never, never use the candy-making pellets on sale in craft departments.  They aren’t really food.  Honest, they aren’t.

Categories: Misc Tags:

Paper Modness

April 14th, 2011 4 comments

Shams, of Communing With Fabric, has a post up today about two surprisingly chic dresses made from candy wrappers, which reminded me of this post, which has been languishing in my queue since February.  This particular dress isn’t exactly made from wrappers, but it is made of paper — more or less.  The image is, of course, Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup can:

I saw it in the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.  According to its website, the Heard is “one of the world’s finest destinations for learning about American Indian arts and cultures”.  Where Polish-American Andy, or, for that matter, Campbell’s soup, fits into this mission is unclear, but nevermind .  .  .

In the late 1960s, soup lovers could acquire this dress by sending in a couple of Campbell’s labels and a small fee (a dollar, I believe).

Note the dart — both placement, and construction:

It’s sort of an interesting take on a one-dart-fits-all approach:  The dart is really just a pleat.  This works on a mannequin, but I suspect it just “poufed” in the wearing.

The late 60s were a great era for paper clothing.  I have a paper sari from around that time which was given to passengers by Air India; it’s rather charming, actually, though, of course, completely impractical as a garment.  How times have changed!  Now the best you can hope for on a plane is a cardboard sandwich.  If you’re lucky.

The Heard Museum seems less like a museum and more like a showcase for contemporary artists whose work is on sale, but that’s not all bad; it’s filled with interesting artifacts, and worth a trip if you find yourself in Arizona — which I hope you don’t, at least until the state legislature acquires some semblance of sanity and does a little productive soul-searching.

Categories: Misc, Vintage Tags:

Plumb Done

March 19th, 2011 2 comments

Yep, it’s the third and final sink faucet unit in our living space.  This one is in a very small bathroom off our kitchen pantry; it’s 1952 sink with a 1952 faucet unit.  Somehow we never noticed that we didn’t have shut-off lines under it — not until the leaky faucet became too persistent to ignore, and I realized that I couldn’t conveniently shut the water off.

We had professionals come in to install the valves, and new, flexible hoses.  Then I tackled the faucets.  The big question was:  Were they repairable?  We already knew these were irreplaceable.  Much to my surprise, they were less of a challenge than the unit in the upstairs bathroom, largely because I only had to work from the front.

All I had to do to remove the stem was take the faucet handles off and unscrew the nut you see on the left.  Easy-peasy.

One handle was frozen to its stem, though, and the guy at our local independent hardware store bashed it off using an old screw, a screwdriver and some brute force.  He didn’t have a few of the washers I needed, so I went back to the plumbing supply place where I’d gotten the faucets for the upstairs bath.  They didn’t have them, either, but they knew who did — another small hardware store on the other side of town.

I remembered to take a picture of the stem before I dismantled it.  There was sixty years’ worth of grit in the threads, which washed off easily with the help of a soft toothbrush.  When I came back to the house, I used this picture to reassemble the stems. (An excellent trick, by the way, photograph everything. No mysteries later that way.  Digital photos are also useful at the parts stores when you’re trying to explain something.)

Then it was just a matter of screwing the stems back into the sink:

This repair is not an unqualified success:  Even the famous Jack LaLanne would find these handles difficult to turn, and I haven’t figured out how to change that.  I seem to recall having heard that this is a common complaint about faucets of this vintage.  One of the hardware store proprietors warned me to use plumber’s grease on the threads “to make them easier to turn”, which also suggests that this isn’t an unknown issue.

However, we now have water at the sink (however difficult it is to extract it), and no leaks or drips.  Just to be sure, I put a bowl beneath, but so far, all is well.  I seem finally to be out of plumbing projects.  Now if I can only find my way to the sewing room.  I know it’s around here somewhere .  .  .

(Useful tip:  Since the washers were so hard to find, I bought a duplicate set, put them into a tiny plastic bag, labeled it, and stuck it into the mostly unused bathroom cabinet.  If they need replacing, I’ve got the next set ready to go.)

Related:  The Kitchen Sink and Sinking, Not Sewing

Categories: Misc Tags:

Sinking, Not Sewing

March 15th, 2011 8 comments

More plumbing, less sewing.  Just before I left on an unexpected trip, I reached down to move the bathroom trash can and made a horrible discovery — it weighed a ton.  Underneath a snowy layer of tossed kleenices, the trash can was filled, nearly to the brim, with water.  Yikes.  We had a leak.  We had two leaks, actually; one at the faucet, and one in the line.

I turned the shut-off valve to “off” and left town.  When I got back, the toilet had stopped working, too.  And there’d been a power surge that caused an electrical explosion in the house.  Oh, joy.

Mr. Noile called in an electrician while I was gone, so that knocked off the initial electric stuff.  The toilet was pretty easy; it fails about every six months, so I’m used to dismantling it.  The sink, however, was another matter.

(I’d already removed one screw when I remembered to take a “before” shot.)   A plumber was not an option, at least partly because he would undoubtedly tell us that we needed to replace the sink, since we could get both a new sink and a faucet unit for less than I was going to pay for the new faucet unit.  If I could find it.

This would have been good advice, except that we have tile on lathe * lath-and-plaster walls.  I don’t even want to think about the bill we’d have on our hands once the plumber finished removing the old sink and installing the new one.  So it was do-it-yourself time.

Underneath the sink wasn’t too intimidating, but it was a very tight fit.  I was pretty bruised and banged up before this job was done, and never was able to imagine how a 200 pound plumber could have fit in the minuscule space between the sink legs and the wall.

Once the faucet handles are removed, you turn those chunky, nautical-looking nuts, and remove the brass nuts on the water lines, and the faucet unit pulls out.

The first challenge, though, was removing the faucet handles.  Taking the screws out did nothing; they were frozen in place, probably since the 1970s, when I suspect this set was installed.

I used this nifty tool — a (imagine that!) faucet puller:

You place the ends behind the faucet handle, and then screw until the handle comes off.  Worked a treat for the cold water handle, but then disaster struck.  The stem came with the hot water faucet, and broke off.  It’s missing in the photo below:

The broken stem is what made replacing the unit essential, as opposed to just replacing washers; can’t do anything without a faucet stem.  A trip to three local hardware stores confirmed my worst fears.  The sink itself was installed in 1952, and, as it turns out, all modern sinks have faucets that come off the top of the sink, not out the wall of the bowl.

Fortunately, there’s a plumbing supply place in a nearby town, so I headed there the next morning.  The guy behind the counter was shaking his head as soon as I unwrapped the unit, but he said he’d look upstairs and see what he could find.  When he returned he was carrying box labeled “ledgeback lavatory faucet”  made by Union Brass of Eagan, Minnesota. (Let’s hear it for the heartland, eh?)  I happily left the equivalent of my right arm in cash at the counter and returned to this:

That’s plumber’s putty; it goes under the faucet facings.  Porcelain scratches, so I used a nylon scraper to remove this yucky stuff.  By the way, don’t ever put anything metal in your porcelain sink unless you’ve lined the sink with a towel first.  That spout should not be sitting directly on the porcelain.

I thought removing the putty would be tricky, but it was pretty soft, and came off easily, yielding the result below:

The next step was truly scary.  The faucet unit is sold as as adjustable one — and was far too wide for my sink.  I had to lop off an inch or so of copper pipe from each end.  Weirdly, while at IKEA a while ago, I’d picked up a pipe cutter, thinking that I might use it for jewelry (or, just possibly, because it was very cheap and looked like a cool toy).  After measuring three times, and then double-checking my work, I marked and cut the pipes:

This was particularly nerve-wracking because the original unit was not cut perfectly to the center stem; when fit properly to the sink, the copper tubing didn’t meet the center unilaterally, so it wasn’t as if I could just cut them to match.  As you can see below, the new unit looks too big compared to the old.  It’s not; in this picture, the old just isn’t pulled out to fit the sink.

The helpful guy at the plumbing supply place warned me that there were o-rings inside the fixture that could be sheared and rendered useless if I left any kind of burr or sharp edge inside the copper pipe.  Fine sandpaper worked to make sure that the inside was smooth. (I tested it with a finger and wasn’t wounded; I figured that was good enough.)  However, he didn’t mention that cutting copper pipe distorts it.

Copper is so soft that this is apparently unavoidable.  However, the very minor distortion meant that I could not insert the brass pipe (the one to which the o-rings were attached) into the copper without shearing the o-rings.  (Ask me how I know.)   I headed off to our local independent hardware store and asked for advice.

It turns out that a full-sized pipe cutter comes with a little triangular gadget that is used to ream the pipe once it’s cut.  It molds the pipe back into the correct shape, and removes the ridge cutting it leaves.  This is apparently not a concern for IKEA, who are not notable for selling copper components.  Lesson learned.

Here’s the unit, set in place for a fitting.  The picture’s taken at a slight angle, and the fixture is resting on the bottom of the openings.  For final installation, it set higher, and was centered properly.  And it fit!  (Note the towel in the sink.  Better to be smart eventually than never.)

Installing it requires screwing the spout and the decorative flanges onto the front side (after filling them with plumber’s putty).  Then you crawl back under the sink for the hundredth time and re-attach the nautical-looking nuts, very, very gently so that you don’t crack the porcelain.  In order to seat the unit correctly, I had to fiddle a little bit with the tensions from front to back; like a lot of porcelain sinks, ours isn’t perfectly even.  Here’s the final result:

I originally thought I’d installed this unit upside down.  The famous torque adage is “lefty, loosey, righty, tighty” but in this case you turn the faucets to the right to open them, and to the left to close them.  I went to bed on installation night cursing myself for the amateur that I am, but in the morning learned that there is only one way to install this unit, and that’s how I’d done it.

After all this, though, I still had a leak.  All I’d really done is the equivalent of replacing the washers that had worn out and caused a slow leak from the faucets.  The leak that had filled the wastebasket was coming from a water line.  I had hoped that removing the line and reseating it would fix the problem, but it didn’t.

I wasn’t too sorry, though, since this meant that I could replace the old inflexible water lines with flexible ones.  Six bucks (and yet another trip to the hardware store) later, I had them in hand.  One last sojourn under the sink, bolts detached and tightened once again, and the job was done.

I couldn’t get flexible pipe in the size I theoretically needed, but the next size up worked fine, since moderate flexing in no way interferes with the transfer of water.

When I was done, I did the most important thing of all:

Yep — put a roasting pan under the whole thing for 48 hours.  You can’t be too sure.  And after that, I replaced the wastebasket, putting it in the exact same spot.  I’m a huge fan of having waterproof wastebaskets under plumbing.  This isn’t the first time I’ve found a leak this way, though it’s the first time in this house.  And the first time the leak has gone undetected for so long due to rising kleenices –that was an artful touch!

*We do not have a lathe in our walls Chez Noile.  Nor, it seems, do we have an adequate editor.  However, Noile has an excellent cousin who unfailingly catches these things, and, in doing so, makes Noile a happier person.  Merci, Fair Cuz!

Related:  The Kitchen Sink

Categories: Misc Tags:

Embellishment

January 23rd, 2011 3 comments

I’ve just finished a garment that needed a little enlivening, so I added some braid to spruce it up.  (The garment in question will show up in the next post.)  I had an accidentally too-wide expanse of black corduroy, and after considering several options, I used a basic embellishment technique taught by Kenneth King (*but not unique to him).

The embellishment is just a flat black braid over which I’ve looped red rattail.  This is pretty pathetic embellishment compared to the exotic and extravagant designs Kenneth King turns out — what I’ve done would just be a base on which to build, if I were to embellish King-style.  Sadly, I am not Kenneth King, and this stark example is Noile-style.  Nonetheless, it has its uses.

I used the same method years ago; it’s a sensible, mathematical approach to the problem.  If you’re doing completely free-hand embellishment, this isn’t useful, but if you want to repeat a pattern or duplicate the exact pattern on another part of the garment, this is a great way to do it.

Here’s how I did it:  First you take a piece of symmetrical braid, and tack it in place.

Loopy braid like this works best, but a solid braid works too — it will just be a little more tricky to figure out where you are.  I did both sides of my garment at once, anchoring the wide braid in place (measuring carefully to make sure they’d be symmetrical).

And then I wove the rattail through, and anchored the loops:

The repeat pattern on the braid lets you space the additional trim evenly — and makes it easy to repeat on another surface.  If you’re using solid braid, you can weave the additional trim over and under evenly by counting motifs, or you can just do it the old-fashioned way and measure.  But a nice, loopy, braid like this black one makes the whole process simpler and easier.  (You can see the black braid a little better in the first and second images above.  Black on black:  Not so easily photographed.)

I used a medium-sized Gutterman thread spool to ensure uniform sizing for the loops:

Then everything gets tacked down.  I made this before I got my braiding foot,  and, worse, added the embellishment after the garment was finished, so I did all this trim by hand.  I’m afraid it’s all too obvious.  If I’d had my braiding foot, I’d have finished in half the time, with a much more professional-looking result.

Speaking of a professional-looking result, don’t use rattail that’s been tightly wound around a small card for a project like this.  You want rattail from a large spindle, without obvious creases.  Mine came from the beading section, and I wasn’t able to do a thing about the obvious kinks dented into the cord by  the tiny card it was wrapped around.  What can I say?  I was stash-busting and there was no way I was going to buy more red rattail, even if I could find it.  Which I couldn’t — not locally, at least.

* Kenneth King IS unique, however, and if you ever get a chance to take a class, attend a lecture, or just drool over what he’s wearing from across the street, do it! His work is incredible, and he is marvelously witty and entertaining in person.

Categories: Misc Tags:

The Elusive BurdaStyle

May 20th, 2010 No comments

May, 2010 edition (with the truly awful shirt on the cover) is at Barnes and Noble in Exton, PA.

Or, at least, two copies were, two days ago. A survey, over the past few months, of Barnes and Noble and Borders stores in several area states revealed that this B&N appears to be the only such store carrying BurdaStyle.  Get ’em while they’re hot.  Or available, whichever.

Categories: Misc Tags:

Thread Fragility, and How to Create It

October 17th, 2009 2 comments

Been cursing the dreadful quality of thread these days? Me, too — at least until I discovered Emma’s new avocation:

She’s chewing happily on the thread running along the back of my machine. She doesn’t eat it, or even chew through it. She just gnaws on it. This went a long way toward explaining the strange weakness I was periodically encountering as I stitched merrily along. Needless to say, I now deploy the sewing machine cover with far greater frequency than I used to.

(Yes, Emma is a GIANT cat — she’s part Maine Coon, and that’s the part that shows.  See those huge paws?  Very clever, those paws.  Very useful for water play in the bathroom, too.  Very useful for string — or thread — play anywhere.)

Categories: Misc Tags: