Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Chinese New Year

Yes, that dreaded time of the year is here again. I'm talking about Chinese New Year.

I knew Chinese New Year was coming when everywhere I went, I saw red, red and more red. Nope, this is not a Chinese brothel. It's a pop-up selling Chinese New Year decorations.

I knew Chinese New Year was seriously round the corner when I saw dancing lions and twinkling lanterns on the ceiling in the food court. Nope, despite how movies often depict us Chinese, we aren't always surrounded by prancing lions and lanterns.

Despite all the signs that Chinese New Year was COMING, I was in denial. Suddenly on Thursday, we decided to get our shit together and braved the supermarket to buy mandarin oranges and some supplies.

Seems like everyone else waited till Thursday to go to the supermarket.

I managed to get my 4 mandarin oranges. I had to buy 5 because I couldn't get the machine to print a barcode for 4 oranges. I also bought tiny mandarin oranges because they look so cute. The 4 mandarin oranges are meant for my kids to give to the homes we visit. Although hubs and I aren't very traditional, there are a few traditions we follow. Buying 4 mandarin oranges is one of them.

The other tradition is getting new notes for ang pows. (red packet) Hubs likes to get the notes after his run but his sweat makes the notes all icky. I asked him to get the new notes like a normal human being but he insisted on doing it after his run. He did bring along a ziplock bag so the new notes are safe from his sweat. What a relief. I'm the one who has to stuff the money into the red packets.

There are some do's and don'ts for Chinese New Year. I don't really observe them because I think it's just superstition. Like you're supposed to put away sharp objects like scissors and knives. (cuts wealth) No laundry (wash away good luck) and a few others. I do avoid wearing unlucky colours like black only because the people I visit may get pissed off.

This year, I read in the papers that some employers sent foreign workers to queue up for bak kwa. (barbequed pork) Bak kwa is traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year. It looks to me like it's something that causes cancer so I avoid eating it but many people love it. To the extent that they send their workers to queue overnight at the stall. This is definitely a DON'T to add to the list. Employers who are so hard up for bak kwa need to do the queuing themselves.

This is bak kwa. It's a little bit like beef jerky but bak kwa is usually eaten within a few days after the barbecue while it's still moist and oily. It's horribly delicious so don't eat it.

We've already had our reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year. (Friday) We've done the lo hei - tossing of salad for good fortune.

We've displayed the pomelo gifted by my MIL on the dining table. So I think we're all set for the Year of the Rooster. Everybody, we can talk cock all year long!

I Wish you a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year. Keep fit and stay healthy. (don't eat bak kwa)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The time I made an embarrassing dress

I'm sure you've heard of this saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Well I have but I ignored it. After sewing my successful Ikea curtain sailor top, I thought to myself, why not make the sailor top into a dress, something I could wear at home - a house dress.

I went through my fabric stash and although I have a lot of fabric, most of it did not have the required length to make a dress. When I used to buy fabric to make bags, I usually buy 1 meter's worth. Finally I found this green polka dot fabric which I used for the lining of my bags. I had two meter's worth. Perfect.

I used size M this time and didn't make any alterations to the pattern except to lengthen it. Yep, just one straight line down. Clearly I wasn't thinking straight.

Finally, I finished sewing the whole dress and I even added two patch pockets. I was so proud of myself.  I tried it on and presented myself to my family.

The verdict was unanimous. Everyone said it was awful. Everyone agreed I shouldn't wear it out. It was the colour. It was the fabric. It was the shapelessness. It was everything. Hubs said it was too embarrassing to show anyone.

Really? I went to take a look at myself in the mirror and sadly I agree. I guess I was too close to the project to realise it just doesn't work. As a top, yes. As a dress - nooooooooooo.

Today I finally dragged hubs and myself downstairs to take photos of the dress. And of course I had to wear it. Hubs wanted to do it by the bonsai trees but I wanted somewhere more secluded. So we went to the physical fitness area.

There was a cat lazing under a bench and we decided to include the cat in the photo shoot. The cat was very uninterested in us.

I tried to get its attention.

It got bored by me.

I decided to take a look at the photos hubs had taken.

Most of the photos weren't very good. Too stiff.

Then I heard hubs calling to the cat. Meow, meow, meow. Why was he trying to get the cat's attention?

Oh, he was taking photos of me and the cat. Just then, hubs saw the cat get up and walk towards me. He said nothing.

Suddenly I felt a weird velvety softness snaking past my legs. I had such a fright! I screamed and screamed.

Oh it was the cat!

I started laughing with relief.

For a moment, I thought a ghost or something had slithered past me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How Many Sewing Machines Do You Own?

So, exactly how may sewing machines do you own? Right now I have one sewing machine and one serger, both by Janome. (notice I said right now) In case you don't know what a serger is, it's the white elephant in the room.

My Janome is a QC6260. Is it a quilting machine of sorts? I have no idea. As you may or may not know, I don't do any quilting. Maybe once in a while I may do a small "artsy" quilt thingy but that's about it. I forgot when I bought the sewing machine but it's been awhile. It's the best sewing machine I've ever owned.

My first sewing machine was a Singer. I bought it shortly after I left school. That was decades ago. I basically bought the cheapest sewing machine I could afford. Did I ever tell you my dear mother sulked up a storm when I brought the sewing machine home? She had this idea that buying a sewing machine meant I would become a professional seamstress which is something of a nightmare for her. She was also afraid I would spend money on sewing classes and fail badly and end up wasting my money.

The Singer was a very, very, very, very basic sewing machine. I can't stress the 'very' enough. It was a mechanical machine and came with a rubber belt round the hand wheel. I still had the machine when I got married but soon after it broke down. I finally gave it to a rag and bone man as I had no idea I could do a trade in.

My next sewing machine was a Sakura. One day we were at a shopping mall and hubs saw a sewing machine on sale and we bought it right there and then. Once again, price was the factor. It was a very cheap sewing machine. Unfortunately the Sakura was a very difficult sewing machine. It kept breaking down. I hated the machine. Sewing was a nightmare. Finally I traded it in and upgraded to a Brother.

My Brother was a innovis-200. OMG. What an upgrade. It had bells and whistles. It was very expensive. It had features I never knew existed. This sewing machine made me fall in love with sewing. Unfortunately, it eventually broke down after a few years. The tension was a big issue. Although I got it repaired many times it continued to break down.

I gave up on the brand Brother and turned to Janome. I had avoided Janome because they were always priced slightly higher than other brands available in Singapore. I did check out Bernina but the ones available here were the higher end ones and I can't even think of shelling out that much cash for a sewing machine. So I got Janome QC 6260 which has nearly all the features of a Brother innovis-200.

The big difference between my Brother innovis-200 and Janome QC 6260? Brother sews a lot faster. Brother also had a particular stitch which I used for reinforcement but it wasn't available in the Janome. But I love my Janome and we never quarrelled. Maybe just a bit of yelling now and then.

My one big complaint about my Janome QC 6260 is I have to use Auto tension. The machine acts up if I try to adjust anything. So auto it is. Sometimes I do wish I have another cheaper sewing machine which I can play around with and not be afraid to mess up. Basically a sewing machine I can abuse. Wouldn't that be great?

If you are looking for a sewing machine, there are a few things you should consider unless you want to do what I did when I was less smart - buy blindly based on price.

I recommend you take a look at these features:
  • A good feeding mechanism
  • Up/Down needle stopping (some people can live without it but I can't)
  • Built-in needle threader (seriously can't live without it)
  • Adjustable stitch length (a must-have)
  • Ability to sew through thick layers
  • Adjustable needle - adjustable to the left and right (this feature is really useful for sewing accurate seam allowances)
  • Automatic one-step buttonhole (essential only if you need buttonholes)

Other things to consider:
a. Drop-in bobbin or front load bobbin.
I personally prefer drop-in bobbin. So much easier to use. However, drop-in bobbins are very sensitive. You need to use the correct size bobbin case. I use Janome bobbin case.

b. Pedal or knee-operated lift for pedal
I can't for the life of me use my knee to operate the pedal. I think I have two left feet. Try it out before you buy it!

c. Weight of machine
A heavier sewing machine is better than one that's easy to carry around. It has to do with the size of the motor. The heavier the machine, the stronger the motor. The stronger the motor, the better it copes with heavier fabric and usage. If portability is more important to you, by all means get a light machine. But know what you are giving up.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My Home-made Bread Lame

I finally have my own home-made bread lame. It is a blade used to score (slash) bread dough before baking. Previously, I used a kitchen knife. At the baking school, the teacher showed me how to make one. All you need are a double edge razor blade and a bamboo skewer.

Insert the rounded end of the skewer through the center of the blade.

I do have to be very careful when I use it because there is no screw attaching the blade to the bamboo skewer. Still I'm pretty happy with it.

When I'm not using the razor blade, I store it in a container with some vegetable oil. The teacher gave me the razor blade as I have not been able to find a shop which sells such razor blade. I do have to obtain more razor blades as these blades do wear out.

There is a technique to holding the lame when scoring bread dough. You have to hold at an angle and if you do it right, the results are beautiful. I still have much practice before I can say: I got it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Artisan Bread

Last week for three afternoons, I attended a class to bake Artisan Bread. Before I signed up, I checked if there were any per-requisites and was assured there was none. On Day 1 of the class I discovered two things. One, only three people including myself had signed up for the class. Two, the teacher was expecting participants to have attended a basic bread class. Oops. Luckily, the other girl in the class was in the same boat as me. We were self-learners, watched a lot of youtube videos and had baked a number of loaves of bread at home. Still the teacher was concerned as he was worried we would not be able to understand bread making terms and have difficulty following the class. Anyway, as it turned out, us ladies were pretty damn well read. The other participant, a guy had already attended bread courses before.

In case you're wondering, this class was not funded by the government. Unlike the WSQ baking classes which were funded, this one I paid for it.

The teacher is someone who had taught me before in my Basic Cake class. One thing I like about him is he speaks good English. If I have to listen to another Chinese Helicopter...

Before I went for the class, I had thought Artisan Bread meant there is a lot of handwork involved. Indeed, the teacher did mention that Artisan Bread means made by hand but strangely, the dough development was done exclusively by machine. We only shaped and scored by hand. In that respect, I was quite disappointed.

The class covered 3 types of bread and we baked one a day. The first one was multigrain bread. This one we did not use any preferment. I guess it's because it's the first bread and we weren't there to prepare any. However, the multigrains were soaked in water for us because you can't use multigrains as is. For those of you who do not know what a pre-ferment is, it's just water, flour and a little yeast you mix together and refrigerate overnight. Remember Alex Goh's Magic Bread and 65 degree Celcius tangzhong? They are also pre-ferments.

This was how my multigrain bread turned out. It looks great doesn't it? But I did have some trouble shaping the batard. Oh, I realised that previously for every loaf of bread I've baked since I started baking bread in November last year? My windowpane was done haphazardly. The teacher said I didn't really know how to stretch the windowpane and he showed me how. This means that in my future bakes, I could achieve the windowpane much earlier because I had been under stretching. By the way, the multigrain bread tasted fantastic. Hubs really liked the grains and in future when I make this bread again, I will push the grains percent up.

Another thing new to me is there is low sugar instant yeast and high sugar instant yeast. I've always assumed there's only one kind of instant yeast. Apparently, you use high sugar instant yeast for bread recipe with higher than 10% sugar content. I'm not sure if Alex Goh's Magic Bread sweet dough meet this criteria so I may have to investigate. I'm so excited about this new angle.

Day 2 we baked wholemeal bread. On Day 1, we prepared the poolish (pre-ferment) required for this recipe. Poolish uses a ratio of 1 part water to 1 part flour. The purpose of poolish is to create better taste and texture in the bread. When we mix the dough on Day 2, we just add the poolish to everything else and let the machine do the work. I was a little disappointed that we shaped batard on Day 2 which is the same as Day 1. Having said that, I still struggled with shaping the batard. My wholemeal bread was actually slightly overproofed. I blame it on the teacher. I wanted to take my dough out of the proofer but he said to wait. Still the result wasn't too bad. The inside was a little too soft for my liking. Unlike the multigrain bread, the wholemeal bread was tasteless.

Day 3 was pretty exciting mostly because we got to use the banneton which is a proofing basket. You see the ridges of the cane? Bread flour is dusted over it and the flour on the ridges will cling onto the dough and create patterns.

The rye bread uses a poolish as well and we used German rye flour.

The shape is called boule and I found that I'm not too bad at shaping round shapes. After removing the dough from the proofer I discovered the bottom of my boule looked a bit odd. However, during the baking process everything got straightened out.

I had fun scoring the dough. The spiral is a bit harder. I think my rye bread turned out superb although one little criticism. An extra minute in the oven would have achieved the perfect colour.

I know there is no way I can make bread at home the exact quality achieved at the baking school. This giant cupboard is a proofer and it is kept at 34 deg C with 90 deg C humidity. We proofed our bread inside. At home I'm at the mercy of Singapore weather. I proof on my dining table. The ovens also make a big difference. There is a button to inject steam. At home, I guess I could do a small steam bath but I think of the danger as I am so careless.

Still I think having gone through the class, I have become a tiny bit better at baking bread. I will bake a loaf soon once we finish eating all our bread. I brought home six loaves of bread and we have already eaten three loaves. Frankly, we are a bit sick of bread now. Next on the list: attend a basic bread class to learn shaping. I'm doing this backwards, aren't I?

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Dress For Journey Girl Dana

Not long ago, I made a dress for my 18 inch Journey Girl Dana. This is my first time sewing anything for an 18 inch doll.

I like that there's more fabric to work with compared to say a 12 inch doll. There is less fiddling. I dislike fiddling.

Journey Girl doll tends to sit in a certain position so I made a dress which can spread out. It's a fairly simple dress - a sleeveless bodice joined to a skirt. I think it took me an hour to sew it. I didn't use any curse words. When I sew for 12 inch dolls, I swear a lot.

I used a leftover fabric and was very happy I managed to use it up! One thing I don't like about making bags and pouches is there is a lot of leftover fabric and it is usually in odd shapes and amount. I have a ton of such fabric remnants.

Unlike my bags and pouches, I'm not so anal about hiding raw edges in doll's clothing. I suppose I could have used my serger except I forgot I own one when I was sewing the dress. I used snaps for closure. I think snaps are the cleverest invention.

What do you think of this dress? Does it suit Dana?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How to Sew a Wrist Strap for Hello Kitty Charm

In December, I bought a Hello Kitty ezlink charm. This charm has the same function as a ezlink card so you can use it to take train, bus and pay for some transactions. I read in the papers that many people queued up to buy these charms from 7 eleven stores. Of course I didn't queue up. The first time hubs asked at the 7 eleven store where we live, it was sold out. But the staff said more would come soon. In the evening on the way home, hubs went back to the store and the store had a couple of boxes worth!

After acquiring the Hello Kitty ezlink charm, I soon found that it is very easy to misplace it. I spend so much time hunting for it I was getting fed up. It is especially annoying when you need it to get out of the train station and you're standing there digging in your bag!

A few days ago, I decided to sew a wrist strap to attach to the Hello Kitty charm. I figure if I have it round my wrist, I'm less likely to lose it. So while I was making it, I took a few pics and you can make your own wrist strap. It's not very hard and only requires 2 items, apart from the sewing machine, needle, thread, etc.

You need a strip of fabric and a swivel lobster clasp.

To figure out the dimensions of the strip of fabric, you need 2 pieces of info.

How big is your fist?
Clench your fist and measure around your knuckles. Mine is 9 inch (23cm). Add 1 inch (2.5cm). If you prefer it a little loose, add 1.5 inch to 2 inches (3.5cm to 5cm). This is the length of your strip of fabric. For my Hello Kitty strap, I cut 10 inch (25.5cm) long.

How wide is your swivel lobster clasp?
If you are using something like this, measure the inner width. That's the widest your finished strip can be. To calculate how wide your fabric strip needs to be, let's pretend your inner width measurement is 1 inch. Multiply by 4 - 4 X 1 inch = 4 inch. 

In my Hello Kitty example, my swivel lobster clasp has a rounded ring. I cut a strip of scrap fabric, put it thru' and estimated my finished strip needs to be 3/8 inch. 4 X 3/8" = 1 1/2 inch.  The dimensions of my fabric strip: 10 inch long X 1 1/2 inch wide.

Let's make some creases, baby!
First, switch on your steam iron.

Put everything together
Click here for a tute on how to make your own hump helper.

Lastly, you need to sew across the strap to secure the clasp.

That's it. You're done.

You can also use this tute to make a wrist strap for your clutch or zipper pouch. Like this clutch below.

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