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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sewing Made Easy, or so she says

Read the headlines! It's time to pull out your old copy of "How to Live on (Practically) Nothing." It's time to re-learn how to turn the collar on a shirt, how to make a little girl's dress from a man's worn-out shirt, how to turn your old cotton socks into a mop. Those thrifty days that lasted well beyond the Depression are back with us.


I found, at a sale of library weedings, "Sewing Made Easy," by Mary Lynch. The copyright date is 1950. Flipping through it I would have guessed 1940, but apparently 1950 was just as thrifty as the forties. The book is a grim reminder not only of what it was like before the disposable society took over, but also of the rigidity of fashion rules in those days. Old was Old and Young was Young and the sumptuary regulations that divided them were not open for discussion.


Here is a sentence from the chapter on making hats. "The mature woman with soft grey hair will find swirls of veiling (her italics) twisted around a bunch of flowers fastened to a circle of straw or felt cut from an old hat are especially becoming."


Now, leaving aside the dubious construction of that sentence, with one participial phrase fastened to another to another, and an almost orphaned verb dangling at the end—leaving that aside, I am struck by how far we have come in our approach to fashion.


That hat was for the "mature woman" (am I there yet?). The mature woman had a certain look. Mary Lynch also gives very succinct instructions for making a young woman's hat. Here are her complete instructions for a charming flowered number: "Flowers, pins, veiling, thread, and a mirror are all you need. Pin everything together for effect, then sew only enough to hold the pieces in place."


So there you are. Your new hat in a nutshell. Are you ready to make it now? Were the instructions sufficiently detailed? All you need is . . .


In the purse section, Mary is much more explicit. She lays out all the information you need to make half a dozen purse (excuse me: handbag) styles. You could make them for peanuts. You wouldn't catch Mary even thinking about paying $35,000 for a good Birkin bag, though that's not a very good example, since the thought of that $35,000 Birkin bag tends to give most women apoplexy. (In fact, if you're willing, I'll sell you my copy of Mary's book for only $1000. Just think of the money you'd be saving by using her directions for making a purse . . .)


In the chapter on toys, Mary Lynch tells us how to make a rag doll. Now, I own (or have owned) half a dozen books devoted to making rag dolls of all sorts. But Mary just says you can either cut the arms and legs together with the body or cut and stuff them separately and attach them with strong thread. That's the extent of her doll instructions. According to Mary, you can make a wardrobe for the doll by creating your own patterns or by buying purchased doll clothes patterns. Obviously she's trying to avoid smothering you with extraneous information. Either she hates making dolls and regrets having brought up the subject, or she has already written a separate book on rag dolls that she wants us to buy.


But don't get her started on tea towels! In this section she lavishes on us all the detail we could possibly need: buy 10 yards of linen toweling, and here's how you fold it and here's how you cut it and here's how you hem it. She gives us the specific instructions that she refused to cough up for a rag doll, some poor little girl's best friend.


Mary also provides detailed instructions for making slip covers for your furniture, mattress pads and dust ruffles (pleated or gathered or plain) and lamp shades. You'll learn how to make curtains of every sort: swagged, sheers, café curtains, or formal draperies.


Coverlets are easy, according to Mary: take two old, worn blankets and put them between a backing and a top. Bind around the edges. Fasten through the center with knotted yarn. Bob's yer uncle!


Mary also tells us how to make a quilt top, should that be your choice for the top of your coverlet. Now, if I once owned six books on rag dolls, let me tell you how many quilting books there are in print today. Seven zillion, that's how many. And they all tell, from cutting the first little piece to taking the final stitch, how to make this or that kind of quilt. Mary shows the same interest in quilting that she has in rag dolls. I paraphrase: take some scraps in small pieces, sew them together into blocks. Sew the blocks together. Try to make them pleasing to the eye. There you are. That's about it for quilts. If you need more instructions than this, then I guess Mary figures you shouldn't even be undertaking the project.


Mary Lynch, "Sewing Made Easy." Watch for it at a Goodwill store near you. As the Big D engulfs us, there will be a run on it, so don't delay!


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Surprise! Surprise!

After supper recently my husband said, "I bought you a treat." Now, this is always scary. Sometimes he brings me treats from his forays into the big world, but they are usually gleanings from the table of his wine functions—little friandises that I adore but shouldn't eat, for one reason or another. It's seldom that he actually goes to the store and buys a treat. So I said, "Where were you?" And he said, "No Frills." And I knew right away what the treat was. When the Insider's Report from Loblaws comes out we always look through it to see if there's anything worth a trip. Usually there's nothing, but in the most recent one they described a chocolate-fudge-nut ice cream. I made the mistake of saying, "If you must buy something from this flyer, I wouldn't mind trying this ice cream. . ." So I knew right away that was the treat he had brought me. We each had a dish of it. And Reader, I'm here to tell you: don't bother. Just don't bother.


His post-supper announcement of this treat had been foreshadowed by the announcement, before supper, that he had bought me a new iron. Mine is broken, so it was on my list to get an iron. My list.  You'd think, given the fiasco several years ago of his buying me a new vacuum cleaner that I hated—you'd think he'd have learned his lesson. But no-o-o. He bought me an iron. So I went through the "thank you but I wish you had let me choose my own iron but I appreciate the thought but I really am picky about irons."


Now, this is a fine line to walk. You want to say thank you. But you don't want to encourage him in his retail therapy ways (especially the part about using you and your needs as an excuse to buy something). But you also don't want to make him feel bad. Or to make him angry ("I was just trying to save you the trouble . . ."). And here we are at anger and confrontation again. Well, YOU devise a speech that incorporates everything you need to say here: gratitude, annoyance, and a strong suggestion that this sort of behaviour should stop—all to be delivered in a level tone of voice that doesn't trigger defensiveness.


So the whole iron escapade happened before supper. And then after supper we ate some of the dreadful ice cream.


And then he did the dishes while I practiced the piano, feeling better and better about the Bach Partita in C-minor as I ironed out the difficult parts (over and over, I hasten to add; every day I re-iron them and then they come back the next day. Perhaps I need a new iron . . .?)

Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, March 15, 2009


One late November morning, I start making my Christmas cards for the coming holiday. First I have to make them, then I have to write messages and addresses. And then I stamp and send them. Oh, wait. First I need to put a load of clothes into the washer. So I sort the laundry into three piles and carry one of them to the basement—that is, down two flights of stairs. As I work my way over to the washer and dryer, I pass my gardening bag, which reminds me that I had meant to prune the clematis this week. I carry the bag upstairs and put it by the back door as a reminder.


While at the back door, which is in the kitchen, I realize I haven't given a thought to dinner. What will we eat? It's too late in the day to defrost a chicken. How about organic chicken livers, which are packaged in easily defrosted flat packets? Great. How shall I cook them?


I move into the freezer room, take out a package of chicken livers, and start flipping through the recipe index cards for chicken liver ideas. I find eight options among my collected recipes, and I haven't even started searching through the cookbooks. This whole procedure takes half an hour. Chicken livers with risotto. Where's the Arborio? Shall I use the Arborio or that fancier short-grain Italian rice that we were given? Which will be better? Dither for a while. Then take out a container of homemade chicken stock and put it, along with the chicken livers, in the sink to defrost.


I'm at the sink. Oh, yes, I need a glass of water. Which reminds me: did I take my vitamins today? I take my vitamins.


By now the load in the washer is finished. I go upstairs to fetch the next load. Who needs a "steps" class when you have a two-story house with a basement? Pick up the second pile of clothes to be washed. Traipse down to the basement. Make the switch: washer to dryer, basket to washer.


Now. Where was I? Oh, I remember. I was going to work on my Christmas cards today, but I got sidetracked.


Because I'm so easily sidetracked, I have difficulty completing a project. Or, to look at it another way, if it weren't for getting sidetracked, I'd never get anything done. For me, life is what happens when I'm sidetracked.


There's always tomorrow for the Christmas cards.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, March 8, 2009

That's Not the Whole Story

A lack of passion, that's the story. No consuming interest. No obsession. But, wait. That's not the whole story. Yes, it's true that I waver and vacillate—I waffle, even, and change my interests as I change my shirt. But no passion? No. That's not the whole story.


Part of the truth is that my passions often don't last. Some people's passions continue, deepen, and grow throughout their lives. But not mine.  My passions are more like passing flings. Infatuations rather than the love of a lifetime.


But again—that's not the whole story. I have remained passionate about a few things through the years, but they're pretty mundane. Are you ready for this?


Waffle irons, for example.


Strainers and colanders, for example.


Funnels, for example.


If I had more storage space in my kitchen, I would own a dozen functioning waffle irons. As it is, I have three, one of them a stove-top model (i.e., it is not an electrical appliance but must be set on a stove burner).


But first, the story of my favorite waffle iron. When we were still living in Alabama, one year my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas a large waffle iron. It opened like a book and lay flat on the counter, and it made a waffle that was about 10 by 10", divided into four by little ridges. It was a beautiful waffle iron. But it was more than that. Each of the waffle grids could be removed from the appliance and turned over, to form two flat griddle surfaces—large enough to cook four flapjacks on each side. I could make eight pancakes at a time; perfect for a growing family. I also used those flat panels as a panini maker (though the word was unknown in North America at the time). I drizzled the outsides of the sandwiches with olive oil, place them on one side of the flat griddle, then close the "book" so that the waffle iron (flat side showing) pressed the sandwiches together, toasting both sides at the same time.


What a marvelous waffle iron.


Years passed. The rheostat or resistor—the part that creates the redness in the coils of a waffle iron/griddle—wore out. I found a highly recommended repair shop for small appliances and took my beloved waffle iron to them. In two weeks I got it back—but it was not fixed! The small amount of heat generated was definitely not enough to cook a waffle, let alone to brown it.


Back to the shop.


Two weeks later I picked it up. Same story.


It was clear that the repairman's idea of what constituted a working waffle iron was not mine.


Back to the shop. Two weeks later: "All done," they said. When I went to pick it up, they had, as a "favor," and to repay me for having had to make repeated visits, cleaned my waffle iron plates by dipping them in one of those grease-removing chemicals. In just a few minutes they had managed to wipe off ten years of seasoning, ten years of creating exactly the right surface for cooking waffles.


They were so proud of the favor they had done me--and I was so timid-—that I never told them how much I hated their "improvement." I took my waffle iron home. And it still didn't get hot enough to bake a waffle. So, since it was no longer functional, that waffle iron didn't make the cut when I moved to Toronto. I still mourn it, even though I no longer have a big family of waffle-eaters to cook for.


To compensate for its loss, I began watching for waffle irons at all garage sales. I now have, in addition to the previously mentioned stove-top version, an oblong waffle maker that makes a waffle about the size of an average book, and a round one that belonged to my mother. I had had my mother's since her death but never used it. Then I bought a new cord for it, the old-fashioned kind of cord where one end plugs into the waffle iron's two prongs and the other into the wall socket.


I would have more waffle irons, but I am too mature now to scratch my itch. The cold steel of reason muffles my inner clamor for more, more. I'm glad for that, but I can still hear that muffled clamor.


Strainers are another story. You can never have too many strainers. I don't have favorites, and only a few of mine are antiques. Most of them have a metal mesh, but two are all plastic. Here's why you need a lot of strainers: you need at least three different diameters (small, medium, and large) and at least three different mesh sizes in each diameter.


Finally the strainers you purchase get bigger and bigger until they are colanders. And oh, you can never have too many colanders. Some of mine are metal with holes, some have a steel mesh supported by metal braces, some are plastic. One beautiful one is navy blue ceramic, but I dropped something on it and took a big chunk out of it. It's still a colander, but it isn't as beautiful as it used to be. Generally, for a colander, you want lightweight and heat-proof (so boiling water won't melt it). The navy blue ceramic one was never very practical, but it was beautiful.


You definitely need at least one very large colander in your collection (the diameter of a snare drum, if not a bass drum) for straining huge amounts of pasta when you are entertaining the marching band.


Oh yes. You need lots and lots of colanders.


Shall we continue in this same vein on the topic of funnels? Surely you understand that you that you need both big and little funnels. Even if you don't do canning any longer, you need a couple of canning funnels, whose bottom opening just fits inside a Mason jar. These are very useful for filling jars with lentils, rice, leftover soup--whatever it is that you store in jars. And then you need smaller funnels for filling smaller jars or skinny-necked bottles. For ease of storage, many of your funnels will nest neatly.


Waffle irons. Strainers and colanders. Funnels. The foot-soldiers of the kitchen battery.


Who says I'm not passionate?


 Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 1, 2009


We rattle around in the house like the dice in a gambler's hands. Separately we travel from room to room, each of us on a private quest, compelled by inner urges. He's in his usual arena, the treehouse (also called the media room), for a couple of hours, until without warning he changes floors, settles in a new spot briefly then charges down to the basement or up to his treehouse again on a mysterious, undisclosed mission whose meaning escapes me as he whizzes past, leaving me alone again with my thoughts and my armload of dirty clothes that I am lugging to the washer in the basement, thinking of much earlier laundry days (not mine, thankfully) that necessitated tubs of boiling water and feeling grateful that Maytag and its pals do the laundry for me, allowing me the freedom and the time to run back upstairs to work on the book I'm constructing by altering another book. In the meantime, he moves to the kitchen for a surreptitious handful of almonds, then we continue to meander through the house, connecting seldom after that first long morning hug but when we do connect it warms us both unless, shaken too vigorously by the gambler's hands, we strike sparks from each other which sometimes, fed by the tinder of old hurts and remembered slights, catch and blaze into an intense conflagration that can only be extinguished by time, cool wisdom, or wet tears.

All day we tumble past each other on our personal missions, breaking for lunch (I fix it, we eat it, he cleans up the debris) during which we are allowed to read, exchanging amazed words over errors, typos, or a particularly vivid or apt turn of phrase that we find in our book or newspaper or magazine.

After lunch it's back to the same routine of endless activity as we shoot from one level of the house to another, east end to west end, filling the time and the rooms with pursuits appropriate to our individual temperaments.

And if we're lucky, at the end of the day (and I really mean at the end of our day, not some metaphorical and vague clichĂ©) we come together on the couch, my feet in his lap, and we drink a little drink (his is wine, mine is my vitamin supplement that I pretend is sherry) and then—with still fifteen minutes before the dinner in the oven will be ready—we dance. We put on "I'm All Shook Up" (Elvis, obviously) or a big-band version of "Why Don't You Do Right?" or "Cherokee." Our dance moves are limited, not by space, because we have lowered the leaf on the drop-leaf dining room table and have placed all the chairs around the perimeter, from where they watch us like so many envious wallflowers, but by our own nascent skill as dancers. We have now mastered the basic swing step, though don't ask me to talk while I'm executing it. The little extras with names like "fall-away, come-away" or "peek-a-boo", are in the process of being learned. As we dance, I am transported to my teenage self. I didn't know how to dance like this during my high school years, when everyone else was doing it, but now I do know. And my sweetie and I dance to the music with joy, with greed for more dancing and more laughter, and with the promise of love that is the very substance through which we will rattle and dance for the rest of our time together.

Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor