Jul 18, 2011

Sewing meets science — AND FIRE!

I finally finished my first real pair of sailor shorts from the pattern I drafted. We tried to take some pics yesterday in Central Park, near Harlem Meer where we spent the afternoon watching this awesome bluegrass band called the Ebony Hillbillies. But Lucy kept photobombing me and it was just too hot so I lost patience with the whole thing. I'll blog them later. Today I am lighting things on fire.

I bought the fabric for these shorts at Metro Textile Corp on 37th St. I love the guy who runs it, but sometimes I think he tells me what I want to hear. For example: 

Me: Is this 100% cotton?
Him: Yes.
Me: Hmmm.

Anyway, this fabric is allegedly 100% cotton. But I wore them all day in the humidity and while they felt pretty cool like cotton, they weren't very creased by the time I took them off at night, which is what I would expect. Maybe they're a blend? I decided this was the perfect opportunity to tell you about how to test your fabric (and the truthfulness of your fabric guy).

Much of the time, you can tell just by looking what type of fabric you have on hand (or you can ask, but you may not always get the truth).

But you can also burn a little piece to verify its contents. Sounds fun, right? I like burning stuff. I always have. Don't tell my husband.

I first read about the fabric burn test in a sewing book. Then I found this handy flow chart, which makes it much easier to perform your own experiments. All you do is cut a small piece of the questionable fabric, light it carefully and then watch it burn. Does it self-extinguish or burn freely? What does it smell like as it burns? (The smell of burning meat equals acrylic. Ew!). And, finally, what does the ash look like? (Or, if it's synthetic, what does the little melted bead look like?) All these questions are important factors in determining what type of fabric your mystery swatch is.

Small triangle of fabric


Soft blackish-grey ash
My test results were thus:
-fabric lit and burned
-smell of burning paper
-a blackish grey ash left over

So consulting the handy dandy chart.....it's definitely cotton. But it may be mercerized cotton (because the ash was somewhat blacker than plain old cotton). Mercerized cotton is treated with sodium hydroxide to make it stronger, smoother and shinier. So my fabric guys is honest — or lucky.

I wish I could say this was an ironic gift

It's a good thing my mom doesn't have the Internet. Or a computer. Because otherwise I might feel bad about sharing this book she sent my daughter for her third birthday this week.

Little Mommy was written in 1967, and it depicts a simpler time, when little girls knew their place and could happily play out their maternal fantasies without fear of judgment from their bitch feminist friends (like me).

 Aw, isn't that sweet? A little girl playing with her dolls. Just delightful. This is probably as far as my mom read before buying this book. I am generously giving her that benefit of the doubt because I would hate to think she read the whole thing and still thought it appropriate for my 21st Century girl.

 Wait, what? Is this book set in Westchester? And does daddy work in advertising? I guess Baby Betty Draper does look pretty happy...

 Doing the dolls' hair sounds OK, but playing at wiping fingerprints off the door? What kind of weirdo OCD kid plays at cleaning a door? I don't even do that and I AM a mom with several doors in need of a good wipedown. I think Little Mommy's mommy needs to make an appointment with one of those head-shrinkers she's been hearing about.

 It's all so idyllic...but I've seen Mad Men. I know the only people who had it better in the 1960s were alcoholics and rapists and she's absolutely seething with resentment. There's probably a cocktail spiked with downers hidden in that laundry basket. Oh, here's comes Billy/Daddy, home for dinner. Is that lipstick on his collar? His secretary is such a slut. But if she says anything, he'll slap her again and Little Mommy is out of pancake makeup.
I hope Little Mommy has a Little Something on the side because I bet that asshole Billy doesn't appreciate at all how hard she worked to wipe his scummy fingerprints off her damn door.

Jul 4, 2011

Thank you, dear Lizzi

Lucy and me in chilling in our new tent
 Remember when you had to make a bridge out of popsicle sticks at some point in highschool? No? Lucky.

I did. And it was bad. But I really don't think it was entirely my fault. My teacher sprang it on us from out of nowhere. It went something like this: "Make a bridge out of popsicle sticks and glue." Sum total of helpful tips: zero. How was I supposed to build something structurally sound with slivers of pine and white glue when I have never been taught anything about trusses, continuous arches and other concepts that would have helped me out? Anyway, the bridge-building culminated in a contest wherein the teacher placed weights on the bridges until they all collapsed save one — clearly the work of a future engineer and the teacher's new pet.

I guess I should have spent more time with the tinker toys as a kid because I'm still deficient in that area as illustrated by my recent experience building these tents for my kid's upcoming camping-themed birthday party.

I found the instructions for this tent at Grosgrain, and it looked relatively easy and like less work than the adorable teepees I saw elsewhere on crafty blogs. And only eight trips to the hardware store, two days spent sewing tent covers and hot glueing velcro strips, two slightly terrifying hole-drilling sessions in my kitchen followed by three days of vacuuming sawdust from the floor, and they are done. Did I make it sound easy? Because it was not, really. Nothing like this ever is when you can't even build a bridge from popsicle sticks.

The first sticking point was the fact I couldn't find 3/4-inch dowels in my neighborhood. I went to five hardware stores in a 15-block radius, and after some asshole at a hardware store on Nagle sold me 7/8-inch dowels, claiming they were 3/4-inch, I forfeit ever shopping locally again. Oh, and another sold me crappy, splintery unsanded wood. Seriously, the only thing worth buying in this neighborhood is weed.

We're laughing now....but you should have seen me mid-project

Anyway, luckily for me there's a Home Depot in Chelsea, which truly is the best place to go people-watching. I'm 22% sure I saw Hugo Chavez in a burgundy satin cowboy costume. There I was able to secure a few 3/4-inch dowels, and enough 5/8-inch dowels that I could duct-tape to fit the 3/4-inch holes I had so carefully drilled.

But after following the instructions to the letter, my sad little tents were so wobbly, I almost gave up. I'm sure the original design works fine when the tent is going to be used by one mellow kid who wants to read books under it in her bedroom. But I needed these babies to withstand the wear and tear of eight toddlers hopped up on S'mores. Enter my friend Lizzi, who would probably have rocked that little bridge-building exercise except she grew up in the Dominican Republic where they build actual houses out of popsicle sticks, not crummy toy bridges, and her mother would have beaten her for wasting precious firewood. Geez, only kidding, Lizzi! (That's my reply to her inevitable comment, which you can probably read below).

Maybe that's how she walked in my apartment, took one look at my tents, and said: "It's not your fault. It's the design. They need supports along the sides." God bless her. (That's what I would say if I was Dominican).

So we went back to Home Depot in Chelsea, got more dowels, carefully drilled more holes, and inserted the extra dowels as supports. And wouldn't you know it: they're perfect now. So sturdy that I I won't have to spend Lucy's entire birthday party re-assembling these darn things every time they get tipped over. (Take your pick, Lizzi: whichever you want is all yours. You have the room in your apartment, right?)
Sometimes we all need a little support

Jul 1, 2011

A little insight into Canadians on Canada Day

My husband thinks I make too much of the differences between Canadians and Americans. But I believe there are fundamental difference that are harder to spot than "eh"s and "aboats" (I still don't think we say it like "aboot" even now that I've been out of the country for four years and can finally hear the difference).

For one, Americans are taught to dream big. To believe they are each capable of anything. Anything! Can you imagine? Here's what we were taught by the beloved Ernie Coombs on the long-running CBC children's series "Mr. Dressup":

(I transcribed this from an episode on the Mr. Dressup DVD box set, which my friend Neil very thoughtfully gave my daughter when she was born. I have no clue how to rip a clip from a DVD or else I would share it here, though CBC seems to be pretty aggressive on removing its clips from unauthorized sites).

Mr. Dressup is drawing a dandelion and talking to Casey about wishes.

Mr Dressup: When you blow on the dandelion top, these seeds all blow away on little floaty strings. And people like to make wishes on them.

Casey: Do you think, if you wish really, really hard, that the wish will come true?

Mr Dressup: Oh (he chuckles) I don't think they really come true. But if you're lucky, you wish for something that is really going to happen, so that would be lucky that you made that wish.

Then Mr Dressup and Casey talk about wishing on birthday candles, and wishing on a star:

Casey: And people say, "Starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight!"

Mr Dressup: That's right. And if you don't wish for anything impossible, then it might come true.

So there you have it, Canadian kids. The only wishes that come true are ones that you can be sure were going to happen eventually anyway. Like lunch. Or death.


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