Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sleeping Quilt Zippered Foot Box

I managed to sew a zipper in place, in spite of the fact the zipper foot I ordered did not fit, and I had to use the general purpose foot. Again - not pretty but functional.

Ray Jardine's book said to use a 26" zipper. That would not have been long enough to create a pocket. I used a 46" robe zipper.

Bacpacking Sleeping Quilt Under Construction

I kept thinking there has to be a better way. It turned out OK though. I still have to add a zipper to the foot. Ray Jardine says to make a single quilt 45" wide. I planned to make it 47", but after wrestling the fabric and insulation through the machine it's 45".  I'll do a more thorough writeup later.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Honeybees Galore!

Some friends of mine who are on the faculty at St. John's, have had two swarms, in the same spot of their apple tree, a week apart.  This first one may have been a larger swarm with a second, smaller swarm next to it.  I placed the hive on an outdoor table beneath them and tried to shake both groups in.  They ended up mostly landing on top of the bars I left in place:

They did, however, all go in, (though if that was a second swarm, they may have flown off elsewhere.  Here is a photo of them signaling the other bees to come on down.  I left this hive in their yard:

The second swarm, a week later, was there in the morning.  They were very quiet and still, so I believe they had been there overnight.  I brought a half-hive over, hoisted it on my shoulder, climbed to the top of a stepladder and shook them straight in.  They gathered themselves more quickly and are now happily buzzing about in my backyard:

I now have ten hives under my care - more than I have had in a few years.  I think all the rain we have been having has been good for the honeybees in Santa Fe.  This might be the year I get back to selling honey at the Farmer's Market.

All photos were taken by Susan, who has a wonderful sense of excitement and wonder at the arrival of all these bees in her backyard.

Rain Shed RS280 Cagoule - Final Thoughts

Here are a few final thoughts and stories about sewing the cagoule.

1) My biggest piece of advice for any inexperienced sewer, like myself, would be to get some scrap fabric and practice cutting out the hole for the hood.  If I ever make another one, I will not try to cut the entire thing out with a rotary cutter.  I believe the best course would be to trace it, begin the cut with the rotary cutter, and then cut the rest out with scissors.  I don't know if this advice is obvious from an experienced perspective.  Maybe practice with the rotary cutter, (is that the right name for it?), would be best.  Next time though, I'm trying the scissors.  It would not be too much to cut out a practice hood and practice sewing that to the practice hole.  Would I actually have the patience for doing that?  I don't know.  My hood sewing job is serviceable, but it's not pretty.  I wish I could do it over and over again until I got it just right.  However, I don't have a need for that many cagoules.

2)  One of the most disturbing things that happened was I checked the bobbin after sewing the hood on, and the bobbin was empty.  I went all the way around the hood and did not see any stitching that was not matched by the stitching on the bottom.  It's a mystery.  Maybe I ran out just as I was finishing.  At least I know there are two lines of stitching.

3)  I ran out of thread at the very end, mere inches from finishing the last sleeve.  I would not have run out of thread, I believe, except that I bought metal replacement bobbins at the beginning of the project, but they did not work, and I ended up with big nests of thread on my practice run, so I was down one bobbin's worth of thread from the beginning.  The bobbin problem happened to me twice.  I bought some replacement bobbins a few years ago, thinking all bobbins were probably the same, and I bought the wrong bobbin altogether.  The thread nested up under my stitching, and I struggled with the machine for a few days before concluding that it had just gone kaput on me.  I eventually found that the bobbin was the problem.  This time, I bought the correct bobbin, (a #66), but the metal didn't work.  When I bought more thread, I bought some plastic replacement bobbins, and those finally worked.  Inexperienced sewers beware - buy the right bobbin.

4) On the subject of thread - Ray Jardine says to use long filament polyester thread.  At my local Jo Anne's, they have some Coats & Clark "Outdoor" thread that they say is long filament polyester.  I think the thread itself is too heavy for clothing, silnylon tarps, and so on.  The little booklet on the thread display lists things like awnings as being a good use for the thread.  I bought the Coats & Clark dual duty all purpose thread.  It's 100% polyester.  I don't know if it's long filament.  My best guess is that it is better to have a thread that is the correct weight for your project than to worry about whether it is long filament or not.  I could be wrong.  If anyone reads this and knows differently, please let me know.  I still have two projects to go.

5)  If I didn't know it already, I've learned that I have a hard time just letting things be.  I really, really intended to take a long time on the project.  I did not mean to finish it in one weekend.  Even now, I'm having trouble not poking around at the seams while the seam sealer dries.  I found I had an unaccountable urge to pull hard at the seams to see if they would hold.  The whole sewing thing seems too much like a miracle.  You mean I can just step on a little pedal and join two pieces of fabric?  I took out my urge to tug at seams on a piece of scrap material.  Those seams are pretty strong.

I'll leave you with a photo of the seam sealer drying - the internet couldn't possibly get more exciting.  I'll have to report on the performance of the cagoule itself after my backpacking trip in July.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sewing My Own - The Rain Shed RS280 Cagoule In Progress

For years, I have carried a silnylon poncho with me for rain gear when I hike or backpack.  Most of the time, it has been more than enough, particularly given that I live in the Southwest, and we have been having a drought lately.

Last year, my son and I headed into the Pecos Wilderness for what was supposed to be a three or four day trip.  The day was already clouding up in the morning, and lightning was ricocheting around when we reached the place we were going to camp.  We set up the tent and also rigged up the 6' by 8' tarp I had.  Almost as soon as we were set up, around noon I believe, it began to hail.  It hailed and hailed and hailed.  A small river began to run beneath us where we were huddled underneath the tarp with our puppy Jess.  The wind kept whipping the poncho around, and the great wings of cloth kept getting in my way as I tried to shift things around and get the stove going.  We soon had to abandon the tarp and huddle in the tent.  Being a little claustrophobic, I'm not a big fan of tents.  It rained for about four hours that afternoon.  We had a two hour break, which we used for making dinner and wandering about the area, and then it rained all night.  We had hoped to get up Santa Fe Baldy the next day, but it looked like the rain was going to keep up, my son was woefully unprepared for rain, and I had reached the limits of my patience with the poncho, so we headed back out of the wilderness.  That week ended up being the stormiest week of the whole summer.

I'm planning an eight day backpacking trip this July.  July is typically the rainy season.  I've been overhauling my gear this spring.  Most of what I use is left over from my time managing the Wilderness Exchange, a wonderful backpacking shop in Santa Fe that was open from the late eighties to the mid-nineties.  I finally ordered a Giant Jensen from Rivendell Mountain Works.  I became familiar with Rivendell Mountain Works when they were mentioned by Rivendell Bicycle Works, probably in a Rivendell reader.  The Jensen is a soft pack designed by Don Jensen in the late sixties.  Some people really love them.  Some people don't.  I've always wanted to try one, and my wife usually uses my Osprey when we backpack together.  My frame pack is having some problems right now.  May 21st was my birthday.  I thought it was about time to give the Jensen a shot.

While on their page, I noticed that they have also finally put their cagoules into production.  I thought that would be just the right thing for a week long mountain storm.  (I did another two-week trip in the early nineties with nothing but a Sierra Designs Microlight jacket.  I was soaked to the skin the entire time).  I've never tried a cagoule.  They look like they might be too hot, but I have my 60/40 parka for hiking in.  I would just use the cagoule if it was really, persistently rainy.

However, there are a lot of things I want to buy this spring, and I'm on a limited budget.  I've been rereading my copy of Ray Jardine's Beyond Backpacking, and he has a chapter on making your own gear.  I have a sewing machine, and occasionally, I get excited about using it.  I ordered some materials to make a larger silnylon rainfly, a sleeping quilt (I have a 20 year old down bag that is beginning to lose some of its loft), and finally, a pattern for a cagoule from the Rain Shed.  I also ordered some Xalt waterproof breathable fabric from them along with all the other bits of things I would need.

I decided to go ahead and do it because the idea of making my own cagoule frightened me a little.  I tend to be a perfectionist, and I get irritated when I have to struggle with things.  Sewing is just the kind of challenge I need.  Before I go any further, I have to say that this project is not so much to save money - at just under $100, it's almost a third the cost of the Rivendell cagoule, but I could have picked some waterproof breathable jacket up from Sierra Trading Post or Campmor for less.  I really wanted to meet the challenge and make some of my own gear.  And I also was fixated on the idea of a cagoule.  There aren't many choices out there.

The thing is, I am not an experienced sewer.  I can sew, but it's a little like the first time you drive a car.  I step on the little pedal, and it's like "Whoa, hey, hey, hey!"  I end up with stitching that careens all over the place.

The cagoule pattern, thankfully, is pretty simple.  I'm most of the way done.  It's basically like a poncho with the extra fabric beneath the arms cut out and sewn together, an extension, and a pocket sewn on the front.  The pocket took a lot of time, and I think I did a pretty damn good job on the pocket.  I was using one of those little wheel cutters to cut out the fabric.  I found it difficult to cut the pattern out exactly.  In the same way my stitching generally resembles a little syne wave, my cutting with the rotary cutter also tended to weave in and out.  I am not sure the rotary cutter is best.

With the hood, particularly cutting the hole for the hood, I believe I would have been better off tracing the pattern with chalk and cutting it out with scissors.  The hood has been the most difficult part of the project so far.  It takes three layers of facing, and it was a struggle getting all those edges matched up.  I managed fairly well, but I have some wonky stitching it there.  I made two button holes for the drawcord.  I've never made button holes before, and I enjoyed learning how, but I cut through the stitching of one with my seam ripper when I was trying to cut out the middle of the hole.  I fixed that with a little extra bar tacking.  I noticed that the other buttonhole is missing some of its boundary, and all of the facing is together now, so I can't fix it, at least not properly.  I think I may have nicked that thread too, and it's losing some of its stitching.  In general, though, I think it will hold up.

Cutting out the hole for the hood was a mess.  I tried to run the rotary cutter around the pattern, and at one point, it slipped off to the side about a quarter of an inch.  Also, my first time around, I did not cut all the way through the fabric all the way around, so I had to try to connect my incisions.  Instead of a smooth oval-like shape, I ended up with a slightly raggedy looking oval-like shape.  If I ever do this again, I will use scissors.

I did the staystitching and made the clips dictated by the pattern, but I'm still not sure why I did those things or if I did them right.  The instructions say the staystitch is inside the seam allowance, but I was not sure how far inside, so sometimes it's almost at the edge and sometimes it's further away.

I pinned the hood and the body of the cagoule together as well as I could and tried to stitch around the seam.  Twice I ended up sewing  a fold of fabric into the seam and had to get out the seam ripper and start over.  I'm going to have to do a lot of seam sealing in there.

I believe some sewing machines have an arm that you can place things like sleeves and hoods over, but my sewing machine just has a flat surface, and it's very nerve wracking trying to go around like that, paying attention to the seam allowance and to the bunching of the fabric around the area you are sewing.  I'm sure it's the type of thing that gets easier with practice, but when do you practice sewing hoods onto raincoats?

In the end, my edges didn't really meet up all that well.  The hood has a little tongue of fabric left over that juts out past the seam.  I did one seam, with everything pinned in place, and then I did another zigzag stitch which was supposed to be near the first stitch, but it ended up meandering all over the place.  With the zigzag stitch, and all the stitching I had to rip out with the seam ripper and start again on to of where it left off, the seam for the hood looks like it was sewn by a spider on LSD.

Luckily, when you turn it rightside out, it looks fine.  I'm also pretty certain that once I have seam sealed the area, it will be watertight.  The perfectionist in me wants it to be pretty.  Maybe I should do a little trimming -- or maybe I should leave well enough alone.

At this point, I realized that I was really tired, and even though the remaining steps seem pretty simple and straightforward, I've put it aside until I am a little better rested.  I have a bad tendency to want to finish whatever I start without taking a break.  I had planned to do a little on this project at a time, aiming to finish in two or three weeks.  Instead, I got caught up in the magic of having a three dimensional object arise out of two dimensional cloth and kept going far past the point I should have stopped.

When I finish, I will post a nice, right-side out photo.

Sewing My Own Gear

Occasionally, I am inspired by Ray Jardine's encouragement to sew my own gear in Beyond Backpacking. More to follow.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ready, Take Aim, Oooo Look, Butterflies

I'm still around, but I've been busy and subsequently veering a little bit off course in terms of everything I'm trying to stay on track with.  (Including writing regularly, all kinds).

A few weeks ago, I got carried away at the library with Paleo/Primal books.  I checked out Loren Cordain's The Paleo Answer, Dr. Gundry's Diet Evolution, and Taube's Good Calories, Bad Calories.

I cannot look at the cover of the last without wanting to eat a piece of toast.

I was trying to read all three, but couldn't get into them.  I like books with stories.  I want to hear what people did and how it affected them.  I get very resistant, pissy, and critical when it feels like someone is pushing an agenda, and The Paleo Answer felt very much that way to me.  The initial chapters include lengthy discussions of what's wrong with vegetarianism, what's wrong with dairy, and so on.  Reading it, rather than feeling inspired, I found myself defending vegetarians and defending dairy.  Cheese is good?  What about Weston Price?  So I stopped about a third of the way through.

Dr. Gundry's Diet Evolution is the book my doctor prescribed to me.  It felt a little flat to me this time around.  The most exciting thing is that he claims to have patients who reversed their cardiovascular troubles.  That's worth trying.  He also pushes away from the consumption of meat and moves toward more of a raw food diet, while keeping some animal products in there.  Nonetheless, I also abandoned this book about a third of the way through.  It reads like an infomercial.

I like Gary Taube's work, and I've kept plugging away at Good Calories, Bad Calories, albeit with a growing craving for toast.  My mind is just on other things.  I'm much more interested, right now, in reading Lawrence Durrell's Avignon Quintet.  I'm also reading along through a big pile of Xanth novels my oldest sister sent my way, ostensibly for my kids, but I had never allowed myself to read fantasy, being a serious scholarly kind of person, and I'm enjoying them.

I've been slipping a little in my eating habits, and I think my weight is going back up.  I had a little bit of Pad Thai the other night.  I made some spaghetti for the kids and ate a little bit too.  Yesterday, I ordered a sandwich at work and just couldn't bring myself to tell them to hold the bread.  I ate an entire bag of Wasabi Wow trail mix from Trader Joe's in two days.

I'm convinced that cutting way back on carbs leads to better health, and I'm going to try to steer back in that direction, but I'm faced with a basic conflict that I don't think is addressed at all in any of the books on Paleo - I want to be healthy.  Do I want to be ripped?  No.  Hell no.  That's not really my self image.  But do I want to be leaner?  Hell yes.  (Should I stop spooning down almond butter?  Yes.  Definitely.)  However, I also don't want to be prissy about what I eat.  Sometimes I just want a hamburger with the bun, and I don't want to be quizzing waiters about whether sugar is in the salad dressing.  I like brown rice.  I like the idea of vegetarianism.  I like burritos.  I like legumes, including peanuts.

It's hard to strike the right balance that will keep pushing you in the right direction in terms of weight and health.  I'm going to keep trying to strike that balance, and I'll keep writing about it, but I think I'll write about other things as well here.

I'll leave you with a picture of our chickens.  They're getting bigger, and they're eating a lot, and they're very affectionate.  Well - you'll just have to trust me.  Blogger doesn't want to upload the photo right now.  I'll add it later, so I won't be late for work.