24 September 2014

Alabama Chanin

A few months ago I stumbled fortuitously across Alabama Chanin — an American couture house that not only hand sews all its garments for sale, and pays its sewers a living wage, but also makes all its patterns, stencils and techniques open source. Swoon.

I haven't been this excited and inspired by hand crafts for a long time. I love their philosophy, and their designs.

I bought their third book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, and practically hyperventilated when it arrived.

This is the 'baby doll tunic' that I made, using the patterns from this book. I started sewing on 22 July, and finished the garment on 14 August, so it only took about three weeks. I did made some adjustments to the fit after this, but that was the work of an hour, at most.

Something about sewing this entirely by hand appeals to me so much. It's portable. It's simple. It's careful, slow work, akin to knitting. You can do it on the train, or while watching TV — no need to be plugged in to a sewing machine to work. You don't get things caught up or stitched wrongly, because you're making one stitch at a time, and you can see both sides of the work easily, not like with machine sewing.

I love my slightly erratic stitches, the look of them, the fact that they're not perfect. The seams that show on the outside. I love learning hand stitches and techniques that have been used through the ages, like stretch stitches, and how to do a flat felled seam.

So yeah. Totally. In. Love. Little bit obsessed.

The decoration on the bodice is reverse appliqué — the black top layer is cut away, after the stitching is done, to reveal the grey lower layer. I used the Alabama Chanin stencil designs as a starting point, and just drew the design on in chalk, as I went.

 The inside of the bodice piece. I used upholstery thread, waxed, for all my sewing on this garment — strongest thread I could find.

Both the bodice pieces done. Each piece is so small and portable — a bodice half, plus thread, needle, scissors, and beeswax (great for handsewing thread) — into a smaller bag than a knitting project.

Starting on construction — doing the shoulder seams here.

The outside of the shoulder seams.

 Binding for the armhole and neck, with a great stretch stitch.

Changed to black edging for the front of the bodice.

Sewing the gathered skirt on took a loooong time. This vertical stitch is a stretch stitch.

After I was finished, I decided to cut some out of the lower back, and stitched a dart in there, and I needed to shorten the straps too. Very happy with the result!

04 September 2014

Failsafe Choko Salad

I must admit I was surprised to discover that chokos are rather good raw. Whole vistas have opened up in front of me! Here is a simple failsafe salad I made last night. It was very tasty.

choko saladIngredients

1 small choko
¼ cup bamboo shoots
1 spring onion


1 part canola oil (or other failsafe oil)
1 part citric lemon juice (4 Tbspn water, 1 tspn sugar, ¾ tspn citric acid)
salt to taste
maple syrup to taste

Shake together in a small jar.


Peel and thinly slice the choko into matchsticks.
Slice up the bamboo shoots too (just roughly).
Finely slice the spring onion.
Combine in a bowl, and toss with the dressing.

And you're done!

30 August 2014

Failsafe Sago & Potato Fritters

This is my adaptation of the Indian saboodana wada recipe from Mr Todiwala's Bombay cookbook. These are sago and potato fritters, with peanuts, cumin seeds, coriander leaves, lime, and chilli. Naturally those ingredients are out on a failsafe diet, so I created this adaptation.

The fritters have a great texture, sort of glutinous and chewy, with a crispy shell. Very moreish!

Failsafe Sago & Potato Fritters (saboodana wada)

Fritters on a platter with sauce
Fritters with pear ketchup


200g preservative-free sago pearls* (can be large or small)
2 large potatoes
3 Tbspn raw cashews
1 tspn poppy seeds
¼ tspn citric acid (or to taste)
salt, to taste
1 Tbspn spring onion tops or parsley, chopped finely
rice flour
failsafe oil (eg canola) for deep frying


1) Rinse the sago, put in a bowl, and add enough water to cover the sago. Leave for at least several hours (if using small sago) or overnight. I used small sago, and left it overnight, and that worked well.

Sago after soaking overnight
If there's any water left over after soaking the sago, drain it well in a sieve. Let sit in the sieve for 15-20 minutes to get rid of any excess moisture.

2) Peel, boil, and mash the potatoes.

3) Slightly dry-roast the cashews in a small pan, stirring constantly. Then chop them finely (but not too finely). You can use a small food mill or processor for this step, but don't let the cashews become a paste.

Potato and sago mixture
Mashed potato mixed with the sago
4) Mix all ingredients except the rice flour in a bowl. If the mixture is too wet, add a little rice flour.

I actually did this in two stages. I mixed the sago, potato, cashews and salt together first. Then I set aside some of this mixture for myself, and added some poppy seeds, citric acid, and spring onions. I made the remainder of the mixture as per the original recipe (adding 1 tspn cumin seeds, 2 diced green chillies and 1 tspn lime juice), for the rest of my family who aren't eating failsafe.

5) Dust your hands with rice flour, and shape the mixture into small patties, a bit smaller than the palm of your hand. Keep dusting your hands with the rice flour as you go. Place the patties on baking paper on plates, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Uncooked fritters
Fritters ready for the fridge
6) Heat the oil in a deep saucepan to 180ºC (either use a thermometer, or test a cube of dry bread in the oil - when it browns in 30 seconds, that's 180ºC). Put a colander over a plate, to drain the patties in (they may stick to kitchen paper).

7) Fry a couple of patties at a time, until golden brown. Turn to get even cooking. Drain in the colander.

Fried fritters

They are really good served warm, with pear ketchup, or any other favourite failsafe relish or dip.

* Sago from the supermarket generally has preservative in it, which is driven off by cooking — but in this recipe, the sago is soaked but not boiled, so if you're sensitive to preservatives, look for preservative-free sago or tapioca pearls. Sources include Asian grocers, Natures Works shops and Bobs Red Mill (tapioca pearls).