Adventures in Making Apple Brandy

DIY apple brandy

Normally I stay away from super sweet liquors—one thought of my brief, but memorable college flirtation with UV Blue sends me into a panicked dry heave. But since it’s fall and everything’s being pumpkin-spiced and butternut-squashed out the wazoo, I’m making an exception for a decidedly autumnal drink: apple brandy. My boyfriend’s mom sent me a recipe for a cocktail called the Sir Isaac Newton, which calls for apple-cider cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, apple brandy, and bitters. It sounds like a great post-dinner treat for chilly nights, but I’ve never even bought brandy, let alone apple brandy.

I was poised to do some research on the subject when one of my go-to blogs, Design*Sponge, posted a recipe for a delicious-sounding drink called Stop! Apple Thyme. Not only does this cocktail contain apple brandy, the authors even went so far as to whip up their own batch. The recipe contains instructions for making your own, but I decided to do some Googling to compare theirs to the industry standard. And by “industry” I mean what the Interwebs tells me. Most recipes had similar ingredients but widely varying steeping times, from two hours to three weeks.

I settled for the recipe from Taste of Home, which calls for steeping the mixture for two weeks. It also calls for a ton of sugar. Like, a Sweet Tea ton of sugar, which is a lot for a Northerner to handle. Since my container’s only so big, I sacrificed extra apples and cut the sugar down by half. Fingers crossed that it turns out!

DIY apple brandy

Homemade Apple Brandy

Recipe slightly adapted from Taste of Home

  • Five large apples, sliced (I used a combo of Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith)
  • 750 mL of brandy
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 whole cloves

I followed Taste of Home’s instructions pretty much to a T, meaning that I made 2:1 simple syrup with the sugar and water and then combined all the ingredients in a large plastic pitcher (with a sealed lid).

make your own apple brandy at home

And now, we wait. This recipe calls for the mixture to be stirred at the halfway point (one week), but I might give it a shake every few days depending on how it’s looking. It seems strange to leave a bunch of apples sitting at room temperature for half a month, but I am obviously a novice at this so maybe that’s standard protocol. I should also note that this was the only kind of brandy Mariano’s carries. It’s $11.99—should I be worried?

Check back in a couple weeks for an update! Have any ideas for apple-brandy cocktails?



A Striped Hemlock Tee (and HaLLoWeEn Plans!)

grainline studio hemlock tee

I’m about a year late to the game with the Hemlock Tee, but I have to say, Grainline Studio hit it out the park with this *free* PDF pattern. At first I was a little freaked out by the one-size-fits-all cut, but since it’s designed for lightweight knits, this top’s really all about the boxy drape. And what a gloriously comfortable drape it is! It’d probably be even more flowy if I hadn’t accidentally cut off an extra 2″–3″ from the hem. Whoops. I made that mistake when trying to even out the bottom with a rotary cutter, not realizing that the stripes were ever so slightly offset. Long story short, this quickly turned into a cropped Hemlock, and I love it!

hemlock tee grainline studio free pattern

Most of my pants hit high enough that I don’t have to worry about flashing skin (it’s fall now, the time when us Chicagoans put away our bare skin until next spring). As far as construction, I used my walking foot and a lightning bolt stitch for the side seams. To finish the bottom and sleeves, I just did a simple turned hem with a slightly lengthened straight stitch. Next time, I’ll try a double-needle finish like the tutorial instructs.

hemlock tee grainline studio

I cut the neckline down a little lower than the pattern, which lead to some problems with the neckband binding. I thought I’d added enough length to compensate, but I had to rip out my first neckband and try again. Does anyone have a surefire formula for calculating neckband length? I know it probably differs depending on the level of stretch, but any tips are welcome!

hemlock tee grainline studio

V excited for BYOB sushi

I have high hopes to whip a few of these up for Christmas gifts, but for now, I’m focusing solely on HALLOWEEN. Halloween is kind of a big deal for me. Ever since I can remember, my mom’s always been a champ when it comes to whipping up creative costumes. As a toddler, I was a hand-sewn furry spider. In second grade, I was the R.M.S. Titanic. 

titanic Halloween costume 1998

There were many more, but that cardboard ship remains the costume to top. Bravo, Mom & Dad in 1998.

Last year marked the first time I sewed my own costume, a spring roll. It took forever, but it was gratifying to know I made the entire piece on my own. This year, I’ve decided to capitalize on my current haircut and go as Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. And since my boyfriend is blond and light-eyed, naturally I suggested that he be Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. I’m planning on sewing the coats, possibly making the hats and canes, and then throwing together the rest of the outfit with items we already own.

M7003 costume pattern

I found this McCall’s pattern for $5 on Etsy and immediately snapped it up. It’s not exactly the style of the Wonka jackets, but I think it’s close enough to pass if we get the accessories right. (And the candy. We’re only allowed to hand out Wonka Candy, otherwise WHAT’S THE POINT?!) The pattern calls for a mid-weight wool or gabardine, but I’m hoping that it’ll work with these mid-weight corduroys I found at Textile Discount Outlet:

red and purple corduroy

At just $3.95/yard, they were way cheaper than anything I could find online, especially when you take into account shipping charges. By the way, Textile Discount Outlet is an old-school fabric labyrinth that definitely deserves a visit if you’re even in Chicago. It’s not glamorous, but it does have an insane number of fabrics, notions, and everything in between.

I just got my pattern in the mail today and can’t wait to get started on these goofy jackets. Do you have any Halloween projects in the works? Let me know in the comments!

Rye Manhattan with Luxardo Maraschino Ice Cubes

rye manhattan cocktail recipe with luxardo ice cubes

The Manhattan is the drink that made me love whiskey. That’s saying a lot, since the first one I ever ordered cost about $5 from a bar that makes its money on PBR and Old Style. Still, I got hooked on the sweet, mellow flavor and soon began whipping up Manhattans at home with Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon and Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth.

I still love a classic bourbon Manhattan, but every now and then I splash a bit of Luxardo Maraschino in my glass. It’s a special treat; Luxardo is so sweet that it’s easy to overdo it, but when you get just the right amount, it can completely elevate a simple drink. The Kitchn’s 9-Bottle Bar series knows what’s up: its Red Hook cocktail combines elements from two of my favorite drinks, the Martinez and the Manhattan. I haven’t made the Red Hook yet, but it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to buy some rye to mix up my Manhattan game. And instead of a splash of Luxardo this time, I got fancy and made Luxardo-infused ice cubes. (And by fancy I mean a 5-year-old could do this. A really badass 5-year-old.)

rye manhattan cocktail recipe with luxardo ice cubes

the cherries put up a good fight, but the skewer ultimately won

Rye Manhattan with Luxardo Ice Cubes

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • Luxardo ice cubes
  • Cherries

To make the Luxardo ice cubes, mix one part Luxardo Maraschino liqueur with four parts water. (1 ounce of Luxardo mixed with 4 ounces of water makes about six standard-size ice cubes.)

Fill a shaker or pint glass with ice and add the rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a lowball glass filled with two Luxardo ice cubes and two regular ice cubes. Garnish with a skewer of cherries.

This drink is definitely a belly-warming sipper, which gives the ice time to melt a little and infuse your Manhattan with a subtle cherry flavor. Feel free to add more Luxardo cubes if you’re a cherry fiend. Enjoy!

PDF Sewing Pattern Roundup

PDF sewing patterns

I’ve never been much of a goal setter. That’s not to say I lack ambition, I just find it depressing to write down a list of goals, promptly forget about said list, and then stumble upon it months later to find that I’ve accomplished maaaybe one of them. Cynical, I know. But that’s where the blog comes in: If I state a goal in an online forum, I’m forced to hold myself accountable for its success or failure. Plus, you can’t lose the Internet like you might a list of goals written illegibly on a coffee-stained post-it.

So this summer, with this little blog as my witness, I made a tangible goal: sew at least one PDF pattern from an independent designer each month. Easy enough, right? I’m happy and slightly shocked to say that I exceeded that goal. I strayed from PDF patterns on a couple of occasions, but the majority of my summer sewing has come straight from the printer. Here’s the rundown:

Number of patterns used: 5
Items sewn: 9
Total money spent on patterns: $40.81

The Patterns

(Overall ratings are out of 5 bobbins)

Grainline Studio Scout woven tee sewing grainline studio knit madewell scout tee

Scout Tee by Grainline Studio

Price: $12 (up from $7.50 when I bought it)
Skill level: beginner
Number of pages: 24
Sewn garments: woven Scout; split-front knit Scout
Relevant tutorials used: Madewell variation
Cons: might be a little loose/shapeless if you like tighter fitting garments
Pros: highly customizable—Grainline’s blog offers a handful of step-by-step variations; very comfortable
Sew it again?: yes!
Overall rating: 5 bobbins

Colette Sorbetto top colette sorbetto crop top

Sorbetto by Colette Patterns

Price: Free
Skill level: beginner
Number of pages: 25
Sewn garments: chambray Sorbetto; crop top Sorbetto
Relevant tutorials used: continuous bias tape
Cons: short in the body; tight armholes
Pros: exposed bias binding allows for cool contrast fabric; cute front pleat; good pattern directions
Sew it again?: possibly, if I find a great print for a tank next summer
Overall rating: 3.5 bobbins

sewing portside dopp kit by grainline studio

Portside Travel Set by Grainline Studio

Price: $14
Skill level: advanced beginner
Number of pages: 58
Sewn itemsdopp kit; small pouch
Cons: so many pages=tons of time taping and cutting
Pros: three patterns for one price; the dopp kit is a great size for a toiletry bag
Sew it again?: yes, to make the duffel bag or another dopp kit for a gift
Overall rating: 4 bobbins

sewing linen floral shirtdress

Buttonless Shirt Dress by Salme Patterns

Price: $8
Skill level: beginner/intermediate
Number of pages: 21
Sewn itemsfloral linen shirt dress
Cons: no seam allowance included on the pattern; shapeless until you belt it
Pros: you can showcase a cool print
Sew it again?: no
Overall rating: 2.5 bobbins

blue hudson pant floral pant back

Hudson Pant by True Bias

Price: $10
Number of pages: 35
Skill level: advanced beginner
Sewn itemsblue pants; abstract print pants
Relevant tutorials used: Hudson Pant sewalong
Cons: crotch doesn’t fit perfectly
Pros: option for contrasting cuffs and waistband; pockets; great pattern directions; easy-to-follow online sewalong
Sew it again?: yes
Overall rating: 4.5 bobbins

And the winner is… Grainline’s Scout Tee! True Bias’s Hudson Pant comes in at a close second. Both of these patterns feature great directions and, most importantly, a modern cut. Scout is great for a sewist of any skill level, whereas the Hudson Pants are good if you’ve already got several projects under your belt and some adeptness with knits.

I’m always looking for great patterns from independent labels, so let me know if you have any favorites! They don’t have to be strictly PDF patterns either. After printing, taping, and cutting so many pages, I might start mixing up my PDF downloads with printed patterns shipped to me in a neat little package.

And since I’m a glutton for stress, here’s my goal for fall: sew at least one garment/item for another person each month.


(Do you end a goal like you do a black-and-white movie? I’m new to this. Please halp.)

Two Pairs of Hudson Pants

true bias floral hudson pant sewing upscale sweatpants

I’m not the best at Pinterest. In fact, I stayed away from it entirely for awhile. Why is that inspirational fitness quote next to three pictures of buttery, gooey mac & cheese?! Is this some kind of SICK JOKE?! Even after jumping on the bandwagon last year, I’m still more likely to be checking out the latest Pinterest fails than pinning and liking a bunch of pictures. That said, Pinterest does have its practical uses, one of them being my Sewing Pattern Crushes board. It’s only eight pins deep thus far, but it’s already served as inspiration and a reminder about cool patterns that may have slipped my mind.

floral pant closeup

The Hudson Pant is one such pin. Kelli of True Bias released this pattern in June, and I’ve been crushing on it ever since. I was drawn toward the modern tapered cut, contrasting details, and the possibility that I could, hopefully, make a pair of sweatpants that aren’t floods! I bought the PDF pattern ($10), printed it out, taped it together, and got to work. First up: a straightforward pair of bright blue pants with gray details.


blue hudson pant

hudson blue pant side viewI added 4.5″ to the length of the pattern at the adjustment lines, since the directions state that these pants are designed for a 5’5″ woman with a 28″ inseam. As you can see above, the pants are a little droopy above the calf band, so I made a note to add less length for the next pair.

blue hudson pant closeup

Now to talk about something that all women deal with at some point in their lives: camel toe. Sorry to be blunt, but this is a common problem for folks with a longer-than-average rise. It’s not super obvious in the pictures (for modesty’s sake), but when my pants ride up onto my hips, which is an issue I have with every pair of elastic-waisted anything, the crotch definitely pulls a bit.

threads magazine pants fitting

To try and remedy this issue for my next pair of pants, I utilized the lengthening technique described by Threads magazine to add 1″ total to the torso of each pant leg, but I’ll get to that patterned pair in a minute. All-in-all, my first go at the Hudson Pant turned out to be precisely what I needed: a super comfortable pair of lounging pants. I’ve been wearing them around the apartment every day since I finished them, so I’d say they’re a success! Even in spite of the slightly wonky crotch.

floral pant head on closeupAnd speaking of a slightly wonky crotch, you can see that my abstract patterned pair didn’t fare 100% better, even with the 1″ crotch-length adjustment. I’m wondering if the Threads tutorial, which is designed for fitting jeans, just doesn’t translate to a knit fabric? Either way, round two of the Hudson Pant, in a pink and purple abstract knit from the Needle Shop, fits better than the first pair.

floral hudson pant looking

Instead of 4.5″ of length I added 3″, and I’m thrilled. They’re still plenty long enough without being overly slouchy. Throw in a cute pair of shoes and they go from casual to dressy-casual in a matter of seconds.

floral ankle band

The seat of these pants fits well, a pleasant surprise since most sweat-style pants give you immediate frump-butt unless you have the Ass of Beyoncé.

floral pant back

And there you have it! One pattern, two very different-looking pairs of knit pants. They’re both ridiculously comfy and are an easy sew if you have a long afternoon to kill.

This will most likely be the last piece I post about before summer officially ends, so stay tuned for a wrap-up of the Summer of PDF Sewing Patterns. How did your summer sewing shape up?

Paloma with Rosemary Simple Syrup

rosemary paloma tequila cocktail recipe

It’s just not time for “pumpkin” everything yet. I like Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin-flavored coffee and Southern Tier’s Pumking beer as much as the next person, but we all know fall doesn’t technically start until September 23. Therefore, I’m milking this whole summer cocktail thing for another glorious 11 days.

If you like grapefruit cocktails, you’re probably familiar with the Paloma. The most simple versions mix grapefruit-flavored soda with tequila, served over ice. I recently made the drink with tequila and Q Grapefruit (think a much less sugary, more tart version of San Pellegrino soda), and it turned out pretty refreshing. To take it a step further, I used fresh grapefruit juice (white, in this case) and sweetened it with homemade rosemary simple syrup. I followed the Kitchn’s recipe for the SS, which pretty much involves bringing sugar, water, and rosemary sprigs to a boil, setting the mixture aside to cool, and straining it. It’s so easy, yet it elevates a homemade cocktail tenfold and makes your kitchen smell prettay, prettay delicious. Give it a try!

rosemary paloma cocktail recipe

Rosemary Paloma

  • 2 oz. blanco tequila
  • 3 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1–1.5 tablespoons rosemary simple syrup (recipe from the Kitchn)
  • Club soda
  • Coarse salt, lime wedge, and rosemary sprig for garnish

Moisten the rim of a highball glass with a lime wedge and twist it in coarse salt. Fill the glass with ice. In a shaker filled with ice, combine the tequila, grapefruit juice, and simple syrup. Shake until chilled and and pour into the highball glass. Top off with club soda, and garnish with a lime wedge and a rosemary sprig.

rosemary paloma tequila cocktail recipe

Cheers! And may we all enjoy this last week of summer without hearing the phrase “Pumpkin Spice Latte” 8,000 times.

Vogue 8904, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Stretchy Rayon

vogue 8904 marcy tilton shingle dress sewing

A lot of important decisions I make are determined by two distinct, opinionated voices in my head. I’d like to think of them as Ambitious-Bordering-on-Irrational Dani, and Calculated-Bordering-on-Boring Dani. This past week, their conversation involved sewing.

ABOI: Should I make a dress to wear to Bianca and Jon’s wedding?

CBOB: Absolutely not.

ABOI: But I never make formalwear—it’ll be fun!

CBOB: The wedding is five days away, dummy, and you haven’t even bought a pattern yet.

ABOI: It’s fiiiine. I’ll go to JoAnn and get a nice Vogue pattern and some fabric. Kill two birds with one stone.

CBOB: But what if it doesn’t turn out? You know you have dramatic tendencies when sewing under pressure.

ABOI: I’ll pick an “easy” pattern. I’m not worried about it.

CBOB: I’m worried about it. This is a bad idea.

ABOI: [Frolics off to catch the bus to JoAnn.]

CBOB: [Yelling:] Don’t expect me to calm you down when your needle breaks and gets lost in your sewing machine at midnight on Thursday!

ABOI: Can’t hear you! Too busy flipping through pages of designer dress patterns!

CBOB: [Still yelling:] Or when you realize that the pretty dusty-rose fabric you’re about to buy is a rayon-lycra blend that will make you consider throwing your sewing machine off the roof of your building!

ABOI: Oh stop being such a grouch. It’ll be a learning experience! Plus, I have other dresses to wear if this turns out to be a total disaster.

CBOB: I guess that’s true. Fine. Do it. But I’m not buying the Spanx.

ABOI: I already did.

vogue 8904 marcy tilton shingle dress sewing

And so, Ambitious-Bordering-on-Irrational won that round. While it’s important to self-edit when it comes to project ideas, especially when precious $$$z are involved, it’s also pretty liberating to follow your gut. I’m happy to say that this particular gamble turned out well enough that I didn’t have to outfit repeat. (Not that there’s anything wrong with outfit repeating.)

Here’s what I ended up with after sifting through three giant pattern books and the limited selection of knits at JoAnn:

vogue 8904 marcy tilton shingle dress

The Pattern

I normally avoid buying Vogue patterns when they’re not on sale for $5, but, being desperate, I made an exception for Vogue 8904. Several other bloggers who’ve made this dress have commented on its striking similarity to a layered column dress from Anthropologie. Years ago, I tried on a near-identical version of that column dress and fell madly in love. It was one of the most flattering, comfortable piece I’d ever worn, but I couldn’t justify the roughly $150 price tag. Sadly, I left it on the rack that day. Enter Vogue 8904, which not only fills the void of that layered column dress, but also offers a shorter option with sleeves for the fall/winter! I’ll definitely be trying view A (and maybe making one for a friend… eek!) at some point in the next few months.

vogue 8904 marcy tilton shingle dress

The Fabric

  • Dusty rose rayon-lycra blend with slub texturing
  • Difficulty to work with: !!@#$%^&*!!!!!
  • Cost: $17 (after using a 60% off coupon)

Ohhh, where to start with this one. I really should know better than to rely on the selection of knits at JoAnn, but I just didn’t have time to order anything online. I settled for a very pretty, very slippery rayon knit that turned out to be quite a doozy to lay out and cut. Using a rotary cutter helped, and that’s what I made sure to use to carefully cut the raw edge portion of the floating panels (“shingles”) that are sewn on top of the base layer. The base layer doesn’t have to be the same fabric as the shingles (mine was), but I assume it makes life easier if you use the same fabric or one with a very similar stretch/drape.

All I can say about sewing this material is thank god for my walking foot. Having the top and bottom layers feed through evenly was key to this material not ending up a puckered mess.

vogue 8904 marcy tilton shingle dress

The pattern deserves its “easy” difficulty, but it’s not a project that you can whip up in an afternoon. Marcy Tilton, the pattern’s designer, wrote an informative blog post that I highly recommend reading if you plan on trying this pattern out. It’s full of great tips and in-progress pictures.

The main pain points I had during construction were with the neckline and armhole binding. I’ve never bound a knit before, let alone a super-stretchy one, and the finished neckline and armholes ended up a little droopy where I didn’t stretch enough when attaching, and a little puckered where I stretched too much. I also decided to add some self-material stabilization since the dress was getting heavy. I folded a small strip of fabric attached it with two layers of topstitching, parallel to the already existing topstitching at the shoulder. Not sure if it was necessary, but I think it made the dress feel more stable.

vogue 8904 shoulder stabilizing

Oh, and in case you noticed the strange imperfection in the second-from-the-bottom front layer, that’s from where I ran out of fabric and had to piece two scraps together. (That’s what I get for buying the last of the fabric bolt and hoping that I wouldn’t need those extra two inches.)

I was pretty worried about the clinginess of the material, but the double-layer construction (and some microfiber shorts) helped to reduce most of the cling. That said, this dress is definitely cut to hug the figure. Marcy points out that you can sew it a size bigger if you want to reduce the bootylicious factor (in so many words).

Per usual, I lengthened the pattern at the waist by about 1″ to accommodate my long torso, and I think that was the correct amount, although I’m wondering if that added length is what made the middle back panel a little droopier than the rest.

vogue 8904 marcy tilton shingle dress sewing

Wrinkles = the sign of a fun evening

A raw-edge hem allowed for total freedom of movement.

vogue 8904 marcy tilton shingle dress

I’m happy to say that this dress held up pretty well during an amazing day that included a pre-wedding cocktail hour, ceremony, dinner, and reception full of sweaty dancing. The raw edges did start to run a little bit, and the material is already pilling under the armpits, but it pretty much felt like I was wearing fancy pajamas all evening. That’s really all a girl can ask for when it comes to formalwear. But a handsome date doesn’t hurt either.

Jon and Bianca's wedding

my date and the sexiest groomsman I know

Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Mecoli! The outpouring of love shown at your wedding is a true testament to both of your characters. It was a beautiful day (not to mention a total blast) and made me proud to call myself your friend. Can’t wait to start sewing y’alls some baby clothes!!! ;)