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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke

I first read Clarke's Novelwhen it came out, and in honor of the BBC series that just premiered (good so far!, and thanks to Bookwyrme for alerting me to it), I reread it.  I think I enjoyed it even more this time around; it is a richly detailed, well-researched story steeped in Regency Englishness.  Strange and Norrell are the two magicians fated to bring magic back to England, which they do amidst the Napoleonic wars, the madness of King George, and the dangerous mischief of a fairy king.  The book is also sprinkled with smudgy, atmospheric illustrations by Portia Rosenberg and footnotes that hint at an elaborate history of magicians, especially the Raven King.

It is a quietly subversive book, too.  The two protagonists of the title are white, wealthy gentlemen, but they are not heroes.  Norrell is selfish, fearful, and petty, and has pretty much every prejudice that exists.  Strange is much more likeable, but he has the casual arrogance that comes with privilege and easy success.  Neither one of them gives a thought to the consequences of their actions until it is too late, and by the close of the novel, neither one fully understands what happened.

It is, instead, the people marginalized by English society -- a black servant and son of a slave, dismissed and silenced women, servants, the poor, the mad -- who are more aware of what is truly going on.  Their experiences serve as an important counterpoint to the dealings of Norrell, Strange, and the Cabinet ministers, and help us piece together the true story.

There are rumors floating around from a few years ago that Clarke is working on a sequel; I dearly hope that is true, because I want to spend a lot more time in this world.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hip Pockets

Now that it's summer and I'm wearing lots of cute skirts and dresses with no pockets, I needed a way to hold a cell phone and keys, and maybe a wallet, when I go out but don't want to lug a big bag around.  Elizabeth Bailey's Hip Pockets design (from Quilts and More Summer 2007) was perfect -- a small bag with two zippered pockets, an open pocket, and a long strap:
I used two different fabrics with a subway design, which seemed appropriate for the project.  Canal Street is not a stop I actually use that often, but the tilework is pretty and it was the right size for that panel.

The long strap, over five feet, is made from three strands of purple yarn I braided together.  Braiding such a long piece is daunting, and can get easily tangled on one end and slack on the other, with uneven tension throughout, so I came up with a system to make it more manageable:
I knotted one end together and hung it from a hook on the wall while I braided it. I bundled up the end of each strand in a loose knot to keep the lengths workable, and used a binder clip to keep the braid from unraveling whenever I had to pause (which was frequently, since my damn wiener kids insisted on things like dinner and attention).

I'm tempted to make more of these, but zippers and I do not get along.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Gemstone Loops

This idea came from, where else, Martha Stewart Living.  I only caught a glimpse of the project, but it wasn't too hard to figure out.  I strung an odd number of beads onto Fireline beading thread and knotted each set into a circle, linking them together.  To keep it casual I used leather cord, trying my hand at slide-knot-thingies to make it adjustable (I need some practice).

I couldn't tell you what kind of gemstones I used, but at least some of them are rhodonite.  Maybe rhodochrosite, too, and fancy jasper?  It's a shame I never got into the habit of writing my purchases down.
The drape is fabulous; they'd make a great bracelet, too.

My ears got lonely so I made a pair of earrings to match:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Beaded Beads IV

Long ago I made these earrings:
It was cloudy the day I took the picture
The pattern was for a "caged beaded bead" by Carol Wilcox Wells (March/April 2000 issue of Beadwork), but I made two, adding a loop to one end and fringe to the other.

I had leftover beads, so why not make more in the same color scheme?
(Actually, I didn't quite have enough beads, and lucky me, they no longer make that shade of purple, and the metal beads -- actual white gold if I recall correctly -- are super expensive now.  I did find a darker matte purple for the larger bead.)

These three are Wonder Beads, designed by Sue Jackson and Wendy Hubick:

A saucer-shaped bead in different colors, just because
The basic patterns can be found in the April 2001 and 2005 issues of Bead & Button; the designers encourage customization (not that I did a whole lot of that).

To go with them, as spacers, I made these Peyote Donuts by Sharon Bateman (Beadwork April/May 2003):
The construction on these was kind of neat -- you bead the inner circumference first, expanding out both at the top and the bottom, and sew the rings shut along the outer circumference.  I'm thinking of repeating this on a much larger scale to make a bangle. (I'm not sure if the structure will hold, though.)

All together, now:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch

I've been meaning to read more of Iris Murdoch's work for quite a while -- not only is she one of the most highly-regarded British writers, she was a major influence on one of my favorite authors, A.S. Byatt.  And what better to read than The Book and the Brotherhood, one of her best?  Set in the 80s in England, it opens with a long, richly detailed scene at an Oxford reunion that introduces the characters and sets in motion the events of the rest of the novel.

This is a highly intelligent, deeply-felt novel, full of ideas, descriptions, and emotions.  The perspective shifts from character to character, giving us an opportunity to inhabit the mind of each one -- his or her hopes, disappointments, strengths, and weaknesses.  All characters, that is, except for one who is the catalyst, directly or indirectly, for everything that happens.  Fittingly, we never truly understand him, leaving us to wonder if he is a fraud, a madman, or a true believer.  Instead we see the expectations the others have placed on him, and how it reflects their own understanding of who they are.  The result is a smart, honest, moving read about the need to find one's place in the world.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Beaded Rings

The April 2014 issue of Bead & Button had an intriguing pattern for "Basketweave Rings," designed by Nina Raizel; unfortunately, it did not work for me at all. For one thing, because of the way it is designed, the ring can only be made "approximately" size 5, 8, or 12, which is not a very useful range.  I wear an 8, though, so I thought it would work for me anyway.  So I constructed the base from hex-cut delicas:
The key word is "approximately" -- the ring was just a bit smaller than size 8, making it uncomfortable to wear, especially because it's such a tall ring; closing my hand squished the band on that side.  I didn't even bother making the strips to weave around it.  Instead I flattened it into a rosette, and will add to to my beadweaving screw-up/failure project.

The chevron ring from the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Make it Yourself, designed by Claire Elizabeth, was a much more successful pattern:
It would be easy to customize the design, too, since it is a simple peyote band.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Super Bangles

Shaped beads have been popular in the beading community for a few years now, with manufacturers coming out with new shapes and configurations frequently.  As a result (and, I'm sure, the result of advertising pressure) various beading magazines have increasingly focused on these beads, much to my dismay.  My beading budget is currently quite small, and I prefer projects that are more generic in the beads they call for, so that I can work out of my stash.

But I couldn't resist two beaded bangles made with the two-holed beads known as Superduos and Twins.  One tube in each of three colors was enough to make both bangles, with plenty left over:

The top bangle is from the "Super Spiral Set" pattern by Michelle McEnroe, from Bead & Button's February 2014 issue.  The instructions say it only works with Superduos, not Twin beads, but I am skeptical of that.  It's got a nice heft and drape to it, and I love it.

The bottom bangle is from the "Lasso Loops" pattern by Teresa Sullivan, in the Beadwork April/May 2013 issue.  I twisted the rope once before sewing the ends together, the better to see all three colors; otherwise the pretty strawberry red, my favorite, would have been on the inside. The instructions explain the section where one steps up every round will develop a slight curve, the better to form the inside of the bangle, but I didn't think about that when planning the colors.  Also, Sullivan writes that the pattern works with either nymo or fireline beading thread, but I found the nymo to result in way too floppy a tube (I was also afraid it might not stand up to wear and tear as well).  This pattern called for Twin beads, but the Superduos worked just fine.