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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Everybody Loves a Clown!

The "theme" of Beadboy1's summer school is the circus, and he was assigned a project to do at home, something he could share with his class.  I picked clowns because that's something he likes about the circus (second to food, and I wasn't interested in helping him do a presentation about popcorn and cotton candy and hot dogs).  I even did some research about clowns with him, although I'm not sure how much of that he retained.*

Making a clown face suited my crafty inclinations, would be quick and easy to do, and would be fun for Beadboy1.  I pulled together some supplies:

I then had him glue it all together:
According to his teacher, he was thrilled to show it off.  He's a sweetheart, and so easily pleased.  (Usually.  We're entering the tween stage.)

*For the curious, there are four main types -- Whiteface, Auguste, Character, and New Vaudeville.  Some replace the last category with the Tramp/Hobo.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Book Round-Up

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline:An interesting look at a time period when mysterious "Sea Peoples" attacked nations throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Cline's thesis is that the Sea Peoples were actually not as mysterious or as unified as scholars previously thought, and that there were a variety of interconnected factors, events, and changes that led to the collapse of so many civilizations.  The book is well-researched, but a little repetitive; I think it would have worked better as a long journal article rather than a book.

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev:A delightful romance with Indian protagonists.  There is a lot of melodramatic plot, befitting the Bollywood influence, but fortunately the prose isn't too purple.  The best part was the glimpse into Indian cultures, and the differences that arise in such a culturally diverse country -- north and south, city and country, modern and traditional.  Also, the food; I've been craving Indian food ever since I read this.

Season for Surrender by Theresa Romain:This starts out like the typical Regency romance, with an aristocratic rake, a virginal spinster, debauched nobles, a no-nonsense elderly family member, and an eeeeeevil nemesis.  But then, the rake and the spinster actually talk to each other.  A lot.  And in the process they get to know and trust each other, and learn about themselves and what they really want.  As a result, the expected happy ending for the couple was absolutely earned and quite satisfying.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke:After re-reading Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, of course I re-read these stories set in the same universe.  They are wonderfully English and atmospheric, and beautifully enhanced with illustrations by Charles Vess.  Ms. Clark, please write more!

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger:A modern take on the epistolary novel, comprising of emails, notes, memos, legal briefs, court filings, statutes, and caselaw.  Sophie's handling of her first (and only) divorce was fun and frothy, if a bit unrealistic; the memos between her and her partners are remarkably casual and personal -- good for narrative purposes, but a lawsuit waiting to happen in the real world.  The novel is set right around the time I began practicing law, and I finished the book all nostalgic for that time and thinking maybe I should go back to litigation (ha!).

Friday, July 10, 2015

Pop Culture Badges

Last year Wendi Gratz of Shiny Happy World started making felt merit badges as a way of keeping track of her monthly goals and achievements.  I thought that was a neat idea, but I knew I'd never have the time to do something like that (plus my monthly achievements would be things like prepping X items for serials inventory, filling out medical forms in triplicate, spending Y minutes navigating a bureaucratic phone tree,  successfully shuttling kids from point A to point B, and so on -- not a lot of fun to embroider).

Making badges with various geeky symbols, on the other hand, would be both fun and more manageable.  First up was the coat of arms for the Raven King, from Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: argent, raven volant.  I traced the raven image from the book jacket onto water-soluble stabilizer and pinned that onto a piece of cream felt.  I used black thread (Gentle Arts Sampler Thread in Soot) and long-and-short stitch to stitch the raven:
Almost done!
Once I was finished stitching I rinsed the piece in water to remove the stabilizer (and several more times to remove excess black dye that ran) and dried it on a towel:
As I've said before, clear water-soluble stabilizer is a great way to embroider a pattern on felt without having to transfer the markings onto the felt itself, and it allows me to tweak the stitching as I go along without having to worry about exposed permanent marks on the fabric.

The finished badge:

Next up was the deathly hallows symbol from the Harry Potter books:
Another badge of black-on-white embroidery would be boring, so I chose grey and metallic silver thread used together on periwinkle felt.

The third badge has the Stonecutters' symbol from the Simpsons:
Who rigs every Oscar night?
I've been wanting to embroider this symbol ever since I spent a month looking at it last year on my Tapped Out game.

I hope to have a chain of these eventually.  Next up: something from The Lord of the Rings.  Oh, and I have to do Babylon 5.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fireworks Cookies

Happy Fourth of July!  Here are some Fireworks cookies I made:

I used the Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookie recipe from Martha Stewart. I omitted the step where one rolls balls of dough in a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, and chili powder, and instead dipped (very sticky) blobs of dough in the star sprinkles.  I baked them ten minutes as per the recipe, and they came out perfect.

Mmm .... star sprinkles ...
We will be enjoying these while watching the fireworks on TV tonight.  Last year we got to see local fireworks from our back yard, but I don't think we'll be so lucky this year, given the clouds and rain. Enjoy the day!

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: