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Friday, December 24, 2010

More Cookies!

Real ones, this time. Every year I bake a whole lot of cookies, for family, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc.

Spritz Christmas Trees:
I love my cookie gun; such a fast and fun way to make a lot of cookies at once. In this case, my oven decided to act up a bit, so the edges of the cookies browned when they shouldn't have. They still taste good. Recipe from Page Dorsey, in Just Cross Stitch's 2004 Christmas Ornaments issue.

Toffee Crackle Cookies and Finnish Gingersnaps:
From Christmas Cookies 2007 and Lydia Baldauf in 2002 Christmas Ornaments.

Christmas Wreaths:
My mom made these every year when I was a girl. This is my first time making them since then, and it is quite easy if sticky -- basically the Rice Krispies Treats recipe, but with green food coloring and corn flakes instead of rice krispies. My mom decorated them with red hots, but I could not find any this year (odd), so I used red frosting. Recipe from Kellog's, I guess?

Chocolate Pretzels:
The "salt" is coarse sugar. Recipe from Christmas Cookies 2007.

Sugar Plums:
The real thing -- finely chopped dried fruit and nuts mixed with spices and honey and rolled in sugar. Recipe from Alton Brown. I think mine are a little coarse, but I was afraid of over-processing the fruit and nuts and turning it into mush. Also, unbeknownst to me, the prunes were not pitted. Which is ridiculous, and almost broke my food processor. These are pretty tasty, but I'm thinking next time I will use dates (which I love) instead of prunes, and maybe change the spices a bit to give it a middle-eastern flavor.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Ice

Preparations for the upcoming holidays (and a house that needs to be cleaned from top to bottom) (not that I've actually done that) have kept me from posting much, but I'll try to remedy that by including in this post all the Christmas crafts I've been working on (all the non-holiday stuff I've made over the last few months will have to wait for another day).

This year I decided to decorate in mostly green and white and silver. Over the mantle I took out the quilt that is normally there, and hung from the rod various snowflakes:
I tied two or three "snowflakes" to a length of clear beading thread and tied that to the rod. The white lace doilies I bought a few years ago; usually I hang them at different heights in a window (an idea from Martha Stewart). The green snowflakes are another idea from Martha Stewart -- punch out seven snowflakes (or 14, for a double thickness) and glue them into a hexagon, then coat them in fine glitter. There are no close-ups, because it turns out I am shamefully inept at glitter, and there are bald spots that I could not glitter no matter how many times I tried (good thing I followed the magazine's advice and used matching green paper). The bottom center star is an old plastic ornament, which I should probably toss because it is starting to yellow.

The beaded snowflakes I made a number of years ago, from a Martha Stewart kit (I'm not obsessed, it only seems that way). It is just rocaille beads (size 10 maybe) strung on wire and twisted; I think that technique is known as French wire beading. After hanging up the five I made back then, I pulled out the supplies and made the rest of them, to adorn jars of spiced peach preserves for Beadboy1's teacher, therapists, and paras:
(I only used two of the designs, as I remember the third one being annoying.)

For the windows that usually get doilies I put up instead icicles:
Ten of these beaded ones, from, you guessed it, yet another old Martha Stewart kit. (The photo does not do them justice; Beadboy1 used his superpowers to screw up the settings in less than a second.) Only ten of them looked rather sparse, so I made more icicles from chandelier crystals I picked up at Home Depot.

The crystals:
I removed the gold wire and reattached them with silver, then tied sheer ribbon between the two pieces:
White and green for now, but the pink ribbon was so pretty I made a couple with that; maybe I'll put them up for Valentine's Day.

The icicles:
The strand of crystals along the top is vintage, one of three I have. The metal connecting them is cheap cheap cheap, and breaks if you look at it funny, so sometime in my future I will have the enviable task of wiring all those crystals together.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Last year's Quilting Arts Gifts mag had Kelli Nina Perkins's "Frosted Holiday Treats" which were so cute. But they involved a lot of painting, which is not my thing, so I decided to make my cookies felt. When I made the paper cloth last February, I realized that would make a perfect frosting (and no coincidence -- the paper cloth technique is Perkins's, too). So I made two sheets, both "sprinkled" with words I cut out of the Nutcracker (a photo-copied page, of course), and painted one green and the other white.

A few days ago, I used cookie cutters to cut out stars from the white sheet and trees from the green:

I machine-sewed them onto tan felt leftover from the Advent Calendar and cut them out, leaving a border of felt for the unfrosted part of the cookie:

I then sewed on some bugle beads for jimmies (sprinkles to you non-New Englanders):

The last step was to sew them onto more felt for the backing. Et voila:

Coincidentally, the swap this time in my Crazy Fridays class was a small project involving words, which was a good thing because otherwise I would not have been able to swap anything. So one member got two cookies, and I got the instructor's piece -- Busy Work by Diane Rode Schneck:
I love it, and will put it in my sewing room.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Flying by Eric Kraft

It's funny I read this so soon after Tristam Shandy, because that book was clearly an influence; Flying opens with a quote from it, and even has similar diagrams tracking stories and digressions. But where Tristam Shandy was about the difficulties of creating (or just finishing) a story, Craft's book is about the unreliability of stories.

Peter Leroy is the famous "Birdboy of Babbington," who, as a teenager in the 50's, built a flying motorcycle and flew from Long Island to New Mexico and back. But now, happily married and retired, he is writing his memoirs to tell the truth -- he never actually got off the ground. The book, which is really three novellas, two previously published (apparently most of Kraft's fiction is about Peter Leroy at different stages of his life) and one new, alternates between the memoirs Peter is writing and the recreation of the trip he takes with his wife, Albertine. But although Peter wants to set the record straight, that is not quite as easy as it would seem.

What follows is a very funny story, or stories, as Peter encounters rather twisted versions of Smalltown, America. A festival celebrating marshmallows (every item on the buffet incorporates them), a newspaper devoted to prognostication, a dungeon in a castle on top of a hill on a stormy night (or maybe it was just a water tower), a diner determined to give every man, woman, and child a heart attack on a plate, a restaurant in an old mill run by a painfully hip couple, characters that step right out of 50's pulp magazines, it goes on and on. Determining "what really happened" is impossible -- there is a reason why the NYT review said "a Venn diagram . . . would show the extremely slender overlap between the set of readers who like the ineffable, high-concept fiction of, say, Jorge Luis Borges or David Foster Wallace, and the set of readers who favor fondly comic portraits of small-town life in mid-20th-century America after the fashion of Garrison Keillor or Jean Shepard."

Early in the book, Peter and his wife Albertine are cycling through Central Park when she gets into a bad bicycle accident. Later, in the ER, she asks "Did you write about the crash?" "Yes, I set it in Central Park." "A much nicer setting. Much nicer." He changes his father's involvement in the project (we never really understand what his role was) several times, to better reflect the relationship he had with him and the one he wished he had, as a way of acknowledging that he did not fully understand his father. In other parts, he acknowledges that he has made mistakes in his recounting, the results of confused or faulty memories. Sometimes he'll make things up to cover these lapses in his memory, sometimes he'll just, say, call the town he cannot remember Forgettable, Va. Sometimes he changes the facts to make himself look better, or worse, exercises in teenage grandiosity and humility. Things happen in the book that seem like obvious manipulations to make the story more dramatic, but only some of them are. He tells a story one way, then rewrites it when Albertine declares it unbelievable. At one point, he actually ends up in the middle of the crop-dusting scene from North by Northwest -- the actual event, not the making of the film scene.

Throughout it all, Peter as both a boy and a man tries to get someone, anyone, to listen to his stories, but only his devoted wife will. But that is the advantage of writing a memoir -- Peter has at last told his story, and at least one person -- me -- has read it. And what a story. This book not only tells a hell of a tale, it shows us why we tell tales.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It's not quite finished -- Beadmom suggested I put a ribbon around the edge, and I need to make a little baby to be kept in the last pocket, and attached to the center Christmas eve. But it's close enough for me to use with the Beadboys.

Although, I ran into a snag when I tried to explain yesterday that Advent started, even though, liturgically, Advent began on Nov. 28. A liturgically accurate calendar would require adding or subtracting squares each year, so I'm sticking with a December-based calendar. And looking forward to when Christmas falls on a Wednesday, so that Dec. 1 is the first day of Advent.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Last Two Squares

A poinsettia:
Not my favorite flower, but it certainly belongs in the season. I think I should have added a fourth green leaf.

A dove:
I was completely out of ideas after 22 squares (the drum was a suggestion from one of my quilt classes), so I asked Beadmom for ideas. After naming a bunch I'd already done, she suggested a white dove (Prince of Peace and all that). That would have required appliqueing it onto a colored square, and that on a white square (a technique I had done before), but a search of flickr showed some prettily embroidered birds, and I decided to embroider my own floral pattern. It adds a nice color, and technically the dove is still white, just embellished.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Pressure Is On

I've got another five advent squares done; just two more to go! Plus, sewing them all onto the backing, and making a baby in a manger, and getting them numbered, and finding a way to hang it . . .

A shepherd and sheep:
Pretty cute, if I do say so myself. I used a combination of needle-felting and applique, with a little embroidery. I thought about trying to define the shepherd's body more, but I didn't trust myself to do it right (especially since I'm on a time crunch), and Mr. Beadgirl likes how he looks like he belongs on South Park.

He looks a little plain, but again, I'm afraid of screwing him up if I add more detail. And now that I see the picture, I realize I have to finish his second antler.

A drum:
When I was little, every Christmas my grandfather would dress up as the Little Drummer Boy and come down the stairs, banging on a drum. Add my father dressed in a Santa suit and coming up the driveway in a tractor, and defective trees that were s-shaped or two-headed or completely bare on one side, and it made for some interesting Christmases.

A Christmas light bulb:
The old style, with big, rounded bulbs. Those were the ones my father wanted to use on the tree, but my mom always made him use them outside. I used floral wire to mimic the electrical wiring. But this bulb won't blow out!

A present:
The least exciting of the squares. I wanted pretty sparkly ribbon, but I did not have any in the right width. I may someday replace the ribbon with something nicer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Round-Up

Shopgirl by Steve Martin: A lovely little jewel of a novel. I thought the prose was a bit overwritten on occasion, but Martin excels at character development. He has a way of cutting to the core of a character with just a few sentences, and within the first few pages of the book I was invested in the characters and their growth. Although the humor of this novella was more subtle, it reminded me quite a bit of L.A. Story, my favorite Martin movie.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris: I have encountered Sedaris's writing before, in his collection of essays entitled Holidays on Ice (which caused me to vow to never take the Beadboys to see the Macy's Santa). This collection is just as witty and demented. His description of foreigners in a French class in Paris trying to describe Easter in broken French, for the benefit of a classmate who had never heard of it, had me in hysterics on the train. I also learned that Amy Sedaris has an evil, evil sense of humor.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: After finishing Tristam Shandy I needed something light, and this was perfect -- pretty and fluffy and magical. I really enjoy her books quite a bit, and I am looking forward to the next one.

Blackwork by Monica Ferris: the latest in her needlework mystery series, and as with the others it was an enjoyable read. The "Wiccans are people, too" PSAs were a tad heavy-handed, and the attempts to suggest the Wiccan character may have actual magical or psychic powers were completely ludicrous, but those are minor quibbles. These books are not brilliant or profound or sophisticated, but Ferris does have an ability to create interesting, nuanced, albeit quiet, characters.

The Quick and the Thread by Amanda Lee: On the other hand, this first book in a new needlework mystery series was a total disappointment. The book was filled with flaws such as forced dialogue, absurd leaps in logic, faulty motives, and unrealistic scenarios. Each one on its own was minor, but together they added up to a deeply implausible (and silly) book. The protagonist is driven to solve the mystery because she supposedly needs to clear her name, but only an idiot would have considered her a suspect. The police apparently had no qualms about letting her in on their investigation, and the lawyers did not really act like lawyers (Lee's understanding of what creates an attorney-client relationship almost caused me to throw the book at a wall). Frankly, I was shocked to learn that Amanda Lee is a pseudonym for a woman who has written many other mysteries.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Advent Squares

Despite a virus striking the family low this week, I was able to finish another two advent squares (and take pictures of a third I finished a few weeks ago).

Saint Nicholas:
In keeping with the Catholic imagery I've been using for some of the squares, I decided that instead of "regular" Santa Claus I'd do Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children* and the origin of Santa. I've given him a red Bishop's miter (he was a bishop) and a long bushy beard made from while wool I needle-felted down (the mustache did not come out as defined as I would have liked).

*He's also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and thieves. Which reminds me of California v. Greenwood, the Supreme Court case denying an expectation of privacy in trash, which lumped together "animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public," all of whom have access to garbage left on the curb. (Take-away lesson -- don't put evidence of a crime in the trash; find a more permanent way to dispose of it.) I bet you didn't expect a post linking Christmas, a Catholic saint, and the Fourth Amendment.

An angel:
We've always topped our tree with a star, but angels are a common Christmas image, given their job heralding both Mary's pregnancy and Jesus' birth. The wings are from the defunct Artgirlz company (so sad, they had awesome stuff), the face is a milagro, and the halo is a large sequin. (With my fingerprint on it, drat).

A Nutcracker:
What's Christmas without the Nutcracker? I adore both the ballet and the original book (which includes a lot of great elements that did not make it into the ballet). This nutcracker is based on Maurice Sendak's illustrations. I'm kind of impressed with how well it came out -- I really didn't think I could pull it off.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Steampunk Jewels

After the week I had, I decided to forgo my usual Saturday late-morning nap and instead hang out in the craft room while Mr. Beadgirl took the boys out. Several months ago I bought Steampunk Style Jewelry, and I've been dying to make something steampunk ever since. So I sat down and rooted through boxes and tins of beads, charms, watch parts, keys, and metal doodads I've been hoarding over the years. I created a bunch of charms and pendants, and hung them from a brass yoke-chain. The results:
I used an s-hook clasp to finish it, that way I can shorten the necklace (symmetrically) if I want.

Close-ups of the individual components:
I took a plain brass bottle cap, turned up the edges with pliers, drilled a hole through one edge, and glued on (with Modge Podge) a circle of paper with vintage handwriting. If you look closely, you can see the brush strokes in the gel medium, so I have to be careful with that in the future.

The coin is a British pence, which I drilled a hole through.

This is an old key from who knows where, a copper milagro of some indeterminate shape (I've never seen another like this), and a glass pearl.

The charm on the left is from a pair of brass rose earrings that I adored. Unfortunately, one flower broke off the ear wire years ago, and I've been saving it for something all this time (the other earring seems to have disappeared entirely). I glued the flower onto a brass cabochon disk with two links, and added a glass pearl dangle.

The charm on the right is a brass button (really, a giant rivet) from a pair of jeans. I threaded it onto a head pin, with two pearls to hold it in place.

These are vintage watch parts; some time ago I picked up a little collection of old parts -- gears, watch faces, watch handles, and so on. The one on the left is a large, broken gear. The one on the right is a watch face that I drilled a hole in, and added a small washer for interest.

More watch parts, tiny ones this time. I placed tiny gears and other parts in a large brass cabochon disk, along with a steel circle stamped with the number 3 that I've had for years (I have no idea where it came from). I then filled the disk with Diamond Glaze, which hardens after 24 hours into a glass-like consistency. About half way through, a bunch of tiny little bubbles showed up, which I was not happy about. And there's nothing I can do about it, grrr.

The centerpiece, a big old-fashioned key with a glass pearl dangle.

The charm on the left is a fabric and copper link, made by wrapping a strip of velvet around a copper wire, and wrapping a thinner wire on top of the fabric. (On the other side of the necklace I have another link like this.) The technique is Deryn Mentock's, and originally appeared in Belle Armoire Jewelry. She's now selling a tutorial in her etsy store. (Well, she was, as of yesterday.)

The charm on the right is made from a little glass bottle I filled with more teeny watch parts. I then cut up a wine cork to get a chunk to cram into the top, and wrapped copper wire around it to make a loop for hanging.

Another British coin (20 pence) I drilled through, and a brass scarab charm (very Victorian).

The last charm. The brass plate is apparently from an old men's accessory company, and I have no idea where I got it. I glued on top a broken fleur-de-lis I've had for many years (in fact, I think it originally belonged to my mom, since I've had it since high school).

I'm quite pleased with this necklace; it even impressed Mr. Beadgirl, notoriously oblivious to jewelry, who immediately identified it as steampunk.

Finally, while waiting for different components to dry, I even started putting together another necklace, this one more Victorian in style:
Once I find some seed beads to match the larger beads, I will weave the seed beads in and out of the filigree flower, and finish the rest of the necklace.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Are you kidding me?

It's getting kind of laughable, the things that keep me from taking time for myself. Most recently it was TWO plumbing emergencies in TWO days, caused by my damn wiener kids first shoving toys down the tub's drain and next trying to flush a washcloth.

I did manage to stitch two more squares on the Stitching Along project, which at this point I should re-title "A Year in Stitches" (I wonder if I am the only one still working on it).

A jack-o'-lantern, for Halloween:
Stitched after a very tiring trick-or-treat outing, a stiff drink, and take-out. It is entirely in french knots, and I blended two shades of orange for the pumpkin and very dark gray and very dark brown for the features. The squished right eye makes him look like he is winking, and is probably the fault of that stiff drink.

A sugar skull for All Souls Day:
I was initially going to use the turquoise for some little design on the cheeks, but the background looked so empty I tried to make it fancy, kind of like stipple-quilting.

If I ever get to make anything ever again, I will make the last few squares I need for the advent calendar.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Too many tricks and not enough treats

I'm getting annoyed at how busy I've been the last few months, because always the first thing to go is my stitching time. The latest obligation was making the Beadboys' costumes, which I promised them a while back. It wasn't too bad, but next year I may give myself a break and go store-bought.

Beadboy2 is a knight, since he has been slaying imaginary monsters and bad guys with a nerf sword, tree branches, a yard stick, a wooden spoon, a toothbrush -- basically anything he could get a hold of. A few years ago I made Beadboy1 a robot costume using tinfoil-covered cardboard --
-- so I recycled that idea for the breastplate. After I cut it out from cardboard I brought it to Beadboy2 to make sure it was not too big, and the ungrateful child complained "mommy, why did you make it out of that? It's supposed to be gray [metal]. Why isn't it gray? Mommy, it has to be gray." I then brushed a thin coat of thin white glue to the front, and placed a sheet of tinfoil on top. I folded over the edges of the foil and secured it with duct tape, and added gray bias tape for the ties. Et voila:
I wanted to paint a cute coat-of-arms on the front, but Beadboy2 wouldn't hear of it. So he painted a knight (red blob at the top of the coat-of-arms), a robot (purple rectangle in the lower right corner), a robot knight (purple blob in lower half of coat-of-arms), and two Gs, his initial.

For a shield, I covered a frisbee with duct tape, and formed a duct tape handle on the back.

Again, Beadboy2 was the artist. The orange stick figure is me, the G is self-explanatory, the black blob by my head is a hand ( . . . I don't know), the big red blob is an apple with a big stem, and the small red blob is a space ship that is going to get the apple ( . . . yeah).

The rest of his "armor" (which I forgot to take a picture of) consists of disposable foil loaf pans folded in and shaped into greaves, shin guards, etc., an idea I got from Martha Stewart.

Beadboy1's dragon costume was a lot easier. I took a green hooded sweatshirt and sewed on red felt triangles from the hood to the waist, and sewed orange felt half-ovals to the front to form the scales of the belly. For the tail I pieced together two long green felt rectangles, drew (and sewed along) two lines to form a long skinny triangle, trimmed the excess, and stuffed the tail. More red triangles finished the tail, and I sewed it to the back waist band of the sweatshirt.
(Not a great picture.)
(The chink in Smaug's armor.)

I sent the two off to their schools this morning with the costumes. Beadboy1 adored his, and wouldn't take it off. Beadboy2 was pestering me all week to wear it, but when he got to school decided he did not want to anymore. With a bit of coaxing from the teacher, he put on the breastplate and shield. And then this afternoon he ordered me to make him a Spiderman costume. Right. Maybe next year.

With the costumes done, I thought I could spend the morning stitching and crafting for myself. So of course, I got a call mid-morning from the school nurse that Beadboy1 was sick.* I did manage to whip up this little jack-o-lantern before I had to pick him up:
The idea of using sewing notions and game pieces to adorn a felt pumpkin came from some magazine I bought a couple of years ago. This is a sewing jack-o-lantern: the eyes are buttons, the nose is a bobbin, and the hanger is the end of a measuring tape. If I ever get to go into my craft room again, I will make another with dice, dominoes, and game tokens.

*When I went to go get Beadboy1, he was pale and dehydrated, but in a good mood. When I took him to the supermarket, he insisted on packing and repacking the cart. When I took him to Beadboy2's school, he was well enough to eat a lollipop. And by late this afternoon, the two of them were running amok throughout the house.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh Yeah, Square 16

I am shamefully behind in this "stitch an inch every day project"; actually, I don't even think "behind" cuts it. But I forge ahead nonetheless, with the next square:
A leaf, in honor of my favorite season. I thought snipping a square of copper mesh from the monsterbubbles Christmas ornament I'm working on would add a bit of interesting texture to the piece. Remembering that the mesh is easier to sew on when I poke all the stitch holes first, I traced a teeny little maple leaf on a piece of paper, laid it over the mesh, and poked holes along the stitch lines. Unfortunately, the holes were almost impossible to see with the white linen underneath the mesh; good thing the design was so small, it still worked up pretty quick. I love fall leaves, but my area of Queens seems to be populated with trees that don't look pretty as the leaves die -- instead of lovely shades of gold, orange, red, and purple, the leaves turn a grayish brown before crumpling up. So I'll have to settle for this little red leaf.

Speaking of the monsterbubbles ornament:
I'm slowly making progress. (Uh, the photo is sideways, because I forgot to rotate it before uploading it.)

And a little Halloween stitching:
This is a Prairie Schooler design from last year, and will be an owl.