Search This Blog

Monday, August 30, 2010

More Flowers

Button flowers were the next style to make:
The technique, such as it is, also comes from the Fabric Leftovers book -- I strung two to three buttons on floral wire.

The last type of flower I wanted to make were dimensional flowers designed by Diane Nuñez, in the June/July 2010 issue of Quilting Arts:
This technique was quite a bit more complicated, and required me buying aluminum mesh of the type often used in making three-dimensional objects (I have a lot left over, so I'll be playing around with it some more). I cut a strip of the mesh and layered it onto batting and a wider strip of fabric, then glued and pressed the fabric around to cover the back. To finish it I quilted it in contrasting thread, a zigzag pattern for one flower and a scribble for the other. The last step was just manipulating the strip into a flower shape, a simple spiral for one and a pleated circle for the other. Ms. Nuñez used beads, buttons, and one bottle cap for the centers. I broke away from my button obsession to use only bottle caps for my flower centers (I also have a bottle cap obsession, enabled by Mr. Beadgirl's taste for a wide variety of beer). For the stems I cut lengths of heavy, covered floral tape, created a small spiral at one end, and glued the spiral to the inside of the caps.

The finished bouquet, just in time for the end of the season:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cool Christmas

I finished stitching the "Cool Christmas" ornament from Fresh Threads Studio this week. Once I get back into the sewing room, I think I'll fold the edges under and attach it to a slightly larger piece of green felt. I really like the colors; as much as I love Christmas, I have never been a big fan of the red/green color combination. This year I am going to mostly use greens when decorating, so this should fit in.

On to the next ornament -- "dotty" by monsterbubbles, from the 2008 Christmas Ornament issue of Just Cross Stitch. The stitching is on fine copper mesh, using waste canvas to get the stitching lined up correctly:
As much as I love the use of non-traditional "fabric," sewing through the mesh is tricky, even with a fine, sharp no. 26 chenille needle. According to Heather Daly, the needle will be even sharper by the time I'm done. "But watch out, the needle you use to stitch on this copper mesh will be a teenie dagger when you are finished. Serious sharp. Hide, somewhere...your enemies will be so surprised."

I've found that punching holes in the mesh from the top before I sew up from the bottom helps:
The thread also keeps getting caught on the edges of the mesh, which are a little jagged; I should probably put masking tape on it. The ornament will look awesome once I'm done, but it is going to take a long time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More Advent Squares

Yet again by crafty plans are spoiled, this time by an absent babysitter (taking care of an ill family member) and party-planning. Today, however, I enjoyed a leisurely morning with a mostly well-behaved Beadboy1, and I got to make the next three squares for the Advent Calendar.

The first is an Ornament:
(The pictures came out dark, unfortunately.) I cut out an ornament shape from red wool felt, and covered the top handle part with silver Kreinik braid to simulate an ornament cap. The ornament was embellished with stitching in more metallic threads, in silver, purple, and teal, and I topped it with a bit of wire twisted to form an ornament hook.

The second is holly leaves:
The leaves were cut from dark green wool felt, using a paper template I drew (after my attempts at free-hand cutting ended in failure). Three small dark red buttons serve as the berries.

Finally, mistletoe:
After studying images of mistletoe online (I hadn't encountered the real thing often enough to remember the shape of the leaves) I cut out a bunch of petal-shapes from mossy green felt and sewed them on with long stitches (which I continued a bit to create the stems). White plastic pearls and white embroidery floss tied in a bow completed it. It's not perfect, but I'm happy enough with it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Squares 14 and 15

The first square is wine, and it was shamelessly cribbed from inspired by Lisa's grape square. We live near wine country (there are some pretty good vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island), and wine is a staple in this house. Unfortunately, the fact that I did not plan this square shows because I do not think the layout is very good. I am pleased with the way the corkscrew came out, however, even if it was a last-minute filler for a giant white space in the square. The grapes are french knots using two different purples together.

The second square is for my beloved Red Sox. We have (or had very recently) the third best record in the American League, which you think would guarantee us a spot in the playoffs, but the best two teams are also in our division. Which means we won't be playing in October unless the Rays and/or the Yankees implode in a spectacular manner. What makes it even more frustrating is that we are playing so well despite the fact that seventeen players, including many key ones, have ended up on the DL this season. Just think how well we'd be doing if only Youkilis, Pedroia, and the rest had never gotten injured.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fabric Flowers

Last year for spring I made a bouquet of fabric flowers for my mantelpiece, out of old-fashioned calicoes in soft colors. As much as I liked the fabric, however (I love calicoes), I wasn't pleased with the results -- they just didn't fit with the quilt I have over the mantel, or the decor (such as it is) in the room. I ended up giving away most of the flowers, keeping a couple for myself:

This spring I decided to try again, using lots of bright colors. Unfortunately, summer classes, a change in Beadboy1's schedule, houseguests, and heatwave after heatwave all conspired to keep me from any major crafting until August. So the flowers are a bit out of season.

Origami Lily:
This pattern came from Denise Taylor's quilt in the Summer 2007 issue of A Needle Pulling Thread. Basically, I sandwiched fusible web between two squares of fabric, folded it, and stitched it in a few places to hold the shape. The web made it hard to sew through all the layers, so next time I will look for a lighter-weight web. Not sewing it wrong the first time will also help.

Fickle Flowers:
This is Diana Taylor's pattern from the March/April 2009 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine. I sewed a very narrow tube from a strip of pieced fabric, turned it right-side-out, and inserted paper-covered floral wire, which allows me to bend the tube into any flower shape I want. By far the worst part of this process was turning out such a skinny tube, and it didn't help that instead of using a gadget designed for this sort of thing (because then I'd have to buy one), I used combinations of pins, plastic threaders, chopsticks, thread, and wooden skewers. I like the finished product, however.

Ruched Fabric Flowers:
This idea came from D'Arcy-Jean Milne's Fabric Leftovers (a book full of great ideas). I started with more tubes. Fortunately, these were wider than the previous ones, but my jury-rigging turners rather than just buying the proper tools led to one tube taking 15 minutes to turn and the other only 2. (Do I remember what I did with the one that was so much faster? Of course not.) I sewed a running stitch down the length in a zigzag pattern, pulled the thread gather (ruche) it, and formed flower shapes. The first one I did in a spiral and put a big button in the center. For the second, I used the ruching to form a circle instead, and added a yo-yo and a button.

Petal Flower:
This was also from Fabric Leftovers. I folded squares into triangles and ran a thread through the bottom (hypotenuse) of five to form a circle. For the outer row of petals I only folded the squares once, making larger triangles with unfinished edges. Yet another button completed it (I love buttons).

Felt Flower:
This was the easiest -- flower shapes cut free-hand out of felt and sewn together with a button (did I mention I like buttons? Ooh, I should make button flowers). The basic idea came from American Patchwork and Quilting magazine, which used fabric fused onto cardstock.

The bouquet so far:
I still have a few more types of flowers to make, but I have to get the appropriate supplies.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey

In college I had a brief fling with Mercedes Lackey when I read several of my roommate's collection, starting with Arrows of the Queen. After four or five books, however, I lost interest; there is a sameness to her stories, particularly in the trilogies, and the heroines all go through through the same journey -- neglected or abused childhood, discovery of a special talent and/or bond with an animal, introduction into new, loving family substitute, betrayal of some sort, trials, and ultimate validation in love and profession. There is a strong element of wish-fulfillment in her books, and her heroines border on Mary Sue territory (although I did not know the term at the time).

Nonetheless, I picked up Wizard of London from the library. A few weeks ago I watched the Snow Queen, and of course I had to re-read different versions of the tale, which led me to Lackey's book, which is a loose retelling of it. It's the fourth in a series centering around an alternate world where magic exists, and apparently each book is loosely based on a fairy tale, which means I will have to read the other volumes, too (I'm obsessed with retellings of fairy tales).

Wizard of London was pleasant enough, although the tropes I remembered from Lackey's other books were there. The good characters are impossibly good, with no real flaws, and the evil people are mustache-twirlingly evil. The heroines are super-special children with super-special powers, instantly loved by everyone. Physical beauty is treacherous, and good people would never have an interest in money, fancy jewelry, or anything high-falutin' -- simple wholesome pleasures only, thank you. I can't exactly fault these values, it's just that Lackey is heavy-handed, and her books (which have interesting premises) would benefit from more nuanced and varied characters. Despite all this, the book was interesting enough that I will check out at least a couple of others in the series.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Was by Geoff Ryman

Was is a riff on The Wizard of Oz. It tells the stories of Jonathan, an actor dying of AIDS and obsessed with Oz, and Bill, a high school graduate in the 1950s trying to help lost souls in a mental ward for the elderly. It flashes back to various fictionalized moments in the life of Judy Garland and L. Frank Baum. But mostly, it concerns itself with the story of the "real" Dorothy Gael in the 1880s.

The book is quite good, although profoundly bleak (with the exception of Bill's story). In the afterword, Ryman writes that he is drawn to fantasy because of the way it reminds us of how far our world is from perfection, and he is drawn to reality because it punctures the illusions of fantasy that we try to hide behind. And so Dorothy, whose encounter with substitute teacher Baum inspires his novel, has the worst possible life. Her mother and brother dead of diptheria, her father having abandoned her, she is sent to live with her Aunt Emma and Uncle Henry in a one-room cabin. Her life is nothing but privation and suffering, horrific abuse and loss. Any bit of hope or joy -- affection from her dog, kind words from a stranger, the possibility of a genuinely caring relationship -- is quickly taken away or perverted, such that it began to feel almost sadistic on the part of Ryman. And lest we think that despite this life Dorothy might find a way to hold onto a scrap of dignity, it turns her (albeit understandably) into a bully who inflicts the suffering she has experienced onto others. As Ryman explicitly states, that first instance of abuse "taught her how to hate."

For this reason, the bulk of the book was difficult for me to read. And not just because of the life Dorothy led -- I realize Kansas in the 1880s was a difficult place to live, and surviving could be a struggle -- but because of the cynicism that seemed to underline the story. Certain passages in the book seemed to paint all the people (at least all the white, Christian people) of that time as selfish and greedy and violent. I think it is telling that Ryman writes that people "Worshiped what was good, able to worship what was good by deliberately using it to cover up the bad." But focusing on the good does not necessarily mean denying the existence of the bad, just as fantasy can be a respite from the harshness of reality, not just a way to hide from it.

The interesting thing is that many of the specific characters and events in Was belie the cynicism Ryman elsewhere shows. Aunt Em in particular was a complex, fascinating person. A strong, intelligent woman whose struggles (caused by both circumstances and bad choices) turned her into a bitter, angry, irrelevant woman, she still had a spark of decency inside her. To me, she is just as tragic a figure as Dorothy.

And Bill, a dumb high school jock killing time as a staff member in a nursing home until he joins the army, could have been portrayed as a privileged man oblivious (if not complicit in) the suffering around him, but instead Ryman makes him a hero of sorts. His encounter with the elderly, demented Dorothy changes him in the ways you would think, and it was touching to see compassion and understanding develop in him. Dorothy, too, was much more likable here than as a child bully, and at the end of her life she finds a note of grace and salvation that is quite moving.

I can't say I loved this book (oh my God the BLEAKNESS of Dorothy's life) but it was very good, and I am glad I read it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

Yet another book I learned about from Dirda's book chat. I finished this back in June, but never got around to writing my thoughts down, which is too bad because I only remember fragments now (of my thoughts, not the book -- I still remember that).

Like all really good juvenile and teen fiction, Un Lun Dun is well-written enough to be enjoyed by adults. Superficially, the concept of an alternate London populated with the discards of this London reminded me of Gaiman's Neverwhere (brilliant), and the sheer oddity of certain things called to mind Walter Moers's City of Dreaming Books (lots of fun).

The best part, however, was the subversive nature of the story. Zanna is the Chosen One, the girl prophesized to defeat the The Smog. But soon the story takes a sharp left turn -- something goes wrong rather quickly, the betrayal by a trusted ally that usually comes at the climax happens early on, and the prophecy everyone has been relying on turns out to be wrong. Miéville has written a neat twist on the standard fantasy story where an outsider comes in to save a populace; prophecies, fate, and destiny are all well and good, but what really matter are the choices we make.

Fr. Beadbrother has lent me Miéville's The City and the City, which was written for adults and sounds excellent; I've also heard good things about Perdido Street Station.