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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lilies of the Valley

Another favorite of mine:
This is a modification of an old pattern from Piecework (I should subscribe again), using embroidery stitches traditionally used in Madeira. The flowers are made with the bastido stitch, a kind of padded satin stitch, the stems and border are ponto de cordão stitch, similar to split stitch, and the leaf is the matiz stitch, like an uncontrolled long and short stitch.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Round-Up

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip: This was a re-read of my favorite McKillip novel. Her prose tends to be very metaphorical and beautiful and a bit impenetrable, but as my friend put it, this is one of her more lucid stories. It is also about an orphan taken in by librarians and given a mysterious book to translate and an ancient myth to unravel, so no wonder I love it.

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip: This is another of her more straightforward stories. The difference here that is when I first bought it years ago, I could not get into it. Re-reading Alphabet of Thorn made me want to tackle this again, and frankly I don't know what was wrong with me twelve years ago. Another orphan needs to discover the truth about his background (which, to be fair to McKillip, is completely different from the above orphan's origins) and avenge a great evil perpetrated on his family. Like her other books, McKillip populated this one with a number of complex, very human characters. The one sort-of exception is the antagonist -- he's not two-dimensional like villains in fantasy novels all too often are, but unlike the antagonists in other books his humanity is not enough to even partially redeem the horrible things he has done. I have no problem with that, it is just something I noted because McKillip's antagonists are rarely truly evil.

(As an aside, whoever's trying to sell a copy of this book on Amazon for $99 is insane, and greedy; is selling several copies for under $10.)

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine: A take on Sense and Sensibility, gently skewering modern sensibilities. Like Jincy Willett, Schine creates satirical characters but treats them with genuine affection, so that the reader cares about them even as she loses patience with their actions. Also, Schine appears to correct a plot point of Austen's that always bothered me, so points for that.

I Zombie by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred: This is a new series from Vertigo Comics, highly praised. I've read ten issues so far, and while it is pretty good it has not lived up to its hype. The premise is that Gwen is a reluctant zombie who must periodically eat a human brain (to avoid killing people she works as a gravedigger); doing so gives her the dead person's memories, allowing her to resolve any unfinished business or solve any mysteries.* Surprisingly little of the first ten issues was spent on this, however, as the writer set up what are clearly to be the overarching plot points -- how did she become a zombie, will she eventually have to start killing bad guys to feed her appetite, what is that armaggedon-like thing looming on the horizon, and will she get the cute guy who's vowed to destroy her kind? Roberson has come up with a neat mythology to explain the existence of revenants, ghosts, zombies, poltergeists, vampires, werewolves, and so on (it has to do with the fact that every living creature has both an oversoul and an undersoul), but the series as a whole seems designed to cater to the 18-24 demographic. With the exception of three stock characters -- the sassy older waitress at the diner, the cantankerous grandpa, the tough, weather-beaten monster hunter who will clearly be played by Samuel L. Jackson should this ever become a movie -- all the characters are young and hip and trendy and not nearly as interesting as they think they are. There is a lot of promise, so I'll continue to read it for a while longer.

*In this sense it reminded me of Agnes Quill, a wonderful comic about a girl who is pestered by ghosts until she does what they want her to do.

From Demons to Dracula by Matthew Beresford: I read this way back in October but kept forgetting to write about it. It purports to tell the evolution of the vampire myth, but it is remarkably poorly written. Beresford jumps from topic to topic, country to country, and even century to century with little or no transitions, and he makes conclusory statements with little or no explanation of how he got there; in short, he doesn't show his work. Which is a shame, because he clearly has done a tremendous amount of research and he really knows the material. Not everyone is great at telling a coherent story, and I think he would have benefited from a good editor. I also wish he'd give me his research notes, so I can learn more.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's Been a Year . . .

Since I started the 36 Squares project. I knew I had no chance of finishing it in 36 days, but I thought I could get it done in a year. Given the progress I made the last few weeks I really thought I had a shot, only to realize on Sunday that I started sewing this on March 20 last year. I think what screwed me up was the fact that Easter is so much later this year. I remembered doing the first square close to Easter, Palm Sunday weekend to be precise, so that has been the end date in my mind. Perhaps I should go by the liturgical calendar; then I have a few more weeks to finish the last six squares.

In the meantime, square 30:
We had a couple of lovely days of spring, so I embroidered one of my favorite flowers -- lilacs (the colors aren't quite accurate, but I really love this combination). The two bushes in front of my house have just started to bud, and by late spring they should be filled with fragrant, dark purple blossoms.

Of course, this morning it snowed, so Spring giveth and it taketh away.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Getting Close . . .

Since I've tackled embroidery, cross stitch, whitework, blackwork, redwork, and string art/needlepoint in the 36 Squares, bead embroidery was next:
I was aiming for a paisley, but instead it looks kind of like a peacock feather with a flower in the middle. I seem to have trouble with paisleys. The beads come from a "Mardi Gras" bead mix that I got in college. The bead store was called Beauty and the Beads, and I was there all the time (I even worked there Friday afternoons my senior year). The owner of the store (who has since passed away, I heard) came up with the idea of making seed bead mixes, inspired by events, poems, songs, really anything at all. I also have mixes based on a Langston Hughes poem and a Billie Holiday song; I long ago made necklaces from all three, but I still have beads left over which I save for bits of bead embroidery when the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jackson Brodie Books by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is a Scottish author who has written a number of general fiction novels and short stories, and more recently a series of literate mysteries featuring the detective Jackson Brodie. I absolutely adore her older fiction, which is witty and odd and filled with wonderful characters and meta touches (Emotionally Weird has the narrator's mother interrupting the novel to complain about how it is being told; the narrator of Behind the Scenes at the Museum begins, brilliantly and funnily, at her conception), so it is with some apprehension I look at the success and skill of the Brodie books, which are much more conventional. I hope she has not abandoned her previous style entirely.

Which is not to say that her mysteries are at all a disappointment; I've enjoyed Case Histories, One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News quite a bit (Started Early, Took my Dog was just released in hardcover). While some aspects of the books are standard to the genre, such as tragic backgrounds, a bitchy ex-wife, adorable children and pets, lots of injuries and violence, last-page twists, and a surfeit of failed marriages, Atkinson's incisive, smart writing shines through. The plots are intricate puzzles, and Brodie does not so much solve them as stumble repeatedly (but likeably) into coincidences. The characters are fully realized and fascinating; in particular Reggie from Good News is a stand-out. Brodie and the other "white hats" are flawed but intelligent and self-aware, and their innate goodness is apparent despite their mistakes and misdeeds. Above all there is a sense of wit, and a recognition of the absurdities and ironies of life, that make the books enjoyable to read even as horrific things happen to characters.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pretty Flowers

Since I've done so many other techniques on my 36 Squares piece, it was time to do traditional cross stitch. The squares I'm doing for the Summer Mood design seemed perfect -- 15 by 15 stitches, requiring me to just delete a row and column to make it fit, and the flowers suit the fact that spring is ever so slowly coming (I saw crocuses on the way to Mass yesterday!).
The square fortuitously fell under my other, non-traditional cross stitch square, for an interesting contrast.

As for Summer Mood itself, it is slow going:
I do love it though, even if I get bored quickly stitching it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Squares 26 and 27

Since I finished the Hardanger needlecase, I thought a bit of Hardanger would be good for the 36 squares. I stitched this up on a scrap of the fabric from the needlecase:

Are you old enough to remember string art from the 1970s? These stitches have official names among needlepointers, I'm sure, but I call it that "string art stitch." And it's lots of fun to stitch:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jewelry Round-Up

A few jewelry projects I've been working on:

Remember these daisy earrings? I wasn't thrilled with them -- aside from how big they are, I thought the green beads on the headpins were boring and the daisies themselves swung around a lot, so that they rarely "faced" front. Then I realized these earrings I bought a while back, buttons sewn onto felt, offered the solution. So I cut circles slightly larger than the daisies out of green wool felt, sewed on the daisies, and backed them with more circles:
I like this a lot better, and can't wait to wear them for spring. If only the weather would cooperate . . .

This necklace I made in December, but it got lost in the Christmas hullabaloo:
The pattern, by Aasia Hamid, is from an old issue of Bead & Button and can be found here. I ended up with the wrong size cylinder beads (not sure how; I bought them a couple of years ago) so I had to make some adjustments. The Swarovski crystal pendants I bought way back in 2005, on the last real vacation I took (sigh). The pendants were half off so I snatched up these and some in a pretty periwinkle color, and I'm glad to find a use for them.

This necklace I started last year and finished today:
The beads are vintage, from the French General stash of Christmas beads I've mentioned before. I like the bright cranberry color.

Finally, while the Beadboys were watching Sesame Street I restrung a broken strand of cheapo Indian beads:
This is the second time I've had to restring them. I bought them fourteen years ago, three different strands for ten dollars (one of the others has also broken a few times, but the other one has held up well). Funny how I remember the store and the purchase so well; there's no particular reason why I should.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Eric Carle Needs to Stop Releasing Fabric

Last year Eric Carle (or his company) released yet another batch of fabric based on his books, this time incorporating characters from several stories. I wasn't going to make another quilt -- for one thing, I had run out of Beadboys to give them to. The panel design however, with one picture of a sun and daytime critters and the other a moon with nighttime critters seemed perfect for pillowcases:
Originally I was going to use a Lotte Jansdotter pattern from Simple Sewing, but something seemed wrong about the pattern. It is for an enclosed pillowcase, with a flap sewn in to cover the end of the pillow that would normally be exposed, but no matter how many times I read the pattern it made no sense. Finally, I took a scrap of fabric and made a 2" by 3" pillowcase following her directions, and yup, there was an error. The flap needed to be placed between the two sides when sewing, not folded over the opposite side.

And yet, after figuring that all out, I ditched the pattern anyway -- because the panels were not big enough by themselves to serve as pillowcases, I'd have to add fabric, and taking into account the fold would complicate it needlessly. So I just bought batiks in appropriate day and night colors and sewed them to each side, and sewed the two panels together. I added extra to one end to make a neatish hem, and I zigzagged the seams to keep them from fraying in the wash.

The Beadboys were suitably pleased, although I made the mistake of calling them "presents," which led Beadboy2 to expect a new robot or sword or shark with a laserbeam attached to its head.