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Monday, December 31, 2012

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

I finished monsterbubbles's "Day One" (partridge in a pear tree) ornament, from the 2009 Just Cross Stitch Ornament mag:

Rather than pick one designer and make the Twelves Days of Christmas series (it was too hard to pick a favorite), I plan to do the "first day" ornament from several different series.  Just as well, given that Heather Holland Daly, the designer behind monsterbubbles, only did the first and fourth days before moving on to other things.

Friday, December 28, 2012


I was watching some sort of Christmas special a couple of weeks ago, although not a very memorable one because I could not tell you the title, the characters, the story, or if it was a cheesy-but-addictive Hallmark movie or a holiday-themed episode of a show or even a commercial.  The one thing I do remember?  One of the female characters sported giant snowflake earrings.

I immediately started craving a pair -- something beaded, or course.  I looked through my stack of patterns and found a seed bead and crystal snowflake ("Flurries in the Forecast"), from the October 2004 issue of Bead & Button. This is what the pattern produced:
But the snowflake has too many arms; snowflakes are supposed to have hexagonal symmetry, and so mine would.  Also, this snowflake was floppy.  The instructions recommended dipping the snowflakes in floor wax to stiffen them, but that would have required me going all the way back up to my sewing room and spending a whole five minutes looking for my floor wax*, and that was out of the question.  Instead I added a little bridge between each spoke.

My version:
By reducing the arms to six there was no room for the central crystal, but I don't miss it. 

The weirdo snowflake will go into my tin of beaded missteps, which I will someday sew up into an arty collage of mistakes and false starts.

*Floor wax is kind of a problem for me.  I desperately need it for the hardwood floors in the house, but despite searching in every general store, dollar store, and hardware store I've been to in the last two years, I can't find any at all.  Why not use the bottle I already have?  Aside from the fact that jewelry-making is far more important to me than cleaning, the bottle I have for stiffening purposes is way too small to cover even just the most-worn floorboards.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Grinchmas!

The bundle of How the Grinch Stole Christmas fabrics I found last year was irresistible. This season I made two little quilts for the Beadboys, to replace the Halloween Monsters:

I was up until 11:15 on Christmas Eve sewing the bindings closed, so I could put the quilts up on their doors as a little Christmas surprise.

I also made two little ornaments for them:

These were super easy to make.  I just sewed a bit of the fabric onto felt, leaving a gap to very lightly stuff the ornaments.  For the square one I used back stitch, and added buttons to the corner.  For the round ornament I used a very large stem stitch, sliding on a size 8 delica bead onto each stitch.

There's lots of fabric left, including a panel with the cover of the book that I want to turn into a wall hanging for me.  I could also make a bunch more ornaments to serve as little gifts, because who doesn't love the Grinch?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blanket Stitch Sampler

I made this years ago but only finished it now:
The (very basic) idea came from from Quilting Arts magazine, back when they showcased more handwork, and had artists experimenting with different embroidery stitches.  I took a package of Christmas-colored decorative threads and a piece of burlap, which had a low-enough thread count to accommodate the thick and varied strands.  Then I set to work stitching sections of blanket stitch all over, threading ribbons through some sections, layering on more stitches, and adding a few blanket stitch wheels.

I've backed it with heavy-duty interfacing, delicate cream silk from and old slip, and then white felt to keep it stiff.  And in a flash of inspiration two hours ago, I added two grommets at the top, creating a quick and interesting way to hang it.

I want to do more like this, especially with feather stitch -- that would lend itself well to a variety of textures and weights.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Brights

White and beige are lovely, but I also crave color.  So I made this bright Christmas tree with scraps of felt and beads:

The pattern for these ornaments came from Artsy Crafty Babe:

The tree itself was a bit of an adventure.  Two Sundays ago we stood in a muddy field in the rain and picked what I thought was a perfectly modest tree and brought it home.  We arrived exhausted and too late to put it up that night, so we left it on the floor.  The next night Mr. Beadgirl came home very late, and woke me up in the middle of the night to help put the tree in its stand.  And that's when we noticed how enormous it was, now that it was in a living room and not the great outdoors.  It was so big we could not put it where we normally do, and so left it in the middle of the room.

 Two days later I reconfigured the furniture to find a spot for it and Mr. Beadgirl moved it into place.  Only it was tilted in its stand -- every time Mr. Beadgirl adjusted it, it slowly shifted back.  The last straw was Friday, when I spent the morning putting the lights on in anticipation of the tree-trimming party we were having the next day.  The tree began leaning quite dramatically, making me nervous.  And then the stand broke, and water started leaking out all over our wooden floors.  I unplugged the lights and mopped up as best I could, then went out to find a new tree stand.  I came home in time to watch the tree slowly fall over.  The top came to rest on a radiator, which managed to keep the trunk parallel to the floor, so with a little grunting and swearing I got the old stand off and the new one on.  Then with a great deal of grunting and swearing I managed to get the tree upright. I don't know how, given it was almost twice my height and incredibly heavy, but I have the scratches to prove it, all over my arms and torso.  I spent the rest of the day smelling like pine sap.

The tree is now stable and secure in its new stand, and nicely decorated with all my childhood and handmade ornaments.  It is also still crooked, but screw it -- I'm not going near it again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Round-Up

Seven Men by Max Beerbohm: I stumbled across a reference to this book in The Moving Toyshop, and intrigued, I got it from the library.  It consists of five short stories about six men (Beerbohm is the seventh, a character in his own work), with satirical, supernatural, and postmodern elements (I seem to have a knack for finding these "postmodern before there was modern" works).  They tell the tales of fin-de-siècle writers, intellectuals, and bon vivants, and several of Beerbohm's observations made me snort out loud.  The first one in particular, "Enoch Soames," is a masterpiece of tragicomic meta-ness, and the best one in the group.

Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: I watched the movie version recently, and it was not good -- while absolutely gorgeous to look at, the script was underwritten and the story perfunctory.  So as a corrective, I re-read the book.  It is also gorgeous, and moving, well-told, and filled with wonderful characters. 
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: This sweet little romance deals with the racial, social, and class boundaries in a quaint English village.  Major Pettigrew, a widower, first becomes friends with, and then falls in love with, a widowed Pakistani store owner.  Both have to contend not only with local prejudices but the prejudices and baggage their own families bring.  Simonson is originally from England, so presumably her depiction of an English village is fairly accurate (if somewhat exaggerated for satirical and quirk purposes).  And yet, the open and casual racism and classism exhibited by the characters was horrifying to me.  I live in Queens, one of the most diverse places on the planet, so I sometimes forget other parts of the world are still quite insular.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym: Grace, a great secondary character from Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (I kind of wish her story had been told), is one of Pym's excellent women -- fine, capable, unmarried women who busy themselves with their churches, good deeds, and occasionally the personal business of others.  Because of Grace I had to re-read Pym's novel, which is the wonderful, funny, clever, poignant, satirical story of Mildred, an aforementioned Excellent Woman.  I love Mildred -- she's responsible for one of my favorite lines:
Let me hasten to add that I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women who tell their stories in the first person, nor have I ever thought of myself as being like her.
 Rex Libris: I, Librarian and Book of Monsters by James Turner: A comic about a 2,000-year-old librarian who fights the forces of evil?  Of course I had to read it.  These two volumes collect all the issues, and as one would expect there are all sorts of literary and publishing jokes and references.  I didn't like the art at all (it has the cold, sterile look of most computer-generated imagery), and the story was a little heavy on the action and a little light on the characterization, but I nonetheless enjoyed it.

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant: A fun young-adult collection of steampunk stories.  The tales run the gamut, tone-wise, from nihilistic to Dickensian to exhilarating to weird.  Standouts are Shawn Cheng's "Seven Days Beset by Demons" (one of two comics, short, spare, and funny), Dylan Horrocks's "Steam Girl" (heartbreaking), and M.T. Anderson's "The Oracle Machine" (slyly witty, and a surprisingly accurate depiction of the Roman Republic).  On the other hand, Holly Black's "Everything Amiable and Obliging" had an intriguing idea, but was way too short to do it justice.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Whites

I spent an enjoyable weekend making felt ornaments.  The first batch are from Indygo Junction's "Winter White" leaflet.  I've used the pattern before; a few years ago I made this stocking for myself:
And this ornament for my mom:
I also made a star for my aunt.

This time around, I made another star, a bird (to join my flock), and a cross, embellished with buttons, beaded applique, lace, embroidery, and seed beads:
These guys are staying with me.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Well, That Took a Long Time

I finally finished the monsterbubbles Christmas ornament stitched on copper mesh:
Like I explained then, sewing through the mesh was a big pain.  I had to poke holes through the waste canvas into the mesh first, and use very short lengths of thread because the repeated pulling through the copper caused the thread to break easily.  The edges of the mesh kept catching the threads, too, and I poked myself with the super sharp needle more than a few times.  Removing the waste canvas also took quite a bit of time.  Long story short -- as neat as it is to cross stitch on unconventional materials, I'm in no hurry to do it again.

Once the cross stitch was done I punched holes of different sizes in the surrounding copper, and whip-stitched the edges.  By then I was done done done working with the mesh, so to finish it I simply trimmed the edges and folded them over twice.  Good enough!

In the meantime, monsterbubbles appears to have closed down, or gone on hiatus, which is too bad.  Heather Holland Daly had some beautiful designs, including a partridge I'm working on now (on linen).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas Earrings

Gallery 307 at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging (that name never fails to make me smile) is hosting a Holiday Gift Show from December 7th through the 22nd, displaying the wares of local artists.  They asked me to contribute some jewelry, so in addition to beaded fabric earrings and felt ball earrings I had in stock (you can see examples in my etsy store), I decided to make some Christmas-themed ones:
These are just strips of silk wrapped around a piece of plastic straw, then wrapped with various fibers and craft wire strung with seed beads.

If you are in the area, stop on by!  Some of the art they display is truly amazing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sometimes Simple Is Best

I'm not much of a believer of "less is more" when it comes to jewelry, but sometimes even I recognize that simple is best.

Remember the skull pendant I bought?
I thought I was going to add more beads, but it didn't look right -- too busy for the pendant.  And spacing the beads out keeps the necklace from looking too heavy, which I didn't want.

This was even simpler:
Just a purple ribbon to match the purple crystal.  I'll wear this for the festivities tomorrow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Our Tragic Universe

Like a lot of modern fiction (or at least the modern fiction I tend to read), Scarlet Thomas's Our Tragic Universe is about storytelling, albeit more explicitly than usual.  Meg is a writer of formulaic young adult books, a science fiction series, and book reviews for a local paper; she also teaches writing workshops and helps other writers learn how to create various genre works.  On top of all that, she is determined to finish her big “literary” novel, a work she has written and deleted and rewritten for over ten years.  Thomas’s novel is loosely structured around Meg’s life as she comes to terms with her career, various relationships, and her understanding of the universe. Meg is a talented storyteller, something that is readily apparent despite her own self-deprecating attitudes towards her work, and throughout the book she recounts folktales, plots of potential novels, jokes, alibis for her friends, excuses for herself, memories, paradoxes, thought exercises, dreams, experiments, and archetypes.

In addition, a good chunk of the novel is spent on arguments and discussions various characters have on the nature of life and storytelling.  I suspect such digressions will turn off many readers, but for me it was like attending a fascinating graduate seminar, or better yet, hanging out at a bar with a bunch of really smart people.

The debate the characters have about storytelling mirrors in some ways the debate between “genre fiction” and “literary fiction” I wrote about earlier.  Meg’s friend Vi, in particular, has no patience with genre, with anything that tells a story, follows rules, or is conventional in any way.  She keeps pushing Meg to write “flabby, plotless stories” because that would be true writing, and (like Meg herself), can’t acknowledge that Meg’s facility with genre fiction is in fact a real talent.  Some of it comes from Vi’s own political and social leanings -- she is an ethnographer who studies marginalized or overlooked cultures, and so is suspicious of anything “conventional” because it reminds her of the western culture that has so dominated history, literature, and discourse.  In the process, however, she can fall victim to fetishizing that which she is trying to respect.

Vi also relies on restrictive, highly specific definitions of stories, which don’t track with what many modern readers understand to be stories.  Moreover, she ignores the storytelling that is part of the marginalized cultures she studies, instead calling it “storyless” storytelling, despite it having in some cases its own conventions, patterns and, well, story-ness.  In fact, late in the book she lays out the structure for storyless stories, which turns out to be just as rigid as the structure for conventional stories.

Interestingly, Vi goes on to posit a different take on storyless stories, where characters don’t worry about what they said or did, they just act.  These stories’ value lies in helping people realize that they should spend less time trying to fit their own lives into a particular narrative they feel they should live, and more time living; this echoes a point Meg makes earlier about doing real things for the enjoyment of it rather than obsessing about perfecting oneself.  A storyless story, then, is not so much a different kind of story as it is just life, in all its messy, incoherent glory.  Life, or storylessness, is figuring out what questions to ask, rather than trying to cram something into neat little answers.

So what does this have to do with the story of Our Tragic Universe itself? The New York Times review was critical of the book, arguing that Thomas incorporates too many elements and events without resolving them in a satisfactory way.  Meg’s financial woes, and a troubled relationship, are resolved in a conventional, deus-ex-machina way, but fairly early on with a good chunk of the book to go.  The mystery of how she acquired a particular book seems critical at first, but then becomes irrelevant.  A storyline involving a childhood friend is never resolved, or even really made clear.  But I think that’s the point -- these things are not flaws in Thomas’s work, they illustrate the “storyless story.”  The narrative does not conform to western conventions of storytelling, where every element is relevant and every plotpoint is resolved neatly; what happens in the book is much more akin to real life.  Some mysteries really are never solved.  Some things seem freighted with importance at first, but ultimately don’t matter.  Relationships are messy, and don’t always end neatly or quickly.  We live and then we die, and our efforts come to nothing and we don’t know what happens after. “You will never finish what you start . . . . You will not overcome the monster. And in the end, you will come to nothing.” But that’s ok, because the value is in the journey, in the questions asked rather than answered.

Monday, November 12, 2012


This cute little design is from The Floss Box.  I mostly used back stitch and french knots, but I also used a split stitch for the cat (to get a "fuzzier" appearance), satin stitch for the shoes and stockings (based on my own red-and-orange-striped witchy socks), a modified detached chain stitch for the hearts, and cross stitch for the center. I got the idea to use scraps of fabric for the dress from a similar ATC she did.  A few buttons and beads finish it off.

I need to get cracking on my Christmas crafting, so after washing this I'll probably set it aside to be finished next year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I'd successfully resisted The Frosted Pumpkin's Dessert of the Month series for almost ten months.  Sure, the Devil's Food Cake for February would make a great heart ornament, and I had visions of changing September's Candy Apple to a caramel apple, my favorite fall treat, but did I really need these patterns?

Apparently so, once I saw the Jack-o'-Lantern Candy Bucket:

It even has candy corn! I finished it using one of those nifty metal finishing forms, like a little dome you wrap the fabric around.  Rather than use another for the back, I just glued it to felt.

This was the perfect project for the train trip to and from my mom (I was lucky to escape the city for the weekend).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


We were incredibly lucky and grateful to survive the hurricane as we did with no real damage (and with a house twice as full as usual), but it will be days before life in the city gets back to normal.  Also, there is still the possibility that we might lose power because of a fallen tree precariously propped up by a telephone pole and a power line pole -- which service will be affected???

So I'd better show off these guys:

These guys are from Sue Garman's Monster Quilt pattern.  I picked up the patterns for five of the monsters several years ago, but as usual they languished in my patterns box.  This fall I was determined to make two of them, for the Beadboys for Halloween.

The original pattern called for traditional applique, but there was no way that was happening. Instead I used fusible web, which meant the tops came together in less than two hours.  I then layered them on top of batting and backing and sewed around each piece, to both secure the edges and quilt the layers.  It worked out well, except for the fact that I had the brilliant idea of free-motion-quilting black scribbles for the pupils.  The several layers of fabric and glue almost wrecked my poor little machine.  My third shortcut was to zigzag the edges to finish, a process that was a lot quicker and more pleasant than traditional binding (although it did make the edges a little wavy).

Normally I'd sew little plastic rings to the back upper corners to hang the quilt.  But these quilts are for the Beadboys, which means they will endure a fair amount of rough handling; binder clips seemed like a better idea.  And faster to apply, so I guess that's my fourth shortcut.

It seems like a shame to let the rest of the patterns continue to languish in my box, so let me know if anyone is interested in them.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Trite-and-True," but It's Not What He Thinks

It's about time for another "genre novels v. literary novels" spat, and Arthur Krystal provides it in an essay for The New Yorker that argues "genre" fiction cannot be as good as "literary" fiction.

There are the usual problems with his thesis. For one thing, literary fiction is a genre; implying that it is not is like arguing that some people don't speak with accents. For another, the boundaries between genres are not always as rigid as people think.  The biggest issue, however, is that Krystal relies on the No True Scotsman fallacy:
[I]t’s not plotting that distinguishes literary from genre fiction. After all, literary fiction can be plotted just as vigorously as genre fiction (though it doesn’t have to be). There’s no narrative energy lacking in Richard Russo, Richard Powers, Jonathan Franzen, David Mitchell, Denis Johnson, Annie Proulx, Gish Jen, Jhumpa Lahiri, and so on. A good mystery or thriller isn’t set off from an accomplished literary novel by plotting, but by the writer’s sensibility, his purpose in writing, and the choices he makes to communicate that purpose. There may be a struggle to express what’s difficult to convey, and perhaps we’ll struggle a bit to understand what we’re reading. No such difficulty informs true genre fiction; and the fact that some genre writers write better than some of their literary counterparts doesn’t automatically consecrate their books. . . . Genre, served straight up, has its limitations, and there’s no reason to pretend otherwise.
Krystal appears to be arguing that if a mystery novel has more than just good plotting, it no longer belongs in the genre category (again, all books fall into one genre or another, but for simplicity's sake I will use the term as Krystal does).  He makes this explicit when he talks about highly praised genre novels:
It seems to me that Chabon, Egan, and Ishiguro don’t so much work in genre as with genre, and “All the Pretty Horses” is no more a western than “1984” is science fiction. Nor can we in good conscience call John Le Carré’s “The Honorable Schoolboy” or Richard Price’s “Lush Life” genre novels.
Why can't we?  Because they are great?  That's an absurd way to classify genre novels -- science fiction or westerns or mysteries that are not too good to be called science fiction or westerns or mysteries. (I'm afraid to ask what he thinks about romances.  But then I am confident he would never call Pride and Prejudice a romance.)

I could give examples of genre books that are far more than just their excellent plotting (Neuromancer, The Name of the Rose, Jane Eyre), that are considered masterpieces.  I could also point to genre books that "transcend" their genre the way Krystal would have it, like Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, by subverting tropes and making the reader work, but which aren't actually that good (that's why the series has been lingering on my "What I'm Reading" list -- I see what Snicket is trying to do, but he can't sustain it).  It wouldn't matter, though, because by Krystal's definition great books cannot be genre.

Towards the end, Krystal writes:
What I’m trying to say is that “genre” is not a bad word, although perhaps the better word for novels that taxonomically register as genre is simply “commercial.” Born to sell, these novels stick to the trite-and-true, relying on stock characters whose thoughts spool out in Lifetime platitudes. There will be exceptions, as there are in every field, but, for the most part, the standard genre or commercial novel isn’t going to break the sea frozen inside us.
 Here's the thing -- most literary novels aren't going to break that frozen sea either (and different books will break that sea for different people).  Only a tiny fraction of books last beyond their generation, let alone make it into the canon.  It seems foolish to further reduce that fraction by eliminating entire genres.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sparkly Earrings to Match a Sparkly Necklace

The beaded bead pattern by Laura Landrum in Bead & Button's February 2012 issue seemed a perfect way to use up the leftover crystals and pearls from this necklace.

So I made two beaded beads to wear for earrings, and a third in darker shades just because.  Aren't they pretty?

I strung the beads onto a headpin with a crystal and silver bead cap on each end, and then added silver ear wires:

Perfect for the next time Mr. Beadgirl and I go out for, uh, pizza and a movie.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Crazy Pumpkin Finished!

After trimming the edges, I realized I didn't really need to add anything more, except a pumpkin vine with pumpkins made from bullion knots:

I then backed it with some great shimmery orange silk, quilted around the cross stitch pumpkin and tied the two layers together:

Binding the edges with a slip stitch seemed too neat and boring, so I used crude embroidery stitches to hold the binding in place.  The result:

It's quite satisfying to have finished this well in time for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

This is a perfect example of how the best young adult novels can appeal to readers of any age.  Howl's Moving Castle is an absolutely engaging fantasy novel that plays with fairy tale tropes before detouring abruptly yet seamlessly (if that makes sense) into another world.  It's also a sweet romance, a magical adventure, and a coming-of-age tale; Jones even finds time for quoting John Donne (love him) and Shakespeare.

And if that weren't enough, there are some subtle but interesting gender politics in the book.  After Sophie, a somewhat meek young woman, is turned into an old lady by a witch, she realizes that
It was odd. As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said.  She found that a great relief.
And indeed, Sophie does gain quite a bit of confidence and assertiveness throughout her adventures, feeling that her (apparent) age and appearance allow her to get away with behavior that would not otherwise be tolerated.  It reminded me of the Witch in Into the Woods, who gains back her youth and beauty at the end of the first act (spoiler!), but loses her magical powers in the process.  Back in law school I was the costume designer for a production of the play, and the director and I (hi Emily!) briefly considered dressing the Witch in a dowdy suit and helmet of hair, calling to mind certain female politicians.  Like the crone of the triple goddess, older women can sometimes command a great deal of authority and power, and can be intimidating or scary.*

Another way to look at it is the freedom that comes from being old and ugly in a society that values youth and beauty in women.  If no one really pays attention to you because you are past your prime, you can do whatever you want, and will no longer feel constrained by the desire to be appealing.

What makes Jones's version of this interesting is that the male protagonist falls in love with Sophie while she is transformed.  It's a longstanding fairy tale tradition, of course (and see "The Wife of Bath's Tale" for a proto-feminist take), but the fact that Sophie's transformation allows her personality to fully develop (which is what makes her desirable to her future husband) puts a modern spin on it.

Best of all?  There are two sequels, which I am tracking down.

*Which isn't to say that there is no power in youth and beauty; there is, but it tends to be romantic or sexual in nature, and dependent on other people.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Literate Pumpkin

I got this idea from Cloth Paper Scissors's Sept./Oct. 2010 issue -- gluing printed text onto a plastic pumpkin.  I "borrowed" one of the Beadboys' pumpkin containers we use for trick-or-treating (after promising repeatedly to buy a new one before Halloween) and pasted on strips cut from dictionary pages (thinner than other printed pages):
Funny how even though the dictionary was old and redundant, I felt guilty every time I ripped out a page.

I couldn't decide whether to make it a jack-o-lantern, but I used some charcoal (sealed with more glue -- that stuff gets everywhere) to go over the facial features, figuring I can display either side:

The strips aren't completely random:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Almost Done

I've covered the last seams of my Crazy Pumpkin, with beaded and traditional feather stitch:

Chevron stitch with bead picots and french knot stalks (which kind of look like fiddlefern):

and chain stitch with beading:

I also tacked on some beaded "marigolds," from a pair of calavera earrings that didn't quite work out:

There's not much left to do.  I'm going to trim the edges to get an idea of what the finished product will look like, and then decide if I need to add any more embroidery, beads, or doodads. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

African Beads

I picked up this strand of African trade beads:

But they looked so nice together, I wanted to wear them as-is.  They were tightly strung, so I restrung them on hemp, with a knot between each bead to set them off and to improve the drape of the necklace:

So easy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Crazy Quilting

A beaded paisley:
The pattern is from the June 2011 issue of Bead&Button, and is part of a bracelet.  I intend to make two more for earrings.

Buttons and beaded trim:
The trim came from a garland that belonged to my mom.  I'm kind of a magpie when it comes to anything beaded, and I remember once sneaking through her Christmas decorations to snip off small lengths from all the beaded garlands.  The buttons are near the bottom of the panel; once I've finished the edges I may add more to fill in any gaps.

Ribbon embellished with french knots and bugle beads:

Wired ribbon smushed into something approximating a rose:

Gimp embellished with aluminum flowers and a variation of the cretan stitch:

Jewelry connectors tacked down with beads, and embellished with tulip stitches:

Portuguese knotted stem stitch with mother-of-pearl buttons and more tulip stitches for the stems.
I like the Portuguese stitch quite a bit -- pretty and intricate and more stable than another, similar stitch I used long ago which name escapes me.

Beaded leaves, adapted from Designer Bead Embroidery:

Spiny chain stitch with sequins and beads:

Dare I say that I'm almost done?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire purports to be a poem by John Shade and commentary by his friend and colleague Charles Kinbote, but from the very first page of the "scholarly" introduction you see that something is a little off:
A methodical man, John Shade usually copied out his daily quota of completed lines at midnight but even if he recopied them again later, as I suspect he sometimes did, he marked his card or cards not with the date of his final adjustments, but with that of his Corrected Draft of first Fair Copy.  I mean, he preserved the date of actual creation rather than that of second or third thoughts.  There is a very loud amusement park right in front of my present lodgings.
Kinbote, an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, claims his line-by-line commentary is to elucidate the subject of the poem, the flight of the last king of Zembla (where Kinbote claims to be from), but the poem is about no such thing.  Instead, Kinbote's notes almost always veer off topic into his own personal musings, bits and pieces of literary and Zemblan history, the rather sad and pathetic biography of the last king, and flat-out misinterpretations of Shade's work.  It also becomes clear early on that Kinbote is not doing a very good job of hiding his "true identity" as that king.

But is Kinbote the king, or is he an ordinary, deluded man?  Does Zembla actually exist in the world of the novel?  Could Kinbote be the alias of an insane Russian scholar who worked at the same university as Shade?  Does Shade even exist, or is he a figment of Kinbote's imagination?  And while we're at it, what is the true identity of the assassin who stalks the pages of the book?  These three main characters are the heart of the novel, but despite all the little clues and hints Nabokov sprinkles through the text, there is never an answer as to who the men really are.

But then, solving the mystery is not at all the point.  Instead, the poem and commentary serve as meditations on how people tell their own stories, taking two very different approaches.  Literal truth matters less than what the stories reveal about the tellers.

This is the kind of book that makes me wish I were still in college.  There are reams of commentary and analysis on the book, not just on the meaning of the characters but the structure (you can read it linearly, or the commentary together with the poem, or just jump around the notes) and the many literary allusions.  If only I had hours to spend in a library.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hallow Sampler

It came out quite nicely, if I do say so myself.  Tiny stitching aside, the design worked up quickly and easily.

I kept the hoop as a frame; to finish it quickly (and rather messily, shhh!), I just cut off the excess fabric (leaving behind a border of a few inches) and sewed a running stitch along the perimeter, which I then gathered and tied off:

 I like the design so much, I'm tempted to pick up another one of the samplers.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Catwoman

Or more precisely, my love of Catwoman and my hatred of how she is sometimes depicted.  Catwoman is a fabulous character -- tough, smart, sexy, morally ambiguous enough to be interesting without being evil, and someone who can hold her own against (or with) Batman over and over.  Originally she was an antagonist and sometime-ally who did what she did for the thrill of it, but as part of the general "refrigeration" of female characters in comics, Batman Year One established her as a former prostitute from a troubled childhood, who turned to crime to improve her lot.  For better or for worse, Miller's background for her has stuck ever since.

That has not prevented her from being a great female character.  At least, sometimes, and that's what's so frustrating.  In the 90s I started reading the Catwoman comic, because I liked the character and I was finding my way into comics, and because I loved the idea of a monthly title devoted to a woman.  The problem was that the comic really wasn't very good at all.  There was a lot of faux feminism, mainly in depictions of Catwoman fighting against evil men trying to keep her down, but any actual feminism was undercut by the way she was drawn (total cheesecake), the way men good and bad related to her (always a subcurrent, or heck current, of sex involved), and the way other women were depicted (the worst being a storyline that was supposedly about unfair beauty standards, but was really about how old women are literally insane with jealousy).  After a few years I couldn't take it anymore, and I quit the comic.

Well, a few weeks ago I finally made the connection -- the artist responsible for the 1993-1999 Catwoman was Jim Balent, the "talent" responsible for the abhorrent Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. (For those of you with strong constitutions, this highly entertaining recap of a notorious Tarot storyline illustrates just how pornographically insane that comic can be.  So not SFW.) No wonder I felt like taking a shower after reading an issue!

Fortunately, Balent's run ended, and after various cataclysmic events in Gotham, Catwoman's comic started again, this time with writer Ed Brubaker and artist Darwin Cooke.  Have I mentioned how much I love Cooke?  This run was a much needed corrective against the 90s Catwoman, and I loved every issue.  This was a comic I'd be delighted to give a young girl (well, not too young).

Of course, with the huge reboot that was D.C.'s "New 52," apparently the powers-that-be decided that the current Catwoman just wasn't sexy enough.  The cover of first issue of the new comic promised us we were back to the cheesecake art, the bizarre anatomy, the omnipresent sex, and the total objectification of an awesome female character, and that promise was fulfilled by the last page.  Laura Hudson wrote an excellent piece detailing just why this (and the way D.C. treated other female characters) was so offensive.  (It's also NSFW, but this time in the service of feminist critique.)

One step forward, two steps back.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pretty Daisies

I love daisies -- so pretty, so cheerful.  Beadmom had a long-haired calico named Daisy:

Beadmom also used to sing this song (sometimes to the cat).  One of my all-time favorite shows is Pushing Daisies.  Lisa at "A Cuppa Tea With Me" embroidered some absolutely gorgeous daisies.

My daisies are the beaded variety.  Like every girl who falls in love with seed beads, I made this daisy chain bracelet ages ago:

More recently, I made these earrings:

So of course, when I saw Huib Peterson's Daisy Chain project in the April issue of Bead&Button, I had to make it.  Aren't these daisies pretty?

There is a split in the stem, so that they can be linked together, like a real daisy chain:
Peterson's original design had a toggle clasp incorporated into two of the daisies, but that offended my sense of purity, so I simply made the split in the last daisy big enough to fit over the head of the first one.

A pretty summer bracelet, just in time for fall:

(Pay no attention to the yellow bead in one of the petals; that's what I get for finishing a daisy late at night in a darkened room.)