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Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Space Filling Curves

A Moore curve, related to the Hilbert curve:

A Gosper curve (adjusted for a linen weave, which is not hexagonal):

I think I'm going to turn this into a math sampler.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The City and the City by China Miéville

Imagine two cities, one right on top of the other, but entirely segregated.  That's the premise of Miéville's book, but unlike his own Un Lun Dun or Gaiman's Neverwhere, there is no magic at all.  Instead the cities and their peoples are kept separate through rigidly enforced laws.  Besźel and Ul Qoma have different streets, buildings, architectural styles, histories, and businesses; the citizens have different languages and scripts, wear different colors and fashions, even move differently.  And hovering above the two is the shadowy Breach, which moves swiftly to capture any one who, well, breaches by somehow intruding into the wrong city.

There are obvious parallels with Un Lun Dun, but unlike that young adult book, this one is noirish in its tone.  Miéville convincingly portrays a completely different culture, even changing the grammar and vocabulary of his writing to give the impression of a narrator who speaks a different language and has, by necessity, an alien way of viewing his environment.  Miéville also takes what could be a silly premise in the hands of another and shows how the weight of the rule of law, and the natural human tendency to prefer order over chaos and to respect authority (and, of course, to fear punishment), could lead to a situation where people conscientiously and consistently refuse to see what is literally right in front of them because it is part of somewhere else.  It culminates in an incredible scene towards the end of the book where the authorities of both cities are unable to arrest a man, or even look at him, because they cannot tell which city he is in.  "Schrödinger's pedestrian," indeed!

It's no coincidence, of course, that Besźel and Ul Qoma are located in eastern Europe.  The real-world tensions that lead to balkanization are literalized here, and like Neverwhere Miéville's book is ultimately about the way we cling to a worldview of Us v. Them, the way we become adept at ignoring what is different from us or what makes us uncomfortable or what we just don't want to think about.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wedding Sampler

Yet another project that took me years, and which I finally finished last week.  The idea came from the now-defunct British magazine Needlecraft; one of their regular designers came up with a pieced sampler to commemorate her wedding.  As I worked on my version over the years I made a lot of changes and additions, and I also lost the original article, so I now have almost no memory of that that sampler looked like.  Here's mine:
 The original had its panels all sewn together, but since I wasn't patient or careful enough to make sure my pieces fit together, I opted to finish each piece separately, and then attach them all together using different techniques (I got this idea from a stunning art quilt in a local quilt show).

One thing I do remember from the Needlecraft piece was that there was a french knot heart, so mine has one too:
 Plus three other embroidered hearts, using chain stitch, fly stitch, and laidwork.  I tacked on a wedding milagro in the center.

I love crazy quilting, so this square was lots of fun to make.   I especially love the feather stitch with the clusters of beads at each branch, a motif I've since used over and over.  I finished this square by twisting together a bunch of specialty fibers and tacking them down around the perimeter.

My bouquet:
 I think the original had some kind of bouquet too, maybe? Flowers, definitely.  My flowers are buttons and yo-yos, with a little tonal couching for the thingie holding the stems (I'm sure that's the technical term). The border looked a little plain, so I embroidered some ribbon flowers at the bottom corners, flowers whose names began with my and Mr. Beadgirl's initials.

This isn't anything particularly symbolic, I just thought it was pretty:
These are the lace bands from the Victoria Sampler's Heirloom Wedding Sampler, which I made for a friend.  It's counted thread work and drawn thread work (that company's designs are gorgeous and intricate).

A piece from my wedding dress:
I edged it with three strands of "pearl" trim twisted together, like the trim on my dress.

For the center, our wedding date:
Appliqueing the central fabric onto velvet was tricky because of the nap, and the oval ended up very wonky.  Rather than undoing it and trying again, I tried to cover up the wonkiness with embroidery and bead embroidery.  I edged the piece with bead picots, because one can never have enough beads.  

Apropos of nothing, my wedding date looks like binary code, which is kind of neat -- 57.

I have this hanging over our bed, and I was really pleased with myself until one of the cats started clawing it; I may have to rethink the location.  But it feels great to have finished this.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's Making Me Ridiculously Happy

After several years of barely any flowers, my lilac bushes are in full bloom.  I'm sitting on the sofa, next to an open window, enjoying the lovely scent.  Sometimes that scent will even drift up to my bedroom.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

The Cookbook Collector is another book based on Sense and Sensibility, only this time set in Boston and Silicon Valley, rather than New York City and Connecticut. Emily and Jess are sisters, one the driven and responsible founder of an internet start-up* and the other a carefree environmentalist. The book follows these two, and their friends, as they struggle with love, identity, family, and what constitutes a successful life.

Like Austen's book, which was in part about finding a balance between, well, sense and sensibility, The Cookbook Collector is suffused with the tension between ideals and reality, the theoretical and the practical, wanting and having, thinking and doing, philosophy and technology, faith and skepticism. Even the kisses are sometimes earthy and passionate, and sometimes "beautiful and abstract, like a theorem to contemplate." The goal, of course, is for the sisters to find the balance between their natures, and they do, but in thoughtful, realistic, imperfect ways. The themes of the book are not original, but Goodman's quietly beautiful writing and heartfelt characterization ensure that the story is engaging.

The story also made me feel nostalgic and emotional in several ways, because for 1999 and 2000 I worked for a law firm in Boston, most of whose clients were high tech outfits and internet start-ups; I remember quite well those days when venture capitalists were throwing money around and the CEOs and CFOs were twentysomethings in jeans and t-shirts. I'm now a librarian, and for a while I was cataloging cookbooks for my library's special collections, some of which were quite old and fascinating. And of course, I was in Manhattan on September 11. The memories these scenes evoked combined with the language and the story to create a book was thoughtful, lush, romantic, melancholic, and totally satisfying.

*Oddly, Goodman chose to name the start-up Veritech. I say oddly, because to those in the know that is a prominent name from the anime Robotech, yet there was absolutely no other trace of geeky/scifi culture in the book (well, except for references to Lord of the Rings by the redwood activists). Instead the book is full of references to poetry** and literature, and characters are interested in internet technology, fine food and wine, and rare books.

**I think I'm going to start keeping track of books that mention listening to mermaids until human voices wake them and they drown.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Delicate Bangles

I got the idea from French Inspired Jewelry. I don't remember where I got the bangles with little loops on them, but I used wire to wrap tiny little ruby chips around one and some of the "pearls" from my grandmother's necklace around the other.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Fail

A lemon cake seems like an appropriate dessert for Easter dinner, right? A Simple Lemon Cake, made in one pan, with simmered and pureed lemon slices would be both easy and delicious, right? And the recipe is from the fine folks at Everyday Food Magazine, a part of the Martha Stewart empire, so it has to be a good recipe, right?

Wrong. Apparently the recipe testers were absent the day this recipe was approved for publication. I followed the directions exactly, and poured the batter into a nine inch round pan as directed, but noticed immediately that there was too much batter for the pan. For a moment I thought of transferring the batter to a ten inch pan, but then I thought "Nah, these guys are professionals, and I'm not. I'd better do what the recipe says." It's not the first time I've made the mistake of not following my instincts.

After the directed 40 minutes in the 400 degree oven (too high for cakes, but what do I know?), the cake was golden brown on the outside and totally raw on the inside. Another ten minutes, and now the cake was over-browned and cracked, but the skewer I used as a cake tester was still pulling up raw batter. After calling up Beadmom in a panic, we decided to lower the temperature to 350, cover the cake with foil to prevent more browning, and cook another 10-15 minutes. This time the tester pulled up moist crumbs, like it was supposed to. I pulled the cake out and set it one the rack to cool. And it collapsed ten minutes later.

Doesn't this look appetizing?

After 20 minutes, I inverted it out of the pan and let it cool completely, but with little hope. And when my friend stopped by that evening and we cut into it, this is what we saw:
Technically it was cooked, but it was very dense, almost the constistency of fudge. Bread-y, kinda raw fudge. Yum.

I go online to the Martha Stewart website, and lo and behold, they completely changed the recipe by cutting most of the ingredients by one third, adding and removing a few others, and changing the cooking temperature, so that it is now a very different recipe. Was there an explanatory note on the changes? Of course not. Did the fine people at Everyday Food let their print customers know? Of course not. I checked subsequent issues, and there was no errata.

Wrong pan size, wrong cooking temperature -- these are major errors in a recipe, exactly the kind that are supposed to be caught by the recipe testers that all cooking publishers should have. So what the hell happened? I was not at all pleased to waste my time and money on this, and for company, too. Good thing I had a strawberry-rhubarb pie in the freezer.

Wild Olive Stitch Swap

Back in March I signed up for Wild Olive's stitch swap, and what a lot of fun it was! We each received the name of someone, and had to send a small piece of stitching in a four inch hoop, ready for hanging; we could add a few little goodies, too. And of course we'd each receive something, too, although from a different person.

I got Beka, who loves earth tones and birds, especially owls. So I found this nifty, somewhat retro owl from Urban Stitches and traced it onto batik fabric. For thread I picked a Watercolours skein from my stash in the most earthy tones I could find, and started stitching:
Only, I didn't like the way it came out -- the thread worked in stem stitch produced a corded effect I didn't want. I thought of back stitch, but that would produce a neat, more discrete look that would not work with the natural, woodsy feel I was trying. So then I tried split stitch:
And that worked much better. Plus, split stitch would make it easier to navigate all the tight curves and points.

Here is the finished product, with a few specialty threads and ribbons and a little stone charm:
I had a lot of fun stitching, especially in a style I would not normally do.

I received this from Kami:
I love it, especially the vibrant red heart in the center of an old tree. The magnets, mirror, and beads were a treat, too. Thanks, Kami!

Wild Olive mentioned doing this again in the fall, and I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Eggs

Not much to say about these guys. I found the pattern through a friend on Pinterest, and you can find the tutorial and pattern here. I made four of them each out of one fabric, before deciding they'd look more interesting if I used two. And, for those of you who are as unobservant and hasty as I am, make sure when sewing the pairs of oval shapes together you put the same fabric on top -- that way when you sew the two halves together to make the egg, the fabrics will alternate. As I learned the hard way.