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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.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Does that Sparkle for You?

I bought these earrings on a whim:

But they needed a necklace, so I whipped this up with crystals left over from another project:

It was quite easy.  Make five (or four or six or whatever) dangles from crystals and headpins:

Thread another crystal onto an eyepin:

and then thread on the five dangles, arranging them if necessary so that they nest together:

Add another crystal on top and close off the eyepin with a loop:

Make two more components with one crystal each:

Cut two lengths of chain and attach a clasp component to one end of each:
You can do what I did, which was cut lengths of chain that look like they might be right, and cut off links later because the necklace was too long.  Or decide how long a necklace you want, subtract the length of the center and two side components and the length of the clasp, and then cut that in half.  But that takes planning.

Cut off smaller segments from each chain length (mine are 1.5 inches long), and start linking them up:


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Some Halloween Stitching

I've started the "Hallow Sampler" from The Primitive Needle (sadly, the designer died last year):
It's a sparse but fun design, so it is working up remarkably quickly.  On the other hand, it is stitched on 40 ct. linen, meaning 20 stitches per inch, meaning for those first few stitches I sewed (in a dim hotel room) I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  My eyes are accustomed to it now, especially if I stitch in daylight.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Round-Up: Wine Edition

The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace: I don't read much non-fiction, but a book about a discrete area I find interesting, that involves intrigue, science, and mystery? Totally up my alley. So I enjoyed this book (a gift to Mr. Beadgirl a few years ago) quite a bit. Wallace spent years researching the world of rare wines, and this book focuses in particular the bottles of Bordeaux that allegedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson, which sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars each and were almost definitely frauds. The narrative spans about two decades, from 1985, when the bottles first surfaced, to the mid-2000s and the start of legal action against Hardy Rodenstock, who "found" them. Wallace jumps around the timeline quite a bit, for storytelling purposes, which sometimes makes it confusing to understand exactly what happened when. He has the suspicion build up over the course of the book, but if you go by the dates, people were suspicious from the very beginning. And for good reason -- Rodenstock has refused for over 25 years to say where the bottles were found or who he bought them from, which to me is just about the biggest red flag you could have. With no statement of provenance, I have to wonder how anyone could be dumb enough to fork over $156,000 for a bottle. But then, Mr. Beadgirl says the world of old and rare wine-collecting is sketchy in general. Certainly this book shows there is a lot of willful ignorance out there, let alone outright fraud.

Drops of God, v. 1 by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto: This manga tells the story Shizuku Kanzaki, the prodigal son of a famous wine critic, who must prove his worth to inherit his father's wine collection.  It's melodramatic (emotions run high, and Shizuku must defeat an upstart, arrogant, and clearly eeevil young wine critic who wormed his way into Kanzaki Sr.'s affections) and mildly sexist (good, demure girls who wake to men in their beds are all shocked and embarrassed, whereas bad, confident girls in such a situation smoke cigarettes), and Okimoto's art is alternately beautiful and cutesy (and sometimes adorable).  But what makes this series so remarkable is the way Agi weaves into the story a thorough education in wine, and how he* compares the fragrance and taste of wine to art, nature, music, memories, life itself.

*Really, "they"; apparently Agi is a pseudonym for a brother and sister.