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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.