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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fabric and Wire Mesh Ornaments

These ornaments, by Diane Nuñez and in the Quilting Arts Gifts 2010/2011, are made the same way these flowers were: strips of metal mesh and batting wrapped in fabric and machine-quilted, then manipulated into various shapes.

A tree, with sequins and beads:

A snowflake.  For this one I strung plastic and glass beads on the inside, to emphasize the snowflakiness:

A star (which I may or may not embellish):

A cutting error left me with an extra mesh strip, so I covered it in pink fabric and played around with it until I got a heart shape:
I sewed a bit of lace onto it, and am pondering more embellishments.  It will join my heart collection (which apparently I have not blogged yet).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree

On Pinterest I discovered this lovely wire and bead ornament, by Wild Woman Jewelry; a smaller one around my neck would be quite festive, and so I whipped one up the other night:

I started with 24 gauge craft wire in green; I would have preferred a stiffer, heavier wire but that's what I had.  I made an isosceles triangle, and then for sturdiness I went around it twice more.  I then used round nose pliers to twist the top a couple of times into a loop:

Next up was raiding my bead stash.  Fortunately I already had a little collection of seed beads in mixed colors and finishes, from previous projects:
I then cut a very long piece of 26 gauge green craft wire, wrapped one end around a bottom corner of the triangle to secure it, strung on some beads, and began wrapping the wire around the triangle:

Once I got to the top, I used the rest of the wire (without beads) to wrap back down the tree for a bit of contrast.  Et voila! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Back to Crafting

Now that Beadboy3 is settling in nicely, I've started picking up a needle again.  First up was the Maltese Cross Ornament, by Needlecrafts Unlimited Co. and from the 2002 Just Cross Stitch Ornaments issue.  Two, actually, one of which I gave to my mom:
Rather than the pearl cotton called for, I used the Caron Collection's Wildflowers thread in Pomegranate and Blue Spruce, because pretty.
All of the Caron threads are pretty; I love playing with my stash.

Anyway, this ornament was an interesting finish; the main design is on point in a larger square marked out by a line of backstitch.  To close it up, the instructions have one folding back the four corners and stitching the sides along each point together, weaving in and out of the backstitch.

Next up was another Partridge/Pear Tree ornament, one of my own design (sort of).  Indygo Junction's Folk Art Jingle ornament pattern has one ornament that they call a teardrop shape but that looked like a pear to me.  Instead of using the floral motif on the pattern, I came up with my own -- a little partridge with embroidery and applique for embellishment.  Two embroidered felt leaves complete the effect:
I'm quite pleased with how it came out.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Soon I Will be Invincible (Vintage)is a straight-up superhero novel, narrated by Dr. Impossible, who breaks out of prison to enact his latest plan to take over the world, and Fatale, a recruit in the Justice League New Champions who vow to stop him.  In addition to fantastic inventions, origin stories, and epic battles, we also get insight into the psyches of these two.  Although they are on opposite sides their journeys are quite similar; both struggle to fit in and come to terms with their public and private personae.  It's this aspect of the novel that appears to be influenced by Alan Moore's Watchmen, although Grossman's story is far kinder, quite poignant in its depiction of lonely, regretful, mixed-up metahumans.

It's also a lot funnier. Dr. Impossible in particular is a delight, who manages to be egotistical, humble, neurotic, sardonic, and genre-savvy all at the same time.  He is obsessed with not only taking over the world but also with what constitutes his real self -- the dastardly supervillain and evil genius, or the lonely, invisible nerd. Which makes the climax all the more spectacularly ironic, because Dr. Impossible is just as guilty of not seeing past a costume or a power.  Turns out, metahumans are people, too.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Other People's Crafts, Part 2

Beadmom came to help with the baby, and stayed through Thanksgiving weekend.  This gave her the opportunity to bring back a craft from my childhood: a pineapple turkey centerpiece.  She created a turkey head, wings, and feet out of craft felt and pinned them to the pineapple; the leaves of the pineapple became the tail feathers.

She also helped Beadboys1 and 2 make turkeys out of apples, using cardstock inserts the boys colored, something my brother and I did in school way back when.
(The apples took a beating in the process.)

This is Gobbles, the physically challenged turkey:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Other People's Crafts, Part 1

With the arrival of Beadboy3 last month, my crafting came to a complete halt.  However, I'm not the only crafty person in the family.

Beadboy2 decided a couple of months ago that he wanted me to help him make baby clothes for his future brother.  After a long conversation where I explained 1) I don't know how to make baby clothes, 2) I don't think I'd be very good at it, and 3) I wasn't about to try in my ninth month, I came up with an alternative for him.  I picked up a plain white onesie and a pack of fabric markers and gave them to Beadboy2.  He had a very particular design in mind -- "clouds and stars all over, and a sun over the belly button."

The result:

Beadboy3 loves it.  Or, I'm sure he would if he were old enough to have an opinion.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

White Apples by Johnathan Carroll

White Applesis a magic realism novel about the recently deceased Vincent Ettrich, a rather benign womanizer who is returned to life so that he can raise and teach his unborn son, fated to save the universe.  We never find out too much about why his son is so important, or what exactly he is supposed to do in the future, but that's not the point.  Instead the focus is on Vincent himself, and the mother of his child, Isabelle, both of whom must overcome their flaws and weaknesses if they are to defeat the forces of chaos and keep their son alive.

Vincent and Isabel themselves are fully realized characters, by turns sympathetic and frustrating, and Carroll convincingly depicts their love for each other.  My heart even broke a little at the image of Vincent with exactly two dishes, two cups, two forks in his apartment, waiting in vain for the love of his life to join him -- impressive writing on Carroll's part, to make me feel bad for a man who left his wife and children.

Carroll's novel suffers sometimes from too much telling and not enough showing, as major metaphysical concepts are basically just explained to the characters.  On the other hand, those concepts are fascinating and inventive -- most notably, that life both on an individual and a universal scale is a mosaic of tiles representing every choice, action, and event, a mosaic that is constantly made and remade.  It's chaos's goal to prevent this, and the way Carroll depicts the struggle is both unique and horrifying.  I can't recall any other book quite like this one.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip

The Bards of Bone Plainmay very well replace Alphabet Of Thornas my favorite McKillip novel.  It contains many of the elements from previous books -- bards, unconventional young women, conquering armies, magic tied to the land, mysterious characters out of myth -- and combines them into one enthralling tale.  As with most of her writing, McKillip is a little weak in characterization and there can be a sameness to her world-building, but her language and stories more than make up for it.  This one, about a reluctant scholar trying to learn the truth of an ancient and dangerous bardic contest (and so much more), is no exception.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"By the Full Moon"

It wouldn't be a holiday if I wasn't late in stitching something.

The design is by Tracy Horner of Ink Circles, and it is in the September/October 2010 issue of Just Cross Stitch.  I used only materials I already had, so that meant lots of substitutions: 32 count linen in silver rather than 40 count Newcastle linen in tarnished silver, Sampler Threads Raven rather than Onyx, and Sampler Threads Picket Fence rather than Peach Ice Cream (the Fragrant Cloves thread stayed the same).

I love it, and plan to back it with purple felt like the model (but probably next year).

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I'd been meaning to read The Name of the Rose: including the Author's Postscriptfor some time now, and I finally did! (Yeah, not a big achievement in the grand scheme of things.)

It's a mystery, of course -- a Franciscan friar and a Benedictine novice are tasked with discovering who's been killing the brothers at a monastery -- but that's not enough for the semiotician Eco.  It is also an intellectual exercise, as Eco spends vast chunks of the book on medieval life, politics, and religious strife, particularly the disputes that arose between various Franciscan orders*, heretics, Church hierarchy, and the increasingly secular rulers of various countries.  Eco also uses his characters to have in-depth discussions on faith and knowledge, and the intersection of the two.  While it won't be for everyone, it is a satisfying read, both entertaining and challenging.

Some people have argued that this book is anti-Catholic, but I don't think it is.  Yes, Church politics are a mess, but, well, they were in the 14th century -- the Church was losing much of its political power as governments became increasingly secular, the papacy was in Avignon (and eventually some anti-popes showed up), and there was the aforementioned infighting amongst the various Franciscan factions and the rest of the Church over the moral and theological significance of poverty (heh, the heads of capitalist Catholics would explode at some of the decidedly socialist theology of the time).  Many of the monks and friars in the novel are quite sinful, but so is everybody; we have a tendency to hold religious people to a higher standard (rightly or wrongly), such that we forget they are flawed humans like the rest of us.  Tellingly, very few of Eco's characters are actual hypocrites; even the most sinful ones struggle in one way or another with their actions, and display a genuine faith in God.

One article I read discussed in particular on the fate of the library that is the pride of the monastery, described as the largest collection of works in Europe but heavily restricted in who can have actual access to the books. The destruction of the library (ok, spoiler, but you can see it coming) represents, to him, Eco's notion that the Church itself must be destroyed if knowledge and intellectual inquiry are to flourish. I think this argument goes too far, however.  Through his characters Eco acknowledges that it is because of the Church that so much knowledge, so many ancient texts, were preserved, and the severe restrictions on actually reading them are seen as the result of the particular beliefs of the librarians in charge, and not of the Church as a whole. 

Eco is, I think, an atheist, and definitely a modernist, and so of course some of those ideas are present in the book; it was written in the 20th century, after all.  But their mere presence, even in sympathetic passages, is not enough to make this novel an anti-Catholic polemic.  Especially not when Eco portrays men of genuine faith in far more nuanced ways than they are usually shown.

*In an attempt to understand what was going on, I did a little research on the Franciscans and ended up with a headache.  Fr. Beadbrother, O.S.B., told me of a long-standing joke, where one of the things even God doesn't know is how many Franciscan orders there are. (The others are what a Benedictine means by stability, what the Jesuits are up to, what a Dominican said, and what a diocesan priest means by obedience to his bishop; it's a little insider-baseballish.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Gift Card Wallets

This super-easy pattern came from the 2011/2012 Quilting Arts Gifts magazine, designed by Julie Herman.

I made the first one for myself, to keep my various gift cards in one location rather than scattered and lost all over the house:

It was so easy, I made one for Beadmom, too:

These would make a great personal touch for a giving a gift card, rather than the cardboard sleeve they usually come in.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Have the Best Sewing Buddies ...

In addition to helping me out with a minor problem, they each made a quilt square for soon-to-arrive Beadboy3, with a Red Sox theme.  There's even a Green Monster!

(There's another one on its way.)

I'm very lucky.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Bunch of Finishes

Zombie Girl Mandala by The Floss Box:

Magic Kitty by Mill Hill:

Autumn Harvest by Mill Hill:

Paisley Tree by Mill Hill:

Pear Tree Partridge by Mill Hill:

Modified Yeow by The Prairie Schooler:

Stitch-an-Inch Halloween by Brenda Bayliss:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudsonis one of the best comics I've read in a long time; it is a beautiful, haunting story that takes place on the Hudson River in the 1880s.  Elijah Twain (no relation, as he has to explain to all his passengers) is the captain of a steamboat who falls under the spell of a mermaid -- a mermaid who may have been preying on travelers up and down the river, including the owner of the steamboat. Siegel draws on mythology, local history, geography, and 19th century intellectual culture to create a lovely, heartbreaking tale that never becomes insipid.

The art, too, is outstanding.  Rather than use pencils and ink, Siegel illustrated the images with charcoal, allowing him to create both sharp lines and sinuous, shadowy curves; he also uses the blurring and smudges to great effect.  The resulting images are both sensuous and endearing, and add greatly to the fairy-tale feel.  I devoured this book in a day, and I want more.

(The website is worth a visit, too.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Buried Book by David Damrosch

The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgameshis the story of the Epic of Gilgamesh -- what is known of its creation, its loss when Nineveh fell, and its rediscovery in the nineteenth century.  As intriguing as this story is, it is rather short, so Damrosch fills out his narrative by offering us a lot of context.  We learn about the scholars who decyphered cuneiform and translated the Gilgamesh tablets, the archeologists who uncovered Nineveh and its ruined library, the state of British archeology in the late 1800s (racist, classist, and ridiculously petty), the Assyrian kings who founded Nineveh and put together the great library of cuneiform tablets, the workings of the Assyrian Empire (surprisingly modern in its politics and concerns), and finally the earliest Sumerian and Akkadian versions of the Gilgamesh stories.  Damrosch, a comparative literature professor, adds an analysis of the epic itself for good measure (helpful, since it's been years since I read it), along with its influence on modern works.

The result is a fascinating synthesis of history, culture, archeology, literature, and symbolism.  Where Damrosch falters is in the last section, where he discusses Saddam Hussein's fascination with Gilgamesh and his literary pretensions.  I don't think the connection is strong enough to be particularly interesting, and Damrosch's handling of it doesn't do much to address the remarkable lack of self-awareness Hussein must have had, given the ideals he praised in his writings and his actual behavior. I'm the last person to deny that evil dictators can be complex and full of contradictions, but that was not really discussed in Damrosch's analysis -- whether because he did not go in depth enough, or whether because the connection to Gilgamesh was ultimately too thin to make it belong in this book, I'm not sure.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Southwestern Necklace

I've been been on a southwest jewelry kick lately.  Seeing this necklace reminded me of some charms I bought ages ago.  So I pulled together the charms and a bunch of gemstone beads, mostly leftover pieces from other projects:
I stuck with coral, malachite, lapis lazuli, yellow jasper (I think?), and, of course, turquoise, strung in a "random" order.  Of the charms I chose five -- a bear, a deer, a gecko, a rabbit, and my beloved coyote (the subject of my senior thesis). 

I made the process of stringing the beads far more complicated and convoluted than it needed to be.  I started with my patented technique for creating a pseudo-random look; I had five kinds of beads -- round coral and jasper, and malachite, lapis, and turquoise chips -- and strung them in groups of five, varying the pattern within each group, until I ran out of lapis.  The necklace was too short, so I looked at what else I had -- five round turquoise beads and five yellow jasper chips, so I added five more malachite chips and five pieces of coral chunks, or another 20 beads total.  I had already strung about 60 beads, so I inserted a new bead every three beads, choosing the type based on its neighbors.  For good measure, I added two more on each end, and another coral chunk in the middle where there was too little red.  Still too short, so in addition to sandwiching each charm between two silver* Bali spacers, I added more spacers every five beads.  A few more chips at the ends, and I finally had a necklace the right length.  I especially liked the way it looked with a white shirt and jeans.

*Are they real silver?  I bought hundreds of spacers at a bead show years ago, and the seller swore they were real silver.  But the price was too good to be believed, and they've never tarnished like real silver.  On the other hand, they've never discolored like silver-plate or base metal, either, so who knows.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl is the first novel in a young adult series about a human boy stumbling onto , which was inevitably compared to the Harry Potter series.  However, that does a disservice to Colfer, who has created a world with a completely different vibe -- one much more technologically detailed and action-oriented, where the focus is less on good v. evil and more on caper v. counter-caper. 

Artemis, too, is no Harry; instead he is an anti-hero, a borderline antagonist.  The scion of what used to be an exceedingly powerful and wealthy criminal family, he has a missing father, an insane mother, and a formidable intellect which he plans to use to regain his family's status.  He decides to capture a leprechaun (or rather, a member of LEPrecon, the recon wing of the Lower Elements Police) and ransom the fairy for a large pot of gold.  That fairy he captures, however, and the entire LEPrecon division, turn out to be far more resourceful than he expected; hijinks ensue.

While this book did not engage me as much as Harry Potter books did (I'm not rushing out to get the rest of the series), it was enjoyable and well-written.  The fairy world Colfer created is an interesting twist on traditional fairy tales, and some of the characters were quite fun. Artemis is kind of an over-privileged jerk, and it was good to see his plans go awry; he still comes out on top (not really a spoiler), but there are hints that over the next few novels he matures and develops an actual morality.  I suspect Beadboy2 will enjoy this book when he's a little older.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Jewelry Round-Up

I made this "jet" collar way way back in law school (my own design and everything!):

But why stop at one?  I figured a long "jet" necklace with a tassel at the end would be fun too.  I strung the beads together and added a tassel.  Too late I realized I should have added the tassel before tying up the beads, so I set aside the rather messy looking thing.  Years later I find it again, but rather than restring it and do it up properly (I'd much rather work around mistakes than redo them, for good or ill), I covered up the junction with one-cut shiny black seed beads.  I added more to the tassel itself for embellishment.  The whole thing took just one hour.  And fourteen years.

Have you seen Sita Sings the Blues?  You really should, it is funny, heart-breaking, and utterly beautiful visually.  When I picked up the DVD I couldn't resist two little Sita charms to make earrings:
They are quite heavy, though.  I may have to turn them into necklaces.

I turned some the beautiful beads I got from Handloom Batik at the Quilt Fest into a necklace:
I opted for a black leather cord, loosely knotted to set off each bead.  I didn't have a long enough cord, though, so I tied two pieces together, using that technique where you knot each cord around the end of the other (rather than tying them together, if that makes sense), so that you can slide the knots back and forth to expand or contract the necklace:
It's usually used as a closure, to make the necklace big enough to slip over the head and then cinch it tighter around the neck, but I used it in the center to hold the cross pendant: