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Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Special Gift for a Special Teacher

Ms. Ree was Beadboy1's teacher for three years.  She's taught him to read and write, and put up with the interminable toilet-training and month-long colds and his obsession with Muppets.  So scented candles or pretty soaps wouldn't cut it.

I don't remember where I got the idea for this, but it was at least partly inspired by various handprint embroideries floating around the internet.  (Nor am I the only one to think of doing something like this for a teacher.)  I had Beadboy1 write out his little thank you note on paper.  I retraced in in sharpie, transferred it to the fabric, and embroidered in in backstitch.  I wrapped the outer hoop in purple ribbon, finished the back, and voila! 

Ms. Ree loved it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"I Was Swimmin' in the Caribbean ..."

I had wanted to do an ATC for "Where Is My Mind?" by the Pixies for quite a while, but I couldn't get a handle on it.  Then I read that the song was based in part on some scuba diving the lead singer did, where little fish seemed to be chasing after him, and I had my inspiration.

I used different threads and ribbons for the seaweed and two little fishie charms, but I couldn't resist embroidering another fish.  For the scuba diver I broke the legs off a black plastic skeleton and tacked them on.  Black straight stitches make the fins, and I wrapped the legs (well, bones) with more floss to mimic a wetsuit.  Tiny little seed beads serve as air bubbles.

The rest of my Song Lyric Series is here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

For Sale!

Due to "popular" demand, I am selling the Arrested Development pattern.  You can find a PDF to download here in my etsy store.

While I was at it, I made a couple of Frida Kahlo necklaces to sell; she tends to be pretty popular:

You can find them and some other simple jewelry in my etsy store too.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

The Tragedy of Arthur is complicated.  It's about a character named ... Arthur Phillips, a writer and the son of a conman, struggling with his relationship to his father who may have forged an entire Shakespearean play called ... The Tragedy of Arthur.  The first half of the novel purports to be the introduction to the high-profile release of the play, and the second half is the play itself -- an actual, five-act Elizabethan-style play about King Arthur, a downright enjoyable pastiche that at its best captures the feel and wit of Shakespeare.

So how similar are Fictional Arthur and Real Arthur?  They've written the same books, lived in the same places, had some of the same experiences.  The events of the novel are true, except where they are not.  But the fictional Arthur is an unreliable narrator, and as his "introduction" progresses, he admits he may have made things up, or embellished them, or maybe told them straight.  This ambiguity fits in with the story of the play itself -- it sure seems likely, given his father's past, that the play is a fake, but it seems just as likely that it would have been impossible to pull it off.

But then, that's not the point of the novel.  It's about fathers and sons, and the interplay between creation and deception, fiction and fraud.  Arthur's father justifies his crimes because he created something and brought wonder to the world.  If he has to fudge a bit, pretend the painting is by someone famous, that the crop circles were made by aliens, that just enhances the creation and makes it more likely that people would enjoy it.  He would not agree that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

His father is blind to a crucial point, however.  In the Catholic blogosphere there has been a lot of debate recently about whether it is ever permissible to lie, even for the best of reasons.  A common retort by those who advocate lying is that fiction is lying too, and are we going to accuse every writer and actor of sinning? The difference, of course, is that people watching a play or reading a novel consent to the "lie" -- they know coming in that it's all made up.  That's what the father doesn't see (or is willfully blind to), that his "clients" are really victims, who are expecting not only wonder and creation but also authenticity.  They don't know that what he's doing is made up.

We, on the other hand, know that this book is a novel; it even says "fiction" on the back over the barcode.  So it doesn't really matter if Fictional Arthur's denouement is "true," or how much of his life story is that of Real Arthur's.  Fittingly enough, that also turns out to be the resolution of the play's authorship mystery -- Fictional Arthur uses the introduction to present his father's character and give his reasons for believing the play is a fraud, but he allows his sister to explain why she believes it is legitimate, and he dutifully puts forth the results of all the tests by linguists, scholars, and scientists.  The play is published with this introduction, and people can choose to believe in it or not, or just suspend belief entirely and go along for the ride.  And what a ride it is.

A word about the cover of my edition.  What better image to represent an intricate, "devious," post-modern "tour de force" about writers and frauds than that of two adorable blond tots playing dress-up on a beach, gauzy white light illuminating their cherubic faces?  I have a sneaking suspicion that this cover was picked out of a misguided attempt to snag more women readers.  I'd be offended, but it's just so silly.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Does This Effectively Hide My Thunder?

The idea for this came many months ago, after seeing the neat things Cauchy and others were doing with words and cross stitch.  I was rewatching Season 1 of Arrested Development at the time, and the idea of memorializing my love of the show with a collection of my favorite quotations, in fabric and thread, seemed perfect.

It took some time to make the design (using MacStitch, for those who want to know).  I started with a list of quotes, and then found typefaces for each one.  I used alphabets from books, magazines, and the internet; there are a ton of free typefaces floating around.  After that came the laborious (although not as laborious as I expected) task of trying to fit them all together.  I was left with a hole in the lower middle, so what better motif than a little banana?  (Curtesy of Erin Turowski.)

Then came the stitching.  I made a lot of mistakes, more than I usually make -- sometimes because the typeface was quirkier than I expected, sometimes because I wasn't paying enough attention to the chart (I think stitching words lulls me into complacency), and once because of an embarrassing misspelling.  In some cases, the mistakes led to a redesign of the chart, making the entire thing better.  In other cases, I had to rip out stitches and try again; I hate that.  And in at least one case, I caught the mistake too late to do anything about it; fortunately the error is not noticeable to those who don't know what the design was supposed to be.

I debated what color to use for quite a while, even considering the orange that is in the show's logo.  But that would be a lot of orange, and a not particularly pretty shade at that, so I settled for black (using a bit more than an entire skein of DMC floss).  The yellow banana adds a nice bit of contrast.

I now have a tested and improved chart.  Will I make another, error-free piece?  HA!

ETA: You can buy a pdf of the pattern here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

All by itself, The Flight of Gemma Hardy would be a great book -- an enjoyable coming-of-age story about a young woman who must learn where she comes from and what she is capable of, with a nice little romance thrown in to boot.  Unfortunately, it is also a remake of Jane Eyre, and it can't compete.

What made Jane Eyre such a wonderful book, and a proto-feminist one, was Jane's unwavering integrity.  The book was driven by her sense of right and wrong and her insistence on always doing what was right, even at the expense of her personal happiness. By contrast, Gemma's actions are driven by her emotions; she reacts more than she acts. The one section where her morals come into prominent play is when she leaves Sinclair (her Rochester) because she will not tolerate lying.  Only, Sinclair's secret is no madwoman in the attic; although Gemma is right to be upset at his actions and deception, her reaction -- her "flight" from the castle -- is a rather silly overreaction.

Throughout the next part of the book, Gemma herself commits some bad acts and deceives a number of people, actions that are not only almost entirely unnecessary, but also not what Jane would ever do. The point, of course, is to teach Gemma the importance of forgiveness and understanding, especially with regard to Sinclair. And that's a perfectly laudable lesson, and Gemma is not a bad person despite her actions, nor an unlikeable one (heh).  But she is a bit of a disappointment.

I think part of the problem is that Flight is a twenty-first century retelling, and so personal happiness is the most important thing, not personal integrity.  Good and bad are relative, and people muddle along, acting selfishly or foolishly, focused on their own wants and needs.  Which is how people are like in real life, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to be better.  That's what Jane represented, at least for me -- a woman in a harsh world, mistreated by everyone who was supposed to care for her, with limited options because of her sex and station.  Yet she refused to be broken by this world, she would not let it compromise her, and she most certainly would not take the easy way out of her troubles. Because of this, her happy ending was much-deserved and very satisfying. 

On the other hand, the twenty-first century character of the book has its advantages.  In Jane Eyre her family and the school staff are caricatures of evil -- cruel, bullying, and above all profoundly hypocritical. The analogous characters in Flight are just as cruel and hypocritical, but they are also profoundly human.  Livesey allows us to see their own hopes, betrayals, and disappointments, making them far more satisfying characters.  They also teach Gemma that people are more than they seem, which dovetails nicely with the lessons in forgiveness and understanding she learns later.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy really was a very good book.  It's just not Jane Eyre.