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Friday, December 26, 2014

Ornaments for everyone

For Beadboy1, his beloved Kermit in cross stitch (I modified the pattern somewhat to make his face symmetrical):

For Beadboy2, a Ninjabread Man:

For Beadboy3, who has no pop culture preferences yet, a Mistletoe Monster (pattern by Tina Lewis from the 2012/2013 Quilting Arts Gifts):

For a generous aunt, as a thank you, a tin ornament (instructions by Judy Coates Perez, from the 2008 Quilting Arts Gifts):

For the always awesome Beadmom, another tin ornament:

(My machine, long-overdue for servicing, started acting up at this point.  I tried to cover the worst of the glitches with ribbon flowers, always appropriate for the Virgin Mary.)

For me, the Jeweled Pear ornament from Mill Hill:

Adding a bird fetish makes it another Partridge in a Pear Tree ornament.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Magician King and The Magician's Land

Grossman's adult mash-up of a little Harry Potter and a lot of Narnia continues with The Magician King and The Magician's Land, only this time the parallels are to Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle, respectively.  The second book opens up our world a little bit, too, as the story focuses in part on Quentin's friend, Julia.  Julia was rejected from the magical school of Brakebills, but the spell to make her forget didn't quite work, and she spends the following years in an increasingly desperate and single-minded journey to learn magic by other means. The depiction of an underground world of safe-houses and unofficial practitioners is neat, but Julia's journey is a dehumanizing one -- literally so, preparing her for a final transformation.  Because Julia is so eager to shed her humanity and her connections to other people, it became hard to really care about her or her journey.

The third book tracks both Quentin on Earth and Eliot and Janet on Fillory.  All three have matured greatly over the series, a satisfying development and one that suits Grossman's reworking of fantasy tropes.  Several loose ends are also wrapped up, although there is a bit of an unfinished quality to the narrative. But then, that's only fitting since much of the story is about what happens after you graduate from the magical school/come back from the magical land.

As much as I enjoyed the trilogy, however, it took me until the climax of the third book to realize what it was the bothered me about it, and it is the lack of a moral center.  Grossman is a smart, inventive writer, and is quite insightful when it comes to the trilogy's themes of maturity, responsibility, and the need to find a meaning in life.  But the characters (and narrative) are concerned, ultimately, only with themselves and the people around them.  It's a world where there are magicians, formally educated or "street smart," disciplined or wild, but there is little mention of a code of conduct or guidelines for interacting with the mundane world.  The characters care about each other, and make efforts to do right by each other and their charges, but there is no concern with "the greater good."  Niffins are wild, evil creatures that were once human, but while the return of one niffin's humanity is touchingly handled, the moral dimension is almost completely ignored.  The climax of the third book deals with the time-honored themes of a deity's sacrifice and the cycle of death and rebirth, but where genuine self-sacrifice, and sacrificial love, suffuse the Narnia books and even the last Harry Potter novel, the sacrifice portrayed here is anything but; because it is imposed on the unwilling victim, the brutality and cruelty of it cannot be elevated into something meaningful.  It is a very pagan scene, and it fits with the worldview Quentin has:
The world was fucking awful. It was a wretched, desolate place, a desert of meaningless, a heartless wasteland where horrific things happen all the time for no reason and nothing good lasted for long. ... The world was a desert, but he was a magician, and to be a magician was to be a secret spring -- a moving oasis.  He wasn't desolate, and he wasn't empty.  He was full of emotion, full of feelings, bursting with them, and when it came down to it that's what being a magician was.  They weren't ordinary feelings -- they weren't the tame, domesticated kind. Magic was wild feelings, the kind that escaped out of you and into the world and changed things.  There was a lot of skill to it, and a lot of learning, and a lot of work, but that was where the power began: the power to enchant the world.
 But it is not a worldview I share.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Candy Cane Garland

From the Purl Bee:
I was mystified by how to construct it, until I read the directions and realized I had made a paper version as a child:
When I wasn't looking, Beadboy3 took a bite out of it. Literally.

I need more gingerbread and candy cane ornaments.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Button Garland

Inspired by something I saw on pinterest.  I strung them onto perle cotton and tied a half-knot to keep them from sliding around.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas Stocking

Jo from Serendipitous Stitching is hosting an Advent blog hop, and I (along with Jeremiah's Mom) have been chosen for today.

My Christmas stitching is the Shepherd's Bush stocking for Beadboy3, which I've been stitching off-and-on for the past year:
 Frankly, I'm kind of shocked I actually finished it with three weeks of Advent to go!

I backed it with velvet, as I did the first two, and fortuitously I had in my scrap bin a purple velvet dress one of my cats tore up years ago.  For the trim and loop I machine-sewed a purle ombre ribbon around an old and ugly length of cord, then hand-stitched it into place between the stocking and lining.  Done!
Waiting to be filled by Santa:

Jo also asked us to write about a favorite gift.  I'm not sure I have a particular favorite, but there are a number I remember over the years -- the cruise ship for some dolls that "Santa" left half-built, and which I finished while waiting for the rest of the family to wake up; the lovely set of notions and sewing gadgets my mom gave me one year; the joke wedding gift a colleague gave me, a copy of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which ended up being one of the more useful gifts I've ever received.

One particular memory stands out, however, from my early childhood in Puerto Rico.  Back then Three Kings' Day was a much bigger deal for children than Christmas, because that's when we got all the toys and fun stuff.  One year my father collaborated with my godfather, an executive at a toy company, to give away lots of gifts to all the children from the local village.  At the end of the day, there was one lonely Barbie doll left, so I got to keep her.  She had a skirt that changed colors, I think as a result of some sort of lighting?  I don't remember the details, but I do remember the pretty colors, and how lucky I felt.

Happy Advent, everyone, and I wish you all a fabulous and peaceful Christmas.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I never got around to blogging about it, but one of my ongoing projects this year was making some simple skirts for myself.  It's too cold and dreary to take out the skirt I made from linen and a summery Liberty of London print, but the second Alabama Chanin skirt fits right in with the season:
This time around I constructed the skirt first, which allowed me to make the hem accurate and also tweak the fit a bit since I lost some weight.  This ensured that the rose stencil would be even all around the bottom of the skirt.

The stencil came from the Alabama Stitch Book, although I smoothed out some of the edges for ease of stitching and cutting (and simply colored in the two tiny segments at the center):
For the reverse applique I switched to perle cotton rather than using the recommended upholstery thread, and that turned out to be a great idea.  Size 8 thread obviated the need to double the thread, the cotton was easier to work with, and I think the knots will last longer (some of the knots on my other skirt have started to come undone, because the thread is so slippery).  The cotton may not be as strong, but that's not an issue for this part of the sewing.

In a burst of activity, I also pulled out a boring black cardigan I had been meaning to embellish for years, and finally did it:

I sewed a strand of sequins up and down the front and around the collar, then sewed on some black rhinestones in the corners.

After photographing them I stacked the two pieces together to put away, and realized they work quite well together -- festive (and warm) enough for Christmas Eve Mass!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Because I Can Never Leave Well Enough Alone

I'm very pleased with my Advent Calendar, but like secular calendars it has only 24 squares, corresponding to the days of December before Christmas.  I'm trying to teach the liturgical calendar to the kids, however, and that means celebrating the actual Advent season, which this year starts today.  I'd been meaning to make extra squares for those years Advent starts in November, and this year seemed the perfect time to start, since I'd only need to make one.

But what design?  I pretty much exhausted my repertoire of secular and religious Christmas symbols  I like.  A little bit of research, however, reminded me that December 12 is the feast day of La Virgen de Guadalupe, a big deal both for Latinos and Americans in general.  Perfect!

Because I am not nearly skilled enough to replicate the image in thread or pencil, the original plan was to sew a prayer card onto the felt square, but although I have a gazillion prayer cards stuffed into a cigar box, La Virgen wasn't one of them.  Then I remembered I had actual fabric printed with her image, which was even better.  I snipped out her likeness and attached it to the felt using gold thread and straight stitches to mimic the rays around her.  A few ribbon roses finished it off.

I wanted her on the twelfth day -- of December, not Advent, so the twelfth square on the main calendar section, and this sounds ridiculously complicated just typing it -- so I removed the square in that slot (a poinsettia) and sewed it on.  The poinsettia moved to the first slot, because the original square there, an Advent wreath, I want to always be first.  That I moved to a new panel designed to hold the extra "November squares":
Makes sense?  Of course, I now have an issue when Advent starts December 1, 2, or 3 -- the main calendar will suffice, but it won't have the Advent wreath square.  I'll deal with that in 2017.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Button Cuff

The idea came from Craftstylish's Woven Button Coaster project.  I don't have much use for coasters, but I saw that the pattern could be adapted easily to make an awesome bracelet, using shirt buttons from Mr. Beadgirl's worn-out dress shirts.

The first step was to weave together a row of buttons long enough to go around my wrist:
I made two more (odd is better than even) and wove them together:

But the result was plainer than I expected, and the bracelet cried for some embellishment:
Sewing on the extra buttons had the added value of stabilizing the bracelet, because the buttons tended to shift three-dimensionally (by which I mean they tended to overlap each other rather than staying on the same plane).

For the clasp I sewed a shank button on one end, and made a seed-bead loop on the other:

I love it.  It's super comfortable to wear, too:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Last of the Fall Crafting (I Think)

I started this cat last fall, and finished it up a few days ago:

It's by the same company that did the Easter Bunny, Buttermilk Basin, and this is the October pattern (duh) of "My Wool-Crazy Year." I changed the eyes a bit, using buttons for the pumpkin and a more traditional shape for the cat eyes; I also omitted the moon because I thought there was enough going on.  Now I just need to find a big piece of wool to back it.

An owl:
I stayed up late Friday night to make this guy, and regretted it when Beadboy3 chose that night to be awake between 12:40 and 3:00.  I did not get a whole lot done Saturday.O

(Speaking of, that's his contribution to the post.)  The pattern is from the 2010 issue of Crafts 'n Things

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


This velvet pumpkin came from I forget which year of Better Homes and Gardens' Holiday Crafts:
I actually made it about a month and a half ago, but was waiting for Mr. Beadgirl to cut a segment of tree branch for the stem.  I don't have the heart to ask for a more viney-looking stem, but I didn't glue it in, in case I can find a better one next year.

This pumpkin pincushion came from pinterest:
There are no written instructions for the pumpkin, just pictures, so I have a bit of advice -- after sewing and stuffing the form, when taking the first stitch through the center and pulling tight to create the indentation, make a knot to keep the thread from slackening.  It was also helpful to make a knot after every couple of stitches creating the ridges.  This stem is DMC memory wire, folded multiple times and twisted, and tacked into place.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Finishes

On Saturday I got a rare two hours free of children, chores, work, and events, so I hid up in my sewing room for a delightful afternoon.  In addition to taking in a couple of skirts and starting a fabric pumpkin pincushion, I finished three little ornaments:
The stocking is by Pat Mazu, from the same September/October 2010 issue of Needlepoint Now as the "Fall Tree".

The design on the upper right is"By the Full Moon" by Tracy Horner of Ink Circles, from the September/October 2010 issue of Just Cross Stitch.  I used similar threads and fabric from my stash, rather than the materials called for.

The lower ornament is "Acorn House" by Jeanette Douglas, from the September/October 2011 issue of Just Cross Stitch; again, I used materials from my stash.

The stocking I made into an actual stocking, complete with a little lining that I slip-stitched in place.  For the two square ornaments, I sewed each one to a piece of cotton, wrong sides facing, all the way around.  To turn them right side out I cut a little x in the backing fabric, stitched that hole shut, and covered it with a button:
It's not the nicest of finishes, but it's fast, and that's what's important nowadays.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall Tree

An Ada Haydon design:
The stitching directions are from Needlepoint Now's September/October 2010 issue.  The tree was meant to be stitched on a specially painted canvas by Haydon, but it was too rich for my blood (and in fact I don't think the canvas is available anymore).  So instead I used 18 count black canvas and threads I already owned (although I kind of wish I used purples instead of pinks, now).  Mostly I kept to the stitches Haydon used, too.

The only problem area was the band with the bats -- the background stitching would leave a lot of the canvas exposed, and black bats on a black background would not have worked.  Having painted canvas before, I thought I could paint this little band orange.  But paint thin enough to not gunk up the holes barely stained the black threads. After three coats, this was the best I could get:

I stitched the bats anyway, but the background looked not great:

So I added the background stitching (not what I had originally intended) in strong orange threads, and that helped quite a bit:
To finish it, I just trimmed the canvas, folded it back, and whip-stitched it to black felt.  And with plenty of time until Halloween!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Round-Up

The Next Best Thingby Jennifer Weiner: Weiner's novel is based loosely on her experiences producing a short-lived sitcom for tv; as such, it gives one an insider's look at show business (to which I say, "blech").  It is a fun and light novel, better written and more interesting than a lot of other "chick lit," as is generally true for Weiner's work.  However, she includes at the end of the book the short story "Swim" which focuses on a different aspect of the heroine, and I think I'd have preferred a novel more about that than Hollywood.

The Ocean at the End of the Laneby Neil Gaiman: short and engaging enough that I read the whole thing late one night when I should have been sleeping.  It is an inventive and scary story with some thematic similarities toCoraline.

The Magiciansby Lev Grossman: Superficially, this book is a cross between Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, but it would be a mistake to leave it at that.  The point of those two series is the stories they tell, the skirmishes and battles between good and evil.  The Magicians, by contrast, is more interested in how the introduction to a magical world affects a person -- the longing for a life as interesting as a fantasy novel, the benign contempt for ordinary people, the sense of entitlement the privileged develop.  It also touches on the danger of magic -- or any power or talent -- without a sense of purpose.  Even the most talented magicians must find meaning to their lives, and a way to cope with both dramatic events and ordinary days.

The Briar Kingby Greg Keyes: A straight-up fantasy novel (the first of four) about another world, like I haven't read in a long time.  Keyes's novel tells the story of kings, princesses, foresters, innkeeper's daughters, monks, and dashing swordsmen as they become aware of a grave danger to their world. My only quibble: in the prologue it becomes apparent that the humans, who were brought to this world by an evil race bent on enslaving everybody, are the "lost" colony of Roanoke.  This plot point, however, appears to serve no function at all in the greater story, and ends up being a little distracting as one can't help but try to match different cultures to their European counterparts (which makes no sense anyway; Roanoke was settle by the English only).

Friends, Lovers, Chocolateby Alexander McCall Smith: The second in the Isabel Dalhousie series, but the first I've read.  It's a quiet book with an unusual but low-key mystery, leaving lots of time for Isabel's musings on ethics, faith, love, and Scotland.  I enjoyed it, but feel no need to read any others in the series.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Macondo in Stitches

As I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, I couldn't shake the imagery from my head -- the yellow flowers falling from the sky, the butterflies tormenting a doomed lover, the ash crosses marking the 17 Aurelianos.  I wanted some way to record and play with the motifs and icons from the text.

I've started with a grid of 100 squares, inchies really, that I can play with:
Beadboy3 wants to stitch, too
I used white broadcloth from one of Mr. Beadgirl's old shirts, and machine-stitched a ten by ten grid with black thread, rather carelessly on purpose to keep the lines and angles from being too perfect.  I like how the black lines on white fabric evoke the black type on white pages of the text itself.

The first square is one of Colonel Aureliano Buendia's gold fish, which he makes when he is not leading rebellions and slaughtering his enemies.
I made mine with sequins and different gold threads, with a black bead for his eye.

I don't intend to fill every square, and this will be an on-going project that I work on as inspiration strikes.