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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Crafting for Others

Beadboy3 wasn't the only one to get a handmade gift.  Beadboy1 got Wizard of Oz-themed bag to tote he beloved muppets around:

He loves to sing "We're off to see the Wizard" whenever we go for a walk
I had a hard time finding a plain canvas bag big enough for his menagerie, so I ended up sacrificing one of my own grocery bags for him.  I still had some Wizard of Oz fabric, so I cut out the portraits, a favorite phrase, and the letters of his name.  I used fusible web to iron them on, and then top-stitched all around them for security.  I also added a long strap so he could sling it over his shoulder.

I also made him a Cookie Monster t-shirt:
The template all the pinterest pins led to disappeared, so I had to freehand the mouth, and I did a pretty good job if I say so myself.  I used craft felt for the mouth and eyes, again fused to the shirt and then top-stitched.

Beadboy2 also got a t-shirt, of a Minecraft Creeper (green is his favorite color):




And because he is a budding Star Wars nerd, I made him a light-plate for his room:
This was another idea from pinterest, and only required the light-plate we already had and a sharpie.  Instead of "Luke," however, I wrote "Anakin" -- Beadboy2's favorite character from the prequels.  It makes more sense, anyway, paired with "Vader."  The D is too small, but cleaning up another error I made resulted in a big purple smear, which required a great deal of scrubbing with a Magic Eraser, so the D stayed.

Finally, I picked up a big container of perler beads (let's here it for Michael's weekly 50% off coupons), and made some doohickeys:
Ezra Bridger, the Lightsaber, and the Minecraft diamond sword are for Beadboy2, Fozzie is for Beadboy1, and the snowflakes are for me.  Perler beads surprisingly fun and addictive, and the pixelated nature of the designs appeals to my geeky heart, so I'll be making more pointless things out of them.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Quiet Book for a Not So Quiet Boy

I made a concerted effort to make gifts for the kids this year, and first up was a quiet book for Beadboy3, based on a late 70s pattern my mom found in her stash.  It turned out to be a tremendous amount of work, sucking up most of my crafting time for December.  On the bright side, I made the whole thing from my stash (except for a shoelace, which I still have to buy), and Beadboy3 loves it.

The construction of the pages is quite clever -- a large rectangle (I used my husband's old shirts) is folded in half to make two pages; once those were embellished,  I sewed the rectangle right sides together to make the leaf, turned it out, top-stitched the opening, and inserted grommets.  Binder rings attached to the inside spine of the cover go through the grommets, making for sturdy but easily-turned leaves.

It's been gloomy for weeks, so the colors in the pictures are all off.

I replaced the football from the leaflet for this shoe, because we are a baseball family!





I replaced the "braid Rapunzel's hair" page with this



Another page I replaced; the original held crayons and paper

Add caption




Whew!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I recently reread American Gods, and it was just as wonderful as the first time.  The premise is a fascinating one -- for tens of thousands of years immigrants to the Americas have brought their gods along with them, and these gods thrive or not depending on whether anyone still worships them, or even remembers them.  It's a concept Gaiman has written about before, most notably in the Sandman comic storyline "Season of Mists." Here, the old gods, led by Wednesday (the American version of Odin), prepare for a battle against the new gods (Media, the Intangibles, the Technical Boy, and so on).  Shadow is a human who is hired by Wednesday to serve as his bodyguard, but of course Shadow turns out to have his own, significant, role in events.  Given the topic, faith and sacrifice are important concepts in the story, but Gaiman also has a lot to say about colonialism and the history of the Americas.

As with most of Gaiman works I read the novel with my laptop on one side of me and the Dictionary of Ancient Deities on the other side, the better to research every little scrap of folklore and history Gaiman seeds his work with.  American Gods is a fun story in its own right, but I also loved learning about different mythologies, particularly those I had little experience with.

I read American Gods the first time right when it came out, the summer of 2001.  Reading it now I can't help but put it as part of the pre-September 11th landscape.  The resolution of the war between the gods had a profound, if unseen, effect on the America of the novel, and the last chapters of the book mention the sense of hope and renewal, the idea of limitless possibilities for the people in this hemisphere.  Knowing what would happen just a few months later makes this section of the novel profoundly bittersweet.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Jo's Advent Blog Hop

Jo at Serendipitous Stitching asked me to participate in her stitching blog hop again, and assigned me today, the 19th.  Which is perfect, because I finished the stitching on my tree yesterday!
Finding this design was surprisingly tricky.  I first saw an image of this tree on pinterest, but clicking through led to a Vietnamese blog.  Google Translate translated the page for me, but there was no mention of where the design came from.  Some hints from the text led me to a Russian blog, but that page, too, did not mention the origin of the pattern.  So I tried a Google image search, and that told me that the design was most likely from the book Handmade Style: Stitchby Penny Black.  But of course, it was out of print! (The Kindle version did not strike me as a good way to get a cross stitch pattern.)  That's when my mom came to the rescue, ordering me a copy from a used bookstore in England as a very early birthday present.

I changed the colors quite a bit, because the original pattern called for muted, neutral shades.  I didn't have just the right shade of green, so I mixed together one strand of Sampler Threads in Deep Sea and one strand of Weeks Dye Works in Collards.  The rest of the stitching is in Sampler Threads:  Dark Chocolate for the trunk, Cherry Wine for the presents, and Gold Leaf for the star.  I found a bit of tinsel thread in my stash, so I used that for the ribbon.  Then came the best part -- stitching on the beads:

I used seed beads in sizes 11 and 15, with a few faceted glass 4mm beads.  The tree fits perfectly in the hoop, so I'm finishing it that way.

I also stitched an ornament for one of my aunts from a kit that I'm not sure how or when I got:
The design is "Quaker Joy" by Homespun Elegance, from the 2008 Christmas Ornaments magazine.

Much earlier in the year I stitched up the Gingerbread Garden sampler and matching ornament from the Victoria Sampler:
But I haven't figured out how I want to finish them.

Finally there's the poor, neglected Yule Sampler by Primitive Needle:
Which will probably keep being neglected, because I still have to finish the quiet book for Beadboy3, and make a Minecraft t-shirt and Star Wars light plate for Beadboy2, and make a Cookie Monster t-shirt and Wizard of Oz bag for Beadboy1, and come up with some quick little ornaments for my other aunts, and make shaving cream and spice rubs for Mr. Beadgirl, and bake several dozen cookies, and finish up my promised hours for work, and and and ...

Jo asked us to write about our Christmas Eve traditions.  Ever since I moved to New York City to marry my husband, Christmas Eve has always been a bit lonely.  He's not Catholic, so he usually attends a Vigil service an an Episcopal church with his parents, and my family is too far away for me to see them, so I would go to Christmas Eve Mass alone.  The music and rituals were always beautiful and moving, and I knew I would be seeing family and friends later.

Now that I have children, they come with me.  For the last few years Beadboy2 and I have been part of the informal bell choir at our Church, so we attend the 4 pm Christmas Eve Family Mass to ring the bells and sing as loud as we can.  This year Beadboy1, who has Down Syndrome, finally made his First Communion, so he will be coming with us.  Wish us luck! I have no idea how he will react to such a crowded Mass, where he won't be able to sit where he usually sits and where I'll be able to chase after him only with great difficulty.

Once I get back from Mass, I put on Christmas music and touch up a few decorations.  I always replace the purple ribbon on the front door's wreath with a white one, to mark the end of Advent and the start of Christmas.  I impatiently wait for the kids to fall alseep so I can bring down their presents and fill the stockings.  Then my husband and I settle down to watch The Bishop's Wife, a favorite movie of ours.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Locusts Have No King by Dawn Powell

The Locusts Have No Kingis one of the more famous novels of Dawn Powell, an author who, despite much critical acclaim, is not well known; indeed, most of her works were out-of-print by the time of her death, and have only recently been republished.  I first learned about her, and this particular novel, from the wonderful book chat Michael Dirda used to run for the Washington Post.

And it is a shame Powell is not more well known, because her writing is sharp and brutally satirical. So brutal, in fact, that I had to take it in small doses.  The Locusts Have No King is set in New York City in 1948, and relates the dissolution of a longstanding affair between an impoverished academic and a successful, unhappily married playwright.  Powell is unflinching in depicting the self-deceptions, disillusionments, casual cruelties, and heartbreak Frederick and Lyle inflict on themselves and each other.  And the secondary characters fare even worse, as Powell skewers every vanity and sin, every bit of idiocy they engage in.

What keeps this satire from being too much to bear is how true it manages to be.  Powell is able to see right to the heart of every character, to the very real wants and fears each has.  This makes the novel timeless, despite its setting -- give the characters smart phones, and they'd fit right into a certain segment of New York today.  The trappings change, but humanity doesn't.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Crocheted Jewelry Was the Inevitable Next Step

Crocheted wrap bracelets are all over pinterest, so it didn't take very long for me to try one.  Hemp is the material of choice, but I didn't like working with it; even with a strand thin enough to go through gemstone beads, the cord was too stiff:
Moreover, I was working with an autumnal palette, and the hemp cord was just too light.  I tried a brown linen thread from my embroidery stash next, but while the color and feel were nice, it was way too flimsy and stretchy:
At my local craft store I found beading cord designed for Kumihimo, and that gave me the color, strength, and softness I wanted.
The stones are jasper, aventurine, agate, coral, and amber, with some faceted glass beads for a little sparkle.  The clasp is made from a large, rough turquoise bead and a stone chip from a mysterious yellow stone (I really wish I had kept track of the names of all the gemstones I've bought over the years).

I intended it as a wrap bracelet:
But I can also wear it as a necklace:

Friday, December 4, 2015

On the Second Day of Advent

I had to make another square for the Advent Calendar:
A bell!  And here I thought I had run out of Christmas symbols.  I backed the sparkly silver fabric with heavy interfacing to keep the edges from fraying, and to allow me to shape the bell a bit so the jingle bell could hang freely and make a little noise.

My current system with a secondary panel for those Advent days in November is working, but isn't ideal.  I'm now thinking I should just cut both panels apart, making actual pockets out of the squares, which I could then back with a little velcro and place on a new background.  This would allow me to arrange the squares as I want to suit every Advent season, regardless of when the first Sunday falls.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Round-Up: Someday Quilts Edition

Someday Quilts is a series of cozy mysteries centered around a quilt shop on the Hudson, and written by Clare O'Donohue.  I learned about the series some years ago, because she and some quilty friends of mine are in the same guild, and read the first two novels when they came out.  I rediscovered them when Beadboy3 was in his book-pulling-down phase, and picked up the other novels she had written since the first two.

The Lover's Knot:The first book struck me as better -- more complex and bit edgier -- than most crafty/cozy mysteries.  Nell flees NYC and heartbreak to stay with her grandmother in a small town on the Hudson, and learns to quilt in her grandmother's store.  O'Donohue's refusal to make the characters one-dimensional is what sets it apart from other novels like this.  The victim and murderer in particular defy easy categorization, which makes the crime poignant.

The Lover's Knot:The second novel wasn't quite as good; I wasn't too interested in the new characters, and the solution to the mystery came out of left field.

The Double Cross:The third novel moves away from Archer's Rest, the setting of the first two, to a would-be quilters' retreat (I hope someday to go to one, but not like this one!).  Once again the characters were complex and realistic, and O'Donohue added lots of bizarre, intriguing clues.  The solution, however, while perfectly logical and "fair," involved disappointingly mundane explanations to the weirdness.

The Devil's Puzzle:A good novel all around -- fascinating new characters (I hope we hear more from them), welcome backstory to Nell's grandmother and her store, and a decent mystery and explanation.

Cathedral Windows and Streak of Lightning:Two e-novellas which serve as good introductions to the series.  The mysteries are a bit lighter, and the solutions a bit more feel-good.

The Double Wedding Ring:My favorite of the series.  The mystery is good and allows us to learn more about the local police chief's background as a NYC cop.  Moreover, quite a bit of the novel focuses on the relationship between him and Nell, and events that could have led to cliched misunderstandings and melodrama were instead handled by the characters with satisfying maturity. 

I'm looking forward to more from O'Donohue!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Crochet Obsession Continues

The great thing about cousins who own alpaca ranches is that they send you skeins of yarn once they learn you've taken up crochet.

My cousin sent me a gorgeous skein made from the fleece of two baby alpacas.  It's soft, supple, and strong, a pleasure to handle after the acrylics I've been working with, and the color is a gorgeous dark taupe.  The first project was a garland of stars:

Whether because of my lack of skill, or the natural habit of the yarn, the stars were initially quite curly:
They look like they belong in a tide pool
But I blocked them,
and they came out much better:





The next project was a lacy, narrow scarf:


Just the right amount of warmth for this ridiculously warm fall we're having.

I still have about a fifth of the skein left, which I will save for just the right small project.  Thanks, Arturo!