Friday, December 19, 2008

snow day reading.

We got a big, overhyped winter storm here today, so after running a few errands this morning (just as the snow was starting), I spent most of the day snuggled up in my bed sipping tea and reading Sarah Dessen's Lock and Key. I've read all of her novels, and if I were taking a YA literature class, I think maybe I would re-read them and write a paper about the common themes, etc. She's sort of created her own little world to write in, it has its own fake retail chains in common and characters who make vague cameos in different books, which I think is pretty adorable. Whenever I settle in with one of her books I end up finishing it in hours and then being sad there isn't any more--her work reads so quickly, and is always engrossing, even if sometimes I'm not sure how I feel about the points she's making. (Which possibly has more to do with my dubious feelings about certain prevalent societal values than her writing. It's hard to tell.)

The Amazon page for this book has a quote from Kirkus Reviews that says "Dessen's tone...is invitingly non-threatening and will reward patient readers," which I think is an odd thing to quote as though it's complimentary. "Invitingly non-threatening"? "Patient readers"? That makes it sound like a Disney-adapted fairy tale and Moby Dick, respectively.

One of the plot points of Lock and Key is about the necklace its protagonist wears---her old house key on a silver chain. Another character (who runs a one-woman jewelry business) is inspired by the key and starts a making pieces with handmade key-shaped charms. What tickled me pink was that as I was reading, I was wondering but how is she making these charms? precious metal clay? making a mold and casting them? cutting them out of sheet metal? I want to hear about the process. I was definitely supposed to be focusing on the characters' various psychological issues, but I was so curious about how the key-jewelery was being created! (Alas, my question was never answered.) Oh, Etsy. Sometimes I love what you've done to my brain.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

new devilry!


new devilry!
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

Meet Bitty Demon! (So named because of the Pleasant Company Bitty Baby dolls.) My mom does that hobbit thing where you give other people presents on your birthday, so since it was my birthday last week, I made her up this little guy. (We jointly watch two television shows involving demons, so this isn't as random a choice as it seems! The same goes for the windchime and slice of pie he's clutching in his tiny claws. It was so much fun to make something this totally custom and weird. And I am now in like, 300% more awe of people who make gorgeous mini-food from polymer clay. That pie slice was difficult.)

I was initially inspired by this crocheted devil by SandysDandies on etsy. I used the Amigurumi World book by Ana Paula Rimoli for the head shape (although I probably shouldn't have tried to play with the increases, because I ended up with the weird lego-head shape you see here...), and made a bunch of polymer clay pieces---his horns, talons, and accessories.

I couldn't find anything in the book that fit the shape I wanted for the body, so I consulted The Internet. This animal pattern list was the most helpful thing ever. I poked around in the patterns until I found these adorable octopi, which were about the shape I wanted, except a little too fat on top, so I messed with the increases, which worked better on the body than it did on the head. For the wings, I used this bat pattern, but stopped at row five, since they looked big enough and I thought the shape was cute. For the tail, I worked the tentacle from this squid until I was satisfied-ish with the spade-shape. (...It became really clear to me while I was doing this that I really, really don't know anything about crocheting. I've learned how to follow a pattern in the round, but I was a lot more confused by the idea of making wing and tail shapes not in the round. And I couldn't consult my mom for help!) The arms went through about three permutations (two different crocheted ones, which were way too clunky; one inadvisably involving pipe cleaners...) before I gave up and made some more polymer clay pieces (these hilarious little stalks with claws on the ends), sewed them in, and wrapped them in yarn.

He was definitely a challenge, and involved lots of sewing, which I was somehow able to be patient with. Probably just because I was so thrilled to be making something so absurd. He's stuffed with fiberfill and a rock, since all the clay stuff made him too front-heavy to sit straight with just fiberfill.

My favourite feature[s] are his talons, which were an awesome surprise---when I finally finished the assembly and sat him in my palm, the talons actually poked at me vaguely, like I was holding a hamster or something.

Friday, November 21, 2008

holiday shopping, part one.

The only Christmas gift I've acquired so far is this set of beautiful napkins for my mom from margotbianca on etsy. I was lucky enough to win some gorgeous items in Jessica Jane's autumn giveaway last month, one of those being a batik bandana by Margot, so I went to check out her shop. My mom has been talking to me about batik since I was a little kid and didn't really understand what she meant about the wax keeping the dye off of select parts of the fabric, and she uses cloth napkins, so I thought these would be a good gift. The set I got are this wheat pattern, and Margot was so wonderful about custom-dying them for me in my mom's favourite blue-green. She even sent me a photo after they'd been dyed to make sure they were okay. A few days after I bought them, she was a featured seller on etsy. (...Do I have enough links in this post yet? Wait until you see my next post when I'm going to list all the different patterns I used to make a complicated crocheting project.) I've been shopping on etsy for over a year now, but it never gets any less exciting to be able to buy stuff from people who've actually made it, who you can talk to and whose blogs you can read to find out more about their lives and their art.

Now comes the hard part, which is hanging onto these until December 25th.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

feathers.


that thing, you know, with feathers.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

My polling place yesterday was the local elementary school (and was within walking distance of my house, yay! Unfortunately, all the free election day goodies at Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's weren't. And I didn't feel like driving, so I was sans complimentary coffee and ice cream.), and after I voted, I just walked around a little looking at the various art projects that were posted on the walls. Everything was very much fall-themed...there were a group of pumpkins, done in acrylic paint and obviously designed to teach the kids about shading, since each one featured the moon as a light source, casting yellow highlights on the pumpkins, with varying degrees of success. There was a whole hallway of leaf-prints, done in beautiful bright colours on black construction paper. (I need to go outside and get some nicely-shaped leaves to try this one myself...) The photo with this post was my favourite from a whole selection of art made from various natural materials---leaves, pinecones, seeds, some kids even used rocks. I wish I'd had a better camera with me!

I feel sort of silly saying it was inspiring, but it was. I had a love/hate relationship with art class in school. Even as a little kid, I didn't really like having a set assignment and then getting graded on it, but there were some projects I remember really enjoying. I was in the Art Club, which only sixth graders were allowed to join, and we built our own birdhouses from little kits and then painted them. For some reason, actually putting something together out of wood pieces with tiny nails was the most exciting thing ever for me when I was eleven. Elementary school art is the only reason I can identify one of Henri Rousseau's jungle paintings when I see it. So I was happy to see that arts education is alive and well in my school district. As someone who sort of drifted away from visual and tactile artistic pursuits for a while and came back to them with a vengeance, it seems especially important to me. You can never tell when you'll need to know that you can use crayons and watercolour paints for a cool wax-resist effect, after all.

The voting itself seemed to be going pretty smoothly here, I was only on line for about...ten to fifteen minutes. I went into this election feeling pretty cynical and nervous, but I'm so happy about the result. I went to sleep last night feeling like the country, collectively, had actually made a good decision (where the presidency is concerned, anyway), and that was such a good---and surprising!---feeling to have.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

hello november.


ready for its closeup.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" episode aired today, and I think that was unfortunately the last hurrah of the Halloween season for me. As a[n ostensible] grownup, the buildup to Halloween, with all of the decorating and crafting, is more exciting than Halloween itself, which is sadly devoid of asking strangers for free candy. I keep telling myself that one of these years, I'm just going to wear a costume involving a mask and go anyway. I'm only 5'2"! I could totally still be in middle school.

I have my little skull earrings on today for All Souls/Day of the Dead. When I lived in the city, I used to go to St. Patrick's Cathedral on All Souls Day and light a candle, even though I'm not at all religious---I'm not even one of those people who says I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual. It always felt like the right thing to do anyway. It's always nice to be in a building with beautiful vaulted ceilings at least once a year.

Today has been one of the chillier days we've had so far this fall, and it's got me feeling nervous about winter. I hate being cold all the time.

I crocheted a stuffed pear today, which came out huge. (I knew it would be huge when I looked at the pattern, but I was afraid to modify it and possibly mess up the shape.) I'm not really sure why I was in such a rush to finish it, since I have to take my truck to be inspected tomorrow and now I'll have to think of a new project to start while I wait at the mechanics'.

Friday, October 24, 2008

autumn items.


today's project.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

I bought this bright pink yarn from a clearance bin a few weeks ago with the thought of making a pink-and-black (a colour combination I love, even though I'm not a big fan of pink on its own) headband. Today, I finally got around to it. It was almost weird to crochet the standard back-and-forth way after working on stuff in the round. I didn't use a pattern, and my finishing techniques need work, but it was nice to just start and finish something. I may have made some sort of excited squeaking noise when I was sewing the button on and it went from being a little rectangular blob to a functional thing.

I took this picture in a nature preserve type place near my house where I went for a walk today, and where I failed to take any pictures that showed how gorgeous it was. I really need to see if I can get a Photography for Dummies book at the library or something. It gets so frustrating to not be able to make the camera see what I'm seeing. There were so many beautiful trees with bright yellow or red leaves, and a patch of very interesting prehistoric looking ferns (ferns always make me think of dinosaurs) and my pictures of them just came out a pixelly mess.

It was just so nice to be out stomping through the crackling leaves, though. And I got to pet two dogs, which is a sure sign of a good walk.

Monday, October 20, 2008

secret-gurumi, revealed!


Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

Presenting Patrick the desk cactus, made from a modified version of a pattern in Amigurumi World, which I highly recommend, the patterns are beyond adorable and easy to follow. Now that he's arrived at his destination, he can be introduced to the internet. (The original started-cactus that I posted a picture of last week was just too big, so I started it over with fewer increases. The first one is now a beret for my cat.)

I've already started another one of these, but even smaller, for some reason. I may keep it to use as a pincushion. I'm going to need some more and crocheting-in-general help before I can move on to other patterns, I think. This one was pretty easy, it didn't involve any particularly complicated techniques (e.g. stitches I haven't learned yet...) or a ton of sewing.

I'm just happy to have finished it at all. Apparently, abandoned projects are in my blood. We're cleaning out my grandmother's house and wow, did she start things and then not finish them. If I wanted to learn to knit baby sweaters, or make 70s dresses in polyester prints, for example, I'd have dozens lot of already-begun examples to work with. (How did anyone ever wear all that polyester? How did I ever wear polyester? I was crazy about my mom's handmade vintage shirts when I was in ninth grade.)

For now, though, I feel much more interested in making [cute] objects than clothing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

secret-gurumi.


Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

I've thought that amigurumi are adorable for years, and I'm finally attempting one. What it is, exactly, is going to remain a mystery for now, because it may end up being a present for someone who's probably reading this. Anyway, so far, so good. (Except for the part where it's turning out much larger than anticipated. I'm hoping that that's just because the pictures that accompany the pattern aren't taken next to a ruler for scale, and not because I'm doing it wrong.)

Crocheting is one of those things that makes me boggle at my brain's storage capacity. My mom taught me the basic stitches when I was about nine years old. I never really made anything---I think I started a hat at some point? But every time in the intervening years that I've picked up a crochet hook (and that hasn't really been often), it's right at the front of my mind, how to hold the hook and yarn and make a chain. This also works with the few guitar chords I can play. (C, G, a modified G7, E minor. My mom was trying to teach me to play Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning," which accounts for the first three. E minor I always remember because it only takes two fingers to play, but sounds impressively sweet and melancholy. ) It does not work with, say, long division, but I never really understood how to do that in the first place. How I got out of third grade is kind of a mystery.

I think this will be my first finished crochet project ever, actually. Uh, provided I finish it...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

some arachnid love


spooky spider, II.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

It probably helps a lot that I've never been bitten by one (...knock wood!), but I love spiders. It also helps that we're not swarming with the poisonous kind here in southern New York, so I can view them without wondering if they'll attack me and turn my flesh necrotic with their venom, etc. There are always smallish spiders inside and outside my house, but over the past week, there have suddenly been a crop of huge ones (all much bigger than a quarter, and all fortunately outside) setting up shop and building webs. It must be Spider Weather, or maybe they want to help me decorate for Halloween, who knows. I enjoy having them around (I like to think they're catching lots of mosquitoes*), and I've been wandering around and checking on them every day. It's like having a handful of very low-maintenance pets. Kind of.

I've also been wandering around trying to photograph them, with mixed results. And then I decided to photoshop the results in a Halloween-type-fashion, also with mixed results, which are viewable here. Things I need to learn more about include: how to use a camera properly; photoshop.

*Did you know that you have to add an 'e' when you make 'mosquito' plural? I didn't. This message brought to you by Firefox's spell checker.

Friday, September 26, 2008

a friday night song

Probably, I should leave music-blogging to more knowledgeable people...

Anyway, here's a song I've had on loop lately, and which made me dig up the star-brush in photoshop and apply it clumsily to this photo I took of my grandparents' basement stairs yesterday:"Starry Stairs" by Okkervil River. Okkervil River are a band I've liked for years, since a friend of mine put a fantastic track of theirs called "Red" on a CD of mp3s she made me before we both left for college, and this song is from their most recent album The Stand Ins (which is part of a double album-ish with last year's The Stage Names, which is my favourite overall album of the two, I think). The original version of this song was called "(Shannon Wilsey On The) Starry Stairs," and it's about said Ms. Wilsey, who was apparently a 90s porn star who died in a sort of tragic and bewildering way. There's nothing I don't like about this song---the melody is pretty and a little earwormy; there are some random jingly bells in the intro, as well as other cool instrumentation throughout. I love a muted horn section! And Will Sheff's songwriting and vocals are often fantastic. (Listen to the poignant way he sighs out "oh what a trip / oh what a shimmering silver ship / oh what a hot half-life I half-lived" at 2:26. Definitely my favourite moment/set of lyrics.)

Re: the photo, it represents one of those instances when my eyes and the camera weren't exactly in agreement about what was going on---my eyes thought the stairs looked way better than the camera did, with warmer light and more intriguing shadows.

Also, I guess I should put up one of those music-blog disclaimers here that goes: Mp3 for sampling purposes only! Please support the artists! And if, by some strange chance, you happen to represent them and want the song taken down, let me know.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

made with pernicious peaches!


Sinister Desserts.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

When I got back into TV as a storytelling medium a couple years ago, I tripped and fell in love with Supernatural, and my mom ended up liking it, too. Both of us are easily swayed by vintage cars and good screen chemistry, I guess. And even though we also jointly enjoy other shows (some of which are of way more consistent quality, like The Office or Firefly), this one is kind of special. We tend to do some kind of chocolatey dessert for the beginning and end of each season (and I don my demon horns), and after the episode, we eat and discuss.

For tonight's season premiere, we (I totally stirred it for a while) made Evil Chiffon (dark chocolate and coffee flavoured) with cherry-peach-wine sauce. I've been trying to do something small and creative every day, just to keep myself from going crazy, so today's project was these dessert picks, which I painted in watercolours with things that I thought had at least something to do with the show (from left to right: ball of flames, pentagram, completely non-threatening ghost, demon eye) and mounted on little bits of road map.

I wish that blogger had a place to enter the music you've got on as you're writing, the way livejournal does. I seem to be unable to take Okkervil River's "Starry Stairs" off repeat right now, so that's what I'd be typing into the "music" field if there was one.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

more successful experiment no. 1


Wilbur the Whale
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

Meet Wilbur, my first ever sewing machine project! When I found this stuffed whale pattern my mom had from the 70s, I knew I had to make one. (Or more. Do you think anyone would buy one of these on Etsy? I'm hoping so.) The pattern still needs to be modified a little---I made it about half the size of the original (which was 18" long, so I guess Wilbur is probably about 9") but the tail (which you can't really see in this photo) is proportioned too small, and he kind of has an underbite (also somehow minimized in this photo. Clearly, I shot him from his good side.). He's also sort of lumpy and asymmetrical. If I were a lot younger, that would add to his charm. As it is, I just need to practice so the next one is better. (And I have an awesome idea for the next one...)

I think my mom has always hoped I'd want to learn how to sew, so we're both having fun. I've been watching her sew things as long as I've been alive, and I never really understood what the draw was, since it always looked like it required more patience than I had to give, but I enjoyed this. There's something very cool about watching a three-dimensional thing come together seam by seam until you can tie the knot on its last slightly-creepy button eye and go I made a whale!!

Wilbur and I are going to go watch Gossip Girl now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

failed experiment no. 1


the jellyfish of bad ideas.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

I'm thinking about starting up an etsy store, so I'm playing around with ideas. I liked the thought of polymer clay jellyfish earrings with wire tentacles, but as I was fighting with the pliers to attach the tentacles (me and wire: not friends yet.), I realized these would be the Worst. Earrings. Ever. I almost always wear my hair pulled away from my face/ears, so it didn't occur to me until I actually had the wire in my hands that these would just be hair-tangling trainwrecks waiting to happen. And the tentacle-wire is so thin that the tentacle-shapes wouldn't withstand the detangling very well. I put them on earwires anyway, just to see what they'd look like, but I'm going to take them off and maybe put little thread loops so they can be hanging ornaments instead.

The jellyfish were actually yesterday's adventure. (...If making non-wearable jewelery counts as an adventure.) Today's was trying to get a bird who'd flown down the chimney out of our woodstove. After a lot of messing around with semi-elaborate bird-catching contraptions made with cookie sheets and cardboard boxes, we trapped the bird under a mug while it was napping a few minutes ago, and it just flew off into the night in a cloud of soot.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Conquered!

This is as good an inaugural post as any, I guess. Sometimes, when I finish a really long book, I like to balance it on my head and take a picture. (Actually, I think I've only done this with Stephen King books in the past---The Stand, It, Duma Key...) To be fair, this is the large print edition of this book, so its size is even further exaggerated. I've read all of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books, and found them enjoyable in that way where I had to clap my hands over my face and cackle at least once a chapter because the writing was so dubious and overwrought. Her non-vampire-related book (The Host, in case the title isn't clear in the picture) was actually readable in a way that involved minimal laughter! I was pleasantly surprised. She handled alien mythology/worldbuilding much better than she did vampires (and werewolves), and the plot of this book was a lot less tied up in the Great and Mystical Romance of its protagonist. There was still a bunch of "we kissed, and I could feel our souls melding like I was taking a course in metallurgy," or whatever, and Ms. Meyer has a weird thing for (a) interspecies romance and (b) characters who are So Pure and Wonderful that everyone can't help but be enchanted by them, but still. Much better.

Now, the part I've been dreading, bringing it back to the library. I try not to drive to my town library when the weather is good, since it's a quick-ish walk, but wow, do I not want to walk there carrying this thing.