Tuesday, February 25, 2014

All snug in their beds

I'm not sure what might be dancing through their heads, but our porch kitties seems very satisfied with their polar fleece beds which I finished last month. (They also have heating pads underneath to keep them even snuggier.) Mama – that's the lovely longhair gray one – brought her three little striped kittens to our side porch one rainy August evening in 2012. Well, what could we do but offer them food and an old rug to curl up on? So, of course, they stayed. The kittens were feral, while Mama, oh-so-thin under all that fur, was only extremely wary. And, of course, we intended to find them homes, since we already have an official cat who definitely desires no other feline companionship. But... As you can see, they're still here, no longer feral, at least to us, but not house cats either. They live on our front porch and amuse us endlessly (as well as cause us a lot of worry).

Last winter Mr C built them a terrific, insulated, carpeted house with two levels inside. The only use they have made of it, even in the coldest weather, is to sit on top of its padded, polar fleece-covered top. So this year I decided to make them polar fleece beds. I wanted them to be deep enough to block the wind when the occupant was curled up inside and thus decided on constructing them with vertical channels that would hopefully stand up rather than spreading out as I was afraid that horizontal rings would do. As I wrote on Pattern Review, these are labor-intensive and time-consuming to make, but not really difficult. (I highly recommend a good audio book to take you through this project; I listened to Paris: the novel, by Edward Rutherfurd: 30 CDs! That was for four beds.) If you'd like to make one, read on for my complete tutorial.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Reading round the world

Last year our bookgroup traveled to Russia, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, England, Egypt and China. Quite a bit of that involved time traveling as well, to the eras of Henry VIII and Cleopatra, to colonial America and France during WWII.  We all look forward to our monthly peregrinations, to discovering little-known corners of the world and participating in the lively discussions that follow.

We began this year with a return to Afghanistan, and next month Burma is our destination.  Here's our literary itinerary for the year, if any of you would care to join us, virtually (we're hoping to have a bookgroup blog online soon) or in person here in Dallas.

You can find our 2013 books here and more information about the bookgroup plus our 2012 books here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Illustration Friday - Reflect

The one-week time frame on Illustration Friday topics means you have to get thinking and starting doing, a good thing, right?  It also often means, for me, that come Thursday evening, I'm still working away furiously, trying out this and that on a composition that just hasn't quite come together.  Or I end up calling it done when I know that being able to look at it with fresh eyes in the morning would probably help me improve it.  All so I can link to the topic on the IF website. 

Thus it was this past Thursday when I hit Save for the final time a bit after midnight and prepared for the rigamarole of uploading to Flickr, posting on my blog and linking to Illustration Friday.  Only to discover that the topic had already been changed!  And that after IF had been so lax lately in changing topics promptly; the last one had been up for over two weeks.  Well, does it really matter if I submitted my work offiically?  It's not a class, it's not a contest; I only get the satisfaction of knowing that I did it and that anyone browsing the submissions for that topic might decide to have a look at mine.  It's not the first time I missed the IF boat, but I do think the deadline is a good motivator. Unlike, say, making a garment that you want to wear, it's easy to let projects that have no purpose other than exercising your creativity just peter out or get put aside and never taken up again.  So I thank IF for encouraging me to put paid to each "assignment" I undertake, and, hopefully, for engendering self-discipline, which I believe is ever more important for us – ahem – older individuals.


I wanted to illustrate both the sense of "reflect" as the act of thinking back or contemplating, as well as the physical mirroring of an image, as in water. My starting point was the silhouette, created from a photo of myself, in a "thoughtful" pose. Next I layered three textures from Lost and Taken as well as a photo shot through lace curtains out of one of my windows. Then I simply started trying out assorted graphics and parts of photos. ( At one point I had a bunch of butterflies, which seem to be my default decorative elements when I'm stuck.) The green vining foliage are some brushes I had downloaded some time ago, probably from Deviant Art, but I no longer remember their exact source. And finally, I selected the photo of the trees and creek which is at a lovely park here. All done in Photoshop, of course.  Linked or not, I'm glad I made the effort and pleased with the result. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fun with felting

At last I've completed a sewing project worth reviewing and blogging about.  It actually started way back in October when I went through my fabric stash and unearthed a couple of wool jersey pieces way down at the bottom.  They probably date from the 1980s because I was quite fond of wool jersey dresses back then.  I have since more or less sworn off wool of any kind because of moths here in Texas (and probably also here in our very accessible old house).  These two pieces were nibbled on, especially along the outward facing fold, and since they were unusable as so, I decided to felt them, something I had long been wanting to try. 

Vogue 8430I found three articles on felting wool jersey in my archive of Threads magazines, and after a little experimenting with some scraps, I plopped the first piece into a washer full of hot water and then into a hot dryer with satisfactory results.  The articles suggested repeating the process three times, but even one time left me with such a reduced piece of fabric that I stopped there.  Unfortunately there was not enough for this Marcy Tilton jacket (for which felted jersey is one of the recommended fabrics).  The second piece was longer and by dint of careful placement of the pattern pieces I was able to use it.  It also helped that there are no hems or facings on this jacket.  All those outer edges are simply cut and left raw since felted jersey doesn't ravel.  I'm not a raw-edge sort of sewer, but after trying various stitching effects on the edges, I had to conclude that they looked better left alone.

As always, I made a muslin for the jacket which led me to make a couple of crucial fitting changes.  (For details, see my review on Pattern Review.)  The result is a jacket that I'm really pleased with.   The felted jersey was easy to sew, if a bit bulky.  Of course, it wasn't the three-hour wonder that other reviewers had boasted about.  I think I'm constitutionally incapable of making something quickly.  And, of course, I couldn't just leave it plain.  When I showed it to Mr C, he asked "what are those lines all over it?"  Those, I explained, are embellishment.

That first shorter piece of jersey is still laying on my cutting table, silently challenging me to come up with an idea for turning it into another jacket. I just hope I'll get it done before winter here is over.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Illustration Friday - Secret

After congratulating myself in January for having attained my 2012 goal of doing one Illustration Friday per month, I didn't keep up this year.  And I managed this one only by a fluke, because I had given up on it yesterday when I should have had it finished in order to link it to IF.  But when I went to the IF website today to see what the new topic was, it had not yet been changed. So I worked on this a bit more until I was somewhat satisfied with it.  Only somewhat.  Sometimes things come together and sometimes they don't.

Monday, November 4, 2013

White birds at White Rock

 A spin around White Rock Lake on our bicycles always includes a stop at Sunset Bay where a variety of water fowl hang out on the mud flats and fallen tree limbs.  What a surprise to discover a lone elegant white swan!  From what I could find out it is a Mute Swan and has been at the lake for several months, but no one knows how it came to be there. The American White Pelicans are also here to spend the winter, providing an ongoing show as they glide around the lake or soar overhead displaying the black tips on their ample wings.  The big birds always seems to be escorted by a flotilla of amusing little coots.  If you'd like to see some really fine photos others have taken of the pelicans and various White Rock Lake birds, click here and here.  Such a treasure we have in this lovely lake right in the heart of East Dallas!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Drama in my life

A whole month and more has gone by without my writing a single post here on my blog.  It wasn't that I had nothing of interest to blog about, but rather that I hadn't enough time to blog because of too many interesting things. Foremost among them has been a new acting class at the Skillman Southwestern branch library.  My first foray (in my entire life) into acting was back in February with a class focusing on Shakespeare taught by Hassan El-Amin of the Dallas Theater Center.  Fourteen very diverse "senior" individuals came together, learned, laughed, and participated in what all agreed was a very enriching experience.  So much so that most of us were unwilling to simply bid adieu and close the door on this new activity.  So we organized ourselves and chose a new project: Spoon River by Edgar Lee Masters.

Now, Spoon River may ring some distant bell for those of you around my age, because I remember bits of it being included in high school English literature anthologies.  It consists of a hundred-plus free verse monologue-poems spoken by the dead of the fictive town of Spoon River.  First published in 1915, it has been adapted to be performed many times over the decades. There's even been one with William Shatner!  To tell the truth, after I started reading through it, I thought it was just too depressing, as Masters was generally critical of small-town life and the people therein.  Plus the 19th century was not all that kind to women, which is amply reflected in these poem portraits.  But, as we chose the characters we wanted to include and honed our interpretation of them, my appreciation of Spoon River grew. There's actually quite a bit of humor in many of them, and there are some lyrical, upbeat ones as well.  We selected it at the end of March, met every other week from April through June, and gave our first performance at the Skillman Southwestern library at the end of June, then another performance at a large senior community at the end of August.  It was totally DIY, in what we chose and how we presented it, including props by one of the members and a program and signage by me.  Mr. C has, of course, been obligated to attend, but this is something I would invite others to see without fear of embarrassment.  And, in fact, we are hoping to present this again at other venues in the future.

In the meantime, right after our last performance, we began a new acting class at the Skillman Southwestern library.  Debbie Rubin, the manager of the library, worked tirelessly to have the Dallas Theater Center supply us with another teacher.  Who turned out to be Michael Schraeder, an actor and drama professor with an impressive resume.  Actually, Mike had some big shoes to fill, because Hassan had wowed us all, but it was very  beneficial to have someone new with a different methodology, especially since for some of us, this was only our second acting class ever.  And this time, instead of choosing something to present, Mike wanted us to write our own short scripts with one or two characters. Oh!  Some in the class wanted to, some didn't, and others, including myself, didn't think we had enough time to do this with any degree of proficiency.  In fact, I was under the impression that the script I wrote was just for a class exercise, which was perhaps all to the good as I would have rewritten and fussed and worried over it far too much otherwise.  I hadn't had any problem learning the monologs by heart, but I discovered it was another matter to learn lines (and deliver them convincingly) when there were other people and their lines involved. Right until the last moment, people were still clutching their scripts and reading their parts.  But, amazingly, the actual performance went off with barely a hitch.  Mr. C professed himself well entertained, saying it was much better than he expected from what I had told him.

We, now called The Skillman Players, owe many thanks to the Skillman Southwestern Library Friends who have graciously sponsored our acting classes, printed up our posters and programs, and provided refreshments at our library performances.  Not to mention being our enthusiastic audience.  So it seems that we, The Skillman Players, are now an established entity.  We're not sure what we'll do next, but after all this, we simply can't not continue. To tell the truth, I've discovered that I really have no desire to be actor, but, on the other hand, I'm enjoying this tremendously.  As one of the other members said to me one day, "I had a bad morning, I've had a bad day, but I come here and forget all of that completely."  

It has been time consuming, and I'm glad to have a little hiatus, so I can dabble in dyeing again and get some sewing done among other things.  But I'm sure I'll soon be ready for some more drama in my life.