Monday, February 27, 2012

Window shopping

Snapped this brightly blossoming window at Neiman Marcus, the last of Dallas' downtown department stores which is holding the fort with such panache.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ritzy view

This was one of the views we enjoyed from a thirteenth floor balcony of The Tower Residences at the Ritz-Carlton last Thursday.  And what were we doing there?  Attending an Arts District Volunteer Appreciation Reception spread throughout three of the model residences which truly deserve the term "luxurious."  We certainly felt appreciated.  There were drinks in the contemporary residence looking north across Uptown.  A buffet in the spacious, more traditional home with its sweeping views toward downtown and the west.  Coffee and sweets in the vibrant red and mirrored north-east facing residence. All overseen by smartly uniformed and obliging staff from the Ritz-Carlton.  A sincere thank-you to Veletta Forsythe Lill, the Executive Director of Dallas Arts District, and Doug Thompson, the ever-ebullient Volunteer Coordinator, for such a lovely evening and the opportunity to take a lofty look over urban Dallas. 

An aside...  Despite having had my little Canon Power Shot A540 for a few years, I had never tried out the Stitch Assist feature for shooting panoramic views which I used on the photo above.  But the real magic was with Photoshop.  Just click Automate > Photomerge, point it to the photos, and sit back while it does the rest!  It whirred away, throwing up what looked like empty windows, and taking its time, and then, voila! there were my four shots, all melded seamlessly together, leaving me nothing else to do but crop the somewhat raggedy top and bottom. I wonder if anyone has ever penned an ode to Photoshop, because it certainly makes me want to rhapsodize about it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mystery flora

Look at the ferny circlet of leaves with the scarlet tracery on the left.  I discovered it on my antiquing foray last week, out behind one of the antique malls, growing amid moss and the sort of weeds that commonly flourish on untended patches of dirt here.  But I've never seen anything like this before.  The rosy buds produce a small lavender bloom, and then notice the long chartreuse spikes that follow.  Because the red marking was not uniform – on some plants almost non-existent and on others so dense that it almost looked liked flocking, especially on the stems – I wondered if it could be some sort of a virus, like that which produced all the fantastical tulip varieties during the Dutch tulip craze of the 17th century.  Linda and I also speculated that it might have found its way here from some foreign land, clinging to some of the old garden statuary or antique oddities displayed around the space where it was growing.

I searched on the Internet but didn't find anything that looked like it, probably because I didn't know what I was looking for.  Does anyone have an idea of what it might be?


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

So much stuff

Big Mango Trading Company
Glass disc at Big Mango
Antiquing I did go with my friend Linda last Thursday, down along Riverfront-formerly-Industrial Boulevard.  Our first stop was the Big Mango Trading Company, and what a discovery!  This is the sort of place that makes me long to be rich, so I could have the dilemma of trying to decide which of the columns of satiny, striated petrified wood or how much of the lusciously colored chunks of glass slag I'd like for my garden.  Or perhaps some exotic Indonesian architectural objet for the foyer. We wandered through oohing and aahing, and I couldn't resist stroking all the sensual surfaces of wood and glass and stone along the way.  And, oh yes, there is a shop cat, a pert little tabby with an assertive personality.

Antique high tech
Who were these children?
After that we headed over to one of the several antique malls clustered in the area.  (You can pick up the handy map shown below at any of them.)  I'm sure you've been to similar antique malls, so no need to go into descriptive mode.  Basically, there's so much stuff.  Stuff that's interesting, stuff that's beautiful, stuff that's hideous, stuff you might like to have, stuff that someone once wanted and acquired and now waits for another person to do the same. The fact is that I already have a lot of stuff, so really, I just go to look at these vestiges of times past, like touring quirky museums with price tags on the exhibits.

For lunch w treated ourselves to a most delicious meal at the newly opened Bridge Bistro.  Occupying the corner of a renovated, mid-century modern-looking building, it's all windows and white walls, tables draped in black with sprigs of rosemary in the bud vases, very spare but not stark and quite pleasant.  However, don't go expecting views of the soon-to-open, Calatrava-designed bridge over the Trinity; the restaurant is directly on Riverfront.  

Riverfront, which, of course, leads one to expect some trace, some glimpse, of the Trinity.  Alas,  the river is back behind its levees, and the "boulevard" remains firmly industrial in character, a hodgepodge of warehouses and odd, assorted businesses. (My view from the bistro was a lot filled with boats, mostly small cabin cruisers, although the sign said it was the Big Rig Reconditioning Center.) Yet it does have real character, gritty but interesting, probably rather jarring to the eyes of those who come from the suburbs to the north with all their neatly landscaped and sanitized shopping areas.    

After the meal we managed two more antique malls before succumbing to that fatigue which is more an overload of the senses – the constant visual and mental processing of shopping – than it is physical.  We stopped at Zagu├ín Latin Cafe for a coffee and pastry to regain our strength, then finally called it a day.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Illustration Friday – Popularity

For this week's Illustration Friday challenge, I decided  to create a collage with only what I could find at The Graphics Fairy.  Which is a treasure-trove of a blog filled with vintage images, from old photos to advertising ephemera, yours to use for profit or pleasure, with just a few conditions.  There are also linked and related blogs: The Background Fairy and The Graphics Fairy DYI.  Click on over to get some crafting inspiration and ideas.

I thought this smiling young woman looked like a good representation of Popularity, chatting on the telephone, receiving postcards and billet-doux. (Actually, the bottom one is a receipt, but that extravagant penmanship looks romantic, doesn't it?)  I've used some filters on the woman's photo and lightly hand-colored the final result.  Other than that, nothing tricky, just layering the various elements, enjoying a little romp with Photoshop.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Cloth of Gold

Another find from the Threads website that I had to pass along.  This incredible cloth, now on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,  is woven from the web silk of golden orb spiders in Madagascar.  Be sure to watch the video for a full appreciation of this wonder.  And read this New York Times article to find out even more about it came to be.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Birds from afar

Isn't this an arresting image?  I found it via Illustration Friday on a blog by Romanian artist Burcak Kafadar. Unfortunately, most of us won't be able to read what she has to say, but the art needs no translation.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In Praise of Bookgroups

Reading, that most solitary of pastimes, takes on a welcome social dimension when you participate in a bookgroup. You can rave (or rant) about that book you've just finished, analyze the characters, appraise the writer's style, and everyone is interested, because they've read the book, too!  Plus, sometimes those other opinions of a book you weren't crazy about or couldn't get into will persuade you to have another go at it or regard it with a new understanding.  Best of all, it seems to me, is that a bookgroup gets you to read books you probably would never have opened otherwise, often opening your eyes as well. 

 My Foreign Authors Bookgroup was started back in 1994 at the very first Borders Bookstore in Dallas, by JuLe, an employee there. Mr. C and I joined it (yes! there were men in it back then) in 1996.  And what a lot of interesting books we have read as a result.  Over the course of years the group has evolved, and the venue has changed several times. Now we are about a dozen women, in many respects fairly dissimilar except in our desire to read and discuss books with substance and meaning. We read eleven books a year, either by a foreign author or about a foreign place or culture; in September we nominate and vote on books for the coming year.  Generally, our discussions are free-form, with whoever nominated that book being the putative leader.  If you're in the Dallas area and would like to join us, please email me for details.  We are always glad to have new members.

This month's book was the winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It is a big (but not sprawling) novel focusing on the years 1527 to 1535 as Henry VIII of England seeks to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and wed Anne Boleyn, with the surprising protagonist being Thomas Cromwell, son of a blacksmith, who rises to be Henry's right hand man by aiding him in this quest. And for anyone who thinks of Thomas Cromwell as the villain of A Man for All Seasons or one of the other many accounts and popular representations of the Henry-and-Anne drama, this is a different man altogether, a very remarkable one. I was in awe of how brilliantly Mantel presented the complex intertwined religious and political issues as well as convincingly portrayed the era to a modern reader without long and tedious paragraphs of exposition.  It is, indeed, a lyrical novel although not self-consciously so. You can open to almost any page and find a passage worth savoring.  It's an excellent bookgroup selection because there are so many aspects that will stimulate discussion. However, if you aren't in a bookgroup, don't let that stop you from choosing to read this five-star novel. But, I guarantee that by the time you finish it, you'll be dying to talk about it to someone else.            

Sunday, February 5, 2012

On the Cutting Edge

Take a break and treat yourself to the visual beauty of this online exhibition from the Library of Congress.  These 212 prints from the 50th anniversary of the College Women’s Association of Japan Print Show span the spectrum from traditional subjects and styles to abstracts and contemporary inter-pretations, using woodblocks, lithography, stenciling, etching and more.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Snakes and Toads

Yesterday I found a wounded garden snake which I carried back to my yard and nestled in some leaves, hoping for the best. Since only its head was injured, I guess that someone had tried to kill it, and it always makes me sad to see one of these creatures dead on the sidewalk. We humans have it in our heads that snakes should be killed, but these little reptiles are both harmless (to humans) and beneficial. However, this random destruction can't account for the decrease in garden and grass snakes that I've gradually become aware of.  It used to be that I would often unearth these tiny sleeping serpents as I cleaned leaves out of my flower beds in the fall.  And toads...they've become even rarer than the snakes. Spring used to bring a host of courting couples to our garden pond, filling night after night with their cacophony; now none come.  What can account for it?  In the late 1970's when we bought our house in a decaying inner-city neighborhood, using the term "lawn care" would have been derisive.  Today trucks regularly pull up to many of our neighbors' homes, and a phalanx of workers descends on the yards, mowing, trimming, pruning, planting, dispensing fertilizer and, quite probably, herbicide and insecticide.  Nothing I've read online in some cursory Googling says that these common reptiles and amphibians are endangered, but they've certainly vanished from my yard.  What about you other gardeners out there, do you still frequently encounter garden snakes and toads where you live?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Knit Top Necklines

You can't have enough knit tops, can you?  And after so many plain vanilla scoop necks and v-necks and the like, it's time to start searching out some interesting neckline variations.  I just finished this lightweight, heathered sweater-knit top, using my TNT (that's tried-and-true for you non-sewers out there) knit top body and the collar/neckline from Vogue 8497, a trio of Marcy Tilton tops.  You can read about my assessment of this particular collar on Pattern Review.

The method for grafting a different collar or neckline onto your basic top is simple:  align the center front and the waistline of the pattern whose neckline you want to use with your TNT pattern, then trace a new pattern using both.  It can get a bit more complicated, as in this top below with the pleated neckline, using a Vogue dress pattern, 8663.  In that case, I made a trial bodice front out of some leftover knit, just to make sure it worked.  A little extra time but worth the extra effort to prevent an unwearable top and  lots of aggravation.
One other suggestion I have for knit top construction is to trace a complete pattern, not half a pattern, for the bodice front and back, plus a right and a left sleeve.  It is sooo much easier to get that slippery knit laid out straight, and it's almost imperative when you have a pattern that you need to match or position in a certain way.  In fact, on the top above, had I not used this method, I doubt that I would have gotten the heathered knit so straight across both the front and the back.
Vogue 8663

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Illustration Friday – Forward

I love this site!  Here's what they have to say on their welcome page: "Illustration Friday is a weekly creative outlet/participatory art exhibit for illustrators and artists of all skill levels. It was designed to challenge participants creatively. We believe that every person has a little creative bone in their body. Illustration Friday just gives a no-pressure, fun excuse to use it. ... It's a chance to experiment and explore and play with visual art. So welcome, novices and pros alike."  I've seen submissions from accomplished illustrators to enthusiastic little kids, and in every kind of medium, some even stitched and sewn. And through it I've come across so many interesting blogs and creative individuals.

There's a new topic every week, to interpret however you wish.  And, of course, you only have a week, if you want to post and link to the site.  So whenever I decide to tackle a topic, that last night before Friday brings a new one usually sees me glued to my computer screen, finishing, changing, tweaking and trying to decide on the best version of whatever I've produced.  Sometimes I'm really pleased with the result; sometimes I think it's so-so, but I post it anyway, because I think that's part of the whole deal.  Today I was lucky and actually finished it much earlier (although, naturally, I kept fiddling around with it).

This week's topic, as you can see, is Forward.  I decided from the beginning to include the topic in my compositions, as I like adding a typographical element.  As with all my past Illustration Friday entries, this was done in Photoshop, basically using filters and blend modes with a bit of detailing with the brush tool.  Usually I work on my own photos, but in this case I found the photo on morgueFile which is great source for free images. You can click here to see my compete Illustration Friday set on Flickr.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fashion as Art

Paul Poiret 1919 ensemble
Are we not fortunate in being able to simply click on a link to have a treasure trove of information and images instantly delivered to us?  In this case it's the incredible garment and costume collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I just learned about its online collections database via an entry in Threads latest newsletter.  Peruse it simply for pleasure, or glean ideas for out-of-the-ordinary treatments for your own couture. You can search by designer, by era, by place, by materials, etc. And you can enlarge the pictures to focus on (and marvel over) every luscious detail.
House of Worth 1905 tea gown