Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Hungry Wasp

Putting my boots away the other day and I noticed a wasp on the top of the boot stand.  It's getting cold now and you could see that it was struggling, it barely moved as I went to shush it away.  I lifted it onto a leaf and couldn't help but notice what a beautiful little creature it was.  Not that Summer Wasps are my favourite thing and had it been full of the joys of summer, I wouldn't have been anywhere close, but I couldn't ignore an animal in such need.  I found a skewer, coated it in honey and let Waspy get some much needed food. Watching it work its way around the skewer was a fascinating and touching, it had so obviously been in need.  It was also a real pleasure to enjoy a creature that I would, in other circumstances, be doing everything in my power to avoid!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Selene... my nemesis... completed!

Halloween came a little early to our house this year and yes, I got the Mermaid costume finished, I was (finally) Selene for an evening.  

Reading back to my first thoughts on this year's project, all buzzing with inspiration and optimism, I honestly don't know whether to laugh or cry; I had such great plans and hopes and have found it, instead, to be deeply frustrating.  Giving up and starting again was exactly the right thing to have done, the wonderful Mrs B is a wise woman indeed!  It was a therapeutic and very satisfying experience and one that I found that I didn't want to blog about.  The majority of the dress is handstitched, curled up on the sofa with the boyf and the dogs, remembering, as I went along, little details about how I made the first dress and reminiscing about those first early days of falling in love with the Jedi.  It became a private process that I felt no desire to document.

That said, now that it's all done, I'm more happy to share the results and finish off Selene, once and for all! Starting off with my favourite picture of the evening, taken by Mrs S.  Blurry I know, but I love it.  It's us.

So, to start, my lovely little Starfish and Seashell tiara.  This was the second attempt as the mutts ate the first and I mean ate... demolished, destroyed.  It was touch and go as to whether I took them to the vets; happily, starfish, it seems, are not poisonous to dogs, nor bits of shell and silver plated wire... Even more happily, I had spares of everything and time in which to quickly wire them all back onto the headband.  It was a huge improvement on the bouncing silver stars I sported in 2006!

And then the dress itself.  A boned, empire line bodice attached to a gathered skirt, in the dark grey/blue sateen.  The bodice was of my own design (I may post the pattern later) and the skirt was based on the fantail skirt from the Victoria costume.  I shortened it to the point at the back of the knees where it is gathered and cut the front into a slightly deeper "V" that dropped from knee 3-4 inches.  Each panel of sateen was matched with a 1/2 as big again panel of a very soft net tulle which was gathered, stitched on and then treated as one piece.  In this way I was able to create the deep drapes and ruches without losing too much structure.  The bodice was attached to the skirt and the netting handstitched to it, first along the neckline and then gathered, vertically, along each seam of the bodice and stitched in place.  A zip was then handstitched in at the back.  The bodice is a far improved version of the original and inspired by a 50's prom dress that I have.  The front panel naturally fell into an attractive drape and so I left it as was.  The bottom, fishtail, of the skirt was a double layer of a pale blue chiffon under a iridescent, stiffer, dress net.  This was just over twice the width of the skirt hem, gathered and stitched in place.  The back half of the skirt was gathered at the back as per the fantail skirt pattern.

Green ceramic beads and silver and orange seed beads were stitched across the top of the bodice and at various points on the dress, with individual shells added in places and a rosette at the knee of sari fabric ribbon and a shell "corsage".  Again, a huge improvement on silver stars!

So that's it, before and after.  An although I have replaced my Jedi for a Vampire...

...it all worked out in the end ;o)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

How to have a happy Monday...

according to the good folk at exemplifyonline.com at least.  This appeared on my FB page recently so I decided to give it a try. 

Brew Something Caffeinated:  One mug of Pomegranate Green Tea and, as a bonus "For All We Know" on the radio, any day that starts with the Carpenters is going to be a good one; I skipped to Blast Your Favorite Song.

Stand in the Sunshine: did that, didn't take a photo, but in October, a little warm is lovely.  

Wear Your Favorite Blouse:  I don't have a blouse to have as a favourite... it got me thinking that I would like a blouse to call a favourite, I will have to be on the lookout for one.  In the meantime, my favourite grey marl T and matching cardigan did the job nicely.

Let Psalm 118:24 Take Root:  "This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." I may not be the most religious of folk, but I appreciate the message and it was a wonderful one to leave percolating in mind for the rest of the day.

Laugh, Laugh, Laugh: we did that and being told to do so made a difference to my mindset for the day.  Seeing the humour in things is easy when you're actively looking.

Eat Lunch On Fine China: well there was none of that to be found at work, but I borrowed the nicest plate I could fine and, whilst I still ate at my desk, just the act of eating my lunch (leftover vegan chilli, yum!) from a plate made a far greater difference than I thought it would.  I learnt a much needed lesson in taking a little time and a proper break to not just eat but savour my food; pause, refocus and regroup.

Work Excellently: I work hard, but do I always excellently?  Another great mindset for the day and it brought a surprising amount of joy to the day too.  Not just completing a task, but making the process excellent is a compelling way to approach the jobs of a day.

Stretch Throughout The Day: at any possible opportunity.  I found that it centered me, focused me on my physicality and brought me back to the present. Again, all important reminders.

Eat Dessert: and that I did!  I had nothing in the house so a scrubble round the cupboards resulted in my first proper attempt at tofu ice cream.  Peanut Butter Maple Tofu Ice Cream to be exact and damn, is it good!  Shame no-one else at home likes the sound of it... one whole tub for me!

And so, in 10 simple instructions, I had a very happy Monday.  More importantly I was truly "present" in my day, focused from the moment I got dressed to the final moments before I went to bed on what would bring pleasure to my day.  I was also reminded that happy is not a selfish concept, that focusing on my happy was also a way of bringing my best me to the rest of my day.

So tomorrow's Monday, have a Happy One folks and, if you have time, try a some of this little experiment :o)

What's been happening...

Goodness, it's been a long (busy!) time since I last had a chance to get my writing hat on; here's a small hint of what's been happening the last few weeks...

Designing, for me is more often than not purely for personal reasons; cards, invitations etc. but recently I've had a few external commissions and it's certainly been a smörgåsbord design-wise.  It started with a company logo which is now on their building's external signage and I can't deny its kinda cool to see your work in 40 foot glorious technicolour. Project 2 was to design some engagement party invitations and all the corresponding paper items: menus, placecards, table number cards etc.  Project 3 is a complete change of pace from florals and creams; a website for a private Respiratory specialist.  I now know more about lungs and the respiratory systems than ever thought I would, its been really interesting work.

The engagement invitations are an iron grey (coincidentally, now also the colour of my bathroom woodwork) design on a very pale cream, pearlised card. The floral design is a combination of two brushes (Blossom and Sweet Pea) from one of my favourite designers Pixels & Ice Cream - their website is definitely worth a look. All names and details have obviously been changed.

The Invitations
The Reply Cards

The reverse of both the invitation and reply cards

Table Numbers

Menu Cards (gorgeous menu!), each guest's choice indicated with glued on Swarovski crystal

And finally, a A4 header for additional papers (maps etc.)

The website is a completely different look.  London based, we went for a red, white and blue theme and the dark navy blue works well with the x-ray of a throat and lungs that we chose as the site's main image.  It's very simple, but clean and bold and I'm pleased to say that I have a very happy client.

And finally, in amongst all that, there has been work and coursework, lots of dogs to walk, the Halloween costume (more of that later), handmade Christmas presents and Christmas card designs, and the rather mad idea that I would redecorate around the house "just because".

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Three Sardines Cushion

My three little fishes are all done!  I briefly contemplated a box cushion descriptor but there's the right way to make them, the wrong way to make them and then whatever it was that I got up to yesterday afternoon!  The zip also didn't make it to the final cushion, I liked the idea but not the reality.  I'm loving my three fishes though, and, as one of my lovely two decided, they do make the old uncomfy rocker look both cool and comfy!  Definitely going to have to start looking around for a couple more patterns at least; just no more box ones please.  

PS it's not as wonky as I've now noticed the photo suggests (promise), that'll teach me not to plump before shooting!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Going Back to the Top

I don't usually post coding tips on here simply because there are so many other sites out there that do it so much better but this one I love because it is such a simple but effective little line of code.

As you may have noticed, I now have a scrolling "back to the top" arrow in the bottom right hand corner of my page.  Once I'd got my arrow and saved it to photobucket all I needed to do was open up my template in Blogger (insert standard "Don't forget to Backup" warning here) and inserted this piece of code

<a style="position: fixed; bottom:10px; right:10px;" href="#" title="back to the top" ><img style="border: none;" src="paste your arrow image url here"/></a> 

just above the <body> tag.  Insert the url for your own arrow image and reword the title if you want.  As the Meerkats would say "Simples!"  Cue gratuitous photo of Sergei ;o)

Monday, 30 September 2013

Reshaping (Blocking) Needlepoint Canvases

My first great crafting love was, and probably still is needlepoint; though we parted company for a good few years and it's taken the introduction of it to the 12yo to remind me.  I learnt as a very young child and, having taught the 12yo am truly impressed with the patience on my Mother and Grandmother! When caught up in a project, I find it utterly addictive, soothing and satisfying, and especially good (and more sociable than sewing) when curled up on the sofa in the evenings.  With all the big sewing projects the last couple of years, I have not had the time to risk being diverted, but as this year's big sewing project is continuing to prove problematic, a diversion was exactly what I needed.  I have on the long-term "to do" list an idea that one day I will have sofas full of mis-matched, handmade and much loved cushions.  This is the first of the handmades, care of the extremely clever Emily Peacock and Kirsty Allsop's Craft: a tin of Sardines!  Having not had access to the wools recommended, I took liberties both with the colours (Anchor substitutions done by sight) and, as I found out right at the end of the project, the pattern as my printer rendered a third of the sardine's spots invisible!

Back in Hong Kong, where I learnt to love needlepoint, Mum and Nan made cushion tops all the time and off they went to the cushion making man and came back beautifully stretched and sewn into cushions.  A quick Google and I rapidly decided that, as a) I can make cushions and b) stretching a canvas couldn't be that difficult, £52+ was a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a similar service.  One quick read of a couple of Needlepoint Blocking 101 pages later, a scrubble round the draw for some tacks and a beg of the boyf to find me a piece of wood and I took my first stab at stretching a canvas.  It really is very easy to do and a good thing too as my second project is, literally, in hand!

I soaked the canvas lightly (it should be wet through but not utterly drenched) in warm water and rolled it immediately, and quite tightly, in a towel, to draw out the water: being careful not to rub or disturb the wool.  I then left it to rest for 5-10 minutes while I prepared the board.

You can, or course, buy boards but I wasn't going to spend the money on what might be my first and only attempt at this.  I also read suggestions that the board should be covered with fabric but this one was entirely smooth and I could not see the benefit in doing that.  I decided to keep is simple.  On my board I marked out a grid in pencil.  No great thought was put into it, the squares were the width of the ruler, they were simply there as a guide when eyeing everything up.

And then, with the help of the lovely boyf, we pinned.  As all the guides recommend, it is not so much about stretching the canvas to suit a shape, but working it; allowing some areas to ease as others are gently stretched.  It took a couple of goes, the canvas was quite twisted, but I am very pleased with the results.  Now we just have to be patient and wait for it to dry, 3-5 days is recommended.

If the canvas needs further stretching, and it is recommended in severe cases to repeat the process rather than try to force it the first time, then it can be redipped and stretched once completely dry.  I think I will be happy with mine as it is.  Now I just need to brush up on my cushion making techniques as this will be a curved corner, box pillow construction ideally with a zip and I hate zips!  Though the idea of the cushion being steely, sardine tine coloured, grey and a bright red or blue zip for detail does immediately make me smile.  In fact, I think I have just had a good idea... a zip sewn on externally, rather than hidden, with a ribbon detail at either end for neatness.... hmmmm.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tofu Bechamel Sauce and Chilli Lasagne

Yes, Chilli Lasagne and why, I ask myself, had I not thought of it before?  Moreover, having performed a very thorough taste test last night, it is really, really good... possibly even better than Lasagne Lasagne!

The Chilli itself, which started out as just plain Chilli, before morphing into Chilli Nachos and finally Chilli Lasagne, is based on this recipe here (which I've mentioned before and will no doubt mention again), veganised with "faux" mince and vegan Worchester sauce.  The Bechamel Sauce, part of my series of "what can I do now with tofu" recipes is based on Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipe with a couple of changes made for taste and ease.


1 box Mori silken tofu, with liquid
1-1.5 cup(s) soy milk
1 vegetable stock cube (dry, not diluted in liquid, I use Knorr Pots)
1 good pinch sea salt
Ground black pepper (I'm generous with mine)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
2 tbsp EVOO
2 tbsp white flour

Essentially, everything goes into a blender and is blitzed till smooth, nothing more complicated than that.  I started off with one cup of milk and added more as needed, I was looking for a double cream consistency.

You could follow the original recipe and make a flour roux, but I didn't want to be using a warm Bechamel sauce (the lasagne was being in made advance and with cold chilli) and I was too impatient to wait for it to cool.  Adding the flour to the blend and letting it cook through on a low oven for 40 minutes worked perfectly - I preferred it to my first attempt which had followed the original recipe.  The addition of a stock cube to the tofu does wonders for the flavour, something that I wanted to enhance with the herbs and pepper.  It also cooks well, and whilst you don't get the traditional cheese laden top, the gorgeous gooey white sauce/mince mix is still there and, in this case, made all the more moreish thanks to the subtle heat of the chilis and gorgeous rich, smoky sauce.

This is one recipe definitely worth a try :o)

Friday, 20 September 2013

DIY Halloween Ecard Invitation - A Tutorial of Sorts

This year I wanted to send an ECard Invitation for Halloween.  I did an invitation a couple of years back that was on a CD, but this one I wanted to be able to email and play as a movie.

This is the final invitation. I've embeded it in a Photobucket player, the resolution is a better than Blogger's own video tool but please be patient, it may take a little while to appear... and ignore the play button in the top left hand corner (doesn't always work) in favour of the one in the bottom left hand corner (which does always work).  In case you're asking why I bothered... you should have seen the resolution from Blogger, it was worth it, I promise!

So, what do you need?  It's pretty simple: an image, preferably editable, and/or editing software; Microsoft Powerpoint and and music saved in a .wav format.

As there is no need to specify the theme this year, I decided to focus on the idea of a haunted house and graveyard instead and got the look just right with this great background (one of a series of Vectored Posters free to download on the Vector Graphics Blog) with its quirky, colourful and naive styling.  Having selected it, I opened and edited it in Adobe Illustrator; removing the original text and selecting the layers that I eventually wanted to animate.  I then saved a background file, which only included the imagery that would not be animated:

and each of the layers for animation separately.  They were saved as interlaced .png files and looked something like this:

The eyes from the Grave Monster, so that they can flash  spookily!

The skeletal hand that rises from the ground.

One of the series of bats that flies in.
Finally, in AI I created the three lines of text for the invitation in three separate layers and saved each one separately, again as an interlaced .png file.  I only wanted to animate each line, not individual letters.

The fabulous Mary Jane deGroot from Apostrophic Labs.

Once everything was saved, I moved into Powerpoint and inserted the background into a new slide; fitting it to fill the screen.  Then comes the fun part... animating the various parts in Powerpoint.  At this point I should say, I will not be telling you how to do that!  I wouldn't know where to start and there are plenty of very good tutorials to be found on the interweb that will help you far more than I could.  What I will say, is that the animation had to tell a story: the eyes flicker spookily, smoke rises from the house, a colony (or cloud, for those of you like me who like their collective nouns) of bats fly in and a lone skeletal hand rises from the ground as you are invited.... See what I mean?

One I'd started to tinker with the animation, I knew that I needed some sound effects or music and after a couple of attempts at thunder and haunting laughs, I struck gold with the first 30-odd seconds of the soundtrack to Dark Shadows.  The laugh at the beginning and the overall eeriness of music were exactly what I was hoping for.  As I only had an mp3 file I converted it here to a Powerpoint friendly .wav file.  Now, again, no tutes here from me about adding music to a Powerpoint presentation but I will say that the 2010 version impressed me. I  have not played about with adding music in any of the previous versions so maybe I'm horribly behind the times, but I could edit and tinker and fiddle all I liked and needed to.  Happy Halloweenie Bunny (oh! costume idea!?)

The final job was to create a video.  Again Powerpoint 2010 proved its worth here as under the Save & Send options you can Create A Video, easy.

Once selected, you have various options.  As I was winging it (pardon the pun) I decided to chose the option to record the timings.  The program plays your animation for you, you click to start the record and again to end it... I just wanted to be utterly certain of what my viewers would see and hear, and when the movie would end.

Then you create your video, it's as easy as that!  As it defaults to a Windows Media File, I used my converter tool from earlier (here, it really is very useful, converts most things to most other things) and converted it to any formats necessary (ie mp4 for my iPhone friends).

One Halloween Ecard Invitation, done.  

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Thistles... I think?

Spotted these walking the furbys.  At first glance, it was just a weed on the edge of the field. On closer inspection, it is really rather beautiful.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Finn's World, part 2

It's been a while since I last looked at the world from little Finn's point of view.  In fairness to us all, lots of photos of Finn and grass wouldn't be the most interesting of things to see. Grass, after all, is grass.

We have, however, recently had the harvest.  I say "we" and obviously mean the nameless, faceless owner of the land that surrounds our little home, but it has such an impact on our daily walks that it feels far too personal not to be a "we".  Since these photos have been taken, for example, the field has had it's first plough and is an impassable mass of giant sods of earth.  It will be a good few weeks before we can stretch our legs across it again.  But I digress.

Harvest = a field dissected by row upon row of hay (?) and whilst Megs and I simply stepped over, Finn was faced with an obstacle course.  Ever the loving mother, once I had stopped my laughing, it was time to take a few shots.

Here comes Finn.

And here comes Megs!
Finn was loving it...
occasionally he'd be defeated...
but mostly he just cleared them in style!
And yes, go on... double click... it's worth the close up! ;o)

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Google+? Meh!

Well I've done it, I give up on Google+, especially as there is absolutely no way round the "no-reply blogger" debacle other than to go back to the old ways.  My "limited" blogger profile is restored... gotta love the irony.  There are various posts floating round the interweb on how to switch back but my personal favourite was from Venus Trapped In Mars, who can resist a super happy squirrel! 

Now if I could only figure out how to restore my reading list without adding everyone back in again, I would be a truly happy camper... if anyone knows, please help!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

How to spend a Saturday afternoon..

Plan A was a couple of jobs and to sort out the chooks. Plan B... I make a great bed!

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