February 12, 2018

It's February, so, Happy - belated - New Year?

This year for your holiday present,
We didn't get you a stuffed pheasant,
Nor something equally unpleasant.

Indeed for your celebratory gift
We didn't get a fiery serpent out of a rift,
Or an old-timey ghost wearing a shift,
Nor did we bury gold in sand for you to sift,
Or anything else that would leave you miffed.

For your Hanukkah boon
We won't put you on a crazy giant hot air balloon
Blasting skyward to the moon
Steered only with a hand-carved wooden spoon,
Or force you to listen to a screeching loon croon a never ending tune.

For 2017's token of appreciation
We won't ship you off on a dreary vacation
With a third-class ticket from the bus station
To an unknown foul-smelling location.
Instead, we made you this stop-motion animation -
Please enjoy our heartfelt creation!

November 10, 2016

Halloween Spooktacular

So, time for a little recent bright spot to distract from the last few days...

On top of our usual door monster, this year's Hallow's Eve decorations included some skeletons in our window boxes demonstrating how to be helpful.

For instance, why not knit your buddy a scarf for the coming bone-chilling weather?

Or take your pet out for a moonlit stroll after making sure that collar is very, very secure? Just don't yank that leash too tightly!

And finally, if a neighbor is in over his head on a backyard project, why not really dig in to help?

Of course, we were out in our regalia as always. Actually, before trick or treating, we hung out at the Renaissance Faire on its last day of the season, where many people skipped the pseudo-medieval in favor of their Halloween get ups.

Here is our version of Kubo from the fantastic Kubo and the Two Strings. Have you seen it yet? It was pretty incredible origami-based stop motion animation. Her hair was perfect for his top knot + long bangs style.

Another front view of Kubo with a shemisen and an eyepatch, and a nice shot of a skeleton friend along for the ride. And, by skeleton friend, I of course mean, an animated skeleton warrior raised from dead to avenge his enemies.

So, what do you add to a Japanese-influenced fairy tale and a DnD monster to complete the thematic coherence? Steampunk Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of course.

What's the last fun thing you can look back on to ignore recent news?

October 12, 2016

Fringe Arts: Habitus

On Monday, we managed to catch the last day of Ann Hamilton's habitus, a Fringe Arts installation. And it's not exaggerating to say that just like that, a somewhat dull and purposeless day was filled with strange and hilarious spectacle and delight.

The installation consisted of many huge cylindrical curtain shapes hanging in a warehouse open to breezes from the Delaware River, suspended from pulley systems that you could either spin around yourself. Either the wind or your motion made these curtains billow out like sails or like giant skirts.

There were a number of very serious art-appreciators there, but I have to say that for us the main reaction was delighted laughter and amusement. Imagine that light and happy feeling of twirling around in a flouncy skirt - but times a thousand.

Here is a shot of the rigging that each curtain was on, just to give you a better sense of how it worked. You can just about see the pulley that was connected to a dangling rope pull.

So fun. And plus, we got to see a helicarrier in the Delaware on our way to the exhibit.

What delight came out of nowhere for you recently?

October 11, 2016

A Perfect Day

We strolled around the city on Sunday, enjoying the weather and each other.

Such a lovely day.

Still looking for that elusive picture of the four of us together.

But these are pretty magical anyway.

What surprisingly awesome thing happened on a regular and mundane day for you recently?

September 30, 2016

Steampunk, Family-Style

What is it that's so appealing to me about running around in costume? I mean, I know that I really enjoy the immense amount of making that surrounds each of our outings to some dress-up thing. This makes sense to me - I'm a reasonably creative person who really loves doing stuff with my hands. But I'm hard-pressed to pinpoint why I, a pretty introverted person whose danger and excitement level is firmly set on "medium," want so much to put on crazy clothes and encounter a bunch of other people who share this particular drive.

Part of it is probably the same thing that's so appealing about craft and art fairs. I love seeing other people's work. Seeing beautifully handmade, carefully crafted things makes me feel better about the world in a very visceral way. So, of course, being surrounded by reams of people who also thought that celebrating Victorian futurism would be not only a great way to spend a weekend, but also a nice use of a few months' worth of free time, is life-affirming.

And the rest is probably the same reason why I keep this blog. It's fun to make things, but doing it in a vacuum isn't particularly rewarding. I want to have my work be seen by other people. Preferably people who get what I'm doing without me having to first give them a half-hour contextualized explanation from H.G. Wells to Wild Wild West.

Or maybe it's just because the kids look so cute in those hats.

What odd thing do you inexplicably enjoy?

September 29, 2016

Steampunk American Girl Doll

Oh, I'm sorry - did you think that our anachronistic costumed adventures only extended to the faux-medieval? Not so. Our nerdery knows no bounds! Feast your eyes on this small incarnation of another subculture we recently got into: steampunk, doll edition. Every single thing entirely from scratch. I described sewing the skirt in this post. The shirt I hand-sewed, making up the pattern as I went along and basing its dimensions on the shirt that the doll originally came with.

Ok, so, accessories from the top down. Her top hat is made from a few pieces of leather from an odds-and-ends scrap bag (they sell these kinds of off-cuts in bulk at places like Michaels, if you're interested). I used copper wire to "sew" the side band together, and then glued the brim and crown on with E-6000. The band is a piece of raffia-like string, and the cockade is made of some feathers, craft gears, and wire.

The goggles were a trip to make. I used one of the same kinds of gears that's on the hat, but bent its teeth inward, around a transparent piece of plastic (a circle cut out of a plastic binder divider). Then, with some very liberal use of E-6000, I attached side pieces that are shaped kind of like horse blinders, and a wire nose piece. The straps are a ribbon threaded through wire loops attached to the leather sides.

Her boots were ridiculous fun to make. The soles are made from polymer clay. For the uppers, I again used leather from the scrap bag, which is why some of the larger pattern pieces had to be assembled from smaller leather scraps. You can just see the orange stitches from one example of me doing this on the right. I used orange waxed thread to emphasize the pieced-together-ness of the boots because it seemed like something a hardened steampunk adventurer would have to do mid-caper. We mostly followed these gloriously detailed doll boot instructions, minus the saran wrap.

Finally, the double belt is made from shoe buckles, and some leather from a thrifted handbag.

So, so fun to put together! I'll show you our own steampunk getups next.

What's the last doll outfit you assembled?

September 28, 2016

I Made a Corset, Yo

Our love of Ye Olde Ren Faire continues unabated, and we once again sallied forth to pretend to be old-timey folk. My idea of adding an item or two to the costume stores every year is a pretty solid one, and the family reused much of what we had made last year. New for me? A cotton batik print corset, thank you very much, with zip-tie boning and satin lining. I mostly eyeballed the design after looking at a few patterns and slap-dashedly measuring myself. Honestly, because it's laced up, it's a pretty forgiving piece of clothing. Is it super duper medieval? Um, yeah, no. But it's colorful and fun!

We need to get cracking on some stuff for Mr. 42-Roads, no? He very graciously helped make a bunch of stuff for the kids with nary a hint about the fact that he's costume-less. I mean, it's true that he is quite dashing in his shirt, but I'm thinking next year is the year we step up his game.

The kids decided to be royalty, so I had the somewhat unpleasant experience of working with fake fur. It's kind of yucks, I have to say, and it sheds everywhere! But how else are you going to get those kingly ermine robes going? I found a very lightweight burgundy fabric with the perfect slight sheen, hot-glued the white fur onto it, and used a permanent marker to draw some black spots for verisimilitude. Their crowns are made from wire and beads.

Did you go to the Renaissance Faire this year? Did you pepper your speech with a bunch of thee's and thou's? My anachronistic medieval self only ever sounds like a pirate, for whatever reason.

September 27, 2016

Polymer Clay Necklace

For some reason, it's taken me up until two days ago to consider using the polymer clay the kids like to play with as a jewelry material. I'm not sure what I was thinking. That it was too kid-adjacent? Too clunky to work with without specialized tools? In any case, what an odd blind spot, I now realize, after scrolling through page after page of gorgeous polymer clay pieces on Pinterest.

So, here is my first attempt - a few textured circled joined with jump rings and hung from a silver chain.

I stuck to subdued versions of primary colors to reference the playfulness of the material, and I didn't use anything to shape the circles besides fingers and a few random craft room objects (for example, the divots on the red circle were made with a fusible bead).

I really like how it came out! It's got a fun, relaxed vibe, and as a bonus, it weighs practically nothing.

What new materials have you recently discovered?

September 26, 2016

Picture-Perfect Weekend

So, we managed to snag the brass ring of parenting triumphs - a weekend away without the kids. And not just any weekend! We got to drive up to extraordinarily scenic Portsmouth, a lovely island town on the coast of New Hampshire, where we indulged in such completely adult activities as "not worrying about whether the fancy restaurant will have food for picky eaters" and "spending a long time browsing in the extremely fragile things store without constant panic about ill-swung arms." Reader, it was glorious.

Oh, and I'm not kidding about the picture-perfection of this place. That lighthouse? Yeah, no biggie - just a quick snap with an iPhone. I feel like we should send that photo to Apple for one of their "taken with an iPhone" billboards. Oh, and I feel completely free to pile on the praise for that particular shot. It's not really bragging if it was Mr. 42-Roads wielding the camera, right?

The highlight of the weekend may have come when we decided to order room service Saturday night. It suddenly hit me that we were basically at peak decadence: lying in bed in pajamas as a man in a dashing tuxedo brought us food on a tray. I mean, where is there to go from there? We were basically at "Beulah, peel me a grape" territory.

What memorable hedonism have you indulged in, or maybe even adapted to?

April 7, 2016

New Faucet!

The things-to-fix-around-the-house list keep getting smaller and smaller! Recently, we replaced our master bathroom toilet and faucet, both of which dated from 1953! And both of which were only just now starting to function imperfectly! So, in all seriousness - well done making durable things, 1950s America. Color us impressed. This is what this faucet to end all faucets looked like (basically, your standard two-handled dealie):

We replaced it with this Delta faucet. I decided to go with Delta because we replaced our kitchen faucet with a Delta a couple of years ago and haven't had any issues.

My only caveat about buying faucets is to watch out for the ones from Lowes or Home Depot - they carry same brand/same model name ones that have plastic instead of metal/ceramic parts, so while they are seductively cheaper, you're getting an inferior product.

I love how it immediately modernizes our whole sink! Amazing.

This was a pretty fun weekend project. And by "pretty fun" I mean that we decided ahead of time that would be ok to throw in the towel if we needed to - which is probably why we didn't end up throwing any towels at all! We did however run into the same issue we faced when replacing the kitchen sink. Namely: that the nut holding the faucet in place was frozen and immovable. In both cases, we ended up using our Dremel (we have just this very basic one and it is fine for most things) to saw it off:

Except this time, we got to the "well, might as well saw it off" decision within 10 minutes of not being able to shift the nut, whereas our kitchen was a two-day sink nut battle royale. We're learnding!

March 18, 2016

Desk Air Plants

After visiting a friend's lovely house, Mr. Forty-two Roads came home raving about her use of glass terraria and suspended greenery. Ever since then, he's been really into the idea of replicating this somewhere in our house. But... our house has two rather rambunctious children, whose main response to dangling glass orbs would be to smash into them while running around. The out of the way solution? Our bedroom office nook, which now features this lovely hanging tableau:

These plants are two different kinds of Tillandsia, which just need a daily spritz of water to thrive. They are hanging from curtain rod hooks, which seem perfectly designed to hold a suspended weight.

I did research knots to find a particularly sturdy one, ending up tying twine into double figure 8 knots on both ends. This knot is strong and useful for not putting undue strain on a rope while anchoring it.

February 28, 2016

DIY Shade for a Wall Sconce

Recently, I decided to make a list of all the little annoying things in our house that have been bothering me. Instead of being irritated by them each time I saw them, why not simply tackle one every few days or so? It sounds so basic when I write it here, but for some reason the concept of a project-to-do-small-projects has eluded me until now. But suddenly, instead of internally grumbling to myself about entropy and everything falling apart, I can just add a line item to the list! And just like that - clarity. It's not that "everything is falling apart" - it's that this one panel in this one door has a crack that can easily be caulked.

Project #1 was to add a shade to the bare-bulb sconce that is on our first floor landing. The light is in a great place, and does some heavy duty illumination in our living room, so the shade had to be as translucent as possible. I also wanted to get as far away from the original shade as possible (the sconce started with a very dark orange glass shade that was hideous and that one day fell and broke into a million billion pieces).

My first thought was Amazon - but no dice. The market for half-shades that are held on by the bulb is scant, apparently. It was time to improvise! I used some 13-gauge wire to create a basic frame and the circle that would fit onto the socket.

The shade itself? This IKEA placemat, strategically wrapped around the frame and secured with a few wire twists.

So now we have a reasonably sculptural shade that hides the bulb without compromising light quality.

Here is a schematic for the wire frame. The light blue squiggles are the places where I used a very thin wire to secure the heavier wire either to itself, or to the middle socket-holder piece.

Of course, there's also the option to spray paint the whole thing a bright color. Maybe one day, when it ends back up on the "things bothering me" list!

February 26, 2016

Reverse Applique!

I may be just very slightly extremely into the beautifully embroidered hand-sewn clothes made by the folks at Alabama Chanin. Their designs are detailed without being fussy, ornate but still casual. In an alternate life, I'm wearing that stuff head to toe every day.

In this life, though, I decided to try my own quick version of one of their oft-used techniques: reverse applique. So, two boring shirts (one gray and white stripes, one dark blue) become one:

This effect relies on the non-raveling nature of knit fabric, and is achieved by first embroidering the outlines of a design into two layers of jersey, and then cutting the top layer away to reveal the one underneath.

I used embroidery floss at half thickness (meaning, I separated the six strands into three and three) and sewed a backfilled running stitch around a design I drew freehand with a super thin marker.

Were I following the Chanin technique to the letter, I would have painted my stencil with fabric paint first, which would have remained as an outline next to the embroidery. But I didn't have any fabric paint on hand and just wanted to play.

February 17, 2016

Happy, Happy Birthday!

My favorite person ever turns a year older today! You deserve all the happy things because you make our lives better, funnier, and more loving every single day. I love you!

The kids and I planned and strategized for the last two weeks, present-wise, to stick to my "handmade is good only in so far as it is high quality" ideal. I think we succeeded!

Jake's natural drawing tendencies seemed to a perfect match for string art.

There were numerous sketches of dragons, castles, and flames before we ended up with the perfect composition. I stained the wood block, but Jake did most of the nails and string himself, with a super helpful assist from his sister...

... who was no slouch herself in the art department, painting a super cute collage and mounting it onto a piece of birch.

I feel like she could open up her own Etsy store tomorrow.

Happy birthday!

February 6, 2016

American Girl Doll: Tiered Ruffle Skirt

Well, I am in full-on obsessive steampunk mode now, folks. What does that mean? Apparently it means that Lara's AG doll is also getting an outfit, though I'm not sure she will actually come with us to the festivities.

At the same time, making things for a doll is a great way to work out full scale ideas in a model time frame. For instance, inspired by this kind of thing, I'd like to make Lara a flouncy tiered skirt for her costume. I've definitely never made one before, so I thought an 18 inch experiment would be better than a full-scale disaster.

But no disaster occurred! Look:

The fabric was a set of thrifted curtains. I'm not sure what the fabric is - some kind of rayon, I'm guessing. It's very soft and smooth, with a very slight sheen and some decorative swirly wrinkling. I basically walked around the home goods section of the fantabulous Value Village feeling around until I discovered something that wouldn't be itchy and irritating to wear. I ended up with about 4 yards of this in a 54" width for $6, which I know beats fabric stores prices any day.

Here is a schematic and the measurement math I used for the tiers and the ruffles. I may adjust the ratios slightly as I go to full size skirt, but this turned out great, if I do say so myself.