Thursday, December 29, 2016

Books I Have Read in 2016

In order of reading:
  1. Aaron Allston, Wraith Squadron
  2. Aaron Allston, Iron Fist
  3. Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan
  4. Aaron Allston, Solo Command
  5. China Mieville, King Rat
  6. China Mieville, the City and the City
  7. Rebecca, Skloot The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
  8. Margaret Mahy, The Pirates' Mixed up Voyage
  9. Sydney padua, The Thrilling Adventures of Babbage and Lovelace
  10. Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants
  11. Robert chambers, The King in Yellow
  12. Vivian French, A Robe of Skulls
  13. Stephen Brust, Paths of the Dead
  14. Ambrose Bierce, Can Such Things Be?
  15. Neil Gaiman, Fortunately, the Milk
  16. Gordon Rennie and Frazier Irving, The Necronauts
  17. Neil Gaiman, The Wolves in the Walls
  18. China Mieville, The Iron Council
  19. Jim Butcher, The Aeronaut's Windlass
  20. Stephen Brust, Sethra Lavode
  21. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
  22. Kurtis J. Wiebe, The Rat Queens, vols 1&2
  23. Kenneth Hite, Cliffourd the Big Red God
  24. Kenneth Hite, Good Night, Azathoth 
  25. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
  26. Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde
  27. George Orwell,Coming up for Air

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Requiescat in Pace: Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher has died.

This is my tribute, not quite to Carrie Fisher, but to Princess Leia.  They are not the same, but they are inseparable, and it was as Princess Leia that I knew her.

It was Princess Leia who helped me find my freedom as a woman.  

There are still a lot of social justice problems with the Star Wars universe, and I don't want to ignore them, but I choose to talk about them another time.

When I found Star Wars I was in second grade, lonely and bored nearly out of my skull with second grade and with most of the books in the classroom and desperately short of female heroes I could admire.  (Western fairy tale and myth collections, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling, Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, Robert Lewis Stevenson, etc.: my childhood reading was canonically European but conspicuously lacking in women who fight, lead, and make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies and lives.  Our school library did have a copy of The Hero and the Crown, but I was too intimidated by the thick, blank cover and the glares of the librarians to check it out until years later.)  

I wasn't allowed to watch movies except when I was so sick I couldn't enjoy them, but I was allowed to buy novelizations of the original Star Wars trilogy:
I read these until I know them nearly word for word even now.  It was my first taste of high drama with characters I could identify with.  I loved Princess Leia.  I admired the heck out of her.  I wanted to be like her.  I spent so many interminable mind-killing church services desperately wishing and wishing I'd been born into the Star Wars universe.  The Force didn't tell women to shut up and submit and go to heaven by having babies.  Anyone with an affinity for the Force could become a Jedi knight, not just people with penises.  (And I, obviously, would be a Jedi, because we are all the heroes of our own stories.)

Princess Leia was a leader in the Rebellion, under Mon Mothma (another woman!).  And she didn't just sit around and be the love interest.  She ran blockades, endured torture without breaking, came up with solutions while under blaster fire, stood with the other generals at the battle of Yavin, got bullied by Han Solo but talked back to him, disguised herself and walked into Jabba's palace to rescue Han, went with the ground commandos on Endor, and eventually became President of the New Republic.   

Princess Leia was a warrior and a leader and a woman. 

Princess Leia is still my hero.

Requiescat in pace, Carrie Fisher.  

The Naming of Alcoholic Drinks


The passionfruit vodka smells even more passionfruit-y than passionfruits.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Of Anime First Watched in 2016, Some Favorites

Not in any particular order:

  • Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (Erased): If you can return to the past, can you really change anything?  In a world where children aren't usually taken seriously, can you save a friend from adults in positions where everyone trusts them and not you?
  • Steins; Gate and the sequel Steins; Gate: Fuka Ryouiki no Deja Vu.  One of the best "parallel timelines/realities/time travel" stories I've found, in any medium.  A little too much creepy obsession with the trans character, and the usual sexism toward scientists who are also female, but I decided I would keep watching anyway for what shaped up to be a very well-done plot.  Slow to get started; almost 10 episodes before the storyline really starts to unfold. 
  • Sarusuberi Miss Hokusai.  Amazingly beautiful historical fiction, seamlessly incorporating some of Hokusai's best known works.  Touching and sad yet also hopeful. 
  • Flying Witch: everyday life with a witch and her friends.  Nothing much happens, but life is peaceful and good.  I learned the best way to chop an onion.
  • Rokka no Yuusha: six heroes are chosen to go and fight the demons who periodically try to destroy human lands.  Lush, brilliant colors, panoramic landscapes, startling personalities, and a nice twist on the typical fantasy setup.
  • Mushishi (and all sequels): "Perceived as strange and alien, inferior and grotesque, these are beings who appear entirely unlike flora and fauna familiar to us."  Yet not malicious, not evil.  Everyone and everything is just trying to get by, just trying to live.  When mushi and humans come into conflict, Ginko the mushishi (mushi master) tries to mediate.  
  • Thunderbolt Fantasy: egregiously over-the-top tale of swords and sorcery.  For when you want amazing costumes, flamboyant monikers, male posturing (so much male posturing), rage-worthy sexism toward women doing anything other than having babies (yeah, I would have been happy to skip those parts), unbelievable explosions, and puppets killing each other with magical swords, this is your anime, right here.  
  • Katanagatari: take every fantasy trope about a quest for magical swords and turn it inside-out and upside-down and toss it through a black hole.  Take what comes out and animate it so that everyone looks exactly like what they are (maybe), in a phantasmagorical way.  One of the most visually intriguing but saddest fairy-tales I've encountered. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Mad Person-Who-Stitches: An Evening Dress For Elisheba

As I mentioned in my burn test post, I've been working on a dress for Elisheba.  Here it is:



My design sketch:
This dress felt like a lot of firsts: first evening dress, first time doing a little net crinoline, first time working extensively with straps, first time working with fabric chosen entirely by someone else, first time making a toile.  Writing it up, I realize that the only things I had never done before were making a toile, box pleats for the net crinoline, and the narrow (comparatively) straps.     

The dress is a princess-line, unwaisted dress with a contrasting center front panel, shoulder straps, decorative back lacing, invisible zipper in the back waist, and a mini-train.  The fabric is polyester (probably) satin with gold metallic overlay on mostly pale sky blue background with dark blue flowers.  The front panel is polyester (probably) brocade in dark blue with gold and bronze dots. 

I started with the pattern for McCall's 6382 and another dress of Elisheba's (from ebay) that has the same basic construction as the design sketch.

Friday, December 9, 2016

An Outfit Fit For A Musician

The court suit of Johann Hummel.  Yes, that Hummel!  Images courtesy of the wonderful FIDM Museum, who post about their amazing collection online!

I think this is utterly fabulous!  That embroidery!  The ruffly shirtfront (neckcloth?)!  The embroidered waistcoat!

It is a great sadness to me that gentlemen these days dress primarily in boring, unrelieved black and white for formal occasions. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Mad Person-Who-Stitches: Science!

Burn tests are a venerable and respectable way to identify stuff.  And you get to set things on fire!

A little explanation: I'm working on an evening dress for Elisheba with fabric she brought back from a Ugandan excursion while working in Peace Corps Tanzania.  Of course the fabric is fabulous:
It's very lightweight and drapey and shiney, but also easy to snag, pull the weave out of true, and it shreds almost as much as the heavy costume satin I work with a lot.  I wondered if it might be silk.  This seemed unlikely, given the cheap price, but I wondered.  A quick internet query suggested that the quickest way to determine fabric type is with a burn test.  One tea candle, bare concrete sidewalk, bucket of water, and scrap of fabric later, I came up with this:


Definitely synthetic.  The gold overlay flames and burns extremely aggressively (the twisted, blackened portion in the upper photo).  The non-gold-overlaid bits burned less aggressively, but they did burn, with flame, and left a crispy but not very hard, twisted edge.  The burned portion without metallic overlay had no smell that my nose could detect.





















While I had a lit candle and bucket of water, I tried a number of other fabric scraps from my stash, because science!


Satin from the underdress for Elisheba's dress:
it melts into hard, shiny, slick, slightly flexible (but easily broken if bent too far) plastic!  I actually like working with this type of mid-weight satin: it's strong, tightly woven, hangs well, and takes many types of embellishments in stride.  I just have to French seam everything and/or use Fraycheck liberally to stop the raw edges from shredding away.  And not set it on fire. 







Used silk sari I turned into large pillow covers:
it...vanished, flamingly, leaving a hard,
bad-smelling residue at the edges.  Had to be
dipped in water to stop burning.  Not real silk, then. 










Nylon tricot, used for aerial fabrics: it vanishes,
rapidly, with almost no flame, leaving a thin, brittle rim of hardened fabric.  Smelled faintly of burning nylon rope (hard to describe: not exactly unpleasant, but unbreathable, a little bit like old charcoal ash, a little bit metallic, a little bit chemical but not ammonia or chlorine smells.)  Note to self: do not under any circumstances combine fire dancing and aerial fabrics. 






Stretch velvet from a leotard: burned aggressively,
with flames (I'm guessing the added surface area of the velvet pile increases the burn rate), twisted up a lot and left a hard, plastic-y residue.  Also split where the selvedge edge met the main fabric.  Do not combine fire dancing and velvet leotards.  









Net, to fluff out the underdress for Elisheba's dress:
it vanishes, rapidly, with almost no flame, leaving a
thin plastic film at the edges of the burn:













Cotton/polyester twill (ratio unknown), used for a
doll's tae kwon do outfit, a Hakaryu doll for
cosplaying Cho Hakkai from Saiyuki, Zelda's apron
from Legend of Trapeze Zelda (yes, we do Legend
of Zelda on a trapeze.  We are that fabulous.), and
various other small projects: burned aggressively,
with flame, twisting up and leaving a hard residue.








100% cotton from cosplaying Meow from
Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran: burned aggresively,
with flames, no twisting or hard residues.
Burned portion split and frayed under tiny amount
of pressure.  Burned portion smelled good, vaguely like cooking meat on a charcoal grill.










100% linen from a commission for a Roman-style tunic: burned aggressively, with flames, no twisting or hard residues.  Burned portion tore and frayed
under tiny amount of pressure.  Burned portion smelled wonderful, kind of like pine straw heating up under a June sun or mesquite chips for grilling.


 




Conclusions:
  1. Fire is still one of the most amazing and powerful forces for change that we have discovered. 
  2. None of the fabrics I work with on a regular basis is the slightest bit fire-resistant.
  3. The main fabric for Elisheba's dress is some kind of synthetic.  It feels more like nylon, but burned more like the cotton/polyester twill.  I didn't have any rayon scraps to burn, so cannot compare with that.  Tentative conclusion: nylon/polyester/unknown blended fiber.  It might be a satin weave, which would explain the shredding at raw edges.  
  4. That was fun!  I learned stuff!  Let's do it again sometime when I can burn some real silk or wool!  I should take better notes!  Maybe take video!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sewing Tidbit: Pintucks vs Pleats

So apparently (i.e., after some quick internet reading) a pintuck is just a really narrow knife pleat that's stitched the entire length of the pleat.

Earlier this year I was reveling in discovering that there exist different kinds of pleats.  The internet is a wonderful thing.

Also one "how to make pintucks post" mentioned that there are 60/8 sewing machine needles, finer even than 70/10s.  I want them.  Wants them, my precious!  This past year I've been sewing with longer and longer stitches and almost exclusively my 70/10 needles and with some particularly troublesome fabrics have decided that simply using the finest needle I have works better than my ballpoint or stretch needles.      

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Mad Person-Who-Stitches: New Fabrics For My Stash

I adore printed cottons.  I can (and did) spend a whole trip to the fabric store just browsing the cotton prints and reminding myself that I cannot afford to buy them all.  I made myself stop with four, for now.

First, blue-purple paisleys with mixed flowers on black.  I love paisleys, but they're hard to find in the jewel tones and spacing that I like.

Autumn leaf print, because it was on the 60% off table:

Japanese crest inspired scales, a bit overwhelming in large swathes, but maybe an adorable drawstring bag?  Or cutting out individual scales for detail/embellishment/homemade applique.

Kaleidoscopic rondels in royal blue and gold and scarlett.  I am so in love with this fabric.  I may just hang it up and admire it for a while before I can bring myself to take scissors to it. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Caturday Post: Use Dye for Natural Fibers Only

Tamerlane the World-Conquering Sword investigates my new pot for dyeing fabric.
Not that I would ever dye the World-Conquering Sword: he is the perfect orange tabby kitty already.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Fabulosity: Old Ones Dress

I think it was supposed to be a paisley-ish design, but the "heads" have radiate star-like protrusions, the bodies are barrel-ish, and they have spots (!).  Gentle readers, I present the "Old Ones" dress, clearly a prophecy representing H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones from At the Mountains of Madness.
Afternoon dress of printed silk satin, ca 1902, shown on The Dreamstress' blog
That the resemblance is vague and open to interpretation through many differing cultural biases does not shake my faith.  I feel the truth in my heart: this dress is madness!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Madness Monday: Mini Mythos

It has come to my attention that Kenneth Hite has written an adorable series of adorable adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft parodying classic children's literature. I now own Clifford the Big Red God (an adaption of :"The Dunwich Horror" and Goodnight Azathoth, which is simply a delight. 



In Goodnight Azathoth, when we say good night to the two little fishes (and something that squishes) we notice that the fishes have a German sub toy in their bowl, an interesting nod to HPL's "The Temple."



The genie lamp in the Goodnight Azathoth room is helpfully labeled "do not rub."  Perfect.

Cliffourd follows "Dunwich Horror" fairly closely, but it is a joy to have the whole thing narrated in the context of Wilbur Whately having the biggest and reddest god in Dunwich (infra-red, so he is invisible!).

These little books bring me such joy.  Next I must acquire Where the Deep Ones Are, an adaptation of "Shadow over Innsmouth" in the style of Maurice Sendak.


Friday, November 18, 2016

iLuminate Comes to Town and My Heart Is Swayed By Blinky Lights

iLuminate is a dance company in which everything is done in the dark, with light.  The costumes light up, as do the props.  Rather than conventional set changes, the lights go off, and then come back in different patterns, taking us from house to street to through a magic portal.  Rather than regular costume changes, the color and patterns of the dancers' gear shifts.  Magic pixel insects called out by a magic paintbrush fly up into the darkness and a green outline rat runs out from under green outline trashcans.  (I am so in love with the green rat.) 

I was extremely impressed.  This is technology meets dance in a way that forces us to pay attention to both, without being so busy making sure we know that Art is a Serious Philosophical Pursuit or They Are Using Modern Technology to do Art as to lose the fun and natural flow.

(Not that I am against art as a serious philosophical pursuit or using modern technology to do art.  I'm in favor of both.  But if you have to tell your audience that your art is Serious and they should be feeling Reverent Aesthetic Bliss, you're doing it wrong.  Likewise if the best use you can come up with for your fancy backdrop projector is a bizarre parade of iconic figures not related to a story mediocre to start with, you're again doing it wrong.) 

Rather, iLuminate gave us a lovely evening exploring what dance looks like if dancers light up the dark, rather than being light-reflecting objects in light.  The story was archetypal: love rejected and accepted, outcasts finding solace in other worlds, magic, giant glowy snakes, and badness being conquered through love and dance.

The choreography was solid and technically impressive.  The lifts and partner tricks were extra impressive done with a partner invisible in the dark.  I felt that hands and lower legs needed more illumination, and the heads less: a number of beautiful high kicks, front and back walkovers, and other moves were not as visible as they needed to be to show off how lovely they were.

The main character was recognizable through his dance, but the other characters needed more personality dance-wise.  (This is something I'm really trying to work on with my dance, so I'm paying extra attention to others' dance, to try to get a feel for what I need to be doing or not doing.)  The blend of hip-hop and ballet was interesting and I thought fairly seamless, although concentrated on big flashy moves rather than on an overall fleshed-out flow.  But that might be me coming from Kuchipudi where you can perfectly well spend half a dance drama simply having the 2 or 3 main characters introduce themselves (the pravesam, or introductory dance.  Satyabhama's pravesam is the highlight of the famous Kuchipudi dance drama Satyabhama.)

I liked what I could hear of the music, it was about being what you are and other good sentiments, but the volume was turned up way way way too loud, and I missed a lot of the treble lines because I had to keep my fingers in my ears. 

iLuminate was founded by Miral Kotb, a software engineer and dancer who meshed her loves.  She is my new hero, and her iLuminate is fabulous!   

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Things In My Garden: The Rose Is Red!

The rose bush that was struggling underneath a holly bush has emerged and bloomed!  
It also needs a protective net: something(s) have been nibbling it voraciously. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Cake and Roses


For my birthday, garishly fuchsia roses and a peanut butter and chocolate cake.  Decorated with chopped up Reese's cups arranged in the shape of the Blue Oyster Cult cross.








Thursday, November 10, 2016

From Elisheba's Fabulous Fall Collection

Hairsticks!



The Mad Person-Who-Stitches: Inspiration Strikes! (Or Maybe Not)

A while ago, I discovered that old sari borders are sold on ebay.  But I felt guilty about buying some for my fabric stash without having any idea of what I would use them for.  Today I had an idea about using them: doing a bodice that is all about the contrasting ornamentation, like this one,
From Wikimedia.  Possibly Christina of Denmark.
using old sari borders instead of lace.  However sari borders are often wider than would make pleasing proportions on a small person (like me), and also are often directional, unlike the trim on the lady in the painting.

So maybe this idea wouldn't work after all.  I'll have to think about it