Crafty Resolutions

As we approach December 31, we take stock, judge our past 12 months, and resolve to create a new and better life in the coming year. It's normal to want to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, with promises of increased willpower and optimism. Of course, for those of us who ever purchased a gym membership in January and stopped going by March, we know that these resolutions are, at best, wishful thinking.

A very wise friend and mentor recently said that resolutions "set us up for failure and feeling sh**ty about ourselves. The resolutions people make are usually about fixing themselves and their lives, based on “there is something wrong here” or even worse, “there is something wrong with me.”

[Editorial tangent: if you're interested in doing something more productive than just making resolutions, I invite you to visit his blog post entitled "Looking Back, Looking Forward" which is a three-part exercise developed to help you create closure for this year and plan for the next.]

So, since I'm working on developing deliberate and authentic goals for next year, I figured it might be a good idea to apply this thinking to my crafting. There are a lot of things I'd like to to with my knitting/sewing/upholstery/etc but I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish while still stretching myself a bit. With this in mind, here are a few crafty goals for 2011:

There's an app for that.
1. More sewing. Being forced to sew as part of my upholstery class has given me new-found confidence with the medium. I've always said that I only sew squares (duvet covers, curtains, pillow covers, etc.) but, in 2010, I had to sew the more complicated seat cushion for my wing-back chair and I participated in the "charity craft day" during which I sewed simple girls dresses. As a result, I feel like it's time to branch out a bit and try to make something that requires more than just a straight stitch. The sewing machine is set up. Now I just need to pick a project to run with. Suggestions would be appreciated.

Cassandra rocks the cables
2. Knitting cables. Similar to my sewing prowess, my knitting skillz are not "mad." After nearly 9 years of knitting (off and on) I haven't progressed past beginning-intermediate. I try, with each project, to push myself a bit but my lack of confidence has kept me at "using techniques I already know - just in new and different ways." I need to make myself learn some new techniques. In 2011, I vow to learn cables. Cassandra (who started knitting on the same day as me and FAR surpassed me years ago) knits cables like they're nothing and creates the most gorgeous patterns. I'm intent on conquering my fear and adding this skill to my repertoire.

Cassandra rocks embroidery
3. Learning to embroider. As you may have noticed, Cassandra's a pretty good embroiderer (see: Tuesday's blog post as well has her Bert and Ernie pillows) and, again, I have skill envy. So, I'm going to use the awesome book that we reviewed a couple of months ago, and pick an embroidery pattern to apply to whatever sewing project I end up doing. See what I did there? Combined two goals. We call that efficiency, baby.

The chair that started it all.
4. Finish upholstering stuff. I originally took the upholstery class because I didn't want to pay someone to recover a particular chair. I'm now working on chair number three. If I do it correctly, I can have every upholstered chair in my house redone by December 2011. Once this happens, I have no more projects and I have no space for new furniture. This is a bittersweet thought. I love my upholstery class but there's no reason for me to keep taking it unless I want to try to be an upholsterer for a living - or I want to buy a bigger house. Seems like overkill just to keep taking a class. So my goal is to finish what I've got by the end of fall semester 2011. *sad face*

5. Open myself up to new inspiration. 2010 was a great craft year for me. Starting this blog and partnering with my old friend, Cassandra, has kept me firmly involved in what's going on in the craft world. In 2011, I'd like to expand on the work we've done, discover new crafters (via blogs, podcasts, books, etc), learn new skills, and generally become better at my hobbies (or add new ones.) I think it's important that we stay fresh and inspired - and it's a goal I'm committed to.

I hope that 2011 brings all of you health, happiness, and success in whatever goal(s) you set for yourself. Just remember, don't make resolutions that make you feel shitty about yourself. Set goals that, when you reach them, allow you to celebrate how awesome you are.

Happy New Year, friends.

- Alex

Practical, yet alluring.

Hi again everyone! I hope you had a wonderful holiday this year. My post-holiday has been spent decompressing and thinking about what I'd like to do next (craft-wise).

After the insanity that was Christmas morning at my house, the realization hit me that I had nothing on the needles. That is one weird sensation. You see, I am not one of those knitters who has 8 projects going at one time. I am more inclined to take one project from beginning to end, then begin again. So when I finish a project, I get a bit stressy until I cast-on for the next. I'd kind of like to use some yarn that I have in my stash for the next project. The front-runner is 1100 yards of Black Water Abbey 2Ply Worsted in the colorway Autumn. The color is so me,  love it. I had purchased it to make a vest that is not going to happen... so I'd love to find a good use for it. I have a few ideas and I will let you know which is the winner soon!

Black Water Abbey Worsted in Autumn.

Christmas night, relaxing on the couch after the boys went to bed, I cleaned out my knitting bag. Extra yarns from the holiday sweaters, needles, patterns, etc. Everything needed to be cleared out in anticipation of the next project. During my organizing, I took a good look at my accessory case. It's felted wool and was kinda cute at one time. I had purchased it a few years ago from a yarn show vendor. Today it looks a bit tattered and frankly isn't really my style.

Not really my style, but functional.
So my next project was obvious. I was going to design my own knitting accessory case. I set pencil to paper and began my design. I knew I wanted all the same functionality of the case I already had, but with a bit more panache.

From my sketches, you can see that I am don't improvise much!
I knew I wanted to use the linen-looking cotton by French General in my fabric stash for the body of the case. I dug that out and started thinking. The fabric is beautiful, but plain. It really called for some embroidery embellishment in the design. After much sketching, I decided that I wanted to do a robin and a robin's nest. In my searching for images of robins on the internet, I ran across a link to Martha Stewart's site that had a robin embroidery template all ready for download. How lucky was I? No need to draw it out myself. I downloaded and got cracking:
Robin embroidery template courtesy of Martha.
About halfway through the embroidery, I was a little disappointed. It's more traditional than I thought initially. It's the pose of the bird more than anything. But, I might be over-thinking this. I will press on. I will finish up the embroideries, and then break out the sewing machine and sew up the interior pockets and edging. Once I get to the sewing, I am assuming that the project will fly... famous last words! My next post will (hopefully) have a finished product for you to see!

Take care,


It's the Most Wonderful Time...

"Sing it with me! 

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"
It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
It's the hap -happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call 

It's the hap - happiest season of all

There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago

It's The Most Wonderful Ti....   Wait. What??

Hold that sled just a second. "There'll be scary ghost stories?" It's Christmas not Halloween... WTH?"

You've just read a fairly accurate portrayal of me, Alex, about four weeks ago when I finally (after 40-*cough* years on this earth) finally, actually processed that line of the song.

This led to a little bit of obsessive thinking every time I heard the song again - which, if you're listening to the "all Christmas, all the time" radio station is about every 22 minutes.

Yesterday, Cassandra suggested that I use today's blog post to "explore the English tradition of Christmas ghost stories." ...Wait. What?? There's actually a basis for that freaky line in the song? *facepalm*

So yeah. I thought I'd load y'all up with a bunch of links about the history of the tradition but all I could really find were vague references to pre-Christian, European oral traditions and evidence of the fact that the Victorians (obsessed with death and spirits as they were) were very fond of the Christmas ghost story. As Cassandra most eloquently put it, "You do realize that is why 'A Christmas Carol' is a ghost story, right? Dickens didn't just pull the concept out of his ass."

The best resource I found was from a literary researcher named Richard Dalby. Dalby has a penchant for the supernatural and many of the books and anthologies he's contributed to have this theme. One (sadly out of print, it seems), "Ghosts for Christmas," is a compilation of Christmas-themed ghost stories, I'm assuming from Victorian times. Here's the list of stories included:

"Our Ghost Party" - Jerome K. Jerome
"The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton - Charles Dickens
"The Ghost Detective" - Mark Lemon
"The Dead Sexton" - J. Sheridan Le Fanu
"Markheim" - Robert Louis Stevenson
"The Ghost of Christmas Eve" - J.M. Barrie
"The Real and the Counterfeit" - Mrs. Alfred Baldwin
"Number Ninety" - Mrs. B.M. Croker
"Thurlow's Christmas Story" - J.K. Bangs
"Their Dear Little Ghost" - Elia W. Peattie
"Wolverton Tower" - Grant Allen
"A Ghost-Child" - Bernard Capes
"The Kit-Bag" - Algernon Blackwood
"The Shadow" - E. Nesbit
"The Irtonwood Ghost" - Elinor Glyn
"Bone To His Bone" - E.G. Swain
"Transition" - Algernon Blackwood
"The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance" - M.R. James
"The Sculptor's Angel" - Marie Corelli
"The Snow" - Hugh Walpole
"Smee" - A.M. Burrage
"The Prescription" - Marjorie Bowen
"The Demon King" - J.B. Priestly
"Lucky's Grove" - H. Russell Wakefield
"I Shall Take Proper Precautions" - George H. Bushnell
"Christmas Meeting" - Rosemary Timperley
"Someone In The Lift" - L.P. Hartley
"The Christmas Present" - Ramsey Campbell
"Christmas Entertainment" - Daphne Froome
"Gebal and Ammon and Amalek" - David G. Rowlands

So now I'm on the hunt for a copy of this book and I'll be doing some independent, Interwebz research to see if I can find out more about this craziness. I'm not sure what was up with the Victorians and death but I found an interesting article written by someone at Berkley called "A Victorian Obsession With Death."

You know...suddenly the "hap-happiest time of the year" became awfully maudlin.

- Alex

Dec 24 - Postscript:  I follow a few blogs including one called "Forgotten Classics" which focuses on less-well-known classic literature. Guess what the post was today... Christmas Ghost Stories (of course). Check it out! Forgotten Classics: Episode 145 - Two Christmas Ghost Stories.

By the Skin of My Teeth

The clock is ticking...Santa will be here really soon. As usual, I'm not ready. The boy's sweaters are all knitted up and blocked. Seaming is in progress!

Bogart's blue sweater having a relaxing soak yesterday.
They will be done in the next few days (eek - skin of my teeth before the holiday) and then my knitting bag will be empty. That is the weirdest feeling ever. But it won't last, I have at least 99 ideas for what I want to do next. And the front-runners are all small scale projects. After two little cabled sweaters, I need some instant gratification. My next post will talk about my priority list (and maybe even some shots of the new sweaters on little bodies). Some knitting, some not. But I'm pretty excited about it all! I'm ready for a fresh start and I have so many ideas in my head.

Short post again today. This week, life is getting in the way of our relationship dear friends!

Happy Holidays everyone!

– Cassandra

You're a mean one...

Call me Grinch.

Run on sentences aside, I offer you the first paragraph (with paraphrased first line above) of Moby Dick. Ishmael's plight is a perfect analogy for how I'm feeling about this holiday season - and, frankly, a few holiday seasons before it.

"Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

Unlike Ishmael, however, I don't have the sea or ship to flee to when I'm feeling blue and the Grinch decides to take up residence in my soul over the holiday season.

I wish I could pinpoint when this started happening. I used to be a total brown-eyed Cindy-Lou Who - wide eyed and full of warm Christmas feelings. I decorated like crazy, put up a real tree, sent cards to an ever-growing list of family and friends, baked cookies, and planned and bought perfect, special gifts for everyone. But, for the last few years, I can barely be bothered.

And here's the really weird thing... I'm not depressed or sad, although I feel like I SHOULD be. Ironically, my guilt over my loss of Christmas spirit is actually WORSE than the loss of Christmas spirit.

This holiday, here are the things that give me a little glimmer of hope that I'm not really a total Grinch:

1. The awesome kid-sized foozball table that I bought for my niece and nephew. I'm glad I had an excuse to get that for them. Because it's AWESOME.

2. The Hallmark Star Trek-themed Christmas ornaments. This year they introduced one depicting the Pon-Farr fight between Kirk and Spock and now I want to have a Trek-themed tree next year.

Seriously! How cool is this?

3. Peppermint. There's not enough peppermint in our daily lives. This season rectifies that situation. Peppermint bark and peppermint hot chocolate top the list.

4. My neighbors' decorations. While I can't quite find the energy to put up my own decorations this year, I'm thankful every night, as I drive through the neighborhood, that the houses look festive.

Not my actual neighbors

Like Tom Bodett, I'm leaving the lights on for my Christmas spirit. I assume that, at some point in my future, I'll wake up one chilly late-November morning and have the calling. My soul will stir with Christmas cheer and I'll start chomping at the bit to put up a tree and fill my house presents. But, until that day arrives, I'm going to work at not feeling guilty about Christmas being more of a burden than a celebration, I'm going to enjoy other's holiday excitement, and I'm going to visualize my heart growing three sizes.

Merry Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you celebrate).

- Alex

Hey good lookin', whatcha got cookin'?

This has been a very hectic week of sickness (note the absence of a Monday post) and frantic little holiday-sweater knitting. I have a sleeve and a half left and I hope to have them done by the weekend. Then comes the seaming and collar finishing. Hopefully that will go quickly. Since both sweaters are the same, I opted to finish them at the same time. Ford-factory style. With the below-zero temperatures and snow in our future it should not be a problem to muster the ambition to sit and knit. This is the icy view of our yard this week:

Aside from the knitting, I haven't had too much time for anything else in my crafty world. I do have daydreams about upcoming project ideas, but I promised myself not to make any plans until after the new year. For now, I have to focus on sweaters, shopping, food and family... and those darn holiday cards that won't mail themselves!

Because we all have so much entertaining to do this time of year I thought I would share one of my favorite recipes. Deceptively simple, unbelievably tasty. Trust me. We used to have this dish quite often when we weren't as vegetarian as we are now, but it still gets trotted out for meat-eating company. Enjoy!


Chicken & Basil Cream

4 chicken breasts without the bone
stick of butter
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
plain breadcrumbs

small container of heavy cream
¼ cup fresh grated parmesan
1 cup chicken bullion
1/8 cup fresh basil (chopped)
small jar of pimentos (diced)

Step 1: Clean and rinse chicken in cold water. Slice into smaller pieces and put in a bowl of milk.

Step 2: Dice the onion and garlic and sauté in hot skillet with about ½ stick of butter until the onions are soft and translucent.

Step 3: Put the breadcrumbs into a shallow pan about 1” deep. Add pepper and mix well.

Step 4: Take the chicken out of the milk and toss it in the breadcrumbs to coat. Then fry it in the pan with the onions and garlic until golden and juices run clear. If you need more butter in the pan…go ahead and put it in. Salt the cooking chicken lightly.

Step 5: Take the cooked chicken and put it in a serving bowl and keep warm.

Step 6: Take the cup of bullion and deglaze the pan. Then add the heavy cream and pepper to taste. Let that simmer for about 2 minutes. Stirring often. Add the grated parmesan, pimentos and chopped basil. Simmer for another minute and then remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes until thickened.

Step 7: Pour cream sauce over cooked chicken and serve.

Online Inspiration

The world is becoming more and more "virtual" every day. It's not the Tron program or the Enterprise's halodeck yet but we spend SO much time online. We work, we learn, we play, and we "meet" people in a digital environment all day long. It stands to reason that we would find inspiration and creativity online as well. The best part of seeking inspiration online is that it's a deep, deep pool to explore - an entire globe's worth of creativity as a matter of fact.

Today, Cassandra and I are going to share a handful of Web-discovered inspirations. For me, it's usually people that I connect with who are doing amazing work - especially if it's something I'm not particularly good at. They make me want to be a better, more creative person. For Cassandra, it's all about "gorgeous things, darling." She gets her creative boost from beautifully handmade items. Both of us are consistently overwhelmed by the sheer volume of talent in the world.

Consider this blog entry our "follow Friday" (Twitter users know what I'm talkin' about.) We invite you to check these out and see if they inspire you! We'd also love it if you turn us on to something that you've found inspirational. Just leave us a post or send an email. We're always looking for new ways to spark that fire.

Cassandra's Inspiration Today:

I am always looking for gorgeous buttons for my knitted items and here are two I just might have to order very soon from Etsy. This craftsmanship inspires me to take even the smallest detail on one of my crafted items and make it special:

"Bubble Buttons" in Peacock Blue by chARityelise
"Birds of a Feather" Buttons by SandhraLee

I adore the fabric designs of Heather Ross. Her designs are so, so clever. She inspires me to think about possibly heading over to Spoonflower and designing my own yardage one of these days. These newspaper boats are outstanding, I just might have to order a few yards:

"Newspaper Boats" in Aqua by Heather Ross

Wes Anderson’s movies are very inspirational for me. Every aspect of his projects are thought out with such care and detail. The set designs, the stories, the pace, and most of all, the characters… it all blows my mind. Apparently, I’m not the only one. The artwork at Spoke Editions is all inspired by characters from Wes Anderson’s films. I’ve been drooling over this Margot Tenenbaum print for a while now:

"Margot Tenenbaum" by Ana Bagayan

Lastly, I’d like to talk about a podcast that just screams quality. Cast-On by Brenda Dayne is a show about knitting, sort of. Brenda (who has a smooth, easy-to-listen-to voice that makes you feel like she’s talking directly to you over a cup of tea) discusses her life as an ex-pat living in Wales, cooking, her family, her knitting, and the various other projects she sees fit to tackle. It’s well done mostly because it is so thoughtful, organized, and produced well. Try it sometime.

Alex's Inspiration Today:

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my inspiration lately has been coming from super-talented people that I've met (or that I follow) online. Here are just a few of many:

One of Sam's book cover designs
Sam Potts - Sam is a NYC-based graphic designer. I don't remember how I started following him on Twitter (@sampotts) but I did and I'm a better person for it. Beyond being a really talented designer, Sam is driven to create interesting, unusual, and thoughtful art. He won my heart with a project called Twitter On Paper, wherein anyone could go to the website and either randomly generate or reference a particular tweet. Sam would then take the tweet of your choice and transpose it, by hand, onto paper and mail it to you. There was something so subtle and elegant in the art of taking a digital phenomenon and making it physical that I became completely enamored. His current project is The Infinite Jest Diagram. You have to see it to believe it.

Flower Cthulu
John Kovalic - To say that John is a cartoonist is to disregard the myriad talents of the man. The creator of Dork Tower and Dr Blink: Superhero Shrink, John's made a niche for himself on the page. But he's also a game developer (Apples to Apples), beer connoisseur, toy developer (Mythos Buddies & My Little Cthulu) and amazingly generous human being. I started following him on twitter (@muskrat_john) and, by the grace of the Norns (and through a mutual friend), met him at a Neil Gaiman event. I like to fancy myself his friend now. He inspires me to be a great writer and to think big.

Laurie - A sophisticated writer - in blog and 140 character form - @your_overcoat is poignant without trying to be. There's always something a little bittersweet in her lovely, concise writing. And, by the same token, she can geek out on something as simple as a set of flannel sheets or her new ukulele. She is the reason I first tried Adagio Tea and the reason I spent $80 today at I love her style and her brain and, since we live in the same city and have mutual friends, I assume we'll meet someday. In the meantime, I strive to be as cool as she is.

The Brothers Winn of What You Ought To Know - Think of their videos as "The More You Know" PSAs with a HUGE dose of sarcasm. Their "about us" section on the site succinctly says, "Just two brothers making a podcast. We both research and write the show." I can't even find out what their first names are... Anyway, they're really smart. And funny. And appealing. And they inspire me by the simplicity of what they do and the passion they put into it. Basically, they do good research and then rant about it on camera. I fell in love when they did the rant on grammar and the English language and have stayed for rants on everything from politics to entertainment. They inspire me to want to be REALLY smart.

There are a whole lot of other online things that inspire me - videos, people, great site design, awesome content - but this post is getting too long as it is. Maybe we'll do another one so I can introduce to you some of my other favorite people - foodie librarians, beer makers, mommy-bloggers, tweeps and friends alike.

- Alex and Cassandra

Inspired by Ingenuity

On my way home from work last night, I saw the kids in my neighborhood sledding down the hills in our valley. They were having the kind of fun in the snow that I thought only happened on covers of the Saturday Evening Post. After 7 years in this house, I still marvel at these things. A few minutes later, I was home, but still sitting in my car. I needed a moment to reflect back upon my own childhood in the snow before going in to start dinner...

We had quite an elaborate alleyway back home. It wasn't just one long strip behind the houses, but rather a more complicated system with multiple entrances and exits. All the blocks in the neighborhood were designed using this system. The alleyway exit that was closest to my house was quite steep (and very easy to bottom-out a big 70's sedan... learned that the hard way). For whatever reason, the houses were built much higher than the street on that side of the block. Ahhh, but when snow-covered, that steep exit was a great place to sled.

It was intimidating, standing at the top of the slope with your sled. All that concrete in front of you. And when you went down... you went like lightening. Inevitably, someone wiped out and got hurt, but we pressed on! You could never do this escapade by yourself because you needed at least one or two people to watch for (the pain in the butt) cars. My generation was not the first to sled down that alley, and I'm willing to bet that there are some little city mice still doing it. But, someone did it first. One snowy day, probably around 1910, some little person was inspired to slide down that hill.

And that is my favorite sort of inspiration. When you do better than "make do" with what you have in front of you. Lately, I am inspired by Alex who can take a rind from a chunk or parmesan cheese and corn meal and make a amazing polenta, Natalie Merchant who recently took children's poetry and made a hauntingly beautiful album called Leave Your Sleep, and Laura Ingalls Wilder who chronicled her life so profoundly in the Little House series. I am inspired by those who make, make and make. Luckily, that well never runs dry.

Speaking of making... here is a picture of the finished superhero guys waiting for their new little boys to discover them last Monday morning (St. Nicholas Day). Needless to say, I was so grateful that they were received with squeals of joy. This mommy was in a sewing frenzy all weekend!


Finn's loot.


Talk to you soon everyone!


An Inspirational Moment

inspiration  (ˌɪnspɪˈreɪʃən) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
1. stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc, to special or unusual activity or creativity
2. the state or quality of being so stimulated or aroused
3. someone or something that causes this state
4. an idea or action resulting from such a state
5. the act or process of inhaling; breathing in

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition 2009

Now and again real inspiration presents itself and one is given an opportunity, a moment, in which to feel a spark of creativity. It's the responsibility of each person to recognize the things that inspire them and to act on that inspiration.

Totally heavy, I know. But, it's true and I was reminded of it again recently.

Every day I do the same thing. I get up at the same time. I have the same routine to get out of the house. I get to work and go through the same motions to move the day forward. Even my work is similar from project to project. The routine of it sucks the inspiration from my days. It's not boring, mind you. It's just the same. A lot. 

When we get caught up in routine, it's easy to ignore inspiration. When you look out the same window eight hours a day, five days a week, the view ceases to be interesting. When you're shoveling out the 120th inch of snow, the magic gets buried under your disdain for winter. That's why it's so important to recognize those little glimmers of inspiration and latch on to them.

Today someone sent me a link to a music video and I was inspired.

Jonathan Coulton is the geek equivalent of Elvis - he has a huge songbook and a rabid fan base of which I count myself a member. Often, fans often honor their favorite artists with fan art or gifts. In the nerd world, those gifts tend to be really freakin' cool. One of Jonathan Coulton's fans created a music video to go with his song Shop*Vac. Please to enjoy: Jonathan Coulton's Shop*Vac

Epic Fan Gift to Wil Wheaton

Now remember, what inspires me may not inspire you. So, if you think this video is bad or boring or stupid then, well, you're just not as cool as me. #joking

All kidding aside, I watched this video and, when it was done, I wanted to be BETTER. I wanted to be creative and to stretch myself. I wanted to do make something cool and innovative. This is inspiration in its purest form - something that makes you want to expand and create and improve.

As much as we make fun of the Double Rainbow guy, he was seriously inspired by that sky. He may also have been seriously stoned but...  My point is that, when you stumble on that thing that makes your heart skip or your brain jump, wallow in it. Hold on to it. Keep that feeling fresh and then apply it to something in your day. Recognize the inspiration and make it work for you.

In an effort to help you do just that, Cassandra and I decided that we'd dedicate this week's blog posts to things that inspire us. Sadly, we are uninspired-ly calling this "Inspiration Week." So check back on Wednesday and Friday and see if anything lights a fire under your butt and makes you want to get creative.

Now, I'm going to go and watch that video again and try to be as creative as that guy.

- Alex

St Nick isn't Santa Claus.

When I was a little girl, St. Nicholas left me small gifts every December 6th. The tradition in our north side of Chicago Slovenian community (there are many ethnic variations on this tradition) was that the night of December 5th, every child in the house got to pick out a pan (I always picked the roaster because it was the biggest) and leave it on the kitchen table. That night, while you were sleeping, St. Nicholas would come in to the house and full your pan with small goodies. In the morning my pan would be filled with whole walnuts, really big and beautiful oranges and apples, a pomegranate, chocolates, and small treasures like coloring books and hair pretties. I loved it. It was so much fun to get gifts (even if they were small) so close to Christmas. Now that my little guys are old enough, I am starting this tradition with them this Monday.

I had been planning on giving the boys Waldorf doll superheros for Christmas...but then I had a thought. They get so many gifts from friends and family that my hand-made presents might get lost in the shuffle. Maybe it would be a better idea to let St. Nicholas bring them some little superhero guys, with matching boy sized capes and masks, avoiding the insanity that is the gift-giving season.

It breaks down like this: I have the first doll done (as I've posted about here) and the second doll is almost complete. I just need to crochet his hair. Sweater #1 is all knitted up and sweater #2 needs sleeves and is very close to completed. Now I just have to get through the sewing. For both dolls, I have little corduroys, masks and superhero capes left to make as well as big boy sized capes and masks. It seemed like a fun idea to make matching superhero gear for the kids and I found a really fun cape tutorial here. I think I'm going to invent my own pattern for the masks...I'll fill you in on that next week.

A pile of stuff I need to make!
So, it has been very busy here at chez Ooo! Shiny! this week. Holiday crafting is in full force. I also have the second little holiday sweater well underway. The back is all knitted up and I have about 50% of the front left to do. I'm feeling pretty good about getting it done before the celebrations start.

Bogie's sweater in progress.
 Whew, it will be so nice when it is all done!


P.S. Some of you may be wanting to know more about St. Nicholas day. For those of you who aren't familiar with St. Nicholas, here is a quick history from Wikipedia. And here is a wonderful site about international traditions. Enjoy!


As you may have read previously on Ooo! Shiny, I am learning how to upholster furniture. Tuesday, November 30, 2010 marked the last class of my third semester.

The chair so far - new fabric, no trim yet
This past semester, I worked on a chair for a friend. I thought it would be easy because the chair is a Lincoln Rocker - the same style chair as my very first upholstery project. My Lincoln Rocker is a antique reproduction  that had been my grandmother's. As such, it was fairly easy to deconstruct and reupholster - there were no surprises when I took the old upholstery off and, because it's a wood-framed chair, I didn't have to do any sewing.

My friend's rocker is a real, honest-to-god antique. It has a stunning "arts and crafts" style and the wood is stained a dark chestnut color. It's in beautiful shape, with nary a scratch or divot in the wood. The only thing marring this otherwise gorgeous chair was the old, harvest-gold, velveteen fabric. If I had to guess, the last time it was upholstered was in the '70s. So, when my friend bought a new sofa, she decided it was time to get this, her favorite chair, redone. I gladly took on the project to help save her some money and to provide me with some more practice on this style of upholstering. It also gave me the opportunity to procrastinate on my next two projects, both of which are going to require an inordinate amount of sewing (my least favorite activity.)

First let it be said that the last upholstery job on this chair was top-quality. The fabric might have been hideous but the work was done so well that a lot of the "engineering" of the chair (springs, webbing, etc.) could be left intact. However, like other antique projects before it, the wood was downright brittle and every tack was removed with a prayer that a chunk of the frame wouldn't come out with it. Suffice it to say, there will be wood filler in this chair's future.

As I removed the old upholstery, the chair's quirks started presenting themselves. One thing I learned early on is that padding and fabric really hold a chair together. When you start taking these bits off, it's not unusual for a weak framed piece of furniture to, quite literally, fall apart. While this one didn't disintegrate before my eyes, its weaknesses became apparent quickly. I spent two entire classes honing my woodworking skills. The right arm was separated from the frame, necessitating glue and clamping. The lumbar brace was broken in half, which I jury-rigged by screwing a metal brace across the break and then gluing and clamping the whole thing for a week. One of the rockers started splitting, requiring more glue and a clamp. Etc. Etc. Etc. I learned more about carpentry on this job than I did upholstery - which is sort of the point, I guess.

Interestingly, I've complained less about this project that I did the one before it - which came with its own set of problems. I find that I like the actual "construction" of the furniture and I don't mind doing the woodworking. Finding and fixing these problems became a challenge that I was proud to find solutions for. At one point, my teacher complimented me on a couple of my "fixes," amazed at my ingenuity. That was more satisfying praise than the normal "good job" than I get on my actual upholstery work.

Maybe my next class will be furniture building or refinishing or something. After I finish my next two chairs.

- Alex