Friday, October 30, 2009

Project #271- Twist Front Shirt



I finished my third piece for the wardrobe contest, a twisted knit shirt from Butterick 5429. The pattern, unlike the picture, sews up pretty loose, so I ended up taking out a few inches on the sides and front to get a more flattering fit.

The fabric I used for this shirt is a wonderful double knit cotton. It's thick enough not to show my bra and but comfy and sporty. I want this fabric in every color.

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posted by Alison 10/30/2009 10:52:00 PM : (2) comments : splink


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Project #270 - Box-Pleated Skirt



The key to making almost any kind of zippered skirt without buying pattern after pattern is to start with a well fitted yoke. The yoke is the upper part of a skirt that fits over the hips. You can attach many, many kinds of skit to that (ruffled, pleated, flared, tiered, A-line, etc...) and each time end up with something that fits perfectly. Usually, I'll pull a yoke off of a skirt I like and then use that over and over again. Today's yoke comes from one of my favorite Japanese pattern books. The skirt attached to it is box-pleated and has a black bottom border. I made it to wear while giving blood tomorrow, the colors are Halloween festive.



The pieces for this skirt are pretty simple: four yoke pieces (front, back, front facing and back facing), a big rectangle for the skirt cut to the width of the fabric, and a skinnier rectangle for the border, plus a zipper for the side.

The skirt construction is pretty straightforward.

  • First, I attached the border to the skirt, folding over the border in half and sewing it to itself at the skirt-border seam line to form the hem. I left a little folded over border facing open at the edges so that I could hide the side seam when I sewed the whole thing together.
  • After that, I sewed my back and front yoke pieces together on one side.
  • Next, I box pleated the skirt to the size of the yoke (spacing evenly) and basted the pleats in place.
  • Then I attached the skirt to the yoke, leaving one side open. I then sewed that side shut, using basting stitches for the upper 8 inches so I could add my zipper.
  • Lastly, I sewed in the zipper


I'm in love with the new line of bird-themed fabrics at IKEA. They're reasonably priced for what you get and the designs are just fantastic this season. The chickens seem to like them, too.

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posted by Alison 10/29/2009 10:48:00 AM : (0) comments : splink


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Project #269 - Jasmine Iced Tea



Every once in a while I'll learn that I've been doing something completely wrong my whole life, completely unaware. Luckily, when I make such a surprising discovery, I usually learn what I did wrong. Thankfully, those instances get rarer and rarer as I age, but I guess that's what makes them more disorienting.

Case in point, I have never, ever made a cup of Jasmine tea correctly in my entire life. I've been in love with Jasmine tea ever since drinking it every day for breakfast during a trip to Thailand. With just a little cream and sugar it is a cup full of happiness.

When I returned from my trip, I was determined to continue my ritual. I purchased some mid-grade loose Jasmine tea and proceeded to make the world's most bitter, face-scrunching cup of tea. I purchased better leaves and got the same result. I tried giving the leaves an initial soak before letting them steep, just like what one would do for nicer green teas. Then I tried experimenting with water temperature. Then I resorted to covering the awful taste with loads of sugar.

Finally, I gave up, blaming American water for...uh...not agreeing with Jasmine Tea? Or something. I resigned myself to only having delicious tea during trips to the far east.

However, I had it in me to try to suffer through one more awful cup of tea. I decided to check the internet to see if there were any good ideas for iced Jasmine tea. At least, through the magic of the interweb, I learned what I was doing wrong: I hadn't removed the leaves after steeping for only five minutes. The leaves themselves will start leeching bitter oils if given enough time in hot water.

So, I made a batch and filtered out the leaves. Finally, I had my perfect cup back.

It's stupid, but at least I figured it out after four years of bad tea.

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posted by Alison 10/27/2009 08:21:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, October 26, 2009

Project #268 - Christmas Ornament Collection



I'm making a batch of ornaments to ship out with this month's Little Black Box sample shipment. I need to make 100, so to avoid the tedium of making just penguins and cardinals, I've been experimenting with making some new birds.

I'm about two thirds of the way through my task and I'm astounded by how much time this is taking me. I estimated that I could do about 30 birds per hour, but it's turning out to be about a third of that. I always overestimate my output!

I think I'm going to need a break from polymer clay for a little while. I noticed a lot of new smudges around the kitchen sink, on some of the light switches and along some of the walls in the house. It look me a little while to figure out that they all came from me. There is something about the new, softer formula of that really makes it cling to the skin on my hands after a while. Even with intense soap and water, I still retain a patina of clay and the house is starting to look once again like a steel worker lives here. I think I need to find out whatever they use to clean baby ducks soiled by oil spills, buy a bucket, and spray the whole house with it.

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posted by Alison 10/26/2009 05:08:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #267 - Tuna Lunch Bowl



Clark's job moved locations and now he is in the position to drive home for lunch once or twice a week. It's been good for me as my day has been divided in a way that is a lot more healthy. I'll usually work without stopping to eat until 3 or 4 o'clock if left on my own, meaning that I eat only two small meals a day. Not good.

Still, we're both short on time, so it's nice to eat things that can be prepared in less than 5 minutes. Today, I put rice in the rice cooker early in the morning. Then when Clark arrived I mixed up a quick batch of tuna with a little low-fat mayo and served that on a piece of seaweed on top of the rice. For garnish I sprinkled the whole thing with roasted sesame seeds.

For those of you who are a little weirded out by seaweed, I say just give it a try. It's like eating potato chips that don't make you feel bad and give you a full serving of green vegetables. I like eating by itself for a snack; the salty-umami flavor is divine, but it's wonderful in a lot of dishes. Plus, it doesn't need to be cooked or prepared in any way. Just apply it and enjoy.

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posted by Alison 10/26/2009 02:26:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Project #266 - Dinosaur Family



This set of cake toppers was a disaster from the beginning. From the benign Barney the Dinosaur looks of my supposedly vicious T-Rex, to the total collapse of my Brontosaurs (which doesn't even exist anymore), this was a failure of design.

I spent so long mix, mix, mixing the special sparkly color, that it's a little disappointing that these are destined for disposal. I don't know what to do with them, on the one hand it's hard to toss anything with that much time and energy behind it. But on the other hand, what can you do with a dinosaur with a broken neck?

I'll use the T-Rex as a package embellishment for Christmas, but the other one will just have to serve as a lesson in hubris. Oh, and a lesson learned that long necks need structural integrity.

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posted by Alison 10/25/2009 07:48:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Project #265 - Hourglass Jumper



I love reissued retro patterns. There is something about mid-20th century clothes that is so hard to find these days. Maybe it's the solidness and shape of the clothes. It's hard to replicate that using today's construction technique and fabric-buying short cuts. There are a lot of darts and a lot of yardage in this dress and I just can't image anyone taking the time.

Still, it's a little like wearing armor. Wearing this kind of dress makes me want stand up and take charge of something. No one can push me around in a massive, tailored dress like this.

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posted by Alison 10/24/2009 05:04:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Friday, October 23, 2009

Project #264 - Fake Cake Tier



I'm trying to improve my presentation in my Etsy store, so I decided to redo some of the pictures of my cake toppers in order to make them look more cake topperish. They are already a little unconventional, so anything to put them in context would be a service.

My solution was to make it look like they are sitting on an actual cake. Real cake would just get old and get frosting all over them. Plus, I hate the idea of making a cake I can't eat. So, instead I made a reusable fake cake, one that would last and showcase my wares in the best way.



I merely took a paper-mache box from the craft store, painted it white, and covered the top with a carefully blended mix of white and transparent polymer clay, a mix that would look just like fondant. The oven temperature needed to set the clay is much less than what would burn paper, so I was able to bake the whole thing without much trouble.

I am now ready for some commerce!

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posted by Alison 10/23/2009 05:19:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Project #263 - Genji Costume for Mary



My chicken Mary is special. Well, not "special", but extraordinary. She's not as big as her sisters and her feathers are a little more red than what is usual for a Rhode Island Red, but she also has a unique ability to tolerate having her picture taken. While Catherine and Elanor will peck and squawk when compelled to stay still, Mary takes it all in stride. Catherine and Elanor will walk immediately out of view range of my cacmera, but after being put back in place once or twice Mary will just stay and wait until you are done. She's behaved this way ever since we adopted her as a wee chick.

I decided to press my luck today to see what we could accomplish with Mary's unusual amount of patience. I decided to enter her in the New Yorker's Critterati Contest, a competition to see whose pet makes the most convincing literary figure.

I swear that I've never dressed up a pet before; I've always felt bad for dogs in sweaters. Mary has never worn a hat before, at least not a real one. I don't know, I felt...compelled to see if I could pull this off.

I decided to make a chicken-sized Genji Monogatari costume. There would only be two pieces needed to set the character and both were relatively easy to make. The hat took a few minutes to fashion out of felt and a rubber band. The robes were a cinch to make out of scrap fabric. The question would be whether they would fit and whether Mary would tolerate wearing them without freaking out.

I waited until nightfall; Mary is a lot more comfortable being handled after dark. Saralinda was on hand to assist and hold up the background. After some initial resistance, Mary acquiesced to wearing the costume.

She really knocked it out of the park. In fact, she did so well that I was kind of freaked out that she could stand still for that 5+ minutes while wearing something completely foreign to her. I took lots of shots while my friend Saralinda held a posterboard behind her.

We took a video just to show how still and regal she was. That, and to prove that we didn't just Photoshop a hat onto a picture of a chicken. I ended up really apologetic because her stillness was just so eerie.

Of course, she was happy to toss off the costume herself the second we stopped taking pictures. She was compensated handsomely in the end.

*UPDATE* Mary was one of the winners chosen by the judges! Yay for Mary!

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posted by Alison 10/22/2009 11:18:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #262- Anti-Cold Corduroy Skirt



It's time for another Make-A-Skirt Thursday! The weather has been turning chilly, so I'm switching to warmer fabrics, namely corduroy. It's one of my favorite fabrics to work with. Despite its ability to keep out the winter chill, it's also breathable and wearable in summer heat.

There are two things I love when it comes to skirts: A-line silhouettes and pockets. Simplicity 3754 has both, but the pleats under the pockets are a bit much for what I want, and I already have two skirts with that detail. So, I took the slim skirt and flared it out into the shape I had in mind.

I also plan to wear this skirt in conservative Egypt, so I lengthened the hemline a little. I edged the pockets in navy blue twill to give it a little character.

The back came together really well. The pointed yoke has been a pain in the past, but this is my third time with this pattern and I managed to get it right on the first try.

I put this skirt on as soon as I finished. It's been cold in the house during the day, but we can save money on heat if I dress warmly. I think this skirt will probably pay for itself a few times over in gas bill savings.

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posted by Alison 10/22/2009 10:03:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Project #261 - Fall Leaf Paintings



I fully recognize that I'm not talented when it comes to drawing and painting. I spend a lot of time doing both because I enjoy them, but I usually end up drawing cartoons because I'm terrible at drawing things from real life.

Still, I've learned some shortcuts so that I can make nice things without getting mad at myself for my inability to translate real things to paper. My favorite technique for making me look like I have more talent than I actually do is to make watercolor leaf paintings.



The sneaky trick is to find a bunch of really pretty fall leaves and then trace them. Once that's done it's really easy to draw in the network of veins and suddenly I have a decent drawing from nature.

I usually draw on in plain white index cards. They're the perfect size to give away as thank you cards and the limited size keeps this project short and sweet.



Next I put down an initial wash of color. It's okay to color outside of the lines because it's nature and nature is messy. For real, yo!



Next, but on a second coat of contrasting fall color. It will look weird at first, but through the magic of watercolors the washes will blend and dry in a way similar to leaf coloring.

Put on subsequent washes of color over smaller and smaller areas to give the leaf depth. With practice it's easy to do a bunch at a time and spend less than ten minutes on each.

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posted by Alison 10/21/2009 05:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Project #260 - Canned Effin' Peaches



Deadwood is my favorite show of all time. I think I've seen each foul-mouthed episode at least five times over. While Deadwood was never a place known fine cuisine, but it did have its moments. For example, Al Swearengen's take on hospitality whenever hosting a meeting of the important men of the camp. "Open the f***ing canned peaches!"



Now that the domestic peach crop is coming to a close for the year it's time for me to make my own f***ing canned peaches in the true old-timey tradition.

So, my mother was one of 18 children, and I feel like a lot of information that was held by my grandparent's generation didn't have a chance to get passed to the people in my mother's generation, and, in turn, didn't make it to my generation. I don't blame anyone for that, and I feel lucky that my grandmother's intense sewing skills made it down to me, but I still wonder how much information was lost because my grandparents were so busy raising baby after baby that there was no time to teach the older ones the kind of skills that go from parent to child.

In summary, I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never canned anything before, and I've never even seen anyone can anything. Luckily, I have the internet to make up for this gap in domestic knowledge. I have resources to learn this new skill and hopefully I'll have the wherewithal to pass it on to the people will come after me. Still, mistakes will be made, lots of them.

Ingredients:

    Ripe Peaches (more than four, as I found out)
  • 1 part sugar
  • 1 part water
  • 1 canning jar


First, I removed the skins from the peaches. I placed each in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds and then placed them in ice water. The skins popped right off. I had no idea how many would fill a jar, so I skinned four large, ripe ones.



Next, I made a simple syrup solution of half sugar and half water, heating until the sugar completely dissolved, not letting the liquid boil.



I then cooked my peaches in the sugar syrup for about five minutes, still keeping the solution from boiling.



I then put spooned my peaches into a canning jar and used a funnel to fill it up to the top with syrup. My peaches only filled half of the jar, so next time I'll need to cut up more than four.



Finally, I boiled the jar to seal it. I learned a few hours later from a friend that the water should be over the lid of the jar or the jar should be boiled upside down. Still, it sealed and seemed intact. I guess I'll find out whether I really screwed up in a week.

**Update** I let the peaches sit in the cupboard for a week before trying them. They were super tender tasty! I think I'll cut down on the sugar in the syrup next time because it was way to sweet, but I'll probably use the leftover liquid to make peach sweet tea.

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posted by Alison 10/20/2009 05:22:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, October 19, 2009

Project #259 - Oven Roasted Pumpkin Seeds



Well, I had about three big salad bowls of pumpkin guts leftover from yesterday and it's a shame to let that all go to waste. I spent a good chunk of my day slimed up to my elbows pulling out the seeds one-by-one. It's not my favorite activity, but my frugal nature dictates that if there is something good to eat somewhere in a bucket of goo, I should find some way to get that good thing out and edible.



So after straining pulp for about 45 minutes I ended up with wrinkly hands and a strainer full of seeds. I rinsed all of the remaining guts off and spread as many as I could on a greased cookie sheet in one layer. They're really sticky after rinsing, so be prepared to have a few cling to your hands no matter what you do. Luckily, they come right off in the sink.

Using this recipe I baked them at 375 for 25 minutes. I shook the baking sheet about 15 into baking to keep the seeds from cooking together.

I ended up with more roasted seeds than we could ever eat. Luckily, pumpkin seeds are good for chickens. They're supposed to be a natural de-wormer.

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posted by Alison 10/19/2009 05:15:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Project #258 - Carved Monster Pumpkin



I hosted a pumpkin carving party today. We purchased too many pumpkins and then spent what seemed like forever cleaning out the guts and seeds. Those fancy white pumpkins are especially stubborn about getting cleaned out; I think I'll stick to orange ones in the future.

I used some of my Lino block carving tools to do a multi-layered pumpkin, using the skin as one color, the exposed flesh as another, and the fully carved through areas as the last one. I learned that you really have keep the exposed flesh in a thin layer just to have the light of the candle make it through.

There was a lot of cursing from me, but few accidental stabbings, so I came out ahead.



It's not the cleanest space alien pumpkin carving, but not bad for an hour of actual work.

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posted by Alison 10/18/2009 05:15:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Project #257 - Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a meal Clark and I like to cook for friends. It's a good example of a regular meal Japanese people actually eat at home, unlike teriyaki chicken or California rolls.

It's also one of those meals that guests cook themselves, like fondue, although Sukiyaki is less likely to be a source of high cholesterol. It's also kosher non-dairy, gluten-free, and not too hard to make vegan, so it's a good meal if you're entertaining in a pinch and you don't know what dietary needs are going to come out of left field.



The most time-consuming part of preparing the food is all the chopping. Our typical version will have cubed tofu, chopped cabbage, mushrooms, sliced carrots, thin wedges of Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), and chunks of green onion. We'll buy additional ingredients like yam noodles, sukiyaki sauce, mochi and thinly sliced meat from the Japanese food store, but they don't need much preparation. The meat is even pretty cheap because it's in such small slices, so it doesn't take much money to feed 8-10 people.



We use a camp stove in the middle of the dining room table to cook the food. First we pour in the Sukiyaki sauce* and let it simmer. Then we add veggies and let them start cooking. The meat is so thin that it cooks almost instantly. When things are done cooking, people just grab what they like, adding more from the veggies or meat as needed. After the stock boils down we add the yam noodles and enjoy the rest as a thick soup.

Traditionally, morsels taken from the pot are dipped into individual bowls of raw egg and eaten over rice. It's optional and often Clark and I are the only ones at the table to eat our Sukiyaki that way, but despite the fear about salmonella, it adds an extra level of tasty.

It's soooo, good, especially the gooey chunks of mochi and the kabocha once it gets soft. I love eating this dish during the fall and winter. The windows usually fog up from the steam and the temperature in the house rises 5 degrees. It's just a cozy, friendly meal.

*You can make your own out of 1 cup of soy sauce, 1.5 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of mirin

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posted by Alison 10/17/2009 05:16:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Friday, October 16, 2009

Project #256 - Pillow Case



There were some very lovely fabric stores in San Diego. I *heart* Rosie's Calico Cupboard. It's huge and crammed with lots of designs that I've never seen before, all nice 100% cotton. Clark even got into the spirit and purchased a yard of fabric in order to make a new pillow case.

I'm usually bad about mending things or making things he requests in a timely manner, so I made a concerted effort to give him what he wanted.

Pillow cases are one of the easiest things to make, ever. They're just a rectangle sewn on three sides and then cuffed and hemmed on the remaining side. I made mine in about 20 minutes.



I used one of our old pillow cases to measure out my new one. Unfortunately, one yard is not quite enough to cut out a case with the butterflies flying in the correct directions. Our butterflies look a little disoriented.



When you measure out your fabric make sure to cut a few extra inches on one end for the cuff. After you sew up the three sides, just fold up the extra twice and sew it in place.

Oh, I should note that I used a serger to finish my seam edges. I would recommend using some kind of seam finish so that the case won't unravel when it gets thrown into the wash.

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posted by Alison 10/16/2009 10:17:00 PM : (2) comments : splink


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Project #255 - Canvas Circle Skirt



I love making circle skirts when I have fabric that is at least 59 inches across. They can be cut in just one piece if you buy two yards. That means that just the waist and hem need to be finished in order to leave you with a finished garment.



Plus, circle skirts are great. Swish. Swish. Swish.

[I shortsightedly forgot to take pictures of the process of making this skirt. If the directions aren't clear, they're very similar to my illustrated ones for a circle skirt template.]

Cutting out a circle skirt isn't hard. You'll just need a yardstick, some chalk and a little patience. First, fold your fabric to find the center point. Mark that.

Now, if you have two yards of fabric, it should be 72 inches long and (ideally) about 59 inches wide. If you want to go for the maximum length*, then mark the edge of the fabric 29.5 inches across the width in one direction and 29.5 inches in the other. Now, mark 29.5 inches from the center across the length at a 90 degree angle from the two width-wise marks. Do that again for the opposite end. Now you will have a center mark and four additional ones laid out in a '+' shaped configuration. Make some more marks to fill in the edge of your circle, pivoting the yardstick around the center mark and going out 29.5 inches. Cut along your marks.

Now you have a giant flat circle that needs the center cut out so you can actually wear it. Measure yourself at your hips. This will be at least how wide the skirt must be so that you can step into it to put it on. To figure out how big it should be I used the circumference equation, circumference = 2πr. I substituted my hip size for the circumference and solved for r and got about 6 inches, so my diameter will be 12 inches. I cut the smaller circle out using the same center point technique as the outer circle.

Fold down the edge of the inner circle to form a casing for elastic. Clip if you need a little give to make the casing lay flat, sort of making shallow sun rays from the inner circle. Sew in place, leaving a 1 inch opening. String narrow elastic through the casing and adjust so that the skirt sits comfortably at your waist; give yourself a little breathing room. Clip the extra elastic and sew the ends together. Tuck the elastic into the casing and sew the 1 inch opening shut.



Finally, just the hem is left. Folding up fabric to make a hem on a circle skirt is always kind of a pain. It's always annoying tying to ease in the excess fabric from the edge and it's usually about nine yards of sewing. No thanks. Instead, my edge finish of choice is bias tape. It adds a little contrast and no easing is necessary.

If you're not familiar with sewing with bias tape I learned how to apply it properly from this tutorial.

*I always recommend going for the maximum length at first. It's easy to remove excess length, but not vice versa.

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posted by Alison 10/15/2009 05:02:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Project #254 - Roasted Chestnuts

We had a chestnut tree in my childhood backyard. It was by far out best climbing tree as long as you managed not to fall out of it and land on the spiky carpet of dried-out seed-casings. The burrs always had a way of splintering into the skin of our hands and causing all kinds of agony. The family dog gave the tree a wide berth.

Most of the nuts, ~95%, were no good and filled with fuzz. The remaining ones could be collected, but only if you got there before the squirrels. One fall, with a eye towards finally trying our own chestnuts I went out daily and steadily collected an entire bucket-full. Unfortunately, I didn't know what to do with them and neither did my family. They stayed in the garage for months until they were finally redeposited in the backyard.

I'd never tasted a chestnut until I moved to Japan where they are a common train-station snack. The nuts have a natural slightly sweet taste. In fact, they have little fat compared to other nuts and are considered to be a good diet food for nut lovers.



I found cartons of chestnuts for sale last week at the farmer's market for cheap. Now, I will finally know what to do with my very own chestnuts.

It turns out that making them edible is a pretty easy task.



Heat an oven to 400 degrees. Slice the tip of each nut with a sharp knife to let steam out while baking and keep it from exploding. Bake the nuts for 10 minutes in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Shake and let them bake for another 10 mintues. Larger nuts will need a little longer, so test one before taking them all out.



The shell should have split further from your knife cut and it should be easy to remove. Fully cooked nuts will be soft and warm all the way through. If the texture resembles a crisp apple when you bit into it, put it back in and bake for a little longer. You can eat them as-is or incorporate them into your favorite nut-meat recipe.

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posted by Alison 10/14/2009 05:09:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, October 12, 2009

Project #253 - Needle Felted Chicken



We're out in sunny, warm San Diego for the wedding of a friend. Is it just me or has Southern California improved a lot since the 1990's? Maybe I didn't know about such cultural highlights as the Vietnamese Sandwich or the Hawaiian Crepe, but they are definitely making this trip worthwhile. Magnifique!

I always struggle a little bit to find projects to do while we travel. Clark and I prefer not to check bags and it can be a little difficult to come up with something where at least one of my tools won't get confiscated by airport security.

Luckily I discovered needle felting. The needles seem to be A-OK for carry-on luggage. Of course, I missed my chickens, so I decided to make a little mini-version of one of them.



I made little puffs of wool and used my barbed needle to mat them together into one solid piece. Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a matted fur-ball. Essentially, that's what a needle felted sculpture is, but I'd prefer if they didn't look it so much.



My second try involved wrapping the wool around a little wire scaffolding, which kept all of the fibers laying in the same direction. The result was much improved.

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posted by Alison 10/12/2009 04:12:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Friday, October 09, 2009

Project #252 - Wedding Cake Cake Topper with Rosettes



Okay, take two. The more I look at the first set of wedding cake toppers, the goofier they look. So, I took a little extra time today and made a more serious set, with better actual wedding cake resemblance. I should package them with a seal that says exactly that. "NOW WITH ACTUAL WEDDING CAKE RESEMBLANCE!!" Oh, and "NOW WITH FRESH VANILLA SCENT!!" I will sell millions.



I would need special tools to add faces to the people at the top of the cake. Do half inch tall people with no faces freak people out? I could spin it in a positive light. "NOW WITH DISAPPOINTMENT-FREE FACES!!"

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posted by Alison 10/09/2009 07:07:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #251 - Dia De Los Muertos Cake Toppers



Sugar skulls are not that tasty, but I will still eat them with my mouth until gone. I love sugar a little to much.

I'm Hispanic, but I wasn't raised in a culture that celebrates Dia de los Muertos. Instead, we celebrated All Saints Day and the children in my church could dress up like their favorite saint. It was a second, Catholic halloween and every year I dressed as Joan of Arc. We were expected to pray for the souls of our deceased friends and family, especially the ones that died within the year before, but not with the pomp and ritual of the Day of the Dead.

It's a holiday I wish we had. To me, I wish there was a less painful was of saying hello/goodbye to loved ones every year. I'm on board for anything that involves a celebration and party favors and sugary treats in lieu of sitting alone and crying during the hard years.



More importantly, they glow in the dark. That is not only awesome, but useful in case of a power outage to keep guests from tripping over the cake.

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posted by Alison 10/09/2009 05:05:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Project #250 - Wedding Cake Cake Topper



Continuing on my wedding cake topper trend, I decided to carry out my previous imagining of a wedding cake topped with smaller wedding cakes. I wanted the wedding cake cake toppers with even tinier wedding cake cake toppers, but they looked a little too abstract to be read as tiny wedding cakes. So, I replaced them with tiny brides and grooms.

I think this is one of the goofiest, dumbest things I've made for a while, but they make me smile on some primal level, possibly the same primal level that secretly enjoys Ziggy cartoons.

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posted by Alison 10/08/2009 05:06:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Project #249 - Teapot Cake Toppers



I'm glad that we, as a people, have managed to shed the confinement of pastel wedding colors and branch off into the more saturated areas of the color table. In fact, it's been ages since I attended a peach or mint green affair, two colors that seemed to be very popular circa 1974 according to my family albums. Even the weddings that I've attended lately with something pale like pink as a signature color always have something bold like chocolate brown to keep the palette from being washed out.

I like it. I like reds and bright blues and deep, limpid purples. I love golden yellow bridesmaid dresses and wedding cakes that reject the traditional white on white palette. It's pleasant to attend a wedding and spend an evening stewing in a carefully selected set of colors.



I'm kind of in love with bright blue and yellow as key colors right now. I made this coffee carafe and teapot out of some leftover blue polymer clay that transfixed me like a bower bird.

Also, I'm a tea aficionado married to a coffee fancier, so I kind of hope that I don't sell this set and get to keep it for...I don't know...something. Um, a birthday? I'm already married, but everyone needs a teapot with a veil, AMIRITE?

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posted by Alison 10/07/2009 05:05:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, October 05, 2009

Project #248 - Robot Mugs



I have a stash of Pebeo China Paint markers so that I always have fresh ones at my fingertips. The older a paint marker is, the harder it is to get a steady ink flow. The tips also deteriorate quickly; they start with nice thin lines, but after a while it blunts and the lines get thicker. However, I really like the chunky lines of a mildly broken-in marker, it gives drawings character.



I like the illustrations on these mugs, but it wish I had made them a little smaller just so I could get those nice thick lines in proportion to the drawings. I pulled it off a little better here, but I still need to work on consistency. I feel like I have a set of illustrations I can draw with uniform results, but I need some more practice on getting predictable results from my tools.

It's always been the ability to do something consistently and quickly that separates the hobbiest from the professional. I could use a little more of that in my fingertips.

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posted by Alison 10/05/2009 05:08:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Project #247 - Cookies as Evidence of Good Wifery



Being a good spouse is kind of like being a good driver. Almost everyone thinks they are one.

However, I think I can present concrete evidence that I am, indeed, a wife of a higher caliber.



Exhibit #1: Reeses Pieces Chocolate Chip Cookies
It is nearly midnight and my husband is watching the Steelers game. Out of the blue, someone brings up the idea of fresh-baked cookies and now he can't get the idea out of his head. I was considering going to bed, but instead made a fresh batch of cookies from scratch.

Yes. Praise me. I was tired but I still made some awesome cookies.

Okay, that is my only photographic piece of evidence for now, but I'm telling you that I'm going the eventually build up enough to make my case for the Nobel Prize of Wifery. I just need to document more and then learn how to cook a really good steak.

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posted by Alison 10/04/2009 11:10:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Project #246 - Visionary Ideas Talk

Well, we didn't win the Visionary Ideas Contest, but Mary the Chicken was pretty well behaved on stage and she made a lot of friends. Clark, Mary and I were photographed together as part of a potential book that will be made of all 8 talks. Then I was filmed giving the talk with Clark and Mary assisting. Hopefully, I'll be able to obtain copies of at least one of those things for this website later.

UPDATE: No video from the Waffle Shop, yet. They had a few issues with syncing of the audio and video, so I wasn't able to get a final copy. In lieu of that, below is the final edited text version of my talk. It's nuts, but much better with a live mooing chicken.

We all know that the United States is stuck in a severe recession.  There might be good news here and there about the economy, but most of us are still feeling the worst of it.  It's starting to look like the collective intelligence of human kind is tapped out. We are just running out of ideas.  Now, what if I told you that there is a vast untapped source of intelligence on this planet?  What if I told you that we have at our fingertips a nearly 100% unutilized workforce numbering in the billions that will literally work for peanuts?  I'm talking about our animal brethren. 

Think of it.  We'd have huge, cheap workforce to help rebuild our economy.  America would once again have a manufacturing workforce that would be competitive, salary-wise, with the rest of the world.  Additionally, we'd have enough helpers to care for our aging population and help defray the rising costs of Medicare.

Plus, animals are a source of information that we are only just learning how to put to use.  Think about the vast amounts of engineering knowledge possessed by the average beaver or carpenter ant, and imagine what we could to if we could apply that energy and insight to our own crumbling infrastructure.

Imagine of how many human jobs that would generate just in the care, management and training of this new population of workers.  We would once again return to our status as the world's workshop!

Now, the one way to build these new relationships is on a being-to-being level.  That is, we must learn to communicate with animals and get them to communicate back with us.  This trans-species conversation could spur on better human stewardship of the environment, more understanding for endangered species, and help teach pest animals to be more considerate.  Just think of it, instead of cluelessly trying to preserve certain rare animal species, we could just ask what they need or why they aren’t breeding.

But are animals capable of the higher order brain functions needed to communicate with humans?  Consider this: the computer on your desktop at home has about the same intelligence capacity as a frog.  It has a number of bits in its memory chips comparable to the number of neurons in the frog's brain.  Your computer has the power to correct your spelling and grammar as well as look up words in dictionaries containing millions of entries. Not only that, your computer has the capacity to let you play games, do your taxes, and remind you to send your mother flowers for her birthday, among millions of other tasks it is capable of performing. We are not asking the average frog to do your taxes, we are asking it to have a simple conversation and comment on the weather and the quality of the pond water, something the average computer is capable of doing.

Certainly, we have had other friends in the animal kingdom who have already learned to converse with us, for instance Koko the gorilla or Alex the African gray parrot.  Additionally, it is a historical fact that Alexander Graham Bell taught his family dog how to talks, including teaching it how to say "How are you grandma?"  Now, that is an entire sentence uttered by a dog. Now, if we capture the advances of the last century into understanding of how language works, as well as many advances in the technology for computer assisted language learning, we will have a training process that is less work-intensive and more effective than ever imagined.

Now, how is this done?  There are several layers of functionality to a language and we teach them according to their layer of complexity.  That is, any language must be learned first phonetically (sounds), then lexically (words), then morpho-syntactically (grammar), and, finally, pragmatically (intention and discourse structure).  By tracing along this pathway, starting with sounds and words and ending with conversation, we can teach nearly any animal to communicate with us from the humble grasshopper to the mighty elephant.  If they can't make noise, we can also teach them Morse code or Braille as a way of communicating, replacing the phonetics step.

Of course, we practice what we teach.  My husband and I care for three Rhode Island Red chickens who are currently undergoing lessons basic lessons in phonology and lexicology.  They have brains the size of walnuts and yet the are keenly aware of the goings on in their tiny backyard.  They are very curious and therefore good training candidates.

We took a cue from Mr. Graham-Bell and his talking dog in order to train our chickens.  In order to prepare his dog for speech he first trained it to growl continuously before teaching it specific sounds.  We used peanuts to encourage the utterance of specific phonemes through operant conditioning.  We knew off hand that they could say 'buk buk', which gave us two important consonants,  Through a system of rewards we managed to get them to say 'rrr', 'mmm', 'nnn', and so forth until they were prepared to form words and then sentences.   From there, we will be training them to work as press operators in plastics production down at PNI Plastics in McKeesport where they have already been offered entry-level jobs.

We can apply these principles over and over again in order to build our new workforce.  Through this we can introduce a golden age of prosperity and environmental stewardship for our nation.  God bless America!

Also: Pictures! (I loved the one with Clark and Mary)

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posted by Alison 10/04/2009 05:12:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Project #245 - More Paper Cutout Posters

I added a few more poster-slides to the stack for my talk. They look a little insane out of context.





...and now I am officially sick of paper cutouts.



I also put together a chart explaining the phonemes in the English language. Since may talk is about getting animals to speak English, and specifically chickens, I hope no one expects me to explain how any thing with a beak could pronounce a bilabial consonant.

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posted by Alison 10/03/2009 05:11:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Friday, October 02, 2009

Project #244 - Paper Cutout Posters

I spent the bulk of my day putting together posters for my talk tomorrow, um, instead of finishing some of my work projects. Programming all day Sunday is my punishment.

Since we can't use digital visual aids, I elected to use giant cut-outs instead. Everything needed to be big because we're going to be doing this in a church and there is at least 20 feet between the pews and the pulpit.

They were fun to make at first, but it gets old after doing 10. By the time Clark got home I was so sick of them that I didn't even want to talk about them.

Here are a few from the stack. They're a little more amusing when viewed completely without context.















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posted by Alison 10/02/2009 05:11:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Project #243 - Tiiiiny Cake with Rosettes



My love affair with tiny fake food will never die. It's the best use possible for the fingernail-sized scraps of polymer clay that end up in my work box. Plus, I figured out how to make tiny rosettes for this project (swirl of clay surrounded by flat dots of clay for outer petals), so high fives all around.

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posted by Alison 10/01/2009 01:45:00 AM : (0) comments : splink



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