Sunday, June 29, 2014

Small update

I haven't been updating very often and the garage has recluttered with all the garagey things that don't really belong in the house but can't stay outside either. I had planned to declutter again, maybe even have a small garage sale, but that's a lot of work.

Last year I worked on my DragonCon costume almost every weekend throughout the summer. It was great and I learned a lot about sewing. On the other hand, I didn't get anything else done that summer. This spring my time has been taken up mostly with writing. I finally finished my current book, a full-length steampunk fantasy with the same characters (Lizzy and Jo) I've been writing short stories about for a year. Now I've only got two months until DragonCon, I'm kind of broke so I can't indulge myself with buying a lot of fabric, and I'm still behind on my writing.

So I'm probably not going to dress up at DragonCon this year. I will try to take a few weekends during the rest of the summer to do some sort of steampunky project to post about, though. I need a pair of goggles that aren't covered in feathers, for instance.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Another petticoat

Aw man, how did it get to be May already? I've only got four months until DragonCon! I'm not ready!

This year I want to dress as a lady botanist. I decided that last fall after I got a tattoo of vines on my right leg. This week I'll be going to get a similar tattoo on my left leg. But I haven't done anything for the outfit because hey, lots of time left, right? Wrong! Hardly any time left and I don't know what to do about a vasculum. A botanist needs a vasculum but they're just not available since modern botanists, who have no souls, just carry plastic bags.

Anyway, my feather-trimmed petticoat from last year won't do so I decided to make a new one. A girl can never have too many petticoats. Unfortunately I soon grew to loathe the cloth; fortunately, it was cheap and won't show. I decided not to trim it with anything, just hemmed the bottom tier.

Above: the first of many endlessly long seams.

As always, putting the basting thread in for ruffling is a tedious process since I have to do it by hand. Then it takes more tedious time to do the actual ruffling and get everything pinned and ready to sew. The process is made more difficult with a cat who loves it when I get down on the floor, because he thinks I want to play with him.

The process is also made more difficult these days since I've got a drum kit in my living room. I can't quite bring myself to move it out to the garage even though that would make more sense. I like knowing it's safe inside. It's a horrible cheap kit but I love it dearly.

Incidentally, if you're not clear on how ruffling works, this picture might help. See the thread passing through the cloth, the one I've got my finger under? That's the basting thread. You pull it (steadily but firmly) and it wrinkles up the cloth. When you've got the wrinkles distributed evenly all down the thread, you pin them in place and sew a seam along the basting thread, then pull the basting thread out completely. It's actually pretty easy although it sounds complicated.

I use a three-tier pattern, with the bottom two tiers ruffled and the top tier just plain. I didn't measure the top tier around my waist, just figured I'd put in tucks or something later once I lose the weight I put on over the winter. (You must imagine me saying that in an immensely dignified voice.) It's much too big now since I only tapered the top piece a few inches.

Above: the pieces sewn together and awaiting the seam up the side.

I folded the top down half an inch, then folded it over again an inch and sewed it to make a plain waistband. Then I sewed up the side seam, starting at the bottom hem and continuing up to about halfway up the top tier. I stopped there and folded the edges above it back and sewed them, to make a horrible ugly ineffective and sloppy placket. I had thought I'd sew a button on later and that would be that, but I think I'll have to do more work to the waistband later in the summer.

Above: worst placket ever

Even so, the petticoat will work as is even if I have to safety pin it all around my waist when the time comes. The ruffles are nice and ruffly and will make my skirt stand out properly. I will probably wear the same skirt as last year, since it's lovely and fits and goes with my corset. So now I just have to figure out what the hell to do about a top. And I also need to find a vasculum.

Here's the petticoat worn, with it hitched up a bit so you can see part of my awesome tattoo:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Fairy House

When I was about seven years old, my best friend Laura, and sometimes our other friends, would make fairy houses. Laura's older sister Debbie came up with the idea, which tells you why Debbie was the world's most awesome babysitter.

I hadn't made a fairy house in decades, but today I suddenly thought of it and decided it was about time. Besides, I haven't posted here in a while--I haven't had time to do much of anything except write my current book--and fairies are a bit steampunk, right?

Here's the finished house in the flowerbed, in the upper lefthand corner:

The houses we made as kids were just single rooms built of twigs, with moss carpets and bark roofs. We made them in the forks of trees or among exposed roots. I decided to make mine in the corner of the raised garden bed I made recently, because it's pretty boring right now.

First I gathered up some materials: twigs, bark (from dead trees only; even as a kid it bothered me to pull bark off live trees), and other stuff. As I worked on the house, I kept getting up and gathering more things, and the things I gathered gave me ideas for what to build next. That's the lovely thing about making fairy houses: you start to think differently about the odds and ends of forest detritus you see.

First I set some flattish rocks down as a floor in the corner of the flowerbed. I decided this would be the larder because it's so protected. I started breaking twigs into the right lengths to make corner posts and remembered, with complete clarity, the concentration needed as a seven-year-old to find just the right size forked twigs. I put straight twigs across the top to hold up the roof, and added bits of pine bark as walls. Inside the larder I put things fairies would eat. The door is another piece of bark, slightly ajar. I made the roof from sycamore bark, which is heavy and scaly like shingles.

Here's the larder without the roof:

Next I decided on a bedroom, so I put a lot of moss down for the floor. Half a walnut husk with some moss in it made a cradle. More pine bark for the walls, and no door because fairies like lots of fresh air.

Here's the bedroom without the roof:

Lastly I made the kitchen, with pieces of walnut husk for bowls and a wall made partly of a stone. No door to this room either, but to keep rain from blowing in I put a piece of bark down as a partial shelter. I also set some shiny stones (from my gravel driveway) outside for the family to sit on while they eat together.

Here's the kitchen without the roof:

I added a few details before I decided I was done. Here's a close-up of the entire house with the roofs on.

Fairy houses are ephemeral. I did a pretty good job building this one, but after the first good wind, or the first curious squirrel, it will be mostly gone. But that's part of the enjoyment.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Make a Practice Drum Pad

I'm learning how to play drums, after a couple of decades wishing I knew how. It was only a day or two before I realized I needed a drum pad to use for practice, since I don't always want to sit at my kit, and whacking a pillow or book just doesn't do it for me. So I made one.

It was supposed to be a lot more steampunky than this, and it was also supposed to be decorated with a skull-and-crossbones, not a gay pirate skull, but anyway, this is how I did it.

First of all, I lucked out because I already had a piece of plywood that was almost the right shape already. I only had to saw one side. I bought two thin mousepads at Walmart ($3 each--I'd have gotten one thick mousepad but they didn't carry any) but before I glued them on I decided I wanted to trim the corners of the wood. That only took a few minutes, and I sanded the edges down with part of a cinder block I'd found while doing yardwork. Hey, you use what you have.

I glued the first mousepad face-down onto the wood, using my favorite glue, Gem-Tac. I got frustrated, though, because the nozzle kept plugging up and the glue was starting to dry while I was trying to clear it, and finally I just cut the end off. That was sort of a mistake since now the glue just pours out. But it did the trick.

Next I glued the second mousepad, the blue one, face-up on top of the first mousepad, the black one. If you're confused as to why the finished picture above shows a black mousepad on top, it's because after the glue dried overnight, the pad looked like this:

I'd gotten glue all over it, and it looked awful. Also I didn't like the blue. So I went back to the store and bought another mousepad, another black one.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When I set the drum pad on the counter to try it out (and my counters are green, not yellow, but that's an awful picture--just wanted to make that clear, it's important), I discovered that the wood was a bit warped. The pad rocked on two of its corners.

(See? Green.) Fortunately, I have a bunch of little foam dots that came with the new cabinet hardware I installed in January. I thought I might be able to use them as shims, and they would help keep my new drum pad from scratching up tables or whatever as I used it. I put a dot in each corner and one in the middle, and to shim the wobbly corners I added a second dot on top of the first on the problem corners. I wasn't sure it would work, but it did the trick exactly. But I recommend you check first to make sure your piece of wood isn't warped.

After I did that, I tried a few paradiddles to see how I liked the drum pad. It worked fine but I thought it could use a bit more padding, which is why I ultimately went back and bought a third mousepad. I glued it on very carefully, using much less glue and making sure not to get any glue on the top.

The glue's still drying, but I went ahead and drew the skull on it (with silver Sharpie) so I could take pictures. I'm not the best artist ever and not only does my skull resemble a troll skull or something, with that huge jawbone, but I also managed to get it off-center. Since I need to practice hitting right in the middle of the drum, I added the blingy star thing, whatever you want to call it. And when I tried to add a pirate hat, it turned into a lady's Easter hat with a feather. Whatever. My dead troll is fabulous!

I wasn't going to include this picture, since it's just glue, but I like the pattern:

Friday, February 28, 2014

Follow-up to AnachroCon report

This is important enough that I feel the need to post about it here. I wish I'd known about the situation ahead of time so I could have canceled my membership to AnachroCon and not attended after all.

Apparently the convention has had a long-term, known issue with one of its co-chairs making inappropriate advances to women on staff and attendees. He has also violated the terms of the convention's weapons policy. He was instrumental in the refusal to set up a harassment policy for the con.

For a good overview of the situation, please read this article at Steampunk Chronicle.

The person in question has stepped down. It's infuriating, however, that he was allowed to act this way for years without repercussion.

The Artifice Club has renounced all participation with AnachroCon until major changes are made. (That's how I learned about this, from an Artifice Club tweet.) While from the Steampunk Chronicle article it does look like the con plans to conform to the Con Anti-Harassment Project, until and unless it does (and does so in good faith, with concrete measures in place to stop harassment before it becomes an issue and deal with complaints promptly and appropriately), I will not attend AnachroCon again or recommend it to friends.

Last year I put my name down as someone who would follow John Scalzi's Convention Harassment Policy. I wish I had remembered to check the AnachroCon site for a harassment policy--or its lack. From now on I'll remember to do so and plan my con attendances accordingly.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

AnachroCon report

IMPORTANT ADDITION: Please read my follow-up post as to why I will not be attending AnachroCon again.

Con report warning: this is long and probably kind of boring. I didn't take very many pictures for some reason.

Above: spicy chocolate cogs I bought in the dealers room. They're good! They got kind of smudgy and melty from me carrying them around in my hot little hands.

This weekend I went to AnachroCon in Atlanta, a convention focusing on history and alternate history. I left for Atlanta after work Friday afternoon, and got checked in at the hotel and convention in time to attend the leatherworking panel at 8pm. It was a lively, interesting panel, well-moderated, and set a good tone for the convention. After that I went to the Eat Your Drink panel, about cooking with alcohol, which was also excellent and had food samples. This was good, because the hotel had no real restaurant in the evenings--you could order food at the bar, but it was noisy and crowded and the food overpriced. I figured I'd walk around outside and find a nearby restaurant. I mean, who ever heard of a big hotel (the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center) without at least one moderately-priced restaurant next door? But there was nothing nearby except a pricy, crowded restaurant at the bottom of the hill. I ended up eating some chips and an orange I'd brought from home instead of a real meal.

Anyway, the con is a relatively small one but I was astonished at how many people dressed up for it. I estimate at least 90% of attendees wore a con outfit/costume, maybe more. I wore my awesome hat, but jeans, boots, and T-shirts, and felt very underdressed! It was awesome. Everywhere I looked I got ideas for outfits. And even though I didn't know anyone at the con, the tone was warm and welcoming, and I felt comfortable starting up conversations with strangers.

In the morning the tea-room was open for breakfast. I got the buffet and wasn't enormously impressed with the food for the price, although they did have some excellent fresh fruit. I stuffed myself, because the schedule I'd worked out for the day was so busy I wasn't sure when I'd get a chance to eat again. AnachroCon has TONS of programming, and so many of the panels interested me that sometimes I had a hard time deciding what to attend.

I'm an early riser, and after breakfast had over an hour to kill before the first panel at 10am. I'd brought a book with me, Kenneth Oppel's excellent Airborn, which I was almost done reading, so I got some coffee and tucked myself in a corner of the quiet bar to read and watch people wander by. That was pleasant, and then I attended three excellent food-related panels in a row: the history of candy and Sweet Alchemy (the science of candy) by the same panelist who'd presented the Eat Your Drink panel the night before (Esdee Ar, who has an etsy shop where she sells her awesome handmade candies), and a panel on the history of chocolate. After that I went straight to a history panel about WWI pilots, which was both interesting and fun.

After that I had planned to go to a few more panels, but it was 2pm and I was hungry again, and I didn't want to go to the 4pm absinthe tasting on an empty stomach. I checked the area map on the con website and found out there was a bagel shop about a quarter mile away. I walked there and got a bagel and (bad) hot chocolate, then came back and got in line for the absinthe tasting.

It was a $20 extra charge which I'd paid in advance, and I believe it was sold out. It was run by the folks from Tea and Absinthe, and it was so much fun! I'd never tried absinthe before although I'd always wanted to. We tasted six brands, plus a homebrewed absinthe for those who were brave (I wasn't). The talk was fascinating and the absinthe very different from anything I'd expected. It's not really to my taste but I'm glad I got the opportunity to try it. It's got a very strong licorice taste from the anise, with a slightly bitter aftertaste from the wormwood. Oddly enough, while I didn't love the taste, I liked the aftertaste.

After the tasting, I asked the presenters, Daniel Myers and Pacita Prasarn (that's her in the picture above, on her knees to get a closer look at a glass) to sign my bucket list book. They were both very gracious to do so!

I had planned to attend the Tea Dueling at 5pm, but the absinthe tasting ran long--it was a big crowd--and I came in at the very end of the duel. After that, though, Daniel Myers gave a talk about the history of tea, called Blood on the Leaf, which was both fascinating and a bit demoralizing considering how awful people are to each other. But he made it funny too, and brought good tea so we all sat around to listen and ask questions and sip.

I was so full of absinthe and tea after that that I skipped supper and went on to two more panels: a fun and inspiring panel on the panelists' favorite types of tools for costume crafting, and a panel called Character Through Costume, which was also inspiring. Seriously, I have so many ideas! I can't wait to hit the local thrift shops to see what I can find.

There was programming today (Sunday), including some panels I wanted to attend, but I had a long drive ahead of me and wanted some time to wind down, do laundry, and get ready for the workweek. So I left this morning early.

I'd love to attend AnachroCon again next year--but not if they're at the same hotel or if the hotel doesn't open a real restaurant. I enjoyed the con enormously, though. It was well-run, friendly, and a lot of fun! Next time I will dress up.

ETA: I've heard the con will be held in a bigger hotel next year, so I'm definitely going to attend.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow-powered with a sidecar

I've neglected the blog, and the garage, this winter. It's just been too cold to do much except read and write and do a bit of knitting. I have lots of ideas for spring, though, if it ever gets here.

I'm in East Tennessee so we don't get much snow ordinarily--but last night we got ten inches! I made a snowman. Actually it's a snowwoman, representing me, and a snowcat, representing Jekyll, and we are about to rev into our next adventure in a snowcycle with a cat-sized sidecar.

I'll be at AnachroCon in Atlanta this weekend. I wanted to make an outfit for the con but I didn't, so I'll just be dressed in jeans and T-shirts and my awesome hat. If you're going to be there, say hi! We can go to the absinthe tasting together!