May 022016

The CAG (Cheyenne Artist Guild – pronounced SHAG [so say I]) show for May is “Anything Goes” which does away with many of their restrictions, such as only paintings, or only 2d work, etc. Donna suggested I put something in the show, so I got moving and did so.

First up, I had started a ticker tape quilt using rainbow scraps. Ticker tape quilts are sorta constructed as you go. Instead of making a patchwork top & back, you start with whole cloth. So the back is a whole cloth, batting, then the top is another whole cloth. Then you arrange the pieces (rainbow scraps in my case) on top of this and stitch them down. It looks a bit like a tile mosaic, or a stained glass window. This is an ideal quilt type for those who have a sporadic supply of scraps and want to do something with them as they are created, instead of piling scraps on the cutting board and overflowing the scrap box, like me. Since I had so many, I arranged them all before stitching many down. It was looking rather dull, and I needed a way to get my black scraps in, so I chose a center focus of a black cat. Yes, I had been thinking of Spooky. She was a beautiful cat and a good companion.
Black Cat in Rainbow
This picture was taken before the binding and before it was washed. In the end it turned out swell, but last Friday, when it was all done and I wanted to take a picture of it finished before handing it over for the show, it was utterly foggy in the morning. As in, murky at ten feet foggy. So I gambled and waited for a spot of sun, only to have it snow the entire day without a single break. Lost that bet. Maybe this week I can find time to swing by the CAG to take a picture of it hung up, in the crappy indoor lighting there. If not, I will get it back after the show and share the picture then. The binding is that same dark gray you see peeking around from the back and I think it framed the piece perfectly.

While the quilt, which I prosaically named “Black Cat in Rainbow”, was in the wash and dry cycle, I whipped up a hanging system for Purpura, the Scrappy Cat. The CAG doesn’t have many spots for art that sits and Donna suggested it would show better if it could hang from the wall. I got to thinking about ways and reasons a Scrappy Cat could/would hang and the most fun and acceptable ones were via backpack or parachute. I liked them so much, I did both.
Parachute and pack for Purpura.
First, a simple backpack with snap closure and elastic straps for ease of application. I think this is terribly cute, and I am fully aware that it is merely a simple backpack, that it is only cute to me because of its small size.

Parachute and pack for Purpura.
Inside the pack, the parachute. The strings are attached to the pack so it can be functional – in theory.

Parachute and pack for Purpura.
The parachute.

Parachute and pack for Purpura.
And all packed back up. The hook on the pack is the hanging hook for the Cat; it should be able to hang from a large tack or small nail, alongside all the standard framed paintings.

You are thinking in your head now, “does the parachute work?” and I have to say I don’t know. It was late at night and snowing, so I couldn’t do a good test. I think it will, but I can’t say for sure. When I get it back at the end of the show, I will test it.

There you are, that is what I was up to in the workshop last week. This week I’m working on the workshop itself, which is desperately needed. Some shelves, power strip installations, a couple cable runs, hooks, things like that. If I’m a crackerjack, I’ll get to putting up the track lights over the sewing area and the hanging lights over the map drawers. The lighting in there needs help, if only to improve my quick photographs.

Apr 272016

As usual, our spring is sprinkled with sporadic crazy weather. After a couple days of perfect 65F + sunshine + gentle breeze, we had a day of wild wind, then a freak two-hour snow storm that made the roads insanely slippery.
Snowy spring in Cheyenne.
A couple hours after that, the roads were completely dry. The air was crisp. It is an unexpected pleasure to be able to walk around on dry sidewalks while there is snow on the grass and layering the trees.

Snowy spring in Cheyenne.
The tulips are continuing to work on their blooms, unphased by the snow. This is the plant that I thought had been dug up years ago. This is the toughest, loner tulip I have.

Snowy spring in Cheyenne.
Well, mostly unphased. That one seems to have lost a petal.

Apr 262016

The title is what I was originally going to write on this sketch, but then one of the devils on my shoulder told me this bit instead.
Thread sketch, coffee is a caffeine drug vehicle!

Recently I related an experience to some of my friends, in which I had a (true, but harsh) response come from the devil on one “shoulder”, only to find a caustic response suggested from the other. Turns out I don’t have an angel on that other shoulder, only another devil. As the night wore on, more little devils joined and one medium-sized devil.
My shoulder-residing advisers.
It was a five devil night.

I’m working on a ticker tape project using the scraps from the latest rainbow project.
Ticker tape fabric mosaic, with cat focus.
I have plenty (too many?) projects already, but I cannot resist working with all those tiny bits of fabric making merry on my cutting board.

Apr 142016

This quilt is a combination of a couple inspirations for me. One was that I’ve wanted to do a project based on the Pantone Color of the Year for a while. A couple years have passed by, so I decided I had to force the project into the schedule or it would never get done. This was the year. And for 2016, Pantone chose this:
Pantone colors of the year Serenity & Rose Quartz
Pantone colors of the year Serenity & Rose Quartz.
Yeah. They chose not only two colors, but pastel pink and blue. This is about the last color choice or combination I want to work with. Ugh. But, I enjoy a challenge, so I decided to do it anyway – to find a way to make it work for me.

Away! To the Evernote inspiration files for more. I’ve had this pic hanging around a short while.
Photo by Khodayar Jeiroodi on Flicker.
Photo on Flickr by user khodayar Jeiroodi.
The commentary by the photographer is in Persian, so it took me a few minutes to sort out what it was and said, which was general commentary about the site. These gravemarkers were unusual and interesting, but I didn’t want to be literal, or have that color scheme, so it waited for some other trigger to get used. This project was the trigger.

Serenity & Rose Quartz Gravestones Quilt
I decided on equilateral triangles in shades of pink and blue close to the Pantone shades, as well as the purple they would combine into. All of these are the translations into Kona Cotton solids, so the range it somewhat limited. The neutrals are grays in four shades. When I laid it out, I faced all the grays pointing downwards and all the pastel colors pointing upwards.

Serenity & Rose Quartz Gravestones Quilt
The layout was good, but the color monotony was aggressively dull to me, suffocatingly really, so I threw in that lime in the upper right corner. It helped. I could breathe again, knowing it was there.

Serenity & Rose Quartz Gravestones Quilt
The back.
A single horizontal strip of leftover triangles and the darkest gray. I did all the quilting with the Sashiko machine (OMFG what a nightmare!) which uses a single thread to do a skipped chain stitch – this means that the same color is on the front and back. . The quilting lines look much more exciting on the back this way. The thread colors all matched the pastels and grays, and are in paired lines

Serenity & Rose Quartz Gravestones Quilt
See? A quilt with only this type of stitching on a whole cloth would look good. I do have two project ideas for such a thing in my Evernote, in fact.

Serenity & Rose Quartz Gravestones Quilt
When Slick saw the More Kitties quilt he was enamored with the ideas of zippers in a quilt. When I started laying this one out, he mentioned how much he liked it. By that time I was toying with the idea of setting it afire in the back yard (see aforementioned suffocating boredom), so when he said he liked it, the pressure was off. I didn’t have to like it at all – he did! My work wouldn’t be wasted. I immediately put his claim on the quilt and he mentioned a zipper. Sure thing, a zipper is no problem at all.

Serenity & Rose Quartz Gravestones Quilt
It is only big enough to hold some lip balm and … maybe a condom? A toy mouse? A USB stick? Not much, anyway.

So, that is done! Phew! The quilting almost did me in, truly. The Sashiko machine is not adequate for a full size quilt. This is one more project done and one less thing taking up space on my worktables. My project stack and supplies are crowding me, and this finish helps.

While I don’t care for this quilt much, Slick still does. He and Nora were using it on the bed last night, which made me happier with this thing than I had been during its entire creation. Now it is his quilt and I like him, so that paints the quilt in a more positive light for me.

Apr 112016

Oz is not a well-behaved cat, by human standards. He is not a very intelligent cat and he has poor impulse control. To help, we keep an open box around at all times. Boxes are psychologically good for cats and especially for Oz. Whenever he is frightened or overwhelmed ( a new toy, a strange noise, a feather toy touches him) he runs for the box. When he does something bad (attacks another cat while it is in the litter box, pees on something, jumps onto kitchen counter) and gets yelled at, he runs for the box.

His boxes are usually from the Chinese food place. They get their boxes from the nearby liquor store and cut the tops off. The topless box and boring smells work for Oz. This time, however, we got less takeout than usual and they gave us a smaller box than Oz is used to.
Oz, in his tiny box.
Oz didn’t care. He was poufed over the edges and the sides bowed out, but he was in his box.

Apr 042016

Generally, I don’t post things from the sketchbook. It is a personal promise to myself that I don’t have to and won’t by default so that I am not influenced by outside viewing. Positive, negative, or neutral = no matter. “The act of observing disturbs the observed.”
But, I didn’t take other photos this weekend and it is innocuous, so here it is.
Lion's Park, ink sketch.

The weekend was perfect for bike rides (my legs are tired) and for the cats to watch the birds and frisky squirrels.
Maybe I’ll take some photos tonight.

Apr 012016

I love our little Moxie, but she is not my cat. She is very much Slick’s cat. When he is not at home, this is what she does:
Moxie watching for Slick.
She watches the door, waiting for him to come home.

When he does come home:
Moxie being sweet with Slick.
Moxie sweetness and kisses, all for Slick. And only for Slick.

Mar 302016

You might remember some time ago I made a rainbow stripes quilt. The quilt was purchased by Ymabean and has brightened her den ever since. I thought that Ymabean could possibly use a dollop of brightness about now, so I made this:
Rainbow pillow, back.
A rainbow pillow. You’d think that something this small (about 22×16″) wouldn’t take long at all, that you could whip one up in a few hours, but I swear it takes so much longer than you think. At least, it does me. There is a lot of time spent pawing through the scrap box, looking for JUST the right shade of lavender to blend in its strip perfectly, more time laying out, even more time squinting at the thing to judge the values. Enjoyable, but consuming. I’d originally thought a standard 16″ square would work, but when I got to layout I thought the colors needed some more space to really be themselves. Thus, a custom size.

Rainbow pillow, front.
The back, with snaps.

Rainbow pillow, detail.
Rainbow quilting in the winter is highly advised. So say I.

Ymabean, I hope your winter/spring day was appropriately brightened!

Mar 292016

Recently, I celebrated another year of life and had a very small gathering for the event. I made up a lino cut for the invites.
Lino cut for birthday invites.
The process was something I played with this time. I wanted to see if I could get a freer, more lino-flavored expressiveness from the carving. Usually, I draw the design, scan it into PhotoShop to fix any massive errors, (but mostly to have a digital reference for the future) and print it out, transfer to the lino with a quick acetate wash and carve pretty much around the lines. This time, I drew, scanned and didn’t print; except the text – I hate fucking up text, so I printed and transferred that bit. I kept the drawing up on my screen and made a few reference marks in Sharpie to keep me aligned, then carved it mostly freehand – the same way you would look at a subject and draw it, I looked at my drawing and carved it. I’m not exactly displeased with the result – it is definitely freer, looser, more expressive in a lino fashion, but it doesn’t click for me like other carvings have. I will do this again and play around in different ways to see what I come up with.
I printed the unbacked lino onto black cards, freehand with light gray and silver Golden Acrylics. The sparkle level was good. I printed the interior text onto some amazing silver sparkle paper and pasted it inside.

Lino cut printed on black cotton.
When I was done, I had a lot of paint left over. Looking around, I found a scrap piece of crappy black cotton. It is crappy because it has a low thread count/ loose weave/ thin threads. It was clearly salvaged from a trash stack, or purchased before I found and became an adherent of Kona cottons. I squirted some textile medium into the paint and used up some of the mixture on this cotton. I didn’t have a plan, but it was fun to print onto fabric with this size of lino, instead of little pieces like I’ve done before.

After two days of drying, heat setting, and wondering what I was going to do with them, I decided they’d make decent little baggies. Birthday parties often have favor bags, so that’s where I was going with my idea. However, the cotton was low quality, as mentioned, so the domino chain of idea progression began there. The prints became patches onto better cotton, then pockets, the flat simple bags became drawstring bags, lined with double-brushed flannel, with grommets for the double drawstrings, with generous boxed bottoms.

Lino cut for birthday invites.
The front of the bag, showing printed pocket.

Because I was working late at night and tired, I made a mistake in the order of assembly (even though I wrote out the steps in order, I was sleepy and ignored my own list – at my peril!!) and the fix doubled the work I had to do in the end. Because of that, these ended up taking some effort, instead of the quick, cleverly designed bags I intended. They came out nice, though.

Lino cut for birthday invites.

Seven finished, empty bags. Now what to put in them? It would be too much candy to fill up with. I decided on sharing some of my favorite things. I put in black Sharpies, washi tape, glue, sparkly star and gear stickers, MineCraft and Star Trek toys, cat stamps, Japanese cat erasers, etc. and of course some chocolates.

Plastic beads and elastic cord = dead easy.
I like things that glow in the dark, stars and skulls, so I found a way to combine them through glow in the dark skull and star beads. Interspersed with black and a few colors I found in my stash, they made a few kiddie-summer-camp-craft type bracelets. The beads glow well. And I did trim the ends of the cords later, this shot was mid-creation.

Tiny dinosaurs for favor bags.
Being a moderate dinosaur fan, everyone got a couple tiny toy dinos. They are so small! That makes them even better, I think. And Legos. I split up a couple boxes of Legos to make little baggies for everyone to play with.

This project also spurred a bag making fit. I made a sample to start, then afterwards made a few different styles of bags since it was on my mind already. Now I have five varieties of bags around the workshop, only two have been filled yet. With the bag making finally out of my system, I got back onto my Maker schedule. One secret project is done (soon to be shared here) and next up is finishing that triangle quilt at last, before this quarter is closed. Fingers crossed that I make it!

Mar 232016

This little blizzard might be the last chance this year.
Bundled under fuzzy blankets on the couch, with cats.
So much snow outside, and the wind makes it sound even worse. Best to just stay inside, under fuzzy blankets, with the cats, some hot chocolate and ALL the movies.

Mar 152016

For the folks who only care about the results:
In order of score from high to low.

  1. Madagascar + Jim Beam
  2. Madagascar + Everclear
  3. Ugandan + Jim Beam
  4. Ugandan + Everclear
  5. Mexican + Jim Beam
  6. Mexican + Everclear

Thanks for participating and I hope you enjoyed it!

For folks who want more details:
First, I severely underestimated the “one month is fine” idea when using raw alcohols in sealed bottles in such tiny amounts. I think the alcohols definitely need more than a month with the small bits of bean, and some evaporation time to knock down the alcohol. Some people even noticed a faint alcohol tingle in the cookies themselves; that was after baking should have kicked it out! So, I had to take that into account when scoring.

Second, Jim Beam is mostly fluff with some alcohol (maybe up to 40%, depending on version). Everclear is mostly alcohol (95%) with minimal fluff – about 15 states have actually outlawed its sale and you can’t get anything stronger, chemically speaking, period. This difference in liquid composition meant that the cookies turned out with very different dough consistencies. Plus, I used WAY more vanilla than you normally would in a recipe, about 400-500% more. This caused me a bit of fuss baking, but according to taste test numbers and comments, I don’t think it made a significant difference in the actual tasting. Based on comments, many people got distracted by the textures and moisture of the cookies, which is valid in the larger context, but not useful in the taste context. The numbers tell the tale true enough, (I think) and I’m letting them stand on their own.

Cookies for the vanilla extract tests.
Third, cookies rely on your mood. One clever person ate half of each cookie, resealed the bags, then waited a day and a half to eat the second half. The scores scaled the same way, but each was higher on the second day, when the taster admits a better overall mood. I find this simultaneously obvious and fascinating.

Fourth, food marketers are not morons. Store bought vanilla extract is mostly made from Madagascar and/or Tahitian vanilla beans. You will note those Madagascar beans scored the highest. [I don’t like the Tahitian vanilla bean flavor and since this test is ultimately for my vanilla extract, I didn’t even include it for the test.] Bourbon is one of the most popular alcohol flavors, too, as held out by our own scores. Madagascar beans and bourbon alcohol scored the highest in our test and it is what you’re essentially buying at the store.

Fifth, there isn’t that much difference. All the scores were less than a standard deviation away from the mean. That doesn’t excite me either way since 11 people does not a good test group make, but it is what I have to work with as supplied by my tiny kitchen and time resources. Less than a dozen testers and scores were close enough that any variance can be attributed to pure chance, not on actual preference mean that this is splitting hair without a scalpel or a microscope. This doesn’t mean the test is meaningless; the scores did skew a noticeable way. Merely, the difference wasn’t statistically relevant.

What will you do for your extract, based on this information? Maybe you like the light, almost fruity flavor of Tahitian vanilla beans. Perhaps vodka is your BA-FF. Your personal flavor preferences are going to have the biggest influence on your choices, as they do mine. For now, I’m going to shove all the beans I have into a bottle with the remaining Everclear. I’m not taking out the Jim Beam either – everything from the test is going into a bottle and living in the cupboard to extract in the dark. When I place another order, it will be for Ugandan beans and a couple Mexican beans if they are on sale. Personally, I prefer Mexican over Madagascar, and I hadn’t even tried Ugandan until this test, but I like those equally.

NOTE: If you would like your scorecard back, with the extract details filled in, let me know. It might save you some future taste-testing efforts.

I’ve learned a lot about my personal vanilla preferences and about the taste of the masses. I consider this entire experiment a success and I hope that you cookie-eating participants have at least had a positive experience, even if you never make your own vanilla extract.

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