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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge is a collection of linked stories, most set in a Maine town and all either featuring or mentioning the title character.  Strout captures the feel of a small New England town, and each story is moving in its depiction of the ordinary pleasures and heartbreaks of life.  But it is Olive herself who is the standout of the collection.  She is unlike any other female character I have encountered -- brittle, complicated, abrasive, passionate, and hurting.  She can be remarkably insightful in some ways, as when she acknowledges how much fear rules her life, or with her ability to see right to the heart of people she has only just met.  Yet she can be unthinkingly cruel, and is frustratingly blind to the effect her manner has on others.  Given how often people inanely debate whether a female character is "likeable," Olive Kitteridge is a revelation.  These stories, and Olive herself, are utterly captivating.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mmm ... Donuts ...

The one on the left is made of felt, pattern from the Winter 2010 issue of Quilts and More. The right is crocheted, from the issue 65 of Mollie Makes (I modified the pattern slightly by replacing some of the single crochet stitches in the last round of the frosting with double and triple crochets, to add an organic feel).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cacti!

Cacti appear to be the newest craft trend, popping up everywhere; and who am I to resist?  The Crafty Chica had a post that served as inspiration, so I grabbed some sage green yarn and crocheted a few:
I used patterns (or parts of them) from here, here, and here.

Coincidentally, the free kit with issue 68 of Mollie Makes included two mini hoop frames and eight cactus patterns.


I started thinking about how to bead a three-dimensional cactus, but I'd better set that aside for now, to focus on seasonal crafting.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston

Joining the Inspired by Reading Book Club seemed like a no-brainer; I've been inspired more than once by what I read.  I won't be able to participate every month, but I look forward to those times I can.

August's selection was The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston, about a young widow who moves to a small house by a lake in Wales, and learns she has an unexpected connection to the lake's past.  A book with magic, folklore, and archeology is right up my alley, and for the most part I enjoyed the story.  Tilda is the widow in question, and Brackston does an excellent job depicting both her depression and her growing powers as she realizes that she is descended from a witch -- Seren -- who lived by the lake hundreds of years ago.

However, for a novel about powerful women there were odd gender politics.  The only other women of note in Seren's story are the main antagonists, who are, of course, jealous of her beauty and power and especially the love the local prince (married to one of the women!) has for her.  The nameless women of the village don't fare much better; Seren makes her contempt for their ordinary lives quite clear.  In Tilda's story, there are practically no women at all; even Tilda's mother (who never actually appears) is apparently only tolerated because of Tilda's love for her father.

The story was nonetheless enjoyable, and inspiration hit right away.  I had picked up an issue of Chain Maille Jewelry, and in it were instructions by Rebecca Mojica to make a Celtic Spikes pendant.  The pattern called for colored rings but I only had silver rings in the right sizes, which was apropos.  I strung the resulting pendant on a length of green velvet:
That's not text from The Silver Witch; I had to return it to the library
Silver and green work quite well for the lakeside setting, the moon, and the heroines themselves.

I look forward to seeing what everyone else made!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jewelry Round-Up

A woven, beaded bracelet:
Whoever created the pattern was really committed to having it be photo only, with no written instructions, which left out some minor steps I had to figure out myself.  The finished product has a wonderful feel, and I want to make another in opaque colors.

 A Byzantine chain in colored aluminum rings:
 I bought the rings originally in the hopes of finishing the chain mail pendant I've been working on, but I foolishly bought the wrong size (I mixed up inner and outer diameters).  So I made a bracelet instead.  The rings are a slightly finer gauge than what works best for this weave, but they make for a fun accessory.

A bead soup necklace:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

I first learned of Eligible not through a review, but an article defending the novel against a review; Waldman did such a good job selling the book, I had to read it myself.  And she's completely right -- Curtis Sittenfeld wrote a fun, compulsively readable update of Pride and Prejudice, similar to Clueless in its witty, contemporary retelling. 

What sometimes gets lost in the adaptations of and riffs on Pride and Prejudice is that the novel wasn't just about the couples; Austen used the romances to make a sharp critique of the world she lived in.  Sittenfeld, in updating the story, does not neglect that, and the novel is filled with clever and amusing insights into the concerns of a certain segment of 21st century America -- celebrity worship, consumerism, status-seeking, authenticity, sex, marriage, motherhood.  Of course the gossipy country society of Austen's time is replaced by reality shows.  Of course Darcy is a fancy-pants doctor, Liz is a writer, and Mary is a perpetual grad student.  Of course the Bennets are a upper middle class family, hit hard by the recession but struggling to hide it from their richer neighbors.

Sittenfeld also fleshes out some of the more minor characters, adding complexity to Lydia, Kitty, and the two Wickham stand-ins. She can be merciless in her dissection of the characters, but she never forgets their humanity.

There were some flaws; I can't believe Jane would ever agree to be on a reality show, and Charlotte's relationship with Cousin Willie deserved a bit more fleshing out, given that marriage is not now the economic necessity it has been in the past.  And while having both Liz and Darcy decide they never want children was interesting, having them each give a little lecture about it, hitting every major talking point, was awkwardly done.  But these are minor complaints, and I highly recommend Eligible to Austen fans and non-fans alike.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Folkloric Embroidery

Last year I got Clare Youngs' Folk Art Needlecraft, but as I wrote then I found the information on different styles of folk art disappointing.  The patterns themselves, however, were not disappointing at all, and I had a great deal of fun stitching nine lovely designs.  I sewed them all into a banner to hang over my bay window:

Close-ups of the different panels:









I also had a lot of fun trying new-to-me stitches, like the palestrina stitch, chemanthy stitch, knotted cretan stitch, whipped lazy daisy stitch, and something from a Russian website with no information that I'll call a whipped thistle stitch.

I tried for days to get a good picture of the entire banner, but the lighting -- exterior and interior -- wouldn't cooperate.  The (pathetic) best I could do:
It looks so much better in person.