Archive for October, 2019

The surviving giants of my backyard

You might have noticed that the blog look has changed. I figured it was time! It’s been awhile since I updated the aesthetic around here. The header picture is actually a photo of the trees in my backyard, which I thought was a decent photo considering it was taken with a phone, and in keeping with the foliage theme, I thought a deep forest green would make a great background. I couldn’t figure out how to change the white background of the text area, though…I had in mind a pale sage green for that, but I’ll take what I can get!!!

Green used to be one of the colors I hated most in the world, right alongside yellow. I was a serious tomboy as a child. I never willingly wore a skirt if I could wear jeans and sneakers, and most of my friends were male. But I went to a Catholic school, and uniforms were required. Jumpers for girls, with little X-shaped ties…wanna guess our colors? You got it: green and yellow plaid. Eight years of it put me off of green and yellow for years. And while I’m still no fan of yellow, green and I are back on a decent footing with each other, because green is the color of forests. While I don’t have a green thumb, I love trees. The more, the merrier. It broke my heart to cut down so many of the trees around this house, but there wasn’t much choice.

I often think that I would love to live in Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit hole in Bag End, as seen in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring. Rivendell would suit me too. I think if I were surrounded by all of that beautiful greenery all the time, I would never get anything done. I’d be too relaxed, daydreaming, or both.

Probably both.

Okay, definitely both.

Well, that’s the story behind the cosmetic changes to the blog. I hope you like it, and that maybe the relaxing qualities I feel from the colors will carry over to you. Happy crafting!


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If you have never seen “My Cousin Vinny”, go and rent it immediately, especially if you’re from New York. It stars Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, and Ralph Macchio, and is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Joe Pesci is a typical Brooklynite, heavy accent and all, an untried attorney, and he and his fiancee, played by Marisa, go down to Alabama to defend his cousin, played by Ralph Macchio, and his roommate against a murder charge. There are two scenes in the movie concerning grits that are absolutely hysterical.

Southern cooking is not something I experienced in my house growing up. My parents were both first generation West Indian-Americans, so the things my mother cooked were generally Caribbean food, or really common American dishes that you’d find in any Good Housekeeping magazine: burgers and fries, meatloaf, etc. They were also health nuts before it was a thing, so my mom never fried anything. My mother’s version of fried chicken was breaded and baked, and I don’t recall her making even that very often. So, as a result of my upbringing, I can’t say I’m good at frying anything, and there are some aspects of cooking I’m only learning now, grits being the big one.

At the top of that list is grits. A former roommate of mine introduced me to grits with butter and bacon years ago when discovering that I don’t like hot cereal. I can’t stand the stuff. Don’t come near me with cream of wheat, farina, or oatmeal. Cream of wheat and farina, I won’t touch under any circumstances. Oatmeal only if baked into cookies. I don’t know if it’s a texture thing or what, but hot cereal repulses me altogether.

The grits not only didn’t bother me, but they were actually good. I’ve tried one other variation on them since, grits and cheese, and discovered that I didn’t like that one at all. Now I stick with just butter and bacon, and I’m happy.

One thing I’ve learned about cooking grits is that you cannot use a plastic or vinyl spoon for stirring them. You’ve got to use metal or wood. Plastic and vinyl get melted! I was shocked when I pulled my vinyl spoon out of the pot and it was warped. I can stir anything else hot with a vinyl spoon…except grits. I thought maybe it was the density of the grits, but I’ve stirred mashed potatoes, which is more dense, with the same spoon and not had a problem. It’s like something in the grits themselves amplifies the heat and melts plastic. Fresh out of the pot, they have the consistency of…hot glue is the only thing I can come up with. Which, I guess, is why one of the more humorous things I’ve heard is that if you have an abusive husband, you should dump hot grits on his lap. The general consensus is “That’ll fix ‘im!” And all I can say, while laughing, is that hot grits in the lap will do far more damage than a hot cup of coffee.

The courtroom scene in “My Cousin Vinny” where Joe Pesci interrogates someone about cooking grits, I am sad to say, was my inspiration to only use regular grits, which take about twenty minutes to cook. Pesci asks the witness if he prefers instant grits, regular grits, or al dente, which confuses the man, but he smirks and says “No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits”, to the agreement of the rest of the courtroom, so of course, when we got here, I only bought regular grits. When in Rome…

But, sadly, just since we’ve been here, every store I’ve gone to has stopped carrying regular grits. All I can find now are the instant or the 5-minute grits. Oh, well.  At least no one can say I didn’t try to be a self-respecting Southerner!

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The finished takadai braid

The second attempt at braiding is off the takadai. The first attempt has never been seen here, nor will it ever be. Yes, it was that bad. This second one was much better, although still not perfect. But there’s still a lot to learn, so maybe I’m being too much of a perfectionist. I’d like to work my way through the whole book. We’ll see how that goes. It seems like some of the step-by-step instructions are pretty clear, and some are a bit more muddled. It could also be that I’m the one who’s muddled!!! Either way, some things will have to be read and re-read until that light bulb moment comes.

This morning, I’m once again redoing leader strings. I turned the wasted thread into fringe, which would, technically speaking, mean it’s not waste, but I hadn’t planned on fringe. It’s there because my leader strings were too short to allow me to braid any further. So I’m taking the advice I was given and making three foot long leaders.

This is more of a task than it sounds. Each three foot leader is a doubled piece of string. To make 25 leaders, you’re talking about 25 lengths of six foot string. And you’re talking about not getting them tangled. I haven’t worked that part out yet, although I have an idea that I’ll try in a little while. I did figure out to use the warping board to make the leaders, though! Well, to get the lengths cut, anyway. I still have to tie each one up, but using the warping board is a whole lot faster than cutting each individual leader, which was what I’d done before. Both times. I’m not always the brightest crayon in the box.

In my defense, it’s not really practical to use the warping board for four inch leaders. It just isn’t. And the second time, it just did not occur to me at all until I was looking at repeatedly measuring six foot lengths and cutting them. Hey, six feet, that’s two yards! And once you start measuring in yards, a warping board is perfect!!

So now the lengths are cut, I just have to tie them off and get them on the tama, then start studying the next braid.

I also need to spend some time on a chain maille choker I’ve been commissioned to make!! That sounds so weird when applied to me, but it’s my second commission. She said surprise her, so I’m trying, but I want it to be perfect for her. I want her to love it. It’s not even about the return client thing. It’s just about the fact that it’s jewelry. You’re supposed to love it, otherwise what’s the point?

Okay, it’s also about the fact that I’m making the jewelry, too.

I’m kinda glad winter is on its way…I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied!!!

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The takadai, with the ayatakedai extension removed.

So, one of the dozens of fiber arts that I like is kumihimo, and like everything else fiber, it’s a gateway drug. You see, there is more than one form of Japanese braiding. I already have two marudai, and quite a few foam kumihimo disks. But I’ve been fascinated with the takadai and the ayatakedai. Only, where to get one, right? Well, Braidershand makes what I was looking for. The link will take you to the one I bought. There’s an 18 month waiting list to get one, but I’ve got to say, Janis at Braidershand is a doll, and all the equipment I’ve purchased from them is first rate and worth every penny.

The downside to the takadai and the ayatakedai is that neither is as popular here as kumihimo. A good marudai or a braiding disk is far less expensive than these big pieces. Not a complaint, just an observation. You get what you pay for. I won’t be buying any more equipment for quite awhile–I’ve tapped out that budget–but I’m quite happy with what I have! But the point was that, because they’re not as popular, it’s harder to learn because unless you live in the right area, or can afford to travel, neither of which applies to me currently, you kind of have to learn on your own. There aren’t a lot of books available either, and virtually no YouTube tutorials. Demos, but no tutorials that I’ve found.

The loaded tama, and one with the new, longer leader string

For the takadai, I can recommend Rodrick Owen’s book Making Kumihimo: Japanese Interlaced Braids. It will walk you through setting up your takadai and several different braids. He has a couple of other books too, and some deal with the core stand, which is another piece of equipment from Braidershand. Now that  the studio is finally coming together, I can play a little bit, so I have been!

The takadai is the size of a small floor loom. It’s for oblique braids, and it uses tama, which are the weighted bobbins the thread is wound around, and 9-pin koma, which are the sliders on the arms of the takadai. Those are used to keep your warp strands in order. As each koma is emptied of its warp strands, it’s brought down to the bottom of the arm, and the others slide forward into its previous space. The torii is a structure at the very top of the takadai, and the braid is pulled up over that as you go, like a cloth beam. The sword–and there is a Japanese word for it that escapes me right now–is used to hold the shed you create with your hand, and to beat after you’ve cast the tama through it.

9-pin koma

The learning curve wasn’t very hard for the basics, especially if you weave already, although the first time I tried braiding on it, the braid was horrible, bowing rather than flat, not symmetrical, didn’t come to a point the way it should…horrible. My mistake there was in not realizing the author’s takadai only carried four koma, where mine carries six, so I had removed two koma from each arm to match his, thinking I needed to do this. What that did was put everything at the wrong angle. I also discovered that the leader strings on the tama needed to be a lot longer than the four inches I usually have on the marudai. So, the next morning, I unraveled all that I had done the night before (not fun), and started over from scratch. The piece I was doing calls for 25 tama, which meant I had to re-do 25 leader strings. They are now a foot long each and I’ve been told I might want to increase that length even more, to two or three feet!! Understandable…if you’re working with silk, which is expensive, you don’t want any waste if you can avoid it!!! Currently, I’m working with Chinese knotting cord, which is pretty inexpensive, and I’ve got a bunch of it, but I’d still rather not waste any cord if I can use it instead!

The much improved second braid

After making all the repairs to the previous night’s mistakes, I started the braid over again and it came out much better the second time around. It’s not perfect by any means. I still need to work out a balance on beating as my sides are not symmetrical where they should be, but at least it’s no longer bowing in the center. The tension is good, so the braid is flat, as it should be. And I had a lot of fun making it. Putting a warp on the takadai is much easier than warping a weaving loom!!! The only exception to that might be the Gilmore Big Wave…maybe.

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The delicious tandoori chicken!

As it has several times before, the tandoori recipe has come through. I do tweak the recipe a little, in that I use about half the cayenne that it calls for, for the sake of my children, particularly Bryony, who is picky when it comes to spicy food. I make a double batch of chicken every time, because it’s usually even better the second day out., and because the yogurt containers usually have about three cups’ worth in it. One batch calls for one cup. I double up, and then make my own version of tzatziki sauce…which basically means one cup of plain yogurt, and eyeballing chopped cucumber, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and mint. I haven’t checked any tzatziki sauce recipes yet, but it tastes good and tastes correct to me, so there you go.

I really didn’t have much idea of what to serve with it…I was working with what I had at home, and for some reason, though the main dish always occurs to me, sides don’t really hit my radar until, boom, dinner is almost ready! So I threw some stuff together, in the hope of cobbling together a good meal. Good old, store-bought crescent rolls, sliced cucumber, and a tomato rice that did better in my head than it did on my tongue. Not precisely bad, but not precisely good!

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I’m not a huge chicken fan. I never have been. I love my red meat. The only chicken I ever liked is fried, whether cold or hot, doesn’t matter which. However, since being told I am diabetic, I am trying to eat healthier foods. I don’t always succeed, but I’m trying, which means that I’m eating healthier than I was previously, but not quite as healthy as I could be. Moderation is what I’m going for, and a lot more likely than cutting things completely out. A lot of that has to do with shopping for groceries. Eating healthy isn’t cheap. It’s a lot more expensive to buy the healthier yams or sweet potatoes than it is to buy regular white potatoes, especially when you are feeding a family. So we cut back on some of the less healthy items and increase the healthy a bit: moderation. I have no problem with the idea of eating more fish, but the other half is deathly allergic to it, so I only do fish on those nights when I’m in the mood to have to cook twice, or when there’s a little extra money for him to have his beloved Taco Bell (yuck), and the girls and I can have whatever we prefer. Given the choice between fast food, so-called Mexican food or seafood, my girls nearly always choose the gifts of the ocean.

Since I can’t always do fish, and I’m cutting back on red meat, and fried chicken is about as unhealthy as it gets, I’ve had to be more creative in getting myself to eat chicken. It’s difficult. Offer me red meat in almost any form, and I am totally there, plate in hand, saying “Please, may I have some more?” But chicken? Meh, not so much.

Cue a trip down to Greenville this summer to get Aneira’s eyes examined. I couldn’t get an appointment in town until well after school started, and she needed new glasses before that, which meant going elsewhere. I couldn’t remember what time the appointment was, exactly, and couldn’t reach the office before leaving the house, so I decided to err on the side of caution and head out early in the morning, because I assumed that was when the appointment was, and the office was an hour away. Better to be early than to be late.

Oh, boy, were we ever early! The appointment wasn’t until the afternoon! Well, I wasn’t driving home just to turn around and drive back again, so we decided to wander around Greenville, which is a bigger town than the one we ended up in. And by lunchtime, while browsing a downtown shop, we got a recommendation for the Indian restaurant across the street as being not only inexpensive, but actually good. So off we went.

Now, it should be said that Aneira is not wild about trying new cuisine. But she’s opening up to it as her taste buds mature, so she agreed to this venture, and we ordered the buffet, which offered plenty of vegetable dishes, but there was only one meat on offer: chicken. And being the carnivore that I am, meat is always first on my list, even if not my preferred type. And the tandoori chicken was the least spicy offering, so I tried it.

This is what chicken dishes aspire to be. I pretty much melted on the spot. It surpassed every chicken dish I’d ever eaten in my life. I got Aneira to try some, and she gave it a tepidly favorable response. Well, that’s okay, better than I expected from a fourteen year old trying something new.

Several weeks passed, and Aneira made an astonishing request for dinner: she wanted tandoori chicken. There are no Indian restaurants in our town, which she knew, and that meant I would have to make it. Oooookkkaaaaaay…I have zero experience in cooking actual Indian food. However, a lot of Caribbean food is influenced by the Indian populations in the islands, and I do have some experience with Caribbean. But I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get the ingredients I needed, and I certainly wasn’t sure if it would taste anything like the restaurant’s version. But the fact that she had enough faith in my cooking to ask was enough for me. I found a recipe online at a site called Simply Recipe, and headed off to the store, where I did find garam masala. It’s fairly easy to find even Asian ingredients at a normal grocery store, even in a smaller town, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the garam masala at the local Harris Teeter.

Garam masala wasn’t the only thing I didn’t have on hand. I also needed ginger, which is not as big a deal to find. And I always have ground ginger in the spice cabinet, but fresh ginger, no. Same for plain yogurt. All three items are now a normal part of my kitchen supplies.

The recipe was easy to follow. The hardest part of it was making the marinade, and that wasn’t difficult, just time consuming and something that needed to be done early in the day, which is when I am least likely to want to do it. Dinner isn’t until evening; I generally don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen until I have to. As much as I like to cook, this smaller kitchen has been a challenge, and I’ve been avoiding it.

I am proud to say, the tandoori chicken was a hit, at least with the kids. Hubby, not so much, but the kids loved it. And I did too: it tasted just like the restaurant, and is also delicious cold. I was so happy with the results that it is now, much to hubby’s dismay, a part of the kitchen repertoire. If I must eat healthier, I’m going to find the tastiest way to do it!

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Beadsmith Chroma. Chain and flat nose pliers.

Well, ten sets and counting. I’ve been assured by other maillers that I haven’t gone overboard on pliers yet, so it’s not really a plethora, but it’s working toward becoming one! Currently, I have short nose, chain nose, needle nose, armorer’s, and a couple of others, all by various companies. The ones pictured are the Beadsmith Chroma pliers, and I freely admit it: I bought them more because they were pretty than that they were practical.

Don’t get me wrong; in a pinch, I can actually use them for chain maille, and I have, because I had to try them out as soon as they arrived, right? So they do work, but the grip is very, very slippery. I spent as much time picking them up as I did using them, because they would shoot out of my hands. If I can find some slip-on grips for them, they’ll be a lot better. I suppose I could always wrap the handles in some kind of self adhesive tape, but then they wouldn’t be pretty anymore.

I’ve found that each set of pliers works for me for different things. For example, for smaller rings, I love my Xurons. They have angled heads, so you can get more plier on the ring without the two pliers really messing with each other. My chain nose are my second choice for smaller rings. For larger rings, I like my Tronex flat nose pliers. And I haven’t tried it yet, but my thought is to use my armorer’s pliers for the titanium stash I’ve got. I did a Byzantine chain in titanium, and I used my flat nose pliers for it, and titanium being as strong as it is, it was very hard on my hands. With softer metals, I can maille for hours, but with something like that, I’m taking breaks every fifteen minutes. I’m hopeful that it’ll be better using the armorer’s pliers. They have the widest short nose of all my pliers…thus far lol. I have no doubt that I’ll gradually add more pliers to the herd!

A herd of Dreamlit shuttles

Moving on to tatting shuttles here, I’ve finally given the new Dreamlit shuttle a good run. My overall impression is that I like it, but I don’t love it. For one, it doesn’t carry as much thread as many of my other shuttles, so if I want to do a larger piece with fewer joins (which is always my preference, as joining on new thread is a pain for me), I’m going to go with one of my higher capacity shuttles. And it could be just me, but I seem to catch the hook at the end a lot more often with the Dreamlit than I do my other shuttles with hooks. That may be my fault, though, and not an issue with the shuttle at all.

I like how the shuttle comes apart to place or remove the bobbin. The magnet is just right, not too strong or too weak. Everything about the shuttle is easy, which is nice. If it had more thread capacity, it’d be perfect. For smaller projects, it is perfect.

And I should clarify my comments on thread capacity: the thinnest thread I use is size 20. Anything smaller is going to require me to have new eyeballs. Meaning that those who use size 40 and 80 thread may have no problem with the load it can carry. So, overall, I like it.

So there’s today’s two cents. Hope you enjoyed! Happy crafting!

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A soon to be done chain maille bracelet in rainbow niobium.

Nope, I’m not a Game of Thrones fan. Before anyone who is flips out, I did read the books, years before the series, and didn’t like any of the characters. I’ve gotta be able to connect with a character, and pretty much none of them were really likable people. I re-read them again after the series began, and tried the series itself, and just couldn’t do it. The only characters I liked were the direwolves. Sorry, no converts here.

But the post is more about the fact that winter is coming, which means the holiday season, which starts with Halloween in this house. And which honestly didn’t occur to me until just this second. After I’ve started on the Yule-themed tatted bookmark. Well, it won’t be the first time I’ve had more than one project going at once! Time to find my Halloween thread!

I started Yule shopping for the kids a few months ago, so I’m just about done with that, except for two items. Which I’m not going to mention, as Aneira is now more internet connected and may read this! I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’m done a couple of months early, actually, and now I’m thinking in terms of handmade things I can add to the mix. Fall, winter, and holiday themed things maybe. Some amigurumi toys. Bracelets and necklaces. Bags, although I did that once already. Fortunately, they’re girls, and we can never have too many bags, bracelets, necklaces, or stuffed animals. And don’t think I don’t have my own stuffed animals, because you’d be dead wrong!! There’s a whole box up in my bedroom waiting to be unpacked as soon as I make enough room for them! And I’ve no shame in admitting it; I even sleep with a Stitch pillow, and no one better touch him!

L – R: beaded kumihimo, Byzantine in niobium, Byz in titanium, box weave in aluminum, JPL3 in aluminum, and three more JPL3 in niobium.

I’ve worked on a few things since we’ve been in the new house, all portable crafts, since I can’t justify tying myself to the looms just yet, until the house is fully unpacked, as much as I’d prefer not to wait that long. But I have to be a responsible adult for some things, so there you go.

I finally learned some beaded kumihimo, which is somehow both challenging and yet easier than I expected it to be. I learned a couple of new chain maille weaves, and expanded the tatting shuttle collection a bit. One day, I’ll have to photograph that as a group. And the plier collection has grown as well.

I honestly thought I was crazy with that one. I think I have about ten sets of pliers currently, and I thought I was going overboard with that many, but I’ve since discovered that many maillers have a lot more than ten!!

Dreamlit tatting shuttle

As much as I usually say something pro/con about my many tools, it occurs to me that I’ve never said a word about my pliers! Never even thought about it! I think it’s because the other tools I’ve talked about here have been tools specifically made for fiber arts, where pliers are a common household tool almost from birth. Yes, the ones I have serve a specific purpose, but still fall into the category of pliers, and I’ve never thought much about them. So that’s an idea for a future post.

There’ll be one about the Dreamlit tatting shuttle too…those are new, and I’m just trying them out for the first time.

Ooooo, and I learned to make tandoori chicken!!! What a hit that was with the kids! Not the hubby, so much, but the kids loved it. Aneira and I had gone to lunch at a little Indian restaurant while waiting for her eye exam, and it was the first time we’d had tandoori chicken. SOOOOOO good! And Aneira asked me a month later to try making it, so I did. I didn’t expect it to come out all that great, not the first time, but it tasted just like the restaurant! Needless to say, that’s been added to the repertoire!

Well, the dogs have just put in a howling appearance, so I’d better go see what’s going on with them. Happy crafting!

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While I try to organize the studio so that I can actually use it well, it’s good that some of the things I do are a lot easier to be done nearly anywhere. About the easiest thing to carry around with me is tatting. I keep a loaded shuttle, small crochet hook, and a picot gauge in a tiny Ziploc bag. I can chuck it into a purse and take it with me wherever I go, or just go into the living room and tat while we all watch tv.

Chain maille, crochet, and knitting are easy to move around as they don’t require a lot either, although crochet and knitting are quite a bit bulkier and require their own bags apart from a purse, in order to carry a skein of yarn. Chain maille is another I can do a small go kit for, since all I need for that is a two pairs of pliers and a supply of rings in whatever metal I’m working in at that moment. Pliers are still bulkier than a tatting shuttle, but not as bulky as a skein of yarn.

Having at least some portability is great, because I would lose my mind if I was completely unable to do anything until the studio is done to my satisfaction!

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