Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Can't Help Falling In Love...With Cross Stitching

Waaaaay back in August, I added a new state to my list (which is sadly smaller than I would like it), and visited Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. Now it's almost two months later, and I just finished up my souvenir!

While I've always dug his music, I've never been an Elvis FAN -- the all caps kind -- but since Memphis was en route to our final destination, I felt it was my duty as an American, an artist, and an appreciator of kitschy things, vintage things, tacky things, and of Elvis and his music in general that I should pay my respects with a visit to Graceland.

And I loved it!

Sure, I accidentally ended up there at the beginning of Elvis week (tad crowded, but fun for Elvis impersonator spotting), and my native Floridian blood has a natural reaction to dislike tourist spots, so I did have my moments of cognitive dissonance.

But overall, I really enjoyed it. A lot! Especially touring the actual house -- it was a time warp treat for this lover of things vintage.

Gah! Check out this case filled with cute vintage things! Slathered with Elvis' (in my humble opinion) dreamy face, to boot!

And check out this vintage Rob Schneider doll! Hmm, it kinda looks a bit like a young George Jones, too...

I ended up choosing this small and simple cross stitch kit by The Posy Collection as my Graceland visit keepsake (although this kit is not on their site). I figured that it'd be more fun to make something myself -- there ought to be more crafty souvenirs in the world. I finally got around to stitching it up lately, so I thought I'd share and here we are!

A little extra thread, some Elvis movies via Netflix instant watch, and bam! I rediscovered the joy of cross stitch. I haven't done counted cross stitch since I was...what....9, or 10? I last cross stitched some howling coyotes onto some hand towels in 1990. Yeeeaaaah.

So compared with that, this is much cuter! And much more me.

I did change it up a bit with some different colors -- I added the flowering bushes and 'lions' out front (see the white blocks in front? That's lion statuary, in cross stitch form) for some added color and interest, and the original pattern was framed in a black stitch with black text, so I changed it to a more colorful and homey light aqua-ish blue (it looks far more turquoise in the photo above than it really is).

Plus, blue is just much more Graceland-y, don't ya think? And also, apparently, Elvis' favorite color. Just so happens, it's mine too.

And so, I've come to the conclusion that cross stitching is totally fun and relaxing. I'm so glad to have rediscovered it. I even picked up some of that pretty brown linen I see everyone using for super cute cross stitching the other day. I sense a new craft a brewin'!

Now I just need to figure out how I'm going to display this one, and then kick back with my peanut butter and banana sandwich, close my eyes and dream of the lush peacock blue drapes and gleaming white furniture of Graceland. Pin It

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paper Anniversary

This past Sunday, my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Hooray!

The first anniversary is traditionally celebrated with gifts of paper, and we decided that we're going to try to stick to the traditional gift theme thing.

I received a lovely piece of artwork involving teeth by Kate Pugsley that I had swooned over on Etsy a few months ago (have I ever written about my thing with teeth on here? I love teeth!), and I gave him a nice first edition copy of one of his favorite books. Yay, paper!

It was while I was thinking about wedding anniversaries and paper (what do most people give for the paper anniversary anyway?) that I realized I never shared many of my paper projects from the actual wedding that didn't make it to the big fat DIY wedding post -- Save the Dates, invitations, menus, seat cards, etc. etc....

So maybe now would be a good time to share some of that, what with the anniversary and all, hmmm? With that I give your our Save the Dates. Taa daa!

This is the front of our Save the Date cards. It's the precursor to the wedding coloring book version of ourselves, and various wedding related flotsam and jetsam. And cats. You gotta have cats.

I used my Gocco for the first time ever to print them up, and I think they turned out super cute. I went back in and painted some areas green that were too difficult to deal with registration-wise on the Gocco itself. At least too difficult for a first timer with a deadline, that is.

I was very pleased with the result, and got a lot of compliments on it from our friends and family. And it makes for a nice little family portrait, too. Kitties!

So there you have it. One year of happy marriage, and one super cute paper wedding memory for the occasion!

Next year is cotton. Methinks that might prove a bit trickier gift and anniversary blog post...we'll have to wait and see what I can think up. Pin It

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Monkey's Gone to Heaven

To me, the Pixies are the music of fall.

See, every year when fall is on the doorstep (and the door officially opens tomorrow) and the air begins to get cooler, the nights begin to get longer, and awesomely fresh and delicious apples begin to flood the market, my mind transports to my college days and I envelop myself in a college music time warp and relish the nostalgia.

Pixies, Radiohead, Pavement, They Might Be Giants, Guided By Voices, XTC, Blur, Beck, Bjork....bork, bork, bork!

This was the soundtrack to my freshman (and some of sophomore) year (well, a fraction of the soundtrack, but the ones that really transport me anyway), and just hearing it makes me feel the fall wind on my face as I walk downtown to The Sound Garden to pick up whatever two dollar used CDs I could find. And then I would listen to the new albums as I worked on art into the wee hours of the morning, stopping only for a weekend break at an apple festival, or some crazy art people party with strange and surreal costumes involved.

To sooth my longing for a crisp, cool fall full of lovely leaf colors, apple festivals, and strange parties (not getting much of any those here soon), I've at least been good on reliving the listening-to-some-Alician-college-music and working-on-art-into-the-wee-hours part of things.

Although this time around the art is doodling around with gouache and illustrating lyrics to songs with inappropriately and exceedingly cute characters.

Like the inappropriately cute 'Monkey Gone to Heaven' by the Pixies artwork in this post! Who would think a dead monkey could be so cute!

Which reminds me, the Pixies are stopping in Austin tonight on their Doolittle tour. I hear tell that Pavement and Guided By Voices are stopping by next week, too. Hmmm...

All these bands I used to listen to that broke up are now reunited and are playing in my town at the beginning of fall which can only mean...Hooray! The entire world bends to my nostalgic whims!

Now I'm going to go eat an apple and gouache doodle some more. And maybe come up with a bizarre costume plan just in case nostalgia prompts someone to invite me to a party... Pin It

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Empire Strikes Back Birthday: Episode V -- Various Vader-esque Victuals

Nom, nom, nom! How could a blood thirsty snow creature look so sickeningly cute and sweet?

I reckon when it's really just a re-decorated Halloween ghost Peep, it's kinda hard to look blood thirsty.

With all that piñata busting going on at the big three-oh Empire party, we needed plenty of appropriately themed snacks and food for energy all night long. Sure we had cake and Yoda-ritas (and the less-visually-exciting-and-therefore-unblogged Calrissian Coolers and Lobot-omy shots), but we needed more options, dig?

And so here we are. We're closing out The Empire Strikes Back Party week with a collection of all the various side foods served, complete with their cute little signs (thank you, left over 'Save the Date' paper!).

The Wampa Puffs, as mentioned above, were a moment of spontaneous inspiration whilst spying ghost Peeps in the midst of my regular shopping chores. I simply used some buttercream icing from the cake preparation, and piped on some horns, claws, and a new gaping mouth. So cute! And delicious both fresh from the box, and a few days stale. Mmmm, Peeps!

And of course, we needed some items on the savory side of things, so using this awesome recipe for olive balls, I made these Bossk Balls (and yes, I'm aware of the bathroom humor waving its arms at you there, and I still prefer it to Bossk Bites), named after the infamous reptilian bounty hunter. They did turn out having an eerily Bossk-esque bumpy tan orange texture to them -- worked perfectly!

These were the first thing to disappear, and were really easy to make. I followed the directions exactly, except I drained and patted dry the olives first, and then made the dough using a pastry blender instead of just my hands, which helped homogenize the mix a bit better. And I am so making them again!

Also on the savory side, other than the unpictured Mynock Munchies (sorry - I missed that photo, but it was kettle chips and a homemade french onion dip, and crackers with the tapenade), we had Cuban creole chicken breast Nug-Naughts with Molten Carbonite Mojo (pronounced mo-ho -- a Cuban garlic sauce)!

It seemed only natural to make the only meat-centric dish based on the porcine ugnaughts of Cloud City (though I opted for chicken over the obvious pork, as I've found foul tends to have more takers). I used the recipe for 'masitas de pollo frito' from the 'Memories of a Cuban Kitchen' cookbook. Also a quickly disappearing dish!

And just in case you're looking for a good Cuban cookbook, I highly recommend this one. It's incredibly close to our own family recipes, and gives a lot of good history and information on the foods and culture of Cuba.

And it's not a party with a veggie tray, so I give you Cloud City Crudités with Tibanna Gas Dip! Tibanna Gas Dip, named for the gas mined in Lando's Cloud City, being from my mom's 'catering days' -- a dill veggie dip.

In the background, Zuckuss-tash, a garbanzo bean, corn, and zucchini salad named for the widely (un)known Zuckuss the bounty hunter (I know what you're thinking, 'Who???') that resembles succotash enough to me that I call it that for the sake of a pun.

And yes, the lighting is different, because the sun had gone down at this point. Boo artificial lighting!

If we have a Cloud City veggie dip, how's about a Dagobah fruit dip? A Nutella and cream cheese dip makes a perfect murky, muddy mire of Yoda's home swamp planet. And if you loose your apple, or maybe even an X-Wing fighter, in its murky depths, you can always use the Force to levitate it out of the bog.

And our final exhibit from the ice planet of Hoth are the Tauntaun Bonbons (well, coconut macaroons, really). They were looking for a hiding place from those murderous Wampa Puffs, and we last seen seeking shelter in the bellies of many guests.

These are a favorite family treat anyway, are super simple to make. I liked that they have a hairy, coconut shreddy look to them, kinda like tauntaun fur. I only wish I had dusted them with some powdered sugar to make them snow frosted, but that might have been a bit too cloyingly sweet (and nerdy), perhaps.

And last but not least, my favorite dish that required no preparation on my behalf: Luke and Leia, Brother and Sister Incest Kisses.

Just plain old Hershey's kisses. With a sign.

I distinctly remember seeing Jedi as a kid, and being thoroughly grossed out when I realized Luke and Leia were siblings! I mean, here I was, and for the past three or so years of my life I had been make-believing, acting out my own scenes and pretending all sorts of stories about the love triangle of Han, Luke, and Leia. I knew that Leia kissed Luke, and I knew that kind of kiss she gave him was supposed to be a romantic thing. And then they go and tell me that's her brother? Eeew!

Even a three year old can tell when something is gross and creepy, and kissing your brother, Leia? That's gross and creepy.

See, even Chewbacca is all, 'Whaaaaaaaat!?!?!'

And there you have it! Thus ends the week of An Empire Strikes Back Birthday. I hoped you enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a great way to trun 30, indeed. And I would love to see other folks' inspired creations if they are any -- from piñatas to quiches to Yoda-ritas -- just send them on over!

Thanks for reading this series of blog posts, and as always, may the Force be with you.*

*ahem**cough*NERD*cough* Pin It

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Empire Strikes Back Birthday: Episode IV -- Luke Vs. Vader Piñata with Tutorial!

Luke Vs. Vader.

Poor Luke. He loses a hand. Finds out the evil Lord Vader is his pops. Loses his friend Han in the meantime to carbonite freezing, Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt. Poor, poor, whiny little blonde guy.

That doesn't mean that you don't wish you could beat the crud out of Luke and his whiny ways every once in a while, though. Sure, he's the hero of the series, but come on! Wah! Wah! Wah! 'No, it's not true! That's impossible!' *whimper* *whimper* 'Noooooooooooooooo!' Yep. He's a whiner.

So now, everyone can get the chance to give Luke a good thrashing and chop off his hand, with my handy dandy Luke piñata complete with a Darth Vader blindfold and lightsaber beating stick!

A little piñata history before we get going here. My mom taught me to make piñatas. She taught all of her children to do this. And it is something I for which I am so very grateful. I wanted to take some time and give her and her skills some props.

There's one of her piñatas now! Must've been for Easter. Looks like those kids are contemplating strategy to beat that rabbit up, despite its super cute prettiness.

And look, there's another one! I remember that one. It was for a company Christmas party. With real twig antlers!

You can see even more of her piñatas over here, by the way, if you're so inclined.

So I am passing this process of piñata making of hers on to you, dear reader, so that you may be able to make your own piñatas WITHOUT paper mache, but WITH complexity and detail.

That's right. Boo, paper mache! You don't need it. It's messy, it's sloppy, and all of that gross stuff. And although we used to make Cuban piñatas (what with my being half Cuban and all) most of the time, with the ribbons coming out of the bottom as seen here, you can use a very similar technique to make a traditional style piñata meant for busting up.

One that can be broken without having to be stomped upon by a frustrated adult 30 minutes into kids' and then parents' futile efforts trying to get to the sweet candy innards.

I'll have to show you how to make Cuban piñatas for another day. I really should, because they're sooo much better for kids anyway, but they're just not as much fun for slicing off Jedi extremities.

By the way, that Kermit the Frog piñata? It was made by my brother when he was 8 for his own birthday party. Not too shabby for a kid!

Soooo, hopefully my tutorial is understandable enough for even crafty kids to start making their own piñatas, or at least with minimal adult help. Fingers crossed.

Here we go! How I made the Luke piñata without paper mache:

Here's what you'll need:

Cardboard and masking tape. That's it.

Well, not really. That, and your crepe paper of various colors, a pencil, a marker, some rope, and some Elmer's glue. And time. Just about any piñata making technique will take some time (it's the paper decorating part that's time consuming), so start it well ahead of your party.

First I sketched out what I wanted him to look like on some paper. You could also print out some clip art or a character of your choice and trace it to get your design sketch settled.

Then, I resketched it onto a big ol' flattened Crate and Barrel box (thanks, wedding presents!)

If you're not me (meaning I eyeball everything), you could use the grid system or enlarged photo copies or print outs to proportionally transfer your design onto a larger cardboard sheet. Your cat can help you do this.

Let's start with the front side only. We can better sketch out the costume details on the back if we use the front to make a shape template first, to then trace the outline onto a sheet of cardboard, and cut out the matching back. It's kinda like making a gingerbread man shape by tracing a gingerbread man cookie... You want both sides, front and back, to match.

Plus, by tracing the one shape to make the other, we can be sure points match up without having to do things like redraw a boot because it ended up an inch off from what was planned to originally match, or perform the dreaded 'M word' -- measuring. I hate measuring! I'm all about the eyeball, tracing, and estimating!

Your cat can help you with this part, too by being incredibly cute and distracting.

Here he is all sketched out onto the first piece of cardboard (the front).

Using scissors, I cut Luke out of the cardboard. You could use a box cutter or x-acto, but I actually feel I have more precise control with scissors.

I reinforced any weakened bits or folds on the wrong side (the Crate and Barrel side) by taping scraps of perpendicular running cardboard (the corrugations run vertically on the small support strip instead of horizontally like on and along the fold). This will help your piñata stand up, and also support the weight of candy better when it's suspended.

Then, face right sides together (here, brown side of the front to brown side of the other box), and exactly trace the shape of your front cutout against the other sheet of cardboard. *I actually removed the leg supports shown here at a later point, deciding they were TOO much support for the construction, so ignore them*

Ta-daa! Now you've got more cutting to do! But, you also have a back for your piñata.

Soooo, now I've cut out both the front and back. It's time to cut off Luke's right hand to make sure both sides are the same size and shape. I set them aside to assemble and attach them later, in the same manner I build my piñata, since I want his hand to be detachable, to imitate the moment it gets sliced off by Vader in the film.

I cut a flap for loading in the candy on the right side up (see brown side) of the back sheet of cardboard. It's important to do this before you start gluing on paper, and it's easier to do at this point before it is formed into a box.

Poke a hole in the center of that flap to latermake yourself a rope loop to thread through (knotted on either side of the flap) for easy access for candy loading. You'll probably want to add the rope after gluing on the paper though, but it's good to have the hole where you want it before paper is covering everything up.

You have your two sides (front and back), so now just determine your depth for your piñata box.

I just eyeballed a depth I thought would be nice pot of candy (about 3"-4"), and cut strips of cardboard with the corrugations running horizontally on them. I traced a side piece that was cut to the proper size against a scrap sheet of cardboard to maintain the same width/box depth for all the side pieces.

The length of the various pieces that make up your sides will vary, and you can always tape your side pieces together if you need a longer piece than you have available. Corners and joints makes great end points for the side pieces to be taped together!

And remember, if the depth of your piñata box depth is slimmer, your piñata will be too hard to break open, and if you make it too big, it'll be too difficult to suspend without breaking from its own weight.

Just cut them out and keep taping them along the contour! You don't have to tape too much, because remember, you want it to be able to be bust open. But it should also be able to support the weight of the candy and prizes. If you use too much tape, you can always add slits to weaken the structure before decorating.

When taping a curved side, like here on the head, I roll the cardboard side strips along the horizontal corrugation to give it a nice curve. It should be able to fit easily along your curve now.

Once you finish adding the sides to the back piece of your piñata, set the front on top, and start taping again!

I super-taped the top, to try and make it a more sturdy and supportive structure to prevent the weight of the candy pulling it apart. Poke two holes for a rope loop from which to hang it after you've taped your sides. I'll reinforce it on the inside with a square of cardboard to help keep the holes from ripping through after I've glued on all the paper.

This is what my taped together piñata box shell looks like. Yeah! Almost ready for some gluing.

I go over my original pencil sketch with sharpie after everything is together to make sure front and back match up all right, and to give myself a better and more visible guide for the color fields and lines.

Here I am using a razor to cut weakening slits into the box. I want to make sure it will whack open, and this'll help. If you cut into it too much, just tape it back together again.

You can get a feel for the right amount of give by standing your piñata up and twisting it ever so slightly to and fro a bit. It should give a bit, but not start breaking just yet. Just don't do this after you've starting gluing paper on, or you could mess up your decoration!

Cut your crepe paper into squares. You can eyeball this, and the amount you'll need will vary depending on the density of piñata paper puffs you like, and the area you're covering. There's not much space for his eyes, the only blue besides his lightsaber, so I didn't need much here.

You can also use tissue paper or even colored party napkins instead of crepe paper. The drab tan of Luke's fatigues wasn't available in crepe paper, but the golden party napkins at the store were very close in color, so I trimmed the textured and folded parts off, and used napkins instead of crepe paper for most of this piñata.

Tissue paper can work too, but sometimes it is slicker and thicker, and therefore doesn't stick as nicely. It doesn't have as nice of a crinkly sound as crepe paper either, but maybe that's just me.

Wad a square of tissue paper up, like so.

And squeeze a dab of plain old white school glue on the bottom end (and not the ruffly end) of it. This is more than I might normally squeeze onto a single piece, but I wanted the glue to be visible in the picture, and even still you can barely see it.

Then just plop the glued end of your crepe paper onto the cardboard in the area for that color. Keep doing so until that area is filled! Think of it as making a tissue paper mosaic or hook rug of sorts!

To create thinner and finer lines to separate color, fold your paper square into quarters, like so, and draw a bead of glue along the folded edge. Then stand the glued and folded edge onto the cardboard. It helps to support it on either side with the puffs of its surrounding colors, whatever they are, so that it can dry in the correct position.

Here you can see how I used the black folded squares to outline his eyes (and eventually mouth), and all the other color areas are filled in with crumpled paper puffs. Just keep going, section at a time, until a whole area is covered. I like to work on each side entirely before moving to the next, so here I started with the front.

Here he is a bit further along. I used folded brown crepe paper squares to draw the details of his costume.

Whoo-hoo! The front is almost finished! Here you can see how I used sharpie to continue lines of the drawing around the whole shape of the piñata.

Ahhhhh!!! The front is done! Now, on to the the back, and then the sides. I don't have pictures of those because of the poor lighting available during the evening, but I will make a note that when I was gluing the paper to the sides, I did so in more of a flattened and pleated style, instead of paper puffs, to help keep his shape and silhouette trim and not too puffy.

After you've finished adding all the paper, just tie your reinforced rope loop at the top, and the one on the candy door, and that's pretty much it!

In the case of piñatas as large as this one, I placed a trimmed down paper plate in the bottom of his belly (just above the start of his legs) to prevent all the treats from dropping right into his legs. How fun would it be if a leg got knocked off and there goes all the candy? We want his belly to burst!

So I filled the legs with red crepe streamers and bits, placed in the false bottom paper plate, and THEN filled it. Worked like a dream! Belly full of goodies!

Here's an example of how horrible the lighting is in my house at night! And also, what the guy looks like finished with his hand attached. I used a paper towel roll and a toilet paper roll for his lightsaber and sheath, but cut them down and rolled them thinner to create a more proper proportion.

Here's a detail of his bloody stump of a hand! Complete with velcro tab radius and ulna nubs.

Just imagine him screaming 'Noooooooooo!'

Here Luke and Darth Vader await party piñata time in the corner. They have some father/son issues to talk out while they wait.

Which reminds me, oh yeah! The Darth Vader blindfold! And Darth Vader lightsaber piñata stick!

I took absolutely no pictures of this process, but basically it involved me, some scissors, a hot glue gun, craft foam, an el cheapo wooden rake handle, red spray paint, and the DVD case of The Empire Strikes Back and a lightsaber keychain as references.

And some Netflix. I think it might've been Hoarders, or maybe Hook (wow, I didn't remember that movie being so bad when I saw it way back wehn, but, yeah...did not hold up for me!) for entertainment and diversion.

As nice as it would be to provide a template for both of these, I admit I totally winged it on the stick and the blindfold. I didn't even have a plan when I started them. All I know is that when I finished it, I cut a black bandanna in two, and tied and hot glued it to slits I made on either side of the bottom layer of Vader's face. Then stood back, and was pleased.

And that was that.

The result, by the way, was fantastic!!!!

Here you can see Luke's hand lying about in the back yard, and a dress wearing Vader socking it to him.

Actually, the rope broke on that swing, but we got him back up in no time. You can see some blood red confetti starting to ooze out of his leg, too!

I believe it was the swing after this one that took the young Jedi down. Who'd think that Luke would be defeated by a Darth Vader in heels?

And the crowd dives in for candy, treats, and prizes.

The piñata was stuffed with a number of envelopes, some of them containing duds, and some containing vouchers for some swanky and some kitschy prizes: gift certificates, gourmet chocolate (Dagoba, no less), fancy beer, toys, comics, etc.... All those things your friends might like that don't really fit in a piñata!

I have to say, that system worked beautifully! It managed to make a piñata for grown-ups fun and interesting without being tawdry.

But it was gory. And I have to admit, I loved it.

Poor Luke! With his innards all busted out. He put up a decent fight, though. He evaded me on every hit but one! Maybe I'm just a bad aim...

Looks like somebody won a prize! I hope that Book People buys them a very nice and enjoyable book, perhaps one even about building intricately gory pop culture piñatas... or maybe about Star Wars nerds and their crazy nerd-and reference-ridden parties.

Or maybe something else completely.

So, that's the big fat post for today, and I believe my first tutorial! It was a fun one for me, and I hope it can be for you as well.

I can't wait to see everybody's Luke piñatas floating around the intercomputer. Or any other piñata you might make using this tutorial. ¡I do love me some piñatas!

And don't forget, tomorrow is the last day of The Empire Strikes Back Birthday Party saga. Be sure to catch it! Pin It