Category Archives: Creating

Knitwitchery

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I just completed my most ambitious knitting project to date.

A little back story:

Photo Credit to Rachel Sacks

Photo Credit to Rachel Sacks

I started knitting about a year ago, and my absolute favorite knitting blog (and the source of most of my patterns) is purlbee.com, which is run by Purl Soho in New York City.

Purl Bee patterns have provided me with Christmas and birthday gifts for many family members and friends, and their tutorials have helped me master a variety of new stitches and techniques, so I’m kind of a super fan.

I was very excited to finally be able to visit the store itself when I was in New York this past December. There I spent a delightful several hours browsing through yarns and patterns (my friend Rachel snapped a photo of me deep in thought next to their enormously colorful wall of yarn), and I eventually settled on the sweater dress shown here, which was certainly a larger, if not more complicated, project than I had ever undertaken before.

Fortunately everything went well, and I am proud to finally be able to show off the finished product!

For the curious among you, here are the details:

Colorblock Tunic: Frontenac Pattern by Julie Hoover made with Purl Soho’s Super Soft Merino in Pale Stone & Dark Loam
Slouchy Hat: Target
Ankle Boots: Qupid
Seahorse Pendant: Scarlett Garnet (which is the source of most of my favorite jewelry)
Tights: Who knows!

And here are the detail shots:

I would estimate the project took me approximately 50 hours to knit, which gave me plenty of time to get almost all the way caught up on Doctor Who. Working with yards (miles?) of wool probably caused my hands to sweat a bit, and I may have dripped a few tears on it when Amy & Rory’s time with the Doctor came to an end, but fortunately no blood went into the making of this sweater!

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A Gashly Little Gift

Edward Gorey Embroidered Pillow

One of my very dearest friends was about to turn 24, and I simply could not decide what to give her in honor of the occasion.

Molly has given me many thoughtful gifts over the years I’ve known her (including several of my favorite mugs!), so I wanted to be sure to give her something equally special. My usual strategy of a hand-knit gift wasn’t going to work here though, since she is an even more prolific knitter than I am.

Eventually, however, inspiration struck.

I had been browsing the Internet for cross-stitch patterns neither maudlin nor obscene (a rare breed), when I came across this post from Making Islands Where No Island Should Go featuring Edward Gorey-inspired embroidery.

As Molly and I have both been avid Gorey fans since long before we were ever roommates, I loved the idea of making her her own Gashlycrumb Tinies keepsake.

For the uninitiated, The Gashlycrumb Tinies is an intricately illustrated abecedarian poem by Edward Gorey detailing the varied and unusual deaths of 26 small children (yes, it’s as morbid as it sounds). You can find the full text here if you’re curious.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

Thanks to conversations about the poster print of the Tinies that hung in the college dorm room we shared (and that still hangs in my apartment today), I knew Molly’s favorite panel was the letter N, for Neville.

N is for Neville who died of ennui.

While I liked the idea behind the original Making Islands piece, a I wanted to create something a bit more complex and true to Gorey’s original drawing. I did not, however, have the time or patience to hand stitch each pen stroke. So, after some consideration, I decided that appliqué would be the way to go. And since I needed to present Molly with a finished product, I decided to make it a pillow.

Now, before this project I had never made a pillow, or worked with appliqué, or, for that matter, done any kind of free embroidery at all. I had also never stitched a project without a pattern.

So, with more enthusiasm than any clear sense of what I was setting out to do, I took the Metro to the end of the line to visit Jo-Ann Fabrics and collect supplies.

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Later, supplies in hand – including some absolutely irresistible Gothic lace for trimming – it was time to embark on the project. Given how much improvisation and hand-stitching was involved, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly and easily the pillow came together. I finished the whole thing over the course of one weekend!

Here are a few detail shots of the finished piece:

I’m so pleased with the Neville pillow that I might just have to stitch another one for myself!

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Good thing I have lots of extra fabric.

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To Stage a Murder

A few months ago (on April 13th, to be exact), I happened upon the idea of hosting a murder mystery party in a chance conversation.

I let the idea stew in my mind for awhile, and then realized that I absolutely had to do it. So, I spent several hours scouring the Internet for an appropriate scenario. Eventually, I found one I liked at Night of Mystery. Called Murder at the Juice Joint, the mystery was set in a 1920’s speakeasy, the haunt of rival mobsters.

I’m a huge fan of 1920’s fashion and my apartment – with its bare brick walls and concrete floor – could easily be turned into a plausible imitation of a speakeasy. Once I had chosen the right scenario, everything else began to fall into place.

I did some preliminary research into how to run a murder mystery party and emailed an event invitation to everyone on the 20-suspect guest list so I could begin collecting RSVPs.

Here’s a modified version of the deco-style event invitation I sent out:

Murder Mystery Party Invitation

(The fonts are Park Lane and Party at Gatsby’s – both free on FontSpace)

After that, the real fun began. Always a stickler for detail, I researched all of the details of the party meticulously – everything down to the brand of rum in the punch and gin in the rickeys (not to mention the recipes themselves) were from the 20’s.

Below you can find all of the party details, along with a few photos of the setting from the night of (you can see the characters and costumes here).

THE DRINKS
Gin was the most popular liquor of the Prohibition era (unlike many other spirits, gin doesn’t require a significant amount of time to age, and the botanicals masked the flavor of home-distilled moonshine), so I knew from the beginning that the party would not be complete without a gin cocktail. Simple to make in large quantities, the incredibly popular gin rickey – a variation of the classic G&T – won the day.

Drink Menu

Gin Rickey
1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. lime juice
1 oz. club soda

Since there were going to be 20 guests at the party and I didn’t want to spend all night behind a bar, I opted to fill out the rest of the drinks menu with two 20’s-era punches, one featuring champagne and the other rum. The only popular Prohibition-era spirit I left off the menu was whiskey – in large part because I simply can’t stand the taste, but also because whiskey cocktails are more finicky to mix than a simple punch or rickey and modern taste buds tend not to enjoy the whiskey-maraschino-and-orange-juice creations that Prohibition bartenders came up with in order to mask the taste of inferior whiskey.

Champagne Punch
1 cup simple syrup
2 tablespoons triple sec
6 tablespoons lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 quart champagne (or prosecco)
2 cups black tea
4 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 quart club soda

Mix the champagne, brandy, rum, triple sec, lemon juice, and tea. Sweeten to taste with the simple syrup and pour into a punch bowl over a large piece of ice. Add club soda just before serving.

I modified the Planter’s Punch recipe slightly before posting it here. The authentic version – which to me seemed like it would be unbearably sweet – included 2 cups more each of pineapple juice and orange juice, as well as a cup of simple syrup.

Planter’s Punch

4 cups pineapple juice

4 cups orange juice

1 1/2 cups light rum

1 1/2 cups dark rum

1 cup triple sec

1 cup lemon juice


1/2 cup grenadine

Mix the ingredients in a large punch bowl or pitcher. Pour into tall glasses with ice. Garnish with an orange slice, pineapple wedge, or maraschino cherry.

The two punches, along with 2 fifths of gin for the rickeys and a 24-pack of PBR, turned out to be just the right amount for the evening.

To serve the drinks, I rearranged my furniture to create a bar area in my kitchen. My conveniently bar-height table became the serving area, and a backwards bookshelf became a great place to stash the glasses (mostly mason jars, since nothing at a speakeasy can be served in a glass obviously intended for cocktails). A shelf behind the bar held all of the empty bottles I had been saving, which were relabeled for the party with the vintage labels that came with the Night of Mystery party PDF.

The Bar

My friend and co-party planner Kat managed to track down a free PBR banner, which both completed the bar look (even if it was totally inappropriate for a discreet speakeasy) and hid the microwave and cupboards.

However, there was more to the party than just drinks.

THE FOOD
Appetizers

Since the mystery was set in a speakeasy, I opted not to run it as a multi-course sit-down meal. Instead, I settled on a spread of era-appropriate appetizers. Fortunately for me, the popular food of the day tended to be newfangled processed things like canned fruit, Rice Krispies, and – of course – Jell-O, so it was very possible to put together an impressive yet relatively inexpensive spread.

The centerpiece(s) were two Jell-O molds. Since many original Jell-O mold recipes from the 20’s sounded frankly disgusting (shrimp and mayonnaise in lemon Jell-O?!), I opted for some slightly later recipes. The fantastically titled “Under the Sea Salad” recipe pictured below is from the 1950’s, and the Peaches & Cream recipe from The Kitchn that I used was more modern yet. Unfortunately, not having the skills of The Jell-O Mold Mistress of Brooklyn, my creations ended up being a little lot less decorative than I had hoped. They still tasted good though!

under-the-sea-salad

Also on the menu were:

  • Deviled eggs
  • Rice Krispie treats
  • Pigs in a blanket (for all the non-vegetarians in the room)
  • Potato chips
  • A bowl of mixed nuts

Finishing off the food was the too-weird-to-leave-off-the-list Candle Salad. Originally designed as a way to trick children into eating their fruits and vegetables, this salad is hands-down the most phallic thing I have ever seen.

Despite what you may think when you first behold it, the banana is CLEARLY a candle, and the mayonnaise/whipped cream is CLEARLY the wax being melted by the maraschino cherry flame.

Get your mind our of the gutter.

THE SCENE
In addition to shoving the majority of my furniture in the bedroom or rearranging it to create the bar, I set the scene by hanging the walls with era-appropriate Art Deco posters (there are a bazillion options available on Amazon, and the cheapest one I ordered was retailing at just $0.01 – $2.99 including shipping).

I supplemented these art prints with a variety of print-outs. I covered the bathroom mirror with a variety of vintage advertisements and magazine covers (and – for good measure – replaced my foaming hand soap dispenser with a simple unscented bar soap).

The finishing touch was the wanted posters for the gangsters who would be attending the party. I took the templates provided by Night of Mystery and then photoshopped in photos of the friends of mine who would be playing those characters at the party. Here are the results:

Wanted Posters

So there you go. Food + drinks + a scene well set = the recipe for a very good night.

The final details were the series of emails, all with a typewriter font and smattering of 20’s slang, sent out with character information, the entry plan for the night of the party (enter through the alley after giving the password – the unfortunately obsolete phrase, Phonus Balonus) to the bouncer and climb up the back staircase to the apartment-turned-Juice Joint, and the prizes.

Best Performance PrizeThe awards for Best Dressed and Best Performance were small bottles of house-infused gin (you can find the utterly delicious recipe here), and the super sleuths who correctly solved the murder received little bags of bite-size 20’s candy. The mix included Mounds, Milky Ways, Butterfingers, and Baby Ruths. Unfortunately no Reese’s, because those didn’t come onto the scene until 1928 and I chose to set my party in 1923 (did I mention I’m a stickler for detail?).

I’ll leave you now with a little preview of what the next post will entail, since I forgot to photograph the little bottles of gin before giving them away. To the left a shot of our Mugsy Malone – a North Side Gang Henchman – enjoying his prize for Best Performance.

Doesn’t the little bottle look like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

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How to Make Your Own Gin

Inspired by the research I did for the 1920’s speakeasy murder mystery party I hosted soon (find out more about that here), I decided to try infusing my own gin.

Gin is one of the most flexible categories of spirits. Essentially any neutral spirit infused with botanicals – herbs, spices, citrus, and so forth – counts as gin, as long as the mix of botanicals includes a predominant juniper flavor. That means that it’s surprisingly easy to transform a bottle of plain old vodka into delicious homemade gin.

My spice cupboard – while very well stocked in general – did not as yet include juniper berries. This meant that my efforts to infuse my own gin (I skipped the distilling part due to a strong desire not to go blind or die of methanol poisoning) began with a Metro ride out to Maplewood in search of juniper. After a quick trip to Penzey’s Spices for a bottle of berries (and a prolonged detour to nearby Vom Fass to sample absinthe & floral liqueurs), I hopped over to Shop & Save to pick up my neutral spirit. I chose a bottle of semi-local Pearl vodka.

Armed with my vodka (or, as I liked to think of it, my pre-gin) and my berries, it was time to begin the infusion process.

While there are a wealth of gin recipes available on the Internet, I chose to start with this one from The Hungry Mouse.

I adapted the recipe after tasting my first infusion, so the ingredients you see below are from my ever-so-slightly different blend (I reduced the amounts of the coriander and allspice to mellow the spice and let the other flavors come through more).

I highly recommend trying out the recipe for yourself!

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Ingredients
1 (750ml) bottle of vodka (or other neutral spirit)
3 Tablespoons dried juniper berries
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
3 green cardamom pods
3 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 piece fresh lemon peel
1 sprig fresh lavender

Gin & Tonics

  1. Sanitize a glass bottle with hot, soapy water.
  2. Add the botanicals to the bottle.
  3. Pour over the vodka.
  4. Shake the bottle vigourously.
  5. Let sit overnight in a cool, dark place. I infused mine for close to 24 hours total.
  6. Shake the bottle again.
  7. Strain out the solids, and then run the gin through a coffee filter a few times. The result will still have a slight golden color.
  8. Enjoy!



I tested out my infusion with some gin & tonics (don’t look at me like that – I made one for me and one for Joe!). They were DELICIOUS! Well worth the (24 hour) wait. I’m saving the rest of the bottle to divide up and give out as prizes at the murder mystery party for Best Dressed and Best Performance.

Guess I’ll just have to make more soon.

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New Skills


Something I was worried about when I graduated is that it would be more difficult for me to continue picking up fresh skills and ideas, that I would mentally stagnate without the constant stimulation of the collegiate environment. Sure, I would be acquiring lots of new knowledge at my job, but mastering the intricacies of Google Docs and picking up some rudimentary HTML, while incredibly useful, wasn’t exactly the comprehensive challenge I had in mind.

Fortunately, I have come to realize that while I may spend less time reading scholarly essays and synthesizing sources for use in my own papers, learning doesn’t stop with graduation. It’s just a different sort of learning.

It’s true that I debate less now, but equally true that I create more. I have embraced my urge to make things that actually exist in the physical world. Maybe it’s a product of working so much on the computer, but when I’m home from work I avoid opening my laptop at all costs. Instead, I spend my time sitting cross-legged on our couch futon mattress tangled up in skeins of yarn or embroidery floss, huddled up under the blankets with a real paper book from the library (sometimes it’s even mildly intellectual!), or crouched over the coffee table writing an old-fashioned stationary letter.

Cross-stitch and knitting in particular have been wonderful hobbies for me to pick up because, like biking, they allow me to do something physical and to clear my mind and just think. It’s hard to find time spend with just yourself amidst all of the digital clutter!

cross-stitchCross-stitching was a hobby I had enjoyed as a child but had abandoned in favor of hipper pastimes in middle school and never returned to. Until now. A recent Jezebel article reminded me that cross-stitch existed and demonstrated to me that there was creative potential beyond the clichés. So, over Thanksgiving break I pulled out the old box of cross-stitch supplies from my closet in Maine, threaded my needle, and brushed up my skills with a baby announcement pattern I found in the box. And voilà. Success.

Inspired, I thought back to another crafty pastime I had enjoyed but abandoned prematurely – knitting. Previously, the extent of my knitting ability was limited to straight scarves of one color and knobbly texture. Easy to make, but not something I tend to want in my closet. However, thanks to the encouragement and instruction of one Molly Moog and the incredible free patterns at the Purl Bee, I have advanced to a point where I can make projects I can be proud of (like the scarves being modeled by these lovely ladies in the subway).

Yay hobbies!

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My First Book!

I love combining writing and images, and have since my earliest artistic and journalistic endeavors (for more about those, click here and scroll down and over a few frames to the Literary Memoir).  I also love the medium of the book.  Books are meant to be touched and interacted with, which creates an intimate experience for the viewer the likes of which art on the walls can rarely achieve.

I’ve been interesting in learning how to bind books since I first discovered that that was a fine art medium back at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts during a Pinhole Photography workshop my junior year in high school.  My instructor was showing us samples of her photographic work that she had bound into book form, and I thought, “Forget pinhole photography, I want to learn how to do THAT!”

Unfortunately, I never made an effort to take a bookbinding class in college until my last semester, at which point I did not make it off the waitlist.

[Full disclosure: I was too intimidated to take art classes in college (with real art students!) until I came back from abroad with a broader perspective and a determination to take classes that really interested me as opposed to the ones I thought I should take.  That was a mistake, and one of my biggest regrets from college thus far is not taking more art classes and exercising the creative part of my mind until the very end.  Being intimidated by art students and/or afraid of receiving a low grade is a weak excuse.  Shame on me.]

The good news is, I have decided to make up for my former failings in the form of a summer class in basic bookbinding at Craft Alliance. The class consists of a recently hired Wash U professor, two retired women, and me.  So far it’s been a lot of fun, and after two classes I am now able to present…my first bound book!

I am thrilled, and hope that it will be the first of many.

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