Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Antipodes

Even though I've spent quite a bit of time in Sydney before, this time wasn't quite the same as before. For one, it was decidedly chilly! Not cold per se but not warm enough to do more than walk the promenade at the beach (Manly as always).
The view from my mother's apartment is still stunning.
The tile floor on her balcony makes a nice backdrop for photographing beaded things.
When you visit family there's always hanging around and waiting time which I tried to use to finish the clasps on various kumihimo necklaces.
I wasn't as productive as I looked: in a little over a week I've braided three necklaces but finished a few more.
The biggest surprise was food, specifically vegetarian food or the difficulty if finding it to be precise. Not for me, for my son.
We had yum cha (dim sum in the US) a couple of times and each time the only dish (of very many let me assure you) that he could eat was Chinese broccoli or greens. The green beans had pork as did the tofu and the dumplings never even came close. There may have been vegetarian-friendly noodles the second time.

I got to spend some lovely time with my oldest friend in Sydney. It's amazing how our history transcends the time and space we've not been colocated and all I can say is that it's a precious and wonderful gift.

The most  fun thing was tooling around on my brother's boat. He and his family are spending the next year abroad, had just sold their house as we arrived in Sydney and were living on the boat,not a terrible hardship. It's bigger than studio apartments I've seen and the views!
Not to be sneezed at.
The last day the marina was full of jellyfish. Not poisonous like the box jellies up north.
These are about the size of the palm of my hand.

We also spent some time in the Chinese Garden near Darling Harbour.
Lots of us, one brother and his family and a representative from my other brothet's family too.
Our last day together was on the boat.
It makes all things beautiful being on the water.
And then we came to Queenstown New Zealand which is stunningly gorgeous.

We have a lovely view of the Frankton Arm from our little apartment.
We hiked Queenstown Hill last night (rated a seven out of ten in terms of difficulty and I think that's a little generous quite honestly) and it was still light by the time we had descended at around nine.
I loved the little piles of flat stones along the path.
We finished off our day with iconic Ferg (edited to correct the auto-correct which wanted to call them Ferguson. As if) Burgers.

And we're not done yet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Across the World

The sky from the plane on the way to LA was spectacular. Pink-tinted puffs rolling to the horizon with glimpses of stark snow-dusted mountaintops.
I ate all sorts of awesome foods in LA - my daughter is an excellent foodie/partner in crime. Duck fat fries at Beer Belly, sushi with warm rice at Sugarfish, the biggest pancakes in the entire world (there simply cannot be anything bigger) at The Griddle Cafe - and then we hiked it off!
Somewhere in the Valley, one of the trails we hit was the Mesa Trail although we were aiming for Paradise Falls.
The next day we hit Runyon Canyon Park with its stunning views over the city. The accessibility of the outdoors reminds me of Cape Town where you could drive ten minutes to walk in Newlands Forest or twenty to get to any beach at all - the beauty of a long skinny peninsula.

The flight to Australia was surprisingly uneventful. Blissfully so. We didn't miss any flights, none were cancelled, the food was perfectly edible and we took the taxi to my mom's apartment with all of our luggage.
Her view is pretty stunning, right?

And her balcony floor makes a decent backdrop for pictures of beaded stuff.
Only slightly jet lagged and the weather is perfect for time outdoors, not too hot or humid.

Good start to a vacation.

Monday, December 14, 2015

One More Time

The step-by-step photos of the one on the right just weren't translating into anything you could make sense of, so the colours on the left were chosen to be more visible. I think it works although the seed beads are ever so slightly shorter which didn't seem to work as well while I was stitching it, though ultimately there's little difference. It might be more difficult to stitch tightly with smaller beads though.
Also I had to do it again to see if it's really that confusing, and it might be, but I think I can mitigate that in the instructions with judicious use of arrows and other devices.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Productive Weekend (So Far)

Yesterday I spent many hours generating piles of thread and many hideous pieces of beadwork until this morning I threw embellishment ideas out the window and went with simpler.
 It looks like a cube (unlike my previous attempts) and it holds its shape (unlike my previous attempts) and I like the way it looks (unlike my previous attempts).

 It's a little difficult to describe all the steps especially if people have trouble reading their beadwork and it absolutely will not be even and symmetric and firm if not stitched with tight tension. I hate to consider a class project when I can see the pitfalls but it's so cute!
 I made good progress on the shoelace front though.
I made the pink ones above all in a single day (in which I did other things too so it's not as though I woke up, started on shoelaces and then fell into bed late at night, not having eaten, bathed or done anything but worked on a single pair of shoelaces).

I need a few more pairs so that the nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters in law (and my kids if I'm being fair) all have choices and then with a bit of luck they'll leave me the ones I want (not yet made) for my purple Docs.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

No Work on the House

Really, my hands needed a rest plus I had instructions that needed doing.
 One sample for Tuesday's class.

Then I decided to start another shoelace for my niece Charlie but this time I was going to be awesomely creative and make a band with the letter "C" all the way down it.
 Errm well it didn't exactly work out except in a couple of places, which is just as well as I was convinced I'd have even more trouble with the "R" for her sister Ruby.
 So I swizzled some cards around and came u with this which was almost pretty on the back except too wide for shoelaces and then I got distracted and so I cut it off in the name of practicality. What was I going to do with a non-reversible narrow band with a weird pattern?
 No, I don't have an answer so I noodled with beads which was quite a bit of fun as I came up with a sweet little motif that you can keep adding to if you like.
Dramatic pendant, but the motifs would work well together in a necklace or bracelet too.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Need More Hours Plz!

I'm not sure I'm quite recovered from Thanksgiving weekend and (as usual) I didn't get quite as finished as I wanted to, but that's the price you pay for optimism and [over-]confidence. And it's not as though it really matters in this case.

Turns out that twenty-five or twenty-six hours a day would have been better as I went to bed later and later each night. You'd think I was partying all weekend long. 
 I do have the cure-and-seal stuff on, two coats worth and while it definitely seals the surface from water penetration, I'm not thrilled with the finish as you can see brush marks (from the first coat) and orange-peel marks (from the second coat when I tried a roller).

This isn't the final coat as I still plan to apply a few coats of a food-safe sealer so I have the opportunity to sand off sealer imperfections between coats.

My hands are resting a bit right now.
 I decided to embrace the burnishing marks because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to want to expend the effort to grind them off.

And now I can start thinking about the next phase of the kitchen make-over.

There is painting (cabinets and walls).

There is the construction of new shelves (I'm pretty excited about that one).

There is the construction of under-cabinet pullouts and pulldowns which might just wait until later since neither the painting nor the new shelves depends on their being complete.

New shades need to be made - that fabric is so last decade.

In other news I finished the necklace ends of this pendant.
 I know I always congratulate myself on actually getting all the new class proposals in on time every four months, but this last time it was a bit tight and I didn't get to rework this one until after I'd submitted it.
I loved the first version (in large part because of the colours which I chose with barely any consideration and which generally turns out better than over-thinking) but the new version is so much better.

Structurally, I elevated the rivoli a little so that it stands up above the background which both looks better and also makes the back flatter so that it should hang better. I also oriented it differently so that the necklace starts in the middle of a side rather than at the corner. I don't necessarily like the orientation better but if I think the first version suffers from the alignment of the necklace rather than its positioning. I might actually rework that again.

And more colour - I mean, who doesn't love a colour gradient, right?

Friday, November 27, 2015

On a Whim

I find myself wanting to do woodwork but I have almost no tools and even fewer skills and yet my confidence in my ability to figure it out keeps me going. I haven't actually made anything really fabulous, but perhaps one day I will.

As I said, my tools are limited (drill, jigsaw, slightly damaged and misused random orbital slander) and so when I saw an oscillating tool for what seemed like a good price (and everything I could read about such a beast indicated that there was virtually no job or circumstance for which it was not ideally suited, I bought one.

It's been in its box for well over a week.

Skip to the night before Thanksgiving, the night I was going to apply the first layer of cement over my existing nineties-cream formica kitchen counters in my quest for a kitchen that has at least an air of belonging to this century, if not the appliances.

Attentive (or any!) readers will recall my new cork floor which was way more work than anticipated but with which I am overall pretty satisfied (scroll down a few posts if you want to see them again). The concrete countertops were going to be a lot easier.
By the time I was done with the endless preparations like getting the tools and ingredients (and onlookers) all in one place, rereading yet another blogger's hints and the packaging instructions, I finally began to apply the first layer of cement at around seven on Wednesday night and by the time I had covered my relatively meagre kitchen countertops and found myself blessedly horizontal and under the covers, it was well after midnight. (First hint that I may have been - yet again! - overly optimistic: it takes longer than I'd anticipated).

Here's what I learned:

I'll never do this again without having someone remove the sink and the stove first because those half-inch sections behind both of them are IMPOSSIBLE.

They're right - the Ardex Feather Finish does set up pretty quickly, and more to the point, unless you are actively working every little bit of it that you are not done with, it rapidly gets too stiff to be that useful. If you try to use it anyway, you get a less than ideal finish which the optimist in you says "No problem, I'll just sand it away".
(As an aside, I wish it retained its colour when wet).

Remember the sander I mentioned above? Yeah, only sorta useful.

My original plan and schedule went something like this:

Wednesday: First layer
Thursday: Sand, apply second layer, sand, apply third layer, go out for Thanksgiving dinner (while wishing I could cancel so as to get my kitchen back), apply seal-and-cure, go to bed at a reasonable hour
Friday: Relax, bead, weave shoelaces, whatever, then apply first layer of food-safe acrylic sealer just before bed so no one can walk on it (certain individuals must be confined at night if I am to get any sleep).
Saturday: Like Friday
Sunday: Like Saturday
Monday: Put everything back in the kitchen and admire my work

So it turns out that I spent ALL DAY (or what seems like it) on Thursday sanding. The disks on the power sander just kept clogging and then burnishing which wasn't useful, plus control is iffy because you can't feel when you've done enough or too much.

I switched to a sanding block which was only marginally better in terms of the clogging factor, though quite a bit more efficacious.

Ultimately hand-sanding gave me the best results but my poor hands are less than delighted. Even apart from the stress, cement dust is much more alkaline than skin likes, and even with repeated rinses with vinegar to neutralise it (I learned that trick when I was laying ceramic tile two and a half years ago) my hands are still pretty beat up. The vinegar really does help to release the dried-on bits of cement though.

I started on the second layer, got a small fraction of the way through (used one out of five or six batches of cement), then had to shower, finish making the dessert I was bringing for dinner (no small feat when your kitchen is out-of-bounds because anything will stain or ravage the nascent unprotected countertops), and spend a few hours being gracious and wondering when it would be OK to leave and finish the rest of the second layer.
The second layer turned out much better than the first layer, in part because I can actually learn from previous experience, and also because I installed a lamp so that I could see better in the dark corners. Go figure.

Still needing some sanding though, especially in those corners.

I think the little raised edge at the back of the counters is in another dimension because I'm pretty sure there are at least half a mile more of those than the size of the countertops would indicate. And careful as I was (I thought I was being meticulous until I woke up this morning and saw them in daylight) those corners are awful and if I don't want to add a fourth layer (and I don't) then I need to be sure that the second layer doesn't set the third layer up for failure, which means sanding.

I used glasses to see better.

I stood on a little stool to get closer.

I found all the sandpaper in my house and tried everything that might be suitable.
There were bits that were intractable, and that's not even counting the Really Difficult Parts that I haven't yet started.
 Before I started sanding, I chipped out all the sticky-out little blobs and scraped away the stuff that stuck to my sink and my stove but those hard-to-reach places are very, very rough. I did an awful job there.
I was dealing with the good parts at the window and having a hard time and suddenly next weekend was looking busier than I'd planned.

And then I remembered that I buy stuff for which I don't have an immediate need and wondered if perhaps I might have had The Best Foresight Ever.

This in fact turns out to be the case. Witness my new best friend:
This thing is MAGIC!

(Cue sound of the angelic host which I could not find and cannot sing so you'll have to imagine it)

It gives me the control of hand sanding without hurting my hands and the strength of a power sander without having my nerves hum for ten minutes after I turn it off. I'm feeling much more confident about the potential quality of the finished countertops and I no longer almost wish I hadn't started.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bead and Button Classes. And Other Stuff

So I mentioned last time that I'm teaching a bunch of classes at Bead and Button next June and I'm really pleased with the selection. They're all projects I've really enjoyed working on, and most of them cause strangers to stop and reach for my chest. Umm necklace.

So in no particular order, Buttress which really requires students to be comfortable with cubic right angle weave and especially with joining cubic right angle weave. It's fun because all the bits are smallish, and parts repeat so it's not as though every single thing is something new, and if you're good with three-dimensional things it'll all be very obvious. And there's a bit of peyote stitch of relaxation if you need it.

This is a full-day class and while the law of averages dictates that not everyone will finish, I'm pretty sure some will.
 Next up, Chou-Fleur. My friend Amy said it reminded her of cauliflower but I've yet to see a head in any of these colours. Perhaps I'll work on a colour-way in shades of white and the palest of greens.

This one is a lovely large pendant, about two inches across and it comes with one of those bead hanger bar thingies with a screw-off ball at one end and a loop on the other so you can put it on a chain RIGHT AWAY (because I know how important that is).

It's much easier than you'd expect actually, mostly because there's so much repetition (twelve chatons to be captured and embellished). You build the base and then start adding florets until it's full - so basically there are only two things to learn. It does require a little dexterity because it gets quite full towards the end, but that's the extent of the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (by the way, spell-check agrees that this is a real word. Thanks, Mary Poppins!) skills you'll need.
 Lacrima is a newer project using mostly cubic right angle weave (for the bezel) and tubular herringbone (for the necklace and its clasp) with oddments of netting and whatnot thrown in for fun. What I enjoy about this one is that the crystal is an oval, but it's bezeled to look like an upside-down teardrop which I think is a fun trick.
 Pentamate are the cutest little beaded beads using three different two-hole beads - only one type per bead so your beads make a lovely varied yet related set. I think it's crazy easy if your mind naturally gravitates to pattern and structure and if you're good at reading your beading, but even if you don't roll that way, it's not extremely complicated, and I guarantee that by the second or third you'll not be bothering with the instructions.
I wore my Ribbon Necklace last year and it elicited quite a bit of interest because it's a completely new dimensional spiral: it's herringbone stitch with symmetric increases and decreases such that there appears to be an inner surface and an outer surface. There are two pattern rows that get repeated (though the ends taper) so it's one of these great zen projects - you just kinda relax into it, switching colours in and out. There's quite a bit of stitching! I like to keep the inner surface in one colour and use up odds and ends for the outer surface, and the kits all contain about six or seven colours for the outer layer.
 These Giza beaded beads work up fairly quickly and look absolutely gorgeous when strung somewhat sparingly in a necklace - I have a necklace in the metallic-y colour-way below in front and I'm delighted every time I wear it. Their holes are actually big enough for a fairly fat chain or a cord, but they can be strung on regular beading wire using beads just bigger than the holes to keep them even on the wire.
 My hotel room is booked and I'm thinking about starting the increasingly fast slide into panic leading up to Bead and Button!

Of course I also teach at my favourite local bead store, and these are the last two of the classes I'll be teaching here February through May.
 It's funny how I always think I won't have enough new classes (they're always all new) and then at the last minute (or more precisely, the week before they're due) I have a burst of creativity and somehow come up with my favourite designs.

Like Swirligig above. I saw a slightly cupped peyote square which swirled, so I massaged it into a five-sided swirling bezel for a rivoli (you can see the back on the right above) and then extended the pattern to make a broad pentagonal flange which I stiffened with a cubic right angle weave frame. As usual, when I don't think too hard about colours, I just LOVE these (though the picture makes them look a little bolder than in real life).
I like the idea of setting a round rivoli into a square bezel (which I've actually done before) but I wanted some air between the bezel and the outer frame, and this just worked out so well. It's a versatile little component that can be used in many ways which pleases me no end.

Thanksgiving weekend I have Big Plans. I'm going to refinish my junky formica kitchen counters with cement. If I plan it just right I should be able to apply a few layers (sanding between each), seal and cure them, and apply a few finishing and strengthening coats of sealer by Sunday night.

In theory.

I thought my cork floor would take one weekend: Saturday to remove the old floor and Sunday to lay the new one and I couldn't have been more wrong about that.

I have done quite a bit of research on the countertops thing (and by "research" I mean that I read a bunch of DIY blogs. Quite a lot of them) and people said it took anywhere from two days to almost a week but naturally I'm being rather optimistic, in part because my kitchen is small and there's not a whole lot of countertop to be finished.

I'll let you know how it goes.