February 20, 2011

How to have a steampunk high tea

My dearest Blog, I was privileged yesterday to be among the fortunate guests at a steampunk high tea. Meet (standing left to right) Julianne, Chuck, Henry, Layla, Anna, (yours truly), Greg, and (seated) our hosts, Laura and Paul.

How precisely ought one host a steampunk high tea? Why, I am glad you asked, Blog.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the term "steampunk," it is a popular genre of fashion and fantasy that combines Victorian style with science fiction elements of the type found in the writings of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Think time travel, airships, machinery incorporating gears and steam engines, all expressed with the elegance of the Victorian period. And what better way to enjoy the company of fellow steampunk fans than at a high tea, a social event very much in vogue during the reign of Queen Victoria?

Like steampunk in general, such a gathering is certainly open to individual interpretation. But I will share with you some tips based upon the manner in which it was executed by our delightful hosts, Paul and Laura. Follow these guidelines and you too can travel back to a romantic time that never really quite existed....

1. Invite guests who will come attired in steampunk-themed garb. As you see, that is key. Outfits include top hats and vests, splendid coats, long skirts, high button shoes...and the more subtle steampunk elements just as goggles, jewelry fashioned of gears and cogs, and props such as the sextants at Greg's hip in the photo above. British accents such as were employed by Henry and Greg are optional, as are imaginary character back stories, but hope to have a few attendees who will amuse your guests with same! And a de rigueur activity for guests is admiring each other costumes. Henry's "spat shoes" received particular attention.

By the way, it's not hard or expensive to contrive your own steampunk costume. I outfitted myself for about $50 out of pocket. A better view of me:

Start in your own closet. I used a shirt and vest I already had, and high-button velvet boots from a prior costume. Supplement with items from thrift stores, online steampunk shops, Etsy and eBay. I got my bustled skirt on eBay from Moonlight Cove. Don't forget steampunk props and jewelry, like the steampunk heart pendant I made from polymer clay. You can achieve a lot by spending a little. I made my hat from supplies I bought at Michael's for under $10.

2. Prepare a romantic, old-fashioned table. Paul and Laura happen to own a variety of antique china perfectly suited to the occasion.  Combined with equally splendid goldware, glassware, tablecloth, napkins, and fresh flowers, the look is formal but charming.

Don't forget placecards and small gifts such as the net bags Laura made and filled with period-appropriate salt water taffy. Note the small gear sewn on the bag for that steampunk touch. 
3. Serve tea. We were offered three types of delicious teas with cream, sugar and honey. There's something so delightful about the ritual of pouring tea. The guests at your tea will also enjoy the option of alcoholic beverages; we had some cherry wine as well as both sweet and dry champagne.

4. Observe the traditions of high tea food. Laura informed me that high tea includes three courses: scones, sandwiches, and desserts. Our scone course included two offerings. Our sandwiches were both sweet and savory (strawberry, cucumber, and some wonderful chicken salad on cherry walnut bread).

And the desserts included both raspberry and lemon layer cakes, petit fours, and chocolate truffles from Harrod's.

5. Discuss the wonders of steampunk. Of course the meal can include any sort of discourse that arises, but it's definitely a good opportunity to talk about DIY steampunk projects and past steampunk gatherings like the TeslaCon that takes place in Wisconsin. Here Paul examines some nifty goggles that Henry fabricated out of leather, showerhead parts, etc.

6. Provide appropriate props for your guests to enjoy. Among the props at our party was my little creation Herbert G the stitchpunk doll. It was a thrill to share him with such an auspicious group! Our hosts had a nifty stereoscope on hand and plenty of antique photos for us to view in 3D; here you see Greg trying it out while Chuck awaits a turn.

Paul also brought out the old 3D camera he bought to create his own 3D pictures. Note: two lenses! It uses regular 35 mm film.

7. Don't mind the anachronisms. Paul's iPhone came in handy for steampunk related research. No reason not to take advantage of the tools of the current age. You can always account for the phenomenon by pretending to be time-travelers from the past, visiting the current year.

And that, Blog, is all you need to do to throw your own steampunk high tea. I made wonderful new friends and enjoyed a refreshing mental break from our Wisconsin winter and the trials and tribulations of real life.

Thank you, Paul and Laura! Bravo!

February 15, 2011

A cuppycake-lovin' critter

Blog, as you well know we have a new resident at Magic House. Yesterday (aka Valentine's Day) I brought into the world this little green guy and the cupcake he dearly loves. My money is on him being able to nom that entire cuppycake in one bite, how about you?

This is my response to the February creativity prompt from our pals at the A Creative Dream blog: "Love." The little green guy loves his fudge-frosting-topped treat, and I love him, because I modeled him after the little blue guy in the AT&T HTC phone commercials, with whom I am obsessed.  In case you aren't getting that reference, here you go:

But before we address little green guy and his most remarkable feature, let us first discuss the plush cupcake he is about to nom. I based this on ideas in Warm Fuzzies, the book I referenced in my crazy hat post. You too can easily make a plush cuppycake of your own.

I just took a strip of dark brown fleece and folded it in half lengthwise. Then I rolled it up to create the effect of swirled frosting. I stuffed the end with the cut edges inside a cuff cut from a pink sock, which stands in, of course, for the paper cupcake cup. A circle of pink felt whipped stitched to the bottom completes the cup, but before you sew it on, trim the fleece inside and/or add stuffing to make it nice and flat on the bottom. Festoon your cupcake with toppings made of puff balls, beads, buttons, etc. You can trim it with ribbon or rickrack too.

And as for the cupcake-ophile creature, Blog, let me call your attention to the one tricky feature about him of which I am truly proud: his mouth. When creating the pattern for green guy, I recognized immediately the big challenge: his mouth needs to be concave, and when you stuff something, it's impossible to give it a concave feature like that.

I had a eureka moment, though, Blog. I made a shape out of aluminum foil in the size and shape of the indentation I needed for greenie's mouth. I covered this mold with a sheet of polymer clay, trimmed it, and baked it. I popped the baked clay off the mold, then covered it with black felt, using fabric glue. I discovered I heart fabric glue!!

I cut an opening for the mouth in the fleece of the head front. I folded the edges of this opening inward, and sewed the felt-covered mouth piece inside. I cannot deny that this was tricky, since I didn't want any stitches to show. The bonus of having the clay piece inside the body was that it supported two wire armatures for the arms and legs, which I mounted there with electrical tape.

I hand sewed the front and back body pieces together, stuffing with fiberfill as I went. Then I simply had to sew on two black beady eyes, and my green guy was ready for dessert!

And, of course, to be loved....

February 7, 2011

Made a crazy hat, have a crazy cat

Blog, do you think this hat I sewed this weekend is just too crazy? Well, I'm going to wear it anyway.

I got a new book called Warm Fuzzies which includes some very cute patterns for misc. stuff made out of felted sweaters. I did not feel like felting sweaters, so I just used some fleece I found on sale at JoAnn. The supplies for my sewing project cost less than three bucks, so I'm happy. And I'm also prepared for the cold snap we're expecting tomorrow.

This hat has neat-o keen ear flaps that you can wear up like in that first picture, or down like in this one. The ear flaps are dorky but I really like the idea of warm ears.

I also really like the yarn I found, which you can see showcased in this rear shot of the hat.

Yes, it's a seriously crazy hat, Blog. The mittens are made to match but I guess a person can get away with wearing crazy stuff on her hands more easily than on her head.

So, that's the story of my crazy hat...now let's address my crazy cat. Actually, my cat is no crazier than the rest of his species. As cat owners generally know, if there is a flat object, such as a magazine, freshly folded laundry, or a piece of fabric you are using to make a crazy hat, it doesn't matter how many other more appropriate spots there are in the vicinity for your cat to sit. Your cat will sit on said object.

Your cat will not care what inconvenience this causes you. In fact, your cat will act really cute so that you feel that whatever you were planning on doing with said object, you should refrain if it will inconvenience your cat.

Well, I have dealt with Cody's cuteness long enough that I can, when pressed, actually resist it. I moved Fabric #1 out from under him and he moved on. That is, until I laid out Fabric #2.

The placement of Cody's paw on the pattern piece indicates that he is well aware of my activity and knows that this fabric was not spread out on the dining room table for his personal benefit. The expression on Cody's face indicates how much he cares about that.

In my final shot below, you see evidence of the extreme contempt that cats have for whatever it is their owners might be up to.

He seems to be thinking, "Keep cutting, lady, I double-cat-dare you." Of course I didn't. After more tries than are reasonable, I managed to move his paw out of the way and keep it there.

So that is the tale of my crazy hat and crazy cat, Blog.

February 3, 2011

Blizzards have gotten so much better

Hey Blog, I have to tell the story of a time long before you were born, before there were any blogs at all. The year was 1981, the place was Deer Creek Township, Iowa. Sound like the boonies? Well, this photo shows you where that is, Blog, and it was the Boonies with a capital B.

Just how boony was it? Well, here’s the view I saw of the road there, when I went to get the mail.

But I want to tell you about a time when it was almost impossible to get the mail, because it had snowed. And snowed, and snowed. The winter of 1981, my first winter as a pastor’s wife, was a time of blizzards. Blizzards that made our tiny parsonage howl from the wind, wind that knocked out our power for hours on end, cold hours that made us close off the bedrooms (on the north side) and drove the temp in those rooms below freezing. Blizzards that buried our house in drifts six feet high, which had to be tunneled through before I could get the mail.

There was a period when I didn’t see a living soul outside my family of three for ten days. But that was not the worst of it: the worst of it was, there was no Internet. My companions for that blizzard were the four channels on our TV. Yes, no cable, no VCR, Blog, but believe me, the worst of it was, there was no Internet. A person living in Deer Creek Township could have used the Internet every day of the year, but especially during the cold and lonely isolation of a blizzard.

Fast forward to the great blizzard of 2011, aka the Groundhog Day Snopacalypse. I will rush to say that it helped that the power stayed on, it helped to have cable TV and DVR and streaming Netflix. But more than anything, it helped to have the Internet. Sure, 60 mph winds howled around our house as if to take the roof off. Sure, we had snow piles reminiscent of the Alps. But the mood remained cheerful throughout…and why?

Because all during the storm and its clean up, I shared the experience with others. I watched videos and real time blogging on local news sites. I emailed with loved ones in various places. And most of all, I hung out on Facebook, where people I knew all over the country commiserated and reported and joked, and people I knew all over the world sympathized.

We kept abreast of each other’s locations. Even those without power updated via their smart phones. And everyone--including me, of course--posted photos and videos of their little slice of Winter Wondergeddon. Digging out a buried car wasn’t such a hardship when you could share it with friends and get their sympathy. Living in a world suddenly dominated by snow was kinda cool, since you could photograph it and impress friends living in Florida and California. For all of us, to one degree or other it was a pain, but we turned it into a party too.

My dad lives 15 miles away. We both knew we were fine and we didn’t feel cut off, because we could email and share links and photos and other cheery bits. Transfer the 2011 Blizzardathon to 1981 Iowa and we would hopefully have had the phone, intermittently.

So I say to the young folk out there, who can barely remember a world without texting and Skype and Twitter, be thankful for the Internet, especially in times of crisis. Sometimes it saves lives. Sometimes it spreads truth when cruel regimes want that truth stifled. And sometimes it simply makes hard times much, much happier.

Happy like our cat Cody was after Davie shoveled, and he could see out the patio doors again.