31 March 2011

A Summer Hat for a Wizard, Part 1

This summer some friends of mine are putting together an immersion-style theater event for a group of 9-17 year olds.  Modeled after murder mystery dinner parties and drawing heavily on the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, the event will be a day of student orientation for a new, North American school of wizardry.  As things go along, I hope to post the occasional report.  Here is the first.

The Headmaster for the day needs a proper wizarding hat.  But as the event is scheduled for July, the actor wants something in the straw hat department.  We both did research.  A quick search on Google Images using the term "wizard hat" brought up a range of styles that were Tolkienesque, Disneyesque,  Potteresque, Medieval-like, Princess-y, and Halloweenish.

Gandalf-style hat

Disney-style hat
Medieval-style hat


Princess-style Hat

Harry Potter-style Hat

The actor sent me some screenshots of hats worn by characters from various Harry Potter movies, but the best thing he sent was a picture of himself wearing his favorite straw hat.  He'd used Photoshop to tweak the hat into the shape he had in mind (below).

My plan was to crochet the hat as that would give me the most flexibility in terms of shaping the hat while it was in progress.  I found several possible inspirations for my approach.  Lilli at Hawdancing Studio makes some fantastically colored witch hats:

For my purposes, the best thing about Lilli's design was the wide, flat brim (she put wire around the outer edge to keep the round shape).  The pattern was a bit too pointy, though.

Cheryl Oxsalida designed a more traditional witch hat (above). That pattern is here

Another idea came from the long, cone-shaped stocking caps that were popular when I was a kid.  

In the end, I found my working pattern in the fat, 3-ring binder I have used over the years to archive design ideas I come across.  The pattern was one I'd found in a British book of crochet designs -- the title of which, unfortunately, I failed to note when I copied the pages some 12 years ago. The pattern was for a series of cone-shaped caps for children.  Reviewing the stitch sequence,  I realized the hat was likely to be too big too fast at the base and began modifying things right away.

I decided I had to test drive the pattern first.  To do that, I used some art yarn I'd been given as a gift. 

The original pattern called for an increase of 8 stitches every third row.  This made a nice cone shape (see blue child's cap above), but the pitch of things was too steep, too much like a traditional witch's hat.  So I modified the pattern to increase 10 stitches and played with just when to do that: every 3rd row, or every 4th row, etc. 

Here's Version 1. 

I used a slip stitch along the bottom edge of the cone to "change direction" and allow the brim to be perpendicular to the hat.


But when put on a head mannequin, the base began to stretch around the round top of the skull.  The headmaster actor had asked that the hat be cone-shaped all the way to the brim.

Part 2 of this series will show the next version of the hat (am hoping I need to make only three to get things right).  I will also post the instructions in the final post.

27 March 2011

Funny Bikes

Four years ago my sister, Miz M,  bought me a modern-yet-retro bicycle, which I have yet to really ride.  This Spring that changes!  I shall be looking like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz for sure!  Other plan: to convert one of those kid bike trailers into a cool vardo-esque trailer for hauling my groceries and good vegees from our wonderful summer farmer's markets.

That image - retro-bike and funky trailer - calls up the whole notion of Funny Bikes!

The National Penny Farthing Championship was held in Evandale Village, Tasmania this month.

And here are some videos of some creative wheelers!


23 March 2011

A Rare Seller of Rare Books

As a birthday present to myself, I bought a fancy edition of my favorite book, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed. (See this previous posting about my affection for this book -- and the fantastic globe made for me of the planet Anarres!) I'd longed to own this edition for many years, but it was out of budgetary reach and, in time, I forgot about it.

In searching for images of the book's cover to illustrate the previous post, I came upon Franklin Books, an online rare book retailer. Mr. Larry O’Shaughnessy is the owner and proprietor. Himself collector of rare photos and art books, he started his business as a logical extension, and as a way to support his own collecting.

As such, his regard for his books and his customers is deep and abiding. "I specialize," he says "in buying and selling leather bound books, author/artist signed editions, and the contemporary book arts. My focus is to offer books that are truly beautiful as well as being significant literary works. I am a proud member of the IOBA, Independent Online Booksellers Association and a self-certified book addict."

Yes, dear Reader, I bought the book. And thereby hangs a tale of retail wonderment. Upon hitting the order button, I soon received an email from Paypal confirming it and another from Franklin Books doing the same. Nothing unusual there. But then later that same day I received another email, this one signed by Mr. O'Shaughnessy himself. The book was on the way, he said, and gave me the tracking number. He said to contact him if I had any other questions or concerns.

Wow, I thought, this is a nice touch; a real person emailed me about something I bought. The book arrived just three days later (Mr. O'Shaughnessy doesn't charge for shipping either.) It was very neatly wrapped in bubble wrap, comfortably packed all around with foam peanuts, and sent in a good-quality postal box. Inside was a handwritten note: "Thank you! I hope you enjoy the book. Regards, Larry." 

Mr. O'Shaughnessy, I will enjoy this book greatly, and not just because it's a favorite of mine. You added to my joy by treating this book as though it was special to you as well. Whenever I pick it up to read, I will have in mind that there is a fellow book person out there who treasures books as I do. 

Thank you!

21 March 2011

Versions of Things Beloved, Part 1

About this globe - see note at end of post

Everyone has their favorite books. The Dispossessed by American author Ursula K. Le Guin is one of mine. I read it for the first time the year after it was published (1974). Since then I have read it at least once a year. How I read it varies considerably. Sometimes I read it straight through from start to finish. Other times I read only the chapters set on the planet Anarres. Often I just open the book randomly and read a few pages. 

Several aspects of the book appeal to me. The complexity of the world building by Le Guin is profoundly attractive. This includes the physical worlds, their cities, their climates, and their flora and fauna. It's not a matter of how well she visualizes things for her reader. It goes deeper than that. Although Le Guin's world building is framed by the socio-political context of the 1960s and 70s, she manages to create a place with a solid and unique sense of its own reality. 

The cultures of the two worlds (Anarres and Urras) are deliberately set in conflict with each other, but each culture stands on its own in terms of its psychology, sociology, customs, and ways of being. As a one-time theater major and long time imagineer I am always captivated by how culture(s) manifest and make of themselves. Much of my time reading the book involves my imagination crawling around Anarres mostly, but also Urras, trying to see how the buildings are built, the clothing designed and made, the food recipes preferred, and the people interacting.

The quality of psychological differentiation possessed by several key characters from Anarres is something I find very satisfying. I like, too, that the major characters (Shevek, Takver, and Bedap) are comfortably intellectual while also plainly social and creative. It is unusual, however. In a 1990 short story "The Shobies' Story," Le Guin created a decidedly less savory character who is identified as being from Anarres.

Finally, I am intrigued by the utopian discourse that underlies the story and its characters. This book always strikes me as an imagination in motion - even though the story is long since published, the events set, and the politics gnawed to death by reviewer after reviewer. Le Guin wrote The Dispossessed as a deliberate thought exercise. I find myself continuously drawn to and curious about how writers create. And Le Guin is a master writer.

Other people's thoughts on the work:
Study Guide for Ursula LeGuin: The Dispossessed (1974)
This guide was prepared by Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University. It's one of the more detailed and thoughtful takes on The Dispossessed I've seen. 
A review of The Dispossesed by Victoria Strauss (2000).
I have my own personal and literary take on the book. It's always interesting to read someone else's perspective. This review focuses pretty much on the plot and politics alone. (Missing is a sense of the characters as people and the two very detailed cultures Le Guin has created.)

BOOK: The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Edited by Laurence Davis and Peter G. Stillman. Lexington Books, 2005. ISBN: 978-0739110867

This is a thoughtful set of essays ending with a short piece by Ms. Le Guin herself. She liked this book, saying: "This is criticism as I first knew it, serious, responsive, and jargon-free." The book is erudite and scholarly. An interesting read but one that also demonstrates how scholars can sometimes kill the underlying joy of a story by focusing at length on its meaning.

BOOK:  Political Theory, Science Fiction, and Utopian Literature: Ursula K. Le Guin and The Dispossessed. By Tony Burns.  Lexington Books, 2010. ISBN: 978-0739122839

I haven't read this yet so I cannot comment.  But here's the blurb from Amazon: "This work challenges both the widely accepted view that 'The Dispossessed' represents a new kind of literary utopia and the place of Ursula K. Le Guin's novel in the histories of utopian/dystopian literature and science fiction."

NOTE:  The Making of the Anarres Globe

As this book has so long been central to my life, I wanted to create some thing that would give me a personal, physical connection to this imaginary place.  Having once made for a friend an elaborate ink and colored pencil map of his much cherished fictional world - Anne McCaffrey's Pern -- I set about creating a map of Anarres.  But it never seemed sufficiently real.

I took my sketches and ideas to my brother, Architect, and asked him if he could help me work up a 3D sketch.  He came up with a schematic using an image he'd found online (and included above in this post).   But I still struggled to make the map.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Architect had contacted two other siblings, WoodCrafter and Artist; and the three of them conspired to make my planet for me.

Architect created the master plan.

WoodCrafter found the materials (wood and metal) 
and created the sphere, base, and globe carriage. 

And Artist, using her considerable skills with paint, line, 
and stagecraft, painted the map onto the now 3D surface. 

It was -- is -- a truly astounding gift and a profoundly well-imagined and well-crafted work of art. It is perfect.  It looks like an artifact from Anarres - not like a cardboard globe one buys at map stores.  It looks like something the book's main character, Shevek, might have in his workplace or that might be found at one of the children's learning centers.  It is a deeply made thing

17 March 2011

After You've Gone

These last few years I've given a lot of thought to what happens to what I've made after I've passed on.  Typical for someone at my stage in life, but also a typical response to losing one's friends and family members as one begins to do. For a long time I worried about my legacy - what it would be, if I even have anything that could be considered such.  But in time I came to understand that it is what I do now that matters - being a good steward to the gifts and talents I've been given.

Still, there are folks -- artists, writers, musicians . . . all the makers -- who have lots of actual stuff they've made.  It matters, not simply as a legacy, though it might be that, but as a memory, a memorial to their talents and dreams.  It is also a matter of providing for one's heirs - telling them how to handle the intellectual property issues associated with the stuff you've created.

Author Neil Gaiman posted some useful info to his blog a while back on how to do this.  And he provides a working document for those who need one.  Here's his link.  It includes the PDF file for the document he refers to.

13 March 2011

Repeat Funny

Randall Munroe, author of the xkcd webcomic just cracked me up again this morning as I was clicking through stuff via the Random button.  In the event you do the same, please note this very true and helpful disclaimer"Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)."

09 March 2011

That Beautiful Line

Original Catalog Cover for the Dante's Wardrobe company

I have a thing for the clean, clear, purposed line of the drawn variety.  As a synesthete, my experience of the world around me always has this strong cast of lines.  A single movement can call up an entire image, drawn in full; a single sound can create a veritable light show of intercrossing lines.  Conversely, seeing a well-drawn image creates a kind of physical calm, an even plane of light and sound. 

Not surprisingly, I am drawn to artists with a strong eye and strong drafting hand.  Here are a few I have long enjoyed (and at the end, a new discovery).

Albrecht Durer

Drawing of Katharina

Portrait of His Mother

Venetian Lady

Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk

Anne Boleyn

Study for the Portrait of the Family of Sir Thomas More

Arthur Rackham

Hansel and Gretel


The Pre-Raphaelites

Jane Morris Photo & Painting
(Morris was a central muse for the Pre-Raphaelites)

'Jane Morris' by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Rosetti: Portrait of Anne Miller

Sveta Dorosheva

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