Sunday, September 30, 2012


Despite numerous rewrites, this week's post “Anthropomorphic Animal Lover” was proving most unsatisfactory, and it was eventually decided the best course of action would be to abandon it altogether and attempt to get a bit of shut-eye instead. The definite lack of it this week was starting to take its toll, especially Friday morning when one managed to drive eight blocks past the turnoff to work before finally “coming to” (for lack of a better term). 

Please be sure to stop by next week for the first of four Hallowe'en Giveaways, preparation for which has caused a flurry of shopping. And as the insomniac  keeps assuring the long-suffering spouse as more and more items accumulate on the Dining Room Table, “Of course we're not keeping all this stuff, dear! It's for the Giveaways!!”

But for now, it's off to bed for the insomniac. She wanted to close with a lovely Victorian painting of a sleeping woman with drool coming out the side of her mouth, but they're harder to find than you might expect.

Albert Joseph Moore, Jasmine

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. Goodnight, my pretties.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gothic Fingerless Gloves, Part II

Bright and early Saturday morning, the insomniac  meandered up to the real third-floor attic to start on the Gothic Fingerless Glove Project, as promised last week. But just like her blog posts, which start out headed in a specific direction and generally wind up somewhere completely different, so went the day ...

Because the attic becomes unbearably hot by the end of June, any unfinished projects, newly purchased textiles, and eBay, thrift store and garage sale finds are rather hastily flung onto the Upstairs Staging Area (an old dining room table), to be dealt with once the weather becomes cool enough to allow the return to one's third-floor sanctuary. The first order of business was to organize the vast quantities of stuff that had been unceremoniously dumped throughout the summer, before one could even think  about starting a new project.

A completely staged picture - it actually looked much worse ...

A few hours later almost everything had been put away, apart from the Hallowe'en items purchased for the four weeks of giveaways, beginning October 7th. The creation of the Hallowe'en Gift Urn was such a delightful experience, the insomniac  is eager to repeat it an additional three times. And by October 28th, it's almost certain the fourth and final giveaway will be a gift certificate from the Attic because by then, the insomniac  is quite sure she'll be seriously contemplating flinging herself from the nearest dormer window.

Once the Upstairs Staging Area had been taken care of, it was time to start searching for the wool fabric. This necessitated looking through each and every suitcase that contains a portion of the rather impressive fabric collection. Eventually discovered in the very last one, it seemed like a reasonable idea to spend some time creating tags to identify the contents of each suitcase.

The monogrammed suitcases were the
Paternal Grandmother's, and the black one
belonged  to Aunt Lydia ...

It goes without saying that while searching for the wool, one also managed to spend a substantial amount of time sorting through each suitcase, pulling everything out then refolding it, all the while thinking about potential future projects.

The velvet silver polishing cloth will become
the centerpiece for a pillow one day ...

Fortunately, the wool collection was already neatly labelled, as one is well aware from past experience that one cannot rely on one's memory about which colour is which. As in, did one order the Antique Black or the Hallowed Black last time?

The Wool Collection

Selecting the Crushed Red Velvet and Antique Black wool, the insomniac  plugged in the iron. Then quickly unplugged it. Because over the summer, she had managed to forget the entire sole-plate was completely encrusted with black gunk, left behind by some unknown coating on the Melton wool used for the Potlatch Blanket Project. Four tubes of iron cleaner proved completely ineffective. Should you ever wish to eliminate black gunk encrusted on the bottom of your iron, the insomniac  highly recommends Kuhn Rikon Swiss Pot Cleaner, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, and roughly 45 minutes of your time.

As the insomniac  was already in the kitchen cleaning the iron, it seemed an opportune moment to clean the kitchen sink. An additional 15 minutes down the drain, so to speak.

With the wool located and selected, and both iron and kitchen sink cleaned, the insomniac  settled herself in front of the computer, ostensibly to enlarge the fingerless glove pattern and find a suitable stencil. Since she was already there, what harm could there be in checking out a few Blogs and Facebook Pages to see if there was anything new ...

By now it was 3:00 p.m. and, due to an unseasonably warm autumn, approximately 46°C in the attic. The insomniac   decided to retire to the veranda to complete the project. Once seated, she noticed the accumulation of dust and dead leaves on the veranda floor, then started thinking about the guests coming for coffee and cinnamon buns the following day and, well, one can sense you already know where this is heading. 

This is as far as the insomniac  got before
the inevitable change in direction ...

Because the insomniac  feels bad about breaking her promise of a tutorial on Gothic Fingerless Gloves, she has included pictures of some armwarmers she made for sale last year.

These ones sold - as did the Black & Olive, Black & Red,
Black & Grey, and Black & Burgundy pairs ...

These ones did not ...

Today, after her guests have finished their coffee and cinnamon buns on the veranda and departed, the insomniac  fully intends to deal with the remaining giveaway items on the Downstairs Staging Area (the real dining room table), along with the shipment of Hallowe'en decorations that arrived this week. But as they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. Should anyone be interested in a pair of brown armwarmers, drop the insomniac  a line and she'll gladly send them to you. Because she NEVER wears brown. Goodnight, my pretties.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gothic Fingerless Gloves, Part I

This week, the insomniac  would like to recommend a book that has given her many evenings of inspirational reading and, better still, many inspirational ideas for sewing projects this winter. At first glance, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design might not seem the type of book that would appeal to those of us with, shall we say, somewhat darker tastes. And so the insomniac  is going to share a few photos with you - hopefully enough to encourage you to give the book a second look, but not so many it might be considered copyright infringement.

Tied Wrap, Fitted Top,
Short Fitted Skirt and Long Skirt

... and The Fingerless Gloves ...

Negative Reverse Appliqué as Used Above

The book includes patterns for all garments and accessories, and covers basic sewing techniques for cotton jersey, instructions for stenciling, embroidery, beading, couching and so many variations of appliqué, including regular, reverse and negative reverse, it was difficult to keep track; the insomniac  lost count at around eighteen.

Natalie Chanin, founder of Alabama Chanin, says “you should love your work, because sewing is time-consuming and should only be done out of love”. The beauty of these unique garments lie not in their perfection, but in the love and care that have been infused into them by their maker. A point which the insomniac  shall certainly try to remember when crafting her first garment this winter in front of a roaring fire with a glass, perhaps two, of mulled wine at hand - that the end result should not be about perfection, but instead about the love and care she is infusing into her creation. One additional point it might be prudent to remember - mulled wine and sharp scissors do not make a good pairing ... 

Fitted Top with Pleated Ruffle

Outside Reverse Appliqué Sample

The beautiful custom-dyed organic cotton jersey fabric can be purchased from the Alabama Chanin website, and is available in many appealing colours suited to a Gothic Wardrobe - ruby, apple, carmine, burgundy, plum, black, and fifty three shades of grey; plus a number of somewhat less appealing earth tones. But as suggested in the book, or maybe it was the website, the techniques work equally well using recycled t-shirts as fabrics.

Ruffle Top and Bolero with Fluted Sleeves

But what the insomniac  admires most is Chanin's business philosophy, based on the Slow Design Movement with an emphasis on “good, clean and fair”. She hires local artisans, many of whom were left without work when the Alabama textile factories shut down, to stitch the collections. Each artisan has their own business, and is able to work from their own home and set their own hours. They choose which designs they would like to make, purchase the raw materials from Chanin, then sell the completed goods back to the company. And while, as Natalie points out, none of them are getting rich in terms of their bank accounts, they are rich in spirit, belief, passion and friendship. Which seems to the insomniac  an exemplary philosophy for a business, especially in this day and age.

Couching Sample

Whether a novice or advanced sewer, if you are intrigued by these beautiful heirloom sewing techniques and their potential for enhancing your own Gothic Wardrobe, might the insomniac  suggest immediately springing up from your computer chair and hurrying straight to your favourite local bookseller to purchase Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. But should you regard any form of exercise with as much distaste as the insomniac  then, with just a slight movement of the mouse, you could open up a new tab at the top of this page and locate your favourite online bookseller, instead.

Frock Coat

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. She is debating whether to head upstairs tonight to clean the paint off the stencil used for the attic walls and medicine chest. Because there's a very good chance that stencil will come in handy for a sewing project this winter, once a final decision on which Alabama Chanin fabric to order has finally  been made. Next week, the insomniac  promises a pair of Gothic Fingerless Gloves, which she had planned to make from some pieces of boiled wool she has stored somewhere in the attic, but was unable to locate in time for inclusion in this week's post ...

Goodnight, my pretties.


    Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, Natalie Chanin

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Misadventures in Hallowe'en Gift Urn Making, or Don't Give up your Day Job

About a month ago, the insomniac  offered to make a donation to a silent auction at the local community centre for their Taste of the Neighbourhood event. One had originally planned to contribute a piece of garden decor as, out of all the items offered in the Attic, it seemed most likely to appeal to most everyone. But since gardening season is definitely over for this year, a good portion of this past week was spent trying to come up with a somewhat better idea. 

Eventually, a dimly lit lightbulb flickered on over the insomniac's  head, and she decided to create a Hallowe'en Gift Basket for the event instead. And even if most people (excepting those whose Blogs and Facebook Groups the insomniac  stalks) don't start thinking about Hallowe'en until mid-October, it seemed a wiser choice than a piece of taxidermy. Because although the insomniac  herself would bid a good deal of money at a silent auction for a piece of taxidermy, she is well aware that her tastes are certainly not everyone's tastes ...

The creation of the Hallowe'en Gift Basket (slightly modified to become a Hallowe'en Gift Urn, which should prove useful in the lucky bidder's garden NEXT year) did not go well. Following are a few important lessons the insomniac  learned, in case you'd care to attempt one yourself.

Gift Urn and contents neatly assembled on the Dining Room Table  ...

Even having had previous experience creating gift baskets comprised of food and wine, the baskets in question have always been of a substantial size to accommodate the large quantities of wine (and lesser quantities of food). And so the insomniac  was quite baffled when, after adding the very first item, she discovered it completely filled the urn, leaving no room whatsoever for any of the other items neatly laid out on the Dining Room Table.

Important Lesson #1
Pick a Gift Urn large enough to hold the Gift Urn contents.

After Google-ing what one should do in the event one's contents are larger than one's receptacle, one suggestion was to try inserting a piece of floral foam into the urn, inserting wooden skewers into the content's packaging, inserting the inserted skewers into the inserted floral foam, all of which would enable the insertion of many more items into the urn that would not have been possible without all the aforementioned insertions.

The insomniac  chose to use leftover styrofoam to avoid having to make a special trip to the craft store to purchase floral foam. Thinking herself quite clever, she took the styrofoam outside before cutting it down to size. In hindsight, probably far easier vacuuming up the styrofoam bits from the carpet than picking them out of the moss between the flagstones.

Important Lesson #2
Next time, make a special trip to the craft store to buy floral foam.

Next, the insomniac  removed the skull candle from its box and, as suggested by the helpful Creative Gift Basket Hints website, inserted the skewer into the rear of the box. Only to discover when repackaging the candle that it was actually the front of the box and not the back, as originally thought. Not to mention, it was crooked.

Important Lesson #3
Pay closer attention when skewering the packaging
as to where the skewer will actually emerge.

After this slight error in judgement, the remainder of the urn arrangement proceeded fairly uneventfully. Although it's difficult to tell because of the large amount of beige shred laying about, the skull candle is actually sticking out well beyond the rear of the urn, allowing for the insertion of the remaining items left languishing on the Dining Room Table.

Although one would prefer to lay blame for the difficulty in seeing this illustrated in the following photographs to the beige shred, it is more likely attributable to one's weak photography skills. Adding to the list of ideas one should never entertain as potential business plans ... Photographer. Hand Model.

Large Skull Candle Precariously
Firmly Secured with Skewer

Remaining Items Jammed In
Artistically Displayed

Once everything had been added, the Gift Urn and Gift Urn Contents were enclosed in cellophane. After spending a good twenty minutes fussing with the cello, the insomniac  tried another suggestion from her Google research and used a twist-tie to hold the cello together until the ribbon and other adornments could be added. Unfortunately, one twist-tie proved to be insufficient in length to encircle the cellophane, which then had to be released while one joined two twist-ties together, then spent another twenty minutes fussing with the cello. Two twist-ties also proved to be insufficient. Cello released a second time. Three twist-ties joined together. A further twenty minutes fussing.

At this point, one then remembered the Creative Gift Basket Hints website had also suggested removal of the sharp point from the skewer, to avoid risk of potential injury when the winning bidder unwrapped the Hallowe'en Gift Urn. Cello released for the third time. Sharp point removed from skewer. Further fussing. 

Important Lesson #4
Remember to eliminate the pointy end of the skewer
before  enclosing everything in cellophane.

At the conclusion of this somewhat dismal attempt at creative gift basketry, the insomniac  discovered the cellophane pretty much obscured the contents of the Hallowe'en Gift Urn, making it next to impossible for a potential bidder to see what's inside. The event is being held September 22nd, which gives the insomniac  an additional two weeks to come up with a better idea for something to wrap the urn with besides cellophane. The insomniac  is NOT planning on attending the event, to avoid the humiliation of seeing one's donation singled out as the only one in the silent auction without a bid ...

Important Lesson #5
Never give up the quasi-security of Contract Work
for a Hallowe'en Gift Urn Business

In order to end the week on a somewhat more satisfying note, the insomniac  then went on her first Hallowe'en shopping excursion to her favourite discount home decor store, where she purchased the following items: cupcake sprinkles cleverly packaged in plastic coffins; cupcake sprinkles cleverly packaged in plastic test tubes; cupcake holders with a damask skull pattern; a new jumbo-size cup with pictures of a crow, a tarantula and an owl that holds close to THREE cups of coffee - perfect for The Day After a Sleepless Night.

And lastly, this extremely large and magnificent black owl. After setting him down on the Dining Room Table with a dramatic flourish, the spouse remarked he'd seen a nicer one at the hardware store. When quizzed as to the reason why  it was nicer, he replied that it was painted to look like a Real Owl and wasn't Just Black. Apparently, even after all these years, he really doesn't know his spouse terribly well ...

He will grace our Dining Room Table
until he heads outside for the Hallowe'en Night Display ...

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. And as the discount home decor store promises “a new shipment every week”, one anticipates at least another eight more shopping trips before the arrival of Hallowe'en, which pretty much guarantees many sleepless nights planning what to purchase next. Goodnight, my pretties.


PostScript: This week, one was fortunate to have one's contract extended for an additional month, which will allow plenty of time in October for the creation of, hopefully, slightly more successful Hallowe'en crafting projects. This extension has also enabled the purchase of black feathery Hallowe'en trees, batty garlands, orange and black tinsel, glittery owl ornaments, spooky spider lanterns, glittered tombstones and an attractive skeletal arm votive holder for the Attic. One plans on spending the remainder of this weekend figuring out what to order next with one's remaining paycheques, as for those of us who eagerly anticipate this short Hallowe'en shopping season, we are all well aware it comes to an end far too quickly.

And Furthermore: The lovely candles and solid perfume used in the Hallowe'en Gift Urn are from Patch NYC. As one of their wholesale customers, the insomniac  received an announcement email yesterday about the launch of their new collection at Target next week, which includes a number of owl items. As Target has yet to arrive in Canada, one is hoping there will be an online shopping option available ... ** Wide-Mouthed Grin **

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Putting the Garden to Bed or, as the Insomniac  Prefers to Say, Laying it to Rest

Welcome to the Labour Day Long Weekend, which in Calgary heralds the end of summer and the swiftly approaching onset of winter, literally arriving at any time now. Thus, the final garden post of the season, with its limited successes and more than a few failures, which should perfectly illustrate why it's taken twenty-five years for the Gothic Mansion's garden to progress this far.

Theoretically, one should be able to plant without fear of frost after the May Long; the gourds and zucchini froze to death  the first week of June. A Second Planting was required to replace the First Planting, which occurs more often than the Oft Disappointed Gardener (a.k.a. the long-suffering spouse) would prefer. Second Planting consisted of fast growing sunflowers, pumpkins, green onions, garlic and beans. The heirloom beans were beautifully striped with purple and white, but one should have taken a picture of them before  blanching, at which point they all turn into boring-looking green beans. 

Pre-weathered wicker set purchased last week for $40.
So the spouse will have somewhere to sit and rest his cold beverage.

When the weeding gets too strenuous.

Sunflowers are the only yellow plant the insomniac  will tolerate in the garden, other than that big patch of something or other a neighbour thoughtfully donated. One feels it might appear a touch ungrateful to pull them out by their roots.

One much prefers them on the sunflowers than in the attic ...

Although one had planned to order lilies this fall, after the arrival of a new pest in the garden this summer - the Dreaded Scarlet Lily Beetle - one is now reconsidering that decision. Hopefully, the garden's existing lilies will survive this latest scourge.

Asiatic Lilies

Maltese Cross

The Japanese Barberry purchased last fall is doing quite well. Next year, plans for a Diablo Ninebark; with its reddish-purple foliage it should look splendid next to the Barberry's mottled purplish-pink leaves. However, one is including it in the garden primarily for its name. Diablo Ninebark.

Japanese Barberry

Although one had promised photos in August of the lovely dragonfly nypmph statue nestled among the newly planted Black Columbines and Poppies, not a single Columbine seed took and only one Black Poppy seems to have made it. Sigh ...

Here, instead, is a picture of a Pink Poppy - not new to the garden, but one of the few plants that has somehow managed to withstand being frozen, eaten or killed by some sort of bug. As of this moment.

NOT the Black Poppy one had hoped for ...

A few of the remaining original Black Hollyhocks along with a single pink one, which the spouse explained started out black but has been naturalized by the bees. The Black Hollyhock seeds that were planted this spring have done well, and one hopes to have an entire section of them along the driveway fence next year. The whole naturalization thing is putting a bit of a crimp in one's plans for an all-black Mourning Garden though ...

One Black Hollyhock and One Pink Hollyhock

What did do well this year was the Virginia Creeper, which the spouse has started growing up the sides of the gazebo. Being a hardy plant, it's also growing on all the fences surrounding the Gothic Mansion and is already turning a beautiful shade of red.

Virginia Creeper

Also doing well are the pumpkins along the south side of the house, which have now overtaken the sidewalk previously visible through the arbour. The Oft Disappointed Gardener is hoping for a few more weeks of warm weather so the pumpkins can grow a bit larger, thus providing an excellent crop for the insomniac's  Hallowe'en decorating and the eldest offspring's favourite, Pumpkin Pie.  

There really is a sidewalk under there. Honest.


The Spruce Grouse and their new brood finally made an appearance near the end of July. In this picture, six babies and an adult - just off camera, another adult and two (or maybe three) more babies. They frighten so easily, it's practically impossible to get a picture of all of them at once, let alone do an accurate count.

Another prolific year for the Spruce Grouse ...

Among the losses this year:
  • One orange Ghost Koi, who has been Laid to Rest in the compost bin, to be reincarnated next year as fish fertilizer for the garden. 
  • Two large limbs from the Russian Olive tree next to the pond, for reasons unknown. It's a magnificent tree that one would be very sad to lose after all these years. 
  • Three five-year old juniper plants. Evidently it was a bad winter for junipers. 
  • Every single berry off the Saskatoon Bush, which one had planned on making a pie out of. Foiled again for another year by those ingenious squirrels. But if you witnessed the acrobatics necessary to get at those berries, you'd have to admit they were well-deserved.

And finally, a completely unplanned addition to the Gothic Mansion's garden many years ago - a Mountain Ash that magically appeared - courtesy of a random bird dropping, perhaps? One will attempt a picture this winter as the tree is being ravaged of its berries by HUNDREDS of Cedar Waxwings. As you may have noticed, one didn't quite get around to painting the cast iron furniture.

The Rowan Tree

One's youngest female offspring bears the same name -
minus the words THE and TREE, of course,
because that would just be weird ...

And so, this weekend, the spouse is currently “putting the garden to bed” as he likes to call it. And the insomniac? Currently getting the real third-floor attic ready for the first sewing project of the season. And maybe one last Harley ride out to the mountains before the snow flies. Because it is a Long Weekend, which will allow the insomniac  an additional day to attempt to straighten out her petrified joints after a day-long bike ride, before having to return to the final week of Contract Work on Tuesday. Unless the contract gets extended, which would allow one to purchase ALL of the Halloween Decor one would like for the Attic. But if not, then there will be lots of free time available for the creation of thrifty Halloween Projects instead. Either way, it's a win-win situation, don't you agree?

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. The insomniac  doesn't know about you, but she is more than ready for some cooler autumn weather. Preferably after  the Harley ride. Goodnight, my pretties.