Sunday, 27 December 2009

A story for Christmas

In the deepest part of the pine forest, where the sun barely shone and the frost rarely extended its icy fingers, strange small red and white toadstools had begun to emerge. Pearls grew on their smooth red tops. The legend was, that if a bride gathered the pearls from these toadstools and sewed them to her wedding gown, then her groom would stay forever enchanted and never see her grow old. Some of the larger toadstools had little pearl buttons, and these, if sewn to a grooms gloves, would have a similar effect on his bride.

Bronwen was to be married that winter, and gathering her velvet cape about her and picking up her basket she ventured far into the forest, the hem of her dress picking up pine needles from the forest floor as she went deeper and deeper into the wood. Eventually she came to a spot so densely wooded and dark she could barely see her boots on the forest floor. She could, however, see tiny spots of light, nestled on softly glowing mushrooms - what little light there was reflected in the brilliant pearls on the toadstools tops. She stooped and gathered the strange soft fungi until her basket was full, then, pleased to be heading out of this long forgotten place, hurried back to the cottage.

The day of the wedding came at last and Grüber buttoned his white kid gloves. The pearl buttons he had gathered from toadstools in the wood earlier that December glimmered in the faint winter light. He admired his reflection before he set off to church.

When Bronwen walked down the aisle and stood next to her groom, she lifted her veil and turned to face him. Grüber fell backwards in horror. Her skin was papery, wrinkled and grey, her hair wisps of lifeless cobweb, and her eyes faded and watery. Bronwen gasped, her once handsome groom was wizen, decrepit and toothless!

The couple had overlooked an important part of the forest fable:
'Pearls for a bride and ne'er grow old,
Buttons for grooms to stay young and bold,
But buttons and pearls on the same wedding day
And both will appear in a state of decay'.

Fortunately the Bride's mother was wiser than either of the young couple. She had also made a trip into the pine forest that winter and had gathered the soft brown toadstools that grew alongside the red ones. From these, she had gathered the twists of thread that sprouted from their tops, and had fashioned the cotton into boutonnières, the silky thread intertwined among sprigs of mistletoe and ivy. At once, she sprang from her seat in the church and pinned a boutonnière to each of the wedding couple.

To the rest of the congregation nothing appeared to happen at that moment, but to Bronwen, she saw her groom once again grow handsome, and to Grüber, his bride became even lovelier than he ever remembered.

The couple were married that day and, although, they did of course grow old, they never paid much attention to it, and lived happily ever after, never having cause to venture back to the spot where the enchanted toadstools grew.

The End.

Enchanted: Fabric toadstools in red and brown nestle in pine branches.
Inspired by a tutorial by LucyKate Crafts.

Monday, 14 December 2009

I dream of Narnia

Is the name of this wintery head adornment I made this evening. Ever since I was told the dress code ('festive headwear') for a party this Friday, I've had this creation stuck in my head. It's a little winter woodland scene - in fascinator form! The birds were purchased and are in two positions, flight and perched. They have shimmery aqua in their feathers so I used a pale green vintage damask remnant over a wire and padded frame work to make a headband, wiring in a frostily painted twig before stitching it in place. A bundle of tulle (which forms a veil), a sprig of pine, some silvery sprayed dried grasses and faded green hydrangea blossoms gave the flying bird a soft landing spot. The perched bird shares her arbour with some miniature vintage baubles and a jingly silver sleigh bell. 

Sunday, 22 November 2009

...And then there were five

I have an admission to make. After I had made a few more birds, it became clear that actually I wouldn't be able to part with any at all! Each one began to develop its own character as I sewed, the details incorporating so many magpie findings that the birds started to become too personal to give away - the chandelier pieces that I rescued from a London gutter about 10 years ago, the vintage silver buttons I was given by the owner of a ribbon shop I used to visit often, snowy white goose feathers from a walk round the aboretum this autumn and odd beads that I have had in my boxes so long I can't even remember where they came from. I did, however, source some different bits and bobs for new birds, that will have far less sentimental value to me. These I will be very happy to watch fly from the nest, hopefully to establish some happy memories of their own, with new owners.

Birds of a feather...
Coco - Biscuit coloured, with shimmery wings adorned 
with french knots and seed beads, and a tinkly brass bell. 
Jezebelle  - Tattered lacy plumes and cross stiched wings.
Ophelia - Feathery lace bound plumes on cream damask, 
pearl edging and twinkly chandelier pieces
Ariadne - Silvery seed beads nestle in her white goose feather 
wings and and around her pleated  comb.
Orielle - Embroidered organza lace wings, and a curly wire headdress. 
A silver bell hangs from her belly.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Christmas birds

I am making birds. Here is the first one:

Watch this space for more, as I have a flock to sew for presents. They will all be based on the same cream damask and pewter organza - a sophisticated palette with the emphasis on texture rather than colour. I have some very pretty, tinkly little brass bells for some, and some copper leaves to decorate other ones' wings with. I know I won't be able to part with them, but hopefully if there are enough, I can keep at least one back for my own tree.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Fun and games and terrifying taters

I've always been of the opinion that there should be something to actually 'do' at parties. This is partly why I like fancy dress and themed parties so much. Firstly everyone gets to have a good old laugh at everyone else's get-up (ok, you can do that at normal parties too, but you have to do it quietly in the corner). This in itself bonds a possibly otherwise unfamiliar group of people. Throw a couple of optional activities into the proceedings and even the quietest guest instantly has something to talk about.

At my Mad Hatter's tea party in the summer I devised a couple of little games, which took neither skill, dexterity or talent. The first - 'Lewis Carroll limericks'  is quite self explanatory - write a five line nonsense rhyme in limerick format. To help, I made little cards and wrote the first lines of the limericks - for instance "There was a young man named Hatter". There were about 8 different limerick beginnings to choose from, all using characters from Alice in Wonderland. I was amazed at how quickly the little stack of cards went down as people that didn't even know they could write poetry began to pen all sorts of ludicrous verses. The winning entry won a large cucumber, but I must admit, my judging was rather biased as the entrant had written a limerick which included my cat. The second game at the tea party was the 'Draw a Jabberwocky' contest. Again, I made playing card sized cards, with a space inside a gothic frame for people to draw their interpretation of a Jabberwocky. I stuck them all onto a board, on which I had printed a heading inscribed 'Jabberwocky Gallery'. The portraits made fascinating viewing, and the winner won a tin of potted lobster.

At the Halloween party I adapted similar games for the season. The first, simply a caption contest featuring images from horror films, vintage and modern. The second game was more creative. In an ideal world I would have had everyone carve a pumpkin, but space, time and a fridge already overflowing with pumpkin flesh (more about that later) meant this was not feasible. Inspired by something I read recently about the yearly Humboldt Decorated Potato Competition, and also a dash of the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I set about to construct a 'Terrifying Tater Gallery'. The idea was to make the most gruesomely featured potato head, insert a toothpick into the base and then insert this into a polystyrene display gallery, that I had constructed and hot glued together, then painted black. The addition of a tattered fabric backdrop, and a scroll-shaped sign, completed the stage for the hideous heads.

I was amazed and delighted when I returned to the little gallery some way into the party to discover the creations that had gathered! My intentions were for the potatoes to have their ghoulish features drawn on using a pot of magic markers I had left for the purpose. But an inadvertently discarded pumpkin carving tool had found it's way into use, and some of the potatoes had chiselled features, while none at all had drawn on faces! The cocktail sticks, intended to simply be used to stand the creations up, had been employed in freakishly creative ways.

It's a monster mash! The Terrifying Tater Gallery. First prize (bottom left) fittingly won a packet of potato crisps. Ingenious but sharp little limbs were assembled from toothpicks, hats from spent tealight holders, and one sticky offering I am presuming had been doused with toffee sauce from the buffet table.

Friday, 6 November 2009

A feast fit for the dead, undead and undecided

I shouldn't be entirely surprised that the food preparation for Halloween took two full days. I had expected a cooking extravaganza and I am quite thankful I had planned so many dishes that could be made in advance, or I would have been making a panicky dash to Co-op by Saturday afternoon. Plus, I'd learnt my lesson from the Mad Hatter's Tea Party I held in the summer, where I was still buttering bread for the sandwiches as the first guests arrived! Although it was hard work, everything worked out brilliantly and I had a lot of fun!

The culinary onslaught began on Thursday evening when I made another batch of the Witches Fingers (see earlier post) and continued into Friday when I did the bulk of the prep work - cooking a huge pot of chili and another of vegetarian ghoulash. I also marinated both the chicken and the vegetables that were to be threaded on skewers and grilled on Saturday, and made the cupcakes ready for decorating.

Saturday morning saw me decorating the cupcakes with orange buttercream on the chocolate cakes, and a spider web frosting on the pumpkin cakes. Not the neatest job ever, but I liked how they looked once I'd stacked them on my black wire cake stand and decorated them with orange and green physallis (that came from the greenhouse!). Next out of the dessert factory was a slab of sticky toffee pudding, and the most delicious pumpkin pie. I'd never made one before, and was glad I attempted it this time, because it was easy and yummy.

A batch of garlic mushroom, and spinach and cream cheese tarts finished off the cooking marathon and then I just had to arrange it all, following my little plan. Working out what each dish was going in, and where on the table, so far in advance might have seemed a bit obsessional at the time, but I was glad I had it worked out on the day - one less thing to think about! I'd also made some spooky little signs on toothpicks to go on the food earlier in the week, so I just had to stick these in and I was done. Phew! One huge glass of wine thoroughly deserved and needed!

The purple satin fabric made a brilliant tablecloth and gave the table a funereal air, I left the fold marks in it and it put me in mind of the quilted lining from a coffin! Inexpensive black casserole dishes made great cauldrons to hold chili and ghoulash. The purple fabric was strewn with black plastic flies, centipedes and cockroaches.

Chocolate cupcakes with orange buttercream, and spiced pumpkin cupcakes with a spiderweb frosting, looked great studded with peeled physallis fruits from the garden.

Little cup of slime anyone?

The sign for the dessert display reads 'Indulge if you dare'. Little glass bowls held extra toffee sauce for the sticky toffee pudding, and double cream for the pumpkin pie. I kept finding little plastic mice, that I had decorated the edge of the pie stand with, swimming in the cream, which was a brilliant but unplanned finishing touch!

Post Mortem

One week since Halloween, and I'm still yet to blog some of the things I made, so the full post mortem will occur sporadically. In the meantime, here I am in my full Corpse Bride attire. I have started to make weird little situations in Photoshop for some of the portraits shot at the party, this is mine: Corpse Bride sulking in a suitably blue graveyard. The tiara held up quite well in the end, but gathered a bunch of cobwebs from the twigs I had suspended over the buffet table. Not too much of a problem, they just added to the whole ghostly effect. The make up took about 45 minutes to apply and I ended up wearing the blue eyelashes I bought actually stuck about 1cm below my lower eyeline, it worked well to give a round-eyed, doll-like appearance, and the beautiful blue wig that I worried would not arrive from Hong Kong was perfect, comfortable and didn't budge all night long.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A gruesome display

I made this grim display on top of one of the front room cupboards. It's just out of sight as you enter the living room and walking round the corner to the dining room it really stops you in your tracks! I think it's going to attract a lot of attention on Saturday, each exhibit has it's own identification card, with details of the grisly occupant of each vessel. I gathered a collection of glass vases and jars and grouped them into a nice formation before I started thinking about what was to go in each, one of the larger ones is sitting on a footed glass dessert bowl to give it extra height. The acorn shaped glass dome at the front is the shade from a dismantled vintage light fitting.

Brains and ears and lungs - oh my.

Here's what horror is in each - along with it's not so gruesome everyday description. All the specimens are suspended in a solution made with a few granules of instant coffee and a couple of drops of milk for cloudiness. It's the suggestion of shapes that make the display work, so each item was carefully judged and coloured until the vagaries of outline and texture just remained.

UNDEAD BRAIN - A cauliflower. To get it into this narrow necked vase I had to carefully slice it in two, close to the base, push each piece in separately, and then join them again using cocktail sticks.
VAMPIRIC HEART - A fennel bulb. I found it looked more realistic with the green outer layer removed, so I shaved this off with a potato peeler. The bulb I bought had five sprouting shoots, but I chopped the middle one out to leave just four 'valves'.
LEFT LUNG OF A WAILING BANSHEE - An old sponge. If you have one that's getting to end of life for car washing, then that's perfect as it's likely to be more holey and withered. I shaped the sponge to get rid of any harsh corners or straight edges. The addition of a few strands of red embroidery thread poked here and there into the sponge gives the impression of tendrils of blood seeping through tissue.
SEVERED EAR - Quite literally a rubber ear. I was working on a Halloween magazine this summer, and this treasure was sent in for possible covermount ideas. We deemed it far too creepy, and it was rejected. I rescued it and had it in my drawer till Halloween, it is just perfect for this display!
UNIDENTIFIED SPECIMEN - This is possibly the simplest yet most effective. It's a worn out foam cloth (the kind you buy to wipe worktops) again rescued from the car washing bucket. The weird growth attached to it? Is the strange twisty thing that you might sometimes find in the centre of a red pepper, tied on with a strand of muslin that resembles bandage.
ENTRAILS - noodles, tagliatelle and spaghetti! Boiled briefly to soften, and that's it!
BOLETUS LUPINUS (wolf mushroom) - Mushrooms. I was hoping to find a nice fat toadstool in the woods to place under this sinister dome, but dark evenings left me running out of time.

The whole display was a lot of fun to assemble, even though it left me feeling a little like Sweeney Todd in the process, and the kitchen looking like a science project gone haywire.

Thanks to Neil, official photographer, and scariest costume winner,  for use of the last photograph: Left Lung of a Wailing Banshee and,  foreground, Unidentified Specimen.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Corpse Bride's wedding trousseau

One week till Halloween and I am putting the finishing touches to my Corpse Bride accessories. The shoes have been an ongoing project, sitting patiently on newspaper on the dining room floor, for a couple of weeks. Here's a little round up on how they evolved. I bought a pair of pointy, witchy slingbacks on Ebay for 99p. I didn't much care what the colour or finish was, I just wanted something pointed and elegant and not too high, and these turned out to be just right, but in a navy grosgrain fabric. First step was to prime them with a white undercoat, then paint all over with a pale blue emulsion, I bought a sample pot from Homebase for this job. I then built up layers of blue, cream and a muddy brown so that there was some texture to the finish. Finally, I stuck some fabric and lace scraps on randomly and used a few dabs of a gold iridescent nail varnish here and there. I'm not intending to leave the house in them, but if I were, I'd paint the whole shoe at this point with a matte varnish so they stood up to the elements a little better than these might.

Top left: 99p shoes, reborn. Top right: watching paint dry. 
Middle: work in progress. Bottom: Cockroach toes.

The crowning glory however, are the cockroaches that adorn each toe. These started life as plain black plastic Halloween insects, again bought on Ebay at about 99p for six of the little devils (I bought centipedes, flies and spiders too!). I roughly painted each one with the same blue emulsion and while it was still wet rubbed it off so that the paint just stayed in the cracks and grooves. Then I painted it all over with a thin coat of the gold nail varnish. They look just like dirty burnished metal and I'm very pleased with how they turned out! Here are some flies that I've done in the same way. These are going on the bodice of my outfit so I did them slightly bluer.

And here are the finished shoes, and my tiara, constructed from twigs, dried hydrangea petals, plus an assortment of beads I had in my bead boxes just waiting for the occasion.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Meet Bernard

Bernard is grumpy little bat. I wonder what has upset him? After all, it is only a week till Halloween, when all the other little bats are having a whale of a time, being spooky and doing bat things. I think it might be his lack of flight that gets him down, both metaphorically and physically. His tubby little velvet body just wasn't built for swooping and whooshing, and his crinkled cotton wings have seen better days judging by the frayed little patches on them. 

Ah, I think I know what the trouble is. Here we see him perched on the bird table - he scrabbled all the way up there with his furry wool and wire feet after spotting something with his beady button eyes. But bat eyesight is not that great, as the old saying confirms, and what has he found? 

Mouldy old almonds left over from last Christmas! Now that's enough to make anyone frown. Better luck next time, Bernard!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Time for a lie down - the buffet reaches obsession point!

Some new finds for the Halloween buffet table today sparked a devilish little diagram of what vessel the food will go in and where. OK, a trifle obsessive, but I've always been fascinated by those arial photographs (usually apple varieties or wash day equipment) that are often in Martha Stewart Living. There is something about a labelled diagram that makes me want to read every caption, and the precise placement of items that evokes a calm sense of organisation (even if they don't evoke the actual organising).

So here we have it, I think it's Martha meets Madam Talbot (she of the vintage poison bottles) in style. I'd also like to think a little forethought will come in handy on October 31st when I'm frantically trying to get Toadstool Tarts out of the oven with my freshly blue-painted Corpse Bride hands, but who am I kidding, it will be fortunate enough if the 'Goblin's Toes' don't end up in one of the cat's bowls.

Here is the glassware that sparked this sudden urge to get organised. All at around £1 a piece, from my favourite local charity shop. The weirdest and most wonderful being an odd footed glass dish, complete with dangling silver spoon, that I thought would be perfect for the Sour Cream, er... Bat's breath.

Morticia was mortified to find that someone 
had polished off all the pre-dinner nibbles.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Creepy Canapés

I did a dry run today of the morsels I am planning to serve with drinks on October 31st. I'd been pondering something ghastly to offer people from the Ghostly Platters I bought a few weeks back and hit on the idea of severed fingers! But what to make them from? I thought I'd try a savoury pastry idea, cause it would enable me to form little knuckles and joints, plus paint on some gruesome detailing with a little food colouring. The addition of a slivered almond made the perfect fingernail, but I also tried pumpkin seeds which worked well too. I wanted to know how many digits I would get from one batch of the shortbread mixture - it gleaned 28, but I am still wondering exactly how many severed fingers I am going to need, cause they really are quite yummy plus they are *dead* easy to make!

Here's the recipe:

Witches Fingers 
(a cheese shortbread dough)

You will need:
100g plain flour
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
100g butter
50g grated parmesan
25g strong Cheddar cheese
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp olive oil
red, yellow and green food colouring
slivered almonds or pumpkin seeds
a little beaten egg to glaze

Make your fingers:
Dice the butter and rub together with the flour, salt and cayenne until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the grated cheeses and mix with a knife. Add the egg yolk and olive oil and bring together to form a dough. Rest the dough in the fridge for 25 minutes during which time preheat your oven to 170 degrees centigrade and butter a baking sheet.

Roll out the dough to about 15 mm thick and cut into strips about 15mm wide. Cut the strips down to varying finger sized lengths then shape each piece into a finger by rounding off the sides and pinching in either side of where a knuckle might be. Leave one end of the finger blunt, as if it's been chopped off, and shape the other end to a rounded point. Paint a slivered almond on one side with a little of the beaten egg then push it into the rounded end to resemble a fingernail. Then mix one drop of each of the food colourings to make a murky reddish brown and paint the base of each nail, a few lines across the knuckle, and the stump. Place all the fingers as you work on the baking sheet, then lightly brush all the fingers with the beaten egg.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until crisp and golden. Rest them on the sheet for a few moments before transferring to a cooling rack as they are quite fragile when just out of the oven.

Give your guests the finger this Halloween!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Pumpkin Risotto

The Mock Turtle rsvp'd to my halloween invitation by means of bringing over half a pumpkin. So I made risotto for lunch! This is how it went:

You will need:
half a medium pumpkin
handful of sage leaves
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 bay leaf
largish wedge of butter
1 large onion
1 level tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
175g of risotto (arborio) rice
1 pint vegetable stock
salt and pepper
a good amount of parmesan cheese

What you do:
Heat the oven to 200 degrees c . Cut the pumpkin into wedges, remove the seeds and pithy part and put in a roasting dish. Pour a little ground nut oil into the hollows where the seeds were and rub over the flesh with your fingers. Tear a few of the sage leaves and scatter over the pumpkin, split the bay leaf and lay it on top then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the hot oven for about 30 minutes until the edges have turned brown and crispy. *

When the pumpkin has cooked remove it from the oven and let it cool for a bit, then chop it into big chunks (about 1 to 1 and a half inches, any smaller and the pumpkin will disintegrate too much, and the risotto has a nice texture if it is chunky) removing the skin as you go. Meanwhile, chop the onion quite finely and melt a generous amount of butter in a large saucepan. Fry the onion gently until just brown, then add all the spices, and the rest of the sage leaves torn into pieces, fry gently. Then tip the chopped pumpkin in and stir well. Add another good dollop of butter at this point so the rice can get coated in it, then tip the rice in and stir till it's all coated in buttery spices.  Add the vegetable stock, stir again, then season to taste. Cook gently on a low heat, stirring regularly until the water has been absorbed and the rice is al dente. Add lots of parmesan shavings just before serving, serves 2 greedy people or four not so greedy people. YUM.

* I sewed on horses legs while I waited for this stage, but that's an entirely different post, and you can do whatever you like.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Bill, the school sock elephant

This is Bill. He is a grey school sock elephant. Because the school socks were a mismatched pair, one being slightly smaller than the other, and slightly different shades of grey, he has a kind of pie-bald effect and slightly odd ears. I like it that the toes of the socks were a little worn and so his ears look a bit moth eaten. I hit a major dilemma when I realised, that because one sock was rather small in the foot, Bill's head was going to end up a tiny bit small, so I had to improvise, and now Bill sports a snug blue fleece beanie with matching scarf. 

On Monday Bill will be reunited with his original school sock wearing owner, of the same name, I hope they will be very happy together.

Project inspired by the book 'Sock and Glove' by Miyako Kanamori

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Ghostly platters

I snapped up three silvery platters in the charity shop this week, for £1 a piece, that will be just perfect for serving ghostly nibbles on. They go very nicely with the one shown in the invitations pictures. I found the twig with the grey lichen in the forest the other day and was rather taken with how the dull lichen contrasts against the shiny steel, and how similar the formation and patterns were together. I've been spraying it with water, but don't think it's going to hold up till Oct 31, so I captured it here while I could.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Season's greetings

I can't think of a better time to start a blog about the stuff I like to make in RL than Halloween. This time of year inspires me more than any other, even Christmas. I suppose because my dusty, falling-apart-at-the-seams, Miss Haversham kind of style sits very well with all things eerie. This year I decided to really throw myself into the spirit by holding a Halloween 'gathering' (smaller than a party, but more than a few friends), so there will be more than the usual smattering of spooky projects on the go.

And without further ado - here are the invitations! I was wondering what to do for them, when I stumbled upon a pdf archive of gothic novels (Poe, Shelley etc) and it occurred to me how much atmosphere is lost in this impersonal format, rather than reading the stories from the faded pages of an antique leather bound book. And at that point I thought - how about making miniature gothic novels as invitations?! 

A prototype was constructed, using two pieces of 4mm black foam board to make the thickness of the book, and a stock vintage book jacket image was sourced, tweaked to make it look even more menacing, and worked into the paper jacket design. The collage on the left page uses a Victorian bat species illustration, a tiny day of the dead woodcut, and a ghostly spectre button. The right page: a repeat layer of the book jacket, cut through to reveal a human skeleton diagram and the invitation wording. 

The finishing touches were a single miniature dried hydrangea flower, a frayed brown organza knot and a ribbon tie, to keep the little novels closed until guests receive them, sent in black tissue paper lined envelopes.