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.