Death of Rats

Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors, and so when I saw this little guy at Joann’s, I just had to get it and turn it into the Death of Rats. Here’s how I did it:

He’s made of some sort of plastic, so first I used a heat gun on his arm, to get it into a better position for holding the scythe. First I twisted the lower arm to get the hand in to the right orientation, then I did the shoulder and upper arm to lower the arm a bit, and finally I heated the hand and wrapped it around my dowel rod to get a nice grip. Since he’s going to be wearing a robe, it doesn’t matter that his bones are now a bit deformed.

For the scythe blade I took an empty tea light, cut out the bottom and then straightened out the remaining strip. I free-handed a blade shape on a little piece of card, traced it out on the metal strip and then cut it out. I used a couple of dabs of low-temp hot glue to attach it to the dowel rod, which I had already cut to size and painted a darker brown.

Uh-oh, he’s lost his head! I discovered that he was made in pieces and screwed together at various points. This was super convenient, because I wanted the blue pinprick in the eyes effect and this made life a lot easier. I took the head apart, drilled a hole in each eye and then dabbed a bit of black paint around the holes, and inside the skull (the theatre tech in me insisted).

For the lighting, I got a 3v blue LED, a battery case for a 2032 battery and a small slider switch. I cut a hole in the back of the head for the switch. Once I get the hooded robe on it, it won’t be noticeable. After testing my connections, I soldered everything together and added a couple of daubs of hot glue as insulation (couldn’t find the electrical tape), and I glued the battery case to the inside of the skull.

Here he is with his head back on.

I still have to make his robe, and I’ll post a finished picture of him once I’m done.

Knitting for Me

What with all those WIPs* I finished for the Ravellenics, I found, when they were over, that I only had two long-term WIPs left. Both of these are projects I’ve been making for myself, and as often happens, they get put aside when I start something for other people and end up lingering. So, though I do have some projects to start for other people, I decided I’d treat myself and finish both of these first so I can wear them this winter, and enter them in this year’s County Fair.

I tackled the older of the two projects first. I started this vest in 2010! Poor thing. The pattern is called Elizabeth of York and it’s from Alice Starmore’s Tudor Roses book. I’m really pleased with how it turned out. As far as technique goes, it’s a very simple pattern; just knits and purls, some wrapped stitches and a single-stitch bobble. The challenge comes in keeping track of your place in the 36×48 chart, especially when you’re in the midst of a decrease section and your starting points keep changing. The pattern is for an open vest, but I prefer at least one or two closures, so I added a couple of clasps, which could be added as an afterthought and didn’t require me to change the pattern.

The second of the two projects is nowhere near as old as the first. I cast on in January of last year. It’s a pair of Norwegian-style mittens, with a Doctor Who theme. I’ve finished the first mitten and am about halfway through the second.

*WIP = work in progress

Ravellenics!

This year, for the first time, I participated in Ravelry’s Ravellenics games – a time for Ravelers to challenge themselves, which runs contiguously with the Olympic games. To make things more fun, the organizers set up events for us to participate in, such as the Hat Dash, the Cowl Jump and the WIPs Wrestling (WIP = work in progress, and in this case referred to projects started before the opening ceremonies).

My first challenge to myself was to make something crocheted. I learned to crochet over ten years ago, made the center motif of a doily, and then beyond the occasional edging, never touched it again. So for my first project I made a crocheted baby hat.

I also made a knitted baby hat (my knitting group makes hats for newborns and preemies at one of the local hospitals). These were my two Hat Dash entries.

I had a baby sweater and a pair of socks that were about a third done, and two other projects that essentially just needed finishing touches. I entered all of those in WIPs Wrestling. (you may recognize those sweaters – I’m making toddler sized versions of some of the ones I made last year)

I also made a hedgehog for the Toy Toss:

And for my most ambitious project, a two-colour brioche cowl for the Cowl Jump. This was my first attempt at the brioche stitch and my second challenge to myself.

I didn’t watch much of the actual Olympics, beyond the opening ceremonies, but had lots of fun challenging myself with these projects.

Drop Biscuits

I tried my hand at an 18th Century cookie recipe today, and it turned out great!

The recipe is from Eliza Smith’s The Complete Housewife (that links directly to the recipe’s page – folks outside the US may not be able to access it). I first came across it in this video.

This is a very simple egg-leavened cookie. You start by combining the eggs and sugar and then gradually add the flour, then beat the batter to the ribbon stage (and it’s definitely more the consistency of cake batter than of cookie dough). Despite what the guy in the video says, this will not take an hour in a stand mixer. I let mine run for about ten minutes on medium to get it to the right consistency, and I probably could have stopped a minute or two before that. Even with a hand-held electric mixer it won’t take an hour.

Since it was going to be mixed so vigorously, I used cake flour instead of AP, and I added a little bit of almond extract, just for fun (I’m going for yumminess, not historical accuracy).

The recipe recommends doing a double-bake, in order to drive out the moisture and get a super crispy cookie, so after baking them at 400 F for about 4.5 minutes (the video suggested 5 – 6, but my oven runs hot), I let them cool completely while the oven cooled to 250 F, and then popped them in again for 10 minutes. The first bake goes really quickly, so you have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t brown.

They are great! They’re super crispy, but not hard, and they just melt in your mouth. I made little cookie sandwiches out of the ones I taste-tested, with some dulce de leche. Yum!

UPDATE: It occurred to me that these had a similar structure to lady fingers, so I decided to try them in a trifle. As far as texture goes, they’re spot on, but they are a little bland. I think next time I might add a pinch of salt to the batter just to give it a bit more depth, and maybe a little bit of lemon extract instead of the almond.

Knitting thoughts

I’m working on a new baby sweater for a coworker who’s recently adopted a toddler. The pattern is called Metamorphic, and if you use three shades of the same colour, you get a cool ombre effect. I’m doing it in shades of brown.

Metamorphic Sweater

I’ve always known that I’m a tight knitter, but it was really driven home to me when I started this sweater. The pattern calls for DK weight yarn, but I could only find three shades of the same colour in worsted. For a normal knitter, this would mean that you’d have to go down a needle size to account for the thicker yarn, but when I started swatching, I found I needed to go up a needle size!

I’ve never been tempted to instagram my food, but it occurred to me this past week, watching a few friends at knitting circle trying to get good shots of their projects, that we look just like those food bloggers when we’re doing so. I have found myself perching on a step stool perched on a chair to get the height needed to photograph some of my larger projects.

Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery

My latest LibriVox recording is out!

Rainbow Valley is the sixth book in the Anne of Green Gables series. In this book, the narrative switches from Anne to her children and their friends the Merediths.

This is my last Anne book to record for LibriVox, since the remaining Anne books are, unfortunately, still in copyright in the US.

Ten From Infinity by Paul W. Fairman

My latest LibriVox audiobook has just been published. Ten From Infinity is a Science Fiction novel by Paul W. Fairman.

LibriVox audiobooks are free recordings of public domain publications.

The summary from the book jacket:
It began when a pedestrian got hit by a cab in New York City. No doubt it was the only motor mishap in the history of creation that reached out among the stars—for far out in space a signal was registered: Something has gone wrong….

And something had gone wrong, for the doctors discovered their accident patient had two hearts. It was the beginning of the discovery that the Earth had been invaded by 10 such creatures from Outer Space.

Every effort was made to learn their purpose. An orbital flight was launched to spot alien bodies—only to be destroyed in space. One of the alien men was captured—but no threat of pain or death could unlock the secret in his brain.

Something had gone wrong. And somehow, some way had to be found to make it right—before the threat of danger overwhelmed all mankind.

Parental guilt trips

So about ten years ago I made this shawl. It was my first attempt at large scale lace, and I only made it because I wanted to try my hand at a big lace project. I don’t often wear shawls, and so it stays in my closet most of the time. About the only time it gets use is if I need such an item for a theatre costume. My mother has seen and admired the shawl for the last ten years, but shown no particular interest in it. Then last December I loaned the shawl to a friend to use as part of her costume in Miracle on 34th Street and a picture of it ended up on facebook. My aunt admired it and commented that she wished I’d make her one, so I said she could have this one. My mother’s reaction, “You could have offered it to me!” *sigh* Mothers. So now I’m making another, identical shawl for my mother, to keep the peace (I gave her the choice of taking the original one, and I’d make another for my aunt, or of getting something different. This was her choice.) At this point in its construction, it looks sort of like a mermaid’s tail.

A Charming Magic by Tonya Kappes

My latest audiobook has been released! A Charming Magic, by Tonya Kappes, is the 5th book in the Charming Cures Mysteries.

Publisher’s Summary
Bubble, Bubble….
Magic is floating all around Whispering Falls. There is a new flower shop, Magical Moments, and an upcoming wedding that has the town on cloud nine.
Cures and Trouble….
Arabella Paxton, the owner of Magical Moments, is smart, beautiful, and has her eyes on Oscar Park. Not even the dark cloud looming over Whispering Falls is going to stop her from what she wants.
Magic Stirs….
Village president and A Charming Cure owner, June Heal, is on a mission to find out why things are dying in Whispering Falls, including her relationship with Oscar Park.
And Trouble Doubles….
There is a perfect storm brewing and a beloved Whispering Falls resident has been poisoned from a potion bought at A Charming Cure. June Heal has to use all her sleuthing skills and a little bit of magic to not only clear her name but help Oscar remember that she is the love of his life.

Sweaterpalooza is over!

I’ve finished the last of the baby sweaters for friends who’ve been having babies this year! I have this half feeling that I should make one more, so it’ll be an even dozen, but there’s no way I’d get it done before the end of the year. 🙂

This pattern calls itself “Easy Aran”, but the only cabling is in the top section just below the collar. The rest of it is more of a guernsey (also known as gansey). For those who aren’t familiar, traditional Aran patterns (the knitting style that originated in the Aran Islands, which are part of Ireland), tend to incorporate lots of texture in the form of cables, where the stitches are worked out of order, in order to pull them in one direction or another, and form what look like plaits, or sometimes, diagonal lines of stitches. Guernsey patterns originated on the Channel island of Guernsey, and also incorporate texture, but tend to knit/purl patterns instead of cables. In both cases, these started as fisherman sweaters, and needed to be thick and warm. The texturing traps air, and depending on the stitch, can double the thickness of the fabric, making it warmer.