Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Magic Moments

Bookcrossers take photos of road signs. We're that cool
Isn't it great when you have a nice weekend of geekery planned, then, out of the blue, Brian Cox announces he's gonna be doing a book signing. Boo yhea! So, on Friday afternoon I toddled off to Waterstone's with a  copy of the new Wonders book tucked under my arm (I felt mildly guilty pre-ordering from Amazon rather than buying in the shop, but it was half price. And I really don't like Waterstone's much at all... too much of a corporate atmosphere). I'd intended on hooking up with Emma, but our travel plans went a bit skew-whiff so we ended up queueing separately - and oh my what a queue it was. Britishness at it's very best - no one talking to each each other but exactly the right amount of head nodding and polite smiles to acknowledge mutual interests. Plus, as a bonus, it was so long that the shop staff commented on it! Which was great for Coxy (I can call him Coxy now, I've met him - I've *gulp* touched his hand - we're basically best friends) but forced Emma & I to cancel our post-perving coffee plans - a shame.
Absolutely worth it though - Coxy was charming and polite (if a little bewildered looking); happily signing books, not laughing at my request that he use the silver pen I'd brought (it's prettier than black Sharpie, OK? I'm allowed to be girlie sometimes)  and even letting me get a picture with him (for which neither of us were ready, so we both look like mongs. Hurrah).

Given the queue length (not a complaint. I love a good queue, and this one was in a bookshop. That's two of my favourite things. I read half of Shappi Khorsandi's biography - am planning on finishing it in WHSmith's this week while waiting for the train) I had to totter straight off to meet Martha for our trip to Swindon, dragging a quintillion books (approximately) because it was Uncon time. Oh yes.
Moment #1: a school playground, kicking out time, huge bags of books in tow, peering around to locate Martha. About a billion knee high things running around when I realise one of them is taking books out of my bag. When it's mum noticed, she explained that the girl had assumed that the stuff in my bag - a stranger's bag (and lets face it they don't come much stranger than me) - was a present for her. This clearly defies all reasoning, and confused the bobbin-pin out of me
Moment #2: after 2 hours on the south circular on a Friday evening, hitting the M4 Martha cheered about how we were 'nearly there.' Clearly my friend had been driven (boom boom. I'm on fire tonight...) mental by a combination of traffic, diversions and my incessant Wolf-is-God chatter.
Moment #3: Swindon. The Magic Roundabout. What the fuck is that all about then?
Martha & I had been nonplussed at all the pre-Swindon magic roundabout banter, assuming it to be some sort of decorated roundabout. Little did we know. It's so much more than that. Best part is, the town planners down at Swindon HQ, in their infinite wisdom, decided to give unsuspecting tourists about 100 yards notice that the thing is approaching, and even then the sign manages to simultaneously confuse, terrify, explain nothing and over-simplify everything. Congrats. Our recommendation, should you find yourself in the middle of this hell-vortex (and it will be the middle. You'll be in the middle before you know it's there. You can't back away and hope it won't suck you in) is to point the car in approximately the right direction, close your eyes and put your foot down.Good Luck.
Once we actually made it to the hotel, we headed off to the pub as arranged, for an 'Icebreaker Event'. A combination of words which strikes fear into my very heart, and it seemed rightly so, for immediately upon arrival at the pub we were attacked by one of the more deranged Bookcrossers wanting us to help her complete her 'Getting to Know You Quiz'...
*A Short break from the advertised programming*
Bookcrossers are all a little bit odd. It's a good thing, because who the hell wants normal? But some of us are a little further along the spectrum than others. the Uncon is basically a weekend long game: try to find as many of the relativity normal people, whilst avoiding the total nut-jobs (further complicated by two facts: the freaks sometimes go in disguise, so you don't know that's what you're dealing with til too late - you need to keep an 'oh no, my allergies are playing up, I'd better leave' excuse to hand at all times, and also the oodest ones are like the ghosts in Pacman - they will seek you out.) and all the while resisting the lure of the book buffet.
*we now return to our scheduled viewing*
... which we thought sounded about as much fun as ice fishing in our underwear, so we quite simply ran away. Back in the hotel bar we hooked up with a few fellow escapees who were already known to us, so we could safely sit down for a spot of rum. As events at the pub petered out and everyone returned our allergies started playing up, so we invited Becky up to our room for a couple of bottles, a catch-up  and to smoke out of the window. We're such rebels.
Despite out best attempts, none of us were hung over the next morning, so we headed off to breakfast.
Moment #4: Becky, eating sausage and bacon, without benefit of either cutlery or crockery...
I'd have liked to hear Joseph D'Lacey speak, but, as it was at 9.15 in the morning that was just a non-starter. By all accounts he was very nice despite the ungodly hour. 
So my first official activity of the day was The Ffordian Bus Tour around The Seven Wonders of Swindon - expertly guided by Geoff and utterly hilarious. Why is there a statue of Diana Doors outside the shopping centre? Who the hell is Diana Doors?
Moment #5: kneeling, in a kind of Muslim-at-prayer position alongside a B road in a provincial town, taking a photo of a dodo reading a book in front of a road sign
Moment #6: realising, having been reminded by car hoots, that stockings and a miniskirt is not an ideal outfit for this activity
Off the tour bus and on to lunch...
Moment #7: Being expected to believe that a toasted baguette is a panini. I'm never leaving London again.
Jasper was an excellent speaker, very funny, quick witted and informative. He built a good rapport with the audience and created a nice informal atmosphere (despite the woman who got so excited she nearly jumped up on her chair in attempts to answer a rhetorical question). After the speech, he kindly signed my spoons (red handled, Shades of Grey fans should notice).
We pottered off to the raffle draw, and predictably failed to win anything, and were then treated to a surprise poetry reading
Moment #8: a slightly overweight lady grabbing her own boobs in front of a room full of strangers
Our little posse of bookcrossing renegades had to whip off for an early dinner at this point as Rachel was driving home after we ate, and didn't want to be too late - so off to the local Indian we tripped (literally in my case - when wearing my beautiful-but-impractical Kurt Geiger's, tripping is the only method of foot-based transportation available). The food was tasty and the d├ęcor nice, but the waiter's were a bit rude
Shhh!
Moment #9: getting Bitchy looks for talking from a woman sat near us. It is not permissible to engage in conversation with your friends within the town borders of Swindon, apparently.
After our nosh we returned to the hotel bar where Ali taught us Shithead, a very silly but entertaining card game
Moment #10: Card games as a spectator sport. More people watching than playing. All the spectators maintaining complete silence (obviously they knew the rule about talking in Swindon).
The card game eventually fell apart and various elements headed off to bed, but not me, nocturnal badger that I am. I headed over to join a contingency of Irish BCers, who, aided by a Belgium and an Ex-Aussie, kept me entertained until the early hours of the morning. I'm definitely heading over to Dublin 2012 :D
Moment #11: Meeting a Belgian who was not weird. Well, not too weird. I didn't ask if he likes jazz...
Sunday morning got off to a good start as I thoroughly confused everyone by going to breakfast in my pyjamas. I really didn't think it was odd, but according to the various bamboozled faces it must be. ho hum.
Given the bleedin' English weather and my general intolerance to mornings, I opted out of the release walk, but buggered off back to the room to have a long hot bath and sink into one of my newly acquired books, before heading to lunch with my favourite South-West England based Kiwi
Moment #12: Swindon does not serve food on Sundays after 1pm. What did I say about never leaving London again?
I suspect that narrating the rest of our evening would mean giving away details of Alan's private life that he'd rather I didn't tell (bet that's piqued your curiosity) - needless to say I I used a combination of alcohol and physical torment to wheedle a few tasty titbits out of him.... about which my lips are sealed ;)
Noisy, Nosey Noodle xx

Friday, 1 October 2010

Clone Your Own...

Snagsby has issues reaching the last of the Reese's
Brought to you by The Goliath Corporation 

(kind of a follow up to my dodo-for-Jasper-Fforde story)
Cloning your dodo should be fairly easy - there's a bit of sewing, but it's all quite simple. Each one takes me about 4 hours to make, but that will depend on how fast you sew. It's a good idea to read through the whole instructional before you start to sew to ensure you know what the end idea is, and understand the concept of how each bit fits together to prevent mistakes. Of course feel free to adapt at will - if you want a dodo with 18 wings and 5 feet, who am I to stop you? You can also leave comments or chuck me emails if you have questions

You will need:
* Socks - one pair of grey (or body colour of your choice), one pair yellow/orange (or whatever beak & feet colour you want). If you picked up one of my 'Clone Your Own Dodo' packs you'll have one yellow knee sock instead of a pair - they're bigger, so you only need one. A few notes on socks if you're buying your own: think about the texture - you can get all sorts of interesting knits but the woollier your sock the quicker the weave will unravel once you cut into it so the faster you'll need to sew; size matters too, baby socks will give you a cute baby dodo, but be fiddly to work with. I would recommend not buying really cheap socks, as the material tends to be thin (meaning once you stuff it, the stuffing shows through, particularly important here where you're using dark coloured grey socks), and quite often the toe structure will be wonky, which will mess up dodo's body shape.
* Stuffing. You can buy Toy stuffing in bags from most haberdashery stores (or here at Sew & So - the best price v's quality trade off I've found so far), or buy pillows/cushions and gut them. Don't use old pillows coz the stuffing will be lumpy.
* A Trick marker pen or Dress-makers chalk
* Scissors.  
* Pins - optional - for if you find it easier to pin before you sew, though I never bother.
* Buttons or googly eyes. A pair of 'em. Again a matter of taste as to size, colour etc...
* Needles (or a sewing machine) & thread. I sew my sockies by hand, as I like my craft projects to be portable, but there's no reason you couldn't use a machine if you prefer.
* Thick paper (or thin card. whatever) to make templates from -  I use bits of magazine cover. if you've got a 'Clone Your own' pack, you may find it easier to back the templates with thicker paper. If you don't have a pack, simply make your own templates, following the shapes on the templates image below.
Right... set and ready to go? good

Body & Tail
One of the best things about making a dodo is that you do the body & tail first, meaning you really quickly feel like you're making good progress - hurrah for morale boosting easy starts!

Lay one of your grey socks out on it's side, and cut through both layers along the red line shown in Fig 1. You're basically removing the ankle and cuff section from the heel, foot & toe. Then take your orange sock; cut off & discard the cuff section. Cut 4 or 5 strips about a centimetre thick (as shown by the blue lines in Fig 1. you're really appreciating my skills in Paint now, aren't you?), and put them to one side for a minute. The grey toe and foot section is going to form the body of your bird (the heel will be the tail, along with your orange strips) - and you're already good to stuff it. See what I mean about quick progress? You may want to experiment a little with density & shaping, the finished effect is basically dependant on what you do here here so play around until your happy. 
Once you're good to go, sew running stitch (fairly large) where the green line is in fig 1 (imagine that line going all the way around your sock) - don't tie it off yet, pull the thread tight to ruche up the fabric until you've NEARLY closed the tail section off - pop in the ends of the orange strips you cut earlier, so that most of the length sits outside as the tail, with a kind of grey hood formed from the heel of your body piece. Tighten the running stitch and tie it off, then further secure your tail feathers with ladder stitch. Cut the grey heel-hood into strips (be careful not to cut to far, stop just before the line of running stitch). Don't worry if the lengths look a bit odd right now, that's one of the details it's best to leave to finalise at the tail end (Boom boom) of the project.

Beak 
Turn what remains of your orange sock inside out, lay it out neatly on a flat surface and draw around your beak template with trick-marker or chalk (use the rest of the ankle section if there's space, otherwise use the foot section). Sew through both layers of sock using backstitch - leaving the dotted line section unsewn for stuffing. Cut out your beak, leaving 3-4mm seam allowance all the way around, and turn right way out. Personally, I prefer to stuff the beak quite lightly, but that's a matter of taste, and the important thing is to create a distinct shape with a bobble at the end. once stuffed you should find that one lip has a slight overhang at the seam- that's the upper beak.

Head
Take the grey ankle piece you cut off earlier, remove & discard the cuff. Cut about 2/3rd (that should be around 2 inches, maybe a little more. If in doubt, take more than you think you need as you can always trim down later) off, and turn that section inside out. Sew a line of running stitch around one end (leaving about 3mm seam allowance) and pull tight, in the same way as you did for the tail (but pull all the way closed this time) and tie off. 
Turn the whole thing right way in again, so that the seam allowance on the joint you just made is on the inside. Roll some of your stuffing into a head-sized ball (sorry. I can't think of anything the right size to compare it to... I have a cold and my head is full of fog so I'm not too hot on the ol' writing skills today. to be honest, I never am really. Why are you reading this? Bigger than a ping pong ball, smaller than a tennis ball. I don't know of any sport that entails appropriate sized equipment - I can think of a couple of other activities that might, though). Follow the same process again, sewing a line of running stitch around the open end of the head, but, like on the tail, don't pull all the way tight. Insert the open end of the beak into the opening and close up the gap as much as possible, then secure with an extra row of running stitch, this time going through both the grey & orange sock. The seam allowance of the grey sock should be allowed to sit outside the head, creating a kind of feathery, broken line effect where the joint to the beak sits. Your Dodo's head is finished, aside from attaching eyes, which I always leave til the end as it's so important for giving your sockie expression I prefer to do it once all the other pieces are in place, that way I can play with positioning and decide how they look best in full context. 

Neck
Take your remaining grey sock, and cut from the ankle section a rectangle about 1 1/2 inch by 2 1/4 inch. Fold in half along it's length, keeping the right side in. Sew the short edges to each other using over stitch, to create a short narrow cylinder of sock. Turn the right way out, and sit one of the open ends onto your dodo body (turning in a small seam allowance). You may want to pin or tack the neck on first to ensure an even circular shape, once your happy secure with ladder stitch. It's a good idea to stuff the neck quite firmly to ensure it doesn't bend under the weight of the head. Then simply repeat the process of pinning & ladder stitch to attach the neck to the head (consider what angle you want the head to sit at, and keep the head the orientated so the beak sits the right way up & faces forward).

Feet
Right. Grab your remaining orange sock (or sock bit) and turn inside out. Take your foot template and draw around it in (trick-marker or chalk) twice. Sew around them in backstitch (leaving the instep open as indicated by the dotted line, for turning out & stuffing), and cut out leaving 3-4 mm seam allowance (you may need to leave slightly less between the toes).  
Then simply turn right way out (here's where your pokey thing  comes into play, getting into the toes), stuff (play with how densely you want to stuff it - different amounts may alter the shape of your feet) and sew up the instep with slip stitch. Position them as required on the base of your dodo and attach with ladder stitch
Wings
Take what remain of your second grey sock, and cut off the heel/ankle section and the toe, basically leaving yourself a grey tube of foot section. Chop that in half to make two shorter tubes, and lay one half out flat, at an angle, on the dodo body, like in the picture (I'm struggling to describe this in words. Damn head cold!). Sew a line of backstitch through both layers of wing and onto the body, about 2/5ths of the way down the wing. 
Fold the top 2/5ths over the top of the bottom section, thus hiding your stitches and creating a two layer wing effect. Slice up into the wing to create 4 or 5 slices (don't go all the way to the top). This should leave you with a number of loops, which, if you tug on slightly (go easy here at first - you can always pull a little harder if you choose), will stand out from the body more.

Final Touches
You are basically done now - just a couple of details to attend to. First off, and entirely optional, you may want to trim the tail a little to shape it (if you leave them long & tug on each strand, they will curl. Purtty!). Then position & sew on the eyes (for people used to sewing buttons on clothes, it's best NOT to use the shank method here, as the eyes will flop around if you do, so just use normal button stitch).
Et voila! You're done!
I suggest you now move to Swindon & join SpecOps (division of your choice. personally I've opted for 24. I'm all about the art crime since someone stole WarHorse & sold it to Spielberg. Bastards.)
Nxx
PS. totally not official or in anyway endorsed by Mr.Fforde. Though he did name check me in his blog (did I mention that already? oh)
PPS. Now totally endorsed by Fforde (see comments below) rock on mo-fo