Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Seeing what's there

I finished my mystery WIP from last week. It did look very like a skirt in the photo I showed you then, but in fact it is a table runner.

Only I think I need a bigger table! It was meant to live on my sideboard, but it turned out way too big. Even on the table it takes up a lot of space but it’s very pretty. Here’s another photo which gives you a better idea of the colours. They’re so gorgeous.

I had a few random wedge-shaped scraps left after I cut out the table runner, and those beautiful fabrics were calling to me. “Don’t throw us out!” they said. “We could make a really pretty little art quilt.”

I’ve never made an art quilt before, but I’ve been wanting to try for a while, so last night I had a lovely play, sewing random scraps to other random scraps with joyful abandon. I ended up with this: my newest WIP.

Yes, that’s a real leaf sitting on top of this little quilt. That’s why it’s still a work in progress. I have to applique a fabric leaf on there instead, then quilt and bind it. But I got that leaf off the maple in our front yard to help me draw it right.

(Actually the Carnivore got it for me, bless his little cotton socks, at about 10 o’clock last night, when it was probably all of two degrees outside. That’s true love for you.)

Only when he handed it to me, I was shocked at how long and skinny the points of the leaf were. It was nothing like the picture of a maple leaf I had in my head.

And then I realised I’ve lived here for 17 years, and walked past that maple tree day after day – and never known what its leaves really looked like. My mental classification system has just gone “yep, maple, I know what they look like”, without actually seeing what was in front of me.

I suppose classifying is a self-defence mechanism of the brain. If we couldn’t make assumptions based on previous experience, our brains would have to examine and evaluate every single thing we saw and did, every time. We’d be overwhelmed by detail, unable to function. Maybe it’s even a survival skill – “ooh, I remember how sick I felt last time I ate the shiny purple berries, better not do that again”.

But if you’re a writer or an artist, sometimes you have to take the brain off automatic mode. You have to see those details you normally gloss over before you can describe them or represent them visually. You have to listen to what people really say when they’re frightened/ecstatic/overwhelmed, so your characters don’t sound like animated cardboard. (Believe me, I know cardboard – there’s an awful lot of it in Man Bites Dog. The interminable revision grinds on.)

So I’m going to practise being a soaky soaky little sponge, and really see the things I look at. I’ll try to give people my full attention, instead of half listening and half formulating my response while they’re talking. (Unless it’s Baby Duck rabbiting about monsters or X-Men or aliens. I reserve the right to tune out baby babble.) Who knows? I might Become a Better Person. Or more likely I’ll forget – but it would be an interesting exercise, don’t you think?

And speaking of forgetting, I almost forgot to wish my blog a happy birthday. Two years old today, and if not exactly “going strong”, at least still going!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Crimes against the English language

Driving into the city last week I passed a building which housed a kitchen renovation company. Biggest range!! said one sign. DIY or we instal! said another. Then there was the sign, in really big lettering, which they clearly felt was their greatest selling point.

I could picture the brainstorming that must have gone on for the creation of that slogan.

“How about we make it easy?” says the first advertising guy.

“Nah,” says the other one, “too simple.”

“Well, what about we make it simple then?”

“Hmmm. I’m not feeling it. We need something, I dunno, that combines ‘simple’ and ‘easy’.”

Deep thought for a moment.

“I know!” cries the first guy. “We simply make it easy!!”

“Better. It’s just … it’s just …”

We just make it easy?”

“I’ve got it! We just simply make it easy!!”

Talk about diluting your message. “We make it easy” isn’t the most original slogan but at least it has punch. “We just simply make it easy” – not so much. My editor’s soul was itching to rip the useless weasel words right out of there. Lucky I didn’t have a red pen with me, or who knows what might have happened.

It was a day for noticing signs. Further along the road was a branch of a shop that has me shaking my head every time I see it. I can’t decide whether the people who named it have no imagination or they’re deliberately making a very gross pun to make their shop memorable. Maybe there’s just something wrong with my imagination, and other people don’t start thinking about the wrong kind of stools the minute they see a perfectly innocent sign.

What do you think? Would you call your shop The Stool Shop? Even if you were selling stools?

Then there’s Baby Duck. He’s making great progress with his reading this year, but his spelling is still in that adorable phonetic stage little kids go through. His seems more extreme than I remember the girls’ being, though. Often I have to ask him to translate for me.

For instance, he wrote and illustrated a new story this week. The title was “A Gient Giniypig”. Easy enough with the picture of a King Kong-sized guinea pig standing on top of a building fighting off planes. But I needed help with the writing on the bottom of the front cover:

“oftld and ilstchidt dy [Baby Duck]”

Even with his name there I couldn’t pick it. Apparently it says “authored and illustrated by [Baby Duck]”. Silly me.

At Easter he gave me a present he’d made at school. There was a tag attached with my name written on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a misspelling of “Marina” before. You spell it just like it sounds, and most people are familiar with it anyway from boat parking lots.

This is so cute I think I’ll laminate it and keep it forever as a bookmark. Every time I look at it it makes me smile.

Now I shall take off my editor hat and show you what I’m working on sewing-wise at the moment. Hey, it’s Wednesday, and I’ve always wanted to do a “Work-in-Progress Wednesday” post, but selections of my deathless prose from the interminable Man Bites Dog revision just don’t seem interesting enough.

Can you guess what it’s going to be?

How about now?

No? Hopefully next week I can show you the finished thing. I promised my quilting group I’d have it finished by our next meeting, so that will give me some motivation to get on with it. I’m also working on another sock monkey. I got a bit carried away with the stuffing, though, so he’s turning out to be a very chunky monkey. Baby Duck insists I give this one googly eyes, so he could also be a rather scary-looking monkey.

Or as Baby Duck would say, “a scerey looking muker”.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Monkeying around

Some people – often people of the male persuasion – suggest that quilters are all mad. They take some perfectly good bits of fabric, cut them into little tiny pieces, and sew them back together again.

So how’s this for a really crazy idea: let’s vandalise a perfectly good pair of socks.

Aren’t they pretty? So warm and snuggly-looking too. I was almost moved to spare them. My toes would have liked to get better acquainted. But no. They had a higher purpose to fulfil.

I hacked into them with my trusty scissors. Four hours, a pile of toy filling, and many pricked fingers later, I had this:

How cute is he?? Apparently sock monkeys are a childhood fixture in America, but I’d never heard of them till I came across some sweet little ones on Kellie Wulfsohn’s blog. Then I found this great tutorial on how to make them so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Can you guess what my problem is now?

That’s right. I have three children. And only one sock monkey. Thinking of all those dreadful pinprick injuries I had sustained in the making of Monkey One, I suggested to Drama Duck that she might be too old for a sock monkey toy.

Apparently not.

The sacrifices we mothers have to make for our children! Stay tuned for Monkeys Two and Three to join the tribe. Herd? Troop? What is the collective noun for monkeys? In this case, perhaps a cuddle of monkeys. Or a cuteness. In fact, he’s so cute I might need one for myself.

Look out, socks! I have scissors and I'm not afraid to use them ...

Monday, 7 June 2010

One letter makes SUCH a difference

The phantom whiteboard defacer has struck again at our house. You may remember me telling you last year about Drama Duck removing some of the letters from the menu I write up on the whiteboard in the kitchen every week. In that case, “beef skewers” for dinner became “bee sewers”.

This whiteboard also serves as my shopping list. Whenever I realise I’m out of something, I write it on the whiteboard, then transfer the list to a piece of paper when I’m ready to go to the shops. This morning I was hastily scribbling items from the whiteboard on to a piece of paper just before we rushed out the door to school.

Chicken stock cubes: check. Dishwashing liquid: check. Stain remover: check.

Hang on – what’s that next item???

I’d written “chicken noodles”, but some unknown person – which, on enquiry, proved to be the same person who perpetrated the bee sewers – some wicked person had changed the “n” of “noodles” to a “d”. Don’t think they sell those at Coles!

Definitely her father’s genes.