Saturday, January 31, 2009

Birds of change update

My small flock of phoenixes is now winging its way to Arizona (how fitting) for Creative Kismet's birds of change exchange

This was a fun and challenging project and I plan to write about the process of heat-coloring copper in an upcoming post. In the meantime, here are a few more photos. 

The whole flock, finished and strung. 

A quorum of the flock, at a good angle. 

Color detail.

Wing color detail. 

More photos can be found on my Flickr page

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Art on the job: biology under the microscope

Ah, work. We love to hate it, and we hate to admit that sometimes, just sometimes, we love it. Sure, you have that looming deadline, the inconsiderate jerk in the next cubicle over never learned to chew with his mouth closed, and you forgot to put the cover sheet on your last TPS report. But I'm betting that there's also that one little moment in the day where you stop and take note of something beautiful in your surroundings.

For me, the unexpectedly bizarre beauty of the microscopic world greatly contributed to my enjoyment of the hours I spent in front of a microscope during graduate school -- and believe me, there are a lot of hours in six years. I'd retreat to the lab's windowless microscope room, shut the door, crank up KEXP, and spend half the day watching beautifully odd little creatures live their beautifully odd little lives. 

I'm convinced that artistic inspiration can be found in most jobs, and this post is the first of an "art on the job" series in which I want to reveal the creative muses lurking in nominally non-artistic workplaces. I'm starting with biology because I write what I know. 

All of these images are either in the public domain or under Creative Commons licenses that allow me to repost them here. 

Cross-section of the root of an orchid. Image by Antoine Hnain and found here on Flickr. 

Cross sections of fluorescently-labeled mouse blood vessels at 40X magnification. The one on the right has been treated with a drug that helps it retain its smooth muscle cells (in green). Image by Michelle Olive/NHGRI.

If this looks like a monster, that's because it is. This is a schistosome, or parasitic flatworm, that lives in the blood of its host. A scanning electron microscope took this image at 256X magnification. Public domain image by Wetzel and Schaefer/National Cancer Institute.

Fluorescently labeled cardiac muscle cells. Image credit: Dr. Andrew McCulloch, UCSD/National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. 

This image of pollen from the oriental lily, Lilium aratum, was taken with an electron microscope. 

The natural fluorescence of live mouse skin cells, imaged non-invasively with a laser scanning microscope by JonathanPalero on Flickr.

Fluorescence of polytene chromosomes from the salivary gland of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Polytene chromosomes form when DNA is copied but the cell doesn't divide. Image credit: Elissa Lei/NIH, found here on Flickr. 

Who would have thought that mosquitos were so pretty up close? Image by Adelaide Microscopy and found here on Flickr.

A beautiful image of mouse cells in telophase, the part of cell division where the DNA (in blue) has already divided and the two resultant cells are beginning to separate. Image by Lothar Schermelleh and found here on Wikimedia Commons.

If you're looking for more inspiration from the very, very tiny, check out the Nikon Small World galleries

So what are your favorite beautiful science photos? Or how are you artistically inspired in your non-artistic job? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

drum roll, please…

And the winner of the copper phoenix is: 
… Ben and Taryn! Send me (wendy at buildmakecraftbake dot com) your mailing address and I'll send the phoenix your way. 

I picked the winner by counting up the eligible comments and randomly selecting one using this random number generator. It's truly random, not pseudo-random, meaning that the number isn't generated by a computer algorithm, but from an unpredictable physical event, like rolling a die or flipping a coin. Since computers can't roll real dice, this site uses radio receivers to pick up random noise from the atmosphere and turn it into random numbers. Pretty cool.

Thank you so much to everyone who commented and entered the giveaway. It's very encouraging that you like my crafty creations. I'll be posting a few more of these phoenixes on my Etsy site in a week or two. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

DIY simple acrylic jewelry display stand

As a newbie to the craft fair scene, I couldn't afford to buy fancy displays for my table. So I headed over to my local plastics store and poked through their scrap pieces until I found the parts to make my own. Fantastic plastic place, indeed! Everything I bought was pre-cut, and they gave me a sample of acrylic polish for free, because they're nice like that.

How to make an acrylic T-style display stand

For each stand you'll need:

  • sturdy rectangular base piece at least 6" by 6"
  • 1" diameter acrylic rod (8" long for bracelet stand, 12" to 16" for necklace stand)
  • half-round acrylic piece, 12" long
  • 2 end caps
  • acrylic cement
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • a ruler
  • a marker or scribe

Step 1: Assemble your supplies in a well-ventilated room, or outdoors. The acrylic cement is a bit noxious. 

Step 2: Find the center of the large acrylic rectangle and mark with a scribe or marker. If you're using clear acrylic, the scribe is best -- marker will show through. The size of the base piece isn't that important. It just has to be wide enough to make the whole thing stable.  

Step 3: Apply a small bit of acrylic cement to one end of the round acrylic rod and press it down onto the mark you made on the base piece. Acrylic cement is easiest to apply with a small syringe, like those used for insulin injections. I didn't have any handy, so I just got a dab on the end of a toothpick. Once the center rod is in place, you can apply a little more cement to the edge of the seam. It'll wick in between the pieces and fill any remaining gaps. Apply light pressure and hold the pieces together for a minute or two. 

Step 4: Find and mark the middle of the half-round acrylic rod. 

Step 5: Cement the half-round rod to the top of the round rod, forming the arms of your stand. Let the whole thing cure for a couple of hours. 

Step 6: Stick something on the end of the arms to keep your jewelry from sliding off. I used a few European coins that I squirreled away after a trip I made a decade ago. Use cement if your end caps are acrylic; otherwise use hot glue. 

Step 7 (optional): Polish the acrylic to remove any small scuffs or scratches.

Your stand is now ready to use! The cement bonds will be strongest after they sit for a day or so. 


Acrylic cement: $5.30 for 4 ounces

12" frosted round acrylic rod: $5.10 (clear is cheaper)

12" half-round clear acrylic rod: $2.35

8" by 6" by 1/4" clear acrylic base: $3.20

end caps: reused = free

Total spent to make a large stand: $10.65 for plastic, $5.30 for a can of cement that I will use on other projects, too.


Other tutorials to check out: 

Quick & easy homemade pendant display

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Birds of change exchange and giveaway!

Regina from Creative Kismet is hosting a "Birds of Change Exchange." Basically, 70-odd craftsters from across the internets are flooding her snail-mailbox with 5 small, handmade bird decorations apiece. She'll mix them up and send a selection back out to each participant. We'll hang them up in our homes and be inspired all year. I can't wait to see what I'll get. 

Regina says she wants these birds to "help serve as reminders throughout the year to be hopeful, positive, and open." Now there's a theme I can get behind. In fact, I think a phoenix is in order. A copper one, scarred by flames, starting anew.

In addition to ones I'm making for the official exchange, I'm giving away a sixth copper phoenix on this blog. Leave a comment below by 11:59 pm Pacific this Thursday and you'll be entered to win. I'll announce the winner here on Friday. You may comment as many times as you like, but you'll only be entered in the contest once (I'm talking to you, Mom).

[Update 1/22: Deadline extended to 11:59 pm on Friday 1/23 since my blog was unavailable for a while yesterday.]

Monday, January 19, 2009

Infused vodka: the short version

Two Decembers ago I got all fired up about do-it-yourself infused vodka. I made eleventy-three flavors and promptly gave them all away as Christmas and Hanukkah presents. Now, with the holidays safely past, I’m making some for myself!

Infusing vodka is very easy. You can use pretty much any combination of fruit, herbs, spices, vegetables or candy, although some ingredients require several weeks to produce the best flavor. But here’s a quick trick: use tea. You have to steep it longer than you would to make your afternoon cuppa, but an hour or two should give you some deliciously flavorful booze. I made up a pint this evening and let it sit while I prepared some fruit-infused versions. In no time at all I had a tasty drink to go with my dinner. Because nothing complements a cheese quesadilla like rooibos peach vodka on the rocks, right?

The other flavors currently infusing include blueberry vanilla, blood orange, and cucumber. I'll post recipes for them once they're done. In the meantime, try the tea!

Tea-infused vodka
  • 1 pint middle-shelf vodka (I used Svedka)
  • 1 tablespoon loose tea
  • an airtight glass jar
  • a secondary glass container
  • something to strain with (cheesecloth, coffee filters, or a tea strainer will all work)

Simply pitch the tea in with the vodka in a clean glass jar. Seal and give it a good shake. If you are using an herbal tea, shake occasionally and do a taste test after 30 minutes. I used
rooibos peach bloom tea from Teavana and let it sit for a total of 90 minutes. If you are using black tea, test every 10 minutes. For green tea, test compulsively -- things can turn bitter after just a few minutes -- but try to let some make it past the testing phase, okay?

Once the flavor is to your liking, just strain out the loose tea (here’s where the secondary container comes in handy). Store in the airtight glass container in the fridge, freezer or even at room temperature, but keep it out of the sun.

Welcome to the world, baby blog!

What better way to launch this blog than with a post about a baby blanket? New beginnings all around. 

In crocheting, I’m an advanced beginner. “Beginner” in that it takes me ten minutes to remember how to get started; “advanced” in that I like variety in the stitches and colors I use. I make a scarf or two when the weather turns cold, the occasional hat, and blankets for friends’ babies. 

I’m still suffering from overexposure to the color pink during my childhood, so there was no way I was going to make a blanket for baby Alyssa in traditional girly colors. But I don’t like the bland pastel shades marketed as baby blanket yarn, either. Babies need color! I settled on some bright, froggy greens and got to work using the granny squares pattern printed in the label of the Caron yarn as a guide. (I used Caron Simply Soft and Red Heart Soft Yarn. Both are 100% acrylic, super soft, reasonably priced and easy to find.) 

I made 24 squares of sage and dark green, alternating the inside and outside colors. I edged each square with the bright green and then connected the squares together with a whipstitch of bright green (easier than it sounds). 

Here's the seam:

I had planned to do a shell stitch around the assembled blanket to give it a scalloped edge but it looked better with a simple dark green single crochet border so I stuck with that. 

One thing I learned from this project: 24 squares with 3 colors apiece + 8 connecting seams + 1 border, all with 2 yarn ends left dangling per color = far, far too many loose ends that must be woven back into the body of the blanket! That’ll teach me to go crazy with the color changes. 

Finished blanket: 

Welcome to Build/Make/Craft/Bake, a blog about how and why we construct the functional, the wearable, the edible, and the beautiful.