Friday, September 25, 2009

Pickled garlic

Well, this should take care of those pesky winter vampires, don't you think?

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, I'd love to hear your recipe suggestions for pickled garlic… 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Golden cloth from the silk of a million spiders

Photo: AMNH

It sounds like something from a fairy tale: a golden cloth, woven from the silk threads of more than a million spiders. But it's real. In Madagascar, a team of over 70 people spent more than 4 years collecting spider silk, which a dozen weavers spun and wove into an 11-foot tapestry that is now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. 

Photo: AMNH

It's the largest cloth in existence made from spider silk, which is stronger than steel by some measures. Scientists have been trying for years to synthetically produce the silk in usable quantities. 

The project, led by textile experts Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, relied on the silk of golden orb spiders, which were caught, milked for silk, and released. My apologies to the arachnophobes in the audience for this photo:

Photo: Peers and Godley

The New York Times and Wired both have interesting articles on the cloth, which will move to London after six months in New York. See it while you can. 

Those of you who haven't been scared away by this post may also be interested in reading this interview I did last year with UC Riverside spider silk researcher Cheryl Hayashi. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crafty writers

My neighborhood is pretty rad. Coffee shops and bars are welcoming and comfortable, hidden gardens abound, and it's an easy walk to art stores, grocery stores, a farmer's market -- and the library. 

Have I mentioned how much I love the Multnomah County library? It's fantastic. Just yesterday I stopped by my local branch for a presentation by craft book authors Diane Gilleland, Susan Beal, and Alicia Paulson. I was inspired by all three authors and also by the size of the audience. Crafty creative types are everywhere in Portland!

The authors talked about how they got started writing craft books and gave advice and technical tips for aspiring authors.

A couple of highlights:
  • Diane, who wrote Kanzashi in Bloom and produces the CraftyPod podcast, pointed out that publishers want you to have a platform -- that is, people who already follow your work. Do you blog? Do you have a huge Facebook following? Have you gotten publicity for your craft work? Those details should go in your book proposal.
  • Susan, who blogs at West Coast Crafty and has written three books -- one without an agent and two with -- said that getting an agent was the best business decision of her life and that agents can increase book deals by more than the cost of their 15% commissions. 
  • Alicia, who wrote Stitched in Time and blogs at Posie Gets Cozy, suggested just focusing on the quality of your work and not trying to predict craft trends. One of those pieces of advice that seem really obvious, yet I wish more people would actually follow it. 
The library recorded the talk and will be posting as a podcast sometime in the next few weeks. Hopefully you'll be able to hear the speakers over the uproar of knowing laughter when someone asked the question, "How do you keep crafts from taking over your home?"

[Edit 10/13/2009: The podcast is up on the Multnomah County Library website now.]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Call for art: light

The Re:Vision Gallery at SCRAP in Portland, OR, is looking for art for a juried group show in October. I'm reposting the call here. 
Perhaps you create art that is illuminated, sculptural lamps or chandeliers made from lightbulbs? Maybe you create portraits from lamp parts. Whatever your focus, if it has to do with Light, we want to see it!

All work must contain 75% reused materials.

To apply, please send 3 jpgs, a description of your work (including dimensions) and a statement on how your work directly relates to the theme to 
Deadline: ASAP!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Skating with Scissors!

The Rose City Rollers are having a craft bazaar this Saturday with over 100 vendors. I'll be there…will you? 

What: Skating with Scissors Craft Bazaar
When: Saturday, September 19th, 11 am to 7 pm
Where: Oaks Amusement Park (in the hangar), 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, Portland, OR (map

More info here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An email forward I can get behind [creative reuse]

I got an email forward from my parents yesterday. Silly joke? No. Safety warning? Nope. Super cool example of creative reuse art? You bet. 

Telephone sheep by Jean-Luc Cornet at the Frankfurt Communication Museum. 

I saw these phone cord sheep wandering around the internets a while ago, before I started this blog. I love that people are so inspired by this charming example of creative reuse that they're still emailing it to friends and family a year (or more) later. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Microbes in glass

"E. Coli", a glass sculpture by Luke Jerram
I think a lot of people assume that when you look at bacteria or viruses under a microscope, they're colorful. Mostly, they're not. Often they're clear. 

Color loses it meaning for organisms that are are no bigger than a single wavelength of visible light, like E. Coli bacteria or smallpox viruses. The color seen in many biological images is there for one of two reasons: (1) because the technique used to image the microbe produces color (for example, fluorescence) or (2) because it's nicer to look at when color is added, either more aesthetically pleasing or just plain easier to see.

"Smallpox", "HIV", and "Unknown Future Mutation", by Luke Jerram

So Luke Jerram's blown glass microbiology sculptures, in addition to being timely, are that much more interesting because of their transparency. 

Check out this great video of the process of making an HIV sculpture: 

I came across these sculptures while reading the blog of Carl Zimmer, who is a fantastic science writer. Many of his articles are available online here

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jeannie Paske's Obsolete World [Sunday spotlight]

"Let Me Tell You a Story", by Jeannie Paske

Last December's Crafty Wonderland holiday sale started off with a bang -- the sound of my car skidding into a curb as I tried to navigate the icy roads on the way to the convention center. It was the first day of Portland's Great Snows of '08, but even so, more than a hundred people were lined up for the sale. 

And can you blame them? I was lucky to be there, vending alongside fantastic artists like Jeannie Paske, Faryn Davis of Fernworks Fine Art, and Jenny of Orange Peel Enamel

I was particularly excited to see Jeannie's paintings and prints, which I recognized as I passed by her booth. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure I went a little fangirl. Fortunately she didn't hold it against me and recently agreed to a brief interview. 

B/M/C/B: Can you tell me a little about the world inhabited by your characters?

JP: Obsolete world was created by me as a place for the various creatures and monsters inside my head to reside in 2006. I view it as an older, long abandoned world where the residents had spent much of their time pondering their surroundings, usually in vast fields under sweeping skies. I strive to create a bit of curiosity and introspection in my work. There is always a childlike side of me that wonders, whatever became of this place and where are all of these creatures now?

"In Search of a View"

"Forgetting the Sky"

When did you first begin making art?

I started drawing with my older siblings when I was very young. It was one of my favorite things to do as a child. Second only to cartoon watching and most of the time, the two went hand in hand. I remember my dad bringing home scrap paper from work and it was like Christmas.

"Such is the Cost of Immortality"

What's the creative process like for you?

I am a day-dreamer and an observer, so when I see something that catches my eye or sparks my interest I'll do a rough sketch in my sketchbook and later, I'll go back and rework it onto canvas or watercolor paper.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Shaun Tan, Jim Woodring, Quint Buchholz, Michael Sowa, Bill Waterson, Theodore Geisel and Jeff Smith

"Away from the Order of Days"

What are you working on now?

Just finished work for a show at Rivet Gallery in Columbus, Ohio and I am taking a break for a few weeks.

"Former Lives Rain Down"

Where can my readers find your work?

On my blog and website, or my Etsy store. I sell originals at and at I have a list of brick and mortar stores that carry my work.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rug designs based on aerial landscape views

I'm really digging these handmade wool rugs by Liz Eeuwes (please don't ask me to pronounce that last name!). They're like colorful countryside views from an airplane. The one above is based on the Scottish countryside, and this one is inspired by tulip fields in the Netherlands: 


[via MoCoLoco]

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Knitted and crocheted science

Knitted dissected frog (and photo) by Emily Stoneking

Discover magazine has a small but cool image gallery of science in knitted and crocheted forms, including a knitted brain, the great crocheted reef and, yes, a turquoise and pink sweater with the periodic table of the elements. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A semi-scientific approach to homemade vanilla extract

Months ago I saw a post on Chocolate & Zucchini about making your own vanilla extract. After my past adventures in infused vodka (for drinkin'), I was intrigued, especially by Clotilde's comment that using rum instead of vodka as the base results in a tastier extract for baking.

Mad scientist that I am, I decided to test this out. Luckily, Costco sells normally pricey whole vanilla beans for a song. I picked up a pack of 10 for something like $11.

The plan
  1. Make vanilla extracts with vodka, rum and -- why not? -- 190-proof grain alcohol (a.k.a. Everclear).
  2. Judge the deliciousness of each in a series of blind taste tests. 
  3. Take over the world. Give the tastiest to foodie friends for birthday and Christmas presents.

Vodka-based extract after 2 days. Is it just me, or does that bean look like a leech?

The recipe
  • Slice each vanilla bean lengthwise so the alcohol will reach the tasty seeds inside. If necessary, cut up the beans so they will fit in the jars you're using. 
  • In a 1-pint glass jar, combine at least 1.5 beans with 1 cup of rum, vodka, grain alcohol, or other potable solvent of your choice. By the way, these do NOT need to be top shelf alcohols.
  • Cap the jar and shake vigorously. 
  • Store in a cool, dark cupboard for a minimum of 6 weeks. I sort of forgot about mine…they sat for 4 months. 
  • Check for color and flavor periodically, if you remember. Shake the jar to help the infusion process along. 
  • Don't take the beans out, just use it as-is and leave the rest to infuse more and more and more.
Here's what my extracts looked like after 4 months of infusing. The grain alcohol is in the middle. See that difference in color?

The taste tests

I decided to test out the extracts in both this vanilla wafer cookie recipe and homemade whipped cream. I also decided to test them against store-bought vanilla extract, in this case Trader Joe's bourbon vanilla extract. 

To make sure the vanilla really stood out in both recipes, I doubled the amount I'd normally use. However, there was no way for me to use the store-bought and homemade vanillas at the same strength, as I didn't know how much vanilla went into the little jar from TJ's

For the cookies, I made the dough, divided it into four portions, and added the same amount of the different vanillas to each portion, and baked everything for the same amount of time. 

For the whipped cream, I whipped 1 pint of cream with about 1/2 cup sugar, divided it into four bowls, and added the different extracts. 

I labeled the cookies A, B, C, and D and the whipped cream bowls 1, 2, 3, and 4. This made it into a blind taste test because my guests didn't know what was in each. 

The results: whipped cream

Whipped cream tasting samples. 

1. Whipped cream with TJ's vanilla. People said (without knowing which vanilla it was):  
"Nope -- too strong (more than 4)." 
"Wendy-made (could be store)." 
"Good attack, finish kind of disappears. Super vanilla?"
"Strong vanilla, store bought I think. Perfumey."*

2. Whipped cream with homemade vodka vanilla. 
"Dig it. Subtle." 
"Wendy-made, a little sweet"
"Store bought, very sweet."
"Sweet. Second favorite."*

3. Whipped cream with homemade grain alcohol vanilla
"Between 2 & 4." 
"Even taste throughout, sweet, light, least favorite (mild)." 

4. Whipped cream with homemade rum vanilla
"Too strong."
"Wendy-made. Bourbon whiskey? My favorite." 
"Even taste throughout, deeper than #3, eggier."
"Complex. Rum? Favorite."*

The results: cookies

A. Cookies with homemade rum vanilla.
"Halfway between B & C."
"Delicious - nice & buttery, my other favorite."
"Good, tasty."
"Good. Can't tell."*

B. Cookies with homemade vodka vanilla
"Strong vanilla."
"Too sweet for me, but still good."
"Good, mild."

C. Cookies with homemade grain alcohol vanilla
"Better, more buttery."
"Good, mild, least flavorful."
"Spread out less when baked, more tough texture."*

D. Cookies with store-bought vanilla
"Very strong vanilla, but buttery."
"Awesome -- my favorite."
"Good -- most vanilla. (Same as #1?) Store? Favorite -- most intense."

* My comments are singled out because they weren't quite blind (that is, just because I forgot which was which didn't make it an officially blind taste test).

Results summary

Overall, the consensus was that the rum-based homemade vanilla was best in the whipped cream (the vodka one was a close second), while the store-bought vanilla tasted best in the cookies. People expected the homemade extracts to be stronger than the store-bought, but that wasn't the case. The store-bought extract smelled much stronger than the homemade ones, and I think that adding more vanilla beans to my extracts to to beef them up would make them better for baking.

Have you tested your own vanilla extract? Let's hear about it in the comments.