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Mitzi Bytes: Shoes Dropping All Over The Place

Last month I was lucky to be chosen as a first-reader for a new Canadian novel as part of the Harper Collins Canada First Look program. What a delight to read Mitzi Bytes, the first novel by indomitable blogger Kerry Clare whose words and thoughts I’ve long admired and giggled over. And due to this admiration, what a relief that I really did enjoy the book – whew!

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Here’s the back-of-book blurb so you have the gist of the plot:

Sarah Lundy has a secret online life, and it might all come crashing down.

Back at the beginning of the new millennium, when the Internet was still unknown territory, Sarah Lundy started an anonymous blog documenting her return to the dating scene after a devastating divorce. The blog was funny, brutally honest and sometimes outrageous. Readers loved it. Through her blog persona, “Mitzi Bytes,” Sarah not only found her feet again, but she found her voice.

Fifteen years later, Sarah is happily remarried with children and she’s still blogging, but nobody IRL—not even her husband or best friends—knows about Mitzi. They don’t know that Sarah’s been documenting all her own exploits, as well as mining the experiences of those around her and sharing these stories with the world. Which means that Sarah is in serious trouble when threatening emails arrive from the mysterious Jane Q. Time’s up, the first one says. You’re officially found out.

As she tries to find out Jane Q’s identity before her secret online self is revealed to everyone, Sarah starts to discover that her loved ones have secrets of their own, and that stronger forces than she imagined are conspiring to turn her world upside down.

A grown-up Harriet the Spy for the digital age, Mitzi Bytes examines the bonds of family and friendship, and the truths we dare tell about ourselves—and others.

It’s funny to sit down and write a blog about a book about a blogger! But here we go. I’ve not read Harriet the Spy – but a quick internet search and synopsis-read reveals the book’s parallel/homage relationship to Mitzi Bytes, with protagonist Sarah’s blog serving as a modern-day notebook full of wonderings – not always kind – about those surrounding her now that her own life is happy but hum-drum and no longer exciting fodder for blog content.

I admire how utterly and absolutely author Kerry Clare captured Sarah’s life as a work-from-home, artistic-sort mom to two little kids of 5 and 7 years. I am just such a human, very much in the throes of balancing mom duties to two young kids, my work-for-pay from home, and my own creative work. I laughed and sighed and felt many feelings of camaraderie with Sarah. I had the sense throughout Mitzi Bytes that Sarah and I would be able to have a cup of tea and be instant kindred spirits. There is no doubt that I am the living, breathing demographic for Mitzi Bytes!

The part of Mitzi Bytes that was most unputtabledownable for me was when Sarah (who blogs under the pseudonym Mitzi Bytes) finally gets outed, the ramifications are as varied as are the characters  she wrote about. It’s a fantastic array of reactions once the truth is out! As things fall apart for Sarah, I enjoyed this imagery:

“She’d been waiting for it. There were so many shoes. The sky was raining with them.”

I’m glad that Clare didn’t subject her protagonist Sarah to an about-face in personality upon her reckoning. Sarah is stubborn and complicated and lucky through to the end. She’s not an entirely likeable character, but she is utterly relatable – she feels real and dimensional, her inner dialogues like so many I’ve had with myself-as-audience over the years. I loved that Sarah was as much sorry about being caught as she was for hurting anyone she’d observed or portrayed in her Mitzi blog over the years. I couldn’t help but cheer for her in the end!

I so enjoyed the inclusion of Mitzi’s “archival blogs” that were well-woven in-between chapters, giving us a sense of Mitzi’s voice and evolution over time. I fact I would have happily read more of them – though to be left wanting more is probably a good thing. I had the urge to go check the Mitzi Bytes blog a number of times while I was reading, only to remember that it’s a fictional blog! It felt like a blog that could/should exist.

As someone who’s blogged a bit, sometimes regularly and sporadically of late, I enjoyed the descriptions of blogging now  versus in the early 2000s throughout Mitzi Bytes. The ubiquity of blogging today is so different than 15 years ago when there were fewer options and the form was in it’s infancy. Clare is a master blogger herself – she teaches the art and work of it at university – and it’s interesting to see her thinking, experience, and evolution creep into Mitzi Bytes, giving me a real sense of “now” as I read.

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MitziPatternPreviewPS: I’ve taken up my practice of cross stitch pattern design again after months away from it. Looking at the Mitzi Bytes cover, it struck me that it offered a great challenge to work with colour gradients. And so crafty readers, I humbly offer up my interpretation of the excellent graphic cover of Mitzi Bytes! If you’re a stitcher and you enjoy this image, you’re welcome to the pattern (download below) – I don’t have time to stitch it up right now, so if you do, please share!


Mitzi Bytes Cross Stitch pattern – pixels

Mitzi Bytes Cross Stitch pattern – pixels w/ symbols

*To save pattern, click on link, choose “export as pdf” under Files and save to desktop.*

 

Mollie Mondays: Paper Pieced Needlebook

Welcome to Mollie Mondays! You can read up about this little project of mine on the original post HERE. Basically after years of reading Mollie Makes magazine and collecting the little free projects that come with each issue (because I never found the time to make them!), I was able to sit and make a bunch of them last year while bound to my couch for 6 weeks due to a severe ankle injury. I’m sharing the results here on Mondays!

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This sweet little needlebook is the first Mollie Makes magazine freebie project I ever made. I’d just learned to English Paper Piece and this seemed like a good challenge with it’s tiny paper hexagons.

I do love me a needlebook, they’re charming and useful! In fact I use a needlebook almost everyday – I’ve got a selection of needles readily, visibly available, it doubles as a pin cushion, and I tuck extra embroidery thread in it’s fabric pages while I’m working on a project.

This hello beauty and her floral hexagons has been my buddy for about a year now, and going strong!

Til next Mollie Monday … stitch well.

 

Mollie Mondays: Fabric Flower

Here I am with the second edition of Mollie Mondays! You can read up about this little project of mine on the original post HERE. Basically after years of reading Mollie Makes magazine and collecting the little free projects that come with each issue (because I never found the time to make them!), I was able to sit and make a bunch of them last year while bound to my couch for 6 weeks due to a severe ankle injury. I’m sharing the results here on Mondays!

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After teaching Kanzashi Flower making at FACTS (Fashion and Creative Arts School) in Blyth, Ontario last week, I’ve got flowers on the brain. This is the first little fabric flower brooch I ever made and it’s spawned a love for fabric flower making – there are so many possibilities from brooches to garment and hair decorations to bouquets and so on! Isn’t this one a charmer?!

Til next Mollie Monday … stitch well.

A Villainous Stitchalong …

Umbridge_2I’ve been wanting to try cross stitch design software for a while, and this month I found the perfect reason: &Stitches’s Fictional Villains Stitchalong.

Using Ursa Software’s MacStitch program, I referenced a photo of my chosen fictional villain and freehanded her into the program. And I am super excited with the result – which is still in progress, but you’ll get the gist.

I knew I had to go with my favourite Harry Potter villain, the saccharine, pink-loving Professor Dolores Umbridge. Her most insidious student punishment at Hogwarts is the black quill, a horrifying thing that makes me shudder just to think about! So obviously I had to work that into the pattern as well …

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Umbridge: “Not with your quill, you’re going to be using a rather special one of mine. Now I want you to write, I must not tell lies.

Harry: “How many times?

Umbridge: “Well, let’s just say, as long as it takes for the message to — sink in.

I loved the MacStitch program, even working in the most basic demo version, and am now the proud owner of it. So look out cross stitch world, I’m going to be pattern-happy for a while now I imagine!

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A fun selection of floss for this pink extravaganza. I do so love working in a monochrome pallet and fits the bill nicely. I’m so excited to finish off with the “blood” stitched words, “I must not tell lies.”

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And then I was off to the stitch races, watching heaps of bad shows on Netflix and stitching away! Pure contentment. I think I’ll have to watch Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while I finish her up this weekend, it’s be gruesomely satisfying to to have to tiny-stab her hundreds of time through her Aida cloth canvas!

Fallow Period, Brick & Mortar

Fallow: (Of farmland) ploughed and harrowed but left for a period without being sown in order to restore its fertility or to avoid surplus production. – Oxford Dictionary

SpoolLounge_OPENAfter an intense fall and winter of stitching, stitching, stitching products for my Pocket Alchemy lines of baby things and little felt matryoshka dolls, I set that work aside and shifted my focus abruptly and dramatically when an amazing opportunity presented itself.

I’ve been busy with my dear friend and fellow maker Laurena Green, developing and opening Spool Lounge, a proper brick and mortar sewing studio and shop in downtown Barrie, Ontario. We opened just four whirlwind-months ago in early March!

Our story is told beautifully on our Sunday Crush profile so I won’t repeat it on this blog. Suffice to say that a lot of stars aligned suddenly and we leapt off a cliff and landed with a lovely shop and a buzzing business.

Then a mere six weeks after opening Spool Lounge, I missed a step while going downstairs in the 3am-darkness to grab a diaper for my wee lad and ruptured my achilles tendon. Which necessitated a major slow-down and has been really, really good for me, though challenging – particularly the mothering on a dodgy leg bit! Three months later I find myself here, just able to take my first unassisted steps on my nearly healed but now weak and tight left foot. Small mercy – it wasn’t my driving or sewing foot, whew!

I couldn’t resist embroidering my initial emergency room splint since it was wrapped in flannel and I had four days of waiting around to see a surgeon, soft tissue not being as urgent to treat as broken bones. I was then cast in a “pointy cast” – much to my dancer-self’s amusement – and the tendon was left alone to heal back together over six weeks. No surgery! Amazing. Now I’m in a walking cast and am slowly stretching the tendon back to a 90-degree standing position. Lots of physio and pilates to stretch and strengthen my depleted left ankle and side.

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I’ve been doing lots of hand embroidery (heavenly!), teaching classes at Spool Lounge, learning to be a merchant (Wholesale Accounts! Customers! Marketing!) and balancing mothering and achilles rehab (with grace and success all the time, obviously!).

My boys are enjoying being shop kids and have adjusted remarkably well. They are now stitching up a storm themselves in fact!

And so now, after a delicious and required fallow period on my “own” work, I’m turning my weather-eye back to my matryoshkas, going to photograph the ones I have done and finish up some of the bigger dolls that I started in the fall. My embroidery stitches are refined and I’m excited to get back to my little ladies, who I’ll be able to work on in my new studio space!

The Berlin Baby Quilt

This spring I accepted one of the most heartfelt quilt commissions I’ve ever had the pleasure to receive. In my head I call it the Berlin Baby Quilt — but really, it should probably be called the Euro-America Quilt since it represents 11 friends in 11 cities: Helsinki (Finland); New York (United States); Paris (France); Murnau (Germany); London (England); Montpellier (France); Vienna (Austria); Copenhagen (Denmark); Munich (Germany); Bordeaux (France); and Berlin (Germany).

Berlin Quilt Multi View

I received the commission from my dear friend Lisa from dance school days –she was the one who tucked my unsure-and-2000-miles-from-home-in-a-big-city-self under her wing on the first day of classes, offered me her unconditional friendship, shared a locker with me (which we wallpapered in floral drawer liners, obviously!), filled me in on years of complex history and dance politics for that community, got me my first independent costume commission, and danced in my first piece of Toronto-student choreography — that kind of friend. Solid. The kind you never forget however brief your time was together and always feel warm and grateful towards.

Lovely Lisa circa. 1998 in front of our floral locker and sporting performance make up. She may kick me for including this, but she's so sweet, non?! I couldn't resist!
Lovely Lisa circa. 1998 in front of our floral locker and sporting performance make up. She may kick me for including this, but she’s so sweet, non?! I couldn’t resist!

She’s one-of-a-kind and is now a rock-star level arts educator and administrator in New York City (lucky city to have her, they have no idea!). But I digress.

So Lisa called me with this commission idea from her and a tight group of European friends … these friends of hers are part of a circle of 11 who all met during their studies and travels. Each lives in a different city scattered across Europe and America.

And they have the most beautiful tradition: whenever one of them has a baby, the rest commission a quilt for the baby that represents each of them, geographically scattered though they may be, and thus the new family has a charming and practical daily reminder of their dear, faraway friends.

Berlin Quilt Single Close Up

The problem was that the couple from Berlin were the ones who always arranged the quilt, but this time they were the pregnant ones, and none of the others had that quilter’s contact info. But Lisa remembered that I sew and so I “won” the contract — and I’m so glad! We decided on a quilt that represented each friend via the main river or water body of the cities they lived in, along with the 3-letter IATA code for the airport of that city. And lastly, I added little pieces of transportation, nature, animal, whimsey and shelter for contrast and interest.

I finally got to use the applique stitching functions on my new sewing machine and also got acquainted with double sided, peel and stick interfacing for the detailed appliques. All together it was a learning experience and the most charming process. I loved researching the cities for their rivers and choosing an archetypal bit of the river for each quilt section. Embroidering the IATA’s and river names made me feel like the secret 12th member of their lovely friend circle. I kind of didn’t want to finish I enjoyed the making so much.

Berlin Quilt Front and Back

And once baby Ella was born in Berlin, I added her name and birthdate in the 12th piece (I love that they wanted to wait til she was born for the quilt to be finished, no chickens counted before hatching), and off went the quilt. Canada Post and Deutsche Post, bless/curse them, had some communication issues and I tracked the package helplessly online as it bounced around German cities for no apparent reason for about 6 weeks, but eventually the slightly more mature Ella received her international quilt. She’s snuggled in the arms of her parents’ friendship circle every day no matter how far away their actual arms are.

Harriet the Venn-Toting Matryoshka

I have been busy as the busiest bee, designing and sewing up a costume-storm for dance and theatre productions these last few months. However, I still happily make time for felt Matryoshka commissions when I’m able to spare a day for doll-making – it’s a great way to catch up on some TV while creating a new little dolly-friend to send into the world.

Harriet the MatryoshkaMeet Harriet, the Venn Diagram Matryoshka! She’s science meets craft, and it’s a beautiful thing! In the 4-to-5-ish hours it takes me to make a Matushka Matryoshka (one of my larger matryoshka dolls), I feel like I get to know the little lady and then I have a bit of a hard time letting go!

Harriet the Matryoshka compliation

And Harriet was no exception — though I can trust she is bound for an appreciative home. I love her mix of purples and I added a wide, shallow herringbone stitch in a dark salmon pink to jazz her belly up just a wee bit. I like that her Venn diagram has no details, Harriet will allow you to demonstrate almost anything with her unmarked Venn!

Speaking of herringbone stitch … I plan to spend my summer cottaging days working on this sweet princess-and-the-pea sampler from Nicole of Follow the White Bunny. Time to increase my stitch vocabulary!

 

Costuming Parasite: a Music Video Adventure

I am so thrilled to be able to share the official video for Parasite, a song by my friend and singer/songwriter Christa Couture! It’s been a long time coming, over a year since filming this, the first music video I’ve ever worked on. It was very exciting, a learning curve indeed. And it involved unitards. My world is complete!

There was a wind machine, which was fun, beautiful, intense and also funny! Christa was amazing, walking through flying debris, singing at super-speed (so that it would look slow, a film magic trick that I don’t quite grasp!) and dealing with hair and various flotsam and jetsam that stuck to her glossy video-lips.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adtaIg71EHA&w=560&h=315]

“Parasite” was directed by Adam Garnet Jones and Big Soul Productions.

The wind machine was fun, beautiful, intense and also fun-ny! Christa was amazing, walking, singing at super-speed (so that it would look slow, magic of film that I don't quite grasp!) and dealing with hair and various flotsam and jetsam that stuck to her glossy video-lips. Truly, feathers were flying. 
Truly, feathers were flying. And tissue paper, and fake snow, and and and …
A last minute make up touch near the end of the shoot. We started late and went all night, needing the darkness. I love this. And I love that I got my friend the folk singer into a tulle skirt inspired by the romantic ballets - worlds colliding! 
A last minute make-up touch near the end of the shoot.  I love that I got my friend the folk singer into a tulle skirt inspired by the romantic ballets – worlds colliding!
Aerialist on high. I had a successful dye adventure to match them to Christa's top and the make-up artist gave them subtly metallic gold skin making them other-worldly and metaphoric. 
Aerialist on high. I had a successful dye adventure to match them to Christa’s top and the make-up artist gave them subtly metallic gold skin making them other-worldly and metaphoric – one of my favourite combos really!

 

 

 

Raising a Knee

Christa Couture KneeraiserI have spent the last month building a crowdfunding campaign to get a new, microprocessor prosthetic knee for my dear friend Christa Couture. She happens to be a childhood cancer survivor, though the disease left her without a  leg. As a musician without extended health care, the prosthetics available to her are serviceable, but there’s a world of microprocessor technology out there that helps immensely in balancing an amputee’s weight, allowing stair climbing and descent leg-over-leg (as we with 2 legs generally do) and backwards motion, among other things. As a musician who tours Canada and Europe regularly, Christa is often hefting gear and this knee component will make an enormous difference in her life — both day-to-day and professionally.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iomc8jvSFKU&w=560&h=315]

And we have been so mind-blowingly successful! In just over 72 hours we have exceeded our initial goal of $15,000! A true testament to her wide reach as an excellent person and musician. This means we get to go for our stretch-goal of $25,000, allowing even more options for Christa. Check out our Kneeraiser!

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The limited edition, guitar-toting Folk Matryoshkas I made for the exciting cc-kneeraiser.org, raising funds for a microprocessor prosthetic knee for folk musician Christa Couture.

A number of Christa’s friends have offered their artistic work as perks for the Kneeraiser. I myself made some little felt matryoshkas and some exclusive Folk Matryoshka dolls, larger guitar-toting mama matryoshka dolls. I think there are a few still available — if you act fast you can get yourself a gorgeous doll and support a most worthy cause: cc-kneeraiser.org. Cheers!

Revisiting Mountain Girl

I don’t talk about my contemporary dance life on this blog much since overwhelmingly my days are spent building my textile work, and mothering. It’s a big shift, but my interest in fibre art waxes of late and it’s not so much that my interest in dance wanes, but she’s had the front seat most of my life and it’s time for someone else to ride shotgun! So my dance commitments are fewer and farther between, but they are still precious to me. Dance is simply a part me, stitched inextricably into my fibres, a fundamental communication form.

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That said, I’m happy to report  I’m working on a dance project this month! It is so lovely to spend some time in the studio. Along with my friend and collaborator Brittany Duggan, we are reviving a solo we choreographed together for the 2010 Dance 2 Danse Festival called Mountain Girl. We’ve been invited by Simcoe Contemporary Dancers to perform it on a shared program they are presenting as part of Barrie’s Winterfest in the first weekend of February.

MountainGirlPostcardBrittany is the dancer, the interpreter for Mountain Girl. I’m the costume and set designer. The original concept for the choreography was our consideration of how geography effects the development of our physical and emotional selves and influences our relationships with space and place. We’ve had fun working in Studio B, the basement studio of Toronto Dance Theatre’s soulful old church building in Cabbagetown. We’re resuscitating Mountain Girl, breathing life back into her choreographic bones and it never ceases to amaze me how kinetic memory works – our muscles remember so much with the smallest cues. Plus Brittany kept excellent notes, thank goodness.

Here’s an excerpt of Mountain Girl in our first re-mount rehearsal a couple of weeks ago. That glacial skirt is not easy to dance in!

[vimeo 85308354 w=500 h=281]

Reviving Mountain Girl – a choreographic remount project from Pocket Alchemy on Vimeo.

If you’re around or accessible to Barrie come enjoy Winterfest, the glorious expanses of snow we have here, and some contemporary dance at the MacLaren Art Centre on Sunday, February 2nd at 2:30pm — admission is free and it’s family friendly art! Click here for more info.

Photo credits: top: Lindsay Zier-Vogel; centre: Ömer Yükseker