Back from St. Louis

Hulloo, everyone – I’m back. :)

I actually flew in last Wednesday night, but it’s taken me a while to catch up on sleep and feel like a real person again. And to do some reading – it had been a shockingly long time since I read a book (finished HP No. 7 and am half-way through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell).

Flying into St. Louis.

You know, I used to think that travelling for work sounded like a lot of fun. I mean, how often does somebody offer to pay for your plane ticket and hotel and send you to another city? My imagination conveniently left out things like my dislike for airplanes, 13 to 15 hour work days, and the general stress of event-planning. As far as I know, everybody was pretty happy with the meeting (while agreeing that lectures and poster sessions from 8 am to 8 pm every day is just too long). But it’s done! I have to put some meeting photos online soon – I ended up acting as general photographer – and I’ll post a link, in case you curious about what scientific meetings look like. Hint: they’re about as exciting as you’d expect, with the exception of the occasional verbal catfight during the Q&A portion.

My boss/travelling companion and I did have a little bit of time for sightseeing, so we headed over the the St. Louis Zoo and Art Museum in Forest Park (we also visited the Missouri Botanical Garden as part of the conference, and I’ll post pics from that later). We did not go to the Arch, which was probably a big omission. However, I found out the day after we could have gone that one of the elevators had gotten stuck dangling hundreds of feet off the ground for two hours before they could get it down and unload the frightened passengers. Was very glad we had passed. 

The zoo and museum both turned out to be free, which was lovely, and the zoo had quite a lot of animals. The bounding hippopotamus was my favorite. Did you know that the fish eat the hippo’s poop, which is actually quite nutritious? And then the villagers downstream eat the fish? (Too much information, perhaps.)

Hippo exhibit.

As I was wandering around the zoo and the museum, I thought for a while about the strangeness of creating special locations for people to go and look at things.

Sea lions.

This strangeness was reinforced by the number of people (like myself) wandering around the zoo, camera in hand, trying to get a nice shot of the bears or penguins or antelope with the least number of visible cage elements. You know, as though we were wandering around the savannah and just happened to see some zebras.  I almost put my camera down because the thought was so ridiculous, but at the same time it seemed so natural to wait until the elephant made his 40 foot loop and came around so I could get that nice full-body shot.


After a while, the zoo and the museum seemed to me to have a lot in common. They’re both unnatural environments for the things that people are coming to see, and yet we’ve come to feel that the connection is logical. Picasso = museum, lion = zoo. 

I can't remember what this bird is but it was really pretty.

[Lest you think that I’m on an anti-zoo tirade, I should add that I’m not opposed to zoos across the board, especially if the animals were injured or bred in captivity and wouldn’t last two seconds in their natural habitat. The main reason why I liked the St. Louis Zoo, though, was the realization that the fact that I had seen these animals in person made them much, much more real to me. It’s one thing to read watch a documentary about rainforest destruction in Brazil and quite another to come face to face with the bright, beady eyes of a bird that is one of the last 1000 of its kind. This might be a stock argument that conservationists make for zoos and education and whatnot, but it seemed very real when I stood – for 45 minutes – in the bird house, watching creatures that I never knew existed flit from faux branch to faux branch.]


As for the art museum, one of the many differences that I saw as I walked from the medieval reliquaries and madonnas to the modern abstracts and installations was a change in the manner in which the art was meant to be presented. I doubt very much that it ever occurred to a 16th century portrait artist that his work might some day hang in a museum (did they even have museums back then?). Art used to hang in houses and castles and churches, over furniture and bookcases and walls that weren’t perfectly white. But now we want to take all of it and put it huge halls that are about as divorced from everyday domestic life as you can get.

As I walked through the contemporary section of the gallery, however, it seemed that a lot of the artists had adapted quite well to this change and were creating art that was meant to hang in a museum (or a very museum-like house) and no where else. One small room contained an installation that was made up of a fluorescent bulb hung diagonally in a corner. Um, if that was in my apartment, I’d want to replace it as soon as possible.

These are just thoughts and mutterings, of course, but I hadn’t been to a “real” museum in so long that I’d forgotten what the experience is like. Tragically, I’d forgotten my sketch pad that day and had to scrounge for whatever paper scraps I could find (I love sketching at museums), so this is all I came up with. The top drawing shows the head of a statue from a 15th century church, and the bottom is the first Rouault painting that I’ve seen in person. His paintings are so much better on the wall than they are reproduced in books, which leads to a whole  discussion about why people should see art in person. But I’ll save that one for later.

Art museum sketch.

Round 3 (a success story).

Third time is – apparently – the charm when it comes to dyeing sheets. I dumped them back in the tub on Saturday with a couple of packets of tangerine and, while the results still aren’t *exactly* what I’d hoped they’d be, they’re definitely good enough to put on the bed.

Bedroom with new sheets.

The color is quite even and satisfactorily covers the bleach spots, although you can still see them a little if you look hard enough (I’ve decided not to look). The final color is more orange-y than yellow-y, but at least it’s in the same family as my maple dresser.

The duvet color turned a nice dark grey after I added some green and orange, but it has been banquished to the closet for the time being as it’s much too warm for a comforter.

The orange color kind of matches the dresser.

In my excitement about having new sheets, I also decided to do a little bedroom rearranging and, after measuring to make sure they would fit, moved the bed and nightstands in front of the window. Before you ask if that’s a bad idea because of drafts, I should mention that it’s been in the 90s and 100s over here and we would LOVE some drafts around our bed. We also sleep with a fan on, so street noise is not a problem.

Moved the bed against the window.

I’m really happy with the new arrangement, especially since the curtains provide a rather dramatic backdrop and stand in nicely for the headboard that I can’t afford yet.

In the process of moving things around, I also found out that I can completely disassemble and assemble a cal king bed (frame and matresses) all by myself. Well, me + some advil.

In other news, I’m headed off to St. Louis, Missouri, in the wee hours of Thursday meeting for a conference. It turns out that I will have one free morning, so if you’re reading this and have any recommendations for fun things to do in St. Louis for a couple of hours (other than the arch; I’m not real big on heights) please leave me a comment! I’ve thought about trying to do a blog feature on the meeting a la “blogging the national stationery show” or something like that, but I doubt that you all are that interested in the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Phytochemical Society of North America. So, I will probably close up blog shop until the end of July. But the good news is that after the conference is over I’ll have more time on my hands, and I’ll have more stuff to show.

I hope you have a good couple of weeks!

Just dye it.

I know what I said about getting back to art and all that, but not sewing furiously for the farmer’s market has left me free to work on a couple of around-the-house projects that have been patiently waiting their turn for a while. One of these projects is a sheet set that I bought for $3.50 at the thrift store a while ago. The sheets are practically new, very nice quality, and fit our bed (it’s not easy to find cal king stuff), but had the misfortune of passing through someone’s laundry with a spot of bleach. This left some orange blotches in prominent places – hence, their trip to the thrift store.

My nifty idea, ever since I bought the set, has been to try dyeing them a nice warm brown that will complement our bedroom furniture and not clash with the blue-grey-green walls. So, last weekend I walked into JoAnn’s armed with coupons, found the RIT dyes*, and picked out a couple of boxes of cocoa brown**.

*I know that there are better dyes out there, but if I was going to do this it needed to be right then and this was the only local option.
**Mistake no. 1: Why would a girl who doesn’t really like milk chocolate pick out “cocoa brown” instead of “espresso”?


My first crisis occurred when I discovered that my mother has a front loading washer, and you can only use the washing machine method with a top loader. So, I ended up cleaning out the big laundry room sink and appropriating it for the project. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to pour the diluted dye on top of the sheets instead of adding the wet fabric to the sink, since I didn’t have any place to store it in the mean time. This probably accounts for most/any of the dye inconsistencies in the final product.

After combining wet sheets + hot water + dye, I proceeded to squish the whole thing around in the sink for about half an hour***. After about 10 minutes, however, it became obvious to me that “cocoa brown” was a misnomer. “Dusty cocoa pink,” maybe? Or maybe just “dusty pink”?

***Mistake no. 2: Forgot gloves. My hands were a very interesting shade of pinky brown after this.


The rather badly lit photo above shows the results of round 1. The big purple-eggplant thing is a duvet cover (originally a blue that clashed with our walls) that I dyed separately using the same brown. The other items are an originally-white dust ruffle, the tan sheet set, and a plain cotton tablecloth with wine stains.

Now, even if you’ve never been in our apartment, you have probably seen enough pics to guess that purple and pink aren’t really part of my color scheme. Other than an on-sale sheet set from the mid-80s, I have never decorated with purple. Pink isn’t out of the question, but it clashes amazingly with the yellow/ochre accents that I have going in other parts of the house. Yech. Round 1 = failure.

Since I still didn’t want to give up on my bargain sheets, however, I went back for round 2 last night with hopes of showing you the marvelous finished product today. Unfortunately, if the photo below looks a lot like the photo above, well, that’s because it is.


The thought was to shove the pink in an ochre/orange direction with the addition of some yellow, but it turns out that yellow is not a particularly strong dye color. Certainly not strong enough to cover the almighty pinky-cocoa-brown. The color is a little better, but as long as I’ve put the effort in so far I think I’m going to go back to JoAnn’s and get something a little stronger for round 3. I saw a box of tangerine; maybe one of those and a box of espresso…? The duvet cover is also waiting, and I’m not entirely sure how to tone down its immense purpleness. I’m thinking about adding some green to see if I can get grey, since the yellow that could turn it into brown is pretty ineffectual.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend. More squishing fabric around in the sink, although this time with gloves. It sounds unpleasant and it certainly is a bit warm to hover over a steaming vat when it’s 100 degrees outside, but it’s actually kind of nice to do something that in no way involves computers. Or phone calls. And hopefully I’ll have some nicer photos for you on Monday. I hope you have fun with your weekend projects. :)

P.S. Other name contenders for this post included “As I Lay Dye-ing” and “Dye-it-ing.” What can I say? It’s Friday.

Just checking in.

Hooray! My 146-page meeting handbook goes to press today, so work = slightly less stressful and I have a better chance of getting home at a reasonable hour so I can do stuff. Provided that there are no last-minute emergencies, I’m going to try to finish up a textile project tonight so I can show pictures tomorrow. I’d give you a clue, but I can’t think of anything that’s not really, really cheesey.

Is it Friday yet?


Anyone who has played a musical instrument knows that you don’t get better unless you practice. I played the cello for 9 or 10 years, and I can tell you that there was a direct correlation between the number of hours I sat on my chair, bow in hand, and the way I sounded in concert. I imagine that something similar is true for soccer players, auto mechanics, and seamstresses – the more you practice, the better you are at your trade.

Given this, however, why do I (we?) tend to assume that “art” is purely natural and does not need to be practiced? I don’t know where this funny notion comes from, but the reasoning goes something like this: God made some people artists, and others he didn’t. If he didn’t make you an artist, good luck trying to draw anything (especially people). If he did, everything that comes from your pencil/pen/paintbrush should be just as good as God made you, i.e. doodles from a master artist should always look masterful and doodles from anime artists should always look like cartoons.

Maybe I’m just making excuses, but the above thoughts came to me when I sat down to draw the other day and was shocked (shocked!) that my pen didn’t do exactly what I wanted it to. Okay, shocked is an exaggeration…”displeased” might be more like it. Somehow, I wanted to believe that I can stop doing something almost entirely for a few years and then try to pick up where I left off. I would understand this if we were talking about my cello, but drawing? That’s different, right?

Horse sketches.

I’m not going to show you those first couple of drawings…these were some of the later doodles I made sitting on the couch with a big book of animal photos. I started with contour drawings because my natural tendency is to tighten up and try to be precise. When I was taking continuing ed classes at RISD, I would spend one night in natural science illustration classes (which were all about precision), and the next night in children’s book illustration classes (which were all about looseness and expression). Being in both programs seemed like such a good idea at the time, but it was kind of hard to constantly bounce between the two types of drawing.

African animal sketches.

But this time I’m not going for scientific accuracy, so I’m going to try to loosen up. Let my pen wander around the page where it wants to. Not care if the finish product doesn’t look exactly like that dog.

Dog sketches.

Wish me luck.

Poodle sketch.

Hello, Dolly.

Here she is, in all her fully-finished glory…

New handmade doll!

The thread spools are there for size comparison. When standing, dolly is about 10 inches tall – just the right size for a little one to carry around or momma to tuck in her purse.

Her dress is reversible and closes with velcro in the back (no buttons).

Her dress is reversible and closes with velco in the back. I tried to make her young child friendly, so there are no buttons or small parts to fall off or choke on. And both doll and dress are machine washable.

The face is embroidered.

The face is embroidered with a little lopsided smile.

Hair and shoes are handstitched.

The shoes and hair are handstitched to the body, which doesn’t show up well on this doll (the others are a little more obvious).

I am very happy that the new dolls can sit up by themselves, which was one of my goals. It also made this “photoshoot” a lot easier than the last one, when I actually sewed paperclip wires to the dolls’ arms and legs to make them poseable. This dolly poses all by herself!

(I took a pic of my photo setup, in case you’re interested…I like seeing that sort of thing. Tan cloth might seem nice and neutral but actually created a lot of color problems, so I don’t recommend it. But other than that, this is a very easy setup – based on this website’s instructions – that works for a lot of stuff.)

My photo setup.

Sooo, this little dolly has already been shipped out but I have pieces for 5 more: 1 more with dark hair, 2 with medium brown, and 2 blond. The other dresses are green/yellow and yellow/orange, and the fabrics are really cute. I’m still planning to take a little sewing break, but if you’re interested in one of the dollies ($40 + shipping) send me an email or leave a comment. Otherwise, I’ll finish them in early fall and take them to a local arts + crafts fair.

Regarding my last post, I’ve gotten some sympathetic/resonant comments that I really appreciate. To clear things up, I don’t plan to stop blogging because I really enjoy it. But, I’ll probably post a little less frequently – not that I’ve posted very often for the last few weeks! – and it won’t be quite the same subject matter as before. I’ve already started some drawings and have my next post about that all planned…

See you at the farmer’s market tomorrow, if you decide to drop by. :)


(A little story relating to the title:

Husband has an enormous cd collection and a rather messy desk, and I sometimes wonder how he can find things. But, as I was getting ready the other morning, he sat down in his office chair and looked around for about two seconds before calling out, Honey, did you take my Best of David Bowie Collection to work? [I had swiped it the previous afternoon for my sewing room.]

Maybe you’re not as impressed as I was.)

First off, sorry about the lack of posting around here. You’ve been remarkably faithful about checking back, only to find out that I haven’t written anything.

Second, in case you’re wondering, I did finish one doll and sent it off to a very special birthday girl. But I doubt I’ll get around to blogging about it tonight, so you can find a sneak peak here.

Third, after mulling it over for a while and talking with husband, I think there are going to be a few little changes around here. As much as I dearly love reading craft blogs and trying to have one of my own, I kinda need to batten down the hatches and focus more on the job that pays the bills. I just began a much-needed increase in weekly hours that’s going to really eat into my creative time, and I have to get off the computer during lunch or I’m going to do some serious damage to my eyes. (Nighttime blogging seems to be more en vogue anyway, right?)

Another issue is that crafty blogging has been a bit of a diversion for me, and I think it’s time to get back on track. I like sewing a lot, but it can also irritate me to no end and it. takes. so. stinking. long. Even with Sir Speedy the Sewing Machine to push me along. It’s the same problem that I’ve seen other bloggers describe and have only recently begun to appreciate: sewing multiple copies of the same thing is efficient but really boring. 2 cushions for living room couch = fine; 10 patchwork bibs = not so much fun.

So, with the exception of finishing up the last 5 dolls, I’m going to quit cold turkey. This means that, if you want a doll or bib, they are now limited edition items and won’t end up in my future Etsy shop. If you’re not around to pick one up at the market, send me an email at jupiterbuttons [at] gmail [dot] com and we’ll work something out. The home projects, however, will be continued (there’s something so satisfying about making things for one’s home) and will be amply documented when they happen. :)

What’s next, then? More art, less craft!

I’ve decided to go rather literally back to the drawing board and start some projects that I’ve had in my head for a while. First and foremost, I’m excited to say that some of my paintings will be hanging in the Enormous Tiny Art Show II in September at Nahcotta Gallery in Portsmouth, NH. I found out about the show via decor8 and am still pinching myself that I got in…check out the partial list of the other artists. My art might be hanging next to Amy Ruppel’s, Susan Gharemani’s, or Marisa Haedike’s? Wow! I guess I’d better, uh, start painting. I’ve got the new pieces all planned out, but I haven’t had a chance to start them (I really didn’t think I’d get in on the basis of the samples I sent). They’re going to be different than the still lifes I’ve shown here or the cards I’ve been making – more like the “art school” days. I can’t wait.

Okay, I think it’s time to stop writing and make some dinner. But I wanted to say a very heartfelt thanks for stopping by and leaving comments that I (usually) don’t reply to…if I can get through the next month of work and get some art done on the side, I think it will be downhill from there.

Happy 4th of July!