Making Candy

Today isn’t really a studio day, it is Sunday, and there are larger more important things in life, like watching my 16 year old, dressed like a donkey, crawl on her hands and knees up the aisle in church, carrying Mary on her back for the Sunday School Christmas pageant. The HS kids are usually exempt from the Nativity scene, but my daughter, the largest kid in the Sunday School, always cheerfully accepts the invitation to play the donkey, she is the only one large enough to pull it off. Afterwards there is grocery shopping, errands, and my wonderful husband stayed behind to remove another three inches of snow from the cars and driveway. My 18 year old son is deliriously happy, the semester is over, and he is on the mountain teaching skiing in the fresh snow, to little kids who aren’t afraid yet of falling and getting hurt or looking stupid.
My daughter discovered a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living laying on the dining room table with all the collecting mail and holiday cards, and found the section on holiday baking. Her eyes got bigger and bigger and when she found the recipe for peppermint sticks, real peppermint sticks, not the candy canes you buy in the store (she didn’t know there was any other kind), she begged to get the ingredients to try them out, along with chocolate bark and choco dipped caramallows. So last Sunday, we did our Shoprite run, and she happily cooked all day, making candy, melting chocolate, and completely trashing my kitchen. I don’t know how the chocolate bark turned out, since she whisked it away and will give it to me for Christmas. The caramallows were a disaster, but the peppermint sticks intriqued her enough to want to make 10 more batches to give to all her friends and teachers for Christmas.
So today, we bought more corn syrup, more sugar, and all the different extracts that we could find at Shoprite. I skipped the rum, but maybe that would have been fun as well. I disappeared into my studio, to finish the Big Sister piece, only five little strips left to insert, and my daughter started on her afternoon adventure. I wisely stayed away…
It is a joy to watch a 16 year old, iTunes blasting in the kitchen, making candy from scratch, like she has discovered a part of the world that was hidden from her generation and is celebrating it with the raw enthusiasm of youth. It is a lot like weaving, a craft that dates back to the beginning of time, yet new generations keep discovering it.
Periodically she would come running to find me with the latest colorful batch, to taste test. They are really delicious, these little hard candies, nothing like the artificial candy canes you buy in the stores. She has the whole routine down to a science, knowing how to handle the hot taffy, and how long to pull before she has to start cutting it into little bite size pillows, how to keep them from sticking to the pan, to her, to each other.
My kitchen is totally trashed. But I’ll get it clean again, and she will eventually settle down and study for her big Chemistry exam tomorrow. The holiday spirit is high in our house, a blanket of snow covers the outside, and hot sticky candy covers the inside and though Martha Stewart she is not, my daughter has discovered that what comes from the hands is far better than anything you can buy.

Winter Solstice

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A lovely end to a beautiful winter day. I just returned from a celebration of the Winter Solstice, at a neighbor/friend’s house. We played music, (did I mention I play recorder?), read passages, poems, and stories, burned that which we wished to let go of, in a beautiful fire, nestled in the new fallen snow, shared wine, good food, good friendship, and an hope for a better world for tomorrow. I wish you all peace and joy in the simple things, as the days begin to grow longer and the sun shines just a little more each day.

Big Sister

A lovely quiet Saturday, about 6 inches of snow fell yesterday, and another 3 or so are due in tonight. The studio is warm, and my children are out, so it is just my husband and me puttering around the house. These are the easy days, I cherish them when I get them, because tomorrow could be completely different.

I spent some time cleaning up the studio. That is a really important part of my creative experience, to organize and clear away the surfaces, cover machines not in use, carefully return things to their proper places. I’m not so distracted by clutter which can take me away from the task at hand.

I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon working on a piece on my table loom, which is almost finished, using a Theo Moorman threading. I weave about a quarter inch of ground fabric, then lay in on top a thin strip of silk, and hold it down with poly sewing thread which is warped in with the cotton ground. The strip is part of a childhood photograph I printed on 10mm silk Habotai, which comes on a 10′ roll, pretreated for ink jet ink, and mounted on paper for easy transport through the printer. I got this from Dharma Trading. By running two or three lengths of this silk, 23″ long, I could print a much larger image, since I’m stripping it anyway, it doesn’t matter if it is in two or three pieces.

This is a larger version of one I sold, called Big Sister. The photo is from around 1957, of my younger sister and me, caught in an intimate moment. The photo above is the smaller version.

Snow Day

Friday, December 19, 2008

It is days like this that make me love living in the northeast. The snow fell, steady, it was very gray outside, but the earth was covered with a blanket of beautiful clean snow, well maybe not the earth, but my little corner of northern NJ. School had been canceled and all of my daughter’s after school activities, my husband was able to work from home, we cranked up the wood stove, and I disappeared into my studio. I worked on the ginger jars, late last night I decided to take the one I made yesterday apart, and rework the top. If I stitched around the top first, and then assembled the sides, the top would be smoother. So I redid the jar from yesterday, and made four more. I think they will make terrific colorful gifts.

In the latest issue of Handwoven, the same one where I read Syne Mitchell’s column about creating a blog, Madelyn van der Hoogt’s letter from the editor talked about making resolutions to do more of something, like weaving, but before one can do that, one has to plan and prepare the warp and then set up the loom. It struck a chord because I need to do all the pattern prep work before I begin to make garments from the projects listed in previous blogs. I have three more garment projects on the table which I will describe in future posts, but for now, my more immediate problem is the constantly changing body I live in. Let me digress.

I spent five years on Tamoxifen, after my breast cancer diagnosis. Having been thrown instantly into menopause by the chemotherapy, my body changed rapidly from a premenopausal 46 year old, into a post menopausal body, losing height, and adding about 25 pounds. I kept that weight for many years. No matter how hard I tried, I seemed stuck at this new weight, and this whole new, very different body. Missing a few parts, but hey, at least I’m alive. I’ve been off Tamoxifen about a year now, and I am amazed at how my body is changing, every so slowly back to my original pre cancer shape, slimmer hips, about 10 pounds lighter, which sounds wonderful I know, but besides all my clothes not fitting anymore, because I had to buy all knew ones in the last few years, my dressform needs to be completely refit. The last few garments I made using this form came out much larger than I expected, once I tried them on myself. So I took some measurements, and to my shock, I needed to reshape the hips and drop 3 inches off the form.

Taking advantage of my 16 year old daughter home from school for the snow day, I peeled her away from her computer, and got her to help me refit the muslin cover on my Uniquely You Dress Form. If you have fluctuating weight, this is a great form, since all you have to do is rip open the seams and refit the cover and the form will change with you.

While my daughter helped me fit the cover, she poked around the studio, always a dangerous thing, and got intrigued by the ginger jars I was making out of the shibori papers. She dug through my stash, and my library, and found the book by Linda Johansen on Fabric Boxes. She found a Chinese Food type container to make out of a couple of bandanas. She ran to her room, and brought out her collection of bandanas, and decided to try to make a fabric box with two she had with a breast cancer theme, from a Susan Komen run we attended back in 2003. Two of us in this small studio is something to see. We managed not to fall over each other, I worked on the cutting table while she sewed, and the photo above shows her finished box. I was quite proud of her, and I think she was proud of herself, and for about four hours today, she didn’t play on the computer…

And my dressform now fits my body, so I can start working out some of the garment ideas I have for project 1-3.