Tag Archives: look small

Review: The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection

The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection
The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection by Jane Nicholas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic book for the advanced beetle-loving embroiderer. This may be a small audience, but it’s a wonderful book–from the research on the inspiration insects, through to the instructions and projects using stumpwork, goldwork, crewel, beading, and applique techniques.

I finished my first stumpwork beetle –the ladybug–and can say that the instructions are clear, the measurements and diagrams are accurate and make sense, and the project worked.

 

In person, this little guy measures about 1 cm long.
In person, this little guy measures about 1 cm long.

It is definitely not a perfect project, but I learned some things in doing this one:

  1. You cannot substitute the 24-gauge jewellery wire you have on hand for the 28-30 gauge florists’ wire called for in the pattern. It makes too thick a border for the wings, and once you finish the wing, you’ll have a devil of a time trying to get the wire through the background fabric.
  2. Draw the outlines on to the back of the background fabric, so you can still see where the legs go after the front has been covered by the wings. Draw the outlines of the wings on the front of the wing fabric, because honestly you’re going to cover the whole thing front and back with stitches anyway so it doesn’t really matter where it goes.
  3. The black seed beads you have on hand are maybe not quite small enough.
  4. You will absolutely need to have good, clear detailed vision of objects held at about nose-distance. Doing couching stitches over even 24-gauge jewellery wire, and then padded satin stitches to fill in tiny shapes only a few millimetres in each direction, will require you to hold things pretty close to your face and be able to see them relatively well. This may mean reading glasses. If you’re me, this will mean reading glasses worn in front of your regular prescription glasses. Hazel Blomkamp, whose wonderful crewel embroidery books I got the double-glasses suggestion from, gently reminds her readers to take off the reading glasses before being seen by anyone. Or you can take selfies and post them on the internet, which is what I did.

    In a 4" embroidery hoop, to give you a sense of scale.
    In a 4″ embroidery hoop, to give you a sense of scale.
  5. Working itty-bitty black stab stitches around the borders of the two teeny pieces of black felt that form the body underneath those wings will require the brightest light you can find. Don’t try to do this in the kitchen at 10pm.
  6. After 30 minutes stitching while wearing two pairs of glasses, you will not be able to see well without them.
  7. But you can totally do 3D stumpwork embroidery.  It’ll even be recognizable when it’s done, if a bit messy.

    See? 3D!
    See? 3D!

Given that these little ladybugs are so small, I think they could be a super cute touch on a shirt collar or placket or something.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with this little guy. It’d be a fun pendant for a necklace, don’t you think?

View all my reviews

Nature Photography Day

So did you get out to take pictures?

(I know at least one of you did. How about the rest? I may not be getting a lot of traffic here but I do have more than one reader for a fact. So.)

1306_nature photography day_042The Ebony Jewelwing damselfly picture in the background on the front page is the favourite so far, but if you want to see some other shots, they’re all on my flickr stream. And just as I said, I looked for things that most people would be able to find within a walk of their home, no matter where they live.

Like … bugs! Surely there are caterpillars and beetles in your vicinity. (Fun fact: beetle species make up 40% of all insect species and 30% of all animal species. That’s a lot of beetles! But by weight the ants win; if you took all the ants in the world and weighed them up together, they would weigh as much as all of the people in the world put together. That’s a LOT of ants. There are probably at least a few ants within a few feet of you right now, whether you can see them or not.)

This lovely fellow is a six-spotted tiger beetle; very common in woodlands in these parts and easily seen because he likes to sun himself on paths, rather than in the foliage.

1306_nature photography day_121

And garden flowers. I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere that didn’t have at least a windowbox growing something with petals–and very likely there is a front stoop or boulevard garden with roses growing nearby.

The deer, turtles and frogs I admit you may not see on a stroll around your neighbourhood.

But by far the best part of Nature Photography Day was getting out on a gorgeous afternoon with enough time to poke around and discover some previously unexplored corners of the trails near my home. The first led me to a small, shallow pond full of tadpoles; the second to a larger, deeper pond full of frogs, with turtles sunning on a log and dragonflies (mostly Common Whitetails) and damselflies (mostly bluets) darting around the edge like WWII fighter planes. It was Happy Season for the Whitetails; I lost track of the number of mating sessions I saw in the two-hour span I sat there for, the bright bluish-white males and the golden-brown females flying by, joined in a heart-shaped loop, then the females laying their eggs in the pond while the male guarded them from above. I did try to get pictures but they all turned out blurry. Maybe next time.

Overhead, flycatchers (I think) swooped over the pond in low arcs, while woodpeckers called from the trees. It was odd to think that while I sat there, taking some time away from any kind of work and entirely at peace, I was surrounded by animals busily at work providing for themselves and their families, largely by eating each other. And yet it was perfect. I somehow doubt that our human, urban environments provide our non-human neighbours with the same sense of calm.

Nature Photography Day is Tomorrow

I write a lot–when I have time to write, which lately happens to be more often, hurray!–about how nature is everywhere and everything, and you don’t need to go far (or anywhere) to find something beautiful. Tomorrow, on Nature Photography Day, I would like to challenge myself and you to get out there with whatever camera you have and take a picture of whatever nature you have close to hand. Your finger counts, if you’re really stuck, but also consider:

  • weeds in the sidewalk or growing through your driveway
  • street trees, living and dead
  • grass, other things that grow in grass
  • bugs
  • a puddle
  • gardens, flower or vegetable
  • windowboxes and flower pots
  • nurseries and garden centres
  • stormwater ponds and drainage ditches
  • overgrown lots

If you want to participate officially, join the Nature Photography Day facebook page, and then post one photo you took on Saturday June 15 of a natural subject. You’ll have a few days to upload your picture afterwards. It’s not a contest and there are no prizes; the goal is simply to enjoy the nature that we have all around us, all the time.

I am planning on getting out to a Conservation Area tomorrow to see some of my favourite green kin and non-human neighbours for some (hopefully) good shots, but I’ll also take a few of the kind I list above. I’d love to see yours too, whether you post a link in the comments below, post it to the facebook event page, send me an email, or however suits you best.

The picture in the background of this post, by the way, is a little spider on the petal of a gerbera daisy I planted in a flower pot. You don’t have to go anywhere to find nature, or something beautiful. If all else fails, take a picture of the sky.

may apples

The may apples are finally blooming–now that it’s almost June, thanks I’m guessing to the chilly spring. I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing, though …

1305_rail trail hike_016

…since when they bloom, they look like this. Go ahead. Find them!

A large field of flat-topped five-lobbed leaves, and underneath every plant with two leaves, growing from the joint between them…

1305_rail trail hike_016  text

… one hard, waxy, white flower with a bright yellow centre.

As is common with other spring ephemerals (trilliums, trout lilies, bloodroot, etc.), may apples reproduce both sexually (through the flowers & fruits) and asexually (by spreading roots underground and forming colonies). The colonies can be quite large so while it is difficult to see the flowers when they’re blooming, it’s impossible to miss the leaves! And if you scootch down on the ground and take a peak beneath, you’ll see dozens blooming all at once, a whole dimly-lit wonderland of lovely ivory flowers.

1305_rail trail hike_009

Later in the summer they’ll become small fruits, which are not poisonous if eaten when ripe in small quantities. The leaves and roots, however, are toxic, although First Nations would use the extracts to treat stomach aches.

May apples are another way nature has to reward those who are willing to take their time and really look. No one ever saw a may apple, while distractedly rushing through the woods.

Anthropomorphism FTW

I am taking it as a propitious sign that, my first spring in my first house, there are not one but two robin’s nests on our outside lighting fixtures: one in the carport, and one by the front door. We have watched since April as the nests were built, the eggs were laid then hatched, and now the baby birds are being raised by their Mama Birds (with some help from Papa). It has become, temporarily, a three-family home.

My daughter is ecstatic. The light fixtures are a metre or two above the ground, and even I can only see into them by way of a stepladder and a carefully angled cell camera. She loves these pictures, and I send them to her when she’s at her Dad’s house; when she’s at my house, and the weather is nice, all she wants to do is sit outside and watch her “favourite TV show”: the nests. “Mummy! I see heads! Oh, she’s stretching! What a cute little baby bird. I see beaks! They’re chirping! Oh, here comes Mama Bird with some worms! Hungry babies. Aww, now they’re snuggling.” At times she becomes quite indignant: “Mama Bird, where are you! Your babies are hungry and asking for food. When is she coming back, Mummy?” (When she finds some worms, I’m sure.) “Well, how long can that take?”

1305_iphoneimport_1251

Mama Bird II, by the front door, has her work particularly cut out for her, as she takes flight whenever my daughter or I enter or exit the house. “Sorry, Mama Bird!” we say. “We won’t hurt your babies, promise.”

We are all about anthropomorphism, at our house.

Look: if you believe that we evolved, along with all other animals, from common ancestors, then our emotions are not a gift that arrived precisely at the moment we became homo sapiens sapiens. Our emotions, too, evolved; and we have them in common with our non-human kin. The relationship between mother and child was first; all of our relationships–father and child, mother and father, nuclear family, extended kin, tribe, friendship, and on and on–are built on the basis of the feelings and patterns of care that first developed between mother and child, millions of years ago. Whoever you love and how much, and however you express that love, is all possible because millions of years ago, an ancestor distant beyond knowing looked at her babies and first felt that she would die for them. That ancestor was not human. She was not even mammalian.

One of those first mothers began the time-honoured tradition of chewing up her baby’s food and spitting it in to the baby’s mouth, soft and somewhat pre-digested; it is from this that our kisses have evolved. Even sex, as much as we like to keep it as separate as possible from any tinge of maternity–all of those good feelings use hormones and chemicals that first evolved in the context of maternal care.

hatchling

For the newer nest, by the front door, when I first carefully angled my camera phone to take a picture of the first newly hatched egg, that little naked blind bird, so much smaller than even my hand, reached its head up to the camera with beak open wide for food. That helplessness and vulnerability struck me as so essentially the same as our own babies, that dependency on unearned trust because it is only by trusting in the adults nearby that there is any hope of surviving–even if sometimes, even if often, the trust is misplaced and the hovering shadow is actually a snake or a rat, or the adult arms reaching to pick up the wailing infant mean to leave it on a hillside to die. Babies can’t afford to be choosy. They so need care, that they must trust that the care will come, even when it doesn’t.

But the care came for these little robins, with the dedicated and hard-working Mama Birds hunting and bringing back pre-chewed treasures to vomit in their hatchlings’ mouths. And the hatchlings became baby birds, little brown heads with yellow beaks propped on the nest’s rim, waiting for Mama and–possibly–wondering when they get to do more than just stretch their wings. The first nest has already fledged.

1305_iphoneimport_1257

I’ll miss them when they go (though we already have plans to take their nests into the house as souveniers, since robins won’t re-use a nest). My daughter will miss the babies, the daily dramas of their feedings and stretchings and growing, their cuteness and compactness and how they are all snuggled in the nest together. I will mostly miss the Mama Birds, how they would scold me from the shrubbery if I ventured too near the nest while they were watching, their effort in hunting the tastiest morsels for the little beaks back home, the solid white chunks of poop they would scoop away in their beaks to keep that nest clean and comfy, their snuggling in with the growing birds–giving them a hug. Because we’re not so different, those Mama Birds and me, and I know they love their babies just as I love mine.

Ecology, Economy, and Ego

When spotted owls were threatened with extinction, we cried and passed laws. When whales were threatened with extinction, we screamed and wrote international treaties. Now, when polar bears are going extinct, we rage.*

But when bumblebees threaten extinction on us we panic.

Why?

Because what’s big, ultimately, is expendable. It’s what’s very very small that matters, ecologically speaking; our world belongs to the bugs, the worms, and mold. We are visitors only, and while we like to look down on the rest of the planet because it could never have been Shakespeare (as if you or I were ever capable of being Shakespeare either–but I digress), the fact is, Shakespeare could never have been, could never have breathed nor eaten nor grown, without the bacteria, decomposers, insects, and photosynthesizers that made it all possible. Not to mention all of the, you know, actors and set designers and stuff.

Polar bears are very cool, don’t get me wrong, I want to live in a world with polar bears. But if polar bears were to go extinct tomorrow, their ecosystems would hobble along until a new status quo establishes itself. Whereas if plankton disappear (and they might), every aquatic ecosystem on earth is toast.

I went down to Occupy Toronto at St. James Park last Saturday, just as they were setting up the tents and tarps. A sign reading “Abandon Greed, Kindness is Worthwhile” greeted me and stuck a goofy grin on my face that stayed all afternoon. People were smiling, friendly, laughing, playing guitars and singing in a rainy 10C. Two mics let people give short speeches to the crowds, and the diversity of speakers and opinions was heartening and lovely. Buy local! Find the love within! Let go of fear! Do God’s work and help the poor! Tax corporations! Remember we are already on occupied land; native rights are important too! Health care for all! Forgive student debts! Build wind and solar! Solve climate change! Stop pollution! Racism kills! Listen to my hip-hop song about the revolution! There’s flouride in the water! Stop buying crap!

Disorganized, yes, but my activist heart sings because all of these conversations ARE related and important and we’ve needed these disparate communities to sit down and talk to each other about how they’re related and how to fix it for at least fifty years. The same system that gives banks millions of dollars for depriving average folks of education and a home, while doing nothing to help those average people, is the same system that gives corporations inalienable rights to destroy the atmosphere and climate upon which human civilization depends. The same mechanisms that send some kids to Harvard and Yale send other kids to the army or jail. That 1% on top doesn’t just depend on corrupt government (but hey, it doesn’t hurt); it also depends on sexism, racism, environmental degradation and externalities, cheap foreign labour and globalization, debt slavery, fossil fuels, and, yes, the internalized terror that keeps most of us from doing more than making a largely futile x on a piece of paper every four or five years. (“Why don’t you just vote!” the columnists scold. “Has it occured to you that we’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked out particularly well!” we reply.) It’s all related. No meaningful solutions will come until all sides have come together and discussed the common sources of their problems.

Regardless:

As with ecology, so with the economy: the big need the small. The charismatic carnivores of the economic system–billionaires, millionaires, banks, and in a global sense much of the first world–intimately rely on and cannot function without the producers and decomposers–mothers, teachers, janitors, manufacturers of clothing, farmers, plumbers, etc. The charismatic carnivores have done a pretty good job of convincing the rest of us that we need them–their money, their ‘jobs,’ their ‘investments,’ their continued presence gracing our lucky countries–but nothing could be further from the truth. They need us.

If every CEO on earth vanished tomorrow, how would it affect your life? Now imagine a world tomorrow without waste collectors, truck drivers and electricians. Our society could not function. The 2009 garbage strike in Toronto brought the city to its knees.

Generally speaking, your contribution to society is in inverse relationhip to the size of your paycheque. If, as a mother, your paycheque is $0, congratulations: you are truly indispensable and will, as a partial reward, spend your lifetime hearing about how your personal choice should in no way affect anyone else’s tax share and, by the way, please keep the brats out of any restaurant where you order at a table from a menu.

Every so often, literal charismatic carnivores wipe out the underpinnings of their own species by devouring their prey to near extirpation. The prey population collapses, then the predator population collapses, then both rebound, and balance is restored. Again, as with ecology, so with the economy: every so often the charismatic carnivores devour the underpinnings of their prosperity by pushing the working class to the point of collapse; but human beings, being human, generally respond by fighting back and swiping a few fangs from the carnivores’ mouths. And you get slave revolts. Class warfare. The civil rights movement. Feminism. The anarchist rebellion in Spain. The Magna Carta. The American Revolution. The Arab Spring. You get Occupy Wall Street and its many, many derivatives. Whenever the very small (economically speaking) remember that the rich need us, but we don’t need them.**

Just like bears need bumblebees, but bumblebees could manage just fine without the bears.

~~~~~

* Please note that all of these species are still facing extinction. We’ve been enormously unsuccessful at rescuing our victims.

**Not a plea for the extinction of the rich, just for a little mutual perspective and humility.

Mother’s Day Skull Walk

Ah, Mother’s Day. A leisurely sleep-in, to be woken at a civilized hour by an adorable jammie-clad child bearing a pancake breakfast on a tray, with Dad clearing up heroically in the kitchen. Then, flowers! A much-cherished homemade gift from the adorable, small child, mis-spellings intact. According to the television commercials, a meal later on at a restaurant is also de rigeur, and maybe jewelery, and certainly no housework.

I did get much-cherished homemade gifts from the adorable small child, all low on capital outlay but high on capital thoughts. And a very nice boy did stop in with flowers in the afternoon. We even bought KFC for dinner and ate it on paper plates so I would neither have to eat nor clean (I acknowledge that it’s not the most environmentally ethical thing but, you know what? It’s one day a year).

On the other hand there was laundry and groceries and skulls.

Umm, yes. Skulls.

Why yes, this IS a dead animal after it's been thoroughly cleared out by carnivores, scavengers and insects

It happened like this: Frances and I wanted to see if we could find frogs and tadpoles in a very large pond near our house, and one of Frances’s little friends decided to come along. Frances and I wore our rainboots and the friend wore mudshoes and I had my camera and off we went.

We got to the pond all right, but once there found the water too silty and dark to see if anything was in it. No frogs along the shore. Some fish jumping in the water. Lots of red-winged blackbirds, some robins, a hawk of some kind, and a lot of walking around the pond hoping for frogs and tadpoles. And then, what’s this? Teeth and an eye socket coming out of the ground?

“Hey Frances,” I said. “Come and see!”

Wouldn’t you know it, but these two seven-year-old girls thought a buried skull was THE MOST COOL THING EVER and demanded that I dig it out and clean it off. (Done.) And of course we had to put it in my backpack so we could bring it home. (Done.) Then since Frances had one her friend had to have one too–and after much scouting about, we’d found a bunch of leg bones, a duck skull (bill attached) and foot, and a couple of carnivore skulls of some kind, one of which was fairly putrid and still attached to whatever it used to be, half-buried in muck. The friend got her skull, though–a different one–and I got to be the cool mom who goes for a nature walk with the neighbourhood kids and brings them back a bunch of dead animals for their parents to pretend to be impressed with.

I’ve been told a bit of peroxide will clean ’em up right pretty. In the meantime, I wouldn’t trade my Mother’s Day for any other, even if it did include less relaxation and more body parts than advertised.

Look Small: Buds to Leaves

Have you ever noticed the way buds open, almost erupting as if in force of a slow-motion explosion?

They don’t just open. They spill. Like milk spreading across a kitchen floor, or water boiling over a pot. Like a snake shedding a too-small skin.

Most of the leaves around here are open, but a few trees remain brown and bare. Watch the buds. See if you don’t see what I mean.

These ones–I believe they are beech–I particularly love, unfolding from their buds like paper fans, their edges furry and corrugated. Look at how elegantly they were packed in and how glad they must now be to stretch, and feel the sun.

new beech leaf