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Kiki and the Watermelon Festival


June 19, 2017

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Detweiler smiled at me as I handed him a tall glass of iced tea. “I think you should go.”

I turned from him to our kitchen window.  Summer in St. Louis can be oppressive, and today was no exception. Each morning, moisture condensed on our windows, thanks to the A/C inside and the moist heat outside.  Old washcloths worked well to sop up the liquid and clear the glass so that we could see outside.  The lawn rolled on and on, a thick green carpet, perfect for welcoming bare feet. The happy shrieks of our two older children brought a smile to my face. They loved running through the sprinkler, an activity totally new to our adopted son, but one that my teenaged daughter enjoyed every summer.

“It’s a long drive.” I felt my face scrunch into a frown. “Three and a half hours.”

“Good. That’ll give you two plenty of time to catch up.” Detweiler came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Kiki, you two were friends for a dozen years. I know you miss your relationship with Mert. She’s offering you an olive branch. Take it.”

“Take it and drive all the way to Vincennes, Indiana?” I turned so I could look into my husband’s amazing green eyes. “That’s a long, long branch, isn’t it? Okay, she wants to be friends again. Or does she? Is it possible she needs a co-pilot, and I’m the only person available? Maybe she doesn’t really even want me to go along with her.”

Detweiler leaned in close and kissed me lightly on the lips. “If she didn’t want you to come along, she wouldn’t have invited you. Mert asked you to go with her to Indiana because she wants to spend time with you. Quit being such a cranky pants. Now tell me–what did she say you two would be doing?”

For a second, I opened my mouth to protest. He’d already decided I should go. I still had my doubts. Sure, Mert and I’d been best friends since that fateful day we’d met in the cleaning products aisle in Home Depot. But all that had changed when she blamed me for her brother’s involvement in a shoot-out. Unfortunately, the target for the bullets had been little old me. As much as Mert had loved me, she loved her brother more.

“What are your plans?” Detweiler prompted me. As usual, he smelled of Safeguard soap and light cologne. He wasn’t a guy to soak himself, but he always smelled good.

Resistance was futile. I released the tension in my body and enjoyed the comfort of my husband’s arms. “A watermelon festival. That’s what our plans are. Mert assured me that it’s a major big deal in Vincennes. In fact, the town used to be called The Watermelon Capital of the World.”

Detweiler threw his head back and laughed heartily. “Who knew?”

I agreed. “There you have it. If I decide to accompany my friend, we’ll be driving three and a half hours to gore ourselves on all the watermelon we can eat. Woop-de-do.”

Again Detweiler laughed, but this time the sound was richer. “Lighten up, babe. It’s summertime, and the melons are easy picking. I predict that you and Mert will have a blast.”

“Right.” I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. In my heart of hearts, I knew he was right. This was my chance to mend fences with Mert. I needed to grab it.

But a three and a half hour drive in a truck for the purpose of eating watermelon? That did not seem very compelling. No, not at all.

~To be continued~

In Part II, we’ll visit Vincennes, Indiana, vicariously. A heat wave is the least of the problems that the two women face. Somehow they get involved in a crime. (Or did you guess that might happen?)

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How I Became a Knotty Girl


September 2, 2016

After my surgery, I decided to take up miniature rug making. But I had a few problems, so I decided to email the “Queen of French Knots” herself,  Teresa Layman.

Check out her Etsy page here: Teresa Layman

And this is Teresa’s response to my many questions:

Woohoo —  another Knotty girl!

First, I would suggest that you tighten the fabric in the hoop. Taut fabric makes easier stitching when it comes to French knots.

Also, my favorite hoop size is a 5″ Susan Bates hoop. I like it, because it fits my hand really well and I can use my fingers on the underside to feel if the thread has made any “birds nests” and with the 5″ size, I can reach across the whole back, so wherever I am working, I can feel that.

That being said, on larger designs, sometimes I will start on a 5″ hoop, work the center (so I can reach it easily) and then switch to a 6 or 7″ hoop for the outsides of the design. I do this so none of the knots will get squashed by being caught in the hoop.

To answer your questions: Outlines first or last?

If by “outlines” you mean a separate color in a single line of knots, then I do it first. The reason being I can see to stitch on that line. That’s what I mean in my instructions by “stitch the details first” (fine lines and dots, etc.). If you mean outlining a section of a colored space and then filling in with the same color, I don’t outline; instead I fill in the color working up to the line. Does that make sense? When my stitching reaches that line, I place my stitches just up to that side of the line, not on the line. Since all those knots have height, width and depth which is larger than the line, when I put in the stitches on the other side of the line, those knots will meet in the middle of that line and the knots on each side will take up about half of the line width. I know that is all really picky and technical, but that is how I get the results I want.

bees and hive rug

My attempt at the “Bees and Hive” rug by Teresa Layman.

Next question: How do you get the dots to line up?

 
If you mean on a line, I am very careful to stitch exactly on the line. I place the knots on a line very close together (but not on top of each other), and if the knots push each other out of the way, that’s ok. You have to think of the finished surface like a big community of knots and they all hold each other up. If you can push them back into line by running your thumbnails along each side of them, that is what the rest of the knots will do when you stitch them in and your line will be held neatly in place as long as you stitched on the line in the first place.

Joanna, I hope you are soon fully recovered from your surgery, and I’m so glad my little knotwork could help you through that! — Teresa Layman

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An Herbs and Potions Rack


June 6, 2015

The kitchen in Miss Wanda’s House for Hapless Haunts was a bit bare. I knew it needed more storage, so I followed a plan given on the excellent blog written by longtime miniaturist Joann Swanson. Except…the rack turned out to be too big.

So I started over and concocted this tiny rack.

The shelves are made from drink coasters, a substance I really like to use. It’s an easy to cut cardstock. The struts are from matchsticks. You have to search for ones that aren’t misshapen.

The tiny sign was cut from a drink coaster. I painted the flower image and used a .005 Micron pen to write the words. I wanted it to look old and shabby.

On one side is a bouquet of dried babies’ breath culled from a RL (real life) bouquet. The labels are from the Internet. You can put “Halloween labels” into Google and find them. I sized and printed them. Most of the tiny glass bottles are from the dollar store, where they held glitter and micro beads to be used to decorate fingernails. The lids are a dab of Elmer’s Wood Putty covered with silver nail polish.

“Reposing Rat” was the item that gave me the most trouble!

I had to find a gray substance that would look gunky. Finally I used a gummy product, a putty. The container is the plastic bubble from a pill pack. It’s seated on a piece of card stock.

The yellow bottle is different. It’s a cut-off piece from a plastic squirt vial given to me by a chef. Fancy restaurants use these vials for lemon juice and such. I sliced it short, glued a bottom on to it, added the label, and painted the bottle yellow. The squat container to the right is a piece of sawed off plastic with a button and two stacked circles of cardstock on top.

I made the green-handled basket from a hollowed out acorn. The top of the nut was filled with air-drying clay. The handle is made from the same clay. I coated it with green nail polish and added plastic plant pieces and a label. The labels really make the scene, I think.

The dried flower arrangement is in a tiny black basket made from cardstock. Although bittersweet is actually too big to be in scale, it still looks cool. I picked it from weeds growing in a lot beside our apartment up in DC. Some of the pod pieces fell off, so I glued them back on.

In situ, the rack is the perfect size. The white color shows up nicely against the orange wall. I’m pretty pleased with it! Now I need to make a small table to go to the right of the sink. I also need to finish up the china set. More to come!

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The Bee's Knees–Facts about Bee Swarms


June 3, 2015

by Joanna Campbell Slan
I couldn’t let my “bee encounter” buzz by without doing a wee bee research activity. Here’s what I learned:
  • The bees that are dying are domestic honeybees, commercially raised. The colonies are collapsing.
  • African bees are mating with wild honeybees, creating a more aggressive strain.
  • By looking at them, a bee expert can’t tell the difference between African bees and native wild bees.
  • A nest that’s bred with African bees might be docile one minute and aggressive the next.
  • Bees don’t move much or fly much when it’s rainy. Heat will stir them up.
  • African bees don’t like cold weather, so the problem is confined to the southern states.
  • The USDA has told licensed bee companies NOT to move wild nests because they might have African bees in them and that would pose a public safety hazard. Unfortunately these nests should be eradicated.
  • Bees rest from five to seven days after swarming.
  • The phrase “the bee’s knees” might have started with the phrase “the be-all and end-all,” but when it was repeated quickly, the new phrase was born. So it isn’t really about bees, but about “B’s.” It means “something fantastic.” 
  • But the first official appearance was in 1907, in a book called Mr. Goggles by Henry Collins Brown: “Bee-raising is a good side line for the farmer, especially since the swell restaurants have made a specialty of fried bees’ knees. Such a beesness!”
  • The Brits seem to write it thusly: bees’ knees.
  • And the phrase also became a fad during the Roaring Twenties, when people crowed about, “The bee’s knees!” This slang phrase deserves a revival, don’t you think?
That’s me, flying off to do my own thing.
Hmmm. I think I need to write a story about these bees. What do you think?
Oh, and if I have any of this wrong, please bee nice and let me bee correct.
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Sweethearts–A Miniature Shop for Lovers


May 30, 2015

Around Valentine’s Day I felt absolutely compelled to create a miniature shop of all things heart-shaped. But I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Here’s what I wound up with…

The shell of the shop was a paper mache “hatbox.” I cut out the front door, covered it in black and white Contact paper, trimmed it with black Duck Tape, and added a patio. I also bought a cheap Styrofoam heart wreath and took it apart to put the hearts on the top of the box lid. A line of pink quilling tape runs under the edge of the lid.

The topiary bushes are Styrofoam hearts that I painted and covered with sawdust that I collected from the floor of my local Home Depot. (I actually walked in with a whisk broom and dustpan and cleaned up. No one minded!) The gold urns are party favors from the Dollar Tree. They originally were trophy cups, but I took off the handles and painted them. The sign was part of a Valentine’s Day card I gave David and promptly took back from him.

The lights are the most expensive portion of this display. A bar of LED lights was inserted in the lid. I also had a strand of tiny lights that I put around the heart display shelves in the back. The white border around the top of the wall is actually the plastic strapping tape from a box with reams of paper. The flexibility was great, although it was hard to get the acrylic paint to stick. I added the hearts because of that flaking paint–and came to like them.

The joy of a miniature shop is in its clutter. I love having too much for the eye to take in. Here you see the shelf unit that was once a box of chocolates, the table and chairs, and the side walls. The shelves of the shelf unit are actually pieces from the original box of chocolates.

A close up of the shelves. Let’s work our way from the bottom up. On the bottom are linens made from a paper napkin and lace trim. A box of chocolate from a printie. A tiny Oriental book, tied with black string, from the Bas Bleu catalog. Two large heart bookends. On the next shelf is a container of Ferrer Roche chocolates made from the plastic bubble of a gum package and real wrappers. A perfume bottle. A rack of Valentine postcards, a poster, a candle, a container of real bath salts, an envelope filled with love letters. On the top shelf is a flower arrangement from dried blossoms from an RL (Real Life) arrangement in a small plastic piece I found on the beach, and an assortment of chocolate boxes from printies and from paper Valentine’s Day plates. The tiny box on the right is a printie. On the left bottom is a floral arrangement in a basket with a piece of blue plastic I found on the beach. The red mesh is from a bag of oranges. I made the flowers in this arrangement.

To the right of the shelves is a pink birdhouse with a faux license plate roof. A clock made from dressmaker pins stuck into a shaped piece of wood with hands from plastic toothpicks. An original Zentangle piece of art on canvas I bought from Walmart in the crafts section. The red wax candle in cellophane came from a real candle. The cup with succulents was a purchase from a miniaturist named Betinha Murta (http://betinhamurtaminiatures.blogspot.com/) who taught me to make the roses to the left of the cup with cold porcelain. The signs (love) are “tin” from old Coke cans.

One other cold porcelain rose is in this bouquet. I made the chairs, of which this is one. The tie on the bouquet is a re-used twist tie that had a pretty metallic plastic coating.

Here we are looking to the left. I made the tiny black table. The white shelf unit is plastic that washed up on the beach. I think it must have held batteries? The Valentine’s Day card holder is topped by a piece of metal I found on the ground that’s had a tiny picture of a rose and micro beads added. The big red heart is a rock. The small pink heart on the stand was a bead on a bookmark by my friend and author Krista Davis. The small pink books with the black dress are from a sticky note set from my friend and author Penny Warner. The mirror with hearts is a mirror with punched out hearts stuck around it. I really, really love the picture of the tree with red hearts for leaves. The plates are paper.

Here’s a close up of that black table. The candy dish is made from plastic marked “6” in the recycling code. Any plastic that’s 6 can be shrunk. So I used a rubber stamp to stamp a design, cut the plastic into a heart-shape and applied heat to shrink it. The white vase to the right of it and behind it (the candy dish) is a bit of junk found on the beach.

Here is a close-up of that white shelf unit. I couldn’t believe that I’d found something exactly to scale for this project and it was there on the sand! All I did was clean and paint it with a fresh coat of white! The books I made, and the tiny picnic basket to the right on the bottom shelf is a printie, assembled of course. The tiny tissue “box” is a bead with a heart I painted on it. I also made the tiny clock the LOVE sign, the boxes of perfume, the boxes and the hearts stuck into the floral bouquet are from the hangers for Christmas ornaments, shaped, soldered onto a metal stem, and covered with plastic.

I printed out the plates, shaped them, cut them, painted the edges gold, and covered them with clear nail polish. The napkins are bits of paper napkins tied with gold thread. The forks are pieces of metal from the tops of wine bottles. I doubled the metal and glued it together before cutting and shaping it. The cake stand is the plunger from a syringe cut to 1/4″ tall and topped with a button before being painted white.

I’m very proud of the skirt on the table. I soaked the fabric in glue/water before draping it over the table form. I love the way the fabric drapes!

So what did I buy?  The initial paper mache box, the scrapbook paper for the walls, the “tile” for the floor, the lights, the pink saucer and succulents, the tiny dog statue, the cake–and the rest are all raw materials I put together. Most of the expense, where there is any, came from printies, paint, and glue. The purchased finished items probably cost me less than $25 or $30.

I still have a tiny bit of work to do, but mainly, it’s finished! What do you think?

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